"Footnote" was first published in the zine 'AG4: Recognition'

 

Footnote

by Corby



It was only as Daniel leant on the balcony's railing, the wood just starting to warm in the morning's sun, and bent to sip his third coffee of the day, that he noticed the dry cleaning tag was still pinned to his jacket sleeve. With a sigh he tugged at it, deliberately trying to block out the yells of frustration coming from inside the house.

Here on the decking - octagonal, richly red, hanging out over the treetops of the valley below - Daniel could close his eyes and listen for the susurration of leaves, the soughing of wind, the delicate cries of the birds that were their only neighbours for ten miles south, thirty miles north across the mountains. He could gather a measure of calm against the brewing hurricane of the day ahead. He could try and still the voice that told him, in a doleful monotone of doom, that this day, this wonderful, historic, shatteringly important day, was sure to 'gang agley' the moment the television cameras closed in on Jack doing bunny ears to whatever unfortunate delegate sat in front of him.

"Daniel! Where the hell are my dress shoes!?"

The dry cleaning tag slipped from Daniel's fingers to flutter in the breeze before descending in an elegant spiral to the forest floor below.

Oops, Daniel thought. There goes the neighbourhood.

"Your closet?"

"No, not in my - " the heavy sarcasm stopped. "Wait a minute." More muffled bangs and thumps and then Jack huffed out into the sun to join Daniel. "How did you know? Did you put them there?"

Daniel sipped his coffee. "Wild guess."

"Huh." Awkwardly, Jack hopped first into one shoe, and then, grabbing Daniel for balance, the other. "Alright. I'm ready. You ready?"

For what? Daniel almost asked, but the pessimism that was filling him didn't really belong here and he simply shrugged instead. Jack peered at him.

"Okay. So what's going on with you, Mister Glass Isn't Even Quarter Full?" Jack took an ostentatious breath of air and patted his chest. "Damn, that's as good as any coffee. Best thing I ever did, buying this place."

Since Jack said something similar almost every morning, Daniel's response was weary. "You didn't, I did, and coffee is sacred and therefore beyond discussion."

"Oh, yeah, you may have forked over the cash," Jack said, facing into the morning, his eyes delighting in the line of mountains that embraced them, the forest that softened the hold, "but who pushed you? Who told you to go for it, to score one for the gipper, to make the final touchdown?"

"That and a dozen other sporting clichés. You, Jack."

"Exactly." Jack placed his hands down on the railing with a proprietorial air and beamed. "So - you want to tell me what's made the lord and master of all he surveys such a miserable suck-gullet this morning?"

"Suck-gullet?"

Jack waved dismissively. "You know what I mean."

"Suck-gullet? Where do you come up with these things?"

"It's a gift." The smile gentled, became warmer. "I come from a long line of O'Neill wordsmiths. Now what's going on, Daniel?"

Daniel sighed. For a moment his mind flashed onto the book he'd carefully buried at the back of the cleaning closet a week or so ago - the latest in the long line of Stephen Rayner's bestsellers. This had been the definitive history of Stargate Command, a book launched in a firestorm of publicity to coincide with today's first meeting of the Council of the United Worlds, being held in the newly built Chamber of Planetary Congress. With the billions of predicted television viewers - Coulson had said it was going to be the biggest television audience in the history of humankind, and why wouldn't it be? - and the opportunity for Stephen Rayner, head of the archaeological and anthropological department of the SGC, to welcome publicly for the first time all the Council representatives of Earth's allies… Well, he'd be a fool not to have his book lining up in stores all over the world to seize the most conspicuous moment of any human being's career. And Stephen Rayner, as Daniel Jackson had learned, painfully, over these last six years, was not a fool.

That book was at the heart of Daniel's disquiet. And as he'd gone to the ridiculous lengths of hiding it under the toilet cleaning supplies in order that Jack would never read it and become incensed on his behalf, it was hardly something he could bring up now. So he shrugged and gave a half-grin of his own.

"Nervous, I guess. A big day, Jack."

"Oh, yes. A big day. Very big." Jack nodded. "Immense. Stupendous. Gigantic."

"Epoch defining."

"Definitely. Definitely defining." Jack paused, then gestured at the magnificent view before them. "You know, we could just go fishing."

Daniel twisted slightly to see him better. "Fishing?"

"It's a nice day."

"Lovely."

"We could go down to Gordon's place, throw in a line…"

"See what the fish are up to…"

"Exactly."

Daniel gave a genuine grin. "Or…"

"Or," Jack conceded. "We could go and be on television."

"Shake Thor's hand."

"Thor! Yeah, you know he's about as buzzed as I've ever seen him."

"How can you tell?"

"I don't know. He's got a sort of - "Jack waved his hand, helpfully. "A gray kinda glow to him."

"And George will be there."

"I saw Lotan last night. He sends his best. Did you know there's even one of those Gadmeer critters onboard?"

"Really?" Daniel frowned. "How is it coping in the atmosphere?"

"Brings its own little sulphur bubble wherever it goes."

"Handy. Did you see Chaka there?"

A slight grimace from Jack. "You know he's still got that… problem…?"

"Problem?"

"The - you know - the hygiene issue…"

"Oh. You think we should send a team with deodorant to Chaka's place?"

"Couldn't hurt." Jack adjusted his cuffs, squinting at the light reflecting from the row of medals across his chest. "And then there's Lya. You've always a had a thing for Lya."

"I did not."

"You so did."

"Oh, okay, what about Kynthia?"

"She coming?"

Daniel shrugged. "So I believe, according to what Sam said."

"General Carter would know."

"Tuplo will be there, too."

"Narim. Who still waxes lyrical, I might add, about you figuring out that distress signal and rescuing those Tollan butts after their little dustup with the Goa'uld."

"So."

"So."

"We probably should - " and Daniel gestured back towards the house.

"The car will be here in about two minutes."

Daniel paused. "How do you know?"

Jack cocked his head towards the valley floor and the thin ribbon of road winding towards them. "Saw it down there. So. How do I look?"

Daniel stepped back and considered the man before him. Sixty years old now, but still trim and upright, the shoulders back with military constraint, the face a little more lined, the hair almost all silver. And still dangerous. Still knowing what lay beneath the surface of things, how to read the world about him. There would always be, Daniel guessed, that glint in Jack's eyes that told anyone smart enough to listen that here was a man not to be trifled with. He felt an odd little flutter of pride, and said, "You'll do."

Jack puffed up a little. The man was so vain, Daniel thought with affection. He opened his own arms, inviting inspection, and Jack surveyed him critically.

"Mister GQ. Stephen will shit the moment he sees you." At Daniel's frown, Jack held up his finger. "Oh, that's right, I forgot. Doesn't matter that this guy weaselled his way into Washington, kiss-assed his way into the Stargate program, and sucked God knows what to become your boss, a situation that lasted all of one day before you quit I might add. No, Daniel Jackson is not bitter and twisted about Stephen Rayner, the Face of Stargate Command because Daniel Jackson is not as human as the rest of us."

"What? You're saying I should be - what, jealous?"

"No, Daniel," and the teasing tone disappeared from Jack's voice and face. "You should never be jealous of him. But you know, no one would blame you if you felt a…"

"A - ?"

"A twinge. Each time he goes on Oprah. How many is it now? Five times?"

"Six." Daniel shrugged, trying to appear as dismissive as he wanted to feel. "It doesn't keep me awake at nights, Jack. We have a good life here."

"You betcha. And we shall not for one moment hope Mister Stephen Rayner falls flat on his face in front of billions." Jack straightened his perfectly straight jacket and gestured towards the house again. "Shall we?"





The Chamber of Planetary Congress was a truly magnificent building. The gold in the fifty-four thousand panels that lined its exterior surface gave a soft shimmering effect to the dome, an effect highlighted, unbeknownst to the public, by the hazy impenetrability of a Tollan designed defence shield. The complex consisted of two structures - one, the golden Chamber, and the other the public auditorium cum stadium linked by a path that twisted between the two to shape an infinity symbol. In the interest of cost effectiveness the stadium could be used for baseball in summer, ice hockey in winter, but today it would hold one hundred thousand specially invited and screened guests who would view the proceedings of the first Planetary Congress by means of a giant holographic display in the centre of the stadium.

The planning that had gone into this day had been immense - Daniel knew that Paul Davis had come close to a nervous breakdown, scurrying between continents trying to assemble the guest-list without starting major and minor conflicts wherever he went - but no one could have planned the weather. The sun shone with a blazing brilliance, and that was just sheer luck. Because as spectacular as the Chamber was on a dull day, when the Colorado sun came out in full splendour the Chamber dazzled.

Jack put on his shades as their official car crawled to a stop. "Look at these people!" he said, shaking his head slightly. "You think they're all going inside?"

The crowds stretched as far as the eye could see in any direction, and Daniel frowned.

"No. Most of the guests in the Chamber would be there by now, and there's far too many out here to be in the stadium."

Jack gave him a light punch on the arm. "Guess they just want to be here, soak up the magic." He opened the door, and gave him a grin made inscrutable by the shades. "See you inside."

"Yeah. Break something." Jack needed to hurry - due to the television coverage, all the Chamber members, seated on the central platform and thus under the constant scrutiny of the cameras, were asked to present themselves early in order to have makeup applied. Nothing was being left to chance on this day of days, not even the complexions of the wannabe TV stars.

Daniel followed more slowly out of the car, almost immediately being knocked aside as the crowd, seeing the official car and then Jack in his uniform, gave a howl of concerted recognition and rushed forward. Daniel heard a muttered swearword from Jack and then watched in growing amusement as the figure in blue ducked and ran, pursued by gasping women and cries of "Colonel Jack! Colonel Jack!" The rank was the telltale sign; these people recognised Jack from Stephen's book, where the adventures of Colonel Jack O'Neill, Major Samantha Carter and Teal'c had been immortalised in the public imagination. Daniel had to admit that Stephen had a way with words; his book read like an adventure epic.

At a far more leisurely pace Daniel followed the glowing path, blue with Arelian stones of exquisite design and colour, up to the main entrance. He nodded to the guard at the front door and passed through into a foyer of such astonishing beauty that for a moment his mouth dropped open. This was the first time he'd been inside, and the traceries of stone that hung like lace seemingly from mid air, reflecting all the soft colours from the ceiling, were mesmerising. He was so transfixed by the glories wrought by Xeranthan masons that he didn't hear his name until it was called for the third time.

"General! Oh, I'm sorry!" Daniel reached out and shook George Hammond's hand with genuine warmth, and was warmed himself by the honest affection in his old commander's eyes.

"Daniel! You're looking well."

"So are you," Daniel said, sincerely; the burdens of command gone, a happy retirement in Georgia commenced, and Hammond looked ten years younger - and twenty pounds lighter. "It's good to see you."

"And you." George beamed. "Never thought I'd live to see this day, Daniel. No need to tell you there were moments I thought we'd never live to see the Earth secure. But it looks like we've done it."

"Looks like." Daniel gave a smile to the woman at George's side.

"Oh, allow me. Doctor Daniel Jackson, this is Denise McDonald, my sister in law from Mobile. Denise - Daniel."

"It's nice to meet you, Doctor Jackson," Denise said, extending her hand. "You're here for the festivities too?"

An inane opening, but Daniel knew all too well the rigours and pitfalls of polite conversation, so he gave her a break and nodded. "I used to work at the SGC with General Hammond. With SG1, as a matter of fact." He had no idea why he added that last, and he knew almost at once that it was a mistake.

"Ah. That must have been exciting." But the woman was looking at him doubtfully, and her smile was becoming more brittle. "I declare, I have met so many people today who say they used to work at the SGC, and not one of them was mentioned in Doctor Rayner's book." She gave a light laugh. "I suppose he'll just have to write another one. Have you read it? Sooo fascinating."

To his utter dismay, Daniel felt a blush begin to burn its way up his cheeks. George's face, too, was turning red, but Daniel knew the man well enough to recognise anger, not embarrassment.

"Well, all the personnel from the SGC have been given front row seats for this ceremony, Denise." In an aside to Daniel, he added, "Apart from anything else, it saved any arguments about order of preference for all the national delegates." He raised his voice again. "So I have no doubt you will meet many SGC people here today, my dear."

"I'm sure." Denise gave another false smile to Daniel. "Have you met Doctor Rayner?"

"Yes, yes I have." Daniel willed the blush to fade and kept his tone civil. "I actually studied with him at the Chicago Institute."

"Oh?" Denise's tone was arch with sweetness. "Do you think he might sign his book for me?" She pulled open her large tote bag and there Daniel saw the cover he'd last seen squashed beneath the bleach in a darkened cupboard, Stephen's face dimpling as it was framed in the 'Gate. "What a pity he didn't mention you in his book, you being an old school friend and all."

The resentment building in Daniel's gut faded away and in its place the sardonic humour that had rescued him so often in the past began to surface.

"Oh, but he did."

George was simmering. "Denise, you don't know what you're - "

"He did?" Denise pulled the heavy book out and awkwardly turned to the index. "Johnson, was it?"

"Jackson," said Daniel, his eyes telling George that he really didn't mind. The woman fussed a little and then gave an exclamation.

"Why so you are. There's a footnote here, George, on page 13. Did you really help Samantha Carter open the Stargate?"

Hammond gripped her elbow. "Why don't you go and get settled inside, Denise? I think most of the Earth delegates are already on stage. You'd hate to miss the start."

"Oh. Oh, alright, George dear." Denise clutched her bag. "Do I have the tickets?"

"You have your ticket and security pass," George said heavily. She nodded, gave a wave that would have been flirtatious in a woman thirty years younger, and left. George expressed a harsh breath.

"I apologise, son. I don't know how my wife and she could possibly be related. But the girls love her, and family peace demanded a sacrifice."

Daniel laughed. "It's fine."

"No, it's not fine." George's face was mottling again. "That book is a damned disgrace! There's not a man or woman at Stargate Command who doesn't know what the program owes you. Hell's teeth, what the good goddamned planet owes you! You should sue the smug son of a bitch!"

"It really doesn't matter." But it felt good, nonetheless, to be reminded that once upon a time he'd earned the respect of a man like George Hammond. "I'm an archaeologist, sir. I know better than most that there have been whole civilizations that have left nothing more than a footnote in history. And we both know that there have been heroic men and women with no one left to tell their stories, who didn't even get that much."

George looked at him, keenly, then nodded.

"You always were the best of us, son. I see that hasn't changed."

A new wave of red crept up his cheeks, and Daniel ducked his head. "We both know that's not true, sir. I talked, and I was stubborn. They can put that on my headstone."

A warning bell sounded, and both men looked towards where the stream of people going into the Chamber was thinning.

"After you," said Daniel politely, and he and George followed them.

George disappeared inside, with a backwards nod towards him, and Daniel stepped up to the security barrier. From there he could see into the Chamber itself, and the vision was even more beautiful than in the foyer. Rows of seats lead down to the central platform, which appeared to be carved in its entirety from a single slab of pearly stone. More of the tracery effect hung from the walls, and Daniel had images of cathedrals and Spanish moss combined. As the person in front of him was scanned he looked up at the domed ceiling. It was made of a porous mineral from P4X655 that responded almost like flesh to the infusion of liquid; and as he watched, the soft green was flooded with a darker hue until the entire Chamber was glowing like a glade in the heart of a forest. One circle of stone high above the central platform was left undarkened, and through this streamed the glorious sun, a spotlight of such ethereal beauty that it left Daniel awed.

On the platform itself he could see Sam, her hair a flag of silver in the shaft of light, and beside her Teal'c's massive presence.

"Your pass, please sir," the guard said. Absentmindedly Daniel handed it over, gaze leaving the delegates and sweeping up to the play of green liquid through the veins of the stone high above the audience's heads.

"I'm sorry, sir, this pass is not current."

"Hmm?" With difficulty Daniel dragged his eyes back to the guard. "What?"

The guard held the security pass as he might hold a dead mouse.

"This pass is not valid."

"Um - well, that's just not true. I came here with General O'Neill." Daniel could tell that really didn't help, but for the moment his brain was having trouble grasping the problem. "My name is Daniel Jackson, I have a seat with the SGC personnel in row 3, and I'm sure the pass is fine."

The guard swiped it again. Even Daniel could see the red button glowing was not a good thing.

"I'm sorry sir, I'm going to have to ask you to step aside."

Daniel became aware of three people impatiently shuffling behind him. His words of just one minute before - "I talked, and I'm stubborn" - reverberated in his ear. One look at the granite of the guard's face and Daniel could tell that neither attribute was going to help him here, and suddenly the likely explanation came to him with a sickening rush.

Stephen! One last petty power play, and his own pettiness rose up inside him in a wave of anger that demanded release in the kind of tantrum a five year old would regard with kinship and pride. Daniel's leg twitched with the urge to kick the guard in the shin and create a level of fuss that would draw all eyes to him and his plight. If Stephen thought he could get away with this - if he thought for one second that Daniel Jackson would just roll over for this kind of malicious, vindictive, mean-spirited bullshit, he'd -

"Sir? Step aside, please, sir."

He'd do nothing. How could he? This day was far too important for personal grievances to disrupt, and Daniel didn't resist as he was firmly moved aside to allow those behind him access to the wonders of the Chamber.

Sue him, George had said. But Daniel had known, even without the advice of a lawyer, that Stephen had been far too cunning. Daniel's story was all there, in the book; everything he'd accomplished, every adventure he'd survived. But Stephen's wording had been beyond ambiguous - it had disingenuously offered the suggestion that it had been he, Stephen Rayner, a man whose modesty and commitment to national security prevented him from stepping forward into the limelight, who had been such an integral part of SG1.

'A certain archaeologist - and security reasons prevent me from mentioning my own, or anyone else's name at this point - travelled to the alternate world of P3R233, bringing back a message of such portent that without it the world we know and love would no longer exist'. 'A certain archaeologist managed to bring Lotan to an understanding of what his function would mean to the Enkaran people and, at enormous personal risk, stayed on the doomed ship in order to save two races of beings.' 'A certain archaeologist…'

The deep sense of disappointment that overwhelmed Daniel at that moment surprised him. It was visceral, a sort of bone gripping ache that left him feeling bereft and alone, a child at the door of the biggest birthday party the world had ever seen and he the only one without an invitation.

Well, that was ridiculous in itself. Daniel gave himself a mental shake, and turned towards the sunlight of the open park outside. There were billions of people who were unable to be present for this moment. There were thousands right here, milling about the buildings, wandering along infinity simply so they could tell their grandchildren, "I was there." It didn't matter to them whether or not they saw the thing firsthand; they were here, as witness, as tribes had always gathered for momentous occasions throughout the history of humankind. Who was to say Daniel's place wasn't here, with them?

And it was a fine sentiment, one whose merits Daniel could recognise; but the frustration, and the feeling of alienation from all he'd once been and had - the camaraderie of belonging to a close-knit field team, the sense of purpose and common passion shared by every member of the SGC, the access to wonders and dangers and thrills beyond the imagination of most of the people now wandering about the stadia - was so intense that it almost made it difficult for him to breathe.

He had been right when he said that he and Jack had a good life. Daniel had spent the last five years writing an account of the languages of the Furlings and Ancients. It would probably be read by a handful of people, but Daniel had the solace of knowing that for that handful it would be invaluable, the indispensable resource for future generations. Any academician would admit to hoping to leave that kind of legacy, and Daniel was human enough, Jack's accusations aside, to want that small achievement and glory for himself.

Jack had settled into semi-retirement with far more alacrity than Daniel would ever have thought. He read, voraciously - another surprise. He hiked and fished and hunted and proved to be a birdwatcher of immense patience. His telescope was permanently set up on the balcony and the clearness of the mountain skies, away from Colorado Spring's night-time glow, was a blessing he recognised out loud almost every night. Daniel was discovering a side to Jack he'd never suspected before, and it was as much a delight to him as their ongoing relationship of niggle and swipe.

Retirement had its privileges and joys; but it also brought with it something that Daniel had resolutely refused to face until this precise moment. The world and its concerns had largely passed him by; and to feel discarded in your early forties, your efforts forgotten, your work marginalised, was a pill more bitter than he'd ever realised before this second.

A thunderous cheer emerged from the stadium to his right, and Daniel guessed that Alec Coulson had stepped up to the microphone. Since its public revelation, the Stargate program had used Coulson as a spokesman of sorts, and his urbane charm had done much to ease the concerns of a world left to rationalise religious dogma and isolationist hubris. Daniel suddenly realised that being here, in the grounds of the Chamber itself, would be excruciating. Not knowing how Sam would look and sound, taking the Oath on behalf of the planet; not seeing all the various wonders of the guests as they beamed down from Thor's ship, currently in orbit somewhere above the blue of the late spring sky; not feeling the electricity of the moment in the Chamber as the Congress was convened for the first time. He fished in his pocket and came up with a billfold containing fifty-five dollars, nowhere near enough to pay for a cab home.

Well, he could walk into the town's centre from here. A half hour would see him in the main street, and the walk would do him good. Without another thought he turned on his heel and headed for the anonymity of a city centre, pushing his way through the enthusiastic crowds, burningly aware that anonymity was already the one thing he had an abundance of today.

The trek was begun in petulance, but as he strode down the nondescript streets of Colorado's outer suburbs he felt his mood shift and lighten. It was a magnificent day. Nature had its own balms. And then again, Daniel Jackson had enough experience of real tragedy to find perspective shifting just beneath the surface of his ire. The thought of Stephen Rayner, even now probably stepping forward to receive the rapturous applause of the Chamber audience and beyond that, the world, would sour the most beatific of men, but Daniel found a small wriggle of amusement begin in his belly. Oh, dear, Stephen! What he had sold and perjured and lied about to bring himself to this position. And even now, at the very height of his triumph, he was still threatened enough by little ol' Doc Jackson that he pulled a stunt like screwing up Daniel's security pass. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loseth his soul?

As he walked he passed by homes buzzing with expectation. Children were herded inside, away from their games and despite their protests, to watch the affair on television. Daniel sympathised with their howls; it was far too nice a day to be spent inside watching grown ups spout on and on. And it was precisely so that children could play, careless and happy and cruel with the thoughtlessness that comes with no fear that he and all the other members of the Stargate Command had risked their lives. It was for just this; the small but well-tended gardens, the man swinging his child up onto his shoulders, the woman scolding a puppy, the petty problems and silly joys of every person on the planet. For the first time in history, Earth had a place in the community of the galaxy. People of Earth had stretched out their hands and helped others in need, finding friendship as reward for sacrifice and their own security as reward for risking it all. Who the hell cared who were the ones doing it? What mattered was the world would bear the harvest of their efforts, and Daniel Jackson, if he was any kind of man at all, could take his comfort in that fact.

Another, more pleasant surprise as gentle contentment spread inside him. He'd never sought praise or recompense. He would always regret the loss of those he loved. But that would be his only regret, and the vow though silent was heartfelt as he entered the city centre and saw huge groups gathered about television screens set up in the town squares. He glanced at the screen, but saw beyond it a cinema showing 'Tomb Raider Meets the Mummy'. Angelina Jolie versus Alec Coulson? No contest. With a secret smile and no hesitation whatsoever, Daniel handed over fifteen of his fifty-five dollars and wandered into the multiplex.





Above each delegate's seat was a small, floating, pearlescent globe. Sam called them intergalactic conch shells, and with good reason. They had been sent to Earth by the Nox, who advised their use as a means of engendering more useful discussions - they remembered all too well the failings of a young race. Each globe remained softly glowing white until a delegate touched it, at which time it became golden and amplified the speaker's voice. While a globe was lit, no one else's could be, and thus no-one else would be heard. There were two catches, however; the globes remained lit for only two minutes, and they could be used only twice by the same speaker in any given session - ensuring all would be heard, but none could monopolise proceedings. Rarity made speaking opportunities precious, and words, tone and timing were to become accordingly well-considered.

Now all globes bar one were muted, appearing as if bubbles in a moonlit wake, and the Earth delegates had all taken their places on the darkened central platform. The crowd's murmurings had gradually softened until a breathless silence had descended upon the Chamber, and all eyes were fixed upon the solitary shaft of light that joined the only illuminated globe at the midpoint of the platform. Into the light stepped a figure known throughout the world as the man who had rendered the Stargate explicable and therefore safe.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Alec Coulson said, and his voice resonated with the gentle musical hum that accompanied any transmitted through the Nox globes, "welcome to the Chamber of Planetary Congress. Welcome, too, to all of you currently watching this incredible moment in your homes, your places of work, on screens set up in parks throughout the entire world. This is a triumphant moment for us all. Indeed, in the history of the human race it is difficult to think of a more significant, more transcendental point in time." He paused to let the gravity of the occasion work its magic, then smiled, beneficently. "Very shortly you will witness the arrival of our allies from over eighty different planets. That I can stand before you and say that is in no small measure due to the tireless efforts of the man I am about to introduce." Coulson's eyes crinkled in the way known to weaken women's knees on any given continent, and he smiled more widely. "Although, as they say, he needs no introduction. Please welcome to our Chamber the man known as 'Doctor Stargate' - Doctor Stephen Rayner!"

The Chamber resounded to the warm, even feverish applause that followed. The excitement that had been building for months had begun to crest, and erstwhile sedate heads of state were shifting forward in their seats hungry as schoolchildren for the sights about to unfold. The shaft of light dimmed briefly, and then brightened again to reveal Stephen Rayner, clad in a grey silk suit that seemed to shimmer along with the Nox globes and render him a creature of the stars. He dipped his head, modestly, and the applause rose as it was meant to. At last, as if bowing under the weight of their approval and love, he raised his hands in mute supplication and the noise died away. He touched the globe.

"Thank you, Alec. And please, let us hear some applause for a man who has devoted billions of dollars to make this a reality - Mister Alec Coulson, ladies and gentlemen!" The applause came promptly, the audience willing and generous, but Stephen allowed no more than ten seconds of it before he raised his hands again for silence. "My friends - because I feel that at this moment, everyone on the planet is my friend, waiting with me for the crowning glory of humanity's existence - my friends, what we are about to witness is a manifestation of our destiny. We are about to take our place amongst the rulers of the universe. Sometimes words are not enough to express our feelings at times like these - although, in truth, there never has been a time quite like this before, eh?" And the relaxed wink that accompanied it brought a laugh, as the audience grabbed at his casualness in the face of what seemed to them to be something quite overwhelming. He dipped his head again. "If I have, in any small way, been a part of bringing us all to this apex of human endeavour, then may I just say that - "

A brilliance flooded him, and then a collective gasp swept away his words as the Asgard beaming device deposited eighty-four off world delegates into their respective places interspersed amongst the Earth members. The gasp was followed by exclamations - of joy, of amazement, of excitement. It was as though a flock of brilliantly plumaged birds had suddenly descended amongst a scattering of sparrows, and the immensity of the spectacle had even the toughest despot or politician gripping their armrests in astonished awe.

"Ah - er, yes, indeed," Stephen said, recovering well. "Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Planetary Congress, I give you - the leaders of the free peoples of the universe!"

A storm, a wave, a wall of applause. From the stadium next door came a bellow that sounded kilometres away. The ceiling's membranous stone shifted again to allow a myriad of spotlights to stream down upon the newly arrived delegates and they stood revealed in their strangeness and familiarity like gods of the ancient past. Many in the audience were sobbing openly, the emotion too much for them to bear, and everywhere people shook their neighbour's hand, or pounded their back, or embraced in the sheer wonder of the moment.

Stephen Rayner stood silently, his arms open in invitation of the love that was pouring upon them all, his gestures seeming to suggest that he, too, was finding the magnificence of it all only just within his ability to cope. Eventually, almost reluctantly, he reached for the globe and reactivated its golden light.

"On behalf of the peoples of Earth, may I say 'Welcome!' You do us great honour. I'd like to invite one of Earth's oldest and best friends, Thor of the Asgard, to be the first to address this assembly." Stephen stood back from the globe, and it dimmed, its purpose served.

Audience members craned their heads to see as the slight grey figure rose. An elongated hand reached up and touched the Nox globe at its seat; and then the vast majority of Earth's inhabitants heard an alien speak for the first time. It was not what they expected.

"We cannot commence," Thor said softly. "There is one of great import not yet here."

The Chamber became still for a thudded heartbeat, two; and then erupted with a flurry of whisperings and shocked glances, everyone trying to find the seat that remained empty as if it would give a reason for this dreadful anti-climax.

Thor's gentle voice continued, an echo of rebuke in its tone. "Where is Daniel Jackson? He must be here! It is Daniel Jackson who is responsible for earth's continued existence. More importantly, it is Daniel Jackson who is responsible for much of the goodwill that exists here today. Daniel Jackson must be here." He sat, and immediately a light turned golden across the Chamber. The spotlight swept to this new speaker; a tall, impressive man wearing a bizarre headpiece.

"Where is Daniel Jackson?" the man said. More mutterings, and now there came a soft whump of sound that seemed to echo up from the earth itself. It was the sound of three billion people simultaneously opening a large book and flipping to the index. "I am Tupelo, of the Land of the light. Daniel Jackson saved my daughter, when none - not even I - was brave or compassionate enough to do so. Daniel Jackson must be here."

Stephen Rayner, his face grey, stepped forward and placed his hand upon the central globe; it remained pearly and mute. Another globe goldened behind him.

"Where is Daniel Jackson?" It was the silvery voice of the Nox representative, Lya, who stood in the soft glow as if a nymph from an ancient woodland had suddenly come to life before them. "Daniel Jackson risked his life to save my own when I visited Earth to speak with the people of Tollana. His heart is good; he has opened it to the universe and the universe found it pure. He should be heard. Daniel Jackson must be here."

Alec Coulson joined Stephen Rayner in thumping at the mid-globe and at his touch it brightened again. He lent forward as if speaking into a microphone.

"Doctor Jackson is here… Daniel, if you'd like to come forward, it sounds as though you have some friends to welcome." He gestured towards the inner circle of seats, where the Stargate personnel had their places, and the spotlight swept around it with increasing speed until it lit upon the single empty seat. "Oh, dear. Well, it seems as though - ah, perhaps Doctor Jackson had some other - "

Another golden glow, this time from the furthermost seats.

"Where is Danyel Jacks'on?" The contrast to Lya's charming sound could not have been more distinct; this was the voice of a being all too many of the delegates now in the Chamber would have dismissed as a beast. "Cha'ka say Danyel our friend. Danyel speak for Unas. Danyel - here!"

Alec Coulson tried to speak again, but the globe remained unlit. The audience could see him shrug to Stephen Rayner who looked as though he was about to pass out.

A new voice; sibilant, breathy. "Where is Daniel Jackson? I speak for the Oannes. I am Nem. Daniel Jackson endured great pain to find the truth of my mate's fate; it is thanks to him that I am here today. Daniel Jackson must be here."

"Where is Daniel Jackson? I am Narim, here on behalf of the survivors of Tollana. Daniel Jackson rescued us not once, but many times, lastly when we were but a group of refugees adrift in space. It is because of him that you now have the defence capabilities you do. He taught us that a young race could still be wise and honourable. Daniel Jackson must be here."

"Where is Daniel Jackson? I am Hedrazar of the Enkarans. Daniel Jackson risked his life to save my people and the Gadmeer. Without his efforts, one or both of our peoples would no longer exist. Daniel Jackson must be here."

Somewhere a television editor, perhaps knowing that schadenfraude makes for great viewing, closed in on Stephen Rayner's horrified expression.

An older man wearing a silver skullcap rose with immense majesty. "Where is Daniel Jackson? I am Bra'tac; I speak for the Jaffa, free and enslaved throughout the galaxy. Daniel Jackson recognised our humanity. He refused to kill those enslaved by the Goa'uld even though he placed himself in great danger to do just that. Many times he has travelled to planets seeking out allies and offering friendship. Daniel Jackson must be here."

One by one the delegates rose, the details of their comments varying, the underlying message the same. Those in the Chamber watched open mouthed as the new and exotic allies from across the galaxy informed them of a hero they knew nothing about.

Stephen Rayner tried to grab the globe from above General Samantha Carter's head; her look was enough to freeze the movement. Instead she reached her own hand up to bring it to life.

"Where is Daniel Jackson?" she said, and her voice rang out through the vast Chamber with all the authority of the leader of Stargate Command. "Daniel opened the Stargate for all the people of Earth. Time and again Daniel was responsible for saving us and our allies. He has sacrificed more and given more than any other man on this planet. Daniel Jackson must be here." A sotto voce comment resounded in a diminishing echo as she sat back down. "And would be if a weaselly little sonofaitch hadn't apparently…" The rest was lost as the pearl dimmed.

Another speech in praise of the absent Daniel Jackson, and another; someone, possibly from the Stargate personnel section, began a slow rhythmic clap and others in the Chamber took it up, a percussive accompaniment to the testimonials coming from the stage. Alec Coulson's sangfroid had deserted him; he could be seen arguing vehemently with a technician at the foot of the platform and gesturing towards the spotlight, as if suggesting the techs should stop illuminating what was becoming something of an unpredictable disaster. The man shrugged. The lights and the globes were interconnected, a marvel of technology. No human hand was directing them at this point.

Thor stood again, and raised his arm. "Daniel Jackson must be here!" he said. The clapping stopped. A moment of anticipation; and then there was a shaft of brilliance, and a figure in a slightly crumpled suit appeared blinking before the Congress. In one hand he held a large container of Coke; in the other, a super jumbo sized container of popcorn. Or at least, that's how he appeared for all of two seconds, before the shock of being unexpectedly transported from the delights of twenty foot high Angelina to becoming the object of scrutiny of the entire world impacted upon his motor control system and both hands flew up into the air. The Coke flashed in a brilliantly lit arc that crossed the platform and sprayed with elegant inevitability onto the heads of three elderly delegates; the popcorn exploded into a shower of fluffy yellow that descended in magnificent slow motion onto the heads of twelve delegates on the other side of the platform, including the President of the United States and Nelson Mandela.

And thus it was that the very first words heard in the Chamber of Planetary Congress from this lauded paragon of human virtues were not exactly what anyone expected.

"Oh, shi -!"






"And here," Jack said, pausing the DVD with the remote as they re-watched the ceremony, "is where you can see the exact precise second that Stevie Rayner's head imploded in fifty parallel universes where they're smart enough to let heads do that kind of thing."

"I can't believe you swore in the Chamber," Sam said, gently knuckling Daniel's hair. He was sitting on the floor at her feet, and hoped that at some point in this day he would run out of blushes.

"Hey, I got a great response from the stadium crowd," he muttered. Jack saluted him with his beer.

"That you did, Daniel. The roar from there sounded like a Rose Bowl touchdown."

"I was not at all displeased to see Rayner's discomfort," Teal'c intoned. "He is a kal'shak! It would be my great pleasure to disembowel him without the use of a knife."

"Ewww!" Jack shuddered. "Do you always have to bring violence into the conversation? Anyway, I don't think anyone needs to disembowel our Stevie boy - he looks pretty well gutted to me."

"Hey, look," said Sam. "This is where you try and wipe off the Coke, Daniel. Half of which landed on me, I might add."

"Was that a new suit, Daniel?"

"No, Jack, it was one of your old ones."

"Like hell!" Jack abruptly leant forward, peering at the screen. "That's your old one. The sleeves don't seem to mop up Coke too well, do they?"

"Can we just - " Daniel gestured with his hands. "Fast forward all this?"

A chorus of "No!" and Daniel subsided again with a sigh. Beyond the television, visible through the sweep of windows that lead onto the balcony, the sunset was magnificent, touching the tips of the furthermost mountains with a deep rose pink. Silhouetted against the colour were Narim and Lya, both their guests for the night. Daniel wished he were outside with them where the morbid curiosity that kept him pinned here watching the world's biggest ever embarrassment couldn't manifest itself.

Onscreen Thor was stepping forward and taking one of Daniel's sticky hands in his. The microphones couldn't pick up what was said, but Daniel's reluctance to advance towards the mid-globe was easily discerned. After several exchanges, and with drooping shoulders, he advanced and touched it. It glowed with gold, awaiting his second speech in the Chamber.

"I'm - um, I'm sorry about…" He stopped, and frowned, and peered up and around at the huge audience before him. "Um - I don't really know what I'm doing here. My name is Daniel Jackson. I - uh, I was with the Stargate program for a long time, and I had some pretty amazing - experiences, I guess you could call them. Adventures, maybe. Anyway - " he breathed out, heavily, and blinked about him again. "I guess Thor suggests I should say something. I don't know why. Sam - um - General Carter, she's the one in charge now, you really should listen to her. If ever there's an award for single most brilliant mind on a planet, it should go to her. She's pretty incredible.

"Or you could listen to Jack O'Neill. He's the guy who risked his life for Earth again and again. We wouldn't be here if it weren't for Jack. Or Teal'c. I mean, Teal'c gave up everything - his home, his family, everything he was - in order to do the right thing. How many of us can say that?" Daniel twisted on the spot, searching out his friends in the delegates' ranks, only to be met with huge grins and shakes of heads.

"But if I had to say something - I mean, what I - okay, well, here's what I really think. This is not a moment of triumph. Not for us." There was a deep silence in the Chamber and Daniel frowned. "It's a beginning. A humble first step." He looked down, gripping the podium. "We have much to be ashamed of. We're not united as a planet, as a single people. We still make lousy choices based on all the wrong reasons. How many children have died today in your countries from diseases and hunger we can easily avoid? How much of the planet was ruined today in your countries in the name of mineral development and resource utilisation? How many of you needed bribes and flattery and pleadings to be here because you thought you were that important? The Nox" - he paused, and a smile lightened his face - "they're right when they say we are very young. We're like the toddlers of the galaxy. We haven't learned to share. We haven't learned not to make a mess where we live. We fight with our brothers and sisters. We lose our balance when we get excited. We can't play nicely, we have no sense of restraint when we're angry, and we're so egocentric we think the universe revolves around us."

The cameras sweeping the Chamber picked up shock and dismay on many faces in the crowd. But understanding, too; and here and there a wry acceptance, a nodding approval.

Daniel shook his head, slowly. "But here's the thing; we're like very young children in other ways, too. We can love deeply. We want to be friends. We can embrace strangers without prejudice. We can experience wonder and joy and want others to have that too. We have a deep and abiding desire to learn, a sense of curiosity that remains exceptional. There is no reason for us to be slapping ourselves on the back here over a job well done - it isn't, it's not even properly begun. But equally, there's hope, real hope, for the human race to have the time and opportunity to grow up." He shrugged. "We need to start doing that if we're to take our place in this Congress with any kind of honour."

He looked down at his hands again. "Okay, well, that's it. This is pretty incredible, folks. Let's not blow it."

There was silence - on the television, and in the living room high up in the mountains. Jack's voice was sudden in the growing dark.

"Pretty incredible," he said, softly; and it was as if his words were the signal for the storm that broke on the screen. Applause; wild, cacophonous, incredible applause. It was applause born of relief, of a deeper recognition in the souls of those gathered there that a human had stepped forward and shown the humility and the heart that the occasion demanded. The puffed up pride, the trumped up self-congratulations - they were out of place here. Everyone present was wrestling with a sense of inadequacy, whether they recognised it or not; everyone there was looking for the inner resolve to meet the demands of being a citizen of the universe. And now a good-hearted, plain speaking man, unheralded before the moment, had stepped forward to show the way. The applause rang out, drowning out Daniel's astonished "Oh", the swell of affirmation from the delegates as they rose with the audience and added their voices to the sound of a world waking up.

Jack turned the sound down after several minutes.

"Damn straight," was all he said, and Daniel felt Jack's hand grip his shoulder, while Sam cupped his hair and bent forward to kiss it. For bringing a warmth deep in his soul it beat the hell out of all the well-wishers who crowded around him after the ceremony, all the phone-calls from hundreds of book publishers and movie producers the world over that jammed his phone all afternoon until he switched it off.

"I didn't realise they - um, liked it that much," he admitted. Jack's hand squeezed.

"Too lost in the moment?"

"Yeah. I was hardly ready for all that, you know."

"Huh." Jack's voice reflected an unmistakable leer. "Good thing you weren't - you know - "

"Jack!"

"All I'm saying," Jack said, raising his hands defensively. "Angelina's got a hell of a hot body."

"Jack," Daniel said, suddenly squirming around to face his friend, "you didn't arrange all this? Last night, when you went up to Thor's ship, you didn't say anything..?"

"Me?" Jack looked put out. "As if. Why would I go to the delegates and tell 'em you were being shafted, get 'em all stirred up? That would have taken far too long and if you remember there was hockey last night. I needed to get back." Daniel continued to glare at him suspiciously for a moment or two before slowly settling back down.

"Jack, if I thought for a second you'd used the opening of the Congress to score something over Stephen - if you'd hijacked that ceremony just to humiliate him - "

"Not to humiliate Rayner. No, I wouldn't do that," Jack assured him.

"Well, good," said Daniel, slightly mollified.

"Besides," Jack added, his grin devilish in the growing dusk, "I wouldn't want to put 'a certain archaeologist' on the spot now, would I?"

 




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Within the context and limitations of the site Disclaimer, Any and All original characters, situations, story line, dialogue and narrative © February 1, 2003, the author