Daniel relaxed back into the couch, propping his book on his stomach while he reached for the steaming mug resting beside him. It was a cold, snowy, winter afternoon, perfect for curling up with a good book and a nice big cup of hot chocolate. Especially, he reflected, when he had the rare pleasure of having the house all to himself. Jack had taken Teal'c skiing for the weekend, and Daniel had managed to beg off, pleading a legitimate sore knee from their latest mission.
It wasn't that he minded sharing the house with his two teammates, far from it. But today, for once, Daniel was determined to enjoy the peace and privacy. Not to mention the chance to lounge in the living room without having to tune out the current sport of the season. He leafed through the book to find his place, and was just lifting the warm mug to his lips when the phone rang.
Hell. For a moment, Daniel contemplated not answering it, then a quick mental picture flashed in his brain of the expression on General Hammond's face, should it turn out to be him paging them on some emergency. Daniel took a single defiant swallow of his cocoa, then set the mug down and picked up the phone.
"Hello." The voice on the other end was a man's, slightly high-pitched and cheerful in the way of telemarketers and customer service representatives everywhere. Daniel felt his toes curl. "May I speak to Mr. Jack O'Neill, please?"
"He's not here. Can I take a message?"
"Oh." There was a pause. "Then could I possibly speak to . . ." There was another pause, accompanied by the faint sound of rustling paper. "Mr. Teal'c, or Mr. Daniel Jackson?"
Mr. Teal'c? "Uh, this is Daniel Jackson speaking," Daniel said warily. "May I ask who's calling?"
"Oh, my apologies. My name is Dennis Marsh, and I'm with the Bureau of the Census. I'm calling today to ask a few follow-up questions about the form that was sent from your household."
Census form? Daniel didn't remember getting any census form . . . Mr. Marsh was going on. "I have some questions regarding all of the members, but if you don't mind I'll start with your own section, Mr. Jackson."
"Okay," Daniel said, feeling faintly puzzled. "Go ahead."
"Well, questions one through fourteen seem to be in order, no queries there, but on question fifteen you stated that your residence on April 1, 1995 was outside the United States, and you listed . . . Yes, here it is. Abydos."
Daniel blinked, certain that he must have misheard. "Abydos?" he repeated. "A-B-Y-D-O-S?"
"Yes, exactly. Unfortunately, it's not a country that seems to be named on any current atlas."
For a long moment, Daniel couldn't even speak, a dreadful, chilling suspicion creeping up his spine. Finally, he recovered enough to ask, "Um, Mr. Marsh, I don't suppose you could refresh my memory a little. What did I list as my occupation?"
"Ah, yes, that's another of my queries. Under 'Kind of work,' you wrote 'Exploring the galaxy.'"
Daniel closed his eyes. Jack, he thought, I'm going to hurt you.
Marsh went on. "The same answer appears on Mr. O'Neill's and Mr. Teal'c's form as well."
"Yes. And under duties, you listed 'Talking to aliens. Digging up stuff. Saving planet.'"
I'm going to hurt you a lot.
Marsh paused again. "Mr. Teal'c's duties are listed as 'Frowning. Shooting things. Saving planet.'"
And Teal'c is going to help me.
"Now, under address of work--"
"Yes, yes," Daniel interrupted quickly. "I get the picture, Mr. uh, Marsh."
"I'm sure you do. Do you have any explanation for this?"
Several different ones, in fact, were jostling for supremacy in Daniel's mind about then, at least the part of his mind that wasn't imagining the thousand and one little tortures he was going to inflict on one Jack O'Neill in the very near future. He cleared his throat. First things first. The top priority, obviously, was to get the Census Bureau off their backs. Then, he could deal with Jack . . .
"Well, you see," he began, already formulating the first threads of the tale he needed to tell. "Jack--Mr. O'Neill, and Teal'c and I all work for the government. And, uh, we have to go to some pretty strange places in the course of our . . . work."
"Such as . . . let me make sure I have this right . . . P3R-795?"
"Yes," Daniel said, thinking frantically. "And Col--Jack thought it best to use the . . . code names of the places we were working."
"Mm-hm. Well, I suppose that accounts for a number of the . . . anomalies, though I'm surprised that Mr. O'Neill wasn't aware that he was under no obligation to reveal classified information."
"Oh, I'm sure that's precisely what he was trying to avoid," Daniel said, barely bothering to conceal the sarcasm in his voice.
"Hm. And 'Exploring the galaxy?'"
"Ah, yes." Daniel could almost feel the mental gears spinning. "Well, uh, you see, our primary assignment is analyzing deep space radar telemetry. From all over the galaxy. Jack was simply being a little . . . poetic."
"Ah. And I suppose that also accounts for your own duties, the 'talking to aliens.'"
"Yes," Daniel said, leaping gratefully for the lifeline. "But we do sometimes go on, uh, other missions . . . which I can't really talk about." The words were flowing more easily now. Nothing like surviving a dissertation defense or two, he thought crazily, for learning how to bullshit on the fly. "But I know that Jack and Teal'c and myself feel very strongly that we're working to preserve harmony and stability all over the world," he finished with perfect truth.
"And Mr. Teal'c also goes on these assignments?"
"Yes, of course."
"Surprising, considering his age. 82, I believe it says."
"Ah. Well, he's a very important . . . tactical consultant."
"And his race is listed as Jaffa?"
"Very obscure African tribe," Daniel said smoothly, not even having to consciously think anymore for the lies to roll off his tongue. Anticipating the next query, he quickly added, "He's from a tiny . . . tiny village. Chulak."
"Yes, so it says here. Hm." There was a long, pointed silence, disturbed only by the muted shuffle of paper from the other end. "Well. That seems to cover most of the major queries about the three of you, Mr. Jackson. Thank you. You understand that we have to follow up when it seems that the forms have been returned with false or joking answers."
"Yes, of course. Sorry for the confusion."
"Quite all right. Now, if you'll allow me just a few more moments of your time, I'd like to clear up one or two minor points about the fourth person in the household."
Fourth? Daniel's mind raced, counting Jack, Teal'c and himself, and still failing make it come out to four. "Uh, fourth?" he finally ventured to ask, his stomach knotting.
"Yes. He's listed here only as 'Junior' . . . "