"That's the last of the translations, sir."
Jack tuned out the rest of Daniel's earnest explanation to the MALP camera. He didn't want to hear any more about thousand-year-old Goa'uld erotic poetry. Ugh. General Hammond probably wasn't listening too closely on the other side the wormhole, either. He'd be passing the data burst off to the geeks anyway.
When the wormhole finally swooshed closed, Daniel came and parked himself next to Jack on the steps of the stargate dais.
Jack glanced sideways, flipping his pocketknife end over end. "Eighteen days down, three to go. Finally out of stuff to translate?"
He hoped Daniel wouldn't get too bored with nothing else to do in the abandoned Goa'uld pleasure palace. Blood samples they sent home showed they were detoxing on schedule from their addiction to the place, but they weren't clean yet.
At the start of their exile, Daniel had had a good couple of days translating everything he could find about the machine in the light room for Carter, but Jack had ordered Carter to quit tinkering in case the machine got damaged. He didn't want the team on the fatal withdrawal plan again.
She'd turned her curiosity instead to the power charging stations around the palace. Loran had been using them to keep his toys going and SG-1 had started using the stations themselves. If she messed those up, Hammond could just send more batteries. She'd also checked out Loran's technology, and had gotten excited about the possibility of meeting his people.
Finished with translating the drug den owner's manual, Daniel had checked out every other scrap of writing in the palace, but there wasn't much beyond the, apparently lewd, script decorating the arrival area in front of the gate. With weeks to fill until they could go home, he's been able to really take his time and spin theories, but in the end it looked like everything was pretty straightforward hedonism. And Jack was never losing those mental images.
Now, Daniel dropped his head forward, and Jack had a horrifying memory flash of Daniel two and a half weeks earlier, sitting in the same place, same position, only just recovered from actual, flatline death. Daniel chased the memory away when he sat up straight again, energized and healthy.
"I asked the general whether there was any work they wanted to send through to me, and he told me to take a weekend. Never mind that it's Tuesday," he added.
"You're more than due a couple of days," Jack pointed out. "Loran and I are going fishing in a bit. You should come with."
Without much else to do, Jack had spent most of his time talking with Loran. The poor kid had been all alone—and struggling with guilt—for something like two years. He seemed to respond to Jack, though, and Jack couldn't help but want to make sure he would be okay. He shared stories about General Hammond and Doctor Fraiser, even Doctor Mackenzie, so that they wouldn't seem like strangers when Loran came with them to Stargate Command.
To Jack's surprise, Daniel answered, "Fishing, huh? Maybe I will."
An hour later, Daniel was on the beach with them, gently drawing out Loran on his family and offering stories about going on digs with his own parents in return.
Apparently, the photo in Daniel's office wasn't the first time he'd ridden a camel. Who knew? Loran was having a hard time grasping the camel concept, despite Jack and Daniel's best efforts at drawing one in the sand. Jack hoped he'd get the chance to take him to the zoo once they got to Colorado Springs. To be fair, camels were pretty unlikely creatures.
Loran's fishing pole quivered, recapturing his attention, and Jack encouraged him through reeling in his catch. The kid had spearfished during his time alone, but had taken quickly to the rod and reel method after the general sent a few poles through. This time he managed to land one of the local tuna-like fish, a good-sized one at least half his height.
"That's a great catch," Daniel praised.
"I'm going to go show Sam!" Loran went running off with his prize. Carter was enthusiastic over the palace's cooking technology, but not much of a chef. Fortunately Loran was actually good at creating edible meals.
Jack started to pack away the fishing gear, and Daniel pitched in.
"It's kind of a nice break," Daniel commented, "even if we didn't choose it."
Jack couldn't help wincing.
Damn it. Half the time Daniel was the stereotypical absent-minded professor, but the other half he was distressingly observant.
Jack straightened up and looked out over the water. He reluctantly admitted, "When Carter was in withdrawal mode, she accused me of looking for a good excuse to do nothing."
Daniel's eyebrows rose. "And? So? You've spent years putting your ass on the line to protect Earth from alien threats. After years of putting your ass on the line to protect America from various threats. You have your twenty in—you could actually do nothing whenever you want."
"And miss watching you pore over dusty books every day?" Jack asked.
Daniel just gave him the "stop trying to deflect" stare.
"Well, you've been through a fair amount of hell, yourself. I don't know why you're talking to me about doing what I want when you've had"—Jack looked at his watch—"approximately two and a half hours of 'vacation' so far on this little pleasure palace jaunt."
Jack caught Daniel's little squirm. He waited him out.
"I'm not sure what I want," Daniel finally admitted. "Shifu pointed out that I need a new path, but I'm not sure what it is, yet. This mission came up—a site that had some Goa'uld to translate. It was right in front of me, and I'm good at it, and it needed doing. But I still don't know what my path is."
He paused a long while, staring out at the sea. "After Sha're died, I spent so much time thinking about her baby. And after I saw him on Kheb, it was so hard to let him go. Meeting him again as a boy—he's amazing."
Daniel turned to give Jack a rueful smile. "When I first woke up from that teaching dream, I was horrified by what I had become, what I had done. Looking back, it seems more and more unreal. What I regret now—I had a year with Shifu in my dream, and I mostly neglected him. After all that time I wanted to find him, I spent most of my dream-dad life leaving him parked in front of the television."
"That doesn't sound like you," Jack offered.
"Real-life Shifu left so soon after, I didn't have a chance to make up for my mistakes." Daniel bent to pick up the tackle box.
Jack grabbed the fishing poles and fell into step beside him. "They weren't your mistakes, they were Goa'uld mistakes. He knows you wouldn't be that kind of father."
"Yeah. I'm just having a hard time finding a new path when I don't know that I'm ready to let go of the old one."
Jack let his free hand rest comfortingly on Daniel's shoulder.
George decided to bottom-line the debrief. "So, you think these induction chargers at the palace are worth a look, Major?"
"I think they'll spark some interesting advances in R and D, sir," Major Carter replied. "I don't know that additional missions are needed—my notes and recordings are pretty extensive. What I do highly recommend is seeing if we can find Loran's people on Nonda."
Doctor Jackson nodded. "We thought we were going get good information on the Goa'uld at the facility. But the most fruitful part of the mission might have been meeting a fellow explorer. Or, their son, anyway."
"I would very much like to return Loran to his people, if we are able," Teal'c added.
George glanced at Colonel O'Neill, who was nodding agreement. George empathized. A child living alone as a castaway was bad enough. Worse was the colonel's report on the boy's feelings of guilt over his parents' death. George wasn't surprised at the protective posture of the two men on the team who had sons.
"Explain to me again the sequence of how he became trapped there."
Fortunately, the colonel beat Doctor Jackson to the story. "The Nondans don't have a list of addresses, so they do random dialing and send through a mini-MALP type of thing if a wormhole opens. Loran's folks were on one of the first explorer teams to go through their stargate.
"The planet they went to had another address on it, so Loran and his parents checked it out and ended up in the Goa'uld palace. When Loran realized his parents wouldn't leave the light room even to eat, he dialed up the planet they came from, but couldn't raise anyone on the expedition. When he tried to dial Nonda, the stargate didn't even connect.
"When his parents drowned, the water destroyed their radios and he knew he'd never be able to contact Nonda. They have something like our iris, and any physical message he tried to send through would just—" The colonel made a "splat" gesture with his hands.
"His only other option was getting back to the expedition, so he wrote a note and sent it through on the mini-MALP, rigged up to his picture viewer. He saw rocks and big cracks in the ground, and then the MALP went ass over teakettle and went dark."
Major Carter added, "Our best guess is that there was some major seismic activity that might have taken out the team. When Loran tried dialing the planet again later, the gate wouldn't connect. This would be consistent with instability or further seismic activity causing the other gate to fall. As for Nonda, if they were also trying to find the expedition, their stargate would have been busy."
George frowned. It was a grim situation for the child. Fortunately, the SGC did have radios, so hopefully they would be able to connect to his people. "You've said Nonda is P3X-359, in the Ancient database, and they aren't in the Goa'uld cartouche. It seems a safe enough mission, and we should do what we can for the boy. I'll add some time to the schedule to see if we can dial up Nonda and establish a radio protocol with the boy's people.
"Meanwhile, why don't you collect him from Doctor Fraiser and take him to the commissary. I seem to recall hearing that he was promised ice cream."
Daniel felt lucky he was inured to the boring parts of his job. Walter was painstakingly cycling through different radio frequencies. Loran had been excited when the wormhole had first opened to his planet, but now he was starting to vibrate from nerves. Daniel laid a hand on his shoulder.
"This is Stargate Command on planet Earth, attempting to hail Nonda. Do you copy?"
Walter gave it the requisite five tries over a full minute before turning to Sam. She nodded and he adjusted the radio frequency again.
"This is Stargate Command on planet Earth, attempting to hail Nonda. Do you copy?"
A burst of something staticky came over the radio and Walter and Sam leaned forward intently. Daniel felt a shoulder bump from Jack, and Loran tense under his hand.
Walter tried again, "Planet Nonda, do you copy?"
There was another crackle, and then a voice came through. "Who is this?"
Loran escaped from under Daniel's hand immediately.
Sam leaned over to the mic and replied, "We're calling from planet Earth. We believe we've found something of yours."
Loran pushed up to the mic while Sam and Walter were still pulling away to give him space. "This is Loran Sturannatus from the temple cliffs expedition. Is Doctor Galiun Diadrianatus there?"
Daniel could hear indistinct voices rising on the other end. He didn't doubt that there would be some chaos, hearing from an expedition member they'd thought long lost. Finally the original voice came back.
"Loran, Galiun retired last year, but we will contact him. Doctor Eleria Veneunnata is speaking for the institute now. She'll be here shortly."
"Okay. Okay." Loran was obviously struggling not to cry, now, and Sam put a hand on his back. "Can you also contact my aunts and my uncle?"
The voice on the other end hesitated. "Loran … your parents?"
"We're so glad you survived, Loran. Of course we'll contact your family. That's … Feana and Liara, and Matana and Calatan?"
Loran nodded, and then seemed to realize there was no video feed. "Yes," he replied.
Daniel noted that the Nondans used personal names rather than titles and surnames where possible. No wonder Loran had defaulted to using the team's first names when they met.
"Loran," a new voice said, "this is Eleria. I helped work on preparations for the expedition."
"I remember," he said. "You were the speaker for technology development. You used to bring your husband's cakes to meetings."
"That's right. We notice that you're connecting to us from coordinates nowhere near the temple cliffs planet. Can you tell us briefly how you escaped the planet where the expedition was?"
Daniel immediately caught Sam's eye. The SGC had never been able to determine the origin point of an incoming wormhole, and as far as Daniel knew the Goa'uld couldn't, either. Maybe the Asgard or the Nox or the Tollan could, but if so they'd never mentioned it.
Sam's eyes were bright, too. She'd gotten hints from Loran that the Nondans were technologically advanced, but this was a solid lead on something they might be able to negotiate for.
Loran had finished giving Eleria his side of the story, and she was responding back. "May I speak to the lead speaker of Earth's institute?"
Loran gave way when General Hammond approached the mic. "Doctor Veneunnata, I'm General George Hammond of Stargate Command on Earth. We are explorers—similar to your people, it sounds like. We feel very fortunate we found young Loran in that temple. He's had a rough go of it, and I'm sure he's looking forward to getting home to his family."
"We're very grateful to you for finding and caring for him, and we very much want him home. Can he …"
General Hammond filled in, "Our team can bring him through, now, if that's all right with you. Our medical doctor would also like to accompany him and share with you the effects being stranded in the temple had on his health."
Daniel knew Janet wanted to describe more thoroughly the effects of the light addiction, plus share Doctor Mackenzie's report on Loran's emotional state.
Loran piped up, "I can send through my picture viewer with an image of us, if you like. No purple stripes."
Eleria laughed. "Why don't you do that, since we can't send through a land drone from this direction."
Loran motioned Daniel over, with the rest of the team and Janet, and asked Walter to take their image.
"We've never actually met aliens before," Loran explained. "We always said they'd have purple stripes."
Sam laughed. "We said they'd be little green men."
"Then we found out they were gray," Jack said. "And naked," he muttered under his breath.
"You've met aliens that look like aliens?" Loran asked excitedly.
"You betcha," Jack said. "We'll tell you all about 'em."
Loran took his viewer back from Walter and spoke into the mic. "Okay, I have the image and I'm ready to send it through."
"The shield is down," Eleria replied.
Sam took Loran down to the gate room to slide his viewer through the wormhole, and Daniel followed with Jack on his tail, then Teal'c and Janet.
A minute later, Eleria's voice, wavering with emotion, came through again. "It's good to see your face, Loran, but it will be better in person. Please come through and bring your friends. Come home."
When they stepped through, Loran broke away and ran into the arms of a stately middle-aged woman who hugged him with visible relief. Others crowded around, some crying, and hugged him in turn.
Jack took in the area. The stargate was located in an attractively landscaped courtyard surrounded on all sides by a two-story building. Other than a massive stone wall facing the gate, most of the courtyard and the outside walls of the building were windows. Open countryside was visible through the building.
The institute was obviously not military in any way, and was apparently not expecting to be on the defense other than the gate shield. Jack hoped for the Nondans' sake that they wouldn't ever need to be.
When the initial burst of joy at Loran's recovery subsided, Jack saw the party ready to meet them.
Loran tugged over the woman who had greeted him first.
"Eleria, this is Jack, and Daniel, and Teal'c, and Sam, and Janet!" he exclaimed in one breath.
"Colonel Jack O'Neill, Stargate Command, planet Earth," Jack filled in more formally.
"Eleria Veneunnata, lead speaker of the Galaxy Ring Studies Institute," she replied.
Jack stuck out his hand and waited. She studied it for a moment, then put her hand out opposite his. He grasped it lightly and gave a brief shake.
"We're very pleased to meet you."
She looked up from their hands and gave a slow smile, full of wonder. "We are very pleased to meet you, as well." She added a little more quietly, "You're our first aliens."
Daniel came up alongside Jack. "We would be interested in sharing our exploration experiences with you. I'm Doctor Daniel Jackson."
Eleria shook his hand, still looking like she could hardly believe she was meeting aliens.
The rest of the two parties introduced themselves in turn.
Eleria turned back to Loran, who was grinning wildly, and said, "Your family should be here soon. Let's move into the conference room."
As they entered the building, an older man rushed up to give Loran a hug.
"Galiun!" the boy exclaimed.
"Please, join us," Eleria added. Not that Galiun had much choice, as Loran held fast to his hand.
Jack was pretty sure this was the guy who had been leading the institute when Loran and his family left on the expedition.
Once they were seated in a comfortable conference room, Galiun turned to Loran. "Eleria shared the audio of your story with me. I am so sorry we didn't know you were out there. We thought the entire expedition was lost."
His story was as they'd expected. The institute had sent a land drone, which had tumbled into a crevasse immediately. An aerial drone showed half the cliff had sheared off, taking the temple with it, plus giant cracks in the ground and a rockslide of boulders. After weeks of constantly re-opening the stargate for reconnaissance, the drone captured video of another avalanche of rocks as it took out the stargate and cut the connection.
Loran picked at the tabletop, his eyes unfocused and sad. "I was afraid that was what happened to the expedition." He looked up at Galiun. "I must have tried to dial Nonda when you had the ring open to control the drone."
Galiun's face fell even further and Loran rushed to add, "I don't blame you. Of course you were trying to figure out what happened at the temple site."
Galiun set his hand over Loran's. "I hardly slept. After the final collapse…. Well, I couldn't stay at the institute anymore and retired. Eleria's done a marvelous job speaking for all the functions. But we haven't sent out any expeditions since."
Eleria explained, "We've been spending more time exploring the science of the galaxy ring and the technologies we use for expeditions. There are so many dangers, and we would rather have more preparation, fewer losses."
Loran turned to Jack with a pleading look, and Jack was glad he didn't have to deny the kid his wish. "Like Daniel said, we're happy to share our experiences. We haven't had the luxury of waiting to study—we ran into danger that came to us and we've been playing catchup ever since. But that's not as likely for you, especially if we can steer you towards some safer destinations."
The Nondans looked at each other, nervously. "Danger has come to you through the ring?" Eleria repeated.
"Well, yes," Daniel said, "but it turns out that our planet was involved in the original history of, uh, ring travel, and had some not-so-great history with the bad guys, too. There's no sign that Nonda is a place that would become a target of the Goa'uld as long as you avoid their worlds."
"The Goold…" repeated one of the Nondans—Jack thought she had been introduced as the speaker for biological sciences.
"Go-ah-oold," he pronounced for her. "Big on slavery, domination, and tacky décor. The place where Loran and his parents ended up was actually Goa'uld territory—long abandoned, lucky for us all." He glanced at his team before offering to Eleria, "We would be happy to give you an overview of the Goa'uld, while Doctor Fraiser and Major Carter go with Loran to see your medical doctors."
"That would be an excellent idea," Eleria agreed. "Galiun, won't you take Loran and his friends to the medical lab?"
As Carter and the doc left with the kid, Jack prepared to give yet another snake show and tell, complete with Junior.
Daniel thought with amusement that he was the one with the reputation for talking too much during debriefs. This time, Sam and Janet had practically talked over each other, rhapsodizing about the Nondans' medical technology.
"Now, hold on a second," General Hammond inserted. "The Nondans have transporters? Like the Asgard?"
"I believe it's a similar technology, sir," Sam said, "but they don't do whole-body transporting. They don't have a pressing need for it and they seem to take a very slow and steady approach to technological advancement. But they do use these movens to draw—or extract, I suppose—blood samples, and to do surgery. Now I understand why Loran looked so startled when I drew his blood on P4X-347 to test his light addiction. The needle must have seemed absolutely primitive to him."
"Thank God I didn't have to do anything more invasive than draw his blood," Janet added. "A scalpel would have seemed frighteningly barbaric. Their technology goes beyond using the movens to draw blood, though—that's child's play to them.
"They're experts in genetics and manipulation at the molecular level. They may not transport whole bodies—well, other than using movens instead of C-sections for births—but they can use the technology to do precision alterations to correct defects in DNA."
"Genetic modifications?" Hammond asked.
"Not the type you hear about in science fiction—where they say, 'We want a baby with blue eyes,'" Janet clarified. "The Nondans are very family oriented and cherish their children as expressions of the parents' DNA. But they can use the movens on a molecular scale to correct errors or mutations that would cause disease or disability.
"They're also expert at using a patient's own cells to, for example, grow a new organ. Imagine, a new liver or a new heart, created from a patient's own DNA, which is then replaced in their body with no incision, no stiches."
"That's astonishing!" the general exclaimed.
"It was the easiest blood sample I ever gave," Jack remarked. "No offense," he added to Janet.
"No, I understand, Colonel," Janet responded. "It was novel for me, too."
"They were most intrigued by my blood," Teal'c added.
"That's true," Janet said. "They were interested to find that we have the same DNA structure as they do, but it was fascinating for them to have Teal'c's different DNA structure to explore. They were already hypothesizing about where the Goa'uld have interfered with the Jaffa to alter their immune systems."
That reminded Daniel of another possible negotiating point. "The Nondans are very interested in the fact that we come from the planet where humans evolved. They would love to have access to the evolutionary biology and fossil records of Earth."
"Well, at least we have something to offer them," the general said.
"That, and access to our list of destinations from the Ancients' database," Jack added. "They've pretty much put their stargate explorations on hold after their first expedition went so badly. But once they get out there again, they don't want to end up in Goa'uld territory."
"Especially since they bring their kids with them," Daniel pointed out. He couldn't help but feel somber as he told the general, "There were six other children on the expedition that was lost at the temple site."
"No wonder they haven't gone back out again," Hammond mused. "Really, they take their children everywhere?"
"Met a whole passel of 'em as soon as we got out of the conference room," Jack replied. "Apparently, one of Loran's aunts is going to transfer from the university to the institute, so that Loran can stay around the program with her. Means we'll get to see him regularly."
The general nodded. "Well, that's good to hear. It sounds like we have plenty to work with for a relationship. I look forward to your full reports, and I'm sure Washington will be interested, as well. Good work."
"Is it not hard to be separated from your son for so long?" Eleria asked Teal'c.
"Extremely difficult," Teal'c replied. "Yet I have no desire to see him subjected to the dangers we face. His mother is able to raise and educate him in safety, and I take leave to spend time with them when I can."
Eleria nodded, looking a little pale at the thought of not having her children at hand. Jack knew that her two were now grown and one was still working at the institute, while the other was a musician of some sort.
This was supposed to be a more relaxed reception after a day of discussions, but Jack had the sense the Nondans were still feeling them out. At least Eleria's husband's baking skills were good.
Jack had already had to stumble, with an assist from Daniel, through the story of Charlie's death. The Nondans had been kind enough to show empathy and change the topic, though Jack had been uncomfortably aware of Loran's sad-eyed look.
Henean, the speaker for Nonda's main city, just down the road from the institute, turned to Fraiser. "Janet, we've heard of your adoption of Cassie. That's very generous of you. I can't imagine the horror of every relative on her entire planet being killed. We would love for you to bring her sometime. Are you planning to bear your own?"
Jack tried not to choke on his cake. The Nondans were very kind, but their boundaries around conversation were … different.
"Well, I'm not married," Janet replied. "I'll have to see whether I find the right person."
Jack was glad she didn't get into her divorce. Daniel didn't quite have a bead yet on whether Nondans had opinions around the sanctity of marriage. They had been very understanding that his and Sara's marriage had not survived Charlie's death. He wasn't so sure what they would think about getting married at sixteen to a good old boy who was only interested in drinking and having a wife who would do as she was told.
"Of course," Henean said. "Your co-parent is such an important choice. Sam," he went on, "of course we understand you are a coniart."
"Excuse me?" Carter replied. Daniel's brow wrinkled.
"You don't know coniart? Er, someone who does not take a spouse because they are married to their work?"
"Ah, we know the concept," Daniel said. "We just don't have a word for it. Do you know the etymology of it?"
Jack recognized Daniel's fast talk, pulling attention away from Carter so that she could compose herself. In American working woman terms, she still had plenty of time to think of marriage and kids. Though Jack privately suspected Henean might be more on the nose than Carter realized yet.
Having attracted their attention, Daniel was now on the Nondans' hot seat. Loran's aunt Feana took up the busybody role. "Daniel, such a tragedy that you lost your wife before either of you could bear."
Daniel's brow wrinkled again, and Jack tensed a little. This wasn't the "Daniel has to talk about his feelings in public" wrinkle, but the "Wait a second, there is something I'm not getting here" wrinkle.
"And that you weren't able to take in your wife's son. At least Teal'c gets to spend time with his boy. I mourn with you, your loss."
"Thank you. It is … difficult." That was Daniel being genuine, and Jack relaxed for a moment.
Henean picked up the questioning again. "Teal'c, I am not sure with your physiology whether you are able to. But Jack, Daniel? Are neither of you planning to bear?"
Jack froze, his skin prickling from the back of his neck down to his hips.
"Er …" Daniel got out, equally stunned.
"Carry a child," Eleria clarified, confused by their reaction.
"You are asking whether Colonel O'Neill or Doctor Jackson plan to get pregnant? Themselves?" Fraiser asked.
Yeah, nope. That did not make Jack want to unfreeze.
"Yes," Eleria answered.
"Uh, men don't … um …" Carter started.
"Oh! Of course!" Eleria said, flustered. "I'm so sorry. You don't have the medical technology to …?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Jack could see Daniel's curiosity start to engage. Jack was going to stick with frozen for another few minutes, thank you very much.
Fraiser started taking to Eleria about stem cells and chromosomes and growing uteruses and … yup, Jack was going to let her handle that for a bit.
Daniel started in on the cultural questions. Apparently three hundred years ago they had perfected fertility treatments for couples. Two hundred years ago they added fertility and pregnancy options for gay and lesbian couples. By now the technology was a part of their society, and had helped shaped it. It was just expected that most women and men would at least carry one child that shared both parents' DNA. There were a few coniarts who never chose to get pregnant and there were a few people who loved being pregnant so much they had more than one child, but the population in general stayed pretty balanced.
"Oh, your names!" Daniel suddenly exclaimed. "Eleria Veneunnata. You are a daughter who was borne by a man named Veneun."
"Yes, exactly so!" Eleria answered.
Daniel had on his "I should have figured this out sooner" face. Like he should have figured out men having babies. Jack shook his head.
Henean was looking a little sterner than he had previously.
Jack felt his spidey senses signaling Retreat! Retreat! Retreat! Using decades of long practice, he hid the cold sweat and plastered on his amiable diplomat smile. "This is fascinating. So different from Earth. Fascinating. Really." He clapped Daniel on the arm and added. "It's been a long day. We're all feeling a little gate-lagged, here. About time to turn in. We'd love to pick up on this tomorrow, yes? Tomorrow?"
"Of course," Eleria agreed immediately. "We've kept you up late. Loran can show you to your chambers." Smart cookie, that one. She didn't get to be speaker of the institute on her technology skills alone.
Loran happily reached out to take Jack and Daniel both in hand, and led their party off to the institute's sleeping chambers.
Once he dropped them off with promises to see them in the morning, Jack and Teal'c watched him disappear back down the hallway.
"It is good to see Loran is recovering the affectionate nature of a child," Teal'c remarked.
Jack thought back to the frightened, isolated boy they'd first met a month ago in the Goa'uld palace. "It really is," he agreed. Loran's aunt and her wife had happily taken him in, beside their own two children. Given the evening's revelations, he realized that each of the women had probably borne one of the kids, who were biologically both of theirs. It really was an amazing technology.
The rest of the team was waiting in the seating area of their suites.
"Colonel, the level of their medical knowledge is astounding," Fraiser said. "Not that I think Earth is ready for pregnant men, but they clearly have a mastery of human biology."
"They may also be able to provide genetic assistance to the Jaffa, so that we may be free of the Goa'uld once and for all," Teal'c added.
"They are extremely advanced," Carter agreed. "They do also have that technology that identifies an incoming wormhole's point of origin."
Washington was already interested, Jack knew. Getting a trade deal for this level of technology would keep the SGC funded for years.
"Formally getting an agreement with the Nondans will allow us to share with them details of our gate experiences, help prepare them for what's out there and prevent them from repeating our mistakes," Daniel added.
"And they're still interested in Earth's evolutionary record," Fraiser added.
"Yeah." Jack dropped his head into his hand and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "We want to help them. Washington wants a deal. Let's do what we can to make this work. Be … nice."
Carter and Fraiser raised their eyebrows, but shrugged and headed off to their room.
"What are you seeing, Jack?"
Of course Daniel had caught Jack's unease.
"I think Henean has reservations about us."
"Because we were so shocked by male pregnancy?"
"The Nondans are very family oriented," Teal'c pointed out.
"And they have had centuries to ingrain universal fertility into their cultural assumptions," Daniel mused.
Jack tried to put into words his impressions from the reception. "Eleria's aware enough to realize that she was making assumptions. I think Henean is a little more wedded to his beliefs."
Daniel nodded. "There will be more Nondans like him. We have to make sure we don't insult their culture. Show lots of interest in their families, admire their children…"
"And don't dismiss the idea of children for ourselves."
Daniel caught Jack's eye for a long moment. Jack knew Daniel was still affected by the loss Shifu. Daniel knew Jack had moved past the sharp pain of Charlie's loss, and that he had been able to make a real connection with Loran. The idea of children for themselves was not something either of them was dismissing.
A week later, Jack was at the institute's stargate, waiting for the coded reply to come through from the SGC. His own dispatch had reported that there were some Nondan leaders who were either more conservative, more nervous, or both, who were increasingly unsure about entering an agreement with a people whose men had not proven nurturing enough to carry their own children.
The transmission from Hammond came through, and Jack gave it a quick read.
He'd half expected this, but he let it sink in as he headed back to the guest suites.
He closed the door behind him, shutting the institute out and giving him privacy with his team. He sank slowly into the open chair in their little circle.
"I'm going to have the Nondans help me get pregnant."
"You've got to be kidding me!" Carter squeaked. "Sir," she added, far later than she should have.
Teal'c was watching him more closely, and gave him a slow nod of acknowledgment and gratitude.
Daniel was also watching him, face open and questioning. Jack sent him a silent question back. Daniel flushed slightly, but gave him a slight nod, looking far happier and more pleased than Jack had seen, maybe since Abydos. Jack relaxed further. Daniel put his hand on Jack's shoulder and squeezed.
"Sir?" Carter asked, hesitantly. "General Hammond didn't order you to…?"
"No, Carter. He said no one can be ordered to participate. But this level of semi-ultimatum from a trading partner would usually get an instant thanks-but-no-thanks. Obviously, Washington is drooling over the chance to get their hands on this tech and if someone's willing to put a uterus on the line, they won't say no. Aht!" He cut off her next protest with the wave of a finger. "I am willing."
He was. He'd moved past the pain of Charlie's death, and on to the memories of the miracle of Sara's pregnancy, the birth, the amazing tiny human with perfect fingers and toes, the boisterous ray of sunshine who begged to play ball. If he could have something like that again in the line of duty and help Earth at the same time?
And maybe he wasn't quite past Daniel's recent death (or Abydos, or Nox, Oannes, Klorel's ship…). Maybe he wanted to be sure he always had a part of Daniel with him. Since Daniel was also turning his thoughts towards fatherhood—well.
Later, after they'd sat through an excruciatingly frank talk with Doctor Talianatus (Jack trusted a male doctor who'd been through a pregnancy himself to give him the real scoop), Daniel hemmed and hawed and blushed his way through a few false starts.
Jack finally took pity and interrupted him. "Daniel. I'm kind of an old-fashioned guy about this sort of thing. I'm basically asking you to marry me."
That made Daniel blush in an all-new kind of way.
Jack leaned in and kissed him, then pulled back to check his reaction. Daniel's huge smile made him say, "I take it that's a yes?"
"That's a yes," Daniel confirmed.
"Glad to hear it, since I've already turned in my retirement from the military."
"What?" Daniel exclaimed.
"Yep. You're getting married to the SGC's newest civilian consultant. Hammond is going to be promoting Carter and turning SG-1 over to her. Of course she'll have to re-staff. We'll be on a year-long diplomatic mission to Nonda where I go off to see the wizard. And no one on Earth catches sight of a Schwarzenegger movie medical impossibility." Daniel's blank look meant there was a VHS rental in store for them.
Once they were settled, Doctor Talianatus did indeed grow him a uterus, ovaries, and vagina. Jack could attest first hand that the movens technology was miraculous—he didn't even want to call it surgery it was so seamless. Weird, but painless. (He also got new knees along the way, which was bound to help when he was thirty pounds heavier.)
His Nondan friends were all supportive and congratulatory when he exited the medical center. Loran, especially, was excited that Jack was going to have a baby he could play with.
But Jack—Jack only had eyes for Daniel.
"Let's go make a baby."
He took Daniel's hand and led him off home.