By Marie Blackpool
"Dr. Jackson, welcome back." General Hammond actually smiled a little. Daniel decided he was probably amused by the fact that Daniel was covered in mud. He was, in fact, mud-encased, while the rest of SG-11 were only decorated from the knees down. Just more evidence of how oblivious he was when he worked; he hadn't noticed the difference until Hammond greeted them.
"Yes, well, it's good to be back. I'll just get uh, cleaned up." Daniel gestured, and then followed his hand.
Hammond arrested him with a minute lift of his head. "Doctor, in your absence there's been a little bit of excitement. The other members of SG-1 have captured a Goa'uld spacecraft."
"Oh?" Daniel certainly hadn't expected this news. Hammond looked like the day he'd been living for as commander of the SGC had finally arrived. He was radiant, in a disciplined, high-ranking manner. But as he watched, Hammond curtained his good cheer and revealed another expression that almost resembled regret? Daniel decided it was time to put his pack and book bag down.
"Major Carter will fill you in on the details. While we are understandably pleased about the outcome of the mission, there are a few loose ends. The SG-1 replicas from P3X-989 were, unfortunately " Hammond caught at his speech uncharacteristically. "casualties. Most of them have been retrieved. Major Carter is examining them now. She thinks she may be able to recover data from one of them."
Daniel realized his jaw had been open for most of this narrative. "Data?"
"I consider the security of the SGC and the safety of SG-1 to be contingent on her efforts. It seems the replicas were going out on unauthorized missions through the gate on P3X-989." Hammond flattened his lips in a disapproving line.
"Missions through the gate..." Daniel struggled to catch up with implications. "I guess I'm not really surprised. They were, essentially, us. I doubt we would have stayed underground on Altair for very long."
With a dour frown, Hammond expressed his displeasure with the real SG-1's inability to stay put and follow orders. He clearly agreed with Daniel. "Nevertheless, it was unauthorized and poses a potential problem. I'd like you to help Major Carter in any way you can." Why Hammond thought a linguist or an archeologist could be useful mystified Daniel.
"What about Jack and Teal'c? Are they here?"
"Colonel O'Neill is on the captured ship. He should be back for the briefing tomorrow morning. Teal'c is in the infirmary recovering from wounds sustained on the mission. He's fine, son. Dr. Fraiser is just keeping him for rest and observation for a little while," Hammond added kindly.
Daniel gestured again, this time towards the other door. "I'll just go see Sam, then."
"It can probably wait until you get cleaned up, Dr. Jackson." Hammond smiled fractionally again and nodded a dismissal. Daniel wandered out after the departed SG-11 towards the elevator and locker room. His enthusiasm for the new linguistic remains they had found on M2X-411 was already fading, overwhelmed by the competition from this startling news.
Daniel stopped at his office to drop off the books and his pack full of artifacts. On the way to and from, he was greeted by scurrying colleagues and nodded at by a number of visiting officers. The general atmosphere was excited and even a little smug, as if the entire place had suddenly had its existence justified after years of uncertainty. Which, from the military perspective, he supposed it had. Jack would be pretty pleased with himself, he mused. Daniel shook his head with a little smile, imagining Jack hyperactively happy. He was probably a menace to everyone around him right now.
It might have been his imagination, but it seemed as if the glances and greetings he got from the other SGC personnel were either unusually warm or else were shadowed by a mysterious unease. In the elevator, Siler almost smiled at him. "Good to see you, Dr. Jackson," he said with low-key effusiveness. This time, it wasn't the mud. Daniel narrowed his eyes.
"Good to see you too, Sergeant. What's going on?"
Siler cleared his throat and eyes-fronted the elevator doors. "Everyone is getting ready for the Joint Chiefs visit tomorrow, and there are at least three SG teams preparing to transport out to the Goa'uld craft. I'm hoping to get a chance to inspect its engine room myself."
"Well, I imagine you'd be one of the first. I'm sure Sam will want you up there with her." Daniel watched for any reaction flickering past at the mention of Sam, then decided it wasn't a fair test, since he suspected Siler had a special interest in their Major Carter. He'd be crazy not to. How many women chose to take motorcycles apart with him in their off-hours? As a matter of fact, maybe Sam had an interest in Siler. He'd never pursued that line of questioning with her before. "Uh, I'm just looking for Sam now she's in the lab on 24, right?"
Siler finally looked uncomfortable. "No, I think they've set up a special lab on 21, next door to the infirmary."
22, 23, 24. The doors opened. Daniel sighed, pressed 21. Siler twitched a little, but his previous choice won over the new one. Daniel rode along in puzzled silence to 28, where Siler got off with a nod.
When the doors opened on 21, he found the air distinctly gloomier. This was definitely the source of the disturbance in everyone's joy. Daniel poked his head into the infirmary to say hi to Teal'c, but found him asleep or in a deep enough state of kelno'reem that he might as well have been.
He found Sam talking to Janet in the lab next door. They both smiled widely when he came in. Sam aborted a move towards getting up that looked like she had been thinking of hugging him, which almost made him stumble as he entered. Janet frankly beamed.
"Hi, Sam, what did I miss?" He glanced around the lab and saw several screened off areas, one of which glowed with a flourescent white light. The lighting in the rest of the room was dim, the way he and Sam always preferred their offices. "General Hammond told me something about robots and spaceships. It sounded pretty incredible."
Sam grinned but looked rueful. "Our robot replicas didn't stay on P3X-989. I guess it shouldn't have surprised us, but it was a little bit of a shock when Harlan told us. Harlan came through and said they had been running exploratory missions using power packs I designed or, rather, that their Samantha Carter designed."
"I suppose we could have foreseen this. I think we all talked ourselves into thinking we didn't need to worry about them. So how did this end up with you capturing a Goa'uld ship?" He blinked at her. She summarized briefly, and when she reached the part where he, or his replica, was reported dead, he said, "Aha. I take it this is common knowledge?"
"About as common as most SGC rumors," Janet said dryly. "The replicas were the talk of the mountain the first time they were here, and this time they came with a spaceship."
"Well, we helped them get the ship," Sam corrected. "But they weren't in very good shape by the time it was over. We wouldn't have captured it without them, though." She looked glum. She finished telling Daniel the highlights of the last few days. "Colonel O'Neill is still on Juna with the ship and the task force assigned to begin studying it. Teal'c and I came back with the replicas' er, bodies. General Hammond is hoping I can reactivate one of them and debrief it." She made a helpless hand gesture over the lab table full of miniature electronic components. There was a suspicious gooey white residue on some of them. Daniel squinted at it and then averted his eyes.
"Why don't you just ask Harlan for help? He knows how they work, at least to some degree. I mean, he must."
"Harlan had to leave when his power supply was exhausted. He did warn us about an explosive device hidden in their portable energy cells, one of which was triggered by a Jaffa on Cronus's ship. In their Daniel's body." She looked apologetic. "I'm sorry. It's a little strange."
He shook off the soft chill caused by her words. "But wouldn't it save time if we just visited ah. General Hammond would never authorize another trip to Altair, would he?"
Janet and Sam were both shaking their heads. Janet sighed, "It's up to us. Or rather, up to Sam. This kind of mechanical construction is completely beyond my expertise."
"I don't know what I'm looking at either," Sam insisted. This sounded like an argument they had had before. "It feels like doing an autopsy, not engineering. They seem to be modeled more along organic principles than mechanical. And who knows if there are any other Trojan horses hidden inside?" She looked demoralized.
Daniel winced at the memory of Cassandra's bomb, which was probably on Sam's mind. "So you've been... taking them apart?" He felt both fascination and revulsion. "All of them?"
Sam reddened. "I couldn't stand dissecting any of them aside from my replica. So I haven't touched the Colonel's or Teal'c's replicas. They were pretty badly damaged by staff blasts though."
Daniel crossed his arms, uncrossed them, toyed with a pen on the table. "Can I see them?"
Sam hesitated. Janet shook her head and said, "They're over there, if you really want to." She nodded at the curtains.
Sam shrugged at him, but she followed him to the lit alcove and pulled aside the curtain. After a moment of revulsion at the sight of the gaping hole in the chest of a body barely recognizable anymore as a likeness of Sam, he backed out and pulled the curtain closed again. "Hmmm. What was I thinking? You said my replica was blown up?"
She nodded sadly. "That was how the other Sam got free to let us up to the ship."
"So it was for a good cause. I guess that's something." They smiled a little wanly at him. "General Hammond told me to help you, but I'm not sure there's anything I can do. Robots are little outside my expertise, too. Unless they speak ancient Egyptian."
Sam nodded. "If I can think of anything, I'll call you. You've probably got enough to do after your last assignment."
"And consider yourself lucky," Janet muttered as Daniel left.
Jack was every bit as bouncy as Daniel had predicted. He tiggered into the conference room for the morning briefing and exclaimed, "Daniel! Long time no see!" He clapped Daniel heartily on the shoulders before bouncing off the table and into the chair beside him.
"Hello, Jack," Daniel said when his teeth had stopped rattling. "Yes, I'm still alive."
This produced in Jack a fractional pause before he resumed vibrating. "Alive but missing all the fun as usual. But you're not doing anything now, right? Let me give you a tour of my new wheels! She's big as a boat, but handles like a dream." He nodded solemnly, but a grin broke free from under unusually weak deadpan camouflage. Yes, Jack was in a rare mood.
Daniel felt his own lips twitching in response. But he shook his head. "I've got a huge amount of follow-up work to do from the trip to M2X-411: at least a hundred pieces to catalog, a new language to translate, mosaic shards to piece together, Nyan's work to review. And General Hammond asked me to stick around and try to help Sam." He tilted his head in a half shrug.
Jack deflated theatrically, but rebounded when Carter walked in the room and joined them. "Carter! Come fly with me!"
"Welcome back, Colonel. How's the mothership?" Sam looked genuinely enthused, which lit up her tired face.
"Drafty, badly lit, not enough chairs otherwise, everything I've ever wanted in a bad-ass planet killing spacecraft. Except maybe antilock brakes." He drummed the table in a jaunty march. "Teal'c! Junior okay?"
Teal'c joined them at the table somewhat gingerly. He inclined his head. "O'Neill, Major Carter, Daniel Jackson. I am fully recovered. I expect Dr. Fraiser to become convinced of this quite soon."
"Uh oh, don't tell me you're AWOL from your bed. Tsk, tsk."
General Hammond's entry shifted everyone's focus to the front of the room. Jack continued tapping out tunes on the tabletop. Daniel snaked out a hand and flattened Jack's palm to the surface. Jack put up token resistance before conceding.
"Now that I have everyone's attention," Hammond intoned in their direction. "We'll start with status reports from everyone. Colonel O'Neill?"
"Well, sir, we've got this spaceship. But we don't know how to fly it yet. It's got some similarities to the gliders and scout ships the Goa'uld and Tok'ra use, but there's a bunch of stuff in the control room I've never seen and can't venture any good guesses at. At least I think it's the control room." Jack frowned. "I could really use the rest of SG-1's help in figuring it all out." He beamed a bright and expectant smile around the table at his team.
"Understood, Colonel. What about the men you've got currently aboard?"
"Baker and his men have set up a barracks, that architect what's his name, Symons is mapping the place, Ramirez is looking for bombs and other nasty surprises. It's a big place. We'll need everyone we can get, and it's still going to take a little while to know what we're playing with."
"Don't take any chances; we don't want a repeat of the X-301 fiasco."
"Well, at least if this baby flies off to the Oort cloud, it has a bathroom. Somewhere." He gifted the table with his best poker face. "I hope."
"Find it, Colonel. I'd like that ship inspected nose to tailfins before it comes home, understood?"
"Yessir. And when we've found the head, not to mention the nose, you'll be the first to hear."
"Major Carter?" Hammond looked relieved to be turning his attention elsewhere.
"With Dr. Fraiser's help, I've examined the replica of me, sir," Sam said. Jack grimaced. "I concentrated on the power supply unit, and I think I've figured out how it works. It's like a small nuclear reactor, but it uses an element I've never seen before. It's probably native to P3X-989. The reactor may be a replica of the emitter itself. The replicas seem to be powered by radiation from the reactor."
Hammond straightened. "Are we safe, Major?"
"We're fine, sir. The levels are barely above background radiation levels. In fact, I think their Carter may have been overly cautious when she created the reactors: they could have powered them a lot longer without noticeably increasing the radiation emission."
"Can you get one of them working again?"
"I think I can, sir. I think there may be enough residual traces of the element in the remains of the other two replicas. There was a little bit left in the Carter replica, possibly because she stopped functioning from damage sustained in the blast from the Daniel replica and from the force field." Sam made a helpless apologetic gesture across the table at Daniel and Jack. Jack was squirming. "It would be simpler to visit P3X-989 again and try to get Harlan to help, though." She obviously thought it worth a try, despite their earlier conversation.
As predicted, Hammond shook his head. "I'm placing that planet under quarantine. I won't risk a repeat of what happened on your first visit."
"Understood, sir. But this technology could be extremely useful to us imagine what it could mean for people with terminal illnesses!" Sam had an almost feverish look in her tired eyes. Daniel knew she was imagining alternate solutions for her father's condition that didn't involve sharing a body with a Goa'uld.
"I'm sorry, Major. I might consider it if Harlan weren't such an unpredictable personality. I consider the risks of revisiting P3X-989 to outweigh any possible benefits."
"I think 'flake' is the word you really wanted," Jack muttered quietly.
"We also don't know anything about their quality of life after we left," Daniel pointed out to Sam. "It could be they never adjusted to those bodies."
Jack was nodding. "I think we saw plenty of evidence of maladjustment."
Sam sighed and nodded. "I should have one working by the afternoon. I can't guarantee how long it will work, though. They were running out of energy when we met them on Juna."
Hammond nodded. "Get the replica of Colonel O'Neill functioning, and I'd like Dr. Jackson to thoroughly debrief it on their activities for the last three years. Even if there is no security threat, they could provide vital intelligence about worlds we haven't visited yet."
Jack pouted. "I could really use Daniel aboard that ship to help me translate all the graffiti, sir."
"Teal'c should be able to help you until Dr. Jackson is done here, Colonel. Assuming you get clearance from Dr. Fraiser, all right, Teal'c?"
Teal'c inclined his head. "I expect clearance to pose no problem, General Hammond."
As they got up from the table, Jack was still pouting. "Hey, wrap this stuff up as soon as you can and come to Juna, okay?" he said to Daniel and Carter. Daniel exchanged a look of amusement with Sam.
"Yes, sir," she said with a smile. She was probably just as anxious to be done with the replicas, Daniel guessed, scientific curiosity aside. Despite a tingle of trepidation, Daniel was looking forward to talking to one of them; he had wondered occasionally in the past few years how they had adapted to life on Altair, or if they had adapted. He shied away from thinking about the possibility that they never had, but he found himself revisiting it like a sore tooth. The thought of being stranded somewhere like Harlan's world with no possibility of returning to Earth again was disturbing, to say the least. Altair had none of the welcoming aspects of life on Abydos: no wife, no family, no sunlight, no homes to visit, no stories to tell and hear and no appreciative audiences, no exotic archeological remains to puzzle over... After leaving the replicas behind on Altair, he and his friends had discussed them little; it was easier for everyone to believe that they were not really that much like them after all, that they were fundamentally different by the fact of having artificial bodies, and therefore worrying about their human responses was a waste of time. It was possible that their casual dismissal of the replicas' plight was about to be vitiated, if Sam could get one talking.
With a halfhearted wave at Jack, he wandered out of the room feeling melancholy.
Sam called him when he had given up concentrating on assembling the mosaics and was instead concentrating on the blank computer screen that should have been filled with notes for the mission report. He wasn't sure why he was having such a hard time focusing. At some level, he probably wanted to be off exploring the Goa'uld ship with Jack. Every time he came back from a mission, he had to struggle a little harder to get himself into the right reflective frame of mind for artifact analysis. He needed solid blocks of uninterrupted time to switch gears properly, and it was harder and harder to get that as his responsibilities at the SGC grew. Even he conspired against his own post-mission work time, preferring instead to run off on the next rather than sit and think.
So he was almost relieved when Sam summoned him to the lab. He brought the tape recorder along, assuming this was standard for debriefing errant Air Force colonels. Sam met him outside the door, in the process of closing it behind herself as she exited.
"I figured out how to reactivate the replica of Colonel O'Neill. It turned out the explosive devices used the same elements as the core reactor, so I was able to scavenge from the Teal'c replica and O'Neill's explosive charge. I don't know how long it will last, though. I'm going back to my office to run some decay scenarios on the computer there."
"Then, he's awake? On? Uh..." Daniel flailed.
Sam nodded. "The last thing he remembered was talking to Colonel O'Neill as his power supply failed."
"So, he's not in a good mood?" Daniel raised his eyebrows.
She shook her head. Then shrugged. "He seems a little highly strung. I guess it's understandable."
"Can he walk? Can we go somewhere more comfortable to talk?"
"No, I don't think so. His leg was hurt and there was some serious torso damage. I could maybe get him mobile with Janet's help, but it would probably take us time and him extra energy to move. Let me run the scenarios and see how long we have before I try to repair the injuries." She left him with a sliver of an encouraging grin.
Feeling strangely nervous, Daniel tiptoed into the lab. The lights were off, but a white glow came from inside one of the curtained areas. The room was completely silent. He wondered if the replicas breathed; he couldn't remember that detail from their brief meeting on Altair. He pulled the curtain aside and stepped inside.
A younger, less gray version of Jack blinked at him in surprise. The Jack replica pressed his lips together, screwed his eyes closed in a grimace, and groaned so softly Daniel wasn't sure he heard it.
"I'm sorry," Daniel stammered. "Are you in pain ? I could get Sam again "
"No." Jack put up a hand to catch at the air in his direction. "It's okay. I just didn't think it would be such a surprise." He opened his eyes and raked them over Daniel's face with alert interest. "You cut your hair."
"Uh, yeah. About a year ago. I thought it might make me blend in a little better." Daniel touched it self-consciously. He pulled the curtain closed behind him and noticed Sam had left a chair here for him. Jack watched him sit down, but barely turned his head. Daniel wondered if his neck hurt or if he was feeling weak.
"Did it?" Jack's voice was dry.
"I don't know. I couldn't really tell. Jack " Daniel stuttered. "Our Jack liked it better."
Daniel shrugged helplessly. Talking about either Jack to the other was going to be unrewarding. He changed the subject. "And you're right, this is strange. I've been asked to ask you about the last three years... what you've been doing, where you've been going. General Hammond thinks you might have information that can help us."
"He's a smart guy. Carter told me. Her hair looks different too. You both look older than than you did." Jack shook his head a little and sighed. "She looks like she worked all night. And yep, this is strange." He frowned darkly at the ceiling. Daniel stared at him, trying to see the ways in which he wasn't Jack, and largely failing, apart from apparent age. It was unnerving. Jack turned to him impatiently and said, "Fire away. Let's get this show on the road. I haven't got all day."
"All right." Daniel rejected all the questions that immediately came to mind as off-topic or inappropriate. He switched on the recorder. "General Hammond said you were going out on missions? I guess you should just tell me where you went and when, as much as you can remember."
"I have perfect recall. Just tell me when you think you've heard too much." Jack eyed Daniel with a vaguely challenging look. Daniel recognized the veiled tease; Jack of all people should know what would be relevant to them at the SGC. It was Daniel who would have a problem with distraction, he suddenly realized. His eyes strayed down to the sheet Carter had draped over Jack's body, hiding a possibly mortal wound, and then back up to Jack's face.
"When did you start going through the gate? Where did you go first?"
"We sat around for a while and played janitor. It didn't take us long to decide we weren't going to stay put, though." A shadow passed across his face, but he didn't elaborate. "And then it didn't take Carter very long to figure out how the emitter worked and build power supplies. It was a month and two days after you left. So March 15, 1998, your time. It took her another day to convince me I needed one of those things in my chest, and then a week later we went off world to try them out. We went to P3X-562, and that would make it March 23rd. We were there for 36 hours." Daniel was rolling his eyes as he tried to remember, so Jack provided: "That sandy planet with the blue crystals. We just stayed away from the crystals." Daniel nodded.
"They worked okay, except for the heat. Our Daniel got a bit of a sunburn on his chest so Carter had to build up the shielding when we got back."
"And Harlan was okay with you going off like this?" Daniel couldn't resist a cautious probe.
"No, but who cares? Carter wanted to invite him along, but since getting away from him was one of my goals, it didn't fly. Our next problem was where to go. Daniel and Carter remembered all of the addresses from the Abydos cartouche, but since that was what you were also working from, we were really wanting another plan. Carter came up with a random address generation program that she kept running in her head when she was bored." Jack smiled. "She'd be sitting there in front of Harlan's control panel staring into space and then she'd say, '245 billion addresses!' Whenever her odometer rolled over on a cool number."
"We had a random address generator running too."
"Then you probably had the same problem we had... most of them are not active gates. Carter figured out that if we had to manually dial every single address and wait for an active wormhole to find out if it was a working gate, we could actually take a couple hundred years to hit a live gate. Something to do with probability."
"Interesting. I don't know if our Sam came to that conclusion. But we have a bunch of other sources for addresses, including some we found after you uh, left us."
"Left you." Jack was at his most sarcastic. "To continue. She started working on a way to virtually dial the gate without actually turning it, which uses a lot of power and takes a lot of time. So she could kind of simulate dialing to detect if there was a valid connection, and save time. It was harder than she thought, though, and we needed parts that Harlan didn't have. So we decided to start visiting the cartouche addresses, but in the reverse order from the way the SGC was visiting them. We figured it was a reasonable risk for about a year, if we went to at most one planet every two weeks."
"But your estimate was based on the number of teams we had four years ago."
"There was room for error," Jack said testily. "We figured for attrition and growth. Carter did, anyway."
"When Sam hears all this, she's going to regret having taken apart..." Daniel stopped smiling and didn't finish.
"I don't want to hear it. Like I said, on with the story. We built a MALP, which was a little smaller than the ones you've got. It was about the size of a toaster, but it had a camera, environmental sensors, and a radio transmitter. Carter named it 'Ted.' There were a bunch of addresses on the cartouche that didn't pan out. We couldn't get a connection from I'll just use the numeric codes, since I don't know what your designations are: 29-5-36-6-23-12, 3-39-16-8-10-11, 14-36-23-18-7-27..."
Daniel checked belatedly that the recorder was picking up the voice by the flickering of the green light. This was worse than deja vu, this was like listening to Jack himself. Daniel imagined he was not at all happy about being brought back, and he wondered how, or if, he could ask about that. What was it like to be dead, for the replicas? His curiosity felt very different than ordinary academic curiosity; it was definitely personal, in some dissociated, guarded way.
He blinked when he realized Jack had stopped reeling off numbers and was looking at him. "Back with us, Daniel? Come on, some of this could save you a lot of time. And believe it or not it makes me feel better knowing this information will get used. We actually left records on Altair in case you ever got there again, but I'm guessing Hammond won't let that happen for a while."
Daniel nodded. "Um, just let me get some paper for notes of my own I'll just feel better if I'm writing something down, too." He wandered around the lab table, blinking to adjust to the dark, and finally found a notebook of Sam's and a pen. He sat down again, conscious of Jack watching him, and flipped to a blank page. "Okay, go ahead."
"These are the coordinates for the planets Ted didn't transmit friendly telemetry from, some of which we visited anyway, which I'll get to: 28-38-35-9-15-4's gate was underwater, 30-27-9-7-18-16 had no DHD and was about 200 degrees Celsius, 24-12-32-7-11-33 was radioactive and showed signs of recent bombing..."
Daniel made notes when the planets sounded visitable with precautions like special suits or an armored transport vehicle. He made special notes by the planets with signs of civilization, recent or otherwise. He made other notes by planets that might have been Goa'uld occupied.
"... Despite the earthquakes, we went to 15-28-10-4-16-10-33 on July 15, 1998. There were some remains of buildings shacks or something. Mostly foundations, a few crumbled walls. They were about a mile from the Stargate. No signs of life. We only stayed eight hours. It would've been 4, except there was a quake and Teal'c and our Daniel got caught in a crevice in a landslide." Jack's voice was inflectionless, but Daniel saw a flash of remembered fear. Perfect recall. Daniel supposed there were reservoirs of memory that the replicas kept sealed off in the dark. Otherwise, the temptation to re-examine events endlessly for mistakes and missed opportunities must be overwhelming. "We got them out, but it was close there was another quake and the crevice sealed up. After that, we had a talk about death." This time, Daniel was sure he heard bleakness. "We agreed that none of us wanted to be the only one left, if something happened to the others." Turning from the ceiling, he looked at Daniel directly.
Daniel swallowed. He nodded. "I can understand that." He cleared his throat. "But you were made to be stronger, faster, presumably more resilient to environmental stress... so you could take risks we couldn't take. Could you breathe underwater? Did you go to uh, 28-38-35-9-15-4?"
Jack smiled, turned back to the ceiling. "We could breathe underwater for a little while, but the pressure was something we weren't sure about. I wasn't willing to risk going there, since Ted found no sign of buildings near the gate. We went to 23-32-4-12-2-8 October 15, 1999 which had a very thin atmosphere, mostly carbon dioxide. It also had gravity half that of Earth's. We spent about five hours leaping mountains with a single bound. All we saw were some strange bird creatures that never got near us. Daniel and Carter thought it had probably been terraformed and then abandoned a long time ago. Carter found some diamonds and other hard minerals she thought she could use, though."
"So you didn't need food, right? Water? You must have had weapons when they found you on Juna, if you were going out on missions," Daniel reasoned out loud. "We didn't leave any of that stuff behind when we left Altair. Where did you find it?"
"P8X-987. We went on regular scavenging trips there."
"Cassandra's planet. Where you wouldn't be worried about running into anyone."
"And they had a fairly advanced civilization, unlike most of the rocks we've been to. We found some equipment from SG-7 that had never been recovered. If we hadn't, we would have had to make some riskier trips to get equipment. Or else figure out how to make everything. Carter figured out how to make ammunition of a sort, but it had a tendency to blow up. We tried not to use up our rounds. But since we couldn't risk too many encounters with intelligent life, in case they remembered us or had seen you, we were pretty safe. We weren't so worried about run-ins with the Goa'uld, though."
"So you actually fought the Goa'uld?"
"It was one of the main reasons we didn't stay on Altair. We wanted to inflict maximal damage on the snakes. After all, we were better, faster, yadda yadda. Why not kick butt?"
Daniel laughed. "You sound just like Jack a couple months ago, when we had these armbands that never mind." He waved his hand to wipe away the digression. Jack frowned at the interruption or at the reference to his alter ego.
"We tried to stick to guerrilla attacks on Jaffa and Goa'uld encampments. 23-23-10-9-4-14-32, October 10th, 1998: another mining operation, our Daniel said the culture was early Celtic. We blew the glider base, got the locals out of the mine, blew the mine entrance. We had to make two trips, one for recon, the other for the strikes. 21-19-6-32-4-28, July 2nd, 1999: no sign of locals, at least anymore, but a large military force, and some pyramid landing sites for motherships. We blew the glider hangar, stole a bunch of zats and staff weapons, did some serious damage to one of the pyramids. That was when we found out that zats didn't work the same way on us. Our Daniel had a headache and vision problems for days after getting hit a couple times."
"So you do feel pain." Daniel thought that a serious disadvantage for replicas that were otherwise "better."
"Among other things, yes." Jack looked annoyed. He sighed and went on. "15-2-34-38-2-13-12, Sept. 2nd, 1999: an industrial planet, making Goa'uld weapons. This one belonged to Cronus..."
Daniel took notes, changed the tape, used up another side, and eventually had to take a break for a bathroom visit and to fetch more tapes. "Do you want anything from the cafeteria? Coffee, sandwich ?"
At first he didn't think Jack was going to answer. Then he spoke to his sandwich. "As far as I know the taste is the same. It tastes like I remember it, even the stale bread. You'd think the cafeteria could get in enough fresh bread. It's not like we don't eat enough sandwiches down here." We.
Since this was almost verbatim the sentiment Jack the other Jack expressed often, Daniel had to smile. "Jack fills out the feedback forms saying that once a month. He started using limericks two months ago. He thought maybe his comments would have more impact if they rhymed and were dirty."
For the first time, this Jack looked amused at mention of the other Jack. After a second, he said, "There was a young lady from Boulder/ With an eye on the cook who was older;/ She would have given him head/ If the cafe had fresh bread,/ And if the Coke and Jell-O were colder."
Daniel snorted. He rethought having a sip of hot coffee just yet. "That's better than Jack's."
"I'm smarter, too." Jack sighed. "Okay, back to work. I'm going to give you more details on the lay of the land and armaments we saw at the Goa'uld planets."
After a certain point in the evening, the coffee wasn't working well anymore. Daniel was groggy, blinking to stay awake, lulled by Jack's soft, matter-of-fact voice. They had filled a handful of tapes. Daniel was already recording over notes from a previous mission that he hadn't finished getting transcribed. He'd sent an enlisted man out to find more, but he didn't expect to see them till tomorrow.
As Daniel stretched his legs and lower back from inside his hard chair, Jack stopped talking about the supposed cavemen on the moon with a pink sky. Daniel was interested, but his body's stiffness finally distracted him too much to mind the interruption.
"You look tired," Jack commented. "You know, I almost forgot what that looks like. Physical tiredness, I mean." His amendment was like a grudging confession. Still propped on the pillows, Jack looked unfazed by having spent all day talking virtually nonstop.
Daniel frowned. "You mean you can get tired? Do you sleep?"
"We can, but it's more like reducing our energy usage. We stay alert. We get tired in other ways."
"Emotional?" Daniel groped, almost afraid to delve here.
"I suppose. Or maybe it was worse than tiredness. It took me a little while to see it. They all had it after you left. But I think it went away after we started traveling again."
"It? They? Not you." Daniel blinked.
"I probably had it, too. I went nuts, but I got over it. I was more worried about them. They seemed to be taking it so well, but I knew it couldn't last we had our lives stolen, for Christ's sake. It wasn't something you could just be mature about. Even them. Even you couldn't." Jack fixed him with an almost angry look. "I worried about you the most. About my Daniel, I mean. I didn't know how long it would take it all to sink in he couldn't go on looking for Sha're, because she wasn't his wife anymore. I think at first he thought maybe he could look for her anyway, because even if she wasn't his wife, he could find some way to save her. But when we saw what the zats did to us, we decided we probably weren't immune to the ribbon devices and their other weapons. He couldn't go back to Abydos, because you might go there and we didn't want to scare those people. And he didn't have any books."
Daniel took this in and tried to make tired sense of what all of it would mean to him, or would have meant three years ago. Not having any books was a pretty serious disadvantage; it meant he could do very limited analysis of archaeological remains. Which would pretty seriously impact his usefulness to the team, not to mention his usefulness to himself. And Sha're... his old feelings seemed so distant now. "Sha're is dead," he told Jack quietly. "She died last year after having a child with Apophis."
"Oh. Ah. Sorry about that. I wish my Daniel had known. It took him a long time to stop hoping he'd see her again."
"Me, too. Even after she was dead. I could tell Jack was watching me, too." He smiled wryly.
"I was watching mine. You were hard to live with. A bored Daniel is a bear. You tried to go up on the surface, and I wasn't sure if you were just curious or suicidal. I didn't, I wasn't This was around the time Carter decided to build the portable power supplies. She was all wrapped up in taking Harlan's toys apart, and trying to figure out how everything worked. She dissected the first replica of Teal'c. She was so busy It took her longer to show a reaction, and I almost missed it. I was fighting with you. Teal'c noticed first: he found her crying under some vents one morning." Jack's voice was dry as dust. He stared straight ahead at the curtains and through them, caught in his perfect recall of their pain. "She'd just realized she couldn't see her father again, or her brother, or Janet, or Cassandra, and they wouldn't miss us, because we weren't missing. And she'd never get to be a four-star general, or get married, or have kids."
Daniel bent his head to avoid seeing Jack look like that. His eyes itched. Of the four of them, Sam had the brightest future, the clearest career goals and opportunities. She was a model officer and there were no limits to what she might do after SG-1. He wasn't surprised she wanted marriage and children someday, although his Sam showed no signs of dating very often.
"Teal'c said something to her, and I never heard what. He made her feel a little better, and eventually we all felt better. Teal'c adapted the fastest. He'd already been split away from his family once before, and was living for the moment with us crazy Tauri, just trying to do as much Goa'uld damage as he could. So there we were, just the four of us."
"Yeah. I tried to get Carter to turn him off. I was afraid I would inflict serious damage on him. It seemed a bad precedent. I remember suggesting it, and it turned into this abstract philosophical debate about whether we should feel guilt if we hurt a machine, or if we were machines ourselves. What a time to get religion. Daniel and Carter argued about souls, and Carter thought consciousness might be sufficient to have one. She had this theory that we could be downloaded into a computer and stay conscious, that these bodies didn't do anything but carry our brains around. And give us a few supposed improvements." Jack flexed his working hand and watched it with a distant expression. "None of us wanted to try her experiment. We were pretty attached to these bodies, or the idea of these bodies, as Daniel said, even if these weren't the right ones."
"But if something happened to you, and you couldn't be repaired... wouldn't you want to continue existing? To feel like you were alive?"
"None of us wanted to live without at least looking and feeling human. We felt enough like our old selves that we had human reactions even when they didnt make sense. Sometimes it was hard to tell if we felt real pain, or just expected to feel it. I decided it didn't matter. At least when we forgot to eat, we didn't feel hungry, so most of the time the disconnects didn't bother us. After a while we could handle feeling pain or expecting to feel pain. We could feel pleasure, but we could live without it."
There were so many bleak implications that Daniel couldn't grapple them in. "So you didn't have any trouble adjusting to losing all of this?" Daniel gestured around the room, meaning the SGC, the Air Force, and Earth. He regretted the question almost immediately.
"What do you think? Of course I did. But I already had a career before I rejoined the SGC. I already had a wife and family, remember. After I decided we had to start going out on missions, to keep us from going crazy, it wasn't all that different, except the mission profiles were a little more low-key. And there was less paperwork. It was kind of like this was. And for me, this was fun. Most of the time." He conceded to Daniel's expression. "Okay, some of the time. Freezing to death wasn't very much fun."
Daniel reflected back on the last three years. This Jack had missed some serious events: had never seen the Goa'uld attack on Earth, never knew about the parallel universes in which the Earth perished, never had his brain rewritten by the Ancients, never been frozen with a Goa'uld in him, never met the Tok'ra, never been lost on Edora... this Jack had never pretended to betray his friends and his commission for the Asgard-Earth alliance, hadn't seen Skaara
"We saved Skaara, you know. He's free again, back on Abydos. Jack and I defended and saved him from the Goa'uld with the help of the Nox and Tollans."
Jack grinned widely. "Now that's good news. Anything else I should know?" Then he looked wary. "Just the important stuff, I don't need a lot of details."
Daniel could understand this. Their lives had diverged. There was no reason for him to care, for instance, that the other gate was in Russia now, or that Maybourne had landed in jail, albeit briefly. "We've killed a bunch of Goa'uld: Hathor, Seth, Sokar, Isis, Apophis, except he seems to keep coming back... and your Teal'c killed Cronus."
"Way to go, Mr. T. That's one for our side. I was kind of hoping I would get a shot at him myself, but I was at the back of the revenge line."
"Why? I mean, why did you want a shot at him? Aside from the fact that he was a Goa'uld."
"He ordered Darien to kill my Daniel."
"What? Darien set off the bomb?"
"Bomb? What bomb? No, he made Darien shoot him with a staff weapon."
"Oh. I guess I misunderstood what Sam said. That's unpleasant."
Jack looked at him. "Our first fatality. I'm kind of surprised nothing happened sooner. I couldn't figure out if we were just a crack team, the best I've ever served with the stuff we got away with! Or insanely lucky, or suicidal. But it figures we'd all go out on the same mission." He shut his eyes. "I think we were all getting tired again. Maybe we were tired of each other and just having each other to talk to. You can only play poker for so many years with the same people. No surprises anymore."
Even seeing how much Jack needed it from him, Daniel couldn't think of anything insightful to say. His exhaustion was crippling. "You weren't tired of each other." He said it as a fact, as if he knew, but he couldn't try to rally any elaboration.
Jack turned and looked at him with a huge, hungry expression Daniel couldn't remember ever having seen. "Damn, I know I wasn't. Thank you." And surprisingly, he reached out his hand towards Daniel. Daniel froze for a moment, almost too tired to understand the plea, before he lifted a hand and gripped Jack's wrist tightly. The feel of Jack's hand around his gave Daniel a different kind of deja vu now, like the memory of an irrational emotion he'd dreamed, a longing for what he couldn't articulate in his everyday awake spirit. He squeezed to convey something before letting go.
Jack turned away and looked at the curtains again. Now he did look tired. It wasn't physical, but it was visible. "You should get some sleep. I can talk to the tape recorder for a while, and stick to the boring stuff until morning. We can start again after you've had a few hours shuteye."
Daniel found himself nodding. It was the voice of his commanding officer and friend, and he had no reason not to follow this plan. Plus he really was no good as an audience now. He showed Jack how to flip the tape, and left the recorder on the table by the bed. Feeling Jack's amused eyes on him, he crawled onto the empty bed next to Jack's without even bothering to undress or find a blanket. He turned his back and fell asleep as the quiet voice started counting off numbers and dates again.
When Daniel woke, it took him a moment to remember where he was, to listen to the silence and wonder. He got up stiffly and saw the light was still burning. Jack looked as if he were thinking. He had his hand crowned on his face over his eyes, the way he sometimes did when he was suffering. Daniel frowned and whispered, "Jack?" But he knew. He reached for him and moved the hand the skin was soft but cool to leave it lying curled on the pillow beside him. Daniel couldn't remember if the replicas were normally warmer than this, although he'd touched him last night. Jack's eyes were closed; his face was smooth and free of expression.
Strangely panicky, Daniel fumbled for the recorder, saw that the tape had run out, rewound it a little, pressed play: silence. He rewound further. Still silence. Further, and he heard, " running out of energy again. There were only a couple more you would care about. There was 4-25-24-32-8-15-20, April 14, 2000. The planet of the hopping critters. We never saw any signs of civilization, but I think the critters might have been intelligent. One of them insulted Teal'c. And there were some remains on 16-38-15-16-20-2-12, Sept. 20th, 2000. Just some old buildings. And a collapsed mine. You'd love it there. You did love it there. I was bored to death." A rasp that might have been a laugh. "Too bad we didn't have longer, but you needed your books to make anything of it. You missed those books more than coffee and chocolate. I never understood that, but I tried. And you kept trying to explain it." A long pause. "I'm feeling a little tired. I think I'll just rest a little. What we did should make Hammond happy."
And then there was background static. Daniel listened for a while, and then turned off the tape. That was it? He was still missing pieces, couldn't tell if the scattershot dates made up the whole three years, didn't get enough details about the human remains and cultures they'd found, didn't know if they'd been happy even once since they'd been left behind. He stared at Jack and realized he hadn't asked him enough questions, that this just wasn't good enough. He tossed the recorder on the table and dialed Sam's room. She didn't answer, and he realized she had probably gone home after being up all the previous night. He rang her at home.
"What, what?" He'd obviously woken her up.
"Sam, it's Daniel. I didn't get enough can you get Jack working again, I mean the replicaI fell asleep and he stopped working in the middle of the night. I've just got another couple of questions "
"No, no, Daniel." She was swallowing and clearing her throat. "That's all the power his power supply can provide. We don't have any more of the critical reactive element. All I can do is try to save their central processors and maybe download them and store them in the mainframe. We know this is possible. Then someday "
Hearing this from her after her own recent disembodiment in the mainframe made the back of his neck crawl. It was all too possible. Sam hadn't seemed more than somewhat perturbed at having been trapped inside the SGC computer. Apparently her sense of self inside the machine hadn't been enough like ordinary consciousness to create any reaction like helplessness or fear. Dr. McKenzie had given her a clean bill of post-traumatic health. The rest of SG-1 probably still needed counseling in response to her near death, but none of them could ever be persuaded to go.
"No," Daniel said firmly. "Jack told me they had living wills, sort of. They all agreed they didn't want to be preserved like that. Don't do it, Sam."
"But it's possible I could save the data, without the personality... they would never know. There might still be valuable information, about their artificial intelligence constructs at least..."
"Don't, Sam. Please don't."
After a long pause during which he marshalled metaphysical counter-arguments, she said, "All right. I won't try."
Daniel felt tired, despite the hours of sleep he had gotten. He made an effort to organize his notes from the interview with the replica Jack, typed up a few of the high points for General Hammond, and piled up the tapes on his desk. It would take days to transcribe these. He just couldn't face it. He went looking for Nyan.
After adding the transcription to the top of Nyan's task list, he went for a shower and made coffee. It was still too early for the cafeteria to be open, and the night shift was still sleepily wrapping up throughout the base. He found himself standing outside his office wondering at the empty feeling in his stomach and what he should do about it. He'd been away for weeks with SG-11, and before that Sam had almost died, and before that he'd been off with SG-11 yet again... He realized he missed SG-1, missed just being around them in their off-time.
Without thinking about it too much, he headed for the elevator and went upstairs. His car still started, which was always a surprise and a relief, and as he drove down the mountain the sky lightened from gray to steely blue. When he entered town, the garbage trucks and construction workers were just starting to mobilize. There was a huge new building site on the corner of Sam's street and Main that looked like it was already months along. He was too tired and depressed for the usual prick of excitement he felt at the sight of a hole in the ground; instead he thought back to when he had last visited Sam's apartment. He couldn't remember.
She met him at the door in a blue silk kimono, with her hair still wet and spiky. She grinned in surprise, but asked no questions as she let him in.
"Did you get any sleep?" she asked. She poured him coffee and pushed bread down in the toaster.
He nodded. "A couple hours. I couldn't stay awake. Unfortunately."
She glanced at him and looked back at the toaster. "I'm sorry I should have warned you about what the decay scenarios said. I got interrupted with some errands for the Joint Chiefs meeting today. There was some chance that he would last until morning, but I wasn't quite sure what their usage curve was like. Did you do anything other than talk?"
"No what do you mean, like calisthenics? We talked."
"I just meant did you try to take him anywhere, did he walk around..." She shrugged.
"Oh, no. No. Except he did have a sandwich. Could that have used up a lot of energy?"
"The way the Colonel eats?" She smiled. "I could have been wrong in any of my calculations, Daniel. There was nothing you could do. Did you get the information General Hammond wanted?"
"I think so. I'll have to listen to the tapes and try to put it all together. We were a little disorganized. We jumped around a bit." Daniel took the toast she handed him and put it down. Apparently he wasn't as hungry as he thought.
"Are you okay?" Sam's voice was gentle.
He frowned darkly, inspecting the butter in the cracks on the toast. "I'm supposed to be an expert at interviewing, it's key to being an anthropologist. I'm supposed to be able to ask the question that will illuminate life in other cultures and other belief systems. The best question I asked Jack was how his sandwich tasted."
She considered this for a moment in silence. "Did he enjoy it?"
"That's not the point, Sam. I had this great opportunity to find out how they lived and they were us for three years alone together on another planet, and I screwed up."
"You were acting under orders from General Hammond. I'm sure there was a lot of information to go over. And besides, knowing the Colonel " She broke off and shook her head.
"What? You don't think he wanted to talk about it?"
"Would you have? With you, I mean? There's bound to be some resentment about us. When he realized which Carter I was, after I recharged him, he wasn't very pleased to see me."
Daniel considered. "I'm not sure that was what he was thinking. He knew his friends were dead. It was probably just a shock to see you. He doesn't like waking up to surprises." They had seen his startled response upon waking in strange surroundings on many occasions.
"Okay, maybe you're right," she said grudgingly. "Maybe I have survivor guilt or something. They did save our lives."
"We would do the same, wouldn't we? I'm just including myself hypothetically, since my replica was dead and not actually saving anyone."
"Not for them, I don't think. We knew they were replicas. They knew they were not the originals, which is why they stayed behind on Altair. They were willing to sacrifice everything for us, when it really came down to it."
Daniel nodded; he hadn't been there, he believed her interpretation of the replicas' actions. "I'm still wondering how much they were like us. How we would be after three years living like that."
"Exactly like that, I would guess. Like you said, they were us. I guess any differences are due to time or the effects of the mechanical bodies. Did the Colonel's replica seem different? He didn't to me."
Daniel thought about it, as he had all day yesterday while he listened and this morning in the shower and on the drive over. "He was like... Jack without enough to do. He was sad, and still angry, but I wasn't sure at what exactly..." Daniel tried to find words for the feeling he had gotten hearing the last message on the tape. "I think in some way he blamed himself for what happened to them. It was his responsibility, because he was in command. You know what he's like. It was like that." She nodded at him and looked for more. "He didn't like being brought back to life, but he wasn't very surprised. He knew exactly what the general would want, and he said he was glad to pass on the information. It was like his last job for the SGC." Daniel grinned. And then he summarized before he knew what he was going to say: "I think he really loved us."
Suddenly he couldn't say anything more. He looked away from Sam's stricken face. They drank some coffee and Daniel thought about Jack now and three years ago. He almost shivered under a cresting wave of affection. It was a feeling that he almost never labeled when Jack was in the room and he wondered why not.
"Do you think they I mean, do you think any of them were " Sam waved her hands helplessly.
Daniel could only imagine one question that might render her this inarticulate; his eyebrows climbed. "You're asking, were any of them involved with each other intimately? Physically?"
She turned bright red and nodded.
"I have no idea. It's one of the questions I never asked. It kept occurring to me and seeming like none of my business. But I guess it kind of is our business. What would we do if we were stranded somewhere for three years with no company?"
"It's probably something we shouldn't worry about. Hopefully, we'll never find out." She reached for the plates and cups. They avoided meeting each other's eyes.
"At this rate, I should worry more about being stranded somewhere with SG-11," Daniel said dryly. He shook off the horror this thought inspired. "Thanks for the breakfast, Sam. I think I'm going to head out to Juna today, if General Hammond will let me leave without finishing the report. I want to see this ship of yours."
She grinned and he knew she saw right through his words to Jack, who seemed to be standing behind him, badgering him to get going already... He needed to see Jack.
"Thanks for coming over. It's been awhile."
"I know. I'll work on that."
After passing his preliminary notes on the debriefing to a pleased Hammond, Daniel left for Juna without Sam, because she was busy wrapping up disposal of the replicas' bodies. Daniel fled before she could explain any further, possessed by a frantic haste to protect himself from any further gruesomeness. There was still a constriction in his chest that wouldn't go away; it was not until the rings had deposited him on board the Goa'uld vessel and he saw Jack smiling at him that the pressure loosened. He realized, as it went away, that it had been lingering grief.
He was so overcome with relief at seeing Jack alive that he couldn't move for a moment. Jack started to frown. "Daniel? You okay?"
He got his neck working and nodded. It took longer for his voice to return. "I'm just glad to see you."
Jack squinted at him. "And I'm glad to see you. I've got about 20 control panels that Teal'c hasn't gotten to, and engineers crawling all over wanting to take it all apart. Is Carter coming?"
Daniel got his feet working next and joined Jack. "She'll be along in a couple hours. She had a few things to do first."
Jack snuck a sideways look at him as they strolled down one of the immense halls. "I'm thinking we put the bowling alley here, what do you think? So did everything go okay?"
No need to ask what he meant. Daniel couldn't decide how to answer it unambiguously. "I got what General Hammond wanted."
Jack thumped him on the back, catching him off guard, and making him turn to meet Jack's searching gaze. "So next time I invite you to check out my spaceship, what are you going to say?"
"Probably the same thing, but this time you were right."
"This time? Come on, there's this weird room I want to show you. It's got these purple beanbags. I'm still looking for the lava lamps to go with them." As he argued with Jack about whether he could put his stuff down first, Daniel finally knew that his grief had been misplaced.
By the time they had spent two weeks translating, playing with, and testing all the controls; taking short flights over and around Juna; and figuring out how to control a hyperspace trip, Daniel had put the replica Jack out of his mind completely. There were a couple moments where he found himself staring at Jack and realizing that Jack had gotten older without him noticing it. But the gray hair suited him and the lines around his eyes seemed to make him smile more widely, and despite the bitching about his knee and back, he was still in terrific shape. Jack caught him looking once or twice and seemed only mildly curious. Instead of interrogating him or sticking out his tongue, he just smiled. Daniel almost heard him thinking, "It wasn't me, Daniel, relax."
Eventually they found the bathrooms, the showers, and some enormous, luxurious beds in baroque quarters that SG-1 immediately commandeered. It was like being on a cruise ship, with strange decor and no senior citizens. Unless Jack counted. And if he followed Jack around a little more than usual, no one commented on it.
Amidst furious discussions about whether they should fly the ship to Earth and panic observatories and radar installations everywhere (Jack was pro, everyone else was con and unclear if he was serious), Daniel finally bowed out of the excitement to go home and finish up his abandoned mission reports. He thought he'd be able to face summarizing the debriefing of the other Jack now, fortified by 15 days of the undiluted Real Thing. And if he was lucky, clever Nyan had already done most of it.
He was still feeling a warm buzz from the last few days of comradery when he got to his office and found the note from Nyan on the desk beside a tape. "I found a section of tape that you should hear, Daniel. I think it's private. I didn't transcribe it. N."
Daniel's heart started to pound, and the two weeks were undone. He knew he couldn't put it off, because he wouldn't be able to do anything requiring any concentration until he'd heard it. He couldn't even identify why he was so nervous. He closed the door and locked it. He put the tape in his recorder, adjusted the volume dial, sat down in front of his desk, pressed play. The recorder hummed in his hand, there was a pause that sent his thumb back to the volume, and then the tinny sound of Jack's voice spoke from the tiny speaker.
"I've hit most of the important ones, and I can tell my energy is running low again. I probably won't see you in the morning. I should have asked you more about the last three years, what's happened to you, how you got over Sha're I hope your Jack O'Neill was more helpful. I watched my Daniel get depressed and bored and I couldn't do a damn thing. I never felt so helpless. When he tried to go up to the surface, I almost beat the crap out of him. I was so angry that you would give up like that, pretending it was about exploration. You gave up on all of us, you didn't believe we'd find some way out together. I always thought that when there was nothing else, we had each other. If we didn't, then I was wasting my time here at the SGC and I never should have come back to work.
"You didn't give up on us when Carter and I were stuck in that ice cave. I don't know if I ever told you what that meant to me I mean, I don't know if the other me told you. I'm telling you now: you saved our lives. When there was no reason to think we were anywhere you could find us, you figured it out. I didn't think it was just because you were a genius, which as you keep reminding me you are, but because you didn't want to give up on SG-1. On me and Sam. Maybe you would have stayed awake for days figuring it out for Samuels or Maybourne, because that's who you are, but to me it was because it was us. I never figured out how to say it to you. I guess I missed my last chance."
There was a pause. Daniel winced, wanting and not wanting to hear more.
"Well, I still can't figure it out. When I thought you wanted to die on Altair, I wanted to die too because it meant you didn't believe in us anymore. Somehow, when our bodies were taken away, whatever made you believe went away too. When I hit you, and told you what I thought of you now that you weren't you, I found out. I didn't really lose it till then. I know you were wondering, so that's how it happened.
"We got over it. You didn't go up, and I think you forgave me eventually. You decided to try us out as a team again, the way I thought you felt about us before. It was like a private agreement we never talked about. Even when I touched you.
"And now you're wondering if I mean what you think. Remember I said we feel pain and other things? When we touched each other, we felt skin and bone and and warmth. It felt human to us. Maybe it felt that way because we wanted it to. That's what we remembered. There was no one else, just us, and we were going to go crazy. Except it wasn't quite crazy like you would expect. I think the sex drive was different. Maybe we didn't have the hormones anymore, we just had whatever we remembered our bodies wanting and feeling. Every time Carter got theoretical about how we worked and how we felt things, I fell asleep, so I don't know what was going on. We still wanted to touch other people, and naturally we had each other. No military rules, no one would know, except us.
"It was still hard. Even without the policy on fraternization, I couldn't stop thinking and acting like I was the superior officer and Carter couldn't stop either, so she and I never got beyond thinking about it. But you and Teal'c didn't have the same baggage. Not that you and Teal'c ended up as far as I know because it was clear pretty soon that Carter and Teal'c were having a thing. They were quiet about it, but they started sleeping together. It even made sense.
"I couldn't stop worrying about you after what happened when I hit you. So one night after they went to bed and you went to sleep, I got up and crawled in with you. You weren't even surprised when you woke up. It felt good to hold someone, really good to hold you. It was like a truce, a cease-fire in the war. You got better after that, even though you didn't have your computer and your library card. I did too because I just needed you to stop needed to "
There was another brief pause, and Daniel could hear the hurting in his voice, even on the small speaker. "Whatever. Crap, I wish I could reach you from here. I think I knew it was all over for us when Darien killed you. You thought the rest of us would get out, I saw it on your face. But I knew if you were dead, we were through too. I wish I could have said goodbye. Which I guess is what I'm really doing now. Goodbye, Daniel."
After long silence, the voice started listing planets again, calm and businesslike. Daniel stopped the tape and rubbed his face. He had maybe more answers than he wanted now, although he was always happier knowing than not. Some of the truths about himself, or himself through Jack's eyes three years ago, weren't easy to digest. And the Jack on the tape and the Jack he had been with on the Goa'uld ship now seemed more distinct. His Jack just didnt think of well, touching him, he was fairly sure. He was a little irritated with himself for not having suspected they couldn't all be sleeping with Sam, if they were physically involved with each other. It figured Teal'c was, and he and Jack were too screwed up... But him and Jack? Or, rather, that him and that Jack? It barely seemed possible even considering their ordeal of the last three years.
Yes, that Daniel Jackson and that Jack O'Neill. He got up, paced around his desk, sat down again. He couldn't think about what this meant for him. He just knew he wasn't going to tell Jack anytime soon. He looked around for a distraction and considered Antarctica.
Daniel couldn't remember what his Jack had ever said about the Antarctica experience, other than expressing pleasure at still being alive, with all his fingers and toes, and generic marveling at Daniel's intuitive reasoning. Daniel wondered, because he didn't have perfect recall, why he had stayed up those nights trying to figure out what had happened to Jack and Sam. Was it because he couldn't stand losing friends so soon after losing Sha're and his home on Abydos? Would he have done it for anyone? He knew he would do it again now, and it would be for Jack and Sam and what they meant to him. He supposed that was the important piece of information, and three years ago didn't matter anymore. Reaching that conclusion made him feel marginally better.
Daniel rewound the tape to where Nyan had left it and considered erasing it to protect the replicas' privacy and prevent general SG-1 embarrassment. He suddenly realized he still didn't know if they'd ever been happy, and had no idea why this concerned him so much. He couldn't say whether he himself was happy most days, or even make any generalizations about his life as a whole. Only isolated moments of feeling stood out in his imperfect retrospection, like Sha're warm under his hand, a joke shared with Teal'c after a desert of silence, the brittle beauty of a completed translation.
He pressed play again. He switched off the light and sat in the dark, listening to Jack grieving. Jack did love them, which he had understood before, and Jack loved him particularly, which he hadn't suspected. Loss infused his rough voice with guilt, bewilderment, raw and furious loneliness. As he listened, possibilities germinated that he knew he wouldn't be able to look at in full light for some time. Daniel Jackson and Jack O'Neill loved each other.
Maybe that was his answer.