Originally published in The Seventh Chevron #7, 2003
The Lord of the Wings
General George Hammond blinked in astonishment at the sight of the returning SG-1 as they popped out of the wormhole and stood on the ramp, blinking at the gate room. For once, every one of them was on his feet, and there didn’t seem to be a trace of blood or bandages among them. They didn’t even limp as they shook off the weird paralysis that held them and started down the ramp. But the General had to say he had never seen them appear quite so—messy, before.
Doctor Jackson especially looked like he’d been the loser in a world-class pillow fight. The substance that clung to his hair and clothes and that he tried in vain to spit out as he brushed at himself could only be down or feathers—with an unfortunate coating of bird guano on his shoulders and even, Lord help him, in his hair. A long purple plume reared up out of the back of his collar and emulated the kind that small boys wore in games of cowboys-and-Indians. Tonto, thought the General, although the Lone Ranger’s companion hadn’t elected to wear purple feathers.
The other three carried their share of feathery adornment and bird droppings, too, but not as much as Daniel. The wispy feathers clung to them where they touched, and the sight of three rather large ones clinging to Teal’c’s bald dome surprised a very unmilitary snicker from Sergeant Davis. Hammond rolled chastising eyes at the tech, who cleared his throat and tried very hard to pretend he had merely coughed. Hammond let him get away with it because he sympathized with the need to chuckle, and his rank, unfortunately, wouldn’t permit it.
"Welcome back, SG-1," he said over the speaker, and was proud of the way he managed to sound normal at the sight of his feathery best gate team, as if SG teams returned six days out of seven looking like they’d been wrestling birds. "Did the mission fly?" He hadn’t meant to say that; it simply came out.
Davis chomped down hard on his bottom lip in an agony of amusement, and one of the other techs snickered to himself, then clapped a hand over his mouth. Well, at least it was better than an urgent summons to Doctor Fraiser and her medical team.
Jack O’Neill rolled his eyes at the general in a look that suggested he would gladly make Hammond pay if demanding retribution from one’s commanding officer were permitted in the United States Air Force. "It was successful, sir," he said tightly.
"Excellent. Briefing room immediately."
"Couldn’t we clean up first?" O’Neill wheedled. He cast a baleful stare at a couple of snickering Marines and they shut up and tried very hard to look like recruitment posters for A Few Good Men. It might have worked if all concerned didn’t know the story of SG-1’s state would spread all over the base before another hour had passed. Make that ten minutes.
"P5V-116 was reputed to possess a technological civilization, Colonel. I would like the report as soon as possible."
Daniel’s shoulders sagged, but he squared them when Jack poked him in the arm. "Yes, sir," O’Neill said and the team headed for the door.
Up close, SG-1 looked even more like the victims—and perpetrators—of a pillow fight. Reminded of a slumber party his granddaughters had ‘enjoyed’ but that had left his basement rec room in chaos, Hammond watched as Daniel tried surreptitiously to pluck purple down from his hair. He discovered the soaring feather and yanked it free, his cheeks reddening as he imagined what it must have looked like. With a grimace, he tried to rub the gunk from his fingers on the edge of the table, then stopped when he realized Hammond was watching.
Captain Carter, who had the least feathery adornment—and deposits—to her BDUs, struggled manfully, er, womanfully, against a smile.
O’Neill, of course, didn’t even try. "I have to say, General, this whole mission was a featherbrained idea."
Carter groaned, and Doctor Jackson muttered, "Die, Jack," under his breath. Hammond kindly pretended he hadn’t heard it.
"Give me your report, Colonel," Hammond said hastily before those two could fall into one of their famous go-rounds. That they probably enjoyed them didn’t make them any easier for the rest of the world to endure.
O’Neill smirked in Doctor Jackson’s direction. "Yes, sir. The mission was a success. The Turnites are willing to forge a treaty with Earth, now that we’ve rid them of the Goa’uld."
Humor deserted Hammond in a rush. "The Goa’uld were there?"
"Oh, yeah, they were there, all right." Jack grimaced. "Well, one of them was. He wasn’t a system lord, though, just a minor Goa’uld flunky."
"He had ruled there in isolation for many years," Teal’c offered. On the way to the briefing room, he had lost his feather headgear and had managed to pluck the more obvious plumes from his garments. Even sitting there at attention with a couple of pink feathers poking out of his pockets, the Jaffa retained his dignity. Hammond couldn’t allow himself to smile at that one long white feather that clung to his left shoulder. One didn’t laugh at a man like Teal’c.
"So he had no connection with the galaxy at large? No affiliation with any system lords?" Hammond sometimes worried that once his SG teams returned to Earth, the worlds they left behind might suffer retribution for allying themselves with the Tauri. Impossible to prevent, but he would not sleep well should a society be dominated—or destroyed—through the actions of the SGC.
"No, sir." Carter frowned. "The men who saw us come through the gate implied that no one uninvited had ventured through it in many decades. They had been allowed to develop their own civilization and apart from the need to ‘worship’ the Goa’uld, which amounted mostly to taxes and tributes and a regrettable requirement that each year the young women were presented to him and he was allowed to take the one that pleased him as a consort for a year, the conditions of his domination were not completely onerous."
"He maintained a standing army of mock Jaffa. They dressed and behaved as Jaffa, but possessed no larval Goa’uld." Doctor Jackson sneezed—and sneezed again. He went off into a series of sniffles and snuffles, and Carter passed him a Kleenex. When he controlled his allergies, he rolled an eye at Jack and gritted out, "Don’t start," through clenched teeth.
O’Neill pretended affront. "Hey. Did I say anything?"
Hammond jumped in. "Your report, Colonel," he prompted a second time. O’Neill would hear in his voice that he didn’t want to ask a third time.
"Yes, sir. Well, we came through the gate right in the middle of their main city, Nidwit. Not the best name for a town I ever— Yes, sir," plunged on before Hammond could do more than raise an eyebrow. "There were a lot of people hanging around. The first thing they did when they saw us was go down on their knees and worship Daniel."
"Not, ‘worship’, Jack."
"Well, what do you call it when they’re salaaming like crazy and trying to kiss your feet? I swear, General, you’d have thought he’d come through the gate and offered them free internet service or something."
Doctor Jackson muttered barely audibly, "Die, peasant," to Jack, then cast a doubtful look at Hammond, who pretended he hadn’t heard it. He couldn’t help thinking how unfortunate it was that Colonel O’Neill’s smartass attitude seemed to be rubbing off on a nice young man like Daniel Jackson.
"It was my glasses," Daniel explained hastily. He paused to pluck a few more feathers off the front of his shirt and flick them down on the table. The room’s air currents stirred them and they slid off to drift to the floor, along with the ones Teal’c had fastidiously removed from his person and Carter had shaken off. Hammond began to regret the fact that he hadn’t allowed them to clean up before the briefing.
"Your glasses, Doctor Jackson?"
"Well, they have this thing for clear plastic. All their technology is based on it. They don’t seem to wear glasses; Sam talked to one of their doctors and he explained they do something like laser surgery as soon as they find out somebody’s vision isn’t twenty/twenty. The idea of using transparent lenses—"
"Was kinda like a miracle to them," Jack threw in wryly. He snatched at a feather that had imbedded itself in his pants leg and dropped it carefully beneath the table.
"DanielJackson’s arrival in Nidwit was in fulfillment of a prophecy," Teal’c uttered.
"A prophecy? How so?"
"Well, uh, apparently long ago someone had prophesied that someone would come through the Chaapa-ai and vanquish Edwista—the Goa’uld." Daniel removed his feathery jacket and got up to hang it over on the most remote chair he could find before returning to his seat. "The one to fulfill the prophecy would wear shields before his eyes so the Goa’uld could not see the strength of his intellect." He glanced sideways at O’Neill, who groaned faintly.
"We can compare IQ’s later, Daniel. Get on with it. I want to clean up in the worst way."
"You need it in the worst way," Daniel countered.
"Not as bad as you do."
Carter glanced at the two of them, muttered, "Men," very softly under her breath, and jumped in. "When the locals saw Daniel’s glasses, they bundled us away before the mock Jaffa could take us to an audience with Edwista. There was evidently a very active underground on the planet. They don’t use the Stargate routinely because Edwista has forbidden anyone to use it without clearing it with him first. He allows its use for trade, but his Jaffa go along and make sure it’s done to suit him. So when someone comes through, they’re supposed to be taken directly to the ‘god’."
"But where do all these feathers come from?"
"From these big honking turkeys that run wild all over everything," O’Neill groaned. "It’s not like they’re house-trained, either." He flicked at a suspicious white smear on his shoulder, then jerked his hand away and scrubbed it on his pant leg.
"They’re not turkeys, Jack," Daniel corrected him. "They’re called britza birds. They just look a little like turkeys—well, the way turkeys would look if they were purple or pink and had long tails a lot like peacocks. They’re a sacred bird, sort of the way cattle in India—"
"Yadda yadda," Jack threw in to fend off a cultural dissertation. "The thing is, they’re all over the place, and apparently Edwista likes them for dinner so nobody but he is allowed to harm them. He can harm them all he likes by putting them on a spit or barbecuing them, but the peasants aren’t allowed to touch them—and they’re taxed for grain to feed the ugly mothers."
"The underground removed us instantly before the Jaffa could come," Daniel redirected the briefing to the proper topic. Hammond was grateful. "They even have the birds in their secret headquarters, but nobody pays any attention to them except to make sure they don’t step on them or sit in their excrement." He blinked. "There was a lot of excitement, General. The locals were completely fascinated by my glasses."
"Apparently no one wearing glasses had ever come through the gate before, sir," Carter added. "As Teal’c reported, they were convinced Daniel was the answer to a prophecy. Hardinna, their leader, made a point of saying so. She explained that the wings of the gods would rain their wrath upon Edwista, and once that happened, he could no longer rule; the people would not follow him."
"Even if he was a Goa’uld," Jack added. "Because if the wings of the gods showed their disfavor, then his pseudo-Jaffa wouldn’t even follow him. He might have Goa’uld power, but he was only one guy, and the rest of the population would mob him and take him down. Wasn’t like he had any ties with greater Goa’uld-dom, anyway."
"Why didn’t they simply overpower him before you came, then?" Hammond wanted to know.
Daniel took over. "You see, General, their culture had formed around a series of prophecies. Even now, when they have a modern, technological, crystal-based society, their old religion is dominant. Hardinna wasn’t only the rebel leader, she was high-priestess for the whole planet, and Edwista never knew she had rebel leanings."
"Hardinna expected Daniel to know how to dump Edwista," Jack threw in. He brushed at his jacket, but the fine down clung stubbornly. Enough of it already floated about the room, causing Doctor Jackson to sneeze again.
"But I didn’t," Daniel admitted when he finished his latest sneezing fit. "Being the apparent answer to their prophecy didn’t automatically tell me what to do."
"Yet you claim the Goa’uld was defeated," Hammond reminded them. He leaned well back in his chair to avoid a cluster of feathers that the air conditioning system in its infinite wisdom chose to blow in his face.
"Oh, yeah. And it was Daniel who defeated him." Jack clapped Daniel on the shoulder. "Figured it out brilliantly."
"It wasn’t brilliant," Daniel replied. "It was just the result of...."
"A misspent youth?" O’Neill kidded.
"Well, when you’re in foster homes and everybody else likes throwing footballs around or going canoeing and I like to stay in and read—and they didn’t like me to have too many books...." His voice trailed off. "Never mind. I thought about what Hardinna said, about the wings of the gods, and then I knew. It was easy."
"What did you do, Doctor Jackson?" Hammond wasn’t sure he wanted to know. He would bet half his pension that the solution the archaeologist had dreamed up wouldn’t work on any other Goa’uld or carry over to other planets. He wasn’t even sure he trusted the solution on this one, not from the wary glances Teal’c threw at Daniel and Jack, and the way Carter had to struggle not to snicker.
"Well, they had these wonderful little sled things that they used for transportation," Daniel explained. "Transparent platforms—sort of the local equivalent of flying carpets. The bigger ones had seats in them so the locals could use them for transportation, but some of them were for moving cargo. If you were on one, you could see down to the city below right through it, but from the ground, they were invisible. Something about light refraction...." He glanced doubtfully at Captain Carter.
"I’ll put it in my report," she volunteered. "They gave me the specifications. Even better, although you couldn’t see them from underneath, they had controls that detected other vehicles, so you wouldn’t come soaring up and colliding with anybody above you. It runs on crystal power, drawing energy from the sun; a clean power source. They’re willing to share their technology with us in exchange for our ophthalmology studies. I think we’ve got a very good deal there, sir."
"I concur, Captain. But I want to know what Doctor Jackson planned."
"Well, Hardinna said that the Goa’uld Edwista had parade ground ceremonies every few days where the people came in and brought tribute; foodstuffs, the products of artisans, precious stones, whatever they thought would please the guy. He’d go out in the courtyard and sit on his throne, and be pleased to allow the people to worship him. Nobody dared disagree with him because even though he allowed them technology and they live a pretty good life for the most part, if someone displeased him, they’d vanish into the dungeons and never be seen again."
"Not exactly a sweet guy," O’Neill added. "Sneaky little bastard. Just because he could do the glowy-eye thing, they all freaked when he said ‘boo’. We didn’t like that."
"I asked Hardinna about the prophecy, about what the wings of the gods meant, but she didn’t know. Nobody did. But everybody believed in it, and he said the word had gone around, all through the land, that I had come, and that soon they would be free. They believed in me, General. If I didn’t do something, we’d have lost all credibility, and they’d probably have turned us over to Edwista."
O’Neill nodded. "Off to the dungeons with us for sure."
"So since Sam had been hearing all about their transportation system, I got an idea." Daniel took off his glasses and rubbed them on his shirt front. It would have been a good idea if not for the little fuzzy bits of purple that clung to the frames. He put them on again and promptly fell into another sneezing fit.
"What idea?" Hammond asked. He had a sinking feeling he knew where this was going.
"Well, we got one of the biggest platforms we could and set it up over on the far side of town, all four of us and a couple of Hardinna’s people. She couldn’t come with us; she had to be there when Edwista held court. So we loaded up and went sailing up over the city and over the palace, and there was Edwista holding court, just like she said he would be. Hardinna had moved back a bit, claiming the sun was too bright. Edwista loved it when people admitted to human frailties and he didn’t object. It gave him a chance to look benevolent—and superior."
Daniel swallowed, and ran a finger around the inside of his collar. "We got right over Edwista, and then we did it."
"Did what, Doctor Jackson?" Hammond blurted in exasperation.
"Threw the britza birds at him," Jack jumped in. "Just pitched a ton of those fat purple squawkers at the Goa’uld."
"That’s how we got...like this," Carter explained with a gesture at their feather-plastered state.
"The birds resisted," Teal’c muttered, sotto voce. "They were most determined not to serve as Goa’uld bombs."
"The wings of the gods, raining their wrath upon him," Daniel explained in case Hammond had managed to miss the point. "We just dumped the sacred birds on his head."
"Those things hit the ground like sacks of concrete," Jack said, with a smug grin. "I never saw a Goa’uld move so fast in all my life. Ran like Apophis and all the other system lords were hot on his heels, yelling like crazy the whole way."
"The people who’d come to pay tribute were warned and they ducked under the trees at the edge of the courtyard, and no one was injured," Carter finished up. "But the throne was smashed to pieces, and part of the castle was damaged. When the, er, bombardment was over, the people mobbed the palace, with the fake Jaffa in the lead, and they dragged Edwista out. Nobody had seen us because of the invisibility of the substance from below; it must have appeared to Edwista that the sacred birds had attacked him. He didn’t even try to fight when they dialed up a gate address and literally threw him off the planet. He won’t dare to come back."
"Do you mean to say you bombed a Goa’uld with live birds, Colonel O’Neill?" Hammond frowned.
"Well, yeah, sir. It was a prophecy. Saint Daniel here had to fulfill it. As a result, we’ve got a treaty with some awfully nice folks—and the locals are going to have one honking big turkey roast."
"Yes, I can see that, Jack, but I have a feeling this is one story that perhaps we should allow to go no further. The SPCA will be on us for this in a second if they should hear about it."
"Classified, sir," Jack replied and pantomimed zipping his lips closed.
"I didn’t want to do it," Daniel admitted. "But I couldn’t think of any other way, and when I remembered WKRP—"
"WKRP?" General Hammond asked. An esoteric ancient Egyptian term?
"You know, WKRP in Cincinnati, that old TV sitcom about a radio station," Jack reminded him. "They had an episode about the station’s Thanksgiving promotion, where they dropped live turkeys from a helicopter. Created quite a sensation at the Pinedale Shopping Mall."
"I always liked that episode," Daniel admitted. "And it was the only thing"—achoo—"I could think of that fit the"—achoo—"prophecy."
Hammond had to bite hard on the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Now that he thought about it, he remembered that one, too. Only Doctor Jackson would think of applying a sitcom solution to the threat of a Goa’uld.
Jack brushed at his feathery garments and raked his fingers through his hair to remove the last of the clinging feathers. "What can I say, General," he defended himself. "As God is my witness, I thought britza birds could fly."