Leaps and Bounds

 

The

Anunnaki Unification

A Stargate SG-1 Fan Fiction Story

 

Book 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michele Briere


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fan fiction. The Stargate universe and characters belong to the people and agencies listed in the Acknowledgments. All other characters belong to the author, Michele Briere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Michele Briere

All rights reserved.

ISBN-13: 978-1530151325 

ISBN-10: 1530151325 


 

 

Acknowledgements

 

All characters except those of the Stargate SG-1 universe belong to me. The characters and universe of Stargate SG-1 do not belong to me. All rightful credits can be found here at the IMDB on the Stargate SG-1 page which reads: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118480/companycredits?ref_=tt_dt_co

 

Production Companies

·                     Double Secret Productions

·                     Gekko Film Corp.

·                     Kawoosh! Productions IX (season 9)

·                     Kawoosh! Productions VII

·                     MGM Worldwide Television Productions

·                     Sony Pictures Television (2005-2006)

·                     Stargate SG-1 Production (II) Inc.

Distributors

·                     MGM Worldwide Television (1997-2006) (World-wide) (all media) (sales)

·                     MGM Domestic Television Distribution (1997-2005) (USA) (TV)

·                     Sony Pictures Television (2005-2006) (USA) (TV)

·                     Showtime Networks (1997-2002) (USA) (TV) (original airing) (seasons 1-5)

·                     Sci-Fi Channel, The (2002-2006) (USA) (TV) (original airing) (seasons 6-10)

·                     MGM/UA Home Entertainment (2001-2006) (USA) (DVD)

·                     CanWest Global Television Network (1997-2004) (Canada) (TV) (original airing)

·                     Chum Television (2004-2006) (Canada) (TV) (original airing)

·                     CITY-TV (Canada) (TV) (repeats)

·                     Sky One (1998-2006) (UK) (TV) (original airing) (repeats)

·                     Channel 4 Television Corporation (1999-) (UK) (TV)

·                     AXN (2007-) (Hungary) (TV) (repeats)

·                     Audio Visual Enterprises (1998) (Greece) (VHS)

·                     Image Entertainment (USA) (DVD) (laserdisc)

·                     MGM Home Entertainment (2003-2005) (Germany) (DVD)

·                     OnTV / CH (all media)

·                     RTL2 (1999-) (Germany) (TV)

·                     Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2005-) (Germany) (DVD)

·                     TV6 (2008-) (Estonia) (TV) (re-release)

·                     TV6 (2011) (Hungary) (TV) (re-release)

·                     Veronica (2004-2008) (Netherlands) (TV)

Special Effects

·                     Atmosphere Visual Effects

·                     Enigma Animation Productions Inc. (digital effects)

·                     Gajdecki Visual Effects (GVFX) (digital effects)

·                     Image Engine Design (special effects)

·                     Northwest Imaging & FX (digital effects)

·                     Northwestern Effects Group Ltd. (prosthetic and animatronic effects)

·                     Pinnacle Post (digital effects)

·                     Rainmaker Animation & Visual Effects (visual effects)

·                     Rainmaker Digital Pictures (digital effects)

·                     SPIN West VFX

·                     Smoke and Mirrors

·                     Solstice Imaging

·                     Steve Johnson's XFX

Other Companies

·                     Act One Script Clearance (script research)

·                     David Cowan Enterprises Inc. (computer engineering)

·                     Department of Defense (we gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of)

·                     Department of the Air Force (we gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of)

·                     Energy Film (stock footage)

·                     Gastown Post and Transfer (post-production services)

·                     Rainmaker Digital Pictures (post-production services)

·                     Sharpe Sound Studios (re-recorded by)

·                     Stargate SG-1 Productions Limited Partnership (production services provided by)

·                     U.S. Space Command (we gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of)

 


 

Preface

 

These chapters were written during Seasons 7-10 of Stargate: SG-1. Because of this, some aspects of the story, such as same-sex marriage, are not yet legal. Please overlook these aspects; if I changed it now, a lot more would have to be changed.

This is fan-fiction. The characters of Stargate, and the alternate universe of Stargate do not belong to me, I’m only borrowing them. The Anunnaki belong to themselves, but I borrowed them, too; so far, they haven’t complained. The rest of the characters are mine. I also made up my own original First Flight astronauts, instead of using the real ones. This is not a slight against our heroes, only respect to not use them in a fictional situation.

This story follows our SG-1 team on continuing adventures of life, love, and their irritation of a certain Goa’uld. This story contains pairings of straight and gay partners, as well as our threesome of Jack/Sam/Daniel, so if you are easily offended, don’t read this. If you are under age, you’ve been warned: I don’t want to hear from your mama about this. The smut has been removed in this version, as well as a few other scenes changed and added.

There’s a lot of gay talk in this mainly because, at the time this was written, there was a lot of coverage in the news about gays in the military, as well as religion being forced onto military personnel, and problems at the Air Force Academy, so there’s a great deal of commentary on these subjects. I’m giving my own two-cents on those subjects.

No profit is intended on this story. I wanted to make it available to people in a portable format, and the prices of these books are the lowest I was allowed to set them with CreateSpace and Kindle.

Note: There are a few lyrics in this, so thanks to Shinedown and John Hiatt. Information was borrowed from the United Nations website. There are probably a few others I need to mention, but for the life of me, I can’t think of them.

Writers need love, too, so feel free to drop me an email at michele.briere@gmail.com!

There is more to be found at my website, www.michelebriere.com , including The Gatekeepers, an original, on-going story, a fun, light-hearted space opera.


 

Table of Contents

 

Anunnaki Unification. 1

Acknowledgements. 3

Preface. 6

Table of Contents. 8

Chapter 39. 1

Chapter 40. 30

Chapter 41. 60

Chapter 42. 89

Chapter 43. 118

Chapter 44. 148

Chapter 45. 178

Chapter 46. 207

Chapter 47. 224

Chapter 48. 238

Chapter 49. 269

Chapter 50. 295

Chapter 51. 323

Chapter 52. 348

Chapter 53. 375

Chapter 54. 405

Chapter 55. 425

Chapter 56. 441

Chapter 57. 453

Chapter 58. 479

Chapter 59. 510

Chapter 60. 538

Chapter 61. 565

Chapter 62. 596

Chapter 63. 617

Vocabulary. 663

 

 

 



 

 

Chapter 39

Dinner went well with old friends gathered around the table. Ferretti did a lot of listening and watching. He kept looking at Nick, trying to figure out how such a man could possibly be sleeping with another man. He then looked at Jack, also someone who didn’t fit stereotype. Jack could sense the confusion and let him work it out for himself.

Jack had a quiet conference with Paul before the others got there, and let him know about Narim. Paul was just as stunned as they had been. Dinner was taken over by talk of wedding planning. Paul announced that Nick had proposed. Daniel sent a fist into the air. “YES!”

“You’re going to be my best man, right?” Paul asked him.

“Oh, hell yes!” Daniel assured him. Nick was looking green so Jack got him a beer.

Jack decided to skip work the next day and go find Inanna. After a look from Daniel, Jack revised his decision and made it a family outing. Sam called the schools and got the children excused while Daniel called Landry, his students, and then the dean. The children were excited. Stacy and Davy wanted to bake cookies for Jonathan and Aba, so Daniel helped them with cookies. Large spoonfuls of dough and chocolate chips were eaten before they made it to the oven. Jack remembered that his mother had been talking about going to see Jonathan, so he called her. She’d be going with them.

Landry gave Jack his frowning hound dog face when Jack refused to take an SG team with him.

“Hank, we’ll be with the Anunnaki and Jaffa,” Jack said, refusing to look at the face. “Quit fussin’.”

It was a call from Maynard that made Jack pause.

“Oh, come on, Francis, this is a vacation,” Jack whined. “Do you know how long it’s been since I spent decent time with my kids? I can’t even remember the last time I laid around the house naked with Sam and Danny. It isn’t TMI, it’s a fact. No one’s invading us, I get vacation.” Jack hung his head, listening. “Kalam and Chulak. I suppose Teal’c could use fresh meat. Gate. Does it have to be Marines? They’re meatheads, Francis. Very funny. They grunt, Francis, they couldn’t speak a coherent sentence if they tried. Oh, alright. How many? Great.”

He hung up and snarled just as Davis walked into the office.

“What is it?” Paul asked.

“Maynard,” Jack told him. “Apparently the Marines want to learn that Jaffa fighting style, so ten of those jarheads are coming along for the ride to be trained as trainers. Ten! Grunting, spitting, farting, scratching hairy pits and balls…..”

“Well, sir, they do pride themselves in being prepared for the unexpected,” Davis said calmly.

“And?” Jack snapped. He paused. “I knew I gave you a raise for a reason. Get Chulak on the Bat-phone.”

“Yes, sir.”

While Davis made the necessary connections, Jack made a few hasty calls of his own.

Jack was whistling as he walked into his house with a bounce in his step. Over-night bags were sitting by the door and the children were running around in last-minute excitement. Jack caught Daniel by the waist and slid his arms around from behind.

I’ve been loving you for such a long time, baby,” Jack sang into Daniel’s ear. The children giggled as Daniel strained against Jack’s arms.

“Sam, he’s high!” Daniel called out. Sam came into the living room, a baby on one arm and a bag of diapers on the other. She smiled at them.

“…expecting nothing in return
just for you to have a little faith in me,
all you gotta do is have a little faith in me…”

“Sam, he’s up to something,” Daniel translated.

“Have a little faith in meeee….” The last came out a warble and the children laughed. Jack turned him around and kissed him. “I want you to gate over to Kalam,” he said, planting kisses along Daniel’s stubbly jaw. Daniel wasn’t sure if he should be responding to the kisses or the fact that Jack had switched to Goa’uld. Sam stopped and listened. It was rare enough when Jack took to his basic smattering of languages, let alone Goa’uld. They tried to focus on what Jack was saying. “Take the kids with you. You’re on vacation with the children who are visiting Jonathan. We will be gating over to Chulak.”

“What’s going on?” Daniel asked as Jack kissed his neck.

“Just training games,” Jack said. “They don’t know it, so play along.”

Daniel and Sam relaxed. Sam continued gathering baby supplies while Jack copped a feel of Daniel’s ass. Three out of four children pretended to gag. Katie just shook her head.

“Kids in the room!” Matthew reminded them.

“Yeah? Parents making out in the room,” Jack countered. He gave one more kiss and released Daniel. “I’ll have you know I patted your butt more times than I’ve patted Daniel’s,” he informed the boy.

“Oh, please, no,” Matthew begged of the ceiling. “Don’t let him start.”

“It’s a cute butt,” Jack continued. “Couldn’t keep pants on you; you would run out of the bathtub before I could even get you dry. Had to chase you all over the house just to get underwear on you. Spiderman underwear, if I recall…”

Matthew turned red, covered his ears, and ran up the stairs as Stacy and Davy laughed. Jack chuckled in satisfaction.

Two hours later, Jack was whistling as he and Sam walked hand in hand, fingers laced, down the corridor of the SGC. She lifted an eyebrow when he had taken her hand, but didn’t say anything as he gave it a squeeze. Landry glanced at their hands and also didn’t say anything.

“Are they here?” Jack asked.

“Yes, they are,” Landry nodded.

“Good,” Jack declared. “Let’s do it.”

He and Sam went to find their Marines. The boys were staring up at the gate and making low commentary. Jack sensed the hidden nervous energy.

“Officer on deck!” Sam snapped. The men turned and sprang to ridged attention. The SF at the door held back their amusement. Jack looked at their guests and paused. He silently cursed Maynard and vowed revenge before walking slowly up to one of the men, tall and lanky with iron gray hair.

“Colonel,” Jack said quietly.

“General,” the man returned. Frost was in the air.

“At ease, boys,” Jack finally said. They relaxed. “We will be heading over to Chulak shortly. Colonel Carter will provide show and tell. Colonel Addison.” The man did his best to swallow the antagonism as he followed Jack down the hall to a conference room.

“Are we going to have a problem?” Jack asked the moment the door was closed.

“Not from me,” Addison said, folding his arms.

“I was not informed that you were in the group,” Jack said after a moment of studying the man. “I’ll give you the option of…..”

“I’m staying,” the man interrupted. “Sir.

Jack gave a satisfied nod and sat slowly on the edge of the table. “You want to tell me about your men? Have a seat.”

The men were the best the Marines had to offer in the form of hand-to-hand combat trainers. Jack could have guessed that much; the man in front of him was among the top ten black belts worldwide.

“They don’t know,” Addison said. “About us.”

“That’s fine,” Jack acknowledged. “I will tell Carter, though. She is my wife.”

The man nodded. “I’d like to meet her.” He hesitated. “I was sorry to hear about you and Sara. I liked her.” Jack nodded. “I’m sorry I missed Charlie’s funeral. I couldn’t get away.”

“Melanie told me,” Jack said. “Thank you. I have Megan’s kids, now. We adopted them. Olivia is almost nine-months-old. They’re all getting big. I can barely carry David anymore.”

The man nodded, a brief hint of sorrow showing on his thin, craggy face. “I was sorry to hear about her and Uncle Tom. Again, I couldn’t get away.”

“Melanie told me.” Jack took a moment and then stood. The colonel slowly stood. “Look, Mason…. We need to work together. I don’t expect affection from you, but I do expect professionalism. Can we do that?”

“Do you really need to ask?” Mason said coldly. Jack pursed his lips and then pressed the comm at his shoulder and requested Sam’s presence.

“Be right there,” came from the comm.

Mason frowned. “What’s that?” he asked, looking at the small device.

“An Anunnaki radio,” Jack said.

Sam came in minutes later. She looked at the men, sensing the tension.

“Samantha Carter, Mason Addison. A cousin.”

After a surprised moment, Sam took the hand offered to her.

“He belongs to my Aunt Faith,” Jack said. “One of Mom’s sisters.”

It was going to be a loooong day.

He went to call Maynard. The general didn’t understand why Jack was pissy.

“He was a last minute replacement, Jack,” Maynard said. “He had been unavailable, he became available. Why?”

Ignoring the unspoken hint at an undercover position, Jack paused, considering that maybe Maynard didn’t know. “He’s a cousin of mine,” Jack said. “That isn’t in our records?”

“No, it isn’t,” Maynard said, an audible sigh coming over the phone. “I don’t understand, Jack; why is this a problem?”

“We’ve been butting heads since we were kids,” Jack said, sitting down. “To say we don’t get along is an understatement. Alright, I’ll deal with it. Him.”

Jack knew of several other cousins in the forces and looked them up on the computer. At least he got along with the others. His mother used to tell him that he and Mason were both pig-headed and complete opposites. Night and day. All Jack knew was that Mason had no sense of humor and was wound up tighter than a coal mine spitting out diamonds.

They gated into Chulak and hiked to the training camp. The men tried hard not to crane their necks at the multiple moons in the sky while shaking off the frost that first-time gate users go through. Jack wasn’t sure what took attention from newbies first –the odd alien creature that they came upon or multiple moons or suns in the sky.

“T!” Jack spread his arms out in greeting as they entered the camp. He clasped forearms. “Nice to see you. Bre’tac, looking good. For an old man. Rya’c, I want babysitting time.” Teal’c’s son smiled and promised time with the baby. Sam greeted the men with kisses to their cheeks and informed Rya’c that he had grown up too fast. The young man shyly ducked his head. “Teal’c, these are the men that need to be trained,” Jack said, indicating the Marines standing stiffly behind him. “Sic ‘em.” Teal’c scowled.

Jack took Sam’s hand and they went to find food.

“Was it my imagination, or was there a woman standing slightly proprietary next to Teal’c?” Jack asked as they walked the half mile to Teal’c’s villa.

“That is Ka’lel, I believe her name is,” Sam said. “I don’t know about her and Teal’c, but I think she’s the council representative for the women. Her inclusion was something Teal’c and Bre’tac pushed for. The Jaffa women don’t have a voice except through their men, so women’s rights are a big issue, at the moment.”

“And we corrupted the guys,” Jack concluded. “A little corruption can be a good thing.”

Teal’c and Bre’tac found them a short while later, and helped themselves to fruit from the bowl on the table.

“Aren’t you two training?” Jack asked, having expected them to be running the Marines all over the nearby forest and fields.

“Rya’c and Ka’lel will begin,” Teal’c said.

“Your people need perspective,” Bre’tac said, slightly offended.

“What’d they do?” Jack asked, not surprised.

Bre’tac’s nostrils flared. Not a good sign. “They assume that this training is a waste of time and so we should give them the basics and send them home.”

Jack nodded. “A little attitude adjustment. I see. Adjust away.” He raised his cup and clinked it with the others. “And the plans?”

“Implemented,” Bre’tac assured him with an evil smile.

“Good. So. T. Ka’lel? Is she as deadly as she is pretty?”

“Indeed.” The big guy almost growled in pleasure.

Jack’s radio clicked. “General, may I speak with you?” came Mason’s voice. It was biting and hard, yet polite.

“Sure.” Jack looked at the people around him. “Go ahead.”

These are children,” Mason hissed. “Where are the warriors that were supposed to train us? That Teal’c guy informed us that we were weak humans and left us with children. This is bullshit.”

“Some of those children have been fighting longer than you have, Colonel, so suck it up and pay attention. Out.” Jack smiled and shut his radio off.

“Where did you say the baby was?”

While the Marines were pummeled by women and children, Jack and Sam played with Rya’c and Kar’yn’s baby son. The men looked on, proud grandparents.

“We do not know if he will be able to survive without a prim’ta,” Teal’c said worriedly. “I have spoken with Enki, and he says it may take a few generations for our DNA to reestablish itself. I fear that Dor’nar will not be able to live without tretonin once he is of age.”

Jack lifted the baby and held him out. “Well, how about we worry about that when the time comes?” he suggested. He blew raspberries on the round belly, which seemed to be a universal way to get a baby to laugh.

An hour later, Ka’lel walked in. “It is done,” she announced.

“Great!” Jack declared and jumped to his feet. “Let’s get over to Kalam.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask, but what did you do?” Sam asked. Jack straightened up, cleared his throat, and did his best ‘addressing the troops’ stance.

“Colonel Carter, it is my sad duty to inform you that some big bad Goa’uld has come along and stolen our Marines and some Jaffa children,” he informed her. “Cowardly snakes. None of our ships are in the area, alas, they are all occupied and cannot get away, so we are going to beg assistance from allies and we’re going to borrow the Heaven’s Bow to rescue our kids. In a little while. SG-1 is still at lunch, I think.” He checked his watch and nodded to himself.

“T, don’t worry, we’ll get Rya’c and Kar’yn back,” he said, patting Teal’c on the shoulder.

“And I will discuss with my grandson the bravery of his parents,” Teal’c said, picking the baby up. The tiny body seemed incongruous in the large arms, but Dor’nar didn’t seem to mind.

When they got to Kalam, Inanna put on her best sorrowful face and informed them that a naughty Goa’uld had come hunting and took not only several of her boys, but also Daniel.

“What a shame,” Jack said, crunching on an apple. “I guess we need to go and find that so-and-so snake, whether we want to or not. Say, Queenie, you don’t mind if I borrow your ship, do you?”

“Not at all,” she said with a wave of a royal wrist. Jack bowed and then turned to the men standing nearby.

“Jonathan, I’m sorry to inform you that your cousin Mason is among the missing,” he said, deeply sorry.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Jonathan said, leaning on the seated Shara’s shoulder. “I suppose I should help find him. Honey, can I go out and play?” he asked, tapping Shara on the head.

Jack's mother looked at the boys and crossed her arms. “You will find my nephew,” she informed them.

“Yes, ma’am,” they acknowledged. Hammond shook his head and returned to his mooning over Mrs. Clark who returned his moonstruck batting eyes. Somehow, he had gotten her to take a trip off-world.

“Say, Lou, wanna tag along?” Jack asked Ferretti. The major was doing his best hide his amusement.

“Sure, General, I can still hold a gun,” he said. “How does this thing work?” He took Jack’s zat and awkwardly maneuvered it with his left hand while steadying himself with his cane in his right hand.

“One zat for stun, two for kill, three for disintegration,” Jack helpfully told him. “We don’t like to use three around the uninformed Tau’ri, though, it might give them ideas. I can think of a few people I’d like to three.”

“How long does the stun last?” Ferretti asked, trying to find the firing button.

“A few seconds, depends on the person,” Jack said. He took the zat and fired. Jonathan fell to the floor.

“Bad Jack,” Shara informed him. “Remind me to beat you up later.”

Jack waved a hand from Shara to the inert form on the ground. “When did this happen? Do I need to have a talk with him? Or with you?”

“Why, would you like to join us?” Shara asked.

“I've seen you naked,” Jack informed him. “I ain't going anywhere near something that size.” His mother covered her ears and moved away.

The ship was being aired out while food and water were being stored.

“Who was taken?” Jack asked Ninurta as the warrior tested the bridge controls.

“Besides Daniel? Gibil, Adia, Ladiru, Gishnu, Erra, and Zu.”

“Oh, no,” Jack said, slightly horrified. “You sicced Zu on them? I guess we really do have to rescue them. Who’d you get to be Goa’uld?”

“Malek,” Ninurta said. “With Rak’nor as his First Prime.”

A wave of lightning over took Jack and he blacked out. When he came to, he was lying on the floor with Sam shaking him and calling his name.

“Wha the fu…..” he tried to mutter.

“Just breathe,” she told him. “Jonathan zatted you.”

“Son of a….. ohhhh, my head.”

“Don’t worry, Jack,” Ninurta patted him. “You weren’t hurt. You fell with your face in my lap. I missed you, too.”

Jack shook off the millions of bees stinging his nerve endings and chased his snickering clone off the bridge.

Jack and Sam assured the children that they’d be staying the night and then they needed to head out in the morning to rescue Daniel and they’d be back after they were done playing games with Daniel and everyone. The children were happy enough to be playing outside in the warm weather, learning to learn to ride their horses, and seeing to the lambs and goats that needed to be petted and fed and loved.

Jack turned to his clone.

“No, you don’t,” Sam said, stepping between them. “You started it, Jack, so behave.”

“Yeah,” Jonathan said, sticking his tongue out. “Besides…. we need to talk about something else that you might want to kill me for.”

Jack followed him to an empty room. He was suspicious when Jonathan told him he’d better sit down.

“Last night Matthew saw something he maybe shouldn’t have,” Jonathan began.

“What’d he see?”

“Me, Shara, Adia, and a few others having our own little party down by the lake.”

Jack didn’t want to know. “What kind of party?”

“A party, Jack,” Jonathan said with dry emphases. “Matty was with a few other teenagers when they came down to the lake for a swim. We were already there. Our kids are used to it, it’s part of the culture so they didn’t care, but Matty couldn’t stop watching. I let him watch, Jack.”

Jack sat back, blowing out a hard puff of air as he scrubbed his hands over his face.

“Is he alright?” he asked.

“Yes, I think so,” Jonathan said with a nod. “I know for a fact that a couple of our girls, and a boy or two, had already invited him for their own playtime, and he refused, which is fine and which they accepted, but I know he was watching from nearby. I could sense the need in him, Jack, normal for his age, but he only watched. I think he was curious about the mechanics. I deliberately made sure he could see; we weren’t in an especially kinky mood, so it was all just gentle love-play. I talked with him this morning, got some of his questions answered. I really think he’s fine. I got the feeling that he was romanticizing sex, and this gave him a reality check. He’s fine.”

Jack stared at the ceiling for a moment. “Crap,” he finally said. “I forgot about this open-door sex policy these guys have here. I’ll check in with him. There’s a creep factor here.”

“I know,” Jonathan grimaced. “I didn’t want to chase him off, though, and have him thinking that we were doing anything wrong. And since I’m not a father to him, I don’t think it occurred to him that privacy might be an issue. We were out in the open, what was private? One of the older teenage girls from his group came over and joined us, it’s allowed here, and I had sex with her. Matty was flashing so hot, I could feel the heat from those fifty yards away. He’s ready, Jack. There is a girl at home he likes, so you may want to keep an eye on him.”

“He hasn’t said anything about a girl,” Jack commented.

“He hasn’t said anything to the girl,” Jonathan said. “And remember that fifteen to sixteen is an average starting age for our family.”

“And he’ll be fifteen soon,” Jack responded with a nod.

“Let him stew for a while,” Jonathan recommended. “Give him time to work out questions before you go hunting for him.”

“I know,” Jack nodded. “If he has sex while he’s here, I want him wearing a condom. Same with Katie. You know what I mean.”

“There are no STD’s and the ladies are all on a birth control,” Jonathan said. “It’s one of Enki’s inventions. Seems to work. The women only get pregnant if they want to. They’ll both be fine, if they decide to play.”

“What about Stacy and David?” Jack asked with a sudden thought. “How much have they seen?”

“Not much, I don’t think,” Jonathan said with a shrug. “They’ve spent most of the time at the nursery and with the younger kids. They watched a lamb being born and we had a nice talk about it. Mom was there, too, and she also talked with the kids. Jack, it isn’t one big orgy here; people work. Hard. Last night was wind down time, that’s all. It was a nice night, the water is pleasant, and we just spent a few weeks on around the clock foal and lamb watch. We were exhausted. The kids are safe; I wouldn’t put them in danger.”

“I know you wouldn’t,” Jack said. He looked at his clone, wondering if he could spend the rest of his life farming, and doing animal husbandry. He looked out across the landscape, a dark, odd green with gently waving grasses, a savanna growing out of what was once, just a short time ago, a barren wasteland of desert. The former planet of Abydos, where a beautiful tribe had lived, descendents of ancient Egyptians, the first planet visited when the stargate was turned on. Where Daniel had met Sha're and her father Kasuf, and lived for a year before SG-1 came back for him. All those people were gone, now, all life on the planet destroyed by a Goa'uld out for revenge.

“I’m happy, Jack, really,” the young man said, knowing what was on Jack’s mind.

“I did it for a couple of months because I had to,” Jack said, remembering the time he had been stuck on a planet after their gate was destroyed. “Is this really what you want?”

Jonathan put his elbows on his knees and hung his hands thoughtfully between his knees. “I do more than play with the animals and fool around,” he said. “I spend time teaching the kids, and some adults, to read and write, I take my turn on patrol with Heaven’s Bow, I help with city planning, and once in a while I stare at the stars. I’m teaching the kids to play baseball. Got a little hoop action going, too. I’m needed here, Jack. And yes, I’m happy.”

Jack slowly nodded and stood up to head for the door. “Oh. Nick and Paul are hand-fasting in a couple of months. They’d like you to do the music. Paul is burning a CD; he’ll send it to you when it’s done.”

“Yeah, Daniel told me. Never knew Nick had it in him,” Jonathan said with a shake of his head. “And you think Shara and I are an odd couple. Let them know I’ll be there.”

Jack wandered around until he found Sam. She was in an obviously private discussion with Inanna, so Jack kept wandering. When he came across a group of boys, Jack tossed his arm around a shoulder and kept walking.

“Oh, God, he told you, didn’t he?” Matty whined as he dragged his feet. He had noticed Jack and Jonathan in a close discussion, and was afraid he knew the topic.

“Oh, yeah,” Jack nodded. He gave the shoulders a shake. “I just want to know that you’re alright.”

“I’m fine,” Matty assured him. “It was a little weird to see, but I’m fine with it. Does he tell you everything we talk about?”

“No,” Jack shook his head. “Just the important stuff that dads need to know. Your discussions are safe with him. This is the first time he’s said anything to me, so if you’re worried about anything else, he’s kept it to himself. I won’t ask, you know you can talk with me about anything. What did you think was weird?”

“Everything,” Matthew said. He shoved his hands into his pockets and shrugged. “It was…. messy. Not like on TV or the movies. Lots of noises. People farted and no one cared.”

“Yes, sex is messy,” Jack confirmed with a chuckle. “But did they have fun?”

“Yes, I think so,” Matthew said reluctantly. “They laughed a lot and talked. Shara has a really big… you know… and Jonathan said it did hurt a little, but once he relaxed, it didn’t hurt. Looked kinda gross, to me, though.”

Jack gave a knowing chuckle. “Yes, I agree, it does look kinda gross. He’s right, though, it doesn’t hurt. Not if it’s done right. And you don’t have to do that, not if you don’t want to. Some women like it done to them, though, so just be open-minded if someone asks you. It’s your body, you can refuse, but make sure she understands why, or she'll think you're refusing her all together. It really does feel good. Both giving and receiving. Messy, farting, laughing and other noises during sex means you’re alive and having a joyful time with life.”

Matthew looked up at him. “You never talked like this before,” he commented.

“I hadn’t met Sam and Daniel before,” Jack said. “It doesn’t matter who you choose as a partner, Matty; if that person, or persons, brings joy to your life, it’s a good thing.”

Matthew stopped walking, thought for a moment, and turned to face Jack. He put his arms around Jack’s waist and hugged him.

“Love you,” Matthew murmured. He released Jack and ran back to the other boys.

“I love you, too, son,” Jack said softly after him.

The smell of a cigar caught Jack’s attention and he looked around.

“Let me guess –no carcinogens,” he said. Enki winked and took another puff. “Every paradise has a serpent, old man, so what’s in this garden?”

Enki stood from a conveniently placed rock and joined Jack on his walk. “Don’t know yet,” he said. “We’ve started running into mutations, though, so something’s bound to show up.”

“Mutations?” Jack frowned and Enki shrugged.

“The matrix is still in motion,” he explained, waving his cigar around. “It’s slow enough for us to live here, but at a cellular level, it’s still forming the planet. I set it in motion, now it's nature's turn. Like all living things, we add what we can to the mix, let nature cook it, and hope the cake turns out as perfect as possible. Since it is in the planet's matrix, it might even change us, a little, so that we adapt better. There will always be a few lumps, maybe a little tilted, but as long as it’s sweet and filling, we will be nurtured by it.”

Jack smiled and nodded. “I understood that one,” he said.

“You understand a lot more than you let on, Jack,” Enki told him. “Do you know why you get confused? Because your subconscious is too busy to be bothered. Any new developments?”

Jack pursed his lips as he looked around. Children were running everywhere; a lot more children than he remembered should be there. A surprising number of dogs and cats roamed around the houses, horses munching placidly on grass, goats, sheep, and cows populated the fields at the far end of the small, yet modern city. He spotted a few animals that were obviously not of Earth origin. Jack assumed a naquadah generator was powering the city.

“Not sure,” he admitted. “A few odds and ends are starting to rumble around. I’m working on it.”

“Good,” Enki nodded, pleased.

“Are you Furling?” Jack asked directly. Enki smiled.

“Just for that, I will tell you yes,” he replied in the same.

“Narim, a Tollan, paid us a visit a few days ago,” Jack continued. “He said something that made Sam think about that arch Erra dropped off. She put two and two together and came up Furling. Why the big secret?”

“Because if you knew from the start, you’d rely on us for answers,” Enki said. “You needed to get there on your own. Daniel told us about the Tollan’s visit. Unprecedented, to say the least. I think we need to go talk to them; it’s one thing for the Nox to decide to Ascend, it’s an entirely different matter for the Tollan to Ascend. They’re not ready. They have physical knowledge, but they’ve done nothing about the spiritual knowledge. They won’t Ascend without it.”

Jack frowned. “I’m not spiritual, does that mean I won’t ascend?”

Enki chuckled. “Jack, your question is pointless. You are genetically an Ancient. When the times comes, you will know what to do. It’s built into your DNA. The Tollan are not genetically superior, they’re just a bunch of wise-guys who learned how to manipulate matter. A relatively simple trick, once you know how.”

Jack stopped. “But I’m not an Ancient,” he insisted, still not quite believing that part of the whole deal.

Enki looked at him and shook a finger. “Don’t make me smack you, boy, we’ve had this conversation before. Why do you think it was possible for all that material to be downloaded into your brain? Only an Ancient could have triggered it, and I’ve told you this before.”

“I thought anyone with the gene could do it,” Jack said. “I just happened to be the one there. Daniel almost did it the second time we found one of those things.”

“He could have, since he had already Ascended.” Enki shrugged. He began walking again and Jack followed. “There’s the general, all-purpose gene that a lot of your people have, and then there’s you. You’re a throw-back, Jack. A genetic anomaly. Your family tree is one continuous Ancient line and it all culminated in you. On your mother’s side, by the way. The maternal line is always the stronger. Technically, you could make an argument for not being human. As for your spirituality –Jack, I heard what you said to Matthew. Do you realize that most parents never say the word ‘joyful’ to their child in their entire life? And here you are actively encouraging your children to pursue it. ‘Joy’ is the very essence of spirituality, Jack, and you’ve been wallowing quite happily in it.” Enki patted Jack on the cheek and allowed himself to be taken in hand by excited children who wanted to play.

The sky was slightly red from the filters Enki had placed in the ozone to keep out the damaging rays of the dual stars. It made some of the plant life more purple than green, but the insects didn’t seem to care; bees buzzed and crickets chirped a merry tune. Stacy and Davy waved to Jack from on top of their horses out in the pasture where Jonathan had taken them out for riding lessons. Jack waved back. Sam found Jack sitting on a fence.

“Hey.” She walked around to the front and put her hands on his thighs. “Are you alright?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” he assured her. “I don’t suppose you’d like to find a field and make love with me?”

She smiled and reached up to kiss him. “Ask me in a week,” she said. “My period started.”

Jack frowned. “Already?” he asked. “I thought you’d have at least another month before it started up again.”

“Me, too,” she grimaced. “Oh, well. Inanna gave me a handful of some kind of spongy insert. It can stay in the entire week, taken out, washed, and reused. The women here use them. I’m bringing a couple home to Cassie.”

“A little more than I needed to know, but okay,” Jack said. She laughed and leaned into his chest. He leaned down and buried his face in her hair. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she responded. “Jack, are you sure you’re alright?”

“I’m fine,” he said with a smile. He took her face in his hands and kissed her, slowly, lovingly. “Should we go and find our Danny, now?” he asked, weaving his fingers through her hair.

“Yes, I think so,” she said. He kissed her, mapping the lips he already knew. Her fingers stroked his lower back as they suckled and licked gently at each other’s mouths. Jack took one last kiss and reluctantly stopped before things became a problem.

Jack and Sam let the kids know they were leaving and to mind Nanna and General Hammond. Stacy informed them that she would be grateful if they returned with her Daddy.

“Yes, ma’am,” Jack said and kissed her cheek.

Everyone on the mission got aboard the Heaven’s Bow and settled in. They already knew where their ‘kidnap’ victims were, and it would take only a short trip to get there.

“Jack, there’s a mothership dead ahead,” came Ninurta’s voice over the intercom.

“Is it ours?” he asked.

“I believe so,” the bridge said. Jack walked quickly to the bridge.

“Any contact?” Jack asked.

“Nothing on the channels, yet,” Ninurta said. “Try your own brand of scanning. See if you can find Daniel.” Any of the Anunnaki could have done it, yet they insisted on forcing Jack to practice. He knew they’d take over in an emergency, though.

Jack sat and reached out for Daniel’s familiar ‘scent.’ “He’s there,” Jack said. The rest of the people on the bridge breathed a sigh of relief. “He’s calm, so everything must be good. I think I’m getting Zu. Can he pop over this far?”

Ninurta held out an arm. “Zu, to me!” he called out. A moment later, the bird was sitting on the arm. “How’s it going?” he asked the bird. It rattled on in their own language and then popped back out. Ninurta chuckled.

“He says your men are tripping over themselves in their humiliation at having civilians knowing more than they do,” Ninurta said.

“Good,” Jack grinned.

“Zu said to give them a little more time. Daniel and Rya’c are about to storm the bridge and take out the evil snakes. We should be close enough for a visual.” Ninurta fiddled with controls for the camera they had planted, and the main screen changed to show the inside of the bridge. Malek sat at the main chair with Rak’nor pacing off to his side.

“Here they come,” Kar’yn said from a station where she monitored the hall activity.

Jack reached out again. The image of a corridor filled his mind, startling him. Ninurta felt Jack's jump and told him to relax and go with it. Jack was seeing from Daniel’s eyes. After a moment, he decided he was impressed; he hadn’t realized that Daniel had picked up so much military training. He no longer barged through intersections without looking first, he listened to all the surrounding noises, he was quiet on his feet, kept himself tucked into the walls, calculated his movements, and even coiled up a piece of loose cable he came across, and looped it over his shoulder.

“Wow,” Jack commented to himself.

Daniel glanced behind and saw Rya’c, Mason (with a bloody eyebrow), and several other Jaffa and Marines scattered down the hall. Daniel motioned and Mason stepped forward.

“Take two men and head down that corridor,” Daniel whispered and pointed. “On your right will be a conduit just before a door.” He explained the layout of the corridor and the behavior of the Jaffa that the Marines needed to watch for. Jack had a feeling of frustration from Daniel and assumed that it wasn’t the first time Daniel had tried explaining anything to the men. Despite his grumbles, Jack knew the Marines weren’t that dense, so maybe it was one marine in particular that was refusing to pay attention.

Mason and two men headed silently down the corridor, and Daniel motioned for several more to split up at another corridor. Jack pictured the layout of the ship and saw that Daniel was surrounding the bridge before entering. Daniel held out his hands and a child stepped into them. The child put a knife between his teeth and Daniel hoisted him up to a vent. The child scurried inside and was gone. Jack recognized the boy as one of the Jaffa trainees.

Daniel stood to one side of the door and Rya’c to the other. Rya’c fiddled with the door controls. On a count of three, Rya’c took out the main crystal and the door opened. They jumped in headfirst to the floor. Zat fire hit the walls on either side of the door. Jack knew the zats were fixed at bare minimal power, but the Marines didn’t know that. Daniel took a smack to the head and spent a moment dizzy. Mason found himself taken on by a teenage girl and wound up thrown halfway across the room.

The child dropped from above and landed on Malek. The slow weight and knife immediately penetrated the shield and Malek went down, startled, not having expected an aerial attack. Daniel jumped in and hog-tied the ‘System Lord.’

“Check-mate!” Daniel shouted. The fighting stopped and Jaffa stood around looking down their noses at the mystified Marines. Daniel put a boot in Mason’s side and shook him. “Up and at ‘em, Colonel,” he said. “Shake it off.”

Jack and Ninurta laughed and got up from their seats.

“Come on,” Jack said to Sam and Ferretti.

They beamed over and looked at the wreckage of the bridge.

“Messy, messy, Daniel,” Jack said, toeing a piece of console.

“Yeah, well….” Daniel stood with a zat shouldered.

“Ja…. General, what the hell is going on?” Mason demanded as he forced himself to throw off the stun. His men gathered slowly behind him. None of them looked happy.

“O’Neill training,” Jack told him.

“You sent a child through the ventilation system?” Malek asked Daniel in disbelief. Said child grinned at him. Jack clapped Malek on the shoulder.

“Malek, Malek…. How many years have you known Daniel?” Jack asked. “You should know by now not to underestimate him. For shame, Mal. Getting slow in your old age.”

Sam took a quick look at everyone and declared no one seriously injured.

“Good,” Jack declared. “Then while we are headed back to Chulak, I want a meeting with the commanders of this mission. Rya’c, I’d like to hear from you, too, come on. Colonel, you and your men will be debriefed later.”

“So. What’d you think of Colonel Addison?” Jack asked Daniel once they were out of sight of the bridge.

“Why?” Daniel asked, suspicious.

“He’s a cousin,” Jack said.

Daniel nodded, his brow clearing. “That explains a few things. Well, I think he’s a well-trained Marine. I also think that the military in general needs to change their training tactics. They make no allowances for local culture. They fight like the British did when they came over to put the fear of God back into the colonials.”

Jack thought for a moment. “They march into every situation in the same style,” he said. “The colonials had taken lessons from the local tribes, which was why they won the War for Independence. Our military has not taken history as a lesson.”

“Correct,” Daniel nodded. “The colonel and his men saw civilians as an impediment instead of local experts. It was like pulling teeth to get them to shut up and listen, and they only did so because everyone else ganged up on them. Pride goeth before the fall. And they fell. They even refused to see Zu as a source of information. No one who was not American could be trusted. I couldn’t be trusted because I had lived too long among the locals and I had probably gone over. Even though I'm northern European by genetics, I was also Egyptian born, which made me automatically suspect. To give the guys their due, though, I think that if we had a few more days they would have settled down into a proper learning mode. They started to listen, once in a while, and I got the colonel to follow my lead for that last battle.”

“They were madder than hornets when we got there. They were ready to storm down the corridors and take out everyone they came across. Not an especially bad plan, letting God sort out the bodies, but they were going to use up all their energy before knowing the layout of the battlefield. They didn’t even know who they were fighting. Gibil and Erra sat back and pretended to be ranchers, so I sent Zu out for recon on the assumption that a real Goa’uld wouldn’t realize that he was sentient. When he started talking, the men thought it was just cute macaw parroting. They started to change their minds when Zu kept coming back with reports. After that, they began to listen.”

“So, you got their attention,” Jack said. Daniel nodded.

“I think so, yes. Were you watching any of it?” Daniel asked.

“The last few minutes,” Jack said. “I followed you down the corridor to the bridge. You did a good job, Danny, I was impressed. What made you think to pick up that cord?”

“Too many MacGyver episodes.”

“Daniel is being generous, Jack,” Erra said, jumping in. Gibil, Malek, and Rya’c agreed. From the various inputs, Jack learned that ‘Lord Khonsu’ informed the men that this was a retaliatory strike against Jack by taking Daniel, and against the sholva, Teal’c, by taking Rya’c, and that the others would become new Jaffa, since Jack had stolen all their slaves. Everyone tried telling them that, besides the fact that it was standing orders to rescue Dr. Jackson, Daniel was the one who spoke and read the language, he knew the ship’s layout, and he had the experience of escaping from these ships. They didn’t listen and the colonel insisted that the non-military keep quiet so that the men could think. Rya’c argued that he was military, as were several others who had been taken. They were ignored and then threatened when Rya’c attempted to take charge.

Jack shooed them out and had Mason sent for. Once the colonel was standing before him, Jack repeated the verbal report. Addison’s jaw became tighter and tighter.

“Now, I know for a fact that you are not as ignorant as you made yourself on this outing, Colonel,” Jack said. “So I’m going to assume you allowed your personal feelings to get in the way of common sense. Tell me I’m wrong.”

“Is this off the record? Sir?” Addison asked coldly.

“For the moment,” Jack warned.

“You deliberately put me and my men in the hands of children in an effort to humiliate me, you disrespected me and my own experiences as a soldier, and now I see that you have allowed your own fame to go to your head by acting as a warlord out here where the eyes of Earth and the American government cannot see you.”

“Are you insane?” Jack asked, eyebrows climbing higher and higher. “Are you the only person on the face of the Earth who has not read CMSgt. Harriman’s book? Daniel’s book will be out in a few months; it’s a real eye-opener. If you had been paying attention, you would have known that Rya’c was a warrior in just about all the battles over the past few years and he can match you as an experienced soldier. He knew the battlefield and you refused his experience, so who exactly was disrespecting whom? Dr. Jackson also knows his way around a battlefield, much to his own regret, and you disrespected his knowledge. Gibil and Erra may be herding cattle, at the moment, but did it occur to you to ask them if they had any battle experience? They’re Anunnaki, Colonel. Every one of those people that were with you had battle experience. You had seasoned soldiers all around you, and you disrespected them. As for your contention that I’m playing warlord, I can’t begin to tell you how much bullshit that is. These are my friends and I asked them a favor in an attempt to respond to YOUR request to be trained in Jaffa-style fighting. I showed you great respect, Colonel, by offering you up to the masters because I thought you were capable of that challenge. You failed, Colonel, miserably.”

Chapter 40

All the Marines except Addison were sent home. The colonel was taken back to Kalam until Jack decided to go home. Addison would then be transferred to the SGC and trained by Col. Bosco until Jack felt ready to send Addison back to Chulak. And Addison  would return to Chulak. Addison protested and Jack reminded him that he had the permission of the Joint Chiefs to train anyway he saw fit. The Joint Chiefs were not happy with Jack’s initial report. At least Jack got them to agree that the forces needed to be shaken up with new training methods; the cookie-cutter method was getting their boys and girls killed on the battle fields. It was a new era and the kids needed to know how to think on their feet, not be turned into drones.

“Is this really necessary?” Maggie asked, interrupting his murmured conversation with Daniel and Ninurta. Daniel had discovered that the elusive Ereshkigal had been ill and was confined to bed. Jack didn’t think the old-timers ever got sick. Ninurta said that she exhausted herself helping Enki put the planet together and they were keeping it quiet because there were still a few Beings in the galaxy who were kept at bay through the threat of the lady’s power. Jack still didn’t understand the dark queen’s role.

Jack didn’t open his eyes. “Yes, it is, Mom,” he said. “I am dealing with a colonel, not your nephew, so please…..”

A shadow moved across his closed eyes. “You’re humiliating him, Jack,” she told him. He rubbed his eyes and blinked blurrily before putting his dark glasses on.

“He humiliated himself,” he said. “His pride got his entire team captured, and almost destroyed. He almost got civilians killed. He’s lucky I didn’t boot him out an airlock. Now. I’m drawing a line here, Mom. I love you and I don’t want to hurt your feelings by pulling rank with you.”

At least Hammond wasn’t coming down on Jack; he understood.

“As a highly decorated officer, he should have known better,” Hammond said after hearing the story. “If a remedial class is what he needs, so be it. Maybe we’ll make a general out of him, yet.”

Daniel turned in a half-doze and buried his face near Jack’s side after Maggie left. “She doesn’t understand,” he murmured. “She sees only her son and her nephew fighting.”

“I know,” Jack said. “It’s why I try and keep her away from my work. She wants to mother everyone, and this isn’t a mothering situation. Bosco will take over and teach him about the new military.”

“Why not Reynolds?” Daniel asked, curious.

“Reynolds is better at first contact and scouting,” Jack said, having changed his mind. “Bosco is a good trainer.”

“Oh.”

Jack sighed and absently stroked the tips of his fingers down Daniel’s back.

“Mason is a good soldier, Danny, he earned his rank, don’t get me wrong, but he’s a meathead. He bulldozes his way into situations without regard for the situation itself and he disrespects his experts.”

“Sounds familiar,” Daniel commented. He got his hair pulled and the back of his neck kissed.

“And it took a couple of irritating scientists to knock it out of me,” Jack admitted as he pecked at Daniel’s smooth back, enjoying the musk that came out under the sun’s warmth. One of the local children came running up and Ninurta obligingly kissed an owie. Sam came out of the water, wrapped a towel around her waist, and dried her hair with another. Jack sat up and leaned back against the tree. He patted the ground between his legs and Sam sat down. He took the towel and dried her back and gently toweled her hair.

“He’s a Special Ops soldier?” Ninurta asked.

“Something like that,” Jack said.

“I won’t ask details. I assume he’s been on his own missions while you’ve been fighting aliens,” Ninurta said. “So he’s had no contact with current events. Much like the citizens, he doesn’t understand what all this has to do with him and his work. He has children? Has he noticed anything different in them?”

“Make an argument that hits closer to home?” Daniel asked.

“Correct,” Ninurta said with a nod. “Jack, I can sense your antipathy toward your kin, but how can you lead the way if you don’t get over yourself first?”

Jack scowled. “He’s an ass, Ninurta,” he informed the warrior.

“That’s your opinion. Others love him. Your mother loves him. I’m almost sure his wife loves him, and his children. There is an aspect of him that you don’t know. I get a sense of great depth in him. And an over-abundance of pride, yes.”

“How come you guys don’t get along?” Daniel asked.

Jack sat back against the tree and shrugged as Sam nestled into his torso. “Personality, I guess,” he said. “We were always at each other. I was extremely happy when his parents moved to North Carolina when he was a teenager. Got him out of my hair.”

“What kinds of things did you fight about?” Sam asked.

“Everything,” Jack said. “He had no sense of self-control. He was always loud and obnoxious, always had to be right, always had to be better.”

“You guys look about the same age,” Daniel commented. “Did you have classes together?”

“Same age,” Jack said. “He’s a Christmas baby. We were in the same class.”

Sam poked Jack on the leg. “Hello,” she called out. “Earth to Jack. Try getting inside and find out if there’s anything interesting you could work with.”

“Oh. Right. I actually don’t want to rummage around inside of him,” Jack whined. He regretted it when three pairs of eyes focused on him. “Okay, okay,” he held out his hands in defense. “Just… give me time.” Someone called out to Ninurta and he excused himself just as Katie came up to them and stood with her hands on her hips. Olivia babbled at her big sister from her place in her shaded jumper, and Sam took her out and put her on the grass to play.

“Is that a swim suit or a piece of dental floss?” Jack asked, looking at her mostly bare body.

“What did you tell Malek?” she asked.

“In regards to…?”

“Me. I asked him if he wanted to go for a walk and he said you threatened him with that pukku if he even looked at me.”

Jack sighed. “Honey, he isn’t a teenager, he’s an adult. You are not. No matter what that piece of ribbon is pretending to cover.”

“That isn’t fair, Uncle Jack, it’s my choice,” she angrily informed him. “He can’t be that much older than me.”

“Don’t Uncle Jack me, and he’s about forty-five not twenty-five,” Jack said. “His symbiote keeps him looking young for a long time.”

“He’s a good guy, Jack, he won’t take advantage of her,” Daniel murmured. “And he's actually about sixty-two.” Sam looked shocked at the information, and then turned to find the Tok'ra.

“More like who would be taking advantage of whom,” Jack returned. “Alright. You may go for a walk with him. I don’t want to be a grandparent before you’re thirty, Katherine.”

She rolled her eyes. “You have a one-track mind.”

“Okay, I’ll settle for twenty-five. Get Malek over here.”

Katie’s eyes went wide. “You aren’t going to embarrass me, are you?”

“You’re the one who wanted me to be your father, so I consider it my sworn duty to embarrass you once in a while,” Jack informed her. “Now please find that adult male alien with the snake in his head and ask him to come see me.”

She huffed and stalked off, rolling her eyes.

“What the hell is she not wearing?” Jack asked, not sure if he should be thankful she wasn’t completely nude.

“You aren’t really going to ask Malek his intentions, are you?” Daniel asked.

“Watch me,” Jack promised.

Malek approached while Katie stood defiantly several yards away.

“Well?” Jack asked Malek, not believing that he was so much older than he looked. Malek paused for a moment to consider.

“Katie asked if I would walk with her,” Malek said. “I explained your displeasure. She is equally displeased. She seems an adult to me, so I must be unaware of some cultural issue. Does your culture require the permission of a male? Should I have asked you first?”

Daniel snorted and buried his face in the section of grass he was laying on.

“No, she doesn’t need permission,” Jack said, ignoring Daniel. “According to our laws, though, she will not be an adult for another year. If you were closer to her age, I’d probably allow it…. no, I wouldn’t. I’m still having trouble with the whole symbiote thing. I keep seeing you kissing her and that snake going from you to her through her mouth.”

Malek frowned. “It doesn’t work like that,” he said. “I have been with Tavor a long time; if I were to leave him in that manner, so abruptly, it would kill him, and I have too much affection for him to do that. Jack, I had no intention of having sex with Katie; she requested that we walk and talk. I will respect your wishes in this, but I truly believe you are not being fair to her; she heard about Tok’ra medicine and wished to discuss it.”

Both Daniel and Sam looked at Jack. He winced and puffed out his cheeks as he pet the top of his hung head.

“Okay,” he finally said. “Go… discuss.”

Malek inclined his head and walked back to Katie who was waiting with her arms crossed. At least she had put a colorful wrap around her waist. Jack groaned and fell to the side, mashing his nose in the ground. Someone thumped his head with a finger.

“Do it again,” he said into the ground. Thwack!

The kids came and took Daniel away for water time. Davy paddled around in the shallow end with floaties on his thin arms while Stacy used her father as a jumping board until he claimed his advancing age. Thankfully, Jonathan and Shara came down to the water and took over kid-duty. Pretty soon, the lake was the main party place. There was some discussion about the clothing optional policy that the locals had, so Inanna declared that a section of the lake would be for those who needed clothing for their culture. Everyone else could play at another section. She added the rule to the on-going notes she was taking for the council building that was being built; with all the different cultures coming to the planet, some local things needed to be set aside while in the multicultural section. If off-worlders came into the local section, they get what they get.

The small town was modern, much to the interest of the humans. They had expected, for some strange reason, to see crude wooden huts. Since the planet was originally sand, Enki had left a great deal of silicon in the matrix. It was then used to create the buildings and most of the working parts such as plumbing. They even used it to create fabrics for clothing and household use. Sam asked Shara what they did about the pollution from the silicon processing, and Jack tuned out. He went to find Jonathan and talk about the actual engineering of the city.

The main building, where Inanna and her family lived, was at the center of town. The large building also housed various governing offices. At the far northern end of town, a space port was being built. The Heaven’s Bow usually sat there when she wasn’t on patrol. The port was being enlarged to take five ships her size. Larger ships would have to park in orbit and find another way down. And no landing without permission. The gate was in the main building and there was a ring platform at the space port. The Anunnaki took a tip from the Tau’ri and put locks on both and hooked their DHD up to a computer. They thought that was a nifty idea and Sam smiled when she saw the set up. They still refused to say where they took the new gate and DHD from. Jack hadn’t heard of anyone screaming about a missing chaapa’i, though, so maybe it wasn’t too bad. A lot of deserted planets had gates that weren’t being used. On the south side of town were crops, to the east was cattle, and to the west was the nearest lake.

Several women had made it a point to approach Jack and thank him for making it possible for them to relocate off Earth. He and his partners were plied with freshly baked breads, pies, cakes, and cookies. Some of the new members of Kalam were men; more fresh blood in the gene-pool, Inanna had said. The Anunnaki had grown from under one hundred to just over two hundred members. Not everyone was from Earth; other friendly planets had been dipped into for new DNA.

A groan and creaking drew their attention to Ferretti who was being helped off a horse by Erra.

“No more horses,” Ferretti declared. He leaned on his cane for a moment. Sweat beaded his forehead and someone hurriedly brought a chair for him. Jack saw the anger on the man’s face, anger at his own weakness, and went over to him.

“Hey, Jack,” Ferretti said, slightly breathless. Jack squatted down next to him and put his hands on Ferretti’s leg. A moment later, Ferretti was looking from his pain-free leg to Jack and back again.

“What the hell’d you do?” Ferretti asked in disbelief.

“I learned a little acupressure,” Jack told him, getting to his feet. “Have you been in the water, yet? It’s a nice temperature.”

“This body isn’t made for public displays anymore,” Lou said with a weary grin. “Unlike others. You been working out or what?” He looked Jack up and down.

“Something like that,” Jack said, wondering how he could get out of ever hearing that question again; he didn't think he had begun to look that bad. “You enjoying yourself otherwise?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Lou said. He took a deep breath and looked out across the land. “This is incredible, Jack; this cannot be Abydos.”

Jack sat on the ground next to him, wrapping his arms around his knees as he watched the kids playing. “Anubis destroyed all of it,” he said quietly. “Not only every living thing but even the buildings. All of it. Not one shred of evidence that anyone had lived here, was left by the time he was done with it.”

“This guy is dead, right?” Ferretti asked.

“Very dead,” Jack nodded. At least, they hoped he was; there was always the chance that Anubis could escape from Oma and the Ascended, and return to finish what he had started, which was the destruction of all life in the galaxy. No one needed to know that, though.

“Do I want to know how this planet was changed?” Ferretti asked.

“Nope, you don’t,” Jack said.

“I don’t want to know how you’ve been doing a few odd things, do I?”

“Nope.”

“Jack!” Daniel came over and grabbed Jack’s hand. “Come on, it’s us verses them. Volleyball. Lou, you can be the ref. I can’t guarantee there won’t be blind ref jokes.”

The teams argued for a short time on which side Jonathan would play for; after all, the Tau’ri team had a woman on it, so they needed an extra man. The Anunnaki weren’t buying it and insisted that Sam could hold her own quite nicely. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to have both Jack and Jonathan on the same team. Jonathan pulled his hair back with a leather thong and grinned nastily at Jack.

Mason kept looking at Jonathan and Jack, but no one was saying anything except the usual story about Jonathan joining their lives a few years earlier. Jack ordered Mason to play ball with them. Mason wasn’t happy. Everyone was completely frivolous with the rules, the ball was repeatedly hit toward various people who had decided to make out on the back row, and Jack and Jonathan had to be separated whenever they began to argue. Pairing each other on opposite sides of the net had been a bad idea; they knew each other’s moves and frequently hogged the ball. Mason’s mood wasn’t being helped by Erra making overt invitations. Zu was sitting on a net post, cackling and egging Erra on with his own commentary.

“Jack!” Mason hissed, stalking up to Jack. “If that…. person… hits on me one more time, I’m taking him down and to hell with diplomatic relations!”

“Chill out, Mace,” Jack said. “He’s trying to get your goat and you’re letting him. Would you be pissed if it were a woman teasing you?”

“Of course not!”

“So chill,” Jack advised. “He thinks you’re attractive and he’s teasing you. It’s a compliment; take it as such. You’re acting like a nervous virgin; you’re Black Ops, fer chrissake, get it together. And you can’t take Erra, not on your own. According to Daniel, he’s the god of pestilence, and I’d rather not know how he came by that moniker. Play ball.”

Inanna watched from the sidelines with the children and others who were not playing. Maggie and Abigail sat with their yarn, Olivia between them. Hammond played ball; he wasn’t too much older than Jack, and Jack was happy to see the older man had been taking care of himself. Hammond had lost about thirty pounds since Jack had met him, and it showed in the extra energy.

“Jack, you really do have nice legs,” Inanna commented, looking at his bared legs, the scruff of his shorts midway down his thighs. There were several hoots. “They look like they’d be nice to be wrapped in.”

“They are!” came two voices. Jack missed the shot amidst laughter.

“You’re supposed to be on my side,” he told Daniel and Sam.

“Is it our fault if Inanna’s observations are….” Sam started.

“Na na na,” Jack waved a finger. “We’re winning and she’s trying to distract us.”

“Well, Jack, you’re legs are distracting,” Daniel told him. There was more laughter. “Let’s ask the expert,” Daniel said. “Mom, commentary on your son’s legs?”

“Perfection, of course,” Maggie informed them, concentrating on a stitch. “They certainly grew strong enough kicking my ribs and bladder.”

Jack fell to the ground as everyone laughed. The ball hit the ground next to Jack’s head.

“Tie!” Jonathan yelled. “And my legs are better.”

Mason stalked away as the two compared legs.

A short time later, they were invaded by Jaffa. Specifically, Teal’c, Bre’tac, Rya’c, Kar’yn, and Ka’lel. Jack wasn’t sure he liked the way Teal’c was hovering around Bre’tac. While Bre’tac sat and talked with Hammond, the rest joined the volleyball game.  Many rules were challenged and changed when Jaffa and Anunnaki ganged up on Tau’ri.

When the adults tired, the kids took over the net and ball. People dove into the lake to wash off sweat and then returned to the grassy bank. Jack put his t-shirt on and leaned back on his elbows.

“Inanna,” Jack got her attention. “We have a lot of small countries that are not in line with the plans,” he said. “The problem is that these countries are about a hundred years behind the times, if not more. Very tribal. There are seven main countries that are a problem; two of them I think we can get to tow the line. If we block the others, shut their borders to import and export, will that work for the Unified Worlds?”

An elegant eyebrow lifted. “You want to shun them? That’s harsh,” she warned.

“Yes, it is,” Jack agreed. “And the UN is already pissed with me for not including them from the beginning of HomeWorld Security. This will piss them off even more. North Korea, Pakistan, India, Japan, Iran, China, and Afghanistan are the problem children; now, I think we can get Japan and Afghanistan to play semi-nice and I think India will settle down if we can get Pakistan to settle. North Korea, China, and Iran are the headliners, though. The main argument coming from higher up has to do with hurt feelings, but the truth is that economics will take a big hit. I say people will need to buy local for a while.”

“What’s the problem with Japan?” Ferretti asked. “I thought they were friendly.”

“They are,” Jack acknowledged. “The problem is that I don’t trust them not to sell any technology we give them. They seem to have an open-door policy in regards to their business practices. Can you imagine China with one of our ships?”

“I see your point,” Ferretti nodded. “Can we trust the Russians? We’re always finding their weapons in the hands of extremists.”

“Yes, but those are black market and Col. Chekhov has been working hard to curb that,” Jack said. “Their entire military has been going through an overhaul. He’s also been trying to get their mandatory draft abolished.”

“Good, maybe it’ll cut down on those reports of abuse,” Sam glared.

“I’ve run into a few issues of my own,” Hammond said. “There’s been some underground hazing in a few of the groups. Jack, you may want to keep an eye on that cadet, Kendrick; that boy’s been very helpful. Seems to be developing one of those rogue talents. He’s able to pick up images and transmit them. Like Zu, I guess. He needs to be in close contact, but he can do it. He’s been playing advocate for those who are less fortunate in holding their own, and keeping me informed privately through this thing he’s doing. He and I have been keeping it from everyone else. You can imagine the problems if any of the other cadets or officers found out.”

“What year is he?” Jack asked.

“Second,” Hammond told him.

Jack considered the information. “Well, forget the cadets and officers; I can imagine what would happen if the CIA or NSA got hold of him,” he commented. “God help us if the NID gets him. Do I need to get him out of there?”

Hammond ruminated over it. “Maybe,” he finally said. “He’s a good kid, Jack; I think he’ll make a good officer. Try hiding Clark Kent, though.”

Jack understood. “I’ll talk with him when I get home. How’d you find out?”

“He knew of our relationship, read me kinda like you do, and knew he could trust me.”

“Keep your eyes open, George; if anything starts to happen, hustle him through the gate. I’ll have him classified to me as soon as we get home. Let’s put this topic on hold, though,” Jack said. “Inanna, what do you think about the planetary issue?”

“I’d have to consult with the rest of the council, but it might be do-able,” she said with a nod. “There is precedent for admitting a world that has a few countries not in agreement. Take Mulakma, for example. As long as the majority is able to hold power, and do so in a peaceful manner, the world has been admitted.”

“Chulak offers agreement,” Bre’tac said.

“The Tok’ra agree,” Malek said. Jack had unconsciously breathed a sigh of relief when Malek had brought Katie back and she was still completely dressed. As dressed as she could be in that piece of ribbon she had been wearing. Jack forced himself to trust her and respect her privacy by NOT reaching into her emotions.

“As does Kalam,” Inanna nodded. “I will send a message to the others this evening. And send the young man here, if you need to, General,” she said to Hammond. “We will shield him.”

“He’s a fan of yours,” Jack told her with a quirk of his mouth. “You probably saw him with Jonathan at our picnic. Modern pagan kid who thinks the Queen of Heaven is his goddess.”

“Is he handsome?” the Queen asked. Zu chirped from Ninurta’s shoulder and sent an image. “Oh, that one,” Inanna nodded imperiously. “Yes, he is acceptable for Our needs.” Ninurta chuckled and stroked her leg.

“Daddy! Can I go play with the chickens? There’s babies!” Davy came running up to the group.

“I don’t know,” Jack considered. “I haven’t felt the love in a while. Nope, not feelin’ it.” The boy giggled and threw his arms around Jack’s neck for a hug, and kissed Jack loudly on the cheek. Jack shooed him away to find chickens.

“At least the kids will sleep well tonight,” Sam commented. The kids had been nonstop all day in the fresh air and sunshine.

Daniel came over to them, breathing hard from his workout with Teal’c. They had fun beating each other with training staves. He fell next to Jack and lay flat on his back to catch his breath.

“The kids are happy.” The observant comment came from the sidelines. Mason. He tilted his head toward Matthew who was playing with a group of local boys. “Last time I saw them with Megan and Andrew, they were uptight and on edge. This is nice to see.”

“Thank you,” Jack acknowledged. “We listen to them and love them. Don’t know what else to do.”

Daniel gave Jack’s hand a squeeze and turned to lay his head on Jack’s thigh. There was a ruckus toward the city and they looked to see what it was about. Two strangers came walking swiftly toward their group, and warriors immediately jumped to the ready. A nearby servant rounded up the children and non-combatants, took the baby from Sam’s arms, and herded them off.

“You have not been invited here,” Inanna informed the two men.

“We know O’Neill is here, we demand justice,” one of the men insisted. Warriors surrounded the men. No one was armed, except for Jack and his pukku, but they all knew what fists and feet were for. “You are not the council leader, woman, step aside. You are O’Neill,” the one informed Jack who had stepped up to Inanna’s back.

“What is it with picnics and you?” Jack asked Inanna.

“My good-natured charm,” she told him. “These two….”

“We demand to be heard,” the man said again.

“I heard you the first time,” Jack scowled. “And mind your manners, or I’ll mind them for you. Who are you and what do you want?”

Warriors came running from the city, all of them armed. Inanna held up a hand and they paused.

“We are Ra’batinu and we demand the return of our women and children,” pinched face informed him.

“You’ll need to be a little clearer,” Jack said, cupping his ear. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“We requested membership to your unified worlds, and we were refused,” baldy said in a halfway moderate tone. “Apparently our society is not welcome as per your treaty. We do not apologize for our ways, and we accepted the decision. When council representatives came to our world during the decision making process, several of our women and children were stolen from us. We demand their return.”

Jack turned to Inanna.

“I do not deny we have people here formerly of Ra’batin,” she said. “They requested asylum and we granted it. They feared for their lives, so we helped them to leave quietly.”

Jack sighed and rubbed the side of his head.

“Conference room?”

Inanna gave a nod and motioned for them to follow.

“Daniel!” Daniel caught up with Jack and whispered. “Sam, find out who these women are and get their story,” Jack called back. “Jonathan, you’re on cub duty. Why don’t you take the colonel with you? Colonel Addison, Jonathan out-ranks you.” Malek and Bre’tac, also council representatives, followed Jack while Jonathan, Shara, and a frowning Mason went to find the kids and Maggie.

“Okay,” Jack said once they were in a private room. He took a seat and leaned back, hands behind his head. “Inanna, which section did this world of theirs get disqualified for?”

“The slavery issue,” she said. Ninurta went to a shelf and pulled out a copy of the treaty. He opened it to the needed section.

No sentient being shall be bought or sold without their express permission,” he read and skimmed down. “All sentient beings shall be rendered full health care by their communities… Education and knowledge shall be made available to all sentient beings.”

“Ra’batin failed on these three issues,” Inanna said, nodding as Ninurta read out loud. “Their women are considered to be worth less than beasts and are treated even worse. Unwanted female babies are often killed, and the boys are put to work as soon as they are able to understand instructions. One of the women who came to us was not becoming pregnant and was going to be sent to the slave pits; it doesn’t seem to occur to the men that they might be the reason for the lack of a child. Our examination of this particular woman showed that she is fertile. Another woman was tired of her baby girls being killed, and the third was tired of broken bones. They each came to us and requested our help. We took the three women, four sons, and two daughters. Healer Gula had to do extensive work to repair the damage to all the broken bones in the face of the third woman. One of the children has been too terrified to speak. Apparently she was slapped down every time she made a sound.”

Baldy, whose name turned out to be Kezian, gave a reluctant nod when Jack looked at them.

“Name one society that is perfect,” he said. “We do not condone these types of actions, anymore than you would. Be that as it may, a woman is owned by her husband and he may do as he wishes with her. I do not treat my wives in that manner, nor my children. What my neighbor does is not my business.”

“Do….” Daniel began and belatedly looked at Jack. He was motioned to continue. “Does your society have laws in place which the women can turn to for help?”

“She can seek recompense through the nearest male relative,” Kezian said.

“And if her nearest male relative doesn’t have a problem with what is happening, is there anything in your laws which will help a woman who is beaten on a regular basis?” Daniel asked.

“No,” Kezian said after a moment with a shake of his head.

“And is there anything to stop someone from killing a child?” Daniel asked.

“Men are needed to help fill quotas,” the other one, Edur said impatiently. Jack didn’t like his pinched face. “Girls cannot do the work of men, and if there is no one working, there is no food to feed these children. Daughters need dowry for marriage; too many daughters means not enough dowry to procure a decent marriage. It is a kindness to be rid of them while they are new, and to try again for a son.”

“Your daughters are weak because you insist they be that way,” Ninurta said, clipped. “A child, any child, is as strong as you make him or her. Our daughters work side by side with men, and they are just as strong and capable.”

“Whoa,” Jack called, holding up a hand and cutting through the arguments that were starting. “Time out. The issue on the table is the missing women and children. Now. Inanna. You don’t want to hear this, but I’m going to say it. And I’m doing so because I’ve been in your position. The women and children need to be returned.”

“I refuse,” she stated. “They came to us for help, I gave them help.”

Jack reached over and put a hand over hers. “Darlin’, I understand, I really do; it’s one thing to take a few homeless kids from Earth, don’t think I didn’t notice, but it’s an entirely different matter when a planet comes calling.”

The door opened and Sam came in. She put her laptop on the table and turned it for everyone to see.

“What’ve you got?” Jack asked.

“Well, I’d say the women are here of their own free will,” she told them. She turned on the video. One by one, the women all stated that they were afraid for their lives if they were returned home. They wanted to stay. They were learning how to read and write, they were growing healthy, their children were healthy. They pleaded to not be sent back.

“They are the property of their husbands,” Edur insisted when the video was done. “That is their place, not wasting time with all this nonsense. Return them to us at once.”

“How much?”

They looked at Daniel who had leaned back and folded his hands over his stomach.

“How much what?” Jack asked.

“How much do they want for the women and children?” Daniel asked. “He said they are property. How much for the property? I’ll buy them. Name the price.”

“You’re gonna do what?” Both Sam and Jack looked at him as though he had grown a second head. The Ra’batinu were also confused.

“Well, Jack, I have stuff from all over the galaxy, including gems and minerals; I think I can afford it,” he said.

Jack stared at him. “Isn’t our house crowded enough?” he asked with extra patience.

“So, can they or can they not be bought?” Daniel asked the Ra’batinu.

They considered him. “Yes,” Kezian reluctantly nodded. “We would need to forward your proposal to the appropriate families and get back to you.”

As guards escorted the visitors back to the gate, those at the table turned to Daniel.

“What?” He raised his hands. “I bought you time and kept the women and children from being forced back home.”

“And what do you plan on doing with three wives and how many children?” Jack asked.

“Freeing them,” Daniel said. “Come on, Jack, Inanna wasn’t going to get out of this one, were you? The way I saw it, either go to war with an entire planet or send the women back where they would probably be beaten to within an inch of their lives.”

“Yeah, about this little shopping spree of yours,” Jack said, turning to Inanna. The queen raised a stubborn chin. With a sudden influx of homeless children, who spoke English, Spanish, and Caribbean languages, almost every adult on the planet was a foster parent.

The children were once more playing outside, none the worse for being hustled off. Ninurta reprimanded the gate guards for allowing the men to storm off on their own. Somehow, allies found out that Jack was off-world and they began to stop in for a visit. More Jaffa and Tok’ra came in and soon a friendly round of sparring began. Jack saw that Matty had actually been learning to use a staff at the gym. Although still thin and short, the boy was quick on his feet and seemed to be enjoying his interaction with Jaffa. Daniel was watching Sam, a grin on his face as she took on Teal’c. Jack went up to Daniel and slid his arms around Daniel’s middle from behind.

“I seem to recall getting the crap beat out of me once when she was possessed by something,” Daniel commented.

“Yeah, been there,” Jack agreed. He pressed his mouth to Daniel’s neck. The younger man smiled and tilted his head. “Did I tell you I love you today?”

“Yes, you did,” Daniel nodded. “But you can say it again.”

Jack repeated it between pecks along Daniel’s shoulders. “I cannot believe you are going to buy three women and their children,” Jack said, putting his forehead on Daniel’s shoulder for a moment.

“It’s just a technicality,” Daniel said. “Once their kin are satisfied and gone, I’ll free them.”

“Uh huh. And did you discuss this with the women?” Jack asked. “What if they don’t want you to free them?”

Daniel looked over his shoulder. “I should probably talk with them,” he concluded.

“Ya think?”

David came up and threw himself against Daniel, a pathetically exhausted look on his face.

“Someone’s tired,” Daniel said. Jack agreed and released Daniel to pick up David. Jack grunted and the boy gave a tired giggle as he attached his arms around Jack’s neck. He carried Davy to the house and to their suite. Davy was undressed and quickly rinsed off the day’s dust before being put to bed.

“I’ll be outside,” Jack told him, brushing the light brown hair back and kissing the brow.

“’kay,” Davy nodded sleepily.

Jack went to the sitting room in the main hall and found his mother watching over Olivia who was happily playing with her own toes. Abigail was with her as were a few other older women and several pregnant ladies. Whatever they were discussing, it came to a halt at Jack’s entrance.

“Just checking in,” he said, raising a hand in surrender. “Mom, Abigail, everything alright?” They assured him they were fine and enjoying themselves.

The sun was setting, and the air was still warm. It wasn't as hot as the old Abydos; Enki must have done something to the ozone, Jack mused. Music began to echo across the field, and he noticed that most of the city’s inhabitants had disappeared. He guessed if he followed the music, he’d find everyone. He leaned in a doorway and watched the setting sun, finding the reds, blues, and purples to be mesmerizing. He kept expecting a sudden sand storm.

“Ah, Skaara, what would you think about all this?” he murmured to himself. Sha're's little brother had made a special place for himself in Jack's heart. The boy -young man- had been killed by Anubis' Jaffa a short time before his own wedding.

“Who you talking to?” arms went around his waist.

“Wondering what Skaara would have thought about all this,” he said. Daniel put his chin on Jack’s shoulder.

“I think he would have liked it,” Daniel said. “There wasn’t too much he didn’t like. Want to take a walk?”

Jack took a deep breath of the fresh air. “Sure.”

They laced their fingers together and walked back to the main crowd. Hammond and Sam were talking with Ferretti and Mason, while the kids were jumping around to Jonathan’s music. There were more SGC uniforms than Jack remembered and he looked closer, unable to make out the sigil in the darkening light.

“Who’s here?” he asked.

Daniel was blank for a moment. “Oh. Daedalus came in,” he said. “They were headed back to Earth and heard that we were here. Landry gave them permission for a stop-over, if you didn’t mind the company. Sam okay’d it.”

“Alright,” Jack nodded. “Did the queen give her permission, too?”

“Yes, she did.”

Tau’ri battle veterans mingled and greeted Anunnaki, Jaffa, and Tok’ra that they hadn’t seen in a while. Behind them, more people came from the direction of the gate room. Mulakma. They came bearing gifts of food and drink, and joined the party after greeting Inanna. Ninurta was with Jonathan, pounding on a drum, while Shara watched from Inanna’s side with Zu, who sat on the back of Inanna’s chair. Jack introduced Lord Atis to Sam, Hammond, Ferretti, and Mason. The others took it all in stride, but Jack was pleased to see Mason swallow hard and do a quick-step to keep up with the others. Snakes hidden in a human body were very different from a walking, talking griffin with a deadly beak and four inch claws.

“Honey, we’re going for a walk, want to come with?” Jack asked Sam. She smiled and shook her head.

“No, you guys have fun,” she said. “I’m enjoying this.” She waved a hand in the general direction of the field. Jack nodded and bent to kiss her. Daniel kissed her and took Jack’s hand again. They greeted people they knew and waved down the stiffened spines of Daedalus personnel. A man Jack didn’t know, in leather and dreadlocks, looked him over boldly.

“Jack!” He turned at Jonathan’s shout. “Order Col. Caldwell to sing,” he requested. Daedalus crew yelled and clapped, laughing for their CO. Caldwell looked at Jack, pleading silently.

“He needs to do this.” Jack looked toward a tree to see Major Sheppard leaning against it. Colonel, now, Jack remembered.

“Colonel. Why?” Jack asked.

“There should be a report on your desk,” Sheppard said. “A Goa’uld recently took him over. We obviously got rid of it, but he’s been a little… off his oats since. Guilt trips.”

“Ah. Colonel Caldwell, sing!” Jack called out, much to the delight of the troops. “How come you’re over here instead of dancing?” Jack asked Sheppard as Caldwell reluctantly took a guitar. It pleased Jack to see the support of the crew for their commander.

“Waiting for you, actually,” John said. “Col. Carter said you were putting one of your kids to bed, so I didn’t want to bother you.” He reached into his pocket and handed Jack something small.

“What is it?” Jack asked, looking it over. It was a pendent, rectangular, hanging from a gold chain. Characters he vaguely recognized as Ancient covered the front. Daniel took it from him and looked closely at it. He squinted at the small letters and read out loud:

“Strong hand of humankind
I am heaven and earth,
And by breath of heaven
And by breath of earth,
You of the heavens, pay heed!
You of the netherworld, listen!
I offer water to the gods of sky,
As I purify you yourselves,
May you purify me myself.”

 

“Aaah!” Daniel rubbed his arm. “Goosebumps. It’s almost an incantation,” he said. “Certain elements are missing, though. This looks like bits and pieces of things I’ve read in some Babylonian stuff.”

“What’s it mean?” Jack asked, taking it back.

“Don’t know,” Daniel shrugged.

“Stroke the long sides. At the same time,” Sheppard told Jack. He held it out and carefully stroked it between two fingers. The letters lit up.

“So far, you and I are the only ones able to get it to do that,” Sheppard said. Daniel tried it. It stayed dark. “We found a handful of these things when we were getting into an unexplored section of Atlantis. Looked like a storage room. I started pressing a few of those words and various equipment turned on. ‘Breath’ turned life support on and off, ‘netherworld’ prepared the city for submersion. I stopped it. I was almost afraid to try any more. ‘Sky’ turned the flight engines on and off, ‘listen’ turns the intercoms on, ‘strong hand’ activates the city’s defense weapons, and I think ‘purify’ does something, but I haven’t been able to find out what.”

“It’s a remote control panel,” Daniel suggested. “Like the Anunnaki stars.”

They walked over to Inanna and showed her the pendant. She didn’t recognize it, but found it interesting that only Jack and John could awaken it.

“Aba is with my sister,” she told them. “Don’t disturb him, my sister is very ill, but talk with him the next time you see him. There’s probably a lot more you can do with this; I’m guessing the words can be used in various combinations.”

Zu burbled something and Inanna, Daniel, and Shara looked at him. Sam saw the intense meeting and wandered over.

“Really?” Inanna asked, taking a closer look at the pendant. She turned it over. “By this seal, when I speak, listen. By this seal, when I call, answer, for I will break your bonds.”

“Well.” She sat back, gazing at what looked like water flowing from a plant.

Jack looked at her. “Okay, call it age or a blond moment, but I’m not getting it,” he said.

“It’s a control panel,” she said. “Like ours.” Daniel gave Jack a light shove. “Col. Sheppard, you are able to awaken this?” He stroked the edges and it lit up. “We know he’s able to light up the chair almost by looking at it. Atlantis began to power up the moment he stepped inside it.”

“Lots of things happen when I walk into a room,” John said, slightly embarrassed. “I think things are reacting to the presence of a person, but nothing happens when other people walk in. Other than lights and stuff coming on.”

“He doesn’t just light up a chair,” Daniel said. “It goes into full functional mode the moment he touches it. Others can do it, but with effort.”

They all looked speculatively at an increasingly uncomfortable colonel.

“Well, I suppose it’s possible,” Inanna said thoughtfully.

“What’s possible?” Jack asked.

“Out of seven plus billion people, what are the odds of only you having this genetic sequence?” she asked. Jack’s mouth shut with a click.

“Colonel, what’s your ancestry?” Sam asked. He lifted an eyebrow.

“Scottish, Irish, a little Manx. Why?”

Jack held up a hand. “Colonel, why don’t you go have some fun, and let me think about this? Where are the rest of these?” He held up the necklace. “How many?”

“Uh, about a dozen. They’re back on Atlantis,” John said. “Dr. Weir has them under lock and key, but I’m the only one who’s been able to turn them on.”

Jack put the necklace over his head and tucked it into his shirt. “I’ll keep this one, if you don’t mind,” he said. He shooed Sheppard away, much to the man’s irritation. “Okay, I want an Asgard tag on him,” Jack said once the colonel was gone.

“I will send a message and update Thor,” Inanna told him.

“Sam….”

“I’ll get a full panel on him. I'm going to bet you two share ancestry somewhere in the far past. This isn’t as bad as it sounds,” Sam said. “If anything happens to you, God forbid, he can be pulled in. He doesn’t have the downloads, but he can work the equipment that only you’ve been able to.”

“Zu, does he have Ancient genes?” Daniel asked the bird.

“Anna,” Zu said with a bob. He went on for a moment.

“He said the equipment is caste sensitive,” Inanna told Jack and Sam. “I know what he means. It’s all programmed to respond to genetics; general equipment which anyone can use, certain types of weapons and security equipment which only someone with the gene can use, and then there is equipment that is programmed for only those with the Ancient genetic sequence. Like you, Jack. And it looks like we’ve discovered a second person. I’m wondering if some of the equipment has secret triggers which only someone like you can use. The mikku for instance; anyone with the gene can get it to work, but I wonder what would happen if you sat behind it for a while and started pressing buttons.”

Jack considered her for a moment. “Sam, when we get back, remind me to upgrade Sheppard’s security,” he said as he turned to watch the man walking away from them.

 

Chapter 41

“How come you don’t let more people see that smile?” Daniel asked, playing with Jack’s hair, smiling in response to the soft, open smile on Jack’s face, touching a dimple with the tip of a finger. When Jack opened his eyes in the morning, he automatically smiled sweetly at seeing Daniel watching him.

“Because I’m the big, bad general and I’m not supposed to be human,” Jack said, stretching until his spine cracked.

“You’re so full of it,” Daniel informed him. “Do you think Ms. Thing is awake?”

“Don’t know,” Jack managed to say. He wrapped his arms around Daniel’s waist. “We have a few more days until we can play with her, anyway. There’s soap and water, though; no reason she can’t play, too.”

A hand reached over and managed to smack Daniel on the butt.

“This is Me time,” they heard.

“Is that all I get?” Daniel asked. “One smack? Come on, Sam, don’t tell me you’ve never had the desire to redden my ass.”

She peaked at them from under a pillow. Before he knew it, she had jumped him and started bongos on his butt. Daniel screeched in laughter and tried to get away, but Jack held him down. They rolled around on the large bed, getting the sheets all tangled and pillows thrown to the floor.

“Wait!” Jack called out. The other two paused. “Isn’t it someone’s birthday next week?”

Two sets of blue eyes widened.

“No!”

“Why, Jack, I do believe you’re right. For once.” The men turned to Sam. She tried to untangle herself from the bedding.

“Don’t you dare!”

The men tackled her and turned her over.

“Wait!” Daniel’s hand paused in midair and he looked at Jack. “Twenty-one each but how do we divide the one?”

Jack thought about it. “Make it one each, that way she knows she’s special.”

Before Sam could kick out at either of them, one hand each landed gently on her butt.

“One!” they yelled. And released her. She waited but nothing happened. She spun over in their arms.

“Well, honey, I said one each,” Jack said reasonably.

“That’s what he said, I heard him,” Daniel agreed.

Sam squeaked, jumped up and swung at both of them. “Oh, you….!”

The men jumped out of range and off the bed.

“You two get back here!”

Jack picked up his dressing robe and followed Daniel to the bathroom.

“Daniel, as an older man with more years of experience than you, I hope I can give you a little advice,” Jack said, tossing a companionable arm around Daniel’s shoulders.

“Sure, Jack,” Daniel responded gravely.

“This PMS stuff never changes,” Jack advised him. “You will never be able to please them when they’re in this kinda mood, so don’t even try. We’ll find some chocolate, rub her back, rub her belly, rub her feet, whatever she wants rubbed. We will even go fishing, if that’s what she wants. Ooof.” A pillow hit them. “It will be a sacrifice, but we can do it.”

Daniel nodded soberly. “You are a wise man, O’Neill.” Jack gave him a pat.

“I know where you boys sleep!”

As they showered, shaved, and brushed suspicious smells from their mouths, the kids were being fed breakfast by Maggie, and Sam was getting the baby up. Jack listened to the chatter of happy kids as he kissed Maggie’s cheek and put together a plate of fruit and muffins.

“Good morning, dear,” he said, pecking Sam’s cheek.

“Brat,” she informed him and yanked on his ear for a proper kiss. “Mom, how did you keep him in line?”

“By continually reminding him that I brought him into this world, I could take him out,” Maggie said.

“Well, I didn’t bring him into the world, but I can certainly take him out,” Sam commented. Jack smiled.

“Yes, dear.”

“Daddy, are you a brat, too?” Stacy asked.

“More often than not,” Daniel told her. He gnawed on her neck and she giggled, twisting away from him.

“Dad, Mason said he’d help me train for my purple belt this morning,” Katie said. “Is that okay?”

“Yeah, sure,” Jack nodded. “Matty, eat what’s on your plate before getting more.”

“How come you guys don’t like each other?” Matthew asked, looking at his heaped plate and then at the platters of food. The boy couldn’t seem to get enough food and then spent the day running it off.

“It’s just a personality thing,” Jack said. “Don’t worry about it. He’s your cousin, you can like him. Have you been telling him about your JROTC?”

“Uh huh,” Katie and Matthew both nodded. “He said Mom and Grandpa would have been proud of us,” Matthew said.

“They were always proud of you,” Maggie said, touching his hair as she walked by.

“We’re all proud of you two,” Jack said with a nod. “You made a commitment and you both stuck with it; a lot of kids don’t make it this far, so you can be proud of yourselves. Matty, I promised you a ride, if you kept your grades up, and looks like they’re still up. Katie, do you want a treat, too?”

“Can I watch a surgery?” she asked hopefully.

Jack paused in bringing a piece of jam covered bread to his mouth. “You want to do what?”

“Watch a surgery,” she repeated. “I keep watching shows on TV about surgeries and I want to see one up close. I want to watch an autopsy, too.”

“You really are interested in medicine, aren’t you?” The news was finally registering on him. He put down the dark red jam covered bread.

“Yeah, it’s fascinating!” she exclaimed excitedly. “All these little pieces have to come together and work together in order for a body to be alive!”

“Is this your influence?” Jack cocked an eyebrow at Sam.

“Not me,” she said, shaking her head. “She came to us this way.”

“Pleeeeezzzzzz?”

“I’ll talk with Dr. Warner when we get home,” Jack said. Katie jumped up with a squeak and tossed her arms around his neck for a loud kiss on his cheek. “No promises!” he called after her as she ran to find her shoes. “Warner’s a pill, he might say No!”

“He is not a pill,” Sam reprimanded him. “He’s a little on the serious side, but he isn’t a pill.”

“I’m doing good, can I have something special?” David asked, slouched in his chair. He was still a little sleepy, morning not being his most favorite time of the day.

“You are doing very well,” Jack agreed. “Sit up. What would you like?”

David scooted into a seated position. “I want to ride a camel.”

Jack smiled at him. “I think I’ll hand you over to Uncle Danny for that one.”

“We can go camel riding,” Daniel said with a nod. “Camels are nasty creatures, though,” he warned. “They bite and spit.”

The boy was much happier as he sat up and finished his breakfast.

“And what about Stacy?” Jack asked. “What would you like for your fifth year graduation? Another year and you’ll be in junior high.”

Stacy shrugged and finished her juice. “Can we go camping this summer?” she asked.

“Of course,” Jack said. “Is that all?”

“That’s all.” She asked to be excused, it was granted, and she ran outside.

“She wants a puppy.”

The adults looked at Davy. He used a finger to scrape up some runaway jam from his plate and licked his finger clean.

“She’s mentioned puppies before. What puppy?” Daniel asked.

“From Mr. and Mrs. Weber,” the boy said. “They have brand new puppies. Stacy wants one.”

Jack looked at Sam and Daniel. “They have what? Pugs?”

“English bulldogs; so ugly, they’re cute,” Sam said. “Sweet dispositions.”

“We’ll take a look at the pups when we get home and see if any of them fit in,” Jack said. His partners agreed.

“When are we going home?” Davy asked.

“This afternoon,” Jack said. “You guys have school tomorrow. Are you going to visit with the horses before we leave?”

“Uh huh,” Davy nodded. “I like riding with Jonathan and Shara. It’s fun. Can we get a horse?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Jack said. “We don’t have the room for a horse. But I think there are stables on the other side of town, so we can see if the owners will let you ride once in a while. No promises.”

“Okay!” Davy hurriedly wiped his mouth and ran out the door. He ran into someone coming in. “Sorry, Ninurta!” and scurried around the warrior.

“Good morning,” Ninurta said, coming into the room. He stood more formally than usual. “Ereshkigal Ascended during the night. Jack, when you are ready for the day, Inanna would like to see you.”

Jack sat back and nodded soberly.

“We’re sorry for your loss,” Daniel said. “Is there anything we can do?”

“No, not at this time,” Ninurta said. “Thank you, though.”

“What does that mean? Ascended?” Maggie asked, looking at them.

“Inanna’s sister died last night, Mom,” Jack said. “I can come now,” he said to Ninurta, pushing his chair back. They found Inanna in her family’s section of the building, in a sitting room. She was standing at the window, looking out over the lake and the children playing.

“You okay?” Jack asked quietly. She glanced over her shoulder with a half smile.

“I’m fine, thank you,” she said. “I was thinking that this is the first death for this new world. She gave the last of her energy for us and the planet took her as a sacrifice.”

“I don’t understand,” Jack said. He leaned against the wall next to the window and looked at her. “What do you mean? Sacrifice?”

“I tend to anthropomorphize,” she said. “My sister was the oldest of us. It takes energy to use our so-called gifts, just like it takes energy to walk and talk. Both Aba and Ki were needed to rebuild this planet. Their talents were mirror opposites; Aba builds, Ki ends. She was already sapped before we were caught in that temporal field, and to come out after all that time, with no time to replenish herself with the energy of life, she put what energy she had left into the formation of this world. We asked her not to, we could find an appropriate planet that was ready for us, but she insisted that we needed to be here. She had no energy left when she was done; not even enough to keep her alive. We all tried, but we couldn’t give her energy. Erra came to us this morning and announced her Ascension during the night.”

Jack had forgotten –Erra was Ereshkigal’s consort. “How is he?”

“In mourning,” Inanna said. “He will be alright. Ninurta and I will take care of him. There are four of us left, myself, Aba, Ninurta, and Gula, our healer. Unfortunately, none of us are capable of procreation. Ninurta had fathered several children before Aba changed him. Those lines have been lost, though. He made beautiful children.”

“Did you ever have children?” Jack asked, following her away from the window. She took an apple from the bowl on the table and cut it in half, handing half to him.

“No, I didn’t,” she said. “I was always too busy with the army or with politics. I regret it now. I’ve adopted a few, but Ninurta always ended up raising them. Not that he minded; he loves kids. I mind, though. I think I was never ‘mother’ material.”

She shook herself and turned to him, smiling regally. “Enough of that,” she pronounced. “I spoke with Aba last night regarding Col. Sheppard; he agreed that it would be quite possible that there are more with this particular genetic code living on Earth. He suspects that it took this long for the code to show up again in this sequence. The circle has come back around. I listened to Sheppard’s heart and he is a good man, Jack. He has a high moral code, like you. He just needs a little more ‘fermenting’ as it were. To settle him. And he will settle, in time. He's still young. It’s probably a good thing that he is in a different galaxy most of the time. More like the two of you will probably start to make themselves known, likely through their deeds. I’m not sure how to test for them, though; there are a lot of people on Earth. It would take a long time to test each individual.”

“We usually just hand people a toy and see if it will turn on,” Jack said. “It’s faster than a DNA test which takes about a month. The list is growing.”

Inanna nodded thoughtfully. “Now that Sheppard has been identified, it is possible that the specific gene can be sequenced by comparing yours and his, and then sought out in others. It’s a little time-consuming, though. And I’ll get Sam a program for a genetic test that only takes minutes. And I don’t agree with the gene therapy Atlantis is using to initialize it in the general population, it defeats the main purpose, but that’s my opinion.”

Jack looked at her for a moment longer and then stepped close, putting his arms around her. Inanna caught her breath and was stiff with inner struggle before allowing her head to fall onto his shoulder. She held on tight and Jack was still, letting her cry as he held her. When she began to calm, she stepped back, holding a wrist to her nose.

“I’m sorry,” she said huskily. She turned away, wiping her eyes. “I don’t even have her body to bury. You’d think after all these centuries a death wouldn’t bother me.” She pulled a piece of cloth from a pocket and blew her nose.

“When Daniel Ascended… the first time…. we didn’t have his body to bury, either.” Jack poured a glass of water from a jar and handed it to her. “It was rough. We boxed up his apartment and put everything in storage until we could figure out what to do with it. I kept a few odds and ends that reminded me of him. Something told me he was still around, though; probably because he kept visiting me. He didn’t even have family of his own to mourn for him, it was just us. The second time he Ascended, I refused to let anyone do anything; I knew he’d be back. He keeps turning up naked. Kind of amusing, actually.”

“That was something I didn’t understand,” Inanna frowned. “I didn’t know anyone who Ascended could appear on this plane.”

Jack nodded. “Yes, well, Daniel was never very good at obeying orders; broke the rules on this plane and that one. You had a brother? Did he and your parents Ascend when they died?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Utu’s ship was blown up and our parents were killed in a blast to the base. We didn’t find bodies, but the damage was so great that they could have been turned to ash.” She smiled at a memory. “Utu was my twin. I used to attend weapons training with him, and our mother bemoaned the fact that I wasn’t turning into a proper young lady. Ki was many years older than us and had already been groomed by mother to attend court; Utu and I were a surprise. Ama finally talked Aba into fostering me with Enki and his wife, Damkina, Ninurta’s mother. I loved her very much. They had quite a few sons and daughters, so they didn’t mind another girl in the house. I think I fell in love with Ninurta the moment I saw him,” she chuckled. “I was in attendance at his birth soon after we came to Earth. He was born on Earth. You’re not the only one who can tease about changing diapers.” Jack smiled at the image.

“We were about fifteen of your years when we came to Earth. Father was asked to oversee the watch on your forebears after Enki was caught tinkering with your brain. The Ancients had already declared your ancestors to be non-viable, so Enki played. Adda wasn’t happy about it; he had the armies to deal with and didn’t have time for babysitting. I was able to scan large crowds more easily than he could, so he placed me in charge of the day to day events. Adda was so angry with Enki.”

“And was Ereshkigal born blind?” Jack asked, sitting back on a lounge chair and hooking his hands behind his head.

“No,” she said. “She was in an accident. She spent a couple of months in a coma while Enki repaired her, and when she woke up she was blind and had unexpected gifts. Your ancestors were more afraid of her than they were of the rest of us. Enki was beside himself about it; I don’t think it was his doing, though. Sometimes accidents, especially ones that involve the brain, can turn up strange things.”

“And how did she meet Erra?” Jack asked.

Inanna smiled. “She was spoiled, even more than I was, and spent many years feeling sorry for herself. Everyone from palace slaves to the elite would attend her, but she raged at everyone. Erra came along a few years before we came across the Asura. He was a warrior visiting from another kingdom. Ki threw one too many temper tantrums one day and he told her to get her head out of her ass, brush her hair, and be a lady.”

Jack laughed, picturing it. Inanna reluctantly chuckled.

“After she was done breaking everything breakable in her suite, he convinced our parents to allow him to take over as her personal guard. It was unheard of and raised more than eyebrows when he kicked out all of her chamber slaves and took over as her caretaker. One day, she stopped her tantrums long enough to realize that if she used her unwanted talents to her own advantage, she got much farther than screaming and yelling. She learned how to see where she was going by seeing herself through the eyes of others. She didn’t like what she saw and she pulled herself together. When she regained her court training, Erra pledged himself to her. He has been at her side since.”

“What’s he going to do now?”

“I promised Ki I would look after him until he is able to stand on his own,” she said. “The boys will see to him; he is their brother. He’s welcome to stay with us, as far as I’m concerned. He is family.”

The door opened and Ninurta walked in carrying a cloth. He stopped before her and held out his hands. She took the cloth with trembling hands and he bowed.

“Erra took off on a horse,” Ninurta said quietly. “Gibil and Zu are keeping an eye on him; I think he’ll be alright once he crosses the continent a couple of times.” She brought the cloth to her face for a moment before hugging it to her. She straightened and squared her shoulders, taking a deep breath.

“I have a favor to ask,” she said.

“Sure,” Jack shrugged. When she told him what she wanted, Jack’s jaw snapped shut. “I need to talk with….,” he jerked a thumb.

“Of course, you do,” she said with a nod.

He tugged on the neck of his shirt as he walked outside, his mind racing. Several people welcomed him to the morning, but he didn’t hear them as he searched for his partners. Hammond and Abigail had already left for home, someone told him. The children were playing with a frisbee and a couple of the Daedalus crew, Jonathan and Shara were rough-housing with one of the local children and David, and Ferretti was talking with Sam and Daniel, as Jack saw when he looked out across the field. He looked around and saw Katie sparing with Mason. Their cousin stopped and said something, obviously pointers when he repositioned Katie’s hips.

“Hey, how’s the queen?” Daniel asked when Jack was within range.

“Dealing,” Jack said. “I need to talk with you guys.”

Sam and Daniel excused themselves and walked with Jack to a more private location. Jack turned to them, rubbing at his jaw.

“Inanna wants a sperm donation.”

His partners were blank.

“She wants what?” Daniel asked. Jack repeated it. “Why? She can’t get pregnant.”

“She wants to use someone’s egg, take out the DNA, replace it with Ereshkigal’s, and fertilize it with my DNA,” Jack said. “I’m pretty sure that’s what she said.”

“Sounds right,” Sam said. The men looked at her. “It’s experimental, but it can be done. It's a cloning process, Jack. Earth has been experimenting with it for a while; remember that sheep, Dolly? She was a clone. Only the physical form is cloned, though, not memories, so she won't be like Jonathan. Enki can probably do it without any problem. The egg would be fertilized in a dish and planted in a donor womb. A surrogate mother. Inanna could, if it works, have a partial clone of her sister. Not the memories, just the physical body. And she wouldn’t be completely Ereshkigal, because the parentage is different, and with an alternate upbringing, she’d have a different personality. A sister-clone.”

Jack wrinkled his nose. “Isn’t that taking things a little too far?” he asked. “How can she get past the death, if she does this?”

“Sounds more like creative tinkering,” Sam said. “Think about it, Jack; she asked you, no one else. Why you? I think you’re special, but she’s probably looking at the Ancient gene, not specifically you. Your Ancient gene combined with Ereshkigal’s Furling DNA…. Sounds interesting to me.”

“It does sound interesting,” Daniel agreed. He frowned in thought. “I’m sure she’d give you visitation, but can you step back and allow your child to be raised by others?”

Jack grabbed his hair and ruffled it, making a small sound of pain. “I need to think about it,” he finally said. Sam and Daniel agreed.

“And look at it this way,” Sam said. “Jonathan will be here, and he can keep you updated. If you’re looking for our permission, I don’t have a problem with it.”

“Neither do I,” Daniel agreed. He put his hands on Jack’s shoulders and turned him around to face the kids playing on the grass. “Now. Do you see that little guy playing with Jonathan and Shara and David?” Jack looked at the little boy. The child appeared about five years old; a sturdy little boy, dusky-skinned with a mop of black hair. “That’s Dakarai. The guys are adopting him. Everyone around here is adopting. Apparently, Inanna is taking the ‘no child left behind’ command a little more directly. Before you are introduced, Jonathan said you need to decide if you are Jack, Uncle Jack, or grandpa.”

Jack looked sharply at Daniel and then at Sam. “Jonathan said that?”

Sam smiled and took his hand. “Honey, who else knows how badly you want a grandchild? Jonathan is already known as your son; if you want to be grandpa, it’s fine with him.”

Jack walked over to the small group, Sam and Daniel in tow. The little boy laughed as he tripped over his own feet as he tried to catch David.

“Middle Eastern?” Jack asked quietly.

Daniel nodded. “Egyptian,” he said. “Lots of homeless kids on the streets.”

“I probably shouldn’t know if they had permission to take the boy,” Jack commented.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Daniel said. “Daka, hina!” he called out and waved the boy over. Daniel squatted and put an arm around the boy’s waist. “Daka, this is Jack, your grandpa. Inta gidd.”

The boy looked shyly up at Jack.

“Hey, buddy,” Jack said gently, squatting down.

“Ahlan,” Daniel told him. “It means Hi.”

Ahlan,” Jack repeated. He brushed a lock of black hair from the boy’s eyes. “Do you speak English yet?”

“A little,” Daka said softly, carefully.

“Good, because I don’t speak Egyptian,” Jack told him. Daniel said something to the boy and Jack had his cheek kissed. Jack picked the boy up and settled him on a hip after a hug. Big almond colored eyes stared back at him, studying his face.

“Are you sure about this?” Jack asked Jonathan.

“I’m sure,” Jonathan said with a nod.

“Daddy, Jonathan said Daka is my new cousin,” Davy told him with great importance as he leaned into Sam’s side. She caressed his hair and smiled.

“Jonathan didn’t get that right, son,” Jack said. “Daka is your nephew because Jonathan became your big brother when I adopted you. You are Uncle Davy, and your brother and your sisters are aunts and uncle, too.”

“Really?” Davy’s eye grew wide. “I’m a uncle? But how can Olivia be a aunt? She’s still a baby.”

“Sometimes it works out like that,” Jack assured him. He forced himself to look at his young clone. “I don’t…..”

“Jack, it’s okay,” Jonathan said. He considered his words for a moment. “Look…. I miss him, Jack. As much as you do. I need this; for my own sanity, if nothing else. I know you as well as I know myself, and I know that if I didn’t have the vasectomy, some part of you would have considered any child of mine to be your grandchild. In some weird fashion. So…. even my adopted children are as much mine as any child you adopt is yours. And there will be more children, Jack; Dakarai is just the first so get used to the word Grandpa.”

Jack gave a nod and swallowed hard as he looked down at the boy in his arms. Daka was suddenly taken away from him by Uncle Danny.

“Will you get over yourself and hug him?” Daniel said, jerking his chin at Jonathan. “You’re being a twit.”

Jack glared at Daniel; he was uncomfortable about hugging himself, but he did it. When he stepped back, Shara made a noise.

“What am I, horse meat?” Shara asked, holding his arms out.

“The term is ‘chopped liver,’” Daniel helpfully offered. Jack rolled his eyes and hugged Shara.

“Thanks, Dad,” Shara said. He stepped out of arm’s reach and hid behind Jonathan.

Jonathan chuckled and held out a hand. “Ta’aala,” he said. Daka wiggled away from Daniel and took Jonathan’s hand.

That moment was chosen for Jack to disappear.

“Thor,” Jack acknowledged when his new surroundings came into view. “I’m a grandfather.”

“Congratulations,” the little guy said. “Would you like the child tagged?”

Jack thought about it as he stepped up to Thor’s console. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Jonathan and Shara adopted him. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have him tagged. Sure. Ask them, though.” He glanced around, noting that nothing had changed since the last time he saw the ship. “Soooo…. how’s tricks?..... Oh, right, you’re here for Col. Sheppard. I think I saw him on the ground, he’s usually at Atlantis but he came in on the Daedalus. We think he has the same Ancient gene that I do. Hey, do you happen to know what this is?” He pulled out the new necklace and showed it to Thor.

“I do not,” Thor said. He held up one of his egg things to it. “I detect Ancient technology, though.” Different colored half egg-shaped tools were scattered across the console, used to work the controls. Once, on a mission, Sam had been stuck on the ship and learned how to use them. Within a day.

Jack frowned and looked at the pendant. “Yeah, we know that much. Sheppard found a bunch of them on Atlantis. They turn on equipment around the place, but only he and I can activate it.”

Thor blinked his big black eyes at Jack. “Indeed.”

“We guessed that it’s a remote control but what use is it to me, if it only works on Atlantis? Hmmm…. I wonder if it can be reprogrammed to work with the TV….”

“O’Neill.”

“Hmmm? Oh, right. Sheppard.” Jack hit his radio. “Col. Sheppard, this is O’Neill, come in.”

“Good morning, General,” he heard a moment later.

“Good morning. Where are you?”

“Hanging upside down from a tree branch while your kids play piñata with me.”

“Careful,” Jack warned. “Matthew’s been taking Jaffa staff lessons with the Marines, and Katie’s been kickboxing with her cousin, Col. Addison, who happens to be one of the world champs, and God knows what Stacy’s been picking up. I can wait, if you’d rather play with my kids.”

“Uh, no, sir, I’m all yours.”

Jack nodded at Thor. Sheppard appeared on the landing pad with a thud. He rolled to his feet as he rubbed his head. He stared at Thor and belatedly remembered to acknowledge the general.

“This is Thor,” Jack said. “He’s an old buddy. Wicked sense of humor, and don’t get him started with puns.”

Thor blinked. He took another of his eggs and walked to Sheppard. The egg was momentarily pressed to Sheppard’s arm.

“Ow!” The colonel rubbed his arm and glared at the little alien. Thor put the egg back on the console and looked at the readout.

“You are correct, O’Neill,” Thor said. He went to Sheppard again and touched him. Sheppard looked at his arm.

“What’d you do?” John asked, rubbing his skin.

“He tagged you with an Asgard tag,” Jack told him. “It’s better than ours and it can never be removed. It’s attached to your DNA as an extra protein marker, just like a symbiote does when it dies in you. Ask Carter for details. Don’t worry, it won’t affect any kids you may have. Colonel, we need to talk.”

While Sheppard contemplated his new situation after hearing what Jack had to say, he was beamed back down to the planet. Jack beamed over to the Daedalus and logged onto a computer to update Sheppard’s file to a HomeWorld Security Level 8, the next to highest security level. Jack was the only 9.

“General, may I ask what a Level 8 entails?” Caldwell asked when Jack informed him of Sheppard’s new status.

“Level 8’s are Col. Carter, Dr. Jackson, Gen. Hammond, Jonathan, Col. Davis, a few others….. Do you really want the details?”

Caldwell shook his head upon hearing the names involved. All involved with legendary SG-1 events. Except for Jonathan, which he still wasn’t sure about. “No, sir.”

“Good.” Jack entered a few more things into the computer. “Sheppard is your main priority, if things come down to a command decision. Don’t baby him, let him do his job, but just keep him in mind. What I do need from you is to try and teach him better leadership skills. I can’t have him running around like a loose cannon, and this new security now places him in a position where he just might find himself higher on the chain than he ever imagined himself being.”

Caldwell thought about it. “No disrespect, sir, but the thought of John Sheppard as the head of HomeWorld is a scary thing.” Jack snorted.

Caldwell hesitated. “General, were you ever taken? By a Goa’uld, I mean?”

Jack looked at him and considered. Caldwell was a large, powerful presence, but this was obviously bothering him. “It isn’t to be made general knowledge, but yes. Twice. So has Col. Carter. I hated it, she found it interesting, once she got over her disgust. She got a dying Tok’ra, not your run-of-the-mill Goa’uld. Her father Jacob was a Tok’ra operative for a few years.”

“Her father?”

“General Jacob Carter,” Jack nodded. “Air Force. Retired. He was dying of cancer, Sam came up with the idea of letting him in on all this and offering him the chance to take a symbiote whose host was dying. The symbiote, Selmac, saved his life and he saved ours a few times. He was the first Earth human to volunteer for a Tok'ra.”

The colonel slowly paced, his arms crossed as he worried on his lip. “The entire time, I felt myself screaming inside and no one could hear me,” he admitted quietly.

“I know,” Jack said. “I did the same thing. Steven, I was a POW for a few months a long time ago, and I was raped repeatedly by guards. When the symbiotes took me, I guarantee you it was a rape. While you are on Earth, I want you to see Dr. Anthony Edmonds; he’s my shrink and he has clearance for our kind of unusual problems. Call my office and get his number from my admin or Col. Davis. And you are surrounded by people who know how you’re feeling; you can talk to me, Daniel, Sam, Jonathan, Col. Reynolds was taken once, and Ninurta and his boys have a long history. And your crew are behind you one hundred percent, Steven; I’ve seen them back you up, so don’t let them down by disappearing on them.”

Caldwell seemed uneasy and a little embarrassed as he nodded. “Yes, sir. Thank you. Sir… Jonathan?”

“No questions, Colonel,” Jack gave an easy warning. “Just know that you can say anything to him that you would say to me.”

“Yes, sir.” After spending three months in battle with Jack’s ‘son,’ Caldwell knew something fishy was going on, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. And damned if old-time SGC personnel weren’t talking about something they were obviously in on. Okay, the kid was smart, but why would seasoned soldiers take orders from someone who wasn’t even military? And why does the general’s son have a Level 8 clearance?

“Any family?” Jack asked, sensing Caldwell’s thoughts still on Jonathan.

“Ex-wife and two girls,” Caldwell said, diverted. He smiled softly. “My girls are eight and ten. They live with their mother. I don’t get to see them very often.”

“Well, I’ve discovered that being open with my kids has helped a great deal; I trust them with my secret places, and they trust me with theirs. Trust your kids, Colonel.”

“How do I tell them about this?” Caldwell asked, waving a hand.

“You tell them you were injured in battle,” Jack said. “The physical wounds are gone, but sometimes your emotions are hurting, and they should just love you and know that you love them. When they’re older and able to understand more, you can expound. Do they live in the Springs?”

“No, Wyoming. Sheridan.”

Jack nodded. “Well, unless you absolutely need to be back at Atlantis soon, I think you’re due some time off. Take three weeks. I’ll reroute Prometheus to check in on Atlantis. Give your crew shore leave and go see your kids, Colonel.”

They went back down to the planet where they found a game of touch football going on. Jack thought it was a little cold, considering there had been a death during the night, but Ninurta insisted that everything go on normally; the immediate family was taking care of things and there really wasn’t anything for anyone else to do. No body meant no funeral, and they didn’t do long, drawn out memorials. Ereshkigal’s memory would be kept alive by them speaking of her and remembering her.

Maggie had Olivia on a blanket where the baby was exploring on her newly found hands and knees. Jack tossed himself down onto the blanket and she grinned at him, crawling over to pound on his chest. Jack picked her up and swung her gently through the air, making her laugh, bringing her down to peck her little bow mouth before swinging her up again.

“So, Mom, what do you think?” Jack asked, airplaning the baby above him.

“Well, it certainly isn’t anything I’d have considered in my lifetime,” she said. She reached over with a cloth and wiped baby-drool from Jack’s cheek. “I think you have nice friends, though.”

“What do you think about Jonathan’s latest man around the house?” he asked, blowing bubbles on Olivia’s belly. She laughed and he set her on the blanket.

Maggie smiled and looked around until she found her newest grandchild.

“What’s he going to call you?” she asked.

“I’m a grandpa, Mom.” Jack suddenly leaned over his knees for a moment, squeezing his eyes shut in pain. “Oh, my God, I’m a grandfather.” He actually agreed to be a grandfather to his clone’s adopted son….

Maggie patted his back and Jack fell to the blanket. “If it makes you feel any better, Daniel and Sam were arguing with Jonathan earlier while you were gone. He referred to them as Grandpa Danny and Nanna Sam.”

Jack burst out laughing. He rolled to his back and stared up at the reddish sky as he wiped his eyes.

“Jack.” He looked and saw Sam heading toward him. “Honey, we need to get going if we’re going to be home at a decent hour,” she said. “It’s almost 1600 at home and the kids have school tomorrow.” It was the middle of the day on Kalam.

“Nanna Sam?” he suggested.

She glowered at him. “Not even,” she informed him with a wag of a finger. Jack caught the finger and pulled her down. She spilled onto his lap and he kissed her.

“Are all the kids ready?” he asked, pushing a strand of blond hair back.

“Pretty much,” she said. “Mom, are you coming home with us or staying for a while?”

“No, I’m ready for my own bed,” Maggie said, looking indulgently at them.

Jack went to find Mason and Ferretti. Lou was being fussed over by a couple of pretty girls from Chulak who seemed to feel the need to pay attention to the injured Tau’ri warrior. Lou was eating it up, if the expression Jack found on his face was any indication.

“You’re a dog, Lou,” Jack informed him.

“Woof,” Lou returned.

“So? Have you given my offer any thought?”

“I have,” Ferretti nodded. “I had a long walk around the Daedalus last night; Col. Caldwell said it’s pretty much the same design as the Europa. Talked with the med staff, got a tour of the infirmary. There’s some pretty radical stuff going on up there,” he jerked his chin toward the sky. “Equipment I’ve never even seen before, and that isn’t even a med ship. Yeah, Jack, I’ll do it.”

Jack stuck out a hand. “Good man.”

“Jack? There’s a little gray alien on the Daedalus,” Lou informed him.

“Yeah, that’s Hermiod,” Jack nodded. “He’s a riot. I just hope he and Thor stay out of each other’s hair while Thor is here.” Thor was currently in the main house visiting with the family.

Jack found Mason in deep conversation with Teal’c and Bre’tac. Whatever the Jaffa had said to him, Mason seemed to have some of the wind taken out of his sails.

“We’re getting ready to leave,” Jack told him.

Mason stood, slightly uneasy with his hands resting behind his back. “Jack, I….. I was an asshole. I’m sorry.” He glanced down for a moment. “I think I was a little jealous of you and I allowed it to affect my judgment. I’d like another chance at this. General O’Neill.”

“Alright,” Jack said after a moment as he studied his cousin. “I’ll let your CO know where you are. Any message for Melanie and the boys?”

Mason shook his head. “Just that I love them and I’ll be home as soon as possible.” Jack considered him, wondering what the hell Teal’c and Bre’tac said to him. He held out his hand and Mason took it.

“Take care of him, old man,” Jack told Bre’tac. The old man chuckled.

“I will, human.”

Jack had one more duty to perform before he left. He went to find Inanna.

“Okay, where’s the cup?” Jack asked, finding her in her solarium. She was laying on a table where Ninurta was massaging her bare back.

“The what?” she asked.

“You wanted DNA, I need a cup,” he said.

“Do you need any help?” Ninurta asked helpfully.

“Nice try,” Jack told him.

Inanna’s mouth twitched and she sent him off with one of the staff to find Enki. He found the old man in Ereshkigal’s suite lighting candles and a pleasant incense.

“What are you doing?” Jack asked. Enki turned to him as he wiped a damp cloth across a table.

“Old habits,” Enki said. “Talking to her, blessing her way to wherever she is.” He tossed the cloth out the door where a servant picked it up. Until the room was cleansed and blessed, only certain people were allowed in. “Thor just left,” he commented. “Interesting about your Col. Sheppard.”

“Never mind Col. Sheppard,” Jack said. “How are you?”

Enki smiled. “I’m fine, Jack, really,” he said. “She had been weak for a long time, and this one pushed her over. We’ve been expecting it so we had time to prepare.”

“And how much bullshit is that?” Jack asked. “No matter how much time we spend preparing ourselves, death is still a shock.”

Enki shrugged. “Point of view, Jack,” he said. “We don’t see death the same way you do. You were raised to believe death was an ending, an unknown to be feared. To us, it is merely a transition to another aspect of life. We continue to talk to her and include her in our daily activities. She’s still part of our lives. She helped me to build this world; her very breath is in us with each breath we take. I really am fine, didila.” He patted Jack on the cheek as he walked by.

“If you say so,” Jack said, not quite believing him. “You’re not the only one who can listen, you know. So…. Inanna wants some genetic goo from me. I have a couple of questions.”

Enki nodded and motioned for Jack to follow him.

“Inanna and Ninurta will be raising the child as theirs,” Enki said. They walked past people going about the daily routine of keeping the house clean. More like a small castle, Jack thought, but still a house. “Inanna cannot carry the fetus, but several young ladies have volunteered. You are family, Jack, so you are more than welcome to be part of the child’s life. Just not as the ‘official’ father. Are you alright with that?”

“I guess,” Jack said. “That’s what I’ve been mostly thinking about. I think if it were anyone else, I’d refuse. I’m feeling a little proprietary, here.”

“Understandable,” Enki nodded. “Inanna and Ninurta have raised many children; they are very good parents.”

“Yeah, I’ve watched them with the kids around here,” Jack said. “I think Ninurta tends to be suckered by them, but he’s got ‘Dad’ material in him. Sam and Daniel think that you’re after the Ancient gene to combine with Ereshkigal’s Furling gene.”

Enki chuckled. “I’m doing a little genetic engineering,” he admitted. “You have to admit it’s an interesting scenario.”

Jack gave a nod. “Admitted,” he said. “You looking for something specific to happen?”

“No,” Enki said. “It’s just curiosity. It’s mainly Ki’s DNA we’re trying to save. The child will be loved no matter what happens. This isn’t the first time we’ve engineered a child; I don’t do it too often because it messes with the familial lines. We will love the child, Jack.”

“You going to make it a girl?” Jack asked.

“I won’t take it that far,” Enki said. “Let the sperm and egg meet and decide for themselves. I tried making a specific gender before, and it was a mess. Ended up with hermaphrodites, and confused boys who wanted to be girls and girls who wanted to be boys. Which does happen in nature, and can be fixed with surgery, but it's a cruelty to do it deliberately. If nature decides that Herself, all well and good, but what I did really was a mess. It shamed me.”

Jack looked at him. “You know, it’s probably a good thing you have a sense of morality and ethics. At least the kid’ll be smart, growing up with you for a grandfather.”

“Don’t knock yourself short, Jack,” Enki said, leading him into another room. “Do your partners know how high your IQ tests run?”

“Been snooping, have we?” Jack asked.

“Just a little,” Enki admitted with a grin. “Drop your pants.”

“What?”

“Drop ‘em.” Enki fiddled with instruments on a table.

”I think I can do this part myself,” Jack told him.

Enki paused and thought about it before shaking his head. “Jack, if you want to pleasure yourself, that’s fine, but I have other means of getting to your wigglers.” He held up some sort of syringe.

“And you plan on sticking that where?” Jack asked in horror, taking a step back.

“Your groin,” Enki emphasized, giving his head another shake. “You won’t feel a thing, I promise; I can get your sperm directly from the duct, it’ll only take a few seconds. Stop being a baby, and show me your stuff.”

Jack scowled as he ripped open his jeans. “You know, for an old man you have a kinky streak.”

“I have a very kinky streak,” Enki informed him with a side-grin. “Ask Jonathan.”

Jack groaned and put a hand over his eyes. “Let’s not go there,” he begged. He felt Enki’s hands on his groin, pushing hair aside. He peeked through his fingers and saw the syringe against his skin. There was a slight pinch, a moment, and then the thing was taken away.

“Alright, you’re done,” Enki told him. “Thank you for your donation to a most worthy cause.”

 


 

Chapter 42

 

Having one Jackson pissed-off in the morning was bad enough, but there were two pissed-off Jacksons. First, Jack insisted that Daniel have an escort when he went back to Kalam to buy women, then Stacy glared at Jack from a seat in the principal’s office when he and Sam went in, summoned by the school.

“They were picking on him, so I punched them,” she informed her parents. “They told Davy we were all going to hell because of you and Daddy. All Davy did was ask them why they were scared and they pushed him down. Three against one isn’t fair.”

“Couldn’t you have gotten a teacher instead?” Jack asked.

“There wasn’t one around,” she said. “And by the time I went inside and came back out, they would have beaten the crap out of him.”

“Why was there no supervision?” Sam asked Mrs. Herbert.

“Schools are short-staffed,” the principal said. “If someone needs to go to the restroom, the kids may be left alone. But it isn’t for long,” she stressed. “We can’t be in two places at once.”

Jack considered offering to clone her.

“I’m sorry, but policy states that we do need to suspend them for fighting,” Herbert said.

Sam shook a finger. “No,” she stated. “Because of your lack of supervision, our kids were forced to defend themselves. They shouldn’t be punished for it. Punish the ones who started it.”

“They will be,” Herbert said. “Colonel Carter, I allowed Dr. Jackson to talk me into forgoing suspension once before. I must insist that the letter of the law be enforced. Three days suspension.”

“I think we’re going to attend the next school board meeting,” Jack said. He ushered the kids up and to the door.

“General?”

He turned back to Herbert who had the grace to look uneasy in calling his attention back to her.

“We’ve been unable to locate Mrs. Bosco or the colonel.”

“The colonel is off-world. We’ll take Jessica with us,” Jack stated. They rounded up the unhappy girl on their way out through the outer office. Jack took out his cell phone.

“Kearney, find Mrs. Bosco and have her call me. Don’t scare her, it isn’t an emergency.”

There were seven other kids all sitting in unhappy silence, waiting for parents to show up. Jack and Sam had been on their way to work when Jack’s cell phone rang with the school calling. Daniel had already left through the gate, taking a thrilled Ronnie with him. Daniel was not happy about the SG-1 escort, though, and Jack was sure he would be hearing about it when Daniel got home from his female-buying trip. Jack hoped the Ra’batinu women appreciated this because Jack sure didn’t.

“Okay, start from the beginning,” he said, looking in the rear-view mirror at the kids in the backseat.

“Bullies!” Stacy declared. “Three of them cornered Davy and started shoving him around and talking about you.”

“Uh huh. David, tell me what happened,” Jack said.

“I asked them why they were scared of us and they hit me,” David said softly.

“They’re scared? Of what?” Sam asked.

David shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “They told me we were going to hell because you and Daddy and Uncle Danny all live together and do things together. Grown-up things. They said it was bad and we were bad because we live with you. I didn’t understand so I tried to feel, like Daddy does. They were scared so I asked them why. That’s when Billy hit me. Stacy ran and hit him back. She did a really good hit right on his mouth.”

Jack considered whether or not it was a good idea to allow the children to be hanging out with alien warriors.

“And other kids came and helped,” Stacy said. “Like Jessica. She doesn’t hit good, but she helped.” Stacy gave her friend a pat on the hand.

The adults looked at each other. They couldn’t punish the kids for defending themselves, and they couldn’t punish Stacy for staying with David instead of running to find a teacher. David could have been seriously hurt by the time a teacher made it out to them. But they needed to do something.

“David, a lot of people are afraid of changes and they’re afraid of people who are different from themselves,” Sam told him. “I know that doesn’t make much sense, but it’s how things are. I’ll bet the boy who was most afraid is feeling changes inside himself and that’s what made him afraid. If it happens again, try and run away and find an adult.”

“Aunt Sam, can I learn to fight?” he asked. The two in front looked at each other.

“Are you sure, buddy?” Jack asked. “It’s hard work.” The boy was sensitive and still physically weak from his childhood of allergies and not being able to eat the foods that would have made him strong.

“Maybe something like Tai Chi?” Sam suggested quietly. Jack nodded.

“That’s a possibility,” he said. “Buddy, how about I take you to the gym after work and we’ll talk with Major Bryce. See if someone can set up time with you? Okay?”

David was a little happier. The more Jack thought about it, the more he acknowledged that something like Tai Chi might help the boy; it was a low stress discipline, it would teach him focus and balance, and it just might strengthen his muscles. It would certainly help him to find self-confidence.

They dropped the kids off at home, told Jerrie they were house-bound, and left again for work. Jack answered his phone again as they went through the security check-point. He listened to Maj. Kearney.

“Is she alright? I’ll contact the SGC. No, leave Vinnie in school; Connie will be dealing with enough, there’s no reason to take him out of class.”

Jack tapped his ear piece and it disconnected.

“Connie had a miscarriage,” he said quietly to Sam. “Kearney said she’ll be fine. He found her on the floor and called 911.”

“Should we keep the kids for a couple days?” Sam asked.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I’ll have to see if the colonel can be recalled, and find out what he wants to do.”

Sam nodded. “I’ll call home and have Jerrie prepare, just in case.”

Jack pecked her mouth and they parted at the stairs. Jack went to his office and Sam took the stairs down to her labs; Sheppard should already be down there, getting tested by her crew. Jack was in his office for just a minute before backing up and looking at his admin’s desk.

“Where’s Abigail?” he asked Cassandra.

“Becoming Mrs. Hammond,” she told him. “They eloped.”

“They what?” Jack’s eyebrows went high into his short-cropped hair.

“Eloped,” Cass repeated with a grin. “The general said he’d have her back next week. You and Paul get to share me, unless you want me to find someone from the pool.”

Jack shook his head. “No, we can share, unless it’s too much work for you. Don’t let Harper get any ideas,” he said.

She leaned forward, sparkling mischievously at him. “And deprive you of your half of my wedding? I wouldn’t think of it.”

He sighed and perched on the edge of the desk. “Alright, how much of a hit is my bank account going to take?”

“Well, my dress is five thousand dollars, so I think your half comes to seven thousand,” she told him. “Since Daniel and Sam brought me through the gate, though, I think Daniel should share your half. Don’t worry, we’re having the chicken dinner.”

Jack groaned. “God. We have three more daughters at home to get married. I’m going to die destitute.”

“Maybe, but with good memories of walking all of us down the aisle,” she told him. “Although, I think Daniel will want to walk Stacy. And you are going to dance with me, right? You’re the closest thing I have to a father, and the father is supposed to dance with the bride.”

Jack smiled and leaned forward, pecking her cheek. “You got it, honey.” He stood and turned around again. “Oh, and Jonathan sends thanks for the entertainment and said he’d be happy to sing at your wedding. He expects a dance, too. Paul also wants him to sing, and is making a CD for him to learn. If you want specific songs, make a CD and I’ll send it through along with Paul’s.”

“And if I ask you to sing, too?” she questioned, teasing.

“I fear I will be having throat problems on that day,” he told her as he walked into his office.

“You’re a chicken, Jack!”

He turned his computer on and found the email with all the pictures Sam had sent from her digital camera. He gathered his favorites, and emailed them out to a select few who might enjoy seeing the new grandchild. He found the photo quality copy paper, printed out his favorite, and pinned it to the wall next to the rest of the family pictures.

“You’re playing grandpa to Jonathan’s adopted son?”

Jack glanced at the doorway.

“Just for that, I’m cutting you in on a third of Cassie’s wedding bill,” he told Davis.

“I’m getting married, too,” Davis protested.

“You’re wedding dress isn’t costing five thousand. Do they charge by the stitch, or what?”

“I take it you had a good time?” Paul asked, coming in and sitting in front of the desk.

“Mmmmm…. slightly interesting, would be more appropriate.” Jack straightened a frame and sat down. “Colonel Sheppard has the Gene.”

“Yes, sir, I saw your email,” Paul said. “I wasn’t sure if you were joking or not. He’s really making the toys work?”

“He’s downstairs now, with Sam,” Jack nodded. He took the pendant from around his neck and held it out. Paul took it, looking closely at it. “That thing lights up for just me and him. He found about twelve of them and they activate different systems on Atlantis. Paul, there’s some sort of difference between my DNA and others who can activate devices. We’ve run across a few things that will activate with just me, and now Sheppard. Others with the genes can activate other things, and regular Joes can use the rest of the equipment. Like ordinary appliances and weapons.”

Paul turned the pendent over between his fingers, thinking as he looked at it.

“You and Col. Sheppard can activate this, which seems to be a master key for Atlantis,” Paul said thoughtfully. “People with the genetics can activate other things, like the chair and some of the lab equipment. People who have had their DNA boosted can also activate things. general weapons, everyday things, can be used by anyone. Like the Stargate. Lab equipment can be used by anyone, probably because the Ancients needed the general public to be trained as lab techs. So, what’s the difference between you and Sheppard, and the others with the gene? That’s a good question.”

They went down to the lab and watched Sam and her techs putting Sheppard through the paces. They made him touch things while taking notes on whether or not anything happened. Once in a while, something opened a secret panel and the techs excitedly took out whatever was in the hole. They couldn’t turn the things on, but Sheppard could.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Sam declared, exasperated. “Why would the Ancients key something to certain people?”

“Maybe it’s like a lock,” Paul suggested. She looked back toward them. “I can give the combination to you, but not to everyone because I don’t necessarily trust everyone.”

“But that doesn’t seem to do anything,” she said, pointing at the flat thing in Sheppard’s palm. Jack took it from Sheppard, looking at it. It was almost the size of the small compact mirror that Sam carried in her purse. He could sense that it was on, and yet nothing was happening.

“It’s out of context,” he said, turning it over. “There is something this works with, and that something isn’t here.”

“Okay,” Sam nodded thoughtfully. “But what would it work in conjunction with….. Boggs, doesn’t the chair have a slot about that size?” she asked one of her techs. “There’s a slot on the side that we haven’t been able to identify.”

“We can test it easily enough,” Boggs said with a shrug. Jack went to the mikku control chair, sat down, and found the slot. The thing fit perfectly. Everyone stood back, waiting to see what would happen. A holographic image appeared in the air before them.

“It’s a recording disk,” Sam murmured. “But why….?”

“I’m not understanding a word,” Jack said, listening to the woman speaking.

Jack stood from the chair. The image shut off.

“Sam, why do you think the colonel and I can use certain equipment, and others with the gene can’t?” he asked. “Do you like this personal lock idea of Paul’s?”

She thought about it and shrugged. “It has merit,” she said. “If that’s the case, maybe this recording is of someone high on the Ancient council. The information could be classified.”

“But why are our Ancient genes different from others?” Jack persisted, jutting a thumb at Sheppard.

“We don’t know yet,” Sam confessed. “I tried Inanna’s genetic scanner on Col. Sheppard and it worked great. In five minutes, it spit out an in-depth analysis that would have taken a month by our methods. His genetic sequence is the same as yours. The Ancient part of the sequence, I mean, not the family DNA. When I compared them to Capt. Boggs, it was only a partial match. Like long lost cousins.”

Jack pulled the disk out and tossed it from one hand to the other. “Did you find any more of these?”

“Not yet,” Sam said. “We have most of the equipment cataloged; most of it is lab equipment and weapons. Colonel Sheppard is just getting started. He’s touching things, seeing if anything lights up for him that didn’t for anyone else.”

“Yeah, a few of these things we have on Atlantis,” Sheppard piped up. “Lots of lab stuff. McKay and Beckett are in raptures over it.”

Jack took the pendent and gave it a stroke. He pressed a few words, but nothing happened.

“It’s possible that it’s keyed to Atlantis itself,” Sam suggested. The earpiece in Jack’s ear buzzed quietly and he tapped it.

“O’Neill. Who? Where is he? Just keep him on ice, I’ll be there shortly.” He disconnected. “Sam, you and Sheppard get into dress blues, get him a zat, and meet me at Alvin.”

“What’s Alvin?” Sheppard asked as Jack walked back to the stairs with Paul on his heels.

“Senator Friedman has a snake,” Jack said quietly to Paul as they walked to his office.

“He’s close to the president,” Paul noted in alarm. Jack nodded.

“Long time buddies,” Jack commented. “A roaming guard with one of the spotters caught him and got a few Marines to quietly corner him. I’m getting a little pissed at snakes showing up, Colonel. Call Nick, tell him what’s going on. Hold the fort.”

Jack put his dress uniform on, hid the pukku under his coat, and headed out to the field where Sam, Sheppard, and four SF were waiting.

“Can I drive?” Sheppard asked when Jack arrived.

“Maybe on the way home,” Jack told him. They boarded and Jack got Alvin into the air before telling them what was happening.

“Where did he pick up a symbiote?” Sam asked.

“We can ask him when we get there,” Jack said. “Major, how’s Mrs. Bosco?”

“She’s fine, sir,” Kearney said. “Colonel Bosco returned just a short time ago. He was at the hospital when I called to check in on Mrs. Bosco. She was on her way to a D&C, she’ll be kept overnight for observation, and sent home in the morning. Colonel Bosco said he’ll pick up Jessica from your house on his way home. He said he’d call, sir.”

They were in DC moments later, and walking calmly but swiftly past the small crowd at Andrews who had gathered to stare at the al'kesh and its famous pilot. Jack left an SF and told him to give the local pilots a tour of Alvin, if they wanted. They were then taken to the White House by Marine One and escorted through a private entrance down to a holding block under the building. Hayes, Maynard, and the Joint Chiefs were waiting and watching a closed circuit monitor.

“Jack, how the hell could this happen?” Hayes asked the moment they entered.

“Let’s find out,” Jack said. “Colonel, with me.” He and Sheppard left and soon entered the holding room. Jack held out his hand and the guard placed the MRI spotter into it.

“Yup, he’s infested,” Jack said, seeing the symbiote’s skeleton. He showed Sheppard. “Any last words?” Jack asked the symbiote. “Didn’t think so.” He took the pukku out and handed it to Sheppard. “Colonel, that is a pukku. It’s the only one we’ve managed to find, so don’t drop it. Now, point it at the snake and blast away. Don’t worry, it won’t harm the host.”

Sheppard twitched as he aimed and ‘fired’ while Jack watched through the spotter. When the senator collapsed, Jack gave a thumbs up to the people watching.

“Didn’t we want to interrogate it?” Maynard asked as medical staff rushed in.

“Waste of time,” Jack said. “It would only lie to us and confuse the situation more.”

He stopped the paramedics and bent over the senator just before they left.

“Sir, do you remember where it came from?” Jack asked him.

The senator shivered in shock.

“I… It happened…. in Florida,” Friedman managed to say. Jack nodded and the medics took him away. He took the pukku back and holstered it.

“Very cool,” Sheppard said, jerking his chin to the pukku.

“Isn’t it?” Jack agreed.

“Gentlemen,” Maynard warned, looking from one to the other.

“Once the senator calms down a little, we can get more out of him,” Jack said. “Until then, I’d suggest backtracking his movements in Florida and find out where he’s been and who he’s been in contact with. There’s probably an unexplained dead body somewhere in his path.”

“Now, didn’t I read a report that says the host might retain some of the memories of the symbiote?” Hayes asked. Both Jack and Sam nodded.

“Yes, sir, but they might be a little sketchy,” Sam said. “I remember bits and pieces of Jolinar, and more sometimes emerges when I’m with Tok’ra who knew her. Senator Friedman probably has a lot to share, once he regains his senses.”

“I have a few of Kanan’s memories,” Jack said. “I’ve probably blocked out most of them because he pretty much forced himself on me just before Baal tortured the crap out of me. It wasn’t a pleasant union. Sirs.”

“Anything interesting?” Sam asked, curious.

“Not that I’d consider interesting,” he said. “He was really a little on the uppity side; felt I was too beneath him to share. I got a few images of tunnels, that’s about it. He was a Tok’ra.”

“Could we focus, please?” Maynard requested with exaggerated patience. “Goa’uld. Senator Friedman. Are there more?”

Jack sighed and held up a hand for silence. He forced himself to center and send out his awareness. Stay open, he reminded himself as the sense of hundreds, maybe a thousand or more people rushed through him. The internal noise was like standing in the center of a large stadium while fans shouted, clapped, stomped, and whistled. Jack staggered and was caught by Sam and Kearney.

“No, wait,” he said. “I’m okay. Let me try it again.”

“Try what?” Hayes asked.

Jack sat down and tried again. Use your spyglass and look at the crowd a small section at a time, he heard Ninurta saying in his head. Jack gave it a try. He pictured DC on a map in his head and roamed his senses around it, one section at a time. He felt someone silently screaming and followed it. His eyes popped open and he jumped to his feet.

“Get us into your private suite,” he ordered Hayes. “Actually, you should be under guard. General Maynard, we need the president in his bunker until this is dealt with.”

Maynard didn’t question him; he ordered the Marines to keep the president under lock and key. Jack ordered Kearney to stay with them and zat anyone who tries anything. Maynard led Jack, Sam, and Sheppard to the private suite by way of a hidden elevator.

“Talk to me, General,” Maynard said once the doors closed.

“Mrs. Hayes.”

Maynard turned to him. “You better be damned sure.”

“I’m damned sure.”

Using hand signals, Maynard and Jack sent out orders to the nearby Marines and secret service. They immediately scrambled, guns drawn. Jack held the pukku, gave Maynard his zat, and quietly entered the suite. The woman at the table was studying papers that were spread out. Maynard glanced at Jack. He held up the MRI and gave a grim nod. Maynard took responsibility and zatted her. She toppled to the floor. Jack held the pukku to her and got rid of the snake. Maynard and Jack gently lifted her and took her into the bedroom, laying her on the bed.

“Why don’t I stay with her?” Sam suggested. The men felt that was a good idea and shut the door behind them. Maynard puffed noisily and paced the living room.

“Will she be alright?” he asked Jack.

“She will,” Jack confirmed. “She’ll have a major headache, and I do suggest counseling. The press will find out that something’s going on, so I also suggest that she have the flu and is on ordered bed rest.” He opened his cell phone and dialed. “Leslie, Jack O’Neill. Is Tony around? Yes, he needs to be interrupted. Thanks…… Hey, Tony. Jack. I need you right away. High level security situation. I’ll send my ride for you. DC. I wouldn’t be calling like this if it could wait. Go to my private office and someone will be waiting for you. Yes, it’s that important.”

He hung up. “I’m having my shrink brought over,” he told Maynard.

“Jack, the president and Mrs. Hayes can’t see just anyone,” Maynard told him.

“Dr. Edmonds is my shrink,” Jack emphasized. “Believe me, Francis, he knows things I can’t tell you.” He redialed. “Dr. Edmonds is on his way to my office. Put him on Theodore and bring him over here. Bring Nick with you, too, if he’s in town. Marine One will meet you at Andrews AFB. Oh, and call the SGC and get Daniel on the line. Tell them to patch him through to my cell phone.”

“Where’s Dr. Jackson?” Maynard asked.

“Off-world,” Jack said. “He’s negotiating for three women and their kids.”

“General O’Neill,” Sheppard called for his attention. Jack ignored Maynard’s questioning stare and went to the table. The papers contained lists of government personnel and their positions. There were several lists from other countries, also lists of people who didn’t seem to be connected.

“Gertrude Waite?” Jack questioned, picking up a paper. “Who is she?”

Maynard frowned and took the paper from him, scanning the list of names. “I’ve never heard of these people,” he admitted. Jack took the list and snapped a picture of it with his cell phone, and then emailed it before dialing.

“I just emailed you a picture of a list of names,” he said. “Take a look and tell me if you recognize any of them. Yeah, I’ll wait.”

“Colonel Davis and his Rottweiler are getting handfasted; you coming?” he asked Maynard. He then frowned at his phone. “I’m talking about you, not to you,” he said into it.

“On what planet?” Maynard asked.

“This one,” Jack said. “At their house. Jonathan is coming in from Kalam to do the music. Oh, if no one told you, General Hammond eloped with my admin. They’ll be back on duty next week.”

A dark eyebrow lifted. “Isn’t Ms. Frasier also getting married?”

“In the fall,” Jack confirmed. “And I know she isn’t eloping because she’s making me and Daniel pay for her half of the bill. Thankfully, we have many more years until our oldest is ready. At least, it had better be many more years. If that frackin’ Tok’ra goes anywhere near her…… Wait, let me put the speaker on.” Jack hit a button on his phone. “Go ahead.”

“I don’t recognize any of these people,” Nick admitted. “Where did this list come from?”

“It was among other lists of names that one of the people Edmonds is coming to see had.”

There was a pause. “Other than the person you originally went to see?”

“Correct.”

“Interesting. How many?”

“Just two. So far.”

“What were the other lists?”

“Heads of state, family, people close to them.”

“Then I am willing to bet that this particular list contains people who are also close but who do not move in political circles,” Nick said. “You’d be surprised at how many people in high places speak openly with the janitor. We should be there in half an hour. Dr. Edmonds checked in and is on his way here.”

“If the White House is clear, the president should be brought in and allowed to tend to his wife,” Maynard suggested. Jack gave the building a sweep and nodded. His phone beeped at him and he switched to the incoming line.

“Put him through,” he said. He considered his options and changed to Goa’uld. It seemed to be easier, the more he used it. Maybe he listened more closely to Daniel and Jaffa than he thought he did. “No, stay there,” he concluded. “There really isn’t anything immediate for you to do, and Nick is on the way to help with tracking. I’ll call her. How’s negotiations? Use whatever you need, just don’t bring home more wives, please.”

Hayes was brought to the suite, looking white and angry with fear for his wife.

“Where’s Judy?” he demanded. “Is she alright?”

“She’s resting,” Maynard told him soothingly. “Sir, we need you to look at this list and tell us if you know any of these people.” He handed the paper to Hayes who thrust it away.

“Sir, there is nothing you can do for Mrs. Hayes at this moment,” Jack said. “This is what we need for you to do.”

The president glanced at the paper and began to deny knowing anyone.

“Hal Montoya,” he said, pointing to a name. “He’s our gardener, at our family home in Boston.”

Jack made a notation on the paper. “How long has he been with your family?”

“Since the kids were in diapers,” Hayes said. “What is that list?”

“We’re not sure,” Maynard said. “The symbiote was looking through these papers.” He showed the table scattered with paper to Hayes. The president looked them over, his brow creased in confusion.

“I recognize a few names,” Hayes commented. “None of these people have a say in decision making, though.”

Jack dialed the SGC. “Hank, can I steal Nyan for some research? Thanks. …. Nyan. O’Neill. I need you to do some research for me. Daniel is off-world. I need you to find out if anything weird has happened at any digs within the past few years or so. Start local and then spiral out. I don’t know. Unexplained deaths, people with missing time, missing people. You know –weird. I need it yesterday. Get Dr. Lee to help you, if you need to.  Get me results within two hours.”

 Hayes had gone into the bedroom, to his wife’s side. Sam politely moved to the doorway to give them space. Maynard was quietly talking with her. She lifted her zat and was apparently explaining to him how it worked.

“No, sir,” she said with a shake of her head. “Like the ships, they require naquadah.”

“We don’t want these things in the hands of our enemies,” Jack said. “Forget nukes; they’d be zatting each other out of existence.”

“What do you mean?” Maynard asked. Jack took the zat, looked around the room and picked a chair. He gave it three zats and the chair disappeared. Maynard slowly nodded; comprehension dawning.

“That’s why you’ve been careful about who uses them,” he surmised. “Yes, it wouldn’t do to have an assassin get a-hold of one of those. Jack, that was a two hundred-year old chair.”

Jack looked at the empty space. “Don’t tell Daniel.”

Davis arrived forty-five minutes later with the expected party in tow, plus a few others.

“I took the liberty, sir,” Paul said, nodding toward the four men who followed them in. HomeSec’s first team, T-1; Jeffries, Spurlock, Lopez, and Jablonski. “They are prepared to escort the president out immediately, if needs be, and the Daedalus is in a high orbit over DC.”

Jack nodded. “Good thinking, Colonel. Tony, I’m glad to see you. Did Colonel Davis fill you in?”

“He did, Jack, thanks,” Edmonds said. Jack stuck his head into the bedroom and then motioned for Edmonds to follow. He introduced Edmonds and Hayes.

“This man kept me sane all these years, Henry,” Jack said quietly. “He’s fully briefed on all things alien and he’s dealt with hostile take-overs before. Let him do his job. Please.”

Hayes looked Edmonds in the eyes, his own expression grim. “That woman has been my wife for thirty-three years, Doctor.”

“God willing, it’ll be thirty-three more, Mr. President.”

Hayes gave a nod and stepped aside.

“Nick, have you come up with anything on those names yet?” Jack asked the moment they were back in the main room. Nick was looking over the rest of the papers and glanced up.

“I made a few calls on the way over,” Nick said. “So far, we have a nanny, a cook, a best friend, and a librarian. They all have close ties to heads of state on these other lists. This took time, Jack. How long has Mrs. Hayes been infected?”

Jack cocked his head. “Infected. That’s an interesting way to put it. I like it. And we don’t know. I can tell you this, though; if all those people on that list are infected, we are in deep shit.”

“I doubt Inanna will help,” Sam said thoughtfully. “She’s expecting you to pick up the job. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get help. Does it? You need someone to help you scan; you’re not strong enough, yet. I can see the headache from the first try on your face. I’d suggest Zu, but he’s minding Erra.”

“No, leave Zu where he is,” Jack said. “Listen, if I need to learn this stuff, I need to learn it. Enki said my head hurts because I’m resisting.” He paced, making noises as he thought, and rubbing the side of his head. “Okay, maybe a map or a globe for me to focus on.”

Nick perched on the edge of the couch, unconsciously leaning toward Paul. “When you disintegrate a symbiote in someone, does that person get that extra protein? Like Sam has?”

Jack wasn’t the only one who paused. “That’s a good question,” he said. “We have…. Colonel, how many people have I … disinfected?”

Paul thought about it. “On this world? Very few, sir. If you’re thinking about using them to sniff around, I’d suggest calling in a few Tok’ra. The Jaffa would be too noticeable with their markings.”

“As a last resort,” Sam put in. “At least until we can test the 'disinfected'. Ja… General….  I’d be interested in seeing what you can do with that scanning thing if you’re sitting under the mikku while it’s pointed at the planet.”

“That’s a good one,” Paul told her in admiration.

Jack asked Maynard and Hayes to be excused. Jeffries and Lopez were left to escort Dr. Edmonds and to assist Maynard, if help was needed, while Spurlock and Jablonski were sent with Nick who was on his way to talk with Senator Friedman and find out if he remembered anything. The men would stay with Friedman until Edmonds cleared him.

Moments after Alvin landed in HomeSec’s backyard, they walked quickly down the stairs to the lab. The techs slowed in their work as they spotted the general hustling into the mikku. Sheppard watched and then peered over Jack’s shoulder.

“How come the chair at Antarctica doesn’t do that?” he asked, gesturing to the holo-map.

“We think this chair was made for a specific purpose,” Sam commented as they watched Jack swing the mikku around. She told him about the mikku and its partnership with the pukku. Hearing of the quiet commotion, Cassandra came down to watch.

“Jack, Nyan couldn’t get you on your cell,” she said. “He said Senator Friedman was at a luncheon last month. In Florida. He visited a dig that was being picketed by Seminoles. They were objecting to the dig because they claimed it was on sacred ground. The ground was not on reservation land, however, so the dig was allowed to continue. There was apparently a threat from a self-proclaimed shaman who told Friedman that evil would take his soul if the dig were allowed to continue. One of the diggers turned up dead a few days later. Nyan also said that he turned up three more dead diggers at other sites. Morocco, China, and Chile.”

“Call Paul and tell him,” Jack said, concentrating on the image in front of him. “Nick’s with him and they’re talking with Friedman.”

Cassie turned.

“And make sure Ronnie comes in to sign hiring papers,” Jack said. “There’s a contract outline on my computer. Get her over to Keir and have him start teaching her the details of HomeSec. When he’s done, get her to Inanna for some hands on with the council.”

“Security level?” she asked.

Jack thought about it. “Six. For the moment. And she isn’t to make any decisions, yet; she’s only taking notes and keeping me updated. Sam, what’s the first location on that list?”

“England.”

He took a deep breath and centered himself, not looking forward to it. Using the holo-map to guide him in real-time, he forced himself to center on London. Without meaning to, a marker appeared on the map the moment Jack identified a possible host.

“Okay, that was easy enough,” he murmured to himself. “Does this thing take notes?” A small screen came up in the corner.

“It’s hooked up to our computers,” Sam quickly said. “Our computers are translating it.” She touched a screen close by. Jack glanced at it and saw the translation coming on. He settled back into it and began to spiral out until he covered the UK. Two more possible hosts were spotted.

“Ya know,” Jack muttered as he scanned the map. “If Inanna hadn’t been so busy with tribal wars, maybe she would have spotted all this starting and dealt with it then so we wouldn’t be dealing with it now.”

“And if Inanna had dealt with the Goa’uld, humans wouldn’t be populating the stars and we’d still be earth-bound.”

Everyone turned.

“Hey,” Jack grunted, pressing two fingers to his temple. “Did you unload the new wives?”

Daniel frowned in reprimand. “I freed three women and their children, yes, Jack.”

“That was fast,” Sam said, sliding an arm around his waist and giving him a squeeze.

“The newest commodity on Ra’batin is chocolate,” Daniel proudly informed them. “Buy stock in Hershey’s. What’s Jack doing?”

“Giving himself a migraine,” Jack said.

While Jack continued his scanning, Sam filled Daniel in on happenings. The information about the Florida dig interested him and he excused himself.

“I’m going to Florida!” Daniel called from the stairs.

“Take a team with you!” Jack called back just as he decided what to do with their problem. “Sam, call Col. Caldwell and let him know we need to borrow his ship. I want you and Sheppard to get up there. Start beaming these people up and put them in the brig for the moment. Do it quietly. Beam in, beam out. If they don’t already have a tag. Tell Hermiod if he has a better way of doing this, he needs to speak up now.”

It took the better part of the day to cover North America and Western Europe. After several hours, no one could get Jack’s attention. He had shut his eyes and was unresponsive as the map kept marking targets, so people assumed that he was ignoring them. Jack pushed himself to sense his targets, sweeping through cities with the sound of rushing waves through his ears. It seemed to get easier, the more he allowed his mind to stretch out. He knew he was hearing hundreds of different languages, actually sensing them as opposed to hearing them, and he understood intent if not meaning. Was that what Daniel heard? The cacophony of sound was harsh. One by one, he picked out inner voices that silently screamed to be heard. Jack heard them and the mikku routed the information up to the Daedalus’ computers. People at governmental offices, secretaries, clerks, messengers, someone’s favorite waiter, were all abruptly taken in a beam of light. Urgent phone calls to police began to filter in with insane messages of alien abductions and Armageddon. Only a handful of people knew what the beam of light was and put themselves quietly on alert, waiting to hear from HomeSec. He didn’t know when it was, but at one point he could no longer identify his own self among the crowd. He had become the world.

When the world brightened again, Jack found himself shaking and in incredible pain. He was flat. It sorta looked like a ceiling. Someone wiped his face with a cool cloth.

“Come on, Jack, I know you’re back with us.” Enki?

“Ppp….. ain…,” Jack managed. Cool hands touched his head.

“I know it hurts. When you decide to do something, you don’t hold back, do you?” It sounded like Enki….. “The pain is from the initial reaction. Part of your subconscious was resisting and it created stress on your body. Once you are completely unresisting, the pain won’t happen anymore.” Hands touched his head and Jack thought a small amount of the pain went away. “You had us worried. Next time, don’t try becoming the entire planet.”

Jack could sense the genuine worry in the old man and was touched.

“Hey, you.” Sam. Jack tried opening his eyes. It hurt, so he shut them again. He did see Daniel next to her, though. Soft lips touched his forehead. “You did it, Jack,” she said gently. “There are seventeen people currently being processed by our medics. We brought in Tok’ra to help. Inanna is doing another sweep of the planet, just in case. We think you got them all, though.”

Darkness overtook Jack again, and he passed out from the pain that threatened to explode his head.

“He’ll be alright,” Enki told them. “I’m going to close him down, like I did before. He’ll sleep for a while.”

“I thought the brain didn’t feel pain,” Daniel commented.

“It doesn’t,” Enki said. “The pain he’s feeling is from the rest of his body. Every nerve ending is awake and sending signals. No, they’re screaming the signals. His blood pressure is dangerously high and it’s causing the blood vessels in his head to pump hard. Basically, he triggered the world’s worst migraine. We need to get his pressure down, though, or he’ll give himself an aneurism.”

“Dr. Lam already has him on something,” Sam said, her face creased in worry.

“Yes, and letting him sleep will help even more,” Enki told her, ushering them from the room.

“Isn’t there a way to find symbiotes?” Daniel asked. “I mean, like attaching a spotter to the mikku?”

“You’re asking for a machine that identifies specific races and species,” Enki said. “Can you think of a program that will differentiate between a white person and a black person? Or a European and an Asian? Sure you could set up a spotter, but what about all the snakes that are natural to this world? Personally, I don’t think it can be done. We can get creative, but we are not gods who know all.”

It was several days before Jack was well enough to handle the presence of people. Enki continued to monitor him, much to Dr. Lam’s irritation. Inanna didn’t find anymore hosts. The only person that Jack seemed to find relatively calming for him was the presence of Olivia. Her baby thoughts and emotions were a cool glass of water to his wounded senses, so his partners left the baby at his side for short periods.

“What’s happening?” Jack whispered when he could focus again. Sam sat on the bed and held his hand as Daniel stood next to them.

“Well, Col. Sheppard got rid of all the snakes,” Daniel told him. “From what we can determine, that dig in Florida unearthed a nest of stored pottery that held symbiotes. The first one that was opened took over Professor Shelton and then began to distribute the others to select people. It seems that some were even sent through the mail and opened by people who thought they were opening a pretty vase or urn sent to them as a gift. They got a hold of someone, probably Senator Friedman or Mrs. Hayes, discovered what had been happening, and transferred themselves to hosts who had connections. You stopped another attack on the planet, Jack.”

“Yes, and all by yourself,” Sam said. “Jack, you fibbed to us.”

He cranked open an eye. “How so?”

“You never let anyone else play with the pukku, so we thought only you could use it,” she said. “Sheppard put it down once when he was tired, and an SF picked it up. Someone without the gene, mind you, and he accidentally disinfected a detainee. Why didn’t you tell us?”

“My toy,” Jack murmured, nestling down into the pillow. “If anyone could use it, someone might get it into their head to steal it. We need more pukkus.”

“If you had asked me, I could have told you anyone could use it,” Inanna said later when Sam complained. “I don’t have the Ancient gene, but I believe I told you I had the pukku long ago.”

Daniel’s head hit the wall. “She did say that,” he groaned.

“The chair is a different matter,” she said. “It has high level security systems attached to it, so only certain people can use it. Sam, really, this thing about gene therapy is wrong. Your Atlantis people shouldn’t be tampering like that.”

“Why?” Sam asked. “They seem to be fine.”

Inanna frowned as she tapped her fingers on her crossed arms. “It’s about evolution,” she said. “The Ancients evolved which means their genes evolved. They created devices that responded to a specific genetic sequence. Your people are trying to force square pegs into round holes. Sure, they’ll fit if they are smaller than the hole, but there will be patches that are not connecting at the corners. By tampering with someone’s DNA, you could inadvertently trigger something unexpected and who knows if it will be a good thing or a bad thing. And those who are being tampered with are not evolving mentally with the new information. You may be creating a new Asgard. Evolution happens for a reason.”

The others thought about it. “Copies of copies that degrade with each copy,” Daniel commented. Inanna nodded.

“Correct,” she said. “I’m not saying this will happen, I’m just saying that it isn’t a good idea to be tampering with Mother Nature in this manner.”

The kids were allowed to come in to see Jack. They came in one at a time, reassured when they found him whole and just a little weak. Davy climbed onto the bed and nestled into Jack’s side for a while. He was napping there when Hayes and Maynard came for a visit. The president gave the boy a grandfatherly glance and pet the light brown hair.

“How are you feeling, Jack?” Hayes asked.

“Better,” Jack said. “At least light isn’t screaming at me anymore. How’s the Missus?”

“She’s better,” Hayes said with a nod. “Dr. Edmonds has been a tremendous help. And Senator Friedman is also recovering. Both Friedman and Judy have been writing pages and pages of information they remember from the symbiote. I’m not sure it’ll do us any good, the information seems to be related to ancient America, but it makes them feel good to write it out.”

Hayes wrinkled his face as he considered Jack. “I’ve been trying to understand what exactly it is that you did,” he said. “Your buddy Enki said you could have obliterated yourself into non-existence, if you had opened your mind up any further.”

Jack looked at him. “Really? He didn’t tell me that.”

Several more people came into the room. Sam, Daniel, Paul, Cassandra, and the rest of the kids. They stood quietly at the back of the room.

“Jack, you not only gave me my wife back, but you saved us. Again,” Hayes told him. “My God, Jack, when I think of how close we were to having Goa’uld in positions of power….. Well, we got you a little present. Sort of a thank you. Hope you like it.”

He fumbled in his pocket and came up with a small box.

“You didn’t need to…..” Jack lost his voice when he opened the box.

“I polished those myself. Once you’re back in uniform, you can put those stars next to the others, Lieutenant-General,” Hayes told him.

 

Chapter 43

Once more, Enki needed to help Jack ‘shut off.’ The old man seemed pleased, however, with Jack’s progress.

Jack had insisted on returning home after spending a day in the VIP suite of the naval hospital in Maryland. The attention was nice, all the Joint Chiefs paid him a visit, but it wasn’t his thing to hang out with VIPs; he needed his family around him. The bed rest at home was irritating him, though. His partners kept hovering. There really wasn’t a need for the bed rest, but for some reason people seemed to think that mental fatigue required a bed. Thankfully, Enki came in and rousted Jack’s butt.

“The snow is gone, go take care of the yard,” the old man ordered. “Getting your hands in the dirt will heal you better than anything else.”

So Jack went outside and started to rake the yard and trim the shrubs along the front of the house. He had stepped back, looked at the shrubs, and decided to take them out. The children came out, took his hands, dragged him away from the pile of dirt and wood, and up the street to the Weber’s. Jack took one look at the puppies, looked long at the parents, and back at the pups.

“They’re ugly,” he pronounced.

Rhonda Weber laughed. “Yes, they are, but come on, Jack, you have to admit they’re a cute ugly,” she said.

Both Stacy and David were on the floor playing with the puppies, laughing and rolling around as they were licked.

“This one, Adda,” Stacy said, picking up one of the pups.

“Are you serious?” he asked. The pup looked at him, one snaggled tooth sticking up from the bottom jaw and a slightly crossed eye. Most of the dog was an off-white, the paws were black socks and there was a black patch that surrounded the crossed eye. The pup wagged its tail and tried to swipe a tongue at Jack.

“Is it a boy or girl?” Davy asked.

“That one is a boy,” Rhonda told him with a patient smile. Jack thought he saw a longing in her eyes and wondered if Rhonda or Carl had a problem in the fertility department.

“His name is Fang,” Stacy declared and gave the pup a hug.

Mrs. Weber refused money; although a pure bred, the pup was flawed, and sent the happy girl off with her new puppy and resigned stepfather. When Enki and Zu stopped by, Zu took one look at the Thing and spat out a long diatribe at Jack which he didn’t understand a word of.

Daniel was surprisingly no help; he had never owned a dog. Jack found that astounding.

“I wouldn’t mind a cat,” Daniel said.

“A what?” Jack was sure he didn’t hear that right.

“They’re smarter than dogs,” Daniel said. He couldn’t have heard Daniel correctly.

“I’m not picking up dog poop from the yard,” Jerrie warned them.

“It’s Stacy’s dog, she will learn,” Jack said.

They put a baby-gate on the front and back steps to the wrap-around porch and put the pup out there with papers, water, and food. Olivia scooted her way to the screen door and watched the puppy tear up the paper. She screeched at it and held out a finger. Jerrie frowned.

“Jack, she’s eight months old, right?” she asked.

“Almost nine, yes,” he said.

“Now, I could be minus a fry in my happy meal, but seems to me she keeps responding to situations and to speech,” Jerrie said. “She shouldn’t be able to understand, cognitively, what’s going on, so how is she responding? She just reprimanded the pup. That’s about a year and a half early.”

Jack looked at the baby and thought about it. “Livie, where’s the bad dog?”

Olivia looked at Jack and then turned to the door.

“Interesting,” Jack commented.

“Da!” the baby declared, clearly proud of herself. Two gleaming white teeth grinned at him.

Jack picked up the phone and dialed. “Mary, it’s Jack. Thank you. I have a question. Harley is what? Two? Two and a half? Is he doing anything beyond his age?” He watched Olivia as he listened. “Yeah, it probably is. No, just checking with someone else who has a baby in the house. Thanks, Mary. Oh, how’s Connie? She is. Good. Thanks.”

“Mary Reynolds says Harley is spelling with his blocks,” Jack told Jerrie. “Harley is two and a half.”

Out of curiosity, Jack put the pup on a leash, the baby on his back, found a pad and pen, and went for a walk. Stacy and David ran around him, encouraging the pup to learn to love his new leash while Jack had to keep tugging to make the pup pay attention. Olivia babbled at him, bouncing in her carrier as she patted him on the head and shoulders. Enki had left earlier and Jack saw no reason to call him back just for an oddity with the kids.

“Well, if the older kids are doing things advanced for their age, it makes sense that babies are developing earlier, too,” Daniel had said around the pencil in his mouth as he typed on his computer. “Don’t send her out to find a job just yet.” Olivia made noises at him and held her chubby arms out. Daniel smiled at her, took the pencil from his mouth, and kissed her noisily.

As Jack was making notes from various families in the neighborhood, his phone rang. He tapped it on and adjusted the Blu-tooth on his ear. “O’Neill.”

“The premier is requesting your presence.”

“What premier?”

“The Chinese premier,” Davis clarified. “He managed to get a private message to me. He’d like to meet someplace that guarantees no bugs.”

“Interesting. Is Daedalus still upstairs?”

Twenty minutes later, Davis called him again. It was done.

“How’s the weather up there?” Jack asked.

“A little breezy, the barometer is fluctuating.”

He shooed the kids back home and they went, disappointed. There were SF nearby in the neighborhood, discretely concealed; they’d make sure the kids got home. “Okay, beam me up.”

Davis looked at the sweatpants, sneakers, baby, and puppy. He didn’t say anything as he led the way. People on the way glanced at them and also didn’t say anything. “Isn’t the meeting room back that way?” Jack asked, pointing behind with a thumb.

“Yes, sir, but one of the gentlemen had a small heart flutter from the shock of the transporter.”

Feeling a tinge of guilt, Jack picked up the pace. Once they got to the medical wing, he noticed that several of the SF in the area happened to be of Chinese decent and Davis had beamed up a team from the delegation’s own security. The Chinese soldiers were uncomfortable in their unarmed state, but they stood straight and kept their eyes on the SF.

“How is he?” Jack asked, nodding toward the man on the bed as they entered the medical bay.

“He’ll be fine, sir,” Dr. Perez said. He glanced at the pup and baby. Olivia noticed Sam and held her arms out. After a look from Jack, Sam took her.

“Who’s this?” Sam asked, nodding toward the puppy.

“This is Fang,” Jack said. “We were taking a walk when the colonel called. He’s Stacy’s.”

Sam did a quick mental jump and understood the object and its ownership.

Jack introduced himself to the men standing near the bed “I’m sorry for the problem. We have excellent medical facilities, top notch, so please trust in the good doctor’s hands.”

“General O’Neill, may I present President Hsin Tien and Premier Yuan Shao. Vice President Li Chan MuRong is the gentleman in the bed. And you already know Ambassadors Jin Duan and Brent Fleury.”

Jack gave an easy Jaffa bow toward the men.

“General O’Neill, would it be pointless if I requested a private word?” Ambassador Fleury, the American ambassador to China asked. The relations between the two countries were tenuous at best, so Jack was actually surprised to see him with the group.

A quick reach told Jack that Hayes and Maynard were having heart palpitations back at their offices. The Chinese government was also hiding their true feelings behind the patented Asian stare; anger, awe, a little fear, and outrage.

“Not at all,” Jack said. “How about we walk a little, first, though, okay? Come on, I’ll show you around while the doc does his doctor stuff with Mr MuRong.”

As they walked, Jack did his best with the history of the ship and how the 303s came to be. He made sure his arm swings were wide, made it a point to look the men in the eyes, and touched arms and shoulders when he could. Paul couldn’t get any whiter around the gills so he stopped trying to get Jack’s attention. The puppy wasn’t helping as he sniffed excitedly at everything in their path. When they got to the engine room…..

“What is that?”

Jack turned to the little alien behind the console.

“This is Fang,” Jack said. “Fang, that’s Hermiod. Don’t pee on him. This is a dog, Hermie. Actually, it’s a puppy. That’s a baby dog.”

“I know,” Hermiod drew out. “Why is it on the ship?”

“Because I was taking a walk with him and my kids when Colonel Davis called me,” Jack said patiently. “He isn’t my dog, he belongs to my daughter, Stacy. Actually, she’s my step-daughter. She belongs to Daniel. I guess you could say she belongs to all three of us, since we’re all raising her and she does call me Daddy and Sam Mom. What am I saying? You know Stacy. I know he’s ugly, but Stacy insists that he’s cute, so what could I do? You know how little girls wrap Daddy around their fingers…. no, maybe you don’t…..”

“O’Neill.”

“Yes?”

“Please remove the animal from the ship,” Hermiod politely asked.

Jack tilted his head in consideration. “Well, since he’s part of the family, now, I don’t think I can exclude him on these outings. Sorry. But I promise to clean up any pee or poopie spots. We just got him this morning, so it’ll take a while for him to learn proper manners. Oh, would you mind tagging him?”

He was almost sure the Asgard’s black eyes rolled and tightened.

The men behind Jack were staring at the alien and Jack belatedly introduced them. Hermiod made a politely phrased murmur in Chinese and Jack looked at him.

“How do you people learn our different languages?” he asked.

“You’ve been broadcasting for decades,” Hermiod said. “How can we not learn them when you are polluting space with them? Besides. Tau’ri languages are relatively easy. Very little imagination.”

“General O’Neill,” Fleury broke in impatiently. “This is all very impressive but we really must speak on the issues at hand.”

A small imperious finger pointed at the man and Sam shifted Olivia to another hip. Jack blinked at the ambassador.

“I thought we were,” Jack said. “These gentlemen have been asking to see a 303, so I’m showing them a 303. Mr. MuRong will be well enough to go home when his buddies are ready to leave.”

“General, I believe you are unaware of the international incident you have created,” Fleury informed him.

Jack handed the leash to Sheppard who had been quietly following in the background with several SF.

“There is very little I am unaware of, Mr. Ambassador,” he said, the cavalier attitude suddenly gone. “We could not have known Mr MuRong would have such a reaction to the transporter; no one else has. And you’re the ones who asked for this meeting. China has been aware of our little project for a long time, they were in on the initial show-and-tell many years ago, and they are the ones who chose to not cooperate with it. They could have been in on this since the beginning. We are here, so how can I help you? Or would you like to reschedule?”

Tien tightened his chin. “General, we wish to make use of the naquadah generators. Surely you understand our need.”

It didn’t take much of a reach… “Actually, I understand more than you know, Mr President.” Weapons were on the premier’s mind. “Colonel Davis?”

Davis switched on a wall monitor, showing them a real-time image of China from high above.

“Yes, sir. There is currently a dark cloud of pollution over China,” Davis said, “making their need for a naquadah generator a legitimate need. It is in concentrations of carbon monoxide at an altitude of roughly eighteen thousand feet in the atmosphere off the coast of Asia and out over the Pacific Ocean. During the early part of the year, there is considerable outflow of pollution from China and southeast Asia.

“Water borne diseases affect not only people but also wild life. About three thousand plants are in danger of extinction. China is the native homeland for approximately twelve percent of the world's flora. No plants means no oxygen. One city produces approximately eighty-six thousand tons of pollution per day; only twelve thousand of that is organic. Within China alone, there have been epidemics of water borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery.”

The scenes changed to images of people in the country-side; thin, gaunt, enlarged bellies.

“Despite a few positive steps, no attempt has been made to introduce the fundamental legal and institutional reforms necessary to bring an end to serious human rights violations. Tens of thousands of people continue to be detained or imprisoned in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association, and are at serious risk of torture or ill-treatment. Thousands of people have been sentenced to death or executed. Thousands of people have been detained or imprisoned for so-called “separatist” or “terrorist” offenses. China continues to use the international “war against terrorism” as a pretext for cracking down on peaceful dissent.

“Authorities take an increasingly hard line against people protesting against house demolitions and evictions, particularly in large cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, where demolitions of old homes were accelerated by Beijing’s preparations for hosting the Olympics in 2008. Scores of peaceful protesters were detained and lawyers assisting in such cases were at risk of arrest or intimidation.

“Increasing openness on health issues after the outbreak of SARS appeared to result in greater official concern for those affected by HIV/AIDS, but the authorities failed to meet demands for full transparency and accountability in the context of the spread of the virus. Official figures of 840,000 people infected with HIV and eighty thousand AIDS patients were considered to be serious underestimates. Medical specialists and others who attempted to raise public awareness of the issue were arrested or intimidated.

“People living with HIV/AIDS continued to suffer because of a lack of specialized medical treatment and some were detained and beaten after participating in protests relating to lack of access to medical care.

“Members of unofficial spiritual or religious groups, including some Qi Gong groups and unregistered Christian groups, continued to be arbitrarily detained, tortured and ill-treated. Detained Falun Gong practitioners, including large numbers of women, were at risk of torture, including sexual abuse, particularly if they refused to renounce their beliefs.

“Torture and ill-treatment remained widespread in many state institutions. Common methods included kicking, beating, electric shocks, suspension by the arms, shackling in painful positions, and sleep and food deprivation. Women in detention are vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse.”

There was complete silence as the scenes ended. Davis turned to the Chinese leaders.

“Gentlemen. To answer your unvoiced concerns, no, we do not spend our time putting China under a microscope. Quite honestly, we have better things to do. And no, this isn’t an attempt to force you into capitulation. You can keep your population in the dark all you’d like, but let’s not pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t know the facts. We admire your intellectual property; we do not admire the treatment of your people or the eco-sphere. The pollution your country is generating affects the entire world, not just China, therefore, this is our business.

“For the past ten months, Russia has been adapting their power grid to naquadah generators. They are about seventy percent complete. Their pollution rate has dropped almost twenty-three percent and it continues to fall. The ruble is up, people are beginning to prosper, people are healthier and happier. Mexico has recently acquired a generator and there is already a marked difference in the ozone above them. Several US states are having their power grids readied for generators after seeing the success in Nevada where we experimented with the first public use generator.”

Jack didn’t know where Paul came up with his information; he always seemed to know what was going on and where the party was happening. The men standing before them were hiding shame and anger, outrage and suspicion.

“On just about a daily basis, I get a call or note from my government asking that China once more be considered for membership in HomeWorld Security.” Jack took a few pacing steps. “I am still refusing, and I’m doing it to your face. Membership does not stipulate type of government; communism is not an automatic veto, so that isn’t my concern. Membership has been refused because of how you treat your people and what you are doing to your environment, and to the rest of the planet. Sure, the generators would help, but you have done nothing to help yourselves. You refuse to clean up the factories and vehicle emissions. Get your act together, gentlemen, and membership will be reconsidered.”

“I must protest, General O’Neill,” Duan said, shaking slightly in anger. “China has a right to self-protection and yet America is once more holding the ‘big gun.’”

“Self-protection against what? Who?” Jack asked, spreading his arms in question. “Certainly not us. If you want help, that’s one thing: you can ask for help, and we will do our best to give help. That isn’t what you are asking, however. You know damned well what those generators can do, and that’s what you want, and you just confirmed it, Mr Duan.

“In case it has escaped China’s notice, the rest of the world is working hard on cleaning up, dealing with an evolutionary leap, and creating peace. Once in a while we put an alien in its place, so I’m not sure what China needs protection against. Seems to me the Chinese citizens need protection against their government, not us.”

“This is outrageous,” the premier said, shaking with anger as he stepped forward. “You are condemning an entire country to death. This is war, General O’Neill, and we will be filing charges with your government and the United Nations.”

“War? The only war we’re fighting is against those creatures,” Jack said, pointing a finger back. “And you’re avoiding the fact that you are killing your own people due to your greed. And complain to whomever you’d like; we have the images of your people and what you are doing to your country. You are far from innocent, gentlemen, and there is no one in the world who doesn’t believe otherwise.”

“General O’Neill!” Fleury, red-faced, almost shouted. “You are out of line!”

Jack took the leash back from Sheppard and the baby back from Sam.

“I don’t play political games, Mr. Fleury,” he said. “My job is to keep this world safe from alien invasion and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I will protect China from any invasion, but I will not give China access to alien technology, not when they are killing their own people, destroying their ecology, and threatening their neighbors with death and destruction. Colonel Davis, when Mr. Xiang is ready to leave, make it so.”

He turned and went back down the hall to the beaming room. Olivia was glaring at the people from over Jack’s shoulder.

When he returned home, he confessed to Daniel what had happened. Daniel shook his head and went back down to his office. It wasn’t long before Hayes called.

“Henry, I don’t wanna hear it,” Jack said. “I read them the riot act to their faces. They are no better than the Goa’uld, sir, and I won’t give them access to our weapons even in the form of a generator.”

“Can I make a suggestion?” Daniel asked when Sam returned. Sheppard was allowed to go home and visit with his family, while Davis returned to his office and made an attempt at placating the Chinese.

“Sure,” Jack said. He poured a cup of Kool-aid for David.

“It may be the twenty-first century and the Chinese may elect their officials, but they are still a feudal society. Why not get another feudal leader over to talk with them?”

Jack and Sam stopped their puttering and looked at him.

“What? You mean like Atis?” Jack asked.

“Sure,” Daniel nodded. “He speaks their language. So to speak.”

“He’d scare the bejeesus out of them,” Jack said.

“And?” Daniel countered. “They practically worship those colorful, feathered dragons.”

“Are you always so brilliant?” Jack asked.

Daniel smiled and nodded. “Yes, I am; you just don’t notice because Sam is prettier.”

“Yes, I am,” Sam agreed.

Jack grabbed Daniel’s face and kissed him. “Go. Take whomever you need.”

Daniel bent Jack backward over the sink and kissed him thoroughly before releasing him.

“Sam may be prettier but I have a better ass,” Daniel informed him before turning to leave. They watched him head off to his office.

“His ass is better,” Sam said. Jack reached around and grabbed both cheeks.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said, pulling her close. “I’d say both have their positives.” She smiled and put her arms around his neck as he bent to kiss her. “Please tell me we’re cleared for launch,” he asked against her mouth.

“All systems ready,” she said. His eyes darkened and he took her hand, pulling her through the living room to their bedroom.

“Jerrie, mind the kids,” he called out. “We’re in a very important conference.”

“Happy conferencing, sir,” Jerrie called back with a chuckle. She began to gather baby things to take everyone to the park for an hour or so. Paul had confided that the best way to deal with the trio in any of their combinations was to find something else to do. Preferably outside of the house. Jerrie had found that Davis was right. The kids had learned to ignore it although wishing that their parents had the decency to be like other old people and not have sex anymore.

Just as Jack got her shirt up, Sam came to a sudden halt.

“What?” Jack asked, slightly breathless, one hand inside her bra. Sam sat up, her head tilted as though listening.

“Ohhhh,” she whispered, her eyes opening in understanding. She jumped out of bed, pulling her shirt into place as she ran for the door.

“What!” Jack yelled from the bed. “Bad breath?”

The door flew open and she ran out. Puzzled, Jack followed a moment later. He looked around. A door upstairs slammed and he went up. He found her in her lab, scribbling notes on her white board. Jack watched her producing numbers and symbols at near light-speed.

“What’s going on?” he asked. She didn’t hear him.

“Oyi,” Jack groaned and shook his head. He turned and left, knowing she’d come up for air sooner or later. He went into the living room and collapsed onto the couch as he watched Jerrie preparing Olivia for her stroll in the park.

“Jerrie, I think I have a streak of masochism in me,” he informed her. “I married the two smartest people on this planet. On several planets. Most planets, I’m pretty sure. Can’t even get in some decent nookie without one of them dividing more brain cells. I’m getting a complex, here.”

She smiled and zipped up the baby’s sweater. “Look at it this way,” she commented. “When they get it out of their system, they’ll be so excited about it they’ll need to jump something.”

Stacy and David came running from their rooms, pulling on their jackets. Stacy put the leash on Fang and announced she was ready.

“Can I at least get kisses from my kids?” Jack whined. The children each took a cheek and followed Jerrie out the door.

Although they had bitched out the school board on the suspension of their kids, the parents had to accept the decision of the principal to follow the rules. The children moaned and groaned about it, and the parents did, too. Neither Katie nor Matthew could believe that David got into a fight. They both confirmed that there were times when they had to defend themselves against other kids who issued challenges regarding parentage, mostly, and religion once in a while. Things rarely got as far as a physical confrontation, though. Katie’s kickboxing instructor recommended a tai chi master, so Jack took Davy to see a session. Davy liked it and Jack signed him up. Stacy had taken to the kel’no’reem, so she often sat in with Daniel. Jack and Sam didn’t kel’no’reem nearly as often as they should. Jack signed Stacy up for the tai chi, anyway. Maybe the classes would help them focus some of their energy.

The phone rang and Jack reluctantly answered it. It was probably another official who wanted to ream him over the entire ‘Chinese’ incident. Okay, so may be could have been a little less of an asshole. He’ll send flowers or something.

“Hey, Andy, how’s it goin’?” He sat up. “Is she alright? I’ll be right there.”

“Daniel!” He stuck his head inside the lion’s den. “Some kid tried to attack Katie. I’m going down to the sheriff’s office. Jerrie’s out with the younger ones.”

“Is she alright?” Daniel asked, sticking his head at the stairs.

“Andy says she is,” Jack nodded. “She’s a little shook up. Sam’s upstairs, would you let her know where I am?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Michael was walking up the front as Jack hurried out the door. His brother followed him and got into the truck.

“Is she alright?” Michael asked when Jack gave him a rushed summary.

“We’ll find out for sure and then I’m going to hunt down the little bastard,” Jack informed him.

When Katie saw them both coming through the door, she flopped back into her chair.

“I’m fine!” she insisted. “Sheriff Andy didn’t need to call you, nothing happened.”

“Details,” Jack ordered. He and Michael both stood in front of her, arms crossed and waiting. Jack was relieved that there were no marks on her, except for a slightly out of place blouse.

“It was that creep, Esteban,” she confessed. “We went off-campus for lunch, to that sub shop on the corner, and on the way back he tried to corner me. I told him no and he wouldn’t let go, so I kicked him.”

“Actually, she put him in the hospital,” Andy said from the side-lines, the side of his mouth twitching. “The kid’s parents are pressing charges. Katie busted his nose, fractured his jaw, and popped a ball. Pardon, Father; a testicle. The kid’s parents are not happy.”

Jack couldn’t believe it. “Why are they pressing charges?” he demanded. “It was their kid that tried to attack our daughter.”

Andy leaned against his desk and snapped his gum. “Jack, you need to be aware that with your kids learning self-defense, they qualify as weapons. This probably won’t be the first time someone tries to take advantage of that fact.”

Katie groaned. “Grandpa, please don’t let him blow this out of proportion,” she begged Michael as Jack groused over the facts.

“I don’t blow things out of proportion,” Jack protested. “And let’s not turn the focus of this conversation, please. The boy attacked you, Katherine, you could have been hurt!”

Michael raised a hand. “Jack. I think we need to sit down with the parents of this boy and find out the version of the facts that were given to them. Parents usually side with their child, but let’s see if they can be reasoned with. There was obviously a reason Katie beat up their son, and yes, Katie, of course we believe you. Are there any witnesses?”

“Not to the initial contact,” Andy said. “It was Katie’s self-defense that attracted attention. Actually, it was the boy screaming for his mommy, that attracted the attention.”

“What the hell is going on?” Jack asked in frustration as he paced a few steps. “Two of our kids were suspended for fighting a few days ago, and now Katie’s been in a fight. That leaves Matthew. I don’t expect Olivia to get into any arguments anytime soon. Andy, is it just my kids or what?”

The sheriff frowned and scratched his jaw. “A lot of kids seem to be a bit more rambunctious than usual,” he admitted. “And not the usual suspects. Good kids. Thinking about it, all the instances seem to be related to self-defense. Jack, before you do anything rash, let me make some phone calls. I have an idea I’d like to try and flesh out a bit.”

“I don’t do rash things,” Jack said. All three looked at him. “What?”

He pulled Katie up and into his arms, pressing his mouth to the top of her head as she wrapped her arms around his waist.

“I’m fine,” she whispered. “He didn’t hurt me. I liked him, Dad.” Jack wrapped her under his arm and led her out to the truck.

“Don’t worry, honey, you’ll find a nice boy,” he told her. He called his lawyer and told him to warn the family that if their kid came near Katie again, he’d sue for assault. Katie wasn’t happy about it as she curled up in the back seat and began to deal with her heart. There wasn’t much Jack could do; he assumed there would be closed-door female sessions in the near future.

“Mike, did you come over for something in particular?” Jack asked, remembering that his brother had been about to enter the house when they had left.

“Actually, I came over to talk with Daniel,” Michael told him. “He had sent me a few of his private articles about Ascension, and I wanted to discuss them.”

Jack nodded. “Well, I don’t know what his schedule is; I told off the Chinese President and Premier this morning. To their faces. There are a lot of people who are not happy with me today. Daniel and Paul are trying to fix it.”

Michael looked at him. “You know, one of these days someone is going to call your bluff and you’ll have to deal with it yourself.”

“Who says I’m bluffing?” Jack shrugged.

When they walked into the house, Daniel was pacing the living room, talking to the ceiling and gesturing wildly at the air.

“Jack!” Daniel noticed him and grabbed him by the front of his shirt. “I got it!”

“It better not be contagious,” Jack said. Daniel kissed him hard and released him.

“I hope it is!” Daniel said. “If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, the meal was cooked a long time ago. I got it! There is nothing new under the sun. If we can say of anything that it is new, it has been already long since.

“Ecclesiastes?” Michael asked, confused over what a Buddhist koan had to do with a quote from the Bible.

“Sam!” Daniel shouted. A moment later, she stuck her head out of her lab door. “Time does not exist, it is a construct created by humans. Past, present, and future are one and the same!”

“Okay,” Sam said, as confused as Michael.

Daniel fell to a chair in exhaustion, pleased with himself. He noticed Katie. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“Esteban wouldn’t take no for an answer,” she told him.

“Did you beat the crap out of him?” She nodded again. “Good, girl.” She smiled and took over his lap.

“What are you going on about?” Jack asked him. “I thought you were dealing with the Chinese.”

“I was. Am,” Daniel said. “I was looking at something and it clicked. The whole fire and meal thing. It only took me about five years.” Oma, an Ascended who had taken an interest in him, had spoken the koan to him which had him puzzled for years.

“You look like you passed a kidney stone,” Jack said.

“I feel like I gave birth,” Daniel countered. “Hey, Michael.”

“Daniel,” Michael nodded, slightly amused. “I was going to ask you to lunch but it looks like you’re busy. Can you come to the all-faiths meeting tonight?”

Daniel got up and went to find something to drink. “It’s a possibility,” he said. “I am in the middle of something, but I can try and make it. Anything specific?”

“We’ve been trying to get our heads around Ascension.”

“Well, I don’t remember much of it, but I know more than I did before,” Daniel said. “I’ll try. If not tonight, I’ll come to another meeting.”

That worked for Michael.

“Did you see Jack’s new stars?” Daniel asked, chugging a soda.

“What new stars?”

“Can’t tell you the details, but he earned himself new stars recently,” Daniel told him. “He was the very model of a modern Major General; he’s now a Lieutenant General.”

Michael looked at his younger brother who was cleaning up a pee spot made by a happy puppy.

“Three-star General? Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Jack said.

“I don’t suppose the background will be released any time soon,” Michael suggested.

“Maybe in a few years,” Jack said, dubious.

Sam raced down the stairs and out a side door into the garage which housed a motorcycle, bikes, and kid toys. The men heard crashing and banging.

“Sam? Whatcha doin’?” Jack asked from the doorway. She babbled something about ratios and electrons and radical quanta, and the men tuned out. “I suppose she’ll let us know when she’s done playing,” Jack said as they turned back to the living room.

“What is she doing?” Michael asked.

“Have no idea,” Jack said. “Just as I got my hand in her bra this morning, she had a brain storm and jumped out of bed.”

“Well, Jack, I always said you had the magic touch,” Daniel told him, snickering.

“Shut up. I am getting laid today, if it’s the last thing I do,” Jack warned him. Katie took her head out of the refrigerator and went up to her room, one finger in her ear, the other hand around a soda.

“I’m at a standstill until Paul gets back to me, so we could send Michael home,” Daniel suggested with a glint in his eyes.

“You don’t have the equipment I’m in the mood for,” Jack told him.

Michael covered his ears. “Guys, please, delicate ears here.”

“Bull,” Jack and Daniel told him.

The phone rang again and Jack picked it up.

“Yeah. Where? Hang on.” He held the phone out to Daniel. “Talk to Ronnie. She’s speaking your language.” Daniel took the phone and headed off to his office. Jack glanced at his brother and then startled the man by hugging him.

“What’s that for?” Michael asked.

“You needed it,” Jack told him as he went into the kitchen. “Mikey, have you noticed kids being more pugnacious than usual? In general, not just ours.”

Michael followed him and sat at a bar stool. Jack put a beer in front of him.

“I’m not sure,” Michael slowly said. “I’ve had a few parents complaining about their kids getting into fights.”

“Unusual for these particular kids?” Jack asked.

“Yes, and now that I think about it, I have to agree with Andy; a lot of self-defense is going on.”

Jack leaned against the counter. “Morals and ethics underwent a major change in the evolution of the Ancients,” he commented. “The so-called bullies were eventually shut out of the community if they couldn’t conform, and conforming meant tolerance and acceptance of others.”

An eyebrow went up. A door slammed and feet ran down the stairs.

“I’m going to the shop!” Sam called out.

“Sam!” Jack yelled. “What are you doing?!”

“Later, Jack! I need to…..”

Colonel Carter!

Sam skid to a halt and presented herself.

“Sorry,” she said breathlessly.

“Summarize it,” the general ordered.

“The arch,” she said. “I think I know how it was made. Unlike the Stargate, this doesn’t need a special type of metal. The activator, the battery, if you will, is a small supply of liquid naquadah, like the staves use. That’s really the only thing in it that can’t be found on this planet. I think I can make one and make it work.”

“Go,” Jack said, waving a hand. She ran out of the house.

“Did you understand any of that?” Michael asked dubiously.

“I understood that she understands it,” Jack said. “That’s good enough for me.”

“What arch?” Michael asked.

“What arch?” Jack responded, giving his brother a blank stare.

Michael shook his head and finished his beer. “You remember playing king of the mountain when we were kids? I think you took it a little too seriously.”

After Michael left, Jack tossed himself onto the couch, groaning and covering his eyes with an arm.

“Jack.”

“What.”

“I need to go to the SGC,” Daniel said. “Ronnie and Nyan need me to see something.”

Jack reached out and found a hairy wrist. He gave it a tug. Daniel eased himself down on top of Jack. He settled into the holding, helping Jack to calm and center. Jack put his arms around Daniel, flattening his palms against the strong muscles of Daniel’s back and breathing in the familiar scent of the man.

“Okay?” Daniel asked quietly after a few moments.

“Mmmmm.” Jack found his face and kissed him. “Love you,” he said as he nuzzled the side of Daniel’s neck. “Even if Sam is prettier than you.”

Daniel chuckled and lifted his head. They spent several minutes kissing and petting each other.

“Can’t they video conference you?” Jack asked against Daniel’s mouth. Daniel gave Jack’s chest a rub and nuzzled a nipple.

“I suppose so,” Daniel said. “But it’s easier to show me things if I’m there. They’ve come up with a few oddities. You did ask her to look for weird stuff, Jack. They have something coming up in South America and they’re ready to bring me in on it.”

Jack frowned. “Just don’t get taken hostage by those Nicaraguan rebels again, please? Or whoever they were?”

Daniel kissed him again and promised. Once was enough.

The house was empty except for Katie, and Jack assumed she was on the phone to someone or emailing out a thousand miffed notes. He couldn’t believe some stupid kid tried to mess with his little girl. He smiled to himself, picturing her smacking the kid in the face with a roundhouse kick. A reach told him she was a little shaken and disappointed, but also surprised and enlightened. Jack laughed to himself; she busted a testicle. Ouch, he winced, feeling sympathy pain, kid’s going to need an operation for that one. Damned if he was going to pay for it, though; the kid should have been a gentleman and taken NO for an answer. Jack hoped Megan was watching.

“She’s a good girl, Megs,” Jack said quietly. “They’re all good kids. You did a good job.”

He was still trying to process all the sensations that had overcome him while he had scanned the planet. Enki may have shut off the over-load, but he still had all the images, thoughts, and feelings running through his head. His planet wasn’t as bad as the news made it out to be; sure, there were people who needed to be taken out of the gene-pool, but most of them were good people who were simply trying to make it day by day. They were scared, for the most part, scared of all the changes that were happening. A lot of them hadn’t believed the news of aliens, much less an evolutionary leap, but after seeing their own kids learning beyond their years, and a few adults starting to do strange things, a quiet belief was taking hold. Some of the tribal areas bothered him; the people there didn’t have the media and were bothered by their children. Some tribes took the changes to be good and others took them to be bad. He was beginning to understand when Enki said that some people wouldn’t make it. It was a harsh reality that Jack needed to harden part of himself to whether he liked it or not.

Jack got up and went to his computer.

“To my fellow Tau’ri,” he typed.

“Some amazing things have been happening over the past few years, as most of you have determined already. We are not alone, indeed we are blessed with friends who have accepted us despite our faults. I address you as Tau’ri because that is who we are. We are not American, or British, or Russian, or any other national origin. We are Tau’ri, the inhabitants of the First World. The first human world, that is.

“You will have noticed some strange things happening with the kids. It’s okay, this is supposed to be happening. Our children will be smarter than we ever were, so don’t be afraid of them or afraid of what is happening. No, they won’t be changing their appearance or leaping tall buildings or using x-ray vision on us. They are just getting a little smarter, nothing more. Some adults are also undergoing a few changes; actually this isn’t anything new, the changes are simply things that already existed and are now being amplified. These are good things. Don’t be afraid of them, encourage them to happen.

“Be kind to each other. Be tolerant of the differences in others. Be accepting of those differences. Open your heart and mind to your neighbor. Be patient during these changes; ethics, morals, and basic social rules will need to change in order to accommodate the new world vision. The borders of our various countries are all man-made borders, not things of nature. A flag should not rule our lives. Church and State should not assume the position of lord and master. Sure, rules are needed for a society to function; we have worked too long and too hard for chaos to claim us. I have seen worlds where government truly puts its people first. Such worlds work and thrive. The citizens, from the leadership to the most humble farmer, all work together, none relying on another for their needs out of laziness. If they have the ability to work, they work. They are kind to each other.

“I am a soldier. I bear arms on a daily basis. I have killed and I will do so again, in order to keep my family safe. This planet is my family. I hope there is a day when war will no longer be a concern and my gun can begin to collect dust. My contract may say that I work for the United States Air Force, and I am more than willing to collect my paycheck from them, but I have begun to consider myself as Tau’ri. I work for the people of this planet. Propaganda will say that I am writing this to gain the support of the world for the USA. That isn’t so. I am writing this in my position as a fellow Tau’ri, as the Chief of HomeWorld Security, and as a representative of the Unified Worlds.

“A good soldier on any planet does not like war. I hope I’ve been a good soldier.

“As I watch my own children experience their changes, as I watch my wife and my husband awaken to their true selves, I know I am blessed. We are our own higher power. Please. I beg of everyone. Put down weapons, put down fists. Hug your family. Shake your neighbor’s hand. Hold your arms out wide and embrace the life you have been given. In a few short years of practicing this, my life has never been richer.

“My youngest son is eleven; he sees only the good in people. It is his gift. I have recently had reason to see this world with different eyes, and I see a lot of good people. Good people who are scared. I think the phrase, “the meek shall inherit the earth,” is misread. It is the tolerant and accepting that shall inherit the earth. If I could give the people of this world one gift, it would be the eyes and heart to see the true heart of your neighbor. It took this soldier a long time to learn that lesson, and I’m still learning it. It will be our children who practice it. Let’s help them get started on the right foot by showing them the way.”

Jack sat back and considered the ramifications. He emailed it and then picked up the phone.

“Cass, I just emailed you something. Please get it translated and sent out to every news agency you can find. No, don’t run it by anyone, I’ll take responsibility for it. Just send it. Thanks, honey.”

He emailed and dialed again.

“Gabriel, it’s Jack. Very good, thanks. Listen, I just emailed you with a letter that’s about to hit the papers. I’d like it to somehow be translated into languages of people who don’t have access to newspapers or TV. Yeah, tribes and stuff. I appreciate it, thanks.”

Jack hung up and winced.

“Daniel is going to smack me upside the head for this one,” he told himself.

 


 

Chapter 44

When Jack’s letter hit the night-time news that evening, the entire letter was read on air. Instead of being smacked, Jack was kissed by his surprised partners. Davy gave him a shy hug, self-conscious about being mentioned on air.

“Permission to hug, sir?” Jerrie asked, her voice slightly husky.

“Granted,” Jack said and gave her a hug, too.

Five minutes after the airing, there was a knock at the door. Katie opened it.

“Nanna, it’s past your bedtime,” she said, opening the door.

“This couldn’t wait,” Maggie said. She found her son and kissed him. “You do have a heart,” she said. “I always knew you did.”

Jack wasn’t sure what was worse: the attention from his family or the fact that they were surprised he could write something from the heart.

“Guys, I’m not a complete bas… idiot,” he declared, minding the small ears that were still awake. “I just…..” He threw his arms in the air and headed to his bedroom.

He stripped and went into the shower. He didn’t know what had come over him, writing that note and sending it to the press, but it was too late to recall it. If the night-time news was taking it so seriously, he didn’t want to think about the morning newspapers. When he got out of the shower, he found his partners waiting for him in the bed.

“I don’t wanna hear it,” he said. He got into bed and turned his back to them.

“Jack, you must have known this would get you attention,” Daniel said. “You did a beautiful thing and it was completely out of left field. Come on, turn over.”

Jack turned and pulled the covers over with him.

“Oh, that’s mature,” Sam said and tugged at the sheet. “Jack, we don’t need to talk about it, if you don’t want to, we just want you to know that we love you and we admire what you did.”

“No more discussion about it,” Jack warned. Sam climbed over Daniel and pushed Jack into the middle. Jack quickly crumbled under her kisses. She hovered over him, touching his face with gentle fingers.

“We love you,” she told him. “It isn’t too often you get mushy but when you do, it’s a beautiful thing and it’s okay to let us in to see it. So, do you wanna do the nasty with us or not?”

Jack reluctantly smiled at her. “Is it Jack-in-the-middle night?” he asked, drawing circles on her back with a fingertip.

“It’s a whatever-Jack-wants night,” Daniel told him.

Jack got whatever he wanted as he was loved up one side and down the other. When they first figured out the three-way technique, the men were afraid that both of them on top of Sam would be too much weight for her, but she assured them that if they both made use of knees and hands and elbows, she wouldn’t suffocate.

Knowing that they never had serious orgasms when all three were connected, it usually turned into a feel-good session, Jack allowed part of his mind to tune out. He reached out to Daniel, opening up and encouraging Daniel to enter his heart. They had managed it a couple of times since Jack came back from the Baal war. Daniel nuzzled Jack’s back as their hearts mingled. Jack led Daniel toward Sam and she was abruptly with them. Startled at the sudden sensation of not being alone in her experience, she choked and held on. This time, Jack held her face and forced eye-contact. Both he and Daniel mingled their spirits with hers, showing her how much they loved her, knowing that the heart cannot lie as it speaks more without words than it can with words.

Daniel slid off to the side and curled up to them, sharing kisses as they calmed.

“Oh, my God,” Sam whispered, wiping her face on the sheet. “Is that….? What was that?”

Jack kissed her face and down her neck as he stroked her soft hair. “I knew you could do it,” he said.

“But it…. scientifically…..”

The men chuckled and Jack rolled off. “Just because we don’t know the science behind it doesn’t mean there isn’t a theory for it,” Daniel told her. “Sam, forget science for once and just accept.”

She hugged both to her chest. “Is that what happens when you two…. do it?”

“Yes, it is,” they nodded. “Honey, I don’t know why you weren’t automatically brought in before,” Jack said. “Ninurta thinks it has something to do with my Ancient stuff and Daniel’s Ascended stuff. It just took you a little longer, that’s all.”

She wiped another tear from her cheek and sniffled. “I felt…. loved,” she whispered. “More than I ever thought possible. I mean, I felt something close to it through Jolinar for Martouf, but this was love for me.”

Jack took a fistful of blond hair and gently shook it. “Will you stop analyzing something for two minutes, please?”

Sam sniffled and nodded before getting up and heading to the shower.

“I’ll go,” Daniel said, after five minutes of holding each other. Jack nodded and Daniel slipped from the bed.

Sam was leaning against the tile as the water cascaded over her shoulders and back. Daniel got in, took the puff, and gently washed her back.

“If it’s too much, we won’t bring you in like that again,” he said quietly. She sniffed and shook her head.

“I was so jealous of that,” she said. “You and Jack being like that, sensing each other. I couldn’t understand why I was left out. You love me. Different, but as strong as you love Jack, you love me.”

Daniel turned her around and held her face. “Sam, all three of us are connected. We belong together. Sure, I love Jack differently than I love you; you’re two different people. It’s just as strong, though, and you’ll get used to opening up so fully that we can become One when we are together. Sometimes, I can even sense Jack when he’s far away. Especially if he’s very upset about something. You and I can do that, too.”

He finished washing her and made love to her under the shower. He wasn’t as good at it as Jack was becoming, but he managed to send a sonar ping which seemed to reassure her that their previous experience really did happen.

When Jack got to work in the morning, everyone seemed to be looking at him, which really wasn’t a surprise since his stupid note made the front pages of what seemed like every newspaper in the world. “Good mornings” echoed around him as he made his way to his office, and voices seemed warmer than usual. Even Cassie put a sweet kiss on his cheek when he went in.

“You’re getting soft in your old age, General,” she informed him.

“Thank you; I’ll take it under advisement,” he told her.

Not five minutes after sitting down, Davis knocked and went in. He stood before Jack’s desk, looking at him.

“Oh, not you, too,” Jack groaned.

“Nope, not me,” Paul said. “I always knew you had it in you. I just wanted to update you on the Chinese.”

“Thank God,” Jack said fervently to the ceiling. “Update me. Please tell me I can go out and hurt someone.”

“Not this time,” Paul said. “Sorry to disappoint you. Your bigger stick impressed them. Feudal society, remember, sir?” Jack tilted his head back to its correct position and looked at his assistant. “Not that big stick, sir. I talked most of the night with Ambassador Fleury and President Tien, and got them to agree that maybe part of the problem is in communications and cultural differences. With your permission, I’d like to invite Lord Atis in on the peace talks. Daniel has agreed to sit in as mediator.”

“Won’t the Chinese think he’s on my side?” Jack asked pointedly.

“No, sir,” Paul shook his head. “They are fully aware that he doesn’t hesitate to disagree with you, when he needs to. They have read not only the chief’s book, but also quite a few of the SGC files. Sir, the files were opened to them when they were briefed a few years ago.”

It took Jack a moment. “Oh, right. Kinsey, Thor, Hammond. Right. Yes, you can ask Atis to join in the fun and games.”

“Thank you, sir. And I organized your emails,” Paul said, glancing at the computer. “Your inbox was overflowing. I prioritized the messages.”

“Of course you did, Colonel,” Jack nodded. “And I appreciate those little sweet-nothings. I haven’t heard from Hayes yet this morning.”

“He sent flowers, sir.”

“He what?”

Davis jerked a finger in the direction of the outer office. “Those flowers on Cassie’s desk are yours, not hers. She confiscated them.”

Jack went out and plucked the card from the basket, glaring at Cassie as she grinned at him.

“Impudence,” he declared and went back into his office.

“Jack, stop being selfish and share those meds. H.H.”

“Very funny, Henry,” Jack said, tossing the card on the desk.

“Something else, sir.” Jack waved for him to continue. “Something odd coming out of Africa. Rwanda, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, most of the countries that top the human rights' watch lists -new rumors, sir. Apparently some kind of ghost or spirit has come out of the earth and is warning the people about false gods. And the 'spirit' isn't Christian or Muslim. A couple of rebel armies have even woken up to find all their weapons gone.”

Jack slowly turned his chair to face Davis. “Anyone coming forward on that?”

“No, sir. Compound videos are blank, no one has claimed to have seen anything out of the ordinary. Other than this ghost walking through the bush and nighttime savannahs wearing a gray cloak and hood.”

“Huh.” Jack scratched an ear. “Strange. Alright, keep a watch on that one.”

After Paul left, Jack turned his computer on.

Good morning, Jaaaack,” it said in a Nicholson voice.

“Davis!”

By noon, Jack had responded to most of his emails and took a few phone calls. The latest informed him that the Heaven’s Bow had rung the doorbell. Jack gave permission for them to enter. At least they didn’t automatically beam themselves in. Whoever it was more than likely knew the way to his office, so he continued to answer the emails while refusing calls from the press. He was somewhat surprised when Ninurta walked into his office.

“Wass-up?” Jack asked, hitting the send button. The warrior sat in a chair in front of his desk and made himself comfortable.

“I think that’s my line,” Ninurta said. “Anything you’d like to discuss?”

Jack glanced at him. After a moment of silent pushing and pulling, he leaned back, stretching his arms and neck.

“How did you find out?”

“Someone tossed this morning’s paper through the gate,” Ninurta confessed with quiet amusement. “Jonathan was highly entertained.”

“I have no idea what came over me,” Jack finally said. “The house was quiet, just me and Katie, and I just did it.”

Ninurta nodded. “Aba said you scanned the planet.”

Jack told him what had happened and Ninurta listened closely, nodding once in a while.

“Yes, that’s what Aba said,” he commented. “That was a major step, Jack. Aba said you are now fully open. There really isn’t anything you can’t do. You could even bring up the Ancient memories, if you wanted to. Have you remembered any of them?”

“No.” Jack picked up a pencil and fiddled with it.

“Then it’s your own stubbornness that is keeping it from rising,” Ninurta told him.

Jack swung his chair as he slouched in it. “I had no idea so many people were afraid,” he confessed. “Not little fears, but afraid of life itself. They take each day as a challenge, instead of living it. I guess I just wanted to hug everyone and tell them that they’ll be fine. Is that what you guys get? How do you deal with it?”

“Inanna does it mostly,” Ninurta said. “It was hard on her, at first. Not a day went by when she didn’t go to bed and spend some time crying. When I do it, which isn’t too often, I try to not take anything personally. Don’t hold the emotions of others; stand back and observe them. Just say Yes, accept their reality, and let it go.”

“Easier said than done,” Jack told him.

“Well, I’m here to inform you that my queen is officially turning over Earth to you for monitoring,” Ninurta told him, brushing at his vest. “You need to follow the rules, Jack; no ‘helping.’ They still need to do it on their own. Remember: if you keep holding the baby’s hands, it’ll never learn to walk on its own.”

“Why me?” Jack whined.

Ninurta gave him a look. “Because you have surpassed the Tau’ri. Don’t whine. You don’t count as a Fifth Race member, your DNA is coded for Ancient.”

“That isn’t what the Asgard said,” Jack countered.

“The Asgard didn’t know about the Ancient gene in you when they discovered you,” Ninurta said. “This was an unforeseen event. And may all the gods help us, if we have to accept Sheppard as one of you.”

Jack chuckled as he nodded. “If Col. Caldwell can’t whip him into shape, I just might be sending Sheppard to you. Oh, hey; all his touching the toys brought up something interesting.” Jack and Ninurta walked down to Sam’s playroom. Ninurta pecked a friendly, brotherly kiss to her cheek.

“Where’s that disk thing?” Jack asked. He took it from the table and slid it into the slot in the chair before sitting. Ninurta watched the presentation with an intent curiosity, nodding from time to time.

“Yes, we wondered if something like this would be discovered,” he said when Jack shut it off. “It makes sense that persons in a privileged position would key their notes to specific individuals. They used a lot of non-Ancients for workers, so of course they would need to make sure certain things remained private.”

“They locked the filing cabinet so the staff wouldn’t get into it?” Jack asked.

“Pretty much,” Ninurta nodded. He frowned in thought. “Jack, Sheppard doesn’t have your Ancient memories, obviously, so I’m curious as to exactly which way he’ll develop. When he reaches his potential, I believe he should be able to read people much like you do, and he does have a talent for strategy. He needs to quit fooling around, though, and push himself to work up to his own best effort. He slides because he would quickly surpass everyone else on Atlantis. He wants to run while the others are crawling. He’s rarely challenged. As a strategist, I mean. Jack, if something happens again, in the future, where you need a war council, you may want to consider putting Sheppard on it. But enough of this, I’m hungry; it’s lunch time here, right?”

Jack called the commissary and ordered lunch. Halfway through lunch and a discussion on current baby trends, Cassie called in and said Matthew was there. Jack looked at the clock, surprised, and told her to send him in. He had a friend in tow; Tommy, if Jack remembered the boy’s name correctly. Matthew greeted Ninurta and turned to Jack.

“Dad, this was important,” Matty said, explaining his school absence. “Go on, Tommy, tell him.” He nudged his friend who was staring at the warrior. “Ninurta’s cool; just tell my dad what you told me.”

“Come here, son,” Jack said gently, waving the boy to his side of the conference table where they were eating. Matthew browsed the table and came up with half of a roast beef sandwich and stole the pickle spear off Jack’s plate. “What’s going on?”

Tommy shifted his feet, unsure. “Sir, I…. I don’t like my mom’s boyfriend,” he spouted. “He hurts her and I don’t know how to help. I’m not very strong.” He looked down at the floor, rubbing absently at his thin arms.

“Does he hurt you, too?” Jack asked, he and the warrior paying more attention.

Tommy shrugged. “He yells a lot,” he said. “Calls me names and stuff. But I don’t care about me, I want him to stop hitting my mom. He calls her names, too. He wouldn’t let her work here, and he uses her money to buy beer and stuff. One of our neighbors moved last month and gave my mom some nice furniture because ours was all torn and everything, and he took the good stuff to his place. I don’t know how to help my mom.”

Jack had wondered why Tommy’s mother didn’t apply when he offered; she had seemed interested.

“What’s this guy’s name, son?” Jack asked.

“Conrad Neville,” Tommy told him. “But, sir, if he finds out I told on him, he’ll hurt me and Mom.”

“No one will be hurting anyone,” Jack promised.

“Come here, little brother.” Tommy was startled that the alien warrior would be speaking to him. “You are brave to come forward,” Ninurta told him, setting his large, weathered hands on the boy’s thin shoulders. “When you are a man, then you can take care of your mother properly; it is no shame to ask for help. Jack, I will deal with this. It’s been a while since I had any fun. A week or so. Your cousin was slightly fun.”

“Just don’t kill him,” Jack told him. The boy jerked his head, wide-eyed. “Tommy, can you reach your mom now? Ask her if you can stay the night at my place. Tell her you and Matthew are studying and I said you could stay the night. Matthew needs help with his math; you can help him. And don’t worry.”

Jack sent them back to school with an SF escort.

“That boy is… delicate, shall we say?” Ninurta commented.

“I know,” Jack nodded. “I sensed his crush on Matty a while back. Matty never returned anything except friendship, so the crush is gone. Matty hasn’t said anything, so I think Tommy is keeping things to himself.”

“Jack, there’s gay and then there is delicate,” Ninurta said, giving Jack a knowing eye. “He’s pretty which means he’ll need protection, if he doesn’t learn to take care of himself.”

Jack tossed his arms up. “I can’t send every kid to a self-defense class,” he declared. “I can ask Matty to keep an eye on him.”

The warrior changed into Tau’ri clothes and took Kearney with him to find Tommy’s mother’s oppressor. Jack sent Kearney along to drive and to make sure Ninurta left the man alive. High-jacking the Chinese would be nothing, if word got out that one of Jack’s alien buddies went hunting in town.

Hayes called to rib Jack a little more about his letter. When Jack mentioned that an Anunnaki warrior was in town, Hayes immediately pressed for a meeting. The list of Anunnaki that would be visiting Jack was short.

“I tell you what, Henry,” Jack said. “How about I have you and the Missus beamed up and over to my place in a few hours? No one needs to know you’re gone, and my neighborhood is surrounded by top SF. How long has it been since you guys have had a decent, home-cooked meal? Tell your chief of security to chill and let me handle your security for a couple of hours.”

When he called Daniel and told him who was coming for dinner, Daniel swore and hung up. Sam immediately began to panic after Jack went down and told her.

“The house is a mess,” she insisted.

“No, it isn’t,” Jack said, shaking his head. “It’s a house with four kids, a baby, and a new puppy. It’s fine; Jerrie keeps it clean. How’s the arch coming?”

Sam’s attention was diverted and she lit up. “Calculations add up by computer, we just need to try it in real time,” she said. Jack looked at the white boards that dotted the room. He didn’t understand why Sam’s people needed them, when they had computers on every desk. They seemed to enjoy the act of writing things out the long way, he guessed. He looked at the drawing on a board. Without thinking about it, he picked up a marker and changed a line.

“Why’d you do that?” Sam asked.

“I don’t know,” Jack shrugged. “Sorry if I messed it up.” He felt a wave of faintness and leaned against the table. Sam quickly took him by the arms, looking carefully into his face. “I’m okay,” he said. “I just…. Ninurta said Enki said I’m completely open.” He looked around and spoke softly, but no one was close enough to overhear. Sam understood.

“So there will be a few things coming to the surface,” she concluded. “Jack, you’re doing all this and you’re still speaking English. I think you’ll be alright. We will tell you the moment you do something weird, like speaking Ancient.”

“He also said Inanna’s turning the job over to me,” he continued, his head spinning as it all hit him. “She wants me to monitor Earth. Sam, this might be too much. I don’t want to be responsible for a planet. Playing guard dog is one thing, but this….”

Disregarding protocol, she put her arms around him for a moment.

“It won’t be too much,” she told him. “The mikku will monitor the sky, you just spend a day or two each month doing a quick scan. If you need more down time, we can pick up any slack. Give Paul more responsibilities; I think he just might make general someday, so start training him for it. And remember that Cassie will have a hand in all this at some point in the future, so keep her involved.” She put her hands on his face. “You can do this.”

Sam did have a point, Jack told himself. Davis had surprisingly risen to the challenge of assisting him. During the years Jack had known him through the SGC, Davis had the thankless job of telling Hammond what couldn’t be done which forced Hammond to think outside the box. Davis did the same with Jack, when he needed to, and he handled all the day to day necessities of running HomeWorld Security. Jack went back to his office and started the paperwork for making his ‘light’ colonel a full colonel. He then went home a little early to help Jerrie prepare dinner for their guests. Daniel was already home and the kitchen was organized chaos.

“Did you really need to do this tonight?” Daniel asked, irritated, as he wielded a sharp knife on a helpless chicken corpse.

“Henry wants to meet Ninurta,” Jack said. “So yes, it needed to be tonight. Sorry for the short notice. What are we having?”

“Food.”

Jack considered escaping. Instead, he went up to Daniel and lowered his forehead to Daniel’s back. Daniel paused, took a deep breath, and forced himself to relax.

“I could have called for take-out or taken Ninurta to Washington,” Jack said after a moment. “I can cancel this and take Ninurta to Henry.”

“No,” Daniel said, putting the knife down and turning. “I need the break from work. I need to be in three different places and I can’t.”

“Where do you need to be?” Jack asked, sliding arms around Daniel’s waist.

“China, Chile, and Florida,” Daniel told him.

“Well, I think China takes priority,” Jack said. “How about sending Ronnie to Florida, see if SG-1 is available to go with her, and send Nyan to Chile with SG-3? Bosco is home taking care of Connie, so the rest of his team is just sitting around. Would that work?”

In the end, Ninurta volunteered his ship and crew for the Chile assignment, which meant that Nyan could help Ronnie in Florida. Sheppard made the mistake of calling and telling Jack that he wasn’t having any fun with his family, so Jack sent him to Chile, also. Not that Sheppard had much of a family; his father and a few distant cousins.

Atis had already notified Davis that he would be available in a couple of days, and agreed that negotiating with a feudal lord could be tricky.

Keir Ravenscroft called and asked Jack if he could borrow the mikku.

“What for?” Jack asked.

“My home government would like to put the argument of Loch Ness to rest once and for all,” Keir told him. “I just want to take a look around the lake.”

“Oh. Sure, I guess so,” Jack said. “You’re gonna lose a tourist industry, though. Have whoever’s driving take a look at Lake Champlain, too.” Jack called HomeSec. “Sam, what are the mikku riders doing when they’re not looking at the sky?”

“Helping out with everything else, why?”

“We have a few mysteries here on this planet, so how about assigning someone to help out with that?” he asked, shooing the puppy away from his sneaker laces.

“Sure, we can do that,” she said.

“Oh, and Ravenscroft has a request. I okay’d it.”

“Can I borrow it, too?” Daniel asked when Jack mentioned what Keir wanted.

“Hunting for lost temples?” Jack guessed. Daniel bit into a celery stick after making a mark in the air. “You’ll make enemies out of all the Indiana Jones wanna-bes.”

“They’re already pissed at me,” Daniel said. “May as well make it worth the energy.”

Sam had already settled one issue with the mikku –the area in and around Roswell, New Mexico held traces of naquadah in the amounts that a small, crashed ship would have left. They already knew that the Asgard did lose a small scout ship there, but this was concrete proof that something had happened. When Jack tried to get the Air Force records of the incident, he received shamed faces of people who didn’t know anything about records and people who knew that the official records no longer existed. They had been blacked out so badly that no one could make sense of them. An attempt to ‘de-blacken’ one sheet of paper succeeded in destroying the paper. Someone, several someones, had made bad decisions along the way, and the information was no longer available.

A knock was on the door, and David raced to answer it while Jack showed Stacy how to begin training Fang.

“Daddy, it’s Mr. Giorgetti,” Davy called out. Jack sent Stacy and Fang outside.

“Mandy, come in,” Jack said, holding his hand out.

“Hi, Jack, hope this isn’t a bad time,” the neighbor said, ruffling Davy’s hair with the other hand.

“Not at all, come in,” Jack said, ushering him in. They sat in the living room and Jerrie brought in glasses of tea. A few of Jack’s old neighbors had moved away, a silent statement of their disapproval of his new lifestyle, but some like Armando and Maria Giorgetti, and Carl and Rhonda Weber, had stayed close by.

“I have a favor to ask, Jack,” Mandy said, slightly subdued in Italian honor. “It’s really big and I’ll understand if you say no. I have a little sister, Lydia; she’s twenty-three. She’s real sick. Liver cancer. We haven’t been able to find a matched donor. She’s always been a big believer in all this ET stuff and I’d like for her to see your Stargate before she dies. Maybe she can touch it. She doesn’t have much longer, Jack. Is there any possibility of doing this for her?”

Jack leaned forward and put a hand on Mandy’s arm. “Yeah, we can do it, Mandy,” he promised. “I’m sorry to hear about this. Is she here in town?”

“She lives just outside of Ft. Collins,” Mandy said, relief evident on his face. “Are you sure this won’t be a problem?”

“No problem at all,” Jack said. “I’d be honored to do this for you.” Daniel picked up the phone and went into the kitchen.

The moment the children got home from school, Sam herded them into showers and fresh clothes while Daniel completed dinner. By the time Ninurta was brought back by Kearney, Hayes and his wife had been sitting on the couch for about a half hour talking with Cassie and Harper. Jack refused to go all-out for his guests; Henry needed a reality check with a real family. Jerrie wanted to clean and polish everything, and Jack had to order her to put the dusting supplies down and leave the kid toys where they were. Jack liked his home looking lived-in and alive with children and love. Henry was seated on a couch with scattered coloring books, and handed a baby and bottle.

“Everyone pitches in around here,” Jack said. Hayes chuckled and turned on the grandpa charm. Mrs. Hayes (Judy, please!), insisted once more on hugging Jack for saving her. She was still in talks with Dr. Edmond, and was horrified by the memories of carrying a symbiote. She had begun a strong campaign to win the support of the conservatives that were still quietly grumbling about Jack and the entire alien business. To say nothing of the sex business. She blinked when Daniel kissed Jack and patted his butt, and bravely accepted it. Henry rolled his eyes and jiggled the baby, making nonsensical noises.

“If we have to put up with it, so do our guests, sir,” Katie told Hayes, also rolling her eyes. She offered a tray of vegetables and dip. “If they tell us to talk a long walk, I recommend doing it.”

“None-a that,” Jack said, tapping her on the head as he walked by. “Don’t worry, Henry, we’ll wait until you’re gone.”

Matty’s friend Tommy had the unexpected treat of being on hand to meet the president and his wife. With permission, Matty ran around taking pictures with the digital camera. Tommy was too shy to ask, but Matty wasn’t. Tommy got his picture taken with all the stars of the day.

Henry stood to be formally introduced to Ninurta.

“Jack tells me you are interested in working with us after your current posting,” Ninurta said after meeting Mrs. Hayes, asking after her health, and shaking Henry’s hand.

“I would like that, yes,” Henry said. They went to the table as Daniel and Jerrie brought out dishes. “I loved being out in space on a 303 and meeting everyone. It felt right. After this job is done, what else will I do here? I’d be dead weight, basically. I want to participate in some way, I just don’t know what I can do to help.”

The front door opened and Maggie walked up to Hayes.

“The prices of my prescriptions are ridiculous,” she informed him and handed him a piece of paper before patting Ninurta’s cheek. Jack slid a hand over his eyes.

“Ah. Mother O’Neill, I presume,” Henry said.

“Hi, Mom,” Jack said patiently. Jerrie fetched another place-setting. Spaghetti and Chicken Parmesan went a long way.

The door opened again and Paul came in. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. He gestured apologetically at Maggie. “I tried to stop her, Jack, I really did.”

“He’s getting slow in his old age,” Maggie said. She pecked the top of Jack’s head and sat down. Olivia gave a happy screech and she was pecked, too.

The parents began the usual Q&A on their children’s day, allowing everyone to talk. Tommy was included and he gave shy, quiet answers. Jack knew Ninurta had something to say about the boy, but it would have to wait. Stacy let her feelings be known on the subject of bullies and unfair rules against kids, and Katie snarled about boys and their assumption of superiority. Ninurta was no help, congratulating the girls on their prowess.

“This is happening everywhere,” Daniel commented. “Kids starting to defend themselves against bullies. There is a sense of morality and ethics happening that goes beyond what our society tries to teach. Kids are starting to understand the concept of self-determination a lot sooner than they did in the past. The current rules need to take this into consideration, and the only way that is going to happen is if the National Educators understand this and send word down the pipeline.”

Hayes picked thoughtfully at his salad which Daniel served European-style at the end of the main meal, instead of the beginning. It cleared his palette, Daniel had once said.

“Daniel, I don’t think you realize the position you are all in, here in Colorado Springs,” Hayes said. “This is alien central. No offense, Ninurta. Everyone here is used to unusual things happening, and you all expect the unusual. The rest of us are not in that position. To get a bunch of educators in Washington to understand the needs of the changing tide, is expecting too much. You’ve had years to get used to all this; we haven’t. I grant you, my grand kids are doing things I never thought possible, and I think it’s wonderful, but most adults aren’t ready to accept the changes and we know the public school system isn’t where it should be. This is like every other social change, I’m afraid; it will need to play out as it will.”

Jack reached out and took Daniel’s hand. “Breathe,” he said. “You tell me I can’t play God and I need to trust in my species.”

Daniel took a deep breath and nodded.

“It’s alright, Ahu,” Ninurta said. “Remember; you are in the public eye, so lead by example, if nothing else works.”

“What does ahu mean?” Henry asked after Daniel began to relax under the stroking of his family.

“It means 'brother',” Ninurta said. “My aba, Enki who is my father, has claimed Daniel for a son, so he is my brother. I call Jack ahu, also, because my brother is his consort. Sam is ahutu, my sister.” She glanced up from helping Davy with his dish and gave Ninurta a small smile.

“And when he’s feeling superior, he calls us didila,” Daniel commented. “It means child.”

Ninurta raised an eyebrow and shrugged. “Well, I am a couple thousand years old, and you are what? Thirty-six?”

“Almost thirty-seven,” Daniel scowled.

“Didila.”

That got Henry off and running with age and how some of the Anunnaki could possibly be so old. Ninurta had to give him the lecture about longevity and the problems associated with it.

“So, you really were on this planet thousands of years ago?” Henry asked. “You, yourself?”

“I was born here,” Ninurta surprised him. “Aba and Ama were from…. elsewhere, but I was born here, in the city of Ur, which used to be on the shore of the Euphrates River, at the apex of the gulf when the water table was higher.”

“It’s about four hundred miles south of Babylon which was called Sumer in his time, a little north-west of what is now al Basrah,” Daniel put in for the clarification of those who didn’t know ancient cities. “It was across the river from Uruk; what the Bible calls Erech.”

Henry’s mouth opened and closed for a moment. “Okay, I have to ask,” he finally said. “What… I mean, did you ever meet any of the Judeo-Christian patriarchs? Abraham and those guys?”

Ninurta leaned back, considering carefully. “Their time was long after we left this world, which was around three thousand BCE your time,” he finally said. “So I cannot give you an absolute answer on their existence. I can say this, though: there is very little in your sacred book which is historically accurate. Much of it is stories from earlier times, retold for what was then the current society. The story of your Noah was old by the time it was retold, and David and Jonathan were retold from the stories of Gilgamesh and Enkidu.”

Henry worriedly fingered his napkin. “So, you don’t think Jesus was real?”

Ninurta tilted his head. “Again, I cannot say. I wasn’t on this world at that time. I have read his story, though, and if he did indeed live, he sounds like one of the Ascended. I can say that nothing he did was original. Resurrection was a thing that happened on a regular basis for those with a sarcophagus, and we know for a fact that there was one in the area during his supposed time period. Who is to say his burial cave was not a sarcophagus? If he was Ascended, it would certainly explain his comings and goings. And walking on water and feeding the multitudes is no hard feat for someone who is able to manipulate matter.” He reached out and there were suddenly several loaves of bread on the table. Henry and his wife jumped.

“It actually isn’t hard,” Ninurta said. “Mind over matter, as Aba would say.”

There was silence for a moment.

“Is this what we are going to be able to do when this leap is done?” Henry asked, slightly hoarse. He hesitantly poked at a loaf and found that it was real.

“I don’t know,” Ninurta shrugged, taking a loaf and tearing it before spreading butter on it. He handed it to Judy, with an incline of his head. “A few of you might reach that level. A small few, mind you. Think of it as high genius level. Don’t be afraid of these changes, Henry; the only thing happening is that your brains are developing a few more connections into sections of your brain that haven’t been consciously used.” The bread tasted fresh-baked, Judy told them, eyes wide.

“Like adding one or two more phone lines to the house,” Daniel put in.

Ninurta thought about it and nodded. “Correct,” he said. “Such as the children learning just a little sooner than they did before, and developing self-awareness sooner. People will understand a little more than they did before.”

“Wait.” Daniel held up a finger and Ninurta paused. “If you left around three thousand, how do you know about Gilgamesh? He was after your time here.”

“I’m an avid reader,” the warrior said behind hooded eyes.

Jack tossed his napkin down. “You know, I’m tired of these little mysteries,” he complained.

“I will discuss it in private, Jack,” Ninurta said in Goa’uld. The few at the table who understood it gave unconscious nods.

“Your pardon,” Ninurta said to the others.

Henry and his wife needed to leave soon after dinner; his SS were getting antsy. Ninurta promised to drop by for more discussions. Henry took Jack’s hand before joining the circle of secret service for beaming up and back to DC.

“You were right, Jack, we needed this,” Henry told him. Mrs. Hayes agreed and gave them all hugs.

“I know the president of the Educators Association,” she told Jack. “I’ll talk with her and see if there is anything that can be done to change a few rules.”

After the house was emptied of guests, Jack made the rounds. The baby was already asleep after her busy evening of entertaining, and the rest of the kids were relaxing with TVs or books or computers before going to bed. Jack passed out kisses and went down to Daniel’s den. He fell onto the couch and was handed a glass of something amber.

“Okay, talk,” Jack told Ninurta who was contemplating his own glass.

“While we were waiting for our ship to be repaired after the battle with Enlil, I spent time catching up on Earth history,” he said. “Not really a big deal.”

“Are you lying?” Jack asked, suspicious. Ninurta smiled and sipped his whiskey.

“Only a little,” he admitted. “The stories of Gilgamesh and Enkidu are mythical. Sure, there was a king named Gilgamesh. Or Bilgamesh, actually, but the stories about him and Enkidu were old stories. They were about me and Shara. There was a lot of plagiarism going on during those years, and anything that sounded good was rewritten for the king or in later years in honor of him. I was not a nice person, in the early years. I took what I wanted when I wanted. Including the virginity of new brides. And a few grooms. When Shara came along, I fell so in love that I could think of nothing else but him. I even hurt Inanna by refusing her. Obviously we worked it all out. After Shara and Inanna colluded and beat the crap out of me. Or beat sense into me. As you will.”

Daniel began to laugh and Ninurta had the grace to smile and nod. “I was a shit,” he said. “Aba was ready to turn me into a toad.”

“Can I ask a personal question?” Sam asked, refilling his glass. Ninurta raised a brow.

“Even more personal? Yes, Ningal, you may.”

“Do you…. Have you ever…. oh, boy, I can’t say it. Never mind.”

“Sam,” Daniel shook his head. “Jack and I have been able to join our spirits a couple of times when we have sex. Last night, we brought Sam into it for the first time. We tried before, but we were never able to reach her. I think she wants to know if you’ve had that experience with your partners.”

“I have,” Ninurta willingly answered. “All the time, actually. It gets easier the more you do it.”

“Why haven’t I been able to do it before?” Sam asked, worried and reassured at the same time..

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “It may have something to do with them being Ancient and you not. Their minds have already begun to adapt to the changes; it was easier for them because of their history.”

“What do you mean, “them being Ancient”?” Jack asked, intent as he leaned forward. “Daniel doesn’t have the gene.”

“He’s been Ascended, Jack,” Ninurta pointed out. “Not once, but twice. He’s an honorary Ancient. The gene only allows you to play with the technology and have a better understanding of it. His mind was opened just like yours was, only in a different manner. He qualifies as an Ancient.”

Jack jumped to his feet and took a few steps as he waved his arms as Daniel sat back, slightly stunned. “Who are… were… the Ancients?! What was their real name?!”

“I don’t know,” Ninurta said with a shrug. “Aba said they were called Ancients by the time we came on the scene. They may not have remembered it themselves. Guys, remember that they had been gone for a while by the time I was born. I don’t have your answers. While the Ancient gene has been simmering in a few of your tribes, some of the others on the planet have had bursts of brilliance, and their minds are as open as those with the gene. People like Daniel and Sam. Yes, Samantha, you, too. Do you think just anyone is capable of recreating a Furling transporter? I saw your work stations while I was in your lab today, I recognized the diagrams. I guarantee you that the only other person on this planet that could have understood them is Jack. He hears engineering the same way you hear science and Daniel hears words.”

Jack’s jaw snapped shut.

“He changed a line on one of the boards,” Sam remembered. “When I ran it through the computer, it fixed a minor flaw in the simulations.”

“Why did you change the line, Jack?”

“I don’t know,” he told the warrior.

There was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” Daniel called up the stairs. Matthew came down.

“I’m going to bed,” he told them as he stood before them. “I just wanted to say thank you for helping Tommy.”

“Get over here,” Jack said. Matthew went to him and was pulled down onto Jack’s lap. His temple was kissed. “You’re welcome. Is he alright?” He noticed that Matty was taller and a little heavier.

“I think so,” Matthew said with a shrug. “He isn’t as upset as he was this afternoon. I think meeting President Hayes and Ninurta made him feel better.”

“Good,” Jack nodded.

“Is he still awake?” Ninurta asked.

“Yes, sir. He’s spreading his sleeping bag out and changing.”

“Would you ask him to come down here for a moment?” Ninurta asked. “Alone, please.”

“Sure.” Matty passed out good-nights to the rest of his parents, and then to Ninurta when the warrior pouted at him.

“Are you and Inanna getting into the whole adoption scene?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, of course,” Ninurta said with a nod. “Aba is working on an egg and Jack’s contribution, and we will be taking that child once it is born. In the meantime, there is a little girl with light blue eyes that I am petitioning for. Her name is Chaya. She’s been very sick, and she is recovering. She’s about seven. We rescued her from a tribal war on a primitive planet. It’s been a long time since we had a child in the house; I am looking forward to being a father again. It feels good to be settling down once more.”

Another knock came to the door and Daniel once more called out. Tommy came down a moment later, bare feet and pajamas that looked like they had seen better days. He looked at the adults, a little apprehensive.

“Come here, son,” Ninurta said gently. Tommy stepped up to him. “The man won’t be back to bother you and your mother.” To the young teenager’s shame, a few tears fell. Ninurta allowed him his pride and merely touched the boy’s arm after a moment. “It’s alright,” he murmured. “We found your mother at her work and I had a talk with her. I’m going to meet with her again tomorrow, and we will get things worked out. I promise. Now. I want to say something to you personally.

“I know that everyone has things they don’t want others to know about, and that’s alright,” he told the boy. “I’m going to tell you something about me, so that you know you can trust me, alright? You know how these three are all married to each other?” The boy nodded. “Well, I have a wife and husband, too. And I have lots of lovers, mostly other men. I love men just as much as I love women. I know a lot of men who love only other men and I know women who love only other women. Love is a good thing, no matter who it is. I want you to remember that. I think maybe you’ve seen only the bad side of an adult’s life, and that’s too bad because life is a blessed thing that is worthy of dance and song and laughter. You can trust these people, you can talk with any of us about anything. I trust them, so you can, too. You can even trust Matty and talk with him about personal things. Matty is a good friend. Do you understand?”

Tommy gave a nod. “Yes, sir,” he said quietly.

“Good. You go to bed, get a good night’s rest, and know that everything will be fine,” Ninurta told him. The boy said a shy good night to everyone and went back upstairs.

“Thank you,” Daniel said to the warrior when the door quietly shut. “I’ve wanted to say something to him, but in our society it can be dangerous, legally, and we don’t know his mother to know if she would be cool with it.”

Ninurta frowned a little as he nodded in understanding. “Daniel…. there’s a little more to this,” he said, plucking at his short beard in an unconscious imitation of Enki. “His mother, Trisha, is what you call a submissive. Tommy doesn’t know about it. That man was her supposed Master. She’s been seriously brain-washed, as well as coming from several abusive relationships. There is no dishonor in being in service to others, not if that is her true heart, but she has no faith in herself. I had a hard time trying to convince her that this guy was abusing her. I finally began to get through to her by telling her exactly how much harm it was doing to her son. She is considering my offer to take her and her son to Kalam; our women will help her become strong, and the men will honor her, and teach her son to be strong.”

The idea was a good one, and they would help as best they could until mother and son were in their new home.

 


 

Chapter 45

The house was alive with kids preparing for school when Daniel came out of the bathroom, scrubbing at his wet hair with a towel. There was movement on the bed and he saw Jack waking up.

“I need to go and prepare for Atis,” he said softly. He tossed the towel from around his waist and rummaged for clothes. Jack relaxed in the warmth of his partners as he held Sam to him and watched Daniel dress his naked body.

“Do you have time to fool around?” Jack asked, his voice rumbly from sleep.

“Sorry,” Daniel said with an apologetic smile. He sat on the edge of the bed, pulling on socks, and leaned over to kiss Jack. “I need to be at the SGC in….. oooh, twenty minutes. I may be a little late.” Daniel contemplated his feet for a moment and then leaned over for more kisses. He hummed to himself and lifted Jack’s pajama top, nuzzling his way through the line of fur on Jack’s stomach.

Daniel stopped himself and jumped up. “Bad Daniel,” he scolded himself. Jack’s mouth twitched.

“What are we doing for Sam’s birthday tomorrow?” Jack asked.

“Don’t know,” Daniel said. “What does Sam want to do?”

“Sleep,” came a mumbled statement. She wiggled and found more of Jack to snuggle into.

“You can’t sleep, the kids have presents for you,” Daniel told her.

“Alright, presents and then sleep,” she said. Jack tightened his arm around her shoulders and pressed his mouth to the top of her head. Daniel sat on the side of the bed again.

“Jack, I consulted with the universe last night and came to a decision,” he said. Jack and Sam both cranked open an eye.

“He probably did,” Sam muttered into Jack’s chest.

“I need to expand my department to include Earth-based sites. Can HomeSec fund an anthropology department? I would like teams for off-world and on-world. I would over-see both and appoint a department chair for each section.”

“Why do you feel Earth needs another anthropology department?” Jack asked. “Can’t you use Chicago’s?”

“No, they have other funding and are under the auspices of the university,” Daniel said. “Jack, you and Zu only found those Goa’uld because they were awake in a host. What about those that may still be in stasis? I’ve been scanning through myths from around the world, and I think there were more than we realize. With what we have learned over the years, I’m reading the myths in a whole new light and I think there’s more to the origins of aliens on Earth than meets the eye. Most of what we do know has been told to us second and third hand, so we don’t know how accurate the information is. Thanatos and Inanna have both said they lack specifics, and some of their information is guess work. Now, we have that list of sites on the planet that have minute readings of naquadah; enough to say someone has been there, not that we have any naquadah here to mine. We can’t have just any team from any college or museum digging around those sites, so I’d like teams of my own to deal with them, teams specially trained to deal with alien technology and possible symbiote contact.”

“Send me a memo and I’ll run it by the committee,” Jack said, not promising anything. “I think it’s a good idea, but I don’t know what the current budget looks like.”

That was good enough for Daniel, and kissed them both and hurried from the room. The two remaining looked at each other. “Kids,” they said. Groaning, they began to greet the day.

“Dad, I need new jeans,” Matthew said when Jack went into the kitchen. Matthew held out a leg and Jack looked, noticing the extra inch between cuff and ankle. Jack took his wallet out and handed a card to Jerrie. “Can’t you take me?” Matthew asked, disappointed.

“I can, but it will need to wait until after dinner,” Jack warned. Matty could wait.

Jerrie put extra eggs and bacon on Tommy’s plate and handed Jack’s card back.

“Where’d Sam go?” he asked her, noticing a missing person.

“Dealing with the girls,” Jerrie said, turning her chin toward upstairs. “They were arguing over bathroom time. Again. Stacy is discovering the bathroom.”

“Great,” Jack said dryly. “Well, they’re going to have to work it out. They need to share; I’m not having another bathroom built.”

“Dad, since it’s going to take Davy a few more years to catch up to me, can I give my old jeans to Tommy?” Matty asked, not understanding girls and bathrooms. “He isn’t quite as tall as me, yet, so they should fit him, and it’s better than throwing them away.”

“If Tommy wants your cruddy ol’ jeans, he can have them,” Jack said agreeably. “Tommy, be polite and take them, and if you want to use them for rags later, I wouldn’t blame you.” Matthew’s jeans were in good shape compared to Tommy’s.

Lunch money was handed out, including to a surprised Tommy, and the kids were hustled into the van. Tommy jumped out and ran back toward Jack, stopping hesitantly a few feet from him.

“Th… thank you, General,” he said. Jack didn’t have to try hard to discover the need in the boy. He put a hand on the boy’s cheek and seethed at the automatic flinch in the boy’s brown eyes which seemed to take up half his thin face. Ninurta was right; the boy was too pretty.

“You’re welcome, son,” he returned gently. “Tommy, you are always welcome here. Let your mom know. Even on school nights, if you need to be someplace, you can be here. And you can always come to us and talk. About anything. Matty can tell you, we don’t forbid any subject. Alright?”

“Yes, sir.”

Jack watched Jerrie drive away with Fang walking excitedly over all the kids to see out all the windows at the same time, locked up and got into his truck with Sam.

“That boy is starved for positive attention,” she commented.

“Let’s hope Ninurta and the guys can do something about that,” Jack said.

“It is a good idea for Daniel to have an Earth-based department,” she commented. “He needs a counter-part department here just like he has at the SGC. Archaeologists all over the world are looking for alien things, and look what happened when one researcher untrained on things alien got hold of a stasis chamber? Now there are three sites that need to be examined AND Daniel needs to go off-world. He can’t be in four places at the same time. This needs to be regulated with trained teams.” Jack had to agree, but unless he could convince the people with the purse-strings to fork over the funds, there wasn’t much he could do.

Ninurta was hanging around Cassie’s desk, making her smile as he told her about Jonathan learning to be a farmer and rancher in between his teaching and engineering time.

“Jack, did you ever want to be a farmer or rancher?” she asked when he came in.

He snorted. “No,” he declared. “I tell you, that boy is missing an ace in his deck. It’s the Asgard’s fault. Farm living is not the life for me. Fishing poles and Starbucks, yes, horse poop, no.”

“Can I go to Kalam for a couple days, Jack?” she asked.

“Sure, but can it wait until Abigail is back?” he asked. It had taken a long time for Cass to get over the fear of being off-world; even after Niriti had died, Cassie was afraid that the Goa’uld was still alive, somehow, and would come after her if she knew Cass was off-world. Everyone understood the fear. Jack was beginning to see a new, more mature young lady, and had to reluctantly consider that maybe Harper had something to do with it.

Jack paused and turned back to Ninurta. “Did you happen to help me when I was trying to scan my brain into mush? I thought I heard your voice.”

“No, not me,” Ninurta said. Jack shook his head and continued to his office, with Ninurta at his heels. “I spoke with Trish this morning –Tommy’s mother,” he clarified at Jack’s blank look. Jack gave a grunt of understanding. “She and Tommy will be coming to Kalam with me…”

The bat phone rang and Jack picked it up, a finger up to halt Ninurta.

“O’Neill.”

Moments later, the alarm was ringing all through HomeSec and the SGC. Jack called the Daedalus and gave orders to start beaming up everyone who was on the ground, starting with Caldwell.

“What’s going on?” Cass asked, standing wide-eyed in the door.

“North Korea just bombed Seoul,” Jack said, grim as he yanked his jacket off the hanger. The warrior tapped for a beam out up to Heaven’s Bow to prepare to assist.

“Crazy son of a bitch,” he muttered, swearing at the insane leader of North Korea. He picked up the phone again. “Hank, North Korea dropped an eight ton on Seoul. No, so far no one else has been targeted. As far as we know. Have Daniel and Davis gone off-world yet? No, get them back. I need Davis with me and tell Daniel he’s on kid-duty. I’m heading over to DC. No, Ninurta is here with the Heaven’s Bow.”

China, Japan, and Russia were all on alert for their borders, but so far N. Korea showed no signs of readying another bomb. Jack wondered what pissed them off so badly that Seoul needed to be wiped from the map. The moment Jack was in the air, he turned on the viewer and targeted their satellite for information. The image that came through showed a mushroom-shaped cloud dissipating over S. Korea. Jack leaned against the console, his head bowed for a moment. The readout on the side of the screen began to scroll with reports. His comm beeped.

“General, this is Caldwell,” he heard. “Your orders, sir?”

“Witness for the dead, Colonel,” Jack said quietly.

“Yes, sir.”

There wasn’t much anyone could do, now that the explosion had happened. Most of South Korea was gone and much of North Korea would be radioactive in a short time. It apparently hadn’t occurred to them that dropping a nuke on Seoul, so close to the border of N. Korea, would spread the poison of the bomb to the north. The Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan were also affected as the cloud spread across the land and water. Millions of people who depended upon trolling the sea for food were as dead as those that were caught in the bomb’s range.

Jack called the Daedalus back on line. “Colonel, start evacuating people from the immediate vicinity of the coming cloud. And call the rest of our 303s home.”

“Yes, sir.”

Marine One was waiting for Jack when he landed, and transported him to the Pentagon which was buzzing like a hive of angry bees.

“I don’t suppose you have any toys in your toy bag for something like this?” Maynard asked Jack when he entered the war room.

“Nothing for after the fact,” Jack said. “Daedalus has begun evacuations, Heaven’s Bow is here and helping with the evacs, other ships are inbound. That’s the best we can do.” Everyone who heard it began to relax, now that survivors were being dealt with, and concentrated on their work.

“Any official statements issued?” Jack asked.

“Nothing, yet,” Maynard said. “The ambassadors for the Koreas don’t know anything.”

Jack considered that. “Where are they?” Maynard told him. “Got a camera on them?” Maynard was suddenly on Jack’s waves and nodded. He led Jack to a row of monitors and dismissed the people around them.

“Go ahead,” Maynard said quietly. Jack sat and focused on one of the men on a camera.

“Scared,” Jack said after a moment and then looked at the other one. “He’s scared, too, but… he may be aware of something. There’s a sense of guilt about something.”

Maynard picked up a phone and gave a quiet order.

“How’s the view on Pyongyang?” Jack asked. Maynard gestured toward another monitor. The image was glowing green from the night-vision on the satellite.

“A lot of static from the nuke, but the palace is still standing,” Maynard said. “The winds are blowing southeast; Japan is already on alert. Everyone south of Osaka is heading out to Manila. We have ships heading out there to pick up small boats. With the 303s evacuating people in the immediate path of the cloud, let’s pray that the loss of lives is minimal.”

Jack tapped his comm. “Colonel, how’s the evac going?”

“We’re filling up, sir,” Caldwell reported. “Europa will be here within five minutes, Argos, and then Prometheus. Col. Chekhov checked in; the Korolev can fly and transport, not much else. They’re on their way, also, along with as many helicopters as they can get. The infirmary is packed already; people who have been irradiated are getting scrubbed and treated as best we can. Everyone is scared, sir; they don’t understand what’s happening, and we have no one on board who speaks Korean and these are mostly peasants who speak no English. We could use a translator, sir.”

Maynard looked around the room. “Round up all Korean speakers!” he called out. Pull ‘em off the streets, if you have to! Call universities and hospitals!” There was a hustle as several people bolted from the room to get it done.

“Colonel Chekhov, this is O’Neill,” Jack said into his radio. “Caldwell said you’ve got the Korolev heading out. Get to Japan and evacuate everyone south of Osaka who are not already on boats or planes. Get them out of the wind. Is your call sign on-line? Good. Report in every half hour.” He tapped his comm again. “The Russian yard has their first ship in the air,” he said. “Col. Chekhov is on board. Get the Korolev entered so we can pick it up here.” Within minutes, the HomeSec screens flickered and were replaced with five images instead of four.

Someone beamed in and every gun in the room was drawn.

Stand down!” Jack barked.

“Ninurta, is there anything your people can do about this?” Maynard asked, stepping toward the warrior to clasp forearms.

“Not after the fact,” Ninurta said, his dark eyes grave. “My ship is assisting with the evacuations and immediate medical needs; that is the best we can do.”

It wasn’t too long after Ninurta appeared that Paul beamed in; the military weren’t as jumpy the second time around, but a few looked a little wild around the eyes as they witnessed something they had only been hearing about. Somewhere, an old-timer muttered about un-American happenings. Paul stood next to Jack and concentrated on the screens. As Korean speakers and medical personnel were found, Paul contacted the ships and had them beamed up.

“Did Daniel make it home?” Jack asked.

“Yes, sir,” Paul nodded. “He said to remember that you’re not God and he’ll call Teal’c if you forget.”

Ninurta snorted behind them.

“Sirs?” All the upper echelon looked toward a major standing in front of a screen. “Am I seeing this right?” He hit a few buttons and the satellite zoomed in. People in torn and tattered clothing were closing in on a large palace.

“That’s the palace in Pyongyang,” Paul quietly commented as he watched the screen.

Many of the people were already falling sick, their skin turning red and blotchy from the radiation poisoning from the fallout. Palace guards fired on them and many fell as others continued, stepping over the fallen, waving sticks, pitchforks, and anything else that extended their reach.

“Tell me we are recording this,” Maynard breathed, growing more and more wide-eyed as the scene continued.

“Yes, sir,” someone confirmed. A poor farmer rammed his pitchfork through the throat of a guard.

“Make sure this is being piped through to China, Japan, and Russia,” Maynard ordered.

“Get to those governments,” Jack told Paul. “Make sure they are seeing this and do everything you can to keep them from opening fire. Korea is gone, don’t waste any more lives. And if these images somehow make it to the public news stations around the world, and all over the internet, I’m sure I don’t know how it happened.” Paul didn’t say anything as he made his way to the bank of phones.

People began to cheer as the peasants stormed the palace amidst gunfire. They had spent their lives in fear and had reached the end of the rope; they were going to die anyway, so they would take their devil with them.

“They’re emaciated,” someone quietly commented as they watched the North Koreans running across the screen.

“Look at that,” someone else said, pointing to a figure in a field. A woman was waving a feathered stick as several other women danced with knives.

“Shaman,” Paul commented, a hand over the speaker of the phone and a small smile poking at the corner of his mouth. “The magicians, or priests, in Korean folk religions are traditionally women.”

Other women were fighting alongside the men, using whatever they could get their hands on to use as weapons. The peasants seemed to come out of bushes, large rocks, and the forests themselves. They walked over the bodies of the fallen to get a chance at a guard with a gun. Many people had covered their faces with mud to stop the moonlight from shining on their skin and more than one guard was taken by surprise.

“General,” Maynard leaned toward Jack. “Tell the 303 commanders to leave the people around Pyongyang there; let them do what they need to do.” Jack nodded to Davis and the message was relayed. Jack thought hard on all the technology they had gained, knowing that something was nagging at the back of his mind, something that could clean the radiation from the sky.

“Stand firm,” Ninurta whispered in Goa’uld from behind. “I know this is hard, but if you clean up the atmosphere and the land, they won’t learn. They must go through this, Jack.”

“Get out of my head,” Jack snarled over his shoulder. Somewhere in his mind, he heard a loud whomp, and there was quiet his head. He sensed approval in Ninurta rather than irritation at having the door slammed in his face. Others around them heard him snap at the alien warrior and took an uneasy step away.

“Fire,” someone called out. There was a lick of flame emerging from the palace, and people in the command center cheered.

“Sir,” an aide said, getting Maynard’s attention. Major Ellsinore, Maynard’s aide, held his hand over the phone. “China is offering to take refugees, but they don’t know how to reach the ships.”

“General O’Neill will handle it,” Maynard said. Ellsinore looked at Jack.

“Tell China to set up a staging area and the ships will beam those people down when the area is ready,” Jack said. “We’ll need an exact GPS location.”

“Sir,” Paul leaned over and whispered a suggestion to Jack.

“And tell China we are grateful for their generosity,” Jack appended. Paul looked at Ellsinore and gave a nod. In assistant short-hand, Ellsinore was told he could fix the message.

Jack tapped his comm. “This is O’Neill,” he announced to his ships. “China is setting up staging areas for your guests. They have offered aide. Start preparing to beam people down as soon as we have a location. Out.”

The smaller islands dotting the Pacific Ocean were already evacuating as the radioactive particles drifted their way. A call to Chekhov told Jack that he was sending people to the medical center on Kamchatka, having taken the initiative and contacted the administrator directly from the Korolev.

“Are you sure about this?” General Hauser of the Joint Chief’s asked Jack. “China isn’t exactly known for its humanitarianism.”

“At the moment, we don’t have much of a choice,” Jack said. “No, I don’t trust them. I read them the riot act recently, though, so let’s see what they do with it. They know the world is watching.”

Hauser arched an eyebrow. “So that’s true?” he asked. “You really are the reason their government’s been blustering lately?”

Jack nodded. “My lack of diplomacy almost gave Colonel Davis a heart attack.” Paul gave Hauser a woe-is-me look and nodded.

The palace on the screen was completely in flames as peasants danced in the surrounding fields. Many began to fall as the radiation took over vital organs.

“What’s the radiation reading there?” Jack asked Paul.

“Rems are over four hundred,” Paul said, reading the HomeSec screens. “Seoul is over eight hundred rems.” The silence was painful. No one said it, but Seoul was dead. If anyone was still alive in or around the city, people or animals, they wouldn’t be alive for long, even if help did get to them. Several people in the room were wiping their eyes. Two men of Japanese descent were excused to join crews on their way out to the area.

“The Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan will be showing signs of poisoning soon,” Paul commented. “Especially the strait between South Korea and southern Japan. The sea life will be floating belly up by this time tomorrow.

“Sir.” Jack tapped his comm when he heard Caldwell’s voice. “Go ahead, Colonel,” he said.

“Readings show that China and Japan are both preparing their weapons. There is no sign of an immediate launch, but they are active.”

“Patch the link through to HomeSec and keep an eye on them,” Jack said. A moment later, the Daedalus readings were showing on the side of one of the screens.

“That was expected,” Maynard commented.

 “Can’t you beam the weapons away?” Admiral Radice asked, the Navy’s contribution to the Joint Chiefs.

“No, sir, I can’t,” Jack snapped. “How about I take your weapons away on the basis that you could hurt someone with them?”

The admiral scowled at him. “We are not the ones arming nukes, General.”

“Not, yet,” Jack agreed, holding his temper. “If you don’t like the weapons, then get rid of them. All of them. This is what happens,” he said pointing at the screens, “when someone with crackers for brains gets control of dangerous weapons. Radiation doesn’t stay inside political boundary lines.”

“Easy for you to say, playing God with the alien technology,” Radice snapped in a low voice.

“Gentlemen,” Maynard gave a warning.

“Sir,” Ellsinore eyed the men as he leaned toward Maynard and whispered. Maynard gave him a sharp look.

“What’s his condition?” he asked.

“Not good, sir,” Ellsinore said.

Maynard nodded and rubbed the side of his face. “Alright. Jack, we have a side problem.” Jack waited as Maynard leaned in and quietly said, “General Vidrine has had a stroke. Colonel Carter is his most senior officer available; we need her here to take over for him until arrangements can be made.”

Jack tapped his comm. “Colonel, beam Colonel Carter here immediately.”

“Yes, sir,” Caldwell acknowledged. Sam was standing before them minutes later, having quickly made her way up from the Pentagon’s new beaming room.

“Sirs?” All the sirs returned her salute.

“Colonel Carter, you are needed to cover for General Vidrine,” Maynard told her. “Major Ellsinore will get you situated and up to speed.”

“Yes, sir.” Sam said, glancing for a moment at Jack before being led by the major.

“I don’t suppose your doctors can do anything ours can’t?” Maynard asked Jack.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Jack said. “Not with something like this, anyway. Is it that bad?”

“I’ll get an update shortly, but it’s possible,” he said as they watched the monitors. “Dammit. He’s been an excellent commander for R&D; we really can’t afford to lose him.”

“How’s his wife and kids?” Jack asked.

Maynard’s thoughts paused. “I didn’t mean it to sound that way,” he said, having the grace to look abashed. “I’ll call her. They are in the process of divorce.”

“And now this?” Jack said, gesturing toward the monitors. “He must have been under some serious stress.” Generals don’t get divorced, he silently reminded himself of the unwritten rule: a broken marriage is the sign of a General who is unable to lead his home troops.

Maynard nodded. “It hasn’t been pretty,” he said quietly.

 “Sirs!” A lieutenant got their attention and pointed at the weather screen.

“What the hell is that?” someone asked in shock.

The poisonous cloud had begun changing course along with the shifting winds in the upper atmosphere. It was headed for China.

“Oh, dear Lord,” Maynard groaned, placing his hands on a table top and leaning on them. A couple of people crossed themselves.

“He’s arguing with himself and others,” Jack said quietly, his voice off in a distance as he looked inward. Maynard jerked his head toward him. “He knows it’s pointless to hurt Pyongyang now, and he’s feeling helpless. It’s testing his common sense. He….  he truly feels he’s doing right by his people and yet…..” He winced and rubbed his head. Someone put a chair under him and he sat, hanging his head between his knees. People around watched, curious, wondering what the strange General from alien central was up to.

“Don’t fight it,” he heard Ninurta say. “Just breathe. Let it flow through you. Sense it. Smell it. Know the ingredients and speak them.”

Jack breathed, fighting to force a kel’no’reem centering. “He’s… scared. He… he’s praying...  that the gods will forgive him and help before his people…..  Ahhhh, God that hurts.” Jack pressed his fingers to his temples, trying to get the sparkles and the searing pain to disappear. He touched the comm on his chest and whispered something, not even hearing it himself.

“Ma?” Ninurta questioned. Jack felt himself repeat it.  “Anna.”

Someone pressed a couple of aspirin into Jack’s hand. He chewed them, grimacing at the acrid taste.

“Sir? Are you alright?” Paul squatted down to face-level with Jack. “We don’t know what you said; Ninurta responded in the same language.” Jack forced one eye open. “I believe it was in Ancient,” Paul said, looking closely at him with concern. “It had a Latin sound.” Jack glanced up at Maynard who gave him a nod.

“It wasn’t English,” Maynard said.

“Great,” Jack grunted. “My freaking out orders stand, Colonel.” The last time his brain started thinking and speaking in Ancient, it took the Asgard to fix him.

“Yes, sir, freaking out orders are on file,” Paul confirmed.

Most of the crowd had begun returning to their offices; there was nothing else to do except to wait for the fall-out. Various intelligence agencies had started to report from overseas, and the information needed to be sifted through. The Asian sources would be scoured first for possible information on North Korea. Jack took his face out of a strong cup of coffee and saw his chief of security waiting for him.

“Do I want to know how you got clearance for this level?” he asked, eying the innocent tag hanging from Nick’s collar.

“Probably not,” Nick shrugged. Paul gave him a warm look as he walked past to set a plate with a danish in front of Jack. Grateful for the sugar rush, Jack bit into half of it.

“You know? I think I’m ready to hear it,” Jack decided. “You want to tell me or do I go in and rummage for it myself?”

Nick considered the threat and then shut the door.

“I have a talent for digging,” Nick said. “I always have. I’ve solved most of the mysteries of the twentieth century, including the location of Kennedy’s true assassin. His body, anyway. I dealt with it. I know where the dirt is on everyone who has dirt to be dug up. I know where the skeletons are. I’ve made myself invaluable to a great many people in high places and they’ve paid me well for my favors. I have never bribed anyone for these favors, they were given out of gratitude and the only people who have regretted it were people who fucked up and were caught by me. The NSA finally hired me in an effort to keep me semi-legal. In a covert sort of way.”

Jack licked the frosting from his fingers. “That doesn’t really answer my question,” he said. “I trust you, Nick, you know that; you’ve proved yourself to me and that makes you part of my team. I’d like a more direct answer.”

The glittering green eyes shone behind shuttered lids.

“Jack, you’d be safer if you didn’t know,” he finally said.

Jack frowned. “System Lords have a contract out on me; how safe can I be? Spill it.” Several minutes later, Jack was glad he had been seated. He stared at the man for a moment and then looked at Paul. “Did you know?”

Paul had the decency to look guilty. “Yes, sir,” he admitted. “I found out by accident years ago. I kept it to myself, and Nick appreciated it. I started passing on work to him from other sources. Unofficially, of course. Many people know he exists, they just don’t know who he is. Generals Vidrine and Maynard know who he is, as well as the head of the NSA. Not many others.”

Jack looked at Nick again. “Alright, I’m officially impressed. Just don’t let it go to your head, or I’ll make you babysit my kids the moment Olivia enters her poo throwing phase. And where did you get your kid-knowledge? Do you have kids?”

Nick seemed to go away for a moment. “I used to,” he said. “I had one of each. They and my wife were killed in a terrorist attack in Ireland in ’79. I’m ex-Black Ops, Jack; Marines. I went out on my own, after they died.”

“Alright.” Jack held out his hand. Nick took it. “I’ll keep my mouth shut and not ask about unexplained absences. Just make up a good report for bookkeeping.”

“I’ll do that.” Nick managed to lift one edge of his mouth.

The Pale Horse. A mysterious, legendary figure among special ops agents all over the world. The epithet referred to the horse that Death rode when he collected his victims. The Pale Horse took orders from no one; he made his own rules, took jobs from anyone he wanted to, jobs that were righteous. He never took an innocent, and didn’t attack until he was absolutely certain of the person’s guilt. People who were in a position of immunity. People who would never be brought to trial. Jack wasn’t sure how the NSA controlled him; they probably put him on the payroll to make him look legit, and allowed them to feel they had some sort of ace in the hole. Jack wondered who was fooling whom.

“How old are you?” Jack suddenly asked, looking the man over.

Nick stared; he should be used to non sequiturs from Jack, by now. “Fifty-one.”

Jack sat back, studying the face that, although tanned, was relatively unlined. “Forty.”

“My family ages slowly. I’m fifty-one until October.”

Paul smirked. “He’s a Halloween baby; isn’t that rich?”

Jack popped another aspirin as Nick threatened to cut Paul’s apple-bobbing time. Jack reminded them that they were in the Pentagon. Something walked over his grave, and he motioned for the men to be still. He grabbed an image of Vidrine in his head and zeroed in. He opened his eyes. At the look of his face, Paul quickly refilled his water glass.

“Vidrine is gone,” Jack said quietly. “I’m sorry, Paul, I know you worked with him for quite a while. He’s in a coma, it’s being kept quiet, but he’s gone. Paul, Maynard said Vidrine was getting a divorce; any idea what was going on?”

Paul seemed surprised. “Really? A divorce? They had little tiffs like any other couple does, but they loved each other. At least, I thought they did. I had dinner with them enough times; I never noticed anything out of the ordinary. Sir, if things are quieting down here, may I go to the hospital?”

“Yeah, sure,” Jack waved a hand. “Threat level is at a three, you can go. Nick, my nose is itching. Check out this divorce business.”

The men left and Jack touched his comm. “Daedalus, report.”

“Sir, everyone has been transported back down,” Caldwell said. “With the cloud heading toward China, we took the liberty of sending everyone to Kamchatka. It was the nearest and safest large medical facility. Talks on the Heaven’s Bow seem to be proceeding; at least no one has opened fire. So….”

Jack lifted his head, blinking away stars. “What talks?”

“Sir?”

“What talks, Colonel?” Jack repeated.

The comm was silent for a moment. “Sir, Ninurta beamed up a Chinese delegation, along with Dr. Jackson, and they…..”

“He did what?!” Jack jumped to his feet.

“Sir? Did you not order Ninurta to set up talks?” Caldwell asked, his voice deepening with extra caution.

“I don’t have authority to give those guys any orders. Shit. Hold that thought, Colonel, I need to check on something.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jack quickly dialed his cell phone. “Do you remember what I said to Ninurta?” he asked when Paul answered. “Enough to repeat it? Hang on. Colonel? Put me through to Hermiod.”

Seconds later, “Go ahead, General,” Caldwell said.

“Paul, slowly. What did I say?” Jack listened and repeated the words into the comm.

“It was an order to begin negotiations,” Hermiod said when Jack was done. “It was not a very tactful order, but it was an order none the less. A more direct translation is: get those soulless heathens caged until they are willing to listen. Much to that extent. It was my understanding that heathens had a soul, just as everyone else, so I am unsure…..”

“Crap.” Jack sat back down and put his head between his knees. “Thank you, gentlemen. As you were. Paul, when you’re done, get up to the Heaven’s Bow and make sure Ninurta doesn’t fly them out a port.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jack forced himself to stand and wobbled back to the war room. He motioned to Maynard and whispered. Maynard stared at him.

“You didn’t.”

“Apparently, I did,” Jack said. “Look, I accept responsibility for this, whatever happens. I didn’t know I said it, I only just discovered it. The UN will probably wig out about it, and I’m sorry. If it’s any consolation, Colonel Caldwell says no one is opening fire. Yet.”

Maynard ground his jaw and held a pointed finger under Jack’s nose. “You call upstairs and tell them to return anyone who wishes, the moment they make a fuss. Today was bad enough, General, we don’t need to go to war with Asia as a whole over a kidnapping!” The last came out a harsh, low hiss. Anyone nearby who noticed pretended not to notice.

“Yes, sir.”

Jack really was sorry, especially since the threat level went back up to two without explanation. Maynard made a private call to Hayes. Jack sent out a feeler.

Not now, Jack,” he heard Daniel say.

Tell someone to beam me up,” he told Daniel. Jack didn’t know Daniel swore that way to himself. It took an entire ten minutes before someone got around to beaming him up. Jack was sure the wait was deliberate.

The warrior behind the console told him which room the party was in and Jack made his way through the ship. The conference room wasn’t hard to find; there were guards stationed outside and all along the corridor. He paused, took a deep breath, and entered. Daniel was seated at the table, across from seven Asian faces that didn’t look happy. Daniel didn’t look too happy with him, either.

“Folks, sorry to interrupt,” Jack said from the door.

Don’t wave your arms,” he heard snapped in his head. Jack put his hands behind his back and held them together.

“Jack O’Neill,” he said. “Look, folks, this is my fault. This whole beaming you up here thing. I just wanted to apologize for the misunderstanding. My government had nothing to do with it, they only just found out that it happened. You are free to return home at any time, no questions asked. We will do everything we can to assist with the disaster looming over your part of the world. Really, though, I am truly sorry for this sudden meeting and I hope you will be gracious in your understanding, and forgive me.”

Daniel seemed to relax slightly until President Tien slowly stood.

“General O’Neill. For the time being, let us put aside the fact that this is the second time you have made an… error,” he said. Jack straightened his shoulders and waited. “If you had known before hand, would you have been able to stop the bomb?”

Jack felt himself blanch. “Sir, I…. that question does not have an easy answer. Technically, yes; we could have beamed the bomb out and sent it far into space. If there had been time. The other side of that is, no. Sir, my job…. our job…. is to protect this planet from alien invasion, not to stop warring tribes here on this planet. It is up to us, as the human race, to grow beyond the need for war. If I were to order my ships to get rid of the weapons in North Korea, I would have ordered the ships to get rid of all weapons. Yours included, the United States, Russia, the Arab States, everyone. How would that have helped anyone to learn how bad those weapons are?”

Tien stared at him beneath heavy lids. “Leave us,” he ordered. “I will speak with Dr. Jackson.”

Jack took an internal hint and gave a formal Jaffa bow, withdrawing from the room by backing out. He leaned against the corridor wall, taking a deep breath.

“You are just tripping all over yourself lately, aren’t you?”

“You don’t call, you don’t write…..”

Jonathan shook his head. “Jack, Jack, Jack….. I’d say you need a spanking, but you’d enjoy it.”

“Hey, this wasn’t my fault,” Jack said, straightening up. “Well, it was, but….. I was speaking Ancient and I didn’t know it. I didn’t even know what I had said until after the fact.”

Jonathan frowned. “Jack, you can’t use an excuse like that,” he said. “You are responsible. Period. And you know it. Get a grip. I know how scared you are of it, but you need to knuckle down and learn the language. I’ve been learning it, and it’s been helping a great deal. If I can do it, so can you. Get your brain centered and bury yourself in the Ancient until you know it. You’ll think it’s in English, but it isn’t. You’ll learn to tell the difference. You cannot allow this to master you; you have got to master it. You are on the verge of war with China, Jack. CHINA. All because you can’t control yourself. Once upon a time, Jack O’Neill was nothing but control. Where’s that Jack?”

“Buried under a mountain,” Jack said quietly, knowing his clone was right. “I want my life back. I want to be lazy in bed, make love with my partners, take walks with my children, and tell the world to go to hell.”

Jonathan stepped up to him and put his hands on Jack’s shoulders, giving him a shake. “This is your life, Jack. Schedule your make-out sessions, schedule your walks, schedule in time to breathe and forbid anyone, including marauders, from taking that time from you. Come on.”

He led Jack through the ship until they were on the bridge. Only two people were sitting quietly on the bridge, monitoring the controls. Jonathan hit a few buttons and the front screen changed to multiple views.

“Look,” he said, gesturing toward the screen. Jack recognized city sky-lines from all over the world. “The entire world is on hold, waiting to see what’s going to happen. Almost no one alive has seen, really, what happens when a nuke is dropped on a large, occupied city; most vets who saw what happened in Japan are gone. Another generation is seeing it now. Look at Seoul.” He hit a button and the image of the destroyed city came on the screen. “This is what the world is seeing, Jack. This is reality. This. Not black and white, grainy images from the past, but a real city with a bloody past. This time the blood has been obliterated. These generations will be gone before anyone will be able to live here again.”

He punched up other images. “This is Iran,” he said. “They may be a little hard with the rhetoric but they’re keeping their promise, Jack, they’re dealing with their power grid, suspending their nuclear stations for you, Jack, for your promise of a naquadah generator. Even India and Pakistan are standing still today, waiting to see the outcome of this disaster. My God, Jack, today made history! Except for a few tribal places that have no TV or radio, no one is fighting! Stand up and accept your place in it.”

Jack took a deep breath and gave a shuddering nod, forcing himself to straighten up. Jonathan beamed him down and Jack found himself standing in front of the startled White House Press. Armed guards were quickly waved down as Jack leaned in for a heated whisper with Henry and the Secretary of Defense. They reluctantly agreed and Jack stepped up to the microphone. The press quieted, waiting.

“We can no longer afford war,” he said quietly. “Several million innocent people are in the process of dying a terrible death today, animals and plants will be forever mutated just as it is still happening in Chernobyl. I have seen death from radiation. I never wanted to see it again, but I am seeing it. It was pointed out to me just minutes ago that no one is fighting at this moment. I am a soldier, ladies and gentlemen, and I am asking you to not resume fighting. I’m tired and I want my guns to start collecting dust. I want to go home, play with my children, clean up puppy pee, and make love with my partners. I want to sit on my front porch and wave at the neighbors, maybe have tea with my mother while my baby daughter learns to crawl.

“Iran is currently dismantling their nuclear grid so that they can begin using one of our generators. Several other countries who have been on the verge of nuclear war are at a standstill while the events of today play out. I am urging those countries to stand down permanently. One small nuke has made a wasteland of a very old country. Even those who pressed the button are dead. No one wins when nukes are used.”

Jack paused, leaning over the podium for a moment as he thought.

“Words are not my strong suit,” he said. “I stick my foot in it quite often. So people will just need to forgive me if this old soldier is a little too blunt. I will say this again, and I will say it to you: I may be a General in the United States Air Force, but I work for this entire planet. No one holds my strings. So, Mr. President, I’m going to make this request –as a show of good faith, I am requesting that the United States make the effort and lead the world. Start dismantling all nuclear weapons and nuclear power. HomeWorld Security will provide naquadah generators for any country, membership or not, that leaves the nuclear age behind. These generators are clean, no pollution output, and one will last for several generations.

“The Koreas will be uninhabitable for a long time, people, all because of one small bomb. The radioactive cloud has changed direction and is beginning to rain down on China. Suspend all nuclear development.”

Before the press could start yelling questions at him, Jack strode off the stage, pushing past military, secret service, and aides. He found a room, snarled at people to get out, and collapsed onto a couch, tossing an arm over his face. He heard the door open and knew it was Henry and the Secretary of Defense, Ken Baker. Henry sat on the coffee table in front of the couch, making faces while he contemplated what to say.

“That was irresponsible of you, General O’Neill,” Baker informed him. “Today was a bad day, I agree, but you have placed this country in a corner. I will be recommending to the Joint Chiefs that you be stripped of your rank. You should retire now, show a little dignity.”

“Ken,” Henry said, waving him down. “Jack, I agree with you that the nukes need to go, but I cannot disarm the United States all because some idiot across the world bombed himself. You are overwrought. We all are, Jack. But you’re going to need to back down. Get off-world, if you need to, but back down.”

“Jack.”

He hit the comm. “Not now,” he said.

“Now, Jack,” Daniel insisted. “President Tien is ready to discuss the Unification Treaty.”

 


 

Chapter 46

While the rest of the world gathered to care for the fall-out victims, first aid responders converging on south-east Asia, the Chinese representatives transferred to Geneva. Jack spent most of the night discussing the treaty with Tien and his council. They were suspicious of the United States governing from behind, and it was all Jack and Daniel could do to convince them that nothing was further from the truth. Inanna and Lord Atis were brought in on the negotiations. The sight of the walking, talking dragon caused several of the negotiators to faint.

Tien was then informed that his family was transferred to Kamchatka. Talks were put on hold as Jack called up and had himself and Tien beamed to the Russian peninsula. The hospital was a madhouse with sick people piled up in hallways and corners, and medical personnel rushing to take care of the worst of them. After the Chernobyl accident many years earlier, Russian hospitals knew how to take care of radiation poisoning. Jack spotted a HomeSec pilot in uniform helping to direct traffic and keep what order they could.

“Airman! Where is President Tien’s family?”

“Sir!” The pilot saluted and led them to another floor.

People overflowed everywhere; hallways, nursing lounges, not even the VIP suites were private rooms. In a small room at the top of the hospital, what looked to be an administrative office that had been taken over for the emergency, an older woman stood as Tien and Jack entered. Tien went to her and listened as she spoke low, her dignity barely hanging on.

“My youngest grandson,” Tien told Jack. “He ran out onto the balcony to watch.” They went further into the room where a small boy, about four, lay covered in bandages on the bed. Other people stood as Jack entered. Probably the boy’s parents. The child saw Tien and tried not to cry. Tien touched the child’s head and murmured to him. The boy gave a nod. Jack stayed in the background and reached. The child was in shock, clinging to the last of his pride so that he wouldn’t shame his grandfather.

“Pull the curtain and tell your family to stay on the other side,” Jack whispered to Tien. The president scowled at him. “Will you cut the crap and please do it?” Narrow eyes narrowed to a slit. Finally, Tien growled at his family. Clearly disapproving, they stepped back and pulled the curtain around the bed. Jack stepped up to the bed.

“Hi, buddy,” he said gently to the boy. He gave a wave. “Hi. I know you don’t feel good, but let’s see if we can make you feel a little better, okay?”

He put one hand on the boy’s chest and the other hand on the black hair, gently stroking as he soothed the boy with hummed sounds. An IV extended to the boy’s left arm, giving him the medication he needed for the radiation. Jack wasn’t sure if it would work on radiation wounds, especially since the radiation was still coursing through his body.. The boy would probably live on his own, he didn’t look nearly as bad as Daniel did a few years before, but Jack needed to try and do something with all the tissue that was damaged, give the body a boost to help fight the poison. After several minutes, Tien drew a shocked breath. Red blotches on the boy’s face and hands had begun to disappear. The boy started to relax and fall asleep.

“Miracle?” Tien whispered.

“No,” Jack said, stroking the soft black hair. “The World Health Organization sent you information on evolutionary changes. It’s all true. This is just something that’s happening with me, so I help when I can. I can’t help everyone; I’m one person, so I’m asking that you keep it to yourself. I apologize for my behavior before. I’m making the first gesture toward trust, Hsin. I don’t give a crap about proper procedure or who has the biggest toys; all of this proves that we need to get beyond that kind of thinking because we need each other. It’s your turn.”

Tien allowed himself a small shudder before touching his grandson’s face and hands.

When they returned to Geneva, Jack and Daniel beamed back to the Pentagon, leaving the professional HomeSec mediators, and Inanna and Atis, to deal with the details. Jack confessed and Daniel wasn’t sure exposing himself to Tien like that had been a good thing to do but it was done. They were exhausted as Jack went to find Sam in Vidrine’s office and Daniel went to find food. Vidrine’s personnel were red-eyed and pale, carrying on with their work. The general had been officially removed from life-support late the previous evening. Jack murmured condolences to everyone and went into the office. Sam looked up in irritation at the interruption and then fell back into the chair when she saw her husband.

“Oh, my God, Jack, how do you do this every day?” she asked, trying not to mess her mascara as she rubbed at her eyes. “It’s all I can do to keep projects going. I’m supposed to be signing things, but I have no idea what I’m signing or even if I should be signing.”

“Has Davis been in to help?” he asked.

“A couple of times,” she said. “I’m trying not to call him with every little thing; he’s your assistant, not mine. I asked him to get with Major Ellsinore to take care of the details of the memorial for General Vidrine.”

“That’s fine,” Jack said. “Sam, listen to me.” He sat on the edge of her desk. “Colonel Taylor is currently packing up his office. He’s being given his stars so that he can take this office. The Joint Chiefs considered you; I talked them out of it. I wanted you to hear it from me.”

He watched her considering the information as she leaned back in the chair and tugged self-consciously at her uniform.

“Can I ask why?” she carefully asked.

“Because you don’t have experience with large commands,” he said. “You have team and departmental commands under you. Taylor has commanded a base for eight years. You are going to be groomed for this spot, though, so you will be taking over as the CO of Area 51 as of Monday. You can use the arches to come home for the night.”

At least she wasn’t yelling at him or giving him accusing looks. Some orders even out-ranked him. Instead, she was quiet as she looked at her uniform, desk, hands.

“Thank you,” she finally said. “For being honest with me. I agree that I’m not ready for this chair, and I feel better knowing it isn’t mine. Yet.”

Jack gave her a smile and leaned down to kiss her.

“You’ll make General some day,” he promised. “Happy birthday?”

She stood and put her arms around his neck for a hug.

“Come on, let’s go home,” he said, patting her back. “It’s Saturday and we really are not needed here; the people who are dealing with this mess in Asia don’t need us getting in the way. Daniel is getting something from the commissary; we can find him on the way out. We need cake and ice cream and presents and get in some time with our kids.”

She agreed and kissed him. He tightened his arms, feeling the familiar warmth start to tingle as they tasted each other. Until a throat was cleared behind them.

“Major?” Sam questioned, not releasing Jack’s neck as she leaned her chin on his shoulder to look over.

“Uh, sorry, ma’am. Sir.” Ellsinore wasn’t sure about the protocol breech when it came to married couples. “Did, uh, is there anything I can do? What I mean is…..”

Sam’s eyes sparkled with humor, and Jack stood and turned. The poor major was trying not to shift nervously.

“At ease, Major,” Jack said. “Did General Maynard talk with you?”

“Yes, sir,” Ellsinore said, glad to have a specific topic. “The memorial for General Vidrine will be on Tuesday, sir. Christ Hope Church. Colonel Taylor will have his promotion by then, and he will speak at the memorial. Will you and Colonel Carter be attending?”

“Of course,” they both said. “Major, was there an autopsy?” Jack asked.

“It’s in the process, sir,” Ellsinore said, considering him. “Do you suspect something, sir?”

“No, not really,” Jack said thoughtfully. “I’d like to have a copy of the results.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sam gathered her things and left the major to take care of Vidrine’s office.

“Ma’am?” She turned to Ellsinore. “Would it be presumptuous to offer a well-done, even though it was only one day with bad, extenuating circumstances?”

“Thank you, Major,” Sam said, and accepted his honors.

They found Daniel and helped him with the hamburger which he watched disappear. Not in a rush, they took a car to Andrews. Most of the base personnel were on duty seeing to the needs of VIP’s who were landing and taking off to help deal with the crisis in Asia. As they hopped off the jeep that took them out to a far field where the al'kesh was being closely guarded, there was a small pop in the air. Jack paused and then fell to the ground.

JACK! Medics!” Sam shouted as she hunched over Jack’s still form, holding her hands tightly over the bleeding hole in his chest. Daniel ran to the al'kesh and jumped inside. He returned a moment later, a zat in hand as he crouched over Sam, zat ready to take out whoever shoots in their direction. Personnel scrambled, guns drawn as the sniper was searched for, and the medical personnel were shielded on their way out to the al'kesh. SF quickly estimated the direction of the bullet and began running out to the field on the far side of the runway. Daniel hit his comm.

Europa, this is Dr. Jackson! General O’Neill is down! Sniper at Andrews Air Base! Get us up and have medical standing by, the general’s been hit in the chest!”

The entire party was immediately beamed up and put down in the infirmary, a small circle of blacktop and gravel on the floor, which was beamed up with them. Maintenance people will find a corresponding circle on the ground and scratch their heads as they studied it in the morning.

“Call Heaven’s Bow!” Sam shouted as medical teams came running. “Get Jonathan O’Neill over here NOW!” The EMT’s from the base stepped back to allow the ship’s doctors and nurses to take over and prep Jack for surgery. The moment Jonathan beamed in and saw the action, he put himself on a bed and stripped off the leather so that his arms and veins could be gotten to with an IV. There was a standing order to use the two men as transplants for each other, no questions asked. So no one asked.

“What the hell happened?!” Jonathan demanded as nurses began digging for a vein. They glanced at him and then each other, not used to hearing such command from a teenager. Daniel told him while Sam looked at the blood covering her hands. She went to a sink and began to wash. Someone put clean scrubs next to her.

Jonathan searched for his comm and informed his ship of the happenings. A clipped response came through and Jonathan tossed the comm down, leaning back on the bed at the insistence of the nurse.

As the operation commenced, Daniel called home. Paul assured him that the air base was being scoured, every rock turned over, every blade of grass searched. The SF from their neighborhood closed in to guard the house and the kids. Michael would tell the kids that Jack was hurt and in surgery and they were not to worry. Michael must have been holding the baby because Daniel heard a rush of babbling and a raspberry spit.

Daniel stood behind Sam as they watched from the gallery. She took his hands and wrapped herself in his arms.

“I don’t like this birthday present,” she whispered.

Twelve hours later, Dr. Warner looked over at them and held up a thumb. Being familiar with Jack’s sliced open anatomy, he had been beamed up after the first time Jack arrested. Jack had arrested twice during surgery and then they had a hard time getting his right lung re-inflated.

“This is strange,” Warner said when they got to the infirmary. The doctor tugged on the stethoscope around his neck as he considered Jack recovering on a bed. “It’s almost as though his own body was fighting us. Even his vital signs are better than they should be for twenty minutes out of heavy surgery. I’m not complaining, certainly; it’s possible that these developments he’s been going through have something to do with the variations.”

“Could they have caused the arrests?” Sam asked, gently taking one of Jack’s hands and sitting at his side.

“Possibly,” Warner admitted. “If we were interfering with a normal function. Normal now, that is. Colonel, he really needs to get in for a full physical, once he’s on his feet. Obviously there have been changes and we need to record them so that we can treat him properly in the future.”

“Let’s get him back to his old obnoxious self before we deal with that, Doctor,” Daniel said. Warner agreed and moved to read the monitors once more, frowning as he made notes.

“Daniel,” Sam whispered. “See if you can find him. You know…”

He nodded and leaned in close to Jack’s still form, taking a limp hand. “I’m not good at initiating,” he warned her.

“That’s alright, just try,” she said, needing to know.

To anyone watching from a distance, they would have assumed the two were in prayer over Jack, heads bowed, eyes closed, hands clasped. Daniel concentrated; a false start. Relax, he told himself. Out, not in. He sent his awareness out toward Jack, toward that familiar sense of Jack’s essence. He found blackness.

Jack,” Daniel called. He called again, several times until he felt a presence near him. “Come on, Jack, you’re alright.”

Wha… happen…..”

Someone shot you,” Daniel told him, relieved to hear Jack’s inner voice. “You’re on Europa. Dr. Warner and everyone worked on you for hours. You had us scared. Are you in pain?

A little,” Jack said. Daniel felt him closer. He could feel the heightening pain as Jack struggled to regain consciousness.

“Just sleep, Jack, don’t try to wake up. Let your body heal. I’ll get more pain meds for you,” Daniel said. “We’re here, Jack; Sam is right next to you. The kids are fine; your Mom and Michael are with them, we’ve been keeping them updated. Don’t you worry about anything except getting well.

Love…. you….

We know you do,” Daniel said. “We love you, too. Just heal. Sleep, relax, don’t worry about anything. There is nothing you need to be doing except getting better.

Daniel opened his eyes. “He’s fine,” he told Sam. “He’s in a little pain. He should be conscious soon.”

“Let him wake up before he gets more pain meds,” she said, relief on her face as she put Jack’s hand to her forehead.

“What happened?”

They looked at Warner who was frowning at the equipment.

“What do you mean?” Sam asked.

“It looked almost like….” He tapped one of the monitors. “There was an extra brain wave pattern for a few seconds.” He pointed to a recorded section of the EKG.

“Just a glitch,” Daniel suggested.

“These machines don’t get glitches, Dr. Jackson.”

Sam and Daniel shrugged their ignorance.

The door opened and Jonathan walked in with Shara.

“You should be resting, Mr. O’Neill,” Warner said in disapproval. “You’re three pints low.”

“I’m fine,” Jonathan said. He lifted his hand, showing an orange. “See? I’m good. How is he?”

“He should be awake soon,” Daniel said. “He’s in a little pain, but that can be dealt with when he’s awake.”

“How do you know he’s in pain?” Warner asked.

“Wouldn’t you be?” Daniel responded.

Warner looked suspicious, starting to guess that something was up.

“Hey, Doc, look at this,” Jonathan said, holding out an arm. “I’m bruising already. I think those nurses need a little extra time in the practice room.” Warner, his attention distracted, reluctantly looked at Jonathan’s arm which was turning purple.

“Bruising is not good,” Shara informed the doctor, not at all happy.

“I’m sorry,” Warner said, having had bigger and more menacing aliens growl at him. “They were in a rush. Maybe everyone should wait outside the room,” he suggested. “Give General O’Neill some quiet time.”

“He’s fine,” Daniel said. Shara put a hand on Jack’s chest, mindful of the bandages.

“He’s fine,” he said in echo, withdrawing his hand.

Warner scowled and then paused, looking at the machines again.

“There it is again,” he said, pointing at the brainwave activity. “Would you put your hand on him again?” Shara put a hand back on Jack’s chest. Warner shook his head, watching the readout. “Nothing. Must be coincidence.”

“Let’s go outside, anyway,” Jonathan said. “We need to talk.”

They went to a private conference room and made a guard sit and stay outside the door.

“Couple of things,” Jonathan said as they sat at the table. “First, Happy Birthday, Sam.” He pulled a small case out of the bag at his waist and pushed it across to her.

Sam smiled and took it. “Thank you, Jonathan.” She opened it and found a bracelet. The redness of the metal and the small stones sparkled.

“That is gold from Sua,” he told her. “It looked red. I thought it was cool. And I know you liked that red glass, so I had that made for you.”

“It’s beautiful, thank you,” she assured him. Daniel helped her put it around her wrist.

“Now. Second. What was that all about?” Jonathan jerked a thumb in the general direction of outside.

“They figured out how to jump planes,” Shara said with a smile as he leaned back and put his leather-booted feet on the table. “Not too bad, considering they’ve been together just under a year. A little slow, but not too bad.”

“Feet down,” Sam told him. The boots were removed.

“Oh.” Jonathan thought for a moment and then shook his head to clear it.

“Jumping planes?” Sam asked. “What do you mean?”

“That mind thing we’ve been playing with,” Daniel guessed. “We’re not actually going to another plane for that.”

“No?” Shara asked. “As you will. Go on, Dadu.”

“Anyway,” Jonathan began again. “Someone dumped a man’s body on Maynard’s front lawn. The rifle that was with it matched the bullet Warner had sent down for ballistics. It wasn’t us.”

“Is there an ID?” Sam asked.

“Don’t know,” Jonathan said. “It’s been pretty hush-hush. The press is making a big to-do about Jack being shot, though. The fact that a bullet was used seems to tell them that it wasn’t an alien. Like aliens can’t learn to use guns.”

The door opened and Colonel Belarus stuck his head in.

“Come in, Colonel,” Daniel invited. The ship’s commander shouldn’t be left standing out in the hall.

“Am I interrupting?” Belarus asked. “I apologize for not attending to you earlier. The evacuations have been more involved than I realized.”

“How’s that going?” Sam asked. Belarus looked tired as he sat at the table.

“It is slowing down,” he said. “We’ve done what we could. China’s east coast is a mess. Fish and sea birds are turning belly up, plant life is dying. As for Korea…. It will be uninhabitable for a while. Russia has offered them a community in Khrebet Sikhote Alin. It’s close to Korea. A little colder. Much of it is unoccupied, so they can make a new home.”

“Paying taxes to Russia, of course,” Daniel said.

“Of course,” Belarus agreed with a nod. “Russia will not give up the land to another country. If the Koreans wish to live there, they may, but it is Russian land. They may go elsewhere, if they wish.” He sipped from his ever-present cup of tea. “The death count is at just over twenty million and still counting. Along the central corridor of the Korean peninsula is a mass grave.” There was silence for a moment as they tried not to allow the mental image to dwell on their minds.

“So, good news,” Belarus said, sitting forward and brightening. “The general woke up momentarily. He was given pain meds and he is now sleeping. Dr. Warner is satisfied with the progress. He is a little jumpy as to why and how the general is healing a little quicker than normal.” The colonel’s expression was bland as he sipped his tea. “Apparently the wound has begun showing signs of self-repair.”

The other four blinked innocently at him. Belarus chuckled and stood.

“Oh, Colonel Carter,” he turned and lifted a finger in thought. “Word is going around that you are the new commander of Area 51. Congratulations. General Taylor says to take your time up here but he would like you in your office tomorrow, long enough to address the troops, and then you can return here, if you need to.”

Sam’s eyes widened. “Oh, my God, I completely forgot!” Daniel leaned over and kissed her cheek, smiling at her.

“Really?” Jonathan asked, his smile wide. “Area 51? Sam, that’s great. Congratulations. You’re buying the drinks, right?”

Sam and Daniel stopped in to see Jack and kiss his face before beaming home. When no one was looking, Sam lifted the bandage on Jack’s chest. The sides of the wound had new skin growth.

“He should be home in a couple days,” Daniel said quietly. Sam agreed and looked at the huddle of doctors who were trying to understand the latest SG-1 weirdness. It was unspoken common knowledge that Jack was doing unusual things in the realm of healing, but to heal his own gunshot wound to the chest which almost cost him a lung?

The children were happy to see them, as was the puppy who didn’t know why he was excited, but the children were, so he was, too. Maggie had a few friends over, keeping vigil with her while they played cards.

“He’s doing well, Mom,” Sam told her. Maggie wiped her face and hugged Sam and then Daniel. “Would you like to go up and see him?” Maggie wanted to. Sam called the ship and had Maggie beamed up. The other old ladies around the table were suitably impressed and they packed up their cards and chips. Sam hauled the baby out of her swing and cooed at her.

“Michael, thank you for staying with the kids,” Daniel said, touching Michael’s shoulder. “How are things, here?” He picked Stacy up, groaning under her weight as she settled her legs around his waist.

“A little shaky,” Michael said. “Everyone is fine, though. A handful of refugees were brought here to the Academy Hospital, so the town is going all out to help. Katie wanted to help. We talked about it, we thought she was a little young, but we allowed her to volunteer at the hospital. Dr. Lam is keeping an eye on her.”

“It’s alright,” Sam said as Daniel nodded. “She’ll be taking her M-SATs next year, so this may be a good time for her to see the worst of it before she gets into medical school with stars in her eyes.”

“It’ll also look good on her records,” Daniel commented. “Won’t it, pumpkin?” He tweaked the baby’s cheek, making her smile.

“What are emsats?” Davy asked, having heard the word but not an explanation.

“It is a test people take to see if they can get into medical school,” Daniel told him. “Everyone else just takes regular SATs. The M means medical. People wanting to get into law school and become a lawyer, take L-SATs. The higher your score, the better college you can get into.”

“Did you have a high score?” Davy asked.

“Yes, I did,” he nodded.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, sweetheart.”

“You need a shower.”

The adults laughed and Daniel put her down.

“Yes, I do,” he agreed. “I’ve been a little too busy to take one. I’ll take one right now, okay?”

That was fine with Stacy.

“Can we go and see Adda later?” she asked.

“He’ll be home soon,” Sam told her. “He’s resting. He had a very long surgery, so how about waiting until he’s home?”

Before Daniel went to their room, he stopped and touched Matthew’s shoulder.

“He’s alright. Really,” he assured the boy. Matthew had been quiet with worry.

It took them a minute to figure out why Tommy was playing hoops in the back yard. Sam and Daniel winced when they remembered they were babysitting for a couple of weeks.

“Tommy, how’s your mom?” Sam asked. “Have you talked with her?”

“She’s fine,” Tommy said. “She’s getting stuff in order, she said, before we move to that other planet.” Tommy was uneasy as he stared at the ball. “Are these alien people nice? That guy, Ninurta, seems like he’d be… well… like he’d get angry real easy.”

Sam looked at Daniel and then sat on a plastic lawn chair. “He does look big and bad, doesn’t he? But I think he’s nice,” Sam said. “I know that General O’Neill likes him, and so does Daniel.” Daniel nodded and murmured an agreement. “He’s a warrior, and he does fight, when he needs to, but I’ve never seen him get angry with kids, and he’s kind to women, that much I can promise you.” Tommy would accept her word, for the moment. He had been told before that people were nice, and they turned out to be not so nice. Matthew’s family had been nice to him, though, and the warrior did help with his mom’s bad boyfriend, so maybe this would be okay.

 


 

Chapter 47

 

By the next day, Jack was grumbling from his bed on the Europa, insisting that he was fine and he wanted to go home. He’d make it an order, if he needed to. Dr. Warner reminded him that medical orders out-weighted those of grouchy old men. Jack glared. Sam and Daniel sat back and let Jack’s grumbles go in one ear and out the other. The baby pointed a finger at him and babbled. Jack pretended to eat the finger and Olivia screeched. Jack winced and pulled at his left ear.

“Wow, the decibels,” he commented.

“You are staying put, Jonathan,” his mother informed him. “My orders out-weight yours, too.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Maggie made herself at home on the ship as she took care of Jack. He drew the line at allowing her to give him a sponge bath.

“I bathed you for years,” she informed him. “You’ve got nothing I haven’t seen before.”

He took the washcloth from her and flung it across the room before yanking out all the tubes, pulling a sheet around himself, and shuffling to the shower. He hadn’t been under the warm stream for two minutes before Warner was pounding on the door.

“This isn’t funny, General!”

Jack felt better, though, and the techs had put fresh sheets on his bed by the time he returned. His partners had showed up a few hours later, let the children see that he was fine, and sent them to the rec room while they listened to Warner tattle on his patient.

Sam looked at Jack’s chest. The bullet hole was completely closed with new, healthy pink skin.

“How’s his lung?” she asked. Warner shoved the chart under his arm.

“That isn’t the point, Colonel,” he sputtered.

“Isn’t it?” she interrupted. “If your patient is healthy, what’s the point in keeping his lazy butt in the bed?”

“Yeah!” Jack spouted. He then thought about what he was agreeing to.

“He shouldn’t be healthy,” Warner tried to reason with her. “We need to know….”

“Ah, HA!” Jack pointed a triumphant finger into the air. Olivia pointed, too. “I am not a guinea pig! If my lung is working, all the holes are fixed, I want to go home.”

They called Dr. Lam. “If he wants to die at home, let him,” the CMO told them.

Warner stormed out of the infirmary and Jack sent everyone except his partners out as he dressed in the clothes that were brought up for him.

“Jack, you do understand that about forty hours ago you were shot in the chest, collapsed a lung, arrested twice on the table, and we have only your word that you feel alright,” Daniel said as Jack pulled socks on.

“I’m fine, Daniel,” Jack said. “Don’t ask me to explain it, just trust me that I’m fine.”

They found Belarus, thanked him for his hospitality, and rounded up the kids to beam home. They quickly threw on full-dress and had Europa beam them to Washington. Heavily armed SF drove them to the church and they entered silently. Many people, who had turned to see who was coming in, were shocked to see Jack up and about and assumed that the press had been their usual hyperbole selves. Jack did have to admit that he was out of breath by the time they arrived and maybe he should have stayed in bed for another day. They ignored the rustling at their entrance, found seats next to Paul and paid attention to the speakers who stood to praise Vidrine.

One person after another stood and spoke, sometimes a favorite hymn interspersed the speeches. Hammond and Maynard carefully avoided giving Jack more than a cursory glance. Both Sam and Paul spoke, having worked closely with the deceased. Gavin Taylor, formerly the CO of Area 51, newly made general, also spoke. Some liberties were taken, assigning Vidrine the title of hero, saying that he had been the spine behind all the alien technology when actually he understood only about one percent of it. He pushed the paper and was good at management, allowing his people to do their jobs and not micro-managing.

Glancing unobtrusively around the church, Jack spotted a face he was sure he knew. A young man. Jack recognized the position of the young man’s seating; he could see every person in the room from that position. Hammond caught Jack’s eyes for a moment. Grant Kendrick. Jonathan’s AF academy friend. Jack lifted an eyebrow, but otherwise didn’t make a reaction.

Vidrine’s wife and children were teary and holding themselves proud, as befitting the family of a Pentagon General. Curious, Jack reached. Curiouser and curiouser, he thought to himself, pulling back.

Isn’t it?” he heard in his head. He looked around and saw Kendrick staring at him. “I find Baker to be interesting, also.” He sent some interesting information Jack’s way. Jack sent a feeler at the Secretary of Defense. And snarled to himself for not doing it earlier.

He stood to take his turn at the podium and paused to lean on the edge of the pew. He jerked his head and Daniel hurriedly stood to offer his arm. They walked slowly, carefully to the front of the church. Jack leaned on the podium as Daniel stood to the side.

“I apologize for our earlier interruption,” he began, making a face as he touched his chest. “General Vidrine’s death was a shock to us. Our hearts go out to his family. Without General Vidrine’s support, the Research and Development department would not have survived. He pushed continually for funding, understanding and stressing the importance of the work as it related to the defense of this country. He was among the leaders that I looked to for guidance, and I have seen his hand in the personal growth of others.

“When I first met General Vidrine, he had come out to our testing facility to witness the first glider we had come up with, the X-301. Unfortunately, there was a serious flaw with the glider and I almost died in space, along with a close friend and team member. General Vidrine stayed on hand to witness our dilemma, and our eventual rescue, and I am grateful for the prayers he offered during the incident. I’m sure someone was listening from on high, and I feel safer knowing that he is now helping that Someone to take notice of all that is happening down here and maybe help to set an example to those of us who still find ourselves in need of his guidance.”

Jack stumbled slightly as he caught Daniel’s arm again, his hand waving to catch his balance and then going to his chest once more.

“Do you need to….?” Daniel whispered in concern. Jack shook his head and they went back to their seats. Sam leaned over to him, also very concerned. Jack shook her off and paid attention to the next speaker.

After the memorial, they stood in line to offer condolences to the family. The crowd was polite and moved in an orderly fashion, despite the elbow to shoulder squeezing. Several people leaned in to quietly ask Jack about his health. He assured them he was fine, just a little weak from the surgery.

“Jack, should you be out of bed?” Hammond asked when they crossed paths.

“Not according to Warner,” Jack whispered. “I’m fine. How’s the Missus?”

Hammond had the decency to pink up a little. “She’s fine, thank you.”

“I think I want your little monkey off-world, George,” Jack whispered again. “I think I want him on Kalam. He needs special training.”

“I think so, too,” Hammond said, slightly grim over losing a talented cadet.

“They’re in orbit. He can go back with them,” Jack said. Hammond agreed.

They came to the family and shook hands, murmuring appropriate offerings. Jack looked around as they left the building. Hayes and his wife were already gone, as per Jack’s silent orders. They caught up with Maynard who excused himself from his wife’s side.

“My wife sometimes uses this,” Maynard said, handing Jack a walking cane. “Arthritis.” Jack thanked Mrs. Maynard and used the cane to walk away from Daniel and Sam.

“Mr. Baker,” Jack called out as they approached the man. “Can we talk for a moment? I was out of line the other day, and I’d like to apologize. Please.” The Secretary of Defense was still slightly ruffled, but he agreed to walk with them.

“Ah, Ken.” Jack looked up at the darkening sky and breathed in the cool evening air. “You’ve been a naughty boy, Ken. Ah ah. Walk with us, Kenny.” Jack took the man’s struggling arm in a friendly grasp.

“What’s the meaning of this, General?” Baker asked, keeping his voice low. “You’re already treading thin ice.”

“When we turn the corner, you will be arrested, Kenny,” Jack told him. “I’m afraid I need to insist. The charges are murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, and treason. By the time you get to the holding cell, all the evidence will be on General Maynard’s desk. In about a week, when people begin to notice your absence, those charges will be leaked to the press. But don’t worry, you won’t be alone; Mrs. Vidrine will be joining you.”

Baker stopped. “You’re insane, General,” he hissed, looking around.

“That’s a possibility,” Jack agreed. “The evidence is real, however, and so are the charges. Ah. Your chariot, sir.”

As they turned the corner, Baker paled at the sight of four men that were waiting for them. All the men were in black suits, standing with their feet spread and hands clasped over their belt buckles. Jack halted and turned to Baker.

“You’re an archaeology buff, Mr. Secretary,” Jack said. “You met privately with a certain dead professor in Florida, you brought visitors back to DC, and infected Mrs. Hayes and Senator Friedman, as well as sending the visitors around the globe to infect others. Why did you not carry one, yourself, I wonder? Mr. Kendrick?”

The cadet stepped out from a dark car and slowly approached.

“It’s okay, son, go ahead,” Jack nodded. Baker wasn’t sure what the boy was doing, staring at him.

“Leverage, sir,” Grant said, staring into Baker’s eyes. “He knows about Colonel Carter and knows that if she got near him she’d sense him if he was holding a … visitor. So he convinced them to let him stay unattached in exchange for….. his own territory.”

“Territory?” Jack and Maynard both questioned. “What territory? There are no ha’taks in the area, so how would he get there?”

Baker lifted his chin and glared at them. “There is a mothership hidden in this solar system, but you won’t find it, General….”

“On Mars,” Grant reported. Baker panicked and tried to pull away, wondering who the hell the kid was.

“No, there isn’t,” Jack said. He pulled his cell phone out and dialed. “This is O’Neill. Point that thing at Mars and tell me if you see anything.” He waited. “Thank you.”

“Nothing on Mars except dust,” he said. “You’ve been had, Kenny-boy. I’ve said over and over not to trust those sneaky snakes.”

“Sir?” Grant interrupted. “The promised territory was Earth.”

“Idiot,” Jack informed the man. Desperate, Baker lunged at Jack, caught his right arm, pulled it behind his back and held a knife at his throat. Guns were instantly produced and pointed.

“Come on, Ken,” Maynard tried reasonably. “You know you won’t get out of this alive.”

Jack slammed an elbow into Baker’s side and slid out of the hold to turn and punch the man. “You don’t sneak up on a man like that,” he informed Baker. “I’m not well, if you haven’t heard.” He slammed the heel of his hand at Baker’s head and the man went down. Maynard nodded to the men in black that were waiting. Baker struggled and was escorted by insistent secret service.

“Mr. Kendrick.” Jack slung an arm around Grant’s shoulders.

“I know, sir,” the young man said, not liking it.

“Yes, you do, son, and that’s the problem,” Jack said gently. He touched his comm. “I need Ninurta and Jonathan, please. If they are available.”

When the two were front and center, Jack had a quiet talk with them. Ninurta agreed that it was in Grant’s best interest to be off-world. He promised the young man a chance to see his family and to tell them that he was on an off-world mission and he’d be back. In the meantime, he could help with the emergency. All hands were needed.

“We come around all the time,” Jonathan assured him. “Don’t worry, you’ll see them soon. You’ll like Kalam, I guarantee it.”

“Your records will reflect that you graduated with honors, son,” Maynard told Grant. “Your records will be classified as Security Level 8 under HomeWorld Security. That is the max. Colonel Carter and Dr. Jackson are Level 8’s, if that offers you perspective. No one should be asking you any questions. You will officially hold the rank of lieutenant as of this moment. Once every five or so years, you will be promoted. Your paychecks will be automatically deposited and available to you when you are home. If you would like someone specific to have access to your accounts and use of the money, we can see that it happens. See General O’Neill, if you have any problems. Of course, this all happens if you remain in the Air Force. You do owe us some time, which you can work off off-world.” The young man stood nervously as he accepted his fate, and offered them salutes before heading off with his friend, Jonathan. Ninurta was amused at the gloom and doom emanating from his new recruit.

Maynard and Jack walked back to the church after seeing Grant beam out with the other two. Jack kicked the cane around, swinging it back and forth.

“That was very sneaky of you, Jack,” Maynard commented. “Using hand signals to notify us. Were you really shot?”

“Yup, I was,” Jack nodded. “Ask Dr. Warner. He’s very pissed that I’m not in bed.”

“I’ll bet he is and I’ll be hearing about it. And Mrs. Vidrine was involved how?” Maynard asked. “I should probably know in case someone asks me.”

“They were having an affair,” Jack said. “She was going to be his queen. Vidrine’s autopsy showed several blood clots in his brain and small puncture wounds on his body. He was injected. They hired a sniper to take me out because my death would have caused enough of an upset that they would have gotten away with the planet. Not to toot my own horn, mind you.”

“And how did that body get on my lawn?” Maynard asked.

“Sorry,” Jack shook his head. “You’ve got me on that one.” Someone in black leather, with green eyes was probably to blame, but Jack wasn’t going to push the investigation of it all.

Maynard shook his head in time with Jack’s. “It’s probably a good thing Mr. Kendrick is leaving,” he said. “When I think of all the information flooding into his head….”

“Yes,” Jack agreed. “He’d be assassinated a month after knowledge of him got out. The Anunnaki will teach him how to control it. I can’t, I’m just getting the hang of my own stuff and more is happening.” He stopped and turned. “Kendrick said all the evidence will be on your desk. Francis, this won’t go to trial,” he warned.

“I know,” Maynard nodded, grim. He looked at the ground for a moment and then at the church. “Jack, whatever happens, it cannot touch my office.”

“Don’t worry,” Jack said, “you can honestly say you have no idea how it got there. I have a feeling it won’t be touching any office. You just concentrate on spin control.”

They watched Sam and Daniel pacing by their rental, waiting for him.

“Jack, are you sure you can trust the Anunnaki? Furlings? Whomever,” Maynard asked. “We don’t really know them. How can you be sure of them?”

“I can’t,” Jack admitted. “I know that they haven’t let me down yet, and even the lies have a truth in them, if I listen close enough. It’s a game for them. Teaching me how to listen. I do trust Jonathan, though; if something starts to happen, I trust that he will get a message to me. I trust Teal’c and Bre’tac to call me. I trust Malek, as strange as that sounds. The Asgard trust the Anunnaki, and I trust the Asgard.”

Maynard was silent for a moment. “I know he isn’t really your son, Jack. Vidrine gave me the report. It has since been accidentally destroyed.”

Jack pursed his lips for a moment and then gave Maynard a lazy salute before handing him the cane and walking to his partners. He dipped Daniel over the hood of a car and kissed the breath from him.

“Hey,” Sam poked them. “Church. Mind your manners.”

“Yes, about that,” Maynard said. He took an uneasy step. “One of my kids…..”

“Just go with the flow, Francis,” Jack told him. “Love is a good thing. Keep telling yourself that. Paul!” He motioned to Davis who had been waiting. “Is Alvin still around?”

“Yes, sir, at Andrews where it was left,” Paul told him.

“Good. Can you get home another way?”

Sam and Daniel rolled their eyes and leaned against the car, hands covering their eyes.

“Yes, sir,” Paul said blandly.

“Who is Alvin?” Maynard asked. He noticed his wife waiting and he nodded. She slowly approached.

“My al'kesh,” Jack told him. He whistled to a passing MP jeep and it stopped. “Francis, if you will excuse us? It’s been about a week and I’m going into withdrawals.”

There was silence in the jeep for a moment after Jack gave the driver their destination.

“Hold out your hand,” Daniel told him. Jack looked at him. “Hold out your hand.”

Jack held his hand out. Daniel turned it over and smacked two fingers across the top of Jack’s wrist. “Bad boy.”

Jack chuckled and tossed an arm across the back of the seat. He winced and rubbed at his chest.

“Are you really alright?” Sam asked.

“Yes, I am,” Jack nodded. “I’m a little winded, but the wound itself has healed. Sometimes the new skin stretches and that’s what stings a little.”

Their driver took them directly to the al'kesh, putting them at the door.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Jack said.

“You’re welcome, sir,” the driver said, standing tall next to the driver’s door. “Ma’am?” Sam stopped and turned to him. “Rumor has it you are the new CO in Nevada?”

“Yes, I am, Lieutenant,” she confirmed.

“Congratulations, ma’am. I’ve put in for a transfer to that base, ma’am. I have one of those ‘talents.’ I’m hoping it can be of use.”

All three paused and looked at the enterprising guard.

“Oh? Which talent is that, Lieutenant?” she asked, and looked closely at his uniform. “Lt. Fox?”

Fox’s partner tried to disappear and keep any mistakes from latching onto himself.

“I can smell minerals, ma’am,” Fox told her.

“Excuse me?” Sam tilted her head.

“I smell minerals,” Fox repeated. “I don’t know how, but I’ve always been able to sense mineral deposits. Different kinds of minerals. Like a dousing rod in my head. I even found underground water for my family’s farm. I’m from Altus, Oklahoma, ma’am; water is a hard commodity to find out there.”

“Geronimo country,” Daniel commented as he looked over the man’s dusky features. “You’re Apache.”

“Yes, sir,” Fox proudly said.

Sam looked at the men. She took her new bracelet off and held it out.

“What is this?” she asked. Fox took it from her and smelled it. Confusion began to cross his face and he held it close again.

“Almost…..  no. I’ve never….. It almost resonates as gold but there is something different about it.” He handed it back to her, embarrassment on his face. “I’m sorry for wasting your time, ma’am. You stumped me with this one. I’ve never sensed this one before, and I thought I’ve smelled all of them. The gold is almost gold, the diamonds are almost diamonds. Almost a cross between diamond and ruby, if gems could cross-breed. Neither is quite, though.”

“What’s your first name, Lieutenant?” she asked. Fox felt a report coming.

“Arnold, ma’am.”

Jack took his cell phone out and dialed. “Colonel, there is a transfer request in the system for a Lieutenant Arnold Fox. Process it a-sap and get it over to Sam’s office. And have his security level changed right away. HomeSec Level 4.”

“Don’t worry, Lieutenant,” Sam told the surprised man. “Your sniffer isn’t off. If you have a wife and family, tell them to start packing. Welcome aboard.”

“Uh, fiancé, ma’am,” the guard said, not believing what was happening. “Thank you, ma’am. Sir.”

Fox’s partner stared at him in disbelief.

“You snooze, you lose,” Fox told him.

They had barely gotten the door closed when Jack pushed Sam up against a wall. Daniel smiled and shook his head as he went to get the al'kesh into the air.

“Daniel, hover in orbit for a while,” Jack called out. “Over…. mmmm…… Niagara Falls.”

“Jack, how romantic of you,” Sam said as her pants were abruptly dropped.

 


 

Chapter 48

Too tired to sleep, Jack checked on the kids, the puppy was in his kennel on the porch, and then went to the living room to find his book, settling into a chair. He heard keys in the door and waited. Katie came in, looking as exhausted as he felt.

“Dad, you’re home,” she noticed, coming to a stop.

“I’m home,” he nodded. “How’s the hospital?”

She put her purse down, her chin quivering. Jack put his book aside and opened his arms. She slid onto his lap and buried her face in his chest. In between her crying and hiccupping, he got that a child had died in her arms. He rocked her as he did when she was little and let her cry for a while.

“This won’t be the last time, honey,” he said quietly. “Never get used to it. Don’t harden yourself to it. You do your work and break down on your own time. Here.” He picked up his glass and held it to her mouth. She took a sip and sputtered; her eyes were already watery.

“Ugh!” she declared.

“Don’t get used to that, either,” he told her. “Scotch. Bad for your liver.”

She stuck her tongue out, trying to get the taste to dissipate. “Nasty,” she said, and wiped her face. “What’s this?” She tugged on his t-shirt, seeing a new scar. “Did you get hurt?”

“I’m fine,” he told her. She looked at him. He needed to tell her because the rest of the kids knew…. “Really. Okay, I got shot a couple days ago but I’m fine now.”

She frowned. “That’s a bullet hole? Shouldn’t it be… I don’t know…. bleeding?”

“So Dr. Warner thinks,” he said. “He got the bullet out. I chased down a bad guy and I’m home now. See?” He showed his teeth and spread his arms. He got a smile out of her. She hugged his neck and pecked his cheek before getting off his lap. “Take a nice hot bath,” he told her. “It’ll help you relax. Do you have any tests tomorrow?” No she didn’t.

“I’m done with all my finals,” she told him. “I don’t see why I have to go to school when all my finals are done.”

“Neither do I,” he said. “But go anyway. Getting back to your routine will help you feel better. I’m proud of you for helping out.”

Everyone was home and healthy. Jerrie was taking time off to visit with her parents for a couple of weeks; gearing up for summer vacation. Jack began to relax.

Maynard told him to try and stay out of trouble. For a couple of days, at least. He didn’t intentionally piss people off, it just seemed to happen that way. Somewhere, sometime, the snowball started down the mountain and it had yet to stop. It was hard to admit, but he was actually afraid of the future; the changes that were happening were much faster than he was comfortable with. He wasn’t sure he wanted things to be changing, anyway. Were they responsible for the changes? Would the world have begun the changes without them? Without the Stargate? That’s stupid, he told himself; of course, they would have. The gate had nothing to do with it, it’s all genetic. Maybe he should just admit that it was the changes within himself that were scaring him more than anything else. This certainly wasn’t what he had in mind for himself a year ago; he had been considering getting himself command of a 303, putting Sam on as his second, and talking Daniel into joining the crew with a promise of an Atlantis stop once in a while. Jack had figured on fishing for a while, getting into the hair of several generals, and getting himself shipped out. Damned Goa’uld changed all his plans.

He heard the baby snuffling through the baby speaker and smiled; he was beginning to believe that the universe had plans for him whether he agreed with them or not. He made a note to discuss self-determination with Daniel again.

According to Jonathan, the Tollan were not happy campers. They didn’t understand why they didn’t Ascend with the Nox. They refused to believe that Daniel Ascended not just once, but twice. Daniel Jackson. A Tau’ri. Inanna offered them space, but they decided to stay on the Nox home world since the city was already developed. Jack had snorted. “Figures,” he said. And no, the Tollan were not interested in joining the unified worlds. Jack had a feeling someone other than Narim was making the decisions for the council. Narim had never struck Jack as an idiot. A little naive, but not stupid. Let them get a taste of those pirates that had come out of hiding after the Goa’uld had begun disappearing. They’ll come running.

Daniel had been walking around with a cell phone in his ear, talking rapidly in Arabic dialects. Both the Iraqi and Egyptian Department of Antiquities were interested in having representation on Daniel’s Earth-based teams. Iran was still a little skittish, but they were at least making an attempt at playing nice. Fundamentalists of all religions were having issues with the entire year’s happenings, but at least the new Iranian president was listening. The Iranian representative to HomeSec, Shahin Zarif, told Jack privately that their president was caught between his beliefs, the common sense of his eyes, and the tribal mentality of his people. Shahin had seen too much during his time at HomeSec; he believed in the push for unity that was being made. He had seen firsthand that Jack didn’t care how someone worshipped, as long as others were given the freedom to worship as they pleased. As for Jack’s rudeness, well, Jack was rude to everyone. He was an equal opportunity offender.

Jack didn’t try to be deliberately rude, he just became quickly irritated with ignorance. At least he was learning to shut up and have someone else take over when he felt himself starting to snap. Usually. He had to admit that the Chinese seriously irritated him. Tien was playing much nicer, though. Saving his grandson may have had something to do with that.

The world was still shaken over the bombing of Seoul. Only the bombing of the World Trade Center rivaled the horror of the moment. No one knew what the issue was; Kim and his entire government had been killed by their own people, long fed up with the slow, torturous death they had been under. Jack scanned the initial reports from his 303 commanders. Most of the people they had picked up seemed to think the gods had returned. The translators had a hard time convincing them otherwise. No longer under the thumb of ignorance, the refugees were getting a quick lesson in current world affairs. Being told strange tales and not believing them was one thing; actually seeing these things was a whole other matter. Most of the people wanted nothing more than to find the remainder of family members and get back to farming their land. Death was not a new concept to them; they expected it. Their land was dead, though, and there was nothing to get back to, except new land in Russia. They were assured that homes were being built for them.

“Jack. Are you alright?” Daniel stood at the kitchen doorway holding a glass of water.

“Fine,” Jack said. “I thought I was going to read for a while, but my mind is wandering.”

Daniel walked slowly to him. “If you need alone time, you can go downstairs,” he suggested.

“I know. There’s been so much happening lately that my brain doesn’t know where to settle.”

Daniel considered him for a moment and then put his glass down. He pressed the gas button on the fireplace, lighting the logs.

“Come on,” Daniel said, sitting and patting the tiled floor space that circled the front of the fireplace. Jack put his book down and joined Daniel on the floor, his back to the fire. “Close your eyes. Imagine your spine glowing. Give the glow whatever color is calming for you. White, yellow, or light blue works well. Imagine that glow extending beyond your body. Going down into the floor and up through the roof. The line needs to be straight. If it isn’t, just work at it. Don’t force it. Bring the flow of color up from the floor, up from the ground beneath the house. Bring it up slowly, gently. Tap at any kinks in the line with it. Let the energy drop back down, refresh itself, and bring it back up again. Little by little those kinks in the line will straighten out. When you can feel it flowing smoothly all the way up to your head, let it extend beyond the top of your head, through the roof, and into the sky. One straight line of glowing energy, moving gently from the center of the earth, through you, and into space. As it moves through your body, allow all those niggly irritations to attach to the energy. Put all those worries and fears into the energy, just like rain through a gutter, washing out all the clutter. Know that those irritations and worries are now returned to their pure energy form and they are no longer a hindrance to you or to anyone else. They have been neutralized. You are calm, centered, and at peace.”

When Jack opened his eyes, he felt light-headed. He had never meditated in his life before meeting Teal’c and Daniel; he had always pushed it aside as fruity nonsense. He was beginning to understand why a couple billion people meditated every day.

“How come it’s sometimes out and other times it’s inside?” he asked. It took Daniel a moment.

“Depends on the effect you’re after,” he said. “Feel better?” Jack nodded. “Good. Want to come back to bed?”

They shut off lights and made sure doors were locked before heading back to bed. Daniel curled up behind him, Jack curled into Sam, and he knew he was well protected. For the first time in weeks, Jack slept without war in his head.

He had a vague sense of being pecked on the head before waking up. A door closed and he looked blurrily at the clock. He was alone in bed. He picked up the phone and dialed as he cleared his throat.

“This is General O’Neill,” he said huskily when it was answered. “I need flowers sent. Colonel Samantha Carter. Groom Lake. Congratulations. Play nice and don’t hog the ball. Love, Jack and Daniel. And put a teddy bear with it. Make another card. To Mom / Aunt Sam, we’re proud of you. Love, the kids and Fang. He’s a puppy. Thank you.

When he stumbled into the kitchen, he found Daniel at the table, reading the newspaper while Olivia played in her swing. Fang looked at him and thumped his tail on the floor before his attention was re-taken by the rawhide bone he was chewing on. The rest of the house was quiet.

“I had an SF take the kids to school,” Daniel told him. “I figured you needed to sleep.”

Jack grunted and poured coffee. “Does he need to go out?” he asked, looking at the pup.

“We just got back from a walk,” Daniel told him. “A ride, actually. Took a little bike ride around the block. Olivia likes the breeze. Jack, I’m not happy about Sam back in Nevada.”

“Neither am I,” Jack said, feeling his body waking up with the caffeine. “She’ll be using the arches, though, so she’ll be home every day. And we can go through to see her. She thinks she’s got the mechanics figured out.”

“Does she?”

Jack found a piece of ham in the fridge and shoved it into his mouth. “I think so,” he said. “The specs seemed to click when I looked at them. Ninurta agreed when he saw them.”

“Cool,” Daniel commented.

“You think people are pissed at me, wait until the oil and automobile companies find out they are now obsolete,” Jack said, lifting a knowing eyebrow. Daniel looked up from the paper.

“I hadn’t thought about that,” he said with a chuckle.

“She’s so happy figuring these things out, I hesitate to hold her back,” Jack said.

“Is she going to make general?” Daniel asked, eying him seriously.

“Looks like it,” Jack said. “She needs a large command, though, before she’ll be considered. There’s a few doubts going around the upper echelon, so this was the compromise. Give her a few years at Area 51 before kicking her upstairs. She doesn’t need to know all that.”

“Well, then, I’d say it’s her choice to remain in the military,” Daniel said. “If she gets command of the department, she’ll be able to guide it better than if she were a civilian.”

Jack nodded thoughtfully to himself. “I’m going to be home today, so you don’t need to take Livie with you,” Jack told him.

“I wasn’t going to,” Daniel informed him. “Your mother watches her when Jerrie isn’t here. Connie or Mary takes her once in a while. Doing anything in particular for the day?”

“Nope,” Jack said, leaning back in the chair. “I’ll work from my computer here. If I need to sign anything, they can run it over to me. Otherwise, I’m vegging. I’m going to work on the hot tub, I think. The deck and foundation need to be replaced before it can be used. The screen on the front door needs to be fixed, too.”

“Sounds like work to me,” Daniel said. He put his plate in the dishwasher, found his briefcase, and bent for his kisses from both the big baby and the little one before heading out the door. Olivia watched him leave and the door shut behind him. Her lower lip began to tremble, giving her a sudden resemblance to her oldest sister. Jack picked her up and held her high before bringing her down and buzzing her noisily on her cheek. She sparkled at him.

“Da!”

He put her stroller together, sat her in it, put Fang on his new leash, and headed out, jogging easily around the neighborhood as he pushed the stroller, then walking for a cool-down when his chest began to ache a little. Fang soon tired, so Jack sat him in the under-carriage. Carl Weber spotted them and waved.

“Are you kidding me?” he asked, seeing the pup getting a ride.

“He’s still a baby,” Jack said, stretching his legs. There was a slight wobbly feeling in his muscles, but the stretching felt good, as did the fresh air in his lungs. Carl squatted and made noises at the human baby.

“How’s the world, Jack?” Carl asked, standing up.

“A mess,” Jack said. “It may get worse before it gets better, but it’ll get better. Just hang in there.” The men shook hands and went their ways.

The next stop was the Giorgetti home. All around the neighborhood, Jack spotted inconspicuous SF who acknowledged him by standing more vigilant while he was in sight. Several of his regular SF had taken homes in the area, which made their jobs easier. The small, quiet, rural town along the wooded roads that led to and from Cheyenne Mountain seemed to be filling up with more and more military and civilians who were attached to HomeSec or the SGC in one way or another.

“Mornin’, Jack,” Mandy said, giving him a wave as he came up to the house. Mandy was getting ready to head out to work. His wife, Maria, came out to the porch, still in her bathrobe.

“How are you, Mandy? Maria?” Jack asked, taking their hands. Maria took Olivia out of the stroller and cooed at her. “Mandy, can your sister come into town tomorrow? Too soon?”

Mandy’s eyes lit up. “Tomorrow? No, that’s fine. Are you sure, Jack? We know there’s a lot going on.”

“Tomorrow is as good a time as any,” Jack assured him. “The clean-up crews are heading out to Asia, there isn’t really much that anyone can do except to let nature take care of the mess. Most of my pilots are out there doing what they can. It’s real quiet here, so if your sister is feeling up to it, get her down here and I’ll give her the guided tour.” Overjoyed, Mandy gave profuse thanks and promised to call his sister right away.

Once they were back home, Jack put Olivia on the living room floor to let her crawl around, let Fang off his leash, and found a printed report that he needed to read. Stacy was not happy about the porch leash and keeping Fang in a kennel during the night and when they were gone. Jack pointed out that they were living next to a forest; did she want bears, wolves, or mountain lions coming down and eating the dog? Or torn apart by other dogs? Or even him running out into the street and getting hit by a car? No, she didn’t. Jack told her that this would help to teach Fang manners so that bad things wouldn’t happen to him.

Giggles were coming from the floor and Jack looked. The puppy was on his belly, trying to understand his strange, hairless sibling. He put his cold nose to her head and she giggled again. Olivia made her way across the floor, determined to get to her daddy. She found his legs and pulled herself up. Jack looked again and discovered his baby grinning at him, proud of herself.

“Stinker,” he told her, setting the papers aside and picking her up. “I see we’re going to have to Olivia-proof the house sooner than we realized. You’ll be running around here by the end of June.”

“Da!”

He called his mother and told her Olivia’s latest accomplishment.

“Jack, you’ve been without a baby in the house for too long,” she told him. “They usually start to find their feet around ten months. She’s almost ten months.”

“She’s special,” he insisted.

“Of course, she is,” Maggie agreed.

He set the playpen on the front porch and started to work on the screen door. He had most of it done by the time his next visitor came around.

“Pastor Earl Cohen,” the man introduced himself. Jack paused.

“Pastor and Cohen don’t usually get strung on the same name,” he commented, glancing at the uniform, with its stars, and then at the official car at the curb. The pastor, about forty or so, a few inches shorter than Jack, smiled pleasantly and nodded.

“I know, I get that all the time,” he said. “I’m the newly appointed Air Force Chief of Chaplains.”

“I see that,” Jack nodded. “Congratulations.” He put down the screwdriver, wiped his hands, and shook the pastor’s hand. “That’s Olivia and Fang. Would you like something to drink?”

“Water would be fine, thank you.”

Jack picked up the baby and ushered the man into the house.

“You’re probably here to talk with Daniel,” Jack said. “He’s at the SGC today.”

Pastor Cohen took the glass of water and sat. “Actually, I’d like to speak with you, if you don’t mind, General,” he said. “Your office told me you were at home today.”

Jack picked up his cell phone and frowned. He had left it on vibrate. He hadn’t heard the six missed calls. He was going to speak smartly at whoever allowed the General Pastor through to his home.

“I’m on kid-duty today. What can I do for you, Pastor?”

The man smiled as he sipped his water. “To the point,” he observed. “I was warned about you. Alright, General, here it is: we understand that this is a changed world. The very concepts that created spirituality as we know it today have been altered to where we hardly recognize them. The military chaplains are getting bombarded from our flocks and we don’t know how to respond.”

Jack stared at him. “Really, Pastor, you want Daniel for this, not me.”

“No, I want you,” Cohen assured him. “You speak the language of the common man, and I don’t mean that as a slight. How do you see the future of spirituality in the military?”

“I don’t,” Jack shrugged. “I’m not a spiritual person, so I don’t think about it at all. At least, I don’t unless one of my kids brings it up. Or Daniel. Or my brother. How about my brother? He’s a Catholic priest. I can call him over and you two can…..”

Cohen held out a piece of paper. Jack took it and opened it.

Jack, play nice with the good friar. HH,” he read. He sighed and put the note down. “I think I know what job I’ll give him,” Jack grumbled to himself as he rubbed his face. “Look, padre, I don’t know how I can be of help on this subject, I think Henry sent you to the wrong guy. All I know is a lot of people drop their religion once they’ve spent time off-world. I know other people who are spiritual, but it’s turned into a personal thing and doesn’t equate well with anything organized.”

Cohen nodded as he considered Jack. Olivia crawled over and patted Cohen’s leg.

“She wants up,” Jack interpreted. Cohen lifted her with experienced hands and settled her on his lap.

“You may have hit the nail, as it were,” the pastor said, letting the baby take his fingers. “Religion is the organization of spirituality. We do our best to make them compatible; in the best of both worlds, they are compatible. I admit that sometimes they are not.”

Someone beamed in and Cohen jumped. Olivia grinned and clapped.

“Pardon,” Shara said, inclining his head at the stranger. He held out a palm-sized notepad to Jack and took Olivia who had her arms out to him. Jack frowned as he scrolled through the pad. Olivia played with Shara’s beard and screeched when he captured her fingers between his lips.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked. Shara looked at him, a small hand in his mouth. “Of course, you are. Find Daniel, let him deal with it. I will call Daedalus and have Colonel Caldwell release Colonel Sheppard to Daniel. I want Sheppard to command the mission. Daniel is in the middle of something, so if he wants to assign someone in his place, that’s fine.” He made his notes, signed the pad and hit the tab for a new blank page. He wrote something with the stylus stick and signed it, too. “Make sure Inanna gets that to the council.” He exchanged the notepad for the baby. Shara beamed out.

Jack took one look at the pastor and added a shot of Kahlua next to the man’s glass of water.

“Sorry for the interruption, where were we?” Jack said. “Oh, right. Religion. Our children learn comparative religions from Daniel and a number of our friends. Their grandfather, my brother, is a Catholic priest. It’s a long story. Michael certainly gets his point of view in. They spend a weekend here and there with the Anunnaki on their world. The man that beamed in was Shara, consort to Ninurta. Ninurta is Inanna’s consort. You may know those names from your own studies. My oldest son is currently Shara’s consort, and believe me, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one. They recently made me a grandfather. They adopted that little guy, there, on the wall. Dakarai. Enki is playing grandpa to our kids and father to Daniel. The kids play with other allies, the Jaffa, the Tok’ra, Sua, a bird of unknown origin, among others. The kids are learning tolerance and acceptance of others while they form their own opinions and their own beliefs. My son and nephew, Matthew, another long story, is almost fifteen and still attends church. He likes it. He’s happy, so I’m happy. Wouldn’t surprise me if he became a priest or something to the equivalent. Stacy is a little pagan in her outlook, but doesn’t believe in deity. Maybe a Buddhist streak in her. She met the Dali Lama and they hit it off. He’s on her pen-pal list. The other kids don’t really have opinions, yet, and that’s okay, too. You want my advice on all this? Promote tolerance and education, and let the individual take care of the soul aspect. That part is between the person and their god and no one else.”

He looked at Cohen for a moment. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather talk with someone from your own field?”

“I think I would, yes,” Cohen admitted and downed the shot of Kahlua in one gulp.

Jack went to the door and stuck his head off the porch. He raised a hand and made a signal before returning to the house. He put Olivia into her play pen and handed her a bottle.

Cohen was looking a little pale in the gills. “A bird?” he questioned, slightly hoarse. Jack held out an arm.

“Zu, to me!”

The bird appeared on his arm and squawked.

“This is Zu,” Jack told Cohen. Olivia laughed and tried a Z sound, succeeding in drooling out a bit of juice as she held out her bottle. Zu muttered and hopped to the play pen where he preened Olivia’s skimpy hair. “He’s sentient, you can ask him questions. No? Ah, Sergeant.” Jack turned to the door where one of the neighborhood SF had presented himself. “Escort General Pastor Cohen to Beth-El Temple and present him to Rabbi Melnik. If the Rav isn’t available, take him to my brother. He might be at the Academy hospital, if he isn’t at the church.”

“Yes, sir.”

Once the pastor was on his way, Jack watched Zu and Olivia.

“So, Zu, how’s Erra?” he asked.

“Errrraaaaa muuuu,” Zu said. “Errrraaaa make nesssst Inaaaaana.”

“Good,” Jack nodded. “Can you watch Olivia for a while? I want to finish the door.”

“Annnnna.”

A few neighbors stopped to chat while he worked, and a delivery truck dropped off three boxes for Daniel. They were from the publisher of his manuscript. From the weight and the wiggle, Jack guessed that they were advanced copies. He went into the house and called Daniel.

“Yes, open them,” Daniel told him, a little breathless in his excitement. Jack put the phone down and tore open a box.

“Books with your face on the back,” Jack told him, turning one over and opening it. The new spine cracked and the smell of new book filled the air. “This is great, Danny. Hey, Zu is here. Want me to send one of these to you?”

“Yes!”

Jack handed the book to Zu, who took it with strong claws, and he disappeared.

“Thanks, Zu,” he heard Daniel say. “Wow, Jack, this turned out so great. Zu, can you bring a box? Would it be too heavy?”

Zu reappeared, dug his talons into a box, and popped out again without even trying to flap his colorful wings.

“Thanks,” Daniel said. “Here, take this to Sam, please?” Zu squawked in annoyance.

“The letter says it’ll be on store shelves next month,” Jack told him, reading the letter that came with the packing slip. “That’s a little earlier than originally planned.”

“Yeah, they’ve been working over-time on it,” Daniel said, his voice distant as he perused the book. “Jack, I’m going to send one of these to Sarah’s family in England. I think they deserve it. Sam’s family, too.”

“I agree,” Jack said. “Send them to whomever you’d like, they’re your books. I think Henry’s waiting for one, too.”

“How many all-together?” Daniel asked. “Three boxes? So, thirty-six.”

Jack opened another box. “Danny, the chaplain for the Air Force was just here. Henry sicced him on me. Would you mind if I gave him one of these?”

“I don’t mind, go ahead,” Daniel said. “Set two aside for Michael and your Mom, too. Jack, this is our story, not just mine. Why don’t you take a box and Sam take a box? I’ll take care of Hammond. Oh, before I forget; I’m heading out to Austria with Sheppard. This one is too interesting for me to pass it off to someone else. How the hell did Heaven’s Bow spot that one?”

“No idea,” Jack said. “Please be careful and don’t touch anything.” The ship did pick up something earlier on a planet scan, but it was just a small blip, nothing to get excited about. The initial report from Daniel’s team should be interesting.

“Jack, I can’t examine anything if I don’t touch,” Daniel said patiently. “I think having Sheppard going around touching things is more dangerous.”

“That’s true,” Jack admitted. “Alright. Keep your eye on Sheppard.”

Zu zipped back in and dropped a book into Jack’s hands. There was a sticky note attached to it. “Please sign this.” Jack noticed that Daniel had signed the inside cover, addressing it to Hammond. He signed it and handed it back.

“Zu, when you’re ready to go home, could you take this one to Teal’c?” Jack asked, putting a book on the table. Zu acknowledged and zipped out with the signed book.

He put baby stuff in the truck, locked up, and headed out. He dropped a book off with his mother, snatched several cookies, and went to his office. Cassandra took the book from him, excited to see it. Paul was also pleased. Although not a kid-person, Paul had somehow managed to be won over by Olivia. She raspberried him from over Jack’s shoulder.

“Daniel and Sheppard are taking a team to Austria,” Jack told him, wiping baby spit from the back of his head. “Heaven’s Bow spotted something in the mountains.” He told Paul the coordinates. “It originally showed up as just a speck on the Bow’s scan; nothing the size of a ship. It still isn’t registering as anything larger than a dinner plate, though.”

Paul thought about it and tapped on his computer. “There was a tremor recently,” he said. “It caused several avalanches in the Alps. Those combined with the warming trend could have caused cloaking equipment to malfunction, if a rock hit it wrong. We have noticed that the mikku isn’t all-seeing; it only scans for what we tell it to scan for. It doesn’t seem to be programmed for ‘wild leaps.’ Still, that doesn’t tell us why the scans aren’t coming up naquadah.”

“Well, I’m declaring it HomeSec jurisdiction, so make sure a bulletin goes out to Austria to keep that mountain off-limits. The last thing we need is to have hikers or skiers poking around. And make it a no-fly zone.”

Paul agreed and began the notice.

His cell phone rang the moment he left the office. He discovered that he couldn’t use the ear piece when he had the baby; she kept taking it from his ear and playing with it. An ear full of baby spit was nasty.

“O’Neill.” Jack listened for a moment. “Thank you.” He sat down.

“What’s wrong?” Cassie buzzed Paul. “Something’s up,” she said. Paul came out of his office and immediately went to Jack’s side.

“I’m fine,” he told them, waving them off. “Today seems to be an interesting day. Hell must have frozen over; China just signed a treaty freeing Tibet. It’ll hit the news shortly.”

Paul squatted next to him and touched his shoulder. “You saved Tien’s grandson, and who knows how many people by getting the ships in to beam them to safety. You were honest with him in a way no one probably ever has been and you asked for nothing in return.”

“And this is payment. Holy shit.”

Olivia smacked the back of his head.

An hour later, people had come to a standstill as they listened to the radio, turned on news channels, and looked at the home pages of online news. Amidst the chaos and destruction of what was once Korea, another country was reborn. The foremost image was of the Dali Lama falling to his knees.

“What’d you do, Jack?” Henry asked when Jack answered his cell phone again.

“About what?” he asked.

“You must have said something to Tien,” Henry said. “What was it?”

“You keep telling me to play nice, Henry, so I played nice,” Jack said. “This wasn’t my doing, he made this decision himself. Oh, Henry? When you leave your current position, if you’re still interested, I’m nominating you as the Tau’ri representative to the Unified Worlds council. Does that work for you?”

There was silence on the line.

“Are you joking?” he heard.

“No,” Jack shrugged and shook his head. “Henry, you’ve been pushing me around for a year. Anything to get you off this planet…..”

“Are we in?” Henry asked.

“Don’t know yet,” Jack said. “Inanna knows what’s happening here and she needs to take Earth’s application before the council. This thing with the Koreas could very well disqualify us, but the rest of the world is working to help, which might push things back this way. The HomeSec members will need to approve your nomination, of course. You want me to make your nomination official, after this happens?”

Hayes breathed heavily into the phone. “Yes. Dear Lord, Jack. This entire year will be making the history books.”

“Yeah, and speaking of books…..”

“I have it,” Henry said. “That bird dropped it on my desk. Jack, you really need to do something about him. He needs to learn what doorbells are for. Almost gave my secret service heart attacks.”

Jack snorted. “You try telling Zu what to do. We can only suggest. The last time I tried ordering him, I discovered my truck covered in bird crap. Do you know what that stuff does to a paint job?”

He went down to the R&D lab.

“Biggs…..,”

“Boggs, sir,” the captain corrected.

“Is this thing working?” Jack asked, gesturing toward the plain-looking stone arch that sat against a wall.

“Yes, sir.” Boggs held up what looked like a remote control.

“Good. Send me and Olivia to Colonel Carter?”

“We can do that, sir,” Boggs said.

There were surprised salutes when he appeared in the Area 51 arch.

“At ease,” he said, returning a salute. The baby waved at a friendly looking tech and looked around with interest from Jack’s back. “That was very cool, right, Liv?” She bounced in her carrier, patting his shoulders.

With guidance from passersby, they made their way to Sam’s new office. Jack had never actually taken the entire tour before; the place seemed much bigger than he remembered. From the number of salutes he returned, he was sure Sam would know they were on their way up from the lab.

“Sir.” A major stood as he entered the office.

“At ease,” he said once more. He looked closely at the man’s uniform. “Coulter. Is she in?”

“Yes, sir, and expecting you,” Coulter said. “Please go on in. Sir? Would you like me to babysit? My daughter is sixteen months.”

Olivia studied him. Coulter shifted uncomfortably under her gaze.

“Thank you, Major, considerate of you,” Jack said. “I’ll keep her, though. Were you General Taylor’s assistant?”

“Yes, sir,” Coulter nodded. “For three years. He considered taking me to Washington with him, but felt that I would be of more use to Colonel Carter here, since I’m familiar with this office.”

“I’m sure she appreciates your experience, son. Take care of her, or you’ll hear from me.”

“Yes, sir.”

They entered Sam’s office and noticed that the first thing she had done was to put up her family photos. Daniel’s book sat in the middle of her desk.

“I think your office is bigger than mine,” Jack commented looking around. Sam smiled at him.

“I think it is, too,” she said, and got up to kiss him. A large vase of flowers occupied the center of a small conference table.

“Ma!”

Sam smiled and lifted Olivia from the carrier. “You are just a smarty-pants, aren’t you?”

“She grabbed my legs and pulled herself up this morning,” Jack told her as he dialed out from the phone on Sam’s desk. The entire building had a block on cell phones and limited internet access. “What’s Coulter’s first name?”

“Leo. Leonard. Why?” Sam roamed with Olivia, pointing at the photos.

“Run a check on a Major Leo or Leonard Coulter,” Jack said low into the phone and spelled the name. “What do you know about him?” he asked Sam after hanging up. She looked sharply at his tone.

“Not much,” she said. “I met him often enough when I was stationed here before. He seems like a nice guy. Good officer. General Taylor relied on him. I know he’s married and has a baby daughter. Why?”

“Livie doesn’t like him,” Jack said. “And I sensed….. I’m not sure. I didn’t like what I felt from him. I could be wrong. Let’s see what Nick comes up with.”

Sam shook her head in disappointment. “That’s too bad,” she said, not questioning his gut. “I was looking forward to his assistance. Paul has a list of people he uses for filling assistant positions; I’ll see if there is anyone appropriate for out here.” She smiled at him and lifted her face. “Thank you for the flowers and teddy bear,” she said. Jack kissed the upturned face and brushed the hair from her eyes.

“You’re welcome.”

“You may be hearing from Daniel,” he said, turning to look her office over. “The leather boys upstairs found something in Austria, so I sent Daniel and Sheppard over to take a look. Could be Ancient. Seems a tremor caused an avalanche which may have unburied whatever it is. Nukes aren’t going to kill us, Sam, the greenhouse effect is. The Alps –melting. Christ…. Sam, can the mikku be programmed to search for everything at once?”

Sam paused in the tapping of her keyboard. “It isn’t God, Jack; it can only do what we tell it to do.” She deleted Olivia’s helpful keyboard opinions.

“Well, I want it to look for everything at once,” he said, his eyes gazing over as he looked at the titles on her reference shelf. “We keep overlooking stuff because it doesn’t know to tell us something is there.”

Wheels turned swiftly….. “You want it to run all search parameters at once?” she guessed.

“That’s it,” Jack snapped his fingers.

“I don’t think it’s programmed to do that, but I’ll have Capt. Boggs play with it. Oh, about that whole Loch Ness thing? As far as we can determine, there’s nothing down there except garbage and old boats.”

“Bummer,” Jack commented. “I was looking forward to monster hunting. Keir is going to be disappointed.”

“Da!”

He picked her out of Sam’s lap. “You are a demanding creature today, aren’t you, Miss Thing?” She rocked back in his arms, screwing her face up and sticking a fist in her eyes. “Uh, oh,” he said. “I think we missed nap time. I’ll get her home,” he said, picking up the baby paraphernalia. “She’s been queen bee all day. Keep in contact with Daniel; if there are devices up there, he’ll need your guys to come in.”

“I just sent a message to Boggs,” she said. “We’ll keep an eye on Daniel.”

Jack turned to her as he lifted Olivia up over his head and put her into the carrier on his back.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I won’t people your job; it’s your office, I’m going.” He pecked her mouth and headed out.

“Jack!”

He stuck his head back in.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“I’m kinda in a pizza mood,” she said. “Do we have other plans tonight?”

“Nope,” he said. “I’ll order pizza. Anything in particular?”

“Pepperoni.”

Exiting her office, Olivia stared at the man behind the desk in the outer office.

“It’s alright,” he said gently to her. It took him a moment to realize he spoke in Ancient. Whether or not she understood, she took his tone, patted him, and dug into her pouch for the bottle she dropped.

As they made their way back to the arch, Olivia once more waved at the tech she noticed when they came in.

“What’s your name, airman?” Jack stopped and asked. The woman straightened.

“Chief Master Sergeant Rusty Wilson, sir!”

Jack gave a nod, glancing at the flaming red hair on the woman’s head. “As you were, chief.”

“Yes, sir.”

When Jack returned to HomeSec, he went up to his office before heading home.

“Cass, find me the file for Chief Master Sergeant Rusty Wilson,” he told her. “Just email it to me. Can you watch Livie for a while? She’s almost asleep.”

“Sure. There’s a portable crib in the closet,” she said, getting up to find it while Jack gently took the carrier from his back. He knew the generals upstairs didn’t approve of him bringing the kids into work, they also weren’t happy with the day-care that was being built across the compound. Oh, well. As long as it didn’t interfere with jobs, he saw no reason why employees couldn’t take their lunch breaks with their kids. When the civilian employees petitioned his office for a day-care, Jack had Paul run the stats. It seemed that employees worked much better when they knew their kids were nearby and safe. He considered several off-world examples and agreed to a day-care.

Once they got Olivia settled, Jack went back down to the lab and kicked Boggs out of the seat. The machine worked much quicker when Jack was at the helm; the Alps were visible to him moments after he sat in the chair. A peak had revealed a hint of brown at the top, amidst other peaks that were still covered in snow. An entire section of mountain top had shifted, and a corner of something obviously not of nature had been laid bare.

Jack hit his comm. “Daniel, what is that thing?” he asked. “Looks almost like the top of a pyramid. Please tell me it isn’t a pyramid.”

He saw one of the figures on the slope pause and look around.

“Jack?” he heard. “Where are you?”

“Watching through the mikku.”

“Oh. No, it isn’t a pyramid,” Daniel said, speaking to a dim-witted child. “It does look like Ancient design, though. I’m guessing it’s a hide-out. Sort of a…. ouch…. hunters-blind, which makes sense if they were watching the early humans before making their appearance.” He tossed a rock over his shoulder after looking carefully at it. Just below him, Sheppard ducked and yelled at him. “Huh? Oh, sorry, John. Jack, this mountain top needs to come down.”

Jack considered the request. “Daniel, did you just ask me to move a mountain for you?”

Daniel paused and looked up and around, smiling in the general direction of the sky. “Would you, Jack? How much do you love me?”

“A lot,” Jack said. “But I’m not moving a mountain. Find a way into that thing. If it can be powered up and moved, you can do that. No. Change that. Let Sheppard fly it.”

“He’s probably the only one here who can,” Daniel commented. “I’m betting this thing was rigged for one of you guys, if it was so secret that it needed to be cloaked at the top of a mountain. And speaking of mountains -Jack, did you have anything to do with Tibet?”

“Not a thing,” he said. “I had an hour’s advanced warning of the announcement. That’s all. Sam wants pizza tonight.”

“Works for me,” Daniel said. Jack experimented and found he could bring the image in close enough to see the stitching on Daniel’s cold-weather jacket.

“You’re getting a few grays, Danny,” Jack said. “You’re not even forty, yet.”

He wasn’t sure what Daniel said, but it didn’t sound polite.

“Language, language,” Jack chuckled. “Hey, this thing sees better than my telescope.”

“Leave the neighbors alone, Jack,” he was advised. “John, see if anything reacts when you touch it.”

Sheppard stepped up to the light gray object and started running a hand over it. Their team stood by, guns and zats drawn at the ready. Jack noticed that Daniel had brought Ronnie with him. She stood nearby, watching with the excited interest of a newbie explorer.

“What’s he doing?” she asked, watching Sheppard touching the thing. Daniel hesitated.

“Go ahead,” Jack said. Time for another layer to be revealed; so far, she had accepted everything tossed in her direction. “Gently.”

“A few of the Ancient things are keyed to a genetic type,” Daniel said. “They only work for people with the genetic sequence. Colonel Sheppard is one of those people.”

“Oh. How do we know who has it and who doesn’t?” she asked. Something beeped and a panel slid open. Guns were pointed at it.

“She doesn’t have it,” Jack said quietly. “She’s already been tested.”

“Sometimes we have people touch certain objects that we know are keyed and other times we run a DNA test on them,” Daniel said. “We know what the marker is, so it’s easy enough to spot on a blotter. I don’t have it, so when I come across something like this, I try and have someone like the colonel with me.”

Sheppard and one of the guards managed to force a door part way open. Daniel eagerly went toward it and was held back by Sheppard who waved a gun. Jack approved of his caution. Sheppard carefully shined a light into the hole.

“Looks like a jumper,” he said. “Sorta. Design is a little different, but could be a jumper. Emerged wrong place, wrong time, maybe. Got stuck. Hey, General?” He reached out and plucked the comm from Daniel’s neck where he had strung it with his tags.

“Hey!”

“Looks like this thing acted as a tomb,” John said into the comm, peering inside. “We got mummified remains.”

“Really?” Daniel forgot about his space being invaded.

“Careful,” Jack warned. The mikku couldn’t see inside the ship, but Jack could still hear them through Daniel’s comm. Something beeped. Irritated at the interruption, Jack looked around. The beep came from his wrist.

“Crap,” Jack muttered. “Danny, I need to go. The kids are getting out of school. Call me if you need me.” They certainly didn’t need him back-seat driving.

“I want extra cheese on my pizza,” Daniel said.

“I don’t think so,” Jack responded. “It makes you fart all night long.”

“I want the cheese,” Daniel said. “If I can’t have the extra cheese, you can’t have onions. Hey, Jack; these mummies are wearing the same type of clothing we saw in the recordings of the Ancients. If there’s any DNA left to process, I’m pretty sure they will be Ancient. Maybe we can get a full panel on the Ancients! I’m not sure if we can get this thing flying; a few things are lighting up, but the main power seems to be down. I think we need a tech in here to mess with the wiring.”

“So it is a jumper?” Jack asked.

“I think so,” Daniel said. “Design is a little different. Might be a little older than the ones we know. Writing is in Ancient.”

“Alright, I want you and Ronnie home,” Jack said. “It’s a tech job; we need R&D in there, not you.”

“We’ll be right home,” Daniel said.

“Wait. I think….. I can get the shield completely off,” Jack heard Sheppard say. “General? The ship should be visible to any scans, now.”

Jack looked at his watch again and handed the mikku over to Boggs. “Europa, scan the mountain,” Jack said into his radio. “Sheppard, don’t touch anything else.”

As Jack drove out of town to head back home with the kids, his radio came back on.

“General O’Neill, this is Belarus,” he heard.

“Go ahead, Colonel.”

The children in the back quieted. With the baby-seat, things were a little crowded; Jack was being stubborn in not turning his truck in for a minivan, but it wasn’t too often all the kids were with him.

“Sir, I wouldn’t move that ship, if it were my decision,” Belarus advised. “That entire section of mountain has been shielded for what looks like a very long time. If we were to remove the ship, the entire mountain top will come down. Those villages at the base will be destroyed.”

“Why would the mountain come down?” Jack asked.

“Sir, it almost looks like the mountain grew with the ship inside of it. Or around the ship,” Belarus said. “It’s that old, if our readings are correct. The power shield that surrounded the ship pretty much held up the top of the mountain along with it. That shield needs to be turned back on, sir.”

“Sheppard, get the shield back up,” Jack ordered.

“Working on it, sir.”

“General, this is Carter.” They all heard Sam jumping in on the line, a little formal on the open channel. “I’ve been monitoring transmission and the Europa’s readings. One of my teams is preparing to head up there. They’re all qualified to deal with Ancient technology.”

What Jack heard was that the entire team was made up of people who had the Gene.

“Shield is up, General,” he heard Sheppard say.

“Alright, everyone out of there,” Jack ordered. “Colonel Carter’s team will take over. It’s been up there for all this time, it’ll be fine by itself for a while longer.”

The kids were silent as they listened, knowing not to make noise while there was alien stuff going on.

“Okay, who wants what on their pizza?” Jack asked.

 


 

Chapter 49

“General O’Neill,” Ronnie stopped on her way out after dinner. “I just wanted to thank you. All of you. For being accepting of me. And thank you for dinner.”

“We’re not on duty,” Jack said. “You can make it Jack. And I have no problem with people being real.” It was the first time Ronnie had made a reference to her differences, and Jack wondered how hard it was. She was scared, he could feel.

“Hey,” Daniel went up to her and gave her a hug. “Just relax. You have nothing to prove to anyone; if people have an issue, it’s their issue, not yours.”

“Ditto,” Sam said, poking a thumb in Daniel’s direction.

Ronnie wasn’t very good at passing as a woman; she was too masculine even with the estrogen and surgery. People around the SGC and the university quickly learned to keep their opinions to themselves, having had Daniel in their face when one wrong word was said.

“Parents,” Matty called out, getting their attention after Ronnie left. He held up a piece of paper. “Can I play baseball this summer?”

“Swimming,” Stacy said.

“Volunteering at the hospital,” Katie said. Permission slips were signed by the nearest parent.

They looked at David.

“I just want to play,” he said. Everyone laughed and Davy ducked his head, sticking his tongue out at his siblings.

“You can play,” Jack told him.

After dinner, the kids found a corner and began to devour Daniel’s book. Davy didn’t understand most of the first page, so Daniel picked excerpts and told him stories. After a couple of hours of silence by children who were usually running around after dinner, bedtime was declared. Daniel insisted that Stacy walk her dog once more before putting him into the kennel. She had been a little clingy, sitting near him as she read and watching closely when he got up, so he went on the walk with her. Once the kids were in bed, Jack and Daniel sat on the floor, backs to the couch, as they watched the news. Sam lay on the couch, the baby next to her playing with her tags.

“Here we go,” Jack murmured, watching the numbers on the death toll rise. “Oh, my God.” He covered his face for a moment, Daniel and Sam also choking.

“Almost the entire armed forces and civilian consultants in Seoul,” Jack said. “About one hundred thousand people, mostly ours. Those who didn’t die weren’t at their bases.”

“If that….. hadn’t been killed by his own people, we’d be at war,” Sam said.

“Eleven million in Seoul,” Daniel said, feeling sick to his stomach. “If we include the surrounding areas, tourists, civilian workers, and our own troops, we’re looking at about eleven and a half million dead.” He suddenly jumped to his feet and ran to the bathroom. Jack took Sam’s hand from over his shoulder and laced their fingers together.

“I don’t know what to do, Sam,” Jack confessed.

She pulled his arm back and put her mouth to his knuckles, knowing what it cost him to make that admission. “There’s nothing we can do except to mourn,” she said. “More than likely, we have a few local families who lost someone over there. Americans work through grief by talking about it. Once we identify the families, we get everyone together and we talk about it.”

It didn’t take long for the first families to make themselves known. Just after they went to bed, the phone rang. It was the sheriff.

“Jack, I’m sorry to wake you,” Andy said. “We have four men in lock-up. Army boys. Taking a vacation together, camping out. They came up for air long enough to turn a radio on, get drunk off their asses, and bust up a bar. They were stationed at Camp Red Cloud.”

Jack squeezed his eyes. “Let them dry out for the night, Andy, I’ll come over in the morning. I’d appreciate it if you kept them away from the local population. Give them space. Thanks for calling me first.” He thought for a moment and then dialed the SGC.

“This is O’Neill. Sergeant, find me the home phone for General Morrison at Fort Carson.” Patched through to the general, Jack updated him on the men in the tank. The men weren’t under Jack’s command, so Gen. Morrison would take care of it in the morning.

In the morning, it was easy enough to get the kids ready and off to school. Just as they were heading out, a car from the auto-pool showed up.

“Welcome back,” Jack said, holding his coffee mug as he watched the kids greet Teal’c and Mason before running to the waiting truck with an SF behind the wheel. “You’re looking particularly….  Jaffa-esk.” Mason had lost his BDUs somewhere along the way and donned Jaffa gear.

“Jack, what the hell’s been going on?” his cousin asked, slightly wide-eyed. “Half the Jaffa nation is talking about an explosion on Tau’ri and when we get to the solar system, we hear Korea has been almost completely destroyed. I leave for ten days and the world goes to hell.”

“Are you well, O’Neill?” Teal’c rumbled.

“Fine, T, and you?” They clasped forearms. Mason took a breath and waited.

“Master Bre’tac would welcome a visit from you,” Teal’c said. Jack looked quickly at him.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

Teal’c considered his words for a moment. “He is….. most advanced in age,” he said. “Is there anything here my people can assist with?”

Mason sat on a porch chair and lifted Olivia from her round scooter.

“No, there isn’t, T,” Jack said tiredly. “The injured are being taken care of; the land will need to heal by itself.”

“From what I understand, he’s aging quicker without his symbiote,” Mason said. Teal’c had already noticed the same speech patterns between the cousins and was ready for the non sequitur. “He’s old, Jack. He relaxes and lets his students and pretty girls fetch things for him. Even Dor’nar tires him out. Jack, Korea…..”

“You want coffee?” Jack asked. He went in and was back out a minute later with two more cups. “A moment of insanity, Mace,” he said. He leaned back against the porch railing and gave the men a summary of recent events.

Olivia gave a restless wiggle and she was put back in her scooter.

“I had buddies in a couple of the camps,” Mason said after a moment of silence. “Jack, I’d like to go home and see my wife and kids. I don’t know how Mel will like Colorado but I’m now willing to do this.” He stood up and pulled his mesh vest aside, revealing a healing staff wound on his right side. “I understand, now, Jack.”

Jack gave a slow nod as he considered his cousin. He reached out to touch Mason’s side. Mason stepped back, shaking his head.

“I’ve been hearing rumors about you touching people; I want the scar,” he said. “I’m not sure I understand about this Ancient stuff and genetics I’ve been hearing about. I’ve been hearing a lot of surreal things.” He paced to the end of the porch and back as he thought, and grimaced as he ran his fingers through his hair. “Mind if I take a shower before heading home?”

“Master bedroom is the door to the right of the stairs,” Jack said. “Help yourself to clothes. And don’t leave town without stopping to see Mom and Michael.”

While Mason showered off the grime of the universe, Teal’c informed Jack that the Tollan were arguing amongst themselves and Narim had moved in with the Anunnaki. Inanna was making him clean the stables. Teal’c reached into an inner-vest pocket and pulled out one of Inanna’s miniature notepads, an Earth invention she had recreated around crystal technology.

“The council has accepted your nomination of President Hayes as the Tau’ri representative, providing Tau’ri approves the nomination.”

Jack glanced up. “That was fast,” he commented. “I only sent this yesterday. Our council here hasn’t even met on this; I’ll let them know, though.” He signed the notepad and handed it back. “Does this mean Tau’ri is in?”

“It does,” Teal’c said, inclining his head. “Congratulations. The Unified Worlds council will be sending official notice shortly. A few of the members felt that the approval should be provisional, particularly in light of the bombing of Korea. The fact that China has found a new sense of its own humanity has convinced those members to give Earth the benefit of the doubt.”

Jack nodded in relief; he wasn’t sure they would be accepted, not after recent events, hell even he would have refused a world where one country just bombed another from existence. “President Tien seems to be towing the new party line,” he commented. “I have to admit that Japan is dealing with this in an unexpectedly positive manner; they’re doing a remembrance for Nagasaki and Hiroshima, two of their cities that were bombed during a world war many years ago. President Ito sent me a private email this morning, once more pledging peace from Japan and promising assistance in the rebuilding of Korea. It took three months for the Japanese towns to begin rebuilding, and those bombs were not quite as large as the one that dropped on Seoul. I’m estimating five months before Korea clears enough for people to walk around without haz-mat suits. It isn’t the radiation that worries me, T; it’s those millions of dead bodies that weren’t turned into ashes by the blast.”

“Yes, I see,” Teal’c said quietly. “The water and land will be poisoned by the decaying bodies for a longer period than the radiation will remain harmful. What about destroying the bodies?”

“That’s a big problem, too,” Jack said. “Most Tau’ri bury their dead. Burning seems to be an issue among Earth religions. I’m going to recommend it, though; we can use the ships to raze the ground with lasers. That should take care of human and animal remains. Without a provisional government, I’ll need to convince the UN to allow it to happen. The UN isn’t happy with me.”

“Is anyone happy with you, O’Neill?” Teal’c asked.

Jack thought about it. “Olivia is happy with me.” They looked at the baby who was trying to get close enough to Fang so that she could grab his fur. Her legs weren’t strong enough or long enough to cooperate yet, though, so she pumped her legs and arms in agitation and gave an indignant yell. Fang stayed out of arm’s reach.

The door opened and Mason came out looking neat and tidy in borrowed BDU’s, wiping shaving cream from his jaw with a washcloth and holding a copy of Daniel’s book with the other hand. “I called General Pembroke,” he said. “He’s going to grant my transfer to the SGC.”

Not that he really had a say in this, Jack thought. “I’ll let Landry know he’s getting a new team member. Did Pembroke give you orders until the transfer?”

“He told me to take a couple weeks leave,” Mason said. “I called Melanie to let her know I’m on-world. She’s a little upset with you.”

Jack ignored Teal’c who deliberately didn’t look at him.

“Keep the book,” Jack said, nodding toward the item. “It’ll hit the shelves next month. Consider it homework before you get to the SGC. T, did you get your copy?”

“I did,” he confirmed. “Thank you for sending it.”

A car pulled up to the curb and Jack waved at Mandy and Maria. “Mace, I have something I need to do today; make yourself at home,” Jack said. “Would you do me a favor, though, and take Olivia over to Mom’s? Her bag is on the couch.”

Jack took Teal’c with him to the car at the curb. Mandy was surprised to see Teal’c with Jack and carefully shook Teal’c hand as Jack opened the passenger door and squatted down next to the young lady. She was pale, her skin slightly yellow-tinted, weak from her chemotherapy, her once thick brown hair reduced to a thin layer covering her head.

“Hi, you must be Lydia,” he said. “I’m Jack. That’s Teal’c. Are you ready? You feel up to this?”

“I’m tired, but that’s normal,” she told him, taking his hand. “I’m happy to meet you, General. I’ve been trying to get the gossip out of Mandy and Maria, but they don’t say much of anything beyond you being nice and things sometimes getting a little entertaining around here. Mandy said I can touch the Stargate; is he kidding me?”

“No, he isn’t,” Jack said, enjoying the sparkle in her eyes as he reached back and took Maria’s hand. “You can call me Jack. I have special permission from General Landry to take you guys into the base and let you touch the gate. Believe me; your brother will be mowing my lawn all summer for this one.”

Mandy laughed. “I don’t think so, Jack,” he said.

Something occurred to Lydia and she turned to look closer at Teal’c, her eyes becoming wider as she stared at the sigil on his forehead. “He’s a……”

“Yes, he is,” Jack nodded. “Teal’c is a Jaffa. He’s an old friend of mine. I didn’t plan on him being here, he happened to show up about an hour ago. I hope it’s alright with you if he tags along?”

“Oh, yes,” she breathed. Teal’c bowed, hands in their typical place, clasped at the base of his spine.

Jack held up a hand toward Mason on the porch before getting into his truck and leading Mandy to the Mountain. Most of the crew knew Jack was bringing guests in that morning, although they didn’t know why. It wasn’t their place to ask, though, as they stood aside for the lady in the wheelchair. Teal’c gave her his arm, helping her to slowly walk up the stairs to the main conference room. Jack introduced everyone to Landry and Reynolds, who had stuck around after the morning briefing.

“This is my favorite viewing window,” Landry said, smiling paternally at Lydia. He touched a switch and the blast shield went up. Lydia gasped as the huge circle came into sight.

“That’s the ring that was found in Giza?” she asked, wide-eyed. Jack caught Landry’s eyes and received a nod.

“Yes, it is,” Landry nodded. “And Dr. Jackson deciphered it, allowing us to go to other worlds.” It would take too long to explain about Jack’s brain being taken over by the database of a dead race of aliens and him reprogramming the gate for the rest of the planets that weren’t in the first database they found.

“Oh,” she remembered something and reached for her bag which Mandy handed to her. She drew out a book. “Is Sgt. Harriman here? I’d really like him to sign my book.”

Landry chuckled. “He’s here,” he said. “Although, his proper rank is chief master sergeant. Two different ranks.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, embarrassed. Landry waved at her.

“No need,” he said. “Happens all the time.”

They went down to the control room where the civilians were warned not to touch anything. Walter turned a little red and signed Lydia’s book.

“Hey, Jack.” He turned to see Bosco coming up the stairs.

“Jerry, how’s Connie?” Jack asked, taking the offered forearm.

“She’s good,” Bosco nodded. “And thanks again for all your help. Hey, did you have anything to do with Tibet?”

Jack sighed. “No, I didn’t,” he said. He looked up at the ceiling and spoke loudly. “Now hear this –I had nothing to do with Tibet!”

There was a click and then Walter’s voice on the loud-speaker. “Attention all personnel: per General O’Neill, he had nothing to do with Tibet. That is all.”

Jack looked at him.

“Thank you, Walter.”

“You’re welcome, sir.”

One more short flight of stairs and they were entering the gateroom itself. Lydia looked up in wonder at the size of the ring.

“Come on,” Jack said, holding out his arm. She took it and they walked slowly up the ramp. She touched the ring. As Jack watched her, he remembered his first time and realized that he had become so accustomed to it that he forgot to be amazed by it. He waved Mandy and Maria up, and they, too, touched the Stargate. Pictures were taken.

“Are you tired?” Mandy asked his sister.

“Not yet,” she said, reaching to touch the nearest glyph. She looked at the back, seeing that it was the same as the front. “And this dials? Like an old rotary phone to get a certain phone number?”

Jack looked at her and nodded. “That’s good,” he said. “That’s exactly how it works. It dials other gates all over the galaxy. And with an extra power boost, it’ll dial gates in other galaxies.”

The door opened and Jack looked over. “Ah. Lydia, this is a friend of ours. Malek. He has something to discuss with you.”

Once Lydia was settled into negotiations with the Tok’ra, Jack went into the monitoring room to look at the monitors. The main bank of monitors was focused on Korea and the ship in Austria. Daniel was among the people watching and kibitzing with the science team on the mountain.

“Who’s up there?” Jack asked, watching the team scratching their heads.

“Captain Boggs, Colonel Sheppard, and a few others from the B-team,” Daniel said, not taking his eyes from the monitors.

Jack frowned. “So who’s on the mikku?”

“Burkett, I think,” Daniel said.

“The B-team?”

“You’re the A-team, Jack.”

“Oh. I keep forgetting.”

Jack found a mic and put it on his ear.

“Sheppard, how’s it going up there?” he asked.

“General? That you?” Sheppard called back. “It’s cold, that’s how it’s going, sir. We don’t see any way to get this ship out of here without bringing the entire top of the mountain down. The local villages along the slopes and at the base are evacuating, just in case.”

“Last resort, Colonel,” Jack warned. “And we will discuss it before that happens. I happen to like the Alps just the way they are.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Europa was still in orbit over Asia. Col. Belarus was straining the ship’s resources in assisting the world’s medical community in treating the victims. Many countries were asking where all the alien technology was now, with all the dead and dying from radiation poisoning. Davis had gone live to tell them that everything was being done that could be done. He had even taken a camera up to Europa to show everyone the chaos on the ship. And there were three other ships in orbit, also helping.

“Jack.” He turned at the sound of his name. Landry stood in the door. “Just a warning: our CMO knows you’re on base and is hunting for you. Something about updating your records.”

“Crap,” Jack muttered, turning quickly away from the monitors and tossing the mic to a table.

The intercom beeped.

“Yes?” Landry said.

“Is General O’Neill with you, General Landry?” Teal’c asked.

“I’m here, T,” Jack said.

“Dr. Lam just left the conference room,” Teal’c said. “I believe she is heading your way.”

Jack scrambled and stuck his head out the door.

“What’d ya do?” Landry asked, watching in amusement. He was taking great entertainment out of seeing his daughter trying to get the stubborn Jack O’Neill to mind his doctor.

“I healed Tien’s grandson from major radiation burns,” Jack said. Landry’s eyes opened wide. The room contained personnel in highly sensitive positions, people who knew when to shut their ears.

“Oh, my,” he commented, glancing at Daniel. Daniel lifted a shoulder and chuckled. “That explains quite a bit. You better get out or she’ll strap you to an exam bed.”

“Shut up, Daniel.” Jack saw the instant speculation in Daniel’s eyes.

Jack snuck out of the room and into the halls, hugging the walls as he carefully made his way through the corridors. Personnel watched him; those who knew him were amused, others were curious. He spotted Capt. Bogner from SG-1. Bogner was making a motion with a half-hidden hand. Jack rushed into a room and watched from the crack in the door as their own Kull warrior tried sniffing him out as she stalked the hall. She paused, looked around suspiciously, and continued her quest. From around another doorway, Jack saw Bogner motioning again. Jack hurried toward him and gave Bogner’s shoulder a touch as he followed the hand signals to another corridor. Zane met him at the next corridor and ushered him on after a quick look around. Molina and then Kaplan cleared his way through to a hatch where Jack climbed up to the next floor and breathed a sigh of relief as he hit the elevator button.

The door opened and he jumped. “Yikes!”

“Hold it right there, General!”

“General?”

Jack turned and saw Harper coming toward them.

“I’m glad I caught you before you left,” Harper said. “Hi, Doc. Sir, can I borrow you for just a moment? Col. Reynolds is busy babysitting Tok’ra and I’m really having a problem understanding one of SG-1’s previous reports. I believe it’s pertinent to a current issue, but I’ll know for sure if I can get a translation of all the Jack-speak.”

“Of course, I’ll help, Major,” Jack said, tossing a friendly arm around Harper’s shoulders. “I’ll get back to you, Doctor.”

Lam watched suspiciously as the men walked away.

“O’Neill! I am ordering you to the infirmary the second you are done!” she called after him.

“Ana mish fahma,” he called, waving a hand in the air above his head. Her eyes narrowed. Harper bit his lip to keep from snickering.

“I know where you live, O’Neill!”

“Never knew that would come in handy,” Jack said, glancing back. “You know how many times Daniel used it on me? I don’t understand!” he whined in a nasally version of Daniel whining. His arm quickly slid off Harper’s shoulder the moment they were out of Lam’s vision.

“And she’s going to make her way around the crew until she finds someone to translate it,” Harper said.

“Did you really need me?” Jack asked.

“No, not really,” Harper said, shaking his head. “Word went out and a bunch of us each took a floor and stationed ourselves near the elevators, waiting for you and her.”

Jack looked at him. “Five thousand dollars, Harper,” he said, swinging his arms in exasperation. “Who the hell pays five thousand dollars for a dress they will wear only once?”

Harper held up a hand in defense. “I told her we could pay for it, but she’s insisting on doing the ‘traditional’ thing.” He held out fingers, making quote marks in the air. “My parents are paying half, and I’m paying for more than I told Cassie I was paying for. Believe me, you got the lesser of the evils. Forget the dress, have you priced chicken lately? I’m considering taking this party to Chulak. Oh…. my folks want you guys over for dinner.”

“What?” Jack squinted. “Why? Not that I wouldn’t mind meeting……”

“Because my mother is very old-fashioned and doesn’t quite know what to do with an orphaned young lady who has no background and no parents for them to meet. I mentioned that you guys sorta not really adopted her, so mother is grasping at straws. They do not approve of Daniel in your marriage but I don’t particularly care; I’m feeling a little foul toward Mother, at the moment, so bring Daniel, by all means.”

Jack was surprised and gave a reluctant smirk. “You may want to consider taking Col. Davis to lunch.” The radio at Harper’s shoulder clicked.

“She’s in the monitor room,” someone whispered. “She’s headed back to the infirmary.”

Jack went carefully through the corridors and took another hatch to climb back down near the conference rooms. He opened the door slowly, looking inside. Everyone around the table paused to watch as Jack slid into the room.

“How’re we doing, kids?” he asked.

“You should submit to Dr. Lam,” Malek told him. “Don’t you want to track your own changes?”

“Not at the risk of my soul,” Jack said. “So, Lydia, what do you think?”

She looked paler than when she had come in. “I think….. I’m not sure what to think. Is this for real?”

“It is,” Jack said gently. “You don’t have to accept the offer; you can take time to think about it. I recommend thinking hard on it. I’ve known the Tok’ra for a long time; my wife’s father became a Tok’ra when he was dying of leukemia. He was very happy with it. We’ve sent a few hosts to the Tok’ra and they are all enjoying the experience.”

She looked pensively at Mandy and Maria.

“Will I be able to see my family?”

“Sure,” Jack nodded. “Any time you want. Malek comes and goes all the time and he doesn’t even live here.”

“Can I change my mind later?” she asked.

“That one is more difficult,” Malek said. “No Tok’ra symbiote will stay with you, if you absolutely do not wish for the blending. We will need to find a new host, though, before we can transfer the symbiote out of you or the symbiote will die.”

She looked at Mandy and then down to her folded hands. Mandy reached and covered her hands with his.

“I don’t know enough about this to advise you,” he told her. “I don’t know anything about this symbiote stuff. What I can say is that I’ve known Jack for several years and he’s always been a good neighbor, friendly, always willing to lend a hand and do a guy a favor. If Jack has offered this as a possibility, I think it’s a possibility that needs to be considered.” He touched her hair, a look of longing on his face. “Lyd, we need to face facts: Christmas will be without you, unless a miracle happens. This just might be our miracle.”

She looked at the aliens in the room, and then at Reynolds and Jack. “Would it be possible for me to see where I would be living before I make a decision?”

Jack looked at Reynolds and nodded. “Sure,” he said. “Malek, that would be alright, wouldn’t it?”

Malek thought for a moment. “Yes, I think so,” he said.

“Colonel, what’s your schedule like?” Jack asked Reynolds.

“Providing General Landry approves, SG-1 is available for escort,” Reynolds said.

“I’ll have a talk with the general,” Jack said.

“Don’t you rank General Landry?” Mandy asked, curious. “Can’t you just order the escort?”

“I could,” Jack admitted. “Technically, the SGC is under HomeWorld Security’s umbrella, but if I did that it would do serious damage to the chain of command. I take over only in an emergency. Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll approve.”

Landry did approve the mission, and SG-1 was rounded up to play escort. Much to Mandy’s surprise, he and Maria were allowed to go with Lydia to see her potential new home.

“Jack.” He heard Daniel, and looked around until he realized that the voice was coming from his comm.

“Daniel?”

“Lam has the exit staked out,” Daniel told him. “The SF have orders to deliver you directly to her.”

Jack swore under his breath and then paused. He took his radio from his belt.

Prometheus, this is O’Neill.”

Moments later, Jack was walking in his front door. Mason was watching the news while Olivia played on the floor.

“I thought she was going to Mom’s?” Jack said.

“Da!” Olivia was happy to see him and scooted his way until she was picked up.

“I am a father, Jack, I can watch her for a while,” Mason said. “We had lunch with your mother and Michael. We’re doing fine.”

“Did Fang….?”

Mason scowled at him. “Jack, you’re pushing.”

Jack lifted a hand and bit his tongue before walking toward his office.

“Come in here, if you want to see the real show,” he said. Mason followed him and Jack switched his computer on. He hit a desktop link and the screen came up with four miniature images. He sent two away and brought the remaining two up before motioning his cousin over. Mason looked over his shoulder.

“These are live feeds,” Jack said. “Asia and Austria. I have a team in the Alps working on a project.” He turned the speakers on and chatter was heard. “Toggle the audio back and forth between the sites, if you want to hear the radio chatter. This is a high security clearance. When is your ride heading east?”

“Later tonight,” Mason said as he slid into Jack’s chair. Jack looked at him.

“You do understand that all of our ships are in orbit working on this situation in Asia and they all have beaming capabilities, don’t you?” he asked. “You can go home now, if you wanted to. You’ll be home in thirty seconds. If that. Hell, I can put you on a 302 and we could be buzzing your house minutes after leaving here.”

Mason paused, not having considered it.

“This is going to take a little more getting used to,” he said. “I’d like to go home. I’ll 302, leave the ships to work out there.”

“Done,” Jack agreed. “And I’m sorry about your friends. I knew a few people there, too. There’s going to be a memorial for families and friends here; you’re welcome to attend.”

Mason gave Olivia’s fuzzy head a stroke. “I appreciate it,” he said. “There will probably be memorials all over the place; I’m sure Charlotte will have one. I’ll do it myself, if they don’t.” He hesitated for a moment. “Jack….. What’s up with Jonathan? I kept getting weird vibes whenever he was around, and I don’t understand the deference that was given to him. He’s a smart kid, I’ll give him that, and he knows his way around a battlefield, but he’s a kid. And why is he living on Kalam, instead of here with you? Is his mother an alien? Was he born out there? And do you really approve of this relationship of his with Shara? What’s going on?”

Jack considered him and then sent out a feeler. He knew his cousin was a good marine, no matter how much Jack whined about jarheads. Mason was also black-ops and he was about to enter the SGC. He told Mason the truth. Mason slowly nodded.

“That explains a lot,” was all Mason said. Jack knew he’d keep his mouth shut. Mason hesitated again.

“You, Sam, and Daniel?” he asked. “Jack, you never looked in a guy’s direction.”

Jack went to the library, hunted for the hand-fasting DVD, and handed it to him. “Here. I want it back. No commentary on the music.” He called for a 302 to pick up Mason as soon as possible.

Much to Jack’s surprise, their nanny walked through the door an hour later, not minutes after Mason left.

“Hi,” Jack said, watching Jerrie drag her bags in.

“Hi,” she responded with a tired smile. “I got back as soon as I could; I figured you guys would be busy with everything and would need an extra hand.”

“Actually, there isn’t too much I’m doing, at the moment,” he said. He got up and helped her with a heavy bag. “All the 303s are in orbit doing whatever they can to help, Sam is now in command of Area 51 and is getting her office together, Daniel is glued to a monitor watching the excavation of an alien ship buried in the Alps, and I’m on Olivia-watch. But it was nice of you to consider us.”

“Oh,” Jerrie paused and then shrugged. “Oh, well. Hi, sweetie.” She plucked Olivia from her playpen. “Ooof. I think you gained weight while I was gone; what have Mommy and Dads been feeding you, rocks?” Olivia was happy to see her, too, and pumped her legs excitedly as she was dangled in the air.

“I do need to get a report together, so I’m glad you’re here,” Jack said. “She’s about due for a nap, if you want to take one, too. You look tired.”

“I’m exhausted,” Jerrie admitted. “Duncan’s wife is Korean, Jack. She’s pretty broken up. Duncan, Mom, and Dad are all headed over to Los Angeles for a memorial with Dae’s parents. My presence upsets them. Being lesbian, or any of the alternatives, is a very taboo in their culture. It’s important for Duncan and the folks to show their unity, though, so they went to L.A.”

“I’m not sure what to say,” Jack admitted.

She waved a hand at him. “You don’t need to say anything,” she said. “Dae accepts me, and I know my parents and Duncan support me, so I’m fine.”

“It isn’t fine, Jerrie,” he pointedly told her. She glanced away for a moment.

“I’m not Korean, Jack, and I have no one to answer to about my private life. There is a greater concern, at the moment, and that’s making nice with Dae’s family. I insisted that my parents go.”

It wasn’t fine with Jack, and it also wasn’t his life. Reminding himself that Daniel snaps hard when he butts in, Jack backed down. He went into his office and put in an internet call to the United Nations. He had to go through a few admins and assistants, but he finally got through to the UN president and told him what his concerns were. Terebka nodded, the lines on his face more pronounced from the lack of sleep.

“We have been discussing that very issue, General,” he said. “So far, the only thing we can come up with is using napalm to sterilize the entire area. There are so many millions of bodies laying dead.”

“No, don’t do that,” Jack said. “If I can get the go-ahead, I will order my ships to use lasers. We will vaporize all the bodies. My concern is how the living will feel about it. Will they want to bury their dead?”

“Not necessarily,” Terebka said. “They usually bury their dead; in the past the dead were cremated. For religious propriety, our council from the Vatican suggested taking a Catholic priest and a Buddhist monk up on a helicopter and having them do a ceremony over the entire peninsula. Those are the two main religions in Korea.”

Jack sat back, drumming his fingers on his desk as he considered the suggestion. “That’s ambitious,” he commented. “It’s possible, though. A ‘copter will kick up dust and poison; my people can handle the fly-by.”

Davis was called in and the afternoon was spent making phone calls and arrangements. Jack paced the living room, talking into the earphone and wheedling his way up the Vatican food-chain.

“Look, Cardinal whoever you are, I’m being nice, here,” he explained. “I could beam myself into his popeness’s office or I could beam him to me. It would probably be easier on the Swiss cheese guys if you just told him I was on the line. General Jack O’Neill. He knows me.” Davis winced and went in search of aspirin.

The kids came home and greeted Jack before running off to find their own entertainment. Sam came in soon after and pecked his mouth as he paced.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Trying to get the Pope on the phone,” he said. Sam nodded, accepting the preposterous statement. Davis stuck his head out the door.

“Sir, the Dali Lama is a go,” he said, holding a thumb up.

“Your Holiness,” Jack said into the phone, looking at Davis. “Thank you for taking my call. We need a favor. Yes, sir, I could. Why, would you like to come over? We’re having spaghetti for dinner.”

Five minutes later, the pope was standing in Jack’s living room, staring in amazement.

“Oh, my,” he breathed, patting himself down. That seemed to be the usual reaction for first-timers. Davis poked his head out again, eyes widening, and he shook his head.

The pup gave a bark and wagged his tail. The pope reached down and gave him a pat.

“Welcome,” Jack said. “How was your trip?”

The pope looked at him. “That is humor, right?”

“I try,” Jack shrugged. “That’s Fang. He’s new around here, so excuse any bad manners. Colonel.” He waved Davis forward and introduced him. “Colonel, get our other guest back on the phone and see if he’s interested in a spaghetti dinner.”

“You work from home?” the pope asked.

“Don’t you?” Jack returned. The pope conceded that point.

The door opened again and Daniel came in. He stopped short, seeing their guest.

“Did he at least invite you before beaming you over?” Daniel asked, politely bowing over the pope’s hand.

“I was invited, yes, Dr. Jackson,” the pope assured him.

“Daniel, please. Jack, what are you up to?” Daniel asked. Jack touched innocent hands to his chest.

“Moi?”

“Oui, tu,” Daniel said, crossing his arms and waiting.

“Danny, Danny, Danny. Still no trust,” Jack sighed. “Can’t his popeness just come for dinner?”

“No, he can’t, actually,” Daniel said. “Not without an entire entourage and months of pre-scheduling and secret service covering the entire city.”

“You need food,” Jack decided. “I think the meatballs are ready. Jerrie’s home.” He turned to the pope. “Our nanny. She’s been on vacation. Come on, I’ll show you around.”

Jerrie almost dropped a pan when she saw their guest.

“You’ve outdone yourself, this time, Jack,” she informed him. Someone beamed into the living room. “No, I stand corrected.”

The holy men greeted each other and the children wandered in to see what the commotion was about. Stacey ran to hug the Dali Lama and he patted her, smiling like a kindly old grandfather.

“General O’Neill.” The Dali Lama held out a hand, which Jack took. “Thank you for giving me my country back.”

Jack shook his head. “Wasn’t me,” he insisted. “I didn’t know about it until five minutes before the public announcement.”

The Dali Lama smiled and shook a finger. “You had a hand in it somewhere, I can sense it.”

“Miracles happen,” the pope said.

“Yes, they do,” the Dali Lama responded.

The kids were fed and then the adults sat down to eat. The front door opened and Michael walked in. Someone had called him. He was trembling slightly as he knelt before the pope to be received.

“Come on and eat, Mikey,” Jack said, taking a plate from Jerrie.

“So. Folks.” Jack waited until he had their attention. “Here’s the situation.”

There were no arguments or discussion of payment; both men agreed to participate in the sanctification of the Korean peninsula.

“Do we know what started it?” the pope asked.

“No, we don’t,” Jack said. “If anyone in our intelligence community knows, I haven’t heard.”

“I met with President Tien yesterday,” the Dali Lama said. “He also does not know why the bombing occurred.” He twirled a forkful of noodles around the bowl of the spoon like a pro.

“When are you going home?” Daniel asked.

“The Chinese military is being recalled as we speak,” the Dali Lama said, smiling. “My people are preparing my home and I will be going home in four days for the first time in almost fifty years.” He took a napkin and patted his eyes.

The phone rang and Jerrie picked it up in the kitchen.

“Daniel, it’s Colonel Sheppard,” she said, hesitant about interrupting. Daniel excused himself and went into the kitchen. He came out a moment later, a man on a mission.

“Jack, I need to take this in your office,” he said. “I’m sorry, it can’t wait.”

“What is it?” Jack asked in Goa’uld.

“They found what looks like writing in the ship,” Daniel said. “From the colonel’s description, it is definitely not Ancient. I need to look at it, so I need your computer.”

“Go,” Jack agreed. Daniel knew his code to get into the monitors.

 


 

Chapter 50

“Jack, you are so full of shit.”

Hayes would believe in aliens popping in for dinner, but not the Pope and the Dalai Lama. Jack had called him to find out if he wanted to join the ceremony on the Prometheus. When Henry asked how Jack had gotten the two men to agree, Jack told him about negotiations over pasta.

“Jack.” He turned to Daniel and Sam who were face to face with the computer in HomeSec’s monitoring room. He went over and looked at the screen which was showing them squiggles and lines. “We don’t recognize the language,” Daniel admitted. “I’ve run it through every program I can think of, and we got nothing.”

“Is Ninurta still in orbit?” Sam asked.

“I think so,” Jack said. He tapped the star-shaped comm which had become standard equipment on the front of his dress shirt. “Hey, anyone home?”

Ninurta was standing next to them moments later, looking at the screen. He was as stumped as Daniel and Sam.

“Most of the ship looks Ancient,” Sam said. “There are a few differences. For instance, the drive isn’t completely crystal technology; there is a type of wiring under the hood. The wires don’t hold any residue, but they are hollow which points to something being sent through them.”

“And there is Ancient writing inside, and there is also this one that we don’t recognize,” Daniel said, tapping a finger on the screen. Ninurta nodded thoughtfully as he pulled on his beard, absently nibbling a few hairs that needed to be trimmed.

“Well, I don’t recognize it, either,” he said. “I also don’t know the technology. It does seem as though it is a combination of Ancient and something else.” He looked at Jack.

“Sorry, no bells for me,” Jack said.

Ninurta started to press the beaming control on his necklace. “Oh, that young man, Grant, is ready to leave,” he said. “We spoke with his parents and assured them of his safety. Jonathan gave them your home and cell number. Also, Trish and Tommy are settled in on board; they’ve even been helping with the injured. Do you need us to stick around? My people need a break.”

“No, no, we can take care of this,” Jack waved a wrist at him. “Go. Have a safe trip. And don’t scare Grant.”

“Yeah,” Daniel added. “He’s a pagan and he’s been worshipping you guys. Let him down easy.”

Ninurta blinked at him. “But, Daniel, I like being worshipped. A pretty young man on his knees before me is a good thing.”

They ordered Ninurta off the planet.

“Sam, are we ready?” Jack asked.

“We are,” she said with a nod and then brought up another monitor. “Daedalus, this is Carter. Are you in position?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Paul, Nick, and Ravenscroft came in and quietly shut the door.

Argos, are you ready?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Colonel Sheppard?”

“Ready, Colonel.”

Sam looked at Jack. He stepped back to a row of chairs and sat, slouching with his hands folded behind his neck, waiting. Sam straightened and tugged at her uniform.

“Colonel Sheppard, when you are ready, you may begin a countdown,” she said.

They watched Sheppard on the monitor. He was alone in the old jumper. Sheppard sat at the main console, his hands hovering over the controls. The team had spent hours getting the old, burnt out crystals out of the engine and replacing them with new ones, jury-rigging the unknown wires around the crystals, and having Sheppard poke a finger at various parts of the ship’s anatomy.

Daedalus, on one,” he said.

“We got yer six, Sheppard,” Caldwell acknowledged reassuringly.

John touched the console and the ship reluctantly came to life. After a moment of making sure the ship wasn’t going to sputter its last breath, he began a count-down.

“….three, two,…. one.”

The moment the ship burst from its mountain tomb, the cavern it left behind was instantly filled with quick-drying concrete from Daedalus and rocks from Argos. The top of the mountain trembled, rocks and snow fell as concrete oozed from the large hole.

“I need to land!” Sheppard called out, struggling to control the ship. “This Betty is boppin’!”

“Get it to Area 51!” Sam ordered. “Daedalus, keep him in your cross-hairs.”

“We got him,” Caldwell said.

“Colonel Carter, I won’t make it to Nevada!” Sheppard informed her. “I can make it to Austria’s Yard!”

“Brigadier Schoepke; sir, please clear your field!” Sam said at a monitor to the CO of Austria’s Yard.

“The far southeast field is open, Colonel,” the brigadier said. Austria had been watching the games on the mountaintop since the craft was first uncovered. They watched as the old jumper fought against the pilot. Beads of sweat dotted Sheppard’s forehead, his jaw clenched as he argued with the ship to do his bidding.

“Why can’t he use the hanger bay of a 303?”

Jack and Sam glanced back, having forgotten that Nick had snuck in with Paul.

“The bay isn’t big enough for something of that size,” Sam said. “The mouth of the bay is just big enough to let the gliders in and out.”

Jack looked at her.

”Working on it,” she sighed.

The jumper pitched and rolled in the air. Sheppard swore at it, muttering about machines with semi-intelligence.

“It isn’t the machine, Colonel,” Jack said. “You are in control, you just need to adjust your sense of the machine to take into account…..”

“No, sir!” Sheppard snapped. “It’s fighting. I’ll land this fucker and then I want out of it. You need to touch it, sir; it isn’t like other Ancient machines. If I believed in ghosts, I’d swear this thing is haunted.”

The jumper landed in the Austrian Yard, sliding several hundred feet and doing a roll before digging into grass and coming to an abrupt halt. Rescue workers began to rush out to him.

“Colonel, are you alright?” Jack asked, waiting impatiently for the image to adjust.

“Hunky-dory, sir.” Sheppard was sitting on the ground, frowning at his arm. A medic was in the process of putting the arm in a sling while someone else dabbed at a bleeding cut on Sheppard’s scalp.

“Need to put seatbelts in those things,” he grumbled.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Sam asked.

“Fine,” he snapped, glancing menacingly at the ship behind him. “That thing is possessed. You drive it. Ma’am.”

While Sam had the commander of the Austrian Yard, Brigadier Schoepke, put the ship under lock and key until they could figure it out, Jack made sure everything was ready on board the Prometheus. He hated having to dress up and play nice, but he had backed himself into a corner. It didn’t occur to him that by offering one of his ships, he had to play host. At least Matty was going to be at his side. When the kids found out what was going to be happening, Matthew asked if he could go and watch.

“You want to see a memorial service?” Jack asked.

“No, I want to see how two different religions do it,” Matty clarified.

“Matt, do you understand that this is about the murder of millions of people?” Jack asked, not understanding where this side of Matthew was coming from. “Even I don’t want to be there.”

“I know,” Matthew nodded solemnly. “I’m not sure I can explain it; I just want to be there.” His voice unexpectedly hit a high note and he looked horrified. Davy stopped chasing Olivia around the rug, stared at his brother, and laughed. Fang pranced and took a lick at the baby. She swatted in his direction.

“David,” Jack shook his head in warning. “It’s alright, Matty, try and ignore it. And, yes, you may come with us. You’ll need your formal suit. Go on and get ready. Take a shower first.”

Jack called Henry back and informed him that it would be a good idea if he also made it to the ceremony. If not as the US President and for the sake of public relations and the fact that it was simply a good idea, but as training for Henry’s future position as Earth’s delegate to the United Worlds. A few of the HomeSec members were making quiet objections to what they saw as the US taking control not only on their world, but off their world as well. Jack told Keir to quiet the protests; Henry would be answerable to the council just as Jack was. The UN was even more unhappy with Jack.

More protests were coming down the grapevine. The Vatican wasn’t too keen on their pontiff making his debut on board a space ship. The Joint Chiefs didn’t want Henry off world, either; once was more than enough for their peace of mind. President Tien was going to join them on board the Prometheus, as well as many other leaders from around the world. The rest of the 303s would be keeping an eye on the planet and various missile silos.

“Dad? I changed my mind,” Matty said from the top of the stairs. “I don’t want to go.” Suspicious, Jack sent out a feeler.

“Matty, most of the people there will be men,” he said. “Military events tend to happen that way. We’ve all been through it. You might get teased a little, but we all understand. Just laugh it off.”

The uniforms were hanging on the back of the bedroom door, still in their plastic wrap from the cleaners. Jack took his down and started to dress. His voice had jumped around for a while, sometimes settling into a husky frog that he couldn’t clear from his throat. He remembered that Michael, already an adult, didn’t tease him; instead, he tried to help Jack by offering advice such as sucking on lemons or not talking at all. None of it seemed to make a difference, but at least Michael stood by him. Jack paused in sliding the belt through the hoops, wondering why he hadn’t remembered that before.

Sam came out of the shower and began her own dressing.

“Is the new array ready?” he asked.

“I believe it is,” she said from upside down. She had bent over, shaking her damp hair out and using a dry towel to soak up the water. “Prometheus tested it at the Alpha Site. Colonel Markham seems happy with it.”

“Good,” Jack nodded. “Matty’s coming with us. His voice just broke, so he’s a little embarrassed.”

She flipped her hair back and started combing it out.

“This should be an interesting summer,” she commented. “Cass took Stacey shopping and they bought a couple of training bras.”

“I thought something was looking different,” he said, straightening his tie. “I didn’t think she needed one.”

“Neither did I, but Stacey was feeling a little weird about the bumps.”

Daniel came in and tossed his clothes on the bed. “Should I talk about it with her?” he asked, hearing the last of the conversation. Sam shrugged.

“I don’t see why you need to,” she said. “You can if you want to. I would have been too humiliated to have my Dad talking to me about bras when I was eleven. I could now, but not at eleven. She’s been eying some pretty dresses; why don’t you take her out and get her something pretty?”

“Why does she need a dress?” Daniel asked, not understanding. “She’s always running and playing.”

Sam was putting on pantyhose, something the men found to be a rigorous thing to watch, unlike the elegant rolling on (and off) of stockings.

“Danny, she’s becoming a young lady,” Sam informed him. “Running is good, but she’s a girl. She needs pretty things as well as play things. Buy her a pretty dress, pantyhose, and shoes to go with the dress. Let Stacey pick out things herself, you just sit patiently and wait for her. Most of the store staff will be willing to help. Then take her out for dinner someplace nice so she can wear her new dress and shoes.”

Daniel put a dark suit on the door hanger.

“But….. she’s going on a dig with me this summer,” he said, still not getting it.

“That’s alright, she still needs girl clothes,” Sam said. “You have dress up clothes and play clothes, she needs dress up clothes and play clothes. If it makes you feel better, you can buy her dig clothes at the same time.”

“Daniel, it’s a female thing,” Jack said. “Just go along with it.”

He went to Sam and straightened her tie. She smiled and straightened his. There was a knock at the door. A quick look at each other -everyone was dressed, “Come in,” they called.

Matthew walked in, tugging at his pants. “My pants are too short.”

The adults looked down. The cuff was riding a little high.

“Wear your JROTC uniform,” Jack said. The boy was sure to hit over six foot by an inch or two.

As soon as they were ready, Jack called and had them beamed up to Prometheus. Jack called Michael and had him beamed up, also. Michael tugged nervously at his collar and formal black suit.

“Michael, I think that the older Matthew gets, the more he looks like you, not Jack,” Daniel commented, watching the two tugging at themselves. Michael glanced at his grandson and smoothed a stray lock in the boy’s hair.

“I can see Megan in him,” Michael said. “He has her eyes. Ours, too, I guess.”

General Maynard approached the group. He gave Jack the Eye and Jack excused himself.

“Is there any particular reason you insist on bringing family to official affairs?” Maynard asked quietly once they were away from the group.

“Well, I’m trying to learn how to play nice with my brother, and he is a Catholic priest, so I thought he’d like to visit with the pope. They got along nicely over dinner. And Matthew has an interest in religion and philosophy. Both the pope and the Dalai Lama seemed to enjoy his presence before, so….”

“Alright, never mind,” Maynard said, waving a hand. “I’m sorry I asked. I wanted to tell you that your request to allow troops who are under your command to wear identifying insignia has been approved.” He pulled a box from his pocket and handed it to Jack. “This is now part of your uniform.”

Jack opened the box and saw a small Tau’ri pin. “It’s almost the same design as the one Helen Alberts created,” he said. Maynard nodded.

“It’s based on it,” he said. “We bought the template. And don’t worry, she was well compensated.” He told Jack where it was to be properly displayed and Jack pinned it to his uniform.

“Thank you, Francis,” Jack said. “This will mean a lot to our kids.”

“You’re welcome. Shipments are being sent out to Colorado and the Yards, and a shipment of them is on board. I thought you might like to pass them out to the flagship, first. There are boxes in your quarters.”

Jack went to find the boxes. They were sitting on the small table in the corner of the room. He took a handful of the pins and put them into his pocket before calling stores up to take the rest of them and start passing the pins out. He found Sam and Daniel talking with delegates from various countries. He made nice and shook hands before putting a pin on Sam’s uniform.

“It’s now official uniform,” he murmured. She looked at it and gave it a rub. Jack turned and Sam stopped him. She raised her hand to her forehead. Jack stilled and returned the honors, searching her eyes. He then pinned one to Daniel’s lapel before finding Col. Markham and going around the room to pass out pins to the crew as he greeted people. He managed the appropriate condolence that Daniel had taught him to say to the Korean ambassadors from the UN, and he didn’t think he made too bad a hash of it.

Markham excused himself to go and find a box; he wanted to give them to his officers, himself. It might have been Jack’s imagination, but the troops seemed to stand a little straighter.

“What was that for?” Jack asked in Sam’s ear when he was done.

“Because it’s been a long time since I saluted you and I wanted you to know that I respect the officer,” she whispered back. “We worked hard, Jack, we earned this recognition. This past year has been unreal and you made it happen. You pushed and bulldozed your way across the world, and you made it happen.”

Jack shook his head. “No, Sam; I made a lot of mistakes. I would do everything differently, if I could. You and Daniel have been trying to teach me to be a little more tactful….”

“And you are,” she assured him. “When you need to be. If we had a problem with you, we’d let you know. Now, you go out there and take charge of this circus.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Walking past the door, Jack paused and turned; he would have sworn he saw something red run past. He thought about it. No, it wasn’t flying, which was a good thing…..

After Daniel spoke in Jack’s ear, the Swiss Guard was allowed to bring firearms on board. Jack had been refusing all armed escorts and it was creating a quiet furor. Everyone was present and accounted for, self-important delegates strutting throughout the ship and making demands they had no right to be making such as ridiculous requests to the galley. One person wanted to know if they had any alien oysters. With Jack’s approval, Markham put a quick halt to that one. Jack nodded for Daniel to take over.

“Everyone,” Daniel said quietly after stepping up in front of the main screen. Their guests settled. The Catholic delegation was on Daniel’s right and the Buddhist delegation was on his left. All the red and yellow among the black and Air Force blue made for a colorful crowd. The two groups were doing their best to stay away from touchy issues, and be friendly with each other. Heads of State were in the middle, separating the two religious groups. There had been a few arguments from various other religions, all demanding a say in the ceremony. Jack tuned them out.

“Eight days ago, a great and terrible thing happened,” Daniel said. “The worst day this world has ever seen. Has it been only a week? It seems an eternity has gone by since one person killed eleven million people. In a single day. In a single minute. Men and women die on battlefields every day, but this wasn’t a battle. It was a slaughter of innocents. There is no one left to bury the dead or mourn them. There are millions of bodies unaccounted for because they were burned into ashes in an instant. Americans, I believe, are in a position to understand this concept. For those that remain…. let’s just say that summer has begun.”

He turned to look out the window, absently noticing that the pilot had taken his request to make sure the ship was facing the peninsula from the east, looking toward the west. The guests didn’t quite know what to make of all the aliens ships in the area; they knew a few ships had come in to help but not that many. Ships of various sizes, as large as the Tau’ri ships down to ha’tak size were in nearby orbits.

“Princess Pari was the seventh daughter of the king,” he said. “He was exasperated at having all daughters, and his exasperation turned to anger. When the king was dying of disease, Princess Pari tried everything to find a cure for him despite his attitude toward his daughters. She finally managed to get hold of some holy water which was only obtainable from the world of the dead. Given the water, the king revived and experienced a new cycle of life.

“Just as Princess Pari held true to her pure heart and forgave her father, may we learn from her, strive for her strength, and forgive the anger of others. May Changsung grant the holy water and allow these souls their new life.”

Murmurs of response from the various traditions echoed through the room and Daniel stepped aside. Both delegations came forward and began their preparations, each working independently and yet mindful of each other’s space and needs. Daniel moved gently through the groups, soothing ruffled feathers with quiet words.

Someone whispered into Jack’s ear and he gave a nod.

Prometheus hung low over the center of Korea. Not low enough for details, but low enough to see the destruction. Chants were sung in various languages, water was sprinkled around the room, incense waved, and candles lit. The ship’s fire system had been temporarily turned off. The two groups took turns in the steps and prayers of their rituals. Daniel seemed to have a little more problem with the Catholic side of the room than the Buddhist side as he took egos to task.

Henry sat next to Jack and leaned over.

“You’re a magician,” he said.

Jack shook his head. “Daniel put this together, I’m just letting them use the ship.”

“Jack, it’s only been eight days; how long ago was this started?” Henry asked.

Jack thought about it. “Two days ago, I think? You don’t understand, Henry -when Daniel wants it to happen, it happens. Have a talk with my ass, if you don’t believe me.”

Hayes covered his mouth, holding in the inappropriate laughter.

“Really; I barely made it out of the shower in one piece last night. And then he went for Sam. You should see the size of the hicky under her left breast.”

Henry choked and looked around before tapping Jack on the leg. “Show a little respect, Jack,” he whispered in reprimand.

“Oh, Daniel is definitely worthy of respect, Henry.”

Henry quickly stood and left the room before he lost it and disturbed the ceremony.

The man in question was looking completely innocent with his freshly shaved face and properly somber mourning suit. He glanced at the entrance and the escaping man before looking at Jack, knowing that something was said. Jack gave an “I don’t know” shrug.

There was much carrying on with hymns and chanting before the ceremony closed. Jack tried to nap, but he was edgy around all the guns that he didn’t authorize. There were also people around him who knew better, so they made it a point to bump into him from time to time or to whisper something at him. Matthew watched the ceremony from nearby and sometimes perched at Jack’s knee or shoulder.

“They’re doing the same thing,” Matthew whispered late in the ritual. Jack looked at him. “Both groups claim to be different but they’re doing the same thing. Both are using earth, air, fire, and water to set their space, both are using …. sound, and both are encouraging the souls of the dead to pass beyond. So why do they argue with each other?”

“Not my area, son,” Jack whispered back. “You’re ahead of me on that one; I don’t understand any of it.”

It took a moment to realize all the chanting and prayers were done. The quiet was deafening as Daniel once more stepped to the front. His hands were clasped in front of him as he looked at the floor. He then looked up and around the room.

“It was pointed out to us that with so many millions dead, the land and water could become more contaminated than what the blast had already caused. It would be nearly impossible to manually bury the dead. How could we deal with this? So an idea was borrowed from one of our alien allies. Colonel Carter’s team of engineers rigged the ship’s weapons array, temporarily, with an energy beam that will disintegrate everything it touches. It will turn everything to ash. Much like the blast did, but this will leave no residual radiation. It can target one body or thousands at a time. This was the best option we could come up with. It was discussed with both the Chinese and Japanese governments, and with the Korean ambassadors to the UN, who are present with us today. We hope that the souls of the victims will understand this desperate measure.” He bowed low to the Korean ambassadors and stepped aside.

Actually, Sam’s team had figured out how to use the zat technology on a wide beam setting and set it on an automatic three. Everything would disappear, leaving the ground bare. They couldn’t trust Earth with a weapon that would make someone disappear, so this one was ‘borrowed,’ and would be ‘set’ for the dead instead of clearing the ground for farming. Jack knew someone would figure out they were up to something and deduce that the clean-up equipment could be used for more nefarious purposes, but it would take that someone quite a while to figure out how to make a zat. If they could first figure out how to get hold of naquadah and then turn it into liquid.

A potential headache in the making was the rumors out of Area 51 that they were working on integrating zat technology into the ships’ weapons systems, basically turning them into one big zat. If that happened, who knew what alien enemies would do when they understood that the Tau’ri ships could not only shoot at them, but disintegrate them. Off-worlders weren’t ignorant of the zat technology. Jack wasn’t all that sure they should go that far in the advancements. He probably needed to talk it over with an annoying old man.

The image on the front screen changed, zooming in on the ground. People gasped at the piles of rotting corpses. Human and animal corpses covered the ground for miles, except for the center of the blast. The center of the blast zone had no bodies to see; they had been turned to ashes upon the bomb’s impact.

Beginning from the east, Prometheus began to zat the ground, leaving behind empty land. Although there were quiet sobs from a few of the women present, several men stood stoically and swallowed back the rocks in their throats. Daniel stood next to Sam, holding her hand while Jack made sure Matthew was alright, keeping the boy close by his side. The wet cheeks actually made Jack feel better than seeing the boy silent and still.

A couple of the Buddhist contingent began to sing a song of mourning in Korean. Jack looked closely at them and realized they were of Korean descent. The ambassadors joined them.

Slowly, people began to drift away from the room and found the food that was set out for them. One of the kitchen staff apologized for the lack of fruit; it seemed that something had gotten into the stores and quite a bit of the fresh fruit had small teeth marks.

“Why do people eat at memorials and funerals?” Jack asked.

“Because it reminds us that life goes on,” Daniel said, taking a slice of melon. He tweaked Matthew’s tie and winked at the boy.

“You look very nice, Matthew,” Sam said. “Very handsome.”

“Thank you,” he said, flushing. No one had said anything about his voice cracking once in a while, but a few of the men who heard him had silently acknowledged it with a sympathetic wince. Some of the crew who knew Matty commented on his uniform, praising him for honoring his father by wearing it. Matty didn’t think it was the time to tell them that he only wore it because his other dress slacks had become too short. But he held himself straighter, discovering that, in some strange way, he was beginning to fit in with Uncle Dad’s world.

As Jack tried to find a way out of listening to a discourse on the bowel problems of French President Lowther’s poodle, he noticed someone had come in and was murmuring into Sam’s ear. She glanced at him.

“Mr. President, would you excuse me?” Jack asked. “My… oldest son just came in and it looks like he needs me.”

Lowther looked over and saw an older teenager with a ponytail and the air of a mature man standing next to Sam and Daniel. Jonathan had at least changed into a formal human suit, instead of the leathers they had gotten used to seeing him in.

“What’s up?” Jack asked quietly, once he was with them.

“Nothing to get alarmed about,” Jonathan said. “You remember Lord Yu’s First Prime? Oshu? He’s turned up. Alive. He wants to present himself to Thanatos, and before we make it happen, I thought you’d like to talk with him. Now isn’t a good time, but….” He glanced around the room, mirroring Jack’s barely concealed impatience at having to participate in an event he’d rather not be at.

“Look at you, buddy,” Jonathan said, smiling at Matthew who had come over to them. Jonathan brushed at the boy’s shoulder. “Very snappy. What are you doing this summer? You going to come over for a while?”

“I’m going to play baseball.” Matthew colored and groaned. Jonathan smiled and gave Matthew’s neck a pat.

“Started this morning,” Jack commented.

“Look at it this way,” Jonathan said to the boy. “It doesn’t last long, and your voice will be deeper when it’s done.” He took Matthew’s jaw and turned his face back and forth, looking carefully and stroking the smooth jaw line. “No, not yet. That’s okay; mine’s still a little thin, too.” He touched his own jaw and gave it a rub, the thin strip of dark hair rasping slightly. He leaned in, glancing around conspiratorially. “Know who’s visiting on my ship?” Matthew shook his head. “The Sua.”

Matthew lit up and turned to Jack, once more the child that he still was.

“Go,” Jack said, giving him a wave of his wrist.

“Did we really change his diapers?” Jonathan leaned in to ask. “He’s growing up too fast.”

I… changed his diapers,” Jack said.

“Whatever,” Jonathan said with a shrug. “He’s starting to look like Michael.”

“That’s what Daniel said. What’s really going on?”

Jonathan looked hurt. “Oshu is on the ship.”

“And?” Jack questioned. “My space is filled with alien ships. Are they all accompanying Oshu?”

“No,” Jonathan admitted. “Word spread fast about the explosion and you have a lot of friends. They wanted to pay their respects and offer to help. What’d you do with the weapons?”

“A couple of my guys rigged a few zats,” Sam said. “We set them for continuous disintegration on a wide beam. No one knows; we told them it was an alien agricultural tool.”

Jonathan stared at her. “You know? There are times I think I’m more afraid of you than I am of anyone or anything else.”

“She’s the new CO at 51,” Jack said proudly.

“Yes, I know. Very cool,” Jonathan said and gave her shoulders a squeeze. Jack remembered and reached into his pocket. He took out a pin and attached it to Jonathan’s lapel.

“Give one to Grant,” Jack said, handing him a second pin and showing its position on his uniform. “They’re official. I can’t take off now to see Oshu, so keep him on ice for a few more hours. Is he behaving?”

“Yes,” his clone nodded. “Jack, he was loyal to Lord Yu out of a sense of honor, not because he believed Yu was a god. Yu died last year. He was in a sarcophagus for a long time and apparently he just didn’t wake up. Replicator Sam did quite a number on him and his symbiote was already too weak from the battle with Anubis. Oshu’s been hiding it from the rest of the snakes but I don’t think anyone was fooled. Oshu wants to join Thanatos out of self-preservation, I think.”

“The Jaffa would tear him apart,” Sam commented. Both men nodded.

“Right,” Jonathan said. “To say nothing of the remaining Goa’uld who are in hiding.”

“Do I really need to see him?” Jack asked.

“No,” Jonathan shrugged. “It was just a thought. He pin-pointed several large naquadah mines, a few hidden outposts, and handed over the keys to Lord Yu’s palace. Sam, Teal’c is on his way with a full cargo hold of naquadah. I also brought back something for Daniel.” He pulled a piece of paper from an inside pocket. It wasn’t paper, Jack and Sam saw.

“That’s…. what? Parchment?” Sam asked, lightly touching the scroll.

“Sort of,” he said. “Our trees are slightly different, so our paper doesn’t come out quite the same as Tau’ri paper. I copied this from a very old piece of rice paper in the palace. It was disintegrating. I thought Daniel might like to go treasure hunting.”

Jack unrolled the parchment; Sam looking over his shoulder. “A map?” they asked. “Are you serious? A treasure map? This looks like China.”

“It is,” Jonathan nodded, looking pleased with himself. “Apparently when Lord Yu was still living in ancient China, he had quite a collection that was hidden before he was chased off the planet. From what little I remember of history, I don’t think it’s ever been found.”

“Great,” Jack groaned. “Just what Daniel needs; another adventure.”

Sam told Jonathan about the old ship in the Alps.

“Yeah, Ninurta said something about it,” Jonathan commented as he nodded thoughtfully. “Neither Inanna or Enki know anything about it. Well, it does stand to reason that if the Ancients and the Goa’uld were ruling on Earth for centuries before humans took over, there should be more evidence of their presence.”

“That’s Daniel’s argument,” Jack said. “He’s putting together his own department for Earth-based exploration. I think he plans on turning over every pebble on every mountain, desert, and beach on the planet.”

“And you have Earth’s security and now Sam has Area 51,” Jonathan said. “Between the three of you, I’d say Earth is in good hands.”

After watching the process for a couple of hours, Jack declared that it was time everyone went home. Let the ships do the ugly job of cleanup. When most of the visitors were gone, a small Sua bounded into the main room and passed out nose-rubs with the cold tip of her nose. Daniel groaned under her weight.

“I think you get heavier every time I see you,” he told her.

“Dan’el heavier,” T’Keet told him, poking at him.

“Did you just tell me I’m getting fat?” he squinted at her.

“Yes.”

Sam laughed and quickly bit her lip, covering her mouth with a hand. Jack patted his stomach as he walked by.

“Don’t worry, Danny-boy, I like you fat and sassy.”

“That’s it –I’m on a diet,” Daniel declared.

Daniel knew his pants were a little tighter, but not that tight. He had gained maybe ten pounds. Unfortunately, he tended to gain weight at the mere thought of chocolate.

“Sam cub,” T’Keet said, giving her a pleased sniff.

“What?” Surprised, Sam touched her stomach. “T’Keet, I’m not pregnant.”

“Cub,” T’Keet repeated. “Sick cub.”

Sam looked at the men. “I….. haven’t felt any different,” she told them. “My period isn’t due, so I can’t go by that.”

“Why don’t you go to the infirmary and have someone check you out?” Jack suggested, suppressing a new panic.

“If there is a fetus and it isn’t formed right, like T’Keet says…..” Daniel stopped, also finding his mouth suddenly dry.

“You’re right,” Sam said, looking down worriedly at her stomach. She headed off to the infirmary.

“Gabriel warned us this might happen, the first time out,” Daniel told Jack, giving his arm a rub.

“I know,” Jack said. He looked at the cub. “Thank you, T’Keet. Sam might have been hurt and now she won’t be.” Hopefully. Physically, anyway.

Daniel looked closely at Jack and then put his arms around the man.

“She isn’t Sara,” Daniel murmured into his ear. “There won’t be continuous repeats of miscarriages. It’s too soon after the cessation of a bad implant for her to have a healthy pregnancy. Sam will be fine. Come on, we’ll go with her.”

While T’Keet bounded around the ship to greet old friends, and spook the few civilians who were still on board, much to her own amusement, the men went to the infirmary. She had just laid on a table and pulled her blouse up while Dr. Rand got the ultrasound machine ready. The men stood by as they clasped Sam’s. They couldn’t make head or tails of the black and white, grainy image on the screen.

“There’s something in there,” the doctor announced. “I can’t tell the age of the embryo; the image is…. How sure is that nose on the cub?”

Sam looked at the men.

“Get a scope in,” she told Rand. “I want to see a real-time image.”

She got her clothes off and into a hospital gown. When everything was ready, a thin scope was inserted through Sam’s vagina and carefully through the cervix. They all looked at the monitor. Sam looked at the men again.

“D&C,” Sam said. Dr. Rand agreed.

“Jack, would you call Carolyn and see if she needs the… embryo… for anything?” Sam asked. Jack stepped into the hall as Sam was prepped.

Daniel leaned over Sam, looking into her scared eyes. “From the looks of things, I think you would have miscarried,” he quietly told her, stroking her hair. He pressed his mouth to her forehead before touching her lips.

“I think he’s right, Colonel,” Rand said. “Please don’t blame yourself; you’re doing the right thing.”

Jack came back in. “Dr. Rand, please make sure the embryo is made available to Dr. Lam.” He went to Sam and she held out a hand to pull him down. He kissed her and smoothed her hair as Daniel had done.

“This is routine,” she assured him. “I’ll be fine.”

“I know; I’m allowed to worry.”

She smiled at him and touched his cheek. “Yes, you are. I love you, too.”

“General? Dr. Jackson?” Dr. Rand motioned for the men to stand aside.

An hour later, Sam was on pain meds and ready to go home. Dr. Rand wanted to keep her for a day. The excised tissue was put on ice and sent down to the SGC.

“Honey, will you just stay put for a day?” Jack requested.

“I’m not sick,” she insisted. “I’m a little uncomfortable, that’s all. Carolyn can watch over me at home.”

Jack looked at Rand. He wasn’t happy about it, but he agreed.

T’Keet came in holding onto Jonathan’s hand, and Daka holding Shara’s hand. She sniffed at Sam and pulled her ears back at the smells. She gave a delicate sneeze.

“No cub?” she asked.

“No, the cub was too sick,” Sam told her. “It’s alright, T’Keet. Thank you for telling us about the cub. Maybe next time, the cub will be healthy.”

“And are you well, Ahatu?” Shara asked.

“I’m fine, Shara,” she said. “I keep telling everyone I’m fine, but no one is listening.”

Jack leaned in close, staring at her, waiting. Her chin wavered. “I’ve never been pregnant before,” she whispered. Jack gathered her into his arms as Jonathan and Shara ushered the children from the room.

They got Sam to agree to staying in the bed and allowing the doctors to look after her for a day. Dr. Rand stopped by her bed once more.

“Colonel, I can’t say I know how you’re feeling, but I can say this –your pregnancy would not have progressed much further. You probably would have miscarried within a week and since I estimate you were about four weeks along, you would barely have noticed. If you think about this as a benign tumor, and not an embryo, it would be more accurate. I’m sorry, Colonel. Gentlemen.”

The pain meds hit and Sam fell asleep.

“Come on,” Daniel said, giving Jack’s hand a tug. “She’s asleep. There’s nothing we can do here; we need to make sure everything else is going according to schedule. We can cry about it later.”

Jack knew Daniel was right and they kissed Sam once more before heading back to the main part of the ship. They found most people had gone except the Buddhist contingent; they had discovered the cub. The old man was beaming from ear to ear as T’Keet and Daka entertained him. She jumped at Daniel when she saw him, and Daka shyly went to Jack’s side.

“Smell nice,” she informed him, using her tail to point at the man.

“Yes, he does,” Daniel agreed. “Her people use scent to get to know other people,” he told the man. “She means you’re a good person.”

He laughed. “I am glad to hear that,” he said.

“No,” T’Keet shook her head. “Smells like mersu. Mersu good.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Daniel said to her. “I think mersu is a spice.”

Whiskers arched forward as she studied him.

“Daniel-Jack sad,” she said. “Sam o-k.”

Daniel lifted her and gave her ears a nuzzle. “Yes, Sam will be fine,” he said. He told the Dalai Lama what had happened and the old man’s smile turned down.

“So sad,” he said. “May I pray for her and the lost one?”

Daniel inclined his head. “All good thoughts are welcome, Your Holiness, thank you,” he said.

Jack was never too sure what to say when someone asked him that question, but Daniel tended to respond with that particular comment and Jack was finding that he liked it. It did seem to keep Daniel out of sticky conversations.

He went to the front screen and watched the process going on below. With all the people off the ship, there did seem to be a sense of finality. It was a day of death. And yet, as the bodies disappeared and sterile land was left behind, it was a day of new beginnings. Arms went around his waist from behind and his neck was kissed.

“If it’s a choice between Sam and a baby….”

“I know,” Daniel said. “Jack, she’s going to be fine. We were warned this might happen. We weren’t using precautions, so it was bound to happen.” He turned Jack around to face him. Jack stared into the blue eyes. “We’re in this together,” Daniel told him. He laced his fingers with Jack’s, their rings clinking lightly together, and leaned in. As he was kissed, Jack felt himself relaxing. For some reason, kissing Daniel always seemed to put life into perspective. Maybe Ninurta was right and the three of them really were connected by that internal bond that Jack wasn’t sure he believed in. He tried to find that bond that rang SAM within him and drew her in. She was asleep on the meds. She relaxed into the men, cocooned in love.

Daniel smiled against Jack’s mouth. “I felt that,” he murmured. “You’re getting good at it.”

“I’m not really sure it’s real,” Jack said. “Ten years ago, I would have called anyone crazy who thought such a thing was real.”

“Ten years ago, you were an ass,” Daniel informed him. “You’ve grown up very nicely, though, and I think you’ll do.”

“Do what?” Jack asked.

“Oh, I’m sure I can think of something,” Daniel said. He leaned in again.

“Treasure map.”

He leaned back.

“What?”

Jack took the paper from his pocket and held it up. “Treasure map. Ancient China. From Oshu. What do I get in exchange for this?”

Daniel was almost hyperventilating.

“You are soooo easy,” Jack informed him.

 

 

 

 

End Part 4