The chief had admitted that he wasn’t sure about Jack’s relationship with Daniel and the inclusion of Daniel in his marriage but he was being a gentleman and offering Daniel courtesy as they toured the Prometheus. Personnel of Irish descent, including an O’Neil with one “L,” proudly stood at attention as the tour passed by and they shook hands with their elderly yet spry clan chief. Maggie walked on Eachann’s arm, greeting a couple of crew members that she knew by name, and handed a tray of cookies to Col. Markham. The colonel would share them as a reward with specially chosen crew members from each department.
Michael was still a little white around the gills and seemed to take strength in the deferential treatment offered by the chief to the priest. When Jack had calmed down, he went to Michael and made sure he was alright. Michael wasn’t ready to talk. His mother did drag him to the tour, however, and made him play nice with their clan chief.
Jack consented to wear the sash for the occasion but nothing else of the kilted outfit. His excuse was that it wasn’t proper uniform.
Jack also went to Kalam and apologized. Large hearts forgave him.
After forcing himself to bring up information on pregnancy and beaming around, Jack found enough information to give to Sam that reassured him of the safety. Sam beamed up to Prometheus with them and patted her tummy with a smile. She was still flat but crew who saw the gesture knew what it meant and more good wishes were offered.
Olivia rode in her carrier on Daniel’s back and patted his shoulders in a giddy-up. She knew where she was and was also excited to tour the facilities. Many of the crew were familiar and gave her a finger to grip.
Lady O’Neill, an elegant woman of about 65 with snow white hair, held Jack’s arm as they walked and asked surprisingly insightful questions such as wanting to know about the tags and how to track missing people. Without a 303 in the area, how are people tracked?
“The new space station has a tracking computer,” Sam told her.
“What about people who don’t have a tag?” Moira O’Neill asked.
They heard a serious undertone but remained easy. “If we know there are people present, we can do a general beam up,” Sam told her. “Kinda like trolling the water and hoping to catch something. We’re getting better at focusing the equipment on people but sometimes large animals get in the way. One time, a bear was beamed up. That was exciting. We’re still figuring that one out.”
“You missing someone, Moira?” Jack asked.
She sighed and patted his arm. “Not me personally,” she said.
“Moira works with children’s charities,” Eachann said. “Worldwide, we are missing too many children. We know there are black-market slavers that specialize in children, but we haven’t been able to make progress on it.”
“I’m aware of it,” Jack said, much to the surprise of his partners.
“What?” Daniel questioned.
“Danny, I’m special ops, remember? I know a lot. Unfortunately, we were never able to get much done about it. It’s the main reason I pushed for the tags to be made free planet-wide. I reported a few camps and private homes, a few kids got out, but by the time authorities got to most of them, they were gone.”
“When was this?” Moira asked, a hand to her throat.
“Years ago,” Jack said. “Fifteen or so. Mostly the Middle East and Asia. One or two in Latin America. It’s harder to see the kids now because of the skin and hair dyes and colored contact lenses. Used to be easy to see blond, blue-eyed kids among all the black haired locals.”
“I think I remember a few,” Daniel said thoughtfully. “I didn’t think about it before, certainly not at the time. There was the odd blond kid when I was a child in Egypt.”
“You should be thankful for honorable minders,” Sam told him. Daniel had to agree and gave a shiver.
“I think I’ll speak with Parliament and try to convince them to make tagging children mandatory,” Eachann said.
“Let me know if you need help,” Jack said. “I have contacts.”
Eachann considered the impressive array of gliders sitting idle in the main hanger bay. “There is something I’d like to ask, Jack. I won’t ask for details. I’ve had a few reports from the boys at our Yard. They seem to be having a problem with Colonel Defoe.” He looked around, keeping his voice low. “A few boys have written to me because they feel the chain of command is being interrupted and you haven’t received any of their complaints.”
“No, I haven’t,” Jack said with a frown, quickly reviewing reports in his head. He excused himself from Lady Moira and tapped on a computer link. He brought up a picture of the Irish colonel and concentrated for a moment. A moment later, he looked up and cleared the computer screen.
“I’ll deal with it,” he told Eachann as he sent a quick email to Nick. Lord Eachann lifted an eyebrow but didn’t say anything except to thank him.
“So, is your family tagged?” Sam asked, getting their attention.
“Oh, yes,” Lady Moira nodded in understanding and let the boys play their espionage games. “Children, spouses, and grandchildren. Even our staff and their families. There’s a lot of superstition among the people, I’m afraid. We thought that by being publicly tagged it would help to rest their fears but a lot of them still believe that the tags are for tracking and listening in on private issues.”
Sam shook her head. “I’m afraid there isn’t too much we can do to relieve those fears,” she said. “We can track people but not listen in, and besides –we have better things to do. And the tags only pinpoint people on a map, it doesn’t tell us what they’re doing.” She went to the computer, punched in her private code, and quickly brought up a grid. “I’ll put in our daughter Katie’s name,” she told Moira. “Now, there’s more than one Katherine O’Neill so we then identify her by a number of ways. Parents, city, social security number, date of birth all help to find the right Katie O’Neill. Here’s our Katie, right at school where she should be.”
Sam gestured toward the screen and the blinking address with its global position ID. “See? That’s all we see. A location. The computer targets her tag and beams her up through the tag beacon. I suppose we could get an image if we added an imaging system to the works, like a spy satellite, but it’s really more trouble than what it’s worth. Any more satellites in orbit, and they’ll crowd out the sun.”
“I see,” Moira nodded thoughtfully. “Thank you, Samantha. This has made things much clearer. Am I allowed to spread this information?”
“Of course,” Sam said. “We’ve tried but I guess we weren’t ‘down to earth’ enough.”
Jack felt a wave begin and immediately broke out the peanut butter crackers, handing one to Daniel. Their guests had been amused when they learned just how generous Sam was in her sharing. Michael immediately took Olivia from her carrier and set her down to stretch her legs. Having her fall out if Daniel needed to suddenly stick his head into a toilet wouldn’t be a pretty picture. She squeaked and quickly toddled down the hall with the adults following at a more leisurely pace. A crew member came toward them and stood aside for them to pass. Olivia grinned at him and waved. The corporal wiggled his fingers at her, smiling at her tiny pink BDUs and her “got milk?” t-shirt.
“Olivia, stay close,” Michael warned her gently. The baby paused to look at him and then headed down the hall at a faster pace, her little arms spread out to balance herself.
“You did that, too, Jack,” Maggie said with humor. “Never listened. Always had to pave the road ahead of the tractor.”
“Didn’t we have one of those body-halter leashes on him, mom?” Michael asked.
“Yes, we did,” Maggie nodded. “Your cousin Gary used to pick him up by the leash and dangle him.”
Michael, Sam, and Daniel tried to hold in their snickers as Jack glared. He swallowed his cracker.
“That’s ok, Mikey,” he said. “I’m the one who stole his clothes while he was in the lake.”
Michael laughed, remembering. “He had to run through backyards until he stole a tablecloth to get home in.”
Daniel took Sam’s hand as the brothers found some common ground. The overhead called Jack to a comm and he excused himself for a moment.
“Can it wait?” he asked into the comm. “Uh huh. Can it wait? Come down to the computer lab. We’re doing a tour, that’s why.”
“I was never that irritating,” Jack declared as he disconnected the link.
“Jonathan is here?”
Jack looked at Daniel who smiled innocently.
“Is he here?” Maggie asked, brightening with hope.
“Yes,” Jack reluctantly admitted. “He’s meeting with Cassie on last minute plans. Eachann, Moira, you’re in luck. I think. You can meet Jonathan today. I’m sure his shadow is with him, too.”
Minutes later, the door opened and Jonathan came in with Shara and Gibil. Olivia spotted him and ran toward him.
“My girl is walking!” Jonathan cooed at her as he lifted her up to buzz her cheek. “Hi, nana,” he said to Maggie, buzzing her cheek, too. “And Mz. Preggers.” He pecked Sam’s cheek before she could swat playfully at him. Daniel and Michael were also greeted before Jack introduced Eachann and Moira.
“Really?” Jonathan asked. “Clan Chief? Very cool.”
“We have sk…kilts,” Jack told him. Jonathan thought about it.
“I didn’t know the Irish had kilts,” he said. The lord and lady smiled at the common error.
“It’s fairly new on the historical timeline,” Eachann told him. “Eighteenth century, actually.”
“Oh.” Jonathan looked down at his bared legs sticking out from his leather kilt. “Well, I’m used to them. They come in handy when you’re in a hurry.”
Shara and Gibil were introduced and remembered to use the Tau’ri custom of shaking hands as Jonathan handed Jack an electronic notepad.
“Are you truly aliens?” Eachann asked, as tickled as a kid in a new candy store.
“Yes and no,” Shara said. “It’s a long and involved story but we were actually born here. We are from what you would call the pre-Arabian peoples. We left before Babylon arose, however, and we’ve spent our lives with an alien race ever since. We are human but more alien than anything else, from your point of view.”
“But…that was thousands of years ago!” Moira said in astonishment.
“Yes, ningal,” Gibil said politely. “The story really is a bit long.”
Eachann’s eyes opened wide. “You’re the people in Daniel’s book,” he pieced together. He dug into Moira’s bag and pulled a book out, handing it to Shara along with a pen. Shara looked at Daniel.
“He wants you to sign your names inside the front cover,” Daniel told him. “It’s a Tau’ri thing called autographs.” Jonathan snickered. He wasn’t in Daniel’s book. As far as the public was concerned, he was just one of Jack’s kids, albeit the unknown one.
Confused, the men signed their names inside the book which was quickly filling up. Every time Lord Eachann ran into someone whose name appeared in the book, he had them sign it. Jack glanced at them. He wanted to find out what Thor would do, if they ever ran into the little gray buddy.
After all the O’Neills and clan were done touring, they went home where Daniel cooked a stomach-filling meal. The elder O’Neills enjoyed the children and began to discover just how a threesome made a family. Eachann did glance from Jack to Jonathan and back in the now familiar confused gaze that people were beginning to take on more and more when the two were together. Eachann was retired military –he didn’t ask.
“Jack, doing odd things runs in the family,” Moira told him after Katie asked after Eachann’s stomach ulcers without anyone mentioning them. They weren’t as surprised as Jack assumed they’d be. “When we were on the ship, you used the Sight on our Yard Master, didn’t you?” Jack neither confirmed nor denied. Moira patted his hand. “It’s alright. Legend has it the Niall himself was of the fairy folk. I only mention it because you seem a little off about using your gifts. Take pride, Jack, and don’t hide it away. The children have the right of it, playing and having fun with it. It’s part of them, just like those lovely dark chocolate eyes. Sidhe eyes, they are, turning pale blue to almost invisible when the sun hits them right. Chin up, lad.” She tapped his chin and gave him an encouraging smile.
After dinner and a relaxing time in the livingroom, Eachann and Moira were beamed back to their home in Ireland. They were tickled pink at all the Star Trek gadgetry and immediately called Jack to let him know they were safe, having startled the staff out of their beds in the “wee hours” of the morning.
Just before sunrise, Jack got out of bed and took a hot shower. As he dressed, he looked at Sam and Daniel, curled into each other, still fast asleep. He gently pecked both of them and then pecked Sam’s stomach. She turned, her hand finding his hair.
“What?” she murmured. Daniel pried open an eye.
“I’m going to Kalam,” Jack told them. They blinked sleepily and roused themselves.
“Are you sure?” Daniel asked, knowing what Jack was going to do.
“Hell, no,” Jack told him. “I’m going anyway. I need to. I want someone around just in case I take a dive.”
“Alright,” Daniel said. “Want us to come with?”
“No,” Jack shook his head. “Stay. Sleep. If I’m going to be late, I’ll send word.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Daniel told him. Jack didn’t need to consider it.
“Yes, I do,” he said. “This is a fear I need to face. I’m tired of tripping over myself and everyone around me.”
An hour later, Jack was leaning against a wooden fence, watching a colt prance around its mother. A presence was soon at his side, calmly blowing non-carcinogenic cigar smoke into the afternoon air.
“I want this done,” Jack said, hearing himself through a loud silence in his head. “I want to be in control of it. If I do this, will I still be me?”
“I promise, ahu.”
Whatever Jack was expecting, it wasn’t to be taken into the baths and stripped of his clothes. “Trust,” Ninurta told him, smiling gently when he handed Jack over to three male servants. Jack bit his tongue and got into the hot bath.
“Why?” Jack asked. None of the men responded except to scrub him. He relaxed slightly when he realized that their touch was impersonal, and the humming under their breath reminded him of Daniel’s humming during their initial love-making. When they were done, they put a robe on him and took him to another room where Ninurta and Enki were waiting. They had both changed into their formal white robes.
“Did I smell or something?” Jack asked. “I did shower before I came here.”
“No, it wasn’t that,” Ninurta told him. “Since logic hasn’t been working on you, we needed you in ritual space.”
“I’m not spiritual,” Jack said, confused.
“More than you realize, Jack,” Enki said. “You don’t seem to understand –spiritual is about what’s on the inside. The spiritual transforms the transcendent and makes it immanent. And this isn’t really about spirituality. Not all ritual is spiritual in nature.”
“We need to get you out of your head before we can get you into your head,” Ninurta told him. Jack didn’t understand either of them.
Enki stood in front of Jack, looking carefully at him. “Jack, your brain has completely adapted to the downloads. Your tests have proved that the neural connections are all there. It’s only your own fears, a phobia if you will, that’s keeping you from accessing them as easily as you access your own memories. We understand why those fears are in place, you had two rather bad experiences with this that threatened your life. I can put your brain on hold, if anything starts to go wrong. Just like the Asgard. Would you feel better if we called them?”
“No,” Jack said, giving his head a shake. “I’m still a little pissed at you guys but I’ll admit that you haven’t steered me wrong. First Daniel, then Ninurta, and now this. I’ll try it. And if it doesn’t work, if I start to deteriorate, I’m going to trust you to get rid of all the bullshit in my head.”
“All or nothing,” Enki agreed. He raised a hand and gestured toward the fireplace and the rug on the floor. “Take off your robe and sit facing the fire. Ninurta is going to sit behind you and guide you. I will monitor and pull you out if I need to.”
Jack looked at the rug. “What are we doing?”
“Always so suspicious,” Ninurta said. “The fire is for a focus. The point of the skin is because you are uncomfortable without your shields.” He touched the robe. “Being in your skin will force you into an ultra self-awareness. It’s a state of being you will need in order to complete this exercise. Do you remember how we all traveled together on the ship and discovered the smoke-aliens? We are going to travel inside of your head. I won’t gain any knowledge from you; I will only show you the route to take. I will light your way, if you will.”
With the setting of guards and the closing of the door, Jack knew no one would be interrupting them. He sat on the rug, facing the fire, and slid the robe off his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor around him. There was a roaring in his head and he felt slightly ill as faces and, surprisingly, body scents, entered the front of his head. So many people he might never see again.…..
“Jack, shush,” he heard inside his head. Ninurta knelt behind him, the warmth of his body suddenly reminding Jack of the last time the two were naked together. “Focus, Jack,” Ninurta told him, a quiet humor in his voice. “Those memories are pleasant for me, even if you wish to forget them. You showed great faith then, do so now. Just please don’t reach for Daniel in this; you need to be completely present.”
“Let’s just do it,” Jack bit out, fixing his legs and arms into comfortable positions. The flames before him began to seer his eyes so he closed them.
“Follow me,” he heard whispered inside his head…….
A stinging made him smack his neck. Buzzing and birds singing caught his attention and he looked around. A lake lay in front of him, dark and familiar.
“This is Minnesota,” he commented. “Our family cabin. How’d I get here?”
“We’re not here,” he heard next to him. He turned to see Ninurta cast out a fishing line and sitting back in the old wooden lounge chair, taking a long sip from a beer. Ninurta grimaced. “How do you drink this crap? We need to teach you how to make proper beer.”
“What do you mean, we’re not here?” He smacked another mosquito.
“We’re in your head, Jack,” Ninurta reminded him. “This is your safe place. That pond is your subconscious. It’s your locked closet. Relax, Jack; toss a few lines out.”
Hours later, Jack once again brought his line in and looked at the empty hook.
“Just think about what you want on the line and bring it in,” Ninurta told him. He kept reeling in one fish after another, throwing them back after making happy faces them.
“How about a nice rainbow trout?” Jack asked, eyeing the fish in the warrior’s hand. Ninurta was making kissy noises at it before tossing it back into the water. “I’m hungry.” His line tugged, taking him by surprise. He reeled it in and stared at the wiggling trout. “That isn’t possible,” he said. “There are no trout here.”
“Don’t tell me about it,” Ninurta shrugged. “Find out from the fish.”
Jack considered it. “Ask the fish why it’s here?”
“Sure. Isn’t that life’s most fundamental question? Just because you and it are two different species doesn’t make it any less important.”
After posing the insane question to the slippery fish, his attention was captured by a ripple on the water. It took him a moment to recognize the close-up face of a man. His father, much younger than he remembered. Tom O’Neill yelled across the lawn and the image turned to see a boy running after a cat and scaring it up a tree. A thumb came into view and disappeared into close range. Jack realized that the boy on the lawn was Michael, about age 10. Jack would have been about 3 years old. His father was holding him on one arm while turning fish on a grill.
Jack threw the trout back into the pond.
“That wasn’t fair,” he said gruffly.
“It was nice,” Ninurta said gently. “Your father loved you very much. Thank you for sharing it with me. Why don’t you try asking a question and then casting out? Try the shadow under the tree.”
“Make a wish?”
“If you want to put it that way.”
Feeling as silly as asking a fish the meaning of life, which he still didn’t understand, Jack squeezed his eyes shut and then cast his line out. It tugged a moment later. Instead of bringing a fish up, the water rippled into another image. Bodies. One after another carefully, lovingly placed into crematories. Why? Jack sent the thought. What happened? He had seen bodies piled up like that during catastrophes. Instead of the radiation burns and blast wounds, though, such as the Koreans had, these people were pale and gaunt. They looked familiar. A voice began to speak, narrating the scenes.
……..Jack opened his eyes, blinking away the blurriness. It wasn’t a fireplace in front of his eyes, but a whiteness. Was he blind? No. Rafters decoratively placed while being useful. A softness was beneath his head. He was in a bed. A warmth was at his side and he turned his head. Olivia and Davy slept next to him. Jack was confused. This wasn’t his bedroom; he knew he was still on Kalam.
“Daddy, Mommy, Adda’s awake!” he heard Stacey call from just outside the room. She came in and jumped up onto the bed. “Are you better, adda?” she asked.
“I think so,” Jack said slowly. “What are you guys all doing here?”
“Rip Van Winkle awakes,” Daniel said from the door. He and Sam came into the room, concern behind their smiles.
“What do you mean?” Jack asked. He could feel the weakness in his body and the soreness in his back, in his bones, from long-term bed rest.
“You’ve been asleep for 15 days,” Daniel told him as Sam checked his eyes and his pulse. Dr. Lam came into the room, having insisted on being on hand to keep watch over him despite the fact that the Furlings could do better. Sam moved and Lam began to examine Jack. He discovered that he had IV lines in his arms. And, if the sensation was correct, one of those damned things in his dick. He moved carefully to look over the side of the bed. Yep. Damn….
“Fifteen…. no,” Jack shook his head.
“Oh, yes,” Daniel said. “Ninurta brought you up here and called us. Dr. Lam says you’ve been in a coma but Ninurta says you’ve been reviewing archives.”
“Coma,” Dr. Lam insisted, taking the stethoscope from Jack’s chest. She expected to hear small rattles in his lungs, considering the length of time he’d been laying there. His lungs were clear.
“Carolyn, you know the scans showed his brain has been incredibly active,” Sam said.
“Do we need to do this now?” Daniel asked the women. They both looked guilty and backed off.
Davy woke up and saw everyone around the bed. He jumped over his baby sister and snuggled into Jack’s chest. Jack winced and wrapped his arms around the boy. At a look from him, Daniel reached down and lifted Davy away.
“Daddy’s not that strong, yet,” Daniel told him. “Why don’t you give him a kiss and then go play? He’ll be alright.” Davy bent down and pecked Jack on the mouth. Daniel set him down and Davy ran from the room to tell the rest of his siblings.
“What the hell happened?” Jack asked. Olivia snuffled and turned her head in her sleep. Jack lowered his voice. “I was fishing. In Minnesota.”
“Minnesota?” The others in the room stood looking at him.
Jack waved. “Never mind. My head feels like it’s ready to split open.”
“No aspirin,” Enki warned from the door. “Consider yourself allergic to it.”
“Why?” Lam quickly jerked her head toward him.
“Because I’m….changed.” They looked at Jack. He could sense a shift in his perception.
“You’re still you, Jack, we promised,” Enki told him as he came into the room. “The Ancient DNA is now in the forefront of your own, that’s all. Acetaminophen doesn’t react well with Ancient DNA. Go herbal.”
“Acetaminophen comes from willow tree bark,” Sam said.
“Willow bark tea is fine,” Enki told her. “So is the bark in powdered form. He can chew it, if he’s really desperate. The processing of the medication is where it becomes bad for him.”
“What happens if he has aspirin?” Dr. Lam asked.
“Fever and convulsions,” Enki told her. “Akin to encephalitis.” Dr. Lam made a note.
“Jack, do you remember anything that happened?” Enki asked, coming to the end of the bed. Jack rubbed his eyes.
“A little,” he admitted. “It’s mostly like watching a million TVs all at the same time.”
“What did you find out?” Sam asked, sitting on the side of the bed and holding his hand.
“Everything,” he told her. “You guys were right in that the history doesn’t really matter to us. It doesn’t actually have much to do with us at all.”
“Jonathan!” Maggie rushed into the room and swept him into her arms, mindful of the IVs.
“Mom. I’m fine. What are you doing here?”
Jack looked at the others over his mother’s shoulder. “What’s going on?”
They looked at each other and Jack was sure something had happened.
“Five days ago, President Tien was assassinated,” Sam told him. “China is in a state of revolution.”
“It’s terrible, Jack,” Maggie said tearfully. “They are saying they’re bringing back the old ways and that they have the rightful emperor of China. They said the aliens and all these new things happening are evil and will destroy us. They said you brought this to us.”
The looks on everyone’s face told him his mother was right. Jack lay back, giving his face another rub. He was stubbly and he needed a bath. A long, hot bath. He shuddered to think of what was happening with his intestines during the 15 days. The swearing in his head was in a surprising number of languages. He’d have to try them out on Daniel.
“Paul is at HomeSec,” Sam told him. “General Hammond and General Landry are in constant contact with him, helping him when he needs help. We go back and forth, carefully, when we need to. The US is on high alert but so far there’s been no attack. General Maynard strongly advised that we get off-world until this is settled. All the kids are here, mom and Michael, Cassie is here, too, as well as Jerrie. Jonathan is on the Heaven’s Bow in orbit around Earth, keeping watch and signing your name to a few minor things to keep up appearances, Prometheus is also in orbit. The Daedalus is on its way home.”
Jack swore under his breath. He picked his head up again at a sudden thought.
“She’s here,” Daniel said, sorrow momentarily highlighting his face. “We drugged her, bound her, and had Prometheus beam her out of security and into the gateroom before she knew what was happening, and we brought her here. Jack, she destroyed Vyus.”
Daniel gave him a nod. “There’s a haz-mat team there now, making a detailed report.”
“Damn. Wasn’t it dangerous to bring her here?” Jack asked pointedly.
“She is…. incapacitated,” Enki said delicately. “Erra is dealing with her. Pity her, Jack, don’t condemn her. Her wires are extremely…. crossed. The amnesia gave her a time of reprieve but ultimately the wiring turned itself back on.”
“What’s Erra doing with her?” Jack asked.
“Are you sure you want to know?” Enki responded.
“I think I can wait,” Jack said. “What about the Vishnu planet?”
“What planet?” Maggie asked, not comprehending the conversation. Jack motioned for her to move and he tried to swing his legs out of the bed. Dr. Lam wasn’t happy about it but she took the IVs out of his arms and bandaged him. He assumed the IVs were giving him nutrients until he could eat on his own. He’d been there before. Sam took a robe from the dresser and held it out for a sense of privacy while Daniel helped him to stand. Jack glared at the damned hollow cord sticking out from a place it had no business being, and Carolyn removed it without a blink. Jack’s legs almost gave out and he sat for a moment while Sam quickly put the robe around him.
“Take it easy,” Daniel told him. “You’re muscles are weak.”
“I need a specimen of the Goa’uld in order to determine its origin,” Enki told him. “The Tok’ra are going to kidnap one of them for me. Don’t give me that look, Jack, our ethics are a little different and mine work for me. And since our UW terms say the Goa’uld are forbidden to play God, we are obeying the letter of the contract.”
Daniel gave him a sharp look. “That’s cutting a fine line,” he commented. Jack tried getting up again and Sam slid a shoulder under his arm to support him.
“Never mind that now,” Jack said, silently ordering his muscles to knock off the crap as his partners walked slowly with him to the main family room. “What’s going on at home?”
It was a timed raid against the government, he was told. From the strength of the group, the plans must have been happening for years. Individuals from a highly secret group had gained converts from the country peoples, people already hundreds of years behind current times and most susceptible to a new warlord and a new mythology that encompassed beliefs that the people retained after hundreds of years. The army of Emperor Shih Huang Ti, a descendent of Lord Yu, supposedly, began to declare that it was re-establishing order to the country of Ch’in. All outsiders were immediately given 48 hours to leave voluntarily. Anyone caught within Ch’in’s borders after 48 hours would be jailed, forcibly tossed out, or shot on sight no questions asked.
Buddhists and any other native spiritualities would be allowed, others were to remove their influence as they had contributed to the downfall of the great nation of Ch’in, especially Christianity. Crosses were forbidden. The fact that Buddha was from India didn’t seem to matter to them. Internet was shut down as were all television and radio programs that were not dedicated to the new regime. Non-Ch’in owned businesses were immediately turned over to Ch’in hands and contracts burned. Once the country was under control and the people settled, contact outside the country would be considered.
Materialism was to blame for the fall of the great nation, and forced borders were to blame for pollution, diseases, and population over-growth. When the people no longer had an emperor to take care of them, they turned to materialism. What did they have to show for it? One disease after another cropping up in their over-crowded, polluted cities. In the countryside, water was so contaminated from the runoff of pesticides that it was, in some ways, worse than the cities. People were abused, their daughters raped, unwanted children killed. The local government officials were to blame, the contamination of their pockets a shameful thing.
The alignment of China with HomeWorld Security was the final straw. The people were now expected to believe that the changes happening were a good thing, instead of the evil that it truly was. Demons had hold of children, and a few adults were also showing signs of possession. Such things didn’t happen until the big-eyed American O’Neill brought his evil back from the stars. And Westerners in general were to blame for chasing away Lord Yu himself from great Ch’in so long ago.
“I need a drink,” Jack announced.
“No alcohol,” Enki told him and handed him a glass of juice.
“What?” Jack asked.
“Jack, Nick seems to think that the timing of this coup isn’t a coincidence,” Daniel said as Jack gave his juice a suspicious sniff. He stuck a finger in it and then into his mouth. Must be something local, he thought. It wasn’t bad, so he drank it. He wasn’t going to like being completely alcohol-free.
“How so?” Jack asked. “I was kinda enjoying being the downfall of a nation. Did any of the government get out?”
“No,” Sam told him. “All the upper tier were killed. As far as we know. That’s what we were told once the new regime announced themselves.”
“What’s the UN doing about it?” Jack asked.
“Begging and pleading,” she said. “Not much else they can do. Everything has remained within China’s borders and no one from the previous, legal government has asked for help. The surrounding nations have already asked for help, in case China wants to demand the return of old boundaries. Taiwan is a lost cause. Concern is focused mainly on Tibet. His Holiness is refusing to leave, now that he’s in his home. Japan is quickly back-peddling and yelping for protection.”
“What did Nick have to say?” Jack returned to Daniel’s comment.
“He has a theory that this has been in the making since we first made China aware of the Stargate years ago. He said that China had made a few unusual moves over the years and if he adds them together, they come up cherries. His people were expecting something to happen, and the CIA was aware of it, but they didn’t expect anything to happen so soon.”
“Someone was aware I was off-world,” Jack stated. Daniel gave a nod.
“And possibly for an extended period,” Daniel said.
“I wasn’t aware I’d be here so long, so how could anyone else know?” Jack asked. His brain made lightning moves in calculations which left him slightly dizzy. “Someone’s seeing the future.”
Sam opened her mouth to automatically object to the concept and then changed her mind.
“It is possible,” Enki told them thoughtfully. “We have Grant here to prove that a few extremes might crop up. He’s on Heaven’s Bow, by the way, doing a little recon. Precognition isn’t completely unexpected. It’s no more than sensing possibilities based on past and current actions. This is how ‘good guessers’ get their information.”
“No one in China has access to my closed records,” Jack said. “So even if everyone knew I was visiting Kalam, how would they know what I was going to do? I didn’t know until I woke up and made a decision.”
“That med tech who spilled your records about the bullet is still missing,” Sam reminded him. “And we don’t know who was funding Dr. O. The psycho who kidnapped Jonathan? He’s dead, but who hired him? Who funneled information to him that there was something about Jonathan that needed to be investigated? Jack, you’ve scanned the planet several times; nothing popped out at you?”
“I’m kinda new at all this,” he reminded her in irritation.
“You’re offering a conspiracy theory,” Enki said to Sam. She blew at her bangs with a puff.
“I know,” she said, not happy about it. “I hate conspiracy theories. With the snowball getting larger than life, though, I don’t know what else to suggest. Nick is calling in all his markers on this one. China is one of the few places he had a problem getting into, so he doesn’t have many contacts there. He’s tracking down someone in our government that he’s suspicious of. He said you know what he’s talking about.”
Jack drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair as he thought. “Yes, I do. We’ve had someone under watch, someone leaking HomeSec information, we just haven’t had any proof. You know, all this over-the-top stuff is bringing up a familiar unpleasant odor.”
Sam and Daniel stood looking at him. “You cannot think a Goa’uld is involved,” Sam stated.
“Sure, I can,” Jack said. He slouched, stretching his legs out in front of him. “Look, we have no idea where the other snakes are, or even who’s still alive. You’ve never toured China, much less been in close proximity to how many billions of people, so you don’t know if a snake is hiding there, we’ve certainly found other snakes coming out of the woodwork over the past year, and I refuse to believe that Yu was the only Goa’uld in China. All those dragons? No, I don’t believe it. And humans developed on a parallel evolution in that area of the planet, so……”
They were looking at him again.
“That was interesting,” Jack said to himself, scratching at his raspy cheek. “It popped itself into my head just like I’ve always known about it.”
“It is a theory that’s slowly gaining popularity, but it’s a pretty recent theory,” Daniel commented.
Jack looked suspiciously at Enki. “Well?” He waited.
“Well what?” Enki asked innocently. “You didn’t think I’d play favorites with just one continent, did you?”
Jack squinted at him. “How did you….?” He stopped, looking inward as though listening. “Oh. Off, dammit, you’re giving me a headache.”
“Who’s giving you a headache?” Dr. Lam asked him. She had been sitting quietly nearby, keeping an eye on him.
“That narrator inside my head,” Jack said, pointing to his head. “It’s telling me how to alter the growth of an entire species. I’m not understanding any of it, but it’s giving me the instructions. It isn’t happy with you,” he informed Enki.
Actually, his head was talking non-stop, as though it had been lonesome for a long time and suddenly found a friend. Most of the noise was in the background but when he concentrated on something, it became louder, getting his attention. And for some reason, the narrator seemed to be in a pond which became opaque to show him images while a fish narrated. He wondered if he should mention it. He decided not to as a padded white room came to mind.
“You know, if we had the schematics for the pukku, I could try and make a wide-beam and attach it to the hull of the ships,” Sam suggested. The schematics immediately came to the forefront of Jack’s head.
“Paper,” Jack groaned.
While Daniel dug into his stuff for paper and pencil, Sam began to laugh.
“What?” Jack asked, his heart light at her smile.
“Can you picture McKay’s face when he discovers you not only have the schematics for all the Ancient devices in your head but you also know what everything is for?”
Jack began to smile and then paused as a familiar wave began. Daniel also paused. They both began to turn green. Enki went to the table and poured two cups of tea. Sam lifted her shirt and pointed at her stomach. “I got a bump,” she informed Jack with a proud grin. Jack saw there was indeed a small roundness on her lower belly. He touched it, feeling the hardness of it, and kissed it.
“Listen, buddy,” he told the bump. “The Dads love you, so don’t take this the wrong way when I tell you that we will be much happier after this trimester.”
Daniel snorted. “You got off easy,” he said. “I’ve had 15 days of morning sickness that you didn’t.”
Katie and Matthew ran in, hearing that Jack was up and about. They threw their arms around him for hugs, relieved to see he was alright. They smelled of sunshine and hay and horses.
“Aunt Sam and Uncle Danny have been making us do schoolwork,” Matthew complained. “We’re not home, so do we have to do work?”
“Yes, you do,” Jack informed them. “This isn’t a vacation.”
The kids pouted about it as they went back outside.
“We had their schools put a curriculum together,” Sam told him. “Technically, Daniel and I are both teachers, I don’t do a lot of classes, but I teach at the Academy once in a while, so the school board approved us as home school teachers.”
“Good,” Jack nodded. “At least they’re not getting lazy.”
“It’s been tricky teaching David,” Daniel commented thoughtfully. “I didn’t realize what a time his teachers were having with him until we tried teaching him. His attention span isn’t the classical ADD; he has a great attention span, it’s just… with him being continually in the now, and that makes teaching him an interesting time of day. On our part, not his.”
“Does he need a special school?” Jack asked, looking at them intently.
Daniel shrugged and Sam echoed him. “No, I don’t think so,” Daniel said. “He’s happy to learn, and as long as we take the time to explain things, he’ll eventually get it. Teaching him hands-on seems to work best. When he experiences something in real-time, it makes more sense to him.”
“I’ve been teaching him math by letting him help with technological designs,” Sam told Jack. “He’s learning fractions by learning how to cook. Daniel’s been using a made-up dig to teach him geology and geography.”
“I get it,” Jack nodded. “Well, as long as he’s learning, we can deal with it. Daniel, what about your classes?”
“Canceled for this semester,” he said despondently. “The board understands, given the circumstances. Ninurta’s been going over for a lecture tour, and poking around unobtrusively, so the universities are happy. I left instructions with my students to take careful notes when Ninurta gets to our campus. And if Ninurta happens to request their presence while he’s there, so much the better. Ronnie and Nyan are assisting him.”
“Sam, your office?”
“I head to the office through the arch once every few days,” she said. “If we use the arches, no one outside the office knows we’re there and our people are keeping their mouths shut. So far, we’ve kept to business as usual. Everyone suspects we’re off-world but it hasn’t been confirmed. To explain your absence, they think I’m having a difficult pregnancy and you and Daniel are nurse-maiding me. If you’re feeling up to it, you can gate to the SGC, arch to your office, check in with Paul, sign a few papers, and come back here. You’re still the Number One target on Earth, so the entire council, on-world and off, wants you off-world. A sighting would throw people off track, though, if you let someone see you once in a while. The Generals have been here to check on you a few times while you were out of it; Henry, too. We put an arch in his private quarters so no one knows when he’s not home.”
Jack began to ask her something and then changed his mind. “Where’s Inanna?” he asked, not having seen her.
“With the Tok’ra,” Enki said. “She has a team with her to find out about this new Goa’uld. She reported in a couple days ago, she should be home soon.”
“Zu is missing,” Daniel told Jack. “No one’s seen him for quite a while and he isn’t responding to hails.”
Jack held out an arm. “Zu, to me!” He waited. Nothing happened.
“We’re not worried,” Enki told him. “He’s done this before. Sometimes he’s gone for years and then returns without an explanation.”
“He….” Jack paused, his eyes widening as he listened to a sudden spat of information. “Oh, my….”
“What?” Sam and Daniel asked.
Jack’s mouth opened and shut in surprise. “Old man, I’m beginning to understand why you keep things from us and make us work for it. Zu… there’s a file on him.”
Even Enki’s eyes widened in surprise. “The Ancients had a file on Zu? What does it say?”
“You really don’t know who, or what, he is?” Jack asked, watching Enki carefully.
“Really,” he said. “Not a clue. He’s been with us for several thousand years, and he won’t tell us how he does it or where he’s from.”
Jack began to chuckle as he relaxed back into his chair. “A case of who’s watching the watchers,” he said, finding great humor in the information he was fed. “Daniel, do you remember...... no, of course you don’t but you know it anyway. Daniel, it was your choice to return from Ascension into your old self. You could have chosen a different form, if you wanted to.”
It took a moment before Daniel’s mouth dropped. “Zu’s an Ancient?!”
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