Spooky. The place was just damned spooky.
Jack circled their small desert camp, checking out every shadow and, most of all, the offerings piled about fifty feet away. He wasn’t a superstitious person, but did they have to get up the whole planet like a zombie movie? Covering the stargate and a hundred religious altars in body parts was just a bit over the top.
“More day of the dead than dawn of the dead, I think,” Daniel had said, which wasn’t exactly helpful. Then he’d started in on ancestor worship and ceremonial ways and skull morphology until Jack had told him to leave the nice corpses alone.
He kicked at some red sand and surveyed the night again. All was still quiet, but the hair on the back of his neck would not lie down. According to an inscription Teal’c had translated on P3-something or other, this was a planet where the Goa’uld feared to tread. Maybe the natives didn’t want anybody else showing up, either.
A quick sound hit his ears — small rocks scraping together. It came from the other side of the tents, but he investigated and found nothing. He decided he’d stay close by from now on, and took up position between the two tents. Not that there was anything to worry about, of course.
Teal’c was meditating in one tent. Daniel and Carter shared the other, because Jack had found that keeping his scientists in one place made missions less like herding cats. They’d both been in enemy hands already, and the team had only been on eight missions. Even Carter, who was otherwise turning out to be a fine officer, had flat-out refused an order when they’d gone in after Jonas Hansen last week. Daniel had improved on the staying with the class front, but Jack didn’t think the lesson had truly sunk in.
Another rock-scraping sound cut through the night. Jack spun, and he saw a dark shadow crossing between the tents and the altar. He raised his weapon reflexively, trying to follow, but it was gone.
Suddenly he heard a lot more movement, and dammit, he should have woken them up right away. He needed to learn to trust his instincts again.
He shook one of the tents. “Teal’c, get out here now.”
Teal’c started to emerge. Jack reached for the other tent, but before he could touch it, he heard quiet footsteps directly behind him. He turned, taking aim, but lost his equilibrium as a sharp pain stabbed into his head. It was as if the entire planet shrieked at once. His ears felt like he was taking too may Gs, like his eardrums were going to burst. He saw Teal’c fall on the tent flap, thought how humiliating it would be to lose his entire team on mission number nine, and collapsed into darkness.
“Okay, what the hell was that?” Jack’s voice echoed inside his head, and his ears still rang. He sat up, taking a quick glance to make sure that his team, and only his team, was nearby. They seemed to be in a cave. It smelled like dirt and damp.
“Extremely high frequency sound waves, sir,” Carter said. “At the upper end of our hearing range, and probably higher.” She sat up, looked around, and leaned over Teal’c, who was closest to her. He wasn’t moving. “Teal’c, you okay?”
Jack shuffled over behind her, shaking Daniel’s shoulder on the way. Daniel started. “Oh, ow,” he said. He looked okay, though.
“I am well, Captain Carter,” Teal’c said. But he covered his stomach with one hand, and Jack wasn’t buying it. Neither was Carter.
“Are you sure?” She touched his arm and his chest, and leaned down to check out his ear. “Can you look at me?”
Teal’c opened his eyes sluggishly. Carter raised a finger, drawing it back and forth in Teal’c's line of sight. He followed in slow motion.
“Teal’c?” Jack asked.
“I am sorry, O’Neill. I did not hear the enemy approach.”
“I was the one on watch, Teal’c. Don’t worry about it. What’s wrong with your stomach?”
Teal’c studied Carter and Jack. He wasn’t exactly accustomed to admitting weakness in front of humans, and Jack was sure he was deciding whether to tell them the truth. “The weapon damaged my symbiote,” he admitted. “I believe it is healing.”
Daniel inched up behind Jack. “Weapon? What weapon?”
“That noise, Daniel,” Jack said. “It scrambled our brains.”
“I doubt it was a weapon,” Daniel said, frowning the way he did when Jack was missing something obvious. “Probably just a misunderstanding.”
“I’m going with weapon, Daniel,” Carter said.
Jack stuck a finger in his ear, rooted around, and shook his head. Dumb move. “I don’t recommend the head shaking thing,” he said. He examined his finger. “Are my ears bleeding?”
Carter turned to look. “Your ears are fine, Colonel.” Jack had the distinct feeling she was humoring him. “Daniel, you okay?”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I think my sinuses might explode.”
She moved over to Daniel, touching his head, and Jack thought she was humoring him, too.
“So, headaches, ringing ears, one pissed off Goa’uld larva,” Jack said. “Anything else?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Nothing else, O’Neill.”
Jack checked out Teal’c again. He didn’t look healthy at all, but if he said the snake could heal him, then Jack believed it. Probably.
“Next on the agenda,” Jack said. “Where the hell are we?”
“A cave, Jack.”
“I got that, thank you, Daniel.”
Carter crawled away toward the only source of light. The ceiling was high enough for them to stand, but she was smart to stay low. Her hands and knees shuffled among the small stones that lined their prison. “It’s a short tunnel,” she said. “At the end there’s a — Oh.”
“Oh, what, Carter?”
“I think you’d better come here, sir.”
She was on her stomach now, her head just beyond a foot-wide ledge. Jack lay next to her, looked down, and said, “Aw, shit.”
“Seventy-five feet at least,” Carter said.
Daniel sat by their feet. “A seventy-five foot drop?”
“At least,” Carter said.
Their cave opened onto a much larger one, at least twice as wide as they were high, and Jack couldn’t see the top. There was movement far below, maybe a couple dozen creatures going about their daily business, though Jack was sure there were more nearby. “Wait. Is that fur?”
“I think so, sir.”
“Fur?” Daniel asked. “As in clothing, or as in fur?”
“I can’t tell,” Carter said. She rose up on her elbows, stretching her neck to see further. “Look how many other caves there are in the walls.”
“No ladders,” Jack said. “How’d they get us up here?”
No one responded. Jack sat up, turning to face Daniel and Teal’c, and brushed dirt off his hands. Carter continued to scan outside. “Tell me there’s a back door,” he said, though he knew there wasn’t. He’d looked.
“Um,” Daniel said.
This time, Daniel just shook his head. Teal’c had sat up and was leaning against the rough wall.
“Rock-climbing skills?” Jack asked.
“Twice a week at the gym in D.C., sir.”
“I will be capable shortly, O’Neill.”
Daniel raised his hand. “Um,” he said again.
Yeah, that was what Jack had expected. He shouldn’t have asked. It would only make Daniel feel bad.
“I don’t think it would be our best option anyway, sir.” Carter sat up, too, rubbing her hands the way Jack had, but stayed near the entrance. “We’d be in plain sight and we don’t know what we’re up against.”
“Or which way the exit is,” Jack said.
They fell to silence. Teal’c, Jack noticed, had closed his eyes again.
Jack clapped his hands together. “So, we give Teal’c's snake some time to work, and then we reassess.”
“I’ll take watch, sir.”
“No, I’ll do it, Carter. You and Daniel watch Teal’c.” He inched toward the ledge, giving her some room to get through the tunnel.
“I do not require watching, O’Neill. I require kel-no-reem.”
“Then they’ll tell you bedtime stories.”
“Yes, sir.” Carter sat behind Jack, between him and the rest of the team — a second line of defense.
“Carter.” Jack kept his voice low so Teal’c could meditate. “What do you think about that warning on P3C-472?”
“I think that if this sound affects all Goa’uld symbiotes the way it did Teal’c's,” she said, “that might be enough to keep the Goa’uld away.”
Jack had been contemplating that possibility, too. “That’s not as cool as the Halloween decorations, Carter.”
“It’s also not likely to help us, sir. It incapacitated us, too.”
She smiled. “I’ll run some tests when we get home.”
Daniel sat with his elbows on his knees. He looked grim. “Could it have killed Teal’c? If it had lasted long enough?”
“Possibly,” she said. “Us, too.”
“I still think it was all a misunderstanding. Maybe they saw Teal’c's tattoo and panicked.”
It was in Daniel’s nature to see the best in everyone, but sometimes there wasn’t a best to be found. “Saw it from where?” Jack said. “Teal’c didn’t even make it out of the tent.”
Daniel admitted defeat with a shrug.
“I have witnessed the use of such weapons before, Daniel Jackson.”
Three heads turned to look at Teal’c. He hadn’t moved. His eyes were still closed.
“We keeping you up, Teal’c?” Jack asked.
“Sorry,” Carter said. Daniel echoed it. Then they were quiet.
Jack turned back to the ledge and studied the main cave, waiting for something to happen.
“Somebody’s coming,” Daniel said from the ledge. “A bunch of somebodies.”
“Do they look friendly?” Jack slid in next to Daniel.
“They look furry.”
They did. The fur was black and shiny. “Tails they’re using for balance,” Jack said. “Claws.”
“They’re climbing?” Carter asked.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “And fast. Wake Teal’c up, Carter.” He heard her rustling to the side of the cave.
“It’s not impossible for intelligent life to evolve with fur and claws intact,” Daniel said. “We’re probably the aberration, not them.”
“Teal’c,” Carter said quietly. “We’re having visitors. Do you feel any better?”
“My symbiote has improved,” Teal’c said.
Jack tapped Daniel’s shoulder and motioned him into the cave. “Get to the back wall,” he said. “Carter, Teal’c, on your toes.”
Daniel didn’t argue. He crunched away on the rocks. “You should sit, Jack.”
“I don’t think that’s a great idea,” Jack said. He kept his eyes on the furry climbing things. There were seven of them, and they were almost at the cave entrance.
“You’ll look less threatening if you sit.”
“I don’t think that’s such a great idea, either.”
“We can’t jump them and escape anyway, sir,” Carter said.
“Might as well play nice,” Daniel said, a little too cheerfully.
Jack grumbled and moved back to sit in front of his team.
Two of the furry things came into view, then two more. Four stayed out on the ledge, and three entered the cave. Daniel gasped. Jack waved a hand behind his back, telling Daniel to shut up.
But he could see why Daniel was excited. These guys had snouts, big ones, nearly the size of their faces. They were flat, fleshy, and round, with hundreds of long whiskers. Below the snouts their mouths were lipless, and above, their eyes were big and dark. Jack guessed they couldn’t see well. Small ears pointed to the backs of their heads, swiveling slightly to catch every sound. If Jack were standing, these things would reach his shoulder. That made them taller than most people on Earth.
He felt an absurd surge of pride. His team had made the first non-humanoid, non-Goa’uld contact in the Stargate Program — in human history, as far as anybody knew. His team. Go SG-1.
The furry things sniffed a lot. Two of them held weapons resembling police batons that, Jack knew, could easily crack open a human skull. A Jaffa one he wasn’t so sure about.
Something shuffled behind Jack, and the creatures clearly heard it, too, their ears jerking forward and their noses wrinkling convulsively. It had to be Daniel. But then Carter whispered something Jack couldn’t make out, and everything went still but the sniffing.
Jack tried to look friendly, not that he had any idea what that would look like to them, but he kept close track of the batons in his peripheral vision. “Hi,” he said.
The shortest one sniffed Jack’s head. Then he made a series of high-pitched sounds at the others.
Jack had no idea what that meant, so he just kept going. “You know, it’s funny. We were hoping to run into you folks, ask you just what the Goolds don’t like about this place. Care to share?”
They all looked at each other, heads tilting, and then one of them squeaked at the others for about half a minute. What the hell was that? A code? Some sort of signal?
Finally, the two taller ones took up sentry positions by the tunnel entrance, still just a few feet from Jack.
The third cocked his head, listening, and drew a bag off his shoulders. He pulled the drawstring open, and with long, muscular fingers, began removing food. He placed a loaf of bread and a jug of water on the floor in front of Jack. Next he brought out two containers, opening each with a flourish. One smelled like vegetable stew. The other was full of something black and burned, and he put it in what was apparently a special place, to the left of the rest of their dinner.
Food-guy sat back on his — heels? — and held out a hand, palm up as if offering them the meal.
“Is that —” Daniel began.
“Daniel,” Jack said, low. He looked up to take in all of the furry things. “Thank you.”
The two standing bent so their heads were level with the one sitting, and they all chattered at each other for a while. Then the one who seemed to be in charge stood up straight, issuing a long barrage of chirps and squeaks directly at Jack.
Jack listened politely, not moving, and said evenly, “Daniel? What is that? That can’t be how they talk.”
“I don’t understand it, either, Jack. But it must be a language. Maybe something like dolphins.”
“I think some of it is above the range of our ears, sir.”
“Like dog whistles?” Jack said. “They’re talking in dog whistles?” It wasn’t like he expected everybody in the universe to speak English, but … dog whistles?
Carter hesitated. “I think that might not be the best way to phrase it, sir.”
Their captors chattered again, tilting their heads and sniffing as they spoke. Jack thought they were more curious than dangerous, but that was nothing more than a wild guess.
“I think we’re at an impasse here,” he admitted.
“Let me try, Jack. If they wanted to hurt us, they’d have done it already.”
Jack shrugged and waved Daniel forward. “But carefully,” he said.
Daniel shuffled up on his knees, beside Jack. He held both hands before him, palms up, imitating food-guy’s earlier gesture. “Um, hello?” he said.
Three noses wrinkled, and a whole lot of whiskers quivered.
“Daniel,” he said, pointing to himself. “We don’t want to be enemies. We came to your planet in search of friends.”
The tallest one sniffed again, and laid his hand gently on top of Daniel’s head.
“Well, that’s encouraging,” Carter said.
“Or else he’s about to break Daniel’s neck.”
“I do not believe he means Daniel Jackson harm, O’Neill,” Teal’c said. “Some animals are able to smell fear or aggression, are they not?”
“Right,” Jack said. “Try not to smell threatening, people.”
“Friends,” Daniel said again. The leader stepped back to squeak with the other one, but they still didn’t look scared. All three had stopped the convulsive sniffing.
Daniel tried again. “Daniel.” He pointed at himself and said his name again, then pointed at the one who’d touched him.
The guy’s mouth moved, but nothing came out.
“Above our hearing, Sam?” But Daniel didn’t wait for an answer. He pointed this time at food-guy, who emitted two quick chirps, in different tones.
Daniel tried to imitate the sounds, which prompted more sniffing and head tilting. He grinned slightly at his failed attempt. “I think I need more practice.”
But all three had begun conversing rapidly, and the guards out on the ledge joined in.
“Daniel,” Jack said slowly, “what did you do?”
“I have no idea.” He held out his hands in supplication again, and offered a hopeful smile. “Let’s start —”
What started was the same deafening sound they’d heard last night, only now it felt like it was coming from inside Jack’s head. He covered his ears, but he still heard a scream that didn’t sound like a human or anyone else in the room. And then he heard Daniel saying, “Wait, wait!” just before he passed out.
Carter groaned first. Daniel rolled over and said, “Not again.”
“Still on the misunderstanding theory, Daniel?” Jack asked as he rose to check on Teal’c.
“Not so much, no,” Daniel said.
Jack observed Teal’c carefully. “Teal’c, buddy, you okay?”
“This time is worse,” Teal’c said. He looked weaker, and he turned onto his side, curling to protect his stomach. That wasn’t something Jack had ever expected to see from Teal’c. Maybe the screaming Jack had heard was from the symbiote. “I must kel-no-reem soon.”
“The damage could increase with each exposure,” Carter said. She rubbed her forehead with one hand.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “Everybody else okay?”
Carter said, “Uh-huh,” and Daniel said, “Just confused.”
Jack sat with his back to the wall, near Teal’c's head. He wondered if any of their medicines would help, which was pointless since they didn’t have their gear. “You check out whenever you want, Teal’c,” he said.
Teal’c just nodded.
“What did I say?” Daniel asked.
“It was not what you said, Daniel Jackson. It was your facial expression.”
“Wow,” Carter said. Jack was learning to recognize the moment the light bulb went on over her head. Hers was less obvious than Daniel’s — Daniel’s he’d figured out within an hour of meeting him. “You’re right, Teal’c. Daniel bared his teeth.”
Ah, there was Daniel’s light bulb. “Which they read as a sign of aggression, like many primates,” he said. “That makes a lot of sense.”
Jack picked up a small rock and tossed it from hand to hand. It did make sense, but it was still a whacked-out theory. “Can I just point out here that we’re not talking about gorillas? We’re talking about moles.”
“That’s not fair,” Daniel said. “At least call them mole-people.”
Jack rolled his eyes.
“Highly evolved mole-people,” Carter said. “I think their weapons were made out of the same element as the stargates.”
“Evolved moles,” Jack said. “Right.”
“Their eyesight probably isn’t very good,” she said.
“Night vision could be a lot better, though,” Daniel said.
Teal’c said, “Indeed.” Then he said, “I believe they also have a well-developed sense of smell.”
Jack thought the conversation was about to head off into cat-herding territory. “None of that helps us,” he pointed out.
“They also have our weapons, O’Neill.”
“See? That’s more like it. Thank you, Teal’c.”
Daniel looked puzzled. “You think they know how to use them?”
“Evolved moles, Daniel,” Jack said. “Evolved.” He watched as Carter took up her position by the ledge again.
“They’ll sleep during the day,” she said. “Maybe they only leave the caves at night, which would explain why they didn’t approach us as soon as we came through.”
“That doesn’t help us much, either,” Jack said. “We can’t tell when day is, and they can climb way faster than we can get down. They’d be on us in minutes.”
Carter leaned out further. “They must bivouac on the walls, or in all those smaller caves. I think I see people in some of them.”
“What the hell kind of mole can climb?” Jack asked. “Moles don’t climb. They dig.”
“We don’t know that they’re related to our moles,” Daniel said. “They probably evolved on this planet. They’re very well adapted to their environment.”
Again, interesting but unhelpful. “Let’s get back to the dawn of the dead stuff. They’re trying to scare something away, right? So the head-splitting thing is plan B?”
“If it is the Goa’uld they wish to repel, they seem to have succeeded,” Teal’c said. He was still lying down, and as far as Jack knew he had to sit up to kel-no-whatever.
“We don’t know that there are no Goa’uld elsewhere on this planet,” Jack said.
“I don’t think they’d be so focused on the gate if there’s a Goa’uld presence somewhere else.” Daniel thought for a few seconds. “Then again, there could be a back door to this place and a similar setup in another direction.”
Carter’s stomach growled. Carter seemed to have the kind of metabolism that left her starving an hour after she ate. She never commented on it, just pulled out a ration bar and chewed it silently.
Now, she looked mortified as all three of them turned to face her. “Sorry,” she said.
“Hunger is not a crime, Carter,” Jack said. “Have at it.”
Daniel peered at the bowls as he came closer. “What is it?”
“One’s just vegetables, I think,” Jack said. He took Carter’s place by the entrance. “I’m not sure I want to know about the other.”
Daniel tore off a couple hunks of bread, handed one to Carter, and dunked his into the stew. His metabolism was only a little slower than Carter’s. “Hey, this isn’t bad,” he reported through a mouthful. “Mostly root vegetables and mushrooms, I think. I wonder if they have a taboo against food grown in the sun.”
“They have to get the grain for the bread somewhere,” Carter said, but she was preoccupied with shoving the burned black things around. She picked one up. It had antennae, long ones, and way too many legs. “Beetles,” she said. “I think they’ve been grilled.”
And didn’t that sound wonderful. “Let me guess,” Jack said. “Anthropologists eat the local cuisine, too?”
Daniel shoved more stew and bread into his mouth. “Well, they do.” He leaned toward Carter, took out one of the bugs, and tossed it in his mouth. It sounded crunchy. “Deep fried grasshoppers are a common snack in Thailand.”
“I so did not need to know that,” Jack said. He noticed that Teal’c had made no move toward dinner.
Carter handed her bug to Daniel and turned her attention to the other bowl. “I don’t think I did, either, Daniel,” she said.
“Caterpillars are a staple in central Africa.”
This conversation was getting more disturbing by the second. “Okay, I definitely did not need to know that. Thank you for the culinary lesson, Daniel. Let us never speak of it again.”
Daniel grinned and took another bug. “It looked like an important dish, Jack, the way he placed it. It would be rude to leave it untouched.”
“There’s your assignment, then,” Jack said. “Eat up. Unless Teal’c is —”
“I am not.”
“They’re really not bad, guys,” Daniel insisted.
Carter was rapt, staring at Daniel. He offered her a bug. “Maybe next time,” she said.
Jack had a troublesome feeling that there would be a next time. Lots of next times, even. He probably should have thought of that, and many, many other things, before he signed the dotted line.
The vegetable mush wasn’t bad, though. Jack made Teal’c eat some, too, and they all shared the water. Luckily, Daniel had kept a few purification tablets in his vest.
Jack got them all back on topic as they finished the bread. “So. Any ideas on how to communicate with them?”
“Sign language?” Carter said.
Daniel shook his head. “I’m afraid we’d come up against some other body language issue we don’t know about.”
“Perhaps we could draw in the dirt,” Teal’c said.
“What if they have a prohibition against writing, like on Abydos?” Daniel asked.
“They might,” Carter admitted. “I don’t think we have a lot of options, though.”
Jack agreed with her. “Daniel, how long would it take you to learn the basics of Squeak?”
Daniel looked sideways at Carter, then back at Jack. “A lot more time than we have,” he said. “It might not even be possible, without a computer to analyze the frequencies.”
“Well, there you go. Drawing it is. You get the honors, Teal’c.”
Silence resounded in the cave. Jack eyed all three of them. Finally Carter said, politely, “Teal’c, sir?”
“He’s not going to bust out laughing, is he?” Jack said. He also had a feeling that Teal’c's stillness was the way to go — no quick movements to startle half-blind moles.
One of Teal’c's eyebrows moved up about a millimeter. Jack figured that was Teal’c for panic. “I do not believe I would prove a good diplomat, O’Neill.”
“Sure you will!” Jack clapped him on the back.
Daniel coughed. Daniel sounded like he was choking, in fact.
“Beetle down the wrong pipe, Daniel?” Jack patted Teal’c's shoulder. “We all have great faith in you, Teal’c. Don’t we?” He shot his scientists a look that he hoped they’d interpret correctly.
Carter certainly did. Her back straightened until it looked painful. “Yes, sir,” she said. “Not a doubt in my mind, Teal’c.”
“Gallons of faith,” Daniel said. “Oceans of faith. Go Teal’c.”
“See? We know you can do it, buddy.”
Teal’c's eyebrow fell a little below neutral. Jack interpreted that one as resignation. Daniel and Carter exchanged a look.
“Let us know when you’re ready, Teal’c,” Jack said.
Teal’c backed against the wall, legs crossed, that dangerous Teal’c frown on his face. “I may require much time to prepare, O’Neill,” he said.
“Sam should do it. Her voice is higher.”
Jack narrowed his eyes at Daniel. “Run that by me again?”
“It’s closer to their range, Jack. It might not frighten them as much.”
Jack shrugged and waved Carter forward. She headed for the tunnel.
“Perhaps we should wait until they arrive with another meal,” Teal’c said, watching her with what might have been apprehension. He’d been up for about five minutes and looked like he’d gotten some strength back. No time like the present, Jack figured.
“For all we know, they won’t, after we freaked them out,” Jack said. “Go ahead, Carter.”
She leaned over the ledge, giving the team one last look before she spoke. “Hello! Could we talk to someone, please?” Her shoulder moved, as if she were beckoning them. “We’d really like to talk to somebody. Hello?”
“Careful, Sam,” Daniel said.
“I know, Daniel. I’ve got their attention. I think they’re coming.”
“How many?” Jack asked.
“Seven, but I don’t know if it’s the same seven. And they’re coming fast. No bags this time.”
“Get back in here, Carter. Teal’c, you’re on.”
Carter crawled inside, sitting behind Teal’c, to Jack’s left.
“No,” Jack said. “You and Daniel in the back.”
He knew she wouldn’t like that. She threw her shoulders back. “Sir —”
“Only because your smile would scare the crap out of them, Carter.”
Her lips quirked as she followed the order.
“Your social graces never fail to amaze me, Jack,” Daniel said.
“And shhh!” Jack said.
This time, four mole-people entered the cave, standing before Teal’c, and three kept watch on the ledge. Teal’c tried the hand gesture that had seemed to work, sort of, for Daniel — palms up, hands outstretched.
Four noses twitched.
Teal’c swept the dirt with one hand, looked up at them, and drew two stick figures, one with a tail. He pointed to the creature directly in front of him, then to the tailed one. Next, he pointed at himself and the second stick figure.
Jack heard a series of excited squeaks and looked up to see if they’d understood. The one Teal’c had pointed to folded his legs under his body and sat. He repeated Teal’c's movements, indicating with one finger that the first stick figure was him, the second Teal’c. Teal’c tried the supplication gesture again and the mole guy returned it.
Teal’c inhaled a long breath and redrew the figures’ arms, so they were now holding hands. The squeaks became agitated. He pointed again at the two figures, and Jack hoped they got it. The seated one tilted his head. Maybe that indicated curiosity.
The next drawing was a simple sketch of the stargate, and a squiggly line representing the ceremonial path to the cave. Teal’c pointed to himself, Jack, and Daniel and Carter in the back, and with two fingers, he pantomimed a person following the path.
Two of the guys still standing chattered with the one sitting down, all three gesturing at the artwork with both paws. Jack held his breath. It looked promising, but who knew?
The seated one leaned forward as if he were going to lie down, but instead he started to draw.
His images were sharper than Teal’c's, because he made lines with one claw. He started with a stick figure, but drew a big helmet instead of a head. Jack recognized it from Abydos — it was the getup Ra’s thugs wore.
“Jaffa,” Jack said to Teal’c. He wondered if maybe the mole-people had never seen a Jaffa without his helmet. They hadn’t reacted at all to Teal’c's tattoo.
“I believe you are correct, O’Neill.”
Translator guy used two fingers to show them that the Jaffa had come through the gate. Teal’c pointed to the hand-holding again.
The mole sniffed and cocked his head. Beside the Jaffa, he drew a smaller form, with a tail. He swept a hand behind him to show that it represented his friends, too. And then he drew the Jaffa’s hand around the figure’s neck.
“Tell him we hate ‘em, too, Teal’c,” Jack said.
Teal’c extended his own figure’s hand around the Jaffa’s neck. He demonstrated by holding his hand out as if he were strangling somebody.
They chattered, squeaked, and spoke into each other’s ears. The leader sniffed rapidly. He said something to the artist.
“Try the name thing,” Jack suggested. Teal’c put his hand over his own chest and said, “Teal’c.”
The artist pointed to himself and squeaked something none of them would ever understand. Then, slowly, he extended his fingers to touch Teal’c's.
Jack stared. Maybe Teal’c was right. Maybe they did have some animal sense that SG-1 were not aggressive.
Pointing to the Jaffa again, Teal’c then drew his hand around the stargate, the caves, and the surrounding area. The other sniffed and scratched out the Jaffa, then pointed to the gate. He drew another Jaffa, and behind it, another mole-guy, chasing the Jaffa away.
“Nice,” Jack said.
Teal’c nodded, still watching the ground. Moving quickly now, the translator added a round object with a straight line below. On the line, he drew a Jaffa whipping one of the tailed figures.
“I believe they were forced to work in the daylight, O’Neill.”
“Didn’t we just have that last week?” Jack complained. Such a nice way to torture cave dwellers, and so much fun to come across it twice. No wonder these guys didn’t keep the welcome mat out.
But the story wasn’t over. The tailed figure wielded a stick, fighting the Jaffa, then appeared lying on the ground with his neck slashed. Claws pointed at the cave, showing many small figures entering, and finally one figure exiting with a box. A triangle emanated from the box, growing larger as it traveled. The creature touched his own throat and emitted a short sound that made Jack’s ears burn.
Teal’c covered his ears, and the creature bowed his head. With his claw, he drew the sound-triangle knocking over the Jaffa.
“Captain Carter is correct,” Teal’c said. “They prevailed by means of sound. I believe they use technology to amplify it.”
“Ask them if I can look at it, Teal’c,” Carter said softly. Jack could practically feel her straining to get closer, like Daniel had done when they’d first seen the moles. He thought about curiosity and cats.
Teal’c half-turned to Jack, not taking his eyes off their guests. “Yeah, go ahead,” Jack said. It seemed to be going well. Couldn’t hurt to ask.
Teal’c made a new figure, added hair, and drew the creatures’ attention to Carter. Then he drew a box, connected it to the other box by pointing, and added rays from the Carter-figure’s eyes to the machine.
A long chain of squeaks followed, from all seven of them. Noses wrinkled, feet stomped, and tails swung. Jack expected to be knocked on his ass again any second. Instead, the one sitting with Teal’c scratched out the box, and the rays.
“I’d say that’s a no, Carter.”
“But the altars!” Daniel said, a little too loudly. Jack shushed him. “Ask him about the altars, Teal’c.”
“I’d like a chance to check out their mining operation, sir,” Carter said.
“Ask if we can go home first,” Jack said.
Teal’c walked his two fingers from the cave back to the stargate, and looked up at the leader. After a hurried conversation, their translator repeated the motion. Teal’c bowed his head. Jack did, too.
When Teal’c showed himself coming back through the stargate, though, the figure was erased immediately. And then so was everything else.
It was sunset as they left the cave. Teal’c had managed to get a GDO back, and Jack figured it wasn’t worth bargaining for the rest via sand talk. They didn’t ask for their canteens, but they got them, along with a drawstring pouch of crunchy bugs.
“Hungry, Daniel?” Jack asked.
“They’re being polite, Jack. We should look grateful.” Daniel rubbed his belly. Carter and Teal’c did the same.
Jack held up his bag and kissed the fingers of his other hand. “Mangia, mangia,” he said. “Delicioso. Grazie.” He didn’t have to look to know that Daniel was rolling his eyes, but the natives didn’t get restless. At least as far as Jack could tell.
“I do not believe that is English, O’Neill.”
“It’s Italian,” Daniel explained. “Sort of.”
Daniel and Carter walked in the middle, with Teal’c leading and Jack following. They all took careful steps, since they had no flashlights, but they had plenty of guards on hand in case they lost their way.
The crowd grew as they walked. “We are a curiosity now that they have determined we mean them no harm,” Teal’c said.
Jack looked over his shoulder. Some of these moles seemed awfully short for soldiers. The chattering increased. A couple of the smallest ones ran up beside Jack, and ran away quickly. Some adults stood by the altars, their hands wet with blood, as SG-1 passed.
By dawn, most of the followers had slipped away. An hour later they were entirely alone. Jack was sure of it this time.
“I agree, O’Neill.”
“Me too, sir.”
Daniel looked a little crazed, eyes wild and nostrils flaring. “Do you know what we just did?” he asked, voice low.
Jack feigned indifference, though he knew what Daniel meant and he thought it was pretty damn cool, too. “Sure, Daniel. We got out alive.”
“No, no, not that,” Daniel said, as if Jack were an errant freshman.
“We communicated with a completely non-human species,” Carter said, barely avoiding the death-sentence smile. “A completely non-human species with no ties to Earth.”
Daniel nodded spastically. “That’s just — nobody has ever done that before. Ever.”
“I have,” Teal’c said with a regal tilt of his chin. Jack eyed him with suspicion. As much as he enjoyed mocking Daniel, he didn’t think Teal’c could have learned the art so quickly. If he had, Jack was impressed.
“Nobody from Earth has ever done that before,” Carter amended.
“Yes,” Daniel said. “Yes, that. And God, doesn’t it just kill you that we can’t publish on it?” he asked Carter. “A joint paper. Can you imagine the presentations? No video, though. That’s too bad.”
Jack cleared his throat. They’d slowed down while talking, so he stepped ahead to force the pace. The early morning sun caught the iron in the rocks, making the whole landscape glow. “As lovely as fame and fortune and swooning undergrads would be,” he said, “let’s pause for a moment to contemplate other recent events.”
Carter was at his shoulder. Her expression said she might think he was nuts, if he weren’t her CO. “Sir?”
“How many missions have we been on so far, Carter?”
She looked at him now as if he were a little less nuts. “Nine, sir.”
“Nine! And what’s happened in those nine missions?”
“Um,” Daniel said. “We got out alive?”
“In those nine missions,” Jack ranted happily, “members of this team have been captured by crazy people with rocks, turned into crazy people with rocks —”
“Hey!” Daniel said. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t throw any rocks.” He didn’t sound angry, though. He sounded amused.
“— Neutralized by a psychopath — uh, no offense there, Carter.”
“None taken, sir.”
“And that was after you got sold to the bad guy. No offense there, either, because you kicked his ass.”
“Thank you, sir.” She bit down on her lips, obviously close to laughing.
“And let’s not even talk about the time we all got imprisoned by a snake. Thanks again for that, by the way, Teal’c.”
“You are welcome, O’Neill.”
“We got sunburned on P4C-835?” Carter said.
“Yes! Sunburned!” Jack crowed. “I had to sleep on my stomach for a week!”
“My entire body peeled, sir.”
“Too much information, Sam,” Daniel said. And then, not to be outdone, “I was shot with a tranquilizer dart.”
“That was medicine, Daniel. It was just like an injection,” Carter said.
“Besides, you were crazy,” Jack said.
Daniel choked. “Don’t make me laugh, Jack. And Sam tried to do a striptease on P3X-595.”
“It was much more dignified than that.” Carter gave in to the smile now. “You guys were drunk, too.”
“Not as drunk as you,” Daniel said.
“Watch it, Daniel. I know what a lightweight you are, remember?”
“You suffered a head injury on P2X-748, O’Neill.”
Jack groaned good-naturedly. “Oh, yes, thank you, Teal’c. I really wanted to remember that.”
“You were felled by a coconut,” Daniel said.
“Thing was way bigger than a coconut. Did I mention the crazy people with rocks?”
“You did, O’Neill.”
“Did I mention the disobeying orders?” Neither Carter nor Daniel met Jack’s eye, and he thought they’d gotten the message.
“You did not mention disobeying orders, O’Neill.” Teal’c said this as if he were discussing eating bugs.
They’d just passed the last altar; they’d be home soon. “Right, then,” Jack said. “And now we’ve been captured by moles.”
“Amendment noted,” Jack said gleefully. “Captured by mole-people.”
“Thank you,” Daniel said.
Jack turned to take in his whole team. They squinted at him in the sun. “Now. Does anybody have any idea why I took this job?”
“Because it’s fun, sir?” Carter said.
Daniel smiled, careful not to show any teeth. “It is kind of fun, isn’t it?”
“It is your duty, O’Neill. It is not fun.”
All three humans stared at Teal’c.
“I did not say it was unpleasant,” Teal’c said, and Jack thought he detected a very, very small smile.