Title: The Analog Myth (1/4)
Artist: ohliberty (pinch hit)
Rating: PG-13 for language and violence
Word Count: ~40,000 (in 4 parts)
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.
Notes: This is a sequel to The Advantages of Mind Reading and A Loose Bolt in a Complete Machine.
Some dialogue lifted from "Abyss" in Part 4.
Special thanks to my alpha and beta readers: green_grrl for cheerleading and betaing since the outline and lady_ganesh for providing a very thorough beta. Also special thanks to melayneseahawk and sopdetly for help taming out-of-control sentences.
written for stargate_summer
Recced: recced by green_grrl at stargateficrec
pinch hit fanart (coming soon) by ohliberty
Fanvid by brihana25
The light from the alien sun caught on the waves, and from the balcony Daniel could almost imagine he was on Atlantis, imagine he hadn't missed his trip on the Daedalus, that he hadn't been part of the duo who exposed the Earth to the worst threat it had ever faced, that he hadn't put his relationship with Jack in limbo and that he didn't obsess over it at every inopportune moment.
Daniel wished his brain had stopped on the part where it looked like what he imagined of Atlantis.
"A technologically advanced planet that actually might be our allies," Mitchell drawled, stepping up behind Daniel and thoroughly breaking apart Daniel's fantasy with reality. "A rare event, I've read."
"Oh, yes," Daniel said, plastering a smile on his face, trying to ignore the heartache and his equally distracting headache. "It's usually all yak milk, footpaths, and yurts."
Daniel smiled thinly, stepping away from the balcony and back into the room proper. "Ask Sam; they're her favorite."
The truth was Daniel would prefer a good yurt to the mess he was in now (they were in, he corrected; worry about the world, not your relationship problems, he advised). Yurts and primitive cultures were easier to handle. Studying indigenous peoples, watching how ancient Earth cultures developed and lived their day-to-day lives, further understanding the Ancients and Ascension—those were things he thought he'd be able to do once the goa'uld were defeated.
He hadn't counted on Vala, evil Ascended beings, or how much one transfer request could ruin his whole life. He should've counted on it all, though; there would always be something to keep Jack and Daniel apart.
Ambassador Vaisey was already sitting at the large wood-carved table, his laptop fired up and ready for use. SG-4 did the original meet and greet, but Landry and the IOA wanted SG-1 there for the official negotiation between the Aberdones and the ambassador. Partly it was to break Mitchell in on these kinds of things, get him use to the political side of leading SG-1, and partly it was to give SG-1 a break after the letdown of letting Ba'al slip through their fingers. They'd all taken that one kind of hard—being duped on their own soil was hard to swallow.
The Aberdones stood, giving the aliens a minute to take in the view. This was obviously the "impress the visitors" conference room, which afforded a sweeping view of the towering Aberdone planetary capitol city, Belleron, and the ocean beyond that. Aberdone was thickly populated but sparsely developed, cities growing up rather than out. From the conference room, a hundred stories above the ground, they could easily see the strip malls and walkways that made up the third (and highest) tier of the city, which was still about twenty stories beneath them. Few of the city's spires rose as high as this one, and Daniel tried not to focus on the drop too much; eight years on SG-1 and sometimes heights still gave him a problem.
Sam ran her fingers along the frame of a flat-panel screen that was mounted on the wall. The image projected on the screen—a peaceful display of Aberdone gazelles grazing on a plain—was as crisp as any current HD technology. The familiar amenities and layout of a boardroom made Daniel feel more like he'd been called to Washington D.C. than to a planet on the other side of the galaxy. They even had coffee. And none of it helped Daniel keep his thoughts away from Jack.
"It's unusual for us to have off-world visitors." The Aberdone ambassador, a thin man called Bridgeman, spoke with his hands more than his voice. He swept a hand towards the empty seats; Daniel guess they'd been sightseeing enough and it was time to start.
"Thank you for inviting us," Ambassador Vaisey said. He adjusted the sleeves of his suit, the traditional uniform for IOA ambassadors. "We'd very much like to develop a relationship between Aberdone and Earth."
Daniel took his seat at Vaisey's elbow, glad he didn't need to concentrate on being the cultural liaison; the headache he'd had since stepping foot on this planet was getting worse, pulsing just above his eyes. He wasn't really up to couching the subject of being military allies in the Earth's upcoming battles between banal promises of friendship and sharing technological advantages—not that the Aberdones needed Earth's technological advantages; they seemed to have that covered.
Bridgeman nodded, rubbing his chin. "You have a powerful enemy, I understand. The—" He paused for a moment, his eyes glazing over slightly. "The Ori, I believe they're called."
Daniel checked with Sam who looked equally surprised: he didn't remember anyone mentioning the Ori. Had SG-4 brought it up on their first visit to the planet?
"The Ori, yes." Vaisey cut his eyes to Daniel, giving him the impression Vaisey hadn't been briefed on their knowledge of the Ori either. Daniel shifted, sitting up a little straighter, feeling like he was being blamed for SG-4's mistake.
Mitchell didn't seem to think anything was out of the ordinary. "Not exactly the friendliest aliens, no. They haven't been here, have they? Grayish robes, glaucoma-y eyes, always preaching about fire and salvation . . . ?"
Bridgeman shook his head, waving his hands. "Oh, no, no false prophets. We used to think the Stargate was a monument left to us by the gods." Bridgeman drew a circle in the air, an imaginary Stargate. "Which it is, I suppose. So far it has brought us nothing but good." He touched his mouth and then his temple in a gesture which could have a religious connotation, like the sign of the cross.
"An alien race built the Stargate," Daniel elaborated, feeling compelled to explain. "We call them the Ancients."
"The Ancients, yes." Bridgeman nodded deeply, turning to his advisor. "We know of the Ancients and their technological advances."
"You do?" Sam leaned forward on her elbows, glancing at Daniel and then Mitchell. "Is there a repository or some leftover technology somewhere on the planet?" Even after finding Atlantis, Ancient technology and knowledge in the Milky Way galaxy was still coveted.
Bridgman touched his lip, turning to his advisor like they were consulting. "In a, a way, I suppose." He seemed to gain confidence in his assessment. "Well, I mean, now there is a repository of Ancient knowledge on the planet." Bridgeman made the same religious hand-gesture—this time the tap to his mouth and temple reminded Daniel of being told to be quiet and think.
When Vaisey opened his mouth, Daniel touched his arm, leaning forward. Something about this planet was irking him—there was a tingling in the back of his mind, a warning signal going off, making his headache worse the more familiar it felt.
"You mean you recently uncovered something so your knowledge of the Ancients is fairly new?"
"Nothing's been uncovered, Dr. Jackson," Bridgeman said with a chuckle. There was a spark of knowledge in his eyes, though, like he'd finally figured out what was puzzling him. "You don't know, do you?"
There was little Daniel hated more than not knowing, but high on that list was someone asking him if he didn't know something. "Know what?"
Vaisey shushed him, but Bridgeman leaned forward, keeping Daniel's attention. "I admit: I didn't expect our technologies to mesh so fluidly, so it is a bit of a surprise."
Now it was just plain weird. Daniel looked to Mitchell and then to Sam and Teal'c, not sure what to even say.
"From what I've seen they're similar," Sam finally said. "But without a more thorough examination it's difficult to tell exactly how similar." She caught Daniel's eyes and shrugged slightly, her lip pulling down in a frown, also at a loss regarding the weird turn of the conversation.
"Well they're similar enough that with some effort we can interface with Dr. Jackson." Bridgeman looked directly at Daniel and in that moment Daniel felt his headache throb, the familiar edges of it finally making sense. When Daniel pressed with his thoughts, he felt the stream he'd been unconsciously resisting.
"You call it . . . the Vinculum?" the advisor asked.
Daniel's shoulders dropped and over the sudden thrum in his head he could hear Ambassador Vaisey and Mitchell asking what the Vinculum was, but he was too busy imagining Jack's sputtering reaction once the mission file finally passed over his desk in D.C. He composed himself, sealing his thoughts, concentrating on closing off the connection the way he had the last time he'd had access to the internet jammed in his brain.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Bridgeman pulled back his hand from the edge of the table, covering his throat. "Was I intruding? I assumed you had your thoughts open to allow for a quicker exchange of information."
"No, I, I—" How exactly was he supposed to explain that he was one of only four people on his planet who had nanites in his head for accessing the Vinculum?
Vaisey held up his hand. "If you'll allow us a moment?" Vaisey waited for Bridgeman to nod and then motioned for Daniel to lean over. "The Vinculum?" Vaisey whispered. "Dr. Jackson?"
Daniel gritted his teeth; after the two trips to Tekhne, SG-1 persuaded Hammond to seal the mission files. After their first hand experience—and bringing back Gerard and Jacob Price, the scientists who made it possible to have the internet in your brain—they hadn't wanted the Pentagon or the IOA or anyone else to get the idea that this technology would be a good thing for Earth. It had caused too many problems for Tekhne (and for Jack and Daniel personally) and could be abused too easily. Gerard could overload a person's nanites and make them fall asleep; Amelia had trapped Daniel in a virtual world; Jack and Daniel had read each other's private thoughts. Having the power to go directly into someone's mind was interesting in theory and terrifying in practice.
"It's a . . . wireless network." Daniel paused, wishing he could avoid mentioning this part but it seemed like his cover was blown either way. "There's one . . . in my head," he mumbled.
Vaisey blinked a few times, but gave no other reaction; if he could handle this admission he might actually make a halfway decent ambassador to alien worlds.
"You have something like the Vinculum?" Sam gained control of the proceedings with her tone, quickly gaining everyone's attention.
Bridgeman's hands fluttered. "A wireless, open exchange of information that we can access with our thoughts, yes. I assumed your planet had the same since Dr. Jackson's thoughts were being shared so . . . so openly."
"We encountered the technology on another planet," Teal'c said diplomatically. "That is how Daniel Jackson acquired access to your system. It is not a technology that is native to the Tau'ri nor to the Jaffa." Teal'c bowed his head to Daniel, a silent apology for so readily divulging their long-kept secret. Daniel was busy trying to keep his thoughts private, so he barely reacted to Teal'c's statement.
Vaisey narrowed his eyes at Daniel before sitting back in his chair, arranging his features in a carefully passive look.
"I'm surprised that it's uh, native here." Sam took another look around the room, probably weighing the similarities, calculating how long it would be before the same technological leap developed on Earth.
"The technology is still quite new to us," Bridgeman confessed. "The system has been active for a short time; some of our people still require injections."
"Injections?" Vaisey turned back to Daniel again, an eyebrow arched to Teal'c heights.
Daniel leaned forward, his left arm on the table, blocking Vaisey. "The Vinculum is dangerous." Vaisey inhaled sharply, but Daniel barreled on. "I realize I'm not part of your society, but I know what it does and how it can be abused." I know how it would be abused on Earth, Daniel added in his thoughts. "You can halt the injections, destroy the transceivers, at least limit the access it provides—"
"Dr. Jackson!" Vaisey's voice cracked slightly, but it was enough to give Daniel pause, which was all Vaisey needed. "Ambassador Bridgeman, I apologize for Dr. Jackson's outburst, I assure you this isn't the normal way we conduct business." His glare focused on Daniel, keeping Daniel's mouth shut at least. "I need to request a recess. This . . . Vinculum," he said the word carefully, like it was to blame for his misinformation, "changes the track this conversation should take. Would we still be welcome to return later today?"
Bridgeman stood, wringing his hands. "A recess is perfectly understandable, and the Tau'ri will always be welcome." He addressed his next comments directly to Daniel. "I apologize again for intruding. I assure you, we didn't realize. . . ."
"The intrusion isn't the problem." Daniel stood up, Sam and Mitchell hurriedly following him. Daniel could deal with the intrusion, but not the inevitable post-mission fall out. Vaisey would report to the IOA; the IOA would salivate over the technology; SG-1 (and Jack) would be put under the microscope. Would they investigate Mitchell, too? He didn't actually know anything, but he'd been a member of the unit for months now, so they might not see the distinction—sometimes Daniel didn't either; that was the kind of loyalty they bred on this team.
Vaisey stood, closing his laptop. "We'll return later today, Ambassador." He gathered his things, moving in a manner that seemed practiced, like he was making precise movements because it was the one thing he could control.
Vaisey said goodbye, and an escort lead them back to the platform for the cable car. Daniel could feel the Vinculum at the edge of his thoughts now, a persistent white noise he kept trying to drown out and turn away. Focusing his attention on ignoring his headache was the one thing keeping Daniel's mouth shut until they were in the cable car. Even though the vehicles were open air—more like a gondola lift than a subway—it didn't stop Daniel from opening his mouth as soon as their escort had backed away.
"Ambassador, you cannot let this technology get back to Earth."
Vaisey spun in his seat, turning to face Daniel head-on. "You're jumping to conclusions, Dr. Jackson. I can recommend whether or not we trade for it—once I know what it is—if it will be beneficial to Earth's defense against the Ori. A briefing on this mystery technology—that you and the rest of SG-1 seem to know all about—would be appreciated."
Mitchell, sitting next to Daniel, raised his hand. "I don't, for the record. Know about it."
Vaisey all but rolled his eyes. "That restores all my confidence, then."
Daniel scoffed, but Vaisey cut him off, ready to metaphorically shake his finger.
"I read your personnel files; I know SOP. Any alien technology still operational on your person has to be divulged. The Vinculum—nanites?" he guessed, "—isn't in your file."
Teal'c didn't twist in his seat and as far as Daniel could tell he was just enjoying the scenery as they passed through the second tier filled with air parks and gravity-defying fountains. "That is because it is not something we divulged." One thing to be said for Teal'c, he could always keep his head around politicians.
Vaisey nodded as though he'd expected as much.
Daniel held up a hand, trying to settle things rationally. "It's not quite as simple as that."
"Besides," Sam started, "the Vinculum isn't a piece of defensive technology—"
"I'd like to assess that for myself," Vaisey cut in. He glanced over the backseat, eying and sizing up each of them in turn. "We’re facing the greatest threat the galaxy has ever known. You're the first line of defense—"
Daniel's temple throbbed and he snapped, "That's right. Defense. And keeping that technology off Earth is just one other way we're defending it."
"The Vinculum was much abused when we encountered it last." Teal'c voice was still calm, but there was an edge of frustration to it. "I do not believe it is capable of being used without causing great harm."
The cable car jerked to a stop and a valet opened the door next to Teal'c. Vaisey stopped Daniel from getting out of the car.
"I can't assess any of your claims because I don't know the details. You and your team took it upon yourselves to decide what was best for the world. You didn't give us a chance to think for ourselves." Vaisey looked Daniel over. "You may be experienced and intelligent, but there are other people on Earth who can make decisions, too."
He exited then, walking ahead of SG-1. Daniel would have chased him, made him see reason, but there was a voice in the back of Daniel's head agreeing with Vaisey. They should have shared the knowledge and let the Pentagon and IOA make their own decisions. What the Vinculum offered wasn't all bad, it was just that it could be abused and maybe. . . .
Daniel shook his head, clearing and narrowing his thoughts. People were capable of great things, of being good, Daniel knew that, but he wasn't naïve. It wasn't that he didn't think humanity was capable of great things, he just didn't think those things could come from a technology like the Vinculum.
Vaisey lead SG-1 to the Stargate, his jaw set when he finally looked at Daniel. "I'm going to report to General Landry about what happened here and then I expect you—" His gaze shifted over all of SG-1 now. "—to report your previous encounter with the Vinculum." He let his gaze hover once more and then stepped to the side, allowing Daniel to dial the DHD.
He dialed the address home a little more forcefully than normal, and Sam caught his eye as he pressed the center crystal. After eight years walking through the 'gate with her, he didn't need the Vinculum to know she wasn't happy but that she was going to be a good soldier and do as she was ordered. Not for the first time Daniel wished Jack was still leading SG-1; he needed someone who would buck the rules for the greater good.
Daniel hadn't know Landry for long, but being that Landry'd put up with Vala for two months, Daniel had come to identify the difference between Landry being mildly annoyed (specifically at a Vala-shaped annoyance) and being truly hacked off. Right now his expression was dangerously close to the latter.
"We work in a secret facility," Landry said, his hoarse voice a little tight. "You think there aren't a hundred mission files that have been sealed and classified well over your head? You stumbled over one of the skeletons, Ambassador. Welcome to the club." Landry's eyes cut to Mitchell, the only other person in the room new to the SGC.
Vaisey sat back, frowning. "I need to know what it is, and how it's going to affect these negotiations." He looked across the table at Daniel, his eyes hard. "I need to know if it's a technology the Earth wants to trade for."
Daniel pressed his lips together, bottling up his response.
Landry shook his head and Daniel could see he was trying to keep calm for Vaisey. "The last administration seemed to think this Vinculum was not technology the Earth wants."
"The last administration wasn't facing down the Ori," Vaisey noted. "And we're dealing with another planet, as well. Perhaps it wasn't the technology that was offensive, but the people."
Daniel's temper sparked. He may not have liked many of the Tekhnens he'd met, but Gerard and Jacob had saved both he and Jack plenty of times on that planet. Jacob helped Daniel get out of the virtual reality where he was trapped—he'd helped Daniel keep sane in that world—and Daniel wasn't about to summarily dismiss those actions any time soon.
"Perhaps," Landry allowed. "But we won't know anything unless the file is unsealed. So." Landry looked around the table. "I assume I don't have to remind you all to hold your tongues until that request is cleared?" Daniel noted his eyes lingered on Vaisey the longest. "No written or verbal reports to superiors?"
Vaisey nodded. "I'll uphold the protocols on my end." He looked across the table to Daniel again, but this time his eyes were softer. "I'm here to engender a relationship between us and Aberdone—that's all."
Something in Daniel relaxed and his lungs finally took in enough air.
"Dr. Jackson, you'll need to see Dr. Lam," Landry said, standing up.
"General, that's hardly—"
"I don't know what it's hardly." Landry smiled tightly, trying to make the order friendlier. "Just go get checked out; prove to me the technology in your head is harmless on Earth. Colonel Carter, I expect you'll run tests as well."
Sam nodded. "Yes sir, to make sure nothing's changed."
Landry nodded deeply, accepted that Sam and Daniel had been through this before, and then looked at them expectantly for a moment. "Dismissed," he said, like they should have already scattered.
Vaisey took a moment, gathering his things, and Teal'c hovered at his arm, waiting until Vaisey looked up at him.
"We do not take our jobs lightly, Ambassador Vaisey. I am most pleased to see that you do not either." Teal'c inclined his head, his jaw muscles tensing slightly. He smiled thinly and then left, his hands clasped behind his back, muscles looking foreboding.
"You don't have to threaten me," Vaisey quietly said. "I'll stand by protocols, and none of them have me reporting to my superiors until the negotiations are complete."
"What? Teal'c?" Daniel played it innocent, eyes wide, expression surprised. "Jaffa thing: he was showing respect." One day SG-1 would abuse the excuse that Teal'c was an alien one time too many . . . either that or someone would actually wise up and realize Teal'c had been living on Earth long enough to qualify for dual citizenship.
Vaisey nodded, seeming both to accept Daniel's answer and the fact that he had been threatened. "Is there an available office where I can gather my notes?"
Mitchell stepped in, leaning over like he'd been waiting for an excuse to be helpful. "Of course, Ambassdor. Why don't I take you there?" He held out his hand, making a wide-eyed face at Sam and Daniel that Daniel mimicked back at him.
"I have to get some equipment from my lab," Sam said when they were alone and waiting for the elevator. "Can I meet you in the infirmary or do I have to escort you there?" She smiled lightly.
"I'll meet you there." Daniel pressed the button for Level 21, giving a little wave when he got off the elevator before her.
Dr. Lam was expecting him, and ran him through the usual routine—MRIs, blood work, flashlight in the eye. As expected, she didn't reveal anything new or out of the ordinary. Sam's scan revealed nothing new either—as expected, without a signal the nanites were dormant, nothing more than specks of dust floating in Daniel's brain.
There were specks of dust in Jack's brain, too. So far Jack's name hadn't been mentioned, and Daniel had been the main receiver for Vaisey's glare, but at some point someone was going to connect the dots and get back to Jack. Daniel wasn't looking forward to the conversation they'd have when Jack found out there was a Vinculum on another planet, and that Earth was negotiating with that planet. Honestly, Daniel wasn't looking forward to any conversation with Jack.
Jack pushed the mission file around his desk, using it to take down the paperclip men he'd painstakingly assembled and arranged in groups. It took a few extra pushes to finally knock down the sticky-note fort, but eventually Jack's desk was as clean as it had been the first day he'd stepped into the office . . . although now the floor around his desk was littered with fallen soldiers.
There was a sharp rap on his door before the knob twisted. "General!" Jack stood up, still feeling like he was a student in trouble with a teacher. It didn't matter how many times Hammond reminded Jack he'd retired or said to just call him "George."
"As you were, Jack." Hammond cast a quick eye to Jack's floor but made no comment about the office-supply casualties. "I take it you've heard, then?"
"Heard, sir?" Jack sat back down, gesturing for Hammond to take the opposite chair. He tried to make himself feel comfortable behind the desk, but the only desk he'd liked was the one at the SGC and that was because it had so many drawers that locked and so many keys he could claim to lose.
Hammond slid the thin file in his hand across Jack's desk. "It's about to hit the fan."
"It?" Jack flipped open the report, something in his gut telling him the thin file was another SG-1 mission gone wrong. Of all the SG-teams, his former team seemed to be the one that stumbled into the most trouble.
He'd barely started reading the first line before one word rose out like a beacon: Vinculum, Vinculum, Vinculum. Jack could almost feel the nanites spark to life in his head, reminding him of the double vision, the semi-telepathy, the IMs he'd sent to Daniel's brain.
"What." The word was flat, merely a reaction, as he leaned forward, spreading the file on his desk to read it more thoroughly.
"Hank isn't too pleased with either of us. Said the IOA ambassador is spitting nails." Hammond chuckled softly. "I don't envy him at the moment."
"No, me either," Jack said distractedly, reading over the whole of the page a second time. He still couldn't quite believe the coincidence—there was another planet with Vinculum technology? Wireless technology, flash drives, nanites, all that stuff on Earth was getting frighteningly close to the path that would one day lead to the same technology, but Jack was sure it was still a long way off. Why'd SG-1 have to visit this planet with an IOA representation in tow? "Who's seen this?"
"You're the head of Homeworld Security, Jack."
Jack arched an eyebrow. "Then how'd you see this before I did?" Jack could guess the answer, namely that Hank had sent it to Hammond to keep Jack in line, once again confirming that Jack made the right decision in recommending Hank as the CO of the SGC. He had the right mix of following the rules and ignoring policies to handle all the insanity that came through the 'gate.
Hammond smiled, not about to give away his source. "We're clearly still in transition." He tapped the file. "They're waiting for clearance, but planning to return to the planet in a few hours."
Jack shook his head. "I don't feel right about this."
"Is that just because of the Vinculum?"
Jack took that in, rolling it around in his thoughts. Yes was the easy answer—the Vinculum wigged him out in ways that only Daniel could truly understand. The truth was that there was more—SG-1's involvement, the IOA's involvement, the fact that once the IOA ambassador read the file, Jack would be recalled to Colorado Springs.
He tried not to wonder if he'd see Daniel.
"I'll get the IOA ambassador the mission files." Jack skimmed over the rest of the request, noting the polite suggestion that they might need to requisition scientists to fully examine the Vinculum to determine its viability as a tradable commodity. Jack groaned, wondering if it'd been Daniel or Carter who'd slipped in the hint in the middle of the ambassador's political jargon.
"If they go forward with this, someone's going to need to examine the damn thing." He was shaking his head now, trying to figure out how they'd explain Jacob's noticeable lack of a human body. "Gerard's the only expert we have on that."
"I was thinking that as well. As I recall he was a bit twitchy; might need to be picked up in person."
Jack pushed back in his chair, raising an eyebrow. "Is this friendly advice or an order?"
"I'm on my way out the door, Jack; it is what it is." Hammond stood up, giving Jack the impression it was an order. Jack stood to escort Hammond to the door.
"They haven't been transferred out of Area 51 yet?"
Hammond shook his head. "Dr. Price is good in R&D. His experience with nanites gives him an edge." Hammond paused. "I hear he's working with something related to increasing the reliability and connectivity of wireless networks."
"What?" Jack frowned; he did not like the thought that Gerard had access to nanites and was playing with wireless networks. He didn't need to accidentally re-invent the Vinculum on Earth just because he had new tech for playtime.
"I made the call for you—wheels up in an hour."
Jack nodded, glad the General had already made the call and he could get there faster to strangle Gerard in person.
Hammond stopped at the door, looking down for a moment. "Jack? A piece of advice from one head of Homeworld Security to another?" Jack nodded, always keen when Hammond imparted his advice. "The office supplies normally go on your desk."
Jack laughed, ducking his head. "Thanks, General. Still figuring some things out."
Hammond smiled in that way that reminded Jack that the retired General still had his back. He shut the door behind Hammond and then leaned against it, sagging a bit. Sure he could be pissed at Gerard, but he was kind of tired of being pissed at Gerard and handling these kind of "tricky" situations. Dealing with the Vinculum was not part of his job description or his plan. He'd planned to one, fly a desk for a few years; two, not blow out his knees; and three, retire, hopefully with Daniel.
Of course Daniel's involvement in The Plan had been a little sketchy of late, since he'd used the time between Jack's transition from the SGC to Homeworld Security to secure his ticket to Atlantis. Jack understood why he'd done it—Jack had been making excuses to keep him on Earth—but that didn't make it any easier to accept. When Jack saw the decision was out of his hands, that Daniel had made the decision without even mentioning it to Jack, it pretty much felt like the relationship was over. Maybe Daniel figured Jack had left first when he'd accepted the position in D.C., but that had never been Jack's intention. It wasn't Jack's fault Daniel didn't ask about it; he was the one who was supposed to be good at talking.
Jack pushed away from the door, jamming his concerns about Daniel in the mental box marked "personal." He headed for the phone, already figuring what meetings could be cancelled and which ones needed to be rescheduled. He concentrated on deciding what to tell Gerard, how to couch the order so Gerard might follow it, what he'd say to the IOA when they finally asked about the alien tech still floating in his head. He focused on his job, on the decisions he had to make, and carefully ignored the knee-jerk desire to daydream about the retirement he wasn't sure would happen exactly as he'd wanted.
Gerard tossed his laptop on his worktable, the papers underneath it causing it to slide. He rubbed his brow, trying once again to find his patience. Everything took so much longer on Earth! He thought he'd be able to reintegrate, live a life without the Vinculum. Those first weeks had been hard, but it'd been nearly two years—shouldn't it be easier now?
Jacob's heavy metallic footsteps sounded his approach. The claw on Gerard's shoulder was almost reassuring. "I take it the meeting didn't go well." Jacob's synthesized voice was mostly monotone. They'd tried to program the voice so that Jacob could modulate it a bit, be able to provide some color, but they'd never gotten the program right and Gerard changed it back rather than listen to Jacob's reprogrammed voice sing questions and question statements.
"Well enough," Gerard said. He pointed at his laptop. "But I'm tired of having to use that all the time—and to not use my own research! It used to be so much easier."
The lights next to Jacob's mouth-speaker lit up and Gerard knew he was smiling. "I used to not be entirely metallic."
"You're not entirely metallic," Gerard sighed, the joke still stinging a bit.
"Some of me is ceramic," Jacob piped up again, tapping the black rings around his eyes Gerard had added to look like his old glasses. He couldn't fault his brother for missing his body—Gerard missed looking at his brother's face, too—and it put Gerard's whining into perspective—while he missed accessing the virtual world, the physical world was what Jacob craved.
"Are you sure you don't want to try downloading into one of those android bodies again? We might be able to change the interface. . . ."
Jacob shook his head. "It felt wrong; things didn't feel right in my hands. And looking, well, human? I should have felt . . . normal. At least this way I don't forget that I'm not normal." The lights in his eyes glowed brighter as his irises retracted.
Gerard opened his laptop, pretending to make sure it was still working after he'd tossed it. He still wasn't comfortable with what had happened to Jacob. Even if it wasn't directly his fault, if he'd gone after Jacob sooner, maybe he could have freed Jacob and gotten him out in his body rather than on a hard drive.
"Besides." Jacob flourished his arm, rolling his wrist out, the movements only slightly choppy. "You're learning new skills with robotics." He straightened up to his full height, his head just slightly below Gerard's.
"What about you?"
Jacob's shoulders stuttered, the closest movement they could get to a shrug. "If we can increase my dexterity, maybe I can eventually get back into a theater." Jacob clacked his fingers. "Not that I mind studying CAT scans and others' research, just. . . ."
Gerard sighed. "You miss the hands-on study. I know."
Jacob rubbed Gerard's shoulder, his claw never quite comforting, but the way it pinched his shoulder Gerard knew Jacob understood—he wasn't the only one working out of his preferred element.
Gerard took a deep breath and stood up. "What else is on the schedule for today? That meeting with Bill was pushed back to next week, right?"
As if on cue, the intercom on Gerard's table buzzed. "Dr. Price?" the administrative assistant chirped. "General O'Neill is here to see you. We're sending him down to your lab." She clicked off and Gerard said a quick "thank you" before giving Jacob a confused look.
Jacob's shoulders stuttered again. "I'm just as surprised as you are."
Jack had been to see them twice since they'd come to Earth. The first time had been with the rest of SG-1 when Gerard had asked for Sam to review one of his prototypes—make sure it wasn't too otherworldly. The second time had been just with Daniel, and Gerard suspected Daniel had harassed Jack into coming. That had been almost a year ago, though. They hadn't seen Daniel in that time either. Gerard of course heard reports about SG-1—new technology came through their doors to study or backwards engineer, some mission files made it to Gerard's desk for technological review—but Jack was coming in person. Something felt off.
Gerard turned away from his desk when he heard Jack clear his throat. Jack rocked on his feet and smiled tightly, his hands in his pockets bunching up the bottom of his dress jacket. Gerard had seen a number of Generals in their dress uniforms, but Jack didn't look right in it—he looked uncomfortable, like he was looking for the right moment to unbutton the jacket and let out a deep breath.
"Gerard," Jack greeted with a nod. "And Jacob! How's the metal frame treating you?" He slapped Jacob on the shoulder.
"As good as can be expected." The lights by Jacob's mouth speaker lit in his usual smile, but they dimmed quickly and he turned away.
"We could get you an upgrade, you know." Jack turned, speaking more to Gerard. "I know a planet with some sweet android bodies. Look just like the real thing—very high tech meets no tech. Plus." Jack leveled his hand, showing the difference between Jacob's height and his own, which was a good six inches.
Jacob's gears ground slightly—it was kind of like a sigh for him.
"We like him how he is," Gerard said softly. "But thanks. It's good to see you, Jack." Gerard shook Jack's hand, a custom he'd learned on Earth, though he still wasn't wildly comfortable touching people.
Jack inhaled deeply, hands back in his pockets as he walked the edge of the room. He unbuttoned his jacket and touched one of Gerard's instruments, making the light arm of the aperture spin.
"The, um, what did you want to ask?" There was something in Jack's silence that was making Gerard uneasy; it was like the quiet week before the Lower City was bombed on Tekhne.
"What's the likelihood of another planet coming up with this very special method of invading privacy and controlling people?" Jack tapped his head and Gerard knew he was asking about the Vinculum.
"It's not about invading—" Jack's look stopped Gerard's rant. He took a deep breath and changed tracks. "It depends on their level of technology and what they value. If it's knowledge and sharing that knowledge—and if they have pre-existing information databases, wireless networks, satellites, and nanotechnology, it's possible. If they didn't already have those technologies, though. . . ." Gerard held up his empty hands.
Jack nodded, seeming to take that in. "Assuming all . . .that. You think another planet would come up with it on their own?"
Gerard laughed. "Are you kidding me? Every day I hear scientists talk about it here. 'Wouldn't it be cool to be to Google that in your brain?' 'I'd be playing World of Warcraft during meetings if I just had a wifi connection to my head.' They don't know what they're asking for, I get that, but it's on their minds already."
Jack rubbed his brow, looking at Gerard with one eye. "Is it still on your mind?"
Jacob turned, his eyes wide, the light from them bright. Gerard didn't quite know what to say and in that moment of silence, the cooling fan in Jacob's chest sounded unusually loud.
Gerard opened his mouth, expecting some excuse to fall out. "Um."
"It's always on our minds," Jacob covered. "It . . . is . . . our minds."
Jack groaned, covering his face, clearly reading between the lines. "Just tell me you haven't built anything."
Gerard shared a look with Jacob; the light from Jacob's eyes made Gerard squint.
"I haven't built anything," Jacob said, and even though it was the same synthesized voice, something in it actually sounded guilty.
"I, um, have," Gerard admitted.
"You, um, have?" Jack's voice was acidic enough to ratchet up Gerard's guilt a few notches. "You weren't, um, supposed to."
"It's limited," Gerard said, moving towards Jacob. "And I didn't make any nanites, just a new transceiver. It only transmits a few feet; just enough so Jacob and I can still see each other."
Jack's face pinched in confusion. "He's right there."
"That's just his body; it's not him." Gerard rolled his eyes and opened the casing on Jacob's shoulder, toggling a switch. The nanites in his head engaged, warming up slowly, easing him into the steady flow of information that connected him to Jacob. This time was different, though, because there was another muffled entity—if he didn't know it was Jack, he'd have trouble identifying who it was.
"Did you just—? Am I—?"
He could just barely feel Jack, the way he couldn’t quite keep his thoughts to himself; they were loud and on the surface and Gerard could almost hear them clearly.
"Kind of," Gerard admitted. "I had to retrofit a few things, though, so the technologies didn't mesh perfectly at first." He thought the code in his head, reaching out and tapping into Jack, visualizing him and his nanites and grabbing hold. "You just need an upgrade."
"What? No, wait—"
But then Gerard could see Jack perfectly in the Vinculum. The nanites in Jack's head took the upgrade easily, integrating with the signal coming from Jacob's robot body.
Jack groaned, sinking on to a stool. "Is this why you refused the android bodies? To hide the Vinculum?" He spat the word, and Gerard had a moment to consider if Jack had actually wanted the upgraded nanites.
"Not exactly. . . ."
It is convenient, though, Jacob said through the Vinculum. His normal voice echoed in Gerard's head, just as Gerard remembered it.
The Vinculum on Earth was different, a cross between the usual computer interface and the virtual world Daniel had opened to Gerard their last night on Tekhne. This was how Jacob had interfaced with the Vinculum since he'd been uploaded—it was part of the reason Gerard's nanites had needed to be upgraded; Jacob had made it something new.
And having access helps me feel more human. Jacob tilted his head, his eyebrows cinching together. I'm sure you can understand that feeling is hard won.
Yeah, Jack said, his voice oddly echoing through the Vinculum. It might help if you didn't look like C-3P0. The reference called up an image and Gerard saw some of the similarities, making a note to ask Jack more questions about the robot later.
Jack ground the heels of his palms into his eyes. "Can we talk? I hate this."
In the Vinculum Jacob crossed his arms.
Jack rubbed his brow again, but gestured for things to continue. "Why?" Jack groused. "And I mean that rhetorically." He shook his head, but Gerard could feel his annoyance crumbling, the way he was remembering how he'd do anything for some people (for Daniel, the thought slipped out). "Are you sure no one knows about this? That the technology is protected?"
"No one has come near Jacob," Gerard promised. "They don't even know what he is."
Jacob's robot eyes widened; in the Vinculum his eyebrows raised. Bill knows, or suspects. And Rebecca in robotics knows you've got something else under wraps.
Jack narrowed his eyes, the threat implicit.
Gerard waved it off. "But no one knows. And even if they suspect something more about Jacob, why would they make the leap to the Vinculum?"
"Because you're working on technologies to improve wireless internet." For a moment Gerard was surprised Jack knew. Then he remembered that as head of Homeworld Security, Gerard's research fell under Jack's purview. It was quite the change from working for Dawes; now he was being encouraged in the opposite direction.
"I don't keep notes about the Vinculum," Gerard insisted. "I have Jacob." He gestured to his bother. "He's the template for the transceiver, and with the recall allowed by the Vinculum—" He could see he was losing Jack, his eyes were glazed over slightly . . . though maybe he was just accessing something through the Vinculum; he'd looked like that a lot on Tekhne.
"Shut it down," Jack snapped, standing up. "I get it—it's the best way for you two to be study buddies, but it's dangerous and I don't want it on this planet!"
Gerard pushed slightly, gleaning a thought from Jack that stopped his breath.
"They found it on another planet?"
Jack growled ever so slightly and Gerard stepped back, bumping into his desk. "SG-1 came back from a mission with some interesting information. Information complete with internet in the brain." Jack smiled, though this time his smile didn't seem friendly.
"What?" Gerard's mind was reeling, trying to catch up with Jack's words.
Jack pointed at his head. "Oh yes, another planet of people who shoved nanites in their heads so everyone can communicate telepathically."
Jacob groaned. That's not really what—
"And of course this is a mission on which SG-1 has an IOA ambassador with them," Jack continued as though Jacob hadn't said anything. "So he wants to know all about our last encounter with internet in the brain and why Daniel has internet in his brain." Jack turned and looked Gerard square in the eye. "He wants to know if it's viable for defense against the Ori."
Gerard sucked in a breath, his body freezing. It was already happening, it was already coming to Earth. Gerard hadn't needed to do a thing, SG-1 just needed to keep exploring and find the technology on their own. Jacob and Gerard wouldn't need to hide any more; they'd have access to more knowledge, more databases.
Gerard stopped himself and took a mental breath—he thought about the devastation Tekhne experienced because of the Vinculum, the personal liberties the government sought to erase all to win a war; he pictured the Lower City after the bombing, the bodies he'd found in the street, the friends he'd lost, when he saw Jacob get shot and Gerard'd left him for dead. This was the reason he'd been hesitant to come to Earth in the first place. He wanted the Vinculum to work without the abuse, and the thought of trying again was too tempting.
"Carter wants you to check it out; she's suspicious of it."
Gerard's hackles raised, wondering if Jack had caught any of his thoughts. "Suspicious?"
"She says there's no satellites."
Gerard could feel Jack revisiting the report in his memory, going over the words he'd first carelessly skimmed and then carefully read. "I'll give you a copy of the report, but definitely no satellites." He sat back down again.
Gerard covered his eyes, rubbing his temples. Satellites were a key stepping stone in inventing a planetary Vinculum network and if they skipped that step—if they were using something that was linked through local synchronization. . . .
Jacob's virtual form in the Vinculum vanished as he retreated, his mind running off, already on the same page as Gerard, the same fear creeping up his robotic spine. Jacob reached into the crevices of their limited network and searched for the boundaries, the weak spots, the edges where someone could have hacked in.
Gerard tried to ignore his twisting gut that was already laying blame on himself. "Have we been there before? Has an SG team been to the planet before this mission?"
"This was follow up to negotiate an alliance." Jack's eyes flicked between them. "What?" He shifted on his stool and Gerard was sure he could feel the silence through the Vinculum.
Gerard ran his hand through his hair, his thoughts overturning the possibilities of corrupt governments and practical tests, the lengths humans would go to for power. Jacob's eyes were bright and wide; he drummed his fingers in a perfectly equal pattern, silently confirming with Gerard: this wasn't good.
"We may . . . have a problem," Gerard finally admitted. He closed his eyes and wished he could pretend Jacob hadn't found a hole, hadn't found a way that someone could have stolen not only the original Vinculum, but Gerard's upgraded design.
Jack was going to send him through the Stargate backwards for this.
"Everybody saddled up?" Mitchell asked.
They were at the foot of the 'gate ramp, waiting for the sequence to finish dialing. Ambassador Vaisey had made an impressive argument, trying to get General Landry to ground Daniel, but in the end Landry won. Daniel still wasn't entirely certain if he'd won or lost, but he knew his unique qualifications could prove useful for this mission. While Vaisey negotiated, Daniel could look through the Aberdone planetary history, hack into files if he really wanted to, get a lay of the land faster than Vaisey would be able to through negotiations or by taking a tour of the capital.
Despite the problems with the Vinculum, Daniel couldn't help but admit once again that it had its uses.
He was surprised Jack hadn't called him yet, though. When the command came to unseal the files and brief Vaisey on the previous missions, Daniel had half expected (and half hoped for) a personal call from Jack with special provisos if not a very special rant. But there was no personal call for Daniel, not before or after the briefing. Jack had called Landry and Daniel watched the General nod through that conversation, but after he'd come out of his office, he finished briefing SG-1 and sent them on their way.
Daniel stopped in the hall between his office and the gateroom to dial an outside line. Jack's cell went straight to voicemail, and while that could mean Jack had forgotten to charge his phone again, Daniel couldn't help imagining it was Jack avoiding him.
The Vinculum was a lot of bad and personal baggage for them both. They'd both invaded each other's thoughts (unintentionally and intentionally), and Amelia had preyed upon Daniel's abandonment issues and fear of being unable to communicate, and she'd used those fears to torture him.
He hadn't really wanted to relive any of that with Jack, but hearing Jack's voice would have been calming . . . even if Jack decided to rant.
Ambassdor Vaisey cleared his throat, stepping closer to Daniel and away from the rest of SG-1. "I don't have anything against you," he quietly said. "I just don't want to jeopardize these negotiations by having someone break into their secrets."
Daniel arched his eyebrows. "I'd think you'd want someone to break into their secrets before we get into bed with them."
Vaisey shook his head. "We can't expect people to trust us if we don't trust them."
Daniel blinked. Clearly Vaisey hadn't negotiated with many goa'uld. "I used to say the same thing."
The Stargate engaged and Daniel used the moment to step away from Vaisey, taking up alongside Sam. They walked through the 'gate together and this time when Daniel set foot on the planet, he identified the thrum of the Aberdone Vinculum as more than just a headache. He reached out slowly, letting his thoughts into the flow experimentally. The Vinculum was different from on Tekhne; he felt more like a rock in the middle of the current, the waters passing around him instead of through him. The Vinculum on Tekhne had swept him up more easily, even after he'd learned to control it. Daniel wasn't sure if it was the Vinculum here or the way his nanites interacted with it, but here he had to push harder to get information. He hoped it would make it more difficult for someone to get information from him without his knowing about it.
Bridgeman and his advisor were waiting at the 'gate, the Aberdone ambassador already welcoming them with open arms.
"Dr. Jackson, I'm glad you returned. We welcome your scrutiny of our Vinculum and hope you will avail yourself of our knowledge."
Daniel bowed his head slightly. "Thank you. I hope you will forgive my earlier outburst."
Bridgeman tapped his mouth and then his temple, and Daniel knew all was forgiven.
"We thought perhaps you'd like a tour of our city," Bridgeman's advisor said. "We've arranged for transportation that will take us around the perimeter and into the heart before conveying us to the capitol."
"That sounds like it will be educational," Vaisey said, stepping forward as their leader.
Conveying, Mitchell mouthed at Daniel and then winked at Sam.
The open-air cars swished quietly along the ground streets. The Aberdones once had combustion vehicles but preferred cable cars that could easily be operated at ground height or raised to run parallel on elevated "streets" in the second and third tiers of the city. The ground level was the oldest part of the city, and Daniel took great care to examine any buildings they passed. The architecture on the first tier included sweeping archways and towering columns that were hiding behind some of the more heavily built infrastructure to support the additional levels that were added on to the city over the last hundred years.
"The under structure was key, of course," Bridgeman's advisor explained, "but we reinforced some of the buildings using metal alloys and carefully distributed the weight for the upper tiers. You can still see some of the original architecture underneath, though; it was important to our people that we not hide who we once were. We're quite proud of the achievements we made when we lived exclusively in the first tier."
Daniel winced when he had to push harder to find a few of the building faces on the Vinculum. Many of them were revered, clearly famous in the Aberdones' eyes. They knew these building faces the way the people of Earth could recognize Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Giza. Daniel could find entire histories of the buildings, records of when they were built, who owned them, anecdotes of major events that had happened inside. A few of the more ornate buildings though had more simple references—names and dates only: Kelsior Temple, built 34D1, closed 83D3; Fannigan Temple, built 37D1, closed 83D3; The Church of the Holy Saan, built 29D9, closed 83D3. All churches, Daniel mused, all closed this year.
There was a decent filing cabinet of facts about the churches, but Daniel wasn't finding connections or context, and trying to pull together information in this Vinculum the way he could on Tekhne was giving him a headache.
"Ambassador Bridgeman." Daniel leaned over his seat, interrupting Bridgeman's explanation of their parliamentary structure. "I noticed there are quite a few recently closed churches—all in the past year."
Bridgeman's eyes lit and he smiled. "Very astute, Dr. Jackson. I see you are now enjoying the Vinculum."
Daniel ducked his head—enjoying wasn't the word he'd use. "Yes, I am, but—why have so many churches closed?" Daniel flicked his hand, indicating the building they were just passing. "Some of them are boarded up like they've been condemned."
Bridgeman nodded deeply and Daniel had the impression he was crafting his answer. "Our people have made some changes of late—some of our religions have . . . seen a decrease in numbers." He put his hand on Vaisey's arm. "Please do not think the Aberdones lack conviction, we have recently opened our eyes to a new religion."
"New religion?" Mitchell asked. "I thought we confirmed the Ori haven't been here."
"The Ori have not been here," Bridgeman's advisor confirmed. "And if they had, they would not break our conviction."
"Well that's something," Mitchell muttered.
"When did all this happen?" Daniel pressed. "The Vinculum just lists the year."
"It wasn't long ago," Bridgeman confessed. "Less than half a year."
"Less than half the year?" Daniel calculated in his head. The Aberdone year was only slightly longer than a year on Earth. "You started using the Vinculum around the same time, right?" He had to shout a bit as they passed a busy intersection.
"Shortly after," Bridgeman said, making a hand gesture that Daniel guessed was to indicate time.
Sam narrowed her eyes. "Are you saying you worship the Vinculum?"
"No, no, no," the advisor said quickly, looking over his shoulder like he was a little afraid. "We have a god." He shared a look with Bridgeman before speaking; Bridgeman nodded, but Daniel had the feeling it was with some reservation. "He came to our planet through the Stargate."
Daniel's stomach dipped and he didn't think it had anything to do with the cable car suddenly swooping upwards to the second tier of the city. He felt Teal'c tense beside him.
"What's your god's name?" Mitchell asked, enunciating each word.
Bridgeman hesitated for a moment before answering, and suddenly Daniel's unease made more sense.
"His name is Ba'al."
~Continued in Part 2.
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