Originally published in The Seventh Chevron 2, 2000
Even the plates and silverware were made of Naquada. Naquadaware, thought Jack OíNeill as he eyed the scrumptious repast laid out before him. Naquada, naquada everywhere and not a drop to drink. Maybe the Boronids didnít believe in alcoholic beverages, but they still knew how to throw a great party. Everything was delicious. Carter had run tests on the food before the meal to make sure it wouldnít kill them or infect them with a disease that could wipe out Earth when they returned through the Stargate. That meant he could pig out safely. Daniel already was, while he talked eagerly with Pors, the chief scientist. Pors looked like a Viking, a big, blond guy with pale skin that Carter said was most probably a result of their society living underground. Sheíd talked about pale fish deep within the ocean and cave dwellers who never tanned. The Boronids lived in vast man-made caverns, never venturing to the surface. They grew their food hydroponically. Theyíd even in the last two or three decades, produced automated machines that tended to surface crops, although such food was still too expensive for the man in the streetóor the tunnel. Some of the locals seemed to think it was a fad, others that it was the hope of the future.
The Stargate was underground here, too. M.A.L.P. images had revealed an elaborate chamber lit with concealed lighting that suggested technology. The interest that had produced had everybody back at the SGC acting like pointers who had just glommed onto a scent. Weapons trading was always at the back of the governmentís minds, especially since too many bad guys out there knew about humans and Earth and the fact that Earth had a Stargate. But it wasnít just weapons that would be handy. Once SG-1 had arrived, theyíd been met and celebrated by the locals, a whole contingent of Vikings, although there was no evidence they were kin to the people on Cimmeria. Pors might be big and hearty, but a lot of the people were little and timid and didnít approach the strangers at all. Maybe if you lived all your life in a cave, people who went out into the sunshine all the time were intimidating.
They were nervous of Tealíc, too. Particularly Tealíc. Maybe theyíd seen Jaffa before. They did seem to know about the Goaíuld, although the memories appeared so distant and vague that the Goaíuld was little more than a bogeyman to frighten children. Was it Tealícís tattoo that scared them? They couldnít know about Junior. It wasnít as if Tealíc made a habit of ripping open his shirt and allowing the nasty little snake to poke its head out for a view. Maybe it was just that they were so pale they couldnít comprehend someone with darker skin.
Come to think of it, they were pretty comfortable around Daniel, and even more so around Carter. Guess it was just a case of familiarity, although Danielís hair was darker than that of any of the natives. Carter they clearly liked, and not just the guys, who might find her a babe. The women, too, flocked to Carter, surrounded her, talked to her, reached out to touch her hair and her clothes. All the while they did it, though, Jack had a bad feeling.
He wasnít sure why. These people had been delighted to make contact with Earth. Theyíd talked a lot about their various scientific achievements and had listened to generalities about Earthís. There was talk of a scientific exchange, which ought to warm the cockles of General Hammondís heart and thrill the science types back home. The people seemed open, friendly, trusting.
So why did Jack feel like they had a hidden agenda?
Daniel was talking hardówhat else was new?ówaving a weird fork made of naquada at Pors to illustrate a point. It didnít have tines; it had a serrated point, sort of like a jagged spoon, only without a curved bowl. Worked pretty much like a fork, anyway. Daniel lowered it to scoop up some of the vegetable stuff and ate it with evident relish. Being an archaeologist had probably had taken him all over the world and exposed him to weird food, not to mention the stuff he ate on Abydos when heíd lived there. Daniel never hesitated to try new food on the planets they visited, although Jack had finally trained him to wait until Carter had vetted it first. After that cake stuff that had produced the nanites in Jackís body which simulated aging, he didnít want any of the rest of the team coming down with weird problems. Carter had said this green stuff was full of healthy protein that wouldnít even add an atom of cholesterol to the body. "We should take samples back home," sheíd insisted. "It can be processed to simulate meat and it tastes far better than soy burgers."
Jack poked at his meat and wondered if it had begun its life as that green goop. What was that old movie? Soylent Green. Oh yeah, right, the perfect food. Hadnít big Chuck Heston been screaming at the end, "Soylent green is people"? If he was eating pale blond people, Jack was gonna be very unhappy about it.
"You find our food distasteful, Col. OíNeill?"
That was Manda, the leader of the Boronids, a busty blonde woman of middle yearsóat least thatís how sheíd appear on Earth; she could be thirty or eighty, for all he knewówith pale blue eyes that could see right through him.
"No, itís good," he said honestly. "I was only thinking." He scooped up a bite and munched on it. It was good. So was haggis if you didnít know what you were eating.
"We think so." She smiled at him. She had a very engaging smile. "You are the first travelers to come through the Eye in many a generation. My people have become isolationists out of long habit. Many of my people were uneasy when they learned travelers had popped out of the Eye."
"Weíre peaceful explorers," Jack reminded her. "Our weapons are defensive, and we havenít used them on anyone here, and donít plan to. We never know what weíll find when we, er, Ďpop out of the Eyeí. Might be animals big enough to scarf us down in one bite."
"Our animals are tiny," Manda reminded him.
They were, too, miniature creatures that could fit in the palm of Jackís hand. Some were furry and some were scaly, and they seemed to serve no function except as pets. A few of the Boronids had their pets with them at the table. Jackís mom wouldnít have let him do that when he was growing up, but these people were all grown upóthe children didnít come to state banquets. Here they were: a man with a little lizard thing on his shoulder, a woman with a fuzzy furball that looked halfway like a tribble tucked into her cleavage, one guy with a green spotted whatsis perched on the top of his head.
"You dislike our friendly creatures?" Manda put an element of reproach into the question.
"Nah, Iíve got nothing against Ďem. Theyíre just new to me."
Carter joined in. "Are they pets?"
"Pets? Animal friends? Yes, they are pets. They provide us with pleasure and soothe our souls."
So did that mean the ones who had the most troubled souls never went without them?
Look at Daniel now. The big blond dude had passed one to Daniel, a lizardly thing that sat in the palm of Danielís hand and purred up at him. A yellow tongue slurped out and flicked the tip of Danielís nose. The archaeologist grinned like a kid who had just gotten a new puppy for Christmas. Daniel might be into pets for all Jack knew; the subject had never come up, and Daniel did have his fish. Maybe he knew he couldnít have more when he was sometimes away for days this side of the Stargate. He hadnít had a settled home for a long time before that; when he was on digs, pets would have had to stay behind.
Daniel ran a gentle finger over the little guyís brow ridges and the purring increased. "Jack, do you see?" He lifted his eyes to share his pleasure with his friend.
"Looks like true love to me," Jack kidded him.
Tealíc, at the far end of the table with a gap between him and the nearest Boronid, frowned.
Pors took his little friend back and set it on his shoulder. He gave Daniel a hearty buffet of approval between the shoulder blades.
Daniel pitched forward into his soup and didnít move.
What the hell.... Jackís hand was on his MP-5 as he erupted to his feet. Carter whirled and eased Daniel away from the bowl. The front of his shirt was soaking, little bits of pseudo-meat clinging, and his face was flushed.
"Daniel?" Carter eased him back against her shoulder. "Daniel, can you hear me?"
Pors wrung his hands, a picture of horrified distress. "I did not strike him that hard. I would never have hurt him. A man with such a mind should be a treasure, not a victim. Come, Friend Daniel, awaken."
"Danny boy?" Jack displaced the hearty, apologetic Boronid and put his palm flat on Danielís forehead. Heat rose off him in waves. Worse, it looked like he was breaking out in big, red welts on his face, on his hands. Wheezing breath whistled out.
"Looks like an allergic reaction," said Carter urgently. "I think heís going into anaphylactic shock." She scrambled for her backpack and produced a medical kit. Tealíc was quick to assist her. "Sir, we have to get him back to the gate right away." She gave him a dose of epinephrine.
"It is the Curse," moaned someone in the background.
Jack whirled. He couldnít tell who was speaking, but he needed to know what was meant. He grabbed Manda by the shoulders. "Whatís this about a curse?" Several of the bigger natives surged up to protect her but she put up a hand to hold them back.
"It is a condition which plagues us from time to time. We did not know he was one of the allergic ones, or we would have given him different tableware."
Conscious of Carter and Tealíc fussing over Daniel behind him and desperate to get Daniel back to Fraiser for treatment, Jack had to listen. "Naquada? Youíre saying heís allergic to naquada? Give me a break. Heís been exposed to it over and over, every time he went through the Gate, uh, Eye."
"But not in a concentrated dose," Manda said sadly. "This is very bad. You have ways to counter the sickness?"
"Yes, we do." Carter kept fussing over Daniel. "Sir, heís not responding. We have to get him home immediately."
Jack felt his interest slide away, the way Daniel had slid into his soup. Near-subliminal itching suddenly called itself to his mind and it was abruptly so all-consuming that he couldnít focus. Hot. He was hot. Didnít these guys have decent thermostats? Theyíd poisoned Daniel and now theyíd poisoned him. "Carter...." he groaned.
She raised a face that was bright with a small, red rash. "Sir, Iím affected as well. Tealíc?"
"I am...aware of the condition but I am...not as severely affected. Quickly." He bent and scooped up Daniel in his arms. "We must return."
"Of course. We will show you to the Eye." Mandaís face was horrified, apologetic as she led the way from the banquet hall. Able to function as usual, Tealíc cradled the unconscious Daniel in his arms while Carter, steadier than Jack, wrapped an arm around his waist to keep him on his feet. Manda spoke as they hurried toward the Gate. "Some of our people react the same. We use less of the Prime Metal with them, sometimes none at all."
"Nice of you to give us a warning," Jack gritted out.
"We did not know. You seemed big, healthy, fit. It is usually the small and weak who react thus. Your equipment tested our food as safe. What else could it be but the Curse?"
Jack could see Carter struggling not to scratch her rash. "Thatís what we want to find out."
They burst through the Stargate with the sound of Danielís irregular, raspy breathing loud in Jackís ears. Isolation-suited medical workers were waiting for them on the chance that the condition might be an unknown plague capable of mimicking an allergic reaction. Each team member was inserted into his own garb and Daniel was placed on a gurney. Sterilization procedures went into place to avoid the risk of alien microbes in the atmosphere, but everyone knew that Earth-based processes might not work with pathogens from the other side of the gate. Still, it was all they had. Jack spotted General Hammond in the control room overhead, watching them anxiously.
The minute the sterilization process was complete, Janet Fraiser, near-unrecognizable in her bulky suit, spoke into its throat mike. "General, I must transfer Doctor Jackson to the infirmary immediately. His condition is life-threatening."
"We gave him an epinephrine injection," Carter volunteered. "It seemed like he was going into anaphylactic shock, and the treatment did slow the process, but it didnít entirely stop it. At the time, he was the only one affected, and we know he suffers from allergies."
"The only thing you could have done under the circumstances," the doctor replied as orderlies wheeled Danielís gurney toward the infirmary at a run. Jack found a burly orderly guiding his steps and it was easier to let the guy help him than to make a fuss about it. At least it got him moving more quickly after Daniel. Tealíc, stolid and determined, was at his other side and Carter was aided by another of the medical team.
If only this damned itching would stop so he could think.
** *** **
Organized chaos reigned in the infirmary. Once sealed into a protected, controlled environment, the members of SG-1 were stripped of the protective suits and run through a gamut of tests. Daniel went on oxygen immediately, and, while it seemed to help, it didnít entirely stop the desperate heaving of his chest. He wasnít conscious. When Jack called his name, he got no reaction.
Eventually, Tealíc developed a slight rash, mostly on his face and hands, but it didnít gain ground. Junior, proving his worth once again. There were times when you had to almost love the ugly little snake.
Carter looked like she was suffering from a savage attack of the measles, and the way her mouth curled as she sat on the diagnostic bed and submitted to an examination by Doctor Warner suggested she was concentrating every fiber of her being on not scratching.
Jack knew the feeling. He could see the welts on his forearms; they were big, honking, ugly things and the word Ďitchí matched them the way a millpond matched the Pacific Ocean in full typhoon. The effort of will it took not to dig his fingernails into them in a desperate quest for relief blocked out all but the most obvious external stimulus.
Except for Danielís desperate breathing.
Fraiser was working on Daniel, and working hard. Even in the bio-suit, the lines of her body suggested desperation. Whatever she was trying wasnít working.
"What caused this?" she asked without turning. "Any speculations?"
"They said we were allergic to concentrated naquada," Carter volunteered. "The plates and silverware were made of naquada. The people wore it as personal jewelry. It was everywhere."
"But thatís ridiculous," Fraiser objected. "You face exposure to naquada every time you go through the gate."
"The leader of the Boronids reported that some of her people also suffered such an allergy."
"That doesnít mean we would."
"Theyíre human, Janet." Carterís hands clenched tightly into fists as she struggled against the same impulse OíNeill was fighting. "They came from Earth originally. If they possess the potential for such an allergy...could it be that such a concentrated exposure might well create problems? Daniel was affected first and he does have allergies already. It might make him the most susceptible."
"That wouldnít explain your exposure," Fraiser objected. "You have naquada in your system, Major. If you were going to be allergic to it, I think weíd have observed a reaction before now. If humans had the potential to be allergic to it, mining teams would be lined up outside the infirmary for treatment. Besides, heís not reacting the way Iíd expect, if this were an actual allergy. Conventional treatments should have done more to ease your symptoms, and they simply havenít. I donít think itís only because weíre talking an alien vector."
"What about Daniel?" Carter asked, and the concern the whole team felt rang in her voice.
"If I canít stabilize him soon, heíll need to go onto total life support." She risked one glance in their direction and the panic in the eyes that gleamed through the faceplate made Jack forget the itching for an agonized moment. She wasnít just talking long treatment. She was talking possible death here.
"I wonít rule out the naquada theory," she said, her hands busy as she gave Daniel another injection. "But thereís a possibility that their naquada dinnerware has another element in it that is the cause of the problem. Or it may be something else entirely, something else present on the planet."
"Atmospheric tests from the M.A.L.P. didnít show anything like that." Carter stretched out her arm to the nurse for a cream to be applied to her rashes.
"Topical treatment," the nurse volunteered. "This should work rather like calamine lotion. It might ease the itching until we can find out how to remove the cause."
Carterís face eased immediately, but it was only relief from the urgent need to scratch. "There was one thing different with Daniel," she said thoughtfully. "The Boronids have miniature pets. Daniel held one of them, a creature that looked like a lizard. It licked his nose. He started to manifest symptoms immediately after that."
"He fell in his soup," Jack added dryly. Dryly? His mouth was dry and that wasnít from the allergy or whatever the heck it was. He had a feeling, deep in his gut, that Daniel was going to die.
As if to prove his suspicions, the equipment monitors over Danielís head threw a hissy fit, an klaxon ringing through the room.
"What?" Jack demanded. No one took the trouble to answer him.
Warner abandoned Tealíc without hesitation and the medical team converged on Daniel, pulling in equipment. Jack watched and listened to their tense comments as they worked on him. God, now they were bringing in the paddles. His heart had stopped. Jack froze, totally unaware of his own itching welts. He would have gone over there, but his need to be with Daniel was superseded only by the need to insure his friend got full treatments without interruptions by an anxious colonel.
For the sake of everybody in the room, once was enough. "Weíve got him." Fraiserís voice quivering with relief. "This is not a typical allergy. I live with an allergy every day, and so Iíve made a study of it. This mimics an allergy, and it mimics the symptoms superbly, but itís not one. Hang in there, Daniel," she added gently in an undertone.
"Theories?" put in Warner as he did what needed to be done on the unconscious Jackson.
"None at the moment," Fraiser replied. "Just more questions."
OíNeill craned his neck to see better. This sucked warty pickles. Just going to a state banquet shouldnít endanger Danielís. He could see something going wrong if they were playing tag with a troop of Jaffa or pinned down under enemy fire, but sitting around having dinner shouldnít be lethal. He planned going back there, grabbing Manda and shaking her until she rattled, until he found out what theyíd done to Daniel.
"They might have some idea of it," Carter said speculatively. "Could it be a poison, induced by the lizard?"
"Oh, come on, Carter," Jack exploded. "Itís not like the rest of us played with the animals. I didnít touch any myself and look at me." He gestured vaguely at his blotchy face. "Tealíc didnít either."
"No, but we were in the same room with them. Daniel is the worst off and he had direct contact. Maybe theyíre poisonous to us. Maybe the Boronids have built up an immunity over the centuries."
"Yeah, and at the same time some of them turned allergic to naquada?" Jack frowned. "I donít think so. I bet this is something else entirely. You canít have two separate, lethal things going on. I saw some of those puny guys at the other table, the ones eating off the cheap plates, and they had pets, too." Why couldnít he get a better look at Daniel? What were they doing over there, anyway?
"Yes, but they were pale and puny for a reason, sir. Maybe something on that planet was inimical to humans. Not necessary lethal except perhaps to people with the potential for a lot of allergies. Maybe over the years they adapted, and the ones that adapted best are the ones like Pors and Manda, who look relatively healthy. We came in there cold, and we didnít have centuries of built-up immunity."
"And weíre not allergic to naquada, either, in spite of what Manda said," Jack spat out. "They have to be conning us."
"Blood test results coming up," someone said, and Janet moved over to the computer and pushed a few buttons. Images and text came up on the screen, and the doctor froze in shocked disbelief. "Quick," she said and pulled Warner closer to read over her shoulder. "This is incredible." The two of them rushed at Daniel, Fraiser already calling out for medication. A nurse passed her a hypo and she injected it into Danielís IV tube.
"What is it?" Carter got up and tottered over on unsteady feet. Jack followed, and Tealíc eluded his nurse to join them. The three members of SG-1 looked down at Danielís swollen, blotchy face. He was so far beyond pale he could be a model for a new sheet color, and the oxygen tube fed air into his punished lungs in wheezes and gasps.
"Thereís something in his system that Iíve never seen before," Janet explained as she monitored the unconscious man. Impatiently, she ripped off the glove of her bio-suit and curled fingers around Danielís wrist to take his pulse. "I donít believe itís contagious. Itís induced, like a poison, a poison that mimics the behavior of an allergen. Just as a person with hay fever or asthma may have a worse reaction to a new allergic agent, Daniel, with his hay fever, had a worse reaction to the poison. This," and she nodded at the used hypo in her hand, "should neutralize it. I want him monitored every second."
"Confirmed," muttered Doctor Warner, his eyes on the diagnostic readings.
"Ordinarily Iíd have run extensive tests before I began treatment," Fraiser said to them. "But...frankly, Daniel doesnít have time for that. If this doesnít work...."
Jackís stomach clenched up hard and he heard Carterís breath go out in a horrified whoosh. Tealícís face remained impassive but those active little muscles in his jaw did their usual dance.
"Are you saying those people back there poisoned us on purpose?" Jack snarled through clenched teeth. "Sweet." If Daniel...died, heíd go back there and personally ram everybodyís teeth so far down their throats that theyíd be shitting molars.
"We donít know it was deliberate, sir," Carter ventured tentatively.
"We donít know that it wasnít."
"If necessary, I shall return and confront them," Tealíc volunteered. Only someone who knew him well could hear how much he hated the people who had done this to Daniel. "I am least affected. If the treatment proves successful, I would be immune to a renewal. I would confront them."
"I think weíre all gonna confront them, Tealíc," Jack insisted. They werenít getting away with this. Nobody messed with his teamóhis familyóand walked away from it.
Fraiser and Warner didnít listen to SG-1ís plans for revenge. Maybe they thought it would help to sound off about it. Instead they monitored everything about Daniel, using monitors Jack hadnít even seen before. He was vaguely conscious of General Hammond in the observation room above them, but the General knew when to make a fuss and pull rank and when simply to wait and observe. One glance up there had shown the harsh worry lines etched in the older manís face, and it had allowed Jack to see the pain in his eyes. One look had been too personal, and Jack hadnít glanced up there again. Instead, he fixed his gaze on Danielís face. Leave the readings for the professionals. This might be the last time heíd see his friend alive.
It seemed to take years, although Jack later realized it was no more than three minutes before there was a change. He was conscious of Carterís fingers curled around his wrist, their pressure easing the itching in that particular spot. Later on, he was surprised to realized heíd grabbed Tealícís wrist in much the same way. Totally instinctive. None of the three of them even acknowledged it as they stood there. Medical personnel worked around them, anointing the welts they could reach, but no one asked them to stand back or to return to their diagnostic beds. Instead, the room was silent of all but the medspeak going back and forth between Fraiser and Warner.
And then Daniel drew a deep, shaky breath and went into a fierce sneezing fit. Jack tensed up so tight he knew his muscles would be sore later. His fingers dug into the flesh of Tealícís wrist hard enough to leave bruises and he felt Carter savaging his own wrist.
"Come on, Danny, come on, Danny," he chanted, scarcely aware of speaking. "Donít you do this to us. You hear me, Daniel. Donít you dare do this to us."
Carter sucked in a sharp breath. "Colonel...."
The sneezing stopped and, for a second, Jack couldnít hear Daniel breathing. Oh, no. His knees went weak as water.
"Yes," exulted Fraiser. "Very good, Daniel. Yes."
"Breathing is returning to normal," said Warner, although Jack realized even as he spoke that the absence of sound was simply the easing of the tortured breathing. Danielís face was still puffy and pale, but he was drawing breath normally.
"Itís working," Fraiser said. "You can relax, SG-1. Itís working."
"A series of graduated injectionsÖ." Warner began, but Jack had stopped listening. He turned and shared a huge, sloppy grin with Carter, who beamed back at him, and with Tealíc, whose eyes smiled. Then he and Carter pried stiffened fingers loose from their grips. A nurse took another blood sample from Daniel and whirled away to process it, and Jack eased between the two doctors up to Danielís side, conscious of Tealíc and Carter hard on his heels.
Watery eyes opened a slit and Daniel squinted up at him. His tongue came out and moistened his lips and a feeble hand raised to investigate the oxygen. His lips struggled to form questions but no words emerged. Frustrated, he tried again. "Ja-ack?"
"Youíre gonna make it, Danny," Jack told him. "Our little bunny friends evidently poisoned us but Doc figured it out. You get a little downtime for now but make sure they donít get away with it."
Daniel digested as much of that as he could, then he frowned slightly. "You look...terrible, Jack."
Jack could imagine; between the ugly red hives on his face and the fading panic in his eyes, he couldnít be a candidate for ĎOfficer of the Monthí. But that didnít matter. He could look as ugly as Apophis in his current reincarnation and it wouldnít matter, not as long as Daniel was going to make it. The team might be down for the moment, but they werenít out, and no two-bit tribe on a remote planet was gonna do away with any of his people.
"Yeah," he said lightly. "Bad hair day, I guess."
Tealíc made a sound deep in his throat, like he was swallowing a laugh. Thatís right, Tealíc never did have a bad hair day. Maybe Jack should have let the Jaffa shave his head when he was in Jackís body.
Carter turned her own chuckle into a phony cough, and Danielís eyes lit. "Ďs okay?" he ventured.
Jack reached out and grabbed the hand the archaeologist extended to him, catching it up in both of his own. "Itís okay," he vowed. "You just stay here and do with the nice doctors tell you, and maybe you can come out again next time and play with the big kids again."
"Canít...wait." He must have seen something in the faces of the waiting physicians, because his mouth twitched. "Guess you have to...do what the...nice doctors say...too, Jack."
OíNeill finally acknowledged the hovering medical staff and resigned himself to being turned into a pincushion. "Guess I can live with it," he said, and his eyes added, long as youíre gonna make it, kiddo.
Daniel translated that without effort and he smiled before his eyes closed and he drifted into sleep.
** *** **
Three days later, you couldnít even tell Daniel had been sick. Jackís own welts were an unpleasant memory, Carter was full of energy, and Tealíc was his usual self. Released from the infirmary, Daniel came with the rest of SG-1 to the briefing called by General Hammond. Doctor Fraiser came, too, a clipboard of information in her hand.
"It was a designer poison."
The words caught everyoneís attention. Even General Hammond stared. "Poison I understand. Iíve heard of designer drugs. How do you mean, Doctor?"
"Simple. Not only was that drug intended to make people sick, and to possibly kill anyone susceptible to it because of allergies, it was designed specifically to simulate the behavior of allergies."
They stared at her. "Designed to look as if allergies had been induced?" Carter sounded intrigued.
"Designed to cover up the fact that weíd been poisoned?" That was Jack. "Deliberate murder intended to look as if we were just unlucky?"
"I donít know if it was actually intended as deliberate murder, Jack." Danielís face was thoughtful. If this had turned out differently, he wouldnít be doing any thinking at all. Jack contemplated the pleasure of taking a squadron of heavily armed Marines back to PR4-119 and using the little timid people for target practice. He wouldnít really do itóbut he relished the mental image.
"Why not? Come on, Daniel, you could have died of that. Your heart actually stopped. The last thing Iím gonna think is that they were trying to induce a sneezing fit."
Doctor Fraiser gestured with her clipboard. "They went out of their way to convince you that you had suddenly manifested an allergy to naquada," she reminded them. "A person may suddenly develop an allergy to something that has proven unharmful in the past, a cumulative exposure. If we had believed them, if we had believed that this was caused by exposure to naquada, what would we have done?"
"Rotated missions through the gate to prevent any one team from receiving too high an exposure, while we tested the theory," Hammond replied. "Once weíd proved the cause, weíd have worked out a timetable. Weíd have made sure that there were no long-term exposure problems even for teams with limited missions. Unless it was proven that gate travel was eventually lethal for every man and woman who went through, we wouldnít have closed the gate. We have too much invested in it."
"They might not have known that, though," replied Daniel. "Maybe they were just trying to protect themselves. If we thought we were allergic to naquada, we might not use the Gate again, at least thatís what theyíd think." Kid didnít have a clue how to hold a grudge.
"Those people tried to kill you, Daniel. Donít you even care?" Jack felt the urge to beat his head against the table top. Jackson had not one shred of revenge in his makeup. Certainly none of self-preservation. Jackís frustration flooded him. If only he could shake some sense into his friend.
Daniel gazed at him in surprise. "I donít think it was personal, Jack. I donít know why they did it, but I had the feeling the whole time we were there that they were afraid of usóthat they were terrified of us."
"Perhaps my presence alarmed them," volunteered Tealíc. "They did not admit to recognizing me as a Jaffa, but that does not mean they did not."
"In other words, they might have assumed that if you were there, the Goaíuld wouldnít be far behind?" Hammond frowned. "Surely they wouldnít expect the Goaíuld to buy that they were allergic to naquada?"
"Maybe," Daniel said slowly. "If they know anything about the Goaíuld and galactic history, probably not. If they only know by hearsay, it might be different. Or if they only remember stories handed down by word of mouth from centuries ago."
"Might I remind you, these guys are not the victims here," Jack pointed out impatiently. "Daniel, you came within a mouseís whisker of biting the big one here. Maybe you can be all forgiving and sympathetic, but itís a heck of a lot harder for the rest of us."
Daniel turned his eyes to Jack and gave him a bright and glowing smile. "Thanks, Jack."
Oh, now, why had he gone and done that? Jack grimaced. No need to get all mushy here. "Thatís not the point. Didnít you ever learn self-preservation, Einstein?"
The glow went out of Danielís face in less than a second and Jack could have kicked himself. The archaeologist said in a low voice, "Self preservationís always been the easy part." Then, as if he realized what heíd given away, he gnawed fiercely on his bottom lip. Being Daniel, he pushed that away immediately and plunged on. "Thatís not the point, Jack. The point is, those people were scared to death of us. People who are afraid arenít at their best. Sometimes, they just cower in the shadows, but sometimes even a rabbit will turn on you. I think they were just trying to make us go home through the Stargate and never come back so they could be safe again."
"So they just dreamed up a designer virus in one afternoon and fed it to us at the banquet?"
"Most likely," Fraiser put in quickly. She must have guessed Jack was annoyed, and maybe she didnít want him to take it out on Daniel. She shouldnít have worried. The perfect target for the tip of OíNeillís boot was OíNeill. He had a terminal case of foot-in-mouth disease. "The poison would have needed to be ingested."
"We tested that food," Carter objected. Then she shook her head. "Manda took me to the kitchens and I ran tests on it while it was still in preparation. It would have been fairly easy to doctor the individual portions, or even to coat our plates with the substance in such a way that it would activate in the presence of hot food."
"And, once ingested, it would react with your individual systems," Fraiser finished. "For those with a propensity for allergies, it would react more strongly. For the rest of you, it would be like exposure to poison ivy, perhaps. Painful and unpleasant, but not necessarily fatal."
Jackís mouth curled as he remembered the way his welts had itched. "Just enough to make you almost wish it was."
"It was not a foolproof plan." That was Tealíc. "The people of P4R-119 knew from our interaction that the Tauíri possessed technology. They should have expected us to grasp what they had done."
"And not take it at face value," Carter insisted. "But what I saw of their technology indicates that they are ahead of us in areas of medical research, even genetics. Their kitchens wouldnít have looked out of place in a Nineteen-fifties McDonaldís, but the medical facility would have made Doctor Fraiser green with envy." Fraiser nodded.
"Yeah, it was a great place," Jack groused. "Just like a meth lab is a great place."
"So, youíre saying they underestimated our medical abilities?" Hammond inquired. "That they tried to fake us out to keep us from coming back? If they donít want company, why not simply bury their Stargate? Thatís the best way I know to keep unwanted people from dropping in unless they could design something like our iris."
"I donít know why," Daniel offered. "Maybe they have a taboo about it. Maybe they never thought of it. Maybe theyíre afraid that anybody who might use the gate would have ships, too. I think we need to go back there and ask them." He turned to Hammond. "General, I donít believe what they did was intended as a deliberate attack on the SGC, or even on me. I think it was a panic reaction, that they hoped to keep us from coming back, even if it was a pretty forlorn hope. Iíd like to know why. The next people who come through their Stargate might be more backward than we are, and they might lose people."
"We came too close this time, Doctor Jackson."
"No, I came too close." Danielís spine stiffened. "General, Iím the one who nearly died. If anybody would want revenge, Iíd be the one, only I donít. I just want to know why they did it. Maybe we can even help them. I donít think they liked what they did."
He didnít have a sense of self-preservation, not one little bitty clue. Jack opened his mouth to blast his friend all around the room and back again, then he shut it again. He wouldnít be yelling because he was pissed off at Daniel just for being Daniel. Heíd be yelling because he remembered them using the paddles on him in the infirmary. Because he had been worried. Heck of a reason to yell at his buddy. Instead, he took a deep, calming breath and held his tongue.
"Doctor Fraiser." Hammond had witnessed Jackís incipient explosion, and he probably understood it. "You understand the function of the poison?"
"Yes, General. We isolated the substance in the bloodstream of all members of the team. Weíre running tests on it. Itís entirely new to us, but we can classify it and understand itóand control it."
"And I take it thisóand the fact that Doctor Jackson is sitting here prepared to risk his life again and drive the rest of us nuts indicates you have an antidote?"
"Yes, sir. Since it mimicked an allergy, we started with aminophylline, but that wasnít effective nor were other typical procedures such as the treatment for anaphylactic shock given Doctor Jackson on the planet. It wasnít until we were able to isolate the poison that we could provide a treatment to destroy the poison in the bloodstream and allow the allergic symptoms to fade. Since this is not an allergy per se, we donít need to follow up with desensitization procedures or standard antihistamines."
"Does what youíve done work specifically as an antidote?" Hammond persisted.
"Not specifically, sir, but it could function that way. We could inoculate a team before they returned to the planet as a precautionary measure."
"Iíve already got it in my system," Daniel pointed out. "Doesnít that make me safe to go?"
Jack lost it. Daniel Jackson was a certifiable idiot who might as well paint a bullsí eye on his chest. Keeping him safe, keeping him alive, was a full time job. If Daniel wouldnít protect himself, then Jack would have to do it for him. He didnít want to imagine what it would be like to lose Daniel. If it came to that, he didnít have to imagine it. He knew exactly what it was like from the time heíd left a dying Daniel on Klorelís ship. Heíd gotten Daniel back that time, but miracles didnít usually happen over and over. Daniel had more than used up his share.
"Oh, for crying out loud, youíre not going. Do I need to remind you that you nearly died a couple of days ago!"
"I know, Jack. But Doctor Fraiserís released me. All my blood work was normal, and I took that cardiac stress test, the one they crank up to a higher level for the military, and came through it just fine. Iíve been bored to tears in the infirmary, and Iím fine now. Iím ready to go."
"I havenít released you for gate travel," Janet added quickly. Jack prepared to call down blessings on her head when she continued, "Not until tomorrow and Iíll want to run a final blood test before you go, just to be one hundred per cent safe. Actually, all of you have been injected with the antidote. If you are approved to return to PR4-119, I donít think I need instruct you to eat or drink nothing."
OíNeill gnawed his lip. The last thing he wanted was to let his team serve as practice for the Borgias back there, especially Daniel, who still had his susceptibility to allergies. Still, he had a feeling that the medical and genetic advances on the planet were going to appeal to the powers that be. Daniel might want to go so he could help people he believed had been desperate enough to try to drive them off with that cockamamie stunt. The Pentagon might want to get the hands on their genetic manipulation process. Jack would have been happy to go in blasting. Too bad he couldnít. Hammond would never authorize a retaliatory strike under conditions like these. And heíd have been happier to leave Daniel at the base and not risk further exposure. It might be harder on him a second time.
"Do you want us to go, sir?" Carter ventured to Hammond. She could probably tell Jack was steaming.
"As of this moment, itís under advisement, people. First, Iíd like theories as to why you think those folks poisoned an entire SG team and tried to falsify what had been done. Before I let anyone return to PR4-119, I want us to have covered every possibility we can imagine.
"Theyíre afraid of us," Daniel insisted. "I donít know why, but they were terrified. Couldnít you see it, Jack?"
"Oh, yeah, terrified." Actually, now that he thought about it, he could see it. "They were terrified like cornered ratsóand they fought back." He hesitated, letting his speculations show. "They were uncomfortable with Tealíc, but I donít know that they were that much more afraid of him than they were of us."
"They showed no evidence of recognizing me as a Jaffa, although it is possible that they concealed their recognition," Tealíc added. "I am usually able to identify the signs."
Jack just bet he could. Even the most tolerant cultures on the other side of the Stargate had a tendency to look upon Tealíc with loathing and fear, even after repeated assurances that he no longer served Apophis. OíNeill would have kicked in a lot of faces for treating Tealíc so badly if he hadnít understood the reaction so well. Nobody on those planets would throw a welcome party for a Jaffa. Hard to stop a universal hatred and allow that one member of the species might be honorable. Once people did that, theyíd have to start admitting others to their respect, like Master Braítac, and the Jaffa whoíd helped on Klorelís ship. Once you start seeing the individuals, it was hard to maintain bigotry, which is why hate groups valued stereotypes so much.
"They didnít know us," Daniel pointed out. He wasnít pale any longer, and excitement flickered in his eyes. "But they must have known someone who came through the Gate and hurt them. Maybe the Goaíuld long ago, maybe somebody else. I donít think what they did to us was even personal."
"Oh yeah, and that would make us feel just great when you diedóimpersonally?"
"No, think about it, Jack. If somebody came through the gate and did something bad to them, even if it was centuries ago, theyíre going to identify anybody who comes through the gate with the ones who did it, even if the new people claim they want to be friends. How many times have people been afraid we were the Goaíuld or at least allied with them? I donít honestly think they meant me to die, or any of us. All they wanted was to find a way to convince us that coming through the gate was dangerous, so weíd stay away."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah, right, like that would stop us?"
"They donít know us. They donít know what weíd do. Suppose it had been Maybourneís covert people popping in? They might have faked being nice, but theyíd be out for what they could snatch and grab. You canít expect trust just because youíre trustworthy, not out there." He waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the gate.
Jack shook his head. The idealistic Jackson heíd met when they first went to Abydos had probably believed a sincere smile and a handshake would convince anybody short of Ra that he was one of the good guys. Look at him now. Not necessarily more cynical, but more realistic in his understanding. Heíd come on a lot. Too bad heíd gotten to this point by experiencing death and betrayal and loss. A part of Jack would have relished keeping Daniel innocent, but another part was glad his friend had a wider viewóuntil that view made him willing to fling himself right back into a situation that had nearly killed him last time. He hardened his heart.
"Danielís right, sir," Carter put in. "Theyíd have had no reason to believe they could trust us. We could have been Greeks bearing gifts for all they knew. So they put on a good show for us and then theyó"
"Stabbed us in the back," OíNeill groused. "Remind me not to trust their hospitality again, Major."
"I donít think any of us are prepared to do that, sir."
"I certainly am not," Hammond replied. "Doctor Jackson, you believe that they had an unfortunate gate encounter and that turned them against all gate travelers?"
Daniel considered the generalís words. "Yes, sir. It could be, of course, that theyíre simply antisocial and try to drive everybody away, but I think theyíve had a bad experience. Encounters with other cultures arenít always smooth. Thatís why we go through so much Ďfirst contactí training, to make sure we donít get complacent about it. Thatís why you have somebody like me on the team in the first place. Even then, there are bound to be misunderstandings. Look at the Nox. We thought them simple and primitive, in need of our protection, and they wound up saving our lives and protecting us. No matter how hard we try, we canít always look past our own preconceived notions."
"The fact that you are aware of this and consider it regularly is one of the reasons youíre good at what you do, Doctor Jackson. Very well," Hammond pressed on before Daniel could do more than gape at the unexpected praise. "One mission. I donít want you to start shooting, but I do want to learn what happened. If these people have an enemy, it may be one we already shareóor one that might turn in our direction next. If they refuse contact, we will withdraw; you can assure them of that. In spite of the top brass breathing down my neck over all that naquada, I wonít inflict us and a mining organization on another world, not like P3R 353"
You might not, thought Jack cynically. It hadnít really been Hammond last time, either. It had been people over his head. The little bunny people might have been right to try to scare off SG-1. When youíve got something the whole galaxy wants, you canít expect them all to go home nicely after tea and never trouble you again. Heíd never believed theyíd rooted out everybody in Maybourneís conspiracy, either. There could be someone on this base passing information to people out there. SG-1 could go back in good faith and promise not to returnóand a week later, somebody who hadnít been picked up last time might zip over to PR4-119 and start an illegal mining operation.
All they could do about that was try to find a way to monitor and prevent it. That wasnít OíNeillís job. His was to get his team to PR4-119 and back without any more deadly diseases. He didnít want to itch like that ever againóand he didnít want to watch Daniel dying. Heíd had to do that too many times already, each time more inventive than the last. Sometimes, he wondered if he was getting too old for thisóor whether Daniel himself drove him to accelerated aging. He was about one hundred and ten per cent sure he couldnít convince Daniel to stay behind, and Hammond wouldnít back him if he tried, not if Fraiser had cleared him. But he didnít like it.
Carter and Tealíc werenít that much better, if it came to that. Okay, so they needed the Colonel to keep an eye on them all. Watching his people risk their lives was one of the problems of command. Nothing he could do about that, either, except do his job the best he could. He had a pretty good idea that Daniel would get particularly huffy if he realized Jack meant to watch him more carefully this time around.
He was right.
** *** **
That evening, Daniel tracked Jack down after dinner. The night before a mission, OíNeill almost always stayed on the base rather than heading home. This time, the whole team had. Carter was off closeted with Fraiser going over the implications of the poison and its ability to mimic an allergic reaction. Tealíc was probably meditating, doing that kel-no-reem thing. Jack had half expected Daniel to go off with a collection of anthropologist types to theorize over the Boronidsí motivations for their fun and games with poison, but when he wandered back to his quarters, he saw Daniel waiting for him outside the door. Something on the archaeologistís face made mental alarms go off. Time for a confrontation.
"Hey, Daniel," he greeted casually.
"Jack." Oops. That tone was not a jolly one. This wasnít a call for a late-night game of poker or chess or even an opportunity for Daniel to bore Jack with some wild new theory. Mentally, OíNeill cast his mind over the past few days. What the heck was wrong?
"Okay, what did I do?"
Daniel looked momentarily surprised that Jack had picked up on his reaction, then he shook his head with an exasperation directed at himself rather than the colonel. The kidís face was as easy to read as one of Charlieís school primers.
"I want to talk to you," Daniel said stiffly. Oops. Definitely bad.
"Sure, come on in." He opened the door and waved Daniel inside. An offer of a chair or a beer was waved aside as irrelevant.
"Lay it on me." Jack didnít sit down either.
Daniel didnít even start off small. He opened up with both barrels. "Why donít you want me on the mission tomorrow?" he flung the question at Jack. "You know Iím fine. Janet wouldnít release me for gate travel if I werenít. Is it because you donít think Iím pulling my weight? Or is it that youíre trying to protect me? I donít need to be protected, Jack. Anybody could have gotten a lethal dose of that stuff back there. If you think what happened means that I canít handle it, youíre wrong. I saw the way you looked at me in the briefing. Youíd have thought I was too frail to walk across the street. I want you to quit it."
"Oh, for crying out loud," Jack exploded. "Protecting you? Come on, Daniel. You know we all watch each otherís backs on missions. Thatís why weíre all still alive. No matter how good you feel now, you nearly died three days ago. Iíve got a right to make sure youíre well enough to go on a mission."
"I can see that," Daniel conceded. "Thatís fair. But once you get the clearance from Fraiser, that should end it. Tell me this, Jack, and tell me honestly, because the feeling I got in the briefing makes me need to know. If it had been Tealíc who nearly died back there because of some problem with his symbiote, would you have been freaking like you were? If it had been Sam? Or is it just me? Because if itís just me, I want to clear this up right now."
Daniel glared at Jack. "Maybe I donít come out of the military. And so Iíve had a few things go wrong over the years. I honestly donít think the sarcophagus thing was my fault. And if youíre holding my reaction to...Shaíreís death against me, then thatís not fair either. So come on, Jack. Just tell me. If I get the special OíNeill protection, I donít want it. Not if it means you rate me less than the rest of the team."
"Whoa. Where the hell did that come from?" Jack blurted in astonishment. "Damn straight I was protective of you after what happened. They had to use the paddles to start your heart. Iím supposed to slap you on the back in some hearty male ritual and tell you that youíre tough, youíre fine, and ignore it the way I would a paper cut? Damn it, Daniel, you scared the hell out of all of us, even General Hammond." He held up his left wrist. "See these bruises? I got them when Carter grabbed onto me when you were in there dying. I gave Tealíc a set to match, although Junior healed his already. What do you think we do, just turn it all off once your tickerís back to normal?"
"Iím sorry I worried you, but thatís not the point." Daniel didnít give any ground. "Jack, Iím fine. I donít need special protection. I saw you in the briefing. You were tying yourself up in knots over the need to keep me home if you could. If you think I shouldnít be on the team any longer, fine. Itís your team and your call. But if Iím on the team, then I take the same chances as the rest of you, or else Iím going to be the one asking for reassignment." He swallowed hard. "I donít want to do that. SG-1 is the only family Iíve got. But Iím not the helpless baby brother. Iím an adult, and Iíve faced harder things than most people ever will and survived them."
"Nobodyís denying that," Jack insisted. "Letís think this over. Youíve got a point, in a way. Look, youíre the youngest and when we started out, even after living on Abydos for a year, you were the least experienced."
"Yeah, but Iíve seen new SG teams with younger men than I am and nobody fusses over them."
"You donít know that. Youíre not on those teams. Look, Daniel, you said it yourself a second ago. SG-1 is more than your job. Itís your family. Donít you think thatís true for all of us? Come on, tell me honestly, if Iíd been the one in there whose heart had stopped, wouldnít you be more cautious with me the next time?"
"Well, yeah, but Iíd never try to keep you from going on the mission, as long as Janet released you for duty."
"No, and youíre not in charge of the team, either. Youíre responsible for your job when we go through the gate, but Iím responsible for all of you. You say I donít protect Sam or Tealíc if something had happened to them? Maybe you forget what I wanted to do when Tealíc had to undergo the Cor-Ai? Or what I pushed you to do on Cimmeria, to free him. Itís not a contest over whoís weak or strong. Itís about all of us making sure that everyone is okay, that when we go through the gate we arenít bringing along any unnecessary risks. There are enough necessary risks out there without looking for more."
"I understand that, too. But I think itís more. I get that feeling sometimes. Maybe itís my own insecurity that does that. But you donít need to protect me this time, Jack. Because if youíre wasting your time fussing over me when I donít need it, you might miss something important."
"Damn it, Daniel, I know that." He sucked in an impatient breath. "You didnít see how you looked when you were on that table and Doc had to use those paddles on you. Iíd be overprotective of anybody who went through that, so how much worse do you think it is because itís you?"
Daniel practically stamped his foot. "Thatís what Iíve been saying. Why, why, why donít you get it?"
"Youíve got it turned around." Jack inhaled slowly in an attempt to find patience, then he burst into urgent words. "Come on, Daniel, you know where weíre going here. You asked me once to say who I trusted most. You said you wouldnít be hurt if it wasnít you, but I think you would have been. You asked if it was Tealíc. Maybe I trust Tealícís experience out there mostóthatís common sense. But if weíre talking all the way down to the soul trust, come on, Danny boy, you know thatís you. After I got roped into faking out Maybourne and I did that number on you at my place, I wasnít sure you would trust me any longer. You donít have that mindset, to understand that sometimes we have to do some pretty despicable things for a larger goal. Acting that part was tough, but all the worse with you. Maybe after that, and then after seeing you nearly die on me, Iím a little overprotective. Youíre right, I am. But it was never because I thought you were weak or that you couldnít cut it. It was because youíre my friend, damn it. Iíve told you things Iíve barely admitted to myself. Maybe itís selfish, but Iíve come too close to not having you there too many times that I donít want to risk it again. Itís nothing to do with whether or not I think youíre qualified. Do think for one blasted second Iíd have you on the team if you werenít pulling your weight? Well, do you?"
Daniel stared at him with eyes open wide. "I...maybe not," he conceded, and there was a flash of sheer relief in his expression.
"Well, then...." Jack ran down. He didnít usually wave his feelings around for all to see. He wasnít good at it, and now he felt uncomfortable as hell, as if he had found himself in the gate room in only his BVDís. "So, are we okay with this now?"
Color touched Danielís cheeks. "I, uh...okay, Jack. I guess I.... Thanks."
"Aw, geez, donít get all mushy on me, Space Monkey."
"I guess I just..." Daniel, so fluent a few moments earlier, seemed to have dried up completely. "I mean, I...."
"Yeah," Jack observed sagely. This kind of talk he could deal with a heckuva lot better. "Me too."
Daniel grinned. "Now you sound more like yourself, Jack," he kidded.
"Usually your mouth goes a mile a minute." Jack glanced at his watch. "Hey, weíve got a mission in the morning. If I hear youíve been pulling an overnighter on me, getting ready for it, Iím going to have to hurt you."
"Well, I was going to talk to Doctor Rothman, see if Bob has any ideas aboutó"
Jack lifted a warning finger. "Daniel!"
The younger manís eyes twinkled and he snapped what he fondly assumed was a rigid, military salute. Jack tried not to wince. "Aye, aye, sir."
"Thatís Navy talk, Doctor Jackson." He gestured at his fatigues. "Does this look like a Navy uniform to you?"
"Picky, picky." Daniel flashed him a huge smile, then he wheeled smartly and marched away. He didnít do it half badly, either.
Jack cocked his head and watched his disappearing friend until the closing door blocked him from his view. Then he let out his breath in a huge Ďwhewí.
But he knew he would still keep an eye on Jackson in the morning, just to be sure. And heíd make book on the fact that Carter and Tealíc would probably do the same.
** *** **
The Boronids welcomed their return with nothing short of consternation. When SG-1 stepped through into the underground chamber, two little blond guys, clad in the yellow the team had learned designated scientists, were deep within the innards of the M.A.L.P. that had been left behind in the teamís haste to rush Daniel to Doctor Fraiser. They had stacked components and parts in tidy piles and one of them clutched in his hand something that could have been an electronic clipboard to itemize the probeís parts. Horrified, they stood side by side and looked as if the axe were about to fall.
"You have returned!" squeaked one of them.
The other bolted for the door.
"Uh, uh, hold it right there," Jack took two long-legged strides and blocked him. "Last I remember, we didnít exactly make you a present of that."
"You...did not return. We...we thought the Curse would frighten you away."
"Maybe," said Carter. "But our doctors proved that there is no curse. There is only poison."
"Yeah, this is where I get to say Ďtake me to your leader,í" Jack observed. The Boronids didnít get it, of course, but Carter groaned and Daniel rolled his eyes. Tealíc, who must have heard the phrase more than once before, displayed nothing but his usual stolid exterior, but Jack thought he saw a flash of quickly suppressed amusement in the Jaffaís eyes. Pretty bad when his own kids laughed at him.
"We will take you to Manda," the smaller scientist offered in a quivering voice. "We did not believe you would return."
OíNeill decided to leave that line alone and bring it up with the Boronid leader. So he nodded in confirmation. Daniel spoke up quickly. "Weíre not here for revenge or anything like that. We just want to talk. Itís okay."
"We will, however, defend ourselves, if necessary," inserted Tealíc. The two scientists tried not to pass out in sheer terror.
That started to bug Jack. After all, he and his team were not exactly ogres here. Theyíd shown up in good faith and made nice with the natives, and the natives had tried to kill them. He wasnít prepared to be as nice this time around, and, if necessary, he could be a whole lot tougher.
"Jack," Daniel said in a quiet warning tone. Sometimes OíNeill thought the kid could read his mind. He raised deprecating hands and let it ride.
When they were brought to Manda, it was in the banquet hall, where she was seated at one of the tables, studying reports on a computer screen. Jack still hadnít gotten quite used to their weird, round screens. The word of their coming must have preceded them because she didnít overreact to their arrival. Instead, she looked at them long and hard, then she bowed her head. To Jack, it looked like a concession of defeat.
"You are returned."
"You could say that." OíNeill forged a path to her table. A few of the bigger Boronids, led by Pors, even though he was a scientist, too, lined up behind her and, this time, they were armed with little sidearm-type thingies that looked like laser weapons. They had defensive technology, and theyíd resorted to poison? A nice, devious lot. Maybourne would probably like them.
"We came to find out why," Daniel burst out.
"No, let me, Jack. After all, Iím the one who almost died."
"You hafta keep reminding us?"
Daniel grinned, then he turned back to Manda. "You tried to make us think we were allergic to Naquada. I believe you did that so we wouldnít come back through the ĎEyeí and youíd be safe from us. But we hadnít threatened you."
"How could we know that? The smiling face oft shields the weapon in the hand." That sounded like a local proverb to Jack.
"Has it before?"
How the heck could Danny boy sound so sympathetic to somebody who had nearly done him in? Jack was positive that if heíd been the one whose heart had needed a kick start, the last thing heíd care about was these folksí history. He wasnít sure he cared about it now, except that it might stop them doing it again to somebody else.
"If we asked you to go away and never come back, would you have done so?" Her eyes were very hard and knowing. "We saw how you looked at the Prime Metal. We saw the light of acquisition in your eyes. Your words may have been hollow. Ah! Even now I see that they were."
Jack heaved a sigh. "Look, weíve had trouble before. We maybe got a little greedy, but I hope we donít have to do that with you. Iíve had assurances from my commanding officer that we wonít come in and take your naquada by force. But treaties can benefit both people. Looks like youíve got naquada coming out the wazoo. Maybe weíve got something you need in return. Did you ever think of that?"
"People came through the Eye before and hurt you, didnít they?" Daniel interjected.
Mandaís mouth fell open. "How do you know this? Did they tell you?"
"I donít exactly know it," Daniel said. "You were awfully...uh, paranoid. Suspicious of strangers. Usually that means nasty strangers came before. Weíve had some bad encounters when we went through the Eye, and we can understand that."
"Some of us can," Jack muttered.
"My friend was worried about me," Daniel said hastily. "Manda, we want to help, if we can. I donít think you poisoned me because you were just malicious and anti-social. I think you did it in hopes of making us go away. And you did that because youíd had a bad experience before. We arenít those people. We may not be perfect, but we came through the Eye in good faith, in hopes of trade or an alliance against powerful enemies. I nearly died. So I think maybe that means that you owe us an explanation."
Mandaís eyes were sad, hopeless. "Pors said you would return with weapons, that you would punish us for our effrontery. Or you would punish us as we were punished before. We could not endure that. It would kill us this time."
"What happened before?" Carter asked. Geez, now she was sounding sympathetic, too. Not one healthy grudge reaction in the lot of his team.
Manda drew a desperate breath and exchanged a quick, questioning glance with Pors. The big, blond guy shrugged and nodded.
"The fact that you came back and did not attack may speak well for you," Manda admitted. "We did not like to tell of our weakness. We still do not. But what we did to you was base and treacherous. Panic has made us into things we never meant to be." She slammed her fists unexpectedly on the table. Some of the blond people jumped.
"It was bad, wasnít it?" Daniel coaxed.
"Do you think we always hid down here in caves? You think the Eye was down here originally. No, we lived on the surface, as people were meant to live. We walked under the sun. But no more. And that is because of travelers, people like you, who came through the Eye and wanted what they could take from us."
"The Goaíuld?" asked Tealíc.
"No. We know of them but they have not been here in many turns. Many thousands of turns. Since they brought us here and shortly after. Those tales have passed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, ever since. We saw our guests were not Goaíuld, so we welcomed them. And they destroyed us."
"Destroyedó" Daniel exchanged a quick glance with the others. "How?"
"Genetic altering," explained the Boronid leader. "They inflicted us deliberately with genetic diseases. We were not always as you see us, so pale, so devoid of color."
Carter nodded. "Albinism. I did wonder if your culture had a predisposition toward it. But itís not total."
"Not now. Centuries of genetic engineering have reversed much of it. Not everyone responds well to the treatment. We came below when the light of the sun became too much for us to endure, hurting weak eyes and burning fragile skin. It was not the only genetic manipulation they performed on us. We have others, worse. Most of those people died, mutants. Once we were destroyed, driven underground, they raided our planet, stripped it barren, stole the Prime Metal. Until we went at night and brought the Eye below and guarded the room with weapons so they could no longer come back. We killed so many who came through that they finally stopped coming. But always we knew that they might come again."
"You didnít use the Eye to seek help out there?" Daniel gestured upward.
"No, for we were weak and afraid. The light of day was too much for us. We hid, we cowered in burrows like little animals. We even learned to breed our friendly animals small for food was scarce at first, until we learned to grow it well below the ground."
"And you did research on cures," Carter said knowingly. "That was how you could create allergic reactions in us when none of us were actually allergic to naquada?"
"Genetic and medical research became a first priority with us," Manda explained. "Had you been less advanced medically, perhaps you would have believed our tale and left us in peace." She heaved a rueful sigh. "That would have been easier, safer. Although it would have been an illusory safety."
"Well, weíre not exactly happy with what you did to us," Jack put in. "But we didnít come back shooting. That ought to tell you something about the way we operate. And itís something you could have waited and found out."
"Jack, they were cornered. They were desperate. Theyíd lost nearly everything already," Daniel reminded him. He was a lot more sympathetic than Jack could ever be, but OíNeill realized he felt a little sympathy, too. Not much, not when he remembered that terrible itching, not when he remembered Daniel inches from death. But these folks had been inches from death themselves and theyíd hauled themselves back. Theyíd focused on what counted, set priorities, and gone ahead with it. They werenít weak; they only looked weak. They were strong, and, like Daniel said, they were desperate, which was really a crummy combination. Cornered, theyíd bit.
"Is it too late to make peace?" Manda asked.
OíNeill hesitated. Too late? Yeah, maybe it was too late. How could Earth trust them not to pull the same thing again, maybe on a planetary scale. All their genetic engineering might have taught them a way to send back a mutating plague to Earth when SG-1 went home. Their scientists might be cooking up a batch of it right now.
On the other hand, these folks had been traumatized in the worst way and they thought SG-1 was the start of another such attack. Even though they werenít, they could have been. Suddenly, Jack realized he understood how the Tollans had felt, why they were so reluctant to share any information with Earth. Jack had never been sure they were right about it, and he wasnít sure now.
But Daniel was looking at him with so much expectation in his eyes. Carter, too. In fact, she looked excited.
"Carter?" Jack prodded.
"Sir, weíve done a lot of work on genetic therapy. Itís not as advanced as itís going to get yet, but weíre even cloning now. Look at Dolly."
Yeah, like he wanted to look at a cloned sheep. "Your point, Carter?"
"My point is that a scientific exchange might be a good thing, sir. We both have information that would benefit each other. If we could help them get past the worst of the genetic tampering, maybe they could share naquada; after all, they must have plenty of it. And since we were able to detect what it was theyíd done, they must realize that we have some advances that could help them. I think even the top brass would like that kind of a trade. Everybody would come out on top."
"Come on, give them the power that might help them wipe us out?" Jack took an impatient stride or two.
Daniel fell in beside him. "Jack, they were protecting themselves. She was making sure her people were safe. Come on, Jack, you would do the same thing."
"I wouldnít poison people," he insisted, but he saw Danielís point. Heíd overreacted at the briefing, but that was to make sure Danny was okay and ready for the mission and that he wasnít going to be susceptible to the same thing again.
"We did not know it could kill," Manda spoke up. "We only thought to create symptoms of allergies, the itching, the wheezing, the watering of the eyes, things unpleasant but not lethal."
Jack wasnít ready to back down. "Didnít stop to think that maybe one of us was more susceptible to allergies, did you?"
"That was our mistake. We knew you were not the ones who came before, not even their descendants. But we could not be sure you were not their allies, or that you were not the same in your hearts. We think now that perhaps we were wrong, but trust is very hard for us."
"Well, it would be, wouldnít it, if your entire society was inflicted with genetic mutations." Daniel leaned closer. "I give you my word the four of us are not like that. Our commanding officer is not like that. Some of his superiors are greedy and acquisitive, but there are people like that everywhere, even among your people. Still, we have treaties with other worlds out beyond the Eye. We honor them. Weíre like you. We need strong allies."
"The Goaíuld have not been here in many years, yet they may come again," Tealíc spoke up. "I mistakenly served a Goaíuld for many years, but I have seen the error of my ways and renounced him. Now I fight against the Goaíuld."
"And against those who would dominate others," Carter put in. "Manda, weíre not diplomats. Weíre an exploration team. Would you consent to meeting with negotiators from our world?"
"You would be our allies, after what we did to that one?" She waved a hand at Daniel. Jack had to admit, he didnít look remotely near dying. His color was normal, he was standing straight and tallóand determined.
And it was he who spoke. "I would. Because I donít think youíd do it again. Maybe Iím taking a wild leap here, but I think you did what you did to protect your people. Just like somebody I respect would bend over backward to protect his."
Jack grimaced at him and Daniel flashed him a smile and continued. "Protection is goodóuntil itís taken to extremes. Let our negotiators talk to you. Maybe we can help you. Maybe thereíd even be a way, eventually, for you to live on the surface again. Iím not a geneticist and I donít know whether that could be done. But our research may have gone in different directions than your own. I think weíve done a lot of work with enzymes, and isnít that whatís affected in albinism? Sam?"
"Yes, thereís an enzymeóI canít remember its nameóthatís needed to form melanin, which is what makes the skin pigmentation. I know with the strongest form of albinism, light hurts the eyes. Itís a recessive characteristic, but Iím no expert on the subject. We do have people who are, though."
Hope flashed in Mandaís eyes. "To return to the surface? If there is even a slight chance of that one day, I think my people would clamor for an alliance."
"Well, we donít have a cure for albinism," Daniel pointed out. "Because there are people on earth who suffer from it, even now. We even have a guy on the base who has it mildly. Lieutenant Jacobson," he reminded the others.
Jack recalled the officer. He worked in the armament section. Pale guy, looked at lot like Pors, although his haircut was military.
Manda sagged. "You have no cure."
"No, not now. But itís not a major problem on Earth. I donít think itís even a research priority. But it could be. It could be part of an agreement worked out between our peoples, that we research ways to reverse your genetic tampering."
"And we give you the Prime Metal? That might be a fair trade." Manda shivered once. "To trust strangers from beyond the Eye? It is not easy. It will never be easy. But to hide in our burrows and attack like cornered beasts does not become us. I think we will talk to your diplomats."
"But not over a banquet, okay?"
"Jack!" Daniel chided.
"It was a joke."
"Donít listen to him," Daniel assured Manda. "He gets like this sometimes. Heís even a little like you. He didnít want me to come back here."
"Because he wished to protect you, as I protect my people? He would have been wrong. It was the fact of your return, the fact that you were not vindictive after what we had done to you, that made me listen." Suddenly, she smiled. "But his reasons were not wrong, Daniel Jackson. Any more than mine were. Just the means." She stood up abruptly and circled around the table. "Your people have the handshake. I remember from your last visit. I will give you the handshake now. Will it serve as a promise of my good faith?"
"It will," Jack agreed quickly. It sounded like a good deal for everybody. And it would mean they got this over before somebody offered Daniel something to eat and he took it. Kid had no sense of self preservation, none at all.
But he was a damned good man to have on the team.
He and Manda shook hands. A part of him still would have liked to have decked the lady, but he knew he couldnít do that, no matter how much satisfaction it would give him. Theyíd pulled something good out of this whole mess. He hoped that, next time, they could do it without stopping Danielís heartóand nearly giving Jack a coronary in return.
Carter shook hands with her next, and then Daniel, who was beaming, excited, just like a kid. And then Tealíc. Manda never hesitated. Maybe sheíd learned something here today. Maybe they all had.
"Okay, kiddies," Jack said, corralling his team with his eyes. "What do you say we wrap this up and head for home?"
** *** *8
"No re-infection," Fraiser reassured the team half an hour later. "Youíre fine."
"Great," said Jack and corralled his team with his eyes. Heíd had enough of the infirmary for the time being. "Come on, kiddies," he encouraged them. "Hammondís waiting."
Daniel fell into step with him as they started for the briefing room. "I liked that," he said with a big smile on his face. "I wish they could all work out that way."
Idealist, Jack thought fondly. They needed a man like Daniel on the team to balance the rest of them. None of the others would have thought of working out the problem with the Boronids quite like that, but Daniel had never hesitated. Not to say he couldnít feel vengeful; he didnít have a fond bone for Apophis in his entire body.
"You were right, Daniel Jackson," Tealíc reassured him. "You handled that situation well indeed."
"And now weíve got a new ally and a new supply of naquada," Carter said with a smile.
"And your Colonel has a whole new crop of grey hairs," Jack put in.
Daniel glanced sideways at him. "Gee, Jack, you could always say it makes you look distinguished," he kidded.
"Distinguished? As in Ďelder statesmaní?" OíNeill groaned. "You trying to say Iím a senior citizen here, Danny?" He arched an eyebrow at the archaeologist.
Daniel cast an amused grin at Carter and Tealíc. "Did I say anything like that?" he demanded.
"In truth, I did not hear him say that, OíNeill." How could someone with such a straight face as Tealíc manage to show amusement without moving a single muscle?
"Neither did I, sir." Carterís mouth crimped in an attempt not to smile.
His team. Jack looked at them fondly, then forced pretend sternness into his gaze. They were all safe, at least this time, and the future would have to take care of itself. "No more put downs for your commanding officer," he reproached. "Come on. Hammondís waiting."