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10 July 2010 @ 07:46 am
SG-1 Fic: The Analog Myth (PG-13) (2/4)  
Fandom: Stargate: SG-1
Title: The Analog Myth (2/4)
Author: Em
Rating: PG-13 for language and violence
Word Count: ~40,000 (in 4 parts)
Pairing: Jack/Daniel
Warning: (highlight to reveal) character death (original character)
Summary: While doing routine negations on a planet that might actually be able to help the SGC fight the Ori, SG-1 stumbles upon a familiar technology—the Vinculum, the nanite-based invention that gives the bearer internet-in-the-brain. How did this technology make it from Tekhne, the planet where Jack and Daniel were first exposed, to Aberdone? And since the SGC is negotiating with the Aberdones and forced to unseal the mission files for Tekhne, how long will it be before this invasive technology makes it to Earth? To make matters worse, the Aberdones have recently experienced a religious revolution and are worshipping a new god . . . one, unfortunately, well known to SG-1.

Continued from Part 1.



* * *


Jack barely had time to react before Gerard was muttering to Jacob, the two of them working away in the Vinculum, trying to make up for their possible mistake. To Jack, though, this just confirmed his opinion: the internet should never be allowed in your brain. Ever. In fact, if he lived to see someone else invent the Vinculum on Earth, he might actually abuse his powers and have the inventor beamed to the Prometheus and jettisoned into space.

He was still considering whether or not to do that to Gerard.

Jack rubbed his brow, getting a headache from having Gerard and Jacob fly through the Vinculum next to him. "Any idea how much leaked?"

Enough, Jacob said, his voice coming only through the Vinculum. It was weird to hear a human voice, but still look at a robot every time Jacob spoke.

"We don't know that," Gerard mumbled. He crossed his workshop, but his eyes were unfocused. Jack had only seen him like that one other time, when he was watching feeds from five satellites while writing code to hack a building's surveillance cameras. Whatever Gerard was doing now clearly required a lot of concentration.

"Do you have anything so far?"

Gerard sighed and looked at Jack. "Weak spots?" He rubbed his lip, reminding Jack of Carter trying to explain some high-tech device in colonel-speak. "We're careful with the Vinculum, really, but there are times when—maybe someone could get in."

Jack did not want this technology on Earth, but still. . . . "You're freaked about a maybe?"

Gerard waved his hands. "If there's a Vinculum on another planet that the SGC has visited, a planet with no satellite technology. . . ." He bit his lip. "I'm eighty-percent positive someone stole the technology from me and gave it to the aliens."

"You think an SG-team did that?" Jack's job was bigger than the SGC now, he had more irons in the fire and more candles to burn and possibly more fire extinguishers to go with all of those fire analogies . . . but to propose there was a corrupt SG-team? "Why would they pass technology under the table?"

Gerard looked away, hunching his shoulders. "I don't know—to test it?"

Jack shook his head. No, he couldn't believe an SG-team would do that. Be asked to do it by the IOA, NID, or some other acronym, sure; but they wouldn't follow through on it.

Jacob's clawed hand clasped Jack's shoulder and he nearly jumped. Gerard and I will figure out if anything was stolen. Why don't you work on who might've stolen it? In the Vinculum Jacob wasn't smiling, but there was a light in his eyes like he was laughing at a joke.

"Right." Jack fumbled for his cell phone. "I'll make some calls, see if I can't confirm the SGC had nothing to do with this." He huffed (maybe just a little). "Or at least find out if there's any new nanotechnology that sounds like the Vinculum."

Jacob awkwardly patted him on the shoulder. "That sounds like a good job for you." Coming from the robot's speaker, Jack was pretty sure Jacob was being condescending.

He ducked out from under the claw and paced to the far side of the room, trying to decide where to start. SGC scientists were too closely tied to Area 51, and other than Carter he hated talking to them all anyway. Landry would have mentioned it, and if the IOA were involved, he wouldn't get anything out of them anyway. Jack scrolled through his call list, deciding Agent Barrett was his best bet.

"He-ey, Barrett," Jack said, over-doing the jovial thing. "How is it tracking down the world's most powerful evil businessmen?"

"It's, uh, good?" Barrett cleared his throat. "To what do I owe the pleasure, General O'Neill?"

Jack leaned against Gerard's desk, sitting just on the edge. "Have to do a bit of legwork. You heard of any organizations or individuals who might have recently come into a bit of nanotechnology? Or upgraded wireless?"

Barrett hummed. "I don't think so, but I can look into it. How recently?"

Jack glanced at Gerard from the corner of his eyes, but Gerard was totally engrossed in what he was doing. "Go back up to a year." SG-4's mission to Aberdone was only about three months ago, but this would have been in the works for a while—assuming Gerard's theory was correct.

"When do you need this?"

"Yesterday." Jack rolled his eyes at himself. "Can you make it a priority?"

Barrett chuckled. "You're the head of Homeworld Security."

Jack cleared his throat, making himself sound a little more authoritarian. "Make it a priority."

"Yes, sir."

Jack snapped his phone shut and then flipped it open, looking through the call list one more time. He'd missed a call from the SGC, but it wasn't Landry's line, which meant it was probably Daniel. No message and a quick check of the time confirmed SG-1 would have returned to Aberdone by now. He couldn't help but wonder why Daniel had called. Not that Jack blamed him, since Daniel'd kind of been busy getting himself and the galaxy into trouble, but Jack had been the only one to reach out since the failed trip to Atlantis.

"Jack?"

Jack looked up sharply at the sound of the monotone voice. All the lights on Jacob's face were softly lit, making the robotic mask look friendlier.

"We searched our history and found a day a few months back when there was additional access made to our network." Gerard rubbed his eyebrow. "We protected the system from wireless hacks, but didn't think about the times when we plug Jacob in for downloading."

"So something was stolen." Jack's stomach dropped like he'd pulled a loop-the-loop in a death glider. It was possible, then, that the SGC could have passed technology for Earth to "discover" on another planet. "Even more reason that you be the ones to check out the technology on Aberdone."

"What?"

Jack smiled thinly. "You and Jacob are going off-world."

* * *


"Ba'al. His name is Ba'al?" Mitchell scratched the back of his neck, talking behind his arm to the rest of SG-1. They were huddled away from the ambassadors, pretending to admire a statue of a woman holding a plate up to the sky. "There isn't by some chance some other alien going by the name of Ba'al, is there?"

Daniel shook his head, tight lipped. He knew SG-1's track record: things that were suspicious always went from bad to worse to you've-got-to-be-fucking-kidding-me.

"I'm pretty sure there's only one Ba'al," Sam said. "Well, one and his clones."

"One of which the Jaffa killed," Teal'c pointed out.

"Ah. Let's not discuss the killing," Daniel whispered, looking over his shoulder to where Vaisey was still talking to Bridgeman. Bridgeman's advisor has excused himself when they'd gotten out of the cars to explore one of the air parks. One less chaperone made it easier for SG-1 to step away while Vaisey asked more about the Aberdones' reasons for bringing the earth into the sky.

"Regardless of what Ba'al actually is, he's their god, and—" Daniel shook his head, still not quite sure how it happened. "And their entire civilization gave up every other religion and now—they all worship Ba'al. The planet." He looked at them each in turn, trying to make them understand that significance. "Planet." He emphasized each syllable, like he was sounding it out for someone who didn't speak English.

Mitchell shook his finger. "Hang on a second. Just yesterday you were lecturing them for using the damned internet, and now you're telling us to play it cool exposing a goa'uld?"

Daniel pinched his fingers together, wishing just once that someone would listen to his carefully emphasized words. "Religion. Entire planet. Converted practically overnight." He looked to Sam, trying to find the one person who might understand. "There's something else going on here."

"Like Ba'al being on this planet?" Mitchell shrugged. "Nothing about this screams goa'uld, though. The boardroom, the technology, the no-one-being-enslaved-and-mining-naquadah."

"It is unusual," Teal'c agreed. "Most goa'uld would have stripped this planet of its technology."

Sam shook her head, a worried furrow in her brow. "Ba'al isn't most goa'uld."

"What about the Vinculum?" Daniel was speaking more to Sam than anyone else. The ache of the Vinculum in his mind ebbed for a moment. "Do you think Ba'al knows about it?"

"He might," Sam said. "They're pretty open about it. And I'm sure the technology would've interested him. Ba'al understands machines, but he's not really an inventor, so he'd probably enjoy scavenging something as powerful as it."

Ba'al with control of the Vinculum—the thought alone sent a chill up Daniel's spine.

"Dr. Jackson!" The ambassadors were waving them back to the cable cars. Daniel and Sam exchanged a single look, silently agreeing to resume the conversation later. Mitchell pushed between them, though, planting himself between SG-1 and the cable car.

"Where's Ba'al?"

Daniel inwardly groaned and made a mental note to teach Mitchell about silent communication.

"Excuse me?" Bridgeman said, his hand coming to rest over his chest.

"Excuse me?" Vaisey repeated, frozen half inside the cable car.

"Ba'al," Mitchell said, resting his hands on his P-90. "You said he came to this planet." Mitchell looked around, like they were hiding him behind one of the floating trees. "Where is he?"

"We, we don't know," Bridgeman answered. "He was with us for a short time, he spoke with us—helped us—and then he left. He told us he would return within the year."

Daniel pushed into the Vinculum, his headache flaring, to test those words. When he tried to press into Bridgeman's thoughts the same way he'd pushed against Dawes, it was like pushing his hand into foam; there was give to it, but he couldn't quite break through. Regardless, as far as Daniel could tell, Bridgeman wasn't lying, and Ba'al wasn't hiding on the planet.

"No offense meant to your god or anything." Mitchell glanced at Daniel, like he was illustrating he was playing along as Daniel requested. "But this isn't really the MO we're used to seeing from . . . gods." Mitchell cast another look at Daniel.

Bridgeman's eyes widened and he turned his whole body towards Vaisey. "You've met other gods?"

"Uh." Vaisey spared Daniel a look, but pushed on without his help. "There is an alien race we've encountered that frequently poses as gods. Some . . . less developed planets mistake their science for magic." He finished a little uncertainly, like even he didn't buy the half-truth.

Bridgeman nodded and ran his finger along his jaw. "It is unfortunate that someone would take advantage of religious beliefs like that."

"Which is why we're so worried about the Ori," Vaisey cut in, inspired. "And why SG-1 is asking questions about your god. In their experience, a healthy dose of scientific enquiry is the key to understanding and enlightenment."

Daniel scoffed: enlightenment.

"I would be happy to answer any questions you may have." Bridgeman stepped back and made a sweeping gesture towards the cable car. "As we continue the tour?"

Mitchell turned his face towards Sam and then stepped forward, sliding across the back bench seat. The rest of SG-1 climbed in next to Mitchell, leaving Daniel to sit in the front with Vaisey and Bridgeman.

As the car moved into the air, sweeping through the second tier, Bridgeman turned so he could address everyone.

"I'm not a religious scholar, but through the Vinculum, we know much about Ba'al." Bridgeman cocked his head. "Have you not found the information for yourself, Dr. Jackson?"

"Uh." Daniel's eyes slid to Sam, not sure he should admit that his nanites didn't interact with their Vinculum in the same way he was used to. "My teammates don't have access to the Vinculum. Plus, it would be nice to hear it from your personal perspective."

"Very well." Bridgeman swept his hands out, inviting SG-1 to listen. "Ba'al was on our planet for several days, and his presence changed our lives." Bridgeman touched his mouth and temple—definitely a religious gesture, Daniel noted, but not one he'd ever seen associated with Ba'al. "He spoke first with myself and many of our advisors, gave us several technologies meant to better our people, assisted us in administrating those technologies, and as such, taught us about the ways of his followers."

Daniel held up his hand, leaning forward. "You've shut down churches and temples. How did his message move so quickly?"

"Through the Vinculum," Bridgeman responded, confirming Daniel's fear. "We were able to share our experiences with Ba'al immediately through the Vinculum; as it spread, so did our acknowledgement of our one true religion."

"I assume not everyone has heard about Ba'al yet, which means not everyone worships him yet?" Daniel raised an eyebrow, wondering about those other religions that were about to go extinct.

"Oh, but they will. We are quite confident of that."

That's not at all a terrifying statement, Daniel thought.

"I'm sorry," Sam interrupted as the cable car swooped upwards towards the third tier, the tour all but forgotten for the moment. "Not to go off topic, but—about how much of your populace now has the Vinculum?"

Bridgeman titled his head a moment, his eyes glazing slightly. "Fifty-two percent, according to our last census."

"Fifty-two?" Daniel glanced at Sam, his eyes wide. "So it's not planetary wide yet."

Bridgeman shook his head. "No, there are some cities that still need to upgrade their antennas for broadcast, and many people who still need the nanite injections."

Mitchell leaned forward, his hand on the back on Daniel's seat. "What if they refuse?"

Bridgeman turned his focus to Mitchell. "This is what our people want; why would they refuse?"

Mitchell opened his mouth to respond, but Vaisey jumped in, steering the conversation to a less controversial topic.

"You said only fifty-two percent of your population has access to the Vinculum."

"For now. We expect to have the Vinculum fully administered over the next year."

"A year? That seems fast for this kind of undertaking." Daniel pushed into the Vinculum, looking for the census Bridgeman referenced. If their population was the size Daniel thought it was, a year for planet-wide access was ambitious without major mobilization.

"Is this what your god wants?" Mitchell failed to keep the incredulous tone out of his voice.

"Well, he didn't say it exactly," Bridgeman hedged. He touched his lip, like he was thinking about his answer. "But he often spoke of uniting our people."

Uniting their people; the words echoed in Daniel's mind, followed by that voice that had been in his head the last few years, that one that sounded just like Jack: you know what a united people forms? An army.

"Ba'al left, is that correct?" Ambassador Vaisey asked. He was looking smugly at SG-1, expecting the answer.

"He is supposed to return—in just a few months now—which is part of the reason we wish to have everyone using the Vinculum as quickly as possible."

"So you can impress ol' godly one," Mitchell said.

Bridgeman nodded, though a bit hesitantly. "Do you have a problem with our religious beliefs?" Bridgeman frowned slightly and for just a moment Daniel felt genuinely sorry for him and this world.

"No," Vaisey said emphatically. "We have things we'd like to discuss with you, but they are things we can discuss with friends."

"Friends," Mitchell repeated, his eyebrows slightly raised. He sat back, seceding from the conversation.

"Friends," Bridgeman said, this time with a smile. "The Aberdones would like that, greatly." He turned back around and began talking about the capitol building once he'd regained his bearings.

The Aberdones might like being friends, Daniel thought, but he was pretty sure they wouldn't like the strings that would be coming with that friendship.




After the tour and initial meeting concluded, Bridgeman and his advisor saw SG-1 to the 'gate, smiling and waving as SG-1 walked through the wormhole back to Earth. Daniel felt it when the headache-inducing static from the Aberdone Vinculum shut off in his mind, once again leaving him alone and limited, but his thoughts were protected, private, his.

A situation he was even happier with when he saw who was standing at the end of the 'gate ramp.

"General O'Neill," Mitchell effused. "What a nice surprise. We were just on a planet I hear you'd hate."

Jack smiled tightly. "Yeah. I would." He rocked forward, his hands in his pockets. He was dressed in his BDUs, which meant he'd been here long enough to get uncomfortable in his dress uniform.

"Briefing room," Landry barked over the intercom. He turned, heading out of sight from the viewing window. The rest of SG-1 headed upstairs with Vaisey; Daniel hung back to walk with Jack, just feeling like he should.

"Daniel." Jack grinned slightly, and Daniel couldn't quite remember for a moment the last time they'd seen each other.

Daniel returned a softer smile. "Nice to see you." He was more surprised that he'd said it than that he meant it. It seemed to break the ice, though, because Jack nudged his elbow before taking the stairs just ahead of him.

"So, how's the reception on Aberdone?"

"A little muddled," Daniel admitted. "Did they drag you in because of the unsealed mission files?"

Jack hummed his assent. "Not just me."

They crested the stairs and saw Gerard and Jacob already sitting at the briefing table. Jacob was more human-looking than the last time Daniel had seen him. He had a full chest plate now, covering the glowing electrodes and whirring belts and fans that made up his robotic innards. He had darker rings around his eyes as well that Daniel guessed were Gerard's attempt at mimicking the glasses Jacob used to wear as a human. Despite what had happened to him because of the Vinculum, Daniel was still glad to see them both.

Jacob waved a clawed hand, the gears ticking as they moved in a jerky wave. Gerard sank deeper into his chair, like he was trying to make the ground swallow him.

Landry was already sitting so Jack and Daniel took the last empty seats at the table, not giving Daniel a chance to figure out what was making Gerard so uncomfortable.

"General, things on the planet are more complicated than we expected," Mitchell said, primarily addressing Landry. "They worship Ba'al."

"They what?!" Jack's shout echoed a bit, and he sat back when everyone turned to look at him. "Please continue," he said at a more sedate level. Daniel spared Jack a grimace, though; he knew how Jack felt about Ba'al, how everything about that particular goa'uld rubbed him the wrong way.

"Ba'al apparently visited them a few months ago and started a Protestant Reformation. The whole city's converted and they're expecting the religion to spread over the whole planet," Mitchell explained.

"It's likely it will," Daniel added. "With the Vinculum it's easier and faster to spread firsthand experiences about Ba'al, which tend to be more compelling than stories passed down through centuries. Plus with the introduction of a new technology as powerful as the Vinculum—their whole society is primed for revolution."

"Revolution?" Jack asked. Gerard sat up in his chair, panic widening his eyes.

"Cultural revolution," Daniel clarified.

Landry sat back in his chair. "This does change things."

"I would agree," Vaisey started. "I think we have access to a singular opportunity." He leaned forward, splitting his attention between the generals sitting at either end of the table. "A resource like the Vinculum could not only offer a complete exchange of information across cultures, it could unify our conviction to oppose the Ori."

Daniel rolled his eyes at Jack before turning towards Landry. "General. I think it's a bad idea."

"The Vinculum sounds a little too 'Hive mind' to me," Mitchell threw in. "Plus, they seemed awfully fond of Ba'al."

Vaisey shook his head, building up his argument. "Ba'al isn't on the planet. We'll forge a partnership with the Aberdones, slowly introduce them to the idea of the goa'uld, then, when Ba'al finally returns . . . we could capture him." Vaisey's gaze stayed steady on Landry. "Even if he's just a clone, he could be a valuable resource."

Landry frowned; Daniel could see the grumble building in his chest. Landry hadn't gotten over Ba'al's recent escape either. "General O'Neill?"

Landry passed off the decision, which surprised Daniel more than a little. At least he didn't have to worry about Jack's take on this; Jack was the one who actually knew both the power of the Vinculum and what it would take to sway Ba'al's followers.

Jack took a breath, eyes on the other end of the table. "I think it's worth it to pursue this."

"Jack, you can't be serious—"

"Daniel, I get it, okay?" Jack snapped. "It's hard to convince people to betray their gods, but we've done it before. It's practically part of your job description at this point."

Daniel blinked for a moment, trying to wrap his head around Jack's tone and why he was being so pissy.

"Thank you, General." Vaisey beamed, leaning forward and gesturing animatedly. "The Vinculum—it's amazing, which I suppose you know, actually."

Jack held up a hand. "I'm not saying we're taking on the Vinculum, but it sounds like they've got other shiny toys Carter and the geeks can play with."

"There's a benefit to befriending the Aberdones." Sam glanced at Daniel, hesitating. "They haven't been worshipping Ba'al for very long, so . . . we might be able to convince them he's not really a god."

"But the Vinculum," Daniel argued meekly. "They're passing the religion through the Vinculum." He glanced at Gerard, but Gerard stayed silent.

"And then they can pass what we tell them the same way," Vaisey pointed out. "The Vinculum can be our tool."

"I don't know," Mitchell said. "I haven't really seen talk do much to sway people's conviction. Even on Vala's planet—" Mitchell's eyes flicked to Daniel; Daniel couldn't miss the pause or the pitying look for bringing her up.

"Vala Mal Doran herself had to admit she was a false god before her followers believed what we said." Teal'c raised an eyebrow to punctuate his sentence.

"Don't you have something on Ba'al?" Vaisey looked around the table. "He's been in our media. Isn't there something?"

"I think he was careful not to say anything about being a god in a public broadcast." Daniel pushed back in his chair. He couldn't believe they were talking about this.

"Look." Jack turned to Daniel now and his eyes were hard. Daniel flashed back to other times they'd clashed and suddenly Daniel realized that even with Jack in Washington, the power structure hadn't changed—Jack was still Daniel's superior. "The Ori are a threat, and we need technologically-advanced allies. Right now our potential friends are under control of a goa'uld, a goa'uld with access to the Vinculum. Do you really want Ba'al to be able to read your mind? Because I figure with how we're sitting now, you and I have the most to lose with that deal."

Jack's mouth was a hard line—it was his don't-argue-with-me face.

Landry nodded deeply. "So you have a green light, Ambassador." Even Landry sounded a little surprised to be saying that. "When you return to the planet, do what you can to start laying the groundwork. From what Dr. Jackson says, it could take some time before they come around."

Daniel huffed, at least one of the Generals was listening to him.

"So back to the planet?" Mitchell asked, already agreeing to go along with things despite his better judgment. "Ambassador Bridgeman was looking forward to us going back for some big feast."

"You'll 'gate out in two hours," Landry said, standing up. "Dismissed."

"I need to get something from my lab," Sam said, pushing back in her chair.

Everyone else stood, but as Daniel turned to Jack opening his mouth, Jack raised his finger. "Ahh! Hold it." He turned to Gerard. "Do you mind coming with us for a bit?"

Gerard shrugged and stood up, glancing at Landry. Jack crocked his finger and beckoned Daniel to follow him. Daniel glared but followed; he hated blindly following.

* * *


Jack let Daniel lead the way to his office, trying to shake off the anger he'd felt flare in the briefing room. He knew Daniel wouldn't like his opinion—that they should attempt this thing with the Aberdones—but Daniel also didn't know the whole score. Jack needed SG-1 on that planet. They were the only SG-team he knew he could trust and since they found out someone at Area 51 had stolen technology and Ba'al had visited Aberdone . . . Jack was ready to lay even money that the Vinculum on Aberdone was Gerard's.

Daniel stopped at his workbench and leaned against it, crossing his arms. Jack shut the door and earned a raised eyebrow from Daniel. Still pissed, but at least he hadn't started trying to argue against Jack's decision the second they'd gotten out of Landry's earshot.

Gerard took one of the stools on the far side of Daniel's office, examining the titles on the bookshelf, steadfastly avoiding Jack and Daniel. Jacob watched Daniel's fish, tapping on the glass with a tink-tink.

"Is there a specific reason you wanted to talk?" Jack could tell Daniel was trying to keep most of the ire out of his voice, which Jack appreciated.

Bombshell time. "It turns out Earth isn't as Vinculum-free as we'd hoped."

Daniel's eyes slid to Gerard who sank into his stool slightly, his shoulders pushing upwards.

"What does that mean?"

Gerard opened his mouth, but Jacob beat him to the punch, his mouth speaker a little static-y. "We just wanted to be able to talk to each other. "My voice is limited. My whole . . . experience . . . is limited. . . ."

Daniel rubbed his brow like he was scrubbing at the Vinculum in his head. "We offered you more advanced bodies."

Jack waved off Daniel's words. "We've been over it; it's the wrong size." Daniel squinted one eye in response—probably still not cutting Jack any slack for the briefing.

"So . . . you made the Vinculum." Daniel seemed to be weighing this. "On Earth."

"It gets better," Jack muttered. He cut a look at Gerard, feeling a bit like he was trying to get his kid to tell Mom why he'd had a time out.

Gerard cleared his throat. "Um, our Vinculum—it may have, uh . . . it was stolen."

Daniel's eyes widened and he looked between Gerard and Jack.

"I'm looking into it," Jack said, trying to ease Daniel.

"You are?"

"Could you be a little less incredulous? I'm head of Homeworld Security." Jack pulled out his cell phone and flipped it open, intending to just play with it but he noticed he'd missed a call. "Uh, hold on." He clicked over to the missed call list.

"Glad to see you've learned how to use your cell," Daniel muttered.

Jack ignored the slight, even dropping his annoyance when he saw who had called. "Barrett." Jack turned the phone so Daniel could see the caller ID. "See? I have this under control." He pressed the call back button, turning away from Daniel's eye roll. Barrett answered his phone with a clipped greeting. "Barrett! What have you got for me?"

"General?" Barrett paused, clearly shifting and speaking into the phone more directly. "I looked into the matter you asked about and found a few businesses who've made recent advances in both fields."

"Do any of them have ties to the SGC or Area 51?"

Barrett was quiet for a moment. "Sir, if we've inadvertently handed over sensitive material—"

"Barrett. Are they trustable or are they Trust-able?"

Barrett sighed and Jack heard papers shuffling. "Two of the companies are Trust-operated, which I'm sure you already guessed. But only one has access both nanotechnology and an advanced wireless system—Hammel Technologies."

"Hammel," Jack repeated. He heard Daniel move behind him.

Barrett continued. "It's one of the corporations we know is owned by Ba'al."

"Ba'al." Now this was starting to make more sense to Jack. It was no less disturbing, but at least it was making more sense.

Ba'al? Daniel mouthed, turning to Gerard.

"I took the liberty of making a call," Barrett confessed. Jack raised his eyebrows, humming. "I have a contact in one of the low-level security labs. I tried not to ask too many questions, but one project—and I'm guessing this is most likely what you're looking for—is top secret and recently had a big breakthrough, the kind of leap that usually takes years . . . or a shot of alien technology. It's in testing now—on humans, apparently."

Jack rubbed his brow, thinking: if it was the Vinculum, it had already been tested on humans.

"My contact is trying to find out more information about the project, but the information so far has been vague at best," Barrett finished.

Jack eyed Daniel, turning over a thought in his head, weighing whom he could trust. "Can your contact get us into Hammel?"

"Sir?"

Jack straightened his shoulders, looking away from Daniel. "It's easier to dodge questions over the phone than it is to dodge them when they're coming from a Major General. Staring you in the face. Possibly armed," Jack added lightly.

"Uh . . . I'll see what I can do," Barrett said.

"I was kidding about the armed part."

"I'm sure you were, sir." Barrett said goodbye and disconnected.

Jack snapped the phone shut, letting the news settle in his thoughts. It sounded like the Trust had the Vinculum. Well, maybe. There was a chance they'd stolen different alien technology from Area 51, of course. Sheesh, he knew it was a bad day when he was praying the thieves took something less end-of-the-worldish than another end-of-the-world thing.

"So, the Trust has the Vinculum," Daniel said, doing the fake–chipper thing that was Jack's shtick. "More so, Ba'al has the Vinculum. Ba'al, who visited Aberdone recently, a planet which also has the Vinculum."

"Completely coincidental, isn't it?" Jack rocked forward on the balls of his feet.

Gerard stepped forward. "You think Ba'al stole my Vinculum and put it on another planet?"

"More likely than it being another SG-team," Jack groused.

Daniel bit his nail. "How long ago was the Vinculum stolen? Do we know?"

"A little over half a year," Gerard admitted. "I'm sorry. I really thought our network was secure."

"The timing matches." Daniel nodded, turning back to Jack. "This is why you were pushing for SG-1 to go back to Aberdone."

Jack nodded.

Daniel paced to his computer, already turning the problem over in his mind. "If Ba'al tampered with the Vinculum, it could explain how the Aberdones so easily gave up their other religions to worship Ba'al."

"Tampered with it?" Gerard squeaked.

"He's your enemy, right?" Jacob said. "Why did he take the Vinculum to Aberdone instead of using it on Earth?" His neck clicked as the gears turned to tilt his head.

Daniel looked to Jack and shrugged, as if saying it was a good point. Up until a month ago, Ba'al had the financial power and position on Earth to unveil the technology. So why didn't he?

"I'm going to Hammel," Jack said. "This is bigger than Ba'al. Whoever stole the technology had access to Gerard's local nework."

"Which means access to Area 51," Daniel continued.

"Security breach." Jack nodded.

"What about us?" Jacob folded his arms over each other, his elbows folding at perpendicular angles.

Jack took a deep breath, hoping Gerard and Jacob could handle this. "I still want you to go to Aberdone and assess their Vinculum. There's a chance—maybe a small chance with luck we don't tend to have—but there's a chance the technology is theirs."

Gerard folded his arms, mimicking the pose of his brother. "The technology is ours; I know it."

"Confirm it," Jack ordered.

"What about Hammel?" Daniel asked. His eyes slid to Jack, and Jack already knew he was questioning whether or not Jack could handle questioning a group of scientists. "Who's going to figure out if they have the Vinculum there?"

Gerard waved his hand. "If they're doing human testing, they have the Vinculum active; you'll be able to feel it if you just get close enough."

"Oh. Goody." Going to Hammel Technologies suddenly sounded much less appealing.

Daniel licked his lips. "I should go with you."

Jack's stomach dropped; Daniel was suggesting they actually spend time together. Granted it was time that would possibly involve breaking and entering at a top-secret high-tech research facility, but it was still time. "They don't need you back on the planet?"

"You might need someone with a little more diplomacy." A hint of a smile crossed his mouth.

Jack scrubbed his face. He'd already been considering it—with a possible security breach in play he needed backup and he needed backup he could trust. No matter what was going on between them personally, Jack knew he could count on Daniel for this. Plus Daniel was better with the Vinculum than Jack, so if there was an active Vinculum and they were in a sticky situation, Daniel was the person who'd be able to use it to his advantage.

"Okay." Jack took a step back, resting his hands on the desk behind him. "I'll talk to Landry, do a scientist swap."

The lights on Jacob's face brightened; clearly he was pleased with his assignment. Of course he was, Jack scolded himself. Jacob would feel at home on Aberdone; somewhere the Vinculum was turned on 24-7 (or whatever passed for a day on Aberdone).

Gerard was speaking quickly and softly to Jacob, his hands motioning quite a bit. Jacob seemed to be taking in everything Gerard was saying, and true to their promise, neither had asked to switch on the Vinculum again. Still, Jack could see that they needed it to really be able to interact.

Daniel moved closer to Jack and nudged him. "Admit it, you just wanted another chance to read my mind." The corner of Daniel's mouth was curled slightly, and even though his arms were crossed, his hold was loose and relaxed, so Jack offered a quick smile back.

"It's late. We'll leave in the morning?"

Daniel checked his watch. "Oh, it's after ten."

Jack chuckled to himself; he'd forgotten the weird hours you started keeping between gating to other planets and working inside a mountain.

"You staying here tonight?"

Jack raised his eyebrows. "Do I have another option?"

"My place." Daniel shrugged, playing it fairly cool, but Jack saw him swallow the nervousness.

"I need to talk to Landry, get them cleared for gate travel." Jack nodded towards the Price brothers with his chin.

"You want me to give Sam and Mitchell the heads up?"

"Yeah. They should know." Jack already knew Daniel wouldn't tell the ambassador. It was easier anyway to keep the IOA focused on their narrow goals. Besides, no telling where the security breach originated, so it could be a power play from the IOA to make a bid for control of the Stargate—so many things seemed like a bid for control of the 'gate.

"I'll meet you back here in about twenty?" Daniel nodded in response to the question.

Jack left Jacob and Gerard in Daniel's office for the time being, deciding it was best to brief Landry without the audience. He tried to keep his mind focused on his job, but he couldn't help thinking about Daniel's invitation, that Daniel had invited him to stay the night. Maybe Jack wasn't alone in missing what they'd had.




While it was easy to keep it professional on the base, Jack felt the tension return as soon as they'd passed the final security gate. Daniel shifted a few times, like he might try to start a conversation, but after the fourth no-start, Jack turned on the radio and started flipping stations. The classical channel he used to like had changed to jazz; why did everything always have to change?

When they got inside, Daniel moved around the apartment, turning on lights as he went, leaving Jack to shut the door. This was only the second time Jack had been there and it didn't look like Daniel'd unpacked anything. There were still boxes by the door, and the walls in the entryway and dining room were bare.

"Do you want anything? Water? Coffee?" Daniel stepped up into the kitchen and Jack could hear him moving around; sounded like he was putting on coffee regardless of Jack's answer.

"I'm good." Jack put his overnight bag on the couch. "Your stuff is still packed up."

Daniel leaned against the doorframe, his shoes and socks were already off. "I wasn't planning on staying here long; didn't see the point in unpacking."

Oh. Maybe Earth was still temporary for Daniel; stop the Ori, go to Atlantis. Maybe he wasn't even planning to wait that long.

Jack moved around the room, absently touching what was on the shelves—mostly research books, some new CDs. He flipped through a few of the unfamiliar books, picked up a dagger that was probably used to disembowel yaks or something. He felt Daniel's eyes on him as he moved, the silence growing more and more awkward as it stretched out. Jack could probably still get a room at a hotel. He'd have to pay for a cab, though; getting a base driver to pick him up from Daniel's would encourage too many questions.

"Jack—" Whatever Daniel started to say was cut off by the beep from his coffee maker. He held up one finger and then ducked back into the kitchen, returning a minute later with two cups. Jack half smiled and shook his head.

"I know," Daniel said. "Humor me. If I don't give you the second cup I'll drink it and be up half the night."

"You could've just made one cup."

"I've explained that to the coffee maker, but it insists on making two."

Jack nodded sagely, finally taking the proffered mug. "Damn technology."

"Huh. Yeah." Daniel sidestepped the lamp and sat on the couch, nearly on top of Jack's bag. Jack's words echoed in his head, followed by Daniel's response. Damn technology, all right, including what was shoved in their heads.

Jack sat next to Daniel in the armchair, cupping his mug with both hands. The coffee was rich and hot—Daniel always brewed a good cup.

The coffee made it less awkward, just because it gave them both something to do that excused them from making conversation. But as Jack's coffee drained, he started thinking more about where he'd sleep, what Daniel had in mind, how he'd feel hearing whatever Daniel had in mind.

Jack was more than halfway through the coffee he said he wouldn't drink when Daniel put his mug on the coffee table, almost exactly on an older coffee-stained ring.

"I probably should have let you stay on base."

He wanted to ask why Daniel invited him over, but he knew why—why was obvious. This was just what they did for each other. It had been what Jack had done for Daniel the night he'd returned from Abydos. It'd been what they'd done after every mission for the past two years. It wasn't a relationship; it was habit.

"I don't have to—"

"Jack. . . . it's late. I've got a headache from the Vinculum and I'm tired. Can we just skip the weird crap between us for tonight?"

Normally Jack would jump at skipping the weird crap; avoiding deep and meaningful conversation was more or less Jack's hobby. But they'd been avoiding the weird crap for months and for the first time, Daniel was actually talking to him. Even so. . . .

"What weird crap?"

Daniel's shoulders jumped in a soundless chuckle. "I sold the daybed so we'll have to share."

Jack pressed his lips together and raised his eyebrows. "Good thing we're skipping the weird crap, then."

Daniel stood up, taking their mugs. "I doubt either of us actually wants to sleep on the couch." Daniel went into the kitchen, speaking over the running water. "Go in and get settled. I just have to do some dishes."

Jack eyed the couch, weighing exactly how uncomfortable it would be with a spring in his back versus how uncomfortable it would be sleeping in the same bed with Daniel and their issues. Seemed like the issues alone were enough to fill a queen-sized bed.

He grabbed his bag and headed in, stopping to use the head. He hesitated before stripping to his boxers and then fished in his bag for a t-shirt. Brushing his teeth burned some time, and he looked through Daniel's cabinet until he found some floss. He considered cutting his nails, too, but figured he could avoid the bed for only so long.

The bed was unmade and evenly rumpled all the way across, like Daniel had gotten use to sleeping alone. He told himself the twist in his stomach was just the coffee.

"You can take the left side if your knee's bothering you." Daniel was almost breathless as he stepped in the room behind Jack. He stripped to his boxers while Jack climbed into bed, lying on his back and staring straight up.

The light switched off and a moment later the mattress dipped with Daniel's weight. He rolled to his side towards Jack and Jack felt him staring before he rolled to his side as well.

"I'm glad you're here," Daniel whispered. "I hate going through this shit without you."

"The Vinculum?" Jack guessed.

"Yeah . . . the Vinculum." Daniel's voice had leveled out and he closed his eyes. "Good night, Jack."

He didn't roll away. He stayed turned towards the middle of the bed, the covers only half-covering his chest. He breathed deeply, his lips parting slightly and as he exhaled, Jack could see the tension drain from his face. A few months ago Jack would have reached out and cupped his cheek before getting comfortable himself.

Jack rolled to his back and tried to ignore the fact that tomorrow he and Daniel might have the opportunity to read each other's thoughts again. Jack fell asleep wondering if being able to read Daniel's thoughts would make this easier or even more difficult.

* * *


The Vinculum on Aberdone was different—Gerard had known that as soon as he'd set foot on the planet. The information rushed, flowing through his mind and trying to pull knowledge from him. He'd quickly separated his thoughts from the flow, carving a safe place where he and Jacob could have the same completely virtual experience they'd grown used to on Earth—a double life that allowed Gerard to see and hear Jacob as he remembered.

It's . . . draining, Jacob said. He stretched, the movement shifting through his shoulders and down his arms; his robot body stayed stationary. You feel it, too?

Gerard nodded. There's not as many people using it, but there's a constant buzz. And their information is more limited—which is weird. They should have started by building databases and then progressed to more and more efficient methods of delivery.

It's sounding more and more like the Aberdones didn't build it.

Gerard frowned and turned away, taking in the city with his physical eyes. It was so different from Tekhne, even with the skyscrapers and multiple levels of cable cars. It seemed less advanced, more like it was still reaching for a breakthrough than like the Vinculum was the next logical progression.

Do you think you could stand it? They'd talked about the possibility of asking to stay. Assuming the Vinculum panned out, Ba'al wasn't about to destroy the planet, and the level of technology was satisfying, Gerard thought they'd both be happier with constant access to the Vinculum. Earth had been good to them, but when he'd left Tekhne, Gerard hadn't fully understood the world he was agreeing to accept as his own. It wasn't one he would have chosen if he'd known a limited robot body would be all the life he could give Jacob.

I'm not sure. Jacob turned his head, taking a step away from Gerard. They don't seem to be heavily influenced by robotics, so I think I'd still be an anomaly. For now I'm just glad they seem to be buying that I'm your valet.

Gerard smiled, continuing to stare off into the distance. Just be careful with how you use the Vinculum. I think they're already interested in what kind of tricks you can do.

"Gerard?" Sam broke into their conversations, speaking in a low voice. "Any confirmation yet?"

"Not yet." Gerard leaned towards her. "There's only so much we'll be able to learn through the Vinculum itself—ideally I need a look at the hardware."

Sam nodded, glancing over her shoulder. "I think I can arrange that."

Ambassador Vaisey laughed at some joke the Aberdone ambassador told, and Sam approached them, her hands resting casually on her P-90. While she spoke with them, the Aberdone ambassador peered towards Jacob, raking his eyes over his robotic frame. He started and then smiled at Sam and nodded before she came back to Gerard.

"We'll have a tour of some of the industry areas in the morning. I impressed upon Bridgeman that we're very interested in examining their Vinculum." Sam smiled. "I think he's eager to show off."

Gerard frowned. "We have to wait until tomorrow?"

Colonel Mitchell patted Gerard hard on the back. "Feel free to poke around on your own if you like."

Jacob spoke through the Vinculum, his mouth speaker staying silent. I don't think they mean that, Gerard.

There was a time when Gerard operated out of necessity. He'd broken into secure facilities and had blown up buildings and had been a spy in his own army of one. He'd never really liked doing those things, but he'd done them because if he hadn't, he'd never have gotten the information he needed.

While a tour would be nice, Gerard much preferred to examine their hardware unfettered. He didn't respond to Jacob, he just grinned, already looking up the building schematics for one of the Vinculum antennas.




We're going to get caught, Jacob whispered. Gerard was always amused when Jacob whispered in the Vinculum, but every time he had to hear the mouth speaker he'd remember why Jacob whispered—Jacob would do anything to feel more human, even if it was unnecessary and kind of stupid. Probably similar to the reason Gerard had ringed the eyes of the robot with black to mimic Jacob's glasses.

Some days Gerard fought to remember that he'd never really have his brother back. Jacob's body wasn't something Gerard could save; he'd lost that chance on Tekhne.

Seriously, Jacob said, hissing this time. My joints keep squeaking.

What, am I supposed to carry you? Gerard fished into his pack, finding the oilcan he'd taken to carrying with him everywhere. He usually didn't need it—he just kept an emergency pack on him in case something happened to Jacob—but this city was much more humid than either the Nevada desert or the SGC, so Jacob's joints were sticking a little more than normal.

Gerard applied the oil; Jacob tested it out with a step and then his mouth lights glowed briefly.

Gerard tucked away the oilcan, checking the building schematics on the Vinculum. They were just outside the door with the antenna transceiver. There was a keypad next to the door handle, but no swipe card or other security measures. This would be easy. Gerard stepped back and gestured for Jacob to take his hand at the keypad.

One of the advantages of building a robot body for your brother, Gerard had found, was that it was easy to keep lock-picking tools on hand.

Jacob made swift work of the keypad and then they were in the hub for the antenna.

The basic structure reminded Gerard of the earliest transceiver he'd built for the Vinculum on Tekhne—though he'd used fiber optic cables. He'd have to advise them to expose the wiring. Even if they had stolen his technology, it was inefficient to cover the cables, especially when the system was still in development. The first year on Tekhne had been wrought with catastrophes, and having the wiring exposed had saved Gerard precious minutes and kept him from frying people's brains.

Jack would be thrilled if we told him about us almost frying people's brains. Jacob smirked, the lenses for his glasses reflecting the artificial light of the Vinculum.

Gerard pried off the covering off a console and started inspecting the wiring. I can imagine. He doesn't really understand sacrifice in the face of scientific progress.

Jacob's shoulders stuttered loudly, and in the Vinculum his mouth thinned into a hard line, but he didn't respond to Gerard's comment. Gerard busied himself with the wires, letting his comment about sacrifice fade as he became more focused on the familiar-looking infrastructure of the transceiver. It was familiar, but not conclusive that the hardware was theirs—there were differences, improvisations that could be explained by a need to make the Earth technology more compatible with the Aberdone technology, but—

"Shit," Gerard muttered.

Jacob turned, the lights in his eyes glowing before narrowing; a silent reprimand to keep quiet.

This is definitely ours. Gerard slipped more fully into their virtual world, drawing up a virtual version of the antenna hub for them to examine. He pointed out his discovery—a duplication of a crossed wire they'd since corrected in their own transceiver. Remember when I fixed this a couple months ago?

Jacob nodded. It was making my shoulder joints seize whenever we tried to access the wireless servers.

Gerard nodded, pleased that Jacob remembered—sometimes he blanked on the more mechanical aspects of the Vinculum.

Jacob shook his head, a wry smile on his face. It's the whole reason I plugged in for updates.

Gerard touched the physical wires, letting that sink in. If I hadn't made that mistake, no one would have been able to steal the Vinculum.

Now that's arrogant.

In the Vinculum, Jacob leaned against the console, his arms crossed. He'd taken the same stance when Gerard first approached him about the possibility of developing nanites that could receive wireless information, create images, and send messages all in a human brain.

We're good, Gerard, I don't doubt that, but our system was flawed. Someone else could have hacked in another way, or we could have been just been careless, cocky. We're only human. Jacob shifted, standing up. This is our fault.

Gerard grumbled, "The Vinculum is always our fault." He buried the wires back in the system, and replaced the console covering. If they didn't fix this, I can't imagine they made any other improvements to my design. There's some retrofitting. . . . Gerard opened another console, rifling through the wires there, the adaptations between the Earth technology and the Aberdone technology more apparent now. We should get a look at their nanites, too.

Already thinking that. Jacob passed files through the Vinculum, letting Gerard pull up reports and schematics. They skimmed through them, absorbing the information as quickly as they could. Gerard!

Jacob updated a file, highlighting the section that had surprised him. Gerard scanned the section and what he read sent a chill through his spine.

Jacob's robot eyes brightened and his head drew back slightly as he took a step heavy forward. "They're trying to upload someone into the Vinculum," Jacob said, his own voice in the Vinculum overlaying the mouth speaker, the slight static emphasizing the disunity between the two parts.

Gerard read farther into the report, his eyes widening. "No, they already did it."




"They did what?!" Ambassador Vaisey snarled over breakfast. He ran his hands through his hair, causing carefully crafted locks to brush forward instead of back.

Gerard didn't think the Ambassador needed him to repeat his entire report—that all of the technology right down to the base code of the nanites had been stolen from Gerard—so he went with the part that seemed most implausible. "It's possible to upload someone into the Vinculum." He glanced at Jacob who had hung his head, shaking it slightly, the lights by his mouth glowing.

Vaisey leaned over the table, his nostril actually flaring. "I mean you. What do you think you were doing?"

Gerard's eyes popped wide and he sat back. "I, I'm here to investigate the Vinculum."

Mitchell stifled a laugh, but Sam leaned forward. "Technically he was acting under orders," she explained. She narrowed her eyes at Gerard, speaking more pointedly. "Though breaking into one of the antenna hubs in the middle of the night wasn't exactly the tactical plan we'd discussed."

Gerard shrugged. This way the Aberdones hadn't been able to control what they could examine.

"Whose orders?" Vaisey spoke carefully, like he was possibly trying to rein in his anger.

"General O'Neill's," Teal'c said, bowing his head slightly.

Vaisey pushed back, throwing his hands in the air. "General O'Neill, of course! Once again SG-1 flaunts its power, proving it knows what's best for the world!"

"Ambassador," Mitchell said, all the humor gone from his eyes. "With all due respect, the man you're speaking of is a General. He may be a former member of SG-1, but he is currently head of Homeworld Security—and your boss."

Vaisey rolled his eyes. "I don't see the need for deception. They agreed to show us the entire operation. These stunts put this entire mission in jeopardy. They've been incredibly open with us."

"They did not tell us they received the Vinculum from Ba'al," Teal'c corrected. He bowed his head again, though a bit belatedly. For the first time Gerard realized Teal'c's extreme respect was so he could get away with being blunt.

"Well, except that," Vaisey muttered.

Gerard waited a moment, glancing around at the others before speaking again. "They uploaded someone into the Vinculum." He held one hand out to Jacob. "That's bad, remember?"

Sam shifted, frowning. "I'm not sure we can do anything about that. Maybe they had volunteers?"

"We had volunteers once, too," Jacob said, his mouth speaker making his words louder than they needed to be.

Vaisey sighed. "I appreciate your . . . personal investment in this situation—however it's not our job to police other planets." He held up a hand to SG-1 to silence their protests. "The Goa'uld and the Ori are a different story, but a planet's personal affairs and technological advance is not our concern."

Teal'c ignored Vaisey and murmured, "We have made it our concern before."

Vaisey shook his head. "Not this time."

Bridgeman knocked on the door, halting any further discussion of the Aberdones' honesty or dishonesty. "Are we ready for our morning tour?"

Vaisey turned on the charm then, standing up and greeting the ambassador with a handshake. He kept Bridgeman on the far side of the room, away from SG-1.

Gerard shared a look with Jacob, touching his thoughts through the Vinculum. If they're uploading people to the Vinculum, this isn't the place for us either. He'd been weighing that thought last night, considering what it would mean for Jacob to go back to Earth.

Maybe we could show them it's a bad idea—or help them, Jacob replied.

Gerard sighed. He didn't want to give up on this planet either, but he didn't want to live on another Tekhne. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life reliving the same mistake.

Mitchell leaned over the table, keeping his voice low. "So, for now, we keep our mouths shut? Let this play out?" Mitchell shared a look with Sam and she nodded. Teal'c bowed his head as well.

Bridgeman was watching Jacob from the corner of his eye. Jacob and Gerard had been careful during dinner to make Jacob seem like nothing more than a lifeless robot, but as they'd grown more comfortable on the planet Gerard and Jacob had been using the Vinculum more and more—Gerard wondered if Bridgeman had begun to notice his robot valet was more than he seemed.

"Gerard? Keep our mouths shut?" Mitchell repeated.

"What? Yes. Yes, of course, until we know more." Gerard shivered, suddenly feeling like someone was watching him. Bridgeman's eyes were on Jacob, but no one was paying any attention to Gerard. Maybe he was just picking up on Jacob's unease.

Jacob tilted his head, his eyes glowing slightly. What was that?

Gerard shook his head, but he kept his eyes on Bridgeman, focusing on him a moment. You're being watched, Gerard advised his brother.

Jacob didn't say anything in response, but he squared his step when he followed, moving a bit clunkier than normal. His eyes glowed at times, an unfortunate side effect of tying the robot so closely to his nervous system, but Gerard thought he looked particularly inhuman.

Bridgeman led them out the door, Vaisey hanging back for a moment with Mitchell. "I'm laying the groundwork for speaking to Bridgeman about Ba'al. Just . . . don't blow this?" Vaisey's smile wobbled with an uncertainty Gerard was familiar with—he'd had the same impression of SG-1 the first time he'd met them.

"We'll do our best, Ambassador," Mitchell replied confidently. "Not to blow it, I mean. Uh. . . ."

Sam chuckled and slipped behind him, walking beside Jacob and Gerard. "You're sure all the tech is based on yours?" Gerard's annoyance flared, though he knew she was just doing her job, making sure that there was no other explanation for how the Vinculum had developed on this planet.

Gerard nodded. "It is. This is what—" Gerard looked over his shoulder and spoke quietly, barely moving his lips. "—we built. There are a few changes, though—which explains why the Vinculum here is more fluid and why information seems to just come pouring into and out of people."

"Pouring?" Even Sam caught that. "I didn't think that was how the Vinculum worked."

"It doesn't. Not when you already have a database to sustain it." Gerard shook his head, positive his theory was correct. "The Vinculum was dropped on them. There was no infrastructure to support it, so the nanites are making it, using the minds of the Aberdones as the base for the knowledge."

"So when one person believes Ba'al is a god . . . ?"

Gerard nodded. "They all believe it."

Someone pushed at the edge of Gerard's mind. It wasn't Jacob or Bridgeman. Whoever it was pushed again, like he or she was testing Gerard's resistance. Gerard hadn't experienced anyone who was so forceful on Aberdone thus far; Bridgeman had given Jacob a few interested looks, but he'd barely asked any pressing questions about the five-and-a-half-foot-tall robot.

The Aberdones are fine, a voice said. It had smooth deep tones and was quiet enough to be the voice of reason in the back of Gerard's mind; it would be easy to follow its influence—except Gerard and Jacob had spent too much time in the Vinculum, and knew the difference between their own thoughts and someone else's suggestion.

Gerard stopped in the middle of the atrium they were crossing, barely noticing the cart that swerved to avoid him.

"Gerard?" Sam touched his arm, glancing over her shoulder. Bridgeman was still talking to Vaisey, his arms waving about, a wide smile on his face.

"I, I, I'm not sure," he said to Sam. He dipped into the Vinculum, reaching for Jacob. You heard that, right?

I've been hearing a murmur for awhile, first time I understood any words, Jacob confirmed. Gerard could feel the way Jacob reached directly into the Vinculum, like he was holding his hand under a waterfall. It has to be whoever they uploaded.

Gerard frowned. Sounds like they're using him to persuade the populace to stay in line.

Jacob smiled, the lights at the corner of his mouth illuminating. Not everyone would use the Vinculum the way you would, Gerard.

Gerard blinked, focusing fully on Sam and the physical world. "There's another presence in the Vinculum—we think it's whoever they uploaded."

Sam narrowed her eyes, glancing at the ambassadors. "Are you sure it wasn't an accident?"

Gerard hadn't meant to upload anyone into the Vinculum. The first test subjects on Tekhne had been left hollow. It had taken time to get the flow of information adjusted, figure out exactly how fast to move information into and out of a brain. The nanites were Jacob's specialty; getting them to interface with the brain correctly, add functionality without disrupting any of the normal operations. Gerard had never guessed what had happened to their volunteers until he found out what had been purposely done to Jacob.

"I don't think it was an accident." Gerard considered the report he'd read the night before. The speculation about how to upload someone into the Vinculum hadn't just been idle musing, it was written in his words. It'd been his own theory about what had happened to his brother.

Hello? Jacob called into the flow of information. If you're trapped in the Vinculum, I can help you.

A slow laugh seemed to echo around them, growing louder.

That's not the sound of someone who needs help, Gerard said.

"Assuming it's a volunteer," Gerard whispered to Sam, "they picked someone evil."

Sam worried her lip. "Do you think they picked someone . . . goa'uld?"

"What's the hold up here?" Mitchell jogged back to where they were still standing in the middle of the atrium. He held up a hand, signaling Vaisey.

Sam sighed. "I think we're about to blow the mission."

Gerard nodded. He was pretty sure the mission had already been blown.

* * *



~Continued in Part 3.
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