The MALP had sent back no indication of seismic instability, but they hadn't been in the little one-room temple for five minutes when tremors rippled up the ornate walls, and the marble floor did a shimmy that left Carter and Teal'c plastered against two faces of a support column, and Jack and Daniel clutching at opposite sides of the console in the middle of the room.
I love you rang in Jack's head, clear as a bell, in Daniel's voice. They were staring straight at each other. Daniel's lips hadn't moved.
It wasn't a we're-going-to-die moment. It wasn't a bad quake. Jack had barely drawn breath for the order to evacuate the potentially crumbly structure to the expanse of flat ground outside when the shaking stopped. He was still staring at Daniel. Daniel mouthed the start of a question, You'd wha--?, then shut his mouth with a harsh exhale.
Daniel looked down at the console. Jack looked down too. They simultaneously snatched their hands away. Jack looked up at Daniel.
"It said ... something," Jack said. "In your voice. In my head."
"Yeah," Daniel said. He didn't look up. "Here too."
"In my voice."
"No, in my voice, Jack, that's why I'm startled, because I never verbalize thoughts in my own voice in my head."
Jack almost never verbalized thoughts in his own head, but Daniel was delivering sarcasm on automatic, intent on decrypting some symbols on his side of the console, so instead of verbalizing that, Jack said, "What."
"'One Truth,'" Daniel translated, reaching around for his video recorder. "I think. Just let me -- "
"Not 'One Big Honkin' Shield Generator'?" Jack said. The waist-high device might just barely be portable, and had a fair likelihood of being rubble if they tried coming back for it later, but he wasn't violating protocol to bring it home without at least a PRESS HERE TO ARM GOA'ULD-ZAPPER sign.
"Well, I don't know, I mean these look a lot like one of the Gadmeer's syllabaries but without more referents I can't be -- "
"I couldn't even hazard a guess in under an hour, sir."
"That's it, then," Jack said. "Daniel, dial us outta here before the aftershocks kick in."
Daniel protested that it wouldn't take him ten minutes to record the inscriptions on all the columns, Jack retasked the dialing to Carter, and they went through with Teal'c working the MALP remote and Jack hauling Daniel backwards by a backpack carrystrap while Daniel panned around the place with his camera.
"So this thing you thought at me," Jack said later, over sandwiches and fries in a surveillance blind spot at the mall food court where it was safe to talk during off hours because the staff cranked the music too high when there were no customers to complain, and always took them at their word when they happened to mention, while they were ordering, that it was fine and they should leave it. "You wanna maybe elaborate on that?"
"Do you know what you thought at me?"
"No, but I don't think so much in words, and you do, so I figured you did."
"Well, I don't."
"OK, then, so: I'd what?"
"You started to say 'You'd what.'"
"What you heard in your head was 'You'd what'?"
"You answered 'You'd what' to whatever I said. Thought. Whatever."
"I didn't answer. I didn't say anything."
"I read your lips."
"You don't speech-read well enough to make out a dental stop."
"You don't know that, and I know what I saw. I'd what?"
"I'm not going to tell you what I heard."
"I'm going to forget I heard it."
"Tell me and then forget." At the sour face Daniel made, Jack tried, "Was it something offensive?"
Daniel blinked at him. "You're actually a little worried that it was."
Daniel probably heard 'offensive' and thought 'insulting,' and what worried Jack was that it was some unfiltered feed from the id, but as long as they were in the ballpark he didn't have to get more specific. "Kinda."
"That's really heartwarming, Jack."
"I don't mean it like that. I can't be concerned that some alien gizmo misrepresented my remark? Hell, you didn't piss me off until I told you to dial."
"It wasn't a big quake and we had at least a few minutes before any aftershocks."
"Right, because all planets behave the same way and you're a plate-tectonics expert."
"I minored in geology."
"That was seventeen doctorates ago, and next time I give you an order, you bitch at me while you carry it out."
Daniel saluted him with a French fry.
"Shouldn't I get a rebuttal if the thing took something out of context?" Jack said, and ate the clump of fries he'd stolen while Daniel's hand was up too high to intercept.
"You should forget about it, because we don't know for sure what that was. Maybe it wasn't actually thought projection; maybe the device just makes stuff up."
"In the other person's voice?"
"It could have sampled our voices from things we said before the quake hit."
"What the hell's the point of that?"
"Maybe it's a game. It delivers random messages and people supply the meaning. Like fortune cookies and horoscopes."
"Magic Eight-Ball says you don't want to believe whatever the Freaky Foosball table broadcast in your brain."
"You said yourself that it might have misinterpreted. Even if it could read our minds to some degree, its makers might not have been anything like us. Who knows what kind of garble it made out of human neural activity."
"Now, now, no need to be bitter. You're still the galaxy's best non-mechanical translator."
"Who knows what kind of garble I made out of that inscription, since somebody didn't give me half a chance to look at the others."
"I heard a complete, grammatical sentence. Not a garble."
With a winsome smile, Daniel said, "Of course you did, if it came from my brain." He scooped up some fallen tuna salad with his last hunk of bread, popped it in his mouth, and said in a chewy blur, "I'm requisitioning some kind of LevelCam, by the way. That footage I shot was a mess."
"C'mon, don't you want to know what you thought at me?"
"I didn't think anything at you. Assuming the device can read and transmit thoughts, it grabbed some kind of concept and verbalized it to you."
"And you don't care what."
"If it was anything like what was going through my conscious mind, it was along the lines of 'Holy crap earthquake are we safer in or out can we dial out while this is happening would it take too long to try' and something -- hold on to your hat -- about watching and listening for instructions from my team leader."
"Good," Jack said firmly. "But that wasn't what I heard. And judging from your response, what you heard wasn't evacuation orders or a calculation of safe clearance."
"I can't believe you don't care."
"I'm curious, but whatever it was, I don't want you to give me shit about it, so I don't want you to care, so no. I preemptively don't care." He picked up Jack's cup. "You want a refill?"
In the truck, chauffering Daniel because his car was in the shop and Carter's place was on the other side of Peterson, Jack said, "That footage you shot wasn't useless, was it."
"Nope," Daniel confirmed.
"You know I'm only gonna find out when I read your report tomorrow."
"I redacted the content of what I heard in my head."
"I mean the device's function. The temple's purpose. Whichever."
"The temple's a TSA checkpoint and the device is like a polygraph. Ascertains and relays the gist of travelers' intentions towards the local parties also touching it, reassures the travelers that they're safe and welcome. I still don't know if it works accurately on humans, and I can think of various ways to game the system, but it was late and I didn't dig too far into the details. It'll be Nyan's assignment tomorrow; I have to start prepping for that thing on Thursday."
"So it's a mental detector."
Daniel laughed, and it was good that they weren't hooked up to the thing right now, because Daniel probably shouldn't know how much Jack loved the sound of his laughter, or the satisfaction he took from coming up with a line Daniel really enjoyed, or how happy Daniel's briefest flares of happiness made him.
Or maybe the message in the tea leaves was that it was time to stop thinking that way.
They'd arrived at Daniel's building. Jack pulled up to the curb. When Daniel didn't release his seatbelt, Jack put the truck in park and took his foot off the brake.
Daniel switched the radio from instrumental jazz to pop vocals and turned the volume up. "We've been operating for years under a tacit agreement not to rock the boat," he said. "I don't need to know exactly what you heard to know that addressing it openly will rock the boat. I think you know it, too, and while it's been a fun evening, the game has to stop now. We both know the score. How the device rendered the numbers doesn't matter."
"You burp, you say 'Excuse me' to no one in particular and move on, huh?"
"For values of burp that equal private thoughts involuntarily relayed."
"You're willing to admit that we've been flirting for years, that there's a mutual thing going here that we've heroically backburnered for the sake of crown and country, but you'll do anything to avoid telling me how an alien machine phrased my abiding desire to get into your pants."
Daniel twisted towards him in his seat with Crazy-Eyed Frown Number Three, the one where his eye whites looked the whitest even at night under a broken streetlamp. "That's not what I heard. I thought it told you I wanted to -- " He rolled his head back on the headrest and closed his eyes. "Oh my god."
"I love you," Jack said, and watched Daniel's eyes pop open, and roll to look at him sidelong, and narrow into a squint. "That's what I heard. In your voice. In my head." One truth, in three words the machine reckoned summed up a thing there weren't words for in all the languages in all the stars. "Mistranslation?"
"Nooooo," Daniel said slowly, suspiciously. He sat up when Jack put the truck in drive. "What are you doing?"
"Pulling into the no-headroom garage to see if this time it manages to sardine-can my truck." He waited for Daniel to threaten his life with his first name, then added, "And going up to your bedroom to get the end of that sentence out of you."
After a few seconds, Daniel said, "There are a lot of endings for that sentence."
Jack slid into Daniel's parking spot. "I like the sound of that."
In the rucked sheets, laid bare by orgasm, Daniel stretched luxuriously under the swirl of Jack's fingertips through the warm slippery coating on his belly, and Jack said, "This rocking boat is pretty soothing."
"I thought the earth moved, personally."
Jack did too, and he knew that the way he'd come had made it abundantly clear. Other things, however, should not go without saying. He leaned down and touched his lips to Daniel's and said, "I love you. That's my real voice. Whatever the other one said, that's what it meant."
Daniel opened his eyes and took Jack by the back of the neck to pull him down into a deep, sucking, tongue-driven kiss that left Jack sprawled on him full-weight, breathless and hungry. "You said you'd give up everything for me," he said, mouth hard against Jack's. "In my head, that's what the device had your voice say. Don't do that, Jack. Don't ever do that."
Jack pushed up to look at him, unsurprised to hear what was in his head, surprised that the machine found it. Daniel's protectiveness was so intense it verged on anger. "I won't have to," Jack said. "We'll find a way to have both. We'll make a way. You know that."
"Promise me anyway."
"All right," Jack said, as if it were easy. "I promise. On one condition: that you accept what it means that I would."
Gradually, a little grudgingly, the stubborn anger faded from Daniel's eyes, and finally he smiled. "It means exactly what you said it meant."
"Yep," Jack said, and rolled onto his side to settle into the curve of Daniel's arm. "Best translator in the galaxy, bar none."