Daniel's apartment was crammed with books on every available shelf and on the floor when shelves ran out, but even where they were things of beauty, O'Neill suspected that they were loved for their content rather than their looks. To Daniel, words in an old book came alive and spoke to him of other times and places.
I think you're wrong, Kantele said. I bet he'd far rather touch an original book than a modern reprint - it's that sense of connection with the past. A book isn't just words, it tells you about the people who made it: the paper-maker, the printer, the book-binder; and the materials they used are all part of the story.
Who's known Danel longest? O'Neill demanded.
Whose memories am I seeing him through? We could always ask him...
And risk getting a three hour description of how papyrus was manufactured?
They grabbed a set of Northern European dictionaries almost at random and sat down on an overstuffed chair beside a tank of tropical fish. The fish had followed Daniel every time he'd had to move apartment in order to accommodate his growing research collections. Right now, the tank contained a large angel fish and a shoal of little fish that looked as though they had blue and red strip lights running along their bodies. The sound of the bubbles coming out of the air pump was oddly relaxing, some slight comfort when faced with the enthralling prospect of several hours of non-stop translation.
Daniel returned from the kitchen alcove bearing mugs of coffee.
"The first thing we have to do," he said, setting down O'Neill's mug on a small table resting on top of three Indian elephants, is to determine whether we keep the text in the original Asgard runes or whether we recopy it into the Latin alphabet.
"It's not Latin," O'Neill objected. "I know Latin."
"Yes, yes," Daniel said, "I know you do. I meant the alphabet, not the language."
"Pros and cons. It'd take us forever to copy the whole thing out in another alphabet."
"But it may be easier for you and Jack to compare uncertain words with their closest Scandinavian equivalent if they're in the same alphabet. Especially if we need to go back to the more archaic forms of language in the sagas."
"I'll take the sagas," Kantele said quickly. You could almost feel him salivate.
What's so great about sagas, apart from their length?
Battle, murder, dragons, heroes, action, adventure - are you getting the picture?
He was - in glorious Technicolour. Kantele was painting images, broad epics of the mind, and rolling over them all, the measured syllables of the bard telling of deeds of valour.
"I've got a lot of this stuff in memory. The Aesir protected worlds are nice places to visit; most of the languages are related to one another and they all have aspects of the Aesir tongue."
"That's good," Daniel said, "because I'm not too good on any of them."
"I thought you spoke everything - except Latin."
"I can get by," Daniel said, slightly nettled. "Jack, you always expect me to translate everything inside of five minutes whether it's something like Coptic that I know inside out, or a language that I've never even seen before. The important thing is to understand the structure and the rules. When you have that, you can work out whether two superficially similar words are actually the same word in a different tense or case, or whether they derive from a common root, or whether they're completely independent. If I've understood Kantele correctly, then he's a language user rather than a linguist."
"What's the difference?" O'Neill said. "If he can speak it, then he understands it."
"You're the one who gets pedantic about English grammar."
"To who could I state that the desire to accurately articulate is exactly what you're at?"
O'Neill stared at him in semi-shock. "You bastard!" That made one split infinitive, one missing 'whom' and a sentence ending in a preposition.
Daniel took a measured sip from his coffee. "We're agreed that grammatical structure is important then?"
O'Neill sighed. "Where do you want us to start?"
In the calm, pine-scented, evening air, it was possible to pick out the additional smells of oil from human machinery and of smoke from Jaffa cooking fires. It was quiet here on the hillside: a peaceful kind of quiet that came from the tiny, almost unheard, sound of a moth's flight or of a small mammal scurrying past in the undergrowth. An unseen bird called in a strange rattling voice that Teal'c recalled from another time on another world.
"Do you remember?" he asked Bra'tac.
"Yes. You were young then, but you learnt well."
Chulak and the lessons of his youth were a lifetime away, but this world was like it in many ways. The yellow sun rising over the hills in the early morning, slanting its light across tall, waving, grasses and running water; the way the deer ran fleet before the hunter; these were things that he understood. When he was a boy, he would have said that the gods had created all worlds and thus they had all good things in common. Later, he would have claimed that the Goa'uld terraformed them all to make them capable of supporting human slave populations. Now, he suspected that the Ancients had brought life to many of them even before the Goa'uld. This world, Alpha site, as General Hammond called it, or Shangri La as some of the SGC had informally named it, was not on any list of Gate addresses known to the Goa'uld. It had never been touched by their hand.
Here, perhaps, the Jaffa were safe. In their own tongue they called it Taknow, the place of final refuge. If they were driven from here, there would be nowhere left to go.
Bra'tac stood, leaning on his staff weapon, gazing down at the river that flowed fast and shallow over the multi-coloured pebbles in its bed. "Now," he said, "you must remain and teach others. You must become their leader."
"I must return to the SGC," Teal'c said. "I have sworn myself to the service of the Tau'ri."
"No more. O'Neill is no longer with your SG-1. Major Carter will not remain long."
"She will," Teal'c objected. "She is to command. Even now, General Hammond is considering which of their warriors should join us."
Bra'tac shook his head. "She will not remain, even though you follow their customs and serve under her. Look into her eyes. Do you think she will serve on other worlds when her mate remains on Earth?"
"O'Neill will not demand this of her."
"I did not say he will demand; she will choose this for herself."
"And Daniel Jackson?"
"What is his calling?"
Teal'c considered that thoughtfully. The Daniel Jackson he had first known had been driven by his desire to find his wife, Sha're. After her death, he had determined to continue the fight against the Goa'uld. But what was the heart of the man? How did he best follow the Way? What was his true path through the universe?
"Master Bra'tac," he said finally, "Daniel Jackson is a bridge between peoples. He creates understanding."
Bra'tac nodded in confirmation. He pointed his staff weapon down into the encampment, down among the tents and pre-fabricated buildings. "His place is here. Our people are dependent on the Tau'ri for supplies and weapons, but few of them speak our language and only you are fluent in theirs. There is already resentment and misunderstanding; soon, fights will break out. The Tau'ri speak disrespectfully to our women; they insult our warriors; and many of them are unhappy that Hammond of Texas chose to give us refuge here. Daniel Jackson understands our customs. He is a bridge, and he is needed so that those who seek to overthrow the Goa'uld will work together rather then in opposition."
Teal'c bowed his head in recognition. "I will speak with him regarding this. If my calling is here, then I will ask him to accompany me."
They started slowly towards the encampment, walking softly through the late evening as the air cooled further and insect-hunting bats flew in quick, darting paths over the bushes near the water. From inside one of the tents, a woman's voice sang a lullaby to her baby: an old lament for those carried away into captivity. For a hundred generations they had been slaves to the Goa'uld, but before that, their ancestors had been free.
It was time to remember that freedom and to fight for it.
Jack moved the beer glass acting as a paperweight on the pile of printed sheets on the coffee table and pulled out one covered in pencilled annotations.
"What do you make of this section? Kantele thinks it relates to agreements regarding repatriating prisoners of war, but I don't think the Asgard have war among themselves."
Daniel looked over the marked section and consulted one of the dictionaries he'd brought round with him. It was easier when he was at home with all his reference books to hand, but today was Tuesday so they were at Jack's place.
"I think the implication is that when hostilities are over, all those held by either side are returned without prejudice, but if you interpret this line slightly differently, then it suggests that a payment of some kind might have to be made for each prisoner."
"It could be very old legislation from a less peaceful time in their past, or it could have been developed to cover situations when they've been fighting the Goa'uld."
It really hung on the precise meaning of the word. Each of the Scandinavian languages cast hints on translating Asgard - though none of them were an exact match, he'd found Swedish to be the most useful. Passing Jack the Norwegian volume, he started checking Swedish. They turned pages in the now familiar routine of checking for all words that might be similar phonetically or could derive from the same root. Date of first reference was particularly useful. The older the word, the closer its relationship generally was to the Asgard language.
Jack started listing options in methodical columns, each Norwegian word paired with its possible meanings in English. His hand was neat and precise, each letter printed rather than written. It had grown neater with every session, especially ones where they'd had to refer back to illegible notes taken early on.
Every so often, he'd pause and write something in a separate column in a diffent hand. It was always interesting to read Kantele's notes, they derived from everything from nursery rhymes to epic ballads. Their actual usefulness varied. Ballads rarely included legal technicalities, but it was surprising what they threw up on occasion. Take his latest comment; the concept of ransom was dealt with in the tale of a Nordic hero captured by the ettins. That might be useful, but the problem, as always, lay in getting from the general to the specific. Something as basic as the order of two words could make a serious difference to the way in which they were interpreted.
Another twenty minutes and then they would take a break to watch The Simpsons. Jack allowed himself that one concession, said it helped him garner enough mental strength to tackle another page of Asgard legalese. Through dead ends, mistranslations, multiple definitions and writer's cramp, they'd keep going. Whenever Jack reached snapping point with frustration and boredom, he'd pick up a photograph and lose himself for a few minutes in his daughter's smile. Then, usually with a muttered curse, he'd pick up another page of runes and start work all over again.
It was long, it was slow, and Daniel hoped with all his heart that it wouldn't all be for nothing.
"Cassie, have you finished your homework yet?"
Cassandra paused a brief second in the doorway. "I'll do it later. Promised Marie I'd help her make her mom's birthday cake."
Janet flung her hands out in despair. "You've got to hand it in tomorrow."
"Don't fuss. I'll be okay." The door closed with a bang and she was running, brown hair streaming behind her, off down the drive.
Janet stabbed a finger at Sam, who looked suspiciously as though she might be about to laugh. "You wait. You'll be a parent one day." Running her fingers through her hair, she added: "Was the other Cassandra this bad?"
Sam followed her into the lounge and took an armchair before replying. "She was older, quieter. She'd seen too much. I think she missed you so much that she was afraid to even think about you. I often wonder how she's doing. I wonder about Sunlight too."
Janet too a chair opposite her and curled comfortably into it. "How's Jack coping?"
"He dreams about Sunlight. Kantele does too. I still can't get used to that."
"Well, it's bound to be strange having two minds in one body."
"It isn't that. It's the way they need me. I'm so used to him being the strong one."
Now that was ridiculous. "Sam Carter, you are one of the strongest women I have ever known."
Sam's fingers formed abstract shapes in the air, as though trying to articulate something that she had difficulty putting into words. "They need me emotionally. They're coping with a loss that I'm still having difficulty relating to. I barely knew Sunlight, but Jack formed this instant bond with her and Kantele's known her most of her life."
Janet leaned forward, stretched out a hand towards her friend. "Are you sure that's all there is to it? I mean how are they adapting to one another? I never saw Jack as the Tok'ra type."
Sam bit her lower lip. "That's the odd thing really - it works. Mostly."
Janet tilted her head, inviting further comment, but Sam changed the subject.
"I saw Dad yesterday with Malik. How many Tok'ra does that make now?"
She totted up on her fingers. "There were three on PK4-8X7. Two contacted us from Chulak. Jacob says he knows of one working undercover for Morrigan and another for Bastet. Then there's the woman who arrived with Malik-" She stopped abruptly. "Sam, why do you want to know?"
Sam fidgeted in her seat. "Nothing."
If that was nothing, then there was a colony of flying monkeys flapping around the room. She held out a box of candied fruit that a grateful patient had given her last week.
Sam hesitated, picked out a lime. "If Jack and- Forget I said that."
Janet slowly completed the sentence in her own mind. If Jack and Kantele wanted to separate, how many Tok'ra would be needed for them both to survive?
"It's all Rs," Jack said.
"Rs?" Daniel asked.
"Restitution. Reparations. Repatriation. Rights of individuals. Relativity."
"I'm not sure I follow you on that last one..."
"To the Aesir all values are relative. Legal penalties are imposed to match the scale of values of the person being charged."
"Ah." Trust Jack to use a totally wrong word to make sense in an odd sort of way. "As in they'd punish an art collector by taking his prize Monet rather than fining him cash."
"It appears to work like that. The concept of 'Värde' is related to their concept of balanc e and ties into what a thing is worth to you personally."
It was an odd system all round. The more he read, the more he was beginning to see the overall patterns, but he was no closer to seeing a solution to the basic problem. The legal basis for some kind of deal could possibly be established, but might require something that was as valuable to the Asgard as Sunlight was to Jack.
What could you offer to a race that already had everything?
Sam slipped through the door with a beer for Jack and a lemonade for Daniel which she placed silently on the table in front of them. He appreciated her lack of questions. 'How's it going?' could only have an answer in the negative. Jack held out a hand to her as she turned to leave, and she came to him, leant over the back of his chair and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He tilted his head back to touch his cheek to hers, a gesture touching in its quiet affection.
Daniel watched, debating whether this was a good time to raise the issue that he'd been putting off all week.
"Daniel?" Jack, sharp-eyed as ever, had caught his uncertainty. "Whatever it is, spit it out."
"I, uh... I was talking to Teal'c. His people need him. With Kytano dead, they've no clear leader and Bra'tac is too old. Teal'c hasn't yet made a decision, but he asked me if I'd be willing to move out to the Alpha site. The Jaffa badly need an interpreter."
"But what about-"
Whatever Jack had been going to say was cut off by the ring of his cellphone. A moment later Daniel's went off too. Then Sam's.
That could only mean one thing...
Events of the next hour were to remain forever etched in O'Neill's memory. Straight from one kind of stress into another, but this was one he could handle, one he was trained for. Something tangible, something that he'd fought before, something that he could shoot at.
Replicators. Everywhere. Metallic bodies skittering over the floor and walls in an endless flow of black. An arachnophobic's nightmare.
Weapons from the armoury; Daniel and Carter right behind him. Teal'c in the corridor, already part of the fight along with SG-3, laying down steady fire and covering one another as they fell back under the assault.
Move, cover, fire.
Still not knowing where the replicators were coming from, firing at the mechanical spiders, disintegrating them only to see even more come around the corner. Too much metal on the base, too much for them to feed on.
Move, fire, move again.
Fighting his way to the control room by pure instinct to try to find Hammond.
Looking down into the Gate room to see a young woman with replicators following her every gesture, and MacKenzie, talking to her, pleading with her.
Sergeant Davis telling him that the base auto-destruct was running with minutes to go, that the girl was an android, that she'd created the replicators herself, that they obeyed her.
Seeing the replicators slow as MacKenzie bought a moment's breathing space, then sprinting frantically down the stairs, feet clattering on every step, into the Gate room and firing reflexively at the android.
Watching the world freeze into slow motion as she fell, standing there staring at her as his thinking mind unfroze and caught up with the part of him that had been acting without any need for conscious deliberation.
Jack... Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
She controlled replicators
and the Aesir's number one headache is -
It is possible that Doctor MacKenzie lost sleep wondering why Colonel O'Neill suddenly clapped his hands in the air, shouted 'Yes!' and waltzed out of the Gate room singing 'We're off to see the wizard', but he was used to the eccentricities of certain SGC personnel and he knew a happy man when he saw one.