“Looks like the natives are friendly for a change,” Daniel smiled at the attractive young female who was leading them from the Gate toward her settlement. She was petite, and demure, and reminded him a little of Lya of the Nox.
“Indeed,” Teal’c concurred with a slight inclination of his head.
“She’s certainly gone out of her way to make us feel welcome,” Carter noted, adjusting the garland around her neck.
“Just remember, appearances can be deceptive. Keep your guard up, all of you,” O’Neill cautioned cynically, even though he’d only just reported to the SGC that the planet appeared to pose no danger.
They all nodded in acknowledgement.
Soon, the town came in sight: a plethora of fine buildings adorned with marble columns and arches, resembling Roman villas, all set around a vast courtyard.
The locals poured out of their homes to meet the newcomers. Beaming with delight, they cried out words of greeting and beckoned to the quartet to join them in the courtyard, where an enormously long rectangular table at one end was set out with myriad delicacies, as if they’d been expected.
“Oh, well, when in Rome…. I guess,” Carter shrugged as she allowed their guide to show her to a seat near the center of the table.
“I’m not sure this is a totally Roman-influenced society, Sam,” Daniel corrected. “There are similarities, I’ll grant you, but, well, uh, those aren’t exactly togas for a start.” Daniel indicated their hosts’ attire, which for the women consisted of diaphanous gowns in various pastel hues and multiple layers in many different styles from empire line tops to handkerchief hems and butterfly wing sleeves such as might grace a school fairy pageant. The men wore robes of somewhat stronger colors than the women, but much simpler in style. They were pretty much straight up and down - some with sleeves, some without - but all held in by simple belts, almost monk-like in appearance.
A tall, handsome man who looked to be in his late thirties bowed to the team and bid them sit and eat. He appeared to be the leader of the community. “You are most welcome. My name is Goodfellow Quinlan,” he told them.
The team introduced themselves in turn. Daniel was eager to hear the names of the rest of the residents. Goodfellow Quinlan sounded almost Puritanical in origin, like something out of old Salem. Then again, Quinlan was an Irish name, or so he thought. There seemed to be a large degree of cross-pollenization at work here and it intrigued him.
All around the table were low marble benches. SG-1 sat down in the places they’d been allocated. Jack winced as he did so, and rubbed his knees. “Ah, fer cryin’ out loud!” he complained in a low grumble.
“Are you in pain?” asked Quinlan.
“Just my age,” Jack responded dismissively. “The old knees aren’t what they used to be.”
“We have just the thing for you,” their original guide, who was called Goodmaid Muadhnait, told him as the others began sampling the fruits and sweets before them. She hurried down to the far end of the table, and returned with a small slice of cake on a silver platter. It was a soft, light sponge cake, with a layer of jam in the middle and a thick lavender colored frosting on the top.
“Does it have medicinal properties?” Carter asked.
“I do not know what you mean by that,” Muadhnait replied, “But it will make Goodfellow Jackoneill happy.”
“Tough assignment,” Daniel muttered under his breath.
O’Neill heard him, and glowered at him. He raised the plate in a sort of salute, and then scooped up the frosting on his fingertips, licking it off defiantly.
Daniel wondered at a civilization who knew nothing of medicine. The assembled group all looked young and healthy. There didn’t seem to be anyone more than middle-aged among them. Perhaps there was some sort of Logan’s Run type deal going on here. A Utopian society where the price to pay for an idyllic existence was death at – in this case - forty. In which case Jack and Teal’c had better watch out.
As the meal went on, accompanied by copious amounts of wine, the entertainment began in the form of an immaculately choreographed dance by eight of the young women. Following this came a musical interlude, the instruments – mostly stringed – playing hauntingly beautiful tunes that stirred the soul.
Much as he enjoyed the show, Daniel regretted that it prevented him from engaging in meaningful conversation with Quinlan. He felt that there was much to be learned about this civilization. Complaining to Jack on the subject, Daniel was surprised to hear the Colonel agree to them spending a few days ‘fact-finding’ on P2A-194, or Spleodar as the natives called it. He even ratified it with General Hammond when they made their routine report.
Before they knew it, darkness had descended and the team were being led to one of the larger villas, where they were to be honored guests for the night. Samantha Carter was shown to a room in the women’s quarters, while the others were given adjoining rooms in the men’s wing. They agreed to meet back in the courtyard for breakfast.
Next morning, a bleary-eyed Daniel nodded to Teal’c as they assembled by the table. It looked as if their hosts were not such early risers, since they were the first to arrive. Daniel had stayed up late writing copious notes in his journal about the fascinating people they had spent the evening with. He’d assumed he’d probably be the last to arrive. Carter was already there, looking far more fetching in the delicate gown put out for her than he or Teal’c looked in their simple robes. There was no sign of the Colonel, which was most unusual.
“Where’s Jack?” he asked, looking around. “Did he beat us to it? Has he been and gone?” Daniel didn’t really think their leader would wander off without them, but he didn’t want to believe that these gentle, friendly people would have done him any harm.
“It would appear not,” Teal’c informed him. “I believe we should return to the villa and seek him in his room.”
“I think I’d better wait here in case he comes out,” Sam suggested diplomatically. “I wouldn’t want to scandalize the Goodfellows by going into their masculine sanctum.”
Daniel gave her a thumbs-up. He’d been about to suggest the very same thing.
Back inside the villa, he and Teal’c hurried to their leader’s room, concerned that he may be ill. Daniel knocked, gently at first. “Jack?”
Nothing. Not a sound. Had the Colonel been murdered in his bed? Surely not.
Daniel knocked harder. “Jack, are you awake?”
A mumble from inside.
Teal’c opened the door as Daniel called again. “Jack, time to get up.”
“Just five more minutes, Daddy,” came a soft murmur from the bed. “It’s not like it’s a school day.”
“Do I need my ears tested, or did he just call me Daddy?” Daniel queried. Jack was the only one who could sometimes get away with calling him Danny. Though on such occasions it was more normally ‘Danny-boy’.
“I believe he did,” Teal’c confirmed. They moved into the room and over toward the bed.
“C’mon, Jack,” Daniel coaxed, “Stop clowning around. You’ll be late for breakfast.”
“Breakfast? I’m starving!” The figure in the bed jumped up enthusiastically.
A young boy - maybe eight or nine years old - turned to face them, then seemed to notice he was buck naked and grabbed the robe that had been laid out the night before, slipping it over his shoulders. Whereas the others’ robes were knee-length, his came down to his ankles. He hitched it up with the belt.
- “What’s this, is it Halloween?” the kid asked, looking disapprovingly at the plain brown robe. “Lame.”
- “Sorry, wrong room,” Daniel was saying at the same time. He was about to leave, when he suddenly stopped and turned back to the bed.
“Halloween? Jack, is that you?”
“Yeah, I’m Jack. Who the heck’re you?”
Daniel and Teal’c looked at each other in mirrored alarm.
“You’d better find Goodfellow Quinlan,” Daniel told the Jaffa. “I’ll get Jack to Sam, see if she can work out what’s happened.”
“Indeed.” Teal’c inclined his head.
“Who’re you meant to be, big guy?” Junior Jack asked Teal’c. “Don’t think I’ve seen that movie yet.”
It took Daniel a good deal of coaxing to get the young Jack to leave the room with him.
“My momma told me never to go with strangers,” the boy insisted after a while, crossing his arms petulantly.
“Quite right too,” Daniel agreed reasonably. “But I’m not a stranger. My name is Daniel and I’m a good friend. You just don’t remember me right now.”
“That sounds hinky to me. Why would I be friends with you?” Jack sneeringly replied. “You’re old.”
Daniel looked hurt at that, but let it go.
In the end, he decided – against his better judgement – that he’d get further appealing to Jack’s adventurous side.
“I know you, Jack. Even if you don’t think you know me. And the Jack I know probably doesn’t always do what his momma tells him. Am I right?”
Junior Jack looked sheepish, but nodded.
“Well. Your mom and dad aren’t here right now. So, what say we go exploring a bit and see about that breakfast, huh?”
Junior Jack thought about it for a few moments. He looked around the room and seemed to come to the conclusion that if this Daniel meant him any harm or intended any ‘funny stuff’ as his mom called it, then being alone with him in a bedroom would have given him plenty of opportunity. In any case, he’d probably be safer outside with other people around.
“Sure, why not?” he shrugged.
By the time they got to the table in the courtyard, Teal’c had returned with Goodfellow Quinlan and Goodmaid Muadhnait. They seemed just as incredulous as Carter when they saw the erstwhile Colonel.
“You must be responsible,” Carter accused. “You said you were going to make him happy with that cake. There was something in it, wasn’t there?” She started moving toward the end of the table where the cake had been. The others followed.
“Who’s she?” Junior Jack asked Daniel in a whisper. “She’s pretty.”
“That’s Sam. Captain Carter,” Daniel told him. “She’s a friend too.”
“Not in the cake, no,” Muadhnait looked at the floor and twisted her hands together. “In the frosting. But it could not have done that.” She pointed toward the boy. “We only gave him a tiny piece. It should have made him a year or two younger, no more.”
“Is that why nobody here is older than Goodfellow Quinlan?” Daniel asked. “You just, uh, recycle yourselves?”
“Old age brings pain and sorrow,” Quinlan replied. “We have the means to avoid that. It is a good thing, is it not?”
“I’m sure a lot of people back home would agree with you there,” Carter allowed. “But Teal’c says Jack doesn’t know us,” she continued. “He’s reverted totally to how he was at eight years old. We need the Colonel back the way he was. With all his memories intact.”
“I do not understand how he got to be so very young,” Quinlan insisted. “It has never happened before.”
Daniel spotted something under the table. “I think maybe I have an idea about that.” He turned to the precocious boy beside him.
“Jack,” he smiled reassuringly. “You’re not in trouble, but I need to know. Did you by any chance sneak out for a midnight feast last night? Help yourself to some more cake?”
“Might have,” Jack said sullenly. “Nobody said I wasn’t allowed.”
Daniel pointed to the numerous crumbs on the floor. “Looks like he overdosed. Almost like the grandparents and the Wonka-Vite.” Despite the seriousness of the situation, Daniel couldn’t help smiling at the idea of Jack in diapers.
Teal’c looked bemused. “I am unfamiliar with that mission. To what are you referring, DanielJackson?”
“It’s a children’s story,” Carter clarified. “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Roald Dahl. Three old people take pills to make them twenty years younger. But they take too many and end up as babies. In which case, what we need is some Vita-Wonk to reverse the effects. Or the equivalent anyway.” She turned to the natives. “If the frosting reduces age, do you have anything to make people older again?”
“Why would we need that?” Goodfellow Quinlan asked. “When someone eats the frosting, they become a year or two younger. They then age at the normal rate, until they eat more cake.”
“We can’t wait nearly forty years for Jack to grow up again!” Daniel exclaimed, horrified.
“Indeed we cannot,” Teal’c agreed. “Our presence is required at the SGC two days from now.”
“What’s for breakfast?” Junior Jack piped up, oblivious to the trouble he’d caused.
“Not cake, that’s for sure,” Daniel said firmly.
“Teal’c, you’d better help Daniel keep an eye on our young friend,” Carter told the Jaffa. “While I try to work out what the magic ingredient is, and how we can counteract it.”
Teal’c inclined his head, and he and Daniel took young Jack back down to the other end of the table to get something to eat.
Goodmaid Muadhnait had been instructed to give Carter – now back in her olive drab uniform - every assistance. Accordingly, she had provided numerous samples of the frosting, and all the ingredients used to make it. Unfortunately, Sam didn’t have the right scientific equipment with her to make a full analysis of the composition and properties of the offending substances. So, they’d had to contact the SGC and let General Hammond know what had happened. Having reassured him that there was no danger of contagion, the General had sent through Dr. Fraiser with all manner of portable paraphernalia. He made it clear he would prefer the problem to be dealt with in situ. However, he gave Janet the authority to bring the team home ‘as is’ if she deemed it absolutely necessary.
Goodfellow Quinlan allocated a small building for their experiments. They had Daniel bring the young Jack in so they could get blood samples – a process the boy complained about bitterly, “I reckon this is child abuse” - but beyond that they suggested Daniel take Jack away and ‘keep him out of mischief’ until they had something to go on.
“Good luck,” Daniel offered. “Though I think I might need it more than you do!”
Janet chuckled, ruffling Jack’s hair, much to his annoyance. “You could be right, Doctor Jackson.”
Hours later, the two women had made progress, but were no nearer to a solution.
“Just as we thought. It isn’t a virus,” Dr. Fraiser confirmed. “The unknown component in the lavender coloring is unquestionably responsible, but I can’t work out how or why.”
“And it’s definitely not nanotechnology?” Sam’s question was largely rhetorical.
“No,” Janet paused in her examination of the slide under her microscope and looked up at Sam. “Could that be the answer?”
“What? You just said it wasn’t -“
“-No,” Janet interrupted. “Don’t you remember? Nanocytes. That’s what made the Colonel age rapidly on uh, on Argos, wasn’t it? When the Argosians – what did they call themselves…?”
“The Chosen of Pelops,” Sam recalled, her eyes bright. “Yes. When Kynthia gave Jack a slice of we- uh, of cake. What a coincidence!”
“Exactly. Couldn’t we use a little of Pelops’ technology to re-age the Colonel?”
Carter thought for a few moments. “I suppose the theory is sound,” she said, “but there’s a problem. The technology relied on a signal being emitted by the device under the statue. It was destroyed. Even if we could somehow harvest any nanocytes – and it’s doubtful there’d be any viable ones still in existence – we have no way to activate them.”
Meantime, Daniel, Teal’c and Junior Jack were exploring the area. The two older men had reverted to their uniforms but, since Jack’s was too big, the boy remained in local garb.
Daniel was fascinated by the origins and history of the natives and had wanted to study the architecture and the artifacts in the houses. But Jack soon pronounced that ‘boring’ and demanded they go out of the settlement into the woods beyond. Teal’c had readily agreed to this, suggesting they might find some wildlife to track through the carpet of autumnal leaves. A challenge he always enjoyed. He offered to take Jack with him while Dr. Jackson remained to do his research, but Daniel thought he’d better stick with Jack. He followed them with a sigh of regret. He had to agree that the glorious colors of the leaves on the various species of trees were a sight to behold.
Everything had gone well at first. Jack had been impressed by Teal’c’s tracking skills, and had shown an aptitude for it himself under the Jaffa’s tutelage. However, when they had failed to even see - let alone actually catch - a single animal after two hours of following paw prints and scats, he lost interest. Before they knew what was happening, the kid had shinned his way up a tall thin tree and was pretending to be a pirate in the crow’s nest of a sailing ship.
“That course of action is not wise,” Teal’c called up to the boy. “The potential for you to fall and injure yourself is great.”
“I’m with Teal’c. You’d better come down, Jack.” Daniel suggested.
“You’re supposed to be such a good friend, Daniel,” Junior Jack said his name scathingly. “Why don’t you come up and get me?”
Daniel looked up at the fragile branches, and swallowed hard. They may have supported a slender eight-year-old, but he was a different matter. Besides, he’d always had a problem with heights.
“Jack, you get down here this instant, young man!” Daniel said authoritatively.
“Shan’t, won’t, can’t make me!” Jack practically sang his defiance.
“You’d better do as you’re told, or I’ll set Doctor Fraiser on you!” Daniel threatened. Unfortunately, it seemed this particular threat had a greater effect on the mature Jack.
“Like you said earlier, Daniel old pal, I don’t always do what momma tells me. So why would I care what the doc says?
“Come on, what are you waiting for?” Jack challenged, “you can see for miles from up here.”
“Do you wish me –“ Teal’c started to offer, aware of Dr. Jackson’s aversion to high places.
“Thanks, Teal’c,” Daniel truly appreciated the offer. For a split second he was almost tempted to accept. “But there’s no way that tree’d take your weight. No offense.” He handed Teal’c his backpack.
“None taken. Your assessment is doubtless accurate.”
Daniel looked up at the tree and ran his tongue over suddenly dry lips. “Okay. Stay where you are, Jack. I’m coming up.”
Picking his route carefully and reminding himself constantly not to look down, Daniel edged his way slowly up through the branches. Even before he’d gotten very high he had to admit that Jack had been right about the view. They’d come to the far edge of the woods, quite a way from the town, which lay in a valley to the South. Their route had brought them to higher ground without them having been aware of it. To the East and West of the town were cultivated fields. To the North, beyond the woodland, it appeared as if the crops had been left to grow wild. No neat rows here, but a hotchpotch of neglected vegetation. Daniel couldn’t make it all out, but in amongst the tangled stalks he felt sure he saw Brussel Sprouts growing. Clusters of knobbly buds surrounding the stalks like the bells on a Morris Dancer’s Jingle Stick. No wonder they don’t bother with them, he thought, hardly anybody but me likes Sprouts.
Looking outward made Daniel aware of how fragile his position was. He turned his focus to the tree trunk and resumed his nervous climb towards his team leader.
Woah! he thought suddenly. Colonel O’Neill might be the commanding officer of this unit, but up there it’s just Jack, a kid. Why am I taking orders from him?
Annoyed with himself, Daniel thought about turning around and going back. But that prospect was scarier than going on at this point. He didn’t want to think how he was going to manage it. Whatever had possessed him to start climbing in the first place? He took a slow steadying breath to try and still the palpitations in his chest. As he continued his ascent, he could hear his pulse pounding in his ears. He was starting to feel dizzy. Man, this had been a very bad idea.
A shower of leaves fluttered down from above, startling Daniel further. His breathing shallow and rapid, he hugged the trunk of the tree with sweaty palms and closed his eyes.
Next thing he knew, there was a gentle hand on his shoulder and a soothing voice in his ear.
“Why didn’t you say you were scared of heights? Doofus.”
“C-mon, buddy. Let’s get you down.”
Although outwardly still a young boy, Jack had once again become the take-charge leader that Daniel knew and respected so well.
By the time they got back into town, it was lunchtime. Daniel’s fear had given way to embarrassment and he was begging Teal’c and Junior Jack not to tell Sam about his misadventure.
“What’s it worth?” Jack asked cheekily.
“How about you NOT getting put to bed early without dinner?”
“Oooh, who’s a tough guy all of a sudden? Are those things like Popeye and his spinach or something?”
In an attempt to calm himself, Daniel had made them detour to the wild garden to pick some of the sprouts. They were slightly larger than Earth ones, and had a vaguely musky smell, but he wanted to try them nonetheless. He figured if the natives didn’t bother with them –as it appeared – then they wouldn’t mind him helping himself. On the other hand, if they did harvest the crop and it was just an unusual way of growing them, then they’d be grateful he’d saved them the bother of picking the veggies. Jack had complained bitterly about having to help carry the ‘thousands’ that Daniel had insisted they pick, even though most them were safely stored in Daniel’s and Teal’c’s backpacks.
“How’s it going?” Daniel asked the two scientists when they reported their return. “Any progress?”
“Not really,” Dr. Fraiser replied wearily, envying Jackson his light, cheery tone. It sounded as if the boys had been out having fun while they’d been working their butts off. “We’ve isolated the cause of the reaction, but we’ve been unable to find an antidote yet.”
“What’ve you got there?” Carter asked the young Jack, as he unloaded his burden onto a small table.
“Wild sprouts!” Daniel pronounced enthusiastically.
“They smell yucky,” Junior Jack turned up his nose.
“Do not,” Daniel pouted, sounding more petulant than the child beside him. “Besides, they’re good for you.”
“That’s as may be,” Fraiser decided. “But given what happened to the Colonel, I’d like to run some tests on them before you decide to gorge yourself, Dr. Jackson.”
“Can’t it wait ‘til after lunch?” Junior Jack whined. “I’m starving.”
“Some things never change,” Janet declared with a smile and a shake of her head. “Okay, but I think we should stick to rations for now.”
While they were heating their MREs, Goodmaid Muadhnait came to invite them to join the townsfolk for ‘the daytime repast’. She was shocked to see they were preparing their own food.
“We mean no disrespect,” Janet told her. “But we feel it is safer to eat our own provisions, given the circumstances.”
Muadhnait looked crestfallen. “We would not harm you. We meant well when we gave Goodfellow Jackoneill the cake.”
“We know,” Carter soothed. “But Dr. Fraiser is worried that your food could affect us in ways it doesn’t affect you.”
Muadhnait looked over to where a bored young Jack was standing by the table, juggling with five of the sprouts.
“Yet to have gathered the forbidden olerace.”
“Hah!” Daniel exclaimed triumphantly. “The scientific name for sprouts is Brassica Oleracea.” He turned to Muadhnait, suddenly serious. “Why are they forbidden?”
“I do not know,” she admitted. “Only that we are all taught we must never eat them. I shall ask Goodfellow Quinlan.”
It was some time later that she returned with the town elder.
“I fear I cannot satisfactorily answer your question, Goodfellow Danieljackson.” Quinlan apologized. “We have few rules or laws here in Spleodar, but those we have are handed down from the ancestors. We have followed them all our lives. One such rule is that we must not, under any circumstances, consume the olerace. No one before has thought to question why such a rule exists, any more than we question the traditional recipe for the frosting, nor the effect it has upon us. All we need know is that the ancestors were wise, and their instructions have served us well.”
Dr. Fraiser had started examining the olerace. She looked up at Quinlan’s comment. “I wonder. Could it be so simple?” She thought aloud.
“What?” Carter moved over to join her.
“Just a theory,” Janet answered. “Let me test it.”
She beavered away for several minutes extracting and dissolving and heating in test tubes and looking at things under the microscope. Then finally she mixed two samples together, and examined the result. She grinned broadly.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. Jackson, but I believe the expression is Eureka!”
“You’re saying the sprouts – uh, olerace – are the cure for Jack’s, um, predicament?” Carter asked.
“Looks like it,” Fraiser replied. “There’s an active agent present that appears to cancel out the unknown element of the frosting. I still have no idea how or why they work as they do, I just know the effect is real. So, it’s certainly worth a try, but we need to make sure we get the – shall we say dosage – right. We don’t want the Colonel to end up aging too far again.”
“Will it restore his memory too?” Daniel wanted to know.
“There’s no way to predict that,” Janet admitted. “We’ll just have to wait and see and hope.”
Dr. Fraiser, with Carter assisting, worked for most of the afternoon before declaring they were ready to try giving Jack his antidote. They took a carefully measured amount of the olerace to Goodmaid Muadhnait with instructions on how to prepare them.
When the team sat down to eat that evening, the ladies were in high spirits and full of optimism. Teal’c was as enigmatic as ever. Both Daniel and Junior Jack were sulking, big time. Daniel because he’d been warned he mustn’t eat even one of the sprouts; Jack because he’d been told he had to eat every last one on his plate.
Young Jack smothered one of the sprouts with mashed potato, held his nose with one hand, screwed up his eyes, and ‘bit the bullet’.
“Euuugggh!” he declared. “It’s disgusting.”
“No it’s not, Jack,” Daniel said, looking enviously at the vegetables. “They’re delicious and nutritious. So, come on, eat up.”
“ - Don’t start that again.” Daniel said crossly. Then he remembered that bribery was liable to get him further than threats.
“Tell you what, kiddo,” he grinned. “If you eat up all your greens like a good boy, then tomorrow I’ll let you play soldiers with us. I might even give you a go with my gun.” Daniel patted his zat gun.
“For real?” Junior Jack’s eyes were wide as saucers.
“Sure. But only if you eat up.”
“If I finish this, can I have some cake after?” Jack asked hopefully.
“NO!” cried the whole team in unison.
“I think we can probably let you have some of the ice-cream,” Carter placated, looking at Muadhnait questioningly.
“It is quite safe,” the Goodmaid assured her.
Unenthusiastically, Jack settled down to clear his plate.
Next morning, Daniel and Teal’c went to Jack’s room and anxiously knocked on the door.
For a nerve-racking minute, they heard nothing.
Daniel knocked again.
“Fer cryin’ out loud, give a guy a minute!” came the grumble from inside.
Daniel and Teal’c exchanged relieved glances. It certainly sounded as if the old Jack was back.
The door opened, and a fully-grown Colonel Jack O’Neill emerged.
“How d’you feel, Jack?”
“Damn knees’re killing me, thanks for asking.”
“Welcome back, O’Neill,” Teal’c said.
“What do you remember, Jack?” Daniel asked.
“A lot more than you, I reckon,” Jack told him. “How many times do I have to tell you? It’s airman, not soldier, and that’s a weapon, not a gun!”
Daniel blushed at the criticism. “C’mon, Jack, let’s go home.”
From the desk of General George Hammond:
FAO: Colonel Jack O’Neill, SG-1, and any other SGC members who accompany Colonel O’Neill offworld in the future.
This order is of the highest importance and is to be adhered to strictly at all times.
Even when he is the Commanding Officer, under NO circumstances is Colonel O’Neill EVER to be allowed to eat cake on an alien planet again.