Summary: SG-1 is having a difficult time figuring out the aliens on a new planet. But when it comes right down to it, who’s really figuring out whom?
Season: Before 5
Posted January, 2012
“Sweet, an escort service.”
Four veiled words, spoken with a hint of disdain and mistrust. This wasn't quite what they'd expected.
Being met at the gate upon arrival, well, that was good, an optimistic sign. Until those thin willowy, waif-like but very tall, silent, hairy beings, outfitted in gray sacks that functioned as outer wear, demonstrated an indifference towards the newcomers that made Jack's skin crawl. If these aliens were welcoming them, they were doing so with nothing beyond their physical presence at the gate itself. SG-1 had hardly been looked in the eye, and that was not just a consequence of the aliens rising eight to ten inches above them.
They had just been whisked off in
one of a series of roofless circular basket-like transport
contraptions, one section of a train of similar wagons, blanketed
with cottony soft padded yellow fluff. Which, in
itself, was a tad better than many of the other travellers in the
the gate had fared, having to walk. But those were a mix of two, four,
and six-legged creatures; maybe they weren't incoming travellers at
all, but work animals or more of the indigenous species returning along
the Road from Somewhere. Hard to tell, by appearance alone. They were
all pretty hairy, and the use of the sacks seemed random.
One thing was clear: foot travellers and transport passengers, most of the latter being out of sight in covered baskets, were all heading in the same direction. Perhaps the discomfort SG-1 felt was partly due to the fact that even Daniel couldn't read the facial expressions of their chaperones, but it hadn't helped that the team's weapons and packs had been insistently, although without harshness, removed upon arrival and tossed into the open-topped front carriage. This, according to Daniel, was probably just SOP, precautionary measures, or perhaps even luggage service.
Instead of giving it up, Daniel had snuck his
camera into his pocket. Jack had tried to do the same with his zat but
had been intercepted; the aliens were sullenly, quietly persistent,
refusing to move until all newcomers had been disarmed. SG-1 still had
their pocket knives though, which either hadn't been noticed or weren't
deemed a threat. Having heard a few nearly inaudible mutterings, the
team resignedly accepted the reality that they were going nowhere until
relinquishing their visible weapons. Completely unfamiliar with the
native language - grunting, mostly - SG-1 was expecting brilliance from Daniel… and in a
As they stood looking around at the slowly passing countryside over the five-foot-high barrier of their uncovered basket, the four team members looked from one to the other, not being able to maintain eye contact for long. Discomfort was present, with a capital D.
“Does anyone else feel like a bug in a bottle?” Jack asked humorlessly. “Uncapped fluffy bottle?”
“Well, we don't know their customs, Jack. This could be royal hospitality.”
“So we're hoping this is a friendly gesture, then.” Indicating the uncomfortable lack of P90 across his shoulder, Jack scrunched up his eyes in a disgusted scowl, motioned to their roofless cage, then shook his head. “Pleasant scenery. Just remember which way we're heading.” There seemed to be no sun in the sky by which to judge cardinal position, even though the sky was a mauve and aqua collage of bright daylight.
“Eyes glued to the landscape, Sir.”
They passed an ongoing transformation of terrain, an artist's dream and scientist's nightmare. From greens to yellows to brilliant, shocking turquoise and purples, rocks morphed into crystals into meadowland grasses in the span of minutes. The air temperature went from cool to stuffy to cold and clammy, then began to heat up. Daniel had his video camera panning away endlessly; seemingly, to Jack, oblivious to where the twists and turns were taking them, as foot travelers petered out.
Jack looked behind at the point from which they'd come, but all
pathways were hidden from view by foliage, trees, rocks, hills, twists,
turns, and bends, not to mention other formations that had no name back
on Earth. Jack doubted they were unnatural, though. Yet nowhere along
the route had there been a sign of habitation, be it living quarters,
traffic, or local activity. By now the pedestrians who had been
departing the area of the stargate had either been left far behind, or
had diverted to some other unnoticed route along the way. Only a few
stragglers remained along the roadside, plodding along in the dust of
the basket train.
“Anyone getting a weird feeling, besides me?” Jack queried of his team. “I mean, weirder?” Alone in this wagon section, the few visible occupants of other carts were all of the two-legged blond hairy variety.
“Indeed, if I understand your implication of 'weird', O'Neill.”
Jack tossed a momentary glance at Daniel, who still had his eyes riveted to the camera. They were now passing some glowing orange pock-marked piles of clay boulders, rounder than bowling balls, nearly twenty feet high. “Don't mind us, Daniel. Just continue with whatever you're doing.”
Daniel ignored him.
Fine. That video might prove to come in handy later on, in case of imperative escape. Flipping the A-Okay sign directly in front of the camera lens, Jack stifled a grin as Daniel sighed and turned to film in the opposite direction.
It was a long, awkward, and cramped forty-five minutes before the wagon train entered what might have passed at first for a sprawling plantation of some sort, the variety of habitats spreading out before them another dizzying, universal ecosystem. Upon passing through a gateway of vegetation, the train stopped and a partition in their circular retainer unlocked. Still seeing no one, SG-1 assumed they were to disembark into this compact barren desert area of rocks and low spiky shrubs. To their immediate left was a line of short, glazed slate hills. The moment they stepped down the partition reversed shut and the train again began to move, soon disappearing around some bends as the teammates watched in surprise and mounting discomfort.
“Sweet. Yep, just peachy.”
Alone now, the escorts, too, having departed, SG-1 looked to each other in confusion.
“They've got our packs.”
Silence, although within their minds tempers were screaming.
“So, now what?” Daniel glanced around, seeking direction, waiting for some signal that the native inhabitants had a plan. The video camera was by now snuggly settled in his pocket.
Jack eyed Daniel warily. “Hey, you convinced Hammond how important it is to investigate new cultures. It's your move.” This planet had not been on the Abydos cartouche.
“Sir, as much as I know Daniel likes deserts, I suggest we take our brainstorming into that copse of trees. We should get out of this sun and heat.” A small oasis beckoned only a short distance away.
“Yes, a plan. How I love action.”
Within ten minutes the team had made their way to what might almost pass for a paltry jungle, yet once they'd reached the overhanging tangle of trees it was evident this area was more expansive than it appeared. Following a dirt path into a patch more protected from the sun, they paused. A small fragrant waterfall flowed over a series of colorful rocks twenty feet above their heads. The air temperature had fallen fifteen degrees in an abrupt matter of minutes.
“So, at least we won't starve.” Jack nodded up towards the colorful fruit dangling from various heights on overhanging branches. “I'm assuming, here, it's not plastic.”
“Interesting how the environment changes so abruptly,” Daniel muttered unnecessarily, turning slowly to observe the surroundings in each direction.
For the next thirty-odd minutes, Daniel and Sam explored the nearby foliage and rough dirt pathway, which led out to a new landscape of gardens and wildflowers. Resting on a rock, Jack inwardly fumed at the waste of time, his concern mounting with each check of his watch. Teal'c stood guard, his facial expression unreadable.
“Think we can hike back to the gate?”
“Indeed. I believe we will be able to locate the stargate, O'Neill, although the journey will take several hours.”
“Not a problem. We'll camp here for the night and if nothing happens we'll bug out first thing in the morning. I'm starting to wonder if the natives just think we came here to live.”
“If so, what would be the purpose of their removal of our packs?”
Jack shrugged. “Payment?”
As the underbrush rustled, the two scientists appeared from behind the branches of a red banana tree. Looked like red bananas, anyway. Jack had already torn one open. It was pale pinkish inside the red peel, but he hadn't dared taste it. He'd let Sam do some analysis first.
“Jack, this place looks like a pre-planned, controlled habitat. It's possible the aliens let us off where they think we'd be most comfortable, or maybe they're giving us our choice of environment as a way of getting to know us. Desert, gardens, or jungle. Maybe they want to check our reactions or see where we decide to stay put.”
“So, what, this is all part of their welcome?”
“Their way of communicating and making us feel at home.”
“Think they think we want to live here?”
Daniel glanced at Sam, a slight frown marring his equanimity. “Whether we want to stay temporarily or permanently, Jack, I'd guess the locals will eventually come by to offer some sort of hospitality or introduction. They seem to be watching us.” He nodded vaguely towards a promontory. There were, indeed, a row of several of the tall lanky inhabitants gazing in SG-1's direction. Even from a distance, the team felt stout and ungainly.
“So, getting to know us. How long will it take, d'you think?” Jack made a show of checking his watch once again, with a slightly sarcastic shake of his head. “Should we wave?”
Yet as the words left his lips, shuffles on the path and a gentle rustling of leaves indicated the approach of other beings, and within moments four of the expressionless, blond hairy creatures stepped out from the tangle of foliage. Surrounding SG-1 with arms fully outstretched, they seemed to be attempting to herd them from this eco enclosure, back towards the desert where they had disembarked from the transport. Either that, or a group hug was imminent.
“Uh, Daniel?” Jack was lightly guided - euphemistically pushed - in the opposite direction. He shook off the arm intruding into his personal space.
“Don't, Jack. You might appear unfriendly.”
“Then I appear as I am,” the colonel muttered in reply.
SG-1 had no choice but to go with the flow. Instead of being redirected towards the desert area once again, however, they were guided through foliage and shrubbery in the direction of some low-lying buttes and led along a meandering path between two of those glazed slate rock hills. Soon a simple bend found them in a semi-enclosed pasture covered with a raised straw-like tarp, providing shelter from the sun.
“Not bad. What is it?”
Awaiting them under the impressive awning was a series of chest-high platforms, waist-high for the aliens; large bare rocks filed flat, upon which was spread a vast array of something that could pass for food.
“It's a feast. A buffet, Jack.”
“Yeah, but was is it?”
“Sir, some of this looks familiar.” Carter was bending over the platform that held an assortment of doughy goods. Breads, perhaps, although the textures were unfamiliar and the color somewhat nearing yellow. Alongside them were gooey spreads of assorted colors, from bright blue to deep black. Another improvised table held fruits - with an abundance of the red bananas - and yet another held miniscule blue, white, and yellow stones, or perhaps they were grains or cereal. Other offerings were even less identifiable… sprouts, red and black; long dark hard-shelled ovals; hairy round white balls.
“What do we do?”
“I guess they want us to eat.” Daniel peered at the delicacies without temptation. He sucked in a breath; this wouldn't be the first time he'd engaged in alien fare.
“Be kind of nice if they'd dig in first, don't ya think?” Jack eyed the thick black gels and wondered what, exactly, one was to do with them. For all he knew, they could be varieties of hand soap. And how was a person to dig them out of the tray? Not that he had any intention of doing so.
“Well, they seem to be waiting for us. It might be rude of them to eat first.”
Jack peered more closely, then watched curiously as Daniel hesitantly lifted a flat round dough mound to his lips and bit into it. With a fleeting frown, he took another bite, then lifted his brows. “A little odd, but decent.”
“Odd.” Jack nodded in dramatic indecision. “I'll wait an hour and see what happens to you.”
While Daniel ate the bread and fruit, a dozen of the aliens stood silently, watching. None participated in the meal.
“Think this is still their way of being polite, or is the food going to kill us?”
“O'Neill, had they been meaning to kill us, would they not have done so upon our arrival?”
“Maybe they want to savor the effect.”
“Jack, if you don't want to eat, then don't.” Daniel retorted after another bite. “But I don't see any other way to initiate some sort of cultural exchange. If we had our packs we could offer them some, um, MREs or something.” His attempts at verbal communication with the aliens had dwindled. He didn't even know where to begin, other than plain English, and Jack or Sam could have done that themselves. If SG-1 was expecting a linguistic miracle, he supposed they'd have to partake of the offered cuisine first.
“Yes, if…” If he had his pack he could to a lot of things, including feel safe with a P90 slung over his shoulder. But he supposed there was no real need to get sarcastic or snarky, other than to appease his mood; their lack of supplies wasn't Daniel's fault. "So much for the baggage cart."
“We don't know when the next meal will be, Colonel,” Sam had given in, and was now trying to contain the juice dripping from her large bright red berry.
“Yeah. Fine.” Jack relented, as he watched Teal'c helping himself to a heaping mound of golfball-sized scarlet grapes. “If we die tonight at least we won't have to face breakfast.”
With the questionable meal having ended and darkness falling, SG-1 had been silently escorted through a short hillside tunnel into an immense area contained within an almost impenetrable grove of spreading fruit trees, shorter jungle plants, and low-lying buttes. A stream ran through its center, where miniature waterfalls played among colorful rocks. After smoothing the grass and removing a few tiny pebbles that were barely noticeable but made for a more psychologically comfortable rest area, SG-1, with no tents, camped al fresco on the surprisingly lush ground by a stream. A few stars could already be seen peeking through the luxuriant leaves of overhanging branches. The aliens had long ago disappeared as the natural light had faded.
“Well… it could be worse. At least we're trapped in Eden.”
“There was evil and a nasty snake in Eden, Daniel.”
“I was speaking metaphorically, Jack.”
“So was I.”
Not huge by most standards, this territory was the size of perhaps four square city blocks. The sheer variety of landscapes and scenery they had encountered that day made it seem as though the entire domain was somehow unnatural, terraformed to specifications. Now, one very unsettling concern was the presence of the narrow rock buttes surrounding them, with their sloped walls of dark flat slate. Glazed and shiny during the waning daylight but appearing more like dark smoky crystal with deepening dusk, a few reflected the waterfalls cascading into the trenches - or moat - at their base. The effect was beautiful yet disconcerting, as the advancing light of four moons shone on their surfaces, casting soft glows of illumination and shadows over the pathways and shrubs.
Natural spotlights? Jack wondered. “Since when are natural environments enclosed by slippery walls and moats?” he queried aloud, to anyone who was interested in responding.
“Just a couple moats, Jack,” Daniel corrected. "The rest are accessible.”
“Perhaps it is their way of ensuring our privacy, O'Neill.”
“Ya mean like a secure outdoor designer hotel room?”
“If this is outdoors.”
“Daniel?” Three sets of eyes snapped his way.
“Well, I mean, how many cultures have we encountered that have been able to control their environments and outdoor temperature this way?”
“Oy. So, very advanced, even though they haven't invented razors yet?” Jack shook his head. “Let's just get some sleep and figure this out in the morning. Looks like we'll be seeing what breakfast brings after all.”
But breakfast was nearly forgotten when morning arrived.
With the light of the sun, those narrow rocky hills and crystal-slate walls turned out not to be what they'd seemed, for the daylight shone through them like inky Saran Wrap.
“Translucent rocks? Tell me they only work one way and no one can look in. Out, I mean.” So much for the privacy theory. Were those buttes hollow?
Daniel couldn't refute that they did look rather like darkened windows into a hollow interior, although it was difficult to see what lay beyond. Either the natives had constructed rooms within the buttes themselves, or they had expertly sealed off a series of caves. “It was private during the night, Jack. Maybe they figure we'd be up with the sun anyway.”
“Maybe they figure? Daniel, we can't figure these aliens out without some sort of communication. We don't have time to play watching and waiting games with them and there isn't any culture to study if we're stuck in a forest. If you can't make any contact today, we're out of here.”
“Jack, they're a completely unfamiliar race. The very little verbal communication I've heard bears little resemblance to most human sounds or any root language I've ever studied. I need more time.”
“Sorry. Can't give it to you.”
“Jack - ”
A whirring sound from behind turned four heads in expectation, and Teal'c motioned the way to the source of the soft noise. There, protruding from a hole in a rock face, was a small stone platform containing the various breads and a few fruits SG-1 had tasted the night before. The gooey spreads and striped delicacies they had not touched were not in evidence.
“So they were paying attention,” Jack conceded, with a sideways glance at Daniel. His eyes wandered from the archaeologist the moment they gained his attention. While silently noting the lack of variety today, no one craved the blue grains and other unfamiliar offerings of the previous afternoon. “Yet they seem to have neglected the coffee and fruit juice. I guess we climb the trees for the good stuff, eh?” The only climbing Jack intended to do, however, was up those fake hills to see the route that lay beyond. “And what a surprise; no one seems to want to eat with us today, either.”
Bypassing the table of food, Jack headed towards the nearest smoky crystal butte, one that was not separated from them by a three-foot moat. Looking more closely, he discerned what had seemed so out of place the night before. The now semi-transparent rock face did not contain any footholds or functional traction; it was almost completely smooth. And… oh, crap.
“Uh, Daniel. Carter.”
“Jack?” Approaching leisurely, kneading the last bit of dough ball in his hand, Daniel halted abruptly when he saw the faces peering out at them from within the translucent hill. “Whoa… oh. Oh.”
“Yeah, oh. What're they doing?”
Daniel stared, arm dropping to his side, last morsel of breakfast forgotten. “I don't know.”
He slowly raised his right hand and, stepping up to the smoky brown window, pointed at himself. “Daniel,” he uttered. Then again, “Daniel”, more loudly. “Maybe they can hear us,” he whispered to Jack, as Sam and Teal'c inaudibly approached from behind.
“Whispering, Daniel? It's not like they know what you're saying.”
The reciprocating vocalization from behind the solid screen sounded nothing like 'Daniel', but more like a series of high-pitched grunts. Risking ridicule from his teammates - Jack had ordered him to communicate, after all - Daniel copied them as best he could, and pointed to the creature in the interior. Raising one long, thin hairy blond arm, the alien patted his gray-enrobed thigh, more high-pitched whines ensuing.
Patting his own thigh, Daniel tried to imitate the whine and then repeated, “Daniel.”
“Hey, watch it; you could be insulting them.”
“There must be imperceptible holes in this window that allows sound to penetrate,” Sam ran her fingers over the texture, but it felt smooth and solid. Apertures, maybe undetectable speakers, were more likely embedded in the substance at a level somewhere above their heads.
“Great, so we can listen to them howl at night.”
“Jack, I'm guessing he's trying to communicate,” Daniel proclaimed excitedly as he repeatedly copied the grunts.
“Oh yeah? Sounds to me like he's laughing. I have a cousin who sounds just like that.”
Berries bounced up through a small hole in the platform.
There was a brief moment of stunned silence.
“I believe he has just offered you recompense, Daniel Jackson.”
“Reward, Teal'c. Call it what it is,” Jack shot back.
“Tangible acceptance,” Daniel countered gleefully, these new, initial attempts at conversing adding fuel to his enthusiasm. “By the end of the day we'll be communicating.”
Jack sighed. “With barks and whines, buddy. Good luck. Too bad we didn't bring any doggy treats.” He walked away, intent on checking things out outside their oasis.
There was only one problem with Jack's plan.
The way out seemed to have vanished.
Having given up looking for an exit sign, Jack attempted to trek up one of the nearly smooth slate hills to see what lay on the other side.
Two hours later he still wasn't terribly enlightened, after his hard
climb up the slippery slope. Or, more candidly, his fourth attempted
climb; with no hand or footholds, he never made it farther than a third
of the way up. All
that came of his efforts were scrapes on his palms and elbows from the
few tiny jags, and a torn sleeve on his jacket. Fragmented views hinted
at more enclosed pastures and desert spreading out nearby, with
assorted vegetation and landscaping. Through fissures and chinks in the
uphill barriers he could make out a small assortment of life forms
inhabiting the differing terrains. Every now and then he caught a
glimpse of the tall hairy creatures meandering their way down a path.
Able to go no further, Jack roughly slid, more than climbed, back down.
At least he'd chosen a butte with no moat.
“Well?” He inquired upon his return. “Find out who's running this country yet? What in this world they use the stargate for?”
Unfortunately, not attempting to copy Daniel's vocalizations, the aliens had uttered far too little for Daniel to have made any progress. He shook his head. “Sorry, Jack.”
Jack scowled, muttering something unintelligible. “Well I know a whole lot. We can't communicate. The tunnel that brought us here seems to have disappeared and we can't climb our way out. Is anyone else getting the feeling we're prisoners?”
“Let's not jump to any conclusions, Jack.”
“No? Then why is there no way for us to leave, Daniel? Why do they keep feeding us bread and fruit? Why do they stay behind those walls instead of coming out here to chat?” It was already approaching noon, and the only food that had shown up since early morning's breakfast were the various berries landing on the ground out of the chute each time Daniel had attempted his communications.
“They're getting to know us. They gave us the terrain and climate we seemed most comfortable with, and they're giving us the food they know we'll eat. They're doing their best to be accommodating, Jack.”
“Except allowing us to leave.”
“Maybe they believe they're protecting us.”
“From, from… from other species. I mean, we don't know anything about this planet or what's safe here.”
“We don't know anything about them.”
“They haven't tried to hurt us.”
Yet. “Keep those positive thoughts coming, Daniel.” Jack peered closely into the inky wall, at the hazy indistinct beings still gazing back at him, and made a face. The tallest one cocked his.., or her… head. Jack turned away in frustration and disgust.
Throughout the day there had been viewers within those transparent hills, investigators who made sounds that Daniel would copy, aliens who squealed or banged on their legs or gave him fruit whenever he imitated their sounds. Daniel may have been having some fun, but he knew he was making no progress. Perhaps he had said something meaningful in his imitations, but did they realize he had no idea what any of it meant? He'd pointed to objects and said their names in English: “tree”; “fruit”; “shoe”. He was rewarded with fruit for his efforts, but none of the viewers ever tried to imitate him nor make any reference, as far as he could tell, to their own words for the same objects. Perhaps that was what they had been trying to do, but the sounds were so indistinguishable, one from the other, that Daniel was unable to remember or make sense of any of them. He was getting nowhere.
Darkness fell early once again, and with it the translucent walls of the hollow buttes returned to their glossy, reflective blackness. SG-1 retreated to the main enclosure by the waterfall-endowed pond, the foliage giving shelter along with the illusion of privacy.
“What do you think they'd do if we made a fire?” Sam spoke up at last, having eaten a supper of pink bananas. The leftover dough rolls from breakfast were probably getting stale, not that she could really tell the difference. Whatever they were, they didn't seem to be sitting well in her stomach.
“No. Just, what do you think they'd do?”
“Kill us?” Jack retorted. “For messing up their beautiful fabricated Eden?” If they were capable of emotion. Even wild animals were capable of anger.
“They don't seem violent, Jack.”
“No, Daniel? Give them a reason. Anyway, there aren't any dead branches around to use, I already checked. Everything is growing perfect and healthy.” Too perfect. This was, indeed, Eden. “And, along with bandaids, which I'd've made good use of this morning, I might add, my matches and lighter are warm and safe in the pack I no longer have.”
“Hey.” The night was warm and pleasant, and a hint of stars glimmered between the tree branches. Daniel knew Sam was awake; she'd tossed and turned quietly and slowly, so as not to disturb the others. Even though the grounds were large, the teammates preferred to sleep in close proximity to each other. One of them still kept watch; at the moment, Teal'c was patrolling over by the intersection of streams. In the shadowy moonlight it seemed that something of interest had caught his attention by the waterfall, but more likely Teal'c was just listening for unknown noises through the sounds of softly trickling waters. As far as Daniel could tell, nothing was amiss or suspicious.
After a moment the whisper was returned. “Hey.”
A small rustle indicated a nod. “You?”
Lying on the flat ground of an alien world with a jacket for a pillow, neither of them were really okay, though. Even in the pleasantest of places, always the uncertainty lingered that they would make it home safely. The element of danger was a constant, the unknown always a present fear. Excitement and curiosity could turn sour in the blink of an eye. And while no aggression was apparent in the behavior of the aliens so far, Daniel couldn't deny the fact that his team was surrounded by gateless, enclosed terrain.
“Think we'll get out of here?” Daniel turned on his side, his whisper reaching the person for whom it was intended.
“Is that an honest opinion, Sam?”
“Has to be, Daniel. What other choice do we have?”
The second day dawned much as the first. More breads had been dropped from a rising chute, this time into a round, stone-lined hollow in the ground below it, a purposefully carved and semi-polished stone bowl that no one had paid much attention to the previous day. Having slept little, Jack had been up with the break of dawn, investigating the perimeter of their compound once again. Though a seemingly natural environment filled with beauty, the smoky crystal hillside barriers afforded no way out. Again attempting to locate the tunnel from which they'd entered this Eden, he found only sheer crystal-slate boundaries. Yet, the exit had to be around somewhere. There must have been some synthetic break that was concealed after their arrival. How, Jack had no idea; they hadn't paid too much attention to what was happening behind them, having been captivated and impressed with the natural beauty of the place.
Natural, Jack scoffed. Hah. For all they knew, this entire location was synthetic. Although the fruits on the trees were natural enough. Or… surgically implanted? Nah. Genetically engineered? Jack shuddered to imagine what they'd been ingesting.
His stomach grumbled. How he'd love some eggs, or a steak. Even Froot Loops with milk.
Returning to his team, he bumped into Sam emerging from behind a large tree, buckling her belt. “Oh!” She blushed faintly. “Figured I'd better go now before the locals start peering.”
“Or their peers start localizing.”
“Nothing. How do you know they're not there all night, Carter? Just too dark to see them.”
“Then it was too dark to get much of a view of me, Sir.”
“Uh huh.” But he'd had similar thoughts, and had done what needed doing during the night, hoping the aliens' vision wasn't geared for nocturnal prowling. He'd heard Daniel or Teal'c stealthily out and about during the darkest hours as well, attempting to be inconspicuous, during his own turn at keeping watch. If he hadn't known better he'd've thought there were small animals in the bushes.
Daniel was once again in front of the deep smoky window, the faint images of several aliens on the other side growing in visibility.
What the hell were they watching for? What did they want from his team? And, more importantly, how long would this continue?
By mid afternoon Jack had become so bored he had joined Carter in watching Daniel. Having completed another futile search of the perimeter, Teal'c was off in Kel-no'reemland by one of the more out of the way waterfalls, although Jack suspected no area was quite out of the way of viewing points. Like animals at a watering hole, they were on display; who could know where eyes might reach in that alien environment? Something started to nag at the edges of his psyche. He could almost sense eyes peering out at them where no eyes were seen. He wouldn't label it paranoia until he knew for sure he was wrong. Now, leaning against a tree watching his linguist's antics and chewing on some minty leaf he'd plucked off a bush, Jack reclined deep in thought, only half focusing on the interactions between blondish, blue-eyed Earthling and blondish, all-over-hairy alienlings. Annoyance and irritation had taken a minor backseat to anger and worry. What would happen if the SGC sent a team to check on them in a couple more days? What would happen if they didn't? As far as he could tell, Daniel was learning nothing except how to get treats dumped down the chute - large juicy berries that were not growing on any of the trees out here - and how to make the aliens slap their thighs, as though they were frustrated with their student's slow progress. Good going, Daniel, encouraging them to hit themselves.
Encouraging them? Or training them?
“Crap.” Jack jumped to his feet.
“Colonel?” The sudden movement startled a half comatose Sam. “What is it?” Her voice sounded sharper than she'd intended; nerves were firing up.
Daniel paused his attentive observations, frustrating theories having been shot to hell one after the other. He'd admitted long ago that he didn't know what he was doing. He turned to Jack. “Crap? What'd I do this time?”
“It's what they're doing, Daniel. Or, not. They're not trying to understand you. It's got nothing to do with communication.”
“I know we're not communicating.” The tone was bitter, almost condescending, fueled by frustration and annoyance towards himself and nothing to do with Jack. His CO trusted him to do his job, but the job wasn't getting done. For all the excuses he made, all his optimistic theories, Daniel knew deep down they were trapped here, prisoners of intention or circumstance, and until he could figure out why or the others could figure out a physical way through the barriers, they were stuck. Daniel had already spent hours chiding himself on his inability to do what they'd come here for. He didn't need to be reminded of his uselessness. “I know that.” He sighed. “But what the hell is it?”
“Training. Entertainment. They're training you to imitate them.”
With the berries? Positive reinforcement?
But they were making their own sounds, with their vocal chords, and physical movements… “They're teaching me…” his voice and thoughts trailed off.
“They're not hitting themselves in frustration when you're off the mark, Daniel. They're clapping.”
“What?” Daniel swung back sharply to stare at the faintly outlined groupings of aliens that could be seen through the translucent smoky-brown window. He knew that every now and then, some had left and others had come. Maybe they were newcomers, maybe they were the same ones as on previous days. They all looked fairly similar, except for height and slight differences in bone structure. Coloring and details couldn't be seen through the murkiness of the darkened interior.
“What are you saying, O'Neill?” Teal'c had approached almost soundlessly.
“What I'm saying, people, is we're the newest acquisitions in a damn zoo.”
“Screw it, Daniel. You had your chance and they weren't interested.”
“I can't give up. Maybe if I can - ”
“No. No more. Let them get bored with us, we're not going to be their prize entertainment.”
“We don't know this is s zoo.”
“And a research facility is better, how? There's no give and take sharing going on here, Daniel. We're in confinement.”
Daniel knew in his heart Jack was right. He'd been humiliated, believing the aliens wanted to be allies and would, at some point, make an attempt to help them out. Now he felt like some animal, repulsive, valuable only for its fascination and entertainment appeal. He sat down behind a tree, hopefully out of sight of the curiosity seekers. Clapping. Why hadn't he realized that himself?
It had been two days since they'd understood the futility of their reality. The eyes in the hills never receded from view, except perhaps at night… or maybe not even then. And the aliens never ventured forth into the lion's den.
Morale was low; four teammates co-existed in near silence, scattered throughout Eden. If they couldn't see each other, could the viewers see them? Were there some sort of alien cameras up high in the trees? Viewing portholes? Interior binoculars? Infrared indoor lighting so everyone except SG-1 could see at night? They didn't doubt any of it.
Terraforming, or some eco-environment; terrain and weather that changed within a few dozen metres; these creatures were highly intelligent, to have built this system. Undoubtedly they saw SG-1, with their weapons, their docility, their ability to be manipulated, as a lower life form. Something to be viewed, studied, patronized. Laughed at. Applauded.
Jack and Teal'c had set out again to scour every inch of the place, try to climb out again, or open the gateway that had allowed them entry that first day. First, of course, they had to find it.
Sam had been spending her time inspecting the foliage, the soil, the composition of the burnished hillside window-walls. She'd tried scraping bits from the main tract but it was hard as diamonds yet most probably synthetic.
Daniel was whittling.
Wiping his penknife on his pants' leg, he wrested another tiny branch off the tree beside him, and peeled it in distraction. He'd reduce all these damn trees to sawdust if he had to; so much for Eden. What else was there to do here anyway, swim in the pools below the mini falls? What a show he'd put on for all the guests and spectators of the local zoo. He was more determined than ever, and grateful, that he'd been washing in the darkness of night. So far the aliens hadn't seemed to care that he was damaging bits of trees; what would they do, come in and catch him? Stop the food from coming? Breakfast still poured down daily, and Teal'c had found a way to pick some bananas off the trees. This little scrap pile of wood chips was barely noticeable; it would take years, decades, to blemish this place. Hopefully SG-1 wouldn't be staying that long.
Only one thing was for certain; there'd be no more fruit rewards. He had no intention of continuing his training.
They heard the strains of music and glanced at each other questioningly. Jack was the first to rise, followed by Sam. Teal'c remained in repose, his interest contained. He believed Daniel Jackson needed privacy.
“What'cha got?” Jack leaned against a tree, gazing down upon Daniel, as Sam appeared behind his left shoulder. The linguist was sitting cross-legged amidst a small pile of wood scrapings, holding a thick, reedy-looking wooden tube. Jack was sure he'd followed the musical notes to the right place, since none of the aliens had ever ventured out here in the four days SG-1 had been held hostage.
“A flute.” Daniel held up his instrument with a small grin, twirling it in his fingers.
“Flute?” Jack eyed it critically.
“Piccolo?” The smile danced away, and the tube returned to Daniel's lap.
“Piccolo. Uh huh.”
“No.” Daniel put the pipe to his lips and began to play. As he covered the small holes in the tube, basic melodic notes warbled forth, only slightly off-key.
Jack nodded. “Not bad. Given the next decade here you should be playing pretty well.”
Daniel jumped to his feet, spurred on by a sudden idea. “Jack, this could be our way out.”
With exaggerated interest in the instrument, Jack's facial muscles crinkled. “Sorry, Daniel; looks nothing like a key. And first we have to find the door.”
“Different kind of key, Jack. And we might not need a door if I play for the spectators.”
Sam shook her head. “Ooh, Daniel, I don't think that's a good idea. Play for the crowds and you'll be the hit of the zoo. Why would they ever want to free the main attraction?”
“Because, Sam, what's the one universal language that can prove we're intelligent beings and not animals? Music.”
“Daniel,” Jack kicked distractedly at the pile of toothpicks surrounding Daniel's lair, toeing the sawdust, “they might build you a coliseum, give you head billing, and pay you with fancy fruit, but free you they won't.”
Sam frowned, Daniel's enthusiasm catching her offguard and an idea taking root. “Actually, Sir…”
“No. No, you are not going to convince me this is a good idea, Carter.”
“Colonel, I've thought about this - ”
“For what, all of eighteen seconds?”
Unfortunately, blushing was not under one's control. “Yes. Daniel really might have a point, Colonel. We came through the stargate right behind all those other animals; they might just believe we were sent to be with them here, from collectors or breeders on some other planet.”
“What do they know, Jack? We don't look much like them.”
“We walk upright and communicate with each other,” Jack countered.
“In gibberish. So do apes.”
Jack considered the options, and found none. “Give me a minute.”
Conspicuously and intentionally turning his back on Daniel and Sam - and Teal'c, who had silently appeared out of nowhere, Jack wandered off to think.
And intentionally, perhaps to take out his frustrations on both Daniel and his co-conspirator, the one teammate who always ended up agreeing with the archeologist - funny how scientists always stuck together - Jack stayed away. He listened for birds, of which there were none. He kicked over clumps of fresh green grass in the hopes of catching bugs unaware, but there were none of those either.
Finally he gave up. This was just wasting time. Daniel's antics the first days here had achieved nothing, but neither had their silence and lack of cooperation. They were no closer to leaving this place than they had been four days ago.
Discouraged, Jack made his way back to the team, still waiting almost where he'd left them an hour ago.
He looked only Teal'c in the eye, the only one whose mood he could trust. Teal'c's solemnity rarely wavered; right about now, Jack found that comforting. “Yeah. Whatever. Go for it. Tomorrow morning.” Ideas were few and far between, and any action was better than doing nothing, seeing as nothing already hadn't worked. Not that they'd given those aliens that much of a chance to get bored with their uncooperativeness. What was two days in the grand scheme of things? But if they were just animals in a zoo, trainable or not, boring or not, zoo animals were never let out of their cages. “But if they start sending down more rewards, stop playing until they send cake.”
“Sam.” As Sam looked up from the fifth day's early breakfast of tree fruit, waiting with no great anticipation for the morning's meal of yellow dough balls, Daniel held out his hand. In it was another wooden pipe.
“I made one for you. Play along with me?”
“Daniel, the last time I played one of these was in nursery school.”
“Think they'll know?” He grinned, nodding his head towards the window. The zoo must be opening earlier these days; there were already observers, and dawn had barely arrived. Just more cause to believe some of them remained all night; were they guards? Or perhaps SG-1 was becoming a drawing attraction, such freaky social animals who wore clothes and seemed to communicate with others of the pack. Animals who could be trained, for a short while, until their disinterest and boredom took over… kind of like cats. Humble curiosities, walking on two legs and disappearing from sight whenever they had to relieve themselves.
Sam swallowed the last bite of her pink banana, wiping sticky fingers on her jacket. “Well, no time like the present, I guess.”
They were getting better, thank goodness. At first the music had irked him, gotten under his skin and sent him to the farthest reaches of Hell's Eden, to the distracting sounds of a waterfall, where he'd draped his jacket over his ears and focused on counting the leaves overhead. But after the first morning, when Jack had realized there was nothing else to do anyway, he closed his eyes and prepared himself to listen. The pipes weren't exactly alike; certain notes were off-key on one or both or maybe that was just their playing, and the two octaves didn't quite match up. But, Jack had to admit, it was catching the interest of the viewers behind the walls, who didn't seem to care if the melody was a bad rendition of a Beatles' tune or Row Your Boat.
The crowds had grown; the four teammates couldn't decide if that was a good thing or bad, not yet, anyway. What was possibly a positive sign in Jack's eyes, though, or at least a relief, was the lack of apparent clapping. He hated for his scientists to be a joke on any world; he might make fun of Daniel any day of the week, but that was a privilege allowed only him. He'd also defend Daniel's pride and humility every day of the week, if it came to that.
As for the aliens, Jack noted that the first day of music had brought out about two dozen viewers. Two dozen shadows, wallowing in the wings. Wallowing in the Wings; maybe those willowy wisps appreciated poetry, too. The third day, observers stretched double-deep behind several hillside windows, from morning until dark. Not many had a good view, what with other hollow buttes being shrouded in foliage or behind moats, and SG-1 lingering in front of a single window, side by side, a devoted team. But the sound must have carried throughout so still the window shadows came.
Sam and Daniel were keeping an open mind; Teal's was keeping silent. Jack continued to doubt the wisdom of this ploy. To him, it appeared his initial reaction to Daniel's idea was coming to pass. “Well, you've attracted attention, kids. The zoo's probably never made more money. I don't think we're getting out of here any time soon, though.”
“Give it time, Jack.” But Daniel's hopes had also been dropping. Why he'd expected the doors to be opened almost at once, the aliens to be inundated with sudden insight and realization and guilt at their blunder, he didn't know. Naivete? Hope? Belief in the goodness of all beings? Huh, with continual wars and destruction and misunderstandings happening on their own home planet? Right. He knew better.
“What, like days? Decades?”
“Maybe when we stop playing they'll think we're sick and let us out.”
“Oh sure, and experiment on you with alien animal drugs.”
Daniel shrugged. Okay, so maybe he would play intermittently. Keep them guessing.
This obviously wasn't working, but options were slim, and slim was far too optimistic.
It had been nine days, the crowds were thicker than ever, and the food never satisfied. Bread and fruit; it might have been enough in the original Eden, Jack thought bitterly, but it was nothing that could keep him from existing at his crankiest.
Daniel and Sam had stopped
playing their instruments for the most part, or at least voluntarily.
They were forced to resume when it appeared the hordes were becoming
angry, pounding on the windows, aggressively threatening. Now it wasn't
what they could do to his team in this glorified pen that worried Jack,
but what they'd do if they ever did let SG-1 out.
Their original and ongoing hope of being released now seemed a
frightening prospect, considering it would only happen if and when the
masses became irrepressibly furious. Being caught in a riot caused by
his own team would never lead to a happy ending. So, they do have emotions.
He'd suggested that the viewers would soon peter out if the music never resumed, but Daniel had been too scared to let it subside completely. Angry wild aliens were a threat; visitors demanding their money back might force the zookeepers to resort to retribution. If SG-1 was seen as no longer earning their keep, they might either be let loose, or, more likely, killed. If the keepers didn't kill them, raging crowds outside might. Yet with their own tempers strained and hopes diminished, SG-1 was nearing the conclusion that finding out would be better than being held prisoner indefinitely, awaiting a release that seemed unlikely to ever happen.
And so, Jack's two fatigued and dispirited teammates took turns throughout the days performing for potentially hostile onlookers. If they were looked upon as animals, they were certainly talented and unusual ones. If they were seen as intelligent beings, there was no realistic hope of ever being freed or it already would have happened.
By now, Jack knew his teammates felt as he did. Animals in cages, mere
curiosities, goods on display, trapped, humiliated; he could empathize
with zoo animals the world over. Animals he and Sarah and Charlie used
to enjoy watching on a day's outing. He could empathize with the tigers
that had caught his young son's rapt attention, pacing back and forth
in their confining enclosures. And the so-called natural environment of
the apes, what about that? Not so natural, when the walls were paved
with eyes of another species, intent on watching every private moment,
capturing every imagined thought, studying every movement. Pointing.
Laughing. Taking pictures. Take their pictures, Daniel. Turn the tables; force them to become the observed.
What a joke; it would still be SG-1 enclosed within the gates, short on
freedom. Gates were gates, be they made of steel or quartz or slate.
SG-1 was newsworthy. Whether captured and captioned in the morning headlines or just by word of mouth, more and more of the creatures - and now they were thought of as only creatures, by Jack - were gathering to witness the spectacle. Word was out, somehow.
SG-1 needed out.
If any SGC teams had tried a search and rescue, they'd found nothing and given up.
If those walls had been glass instead of polished smoky quartz, he'd try to break one. Good thing they weren't; he'd likely be shot, maybe with his own gun. Escaped animal, going wild, attacking innocent onlookers. Tomorrow's headlines. Story of the year.
Crap. They had to do something.
“What if we pretended to fight with each other? Show them we're losing it, caged up like this?” Losing it would not necessarily be a pretense, nor would it take much acting, on Jack's part anyway.
“And what if they react by putting us in different areas, separate us?”
“We escape when they come for us.” Jack shrugged.
“With two hundred angry or scared aliens watching?” Daniel countered. “And they can always find a way to restrain us first; they're not going to chance coming in here unprotected.”
Not to mention they had SG-1's weapons, at the very least. “Right, not a good plan. Just testing your reasoning ability.”
Today's group of viewers seemed even angrier, even though Daniel had been playing music for them that morning. Maybe he'd chosen the wrong song, not one of their favourites, one they weren't fond of? Did they want Sam and Daniel to play together, instead of taking turns? Or was he misinterpreting their emotions entirely?
This crowd somehow seemed
different; they weren't pounding the barriers, exasperated with
uncooperative zoo animals. They almost seemed more upset with each
other, from the little SG-1 could see. Something was going on in there,
some altercation. As his scientists played, Jack and Teal'c watched
intently, looking for subtle hints or clues from a species they
“Getting anything?” Jack asked Teal'c quietly, almost afraid his own voice might cause further disruption.
“They appear to be angry with each other.”
“Yeah, got that.”
“Listen!” Daniel had ceased his playing, Carter sitting cross-legged beside him, offering silent support. They were both dejected and discouraged, had been for days, and it was getting worse. Music, some universal language, Daniel couldn't help thinking. One of my worst ideas.
Jack heard it now, and he'd seen his scientists' heads perk up. Sitting closer to the window, they'd been the first to notice.
Noises, vocalizations, of the sort they'd been hearing for days. But this time the sound was different. Continuous, choral. Like some sort of oddly-pitched chanting.
“They singing along?”
But Daniel's music had stopped minutes ago, while the sounds from within continued.
There were other noises, also high-pitched grunts, the sort Daniel had been imitating the first two days. They were louder this time, and each time the chanting grew in volume so did the grunting. With the grunting increasing in decibels, the chanting became even more amplified; it was a chain reaction, a snowballing whirlwind of sound.
“What the hell is that?” Jack grimaced at the cacophony. Compared to that ruckus, he could listen to Daniel play a pitchless hollow reed for a lifetime. Who was training whom, here? “Anyone want to guess what's going on?”
“From what I can tell, some of them are sitting in a circle, Colonel. I think they're the ones chanting. It's hard to see through the turbidity and reflections.” There never had been a clear view of the interior of those synthetic buttes; the walls were too dark with limited translucence. Surely the windows were more transparent from the other side. “Others are facing them.”
“Why would the others be angry, Sir?”
“Maybe their anger isn't our anger. They might be enjoying themselves for all we know.”
“Would they not then be clapping, O'Neill?”
“If you're right about the clapping, Colonel, they haven't clapped in days. I think they've gone beyond that.”
Right. They were no longer training Daniel. “Think it's a sit-in?”
“It's hard to assume their emotions or intentions, Jack.”
“Daniel, didn't I just say that?”
The longer his team watched, the more intrigued they became, yet it had never been more difficult to comprehend the intent of a situation.
There definitely did seem to be two vocally sparring groups, coming to a head. One group was singing. Copying Daniel? Treat time, give them a berry.
“Jack, I've been thinking…”
“Not much else to do around here.”
“No, listen. If the two groups are of opposing opinions, maybe one of them is on our side?”
Jack paused; that was a thought he could handle. “And what exactly would that mean, Daniel?”
“I don't know. Maybe they realize we're intelligent beings who shouldn't be in a public enclosure, on view for their population to gape at?” He was grasping at straws. “Or treated as scientific anomalies.”
“And the rest are angry with them?”
Daniel shrugged. Jack sighed. Sam narrowed her eyes, then looked away. Keeping eye contact was becoming more and more difficult, as their situation became more desperate and hopeless. Embarrassed at her emotions, she didn't want the others to witness the despondency in her eyes.
“So. Do we call the cops?” Jack scowled; he was full of worthless questions today. No one had answers to anything, and he was about to lose it for real.
“Jack,” Daniel sighed in exasperation.
“What, Daniel? You want to know what I really think? Give me a minute.”
The minute stretched into hours. The disturbance in the interior grew into chaos, but for once SG-1 was close to being ignored. It was now obvious there were two opposingly distinct groups in there, each increasing into whatever masses could fit into the confined space. SG-1 was certain of only two things: one, they were the cause of the disruption. Two, they were still prisoners.
“Whatever comes of this won't change anything for us, you know.”
“Way to be positive, Jack.”
“Daniel, they could be arguing about wasting money on feeding us, for all we know. Or turning the lights out earlier.”
Daniel knew. So did the others.
“Sir, we were playing music, with handmade instruments. They have to realize we have higher intelligence.”
“They have to realize nothing of the sort. And they might care even less.”
“Sam could be right, Jack. People on Earth get excited when orangutans pick up a paintbrush and make streaks on paper.”
“Or when gorillas use sign language,” Sam added.
“Fine. Want to know what I think? I think I'll tell you what I think. I think you're right, they figure we're about as intelligent as orangutans or gorillas. And what they're going to do about it, is nothing. Do we let orangutans and gorillas free when we realize they have some intelligence? Do we let them wander the streets, or even send them back into the wild?”
“Those protesters could be animal rights activists.”
“Could be. And if they are, Daniel, there's still nothing any of them can say in this world or ours that's going to make one bit of difference.”
Sam's quiet voice finally broke into everyone's musings, as the day's sun let go its fire below the butte line and the sky discreetly slid into gold. “So all they want is to object to intelligent animals being treated like this.”
“Or maybe they're rival groups of scientists, some of whom would rather study us in a private lab,” Jack added. “Individually. Who knows?”
“So even if they did want to set us free, what would they do with us? Where would they send us?” Daniel queried.
“Not back to the stargate, kids, that's for sure.”
Sam spoke up solemnly once more.
"And given the changing environments and habitats, this entire region
is likely just one massive zoo, artificial or terraformed."
Silence fell again, the four teammates staring dishearteningly towards the burnished sheen, interior shadows fading, trying to capture what information they could in the late day sunshine's reflection on the shiny surface.
The stars were the only source of illumination; funny how there was never a cloud in this night sky, thought Jack. Or the daytime sky, for that matter. How did the trees remain so green with no rain? They were probably watered from underground.
He sat by the pond, pretending to toss pebbles into the inky water. Not that anyone would hear a small splash with those trickling waterfalls, but he didn't want to take the chance on waking his teammates. They'd had so little sleep lately.
His small pile of stones was growing. Had these been scattered around for some caged animal's enjoyment, whatever animals those might end up being? The aliens had no idea what would finally be trapped here, if they relied on donations through the stargate. Maybe that was the problem; maybe humans were the only species they hadn't been expecting, didn't know what to do with. Maybe there was a prize for the first behind-the-curtain investigator who managed to figure them out. Maybe SG-1 should be more predictable; all the irregularities just made them more of a curiosity, thus keeping them in here longer.
Right. Who was he fooling? It wasn't in the plans to let them go, no matter what SG-1 did. Never had been.
“Ow.” Jack achingly lowered himself to lean against the edge of Daniel's tree, shoulder-to-shoulder with his moody teammate. “Hey.”
“Hey.” The utterance was subdued. Daniel didn't look over, didn't move his eyes from some point straight ahead. Jack knew there was nothing physical out there keeping the archeologist's attention.
“Not your fault.”
Daniel shrugged. “I certainly haven't helped the situation, have I.”
“And I have?”
“Well, I'll agree with you next time. If we ever get out of here, I mean. Studying new cultures isn't all it's cracked up to be.” Daniel finally glanced at Jack, then turned his head away again.
“You're a scientist, Daniel. Don't give up on that curiosity.”
“Curiosity is worthless if we're powerless to act upon it.”
“You're always empowered to act upon it. It's my job to get us out of here.”
“It's mine to communicate with alien life forms.”
“When you can.”
“No way to know that before we head out, is there.”
“Right. So we should give up before we start? Maybe put an end to the Stargate program?”
This time Daniel looked at Jack directly, his gaze steady. “I didn't say that. Well, okay, I didn't mean that.”
“What did you mean, Daniel? That we should only go to planets we already know are completely safe?”
At that, a small wistful smile glanced momentarily off Daniel's lips. “I guess that's not realistic, is it.”
“We knew that a long time ago.”
“So, what do we do now, Jack?”
Lightly slapping his friend's leg, Jack started to rise. “Go join the party. I think I heard Carter singing opera by the barbecue pit.” He paused. “Or maybe it was Teal'c.”
“The protesters are back again.” SG-1 had come late for the breakfast they didn't want, but needed. The sun had been up for a couple of hours already, but they'd decided to give themselves a break from the nonsense going on behind the walls. They didn't really want to know what was happening back there, nor did Daniel and Sam feel like playing the pseudo music any more. Maybe they'd even break the flute pipes in front of the crowds, to see what might happen. “And I spent a lot of time thinking last night.”
Digging into his pocket, Daniel produced his
pocket knife. Then he approached the window, so close his nose was
nearly touching the facade.
“Daniel?” Jack took a tiny step forward.
Daniel ignored the unvoiced question. He tapped on the window, until most of the creatures had turned to look, and the sounds coming from within slowly began to dwindle.
He had thought about this for hours. Hours before Jack's chat, and that wouldn't have made a difference anyway.
There was no charcoal lying around, nor anything else that could be used for writing; matches and lighters had been in their packs, so no chance of burning a branch for soot. Water would just dry up, and Sam had no makeup with her. Even the flowers were so perfect and sterile they left no juicy color when cut. There was nothing else to use.
With the quickest of movements Daniel ran the knife down the pad of his right index finger. Jack's “What the hell are you doing?” fell on unhearing ears. Making sure the aliens were watching, Daniel outlined a thin double circle on the viewing window. Then, within that loop, he drew three panels depicting Earth's chevrons before his finger ceased offering enough blood to continue. Shaking his hand he let his arm hang down, encouraging blood flow. Hissing as he squeezed his finger again, he managed to rough out four more symbols. Vague, distorted, but still discernable as chevrons, until they slowly dripped themselves out of shape.
“Oh, for crying out loud. Great, Daniel. An animal that can draw as well as play music.” A very gifted gorilla. One with very little sense of self-preservation.
“Intelligent beings have written language, Jack.”
"You said the same thing about music."
"Well, that didn't work."
“They already know we're intelligent, Daniel,” Sam spoke gently.
“We wear clothing; we carry weapons.”
“The clothing could have been made
for us, and they might not know what the weapons are, Sam. Or they may
think they were gifts from our former owners.”
The effect was better than he could have hoped. As his three teammates gathered close, the aliens in the interior did the same, and the vocalizations turned to silence. It became a staring contest, each species waiting for the other's next move.
Wincing, Daniel again squeezed the throbbing finger with his left hand, while writing his name below his depiction of the stargate. “Daniel,” he pointed to himself. He pointed to his name. “Daniel.” To his name, to himself.
Still, there was silence; still, there was no movement.
“They might just be thinking you're an animal who feels no pain. By the way, that knife's not sterile and you know we have no bandaids.”
“I know. You're the one who gave me the idea.” Releasing the finger that was now almost numb, Daniel took a deep breath and ran the knife across his middle finger, then drew what he hoped looked like a small tree. A child's representation of a tree, with trunk and bushy leaves. After a pause to compose himself, he added a second tree, with some small dots for hanging fruit. It was hard to make out the representations, what with his blunt, primitive writing tool and the slow drips down his improvised chalkboard, and Daniel knew there ought to be humor in a tree that looked somewhat like an elephant. The expected sarcasm from Jack didn't materialize, though.
spread his arm out, looking around, indicating the gardens and forest.
Then he attacked a third finger, and he crossed the whole picture out
with a large X, letting it drip in a macabre show of futility. He
leaned his forehead against the flat, smooth surface of the viewing
window and closed his eyes, battling lightheadedness. He felt hands on his
shoulders and a distant voice saying something about blood and dirt, but he
couldn't sit yet, and he shrugged them off.
Chatter had started up behind the window.
Daniel stood straighter and, accessing more blood while it dripped from tender fingers down his palm, drew another small stargate with seven symbols below it, along with a crude representation of a GDO, just a rectangle with dots for numbers. “Home,” he said wearily. “Home.”
The mess remained on the crystalline window, splotches dripping down one into the other, as images merged into smaller, indistinguishable blobs.
He let his teammates guide him to the ground behind a nearby banana tree, hand fisted in his lap.
They sat staring at each other for hours, the two teams, SG-1 and the home team comprised of zookeepers or scientists or animal rights activists. Or so they had them labeled, anyway. It was a necessary thing for the psyche, to put a label on one's captors. It allowed order and comprehension into one's mind. Daniel had finally had his throbbing fingers washed with stream water and wrapped with leaves and a handkerchief and had settled himself against a large green boulder. The rest of SG-1 was tense, alert, preparing for whatever might happen next. For the time being it appeared that 'next' was already over. Nothing had been accomplished.
The sliding noise startled them out of a doze, a lethargic stupor. Teal'c reacted first, rising to his feet, his teammates rapidly following. Out of the side wall, a fissure opening on concealed circuits, hesitantly ambled a trio of aliens. Behind them, another three, and then three more. When the access shut, twenty-one of the beings ominously stood facing SG-1. They were not empty-handed.
Protectively, Jack stepped in front of Daniel and Carter, Teal'c matching his motion and closing the gap between them.
“Oh, that's good, Jack,” Daniel whispered. “Very intimidating.”
But before Jack could reply, one of the aliens in the front of the group held out its long gangly arm. In his hairy hand was a GDO. Beside him, a compatriot held out a second GDO. A third revealed a scanner of Sam's. Fourth and fifth, more equipment from Major Carter's pack. A sixth held out an MRE. Each of the twenty-one aliens held something belonging to SG-1, but no weapons.
“What, they liked our packs too much to give those back?” Jack moved forward, stopped by a gentle tug on his shoulder from behind.
A wary, honest smile shone on Daniel's face, as he side-stepped his more formidable teammates. Reaching out his undamaged hand, he took the GDO. “Thank you.” He bowed his head; that had always worked wonders for Teal'c. Hopefully it was a universal act of respect.
“Doesn't mean anything, Daniel. They might just think we want our toys back. Or maybe they want to see us use them. Can't wait to see the look in their eyes when I tear open that MRE and take a bite.”
“They came in here with us, Jack. It's a sign of trust.”
“Because they believe we're harmless intelligent animals. I seem to notice no one came in alone; twenty-one of them against four of us.” Humans often go into the cages of apes at a zoo, Jack refrained from remarking. Especially when the orangutans are painting.
“Sam? Let me have your flute.” Accepting the wooden instrument from his colleague, Daniel passed it to the alien …woman. If one could judge gender by hair, this one's was longest. For some reason he had the need to refer to each individual as “he” or “she”. Daniel removed his own musical instrument from his jacket pocket, and with his left hand and a throbbing, bandaged right, did his best to play.
“That's terrible,” Jack whispered.
“My right hand's numb.” Daniel countered. “Care to take over?”
The leader put the instrument to her own lips, and within a minute began to make some sounds. As the first notes warbled out, her expression softened, and her companions slapped their thighs. Faces peered out the somewhat darkened windows as natural light began to fade.
Daniel ceased his playing and removed his knife from his pocket. The aliens reacted, their bodies drawing straight and eyes growing wide in fear or curiosity, preparing to flee or fight.
“Daniel, don't you dare.”
“Relax, Jack.” Releasing the knife's blade and bending down, Daniel made a double circle in the soil with his left hand. Beside it, he awkwardly drew the seven symbols for Earth. “Home,” he said. Pointing around him, he continued, “Not home.” Pointing to the drawing, he reiterated, “Home.” Daniel stood. “Come,” he motioned to both teams, and began walking away, in the direction SG-1 had first arrived. “Come.” No aliens tried to stop him. Still, he knew there was no way out without their help.
All moved forward, aliens and SG-1. Following Daniel to the now-sealed enclosure entry point, or thereabouts, SG-1 paused. Daniel placed his arm around Jack's shoulders, and then Sam's. Sam latched hers around Teal'c's waist, and they faced towards freedom, their backs to the aliens.
And then a camouflaged portal slid open, disclosing the tunnel that had enticed and entrapped SG-1 so many days ago.
“We're free?” Jack queried, taking no second chances and, grabbing Daniel's sleeve, tried to bolt through to the other side, where desert lay in view. Daniel, however, held back, turned to the aliens, and again bowed his head. Teal'c followed suit. “Thank you,” he said, before turning towards freedom and joining Jack and Sam where they waited inside the small artificial mountain. Sunlight beckoned at the other end of the tunnel.
Out in the open at last, four teammates remained tense and on guard, as if waiting to be recaptured at any moment.
“Long walk,” Jack commented. “And it's getting dark.”
“Would you prefer to wait until morning, O'Neill?”
“No way, Teal'c. We'll follow the moon if we have to.”
“Which one, Jack?” Daniel asked quietly.
“O'Neill.” Teal'c was staring into the distance; some sort of light was heading towards them, illuminating an approaching hay train.
“That might be our transportation out of here, Jack.”
“To some other zoo?”
Daniel shook his head. “I think they're letting us go.”
“Go where? Carter thinks this whole place is phony.”
“Here.” Daniel clenched the GDO, holding it up. “Home. They know, now. They're making amends.”
“A race that learns from its mistakes? You kidding me, Daniel?”
And while Jack had a few more unproductive comments to make during their forty-five minute cart ride back to the stargate, relief ran freely alongside the moons, as notes from a wooden pipe in the grip of an alien wafted from the front of the moving transport.
“Still got yours, Daniel?”
“Because without proof of some sort, General Hammond's never going to believe this.”
“Sure he will. I have a bloody handkerchief.”
“Could've happened slicing open an MRE.”
“With my middle finger?”
“That could've happened whe -”
“Never mind, Jack.”
“They could've gotten infected, you know. We might not have been released.”
“So they'd've had to take me to the hospital, and I could have escaped and gone for help.”
“To a vet, you mean, and you wouldn't have got through the stargate without a GDO. How're the fingers, by the way?”
“Can't tell, they're wrapped up. And by the way, Jack, I also have videos of grunts and chanting.”
“And Carter playing the kazoo?” Jack grinned hopefully.
“And Sam playing the kazoo,” Daniel grinned back.
Jack made the A-Okay sign and slapped an arm around Daniel's shoulders. “What'd I tell you, eh? I knew that camera would come in handy for something.”