Sam scanned the horizon, looking for signs of movement. Everywhere she looked, the sight that met her eyes made the ache inside her grow. Daniel would love this place. It was an archeologist's dream. The ruins stretched for miles, an ancient city just begging for someone to come dig up its secrets.
Sam looked over at the new fourth member of SG-1. That someone would not be Gary Sanderson. Lieutenant Sanderson, while possessing a master's degree in anthropology and being fluent in eight languages, had no interest in archeology, Egyptology or anything else to do with ancient history, with the exception of anthropological studies. Colonel O'Neill had quite forcefully reminded Sanderson that, since the vast majority of Goa'uld society had connections to ancient Egypt, he'd damn well better get interested in it.
Jack came up beside Sam, his eyes also going to Sanderson, who was attempting to show interest in the ruins, but failing miserably.
"This is never going to work," he grumbled under his breath.
Sam looked at her C.O. "Sir?"
"Look at him. I've seen more excitement on the faces of people at the dentist's office. If Daniel was here, he'd have been in that city in a flash, acting like a little kid in a candy store. I'd be yelling at him to stay close and watch out for falling rocks . . . and he'd be yelling back that they're artifacts, not rocks, even if they were rocks."
Sam smiled, a clear picture forming in her mind of the archeologist's enthusiasm. "You miss that, don't you, sir," she said quietly.
Jack thought about it. "Yeah, I do, which is kind of surprising." He pointed at a spot on his head. "You see that? That's grey hair. All those years in Special Ops and Black Ops and not one grey hair. A few months with Daniel, and, bam! There it is."
Sam hid her widening smile by ducking her head. The smile did not last long, however. "I miss him, too. It's just not the same without him."
"We're going to get him back, Carter. Hammond's gotten some positive news. There are some more people on our side now, and I guess our trip to D.C. did some good, too."
"But we're still going to have to wait for Daniel to get to Abydos. That's a long time from now."
"I've been thinking about that, and I really think we should use that Tollan doohickey to call him once we get his job back for him."
Turning to the other two team members, Jack called out, "Okay, kids. Let's check that place out."
SG-1 cautiously entered the city, their senses alert for trouble. As they looked around, they noticed that several of the walls had some kind of writing on them.
"Sanderson? You recognize that?" Jack asked, pointing at the inscriptions on one wall.
The lieutenant looked at it closely. "No, sir, I don't. It looks kind of familiar, but I can't get a handle on it."
Jack grumbled under his breath that Daniel could probably have translated it in a minute flat. He knew that he was being unfair to Sanderson. The man simply wasn't the natural genius with languages that Daniel was. It wasn't the lieutenant's fault that he could never measure up to Daniel. No one could do that. Daniel Jackson was unique, and Jack was really beginning to realize how very valuable the young man's skills were.
They'd been wandering around the ruins for about ten minutes when the team arrived at a courtyard. In the center of it was a pole with a large black ball on top. The ball was covered in more of the writing and some symbols. Around the pole was a circle of stone benches.
"I really wish that you could read this writing, Sanderson, because I have a feeling that thing is important."
"Not necessarily, sir," the lieutenant replied. "It might just be a sign greeting newcomers or perhaps a kind of street sign directing people how to get someplace."
"What makes you think that?"
"It was just a guess, sir. I don't know that for sure."
Jack rolled his eyes and muttered something else under his breath. 'I really wish you were here right now, Daniel.'
SG-1 slowly approached the circle of benches, Sanderson in the lead. He stepped over one of the benches and began walking around the pole, looking at it up and down. Jack's eyes were only partly on him, his attention also on their surroundings. As he turned fully toward the lieutenant, he called out, "Sanderson, don't— Sanderson!"
Jack's warning coming too late, Sanderson touched the ball. A high-pitched shriek filled the air, and a force field snapped up around SG-1, trapping them inside the courtyard.
"Dammit, Sanderson! What the hell were you thinking!" Jack yelled.
"I-I-I'm sorry, sir!" the lieutenant stammered.
"O'Neill, we appear to be trapped," Teal'c told him.
Jack cautiously tapped on the force field with his weapon. "You think you can blast through this with your staff?"
"I am uncertain, but I will try."
The Jaffa took aim at a section of the force field several yards away. The blast struck the shield with no effect.
"Crap. So much for that." The colonel looked at the pole. "Teal'c, maybe if you blasted—"
His voice broke off abruptly as a bloodcurdling sound halfway between a howl and a roar echoed through the ruins, followed by another, and then another.
"Oh, this just keeps getting better and better," Jack muttered.
The teammates closed ranks and backed up toward the center of the courtyard. A few seconds later, around twenty creatures came into view. They looked like a cross between a lion and a tiger, except that no Earth-born cat had ever been so huge or so powerfully built. Standing about five feet high at the shoulder, with massive muscles showing beneath coal black fur, they were the size of a large Kodiak bear, though sleeker of body.
The creatures circled SG-1, mere inches from the force field, their eyes staring at the team malevolently.
"Okay, we're in trouble here," Jack said. "Let's just hope this force field stays. . . ." His voice broke off as the very thing he feared happened. The force field vanished. Almost immediately, the animals moved in for the kill. SG-1 aimed their weapons at the creatures, knowing that there was no way they'd be able to stop them all.
Just then, a voice called loudly from somewhere off to their left. It spoke rapidly in a language none of them recognized. The animals stilled, their heads swiveling toward the voice. Then, to SG-1's amazement and utter relief, they backed away a few steps and sat on their haunches.
"What the heck. . . ."
The rest of Jack's question went unvoiced as a man came into view. He was clothed in dark, loose-fitting clothing. A hood was over his head, a gauzy veil covering his face. Another one of the beasts was walking beside him. The man came up to them, stopping a few feet away. He watched them silently, casually stroking the head of the creature that had accompanied him.
A moment later, Jack, Sam and Teal'c received the shock of their lives when a very familiar voice said, "I'm gone four lousy weeks, and look at the trouble you guys get yourselves into." The hood and veil were pulled off to reveal the smiling face of Daniel Jackson.
"Daniel!" both Jack and Sam cried.
The archeologist covered the rest of the distance between them. "Hi, guys," he said, a shy smile on his face.
Sam immediately engulfed him in a big hug. As soon as she let go, Teal'c stepped forward and clasped Daniel's arm.
"It is most pleasing to see you, Daniel Jackson," the Jaffa said.
"It's great to see you too, Teal'c." Daniel turned to Jack.
The colonel grinned and stepped forward, grasping Daniel's hand in a hardy handshake, his other hand taking hold of the younger man's upper arm. "You're a sight for sore eyes, Danny Boy." He pulled Daniel into a brief hug, patting his back solidly. Stepping back, he studied the archeologist's face. "Okay, Daniel. Would you care to explain to us what's going on? What are you doing here?" Jack asked.
"Oh, a little digging, Jack. You know how I like to play in the dirt."
"Uh huh. So, why aren't you safe and sound with the Nox?"
"I, um, decided that I couldn't stay there. They were wonderful, but I needed to find some dig somewhere and try to forget everything for a while."
"And so you came here?" Sam asked. "How did you know about this place?"
"Remember P3C-221, the planet the natives called Kilear?"
"Wasn't that the world where the culture was similar to the U.S. in the 1940's?"
"Yeah. If you'll recall, the people there have used their Stargate occasionally to visit other worlds. I went there to purchase some excavation tools and supplies and happened to find out about this place. It sounded like something I'd want to see."
Jack frowned, not at all liking the idea that Daniel was bouncing around the galaxy, all alone and unprotected. "And did they happen to mention those things in the travel brochures for this place?" he asked, pointing at one of the enormous cats, which was watching him intently.
"Um, no, the man I talked to didn't know anything about them. I'd guess that the people who visited this planet never saw them. This world was only visited once by the Kilearins. They aren't into archeology all that much, so it didn't hold much interest for them."
"So, you decided to just pop on over and check out the ruins?" Jack's voice was a bit too quiet, warning Daniel that the man was not happy.
"Yes. And before you say anything, Jack, don't forget that I spent years traveling to digs all over Earth, often on my own."
"Yes, but that was on Earth, where they don't have things like that!" The "thing" being referred to growled menacingly. Daniel spoke a few words to it, and it calmed down, its eyes still glued on Jack. The linguist turned back to his former C.O.
"Don't shout, Jack. They don't like it, and they think you're threatening me."
"Okay," Jack said in a lower tone of voice. "So, how is it that you can speak to those things, and how come they act like pets around you?"
Daniel pointed at one of the walls. "You see that writing? It's a variation of Sumerian cuneiform."
"Cuneiform? Wasn't that what Nem used?" Sam asked.
"Well, yes and no. That was Akkadian cuneiform, not Sumerian, and I don't think that Akkadian was Nem's native tongue. Anyway, this is a bit different from Sumerian, so it took me a little while to figure it out. As for being able to speak the language, I stumbled upon a building that had recordings of it. It's a variation of eme-gir, the official Sumerian dialect, and I was able to pick it up fairly quickly, which is a good thing because they," he pointed at the animals, "showed up after I'd been here for three days."
"And what are they?" Jack wanted to know.
"I found references that called them the Ur-mah-gal. Ur-mah is a Sumerian compound-sign word combining 'carnivorous beast' and 'mighty' and was the word for 'lion'. Gal, among other things, means 'large' or 'great'. So, I guess you could translate the name to mean 'great lion', which makes sense. From what I've learned, the Ur-mah-gal acted as guardians, but they were also trained to kill the Goa'uld."
That really caught Jack's attention. "What?"
"Yeah. The people who lived here called themselves Hetarans. The resident Goa'uld was Duamutef, who, according to Egyptian mythology, is one of the four sons of Horus. The Hetarans discovered that the Ur-mah-gal can sense a Goa'uld symbiote, and a plan was formed to train them to attack the Jaffa and Goa'uld. With their help, Duamutef was defeated and driven off the planet, sort of like what happened to Ra on Earth. The people then buried the Stargate, and it stayed buried for several hundred years, until they decided that it was safe to unbury it."
"So, what happened to them?" Sam asked.
"The records I found say that Hetara's orbit shifted slightly, causing it to rotate further away from the sun at a certain time every year. The temperatures at that time of year got a whole lot colder than the Hetarans were accustomed to, even in the hotter regions of the planet. Things got pretty bad for them, and they finally decided to leave. They moved their entire civilization to another world."
"How long ago was that?" Jack asked.
"Not too long ago, not on an archeological scale. Only about a hundred years, which is why these ruins are in such good shape."
"And they left the Ur-mah . . . whatever behind?" Jack asked.
"Some of them. They took as many as they could with them."
"Okay, so how'd you make friends with these things?"
"Ah, well, as I said before, I was here for about three days when they showed up. It had been so long since the last time any Ur-mah-gal had seen a human that I was quite a surprise to them. They didn't know what to make of me, and things were rather . . . tense for a while."
Jack stared at Daniel. "Tense?" He looked around at the animals, which could quite easily tear a human to bits in a matter of seconds.
"Yeah. I decided to try and communicate with them using the Hetaran language. It worked. I sort of befriended them. They actually seem quite happy to have me here. I guess they were lonely for human companionship."
Jack shook his head in amazement. "Daniel, only you could manage to make friends with a bunch of slavering wild animals."
"They're more than just animals, Jack. They're quite intelligent, able to understand virtually everything I say to them."
Sam thought of something. "Daniel, if the Hetarans have been gone for a hundred years, how can these animals know the language? They would never have heard it. Or do they live that long?"
"No, they don't live that long. The Ur-mah-gal have genetic memory, just like the Goa'uld. Each generation is born with the memories of the generations before. Though these Ur-mah-gal had never seen a human before, they have the memories of their ancestors, the generations that lived with the Hetarans."
"And along with that genetic memory came the memory of the Hetaran language?"
"So, what's with the getup?" Jack asked. "We didn't even recognize you."
Daniel looked down at himself. "Oh. The clothes are some of the ones I got on Kilear. The hood and veil are to protect me from insects. The building I was in has a large hive for a bee-like insect. I would have stayed out of the place, but it appears as if it was a school, and I was looking to see if there were any books left behind."
Sam pointed at the pole in the center of the courtyard. "Daniel, do you know what this is?"
"Well, it's a little like Thor's Hammer on Cimmeria, except that it doesn't transport Goa'uld to another location. At one time, there were hundreds of them all over the place. The whole city was ringed by them. This is one of only a few that were left behind. When they detect the presence of a symbiote, they sound an alarm. In the case of the ones that surrounded the city, their purpose was to keep any Jaffa or Goa'uld from getting inside. Ones like this were supposed to act as shelters for the populace. When the alarms sounded, the citizens would flee to the nearest shelter and activate the shield, then sit there, safe and sound, while the Ur-mah-gal wiped out the enemy. They would also protect the people from aerial attacks. They were all turned off. You must have accidentally turned this one on."
"Sanderson here touched the thing," Jack said, jerking a thumb in the lieutenant's direction.
"Oh, um, hi," Daniel greeted, really looking at the man for the first time. "I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself. I'm Daniel Jackson."
"Yes, Doctor Jackson. I know who you are," Lieutenant Sanderson said. "I've heard a great deal about you from everyone at the SGC." He stepped forward and shook the archeologist's hand. "I'm Lieutenant Gary Sanderson."
"Nice to meet you." Daniel looked at his friends, then back to Sanderson. "So, uhhh . . . you're my replacement?"
"I'm the new team member on SG-1, but I'm not stupid enough to consider myself your replacement, Doctor Jackson."
Daniel didn't know what to say to that. Thankfully, he was saved from replying by Jack.
"Okay, Daniel, so how long have you been here, playing with the nice kitties and frolicking amongst the ruins?"
"Not long, only a couple of weeks. I haven't even scratched the surface of this place. I could spend years here. Of course, that wouldn't be possible, not with the severe winters, but I've got the rest of the summer and early fall."
"Oh, I don't think so, Daniel," Jack said. "I want you to go to a nice safe planet, like the Land of Light. There's no way you're going to stay here all alone."
Daniel stared at him. "Jack, in case you've forgotten, I am no longer a part of the SGC. You can't order me to do anything."
"No, Jack. This is my life. This," he waved his hands about, "is all I have now until I can go home to Abydos. This is the reason I left the Nox, to immerse myself in my work, in being an archeologist. Besides, I'm not alone. The Ur-mah-gal will protect me from any threats. You guys are in a lot more danger here than I am. I had to do some pretty fast talking to keep them from tearing you apart. They know Teal'c is a Jaffa. They can sense his symbiote, and their genetic memory is telling them that he is the enemy. Since you're with him, so are you, especially since you can't speak the language."
Jack fell silent, knowing that he could no longer tell Daniel what to do. The archeologist had a new life, one that he seemed to be enjoying. That thought saddened Jack. Not that he wasn't happy that his friend was doing well, it's just that, if Daniel was content with his new life, he might not want to come back to Earth, even if they could get his job back.
"Follow me," Daniel said. "There's something I want to show you."
He led SG-1 to a small domed building. Jack wasn't too happy when two of the Ur-mah-gal followed them inside.
"I think this was an educational center or perhaps a library," Daniel explained. "Everything I've learned about the Hetarans and the Ur-mah-gal I learned here."
He touched a panel, and a screen on the wall lit up. Images started flashing across the screen, accompanied by a pleasant female voice speaking the same language Daniel used when talking to the Ur-mah-gal.
"Everything here still works?" Sam asked, getting excited.
"No, not everything. I did a quick, um, recon of all the buildings in this area, and a lot of the stuff that was left here doesn't work anymore, but there are other things that do work, like these viewers."
"So, what other kinds of goodies did you find, Daniel," Jack asked, his interest also piqued.
"No weapons so far, if that's what you're asking, but this is a very big place. There's no telling what there is yet to find."
"Sir, just the technology that created those force fields could be of enormous value," Sam told Jack.
"Actually, I'm not sure if the force field generators would do you any good," Daniel responded. "The fuel that powers them must be just about gone. If it wasn't, the shield that trapped you guys wouldn't have deactivated by itself."
"It is possible, though, that the generators could be adapted to use fuel that we can produce on Earth," Sam pointed out. "We won't know until we study one."
"We definitely need to get the tech guys out here to see what they can find," Jack commented.
"Um, guys? There is one problem you're forgetting," Daniel said. Everyone turned to him, and he pointed at the Ur-mah-gal that were presently sitting at his feet. "The only reason I can control them is that I can speak the language. How many people involved in the Stargate Program could learn the Hetaran language before the Ur-mah-gal ripped them to pieces?"
Jack looked down at the animals, who stared back at him unblinkingly. "Good point. How many of these things are there?"
"I don't know. I've seen around fifty or so in this area, but I'm sure that there are a whole lot more. They are the dominant species on the planet. They have no natural enemies, and they've been breeding, unchecked, for a hundred years. The only thing that would have kept their population down is the severe winters and the availability of food."
"So, we could be talking thousands."
Jack studied the Ur-mah-gal, wondering what it would take to kill one of those things.
"Jack, don't even think about it," Daniel warned. "You are not going to come here, guns blazing, and try to wipe them all out so that you can pick this city apart. They may be just animals to you, but this is their planet, and they have just as much right to live as we do."
As if sensing his anger, the two Ur-mah-gal got to their feet and growled at Jack. Daniel laid his hands on their heads and said in Hetaran, "Shhh. Peace, brothers. All is well." After a moment, the Ur-mah-gal settled down, but kept their eyes on Jack. Daniel returned his attention to his former C.O. "Besides, the Ur-mah-gal are strong enough to survive Goa'uld weapons. It would probably take at least a couple of blasts from a staff weapon to bring one down, unless you got lucky and hit it just right. Would you really want to face a couple thousands of these in battle?"
Jack looked at the cats again. "No, not especially. Don't worry, Daniel. I wouldn't send troops in here to wipe them out in order to get at what's in this city. It wouldn't be worth the risk to human life, and I wouldn't want to do it anyway." But he had to wonder if there were people back on Earth who would consider doing that, people like Harry Maybourne.
Daniel gave him a nod. "Come on. I'll take you to where I've set up camp. I was just about to get something to eat when I heard the alarm."
SG-1 followed Daniel to a small building that looked like it might have been somebody's house at one time. The place was mostly intact, though the door had definitely seen better days.
"Would you like some fruit?" Daniel asked. "These are actually quite good, a little like plums." He passed around some red, oval-shaped fruit. "There's also dried fish, some tubers that taste sort of like sweet potatoes, and some berries that don't taste like anything I've ever had on Earth."
Sam watched Daniel pull out the food. "Is all this local?"
"Uh huh. I couldn't keep going back to Kilear for food, so I had to learn to live off of what I could find here. All I did was watch the animals to see what they eat. As for the fish, there's a small river about a mile from here that's full of them."
"You can fish?" Jack asked, his face lighting up.
"Yes, Jack, I can fish, though it's not my all-time favorite thing to do. When you're out in the middle of nowhere on a remote dig, you have to learn how to survive on what you can find locally to eat, unless you feel like packing a ton of food with you. I think you sometimes forget that I'm not some academic who spent his whole life up till Abydos in libraries and museums. I know how to survive quite well out in the wilds."
Jack didn't really have anything to say in response to that, so he kept quiet as he selected some fruit for lunch. He admitted to himself that he did often forget that Daniel had very ably taken care of himself for the better part of his life, many of those years in the harsh environments of digs all over Earth. Just because he had no combat or survival skills training didn't mean that he couldn't take care of himself. From the look of things, he could do so quite well, better than some soldiers in the same situation. But then, anyone else in this situation would have been lunch for the Ur-mah-gal.
Jack looked at Daniel, who had taken a seat on the floor, his back resting against the single Ur-mah-gal that had come into the house with them. The animal was lying contentedly behind him, a rumbling purr issuing from its throat. Daniel appeared to be totally at ease around the thing as he casually ate his lunch, occasionally feeding bits of fish to it.
"How can you do that?" Jack asked him.
"Sit there like that with that thing close enough to bite your head off?"
Daniel smiled faintly. "Just think of it as an overgrown dog, Jack. They're not vicious unless they perceive you as an enemy . . . or as prey."
"Yeah, well, I think I'll keep my distance, if it's all the same to you."
Daniel's smile widened for a moment, then he turned to Sam. "Would you like to pet him, Sam? This one's name is Denali."
"They have names?"
"Uh huh. Well, I gave them names, at least some of them, and they learned them really fast. Like I said, they're very intelligent. I've been studying them from an anthropological viewpoint, and I'm beginning to think that they're even more intelligent than the Hetarans thought they were. I've seen them 'talking' to each other. Their language relies on body movement as much as verbal communication, but, from what I've seen, they can communicate with each other as well or nearly as well as we can. They're native to the planet. I haven't studied the whole history yet, but, somehow, the humans and Ur-mah-gal became friends, and the Ur-mah-gal came to learn the language of the people, which was pure Sumerian at that time."
The captain looked at the animal uncertainly, not sure that she wanted to touch it.
"He won't hurt you, Sam," Daniel assured her gently.
Sam hesitated a moment longer, then cautiously scooted closer. She carefully touched the animal's shoulder, ready to yank her hand back at the slightest hostile move. She was surprised when her fingers encountered incredibly soft fur, sleek and smooth like an otter's pelt.
"Wow. It's so soft," she murmured.
"Yeah. This is their summer coat. In the winter, they grow this really heavy fur that keeps them insulated against the cold. It's amazing how they've managed to adapt to the change in the climate. In fact, a lot of the animal life learned how to survive the climactic changes." He paused. "Life goes on."
Sam looked at Daniel, wondering if his comment was not just about the animals of this planet. She was about to ask him how he was doing when they all heard that same howling roar that the Ur-mah-gal had made earlier. The beast behind Daniel lifted its head, eyes pinned on the doorway. Daniel looked at it and spoke a few words in Hetaran. The animal immediately got up and ran out of the house.
"What's going on?" Jack asked.
"They're hunting, probably after a herd of the large, elk-like animals I've seen now and then. The Ur-mah-gal hunt in packs, like wolves, except that, instead of running their prey down, they ambush them. Several Ur-mah-gal drive the prey toward a bunch of others that are hidden. Then they surround the prey. They'll sometimes kill several animals in a single hunt and feed for several days. After a good feed, they can easily survive for a couple of weeks without food. They hibernate in the coldest part of winter, so, just before then, they gorge themselves to store up fat."
"Just like bears," Sam commented.
"So, those things won't be around for the next few days?" Jack made no secret of the fact that he liked that idea.
"Sorry to disappoint you, Jack, but, even if they do go on one of their long feeding periods, there will probably still be some hanging around during the day, and they'll still come into the city to sleep at night. Unlike many earthborn cats, they're not nocturnal, though they do prowl around a bit. I usually have at least two of them sleeping with me each night, and the rest of this pack tends to stay close. Like I said, they seem happy to have me here."
Daniel grinned. "Look at it this way, Jack. With the Ur-mah-gal here, you don't have to worry about taking watches through the night. They're the best watchdogs you could find. Absolutely nothing or no one could get past them." His gaze dropped for a moment. "Um . . . will you be staying the night or are you going home today?" Though he'd tried to keep his tone casual, his friends heard the hope in the archeologist's voice.
"Oh, we'll definitely be staying the night, Daniel," Jack assured him. "We're going to want to check this place out more. This is scheduled to be a two-day mission, and I might extend that a couple of days, what with all these gadgets you're talking about."
A happy little smile flashed across Daniel's face. "Um, that's . . . that's good. I have plenty to show you." He was delighted that he'd be able to spend some time with his friends. He just wished that it could be a whole lot longer.