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The Ghost Dance

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"I don't know," Daniel Jackson was saying. "They might have some Native American ancestry, but this tradition didn't develop among the Plains Indians until the late nineteenth century. I don't think they'll try to bring back the buffalo." But SG-1 had been told a miracle happened on this night every year.

"We have seen no buffalo, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said.

"No, I know."

"They've been here for at least a thousand years, Daniel," Colonel Carter said.

"I know! I just can't think of what else it could be."

"Then we shall have to wait and see," Teal'c said. Privately, he thought that many cultures across the galaxy had developed similar names for very different things.

They were on a planet called Raang and they had arrived, said the local inhabitants, just in time for their favorite summer festival. They called it the Ghost Dance and Daniel Jackson's eyes had lit up. SG-1 hadn't planned on spending the night, but the small city near the gate was hospitable, and the festival did not begin until sunset. Colonel Carter was happy enough to collect extra botanical samples until the sun began to fall towards the horizon, and the city's population began gathering around a fire near a temple to their god. They all wore white.

Teal'c did not know what to expect, but he was sure it was unconnected to the earth ritual Daniel Jackson had mentioned. He exchanged a glance with Colonel Carter, who shrugged. Daniel Jackson looked, as the Tau'ri might say, like a small child in a store that sold only sweets.

An expectant roar grew from the crowd as the sun finally sank out of view. The flames leapt towards the stars, and the priests threw something bright into the fire. It made the flames glow blue, and exuded a spicy scent like the rala fruit of Teal'c's early childhood, before Chulak.

Color exploded as the Raangans each drew powder from small pots and cast it over the ground, the fire, the greenery, each other, and even SG-1. The powder was blue, purple, orange, green, more colors than Teal'c had names for. The pigments blended on the people's white clothes, and Colonel Carter did not seem to mind as they stained her hair.

Then, powder-bright, men, women and children all reached for the sky and spun in place.

"It's beautiful," Daniel Jackson said. Teal'c and Colonel Carter agreed. Teal'c thought it was one of the more attractive rituals they had witnessed over the years. The colors continued to fly and the fire itself had become a rainbow.

A woman they knew as Pabad left the crowd and approached SG-1. Her face was yellow and red. "Come," she said to Daniel Jackson. "Someone waits for you." She held both of Daniel's hands, and he let her lead him away. O'Neill might have pulled him back, or tried to, but Colonel Carter knew better. She and Teal'c watched him go; he joined the edge of the crowd, watched those near him, and began imitating their actions.

"Teal'c, look," Colonel Carter said. He did look, past Daniel Jackson to the edge of the bonfire, and saw several beings dressed in white. Then he saw several more appear as if from nowhere.

"They were not in those positions earlier," Teal'c said.

"No, they weren't. Look!"

The crowd spread out, quickly filled with these beings. They seemed human, but they were somehow clearer and brighter than the others, and their clothing was unmarked.

"Perhaps it is a hologram?" Teal'c suggested.

"I haven't seen anything that suggests that level of technology." Still, Colonel Carter began circling the crowd, looking in every direction and under every tree for hidden machinery. Teal'c followed, dividing his attention between her and Daniel Jackson.

Pabad found them again, on the other side of the fire. Teal'c tapped Colonel Carter's shoulder to ask her to rise.

"Hello again, guests," Pabad said. "Are you enjoying the ceremony? Do you see no one you know?"

"What is it?" Colonel Carter asked. "Where did they come from?"

Pabad began to walk, gesturing for Teal'c and Colonel Carter to join her. "They are ghosts, of course. You expected something else?"

"To be honest, yes," Colonel Carter said.

"Do you not have ghosts in your land?"

"Not like this, no."

Teal'c had visited his teammates' homes on the night they called Halloween, and had seen small children dressed as ghosts in the streets. He had watched several television shows in which humans attempted to make contact with ghosts, though he had always found them perplexing. The Jaffa had no similar tradition. Jaffa dead went to Kheb and did not return.

"Who are these ghosts?" Teal'c asked Pabad.

"Our ancestors, our family. Often a deceased spouse or parent or child will return. But many lived long, long before us."

Teal'c thought the idea was fascinating. He had known Daniel Jackson long enough to take a good guess at what his friend might say: that a visit from the ancestors might reaffirm a people's connection to their land, or strengthen their interwoven relationships as a community. He wondered if these "ghosts" would appear to a person who had relocated far from home.

He knew, however, that Colonel Carter was frustrated. Her philosophy did not allow for anything of a metaphysical origin.

Within the growing crowd, some continued to dance alone, while others had joined together in small or large groups. The bright beings and the humans did not touch or speak, but they clearly moved together. All appeared to be laughing or smiling. Teal'c saw no sorrow. These people must, he thought, believe like he did that their ancestors had gone to a better place. He wondered what that place was, and where.

"Are these ancestors all buried on your land?" he asked.

Pabad looked confused. "They are buried for several years, yes. Then their bones are placed in their family's altar, as is only right." She looked back and forth between Teal'c and Colonel Carter. "It is different where you came from?"

"Death rites are carried out differently all over the galaxy," Colonel Carter said. "Each culture has its own beliefs."

"How strange! Then are you not protected by your ancestors?"

"Some people on our planet believe their ancestors protect them," Colonel Carter said carefully.

"My father died when I was but a small child," Teal'c volunteered. "I believe he has gone to a place called Kheb. He does not return to interact with me."

"I'm sorry," Pabad said. "That is the saddest thing I can imagine. And you, Colonel Carter? Are you and Mr. Teal'c from the same homeland?"

"No," she said. "We do have the concept of ghosts where I come from, but they're nothing like this."

"If I may ask," Teal'c said, "why are you not participating?"

"I have no close relatives who have moved on," Pabad said. "Only ancestors I have not met in this life. My family will honor them while I talk with you. Look," she said as she stopped walking, "your friend has a visitor."

Teal'c looked, and indeed, Daniel Jackson was no longer dancing alone.

"Oh, my god," Colonel Carter said.

Teal'c shared her surprise but did not say so. They both stared.

"She is known to you, yes?" Pabad asked.

"She is," Teal'c said.

Before them, not ten meters from where they stood, Daniel Jackson was dancing with his wife.

Teal'c had only met her on two unfortunate occasions, but she appeared unchanged. Her hair remained dark and thick, her eyes deep, her skin still the same shade. Like the other beings, Sha're Jackson glowed bright, her eyes and her white garments sparkling, and she smiled at her husband.

Daniel Jackson did not seem surprised. He merely smiled back, somehow aware that he was not meant to touch her. They moved slightly away from the rest of the celebrants.

"That's not possible," Colonel Carter said.

"Apparently it is," Teal'c said.

She frowned at him while continuing to watch Sha're.

"You do not believe the evidence of your eyes, Colonel Carter?" Pabad asked.

"I'm a scientist," Colonel Carter said. "I need evidence beyond what I can see."

"If it were a charade," Teal'c asked, "would you and I not be able to see her as Daniel Jackson does?"

"I don't know," she admitted. Teal'c knew she disliked not knowing how this were possible. "Why can't we see anyone, Teal'c? Your parents? Your wife?"

"Because we do not believe," Teal'c said. He knew that answer would not satisfy her, so he tried another. "Look at his face, Colonel Carter."

Teal'c saw more joy in Daniel Jackson than he had seen since Drey'auc first held their son in her arms. Daniel Jackson's posture was open, his focus and his being centered on the woman before him. His face glowed in Share's light.

"I see what you mean," Colonel Carter said with a soft smile. She reached for Teal'c's hand as they watched their friend. Even for a scientist as brilliant as Colonel Carter, Teal'c thought, the what must occasionally be more important than the why.

The rainbow of flame still leapt to the sky, the air smelled of rala fruit and rich wood ash, and Daniel and Sha're Jackson continued to dance.