General George Hammond stood in the control room looking through it‘s window down into the gate room. His premier team had just returned from what passed for a normal mission and was joking over the colourful dirt they‘d all accumulated on their uniforms. It was good to see them getting back on an even keel.
They weren‘t as they used to be but that would be expecting a bit much. Daniel Jackson was grieving his wife, a widower at only 33. Hammond had heard voices around the mountain expressing a lack of understanding - to put it politely - as to why Jackson was grieving so severely now when his wife had been taken from him almost three years ago.
But Hammond could see the difference. Jackson might have lost his daily life with Sha‘re in the present three years prior but he‘d lost all hope for a life-long future with her only a couple of months ago. Feeling the guilt of failing her on top of the loss hardly helped.
That her death had come from the staff weapon of his own teammate, sent to save his life, just turned it all into a mess of confusing entangled emotions.
Hammond was still astounded by Daniel‘s easy forgiveness towards Teal‘c. However the young man had worked through that particular knot he‘d done so quickly and thoroughly. It didn‘t automatically mitigate Teal‘c‘s own guilt and the two men were still searching for a new foundation for their friendship.
If one knew what to look for it was visible even in the seemingly relaxed and innocent teasing that was going on in the gate room below right now. Daniel‘s eyes sought out Teal‘c more often, now longer blindly trusting that the big Jaffa would be were he was needed, that he was ready to step in with his decades of experience to save whatever mess they‘d found themselves in. Teal‘c for his part was even more respectful of Daniel‘s space, even more careful when choosing his words than he‘d always been.
It was a delicate balance and the other two members of SG-1 were caught in it with their metaphorical arms flailing. O‘Neill and Carter were friends with the both of them and while Daniel seemed to be the one more in need of their support nobody wanted to leave Teal‘c on his own, feeling like he was pushed out of their circle as a form of punishment where there was no blame to assign.
They all tried to play at normal until it hopefully became real again. As their superior Hammond couldn‘t do much to help them along. That was one of the downsides of teams with close personal relationships but he had every confidence that these four would find their footing again.
He breathed out a quiet sigh not wanting to alert the men and women in the control room to the fact that something was worrying him. It would only put them on alert unnecessarily and this situation was none of their concerns.
He worried about having to rock the barely calming boat that was SG-1 again. He worried about handing out yet another blow to one Dr. Daniel Jackson who had taken more than his share of blows already. But he was fairly certain that his time on this was running out and he worried even more about how things might go without his warning. There really wasn‘t anything for it.
He had to tell Jackson that he was about to come online as a Sentinel. He didn‘t expect it to go over well.
As you didn‘t make it to General in the United States Air Force by procrastinating Hammond decided there was no time like the present and the circumstances were as good as they‘d likely ever be.
So by the end of the debriefing on the mission to the planet with the rainbow mud - as Colonel O‘Neill had aptly named it - he called Jackson back when the team was about to head out of the door.
“Dr Jackson, I would like a few words with you in private if you have nothing urgent to get to.“ He pitched his voice more towards paternal than commanding officer. It still didn‘t get him the desired effect.
“What‘s the matter, George?“ Jack O‘Neill practically jumped to Jackson‘s defence. “Daniel has already torn into the people in his department for the misuse of base computers, you can‘t pin that on him. And we have a date with some nice cold beers and a pizza.“
“Jack, I can speak for myself, if you don‘t mind.“ Daniel‘s voice was just about to leave the range of exasperated and turn to outright annoyed. “Of course I have time for you, General, feel free to ignore your 2IC like the rest of us.“
“Hey! I‘m pretty not-ignorable. Tell him, Carter. Teal‘c?“
“I believe nobody requires my presence any longer. I will retreat to my quarters for my kel‘no‘reem.“
“I‘ll walk with you, Teal‘c. I would really like to borrow that book you told me about. I haven‘t read a good romance in ages. General, Daniel, have a nice evening.“
Teal‘c‘s delivery was as usual dry and without a flinch whereas Carter was struggling with her amusement while she preceded Teal‘c out of the conference room.
O‘Neill dutifully played the part of sore loser. “Very funny, you two,“ was what he called after them, “we‘ll see who laughs when I assign the next night watch, in the rain... with annoying bugs!“
“Colonel,“ Hammond chided. There were days when he wondered how O‘Neill hadn‘t annoyed other superiors too much to ever make his current position. There were even more days when he thanked all the gods that weren‘t actually parasites for it, despite the Colonel-wrangling he had to do on a regular basis.
“To put your worries to rest: I have no intention to blame Dr Jackson for anything. This has nothing to do with the kinky porn some of his linguists are apparently fond of, though I could have happily lived the rest of my life without a detailed report on the matter, pictures included.“
At this point Daniel was blushing rather unbecoming and obviously desperate for a change of topic. So Hammond tried to get the conversation back on track.
“I really just have something to talk about with Dr Jackson, something private. It will be completely up to him if he decides to share it with you over beers and pizza later or not. Now if you want to wait for him, I believe there are some reports you could get a head start on for a change.“
That earned him a grumble from O‘Neill. “I guess I‘ll be in my office then. Come and pick me up when you‘re done, Dannyboy? And try not to take too long?“ The last sounded peculiarly close to a whine for an Air Force Colonel pushing fifty.
“I‘m sure it will take however long it takes, Jack.“ Jackson clearly wasn‘t ready to let O‘Neill out of the doghouse. “But you don‘t have to wait for me. I am perfectly capable to find my own way to your house, you know.“
“You‘ll just get lost and end up in your office instead. No, I‘ll rather wait. General.“ And with a sloppy salute he strolled out the same door Carter and Teal‘c had left through earlier.
Hammond let out a deep breath and with a head shake gestured towards his office, Daniel following him willingly enough.
“General, about that porn...“
“Don‘t worry about it, son. My sensibilities are not that delicate and you are not responsible for the stupidity of people you hired for their certified intelligence.“
“I‘m still contemplating having them do some training with Teal‘c as their punishment. Or have them run with Sergeant Miller, she is training for a marathon, you know.“
Hammond was relieved to see Daniel‘s spirits lighten and allowed himself a smile to go with it. He closed both office doors and engaged the white noise generator before he took his seat behind the desk, gesturing Daniel into one of his visitor chairs.
The younger man hesitated for a moment. With how high everybody‘s clearance was in the mountain, the generator was rarely used - and it usually promised unpleasant things lurking around the corner.
Hammond tried to ease his worries with another kind smile. “There is no sign of the apocalypse that I‘m aware of, Dr Jackson. The matter is just truly private and I‘d like to keep it that way in your best interest.“
Daniel sat down with a fortifying breath and looked at Hammond interested but by no means relaxed.
“You know that I‘m a Sentinel,“ was were Hammond decided to start.
“Yes, sir. You were among what is called the first wave of reemergence to come online. I admit I am supremely curious about your experiences at the time, but I‘d never dare to quiz you on it.“ Trust Dr Daniel Jackson to ignore the looming pink elephant of a personal issue and redirect the focus on an academic interest. Hammond would allow it for the moment.
“I was lucky all things considered. I came online when my unit got ambushed over Nam. It‘s all a little blurry even up to this day but I apparently ended up saving not just my own ass that night. Sight and reflexes have always been my strong suits and they just snapped into place that night. It took me forever to come down afterwards. I was so strung up I don‘t believe I would have been able to land safely.“
“It‘s been one of the biggest worries surrounding latent Sentinels among the military. Nobody can predict how they handle coming online in combat and what ill-effect it might have on them, their mission and their unit.“
“My own experience certainly was a mixed one. Even though I had no conscious control and was purely running on instinct I had a big part in getting us all out of there alive but I would have likely crashed my plane afterwards, flown it zoned out till the fuel ran out.“
“So what got you out of it? It‘s not like everyone learned basic approach guidelines for Sentinels in distress in elementary back then.“
“No, they didn‘t. That‘s were the luck came in. My co-pilot had a southern american background and his grandmother had told him all these legends and myths about the Protectors.“
“The Sentinels of the old times.“ Daniel said with reverence. “There was a time I was so fascinated by Dr Sandburg‘s work I actually considered focusing on the history of Sentinels and Guides in my anthropology work. I ended up putting a chapter about signs of the same concept in ancient Egyptian cultures into my dissertation.“
“Those old legends saved my life that night and my sanity in the days after. My co-pilot caught on to what was happening to me. We‘d flown together so much we were already really in tune with one another and reacting to his voice and guidance was second nature to me as pilot. As a Sentinel I just fell in line. He got me out of my zone and helped me through the landing.
“He also fought off those superiors and doctors who wanted to declare me insane. We didn‘t really have a concept of PTSD, that came up only years later. Some soldiers just went crazy when they couldn‘t handle the stress. That‘s the way it was thought about.“
“That train of thought did a great disservice to many good people. Not only Sentinels. Our society has a long standing tradition of locking away people they consider broken instead of trying to help them through it.“ Hammond could hear a note in Jackson‘s voice he would have described as personal grief. He didn‘t know the connection there so he led it rest.
“In the end my buddy dragged me to our priest who was not only a very well-educated and openminded guy but also had friends in high places. He was doing that kind of service out of sheer conviction. After a long talk about everything he pulled some strings and got me home to get some support. He installed the idea in the right people‘s heads that properly trained and supported Sentinels could be a great asset to the military. He is the quiet voice behind all the adjustments to regulations that have been put in place back then. Up to and including the exclusion of prosecution for homosexual relationships between Sentinels and their Guides.“
“I heard rumours that it was a catholic priest who pushed for that.“
“I can confirm that. I think he got some flack from the Vatican but by then the idea of Sentinels and their Guides being a gift from God to protect us against horrors like WW2 had already made the rounds and it spawned a rather impressive wave of acceptance. At least for this particular group.
“So I got sent back home and the brass was looking for ways to train people like me. The only thing looking like any kind of option was the only known expert on the subject. So that‘s who they recruited.“
“You received training from Blair Sandburg himself?“ Jackson‘s tone was utterly awed and Hammond openly enjoyed being the one to do that to him.
“The assumption was that Ellison would train the Sentinels and Blair would look for suitable Guides and get them up to speed. In reality Blair did it all and Ellison just tagged along for the ride. That‘s how they function on most issues up till this day, Ellison providing the calm and solid background that allows Blair his exuberant exploration of just everything. We still exchange Christmas cards and the occasional phone call on birthdays.“
Daniel‘s face turned thoughtful. “Not that I‘m not enjoying this story time immensely, General, but what has all of that to do with me?“
“You are a latent Sentinel yourself, Dr Jackson.“
“I‘m aware but I don‘t anticipate it becoming a problem.“
And there was the attitude Hammond had been worried about.
“Why would it be a problem?“ That wasn‘t the question Jackson had expected which was the point.
“Your story is a good example as to why coming online during combat is a bit like Russian roulette. Given the situations SG-1 could find themselves in if I were to come online during a mission the results could be disastrous. My adjustment period would put us out of commission for an indefinite amount of time. Finding a Guide, vetting them and reading them in on the project would just be an added bureaucratic nightmare.“
“And why don‘t you anticipate any of this to actually come up?“
“Because I don‘t think I‘ll ever come online.“ It was a flat statement full of certainty. Now, what to do with that?
“Why ever would you think that?“
“I‘m already significantly above the average age to come online and given how many stressful and potentially triggering situations I‘ve been through over the last couple of years I‘d assume if it was going to happen it would have happened already.“
“Any thoughts on why it didn‘t happen for you?“
“I guess I‘m just not the type.“
Hammond kept his sigh internal, it would only get Jackson‘s guard up otherwise. A clash of social stereotype and self-perception was one of the obstacles he had feared getting in the way. He didn‘t always appreciate being right.
“I beg to differ on that, Dr Jackson.“
“How is a scrawny pacifist and academic from the social sciences anybody‘s idea of a Sentinel? Jack fits that bill, just like you, even though he is a mundane.“
“It may not be everybody‘s first idea but you and I both know that stereotypes and first assumptions don‘t always hold up under scrutiny.“ Hammond could literally sense Jackson‘s protest coming so he didn‘t let him get a word in. “Answer me this: Why did you join SG-1?“
“To find and rescue my wife, of course. Not that it actually did Sha‘re any good.“ The emotional tone flickering from indignation to sadness in the blink of an eye. But Hammod knew he could only push further.
“And why are you still on the team?“
“Because I want to fight the Goa‘uld in Sha‘re‘s memory, avenge her as good as I can and make our galaxy the safe place it should have been for her.“
“And why did you stay on Abydos to begin with?“
“To fulfil my duties as her husband, to care for her and cherish her like she deserved. It‘s all always been for her!“ Daniel‘s emotional anguish was palpable and Hammond was certain the younger man was struggling to hold back his tears but he had a point to drive home or he wouldn‘t get through to him.
“I do not mean to diminish the memory of your wife in any way, I do not mean to diminish your love for her either, but are you absolutely sure that that is all?“ He made sure to pitch his voice very soft and none-threatening. He needed Daniel to listen to him, not to stomp out the door. He was unlikely to get another chance on this.
“What do you mean?“
“There are many men who have their wives or their children taken from them in one fashion or another. They don‘t all automatically join a frontline team to try and retrieve them. You may hate the very idea of what the Goa‘uld are and represent but you are not a vengeful man by nature. Yes, you want to make the galaxy a better place and you want to do it to honour your late wife but you‘re also doing for each and every innocent living in this galaxy, to give them a better chance, a safer life. You prove that with each and every passionate argument for a humanitarian mission.
“You stayed on Abydos instead of bringing your wife to earth were things would have been safer and more comfortable for the two of you in many ways, because you felt responsible for the people of Abydos as a whole. You had just liberated them from a suppressive tyrant, you had turned their whole world and believes upside down and you couldn‘t be sure they could handle it. You stayed at least partly because you felt responsible for them all and you wanted to look out for them, defend them against the threats that might arise from their new circumstances.
“Just because you had personal motives to go along with it doesn‘t mean you didn‘t act on a strong protective imperative that is a natural part of who you are just as much as what you are.“
Hammond let the silence between them last for a couple of minutes giving Daniel a chance to reevaluate his perception of himself and his actions.
“Let me ask you another question,“ he eventually cut in. He had to wait a little until the other man lifted his eyes and gave him his attention again. “Can you honestly tell me that your talent for languages has nothing to do with an above average sense of hearing?“
“I‘m not sure I can follow. My senses have been tested as part of my regular check-ups and I test in the ranges of mundanes for all five, no pre-emergence surpassing of the curve at all. That‘s another reason I never really believed I would ever come online.“
“The standard tests are rather blunt instruments. If we‘re talking about hearing they test how quiet something can be before you no longer hear it. But there is more than the physiological ability to hear to why Sentinels are so far above the capabilities of mundanes. Our brains process sensory input differently and that is the part of our gift we can and have to train. The physiology is just there and gets practically switched on when we come online.
“You, Dr Jackson, have an extraordinary mind and your ability to decipher languages in any form is certainly an expression of your intelligence. But we have many linguists that can read and write and decipher the written form of languages in the mountain. Not a single one of them is anywhere close to your ability to pick up a language you‘ve only heard little bits and pieces off.
“You catch on to the nuances of pronunciations and are able to replicate them with little to no effort. You can imitate dialects and lilts to the point that you can blend into a native population without raising any sort of suspicion in practically no time at all. I don‘t mean any insult to your profession and education, but I won‘t believe for a moment that your refined hearing and your heightened ability to process auditive information has no part in this.“
He granted Daniel time to let all of this sink it yet again.
“So you think my pre-emergence skill just slips by the standard testing,“ Daniel stated after a while. “You may have a point there but that doesn‘t mean I‘m going to come online. My main point still stands, I‘m too old and I have lived through so many possible triggers I should be online if it was ever going to happen.“
By now his foremost expert on ancient and foreign cultures, who had started - and ended - his academic career by shamelessly turning an established worldview on its axis was clinging to his own personal worldview with the desperation of a man dangling off the edge of a precipice.
Hammond didn‘t like pushing on because the fall was potentially unpleasant. There just was no going back, the inevitability of what was coming was why he‘d started this conversation to begin with.
“We‘ve had Sentinels emerge everywhere between eight and sixty-two. The one truth about statistical averages is that nobody actually meets them. And while many Sentinels come online due to a triggering event, almost as many don‘t, it just seems to be their time. And between you and me, the ones with triggers are just ready for it to happen as well, it‘s just the last push. I for sure had had my share of heavy air fights before the one that brought me online.“
Daniel was wavering. Hammond assumed that he had pretty much convinced the academic in him. But the man who had suffered through a number of emotional blows lately just couldn‘t accept yet another change, so he kept fighting.
“I still don‘t see how this concerns me. This whole discussing while truly fascinating is utterly academic in nature because I am not coming online.“
“Yes, you are.“