In a Strange Country

The bed was wet. Again.

      Maybourne sighed inwardly and sat up on the edge, trying to avoid the worst of the damp patch. The Asgard might make comfortable mattresses, but that didn't stop the aforementioned mattresses getting soggy and smelly after being peed on by a small child in the middle of the night.

      Silently, he recited the mantra. She wets the bed because she's frightened. Shouting at her will only make her more afraid. He'd lost his temper yesterday, though. Sunlight had had a tantrum and he'd had one right back at her. It had been nearly an hour before she'd edged her way over to him and pleaded silently for a cuddle. He shrugged mentally. Where else could she go? Come to that, where else could he go?


      "Morning, Princess." It might have been morning. He no longer paid any attention to his watch, only continued to wear it from force of habit. There was no reason for the Asgard ship to be in the same time zone as Colorado, or even to have the same length of day.

      "I'm sorry," she said tentatively, looking down at the dark stain on the bed.

      "It doesn't matter." He wrapped an arm around her. "Shower?"

      Sunlight nodded; she wasn't much into long conversations. He figured that was probably a bad sign, hadn't the faintest idea what to do about it - why didn't children come with manuals? It had only been the second night when Sunlight had started sneaking into his bed. He'd tried to discourage her, had finally given in when he realised that it was the only way she could get to sleep without crying.

      She looped her arms around his neck, a sure-fire indication that she wanted to be carried.

      "You're heavy," he protested.

      "Am not."

      And she wasn't as heavy as she ought to be. Even to Maybourne's inexperienced eye, she looked thin, probably because she'd hardly eaten anything for the last five days. What passed for food with the Asgard might be nutritionally balanced, but it tasted like crap. He could force it down himself; the mustard-flavoured ones were almost edible, but Sunlight had to be coaxed to eat even a single tablet.

      He sighed, and picked her up. At least the shower had real water and some kind of showergel. Familiarity was always helpful where Sunlight was concerned, even though a sonic shower or some more arcane alien device might have been more interesting from his own point of view. What was frustrating was the lack of privacy. Sunlight refused to let him out of her sight; even closing the door of the shower was too much. Everyone else in the kid's life had vanished, he guessed she was afraid he'd go too if she didn't keep close. Washing her was okay; he didn't mind doing that, but damn it...

      "Sunlight, if I leave the door open, will you turn your back? Please?"

      She considered that for a long moment, then nodded and slowly turned away.

      Hastily, Maybourne turned his back on her, just in case, stripped off his boxers and scrubbed himself down in one of the fastest showers of his life.

      He checked over his shoulder before turning back again.

      "Sunlight. What did I say?"

      "I wasn't looking."

      Did children lie automatically, or was she just picking it up from him by some osmotic process?

      He slipped his boxers back on, accepting that they were going to get wet while he washed Sunlight. The air blast would dry off some of it and he could get changed later. He wasn't entirely sure whose underwear supply he'd been donated, but he gained minor amusement from assuming some of it to be O'Neill's.

      "Your turn," he said to Sunlight.

      He was sure she could wash herself, but when he asked her to, she just stood there silently and did nothing. Let the psychologists worry over that one; the bottom line was that when the bed was wet they both ended up smelling somewhat less than sweet and he had to do something about it. Besides, her hair needed washing. And how the hell did you do that without getting the gel in her eyes? He'd tested it on himself yesterday. It seemed to do an okay job on the hair, but it stung if you got it in your eyes.

      He'd been mad to take this on. Stark staring mad. On the other hand, the alternative hadn't had much going for it - being executed at dawn was pretty near the bottom of his list of ambitions, just a single point above being tortured to death.

      Hell, who was he kidding? She was Jack's child and he'd do the best he could by her; he just wasn't at all sure that his best was going to be good enough.


      Finally, dried and dressed, they settled down to breakfast. As Asgard recliners didn't fit well to human bodies, they'd taken to eating on the floor. It might have given a picnic atmosphere to the proceedings, except that neither of them felt even fractionally inclined in that direction. The whole room, cell, call it what you pleased, was inherently depressing, functionalism taken to extremes. Three dull grey walls and a force wall facing an empty corridor did nothing to inspire the mind, the furniture was minimalist and although food materialised at regular intervals, even as dirty bedding and laundry disappeared, it still came out worse than the cell he'd occupied on Earth. At least that had had a TV set.

      Maybourne chewed on a brown tablet that made him think of dog biscuits. Sunlight just sat and stared at hers.

      "Try a little bit. It's not as bad as you think."



      He'd managed to make her laugh yesterday by pulling faces and falling into an 'Is, Isn't' routine, but it wasn't going to work today.

      "Story," she said.

      "If I tell you a story, will you eat it?"


      He'd already learned to be chary of her promises; Sunlight had a very flexible memory as to what had actually been promised.

      "Blue, did you hear that?" He reached out a hand and nodded the bear's head. "See, Teddy Blue knows now, so you've got to keep the promise."

      She looked suspiciously at the bear as though it had betrayed her. Blue was her main confidant, the repository of secrets that she chose not to share with Maybourne.

      "My story."

      Maybourne winced. It was the tale she asked for most often and he was already heartily fed up of it. He kept adding new bits to it, just to relieve the tedium.

      "Once upon a time, there was a king. He was noble and wise, almost boringly so-"

      "No, he wasn't."

      "Wasn't noble and wise?"

      "Wasn't boring."

      "Okay, he was noble and wise and kind and generous and everyone loved him. Happy?"

      His audience nodded, Teddy Blue with a little assistance from Sunlight.

      "The King had a wife and a daughter." He allowed his voice to become more serious. "He loved them both very very much and they were the most important people in the world to him.

      "The King was a friend to the fairies and he used to visit their lands and talk to them. But the kingdom also had an enemy, terrible monsters who wanted to destroy the king and all his people. The Grand Vizier-"

      "What's a Grand Vizier?"

      "I don't know. Some kind of important govenment minister. Anyway, the Vizier was powerful and he and the King disagreed about what should be done with regard to the monsters and the fairies."

      "He was a baddie," Sunlight said.

      "No, he wasn't. He wanted to protect the kingdom just as much as the King did. The fairies had lots of magic weapons, things that would help kill the monsters, but they wouldn't share them with the King. They promised to defend the kingdom, but the Grand Vizier couldn't help wondering if the fairies really meant their promises. After all, if they really wanted to help, why didn't they share their magic?

      "So, the Grand Vizier went and stole some magic from the fairies. This made the fairies angry and they withdrew their protection from the kingdom. One of the monsters took her chance and attacked. Her name was Nirrti and she was a very very nasty monster. The King had once set her free in exchange for the life of the Princess's friend-"

      Sunlight perked up. "Cassie!"

      "Yes. Cassie." Even saying the name hurt. He missed her more than he would have thought possible: the solid warmth of her in his arms, the subtle fragrance of the skin at the back of her neck. Did Cassie really understand... Perhaps. Save that thought for dreams. Maybe not even then, or there'd be more than one wet spot on the bed to explain away.

      "Anyway, the monster cast a magic spell that made everyone fall ill. People started dying. The Queen died and the King wept for her." It was odd how you fell into a slightly more archaic language pattern when telling stories, as though to give a new story a fake patina of age. "Then the Princess fell ill. Everyone who loved the Princess was terribly upset by this because she was a very pretty princess and everyone loved her." And how come the good guys always got to be the good-looking ones?

      "Grandpa," prompted Sunlight.

      "The Princess's Grandpa had a guardian angel and he gave his angel to the Princess to make her better, but everyone else was still dying. The King went to the fairies and pleaded with them for help, but they were adamant. The price for their help was the most precious thing in his kingdom - the Princess."

      "And you."

      "And me," he agreed.

      "Because you were naughty."

      "Will you cut that?"

      "Stealing's wrong," Sunlight said with self-righteous virtue.

      "All right, it was wrong," he agreed with poor grace and half a dozen mental caveats. "Now do you want me to finish the story or not?"

      For a miracle, she was silent. Had he really been concerned that she was too quiet? Maybe execution wasn't such a bad option after all...

      "The King pleaded with them to accept anything else - he would far rather they had taken him than his beloved daughter - but in the end, he had no choice. He sent his daughter to live with the fairies and part of the Grand Vizier's punishment was that he had to look after the Princess."

      "That's not what you said yesterday."

      "What did I say yesterday?"

      "They wouldn't shoot him, if he was good and looked after her."

      Jack, if I didn't know she was your daughter before, I'd know it now because she's every bit as irritating.

      "Have it your way. The Princess gave her guardian angel to the King, so that he wouldn't be lonely on his own, and nobody lived happily ever after at all. But at least everyone was cured of the plague." I hope. Did the Asgard keep their end of the deal? Is Thor or anyone else ever going to come calling or are we going to be kept alone here for the rest of our respective lives?

      "Now eat your breakfast."

      "Teddy Blue's eaten it for me; he was hungry."

      He looked at Teddy Blue. Blue stared back with a glassy, unwinking eye. He had soft velvety fur of a deep sapphire colour and a thin gold chain around his neck with a tiny heart dangling from it. Not that Maybourne was any expert, but Blue didn't look quite the kind of bear you'd give to a young child. That chain would be too easy to snap. The bear looked more like... Ah, it was obvious when you looked for it. He was slightly surprised that he hadn't noticed days ago - he was slipping and that was a bad sign. The bear had a very obvious seam down the front, it obviously opened into a velcro-edged pouch that would allow a small birthday present such as a bottle of perfume or a watch to be hidden inside it.

      And what was in the pouch now? He didn't even bother looking. The only real question was whether it was just one meal or several.

      Maybourne looked directly at the point where he'd have placed a hidden camera.

      "Thor," he said with deliberate slowness, "you're killing her."



"Maybourne speaks your name," Heimdahl said with interest.

      Thor half-turned to the hologram beside him. "I doubted O'Neill's wisdom in this matter, but now I believe he may have chosen wisely."

      "He actually requested that his enemy care for his child? Why did he not ask for her to be fostered on one of the protected worlds?"

      Thor had wondered about that himself. It would have been safer than living aboard Bifrost. With part of his attention, he studied the figures that scrolled across the screen in front of him: a readout of the condition of the High Fleet. The fleet was seriously below strength; aiding Earth had cost them dearly. Pulling ships from the front line of the fight against the Replicators had weakened the defence, costing them two planets with valuable resources and a number of smaller ships with their crew. All the intelligence he had to hand showed the same thing: the Aesir were losing the fight. They might hold out for years yet, but losing their main supply of trinium seriously impacted on their warship production capabilities. He had gambled much to save the humans, possibly too much, and yet he couldn't entirely regret it.

      Thor looked again at the screen. Maybourne had his back to Sunlight now; he was doing something with pencil and paper.

      "There is a relationship," Thor said, "of some nature that I do not yet comprehend."

      "I do not see anything complicated," Heimdahl replied. "If O'Neill's request is accepted by the Council, then Maybourne will live as long as the child needs him. It is natural for him to protect her life under those circumstances."


      Maybourne completed his writing, folded the paper neatly in four, glanced at Sunlight who was staring blankly at a wall, and placed it by the edge of the force screen across the entrance of the cell. He moved to sit beside her on the floor and stared at the wall with her.

      "What's he doing?" Heimdahl asked.

      "I don't know. Humans tend to be unpredictable."

      Maybourne cocked his head towards Sunlight. "Did you hear that?"

      "I didn't hear anything," she said.

      "Over there - maybe something moved?" He turned to look at the paper. "That wasn't there before."

      "What is it?"

      "I don't know. Can you go and get it for me?"

      Sunlight picked the paper up and unfolded it. "It's a letter." She turned it over in her hands. "Who wrote it?"

      Maybourne took it from her and glanced at it. "Hey!" He smiled in well-simulated surprise. "It's from your dad."

      Heimdahl looked thoughtful. "He deceives her, but he deceives her for a reason."

      Thor nodded. "She will eat now."

      "He could have forced her to eat."

      "As I said, there is a relationship."

      Heimdahl's eyes were alive with excitement. "There is no genetic link between the two?"


      "He has no children of his own?"

      "I do not believe so."

      Now Heimdahl was almost dancing on the tips of his toes. "Yet he is deducing her needs and responding to them."

      "More than that," Thor replied. "He is teaching her. See, he is showing her the letters of their writing and trying to demonstrate the connection between the symbols and the sounds."

      "How long will it take her to acquire knowledge by this method?"

      "Many years. Even decades."

      "It is very ineffecient," Heimdahl said with noticeably reduced enthusiasm.

      "But it is the source of their flexibility. Their young know nothing for certain. They learn through trial and error. I have watched her draw. She does not even reproduce the correct number of fingers."

      "Whereas we know everything, and lack mental as well as genetic variety."


cd /"Daniel?"

      He looked up from his desk to see Jack standing in the doorway.

      "Jack. What can I do for you?"

      "I wondered, well, that is, Kantele-"

       "Have you got any musical instruments lying around? Teal'c promised to fill me on on the last couple of hundred years of Jaffa music, and it's easier if I have something I can pick out a tune on."

      There were a few things lying around his office, probably more in the storerooms waiting to be fully catalogued. He ran a quick mental inventory: several drums from P3Z-834; a couple of bone flutes primarily of interest for the symbolism of the carving on them; a set of tubular bells from the Land of Light; a stringed instrument that bore a passing resemblance to a violin with too many strings, and another that was more like a guitar.

      While rooting them out, he asked: "You realise the significance of song in Jaffa culture?"

       "Of course."

      "And it is?" Jack asked, sounding slightly irritated, followed by, "Oh, I see."

      It was so automatic to give Jack the lecture, that he carried on anyway while searching in various drawers for the flutes. "The Goa'uld control most of their subject populations by forbidding them to read and write. You remember how the natives on Abydos reacted when I first sketched Gate symbols for them?"

      "Yeah. They acted as though you'd done something really dangerous."

      He pulled the drums down off a high shelf and blew a small cloud of dust off the skins. "And it's like that among most of the Jaffa. Only the high-ranking ones like Teal'c are allowed to learn to read. They need it to operate ships and the like. Teal'c can read several dialects, but he learnt as an adult, not as a child."

       "Which means they developed a strong oral tradition."

      "He means they keep their history in the form of songs and stories," Jack said.

      "I knew that," Daniel said.

      "That's my line."

      Daniel grinned in spite of himself. Symbiote or no symbiote, this was still the same Jack. He ranged the instruments along his desk. "Any of these any use to you?"

      Jack - or was it Kantele? - picked up each in turn and examined it. Things were tapped, twanged, turned upside-down, blown through and generally fiddled with. Watching the body language, he could sense the urge to play that always came over Jack when faced with any new and interesting object. These were toys, and two children sharing one body were exploring all the interesting things that could be done with them.

      "Have you got any water?" Jack asked.

      He filled a glass from the faucet, only to watch in surprise as Jack poured some of it onto the drum skin and rubbed it in. Jack glanced up at him. "Dampens the pitch. When the skin gets too dry, it gets tighter. This hasn't been played in a long time." He proceeded to rectify that particular deficit by tapping out a quick rhythm, then testing out the other drums, selecting a couple he liked and playing them as a set, first cautiously, then faster as he gained confidence. After a minute or two, he stopped and shook out his wrists. "It's a long time since I last did that."

      "You? Or Kantele?"

      Jack looked mildly embarrassed. "Me. When I was a student, my room mate played the bongos. I sort of got to pick them up after a while."

      He moved onto the guitar thingy and tweaked the pegs.

       "You realise," Kantele said, "I have absolutely no idea what key this is supposed to be in."

      "Does it matter?" Daniel asked.

       "Ha! Don't you realise that entire cultures can be traced by their use of musical techniques? Did you know that traditional Scottish music uses a pentatonic scale, or that Irish music is typically in the key of D?"

      He was beginning to see what Kantele was driving at. "You're saying you could work out a culture's roots from its musical traditions. even if there were no written records?" It wasn't just the instrument or the words of the songs, the actual structure of the melody could also be important.

      Jack's right hand reached out and helped itself to a couple of apples and an orange from a bowl on the desk. Daniel watched his vanishing vitamins with a wary eye; Janet had been on at him to increase the amount of fruit in his diet, but if the worst came to the worst he could always get more from the canteen.

       "Exactly," Kantele said. "What does the instrument alone tell you? It's just an exercise in wood-carving. If you don't record the music, you've lost everything that matters."

      An apple was tossed into the air, closely followed by the orange. The second apple travelled from Jack's right hand to his left in a fast transfer. For a moment, it looked as though he was going to fumble the first catch, but then he caught the rhythm and got the fruit juggling in a smooth pattern.


      "Yes?" The rhythm never faltered.

      "Are we boring you by any chance?"

      "I'm sure it's absolutely fascinating." Apple followed orange followed apple in a steady circle. "Are you doing anything this evening?"

      "As a matter of fact-"

      "I need you to help us with this Asgard translation business. Kantele can get by in the language, but he's no good at anything detailed."

      "Jack." Daniel held up a hand to forestall the inevitable protest. "I can't come tonight; I'm eating with Janet and Cassandra."

      The orange made a high pass, almost to the ceiling, came down with perfect control to rejoin its place in the cycle. "See them tomorrow."

      "I know how important this is to you," Daniel said. "But you have to accept it's not something we can solve overnight. If you're seriously willing to work at it for months on end" - his eyes followed the orange as it travelled from hand to hand - "then I can give up most of my evenings to work on it with you. I have to have some time to myself though. I have people I care about too."

      "Since when?"

      "Since what?"

      "Are you seeing Janet?"

      "Of course I'm seeing her. She invited me round for a meal this evening."

      "I mean 'seeing' seeing."

      "No. She's just been under a lot of strain since Cassandra's illness."

      "You are seeing her."

      "Am not! You of all people should know that you can care for someone without sleeping with them."

      The orange hit the desk with a thud, rolled off and landed on the floor as Jack grabbed frantically for the apples and managed to prevent them following.

      "Since when?" Daniel asked.

      "Since what?"

      "Sam's been on holiday all week. It's usually a fight to get her to take any time off at all. When were you thinking of telling the rest of us?"

      Watching embarrassment steal over Jack's face was a novel experience. He tried hard to recall the last time he'd seen Jack caught with his fingers in the cookie jar.

      "I just told Hammond - I've resigned from SG-1, effective immediately."

      "And Teal'c and me?"

       "They wanted to tell you together. They needed time."

      He could imagine. "You wanted to tell me this evening?"

      Jack gave an awkward, half-embarrassed shrug. "Something like that. Sam's better at that kind of thing than I am. We didn't want to tell the whole world just yet."

      That he could understand. People would try and treat it as an excuse for a party and Jack wouldn't be able to handle that right now. An unpleasant thought struck him.

      "Jack. Hold off telling people as long as you can."


      "Because some people will be nasty enough to assume that you pushed Sunlight off to her other relatives to make way for a woman who didn't want a stepdaughter."

      "Oh, for crying out loud."

      He put out a hand to steady Jack's shoulder. "Not everyone knows Sam the way you and I do. She's smart and that makes some people jealous. They won't admit she can be kind and loving as well."

       "She's still getting used to the idea of a daughter." Kantele sounded a little defensive. "It's easier for her to love Cassandra, because she's known her for years. She had far less time with Sunlight than Jack did. All she really has are the stories I can tell her."

      He hesitated, unsure of how to respond. If Jack had said that, a physical response would have been easy: a squeeze of the hand resting on Jack's shoulder or some other simple physical contact. Just how close was the relationship between symbiote and host? Did they share one another's emotions? Did they both feel the same about the physical body? Did they share the same sense of personal space? He tried to cover his uncertainty with a question:

      "How much is she like the Sam you knew?"

       "She's more certain of herself, more confident. I think being in the Air Force has done that. Otherwise, she's still the same sweet Sam that her father and I loved. In fact, she's so much like her that-"

      "That what?"

       "Nothing. Forget it."

      If it was just Jack he'd have tried to find out more, to see if it was a problem and if it was something he could help with. But then again, it was Jack - sort of...


      "Forget it."

      "If there's anything I can do to help..."

      Jack shook his head. "I'm not sure that anyone can help with this one."



There was a fairy standing at the other end of the room.

      Sunlight tugged at Harry's shoulder and he looked up from the book he was reading.

      "About time too," he said crossly, as he got to his feet and smoothed down his shirt. "Where the hell have you been?"

      Uncertain as to whether the fairy was dangerous or not; she took a step behind Harry to be on the safe side.

      He glanced down at her. "Don't worry, Princess, it's just a hologram." He stooped, picked up a pencil and tossed it. It went right through the fairy.

      "Do it again!"

      Harry passed her a eraser and with great daring, she threw it at the fairy. The fairy blinked as the eraser went through its tummy.

      "I am Heimdahl," it said in a funny high-pitched voice.

      Sunlight giggled.

      "Where's Thor?" said Harry.

      "I would be foolish of me to tell you that. You are an enemy of the Aesir."

      Harry shrugged. "I'd say our interests were pretty much the same. I want this ship and those on board to survive. Care to differ?"

      "I wish to ask you some questions," Heimdahl said.

      "You can ask," Harry said in the sort of voice grown ups used when they meant 'but I don't promise to answer them'.

      "Have you any previous experience in caring for children?"

      "I'm doing the best I can," he said, still cross. "She needs proper food for a start. She needs to get outside. And she needs to be able to play with other children."

      Heimdahl's eyes studied her. "You believe that she would be happier if she were to be adopted on one of the Protected Worlds?"

      Harry stood very stiff. "That's not what I said."

      "But it is what you believe?"

      "You're asking me to sign my own death warrant. I won't do that."

      The fairy vanished.

      "Why hasn't it got wings?" Sunlight asked.


      "Fairies have wings. And they're pretty."

      "Some other time." Harry want and sat down by the wall and buried his head in his arms. Then he said a naughty word. A few minutes later, he picked up his book and threw it at the invisible wall. It bounced back and fell the floor, pages fluttering. Harry said another naughty word and Sunlight took Teddy Blue and retreated under the bed where it was safer.


      Maybourne stared at the book where it had fallen. Macbeth wasn't such a bad tale when you got into it - Lady Macbeth being a ruthless manipulative liar - but he couldn't summon enough enthusiasm to go and pick it up. There wasn't any point. You could only face dying so many times before you gave up and abandoned the struggle to live. He was tired: tired of being conned into dangerous situations by Jack O'Neill, tired of trying to cope with an over-wrought child and tired to death of forever looking over his shoulder wondering if this would be the day that justice and the electric chair finally caught up with him.

      He stared into blankness until his foot developed pins and needles from being still for too long.

      Giving up, Maybourne? he mocked himself. Want to die among friends, Harry? Well, forget it. The only friend you have right now is hiding under the bed, because you've scared her again. So, what are you going to do? Mope about until they come for you? Come on, you know yourself better than that. There's always a trick somewhere; you just have to find it.

      So - options: find a way out, or convince them you're indispensable.

      Lock-picks, even if I had them, aren't much use on a force field. In the unlikely event that I find the apocryphal garbage chute, I'll either end up floating in space or trying to find my way around a ship that I don't know how to fly. Use Sunlight as a hostage? I'd have to find a way of convincing her it was a game so that she wouldn't be frightened. Besides, stun weapons make a nonsense of any hostage situation.

      How can you make them believe you're indispensible? You speak Sunlight's native language; that's a point in your favour. You know her native culture. But that's only useful if they ever plan to return her home. Will they keep her until Jack dies? Will they keep her forever? Until she's adult? You need to know. Do they plan to integrate her into their own culture? If that's the case, they might teach her to use some of their technology - that might give you both a long term chance of escape.

      A head peered out from under the bed. "I'm sorry," it said in a whisper.

      He held out an arm. "Sunlight, just because I'm mad doesn't mean it's your fault." Just how often do I shout at her for her to make that automatic assumption? "Come here, I need you to help me think." Assume they're watching. Make it look as good as you can. He waited until she came to him, settled her on his lap, head resting quietly against his shoulder.

      What do I do with you? I promised your father... Can I use that? It's not a legal obligation, so probably not. I can't claim you'll suffer enormous harm from losing me - we survive together, but I'm not your father and never will be.

      She was a warm weight against him. He ruffled his fingers through her hair, smoothed it back into place again. Love her, Cassie had said, but it wasn't that easy. This place encouraged the fake. Keep Sunlight happy and you live. So I keep her happy as much as I can. Does that mean I feel anything for her? How the hell should I know? Where is the line between pretence and reality?

      Did I really love Cassandra, or did I just pretend that too? Did I make up a dream of a woman who actually trusted me?


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