Word Count: 4500
Gen and G
for Kidfic Alphabet Soup
Oxam and Fidalan stood by the now-quiet circle.
“Will they come back,” Oxam asked, “the people of Earth?”
“They must,” Fidalan replied.
“Daniel?” Jack leaned forward to catch the attention of his distracted friend. He got no response so he tried again. “Daniel, are you paying attention?”
“Of course I’m paying attention, Jack. I’m just ignoring you.” Daniel continued to rifle through his notes.
“Did you want to add anything to this team briefing?”
“Team briefing plus one,” Daniel said without looking up.
“Plus one.” while snippy, was true since Jack had been summoned from Washington to the mountain to join the team on temporary assignment.
After waiting for Daniel to add something else, Landry wrapped things up. “I think we could use your help on this one, Jack, if you’re willing.”
“Sure,” Jack said, “I’m willing. But I’m feeling used. You just want me because I’m an Ancient.”
“You may have the Ancient gene, General O’Neill,” Vala pointed out, “but that doesn’t mean you’re an Ancient.”
“Semantics.” Jack waved a hand at her before he turned to the team leader. “Mitchell, have your team ready in four hours.”
Mitchell stood when Jack did, giving an automatic “yes, sir” before he left the room. Carter, Vala, and Teal’c right behind him.
Landry left with a wave of his own. “Welcome back, Jack.”
“I like that planet,” Vala’s voice floated back. “They have good…. What were those fruity things, Muscles?”
“Pies,” Teal’c offered. “I, too, enjoyed them.”
The voices faded as they moved down the hallway. Jack stood watching them before he turned to Daniel who still had the mission briefing file open. The picture in front of him showed the locals, a group with pale skin, pale eyes, and pale clothes--a nondescript group in Jack’s opinion--standing outside a small shrine.
The team’s discovery of the shrine had resulted in Jack’s summons. According to Carter and Daniel, the shrine was an Ancient artifact—an artifact Jack was supposed to activate it with his gene… if it could be activated.
“So?” Jack asked.
Daniel sighed. “I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on it, but it doesn’t feel right.”
“I can’t.” He tapped his finger on the picture. “Something’s… off. I don’t know what and I don’t know why.”
Jack believed in intuition. The brain had amazing ways of processing information, and sometimes hunches were simply the brain subconsciously processing what couldn’t be brought into consciousness. When that hunch came from one of his team, he didn’t brush it off as nothing. “Should we go back?”
Slowly, Daniel gathered up the briefing materials and put them in the folder. He stood and faced Jack who stood waiting for an answer. “I don’t know, Jack. I want to get a closer look at the shrine—the language is Greek yet the shrine looks like the Ancients’ handiwork--but I feel like I’m missing something.”
“Missing something,” Jack muttered. “They weren’t aggressive. They weren’t inhospitable. They weren’t xenophobic. Right?”
“Quite the opposite,” Daniel said. “They were very welcoming, except that they wouldn’t let us stay for more than a few hours. They insisted we leave and come back, even after we told them we had our own supplies and wouldn’t bother them for a place to stay or anything to eat.”
The team had been to the planet twice, and each time they’d been politely but firmly shooed away after a few hours. The small group of bland inhabitants lived in a quaint village of about 50 equally bland buildings. A few small, well-kept farms circled the village, but according to the elders who’d met them at the Stargate, they were the only inhabitants of the planet.
“Elders” was a misnomer, if Jack had read the report correctly. The man and woman who’d greeted the team looked middle aged at best. At the briefing Mitchell had complained about looking old beside them.
Carter had kidded him, “It’s tough when the baby of the group feels old. Wait until you get to be my age.”
Vala took a jab as well. “I still think you look young-ish and handsome.”
Daniel, who usually took every opportunity to tease the new guy, had said nothing.
Speaking of nothing… Jack had a whole lot of that. “Do we go back?”
Daniel tapped the edge of the folder on the desk. “I can’t think of a good reason why not. And I’d like you to have a look at the shrine.”
“But something doesn’t feel right.” Daniel turned and left, leaving Jack alone in the room.
“Well,” said Jack to an empty room, “at least there’s pie.”
The same pair of non-elders, Oxam and Fidalan met them when they came through the Stargate. They made a fuss of Jack, the newcomer, if anything these people did could be considered a fuss. They spoke and moved in the same quiet graceful way as before. They took the group to a town meeting place with a long table and a dozen soft chairs. There, they were given tea and “pie,” finger-sized pastries with a tart, fruity filling, which Jack had to admit were very tasty—although he could have done without the tea. Then they were guided through the open market in the town square to look at the goods and services of local farmers and craftsmen. A couple of small children, maybe four or five years of age, played in one of the stalls under the watchful eye of a man sewing shoe leather into a sandal. Unlike the adults, the children wore bright, fresh colors--reds, yellows, and purples that glowed.
Jack indulged in another pie, this one fresh out of the oven, and shrugged at Carter’s grin. To show he was a nice guy, he shared it with Teal’c and tried not to embarrass himself by licking the warm filling from his fingers. They walked from stall to stall, murmuring praises for the goods they saw, a shawl spun of a soft gray yarn, a stool made of a wood so dark it reminded Jack of ebony, a set of cups that any potter would be proud of.
After wiping his fingers on his pants, he held one of the cups in his hand. “These are beautiful. Did you make these?” The craftsmanship showed in the delicate lines of the handle and in the fine pale blue of the glaze.
The woman behind the counter beamed. “I did. Do you know something about pottery?”
“I’ve dabbled,” Jack admitted, “but I can’t make anything like this.”
“It is a skill that takes times,” she said, “and patience.”
“Beautiful.” Reluctantly, he handed it back. “I’d like to buy six of them. How much?”
“These are not for sale, but the next time you come, I will have a set specially prepared for you.”
“I don’t think I’ll be back,” Jack jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward Daniel and Mitchell who were admiring a saddle. “I’m not usually part of this outfit. I just came to see the shrine.”
“Ah.” The woman nodded again as she rearranged the cups in front of her. “You must come back. I will make a set for you. Come back.”
As if on cue, the welcoming committee rescinded their welcome. “You must return home. We will greet you again in a fortnight.”
“But we haven’t seen the shrine yet,” Daniel protested. Jack was almost surprised to hear the voice. Daniel, who usually had nonstop questions, hadn’t said much beyond the normal “hello, how are you” since his arrival.
“Next time,” they said.
Jack hadn’t intended to go back. But he was curious… and he wanted his handmade cups.
Like at the last briefing, Daniel was pretty quiet.
“Well?” Jack asked after the others had left.
“What did you notice at the market?” Daniel asked.
“Other than the pottery? Good food, nice crafts, quiet people. That’s about it.”
“Did you notice the children?”
Jack thought back to the little ones in the stall. “Yeah. Cute kids. What about it?”
“How old would you say they were?”
“Four. Maybe five or six. I’m not good at figuring out ages of little kids.”
“What else did you notice about them?
“They were dressed in loud ugly colors—“
Jack threw up his hands in frustration and then subsided when he saw Daniel’s troubled look. He tried to picture them. But in two weeks, he’d forgotten all but the colors and the bright smiles. Like most children, they had been laughing and giggling over whatever toy it was they had. “That’s all I can remember.”
“Think about it, Jack. What else did you notice?”
The children had been playing with an old thread spool, probably from the shoemaker, and two sticks. They’d been trying to catch the spool on the sticks. Jack smiled as he remembered a game like that from his own childhood. He saw one of them, a little girl with black hair, toss the spool to the little boy. The boy had coffee-colored skin and bright blue eyes. Finally, it dawned on him—black hair, dark skin, blue eyes. “They didn’t look like the adults.”
“Exactly. And they’re the only children I’ve seen in three visits, those two, and I saw a woman with a baby when we came out of the town hall.”
“So? They’re a pretty small community.”
“That’s the point. In a community that small, you’d expect to see almost as many children as adults. Small communities need children to do chores and work the land. You’d expect the children to look like their parents. You’d also expect to see people of all ages—babies, teens, middle aged, elderly… which we didn’t.”
“It…. I….” Daniel faltered and stopped.
“It doesn’t feel right,” Jack finished for him.
“But we’re going back.”
“Yeah,” Daniel said with the closest thing to a smile Jack had seen. “It’s what we do, right?”
Daniel made sure that they visited the shrine first, declining even the pastries. To keep the peace, Teal’c, Vala, and Mitchell had taken tea with some of the villagers while Oxam and Fidalan had accompanied them to the outskirts of town.
“But it’s pie, Daniel,” Jack complained.
“Don’t they feed you at the Pentagon?”
The shrine was small, more like an altar with a small enclosure built around it. It sat in a grove of trees, shadowed but somehow welcoming in the dappled sunlight. It looked like the Ancients’ handiwork with its clean lines and slim pillars. A small blue stone nestled in the center of the altar.
“That’s it?” Jack asked.
“That’s it,” Daniel said.
Jack stared at it. “And you think that my Ancient gene will activate something. We haven’t always had the best luck with Ancient technology, you know.”
Carter stepped back from her examination of the base of the structure. “Actually, we have, sir. Think of the puddle jumpers—or even the Stargate itself.”
“Yeah. Well.” He didn’t get to do fun things like fly puddle jumpers very often. Instead, he got Ancient headsuckers that scrambled his brains. Or Stargates that blasted him to Antarctica. Or ‘gates that fizzled out when he needed them. He rubbed his hands together to wipe away the sweat, not willing to admit he was at all nervous, and wondered what would happen this time. “Did you find any way to get into this thing?”
“No, sir. I can’t even see a seam in the stone.”
“I found some words that look like a derivation of ancient Greek, the word for light, for instance—that’s a very common word in religious texts, although these people don’t seem to use this for worship--and the word koinóta—which I’m pretty sure is a variation of the word for community. Then there’s the word méllo, which is—“
He cleared his throat, stopped as he was in mid-flow. “I don’t think there’s any way to figure out what it does except to touch it.”
“Touch it. Right. Okay, kids, stand back.” Neither of them moved even after Jack raised an eyebrow in their direction. “You know, your insubordination is as bad now as when I left the SGC.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Jack rubbed his hands together again before he reached out. He placed his right hand over the blue stone… and waited. Nothing happened. He tried it with his left hand, then with both hands. Nothing happened. He looked at the two disappointed scientists. “I could sit on it if you want.”
“I was sure….” Daniel started. He stepped forward and touched the stone himself before Jack could stop him. To Jack’s relief, nothing happened.
“So that hasn’t changed either,” Jack said to Carter as Daniel tried again, muttering to himself all the while.
“Did you think it would?” Sam asked.
“I can but hope.”
Their two escorts stood off to one side, watching but not interfering. They didn’t seem either disappointed or surprised by the results of the experiment.
“Thank you for allowing us to examine the structure,” Daniel said once they’d exhausted all the possibilities they could think of.
“We are always pleased to have you visit us,” Oxam said. “I am sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for.”
They walked back to the town, Daniel and Carter jabbering on about Ancients who must have visited the planet and Ancient technology and a lot of other things Jack didn’t plan to pay attention to. He needed to pick up his pottery cups and find pie. He was sorry he wouldn’t be coming back to this quiet place, but since the Ancient technology hadn’t panned out, there was no reason for any of them—even an honorary Ancient--to return.
When they got to town, Vala and Teal’c met them in the marketplace. Their tense expressions said they’d been waiting for him.
“You will want to see this, O’Neill,” Teal’c said without preamble.
Daniel straightened and Jack could sense Carter come to alert behind him. He did the same. They passed the square where children were throwing a big ball around a circle. Jack narrowed his eyes as he looked at them. Something felt… familiar. One of the older children, a girl with dark hair, tossed the ball to a small boy. The little boy had straight strawberry blonde hair. When he missed the ball and began to cry, an older boy of eight or nine, dark-skinned and blue-eyed, picked it up for him. Jack watched them.
“O’Neill.” Teal’c’s voice distracted him.
He walked over to join the team. They stood by a woman who sat on a bench, holding a little child, a girl, wrapped in bright yellow. She held a cloth animal, a long-eared orange rabbity thing, and gurgled at her mother—at least Jack assumed it was her mother. Teal’c had stepped aside so Jack bent over for a closer look. He had a soft spot for babies, even now. Charlie, the baby he remembered so clearly, had been gone more years than he’d been alive. Jack pushed the thought from his mind.
He reached out his hand to the little girl, and as babies do, she grabbed his thumb. He froze.
Daniel, seeing the pained expression on Jack’s face, looked at the two hands together. “Damn!” Jack’s bent thumb was being held by a little hand with another bent thumb. With a shaky breath, he recovered his composure. “She’s beautiful,” he said to the mother. “Have you named her?”
Jack didn’t hear the rest of the exchange, so fascinated was he by the little hand holding his. He thought about the children in the square who didn’t look at all like the adults in the village but who did look like the members of his team—their hair, skin, and eyes. He saw Vala’s black hair and Sam’s blonde. He saw Teal’c’s dark skin and Daniel’s blue eyes. He saw his own crooked thumb in the baby before him. He jumped when a hand fell on his shoulder.
“We’ve been asked to go,” Daniel said quietly.
“Have we?” Jack said. “I don’t think so--not this time.” He disentangled himself from the baby and walked to the town hall, not waiting to see who followed him.
“Explain,” he said once Oxam, Fidalan, and his team were inside.
“What is there to explain?” Fidalan filled the teacups which sat untouched on the table.
“Where did the children come from?” Daniel asked. “Why do they look like us?”
“Whose children are they?” Sam’s was not a question but a shout.
“They are our children, of course,” Fidalan answered.
“No, they’re not,” Mitchell said.
“They are, in every way that matters. Are you prepared to care for them?” Oxam asked, drawing himself up. He didn’t bother to argue the children’s parentage because every gesture, every smile, and every feature told that story loud and clear. For the first time, Jack saw a break in the calm façade. “We are here to raise them, to care for them, and to give them a future.”
“For how long?” Vala held a cup of tea. “I ask because my own parents didn’t take parenting very seriously.”
“I want to know how long the children will live,” Daniel said. “If these are our children, they’re aging too fast. It’s only been a couple of months since our first visit, and some of those children were almost teens.”
“The aging will slow as they reach maturity.”
“How?” Jack demanded. “I want to know how. Does that shrine thing have anything to do with it?”
“We don’t know,” Oxam admitted. “The children appear there within days after travelers come through the circle. It has always been so.”
“Appear? What, delivered… like a stork?”
“Stork?” Fidalan asked?
“A bird who delivers…. Never mind. Then what?”
“Then we cherish them,” Oxam said simply.
There was a pause at that as Vala turned her cup around on the table. Mitchell started to pace, and for a few minutes, they heard only those sounds.
“How do you decide who raises the children?” Teal’c asked.
“We share that joy with the whole community. Some will look after the babies, and some will teach them a skill. Some feed them and some sew their clothing. We all care for them.”
“And if their real parents, the people who provided their genetic material, wanted to take them off the planet, then what?” Vala asked.
“The children would die.”
“What?” Multiple voices cried it, each horrified at the information. “How do you know?”
“We know,” Fidalan said. “It has been so for as long as I’ve been here.”
“Fidalan, how old are you?” Daniel asked.
She laughed and then stilled, spreading her supple hands on the table as if she were an old woman. “Old, Daniel. I am many, many years old. So old I have forgotten.”
“Are you Ancients? Or Alterans?”
“No, but we are their kin. They placed us here long, long ago.”
Mitchell interrupted. “Will these children live to be as old as you?”
“No. But they will live many years beyond what you would consider a normal lifespan. That is a gift of the tea.”
Vala pushed the teacup away.
“But they cannot leave,” Fidalan continued. “Nor can we. Whatever it is that brings them here determines they must remain here.”
“You’re sure?” Sam asked.
After an hour of fruitless questioning, they left the hall. No, they didn’t have other children because no visitors had come through the circle in many years. Yes, the children, although human, would live more than twice a normal lifespan. No, they hadn’t been visited by the Goa’uld. Yes, they had the means to give the children whatever they needed—except the freedom to leave.
Yes, the biological parents could return or even stay… for a price.
They asked question after question. So few of the answers brought them any comfort.
This time, Oxam and Fidalan didn’t hurry them away. Before they went back to the ‘gate, they stopped to watch the children play… and saw themselves.
Jack dealt with Hammond before he joined a very subdued team in Daniel’s office.
“What did he say?” Daniel asked.
“He said he’d wait for our decision.”
“And our reports?”
“Will be sealed,” Jack said. “Only a few people will know what really happened. The story is we discovered some alien virus and can’t go back.”
They sat in silence for a while.
“We left our own kids behind,” Mitchell said, “our own children. What do we do now?”
“We don’t do anything,” Vala said. “What other choice do we have? We couldn’t bring them back and we couldn’t stay.”
“I thought about it,” Sam stood across the room pretending to look at a mask on the wall. “I really thought about staying.”
“I did too,” Mitchell said. “But not ever being able to leave… that was a deal-breaker.
“Yeah. Me too.” Daniel got up to pour coffee into delicate pottery cups. As he brought the cups back, he said, “Sha’re and I didn’t have much time together, and we’d decided to wait to start a family. I was almost done with what would have been our home when….” He left the sentence unfinished. Everyone, including Mitchell and Vala, knew the end to that sentence. Instead, he placed each cup carefully before its owner.
“I’ve never really wanted children,” Vala said. “But when I saw my little girl playing with the ball—“
“How do you know that little girl was yours?” Mitchell asked.
“Who else could have given her such beautiful hair?” She wasn’t able to smile as she said it, and like on the planet, she pushed the cup around the table.
Mitchell sighed. “I wonder if we’ll ever see them again.”
“Not through the Stargate.” Jack swirled the coffee in his cup. “Unless we want to be parents again. I’m not sure I could handle that.”
“Could we go by ship?” Daniel asked. “Do you think Hammond would let us do that… in a few years, maybe?”
“How do we even know it would work? Even if we wanted to, any planet with that kind of technology surely has protection against a ship,” Sam said.
Daniel shrugged. “We don’t know that.”
“I believe we should not go back.” Teal’c had been silent since their return, standing near the door like a sentinel. “The children are not ours anymore.”
“They have our genes,” Sam protested. “They look like us.”
“But they are not ours. When I left Ry’ac, I knew that someone else would raise him. I had to make that decision for him and for me.”
“But he’s still your son,” Daniel insisted. “You still see him; you know what he’s doing, how he’s doing. We’ll never know what happened to these children.”
Teal’c bowed his head to acknowledge this truth.
“Teal’c has a point,” Jack said. “Those kids have a right to their own lives. We can’t be a part of it even if Hammond would let us go back and see them. We’re not their parents. We’ve… given them up for adoption.”
“I wonder how many of their victims figure it out—that their genetic material has been appropriated,” Vala said. No one answered.
The sat and wondered about the children they might never see—and about the guardians to whom they’d entrusted them.
“I’d like to do one more thing, if you think General Hammond will give us permission.” Daniel looked at Jack.
“Daniel, we can’t go back through the—“
“I know. Please, Jack.”
Oxam and Fidalan watched as the circle spun. They and the older children waited to welcome new guests. The vortex settled but all that came through was a metal box which clattered down the steps to rest at their feet.
“What is it?” asked the oldest girl.
“Let’s open it,” said a younger boy. “I want to know what’s inside.”
“Wait,” said another boy. “Let Fidalan figure it out.”
Oxam hushed the children while Fidalan sat on the steps, searching for the box latch. She pulled out a packet of materials, including six images—each a representation of the people who had left only days before.
“Who are they?” asked the youngest child. “They have funny clothes.”
Fidalan looked at Oxam who nodded. “They are your parents,” she said. “They are the people who gave you life.”
“All of them?”
“Well, two of them for each one of you.”
“Which two? Why only two?”
Oxam rolled his eyes. “It is time to eat. Come, now, and we will explain it as best we can.”
Jack stood at the base of the ramp as the iris closed. “It’s done.” He turned to the rest of the team. “That’s all we can do. Hammond’s going to lock out the address.” They stood staring at the closed iris, no one moving, no one speaking. It wasn’t until another team came into the ‘gate room that they finally turned to go.
They congregated as before in Daniel’s office, not yet wanting to be apart. Daniel pulled up a stool behind his desk and fiddled with a pen. Sam sat on the old sofa in the corner, her arm over her eyes. Vala wandered, running fingers over book spines. Mitchell, arms crossed, leaned against the door frame. Teal’c stood sentry.
Jack poured himself a cup of coffee into a blue pottery mug and sat in on the desk without drinking it. “Méllo,” he said into the silence. “Daniel, what does it mean?”
“At the shrine thingy, you said the word méllo, and I stopped you before you could translate it. What does it mean?” Jack stood, agitated. He came closer to Daniel, running his fingers through his hair, remembering. “You said something about light and coin-something….”
“Koinóta. It means community.”
“Community. Yeah. And then you said méllo.”
Each member of the team came alert as they waited for Daniel’s answer.
“Future,” he said. “It means future.”
“Theirs?” Mitchell asked bitterly, “or ours?”
“Yes.” With tears in his eyes, Daniel stood. “Yes— méllo. Even if we never see them again, yes. That’s what we have to remember. That’s what the message at the shrine was trying to say. We have given them a future. It’s a future for Oxam and the village. Us too. Those children will always be a part of us—whether we go back or not.”
“These people stole something from us,” Vala said. “I’m not sure I’m worried about Oxam and the village.”
“They have no other way to survive. They can’t turn the Stargate off… if that’s what triggers the cloning.”
“That doesn’t make it—“
“Daniel’s right.” Jack raised his hand to stop the bickering. We can’t undo what’s been done; we can only go forward. He raised his cup. “For now, all we have is... méllo.”