This was written--slowly--as a backup fic for greensilver's J/D Ficathon, in response to a request for angst and a mention of ecology. Thanks for the hairpats, guys.
The elevator was squeaking like crazy. Carter swore up and down that she'd been over every inch of the thing and it was safe, but… it wasn't that he didn't trust her, because he did, but the thing was what, ten thousand years old? Even Carter could make mistakes.
"I wonder what it would feel like to freefall a mile and a half," Daniel said thoughtfully, looking up at the ceiling to the source of the noise.
Jack had actually meant to make them all jump out of a plane eventually—partly because he figured you never knew when it would be convenient to know how to use a parachute, partly because it was fun, and partly because he'd kind of wanted to see how Daniel would react. Carter already knew how, and Jack figured that Teal'c had too much macho to blink an eye, but he hadn't had enough of a bead on Daniel to guess whether he'd be twitchy about it or not.
Apparently not. Anyway, there was no way now to find out for sure what he would've done. Yet another item for the things-that-won't-ever-happen list. "The falling part's fine," Jack offered. "It's the stopping that'll get you every time."
"Well, yes, but it's not like it would kill us in any meaningful sense. We have these sets of reactions that are all about self-preservation that don't really apply anymore, like… like human evolution creating bodies that handle food in a way that works well for a resource-scarce… are we slowing down?"
Daniel threw out both hands, pressing them flat against the wall and looking around a bit wildly, self-preservation instincts apparently still in effect. The elevator was definitely slowing, a little jerkily; Jack spread his legs, braced for a jolt at the end, and stumbled against the door anyway when they lurched to a halt.
Jack brushed several thousand years' worth of dust off of his sleeve, irritated. They could design robots that passed for human, but they couldn't make the damn elevator run smoothly? Assholes. Daniel, bless him, didn't laugh at Jack's display, though the more he thought about it the more Jack was a little annoyed that Daniel hadn't even asked if he was okay. He was staring at the doors instead; even unmoving, they were just too interesting for a friend getting bounced around like a pinball to get any attention.
Ow. Robots that passed for human and could bruise, too. Stupid aliens.
The door didn't so much as twitch. Jack kicked at it experimentally; nothing.
"Pull it open, you think?" Daniel bent forward, nose right up to the seam in the middle of the door, as if maybe a real good look would make it work. Sometimes, Jack thought, he forgot his eyes didn't need correction anymore. "It's not flush. Maybe if we just got it started… have you got that pocket tool thingie of Harlan's on you?" He reached back and groped his way toward Jack's pocket without turning around; Jack grabbed his hand just before it passed into dangerous territory, and held onto it while fishing around for the Swiss Army knife. Which was neither Swiss nor a knife, but which did have a whole bunch of entertaining and extremely durable mini-tools that flipped out at the slightest provocation. Eventually he'd even figure out what the little vibrating one did, because he was pretty sure it couldn't actually be for that. It was right next to the screwdriver, for God's sake, which liked to pop out randomly. Clearly, it hadn't been designed for… play.
He hadn't asked Carter's opinion. Frankly, he thought she might kick his ass if he did. And Teal'c... Jack just didn't even want to know about Jaffa sex toys.
The tool turned up in the third pocket Jack tried, and he looked up to discover Daniel looking kind of sidelong back at him—or, rather, at their joined hands where Jack had Daniel trapped against his upper thigh. Jack scowled and let him go, slapping the tool into his hand. "Well?" he said. "Stick it in there. No, push the yellow button. Twice. It'll be bigger that way—"
Daniel yanked his hand away, fumbling the tool and flushing a little. "Right. Right right, I've got it, just let me—oh." A blinky light—the little red one on the end, not the wide panel in the middle, which glowed a really unattractive shade of puce at irregular intervals for no reason Jack had been able to figure out—had started to flash as soon as the tool made contact with the door, and it slid open without so much as a shudder.
Jack grinned. It was a small victory, but every little win counted for something. "Nice."
Armed with the magical door-opening doohickey, they made short work of the passage through the—airlock, Jack supposed it should be called—out onto the planet's surface. Daniel was briefly distracted by the displays by the door, but Jack dragged him away. The whole point was to see the outside, dammit, not stand around in a foyer staring at atmospheric condition readouts. And yeah, okay, these days urgency was just as much of an illusion as self-preservation, but he wasn't ready to let go and go zen just yet.
Once they actually stepped out onto the planet's surface, he kind of wished he'd held back for a bit. Preserved the mystery.
"Well," he said, "this is a shithole."
They'd seen pictures, of course. The initial dose of radiation had been massive; nothing bigger than a few cells had survived it, and Harlan had sworn up and down that complex life had never re-created itself, either. But Harlan had been known to lie from time to time, and Daniel was interested in seeing the surface, and Jack was three months into eternal life and already bored enough to gnaw his own arm off. At least "let's go see the surface!" had been a goal, something to look forward to. Jack just wished it'd been worth the effort.
Daniel squinted up at the low cloud cover, then shrugged. "Harlan did warn us. Hey, you think that rock over there is too far from the power source?"
"No," Jack said immediately, resenting how quickly he knew the answer for absolutely, no question about it, one hundred percent sure. People weren't meant to be able to visually estimate distance to within a millimeter, dammit. Besides, Daniel would've known the answer to his question himself, if he'd just thought about it for a second. "Should be well within tolerance. Of course, it's a rock..."
"More interesting than bare dirt," Daniel pointed out. "Besides, you don't have to come. You could... save the experience for the future. You know, if you get bored."
"Well, if you want to go back down I think Harlan was looking for someone to help him clean out the ductwork on the fifth level, which would certainly give you a chance to spend some quality time with him--"
"Ah, yes, exploration," Jack said, launching off toward the rock before Daniel was done talking. "Exploration is very important. You coming or not?"
The outcropping was about ten feet tall--three thousand one hundred and twelve millimeters, actually--and was colored an incredibly boring shade of tan. "Sandstone," Daniel said, and then he went on talking about deposition patterns and sedimentation and quartz, with a brief side excursion when he discovered what looked like a patch of lichen, though who knows if it really is lichen, Jack, I wonder if the xenobiologists ever decided whether they think all of the life out here was seeded from Earth or if it might just be some kind of parallel evolution so it just looks like lichen, maybe Harlan was wrong about the possibility of the surface someday being habitable again, and Jack actually had to reach over and smack his hand away from the flat little clump of grey and yellow hearts to keep him from pulling it off of the rock.
"It's the only living thing for miles, Daniel," he snapped, gut twisting with the admission. "Leave it alone."
Daniel didn't argue, which was weird, but a nice change. Instead, he slid down onto the ground and stretched his legs out in front of him, squirming his heels into the ground as if trying to leave some sort of territorial marking behind: Daniel Jackson Was Here. "If Sam figures out the power problem, we'll be able to go farther out," he said after a while. "I don't suppose there's likely to be much of the cities left after this long, but we could certainly look."
"Oh yeah." Jack sat down heavily next to him, tipping his head back against the rock. "Sounds like a laugh a minute."
Dirt spattered onto Jack's shoes; Daniel had kicked at the ground again, a little irritably. "You know, it doesn't all have to be about the things we can't have. It could be... I mean, isn't there anything you've ever wanted to do, but not had time for? Or not been able to do, or... like the freefall thing, something that would've been stupid and dangerous but now you can do it." Daniel paused. "You might even decide you want to learn Ancient Egyptian after all. Door's always open."
He meant it, Jack thought. Daniel didn't always say what he was thinking, but he was the kind of guy who generally meant what he said. It was one of his more attractive qualities, and there, he'd thought it out loud. Thank God he'd talked Carter down from installing the internal radios, because that was all he needed, really.
Earth was gone. The SGC, the Air Force, everything he had ever meant to do for them… even Sara, who had been gone before but still there, a possibility curled up in the back of Jack's brain. Maybe they could get away from Harlan eventually; he hadn't talked to them all about that yet, but he knew why Carter was so damn interested in those portable power packs, and it wasn't so that they could go looking for ruins on the surface. But until then…
The sky was solid with cloud from one horizon to the other, but when Jack looked over, Daniel was staring up at them like he could see shapes. Which, hey, maybe he could. Jack could believe in stranger things happening, like the way that when Daniel twisted to look at something off to the left he shifted over just a little, just enough so they touched from ankle to toe, and Jack found that his only thought was yes.
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