Another Day in Paradise

 

“Achoo!” Stomping through the fields of the alien planet, heavy boots flattening the pretty wildflowers, Jack O’Neill rubbed at his reddening nose and shook his head. All he could see was trees, fields, and more bright pink flowers to make him sneeze. His temper matching his stony expression, he jumped as a stray, booted rock caused several squawking birds to take flight and flap away. Folding his finger away from the trigger of his P-90, he watched the grey birds soar higher and higher and felt a stab of envy. All he needed was a pair of wings and he could join them. Course he had the wings, they just weren’t the right sort. With a sigh pushing away whimsical thoughts, he turned around and faced the reason he was sneezing on an alien planet. One Colonel Harry Maybourne. A thief, a villain, part time thrill seeker, and full time moron.

“I can’t believe you shot me!”

“Shot? I zatted you!”

“Same damn thing, and don’t start with me about Carter! I’ll let her kick your ass up and down this planet!”

Harry sighed and threw his hands into the air. “Okay, Jack, I get it! You’re a little irritated with me at the moment!” With a neat 360arc twirl, Harry searched the tree line, the expression on his face more puzzled than repentant. “I may have made a mistake but I was sure this was the right way!”

“May have?” Jack enquired politely.

“May have!” Harry replied firmly. He wasn’t done looking yet.

Different as night and day, the two colonels glared at each other and continued their march across the planet to nowhere. Jack strode ahead faster, his long strides making it hard for Harry to keep up. Surprised when the shorter man’s burst of speed had him trotting past him, he watched, blinked, and shook his head.

“You are so lost!”

Harry feigned a hurt look, batting his eyes at his accuser. “Lost? Me? No, I’m sure it’s this way! It’s in this valley!” His face crumpling as in an after thought, he added “Strange thing is, the portal is supposed to alert the others that they have visitors! A greeting party is supposed to welcome me.”

“Me?”

“Us, welcome us.”

“Right, I’ll look out for passing mai-tais or leis.”

That conversation had been over thirty minutes ago, and any attempt at chatter had dried up. The welcome wagon had been conspicuous by its absence, and Harry looked more and more nervous. Something was very wrong on Planet Perfect.

OoO

Aware of O’Neill watching him, a deep-set frustration burned in Harry’s gut. He was right, he was lost. This plan should have worked! He should have been surrounded by luxury, maybe with a pretty, dark haired girl on his lap, not traipsing around the countryside completely lost. Where was his welcome? Trying to start several conversations, Harry finally gave up. “Clearly,” the NID colonel muttered, “some of us aren’t in the talking mood.”

“Got that in one” Jack hissed in return.

To be fair, Maybourne got why Jack was pissed. Making the SGC appear incompetent was stretching the bonds of friendship, such as it was; however, he’d been desperate. He had to leave Earth, he’d run out of options there, and the Furling arch had been his one-way ticket out of Leavenworth. The old saying that it’s always darkest before the dawn was certainly true, and when he had wind of Colonel Simmon’s aborted plan to steal the Prometheus, he trumped it with an even bolder plan. One that didn’t include doing deals with homicidal Goa’uld or suffering the indignity of being sucked into space.

Once Harry got his tail wind up, he’d spent sleepless nights fine-tuning his plan; convincing himself that it wouldn’t fail. He’d thought it all through, laid the groundwork, bluffed Stargate Command, and made it to his paradise lost. Only problem was, the village he’d gambled so much on was also lost, and as time ticked by, doubt crept into his mind. What if he’d been the one tricked? What if this Utopia was all a giant galactic joke and he’d been suckered? Worse than that, he’d dragged O’Neill into this mess as well, and that was definitely a bad move.

The silence continued and Harry became more unnerved by the minute.

 OoO

From the corner of his eye, Harry watched O’Neill as he walked. Jack clearly detested the feeling of sweat-drenched clothes next to his skin, and pulling his shirt loose, flicked it back and forth in the breeze. It was also no secret that the man hated trekking in the heat, buzzing insects, and being stuck on a planet with lunatics. Harry waited for the tirade he’d been expecting since he’d thrown himself through the alien energy field hours ago. What he got surprised him. Jack wasn’t a man to hold grudges, and his odd humor took away the tension between them. Harry was never more grateful for anything in his life.

“If you wanted to live among trees, Maybourne, couldn’t we have stayed in Colorado?”

“Yup.”

Refusing to take the bait, Harry shrugged. Any conversation, even about trees, was better than the stony silence he endured. Taking a deep breath, he made a decision. He wanted to explain why he’d behaved as he had. Why he’d forsaken his oaths and danced with the devil instead. It was always going to be a tough call, convincing O’Neill, but he needed him to understand. He needed O’Neill to realize he wasn’t a money-grabbing traitor, and there had been a method in his madness…Once upon a time.

“We aren’t so different, you and I, Jack. I wanted to make a difference, and I felt that what I was doing was for the good of our planet.”

“Oh, please!”

Harry continued, ignoring the other man’s look of disbelief. “But, that feeling isn’t so special anymore. Towards the end, I felt like a game show contestant who has to guess what’s behind the green curtain. You know? Guess what’s behind curtain number one and get a prize! Trouble is, my friend, behind curtain one, there was just another curtain, and then another, and another. Nothing was ever like as it seemed. Everything just hides behind something else, and I’m not sure Harry Maybourne ever existed. Now, I just want to lose that man, whoever he was, and live somewhere nice. Understand?”

With a look of desperation on his face, Harry’s eyes pleaded for understanding from the one man whose forgiveness meant everything.

OoO

Jack turned and fixed him with a steely glare. There were several ways he could answer Harry. He could get inches from the other man’s nose and tell him exactly what he thought of his chicken-shit excuses. He could ignore then man completely and keep on walking. Or, he could throw Harry the redemption he so desperately needed. Jack chose the latter.

“Well, good luck with that, Harry.”

“Thanks.” Came the simple reply.

Walking through quaint county tracks, the unlikely companions stopped and glanced at each other. In the distance was the outline of a village. Quickening their pace, Harry had been euphoric, but Jack a little less so. Urging O’Neill to move his ass, Harry prattled on about what the Utopians had to offer and why Earth had nothing in comparison. The fact Jack never offered up an opinion was immaterial, and finally within spitting range, Harry couldn’t keep the smugness from his voice.

“There! See! What did I tell you, oh ye of little faith!” Relief flooded through him and he whooped with pent up stress and pleasure. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to the guys, see if we can be cabin buddies until you can think of a way off!”

Whether it was his reflexes, intuition, or suspicions, Jack hunkered to his knees, dragging Harry down with him. “Keep your voice down, and do not move. Got that?”

Stunned into obedience, Harry wriggled away from the hard hand, but remained crouched low. He’d been in the military long enough to know when someone was serious, and Jack was being deadly serious.

“What’s the matter with you?” Harry hissed, “This is a place of ….” He didn’t finish his word as O’Neill clamped a hand over his mouth.

“You open that fool mouth of yours again, Maybourne, and so help me God!” Edging closer to the village, Jack peered closely and whispered, “This is your village? Where are the people? Animals? Fires? Get it, Einstein, something isn’t right here.”

The euphoria of finding the Utopian village disappeared as realisation set in. This was just a derelict group of huts probably centuries old slowly strangled by plants and weeds. There was no grand palace, no dancing, dark haired girls, and no welcome band. Nonetheless, Harry put on a brave voice and tried to work the room. “I am thinking the Nox here! Secretive little bas…beings that they are! Maybe the real village is hidden from strangers? Maybe it’s floating up there?” Raising a finger and pointing to the sky, Harry winced at the expression on Jack’s face, and slowly lowered his hand. “Maybe I’ve been a fool and there is no paradise lost.”

A moment paused before Jack looked directly at Harry. “Maybe you have.”

Getting up and walking around the village square, Jack looked into huts all the time keeping his weapon primed and ready. There was total silence, so complete that the birdsong and rustling of leaves flowed into the derelict village like an in coming tide. Jack finally took a deep breath and let it out with measured slowness.

“Okay, Harry, got another plan?”

Harry wrapped the jacket even more tightly around himself. “I’m feeling very nervous about this,” he said at last, “I don’t think anyone is coming.”  Reaching into his pocket and idly chewing on an edible vegetable he’d found earlier that day, he sighed, and began to explore on his own.

“What are you eating?” Jack demanded, grabbing at his arm, “How do you know that isn’t poisonous?”

“Not dead yet!”

“It’s early.”

OoO

Days rolled into weeks, and while it was clear to O’Neill that other than birds and small rodents too fast to catch, they were alone, Harry didn’t agree. Eyes darting back and forth, he claimed the planet was inhabited by others, and tormented Jack daily about giving him the handgun. Refusing the request, he watched Harry stomp away, the ever present vegetable stalk between his lips.

“Go, torment a rat or two. Might be someone you know” Jack growled under his breath.
He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the crumbling wall. He was sore and cramped from sleeping on the ground, and he’d had enough of Maybourne’s bitchin’. The sun rose early on Utopia, and rising to his feet, he grabbed the fishing rod he’d made and wandered down to the river. Unlike Harry, he felt confident that Carter would find them and it was just a matter of surviving the best they could until then. He was a philosophical man and had survived in far worse places than planets where the sun shone brightly and a sweet breeze filled the air. While the birdsong was pleasant, the grating voice of Maybourne wasn’t, and he grimaced as Harry threw himself down next to him. Sighing, he forced himself to acknowledge him.

“What now?”

“Why are you sharpening your knife?  Last night, I swear I heard someone running around out here. Spent an hour wandering around trying to spot him.”

O’Neill shrugged, “Probably only animals. Look, as long as we keep the fire going, we’ll be fine. Er, wanna move back a little there?”

“No tracks, Jack” said Harry, making an attempt to move, “I thought you were the survivalist here!”

”Okay, I have another theory. You're losing your mind.” Jack grunted softly.

“Don’t tell me you don't find things a little spooky around here!”

Made so only by your presence” Jack said in disbelief.

“Yeah well, I'm beginning to wonder if some of the Utopians might still be alive.”

”There's no evidence of that.” Studying the knife, he placed it back into its scabbard. “You just aren’t sleeping well.”

“No shit, Sherlock! Okay, maybe they're here in another way.”

”All right, now you are getting spooky.”

”Oh, come on, Jack, you've seen stranger things. Other dimensions, planes of existence. You said it yourself, this is an alien planet.”

“So what do you want me to do?”

A sly smile crept across his face, and Harry inched even closer “Give me your nine mil.”

”No.”

”Oh come on, you've got the P-90. You sleep with it beside you for God's sake; I just want to be able to protect myself.”

Forget it. Maybourne, you’re not getting a weapon!”

Harry’s eyes narrowed, and giving O’Neill a feral look, he snarled, “Jack! I want that gun.”

“Forget it! You don't like it here, deal with it. It's your own damn fault.”

”You wouldn't care if I died would you?”

”What are you talking about?”

”Some alien creature comes in and attacks me in the middle of the night, hauls me out while you're sleeping.”

“You and I are the only ones here. Trust me; the only thing you have to be afraid of around here is me.”

“Yeah, ain’t that the truth. You do know it’s a capital offence to murder someone, right? Even if you are the great Jack O’Neill!”

“Murder? It’d be considered a mercy killing!” Temper showing in his flushed cheeks, Jack grabbed the fishing pole and walked off still shaking his head.

“Where are you going?” Demanded Harry, a permanent scowl marking his face. “Why are you always leaving me alone?”

OoO

The morning’s spat wasn’t brought up again until poking at the fire, O’Neill rocked back onto his heels as he skewered two fat trout on the stick. Turning and glancing over his shoulder, he called out “Foods up!” Jack’s voice and the sizzling from the fire coaxed Harry from his hut, and with deep circles under his eyes, he looked and sounded exhausted. Stumbling out and blinking against the sunlight, he looked at the fire, and whirled around to face O’Neill.

“Fish? Again? God, Jack, can’t you get us anything different?”

“Nope, take it or leave it.” Fish wasn’t Jack’s favorite either, but as the woods were an unknown quantity, he wasn’t keen to hunt without back up. The bears could be the size of a mammoth for all he knew, and he’d decided to hunt where it was safe. That was in the river ways. There was a plentiful supply of fish, and there were ancient fruit trees dotted around the camp. It was a boring diet, but as long as they had fresh water, it’d do.

Harry Maybourne had many vile habits, and one was greed. While O’Neill was content to peel the odd hard apple, or chew through a woody pear, Harry refused, and ate the plant that constantly reminded him of Earth. Grabbing clumps of it, he stuffed in his mouth, and said through his chewing “Tastes like arrugula and I hate arrugula!”

Not bothering to look up, Jack replied simply, “Then don’t eat it!”

But Harry was already on his third bunch and sweat gleaned on his brow.

“I can’t stand the noise! I can’t stand the quiet! God, I can’t sleep and I can’t stay awake! I just know there is something out there!”

Picking at the trout’s carcass, Jack was lost in his thoughts and didn’t see the look of hatred that crossed Harry Maybourne’s face as he chewed and chewed his snack.

“There’s nothing out there, Harry, trust me.” Jack watched the breeze make ripples on the lake and figured they’d be fine for a few weeks. Hell, there was nothing on Utopia to worry about, he felt very confident about that.

……

 

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