A storm was coming. Possibly a big one, Jack thought as they sat on the battered sea wall, staring out over the choppy water. The air was full of spray as they ate their breakfast of salted clam and hot sauce. Sam had brought some sweet honey rolls, and Teal'c had contributed the coffee. Their legs dangled and they enjoyed the pause between squalls. The sky was completely grey now. It would be raining again soon. Yesterday they breakfasted under a red sky. His clear rain poncho crinkled as he lifted his coffee to his lips.
"Humanity has done itself an injustice, by taking itself outside the process of natural selection," Teal'c replied. Jack sighed. Here they went again. Sam hated the natural selection argument.
"Didn't your great, great, great grandfather get genetic engineering to fix some inherited immune system thing?" Sam countered. "Rya'c would never have been born if he hadn't done that. You would never have been born."
Teal'c inclined his head in acknowledgement.
"And yet, the path of genetic engineering has lead so many of us to sterility," Teal'c stated. "Perhaps that is why O'Neill has no son."
My parents have no son, Jack thought to himself. Aloud he said, "I don't deserve a son."
"You have to let that go, sir. A lot of people fought in the Land Wars," Sam admonished him, not unsympathetically. After all, she served, too, at the very end. That was how they'd met. "That was a long time ago, and it's over now." Her hand was light on his elbow. "Besides," she declared to Teal'c, "Genetic engineering is the reason he can remember Dallas."
"Dallas? Dallas…" Jack pretended to search his memory. "Twinkie guy, blond hair, great boots, cute accent? He was a damned good lay. I don't need genetically enhanced memory to remember him. And neither do you, if memory still serves."
Sam blushed. It amused Jack to remember that Dallas was specifically how they'd met.
"Not him. Antediluvian Dallas. I know you're at least 150 years old."
"I never got to antediluvian Dallas. I'm from antediluvian Minnesota, don't forget."
"Much older than we thought, then," Teal'c murmured. Jack made a rude hand gesture and finished the rest of his coffee.
"You're starting to sound like one of those Bart people who thinks Bart's comment about stem cells being our enemies was one of his teachings rather than one of his jokes. Next you'll be attacking monogamous homosexuals," Sam said accusingly.
"In this day, if the fertile fail to reproduce, it is a harm to us all," Teal'c intoned, like a preacher on Sabbathday morning.
Sometimes it was hard to tell when Teal'c was kidding.
"Well, look around, Teal'c. If the Land Wars taught us anything – sorry, sir – it is that humans weren't made to tolerate one another in extremely dense populations. Maybe lower fertility is the price we needed to pay for longevity."
"Genetically engineered longevity for which humans were never designed. Or perhaps sterility is the price we pay for melting our polar ice caps," Teal'c rebutted. "Perhaps since you favor a less dense population, you would like to sing the praises of the Smallpox Fifty."
As Sam stammered in outrage, Jack rolled his eyes and got up from the wall, stepping off the lip to the ground behind. The fifty fanatics who delivered the smallpox plague of 2538 were by far the most reviled and hated of the terrorist groups who had brought 200 years of chaos to the planet starting around 2300. They were also the last of those groups, as three out of four people died in that outbreak. There was nobody left to join the groups, nothing left to fight for, and only hatred and death at the hands of angry mobs for any newly aspiring terrorists.
"This is precisely why humans were not intended to live forever. After about eighty years, we start to have the same stupid conversations over and over," Jack declared as he turned on his heel to walk back to their pier.
He ran smack into the kid. He was a member of what appeared to be an excursion of college students having an educational trip to the Sea, to observe giant crocodilians or flooded ecosystems or something. As they both stumbled and regained their footing, the young man muttered, "Sorry, sir," and their eyes met and Jack knew. The kid did, too, apparently. He gave a barely audible gasp and stepped back – just enough that Teal'c and Sam got a good look at him, too.
"Oh, my God," Sam breathed.
Jack hissed in anger.
"Get out of here!" he whispered to the kid. Himself, but a whole hell of a lot younger. He moved quickly away both from his breakfast companions and the younger clone and his college excursion. Jack thanked whatever deities watched over him that none of the other clone's classmates appeared to have noticed him. He strode briskly away from the scene of the encounter toward his boat.
He heard Teal'c and Carter coming fast after him. Let them catch up if they could.
Hammond stared around the table, completely at a loss. He finally settled on Jack.
"Colonel, I know how you feel about this kind of thing. You don't have to be the one to do this. There are other strong gene carriers. Hell, it's genetic engineering. They'll be putting the damned gene into all the participants."
Jack knew it was too much to hope that he could just volunteer for the mission and move on.
"Sir, you asked for volunteers, you've got a volunteer."
Anubis had destroyed Abydos. Anubis had destroyed glowy Daniel. Anubis had to be stopped, or he would destroy everything. If Jack could walk into the Ancient device they found in Antarctica, and walk out Earth's own version of a super solider, well, why the hell not, really?
"I, too, am volunteering," Teal'c intoned. He raised his hand to forestall the general's protests. "While tretonin is preferable to slavery, Jaffa anatomy now makes us completely dependent on the supply of this drug. Tretonin can be only a temporary solution for my people. This process promises to yield a healthy, functional immune system. I am not at all hesitant to volunteer."
Hammond turned to Carter.
"Colonel," he began again. Carter cut him off.
"Sir, I saw what Anubis did to Abydos. He'll do that here, if we don't stop him."
"Colonel, it doesn't have to be you."
"Really?" she replied. "If not me, then it will have to be someone else. I volunteer, sir."
Hammond was furious with her. Jack could see it in the old man's face. He turned a baleful eye on Jack, and even on Teal'c, though Teal'c had a good reason, at least.
"If those are your final decisions, then I have my volunteers," he said, with steely professionalism. "Your transport to Antarctica leaves from Peterson at 1100 tomorrow. You're dismissed," he said tersely, pushing back his own chair.
Carter and Teal'c were out of there, but as Jack made to follow them, the general stopped him.
"Jack," he said softly.
Jack turned back to his CO.
"Skaara wouldn't want this. Kasuf wouldn't want this."
He held Jack with a penetrating gaze.
"And Jacob Carter would kick my ass," Jack agreed lightly, though he met Hammond's gaze without flinching.
"You know Dr. Jackson wouldn't want you to do this."
"Daniel doesn't get to object anymore, sir. He gave up any right to do that when he ascended. Then died."
"If you don't mind, General, I'm shipping out tomorrow," Jack said, with a gesture toward the door. "Lots to do."
"Don't let me keep you, Colonel," the general replied. He turned and retreated into his office. Jack didn't wait to see him pick up the phone to call Kinsey and tell him he had his volunteers.
Jack made his living on the Inland Sea. He took families of four on fishing excursions to the safe, shallow spots. He took tourists out to the clam beds and helped them haul in the monstrous shelled beasts. They took pictures and shells and pounds of salted clam back upland with them. He took the thrill seekers out to the deeper waters, to watch crocodilians as long as his boat lunge out of the water with twenty-foot sharks clasped in their huge jaws. Long ago, he had stopped explaining to people that the shallow waters were really more dangerous, because there sarcosuchus didn't have sharks to hunt. That was counterproductive, because then even the thrill-seekers wouldn't get in the boat. Jack knew he could keep his passengers safe. He didn't need to describe the non-risks to them. Sometimes, ignorance was bliss.
His boat, The Homer,was a 40-foot long solar-sail hybrid catamaran. Jack loved her. The solar technology was his own design, exploiting the super-efficient solar cells Sam liked to make in her toaster and the fibers she had patented while pursuing her doctorate, before she ran off to join the Tarheels in the Land Wars. Somehow, they were the catch-all for anybody with no place to call home anymore. That was where Jack ran off to, so he should know.
He had applied Sam's solar cell technology to his entire deck. Durable as fiberglass, even on a rainy day it could provide enough energy to run his engines at a respectable ten knots. When it was sunny, he could run his engines and his water desalination plant (also his own design), too. Throw in the sails he had specially made from Sam's solar fibers, and Jack could power all the other equipment in his boat. The Homer could go places no other craft her size could venture in the shifting delta systems of the Inland Sea. He carried 200 gallons of fresh water, with hot water under pressure. He made his own beer.
He lived on The Homer, but unlike other charter captains, who stashed their own quarters in the front of a pontoon under a hatch, the entire starboard pontoon was Jack's home. It made him feel strangely secure, to know that he could pick up his life and move it with the changing of the tide or the turn of the wind. Kick the tourists out of the port hull and he was on his way.
No matter what he let his fundamentalist clients believe, the name of his boat was not, in fact, a reference to the teachings of Bart Simpson, but rather harkened back thousands of years earlier to the Greek historian Homer and his Odyssey. Jack wanted to put war behind him and return home. The Sea was between him and the place he needed to go. Literally, he supposed, as his home was technically a flooded piece of land far north of his current home port, but that wasn't the home he missed. The home his heart longed for was… somewhere. Maybe he would never find it. Despite that, he couldn't hate the Sea. He loved her like he loved The Homer, and damn him, Jack wanted to hear the Sirens sing, and see Scylla and Charybdis, and the herds of the Cyclops. Maybe, eventually, he would wander to Ithica.
The Sea was a refuge, too. It was not widely travelled, there wasn't much on the other side, just treacherous, nuclear damaged, radioactive mountains, it was said. And the Sea itself was inhabited by beasts from the ages of the giant reptiles – reborn from the mists of time, created by the chemical soup of years of over-enthusiastic and overly-optimistic human industry. By the time people understood the dangers of certain paths of experimentation, the recent and belated development of effective waste treatment and disposal were too little, too late.
So those who sailed the Sea didn't have a wide social circle. They weren't seen by many people. And if things got too crowded, well, The Homer was even more isolated than the Sea.
Of course, it would be very difficult to hide from Sam. Even if he took The Homer out, she would just follow him in his other boat. It was really her boat, The Schrödinger. Captain Sam was respected among mariners. The best pilot out of Port Town, most believed. Only Jack and Sam knew that Teal'c was even better. Jack knew he was better than both of them, but it wasn't by much.
"Why didn't you tell us?!" Sam demanded, storming aboard with nary a hail.
"Permission to come aboard granted," Jack muttered.
"Oh, don't start with me!" she shouted, prodding him in the chest with a very hard, very pointy finger. "Idiot! You should have told us! We should have known!"
"In what way would that have helped anyone?" Jack asked. He was already mentally distancing himself from them, moving about the cabin, doing a quick inventory of his stores by memory, as he planned for what was going to be a long trip.
"We cannot protect you if we do not even know you are in danger, O'Neill."
"Oh, my God. He's from one of the first lines! I can't believe I never connected the name!"
"Nobody knows their history anymore. I've been using that name for years. In the service, everybody thought I was just trying to be tough."
Teal'c's eyes widened.
"You are the clone of the Jack O'Neill, of the original, genetically engineered super soldiers of the War of 2005? You fought the Gate War against the Goa'uld?"
It was rare that Teal'c said something quite that idiotic.
"Look, I'm 200 years old, not 1000, fercryinoutloud," Jack said in exasperation. "And none of the clones ever fought the goa'uld anyway. Or was your history teacher so bad you don't even know that?! Clones only ever killed each other. And mutants. And of course, about a billion normal people. But not one single goa'uld."
"But that line doesn't exist anymore," Sam whispered. She was looking a little skittish, too. "It was exterminated. You can't exist." Jack could see the rapid beat of her heartbeat in the side of her neck.
Jack laughed bitterly.
"Nope! Not a single clone still exists, as you saw this morning!" he said, with mock cheerfulness.
"But, I don't understand…" Sam stammered. "How can you be here?"
Jack sighed and gave in. He sat down heavily at the helm and leaned his head against the high chair back.
"As best I can tell, some fertility clinic operating out of New Chicago has been releasing one Jack O'Neill clone about every five years for a long time. One of the O'Neill's actually runs the place. He has the whole series of 2005 clones on ice somewhere. They're all still in circulation. There was a Carter series, you know," he said, with a pointed stare at Sam. She blinked at him a little stupidly. She was clearly too shell-shocked by his first revelation to pick up his broad hint.
Teal'c suddenly moved forward, upping the volume on the radio that had been chattering quietly in the corner.
"…apprehended. The second one disappeared. The witnesses described him as older, with brown hair, graying, similar otherwise in height, build and appearance to the first one. If you sight this clone, do not approach him. I repeat. Do not approach the clone. Clones are genetically engineered with telepathy, telekinesis, super-strength and very high intelligence quotient. He should be assumed armed and extremely dangerous. Contact the local militia immediately…"
Teal'c turned the volume down again.
Sam swallowed audibly. Teal'c turned a grim face toward them.
"It will not be long before someone identifies you," he growled.
"No one would give you away, sir. People love you here."
"Yeah, what about Kinsey? He'd hang me high, toss the two of you in the Sea, and take my boats with a smile on his face."
"Kinsey should be fed to the clams," Sam snapped, almost reflexively.
"The best thing to do is for me to get the hell out of Dodge. Maybe finally go looking for Cheyenne Mountain."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow.
"Indeed, we do repeat the same conversations as we age."
It was Sam's turn to sigh.
"Cheyenne Mountain is a myth, sir."
"What? Jack O'Neill is real, but Cheyenne Mountain is a myth? You can't have it both ways."
"Well, you can't have it both ways, either. If Cheyenne Mountain isn't a myth, then it's a nuclear zone. Even a thousand years wouldn't be enough to make it safe," Sam countered.
"Well, maybe I'll do something else. There's always the floating city of Atlantis. But I'm not sitting around here waiting for Kinsey and the lynch mob. Merry Christmas, I give you guys The Schrödinger. You should head north, see if you can set up some kind of tourist gig closer to Rya'c's school."
The cabin took on a thoughtful stillness. The other two didn't leave or comment. Teal'c wore a far away expression. Sam studied Jack's face as if she were seeing him for the first time. Finally, Jack stood.
"I want to cast off in thirty minutes. I'm going to ask you to be gone when I get back. I'll be raiding the stores. Whatever's left when I'm done belongs to you guys."
Then Jack jumped out to the dock and dashed to their storage locker to begin the frenzy of preparation needed to cast off as quickly as possible.
"Cloning was not part of the deal," Jack said, staring at the long row of test tubes. He had already seen the growth acceleration chambers in the next room. He rounded on Kinsey. "These won't even be real people! They won't have childhoods! They won't have parents! I don't see the point in trying to fight Anubis at this point. Hell, he's way better at this crap than you."
"You'll watch your tone with me, Colonel," Kinsey puffed.
"It's General, and pretending to forget that is a funny insult until it means something. This program stops now," Jack growled.
"Jack, I'm sorry, but this order came down from…" Hammond began.
"Do not say the White House," Jack ordered. "That's me in there. And Teal'c. And Carter. Nobody has any right to do this without our permission."
"Desperate times, General," Kinsey said, actually sounding slightly apologetic.
Then Jack did the unthinkable. Well, technically, not unthinkable. He thought it, and it happened. Kinsey clutched at his chest, eyes widening in horrified realization. Jack belatedly tried to prevent it, but he was too late. Ever since his 'genetic reorganization,' as the doctors called it, he had not had the same ability to compartmentalize, and that ability had always been poor where Kinsey was concerned, anyway. Hammond ran for the phone, calling for a medic, as Jack stared, appalled, at the dying man at his feet.
Jack had stopped Kinsey's heart with just a thought. He raised his eyes to the glass wombs all around him. An army of Jack O'Neill clones, without even the grounding that made Jack O'Neill the man he was.
Desperate times, Jack thought. He'd bet Kinsey had second, and maybe even third, thoughts as he lay dying.
Yesterday they had eaten their salted clam breakfast under a menacing, if beautiful, red dawn. This morning, it had been in another spitting squall, heavier than the ones that had come rapidly through the day yesterday and last night.
Jack didn't usually sail on a day like today. Something big was coming, he was certain, even without the weather satellites of legend to give him the details.
Even in heavy weather like this, though, Jack knew a couple of good places to hide out in a storm. No one would find him before he could move on again.
Unfortunately, he hadn't gauged exactly how bad this blow was going to be.
He had ventured out farther than the radar net could detect him. He had ripped out his identification beacon, but right now lack of a beacon would be almost as damning as just leaving his own signal on. The most important thing was to stay off the net completely. His plan was to go out and around, then dash back in at the last possible moment.
The squalls were coming in fast and thick, which Jack didn't mind, either. On the one hand, even in good weather, it was doubtful anybody would actually bother to come after him. Sam was right. Aside from Kinsey, people liked him. He doubted they would tolerate a clone living in their town, but if he left, he didn't think anyone would want to hunt him down. He thought he might even be missed. On the other hand, if Kinsey did manage to get people a little riled up, nobody would be crazy enough to come after him in this weather. And if he never returned, most people would assume he had been lost at sea. Again, he was well enough liked that if any people from upland came looking for a fugitive 2005 clone, the community would certainly be sure those people from inland understood how bad the storms were on the Sea and how Jack O'Neill, fugitive clone, was certainly dead and drowned.
Even though it was really getting too rough for The Homer, Jack wasn't ready to find a cove quite yet. He belted into his float coat and kept sailing. He was almost far enough out from Port Town, but there was no point going this far only to give himself away at the last minute. He stared at his instruments. He was amazed at how fast the current was running and how the tide was drawing out. He reviewed the current data again, then the readings he was getting from the nearby shore line and realized he had grossly misjudged his position. He was already well away from the radar net, but getting back to shore was going to be tricky. He was being dragged far out, even as the waves were getting higher and more violent. Wind speeds were high and only climbing. Jack realized he was not just out in a bad storm. This was a hurricane, and the way the pressure was dropping and dropping, it was going to be a big one.
It only took him about ten minutes of trying to realize that turning for shore was only going to end in disaster. He was committed now. He would have to run before the storm and hope he could stay on top of the water and not under it.
A hope that didn't last long. He never saw the wave in the blinding rain, but it must have been a monster. It came down over his ship like a fist, driving The Homer under. The jolt slammed Jack into the pilot's console.
The feel of the ship around him was like the feeling he had as he clipped on his P-90 and did the final mental checks to the sound of the kawoosh. Instead of pack straps and vest closures and his side arm, he had a throbbing, fully-charged ZPM at his center, a crackling skin of shield and cloak. He had sensory devices that let him know things about space around him, he had teleportation capability, warp drive, weapons and ordinance. The feeling was like the calm in the center of the adrenaline storm during a firefight. So much he could control, but so many tasks to accomplish, seemingly all at once.
He fired volley after volley at the ha'tak in his sights. He was on Teal'c's right wing. Carter was on Teal'c's left.
"It's working," Carter yelled enthusiastically, sending a spiking reaction through his entire ship, making him want to leap forward.
"Jeez, Colonel, tamp it down a little," he grumbled back.
Teal'c's grim silence was as audible to Jack as Carter's shouts.
Carter's strafing pattern was having a huge impact. The ha'tak was visibly breaking down. Jack hit them hard, this time with drones. Carter did the same. The ship broke up in a hail of debris and a huge firestorm.
"Here comes the shock wave, kids!" Jack was yelling this time. It felt more like a wall than a wave, tipping him up and back, disorienting him, tumbling him. Carter gave a whoop of surprised delight. This whole telepathy thing meant he had learned all about his 2IC's thrill-seeking ways. He thought he was good at clamping down the unprofessional responses. Carter had him beat by light years.
As they brought their ships back under control, Teal'c began the process of acquiring a new target.
There were smaller defending ships to dispatch first. The evasion and pursuit of duels with other small ships took them the better part of an hour before they could set up for a new attack on the second mother ship. And just as they resumed formation, the fleet jumped to hyperspace.
"Dammit," Carter whispered to herself.
Jack felt her disengage from the chair in frustration. He followed her example, pulling back from his ship's neurosystems. They had been in the chairs for hours. Even a few minutes was stressful. Hours and hours left him shaking, nauseated and shocky. Carter and Teal'c usually had it even worse. The docs put it down to their artificial ancient genes. It was weird for Teal'c to be sicker than Jack, that was for sure. He touched his radio in his head gear, unwilling to reach out to them telepathically now. He still could, that was something that didn't require the chairs, but in the state they were all in, he'd probably puke, and then Teal'c and Carter would, too, and they wouldn't speak to him for a week. That was what happened the last time, anyway.
"Everybody okay?" he radioed. His voice was trembly and weak.
There was a long pause.
Teal'c replied first. "I am not well, O'Neill," he said, "but with rest I expect a full recovery."
Teal'c. Always with the jokes.
"Give me a minute, sir!" she gasped back to them, promptly shutting down the com, but it didn't matter. Jack could feel the wave of debilitating nausea. It hit as hard as the shock wave from the exploding ha'tak. He crumpled back to the floor and didn't fight it, just gave in to the sympathetic reaction and barfed up everything in his stomach. Which wasn't much. They had all learned the practicality of eating lightly before these missions. He also had a clean, dry uniform in the ready room next door.
When it passed, he crawled away from the chair, not trusting his legs. He dragged himself upright by the shower controls, pulling off his headset and tossing it out into the middle of the room before turning the shower on hot, letting the water partially revive him as he peeled out of the stinking, sweaty flight suit he had been wearing during the battle. He had also learned the practicality of wearing no boots. His sodden socks made a satisfying squelching noise when they landed just short of the laundry bag.
Or maybe those were Teal'c's socks. In this state, it was hard to distinguish his own experiences from theirs.
The Ancient ships that he and Carter and Teal'c were flying didn't make any difference. There efforts were a grain of sand on a beach. A drop of water in a sea. Despite the genetic modifications, they weren't really made to fly these machines, and they needed backup. They needed a fleet. The three of them were no more than a nuisance to Anubis. And with the physical price they were paying, they weren't going to be able to keep it up for long, either.
Of course, there were lots of good pilots who would jump to volunteer for the gig once the three of them washed out.
Jack took in the group assembled around his briefing table with an unexpected swell of pride. The best and brightest of the SGC and the Atlantis mission. Earth's explorers and representatives in two galaxies.
Too bad it was going to be such a grim briefing.
Jack was actually moderately surprised to have Sheppard and company in the room. Sheppard was wound up in Pegasus. He had awakened horrors there and blamed himself. In a defensive psychological leap, Sheppard had essentially gone native in an entire galaxy. But when Earth called, in face of Anubis's terrible onslaught, Sheppard brought his city and his people back to the rescue.
They parked Atlantis in San Francisco Bay, much to the amusement of SGC geeks of a certain age, and Sheppard and his command team hauled ass to Cheyenne for a strategy meeting.
With a nod to Hammond, anchoring the other end of the table in his position as head of Homeworld Security, Jack began.
"I want to start out by welcoming General Hammond back from Washington, and of course, Colonel Sheppard and the Atlantis contingent, who I understand had a pretty long flight to get here."
Sheppard smiled thinly in acknowledgement. McKay scowled.
"We've got a problem. According to the best intelligence we've got, Anubis has decided it's time to bring the battle to us. And we've got nuthin.'"
"What about those Ancient warships, flown by chair?" McKay demanded stridently. "I thought you got them to work."
"They do work, Dr. McKay," Hammond replied. "But three ships against Anubis's armada have had very little substantive impact."
Carter winced at the analysis.
"And, as I'm sure no one at this table will be surprised to hear, the clone program is proceeding far too slowly to be relevant, and in any case, if Anubis brings an attack from space, even a fully-functional clone army would just get fried with the rest of us down here."
"Nobody considered that clones don't spring fully-formed from nowhere? They have to be viable, then they would have to be grown, and nurtured, and trained. It's not like they were going to get 10,000 shock troops by waving their magic wands." McKay's scorn was evident, as always. Not that Jack couldn't have told them all that himself, and he wasn't even the smartest guy in two galaxies.
"Thank you for that concise analysis of the problem, Dr. McKay," Jack commented dryly. "Even if we load the Antarctica chair up with as many drones as it can store, and fly the three Antarctica ships, we're pretty sure Earth is toast, unless we can pull something else out of our sleeve."
"Atlantis might not be as much help as you were hoping, sir," Sheppard said grimly. "We've got serious power source problems, not to mention our own shortage of drones."
"What if I told you we've got three, fully-charged ZPMs, and they're all yours?" Jack suggested nonchalantly.
Sheppard found McKay's inarticulate, apoplectic reaction endearing, something Jack so didn't need to know. And he found McKay's angry flush a perfectly fetching shade of red. He didn't even have to look at his team to know when Teal'c and Carter had the same unwelcome revelation.
Sheppard took a hard grip on McKay's thigh under the table to shut him up.
"Well, then I think we can offer you quite a useful planetary defense, General," Sheppard replied.
Which was, coincidentally, when Anubis's entire fleet dropped cloak right in fucking orbit.
Jack woke up with the roar of the sea in his ears. He was bobbing nicely in the waves, but he was very cold and his mouth was full of salt. He opened his eyes and tried to peer through the stinging mist and rain. The waves were truly frightening. He was sliding up and down their faces like a cork. He must be far enough out to sea that the waves weren't breaking anymore, a terrifying thought. Of course, more likely he would just die of thirst or drown before a passing sarchosuchus noticed him. The water was cold. Carter's other invention, ocean-chemistry powered heated smart clothes, were helping to protect him from the worst effects, but his hands and feet were numb. He could rule out death by hypothermia yet.
Or maybe he would drift into a patch of mutant, radioactive seaweed…
When first one head broke the water next to him, then another, then a third, Jack was almost too shocked to be frightened.
The first was a dark-skinned man with a head of heavy dreads. He swam close to Jack, and began to closely investigate Jack's floatation device.
The second was a woman, with long, jet black hair slicked back from her face, hanging down to float in the water behind her. She also swam nearer, staring into Jack's face. Her eyes widened and she cried out in a burst of clicks, chitters and squeals that seemed to summon from the water the third person, a well-built man, his short hair also slicked away from his face. He clicked and chattered back at the woman rapidly, the first man roared as if angered, then dove back below the waves. His disappearing head and shoulders were followed by a strong elegant body and a tail that flipped insouciantly and slapped the water beside Jack's head, adding to the water sloshing around him. He caught his breath and let it wash over him. The woman made what sounded distinctly like a scolding sound and submerged gracefully below the waves.
Jack stared at his remaining bobbing companion.
Mutants. Human-dolphin hybrids created soon after the 2005 clones grew to maturity and began one of the most horrific conflicts Earth had ever seen. Faced with an out-of-control army of thousands of well-trained super-soldiers, the natural course was for a group of scientists to retreat to Atlantis, float off on the cloaked city, and start working on the super-weapon to beat the clones.
Naturally, in the form of human-animal mutants.
Some of them were quite frightening and militarily effective. The Dog Soldiers. The Tiger People. But the most efficient ones, the most natural combination, were the dolphin people. Humans and dolphins are approximately the same body mass, with brains of very similar size. Putting a human head on a dolphin body worked out amazingly well. They controlled the seas and rivers and were the most useful hybrid addition to the forces fighting the clones.
Only belatedly did the humans realize that the dolphin hybrids now ruled the water.
That wasn't how the scientists intended it to happen, of course. All the mutants were designed with built in limitations. They were supposed to be unable to reproduce. They were all sterile. Except apparently the dolphin hybrids weren't.
Like the clones, after their main armies were defeated, the dolphin hybrids were hunted down ruthlessly. It was dangerous work, even more dangerous than finishing off the clones, but eventually, humans were again the only sentient life form on Earth.
Except, of course, the legend of the dolphin hybrids wouldn't die. There were sightings on a regular basis, and many, many shipwreck survivors attributed their lucky escapes to the help of mutants who rescued them and brought them to shore.
The dolphin man swam up to him and caught the float coat by one of the hook catches. They began swimming. Well, the mutant began swimming, towing Jack and his float through the waves. With him steering, Jack never got another wave to the face, though the rain was falling hard enough to nearly drown him on its own. The mutant seemed to know how to anticipate the waves' formation and move through them so that Jack might as well have been making his way through the calm waters around the shoals on a smooth, windless day. Well, maybe that was an exaggeration. But he had not a wave to the face for nearly half an hour at a time.
Sometimes his escort would duck under the water briefly. The first time, as Jack watched him disappear beneath the waves, Jack wondered if the dolphin part of the man… mutant… whatever… had gotten the better of him and he was swimming away, bored, or distracted by something else more interesting. But then he reappeared, and grabbed the tow loop again. Jack heard him calling out in the shrill, clicking language, and other heads appeared here and there around them. They seemed to be taking direction from his dolphin man. Jack wondered what the orders were.
They must have been swimming for hours. The hurricane slowly moved on its way. The sun was long down before the clouds began to really break up, but eventually he was watching the full moon chase in and out of cloud banks, and seeing the occasional star. The Sea remained rough. Jack had puked a couple of times, but the waves quickly washed the sick away, so as long as it didn't attract any large reptilian interest, Jack wasn't too concerned about it. He was thirsty and tired, but his dolphin friends seemed intent on saving his ass (well, he hoped that was the plan and they weren't just taking him home for the post-hurricane feast or something), so hopefully they had a plan for food and fresh water, too.
They swam though the night. Jack tried to relax and sleep, but kept dreaming about drowning.
In the morning, the sun illuminated the Dallas skyline.
It emerged from the inky blackness of the night sky, the grey light of dawn picking out its unique features. The decaying globe. The Keyhole. Jack had seen Dallas once, a few decades ago. It looked surprisingly not that much the worse for the wear.
The dawn also illuminated a sea awash in the shredded remains of an Ocean Phantom or two. Jack had a healthy respect for the big jelly fish, and apparently the mutants did, too. They kept them at a distance, and the man towing him was clearly keeping his eye on the nearest one. He turned on his back to watch it as they swam past it, and noticed Jack watching him with a smile.
"I can swim, you know," Jack commented, as if he spent every day floating around with dolphins. "You know, if you get tired." It came out a croak. He could really use some water.
"We can swim a long way without resting," the dolphin man assured him.
"What Daniel means to say is, while you were asleep, we had a little float back there," said the black haired woman, swimming up beside him. "We've had a little nap ourselves."
Daniel gave her a severe look that wasn't really that severe. Jack thought it was more fond.
"True enough," he agreed grudgingly.
"I'm Vala, by the way," she murmured, making what Jack supposed were alluring eyes at him and swirling through the water between him and Daniel. She swam over and whispered in his ear, too low for Daniel to hear, "I've been resisting tugging those pants off your ridiculous legs all night."
"Your arms are going to hurt tomorrow. A lot," the man with the dreads said to Daniel, swimming up behind the woman. "I think you should let the biped swim. It'll be funny."
"Ronon is, of course, joking," Daniel said, with a real glare this time.
"No, I'm not," Ronon disagreed bluntly, but Daniel ignored him.
"Ronon knows it is a matter honor for us, and especially for George," Daniel emphasized the name heavily, so that Ronon's smirk diminished slightly to something more like a petulant snarl, "that no storm-washed land dweller should come to any harm."
Vala made a face behind him for Jack's benefit.
"Not that I'm complaining, or anything," Jack said. "I am very happy to be alive and not croc food. But is it your usual plan to bring the poor storm-washed land dwellers, you know," Jack made a sweeping hand gesture encompassing the coastline free horizon and the distant submerged cityscape, "all the way to Dallas?"
"He makes an excellent point, Daniel," Vala agreed, turning her attentions back to the other dolphin for a moment, swimming up to Daniel so they were chest-to-chest, then dancing away when he swatted at her with his hand.
"Yeah. Why bring him all the way to Dallas?" Ronon asked gruffly, his eyes bright with humor, the smirk back again.
Daniel seemed to become more and more stymied by the conversation.
"Well, I couldn't just take him back to Port Town, could I, with Kinsey after him? Besides, it's easier to swim in a storm than try to go back near the shore." Daniel crossed his arms defensively, brow furrowed. He hardly seemed to be swimming at all.
"Kinsey?" Jack asked. "You know about Kinsey? How do you know about Kinsey?" Jack was getting that feeling he used to get during the war when a mission was about to go bad.
Vala chortled and Ronon brayed with laughter. Daniel flushed slightly. He caught Jack by the tow loop and began swimming again toward the city.
"Oh, Jack O'Neill, Daniel knows all about you," Vala offered helpfully. "He's charmingly and completely smitten. I'm surprised he hasn't gone to the Sea Witch to get legs so he could join you on land."
Daniel growled and Vala gave a slight oof. She swam a little farther away, glaring at Daniel as Ronon snickered.
"I have a hybrid stalker," Jack muttered to himself. He eyed Daniel warily, though the look was lost on the dolphin man as he determinedly pulled Jack along through the water.
"Don't look so apprehensive, Captain Jack," Vala crooned. She had moved around behind him now. "Daniel has a very long penis, and it's especially agile. I know from personal experience. And when he rubs bellies with you. Well. He knows just the perfect way to move just so…"
Ronon was guffawing again. Daniel rounded on Vala, circling around Jack and chasing her away.
"Why don't you do something useful, Vala?" Daniel said, irritation in his voice. "Jack is going to need fresh water soon."
"About that…" Jack began.
"Oh, nice, Daniel, siccing Vala on us while we chase sailboats for your stupid human boyfriend," said a snide voice from behind them. Jack turned himself in the water to find another mutant had arrived. He was balding slightly, very thick in the shoulders and chest, and was glaring at them all angrily.
"You found it?" Daniel asked.
The new arrival huffed, as Vala swam over to him, eyeing him like a particularly good piece of tuna, Jack thought.
"We never had to find it," he said, edging away from Vala. "John knew where it was the whole time. The problem is that the rudder is damaged and the rigging is stuck and we haven't been able to stop it or steer it, so it's just blowing around like a Phantom, except a lot heavier. Cameron thinks the best thing to do is get another biped to board it and steer it."
"You found my boat? Why don't you just take me there?"
The new mutant made a dismissive noise.
"By towing you? Are you an idiot or something? I had heard that bipeds were intelligent. See, Daniel? You see why I doubt the teachings from the ancients that these people somehow made us."
"Yes, Rodney, but do you really think evolution would have given up on efficient fluid dynamics and lung capacity just to give us opposing thumbs and primate intelligence?" Vala asked.
Rodney took a deep breath and opened his mouth to reply. Jack was fascinated to hear how this debate would play out, despite his concerns about his ship. How many times did "a biped" get to hear hybrid dolphin humans debate their own origins?
"Enough, Vala," Daniel interrupted abruptly. "Rodney, how soon will they have The Homer here? I'm serious."
Rodney swallowed whatever argument he had been about to make, eyes shifting between Daniel and Jack and back again. He sent a pleading glance to Ronon and swam a little away from Vala again.
"Cam was swimming for The Schrödinger when I came back here. I'm sure he's found Sam by now and she and Teal'c will be plotting a course to catch The Homer. Once they actually catch up to her and board her, I'm sure they will be here within an hour or so."
"Assuming Cameron and John don't get distracted," Vala said in a voice that implied of course they would get distracted. "You know those two and ships. Once they find a new toy, they only want to find out everything about it."
"So why don't you run along with Rodney there and try to keep them on track?" Jack suggested. "I want my boat back."
Vala beamed at him, as Rodney made a choking noise.
"Great. Way to thank me," he managed to splutter to Jack, before diving into the waves and streaking off toward the horizon, leaping out of the water, flying through the air, diving back in, only to leap out again, bounding away from them at a speed only matched by Vala, who was right behind him, hair flying like a flag behind her on every leap.
Ronon was laughing as if he would burst.
Then he suddenly stopped.
"Shark," he said, and slipped under the water without a ripple.
Daniel turned in a quick circle, then he, too, disappeared.
And suddenly, Jack was floating alone in the open ocean.
Anubis was going to use Cheyenne as his own personal landing pad. Daniel had described it from his trip through the mirror all those years ago. Of course, Daniel had experienced the attack of Apophis, not Anubis. And a General O'Neill a lot less determined to get the bastard.
He found Carter's eyes across the table. She nodded as he turned to Teal'c. It wasn't even telepathy, just SG-1. The rest of the room had hushed, watching them, as if they could listen in on their command team's thoughts, too.
He scanned the room. Colonel Mitchell and his SG-1 2.0, as everyone called them. Vala MalDoran, Jonas Quinn, and – stolen right out from under Rodney McKay's nose – Radek Zelenka. McKay himself, of course, seated by Sheppard. Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagan, who didn't belong here, fighting Earth's fight, but who came anyway out of loyalty to their friends.
He let his eyes come back to Carter.
"Here's the plan, Colonel. We will let Anubis land on this mountain, then you will detonate the Stargate."
"Yes, sir," she replied, without hesitation.
"General, a word," Hammond ordered, rising from his seat.
McKay was stammering to Sheppard.
"He's crazy! You know what detonating a Stargate will do?! It's not just going to take out the mountain! There won't be a Colorado after that!"
"Yes," Zelenka agreed, as he and McKay chased Carter down the stairs to the gate operations room, Sheppard their sloping shadow. "But the nuclear self-destruct barely moves the mountain. It will never penetrate Anubis' defenses. The gate is the only option we…"
The argument faded behind him as he and Hammond entered the office.
For five or six minutes, his heart beat wildly in his chest. They wouldn't leave him? Or what if they were eaten by the shark?
Then Daniel burst from the water in a flying leap, squealing and clicking, Ronon close behind him. They twined together in the waves a moment before Ronon submerged again, and Daniel frisked up to Jack, grinning broadly, and began pulling him through the water again.
"Sharks won't be bothering us for a while," Daniel assured him breathlessly, and they moved briskly through the water. Jack was feeling water-logged and wondered why they were going to Dallas.
After a long silence, Daniel chuckled.
"If it were up to Rodney, you'd never see that boat again," Daniel said, looking back with a smile. "Vala's always pestering him, and he considers himself and John exclusive. The last thing he wants is to spend the afternoon fending her off. He'd sink The Homer out of spite. Lucky for you, Cam wants to meet Sam and Vala wants to see you with your pants off. And she likes you."
"You do realize that I don't have a 14-inch long prehensile penis," Jack said, trying to sound apologetic, rather than apprehensive. Vala suggested that Daniel had romantic designs on Jack, and Jack had heard all sorts of rumors about the behavior of the dolphin people.
The old sailors said that the mutants would pursue objects of their interest through the water, trap them and badger them until they were too exhausted to resist, then rape them repeatedly, often as a group, until the dolphins finally lost interest and either left their victim drowned in the sea or delivered them in a heap onto the sand of some remote beach, to walk or crawl back to civilization.
Of course, there were plenty of people for whom that was more an erotic fantasy than a cautionary fable. Admiring Daniel's broad shoulders and heavy arms, Jack was trying to decide where he fell along that spectrum.
"Rumor has it that the human phallus is nearly three times as thick as the dolphin penis. Vala is not the only one intrigued by those proportions," Daniel replied. His face was turned away, but Jack thought he might be laughing at him. So it seemed the mutants had their own tales of the sea. Or land. Or whatever.
"I've never compared," Jack said without thinking. His throat hurt, and his head ached. He wondered how long before he could go aboard The Homer and get a drink of water. Funny he was thinking "when" not "if."
Dallas got closer and closer. Jack saw Ronon's head appear and disappear now and then. He suspected he was on shark and croc patrol. Jack tried to relax and not be bored.
After what seemed like forever, the buildings finally loomed above them. The water made gentle plashing sounds around them. Algae, barnacles and seaweed clung to the structures. He wondered what might live inside the dark caves created by the broken windows.
"It's dry on the first step of the Keyhole," Daniel said. He had pulled Jack to a long dive ladder, hung there by some other adventurer exploring the wreckage of the city. It would take him the twelve or so feet up out of the water. "You can wait here until they get back with your boat."
"Sounds like a plan," Jack said, relieved at the idea of drying out. "Vala should hurry back. First order of business is going to be to get out of these clothes."
Daniel chuckled and helped Jack with the fastenings on his floatation device.
He climbed up the ladder on wobbly legs, feeling heavy and weighed-down as he left the water, his clothes dragging and dripping. He half expected the ladder to pull away from the building as soon as he put his weight on it. For that matter, he wouldn't be shocked if the entire building creaked over on top of him, but the ladder was solid and he made his way up.
"Hey, it's clean up here!" Jack called down to Daniel. He had expected it to be covered with bird droppings and sea wrack, but obviously the storm had washed that away. It was a clear concrete surface. Jack didn't hesitate prying his shoes off, peeling off the socks, and stripping out of the rest of his clothes. He felt instantly warmer, despite the breeze. It was August, after all. The sun felt hot on his skin.
Daniel swam out to consult with Ronon. From his new perspective above the waves, Jack could suddenly see for miles. Sure enough, there was his boat, on the horizon, The Schrödinger close behind. He pointed, calling down to Daniel, "Looks like they got her!"
Daniel waved back. At the rate they were travelling, they'd be there in half an hour. Jack debated putting his clothes back on. He looked at the sodden mass and decided definitely not. Sam could just avert her eyes, and Vala could get that education she wanted.
Not only could he see his boat from this new perspective. He could also see lots and lots of mutants ducking in and out of the waves. It was hard to be certain, as a lot of them were pretty far away, and they were never all on the surface at once, but Jack thought he counted twenty or twenty-five individuals at least. Possibly more. Some of them noticed him and even waved. Others ignored him. But he was amazed at how many there were. Human-dolphin hybrids. Apparently not a myth.
As Sam approached at a fast clip, he saw the mutants on her bow wave, leaping from the water and laughing, calling to each other. It looked like Vala and Rodney, plus a couple of others he assumed must be John and Cameron. Sam sailed right up alongside his perch. He snagged his wet clothes and climbed back down the ladder to board his boat.
"Whoa, sir! A little warning next time!" Sam protested, putting a hand over her eyes and turning her head away from the sight of his naked butt descending the ladder.
"Don't mind me! I'm headed for the galley and about three gallons of water. I'll be back with clothes on!" He breezed by her, but not before Vala whistled her appreciation, to the raucous laughter of the men.
He drank from the water bottle, then hit the shower for a thorough rinse. He looked longingly at his bunk, but in an act of will put on a pair of cotton pants and light shirt and climbed back out onto the deck.
"Thanks for bringing me my boat, Sam," he said to her. She turned from the rail where she had been talking to Cameron, and returned his hug with surprise.
"Anytime, Jack," she replied. He noted that Teal'c had tied up The Schrödinger and was himself conversing with dolphin people. He looked around. He returned Jack's cheerful wave with a regal half bow.
Jack looked out over the side.
"Is it safe to tie up here?" he asked Rodney, the only head bobbing there at the moment.
"Yes, amazingly. I don't understand how the largely metal structures of these buildings have remained standing for so many years without constant maintenance. I have to assume it has something to do with the concrete support columns. Our physicists have been predicting their collapse since they were flooded, but as you can see, they're still here, and I can assure you they don't look like they'll be falling down anytime soon."
"Alright, then," Jack responded, staring up at the Keyhole Building, looming over them, wondering if he should believe dolphin physicists. But then, the building had just survived a hurricane. Surely it would stay put for another twenty-four hours or so. "I'm going to hit the sack and I plan to be unconscious for several hours. But I'd like to talk to Daniel again, and thank everyone once I feel less like a half-drowned rat. Will anybody be around later?"
Rodney rolled his eyes.
"I don't think you could get rid of Daniel if you tried," he replied. "He follows your boat everywhere, anyway. And before you start trying to sail for Cheyenne Mountain, you can expect to catch an earful from him about what an idiotic idea it is. So don't worry. Go. Have your nap." Rodney made a shooing gesture that drew a long-suffering sigh from Sam. Jack realized while he had been swimming all day with Daniel and Ronon and occasionally Vala, Sam had been enjoying Rodney's pleasant company. He patted her on the shoulder as he turned and retreated below deck to the soft warmth of his bunk.
"Jack, you can't do this without the President's authorization," General Hammond began.
"George, I am not putting him in the position of having to decide between putting a hole in the Rockies or surrendering to Anubis. We're taking Anubis out. The President can deal with the consequences."
"There's a third way, Jack," Daniel said.
He blinked at Daniel's solid, real form. Great. Nothing like a hallucination to really screw with your self-confidence when you are trying to make decisions about the future of an entire planet.
"General O'Neill, do you see Dr. Jackson?" Hammond asked, his voice showing none of the stress or apprehension that Jack himself was feeling.
"Yes, sir, I do see him," Jack replied, reassured. "How can we help you today, Daniel? Not that it isn't lovely to see you again, but we're in the middle of something here."
"What third way, Dr. Jackson?" Hammond prompted, ignoring Jack's small talk.
"Use the regular self-destruct and ascend together," Daniel said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Daniel, as you have already learned, ascension is not the answer. I saw Anubis blow you away when you tried to save Abydos."
Jack didn't have time for this. Not this stupid argument. Not again. He clamped down on the bile that rose to his throat as unwelcome memories of Ba'al's prison flooded back.
"You didn't see Anubis blow me away, Jack. You saw the other Ancients stop me."
"Same difference, Daniel. Ascension is a game that you play by their rules. And as they don't know how to pull their heads out of their asses…"
"Oh, fercryinoutloud, Jack, surely you know by now that people should not try to co-opt Daniel Jackson, and they certainly should not underestimate him." Daniel was smiling now. Burbling over with the need to laugh. Jack hadn't seen that look on his friend in… well, in a very long time.
"Okay, spill, Jackson. What have you done?"
"I know how to ascend you all. Together. And when I do, we will be a force that the Ancients can't stop. Well, us, and the entire ascended population of Abydos. We can get rid of Anubis permanently and protect the galaxy from his forces, and the Ancients can only tsk quietly in the background."
Jack stared at Daniel.
Trust Daniel to come up with the radical plan. Mass ascension.
"It would work, Jack. We could take Anubis out, then deal with some other little problems the Ancients created."
"Which they won't fix now because, conveniently, they 'can't interfere.'" Jack muttered.
"I'm pitching a trip to Pegasus with Sheppard and McKay right now."
Jack looked around the room pointedly.
"I'm having this conversation with everyone simultaneously. There's not a lot of time, and the arguments that work for getting Jack O'Neill to ascend will not be the same arguments that work for Teal'c or George Hammond or James Miller, the technical sergeant who staffs the cafeteria."
The magnitude of what Daniel was suggesting finally hit home. He looked over. George Hammond was no longer part of their conversation. He was standing as if frozen in time on the other side of the desk. There was a new sense of unreality about the room. He realized he was probably somewhere in Daniel's giant brain now.
"Daniel, as much as I hate to give those kindergarten teachers credit for anything, the Ancients may have a point. Not every gal in the armory or guy on KP is ready to be a god. It's one thing to take Anubis out. I'm all for that. But Ascension is forever."
Daniel shook his head.
"It doesn't have to be. We can un-Ascend, Descend, whatever, whenever we want."
"Yeah, but who's going to want to?"
Daniel sighed. He reached over to touch Jack's cheek. Even though Jack knew the touch was part of the illusion, it felt real. Daniel's palm was large and warm. His fingers were long and work-roughened. Daniel's lips on his were soft and tender. Jack accepted the kiss without hesitation. He managed enough restraint to keep his hands to himself, but he devoured Daniel's offered mouth like a starving man would fall upon manna in the desert.
Daniel, using the one tool of persuasion he had never tried. Daniel, trying very hard to persuade everyone.
"That's not what this is, Jack," Daniel whispered to him.
"As much as my dick would like me to say yes to this whacky plan, Daniel, I don't think it's a good idea."
"We wouldn’t play god, Jack," Daniel said. "We would take care of the loose ends the Ancients left behind – and there are some real doozies out there that nobody's even stumbled on yet, let me tell you – and then we can each come back to Earth and live out quiet, happy lives."
"Even the frustrated lieutenant in accounting who prefers to stay ascended?" Jack asked.
"True," Daniel replied, "there may be people who want to stay behind. But I can tell you, Jack, that the majority of people right now are asking me how soon can they get out of the gig. The ones who want to remain ascended are likely to be pretty quickly outnumbered by the kindergarten teachers again."
Jack shook his head.
"You can't know what people will do, Daniel."
"Tell Sam you're going to use the base self-destruct after all. The staff that aren't ready to ascend are already out of the mountain. I'm sending the gate to Area 51, too."
Then Daniel was gone.
"Go," Hammond more agreed than ordered.
Jack nearly broke his neck on his way down the stairs to belay his previous order.
Then he stopped at the bottom and reconsidered.
"Daniel, I need everybody who's doing this in the gateroom right now. Everybody else, get them out of the mountain.
He had a full contingent in two minutes. Carter, McKay, Siler, and a bunch of techs were still crawling over the gate.
Daniel stood by his side.
"Here's the problem, Daniel," he began.
"I know. We can't be sure I'm right."
Jack blinked at him. The whole room was nodding in agreement.
"Right," he continued, feeling as if Daniel had wrong-footed him a little. "If we kill ourselves and ascend, and then find out the all-powerful kindergarden teachers can stop us, we've blown it."
"Or if Dr. Jackson can't really help us all ascend together," Sgt. Harriman offered helpfully.
"So, I think we're stuck with Plan A," Jack said to Daniel. "We've got to blow the gate."
Daniel sighed, staring off into the distance, chewing his lip.
"So," he said, "Here's what we have to do. We have to get everyone out of the blast area."
"He says casually," Jack muttered.
"Can that be done?" General Hammond asked.
"It might be tough," Daniel said. "And I'm not sure. And there's no way to prevent all the bad effects. The nuclear fallout, the heat blast, followed by the nuclear winter."
Daniel turned to face Jack.
"Destroying Anubis this way might be as bad for this planet as global thermonuclear war."
"OK, kids. Forget Plan A. We're going with Daniel's ascended SGC plan. Everybody here on board with that?"
"Yes, sir!" they answered in resounding unison.
"Well, then," Jack replied. "After you, sir," he gestured to Hammond to precede him up to the control room.
It was dark when he awoke. His clock said almost 2300. He stumbled to the head and had a long piss, then back to the galley for more water and something to eat. As he made a ham and tomato sandwich he wondered if Daniel ate bread. Or pork. Or cooked foods. He licked the mayonnaise off his fingers and wondered what it would be like to eat raw fish his whole life. He also wondered how long it would be before he could restock his stores.
Daniel was going to tell him not to go to Cheyenne Mountain.
Which made him wonder what the hell he was supposed to do with the rest of his life.
He couldn't go back. Not just to Port Town. To anywhere. Well, to anywhere he had ever been. His image would be all over the broadcast channels and the net. They didn't need a picture of him, after all, just photos of some version of him. And they would have a collection of photos, he knew, of various hairstyles and beards and ages. People would pay attention. People feared few things the way they feared clones. Now that they were looking for him, they would see him. He had to leave.
There were places across the sea. He didn't have to sail west. He could sail south, see what was interesting down that way. There were jungles and mountains with amazing animals and gorgeous waterfalls. But there were also rumors of certain experimental strains of polio and measles that still ran loose down there. Jack wasn't sure he wanted to run that risk, even with his clone super-immune system.
He went up to the deck and down the starboard pontoon ladder to the dive access. He sat by the edge of the water with his second ham sandwich and wondered if all the mutants would be sleeping now, especially after the big swim through the storm yesterday. The sea was calm and the sound of the drowned city creaking and splashing in the waves was soothing. He ate the last bite of his sandwich, regretting that Daniel had not appeared in time for him to offer it to the dolphin man. Oh, well. He could always ask him about it later. He leaned back onto the lowest step with the building behind him and stared up at the black sky with its studding of diamond-hard lights. Stars. He would love to go to the stars. That would be better than going upland or sailing south. Sailing away to the stars.
"Hey," Daniel said softly. "Sleep well?"
Jack sat up.
"Like a log," he said. "Thank you for yesterday. If it weren't for you, I'd be dead."
Daniel said nothing. He braced his palms on the deck of the platform and in a feat of bulging muscles, hauled his body out of the water next to Jack. There was just enough space for the two of them
"Vala says you're planning to kill yourself anyway. Ronon said, why bother to save you? Vala said, 'Because of his penis, of course.'"
"Ah, Vala. Never change," Jack said.
Daniel turned his head and smiled at him.
"I'd like to encourage you not to sail west," Daniel said. "We don't know if Cheyenne Mountain is still there or not, but we do know that it isn't safe on the west coast of the Inland Sea, even for a clone's modified physiology."
Jack stared up at the sky.
"You sounded like dolphins when I first heard you talking. That seems more practical for you."
Daniel didn't comment on Jack's refusal to acknowledge Daniel's topic of conversation.
"Jack, don't sail west."
"Okay," Jack agreed amiably. "Give me somewhere else to go."
"I want to find Atlantis," Daniel replied.
Jack's heart skipped a beat. He had said that in passing to Sam and Teal'c, but he had half meant it when he had suggested the fabled Atlantis as an alternate destination to Cheyenne Mountain. According to history lessons, Atlantis was a flying city from space. It contained many dangerous and exciting secrets. And supposedly, the original Jack O'Neill had special powers in this city. It was another destination that had always called to him.
And Daniel wanted to go there, too.
Then he realized, of course Daniel had probably just overheard him.
He willed his heartbeat to slow.
"Seriously, why bother with English?" he persisted, refusing to take Daniel's offered bait.
"The dolphin speech is our second language, actually," Daniel said, giving in. "We were created by Americans, so we have always spoken English. Of course, I try to learn as much as possible from the various sailing cultures. Multiple languages have been very helpful when fishing sailors out of the sea and helping big ships navigate out of bad spots."
"Of course, there are plenty of us who think we should speak only dolphin. It is more practical under water, which is why we learned it in the first place."
"Do you guys have sonar? They gave you hybrid brains as well as hybrid bodies, right?"
"That's what our historians say," Daniel agreed. "There are those who no longer believe that we are a created species, but…"
"Like Vala said, fluid dynamics, lung capacity, primate intelligence, yadda yadda. I thought dolphin brains were taken up by the sonar processing?"
Daniel shrugged. Jack felt the movement where their arms were pressed together.
"Maybe. As far as I can tell, from my limited experience with land dwellers, our intelligence is similar. Maybe it has something to do with the hybrid brain. Or maybe sonar processing doesn't get in the way of other brain function. Anyway, we all seem to have a knack for languages. Maybe dolphin intelligence favors oral communication."
It was Jack's turn to shrug.
"Why would you want to go to Atlantis, aside from the fact that you heard me mention it to Sam and Teal'c?" Jack challenged.
Daniel turned to face him. His entire long body rested against Jack's flank.
"I want freedom from the sea," he said. "Playing tag with sarcosaurs and Ronon all day is well and good. And God knows, the group sex and the swimming are great. But I know how much more there is beyond the sea. I want to do more than swim among the ruins and pass down oral histories. There are others that feel the same. Rodney is trapped here, with so much physics in his head and no outlet for empirical observation and investigation by scientific method. Not to mention that there is no good way to pursue the higher maths running around John's brain that only Radek and Rodney even vaguely understand."
"And Atlantis could change that how?" Jack asked, though he suspected he knew the answer.
"Atlantis was where our species was made. If we can find it again, maybe we can unmake ourselves."
Jack stared into the eyes of the man beside him; felt his alien body pressing against him.
"That's your obsession with me, isn't it?" Jack asked. "You know my clone series has the Ancient gene, and you figured that one day you could persuade me to come with you on your little jaunt and walk around Atlantis and find you what you need."
"I know what it looks like. That doesn't make it true," Daniel said, and he leaned into him and kissed him. It was a gentle, sweet kiss. Barely a press of lips, with a moist teasing touch of tongue.
Jack stared at him.
"I feel like I've been in love with you since the beginning of time," Daniel whispered.
"That's a long time," Jack replied. He wanted to kiss Daniel again.
Daniel smiled wistfully.
"You will find that we are a people of poetry, hyperbole, and persistence," Daniel said. "Come with me to Atlantis."
Jack paused for the sake of appearances, but he didn't really decide. It was just the obvious thing to do.
"Sure," he finally said. He smiled at Daniel. "Can I interest you in a ham sandwich?"
Daniel looked puzzled.
"What's a ham sandwich?"
When Jack got back from the galley, Daniel was lying on his belly, torso propped up on his arms.
He took the plate from Jack and sniffed cautiously.
"Cooked, of course," he muttered to himself. He took it apart. "So the whole thing is called a 'sandwich?'" He nibbled the edge of the bread, smiling apologetically.
"Sorry," he said, "Usually, I'm not a picky eater, but a couple of years ago Ronon and Rodney thought it would be funny to steal some people's picnic off the beach and the food made them very ill. Is this bread?" he asked, his curiosity distracting him from his explanation. "It's made from wheat and yeast, right? Like beer?" He nibbled at it again.
"You have beer?" Jack asked.
"No," Daniel said, setting down the slice of bread and picking up the tomato. "This looks like plant matter."
"Tomato," Jack said. Daniel tasted it hesitantly, too.
"They had both horrible, um, digestive reactions and allergic reactions," Daniel noted. "Though Rodney has a tendency to that. He cannot eat a sea cucumber, or he just stops breathing. He used to frighten us to death until we figured it out." He took another delicate bite of the tomato. "Tart. And a little sweet. I like it." He put it aside on the bread.
He tried the ham next.
"Oh, that is nice. Meat. Salty. Tastes smoky. Does that have to do with the cooking?"
Jack nodded. Daniel took a larger bite. Either he liked ham more, or it concerned him less than strange vegetables and wheat-based foods. He turned it over to peer at the mayonnaise slathered on the back. He sampled that with a finger.
"Sauces, Daniel. So much good food is all about the sauces."
Daniel made a face that suggested he wasn't so sure about that.
He grinned at Jack and his barely tasted sandwich.
"I should go," he said. "You need more sleep. I'll see you in the morning. Thanks for the sandwich." He rolled neatly off the platform and then popped out of the water, waving at Jack.
"Go to bed!" he admonished him, making Jack wonder if Daniel knew what a bed was. Then he ducked under the waves and was gone.
Jack reassembled the remains of Daniel's ham sandwich and chewed philosophically, watching the moon's reflection in the still ocean.
Death by vaporization was not as bad as you might think, all things considered. Jack had definitely had worse experiences.
And ascension was quite a rush.
But taking Anubis by the scruff of his oily, b-movie-villain neck and crushing him out of existence was not nearly as satisfying as Jack expected it to be.
"I know," Daniel agreed. "Emotions aren't quite the same after you ascend."
The impact of realizing he wasn't human anymore was less devastating that Jack might have expected as well.
He stood – or hovered – or whatever – seeing and understanding everything at once. Ascended Tauri were removing Jaffa from ha'taks, returning them to their homes around the galaxy. The ships, empty but for their goa'uld masters and mindless, super-soldier cargo, were plucked to beyond the Kuiper Belt and atomized. A few startled Tok'ra found themselves unexpectedly standing in this or that Tok'ra base.
The threat of Anubis, wiped clean from the face of the galaxy in a few moments.
Not nearly as satisfying as Jack had imagined.
They set out south in the morning.
"Where are we going, again?" Jack asked.
"I have an idea where we'll find Atlantis," Daniel answered.
"Not in the middle of old San Francisco Bay?" Jack asked.
Daniel looked up from the waves, apparently nonplussed.
"Everybody knows where Atlantis is," Jack said, rolling his eyes.
"Oh. I had no idea land people knew," Daniel replied.
Jack went about the business of setting his boat on a southerly course.
"So, always?" Jack asked him, even though he now knew the answer.
"What can I say? You were hot, standing there in that ridiculous beret. And the fact that you were obviously a total asshole – well – I don't feel comfortable with that much self-analysis, even as an ascended being," Daniel said.
"I think it was the thing with the staff weapon. You know. For me," Jack said. Daniel received his inarticulate expression of long devotion with understanding and a warm fondness that filled Jack's whole being.
"Well, this is kind of a gyp," Jack complained, even though he felt echoes of his own joy all around him, and shared and reflected back by others learning and revealing their own secrets, and reveling in Jack and Daniel's. "How am I supposed to make out with you in the back of the truck?"
Daniel laughed, and his happiness made him glow.
"Ascended pleasures now, earthly pleasures later," Daniel assured him. "Let's go collect some Ancient junk and toss it into the nearest star."
The affirmation of the other members of their group was strong.
"Hey, which way to Abydos?" Jack asked. "Time to show Skaara how glowy I am!" And it was off on a new adventure.
They sailed for days. There were always mutants flying with his bow wave. Vala and Cameron most often. Or Daniel, of course. John and Rodney seemed more interested in The Schrödinger. Or more to the point, John was interested in the larger vessel and Rodney was very interested in Sam. Sometimes Vala and Cameron gravitated toward Sam, and her boat, as well, Cam equally interested in The Schrödinger and her captain, Vala equally interested in Sam and Teal'c.
He was amused to see his able second completely unnerved by the attention from her finned admirers. It was lucky for them they were in the water and Teal'c wasn't a particularly good swimmer, because from the murderous expression on his face when he took the helm, allowing Sam to duck below decks, there would be dolphin for breakfast if Teal'c had anything to say about it.
They stopped at night to let the mutants rest.
In the rosy light of the rising sun, Daniel was sampling coffee. He made a thoughtful face.
"Bitter, but very flavorful," he commented. "Do you drink it often?"
"Not as much as some, a lot more than others," he replied. "Here, try it with sugar." He pushed the little sugar bowl and spoon across to Daniel. After the evening when Daniel had become practically ecstatic with animated excitement over the explanation of the use of a honey dipper, Jack had taken to bringing all the ingredients in their containers with the necessary serving implements out for Daniel to explore. Daniel scooped out the sugar delicately, stirring it carefully into the hot coffee. His body in the moving water was so static, he might as well have been sitting in a chair at a table, rather than treading water and preparing his coffee on the edge of the dive platform.
He took another sip.
"Now it's both bitter and sweet. People put milk in, too?" Daniel reached for the milk container and then hesitated. He had been worrying over Jack's stores for the past few days.
"It's just going to spoil in a couple more days, anyway," Jack lied to him. He had bought stasis containers for his galley long ago.
Daniel tried it with the milk.
"There are different beans from all over the world," Jack continued his explanation.
"I can tell this will be something worth some experimentation," Daniel replied, reluctantly pushing the cup and all the accoutrements back toward Jack, who lounged on the stairs, drinking from his own cup. "I think I liked it best plain."
Jack nodded. He waved to Sam as she came on deck. She returned the wave blearily.
"You've still got coffee?! You are a bad man, holding out on me," she groused.
"We'll have to make a port with a market soon," Jack commented to Daniel, sotto voce. Daniel chuckled. Sam made a rude hand gesture.
"I heard, that, O'Neill," Sam yelled back at them. Jack gathered himself up.
"Time to get underway?" Jack asked his swimming friend.
"Yes," Daniel agreed. "I have an idea about where we can stop tonight."
There was something in his smile that made Jack shiver.
Then Daniel was off to meet with his pod, joined almost immediately by Ronon, who burst from the water and leapt over him, splashing droplets of water in a rainbow of spray. John, Rodney and Radek appeared ahead of him. They all swam together, ducking and diving. As Jack followed his familiar routine, checking the rigging, visually examining his equipment, his eyes kept going back to the ocean as they swam farther away, sometimes diving for long minutes, only to reappear, laughing, squealing and clicking.
Jack would bet money there were penises involved in all that happy play.
He scowled, and prepared his ship for another day's journey.
"I thought we were only planning to step in where Ancients fear to tread, Dr. Jackson. This level of interference in Pegasus seems like the ultimate in god-like acts to me," George said. Jack knew, though, that George was just playing the devil to Daniel's angel; performing the necessary due diligence before they finalized an action plan.
"I don't have a problem playing God in this case," Ronon rumbled. Jack knew they weren't all cut out for being ascended. The white heat of Ronon's rage and hatred of the Wraith crashed through their community like a blast wave. Emotions weren't the same anymore. They were mostly less intense, but sometimes unexpectedly moreso.
"We will not be crushing an entire innocent species out of existence in one fell swoop," Vala stated firmly. There was a collective communal groan. Only Vala would stand up to Ronon and call the Wrait innocent.
"They are innocent," she insisted. If she could, she would be stamping her glowy foot. "The Ancients introduced humans into the Iratus bug's environment, and the Wraith are the result."
She took in the surprised reaction of their community.
"What? It's only exactly what John has been thinking since the whole Iratus bug incident!"
"So killing them is like stepping on a bug," Ronon replied, and he would be grinning that false, toothy, killing smile, were they not formless energy beings. Sometimes Jack wished they would create some kind of virtual rec room, with huge leather sofas and cushy La-Z-Boys. Maybe a few beanbag chairs. It could be winter in Minnesota with a couple of big stone fireplaces with the smell of woodsmoke. And suddenly, that's where they all were, with a few drafty windows and blowing snow outside. There was a flutter of amusement, happiness and nostalgia through the group. Only Ronon didn't appreciate the aesthetic appeal. Maybe he was too angry to experience it.
"I'm not proposing killing them," John argued. He was sprawled comfortably in one of the big armchairs, looking up at Ronon, towering in the middle of the room. His hair was extra spiky, because Rodney made it that way. Jack knew that Rodney resented being ascended and unable to truly touch his beloved just as much as Jack longed to take Daniel in his arms. They all knew these things about each other. It was one of the many aspects of ascension that was simultaneously unsettling and perfect – this level of extreme community. Jack often wondered how Anubis had fooled the Ancients for so long. Maybe it was something about who the Tauri ascended were, and how and why they had ascended. Maybe the Ancients didn't experience each other in this way.
As people around the room began to understand John's idea, there were nods and hums of agreement.
"They evolved from crustacean-like creatures to sentient bipeds in about 10,000 years. They are quickly evolving to become more and more like their food source as each generation is repeatedly exposed to the DNA of their food supply. Their evolution is bringing them closer to humans. Their biggest problem is that they have become so specialized that their only food source is a resourceful, intelligent species that really, really doesn't want to be eaten. In some ways, they are even more the victims of the Ancients than the Pegasus humans." As he concluded, John cast a wary eye at Ronon.
"The obvious solution is to speed up their evolution and maybe give it a little nudge," Daniel said, appreciating the elegance of John's proposal.
"Make them more human, faster," Radek agreed. "Redirect them to other prey species."
"What about Wraith culture and society?" Ronon spat. "Don't we have to respect that? You know how they feel about the idea of eating anything but us."
Jack liked his whole virtual Minnesota. It gave him the opportunity to roll his eyes at the twinge of guilt and uncertainty that Daniel felt in response to Ronon's argument. Never underestimate Ronon. He knew exactly how to hit you right where you live.
"As their physical forms evolve, so will their social structures and feeding preferences. We could do it over four or five Wraith generations," Daniel suggested.
"We'll be babysitting that a while," Cameron commented. It was not quite a complaint. Cameron was one of the most reluctant to ascend. He had basically only done it out of loyalty to his team and because the legendary Daniel Jackson personally asked him to.
"A couple hundred years," Radek agreed.
"A couple hundred years of Wraith killing people," Ronon objected.
"Look at the way things are going on Earth," Rodney pointed out. "It'll be a while before we want to go back there, anyway."
A great sadness settled over the group, and with it came Ronon's moment of surrender.
They all tried not to look at the way things were going on Earth; the clones, the mutants. They had ascended too late to stop it, and they all questioned their own motivations relative to their home world. By mutual agreement, they were adhering strictly to Daniel's original idea, that they would seek out and remove dangerous Ancient technology. Anubis was a direct result of Ancient inability to police themselves. They let him run amok in the galaxy when they should have stopped him. John's treatment of the Wraith as a problem directly resulting from Ancient intervention was treading fine line, but they all wanted to find a way to "fix" it. Save their human cousins, and as John pointed out, give the Wraith a better option as a species. None of them were able to justify interfering with the course of events on their own planet. Humans started it, and humans had to finish it.
In the light of this principle, Ronon understood that the cost of a permanent solution to the Wraith problem was going to be decades more suffering in Pegasus.
Ronon was nothing if not practical. Once he understood, he accepted, and once he accepted, he found the best way to move on.
They arrived in the little archipelago around noon. The dolphins guided them among the islands, finally, late in the afternoon, coming to their destination in the form of a small lagoon. The water was warm and shallow, and Jack found himself reflexively looking for suchs, sharks, and smaller crocodilians. Daniel just shook his head at what he perceived as Jack's continued paranoia.
"Paranoia's what got me to where I am today," he assured Daniel. His telepathy extended to mutant minds, too. Daniel just rolled his eyes again.
"Come in the water," Daniel coaxed.
With one last look around, Jack stripped off his shirt and tossed it up onto the deck. He stood on the bottom dive step, poised, tensed…
"Shorts, too!" Daniel admonished.
With a growl and a wobble, Jack unwound, stepped back, and the shorts hit the deck, too. After all, Sam and Teal'c were already in the water in the buff.
"Happy now?" he asked Daniel, trying to feel peevish, but really only anticipating swimming naked in the shallow water with his strange new companion.
"Almost," Daniel murmured. "Come in with me."
Jack didn't have to be asked again. He dove into the shallow water, undulating just below the surface, pushing toward shore. The water was blood-warm, perfect for a skinny dip. Nothing to come between him and Daniel.
The pod seemed remarkably relaxed here. John and Rodney and Radek were beached on the sand, drawing with bits of driftwood while Sam watched and commented. Their voices drifted across the water and Jack realized the conversation was mathematical, and the drawings in the sand were probably neat lines of numbers and symbols.
He turned to float on his back, leaving math to the mathematicians. He noted that Ronon, though not engaged with them, was also not far away. He had pulled himself up even farther on the sand, his eyes lazily scanning the lagoon. Daniel gave an exasperated sigh.
"Two sharks from the same egg pouch," Daniel chided him gently. He swam under Jack, sleek dolphin skin brushing against Jack's back as Daniel passed below him, then came up on the other side, also rolling to float on his back.
"I can see why humans wanted to join with dolphins," Daniel mused. "As a species, I mean. You love the water. You swim well, for creatures obviously not designed for swimming. I can see that you might have wanted to have more, and then created us."
Jack looked over. Daniel's profile was calm and beautiful in the last light of the day.
Then he saw what was happening beyond Daniel, and floundered badly in the water, splashing suddenly and causing Daniel to twist and follow Jack's eyeline to the danger.
After days of teasing and flirting, it looked like Vala was finally going to get her chance at a human penis, after all.
Teal'c was standing in the lagoon, chest deep in the water, though he must be standing with his legs far apart. Vala was draped over him, clinging to his shoulders, pressing her bare breasts to his chest, kissing him for all she was worth.
"I hope she remembers that humans need to breathe every few seconds, not every half hour," Daniel murmured to him. The thought of a lover who only needed to breathe every half hour was sent new messages to his dick, already becoming interested in the aquatic sex show in front of him.
Vala's dolphin half was tucked between Teal'c's spread legs, and Teal'c was rocking with obvious purpose. Vala gasped, and clutched at him, moving and undulating with him, her cries, sighs and clicks sounded ecstatic.
Daniel swam up to him.
"I'd rather do than watch," Daniel suggested, bringing them chest-to-chest, looping his arms around Jack's neck. With his feet firmly planted in the sand, Jack dove into Daniel's mouth.
Daniel brought his tail against Jack forcefully, knocking his legs out from under him, but taking Jack's unbalanced body into his arms.
"Relax," Daniel whispered in his ear. The need to struggle to swim or float or put his feet back down was strongly reflexive, but Jack controlled himself, letting Daniel drag him into position straddling Daniel's undulating form.
He rested there, his head on Daniel's chest, trying to get his breath back.
The alarming underwater tackle had not done anything to discourage his erection. Lying across his lover, making out like two teenagers in a hot tub wasn't particularly discouraging, either.
It took him some time to feel like he had his balance. Daniel moved in muscular, sinuous, wave-like movements under him. It was hard to feel secure, draped over Daniel's long, narrow form, but as they floated in the water together, Jack began to gain confidence. He didn't feel he needed to cling anymore. He let his hands roam over Daniel's body – everything he could reach. He was intrigued by Daniel's skin. He could feel the transition from dolphin to human, but the skin of Daniel's human body areas was not that different from his dolphin skin. Soft and supple, but tougher than usual human skin. Thicker and denser. Also, very warm.
He ran his fingers over Daniel's dorsal fin, even as Daniel moved his hands over Jack's back, seeming intent on exploring every inch of him. His fingers were nimble and strong and though they felt lovely on Jack's back, he wanted them lower.
Meanwhile, something was exploring between Jack's legs.
"You're so solid, and exposed," Daniel seemed to be talking more to himself than to Jack, as his own limber penis explored Jack's genitals, slipping alongside his erection between their bodies, a strange rubbing exploration that just stimulated Jack more. Jack gave an almost involuntary thrust against Daniel's suede-like skin. He was amazed when Daniel made a sweet gasping sound.
"Do that again, a little lower," Daniel encouraged him. Jack squirmed down a bit, moving his hips experimentally, applying gentle pressure against Daniel's body until he suddenly pressed into something – an unexpected opening. This drew a low groan from Daniel. Obviously, Jack had found the right spot. He inched down infinitesimally and pressed forward again, drawing another deep groan. Jack kept adjusting, until suddenly he sank in much more deeply than before.
The opening in Daniel's body was amazingly warm and muscular, gripping his dick. It was slick and welcoming, too, not as tight as Jack would expect a human to be. Jack's erection moved easily. Daniel's appreciative noises were growing more and more enthusiastic. He was clicking and squealing, mewling and gasping.
Jack gritted his teeth and tried to hold on.
"Help me out, here, Daniel," he ground out, "or this is going to be over really fast."
Daniel opened eyes that had closed in pleasure. His pupils were wide and his gaze was hazy.
"What do you need?" he asked.
"Squeeze my balls," Jack said roughly. His brain was overloading fast and he couldn't think of any nicer way to say it. "Can you reach? My 'exposed' parts?"
Of course Daniel couldn't reach. His hands were enthusiastically gripping and kneading Jack's ass, straining to push them together more firmly, drive Jack deeper, but there was no way he could reach that far down…
A band of muscular strength wrapped around the base of Jack's testicles and gave a brutal constriction. Well, that was certainly an unexpected use of a prehensile penis.
Jack gasped, both at the rough treatment and the shudder of an orgasm denied just as Jack was starting to see stars.
Daniel held him in a hard grip.
"Okay?" Daniel asked him, sounding both concerned and a little out of it.
"That's great," Jack assured him, his voice an octave higher than usual. Daniel's eyes snapped to his face. Jack grimaced, he hoped reassuringly.
"You can let go now," Jack instructed.
"Now tell me," Jack demanded. "What feels good to you?"
Daniel laughed breathlessly.
"Don't worry about me," he said. "I'm up to number three already. Do what you would usually do for you," Daniel suggested.
So Jack gave a firmer thrust into Daniel. The mutant shook under him.
"Oh, yeah," Daniel encouraged. "Do that again!"
So Jack did, several times. Each thrust got a responding shudder, until Daniel seemed to start to feel the rhythm Jack was setting and began moving with him. They were thrashing in the water. It was like having sex in a storm. He and Sara had done that once, long ago, fucked their way through a hurricane on the boat that was their home. Daniel was tight and hot and this time Jack just let go, gripping even tighter with his thighs, the pulses of his ejaculation seeming to shake his entire body.
He finally lay limp on Daniel's chest as the dolphin man smoothed soothing hands over his back.
Though Daniel's ever-questing penis was also moving inquisitively over Jack's lower body.
"Whenever you're ready," Jack invited him languidly.
"Really?" Daniel asked uncertainly. "It seems very tight." There was a corresponding gentle pressure. Jack closed his eyes and breathed into it.
"It'll be fine," Jack said. He thought of how well-lubricated Daniel was inside. "And I'm pretty sure not like anything you've done before. You'll need to go slow at the beginning."
Daniel began to increase the pressure, and Jack concentrated on relaxing. He wondered how olive oil would do for lubricant in the water. It might be a while before they put into a port with a decent drug store where he could get his hands on some waterproof silicon lube.
Daniel groaned under him, as his probing appendage finally pushed through the first ring of muscle.
"I want to do this to you while you're face down in the sand," Daniel muttered breathlessly. Jack gave an involuntary shudder of appreciation, and his hole clinched down on Daniel's dick in surprised reaction. Daniel gasped and his whole body gave a convulsing undulation. He pulled out and pressed in deeper.
"I want to do this to you while you float on top of me on your back, watching the stars," Daniel continued. Jack's own limp dick, pressed between their bellies, gave a weak twitch.
"I want to see if we can do this while you swim," Daniel said, and now he was moving in Jack's body freely, twisting, thrusting, seeking. The movement against his perineum was unique and amazing of itself. Jack was responding instinctively, moving against Daniel, who laughed and gripped him tightly, holding him still, as Daniel moved now. He suddenly and unexpectedly pressed his penis against Jack's gland, possibly just as he achieved ejaculation. His body convulsed again, and he gave a string of squeals and clicks, then he withdrew abruptly, the combined actions spiking an aftershock through Jack. Daniel wasn't under him anymore. He was setting Jack on his feet in chest deep water, then he rolled away, swimming off with powerful strokes of his tail, leaving Jack to somewhat bemusedly watch his lover's enthusiastic aquabatics.
Jack picked up his feet and swam with easy strokes to his boat, dragging himself up the dive access, laying there naked against the steps feeling the stretch in his thighs from straddling Daniel, and the twinge in his ass from recent penetration. He felt happy and sated, though a little cheated. Also the water evaporating from his body was making him cold.
Daniel's head broke the surface beside him.
"I don't think we're ever going to find Atlantis," Jack said mournfully.
"Why is that?" Daniel said, brow furrowing adorably at Jack's unexpected statement.
"I don't think you will ever get me to leave this lagoon, ever again," Jack replied.
"That was fantastic!" Daniel replied delightedly, and did a backward flip in the water just to show how fantastic it was. Jack stretched out his arm and touched Daniel's moving body with a finger, tracing the full length of him as he rotated. He came up spluttering and laughing.
"Hey, watch it! I'm ticklish!"
Jack felt a chill run through him. He would have to get dressed soon. He wanted to take Daniel with him, down to his soft, warm bunk, and sleep with him all night.
"What's the matter?" Daniel asked. His thoughts must have shown on his face.
"I want to snuggle," Jack said with a self-deprecating chuckle at his own sentimental nature. At Daniel's confused look, he explained. "Hold you in my arms and sleep all night. That's what I was thinking. Maybe you can get me to Atlantis after all, if I can have that."
Daniel smiled at him warmly.
"Go put something on and sleep," Daniel said. "Dream of me."
Jack reached out to touch his damp hair.
"Always," he said, feeling like a sap, but it was true all the same.
Daniel caught his wrist and kissed his palm, then, releasing him, turned and swam purposefully toward the deeper water, where two other dolphins were squealing what sounded like a warning. Jack picked himself up and went below.
The next morning, he went over to The Schrödinger with the very last of the coffee.
He sat at the inside helm as Teal'c moved about the galley, cooking a frittata, brewing the coffee.
"We need to get into a port soon, or all we're going to have to eat is squid," Sam complained. Fishing in the deep sea was always a crap shoot. The big net of squid had filled one of The Schrödinger's catch freezers, but none of them were big fans of cephalopod species. They all missed salted clam, which had given out about a week ago.
Teal'c put plates in front of them.
"I felt the last potatoes would go well with the last coffee," he rumbled. They all took their plates and cups out to the stern deck. Jack sat by the rail, opposite Sam. The mutants were swimming in the nearby water, clicking and chirping softly to each other. Cameron and Vala, closer than the other dolphins, waved cheerfully before disappearing together under the waves. Sam blushed and her hand went reflexively to her neck, which was when Jack noticed the mark under the fall of her lengthening hair. Jack didn't even give Teal'c a sidelong look.
Daniel's head appeared in the water below.
"I should take Daniel his coffee," Jack said, leaving his plate and taking The Schrödinger's broader steps down to her dive platform. The Schrödinger was fifty-three feet, a good bit longer than The Homer, and proportionally wider, too; a big boat. Though Jack had bought her as an expansion of his tourist business, he had been thinking of Sam and Teal'c's future family the entire time he was refitting her. It was ridiculous. They had a beautiful home overlooking a wild, desolate beach just north of Port Town, too close to sarcosuchus nesting territory for most people. They were well fortified. Jack looked forward to many cook-outs where he would get to be Uncle Jack to great herds of nieces and nephews.
Daniel savored his tiny sip of coffee before handing the mug back to Jack sadly.
"After I grow legs, we better be able to get more of that stuff," he grumbled, watching jealously as Jack took another swallow.
They were comfortably silent for a few minutes, Daniel floating at ease, Jack sitting cross-legged, letting his warm mug protect his fingers from the slight morning chill as he watched the growing sunrise.
"What happened to Sam's neck," Daniel asked. His eyes strayed up to the rail over Jack's head. The other two had eaten their breakfast and gone back in already. Jack could feel them, moving about the boat.
"Teal'c's a jealous guy," Jack said. "Just because Vala and Cameron tempted them to try a once-in-a-lifetime frolic with dolphins doesn't mean Teal'c is going to be reasonable about the whole thing. I think he must have been feeling a little possessive last night."
Daniel blinked at him uncomprehendingly.
"He marked her neck with his teeth."
"And you land people think we're perverted."
Jack shrugged and smiled into his coffee.
They continued their journey south and west, the dolphins guiding them at a fairly fast pace, yet finding safe bays and lagoons every two or three nights, where they had raucous and athletic sex. But even rubbing his dick raw in the sand of the beach (thinking if they did it this way again next time he would bring a towel) with Daniel's considerable full weight bearing down, Jack felt they were making love each time. His heart was so open to this strange creature, and Daniel's words and body expressed so much devotion. He pressed the side of his face into the sand and Daniel sucked a love mark on Jack's neck. Apparently Daniel was marking his territory. Jack shot his load into the sand as Daniel groaned his strange short orgasm against Jack's abused skin.
After the first night, Sam and Teal'c only swam together, when they swam at all. At this rate, it was a good thing Jack built The Schrödinger with family planning in mind.
Smallpox was particularly difficult. They deliberately stayed away from Earth, so they didn't actually see it coming. Which was probably a good thing, because it would have been so tempting just to make the virus inactive in the laboratory. It would have been so simple.
Smallpox was completely outside their mission. It had nothing to do with the Ancients. It was all about decisions made and actions taken by the people of Earth.
Several billion people died. The planet's population was decimated. That was when Jack started actively thinking about when they were going to un-ascend. Because he didn't like not playing God.
One day, Atlantis just appeared in front of them.
"I'll be damned," Jack muttered to himself.
He could see the spires of the city, just breaking the horizon. Maybe it was his imagination. He adjusted course, and within the hour, there was no mistaking that a city was just over the curvature of the Earth. Not a sunken city, either. They weren't anywhere near San Francisco Bay. Jack wondered if it was luck, or if Daniel knew all along exactly where they were going.
He went forward, waving to Sam and Teal'c.
"Atlantis!" he yelled to Daniel. "Atlantis, ho!" Daniel turned to look at him, then followed the line of Jack's pointing finger. He plunged down into the water suddenly, then rocketed up, straight into the air, powerful tail thrusting his entire body vertically out of the water. Out ahead of The Schrödinger, John did the same thing. He gave an excited squeal and began swimming away from them at the amazing speed the mutants could achieve if they really tried. They could outstrip the boats for short distances. Rodney took off after him. They were followed by Radek and Ronon, who seemed to shrug to each other before really putting effort into the race.
His radio crackled.
"What's going on, sir?" Sam's voice was rough over the radio. He waved once more to Teal'c before heading back to the stern helm. He snatched up the radio.
"Atlantis!" he shouted into the mic. "When I made that course adjustment… We're headed right for it. You should be able to see it on the horizon."
Looking across to the other boat, he could see Teal'c shaking his head.
"Negative, sir, we can't get a visual."
"Trust me on this one, Sam. It's there. I give us an ETA of about three hours."
"Acknowledged," she replied. "Carter out." He could see her replacing her mic and searching the horizon, trying to see what her friends saw.
They sailed around the city, in and out of her many piers and docks. The dolphins were submerged for very long dives, twenty or even nearly thirty minutes at a time. Long enough that Jack would really start to get anxious, only to see Daniel reappear again, sucking in great lungfuls of air as other dolphins gathered around him, chirping and clicking.
Jack turned his boat more determinedly toward the nearest pier.
"I'm going…" aboard? Ashore? "…up," Jack announced loudly. Heads turned toward him, as he steered for a ladder.
"It's huge," Daniel said, swimming over. "We can see several underwater entrances, but they all seem to be closed. John has been trying to find one that will open. I bet the lab we want is down there somewhere. But trying to find it from the inside is going to be tricky."
"Well, we won't know anything 'til we get started," Jack replied. As he came up to the side of the pier, he found plenty of places he could tie his ropes.
He set his first foot on the ladder and suddenly he knew.
He remembered what they had done, and who they were and why they were here.
He gasped at the power of the memories. The realization. Who they were. What they were doing. What they had done.
From the way the sea fell completely quiet, with not a yell or squeal or click to be heard, he was pretty sure everybody else had the exact same realization at the exact same moment, though he wasn't sure whether he had triggered it with his own experience or by touching the city, or whether it was just coincidence.
"Oh, my God!" McKay gasped. "I'm a mutant!" He thrashed a moment in the water. Sheppard swam frantically to his side, but before Sheppard could rescue him, McKay righted himself, as if realizing how ridiculous it was to panic at this point. Zelenka appeared to be smirking behind his hand, as others with the dolphin mutation seemed to take stock of their situation with a surprising amount of equanimity.
"Well, I know exactly where to go!" Jack called to the watching crowd cheerily, and continued up the ladder as if he had never paused.
"We'll meet you there," Sheppard called back to him, disappearing below the waves. Daniel stayed in the water below. Jack could see his lover watching him as he climbed the ladder. He knew who he wanted to de-fin first, and he knew very well who would go last.
"Nobody has to change, everybody clear on that?" Jack asked the group of bobbing heads and torsos in the access pond of the lab.
"Are you kidding me? I can't believe I've been swimming around like a fish in this sea of chemical, biological, and radioactive waste for all this time! There's sewage in here!" McKay had shoved his way rudely through to the front of the line. That was actually perfectly fine with Jack, whose plan was to put McKay through the re-engineering machine first. The best strategy was to let the people who knew the city best get their feet on the ground as fast as possible. As it were. And if McKay went first and the machine malfunctioned, well, that just gave Jack a chance to get it right for Zelenka.
McKay had spent the last hour or so really ticking Jack off.
"I wasn't talking to you, McKay," Jack replied testily. He found Sheppard's gaze and raised an eyebrow. Sheppard shrugged as nonchalantly as a half-dolphin mutant could shrug. Sheppard pulled it off pretty well, actually. Yet again Jack wondered if he would be happier just jumping in the stupid machine and swimming off into the sunset with Daniel.
Sadly, he was pretty sure Daniel would be happier climbing out with him. He was definitely 99% sad about that and the other 1% thrilled that Daniel wanted him at all.
"I'm on board, General," Sheppard drawled. "Just try not to screw up my chief scientist with that thing."
Ronon smirked. McKay's eyes went wide.
"Um. Maybe someone more qualified should be in charge of the genetic reengineering…"
"Relax, McKay. The General knows what he's doing," Carter called from across the lab.
"What does she know?" McKay muttered. "She can't even see you from there."
He swam into the machine.
The communications stones went into the star, the last of a group of objects they had been searching out related to some other group of ascended beings.
"These Ori aren't a good reason for us to stay ascended?" Jack asked dubiously. The Ori were very, very bad news. Their very existence made Jack feel that mission-about-to-go-bad mojo right down where he ought to have glowy bones.
"No," Oma said. "They are not."
Suddenly, where there had been just Jack and Daniel basking in the sun of an uninhabited solar system, there was now the entire assembled group of the ascended of Abydos and Earth.
And surrounding them, thousands of ascended Ancients.
"Oh, wow, faceoff," Cameron muttered.
"It had to happen eventually," Vala commented. "I was wondering where they all were, all these centuries."
"You have accomplished your goal," Oma said. "And you have done it while restraining yourselves from meddling in the affairs of sentient beings." Oma radiated beatific approval. "You have shown us a third way, in the wielding of great power."
Around them, the Ancients whispered and murmured.
"I'm not sure all your people are as positive as you are about our third way," said Kasuf, taking the lead now. George was beside him. They spoke as one. It fit naturally, for them to represent their two groups to outsiders, though it had never been required since they had ascended. There had never been outsiders before. It made Jack realize how he had never questioned where, exactly the Ancients were. It was a big universe, after all.
Oma acknowledged both their doubt and the dissent within her own ranks.
"No, we are not in complete agreement. Still, we are in enough agreement. I now believe that should the time come to fight the Ori in defense of this galaxy, our home, we will fight."
The swell of approval of this statement grew around them. It was mixed with a certain shame at their earlier negligent behavior. Regret at having abandoned their first home. Even some interest in returning there to free those they left behind.
"Do me a favor," Jack said. "If you do that, be sure you leave enough troops behind to hold the line here, if you can't finish the job."
Oma radiated joy and strength.
"You are free, now, Tauri, to return to your home when you wish. But know you are also welcome among us, if that is what you choose."
Then, as quickly as they had appeared, the Ancients were gone, leaving the Earth contingent to begin the discussion of whether or not to return to the plane of biological life.
It wasn't a hard choice for any of them.
About half of the Tauri wanted to return to their home. About half wanted to remain with the Ancients.
Jack was gratified to know that Daniel wanted exactly what he wanted – to lie together under the cozy warm comforters on a snowy Minnesota night.
"We have to wait," Jack scowled at the melting ice caps.
"Jack, it won't be snowing in Minnesota for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. We have to compromise."
He stared at a post post-apocolyptical planet. Horrific war, devastating climate change, the ravages of disease had changed the entire face of Earth. There was ocean where it didn't belong, cities and technology lost with the floods and the extreme population deflation, not to mention the reorganization of social and political boundaries. But a thousand years of human thought had also brought new advances and development. It was an exciting time for a planet that Jack judged was at the edge of a rebirth in human growth and achievement.
"I don't want to go back as a baby," Jack complained. "I want to go back now."
Daniel ignored his complaining. Rodney, observing the planet next to them, would have made a very rude noise, had he been corporeal. It amazed Jack how little ascension had mellowed the aggressive scientist.
"You want to take back as much you as possible, right? For that you need to start at the beginning with a brand new brain that can build itself from the ground up to accommodate all the extra stuff we're going to be trying to cram into it. Also, just for the record, I think this idea of using your cloned bodies is ludicrous. The hybrid dolphin brain structure offers you much more capacity to download into."
When Jack didn't instantly agree with him, Rodney descended in an annoyed huff.
Finally, it was just the four of them. For one last time, they were a unit. In fact, an entity almost, looking down at their home, ready to go back. He held his complete awareness of Sam and Teal'c and especially Daniel very dear, and he felt a unique fulfillment in their complete awareness of him. But even after hundreds of years, he still felt the loss of physical reality. And even though he knew that his 'real' relationship with a mortal Daniel would be short and bittersweet, he wanted it now as much as he ever had before.
"Let's go, people. The departure window is now."
And then they were gone.
"You know, I always suspected about O'Neill and Jackson," Rodney muttered across the divide between their beds. "They always had this… thing."
"Not to mention that they were literally joined at the hip as energy beings for approximately 800 years," John replied. "Rodney, it's not like this is some great revelation you have stumbled on here."
"Oh. Right. That doesn't seem very real to me yet. Do you have clear memories from being ascended? Oh. Oh. That means..."
"Yes, Rodney, they know about us, too. Not that the last ten years or so that we've been the only exclusively mating dolphins in the whole pod wasn't a clear give away. They probably would have figured it out from that."
"But. What about the whole, don't ask, don't tell thing?" Rodney was nearing panic now.
"What is wrong with you, McKay? Did the backwards mutation machine make you stupid?" John asked with mocking gentleness. "I don't think the General's going to be enforcing that rule anytime soon." As he was currently crawling all over his recovering archaeologist, it was pretty clear to John that even if there were an American military command structure left, DADT would be dead in the water.
"Then why do you keep calling him 'the General?'"
"Excellent question, McKay," O'Neill called from the other side of the room. "'Jack' works for me."
"Great," Rodney muttered. "We get to be dolphin people, a totally useless mutation and we don't even keep it, swimming in industrial effluence, I might add, but he gets super hearing, night vision, Jaffa-quality immune system, cardiac enhancements, and probably an extra-long dick…"
"Really?!" Jackson asked delightedly.
"They don't need super-hearing to hear you, McKay. You're the loudest person any of us has ever met," Ronon grumbled from the other side of John.
"Quit insulting Rodney, Ronon. Radek, did you get the interface back up on that thing?" John asked, waving to the tablet Radek was obviously using. "I want to start looking for quarters."
"What did I miss, not coming back as a dolphin?" Jack asked. His head lay on Daniel's broad chest. Daniel's bare skin was warm and sticky. It was hot here in the tropics. They hadn't sailed very far north yet. Daniel's heartbeat was comforting and reassuring against his cheek. He remembered being formless, vaguely. Manipulating reality was never as real as reality. Being a real person in a real body had taken on a whole, new, different meaning in the last few weeks. He was aware of being physical and in his own skin in a way that he hadn't been anytime in his life before. It was an amazing experience.
Especially with Daniel such an integral part of it.
He rubbed his rough cheek against Daniel's chest, mostly just because he could. But also, to hear the deep, reverberating groan as the stubble scratched against Daniel's wonderfully sensitive right nipple. The left one was sensitive, too, of course. Jack stretched forward to lick it.
"I'm not a dolphin anymore, Jack, I'm not going to be able to get it up again – probably for days, considering how many times we did it last night."
"Well, I guess that's one thing I missed, then, but I already knew that."
As a dolphin, Daniel had sex with just about everybody Jack knew. Not that he needed to know about George and Daniel. But Daniel had confessed all on their first night alone in their Lantean home, uncharacteristically embarrassed.
"Everybody." Jack stated, not completely shocked, but yet somewhat disconcerted to acknowledge it.
"Well, not John or Rodney. They've been exclusive so long I can't even remember when it happened."
"Doesn't matter," Jack said. "You don't even have those body parts anymore."
Daniel snorted in amusement, and that was the end of it. Jack tried very hard not to be very, very jealous of every former mutant he met in the halls.
"You missed swimming in the cities," Daniel said thoughtfully. "They're all amazing, under water. Dallas. New Orleans. Savannah. Miami."
"There have been big advances in diving gear," Jack replied. "We could do a tour. You could show me the sights."
"Months sailing on The Homer?" Daniel pretended to consider it. Jack occasionally cheated. Genetically engineered telepathy was a great thing. He was in no suspense. Daniel loved The Homer, loved finally being alone with Jack, and the idea of a cruise was so tempting.
"They might leave without us," Daniel said. The formerly ascended SGC and Atlantis contingent were currently exploring and reacquainting themselves with the city of the Ancients. But with their ascended memories, it wouldn't take long to complete that task to everyone's satisfaction. Then they had a choice. Leave, or stay. Daniel thought the explorers in them would want to leave.
Jack believed they were done exploring, and ready to be home again. He thought they would stay.
"It doesn't matter to me," Jack said softly. "I want you, and I want this home. They can stay or go. But if they go, I know I would stay anyway, as long as you did, too."
Daniel sighed happily, and held him tighter.
They drifted back to sleep like that, tangled together, exhausted, content.