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Still Jack and Daniel Series 1 - Not in Kansas anymore 8 - Choices

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Choices

I

 

"Egypt, Daniel?"

"Yes. Giza, to be specific. And Cairo," Daniel said, his eyes sparkling with excitement.

"That's a wonderful idea. Don't you think so, Colonel?" Doctor Svenson's eyes were sparkling, too.

"Na... no-o, I don't think so." Jack's eyes were far from sparkling with anything other than horror. Daniel in Egypt created all kinds of worst case scenarios in his mind. Being k idnapp ed , getting lost, being trapped in a pyramid, getting cursed by a dead pharaoh, you name it...

"You said I could choose where to go," Daniel pointed out. "So, I chose. I’ll even pay for it. I can afford it. It's not a problem."

"I know I said that. But... Egypt?" Jack gave Svenson a desperate glare.

"It's a big step in the right direction," Svenson said, a huge smile on her lips.

"It's hot. And sandy. And hot. Did I mention sandy? And hot?" Jack leaned back against a beech tree, his fingers restlessly pulling at wads of grass. They were sitting in a glade near the mountain, enjoying the August sun. Daniel had gotten a nice tan on him over the summer.

"It's warm. The sand is warm, the air is warm... and it's colorful. Everything is so... bright. I remember the special smell of Egypt. And the people are friendly," Daniel romanticized with a dreamy look in his eyes.

"Camel dung," Jack answered dryly.

"Oh, yes. That, too. And there's so much to look at and to explore."

"It's hot and sandy."

"Ja-ack."

"And there's always riot and political commotion," Jack pointed out.

"We can visit the pyramids of Giza. I can show you where the Stargate was found . And I can show you where we lived when I was a kid. I want to show you where I grew up. Where I was happy," the kid explained.

Jack sighed and pulled more grass out. How do you say "No" to something like that?

He felt Svenson's eyes on him. Daniel, however, was lying on his back, gazing up into the blue sky. "Say yes, please," he said softly.

Yee-aaah, let's stick with I'll think about it for now."

"Good enough."

"I didn't say yes, yet," Jack pointed out.

"Mh... but you will." The Wretch smiled without looking at him.

"Oh yeah? What makes you think that?"

"Because you are a marshmallow. Crusty on the outside and soft inside," Daniel stated.

Oy. I've been called many things. Marshmallow is a new one." Jack snorted.

Svenson laughed and shook her head. "I'd like to write an essay about this thing you do."

"This thing we do?" Jack and Daniel asked at the same time, both glaring at Svenson.

It made her laugh even more.

Jack raised an eyebrow at Daniel. "Any idea what she's talking about?"

"No. Not a clue. You?"

"Nope."

Svenson just smiled, shaking her head once more.

"We can't go until Nashi is out of the kennel," Jack said, picking up the original subject of their conversation, well aware this was a very sore spot.

Daniel sighed. The little raccoon was still limping and the toes weren't healing as fast or as well as they should. Doctor Jenks had told them Nashi might limp for the rest of his life, but should be fine otherwise in two or three more weeks. Jack knew Danny and Nashi had become fast friends over the last three weeks. The raccoon was pretty drawn to the kid, and vice versa. Every reminder that they had to release him soon made Daniel cringe despite his assurance that it wouldn’t be a problem at all .

Right.

Jack had never caught them so far, but he suspected Nashi didn’t just get Froot Loops from Daniel. He was sure the raccoon let the kid cuddle him by now and maybe Daniel had taught him a few stunts, too. He remembered how teachable and intelligent Zorro had been. Nashi wasn't a baby raccoon, but he showed lots of affection towards Daniel. He even started to greet Jack with lots of squeaking when he came across the kennel occasionally.

Taking care of Nashi was Daniel's job and O'Neill stayed out of it. He needed to keep his distance from the little critter, because he would be the one having to be "cruel and pragmatic" when the day dawned where they had to release the animal. Now, the longer Nashi was there, the more Jack thought it might have been a big mistake to let Daniel spend too much time with the raccoon.

So he had set time limits for when the kid was out at the kennel to feed the raccoon and clean up. And he had simply forbidden him to sit next to it and read during the afternoons. It had been a hard fight including lots of tears and yelling. But even Doctor Jenks had warned Daniel on their last visit not to get too close with Nashi.

Bottom line was; it had been a very bad idea to keep the critter in the first place.

"We can ask Sam to feed him." Daniel perked up.

"Waiting another two weeks before going on vacation would be easier." O'Neill shrugged.

Now Daniel twisted his head to look at him, frowning. "Maybe Nashi needs more time than we..."

"Then we'll just wait a nother week."

"But he is still limping so bad and..."

"Daniel."

"Jack."

"Stop it. If you want to go to Egypt we are going to wait until Nashi is out and happy in the woods again," Jack said firmly. He wasn't going to recruit Carter or anyone else for raccoon duty.

Daniel jumped up and glared down at him. "That's blackmail!"

O'Neill shrugged.

Without a word, Daniel turned and started leav ing the glade, towards the path leading back to the mountain complex.

The colonel raised his eyebrows at Svenson. "This," he said, as he got to his feet, "is Daniel at his best." He took a few steps after him and shouted, "Daniel! If you get out of my sight I'll call security and report you missing! You can explain it to Hammond later!"

The kid stopped just before the path turned left and into the woods. He spun around and came back, rolling his eyes. "Are you going to treat me like that until I'm thirty five again?"

"Uh, probably - yes. I can ground you until then, maybe," Jack said.

"You're annoying."

"I know. So are you."

Daniel let himself slump into the soft grass. He wrapped his arms around his knees and sulked.

Jack settled down again, leaning back against the tree.

Svenson brushed her hands through her blond hair. "Doctor Jackson, can I ask you something?"

"If you really have to," Daniel acknowledged, gracefully.

"To be honest, I want to ask this of both of you," the psychologist continued. "I am not allowed to read mission reports from before. But I would like to know what kind of relationship you had. You already told me you've been friends and I know, of course, about SG-1. I was wondering... this bantering between you. Was it that way before? Is it different now?"

O'Neill couldn't see Daniel's face from where he was sitting. But he saw the boy tense up for a moment. And he was glad the rim of his cap was hiding his eyes in shadows. He bent his head a little and plugged out more grass.

"We've always been that way," Daniel said finally , his voice amazingly calm.

"It's... natural," Jack managed.

Svenson nodded. "And you always know when to stop? When it gets serious?"

Daniel rolled over on his belly placing his chin on his skinny arms as he gazed at Svenson. "What do you mean?"

"For example, when Colonel O'Neill just told you to stop running. You started to talk back and he responded to it. That was - as far as I can see it - a normal conversation for you. You do that a lot. This playing catch with words. But isn't there a line? How do you know when the bantering stops?"

Daniel shrugged. "I just know. The tone changes. Something like that."

"But you don't always comply when that happens. You told me you can't always stop yourself from pushing on even when you know you shouldn't. Has it been like that before you changed?”

"Sometimes, yes," Daniel replied. He had the grace to look a little sheepish.

"Oh, yeah.” Jack snorted.

"I see. And that's never been a problem in chain of command?"

"It´s... complicated," Daniel said after a moment of silence.

Uh huh," Jack acknowledged.

"How?" Svenson asked, being unusually blunt.

"That's classified," O'Neill said, his tone serious.

Daniel giggled and ruined the effect. It also ruined his sulking. Jack had to grin also. He liked the sound of a giggling Daniel. Giggling Daniel was good. Very good. He seemed to be a little more relaxed now during their appointments with Svenson. They met once a week and on Saturdays. This was their sixth meeting and they were still trying to get to know each other better. She rarely prodded or pressed. They always met outside, which was obviously helping Daniel to stay calm. Svenson seemed to observ e them most of the time, ask ed a few questions or let Daniel talk about whatever he wanted. And Daniel always found something to talk about. Jack knew he tried to maintain uncomplicated conversation to avoid serious talks. But they were both aware that Svenson was listening and collecting data now.

Jack, however, had had a few serious talks with her in between. Daniel knew that, but he never asked about it, and O'Neill didn't feel the urge to tell him any details either. They mostly talked about Daniel's breakdown and what had happened in the park on their first meeting. He still felt uneasy about discussing such things with the doc. But she never forced him to tell her more than he was willing to. So far she had suggested some strategies here and there on how to deal with emergency situations and how to avoid escalation of emotions on both their parts.

The subject of their former relationship was a little tricky, but Jack was confident they had handled it pretty well. At least Svenson stopped asking questions - for now.

His radio crackled and got him out of his thoughts.

"Colonel O'Neill, we are ready to examine the robot now," Carter said.

"I'm on my way," he acknowledged and got to his feet again , rubbing his hands together. "Come on, kids. Duty is calling."

Robot?" Svenson asked as they walked the mossy path back to the mountain complex. Daniel strolled ahead of them, but stayed in sight.

"We found it on another planet. And this is really classified," Jack told her.

"I know. It's fascinating though."

"Oh, I don't know. I don't have a good feeling about living machines," O'Neill admitted.

Daniel, who came just running back to them, heard that. "Are they able to activate it? Can I take a look at it?"

"Well, they’ll try to activate it. And you can watch from the observation window," Jack said.

"But..."

"Or you can go to your office and sulk."

Daniel let out a Harrumph and kicked a dry branch out of the way.

"But you can join the briefing," Jack tried to take the edge of his words.

The offer was not appreciated. "How very generous of you, Colonel. Am I even allowed to express my opinion?"

"You can say 'yes sir’ or ’no sir,’" Jack quipped. Daniel gave him a gloomy glare and marched off, just far enough so he wouldn't get into trouble.

"I'd like to come to work with him one day," Svenson said thoughtfully while they followed Daniel through the forest.

"I’ll talk to Hammond. But I don’t think that'll be a problem. You can't go everywhere near the gate, though."

She nodded. "I would like to visit Janet as well. We haven't seen each other in a while. Cassie comes alone to most of her appointments now."

"Yeah, she's real grown up, the little lady." Jack grinned.

"She's doing fine - for sixteen. Daniel will reach puberty in a couple of years. You should install a punching bag in your basement," Svenson said.

Jack wasn't sure it was a joke. "You think we are going to survive puberty?"

"All parents do. More or less."

"It's the less part that worries me."

A punching bag sounded not too bad, by the way. Why wait until puberty? Jack was already punching the bag in the gym on base to death from time to time. Since mini-Daniel lived with him he was working out a lot more than usually. So was Daniel.

And the lessons with Teal'c were starting to show. The kid had gained some muscles and he never skipped those meetings despite the fact that he always complained about them.

"Did you try what we discussed lately?" she wanted to know.

"Yes. But he's not happy."

"I know he wouldn't be. But it's important to act before Daniel push es himself so deep ly into his anger that he can't get out without help. You have both told me exactly that. He wants you to stop him before the real tantrum even starts. He doesn't want to act like this. And I think he really hates it when it's happening," Svenson mused.

"You tell him that. He tried to discuss it to pieces the first time I mentioned it."

He has to understand that there's a line. And that once he's crossed that line discussions are over. You two have a very... unique dynamic and you need to keep an eye on your bickering to make sure you're not pushing him over that line by provoking him to talk back.”

Jack winced. “That's easier said than done. And he's talking back, no matter what, if he feels he has a point to make. Or if he refuses to be put in his place.”

You need to stop the verbal sparing when he's close to crossing that line. Apparently he knows very well when he reached it, but it's up to you to keep him grounded. How often were you forced to actually make him do it?"

"Couple of times. He complied surprisingly fast, though."

Svenson nodded. "He will test his limits there, too, though. Do not give in. But try not to lose your temper. He knows all your weaknesses, knows how to push all your buttons. Don't let him manipulate you – even if he's not doing it on purpose."

"That's easy for you to say,” Jack muttered.

No one said this was going to be easy, Colonel.”

Ya think?" Jack was still a little uncertain about some of Svenson's suggestions. He agreed with her on Daniel's need for boundaries, but he wavered a little on how fast and hard he should enforce them. She said he shouldn't wait until Daniel had worked himself up into a tantrum. Jack thought Daniel still had the same right to express his opinion the way he did when he'd been big. At the same time he knew she was right. Because mini Daniel tended to explode into Jack's face if Jack let their arguments go on and on until they were both spitting mad at each other.

As if she had read Jack's thoughts, Doctor Svenson said, “Believe me, it's the right thing to do. He needs to rely on you being consistent and he said it himself. He sometimes loses control over how he’ s handl ing things. I know it's a tough job. But Daniel needs you to be a parent as much as he needs you to be his friend.”

I know that,” Jack said a little irritated. Hell, he'd been walking this fine line for 10 months now. He knew he'd made mistakes and wrong choices. But he was trying. And Daniel was trying, too. They weren't perfect. They probably never would be. But... “I just don't feel comfortable putting him on a chair for time outs. It feels wrong,” he blurted out.

He did agree though, didn't he?” Svenson's blue eyes searched his, but Jack kept his gaze on the kid. Daniel wandered down the path, still in sight but far enough so he wouldn't hear them if they kept their voices down.

Yeah, he did.”

And it works so far, right?”

That's not the point,” Jack huffed, not really sure what exactly the point was.

Svenson said, “You have disciplined Daniel before, Colonel. The difference is that you have to learn not to wait until the inevitable happens. Don't let him bitch at you or deliberately go against every rule all day until you both end up yelling and slamming doors. It's like an emergency brake to get him out of the situation that upsets him and make him stop and think about his options and what he really wants. And to give you time for a few deep breaths.”

We did that before. He'll go up to his tree house,” Jack muttered.

He needs to focus. Not to wait things out until he thinks you're calm enough to give in or forget about the issue.”

He's not getting away with breaking the rules anymore,” Jack objected. But, again, he knew she was right. Daniel still tried to wait things out in his tree house and by the time he came down Jack had sometimes run out of steam and thought it wasn't worth to fight over chores, working hours, attitude or whatever.

Daniel apologized and life went on. Until the next fight, the next argument, the next tantrum. Daniel was always sorry, always felt bad - afterward. It never kept him from starting the same arguments again a few days later.

The goal is not to let it come to these escalations in the first place. This is only the first step. I just figured it might work from what you told me and from what I witnessed in the park. I really wished he would let me spend some time alone with him. But right now it's his game and he's making the rules."

"Yeah. But he likes you."

"Really?"

"I think he does. He's more relaxed now than he was at the beginning," Jack said.

"It's a start," she said, smiling.

A while later Jack and Daniel said goodbye to Svenson and watched her leave in her red Thunderbird before they went into the complex and entered the elevators.

"She wants to come to work with us," Jack told him, carefully watching Daniel's reaction to that.

He stayed calm. "I thought th at’s gonna happen one day. Are you going to ask Hammond?"

"If you agree. Don't want to do something like that over your head."

"It's okay, I guess. She's not that bad, by the way." Daniel blushed. It was not easy for him to admit even that much.

"Sweet. Then let's talk to Hammond after lunch," Jack suggested.

"Um, maybe tomorrow?"

Jack chuckled. "Or maybe next year?"

"All right. After lunch," Daniel decided. Then he changed the subject. "I'm really curious about this robot. Sam thinks it's some sort of artificial life form."

"It's a machine. Not a life form," Jack corrected. "And I’m not sure it was a good idea to bring it through. But the general agreed, so..."

"So let's be glad you are not in charge here," Daniel quipped.

"Ah, but I may be by the time you are thirty something again."

"Don't try to scare me to death."

You know, I really wonder how old this thing might be. It looks human, even feels human if you touch her. That's pretty scary," Jack said thoughtfully.

Daniel stopped and bent down to tie his open shoelaces. "We know there are races who build robots. Remember ’us’? The bet-ter, strong-er versions? I would've loved to see you two fight by the way. Sam told me about that later."

"I bet you wanted to take both of us home." Jack snorted, when they started walking again.

Daniel looked up at him, a desperate expression on his young face. "Thank god I couldn't. Having two of you around now would be my worst nightmare."

"Well, it's too bad. Life would be so much easier."

They reached the stairs to the briefing room and Daniel explained, "Anyway... it could be thousands of years old. The Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Chinese, they all envisioned synthetic beings that took on their shape and behavior long before the words robot or android were ever uttered."

"Yeah, so?"

"So, even in Earth's earliest civilizations, it's been our nature to seek immortality through the creation of vessels for our consciousness."

"Vessels?"

They arrived in the briefing room and were greeted by Carter, Baxter and Hammond, who stood around the table.

"Colonel O'Neill, Doctor Jackson. Major Carter, Doctor Baxter and I were just discussing whether or not to activate the robot."

Daniel climbed over the arm-rest of his chair and let himself slump down in it. It was his way of taking a seat without the effort of pulling the chair away and then needing somebody's help to adjust it so he could sit at the table. His feet still didn't reach the floor when he was sitting properly in the chair.

"You can?" he asked in Carter's direction.

She nodded as she took a seat opposite Daniel. "I think I found a way to recharge the unit's main power cell. Now prior to this, it's been operating on less than one percent capacity. I'm hoping that was enough to maintain the memory systems. Assuming it had any to begin with, of course."

O'Neill sat down next to Daniel and eyed his 2IC. "Of course." After a brief pause he added, "Why do you want to do this again?"

Carter stared at him as if he'd just uttered the stupidest thing she’d ever heard. Then she seemed to remember who she was talking to. Jack could almost see her suppressed impatience about his question.

Yeah, right. He wasn't the rocket scientist here. He was concerned about minor things like base security. Was he the only one who felt the hairs on the back of his neck ris e at the thought of an android lying in the lab?

"Well, sir, this is an incredibly advanced piece of technology. Given enough time, eventually I might be able to figure out how some of its functions work. The neurological system seems to be as complex as a human brain."

"So?"

"Sooo..." Sam's eyes darted over to Daniel who gave her a sympathetic look in return. "I'm hoping that the robot will be able to help me understand itself. Sir."

"Why?"

"If we are able to activate it, we can ask it about the planet we found her. It might help us study its ancient culture," Baxter pointed out.

"Maybe it can help us build a big honkin' space gun," Daniel chimed in, grinning.

Jack gave the chair next to him a gentle push. "Maybe it IS a big honkin' space gun, Doctor Jackson. And maybe it's turned off for a reason. Anybody thought about that?"

General Hammond got up from his seat and ended the discussion with the words, "Major Carter, you have permission to activate the robot and see what you can learn from it. But if there is as much as a small amount of danger coming from that machine, it is to be turned off immediately. Dismissed."

Jack watched Carter grab her papers and shook his head. He could almost see her scientific mind going overjoyed at the opportunity to explore this robot. And when they walked down to the lab, Daniel tugged at his arm, asking if he could come with them, just to take a look at it. "As soon as you activate it, I’ll leave. I just want to see it. Please?"

"I don't think taking a look would hurt," Baxter explained, a lenient smile on his face.

"Jack?"

"Sir, I think Daniel is better off in the observation room," Carter explained firmly. "No offense, Daniel. But you know how it is with some of the things we find on planets. And I really don't want to see you getting hurt."

Jack nodded, glad they were on the same page in this. He didn't want to appear paranoid about his worries for Daniel's safety. "Observation room it is," he decided. "I thought we were clear on that already."

Daniel bit his bottom lip and frowned at Carter. Obviously he had hoped for her support.

"And then," she continued, "once we're sure it's not dangerous, I think it's okay for Daniel to look her over. Maybe he can even talk to it."

So much for having Carter on his side.

"We'll see. Right now I want you to watch this from behind the window," Jack ordered.

Daniel turned on his heel and stormed down the corridor.

The Major sighed. "I still feel bad for excluding him from things like this," she admitted softly.

"Yeah, me too. But don't you dare tell him that," Jack grumbled. And crazy as it might seem, it was the truth. Here he was finally able to keep the Wretch safe and sound - and yet restricting him like this didn’t feel right either. "Next time you check with me first before you make any promises to him, though."

"Yes, sir."

They entered the lab and Jack looked up at the observation window. Dani el was sitting on a table. And he was still angry. He hugged himself and there was that pout on his lips and the line between his eyes. But at least he was complying.

II

When Jack gave him a nod from the lab, Daniel could barely stop himself from sticking out his tongue. He really should do it. If they were treating him like a baby he could just act like one. But he got a grip on himself. There was a security camera in the lab and this observation room. And if he stuck his tongue out at Jack, whoever saw it would think it was either cute or bratty. And then he'd be the subject of gossip tomorrow. The little brat stuck out his tongue at the colonel... Without realizing it, Daniel started giggl ing and forgot his anger - for the moment.

He looked down at his team mates standing around the examination table. The robot was a woman. A beautiful young woman to be specific. With black hair and delicately chiseled features. The complexion of her skin was dark. Whoever had created her had an excellent taste in women and a look for beauty.

Daniel could see Jack's skeptical expression when Sam touched the machine at its neck. A CD tray open ed at the touch. The major plugged something in and the tray closed.

"Now what?" Jack wanted to know.

Sam shrugged "I don't know. The power cell should be fully charged. As far as I can tell there isn't an on switch. It's possible the power was depleted for too long."

Jack nodded at Baxter. "Why don't you kiss her?"

Daniel snickered at that. Baxter just stared back at O'Neill. They never found out if Gared wanted to kiss the robot woman. Jack suddenly took a step back, while Sam leaned forward and stared at her.

What happened? Daniel wanted to be down there so badly.

Sam shook her head. "There is a pulse!"

Baxter frowned. He and Daniel said in union, "It has a heartbeat?"

Jack raised his eyebrows. "It has a heart?"

"It's designed to create a very realistic illusion of humanity," Sam mumbled, staring down at the machine in amazement.

Suddenly the robot sat up straight.

They all took a step back and even Daniel shifted a little backwards on his table.

The young woman - the robot who looked like a young woman - asked, "Where am I?"

Her voice sounded young and very soft. She looked around with big dark eyes. Baxter stepped forward. "You are in a special facility on planet Earth. My name is Gared Baxter. This is Major Carter and Colonel O'Neill."

Jack uttered a short, "Hi."

The robot swung her long legs over the table and looked at Baxter. She seemed to be frightened and Daniel felt a rush of sympathy for her. How scary it must be to wake up at a totally strange place surrounded by strange people. And who knew how long she had been asleep? She seemed to be very self aware. When she spoke again, there was fear in her voice.

Could it be possible for a robot to feel things like that? Probably yes. Maybe someone had copied the consciousness of a real human being into her programming like Harlan had done with the SG-1 androids?

"My name is Reece. Where's my father?"

Baxter stared at Sam who gave him a blank look. The archaeologist cleared his throat and started talk ing to her, but was interrupted by the SF who stepped forward now, holding up their weapons.

Daniel froze. They weren't going to shoot her, were they? She wasn't a threat. She was just scared and confused. Which was a little odd for a machine, but she hardly looked like a real machine either.

"Don't hurt me," Reece whispered.

"No. We are not going to hurt you," Baxter said, trying to calm her. But he took another step back and his eyes were nervously searching for Sam's.

"How did I get here?" The fear was audible in her voice even more now.

"We brought you through the Stargate," Baxter explained.

This information seemed to confuse the robot even more. "What is that?"

Sam tried to explain it to her, while Jack still stood back and just watched. "Well, there was one on your planet. It's a device that can be used to travel great distances through space..."

Reece didn't let her end the sentence. "Why did you bring me here?"

Daniel found himself standing, his hands pressed against the glass. He wanted to comfort her. Couldn't they see how afraid this robot was?

Baxter said, "The civilization on your planet was destroyed. We don't know how or when that happened."

Now Jack talk ed to her for the first time. "We were sort of hoping you could tell us."

Daniel saw how tense he was. To Jack she was just a robot and he didn’t buy her fearful looks or voice. Daniel knew Jack was able to push his emotions aside when his Special Ops training told him to. But there was no danger coming from that robot. She was built like a grown woman, but there was something very childlike in her voice and Daniel felt himself drawn to her.

He felt sorry for her.

Reece responded to Jack, but was still looking at Baxter when she replied, "I was asleep." Her next sentence sounded unsure. "What about my father?"

"Seems like you are the only survivor. You know nothing about what happened?" Jack asked.

She took a deep breath. "My father knew there was danger. He told me to go to sleep. He said he would wake me when the danger went away... What do you want?"

Baxter and Sam exchanged a look. Finally Sam spoke. "Well, I'd really like to know more about how you work. Your systems, how they function. We want to understand you better. And your planet... what happened there."

Reece was confused now. "I'm like you."

Sam shook her head. "Ah, not exactly. At least as far as I can tell."

"How are we different?"

Daniel had heard enough. He jumped o ff the table and left the observation room, ran down the stairs and stopped in front of the lab door. One of the SF blocked his way and told him firmly he wasn't allowed to enter the lab and that he had to go back into the observation room.

Daniel knew it was useless to talk to an SF with orders. The man wouldn't let him in. So he turned and pretended to walk away. Once the SF had stepped aside, he spun around, ducked and ran past the surprised soldier and straight into the lab. But he didn't get far. The SF grabbed his shirt and pulled him back, then picked him up and held him around his waist.

Colonel O’Neill!”

"Sam! Sam," Daniel yelled, "I need to talk to you!"

He tried to get out of the SF's grip but it was useless. Why did those military guys think his shirt or the back of his pants were some sort of carrying handle? Was there a sign on his back that read "Pick me up here?" Daniel considered kicking the soldier, when Jack and Sam appeared at the doorway.

"Daniel, what is it?" Sam asked curious.

Jack just glared.

But Daniel had no time to worry about Jack. He looked at Sam. "You scared her! And I don't think she knows she's a robot."

"Okay, how is that possible?" Jack demanded to know.

"Can you let me down, please, Sergeant?" Daniel asked the SF as nicely as possible.

The man addressed Jack. "Sir?"

"Wait a minute... answer my question. How could she not know she's a robot?"

"Well, the last time your consciousness was copied into a robot, you... he... didn't figure it out right away."

"That wasn't me. I was unconscious. The robot was thinking he was me." Jack frowned, then rubbed his temple. "Okay. That makes sense. Somehow."

Sam nodded. "What are you suggesting?"

"I'm just saying that maybe we should avoid slapping her in the face with the reality of her existence just moments after telling her her planet was destroyed," Daniel explained.

"Why? It's a machine," Jack pointed out.

"She just found out her father's dead."

"It's a machine."

Tell him to put me down, Jack."

"You are not supposed to be in here."

"Sam, listen to me. She is scared. You must have seen that. She didn't act like a robot at all. You both saw that... Jack! Tell him to let me go!"

"Maybe she is programmed to cry," Jack suggested, completely ignoring Daniel's whining.

Daniel started to wriggle his way out of the SF's hands. "Jack!"

"What? You want something?"

"Please?"

Sam chimed in, "The colonel is right. It's not like it ever had a real father."

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Well, maybe not. Maybe it's her creator. Or maybe we're talking to the stored consciousness of a real human being who once did have a real father. I think our past experience should be telling us to be careful about deciding what is and what isn't a life form."

Jack finally gave the SF a nod and Daniel was put on his feet. He adjusted his shirt and tried hard to get the blush out of his face. Sometimes being a kid on this base wasn't easy. And being Jack's kid was plain annoying at times. He couldn't go anywhere outside of the archaeological department, Sam's lab, the commissary, or the briefing room and the gym, without being asked if the colonel had permitted him to be there.

Okay, I agree. All I'm saying is if she really doesn't know what she is, she has a right to," Sam said.

Daniel let out a breath. "Maybe we should wait a little . I mean, she did seem pretty upset. And no, Jack. I don't think she is programmed to cry. What would that be good for anyway? She was frightened."

"For a machine," Jack reminded him.

"We don't know what kind of psychological effect it will have on her if we just... throw it at her," Daniel demanded.

"Psychological?" Sam looked doubtful

"Whether her behavior is a result of sophisticated programming or not, I think the best way to find out about her and what she knows, is by dealing with her on her own terms, at least for now."

They looked at each other. Finally, Jack agreed. "Couldn't hurt."

Daniel smiled at him. Then he walked into the room. And he made it into the middle of the lab before Jack was behind him, snatching him back by the collar of his shirt. This was really annoying. "Where do you think you're going?"

"I'm going to talk to her."

"Yeah. Right."

I think I can calm her, Jack. I am little. Maybe she doesn't see me as a threat and is willing to talk to me. Look how she is backing away from Gared." Daniel tried hard to convince his friend.

Reece was sitting on the edge of the table, her big dark eyes wandering through the lab. Daniel saw the tremble of her lips. Baxter was standing on the other end of the table and tried talking to her, but Reece wasn't paying attention to him.

"This makes no sense," Sam mumbled behind Daniel.

Jack turned around to face her. "Which part?"

"Why would somebody attack and destroy an entire civilization and leave one piece of incredibly advanced technology intact?"

Jack shrugged. "Isn't that what he's trying to figure out?"

"He won't figure out anything this way," Daniel insisted.

What I'm saying is, maybe there's something on the planet that we missed," Sam said.

Jack nodded. "I'll go back. And I escort this young man to his office or the Observation room on my way." He turned Daniel around and ushered him out of the lab.

When they were in the corridor, Jack asked him. "Where to? Office or Observation window? Up there you can at least watch."

"I don't care."

"You could give Baxter some advice if you observe this a while longer." Jack tried to make a compromise, but right now Daniel didn't want compromises.

He felt a sharp pain as he bit his lower lip to get himself under control. He didn't want to give Baxter advice. He wanted to do this himself. There was something special about Reece. And he wanted to figure her out.

"Baxter can figure her out himself. But it won't work," he sniped.

"Well, I have to get a team together. Choose."

Daniel glared at Jack in the attempt to stare him down. "Why don't you let me do it? Talking is my job."

"If she turns out to be a nice little robot, you can play with her, maybe," O'Neill offered dryly.

"You are such an ignorant, pig headed, stupid son of a b..." Daniel started to rail, but was stopped in mid sentence when Jack put a hand on his shoulder and steered him in the direction of the elevators.

Office it is then. You can sulk there all you like."

"I am not sulking! Take your hands off! I can walk alone!" Daniel felt his anger rise with every step they t oo k away from the lab.

Once they were in the elevator, Jack looked down at him. "Look, I'm sorry. You know I can't let you talk to Reece just yet. We don't know anything about her. She might be dangerous."

"You don't want my help? Fine. Don't you have to be somewhere? I know the way to my office. I don't need you to escort me," he snapped back, his voice rising with irritation.

Daniel knew he was going to be in full tantrum mode soon. Normally he managed to avoid situations like this on base. But for some reason he had a hard time keeping himself in c heck this time. He felt restricted and excluded. And there was this stupid jealousy towards Baxter again , which he knew was totally point less.

Apparently Jack saw it coming. He placed both hands on Daniel's tensed shoulders. "You want me to do something about your attitude?"

"No! You want me to do something about yours?"

"All right. That's it." The elevator doors opened and Jack marched him out and to his office, a firm hand on his shoulder.

Once inside, Jack took Daniel's desk chair and rolled it over to the wall next to a bookshelf. "Five minutes for you to calm down. No talking, no kicking the wall," he ordered.

"That's not fair!"

"Ten."

Daniel squinted up at the security camera and swallowed.

They glared at each other for a long moment. Jack started tapping his watch and raised his left eyebrow. Finally, before 'Fifteen' would be announced, Daniel reluctantly walked over to the chair and sat down, facing the wall. He hugged himself defensively as he stared at his knees to avoid looking at the boring bleak wall.

This new kind of time out had been Svenson’s idea. Jack must have told her it had worked the one time in Hammond's office and now they thought it was a good way of shutting him off. Traitor. It was just yuck. He didn't need that. And he really didn't understand why he was complying. It was so unfair. And sitting still for so long was really difficult.

He was able to sit in the dirt of a dig site for hours, or when he read a book. Yet, doing nothing but staring at a wall and being forced to think about his childish attitude was torture. Which, of course, was the whole point.

It was hard enough to do this at home, but it had never happened on base so far. Daniel chewed his bottom lip. Jack was really getting into this guardian thing.

He could hear him pace the room behind him and then heard him talking on the phone when he ordered SG-3 to get ready and meet him in the gate room in twenty.

Almost against his will Daniel calmed down after a few minutes had passed. He took a couple deep breaths and tried to forget the camera, and the fact it recorded this embarrassing moment.

He wouldn't get anywhere with this kind of behavior and he knew it. He had to stamp down his anger and had to convince them with rational arguments. Bitching at Jack would definitely not help. But it was so hard sometimes, so hard to stay calm.

Daniel heard the coil spring quirk behind him as Jack sat down on the old sofa.

He sniffed a little, fighting annoying tears of frustration with all his might. He was well aware he was sitting here because he had lost his temper again. He had been unnecessarily rude. Being mad because he wasn't allowed to see Reece was one thing. But yelling and throwing fits wasn't the right way to deal with it. Okay, maybe a little yelling would not have put him here. It was the extra little bit of brattiness that mostly likely did him in.

He sighed and let his arms drop to his sides.

 

Would he ever learn?

And how was he supposed to make Jack listen if he went ballistic like this? On the other hand - how was he supposed to make Jack listen in the first place? Jack had made up his mind and that was it. As always.

Maybe if he'd just accepted the compromise to assist Baxter and gone from there , he would have gotten his way. Or maybe he should have waited until Jack returned from the planet and figure out a way to get through to him then .

Still, it wasn't fair to be excluded like that. Daniel just couldn't get over it. This argument was not over yet. He would get a grip on himself and try not to overact again. That was all he was willing to do.

"All right, time’s up," Jack said. "You need more?"

"No."

"Then save what's left of your dignity and snap out of it."

"I'm fine," he said quietly

"Fine as in...?"

"Fine. Just... peachy as you would put it." He couldn't avoid being a little sassy.

"You want five more ?"

"No. I... I'm sorry, I... just... sorry," Daniel sighed and got out of the chair.

He slumped on the sofa. Jack watched him for a moment and then put an arm around his shoulders. "Let us check her out first, okay?"

Daniel stared down at his feet. He wasn't ready to give in yet. He might have been wrong about the way he behaved, but Jack was wrong, too. And as long as he didn't acknowledge that, Daniel wouldn't let it go completely.

After an awkward moment of silence, Jack took his arm away. "I have to go now. Won't take long, I guess." He ruffled Daniel's hair and got up from the sofa.

"Bye."

"Daniel... "

"You have to go."

"Yeah." He stood there a moment longer, looking some w h at lost. Then he turned abruptly and walked out.

Daniel glared at his desk and all the work waiting for him there. Translations, reports to look through, requests for his advice, more translations... paper work.

Boring.

Sometimes he thought he was fine with being Earth-bound. That he didn’t miss going through the gate that much. Because more often than not it had been scary and dangerous. But the longer he actually WAS Earth-bound, the more he realized that he DID miss going through the gate.

He missed being on SG-1. Missed being off world. He missed the campfire and the night watches. He even missed all the running, hiding, and crawling in the dirt. Seeing where the things SG-1 brought home came from. He missed the different landscapes of other worlds. Interacting with other species or humanoid races. Well, he didn't mind the less time he stayed in the infirmary or the lack of shooting and fighting. That had to be a good thing at least. And if he would never see the face or the glowing eyes of a system lord again, that was just fine with him.

And yet... all downsides aside, he missed it. It used to be his life. And even more so - he missed being part of the team as an equal, not as an add-on.

How long did he have to wait until they w ere listen ing to him again? How long u ntil they’ d let him do anything other than paper work? He wasn’t making a difference anymore. He had become replaceable.

Daniel went over to his bookshelves and stared at all the books about Scandinavia and northern mythology he had ordered for his research about the Yggdrasil. It was of no use. There was just nothing to find. He couldn't figure out the exact language, no matter how hard he tried. He had been able to find a few related dialects, or so he had thought. But they all turned out to be wrong.

Pierson had lied to him. Maybe there was no missing part to the statue either.

And he re he was; stuck in this office with his translations forever.

Daniel turned away from the shelves and sat at his desk. He felt the depression creep up on him like a black hole. He felt really down. And Jack wasn't here...

Suddenly Daniel realized he had let him go off world... and they never parted without a hug or an argument unsettled between them. No matter how simple a mission appeared to be. There was always the possibility of something go ing wrong.

He jumped o ff his chair and dashed out of his office. He'd fight this out with Jack. He really wanted to talk to Reece, because he was confident he'd be able to help here. But right now all he wanted was to give Jack a proper goodbye and tell him to be careful.

He waited impatiently for the elevator. What if Jack was already gone? Okay, this was really just routine. They were looking for something on a totally deserted planet. No danger in sight. And yet Daniel remembered lots of places that didn't turn out to be quite as harmless as they appeared to be .

Finally the doors opened and Sam exited the elevator . When she saw Daniel, she stepped back inside, pressing a finger on the "hold" button. "I was just on my way to you. Reece attacked Baxter. She got upset because he refused to let her leave her room. I'd like you to watch the tape. Maybe you'll come up with an idea on how to handle her.”

Daniel gaped at Sam. While he'd been sure Baxter would fail in his efforts to talk to the robot, he never wanted him to get hurt. "How is he?"

"She broke his arm and he has a concussion. It's not nice, but he'll live. He is stuck in the infirmary for a while though."

"I'm coming... Um, I just need to catch Jack before he leaves," Daniel answered and stepped into the lift with her.

"The colonel is already on his way out. He's taking SG-3 with him. I'd really like you to tak e a look at th at tape, Daniel. Colonel O'Neill will be back in a couple of hours. Was it important?"

Daniel felt a short flicker of regret, but stomped it down. He'd catch Jack later. This mission was just simple recon and SG-1 had checked out everything before when they found Reece. There was nothing on that planet that would harm anybody.

They hurried down into Sam's lab and watched the security cam tape together.

Daniel saw Baxter and Reece in a lab. Reece was looking at something on a computer screen. She played a little with the keyboard and then turned around to face Baxter. "Is the rest of your planet like this place?"

Gared shook his head while he watched her. "No. This is just a room in a building. Outside it's different. There's lots of different kind of landscapes, big oceans and cities. There are trees like on your planet."

"It sounds beautiful. C an I see it?" The fear was gone from her voice now. Daniel could tell she was curious to go outside and explore.

Baxter shook his head. "That’s not possible."

Now she sounded disappointed. "Why not?"

"We need to talk, Reece. This is a military facility. You are an alien life form. You have to understand that we can't let you leave base right now. If you cooperate, we could ask the general to make a request to his superiors that you are allowed to go to the surface," Baxter explained to her.

The beautiful young woman shook her head defiantly. "I don't want to talk any longer. And why can't we go outside? I'd love to see your sun. Let's go," she demanded as she jumped out of her chair and walked to the door.

"Reece, we can't go out. I just explained to you why." Baxter sounded a little impatient now.

"What do you want to talk about?"

"What can you tell me about the danger that came to your planet?"

Reluctantly she sat down again at the computer, staring at the images on the screen.

Baxter went over and shut the computer down. "Reece, I need you to answer my questions."

"Why?"

"Because we want to understand you better."

"There is nothing to understand. I'm me. I want to go."

"No."

She whirled around on her chair and, grabbing Gared's arms, jumped up and started to shove him across the room. A yell of pain escaped him as he crashed against a closet.

Daniel saw the anger on her face and shuddered. The next moment, the door was ripped open and three SF stormed in.

"Don't shoot," Baxter choked. "Reece... you are hurting me."

The robot stepped back and returned to the computer terminal as if nothing had happened. One of the SF called for a medical team. Baxter was lying on the ground, cradling his arm to his chest.

Sam turned to Daniel. "So. What do you think?"

He watched Reece for a moment longer. She pac ed the room and started to pick up several items like the computer mouse and a pen . Then she sat down on the chair again.

"She is sulking," he said. He had lots of experience with sulking ever since he'd gotten shrunk.

"Looks like it," Sam agreed.

"She's angry now. She wants to go out and they won't let her. She doesn't understand why. And she's hiding something," Daniel stated.

"But I don't understand that. Why did she attack Gared? He didn't scare her or anything." Sam sounded frustrated.

"Because she doesn't know him. She slept for a long time, then woke up in a building full of strangers who want to talk to her about what happened on her planet. She doesn't have a clue where she is and her father is dead... or the man she thinks of as her father anyway."

"Daniel, she is a robot."

"But she doesn't know that. And she might have a self defense program. Maybe she considered herself attacked and just acted on it. She saw Gared as a threat."

Daniel and Sam looked at each other.

"Let me talk to her, Sam," Daniel pressed.

"I can't. Not without the colonel's permission," she cringed.

"We can ask General Hammond. He can decide."

She gaped at him. "You want to make a request to talk to Reece? Over Colonel O'Neill's head?"

"Yes. It's important. You can come in with me. Maybe together we can get her to talk."

Sam shook her head. "I don't know, Daniel. What if she attacks you?"

"It's a risk I have to take," he told her bluntly.

"Daniel, if anything happens to you in there... I just can't let you do it. It's not worth the risk."

He could sense her inner fight of keeping him out of danger and the urge to make progress with Reece. He stopped the tape and tipped up his glasses on his nose. "Sam, this is me, Daniel. I think I know what makes her tick. All we need is Hammond's permission first. If he confirms this, I'll wait until Jack is back, so he can come in with me. I know I can't go in there alone. I'm not insane."

"Well, Daniel, you know the colonel will..."

"Yes I know he will. But he can't do anything against a direct order from the general. He'll have to deal with it. I think I can help here. But you have to let me," Daniel demanded.

She nodded, her scientific mind finally winning over her loyalties to Jack. She waved him to follow her, muttering, "Oh boy, I am so dead."

***

"I couldn't let Daniel talk to her," O'Neill said for the third time as they hurried down the bright pathway leading to the deserted building where they had found Reece.

They had searched the area around the building for three hours now and found nothing but ruins and dust.

"I heard you, when you said this the first time, O'Neill," Teal'c answered. Was there annoyance in his voice? Jack glared at him suspiciously.

"I'm not comfortable about letting the kid talk to a robot. We know what they can do. She wants to hug him and accidentally breaks his neck. Besides... Baxter has to learn how to deal with this kind of stuff. We can't just send Daniel in when t hings get a little tricky."

"Did you explain this to DanielJackson, O'Neill?"

"Well, yeah... kind of... I guess..." Jack trailed off, trying to remember what exactly he had said to Daniel. He had told him he was worried. And Daniel had told him that he was fine. At least after he'd managed to get his anger under control.

But the truth was that Daniel was far from being "fine".

The bad thing here was that Jack really believed Daniel could get Reece to cooperate. Daniel was a master of using words as a weapon or as a tool of peace. If anybody could get Reece to talk, it was him. But Baxter had to learn. And it was his job, as a member of SG-1, to deal with situations like this. He was a good man. He was relatively new to the team and had done a good job so far.

But it had been Daniel who realized this machine was obviously not aware of the fact she was a robot. Sure, Daniel had experience s with robots. But Daniel was also the one who was listening, not only with his ears, but also with his mind and heart. He could sense things on a much deeper level than most people.

Well, now Jack had to admit that robot had sounded scared. But he also thought she was acting a little odd. That it could be real fear - she was a machine, mind you - didn't cross his mind until Daniel had pointed it out. He had thought about it as a malfunction of some sort. And he still tended to see it th at way. But maybe Daniel would've known how to deal with that, no matter the reasons of Reece's 'fear'.

Yet, Jack wasn't willing to risk Daniel's life. Maybe the kid could give Baxter some lessons in robot-talk or something. That sounded reasonable. If the two of them worked together they might get Reece to cooperate and Daniel would still be involved. But Jack had suggested that to the kid and all he’ d got was a hissing fit.

Great.

"Baxter will figure her out eventually," he stated. Teal'c didn't respond to that.

They walked in silence until they entered the building. It was dark inside, apart from a couple of lamps. Jack greeted the l eader of SG-3. "Well, this might have turned out to be one colossal waste of time. There's nothing useful outside. You boys find anything?"

The other man shook his head. "Just lots of debris."

"I think our work is done here." And that was just fine with him. He had to sort things out with his kid. He didn't like the way they had parted. Leaving the Wretch behind in a bad mood was not peachy. They usually tried not to be angry with each other when Jack went off world. It was like an u nwritten law and he felt a little uneasy about the fact that he had left without his hug this time.

He checked his watch, when the commander of SG-3 asked, "Colonel, you said to look for anything uncharacteristic of the indigenous technology, right?"

Jack raised his eyebrows and held up his right index finger. " I would never say anything like that, Major."

The major grinned back at him. "Right. Well, Major Carter said not to ignore anything however insignificant it may seem."

"What have you got?"

"Well, I'm sure it's nothing, sir, but we found a bunch of these scattered around. I've never seen anything like them before." With that the man handed Jack a little container. Jack peered inside and felt his blood freeze in his veins.

He reached inside and very carefully took out a piece of replicator. For a moment he just stared at the little object. Then he exchanged a look with Teal'c.

The Major noticed that. "You know what they are?"

"Oh, yeah."



They returned to base and the piece of replicator was taken to Carter's lab ASAP for examination. Hammond came down to join SG-1 a few minutes later. They watched the major as she did some of her doohickey tests on the blocks.

Finally, she shook her head. "No energy readings. I'd say these blocks are dead. Probably been on the planet since it was destroyed."

"Replicators were the cause of the destruction?" Hammond asked.

They all knew what that meant, but Teal'c was the one who put it in words. "It is the first evidence of the replicators in this galaxy."

"It must have been a long time ago, though," Daniel chimed in.

Carter gazed down at the little piece of technology on her table. "Something still doesn't fit. The replicators we know go after advanced technology, why would they eat everything on the planet and leave Reece alone."

"Perhaps she has some means of defending herself against the replicators," Teal’c suggested.

Daniel, who had been sitting at the table in a swivel chair, stopped playing carousel for a moment to point out that Reece had been asleep on that planet.

Carter shrugged. "It's possible she's giving off some kind of signal or frequency that repels them. Maybe not even by design, but by coincidence."

"Bug spray?" Jack quipped.

"If that is the case, then Reece herself may be the key to helping us and the Asgard in our fight against the replicators," Teal'c said.

Carter wasn't sure about that. "We're still a long way from determining that."

Jack gave Daniel's chair another push around, then bent down and whispered in his ear, "Can I sit there for a minute while you push me?"

Daniel just smirked and took another round. “Get your own chair.”

Spoilsport,” Jack muttered affectionately and ruffled the blond head, satisfied when Daniel smiled. They didn't have time to talk to each other alone yet, so this was their way of making up for now.

The conversation in the room now turned to the problem of Reece’s non-cooperation.

O'Neill listened halfheartedly when Hammond asked Daniel what his impression was after watching the tape of Reece and Baxter.

He picked up one of the magnifying glasses and fiddled with it. Discussions like this tended to wear him out fast. If there was nothing they could do and no immediate process to get things to work, he tended to get impatient or bored. They had found a replicator piece which was hopefully dead, Reece wasn't talking, so therefore they knew nothing, apart from the fact that there obviously had been replicators in their galaxy a long time ago. All of that could have been said in three short sentences.

They should just go in there and talk a little more seriously to that robot lady. Jack considered pushing Daniel's chair again, but then couldn't resist pulling a few grimaces while holding the magnifying glass in front of his face.

Daniel said, "She's kind of hard to pin down in a conversation, her attention wanders. It's like she has the,” Daniel trailed off, gazing at Jack, and continued, “mind of a child, sir."

Jack put the glass down on the table in front of him and gave his staring colleagues the innocent look. It wasn't his fault it took them so long to state a few simple facts, right? And just because he played with the glass didn't mean his mind was... "What?"

The Wretch rolled his eyes at him and Carter looked down at the table, grinning.

General Hammond cleared his throat and said something about Daniel having permission to talk to the robot. Jack was sure there was something wrong with his hearing, because that couldn't be true. Baxter had been knocked out by that machine which just confirmed his opinion that Reece wasn't a nice robot at all.

Oh, but on the other hand it was just like Daniel to do something like that. Wait until he left - and Jack was still not over the fact that the Wretch had refused him his goodbye hug - and then run to Hammond and convince him to let him talk to this thing.

When he just stared at his CO, Hammond said, "I wanted to save this as a last option because I don't feel comfortable about it either, Colonel. But Doctor Jackson is after all our most advanced rhetorician. Plus, he has former experiences with robot life forms. He seems to understand Reece better than anyo ne else in this room."

"Sir, with all due respect. You can't allow Daniel to go in there. Th at thing is unpredictable," O'Neill objected sharply.

"The decision has been made. The replicator find changes our priorities, Colonel. It's important to find out as much as possible about this robot. I want to know if she is a danger to this facility or if she is capable of defending herself from the replicators."

"But Daniel isn’t..."

"Doctor Jackson will be guarded by three SF and yourself," Hammond ended the discussion.

"I don't think that's a good idea. If I go in there with armed men, Reece might be frightened," Daniel pointed out.

"And if you go in there without armed men, you might end up as mashed potato," Jack snapped at him.

"She isn’t dangerous, if nobody threatens her. She is just like a little girl. And she needs someone who knows how her mind works."

"Well, let's give her some candy and bribe her, then. Maybe she gets off on Froot Loops like Nashi." Jack snorted.

"She's a robot, Jack. She won't eat candy."

"All right. What about toys?"

"I suggested coloring books and toys, yes. She is already in a room with several things to keep her busy," Daniel explained. "Now she needs someone to talk to who isn't a threat in her eyes."

"Why would someone create a robot with the mind of a child?" Hammond asked.

"It's a malfunction," Jack insisted forcefully.

Carter shrugged. "Well, like Daniel suggested, it could be a transferred consciousness, or it could be that the creator intended for her to be emotionally mature, but just couldn't get the programming right."

"Isn't that what I just said?" Jack started to fiddle with the glass again.

"Sir, I think it's time we told Reece the truth. Daniel, maybe if she's forced to confront the fact that she's an artificial life form, it could change any pre-programmed priorities that she's adhering to," Carter suggested.

Hammond gave a nod to that and left.

There was an awkward silence in the room for a moment. Carter put the replicator piece in a container and Daniel was swinging his legs as he shoved a few papers around on the table in front of him.

"All right. Who talked Hammond into this?" Jack demanded to know.

"I did ," Carter and Daniel said at the same time .

Teal'c raised his eyebrow at Jack and gave an approving nod. "I am confident DanielJacksonO'Neill will succeed in his endeavors to assist in this matter."

Jack stared them all down. Well, not Teal'c of course. There was no way he could stare Teal'c down. But Carter started fiddl ing with her pen.

Daniel blushed, but refused to keep his mouth shut. "If it gets dangerous,...."

"I decide if and when it gets dangerous. And if I decide that it gets dangerous, you’ll walk out of there," Jack ordered curtly.

Daniel nodded. "Yes. But please... give me a chance to try."

The colonel turned to Carter. "Just for the record. I didn't agree to this, Major, and I expect you to follow chain of command."

Yes, sir.”

You weren't on base, Jack,” Daniel jumped in.

The colonel is right,” Carter said. “We shouldn't have gone behind his back. This wasn't a life or death situation or any other emergency.” She looked up and gave Jack a firm nod. "Sir, I don't feel easy about this either, as you should be aware. But Daniel might be right, you know."

"Yeah. Let's just hope the robot knows that, too." He sighed and turned back to Daniel "Let's go."

III

By the time they reached Reece's room, Daniel was a little worried. He had expected Jack to rant. But he was silent, and that was a sure sign he was really bothered by Daniel talking to Reece. But maybe it was also an indication of Jack seeing the possibility of success. Daniel would make sure he didn't fail. He'd show Jack that he was able to do his job as good as he used to before.

Just as they were about to enter the room, Jack held him back with a hand on his arm. "Be careful, Danny."

"I will."

"If I say out - we are out. Understood?"

Yes."

They passed the guards standing at the door inside the room.

Reece s a t at a table, working on a coloring book . When she looked up and saw Daniel, a huge smile appeared on her face. She got up and came over to him. "Hey! I'm Reece. Who are you? Do you want to see my pictures?"

Daniel smiled at her. "Sure, I'd love to see them. I'm Daniel."

 

Reece waved at the room at large and sighed. "It is so boring here. Are you an alien life form, too? Are you held in here like me? They w on't allow me to go out and see the sun or the cities."

"No, I just work here. But you're right. It's pretty boring sometimes," Daniel agreed and walked to the table to look at the pictures Reece had worked on . They were m ostly flowers, all very colorful. "Th e se are cool."

"They gave me pictures of some of your flowers. I like the yellow one s ," Reece explained.

"It's called a sun flower," Daniel replied.

"Let me show you something, Daniel," Reece said suddenly. She picked up a pair of scissors and closed her fist around them. When she opened her hand again, the scissors were gone. Instead a small sculpture of two intertwined people was sitting on her palm.

"Do you like it?" she wanted to know expect a ntly.

"It's very nice. How did you make this?"

I just did. Can't you do it?" she asked, wondering.

Shaking his head Daniel took the sculpture from her. It was really neat work. "Can I keep it? You can have my Nintendo in return," he offered. “I'm gonna bring it down later.”

"What is a Nintendo?" Reece wanted to know, curious.

"It's a little computer to play games with."

Reece face lit up for a moment, but then she sighed deeply and frowned. "I'm so tired of this room, Daniel. Why can't we go outside?"

He looked around the bleak room. They had put a shelf in with some toys and pictures, a box with Lego and some stuffed animals. There was also a mattress with blankets and a pillow on the floor, in case that Reece got tired. But it was still a prison. Daniel wondered if he could offer Reece a tour of the base. But he knew it wouldn't be permitted and he knew there were valid reasons for that.

"Yeah, it's a boring room," he agreed after a moment. "Maybe we could paint the walls."

"That's no fun. I want to go out." Now she was pouting.

Daniel spotted the Lego box and went over to it. "Hey, that's great. I have a space station set at home. Did you ever try to build something like that?"

"I can build things without blocks," Reece told him.

Daniel sat down and started play ing with the Lego, building a small pyramid with them. "You mean like the sculpture? You made the sculpture from the scissors, right? That's ... can you teach me how to do that?"

The robot came over and sat down next to him. She picked up a few Lego and plugged them together. "You can't do that. You are like my father, right?"

Daniel watched her carefully. She didn't seem too upset anymore. "I don't know. What was your father like?"

"He was wonderful. He loved me," Reece said. Her face went very soft and there was a great sadness in the dark eyes. "Do you love your father?"

"I did. He is dead, too," Daniel told her.

"I am sorry. Was there danger?"

"What do you mean by danger?"

Reece opened her mouth to answer, but then shut it again and looked away from him. When Daniel followed her eyes, he could see Sam and Teal'c entering the observation room and sit down behind the window. Reece got up and took a few steps towards the window. "I don't like them. They are watching," she said angrily.

"They are my friends," Daniel assured her.

But now she turned to Jack, who stood by the door, observing them. "Why is he here?"

"He's my friend, too. That's Jack. You already met him," Daniel explained.

"He doesn't like me," Reece presumed.

"Why would I not like you?" Jack asked as he crossed the room slowly and crouched next to Daniel.

Reece crossed her arms and whirled around to them. "I want them to stop watching. And I want you to go. You are no fun."

"That's not true, Reece. Jack's a lot of fun to be with. He can build cool stuff wi th the Lego . And he knows a lot of fun things to do," Daniel tried to convince her.

"Yeah. And I'd like to learn the scissor trick, too," Jack chimed in.

"He can't do it. You both can't. You are not special," Reece pouted, still eying the window.

"How are we not special?" Jack asked.

Reece shrugged and picked up a stuffed tiger from the shelf. Daniel was thinkin g about a way to continue as he watched Jack f inishing the pyramid. He knew Jack didn't miss a single movement of the robot, while he seemed to f oc us on his task with the colorful blocks.

Daniel got to his feet and carefully approached the young woman. "Reece, you know there are different kinds of people, right?"

She didn't look at him, but answered, "Yes."

"So, on our planet people just have different shapes and sizes and colors, but are all the same otherwise. And on your planet there were some people who were... special? The way you are?"

"Only I was special." She threw the toy away and turned to look at him. "Daniel, this is boring."

"Okay, um, it might be boring for you. But... I think it's cool. So you tell me a little about it and then I... we..."

He shot Jack a look.

We’ll show you the gym," Jack offered. "You can have fun there."

"What's the gym?" Reece demanded to know.

"It's a surprise. Talking first. Then gym," Jack said firmly.

"I want to see that gym. Then I'll tell you what you want to know," Reece replied stubbornly.

Daniel tugged at her arm. When she bent down to him, he told her in a stage whisper, "He won't give in to that. He is sooo stubborn. Just humor him and we are out of here, okay?"

Reece sighed. "My father always said I was special. I don't know why."

"Maybe it's because you are different from us. On the inside," Daniel suggested.

When she looked at him he could see confusion in her eyes. "How?"

"Well, I'm flesh and blood. So is Jack and all the other people here. And your father was, too, I guess. You are a... machine. A very, very sophisticated machine, more of a computer really."

Taking a step away from him she shook her head wildly. "I'm alive."

Daniel licked his lips. Now it was going to be tricky. What would she do? He had the impression she was really clueless. How would she take it. "Yes, you are. Just not like me. Even though you were created to be very human-like, you are not human."

"Yes, I am!"

"No, you're not, Reece. Okay, I can prove that to you. It's a game. Will you let me show you? I am not going to hurt you," Daniel told her feeling a bit anxious.

"No!" She turned around and ran across the room until she was stopped by the wall. Outraged she started to bang her fists on the glass of the observation window. "I wanna leave here! Let me out! Let me out! Now!"

Daniel took a step in her direction.

"Daniel, it's time to leave," Jack said in a tight voice.

But he shook his head and walked towards Reece. "Reece, please..."

She spun around and crossed the room with amazing speed. Before she could reach Daniel, Jack was between them, yelling, "Daniel, out!"

He watched with horror as the robot grabbed Jack by his shoulders and pushed him. Like a puppet the colonel flew across the room and crashed into the shelf. Books, toys and stuffed animals rained down on him.

Daniel yelled, "Reece, stop it! Don't hurt him!"

"Let me go!"

"We will, we will... but please..."

Jack was on his feet a moment later. He put a hand at the back of h is head and when he pulled it back, Daniel saw blood. Telling the SF to stand down, Jack crossed the room.

"You are out of here, now," he ordered in a low voice.

Daniel ignored him. "Reece, you have to stop that. Calm down, please," he told her, hearing his voice tremble just a little.

"I was mad," she explained.

"I know. I get mad easily, too. I understand."

Reece shrugged and turned away from them.

Without another word O'Neill clamped his hands around Daniel's shoulders and walked him out of the room.

When they stepped into the corridor, Daniel turned to Jack. "Are you all right?"

"Kinda... What were you thinking? The next time I tell you to leave..."

Daniel interrupted him, irritated. "She felt threatened when you jumped between us!"

"She was about to attack you!"

"You don't know that! She attacked you after you yelled at me and tried to play the hero!"

Jack stopped abruptly and grabbed his shoulders again. He crouched in front of Daniel and forced him to look into his angry brown eyes. "Do you see that hole in my head?! She was outraged! She could have killed you."

"She was mad at YOU! And she was calming down," Daniel insisted.

"Dammit, she was mad at whoever was in her way. Like it or not, this robot is not harmless."

"Listen, Jack..."

"I don't want to hear it, Daniel." Jack's hand kept a vice grip on Daniel's shoulder as he marched them around the corner where Janet was already waiting.

Janet motioned at Jack to sit in a chair and started tending to his head injury.

"You are NOT going in there again," Jack snapped.

"But, Jack, she was finally starting to talk," he objected.

It was so frustrating. Reece had gotten angry because she was being watched and then Jack had jumped between them and she defended herself. It hadn't been Daniel’s failure. He had been right and Reece liked him obviously. But then she lost control and now he'd never get the chance to try again.

"She is unpredictable," Jack said.

Sam and Teal'c came running down the corridor.

"Sir, are you alright?"

"I'll live."

"Maybe she has some sort of programming that prevents her from acknowledging she's anything but human," Sam speculated.

Jack winced under Janet's expert hands. "Robot denial?"

Daniel shrugged. "Looks that way."

"Has it occurred to anyone that this thing may have been lying around that planet for, oh, quite some time and that maybe it's broken? Or perhaps it never worked right in the first place," Jack huffed.

Sam looked irritated, "So you think we should just shut her down?"

"Oh, I don't know. Let's ask our little expert here, who'd have a cracked skull now if she'd thrown him across the room."

Daniel bit his lip. "I don't think she meant to hurt me. I just don't think she liked what I was saying. And I still believe she was just panicking because you suddenly yelled and came between us like a mad man."

"I don't like a lot of the things you are saying. Yet, I resist the urge to shove you through a wall," Jack ranted.

So, this was the end of it. Daniel had tried and failed. But he knew he had been right in the way he had dealt with Reece. Jack had to see that, too.

"Somehow Reece managed to survive a massive replicator attack. There has to be more that we can learn from her, sir," Sam said carefully.

"Well, Daniel is out of it. I'm going to talk to her as soon as the Doc lets me go," O'Neill ordered.

Daniel ground his teeth. He had to summon all his strength to stay relatively calm. The urge to yell was so overwhelming.

Why weren't they listening to him? But if he started throw ing a tantrum now, nobody would ever take him seriously again. Words. He had to be reasonable to make Jack listen. But he had been all reasonable and didn't impress Jack one bit. Not that this was anything new. Jack often refused to listen to his reasons as much as Daniel refused to listen to Jack's...

Only that Jack's reasons weren’t really relevant most of the time. Well, at least not to Daniel. They rarely made him stop doing what had to be done.

"She won't talk to you. She doesn't like you. She won't trust you," he said fiercely .

"I don't care if she likes me. She will listen to me and she will talk. End of story. I can make YOU talk - she's a piece of cake compared to you," Jack replied sharply.

"I think Daniel was good with her. We should let him try again. There was progress. And we knew she might get upset if confronted with the truth," Sam suggested.

Daniel gave her a grateful look. Not that it would help. But he appreciated the support.

"I’ll go in now," Jack said curtly, getting up when Janet stepped away from him.

"Take me with you," Daniel demanded.

"No."

"Jack!"

"Th at robot wanted to smash you against the wall! You want to join Baxter in the infirmary?"

"There is always risk in what we do. You can't protect me from everything. If I'm supposed to do my job you have to let me! I'm not going off world and I am careful! What more can I do! I can help here. Let me work!" Daniel hated the pleading tone of his voice. Hated how he had to look up at Jack.

Right at this moment he would have given everything to be big again. Wasn't Jack able to look behind his outward appearance? He felt like a prisoner in his own body. Why couldn't he just once see things from Daniel's angle?

"Carter, get him out of here," O'Neill snapped and went past them to enter Reece's room again.

Sam put an arm around his shoulders as he tried to hold back the angry tears. "I'm sorry, Daniel," she said softly.

***

O'Neill pushed away the nagging feeling he walked out on Daniel like he did. There was no time for this right now. He'd talk to him later. Why could that stubborn guy not once see things from Jack's point of view? Why couldn't he get it into his brain that he was physically eight?

Reece had been about to attack Daniel. Jack had seen it in her eyes and in the way she had crossed the room. Like a wounded or cornered animal.

He had just reacted instinctively when he jumped between them. If she'd have tackled Daniel, he'd be unconscious or - in the worst case - dead. There was no way Jack would allow the kid near th at machine again.

He entered Reece's room, steeling himself for another attack.

But the robot just looked at him sad ly . "Where is Daniel?" she asked two seconds after the door closed behind him.

"You were trying to hurt him," Jack told her coldly. "He won't be back."

"But I didn't mean to hurt him, or you. I am sorry," she answered, a little upset.

"Well, I don't know that. And you're not getting out of here anytime soon either."

Reece slumped down at her table and started drawing a picture, pretending he wasn't there. Daniel had been right. She was behaving like a child. And that was dangerous. She had shown more than once she wasn't able to control her emotions or her body strength. Daniel was very lucky he hadn't been at the receiving end of that shove she had given him.

Jack suppressed a shudder.

"I am sorry I hurt you," Reece repeated a nd turned around to face him. Her lips were trembling. She wasn't exactly about to cry, but seemed to be more upset than she let on.

Jack sat down on the edge of her table. "Hurting other people is bad," he started. "We don't do that here."

"You attacked me. I was scared."

"No. I didn't attack you. Neither did Baxter."

"That other man was mean."

"No, he wasn't. And you were about to attack Daniel. He was just asking you a couple of questions."

Reece looked down for a moment, then back at Jack. "Do you think he will forgive me? Do you? It's not hurting anymore, is it?"

"It'll pass. Daniel would be happy if you'd talk to me... answer his questions," Jack tried.

"No, please, I'm so bored. I just wanna get out of here. I wanna see your world. Why are you all so afraid of me?"

Jack was thinking fast. She really seemed to like Daniel. So he could use him to put a little pressure on her. "No one's afraid of you. But since you tried to hurt Daniel, you are not leaving this room for a while."

"I won't do anything bad, I promise. And I made something for both of you. So you won't be angry at me anymore."

She jumped up and went over to the shelf, reaching into it, a huge smile on her face. "We can play with it, Daniel and I. And you can play with us, too. I can make you your own if you like."

Jack stood frozen in the middle of the room, goose bumps cr awling up his arms when he heard the familiar click- click and robot bug noises coming from inside the shelf. A moment later his darkest apprehension became reality when a replicator was crawling over the toys and perched on Reece's forearm. It was a large bug with wings.

Reece was still smiling at him. "Don't be afraid. It's just a toy."

IV

Daniel had been sitting on the swivel chair in Sam's lab, She had taken him with her and tried her best to cheer him up, but he’d just been too hurt and the depression he had fought back this morning returned in full mode. He needed all his willpower to act casual.

After a while she had left him to talk to Hammond again. He didn't want to go with her. He was sure the general wouldn't allow him to get near Reece again either.

Then Jack had rushed in with the replicator in a container and Daniel had felt a chill creeping over his body. He knew from the moment Jack had carried that thing in, that Reece had made it. He had seen her make the sculpture from a pair of scissors. She must have built the replicator, too.

He’d swallowed and forgotten about his own problems for the moment. This was bad.

They had put the replicator into a glass case.

Hammond entered the lab as Jack stood in front of the case, tapping his finger against the glass, but the replicator didn't move or make a sound.

Sam looked over his shoulder. "Uh, sir, that glass is supposed to be acid resistant, but it hasn't been tested against replicators."

Jack stopped tapping the glass and walked over to Daniel and Hammond. "Why are we keeping this thing anyway? We know what they can do."

"She made it. She can control it," Sam explained.

"Yes, but how did she make it?" Hammond asked, concerned.

Sam pointed to the screen in front of her. It showed Reece in her room. "This is the tape from the security camera."

Daniel climbed down from his chair and quietly stepped between Sam and Hammond to watch the tape with them.

Reece was sitting at her table with another pair of scissors. They saw her clos e her hand over them. A dim light appeared between her fingers for a moment and then the scissor blades morphed into a replicator piece.

"That's how she made the sculpture for me," he said.

"It's nanotechnology. The nanobots she uses for self-repair are apparently able to reorder matter on a microscopic level. She understands their construction completely. She should know how to defeat them," Sam explained.

"The problem is she's not talking. And after I wasn't really appreciating her little gift, I think she was offended," Jack said.

"So much about her being a piece of cake," Daniel muttered under his breath and tried hard to ignore that tiny little bit of satisfaction about the fact Jack had failed, too.

Sam pointed at the screen. "But this is so far beyond my understanding. I recommend we contact the Asgard. Maybe they can help."

Hammond confirmed that. "I'll send SG-2 to try and make contact. In the meantime see what else you can learn. Colonel, I am afraid you have to try your luck again. And I want you to take Doctor Jackson with you. Major Carter said he ma de good progress in getting her to talk until the incident ."

"Oh, I bet she said that," Jack snarled.

Daniel could see Jack's distress and the angry line between his eyes deepen even more. But the general noticed it, too, and took a step closer to the colonel. "Jack, these are outstanding circumstances. I don't want to see Daniel in danger and I'd feel much better if he weren't anywhere near the robot. But she responded quite positively to him. And we need her to cooperate here."

"Just for the record... "

"I know, Jack," Hammond said gently.

I don't want Jack with me in there," Daniel demanded. "He is just going to ruin it again."

But the general would have none of that. Shaking his head firmly, he said, "I am sorry, Daniel. I won't let you go in there alone. And Major Carter needs to do tests on the replicator."

"Teal'c can accompany me," Daniel said.

"All right. Next time she wants to punch you through her shelf, I’ll let her," Jack bitched. "But maybe you're right. She won't hurt you. You two brats would get along just great."

Before Daniel could respond to that, Sam interrupted. "Daniel, I don't think this is a good idea to take Teal’c with you. Reece knows you and the colonel. She doesn't know Teal'c. We might further upset her if we confront her with even more people."

"I agree with MajorCarter in this matter," the Jaffa confirmed. "And I would prefer to stay here and assist her. If Reece controls the replicators, it might be necessary to destroy it."

The general turned to look at his 2IC and then Daniel. "Are you two able to focus on the task at hand without letting your personal feelings get in the way?"

Jack gave a curt nod.

"Colonel, I don't want you to interfere unless absolutely necessary. And Doctor Jackson, I want you to follow Colonel O'Neill's orders ASAP, if he finds it necessary for you to leave the room. Understood?"

"Understood," Daniel mumbled.

"Good. You’re dismissed."

Without looking at one another they made their way to Reece's room in silence.

Daniel felt Jack bristle with anger beside him. But he had no words of comfort. He was still angry himself that Jack had shut him out and wouldn't listen to him. Daniel knew his friend was worried and just wanted him safe. But if he yielded now he'd never ever be able to s how them that he could still function as a valuable part of this program.

Hammond believed in him, Sam and Teal'c also. Why didn't Jack? Why was he always trying to restrict him?

They entered the room and Daniel was aware of the armed guards behind them.

"Daniel," the robot greeted him with a small smile.

"Hi. Reece, we need to talk. You know that, don't you?"

Jack jumped in. "Tell us what you know about the replicators."

She looked confused. "Replicators?"

"The bug thingies...”

Your toys,” Daniel jumped in.

Replicators. It's what we call them because that's what they do," Jack said.

Reece shrugged. "It's just a toy. It won't hurt you. It was for Daniel. So we could play."

"That was great, Reece. It's just that we don't see them as toys," Daniel started, but was stopped by Jack.

"A toy? There are millions of those things floating around in space destroying everything they touch. They destroyed your planet and, please, don't tell me you don't remember because I think you do."

She jumped from her chair and yelled, "No! You want to destroy me!"

"No one wants to hurt you," Daniel said, trying to soothe her.

"Just tell us what happened," Jack pressed.

Daniel wanted him to stop interrupting. He needed Reece to stay calm, wanted her to see for herself that she was making a mistake.

Finally the robot whispered, "It wasn't my fault. The people on my planet were afraid. They wanted to destroy my toys. They wanted to destroy me. They said my father made me wrong, they thought I was bad. I taught my toys to make more of themselves. And I taught them to defend themselves and me. In case anyone ever tried to destroy us."

Jack opened his mouth, but Daniel was faster this time. "When your toys started to attack your world, why didn't you stop them?"

She shook her head, sobbing now. "I tried, but I couldn't. They wouldn't listen to me anymore. They kille d everyone, they killed my father. Then they went away. I was alone, I was sad. You don't like me anymore. You think I'm bad."

Daniel stepped close to her and took her hands in his. He could feel her distress almost physically. But he was also scared now. This robot child was out of control. All she could see was they were trying to stop her. But she couldn't or wouldn’t understand the reasons. She was going to defend herself and she was going to use her toys to do it.

"Reece, the replicators have become a problem for a lot of different worlds. We need to know how to stop them. They're bad. They have to be stopped."

She stared down at their hands. "You want to destroy me!"

"No. We don't want to destroy you. We want you to help us to destroy the replicators and then we will find a way for you to live. I know how you feel right now, Reece. But your toys are... they are not right."

"You... you think that my father made me wrong, you hate me."

"Daniel." Jack said, his voice calm but firm.

Wait, Jack... "

"A word - please?"

"Not now," Daniel hissed, ignoring the urgency in Jack's voice. He turned back to face the robot. "No, Reece. We don't hate you. We like you. I like you. I want to play with you."

She shook her head. "No, you hate me..."

Daniel heard Jack curs e under his breath before he stepped up next to him. "You want to go outside, right? Here is the deal. You help us to get rid of your toys and we’ ll take you outside. We can play. Daniel knows a cool playground in a park. Would you like to go there?"

"You won't send me away or put me to sleep?" she asked, her voice barely audible.

"No," Daniel said, feeling a huge weight settling on his heart because he knew Jack was lying to her.

They both were.

"If you cooperate, we won't," Jack stated.

She was still looking at her and Daniel's hands. He couldn't see her facial expression and the silence stretched out between them. He could feel his heart pound so loud in his chest. Would she trust him?

Would she...

She suddenly jerked her hands out of Daniel's. Before he knew what was happening to him, she wound one arm around his middle and picked him up, clamping his own arms against his body so he couldn't f i gh t her.

He threw his head back into her face and hit her chin with his skull. He felt her stumble backwards. But she didn't loosen her grip around him. She yelled. "Let me go! Let me go NOW!!!"

Daniel saw all the color leave Jack's face when he stepped forward. But Reece pushed him out of her way with her free arm and Jack went flying into the next corner.

"JACK!" Daniel tried to wriggle free, but Reece's arm was like a vise around him. He felt a rib crack and screamed in agony when she tightened her arm around him. He kicked his legs back, but she didn't even flinch. Of course. She didn’t feel the pai n. She was just a machine.

Daniel’s sight blurr ed; h e could see Jack get on his hands and knees and he heard him yell at the SF to stand down.

Daniel felt himself carried out of the room into the corridor. There were more SF running towards them. But Reece used him as her shield and nobody dared to shoot her.

Daniel felt dizzy.

He tried to remember what Teal'c had taught him. But he was plastered tightly against her body and he wasn't able to breathe properly .

Then from far away he could hear replicator sounds. And Reece's voic e. "They will help me. They will defend me. Nobody is going to destroy me. I am not wrong. My father told me, I am special."

Daniel tried to answer, but her arm continued to press the air out of his lungs and his broken rib hurt so badly.

Suddenly she stopped running.

"I don't need you anymore," she told him and the last thing he felt was something solid hitting his head before everything around him stopped moving and he lost consciousness.

His last thoughts were about mashed potatoes and that Jack would be mad...

V

"Daniel!"

Jack jumped to his feet and left the room. Ignoring the searing pain in his back, he r a n after Reece. He turned around the corner and stopped abruptly. Two SF were lying on the ground. And two replicators were crawling along the walls.

Shit.

Blocking out all thoughts and worries about Reece and Daniel, Jack sprinted to the wall phone and called Hammond.

As soon as he had him on the line, he reported. "Sir, we have a replicator situation down here. I suggest sealing the base and doing a clean sweep. Yes, sir. And we also have a robot on the loose with Daniel in its claws." He was about to hang up when Carter came running towards him, handing him a weapon and protective glasses. "Sir, we have to preserve her in one piece."

Jack glared at her for a second, but acknowledged the request. "And we'd like it in one piece, if possible... Yes, sir."

He slammed down the phone and whipped around to face Carter. "The only reason I don't want them to shoot her to pieces is because she has Daniel with her," he barked.

Carter's face went white and her eyes seemed incredibly wide and blue. "Oh my god."

Jack wanted to give in to the urge to yell at her and make her responsible for it. But he knew it wasn't her fault. There were other things he had to think about right now.

"Right. How'd this happen?! How could she make more of those things?!"

"She must have made enough blocks for two of them the first time that, in turn, could create four more and, well, there could be hundreds by now."

"Dammit," Jack cursed.

When a group of arm ed SF approached them, he barked out orders. He let Carter and Teal'c lead two groups of men, then took his own group with him. By now the blast door would be shut and the base should be sealed. So the only way for Reece to get out was via the Gate Room. But first they had to get rid of the bugs.

They had just left the armory and entered the next corridor when the lights went out. Jack clicked his radio, "Carter!"

She answered right away. "They've already breached the power systems, sir. Initiating computer lock down It will not stop any replicators from accessing the dialing computer. But it might buy us a little time."

He acknowledged that. A moment later Fraiser's voice came over the radio. "Colonel O'Neill, we found Daniel. You better get here fast."

Jack closed his eyes for a brief second. "How bad is it?"

"Bad."

"I'll be there as soon as possible," he heard himself say.

"Colonel." It was Hammond, approaching from the other end of the corridor. Once he reached Jack, he placed a hand on his shoulder. It was too dark to make out the expression on the older man's face, but his voice was hoarse. "I found him on my way here. Go. I’ll take over from here."

"Sir," Jack started, but the general was already ordering the SF to move on.

Jack stood there a second, then he started to run.

***

Daniel felt no pain. Not even the littlest bit of pain. He was standing in the dark. But there was a light in the distance. A white, shining light. Without thinking he started walking towards it. It was a soothing light and he knew there was no danger from where it s source . When he stepped out of the darkness, he realized he was in the Gate Room. But there were no SF; in fact, there were no people at all. Just the white light that was now forming tendrils and whirls.

He had seen that light before.

The light transformed into a woman.

Daniel blinked.

"Your fate is in your hands now, little one."

"Oma Desala. I felt like I knew you, like we'd met before, but… you look different." She was older, somehow, but still impressive to look at.

Oma smiled at him. "Lightning flashes, sparks shower, in one blink of your eyes you have missed seeing."

Daniel blinked again. He didn't really understand what she was talking about. But something was very odd here. Shouldn't Oma be much taller? The perspective wasn't right.

He looked down at himself. He was dressed in his green BDU like he had been before.

But... but...

"I... I'm.... me. I mean, I'm big... grown up... what's..."

Oma walked around him. "When the mind is enlightened, the spirit is freed and the body matters not. But this is how you like to see yourself."

He stared down at his large hands and then patted his chest and stomach. But he didn't feel this body. He could see it, but there was no substance. He wasn't really here. Where was he? Was he a sleep? Dreaming? He’d gotten distracted by something, Oma had said. "Um... What did you mean when you said my fate is in my hands?"

"You must complete the journey you began on Kheb. Only then will you be able to find your way to the Great Path."

Daniel tried hard to concentrate on what she was telling him. But something was pulling at him, nagging. There was something he needed to do. "The Great Path?... Oh... You're talking about ascension, right? Rising to a different plain of existence. Are you saying that I could do that? Become like you?"

"If this is what you choose," she told him.

"What I...? But why... wait... do you hear that? My voice... even my voice sounds normal... this is my voice. My grown up voice," he said, listening to his own words in amazement. It sounded strange. Almost unfamiliar. He cleared his throat.

"This is... odd," he managed finally. He wasn't even sure if he was really talking or if everything that was happening right now took place only in his mind.

"The body is only a vessel," Oma reminded him. "What is inside matters."

Daniel stared at her absently. This was triggering something...

"I have to stop her," he suddenly said. "Reece. She is attacking the base."

"It is not in your hands anymore," Oma said, a somewhat sad expression on her face.

Daniel tried to figure out what she was talking about. Then it dawned to him. He let his eyes wander down his body again.

"You are at the crossroad. You need to choose your path."

Crossroad... "I'm dead," he whispered. But he could still feel something pul and rip at him.

"Not yet," Oma said.

"Um... can't you heal me?"

"One cannot reach enlightenment by running from death."

"I'm not running from it. I am just asking... Can't you just... you know... make me like this again? Help me to get my old self back? You could do that, right? I mean... you have the power to?"

"Many roads lead to the Great Path. Only the willing will find their way."

Daniel felt himself pulled back into the darkness. Then Oma was gone and he was standing next to a bed.

It took him a moment to realize it was a bed in the infirmary I ntensive C are area. And the small body on the bed was his. He could hear the alarm roaring throughout the base. The light was very dim. What was happening here? Where was Reece? Did she try to escape through the Stargate? He wished he could do something.

When he spotted the figure sitting by his side, Daniel took a step forward and watched...

***

Jack was beyond words. He just sat there, his fingers touching Daniel's cool still face over and over again.

He had seen the results of the CT and the x-rays. There were two cracks in Daniel's skull. He had heard Fraiser’ s explanations about cerebrospinal fluid and brain damage... had listened stoically to all the medical speak and tried to comprehend.

The machines were doing their job in keeping the little body alive for now. If they managed to stop Reece they would call the Tok'ra and ask for their help. But even then... even if... no one knew how severe the damage would be... .

Jack felt himself fall.

Around him the base was on alert. Klaxons were howling, orders were barked and boots were running through the corridors. The gunfire seemed to be far away. They were still chasing Reece and shooting at replicators. He should be there. It should be him making sure they'd get rid of that monster robot and clean the base from her fucking techno bugs. But he couldn't leave Daniel's side.

Daniel was dying.

Again.

He had lost the man a lon g time ago.

He was losing his kid.

Again.

He didn't feel the tear that w as slowly trickling down his cheek nor the pain in his jaw because he was gritting his teeth so tightly. 

His body was numb; the agony inside overriding all other physical feelings.

So he'd been right. But he wished he had been wrong so badly. Daniel would have given him hell, because Jack had tried to stop him. Daniel would have tried to prove once again that his way was the right way to go. And Jack would have ranted and argued and in the end they would have gotten over it. There would have been lots of smoke and thunder. But when all was said and done they would have been okay.

But they were far from okay.

Jack had been right and nobody had listened to him. And now Daniel had to pay the price. No more smoke and thunder. And the last thing Jack had said to Daniel was that he was a brat. They had been mad at each other and now they would never be able to sort it out.

"I'm sorry, kiddo," Jack croaked, his voice barely audible. "You're not a brat... well, you are, but..." He trailed off. A little late to tell him that. Hopefully Daniel knew Jack hadn't meant it the way it had come out.

They had both sai d a lot of things they didn't really mean lately. He wasn't good with words, never had been. But talking to Danny seemed to be the only thing that kept him sane right now.

He cleared his throat and continued. "Anyway, you are my brat... so when Jacob uses his healing device on you, you better come back to me. No running away, remember?"

He took one of the small limp hands in his and rubbed it. "Your hands are cold."

Then he just sat there and stared down at him. Jack wanted Danny, by sheer will, to open his eyes and talk to him.

Daniel was never silent. And he never was th is still. Never th is fragile... lifeless... "I'm really bad at this," he mumbled. "But I'm lost without you."

If they couldn't stop Reece and didn't reach the Tok'ra to call for help, his little Wretch would never give him any backtalk again. There would be no more endless arguments. No more chattering a mile a minute.

There would only be silence and emptiness.

Jack buried his head in his hands.

He had to leave soon.

He had to hunt down a robot.

***

"I wish I could have stopped Reece," Daniel mumbled. "I was so sure I got through to her. She liked me, trusted me. They all said I was on the right track. But Jack had to step between us and set her off. Why couldn't he give me space ?"

"He was protecting you," Oma said softly. She had returned silently to his side.

"I know that. But sometimes I am so tired of that. Why... do I have to fight for his respect over and ov er again? It had been like this before. He always tried to stop me, telling me it's for my own good. I always had to push and press him to see my point of view. Or even go against his command... And now I am... I'm losing the ability to get him to even listen to me. If it wasn't for Sam and Hammond I wouldn’t even have talk ed to Reece."

"And you would not have been injured," the gentle voice reminded him.

"No, maybe not. But erring on the side of caution isn’t always the best thing to do," Daniel answered. "And he isn't setting the same limits for himself. He is the first one to risk his own neck to save the world or... me... us..."

"This is also true."

"What are you trying to tell me here, Oma?"

"That two points of view can be right. That there is not just left or right to choose sometimes. No black and white. But you already know that."

Daniel watched as Jack's fingers tenderly stroked the child's face again. He tried not to look into those anguished dark eyes that were locked onto the still figure in the bed.

"Then it will always be like this between us," Daniel sighed. "There’s no solution to this. To change the way we are."

"Sometimes our differences are what make us strong together. Sometimes we have to look beyond them to see the true value," Oma said. She walked around the bed and stood next to Jack, placing a hand on his bowed silver haired head. "There is much that needs to be healed in both of you."

"We were... happy before I got..." Daniel waved at the kid.

"Part of you was," Oma said. Her glowing face became sad. "You still hesitate. You believe your journey is not over in this plane of existence. Maybe you are right."

Daniel turned away from Jack and the body in the bed. Staring at the wall, he slowly asked, "What do I have to do anyway to become like you?"

"Release your burden. You must be willing to walk the path you choose."

"Okay, well, I'm willing. So let's go. I mean, you know, do your thing. Glow me."

"Only if you think your journey here is completed, will you be able to release your burdens."

Daniel sighed. "Actually, I'm not entirely sure what the point of my journey so far has been."

"You can never reach enlightenment if you do not believe you are worthy."

"Then I guess we may have a problem. Because I don't think I am. Don't know if I ever was. But now I am just... well... a kid. I can't make any difference anymore here. I'm not sure about anything anymore. What is the meaning of ... this. Of the whole shrink-thing? If there is a meaning in everything that happens to us... why this? Why me? I was better the way I was before. At least I could try to do something then. Even though I'm not sure I really d id anything... then."

"Because it is so clear it takes a long time to realize it. If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, the meal was cooked a long time ago."

"Yeah, yeah, a monk at Kheb said that to me. I didn't know what it meant then and I still don't know now," Daniel sighed impatiently.

Oma smiled at him. "Why do you feel you have failed on your journey? You opened the Stargate for your world."

Oh yes. That. "I cracked the code, a lot of other people made it work."

"The very next thing you did was help free the people of Abydos from evil."

"Yes. And then I helped Apophis gain control of the galaxy. Just because I couldn't leave it alone. I was the one who unburied the Gate. What happened to Sha’uri and Skaara was my fault. I couldn't save Sha’uri or her brother, I couldn't save Sarah. For every Goa'uld I helped eliminate, another one took its place. Maybe I did something good every now and again, but nothing I've ever done seems to have changed anything," Daniel said disgusted.

But Oma shook her head. "These tas ks of which you speak were great challenges. Perhaps they were even impossible to achieve."

"Does that absolve me? And what about now? I can't go out there anymore and even pretend to save the world or something. I wanted this to work. I wanted to help Reece. But I couldn't. Everything I do goes wrong one way or the other."

"The success or failure of your deeds does not add up to the sum of your life. Your spirit cannot be weighed. Judge yourself by the intention of your actions and by the strength with which you faced the challenges that have stood in your way."

"What if I can't?"

"The people closest to you have been tr ying to tell you that you have made a difference. That you did change things for the better. They do it every day. The universe is vast and we are so small. There is only one thing we can ever truly control."

"What's that?"

"Whether we are good or evil."

"But what does it matter if I am good and nothing good comes out of it? What difference does it make."

"Sometimes the small differences weigh more than the big ones."

Oma started to walk up the ramp to the Gate.

"You're leaving? You can't leave. Why, why me? Why, why give me this chance?"

"Anyone can reach enlightenment. Anyone prepared to open their mind as you did when you first came to Kheb. But walking the Great Path brings great responsibility. You cannot fear it nor hesitate in your resolve. Shifu told you to choose a new path. You would be welcomed among us. But there is another way to walk for you. It is upon your choice how you continue your journey. Your companions are listening, Daniel. Even O'Neill listens. Deep inside he knows. You are their soul. And you can continue this path - or ascend. It is up to you."

"So, you can heal me?"

She hesitated. Then she nodded. "It is against the rules. But yes, I can give you back your life."

When Jack's radio cracked, Daniel looked over at him. Sam's voice came out. "She's sealed herself in the Gate room. She's got a lot of replicators with her. She's probably trying to go home."

"Let's let her."

"Sir, we can't just let her leave."

"We'll tell the Asgard where she is."

"We can't just let her leave with the replicators. She lost control of them once, it could happen again. And we don't know for sure if she is going home. She could go anywhere," Sam said.

Jack rubbed his face. "So we'll toss a nuke in behind her."

"Sir..."

"Carter, I..." He ripped his eyes away from Daniel. "I'm on my way."

Jack bent and pressed a kiss to the child's forehead. "Hang in there, Danny. I'm going to stop her and if it's the last thing I do. We get Jacob here to fix you," he whispered.

Daniel saw Jack wip e his arm over his face before he left.

He turned around to face Oma. "I've made my choice."

"Once you follow me, you are not able to interfere here anymore. And I can't make you the way you were before the incident that made you a child, if you stay," she said softly.

"Yeah, I know."

***

O'Neill, Teal'c, Carter and Hammond were standing in the Control Room, watching Reece.

The robot was on the gate ramp, surrounded by replicators. She just stood there and didn't move.

"What now?" Jack snapped. "The Tok'ra can't come through as long as she’s blocking the way in."

"If somebody could somehow manage to get close enough to her, to be able to remove her power chip," Carter said, then added, "These aren't the same replicators we're used to dealing with. Right now, she's controlling them. If we can shut her down, the replicators might just cease to operate. Look, they exist to protect Reece. If she's eliminated, they have no protocol upon which to act."

Teal'c objected. "They may attack in order to exact revenge and to restore their leader to power."

"We have to take the chance. I go in," Jack snarled.

Hammond acknowledged that with a short nod. Carter looked like she wanted to object, but just nodded. "Good luck, sir."

He left without a wor d. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, the light suddenly came on again. O'Neill walked towards the closed Gate Room door and placed his palms against the cool metal. "Reece! I want to talk to you!"

"Put your gun down first!"

"I don't think so. You have your toys, I have mine. If you're holding yours back, I’ll keep mine down."

To his surprise the door opened after a few seconds. The moment Jack entered he saw himself circled by replicators. Very carefully he walked through the bugs until he reached the robot, who was still on the ramp, glaring at him. "Activate the Stargate," she demanded.

"First you'll listen to me."

"You hate me! Why should I listen to you!"

O'Neill stepped over a few more bugs, resisting the urge to kick them aside. "Yes, you're damn right. I hate you. But not because of what you are. It's what you did to Daniel that makes me hate you. You want people to like you? Then stop hurting them. Stop killing. Stop letting your ’toys’ kill and destroy," he told her, his voice cold as ice, but his words hot as fire.

"I didn't mean to hurt little Daniel," Reece said. There was a crack in her angry tone and Jack sensed her distress .

"Yeah, but you did. And he is going to die because of you. You want that?"

Reece sat down on the ramp and stared blankly for a moment. Jack took another step in her direction. No replicator moved towards him to stop him.

"I don't want to hurt people," she mumbled.

"But you do. You hurt all of us. All of us who were friends of Daniel... What does that tell you? Why do you think people hate you? Or think you were made wrong?"

"You just hate me and are afraid of me," Reece sobbed angrily.

"Oh, I'm not afraid of you," Jack hissed. "Use your... brain, Reece. Why do you think people hate you?"

She shook her head in denial and now the replicators started mov ing . Their clicking legs scraped over the floor, making the hairs on the back of Jack's neck rise.

"It's too late now. I've accessed your computer system. I will figure out how to open the Gate myself."

O'Neill tightened his hands around the gun he was carrying, when a clear young voice came from behind him.

"Reece, wait!"

Jack spun around to see Daniel standing in the open gate room door, wearing the hospital gown and green BDU pants. Without looking at Jack, he walked through the replicators.

Reece looked up and for a moment there was an ecstatic expression on her beautiful face. "Daniel! You are not dead! I didn't hurt you that badly, did I? I am sorry! I was just so angry. You have to forgive me!"

Daniel, the very same Daniel who had been brain dead ten minutes ago, calmly crossed the gate room and talked to the robot. "Yes, I forgive you. But you need to listen to me, Reece. Nobody is going to harm you if you just step back and let me help. I know you didn't want to hurt anyone."

Reece got up and looked down at Daniel. Then she slowly shook her head. "They hate me. And Jack lied to me. He said you are going to die."

He didn't know better. Please, listen to me. They don't understand you, Reece."

Jack couldn't hold back any longer. "Anybody want to explain this to me?"

Daniel didn't answer that either. Of course he didn't. Coming back from the dead was nothing unusual for him, right? Jack had seen it before. He tried to ignore the fact that his knees were about to give in under him. Just the sight of a talking, walking Daniel made him want to grab him and never let him go again. But he stayed where he was, gripping his weapon even tighter.

"I never meant to hurt anyone," Reece mumbled.

"I know. Please stay. We can be friends. Just let me... fix you."

She darted backwards, her eyes narrowing now. "Fix me?"

"Yes. Your father made you wrong, but it's okay. We can fix you and make you all better," Daniel soothed and reached out a hand for her.

"How can you fix me?"

"We'll figure it out. I know how you feel. I am wrong, too, you know," he told her softly.

"How c ould you be wrong?"

"I used to be like... Jack. A man. I was big and... much older. Then I touched something and... and I am little now. But the device that made me like this forgot to complete the task. It left my brain the way it was before. Now I look like a kid, but I'm not a real kid. And I know how people are. They don't understand what it is like. I do. You are the other way around, Reece. You look like a woman, but you are a girl inside. And we will fix it. Let me help you."

"Why can't they fix you?"

"I'm not a machine. It's not easy. But you have software that can be fixed, Reece. I don't want you to go. I want to be your friend."

"I never had a friend. Only my toys."

"I'll be your friend. Your toys may be a lot of fun but they're not human like us."

"They protect me."

As if on command the replicators started to move towards them again.

Jack let out a warning. But Daniel still ignored him. He was focusing on Reece only, his eyes locked with hers. O'Neill watched the little guy surrounded by the techno bugs, his shoulders straight and his hands reaching out for Reece. Jack thought he had never seen that much courage. But that wasn't true. He had seen it before. Over and over again. In Daniel. And he could see his friend in the child so clearly. The lines started to blur and when he spoke again, Daniel's voice seemed to be the one of the man and not the child.

"I'll protect you."

"Do you promise?” Reece whispered.

"I promise. No one is going to hurt you. Come on. I'll show you my world."

She bent down to him and her hands, so deadly and dangerous, stroked his hair tenderly. "Honestly?"

"Yes. But can you pick me up? I'm tired. Can you carry me? The others will see we are friends if you carry me out of the gate room. My legs are tired," Daniel mumbled.

Jack had the urge to call him back. He didn't want Daniel to be near this robot, not to mention carried by her anywhere. But his mouth stayed shut. Because he knew what the kid was up to and he forced himself to trust him.

Jack grit his teeth. It was so hard to see Daniel reach out to that robot. Courage or not, she was able to break every bone in his body with just a move of her hands. If she changed her mind again...

But she didn't.

Carter's voice came over the com a second later, telling him the power was back and all systems were online again. "And all replicator activity stopped," she added a moment later. "She shut them down."

Something came to Jack, when he watched Reece pick up Daniel.

Was Daniel right about what he’ d told Reece? He was like a mutant between child and adult. Was this a malfunction? A failure of the device that made him what he was now? And did it really matter? Because Daniel wasn't a failure or a malfunction to Jack. He was special. He had been special before and was equally special now.

For a moment, O'Neill felt empathy for the man who had been Reece's father. Jack had no idea what kind of man he had been. But maybe he had loved this "special" child as much as Jack loved Daniel. And hadn't been able to shut her down even after he found out that she was "wrong."

And suddenly Jack could see why Daniel was so drawn to her. Why he could understand her so deeply. They were like siblings in fate.

Reece smiled. Jack could see Danny's arms going around her neck. He leaned his head against her face and closed his eyes.

A single tear of regret r a n down his cheek.

And then he touched the CD tray.

Reece froze.

The tray slipped open. Daniel pulled out the module and threw it in Jack's direction. The colonel jumped and caught it, while Reece was collapsing on the ramp.

Around them the replicators f e ll apart into little pieces. Jack dropped his gun and ran over to where Daniel was lying on the ramp underneath the robot. He shoved Reece's body aside and cradled the kid into his arms.

"Daniel? Are you all right, kiddo?"

But the pliant body was still and pale, eyes closed. Jack sat back on his heels, c arefully settling the boy on his back. He held his breath when his hand crept to Danny's neck. There was a very weak pulse, but it was barely there.

"God, no..." he whispered.

There was a feather - light touch to his shoulder and when he looked up...

"Hey, Jack."

"Daniel?" Jack stared at the almost glowy figure in front of him.

"Yeah. I just... I thought you'd be happy to see me." He grinned.

Jack was still sitting on the ramp, the boy still lying in front of him. But Daniel was standing there in this... light...

"You are," Jack raised his eyebrows at him, "big."

Daniel smiled. "Yes. Comes with the glowy thing."

"Sweet," Jack said.

"Yeah..."

"You are... What are you?"

"You remember Oma Desala? She offered me to take on a higher plan e of existence."

Jack slowly stood and turned, gazing at the white entity hovering nearby. He saw the face of a woman in it, somehow. She looked different than he remembered her. Without thinking he asked, "Can she help him? He's still... you are... Daniel? What did you just say about a higher plain of existence?"

"Only Daniel can decide which way he needs to go," Oma explained.

Jack bent down and picked up the little boy, cradling him protectively against his chest. "Daniel? Care to share what's going on here?"

Daniel stepped closer to him until their heads were almost touching.

He looked down at the still body in O'Neill's arms. "Jack, if I choose to go... will you let me? You know what Oma is offering me is something I can hardly resist. I would be worth so much more like this. Could do so much more. It is tempting. I could learn so much."

Everything in Jack was screaming, "No!" He couldn't lose Daniel again. But his eyes wandered over the glowing figure so close to him. Took in the vision of his friend and lover how he had once been. Jack wanted to touch him so badly, it hurt. Wanted him to be solid and real.

Daniel had never been happy in the child's body.

There were times when he was adapting better now and just went with the flow. But there had never been full acceptance of his fate and there would never be.

Jack knew what Oma was offering Daniel here, kind of. He could deny it all he wanted, but this was "it." This was what Daniel Jackson would like to achieve. It was something he deserved. Jack had no idea about the rules for ascension, or what it was the glowy people did up there.

All he knew was they were higher beings and that they seemed to be the "good" guys. Oma Desala had saved the Harsesis child from the Goa'uld. He had seen what had happened at Kheb.

So if Daniel was allowed or chosen to become something like Oma instead of being a child with a somewhat adult mind... who was he to deny him that? Let the universe be Daniel's sandbox...

"Yeah," he finally whispered. "If you really want this, I don't have a choice anyway."

"Thank you. I just needed to know that."

Jack turned to Oma. "Can't you make him big again?"

Maybe that would make him stay...

"Nothing will be solved when the mountain is only climbed half way. Turning back prevents you from going forward. No wound is healed by eliminating the injured part of the body. Daniel has a path to walk. It is his decision to decide which way to choose."

With that she was gone in a blink of an eye.

Daniel cleared his throat. "I think what she is trying to say is that this is leading somewhere and she can't interfere."

Jack blinked. "I knew that."

So, Daniel would leave him. But at least he wouldn't be dead, right?

It would break his heart. But then again Jack's heart had been broken before. It might not heal this time. But he was going to live with it. Somehow.

Maybe this was his destiny. Saving E arth on a daily basis while he was never able to save his own world. He knew why General West had gotten him out of retirement all those years ago to give him the command over the Abydos mission. Jack had been a man w it h nothing to lose and h e had n't been afraid to die. It had all changed again with Abydos and Daniel.

Jack would live. He would even work and somehow manage to survive, because if Daniel was out there, he might come back one day...

"Hey, you can't get more valuable than you are now. Glowing or not. Not for me anyway.... just... wanted you to know that."

Daniel reached out and cupped his cheek. Jack couldn't really feel it, but there was a soft glow and warmth on his face. "I’d miss you so much."

Jack cleared his throat. "So, what? See you around?"

Daniel smiled. "Like this? I don't think so. But, Jack... Can you try... just from time to time... to trust me? Even when you know it's dangerous? Can you try to look beyond... him?"

They looked down at the child in his arms.

"I...could do that. I’m trying all the time. It's just not easy," Jack breathed, hope flickering inside.

I know. Just keep trying.”

Okay.”

Daniel began to fade before his eyes. He turned into a white glowing light and then embraced Jack and the kid. Jack closed his eyes when all of a sudden he felt Daniel everywhere inside.

He had never experienced anything like this. It was like being touched softly by another soul. It was like lovemaking from the inside. As though Daniel had managed to crawl into Jack and was filling him with his spirit in a sensual way.

Jack felt his knees giving out under him. He sank down on the ramp, the boy still in his arms, not aware of the sob that slipped him when he felt Daniel leave him, letting him know that he loved Jack... always... even though he was a ...

"... stupid son of a bitch sometimes."

Jack blinked away tears. "What?"

"My head hurts."

He gazed down into blue eyes looking up at him. There was a grin spreading out over the young face. "You didn't think I’ d let you live your life in peace from now on, did you?"

"Who needs that," Jack said hoarsely.

"You’d be bored."

"Yeahsureyabetcha." He got up and carried Daniel out of the gate room, clicking his radio. "The robot has been neutralized. All units, this is SG-One-Niner, commence sweep. I want every one of those damn bugs out of here."

Daniel was yawning. Jack felt the short arms sneak around his neck and the warm face against his own. It was all he needed.

His world was safe.

Epilogue

 

Many hours and several medical checks later, O'Neill stared up at the stars and wondered who he had to thank for the fact that Daniel was sleeping in his bed tonight instead of exploring the universe as a glowy thing.

He raised his half empty bottle to the night sky. "Thanks, Oma Desala, where ever you are."

All of a sudden he had to think of Pierson. That son of a bitch had somehow known about Oma. He had told Jack he’d been "chosen" to take care of Daniel and keep him safe... whatever that had meant. And that they had to make a choice one day... this choice?

However Pierson had known these things... Jack hoped they had chosen right.

And yet Jack knew he would have let Daniel go had he chosen glowy existence. Would he have failed in keeping Danny safe then? Or had he already failed when he hadn't been able to protect the kid from Reece? Was it even really possible to protect him from everything?

Jack hadn’t been able to protect his own kid, couldn't save his little family from falling apart. And he had screwed up in keeping Daniel out of trouble so many times over the years... Why him?

And who exactly had decided that he was Daniel's protector? Whoever that was had no idea how damn exhausting this job was.

Maybe it was Oma herself who was leading them... and whenever Jack was blowing it, she came down and fixed it. Or gave Daniel ways of fixing himself. Like let him find a sarcophagus on Klorel's ship and stuff like that?

But what was it about Daniel that made him so special - apart from the fact that he was an amazingly good guy with the biggest heart Jack had ever seen? Even though he was the biggest pain in his neck... well... sometimes he was, at least. Why had Pierson talked about ‘being chosen’ and ‘making choices’?

And how was Jack going to prevent things like this from happening again?

Because even though he might think about Oma as Daniel's guardian angel... he couldn't be sure of that. She might not always be there to protect Daniel or give him a choice.

The answer was simple; Jack couldn't protect Daniel one hundred percent, no matter how hard he tried. All he could do was give his best and hope it’d be enough.

He had to learn to trust Daniel's ability to calculate the risks he chose again.

There was no right way to solve this without restricting Daniel even more.

And that was scary.

But for now Jack was just grateful to have him home, safe and sound.

When he heard the old wooden steps creak, he turned to see the kid climbing up to the roof.

"Here you are," Daniel said. "I wanted to... but you weren't in your bed..."

"C’mere," Jack offered, opening his arms for him.

Daniel climbed up and snuggled in. He was only wearing his shorts and shirt, but it was a warm night.

"I still can't believe Fraiser let us go home today," Jack grinned.

"She checked me over three times, including three CTs of my head and one X-ray. And she drew so much blood from me, I wasn’t sure I’d have any left," Daniel sighe d, yawning.

"You had us worried there for a while, kiddo."

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah, me too. For... you know..."

"Next time you just step back and let me work."

"What if she had thrown you across that room the first time. What if Oma hadn't been there," Jack started. He just couldn't let this go so easily.

Daniel sighed. "I don't know. But just because I am short now doesn't mean I can't choose my own risks, Jack... I won't throw my life away and I am aware of dangerous situations. But I can't just sit in my office forever."

"I know that, Danny."

"So, please, try... try to let me do my job, please. I'm getting better. I'm not as wacko anymore..."

You're not wacko. And two pleases in one sentence, that's tough."

"Ja-ack..."

He shook his head. "I’m always going to try to keep you out of trouble. But yes... I can try to... be a little less forceful... maybe."

"Good enough."

They watched the stars together for a while before Daniel spoke again. "What are they going to do with Reece?"

"I guess they'll analyze the software. Carter wants to check it out with a group of rocket scientists. The body goes to area 51, I guess. Maybe the NID wants to have her. We are going to have a briefing about that tomorrow so you can throw all your questions at Carter."

"I feel bad. I tricked her. And I liked her."

"Well, I didn't," Jack said bluntly.

In some ways she was like me,” Daniel whispered. "She was just like a small child. She didn't mean to..."

"Whether or not she meant to. She almost killed you. Don't expect me to forgive her for that," Jack bitched.

"I know," Daniel soothed. "But I’m still here."

"Yes, Daniel, and how do you keep doing that? You are... amazing." Jack shook his head. This robot girlie had tried to crack his skull open.

And Daniel just shrugged it off.

He was the most forgiving soul in this universe. That was one thing Jack was sure of, had always been sure of. It was just like Daniel to leave things like this behind and move on. If this robot knocked at their door now and asked for a bed and breakfast, Daniel would take her in and offer her asylum for the rest of her life.

Jack shuddered.

"If I can understand the reasons why people act like they do, it’s not too difficult to forgive. You’re doing it with me all the time," the boy said softly. “Trying to understand me, even when you can’t.”

"You hardly try to kill other people,"

"No. But I act like her from time to time. Unreasonable, childish... I throw fits. It’s what she did."

"Well, then I'm just glad you’re not a robot. And if you ever try to throw me against the wall with one of those Jaffa tricks T is teaching you, you're gonna be damn sorry," Jack said with feeling.

"That will take a while. I’m not very good at it. Yet."

They went silent again. Jack felt Daniel shift a little on his lap. Absently he started rocking him in his arms, but stilled the movement when he heard steps on the roof stairs.

They both tensed for a moment and Daniel sat up straight.

A second later a blond head appeared and then Carter climbed up the last steps, followed by a dark tall figure close behind her.

"Sam, Teal'c!" Daniel jumped off Jack's lap and hugged the major around her middle.

Carter did something Jack had never seen her do before. She hugged Daniel back and then went to her knees and just hugged him harder and kissed his face, his hair, and his face again.

She had always been very careful when it came to hugging Daniel. Now she looked as though she never wanted to let him go again. Well, Jack didn’t blame her. He himself had a hard time keeping his hands away from the kid. He just needed to touch his hand or pat his head every once in a while just to make sure he was really here and not a dream.

"Daniel, you know I love you, do you? I just... I never...” she sobbed, without even trying to hide it.

Daniel rubbed her back and his own voice got a little shaky when he replied. "I love you too, Sam. And I love you, too, Teal'c." He looked over Sam's shoulder at the Jaffa.

Teal'c bent down and put his massive arms around Carter and Daniel.

"Hey, what am I? Chopped liver?" Jack put his beer bottle down and joined them. He crouched next to Carter and Daniel and tried to get his arms around them and Teal'c, which was nearly impossible.

They had never done this before, but it felt oddly right. And maybe it was about time. Daniel's downsizing had brought some tension into the team, but maybe on another level it was bringing them closer together, too.

So they stayed joined into a group hug for a while, feeling the comfort and the peace in the family that was SG-1.

A moment later, O'Neill leaned back and watched them as they made themselves comfortable on the deck. Carter handed him a bottle of whiskey while Teal'c put the obligatory box of donuts on the ground.

"We just had to come, sir. I hope you don't mind." She blushed a little.

"GaredBaxter and DoctorFraiser send their greetings," Teal'c said.

Jack looked at the bottle in his hands. "Jack Daniel's, Carter? Some deeper meaning?"

She shrugged. "Coincidence."

"Ah."

"I’ll get glasses," Daniel offered and was already clambering down the steps.

"So," Jack said after the kid was gone. "Who goes first?"

Carter blinked. "Sir?"

"Yeah, well... I was right, you were wrong... then again you were right and I was wrong... and maybe we were all right, but wrong... sort of." Jack shrugged.

She opened the box and picked a donut with strawberry frosting. "I wasn't wrong, ah, I mean about letting Daniel talk to Reece - Sir."

"I agree," Teal'c confirmed.

"And if Oma weren't there he would be dead now," Jack pointed out quietly.

"I agree to this also."

"Thank you, T. That's comforting."

"You are welcome, O'Neill."

"So you think we should just ignore him if he is able to offer solutions in situations that aren’t safe one hundred percent? And is there a situation like that anyway? There could always be incidents like this one on base again," the major confronted Jack.

"I need to have my first drink before I answer that."

"I do not believe there is a satisfying answer to this," Teal'c said.

As if on a cue, the kid called from below for someone to help him with the glasses. Sam went and assisted Daniel. When she placed four glasses on the wooden deck floor, Daniel came over to Jack and held up his hand. "Uh, I broke one. It slipped my hand and I cut my finger when I tossed the pieces."

He showed them a band aid on his index finger.

Teal'c, who had pulled a bottle of cranberry juice from his jacket, said, "It seems there is no place where DanielJacksonO'Neill is truly out of any danger."

Jack filled the glasses generously. "What words of wisdom, my friend. And he will never miss any opportunity to get himself into trouble."

"That's not true." Daniel blushed. He held out his glass to Jack. "I want a sip."

"Cranberry juice for you."

"Just a tiny little sip, please. To celebrate life, Jack," Daniel coaxed.

"You can smell mine and imagine the taste."

"Come on, Jaaack."

"Did I really think I'd miss this?"

Daniel made himself comfortable on Jack's lap again. He took O'Neill's glass and stuck his tongue into the golden liquid just for a tiny little sip. Once he was finished coughing and gasping for air, he croaked, "You would."

O'Neill took his glass back and grinned. "Yeah."

Daniel eyed the donut box and selected a chocolate one. "Donuts and Whiskey... who is driving?"

"Nobody. They can camp up at the tree house," Jack decided, then added. "If the owner is okay with that."

"He would be happy to offer his refuge," Daniel smiled.

"You heard the man. Let's get drunk."

Carter held out her glass to them. "Cheers."

Daniel turned his head back. "Did you just call me a man, Jack?"

"Why not? You surely acted like one today."

"You really think I did the right thing?"

"Daniel... You saved us. All of us," Sam said sincerely.

"But you could have just shot her, Jack." Then he suddenly blinked and turned around on Jack's lap to look at him. "Why didn't you just shoot her in the gate room? Why did you try to talk to her?"

"Carter said we needed it in one piece." Jack shrugged.

"Um, okay... so you didn't try to find a better way to get through to her because I was right and you believed there was a chance she might shut down the replicators on her own eventually?" Daniel prodded gently.

Jack made a big show of thinking about it. He pursed his lips and frowned. "Uh... maybe. Or maybe - not."

"Sir," Carter chided mildly. "Why do you always have to tease him?"

"I believe this is O'Neill's way of expressing his deep respect for DanielJacksonO'Neill," There was something in Teal'c's voice telling Jack that better be the case.

"Why maybe?” the Wretch demanded to know while he was snuggling deeper into Jack's arms.

"Because... despite the fact that you've been a terrific pain in the ass for the last five years... I may have, might have, uh, grown to admire your ways of seeing the world... a little... I think."

"Now, that's touching," Daniel snorted.

"Must be the Jack Daniel's," Jack mused.

Carter raised her glass and cleared her throat. "Let's drink to that. Colonel O'Neill finally agrees on something with Doctor Jackson."

"To DanielJacksonO'Neill - who saved the world once again."

"And who resisted the temptation to become a glowy thing."

There was something very ceremonious in the way the glasses clattered together.

"Thank you," Daniel whispered.

Much later they watched star constellations through the telescope. Teal'c had to hold up Carter, who was still clutching her Whiskey glass in one hand. She was leaning against the Jaffa's broad chest and happily lectured him about the star constellation she was watching.

Jack couldn't stop himself from chuckling about the way she was prattling. "See that, Teal'c? That's... uh... the Lyra... The names of the stars are Alpha Lyr, Beta Lyr, Gamma Lyr, Epsilon... something...uhm oops... I don't know... Eta... "

"What is a Lyra, MajorCarter?"

It's an instrument, sorta. You can compare it with a harp."

"I see. And this Lyra is supposed to look like a harp?"

"Yup. See?" She stepped aside to let Teal'c look through the telescope. She stumbled and Jack caught her around her waist and held her steady.

"Watch your step, Carter."

"Sorry, s..."

"We're drunk. Call me Jack."

"Yes, s... Jack," she complied.

Teal'c had to bend down a little to look through the telescope. After a moment, he said, "This does not look like a harp. It looks like a fish."

"A fish?" Sam freed herself of Jack's arms and went back to Teal'c.

"It doesn't look like a fish, Teal'c... oh... well, it does... somehow." Then she started to giggle.

Teal'c wrapped his arms around the drunken major and asked, "What is the meaning of the Lyra?"

"It was a gift from Hermes to his half-brother Apollo, who gave it to Orpheus, the musician of the Argonauts," Jack said absently while he looked at little Daniel who was curled up on a blanket, sound asleep.

When there was no more giggling to be heard, he looked up and caught Carter and Teal'c staring at him.

"What?"

"You were just... saying something... about Hermes and Apollo, Si-Jack," Carter stuttered, stunned.

"You were channeling DanielJacksonO'Neill," Teal'c added.

"No, I wasn't," he denied.

"Yes, you were," Carter snickered.

"Were n... aw, stop doing that, Samantha," he tried to sound stern, but failed obviously.

When she still stared at him, he finally admitted, "Daniel and I come up here sometimes and I have to listen to his babbling about star constellations and their meanings. Sometimes something gets stuck."

"Sooo... what do you know, for example, about... Leo?" Carter wanted to know.

"Not a thing. Why don't we pick up our peaceful explorer here and get some sleep," Jack tried to escape a questioning about star constellations.

"Aquarius," she demanded.

"Carter..."

"We're drunk. Call me Sam."

"Teal'c, can you carry Sam down the stairs? We don't want her to break her pretty neck," Jack teased while he scooped Daniel up into his arms.

"I will assist MajorCarter," the Jaffa promised.

"Who do you call pretty? And I don't need ass... istance. I'm a military brat. I can handle a few drinks, thankyouverymuch," she sniped as she gracefully climbed down from the roof.

***

It took them some time to get everything they needed up to the tree house and by the time they were ready to settle down, Jack was almost sober again and Daniel was no longer asleep.

Nashi observed the busy activities from his tree trunk. While everybody was carrying sleeping bags and pillows up the stairs, Daniel sneaked into the kennel and crouched at the trunk, softly calling the little raccoon by his name. Nashi came down and made purring little sounds while he climbed Daniel's lap and let himself be petted and stroked. "Shhh, don't let Jack catch us. Just wanted to say good night," he whispered.



Nashi started searching Daniel for treats; sticking his nose under his shirt. Daniel giggled. "Stop it. I don't have anything for you tonight. But tomorrow I will, promise."

Nashi squeaked, a little offended when Daniel gently pushed him to the ground and walked out of the kennel.

Jack didn't like it when he spent too much time with the raccoon and Daniel wasn't sure if coming back from the dead would save him from getting scolded. He closed the wired door carefully and then took the stairs to the house, where his teammates were already getting ready for sleep.

It was warm enough so that they decided to spend the night out on the porch. Teal'c had settled next to Sam, who was punching her pillow in a comfortable position. When Daniel came up to join them, she smiled. "Did you know the colonel knows something about the Lyra constellation?"

"Yes. He does listen to what I say, sometimes."

Sam yawned widely and went down on her pillow with a thud. "'Night, guys."

"Night, Sam," Jack and Daniel said in union.

"Sleep well, MajorCarter."

"Good night, Teal'c."

"Good night DanielJacksonO'Neil."

"Good night, John-boy."

"Ja-ack."

"Who is John-boy?"

"He's from a TV show, called The Waltons. And it always ends with everybody saying Good night to everybody. And one of the boy's names was John-boy. It was a..."

"Daniel - sleep."

Daniel stretched out on his sleeping bag next to Jack. He listened to the light breeze in the trees and the far away sounds of the Highway. There was an owl hooting somewhere. He could hear the rustling and tapping of Nashi down in the kennel. For a moment he wondered if he should feel any different than yesterday. He had almost died - again. And he had almost ended up as an ascended being. Did he just miss a great opportunity? Had he taken the wrong path?

It had been tempting. Exploring the universe like that... seeking and gaining knowledge... experiencing things that were beyond his imagination... that was something he could hardly ignore or resist.

And yet he was still here. And everything about being here with his friends felt so right.

He was wondering if somewhere, in another universe maybe, another Daniel Jackson chose the other path and ascend when Oma offered it to him.

Maybe... Maybe it would have been the right decision to go with her.

The mature decision.

Daniel carefully crawled over to Jack and wriggled himself into his arms.

Maybe it was the child in him that couldn't leave. Or the tears on Jack's face. Or the still existent sliver of hope that he would find a way to get his old life back. Was he selfish because he stayed? That he chose the ordinary human life instead of becoming something higher, better... wiser?

He had no idea.

"Daniel?" Jack's voice was sleepy. "I can hear you thinking."

"Sorry."

"'s okay."

"Jack?"

"Mh?"

"When are we going to Egypt?"

"Whenever you want, buddy... and, Daniel..."

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for staying."

Far away there was a white shooting star crossing the sky before it faded into the darkness.