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Last Call for Paradise

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"It is said in the times of the old ones, the gods came through the Puka-Komo," the old tribal chieftain, Kupuna Kane, sagely informed his guests.

Akeneki, the beautiful island girl sitting beside Colonel Jack O'Neill seemed to recognize the confusion in his expression. "Your stargate," she clarified, almost directly in synch with Daniel Jackson's mention of the same word.

"The stargate?" Daniel asked.

Jack might have felt inclined to say "jinx," if he were not already so focused on the two young women next to him. Still, he could not help but notice his friend's smile, clearly in response to the intensity of Akeneki's subsequent giggle.

"Puka-Komo," Daniel continued after a moment. "That means 'stargate'?"

Smiling broadly, Akeneki nodded but said nothing more. It was time for Kupuna Kane to speak again.

"The gods brought great joy to the people of the Hoku-ao," he said, "and the greatest joy to the Wae'ana."

Jack O'Neill was only partially listening as he accepted a wooden bowl, almost flat enough to be called a plate, from one of the island girls. No. Not girls, he corrected himself. They were women in every respect, their shapely figures accentuated by the grass skirts riding their hips and the floral coverings that did little to veil their round, firm breasts. Taking another sip of the wine-like nectar, he found it hard to believe Daniel continued to concentrate on language.

"The Wae'ana?" Daniel's seemingly disembodied voice temporarily interrupted Jack's enjoyment of his current island view.

Come on, Daniel. Just sit back and relax. You've earned it. We all have.

It was about time they found a vacation planet; and who better than SG1 to get first dibs? After seeing the MALP's initial images of a Polynesian paradise, complete with the obligatory hula-girl - Akeneki, who had actually greeted the MALP by placing a wreath of flowers around the protruding camera - Colonel O'Neill had been quick to volunteer SG-1 for the mission. Of course, his first obligation had been to the security of his team. Only after the 'all clear' was sounded did he allow himself to truly dive in to some of the pleasures of this particular paradise. But dive he did. And now he and his team were guests of honor at a first-class luau, held on the warm, soft sands of a pristine beach. There were no broken bottles, mangled cans or burger wrappers anywhere in sight, and the sun was just setting over the gently rolling waves of some unmapped, tropical ocean. The welcome smells of a feast hung thick in the air. Roast meat, fish, fruits and mushrooms mingled with the smoke of hundreds of bon-fires.

At the moment they were being entertained with a story. Daniel, the ever gracious guest, was an active listener - a little too active for Jack's tastes.

"Those who were chosen," Kupuna Kane said in response to Daniel's question. "The most perfect among us. The gods would take the Wae'ana back with them through the Puka-Komo to live with them in the heavens. It was a glorious time for our people. But somehow we offended the gods, for they came to us no longer. And the Time of Darkness began. The winters grew harsh and bitter with cold. The summers grew dry. The crops ceased to flourish. Even the tides changed, and great flooding followed. Our people were dying."

"That was when the gods led us to the key," Akeneki interrupted with her now familiar giggle.

She was the younger sister of two of Jack's companions. Along with two other island girls, Akeneki had chosen Daniel just as her sisters had chosen Jack. But unlike her sisters, Akeneki's choice had been pretty much predetermined. She had first heard Daniel's voice through the MALP as he made his usual, 'we are peaceful explorers' speech. When she later met the man to whom she came to believe the MALP was somehow connected, she attached herself to him so thoroughly Jack worried at first they might be facing another incident like that which had brought Sha're into Daniel's life. But as it turned out, Akeneki was following a much less committing tradition.

Each of the team members had quickly been selected by two or more of Hoku-ao's people. An uncomfortable Teal'c now had four women fawning over him. Major Carter was not doing too badly herself, with five island men of her own. Unlike Daniel and Teal'c, she did not seem particularly disconcerted by the attention. In fact, she seemed to be enjoying it, perhaps even a tad too much. Jack made a mental note to remind her about SGC regulations for dealing with off-world cultures.

As a slender hand snaked around his own neck, the colonel came to realize he might have to review those regulations himself.

"The key?" Daniel asked next.

The timing of Daniel's latest query, coinciding with Jack's musings about regulations, encouraged Colonel O'Neill to remember he was still an official representative of the SGC. He really should pay closer attention to the big Kahuna or Kupuna or whatever the old guy was called.

"One day at Planting," Kupuna Kane went on to answer, "a young boy named Kaakakona found the great disk, the key to the Puka-Komo, when he was digging in the sand near the altar. As his mother watched, he placed the disk atop the red globe, and a fierce noise arose from the great ring."

"Whoosh!" Several villagers imitated the sound of a stargate being activated, their faces beaming in delight as their hands gestured outwards in the air. The sound was repeated again and again, until it seemed as though everyone had a chance to add their own voice to the melee. Even then it took time before quiet was restored, as the "whooshing" was followed by rounds of hearty laughter.

After some degree of quiet was restored, Akeneki picked up the story. "The mother of Kaakakona ran through the village, hysterical in her wondrous joy. 'The gods have taken Kaakakona.' She announced it to everyone she saw. 'The gods have taken my son to paradise.'"

There again came Akeneki's delightful giggle.

Daniel, Daniel. Jack wordlessly berated his friend. How can that not affect you?

Somehow, Daniel seemed utterly oblivious, his eyes drawn instead to the old man.

"There were many who did not believe how this thing had happened with this good mother's son," Kupuna Kane continued where Akeneki had left off. "The mother of Kaakakona resolved to show them."

Akeneki could not resist interrupting yet again. "Oh, but you are not Wae'ana," she offered in a deep voice and pronounced scowl to imitate the ancient villagers. She giggled again before continuing in her own, soft tone. "Kaakakona's mother laughed with them, knowing they were right."

She must really love to tell stories, Jack considered. And to giggle.

Even Jack smiled, despite the underlying message. Akeneki's people had been freed from Goa'uld domination, then some stroke of dumb luck had brought a system lord back to paradise, and this Coca-Cola kid had been its first victim. A sad tale, but no one was crying, except maybe from too much laughter.

Well aware of the infectious nature of laughter, Jack let himself get carried away with it. It's an old story, after all, he told himself. They had seen no signs of Goa'uld presence since arriving on Hoku-au, not even in an historic sense. There was no evidence, other than this story, to suggest the Goa'uld had ever been there at all.

"The village voted and chose four Wae'ana," Akeneki continued, "two to represent the Planting, and two to represent the Harvest. Though they doubted Kaakakona's mother, they let her show them how the boy had opened the Puka-Komo. The Wae'ana were placed before it, and the gods swept each of them back up into the heavens."

Oy! Jack saw that Daniel had not missed the cue either. His friend's eyes widened in horror.

"Wait..."

As expected, Daniel could not keep silent. Jack could only hope the perpetually chivalric Good Samaritan would not say too much in an attempt to point out the errors of these people's ways. They thought being sucked into the vortex of a forming wormhole was a good thing. The truth might not sit well with them just now.

"Wait a minute," Daniel continued. "You're saying they stood in front of the stargate before it was open, and ... and they let it reach for them? They didn't wait for it to open before they approached it?"

"Whoosh!" Again, all the villagers made the sound as they nodded, smiled and laughed.

"After the gods accepted the Wae'ana," the old man took up the tale again, "the crops flourished as never before. The famines and flooding were ended. There was much celebration. Even now, we continue that celebration. At the dawn of the season of Planting, and again at Harvest, four Wae'ana are chosen from among all the people of Hoku-au. Each choosing is a time of festival, and all the villages come together, as you see."

Jack had to admit the collection of bonfires stretching along the beach was daunting. Such a gathering might even be enough to persuade a feisty system lord to pack his bags and disappear once and for all, rather than face another rebellion like that which freed the ancient Egyptians. If these were the campfires of an army, it would mark a massive foe - a massive foe that sent its best people into oblivion on a regular basis.

What a waste. Remembering stories he had heard about ritualistic sacrifices like tossing virgins into volcanoes, Jack had to admit the stargate was a better way to go – quicker, anyway. But he still did not like it, and he knew Daniel would be positively appalled.

"This season's choosing has already begun," Kupuna Kane continued. "We are honored you have returned from the heavens. We pray you will accept the Wae'ana who have already proved themselves in the trials of the past days."

The old man clapped his hands and shouted an odd collection of vowels. Two women and two men immediately responded to the command, both men detaching themselves from their places with Carter, and one of the women pulling away from Teal'c. Akeneki rose last. She planted a quick kiss on Daniel's cheek, giggled again, and then joined the others.

Jack noticed Daniel's interest in Akeneki perk up dramatically. Chivalry was definitely alive and kicking in his friend. Daniel Jackson was not going to sit back and watch this young woman gleefully commit suicide.

2

Jack watched Daniel pace in front of the DHD, where the four members of SG1 had finally drawn together hours after hearing the tale that had shattered their illusions of paradise.

"We can't let them go through with it, Jack."

Daniel's pacing was making him dizzy, but he made no attempt to stop the younger man. He would probably join him if he could, if his legs did not feel so much like rubber.

This was the first moment they'd had to speak in private, their constant companions finally having drifted off to sleep - or whatever they had drifted off to do. And this was the first spot the team had found that had been unoccupied. With so many people from so many villages gathered together, there were no actual lodgings to provide any of the guests, not even such honored delegates as SG1, who had obviously come straight from the heavens, according to Kupuna Kane. Eventually, most of the locals had gone to sleep right on the beach.

Maybe 'passed out' was a better way to describe it. That nectar was pretty powerful stuff. Jack's head was still spinning, though he had stopped drinking hours ago. How the heck could those people keep at it? There were some islanders still whooping it up, and they would probably keep going until sunrise.

Sunrise. That would be oh, in about forty minutes or so, Jack decided, noticing that he was already starting to see his teammates more clearly under a gradually lightening sky. Soon the locals would gather around the stargate to watch the 'gods' take their much beloved and envied Wae'ana to the 'heavens.'

"Whoosh," he repeated the sound softly, shaking his head at the naive charm with which these people sent their loved ones to their deaths.

Jack cleared his throat before finally responding to Daniel. "Oh, we can probably persuade them to stand aside until after the ... whoosh ... and then walk through like we do. We are supposed to be from the heavens, after all. That might be enough to make them listen to us."

He paused until he saw Carter open her mouth for the expected rebuttal.

"But," he said loudly, watching the major's jaw close tight, "since we don't know where they'd be walking to - unless the big guy will let us talk him into doing some recon - that's not such a good idea either."

"No sir, it isn't," Carter quickly offered, apparently relieved to have the opportunity to share her concerns. "We wouldn't know whether the planet on the other side could even sustain life. It might not have a breathable atmosphere, or..."

"Or any number of things. I know, Carter. Might even be infested with Goa'uld."

"No," Daniel stopped his pacing. "If there were still Goa'uld on whatever world they've been gating to, don't you think one of the system lords would have figured out by now who's been..." He rolled his hand in the air, unable to find the right words.

"Knocking on their door?" Jack provided. "Ringing their doorbell then running away? Playing..."

"Yes," Daniel broke in. "That. And ... and why would the Goa'uld have stopped coming? Something had to have happened on that world. Maybe they were overrun by another system lord."

Carter nodded. "All the more reason to think the planet might no longer be inhabitable."

"Indeed," Teal'c added. "That world may well be contaminated."

Jack still could not argue with any of them. "Okay. Daniel, you're the cultural expert. Think we could persuade them to keep their Wee-Beni-Hana's right here from now on? To stop sending them to the...," Jack gestured as helplessly with his hands as Daniel had a moment earlier, and then finally added, "whoosh?"

Daniel nodded. "Probably ... not. Jack, these people have been doing this for centuries. It'd be like someone telling Christians to stop celebrating Christmas or Easter. I mean, think about it. Most of the traditions involving Christmas are actually derived from ancient pagan rituals. The Church couldn't get people to stop the old customs, so they just ... absorbed them. Eventually they changed the reasons - why you hang mistletoe, for example. But they couldn't change the rituals themselves."

Raising his eyebrows in feigned surprise, Jack responded to the shift of topics with, "you mean mistletoe's not just for kissing?"

He shrugged at Daniel's withering look, and then offered his own input. "But the pagans stopped doing sacrifices, didn't they? The Church nipped that ritual in the bud. Maybe we could get the big Kahuna and his people to send something else through. Flowers, maybe."

Jack saw a spark of hope come alight in Daniel's eyes. It's getting much brighter out here, he realized then - bright enough for him to actually see Daniel's eyes. The colonel turned his attention to the beach.

"Well, whatever you're going to tell them, now's the time." He nodded to indicate the approaching contingent of elders.

"Me?" Daniel gave back his own look of feigned surprise.

"Of course. You don't want me talking to them, do you? Look at the mess I made of things at the treaty negotiations with Yu and Thor, and those other two arrogant ... Goa'ulds." He swallowed a far more descriptive expletive.

"How have we offended you?" Kupuna Kane dropped to his knees and laid his forehead at Daniel's feet, a posture that could not be easy for someone of his advanced years.

Daniel looked out at the faces of the surrounding villagers hoping to find understanding, hoping to see someone out there who could accept the new path he was offering them. What he saw instead was anguish, fear and sorrow. Even Akeneki's ever-present smile had been vanquished. Her eyes locked with his and dealt him a staggering blow when he glimpsed the depth of hurt he had caused her. It was a hurt that was reflected by all the Wae'ana. They had failed him. They were not good enough for Paradise. They were not special enough, not flawless enough to walk amongst the gods.

"No," he shouted hurriedly, trying to correct the wrong he had unwittingly committed. "Please. There has been no offense. You honor us greatly. The Wae'ana are perfect enough to be gods themselves. They belong here, with you. They can make you stronger with their strength."

The villagers began to look to one another for answers. Anguished glares turned to questioning glances, fear to bewilderment.

"They should continue to walk among you," Daniel continued, encouraged. "This is Paradise, right here, right now. We," he turned and swept his hand to indicate all of SG1, "none of us have ever seen so much perfection. We should come to you, not you to us."

"Oy," Jack exclaimed in a soft whisper behind him. "Watch what you say there, Danny-boy. You might just find yourself setting up camp here for the duration."

Daniel ignored the warning. Instead he focused on the hesitant smiles he saw taking shape in the crowd, and the soft murmuring of budding discussions. Satisfied for the moment, he knelt to Kupuna Kane and waited for the old man to raise his eyes.

"The Time of Darkness will not return?" Kupuna Kane asked pitifully.

"No, Grandfather. No. This can be the dawn of a new age, the time of Hoku-au, the rise of the 'morning star'. You don't need to look for Paradise in the heavens. You have already created it, right here."

"And what of the Wae'ana?"

Daniel looked up to the men and women who had been chosen, once again seeing Akeneki's pain. He still hoped, above all else, to help her smile again.

"Let them be the representatives of the heavens," he said to the old man, though his eyes did not leave Akeneki's, "of the gods themselves. Let them walk among you, to remind you of the Paradise you have created."

"Then the gods are pleased?"

Daniel gave his full attention back to Kupuna Kane. How could he answer for the gods, whatever gods there were? But he could see his words were taking effect. The olive branch was being offered, and he was the only one able to accept it.

"Yes," he answered, smiling uncomfortably. "The gods are pleased."

As he looked out at the bountiful land displayed under the sun's growing brilliance, he realized his words might even be true.

The stargate was not opened that day. For the first time in generations, the feast of the Planting was not followed by the ritualistic opening of the Puka-Komo. The key was not placed upon the altar, or what SG1 referred to as the DHD. There was no 'whoosh'. Above all, there was no sacrifice.

SG1 was sequestered away with the elders to discuss an uncertain future - and, somewhere along the way, to discuss a treaty for the SGC's extraction of some of Hoku-au's plentiful naquadah. Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter both seemed pretty confident of a successful, win-win negotiation.

Daniel Jackson was somewhat less optimistic.

The people of Hoku-au were confused and concerned. Of course, they would follow whatever decisions the elders made, but if they did not greet those decisions enthusiastically, what would happen if ... when, he corrected himself; what would happen when the weather patterns changed again? The droughts and famines and floods that had happened before were bound to recur eventually. Maybe, just maybe, with the help of the SGC the uncertain future might be a little less daunting.

Still, the image of a distraught Akeneki haunted him.

(please proceed to Chapter 2)

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