True Measure
by DennyJ and Eilidh17

Jack pulled his cap down in an attempt to block the harsh sun that was beating down on him.  Butt going numb, he shifted position, leaning back against the crumbling column where he’d parked himself a couple of hours earlier.  Through his dark glasses he watched Daniel puttering away at the inscription-covered wall that had occupied his attention since their arrival on this planet.
Normally, he’d be inclined to think Daniel enjoyed this work, but watching his friend now, he wasn’t so sure.  Daniel brushed the lines of text, muttering a translation as he went—all normal.  It was the frenetic manner in which Daniel carried out the task that bugged Jack, as though he were under pressure to meet a deadline—not normal.  Daniel’s usual M.O. was slow and methodical—in Jack’s opinion, exasperatingly so.  Something was up.
Jack watched as Daniel suddenly dropped his brush, pulled out a trowel, and began attacking the dirt at the base of the wall.  Daniel worked furiously, sweat dripping off his chin as he scooped and flung the dirt in all directions.
Sitting forward, Jack called out, “That a new archaeological technique?”
Daniel slowed his movements, finally stopping and sitting back on his heels.  He swiped a hand across his brow, leaving a streak of dirt in its wake.  “It’s broken.”
“Have anything to do with your excavation methods?”
Turning his head, Daniel fixed Jack with a glare.  “The rest is missing.”
“And?  So?  Therefore?”
Daniel stood, returning his gaze to the wall, and gave it a sharp kick.
Warning bells began to sound in Jack’s head and he quickly got up and moved next to his friend, placing a hand on Daniel’s shoulder.  “What’s the matter, Daniel?”
Blue eyes locked with his, startling Jack with the depth of despair he saw in them.
Daniel sighed, once again scrubbing a hand across his face.  Jack subtly guided him to the low wall he’d just occupied and gently pushed Daniel to sit down.  He waited silently, not pushing, giving Daniel a chance to gather his thoughts.
“We’re wasting time.”
Jack processed that tidbit and pushed for more.  “How so?”
Daniel started to rise, but Jack kept his hand firmly on his friend’s shoulder, holding him in place.
“We’re wasting time going from planet to planet, trying to find some small clue to the Lost City.”
“And…”
“And, I had the information we need, Jack!  Don’t you see?  If I was still ascended, I’d know where the Lost City is, or at least be able to help you find it.  What good am I doing any of you now?”
Daniel freed himself from Jack’s grasp, jumped to his feet, and began pacing.  “I shouldn’t have come back—I should have found a way to stay ascended and help you.”
Jack rose, too, grabbing both of Daniel’s shoulders and forcing the man to face him.  “Daniel, we both know that wasn’t gonna happen.  You made it very clear that the other glowy people wouldn’t allow it.  As to what good you’re doing us, need I remind you that you’re responsible for rescuing Bra’tac and Ry’ac?  That you helped stop Anubis before he got his hands on the naquadria?  Not to mention the fact that Kelowna wouldn’t even still exist if it weren’t for you.”
“But—”
“And if that’s not enough, I’ve got five years worth of examples I can give you.”
Jack hoped he was getting through to Daniel; all this talk of wishing he were still ascended was making Jack nervous.  No way was he letting Daniel leave them again—forget all the planets he’d saved, people he’d rescued, Daniel belonged here with them.  They needed him.  Maybe it was time he told his friend just how much.
“Daniel, you’ve done a lot of good in your life.”  Jack held up a finger, forestalling the argument about to tumble from Daniel’s lips.  “You always see the good in people and you have a knack for finding solutions to problems when no one else can.  But more than that, we need you—Carter and Teal’c and I.  You belong here with us.  What good are all those funky powers if you can’t use them?  We’ll find the Lost City, Daniel, because you’ll figure it out on your own, without help from Oma and her fan club.”
There was a spark in those blue eyes that wasn’t there before.  Maybe he’d gotten through to Daniel after all.
“I don’t know, Jack.”  The voice was hesitant, questioning, in search of reassurance.
“I do.”  Jack squeezed Daniel’s shoulder to emphasize his words.  His reward was a thin smile that grew, drawing up the corners of Daniel’s lips.  The blue eyes were shining now, all trace of despair gone.
“Thanks, Jack.”
“Anytime.  Now, why don’t we call Carter and Teal’c and see if they’re ready to—”
The rest of his words were lost, covered over by metallic whirring as a set of rings descended over the two men.  In a flash of white, they were gone.

“Aww, crap.”  Jack bit back a moan and shelved his very real need to throw up the last meal he ate, in favor trying to sit up.  The room spun.  Gold walls seemed to race at him and then pull away, and conceding being upright was terribly overrated, he flopped back down to the cold floor.  “Ow.”
“That’s my line.”
Turning his head in the direction of the voice, eye lids suddenly feeling quite heavy, Jack winced at the tone, even though he knew Daniel had likely whispered his comment.  “You’re awake.”
“Don’t wanna be,” Daniel quipped miserably.  “What happened?”
“Gas.”
Daniel rubbed his eyes under his glasses and frowned.  “You sure?”
“Well,” Jack croaked, “I don’t recall being zatted, and if we were hit by a bus, which it sure feels like, then they had a hell of a time picking up enough speed in the back of a cargo ship.”  Jack rolled on to his side and faced Daniel.  “My money is on gas.”
Daniel dragged in a ragged breath, brows creased with the pain of a headache Jack heartily agreed with, and blinked up at the ceiling.  “Where are we?”
“Ah, you didn’t get my line about the bus and the cargo ship?”
“I thought you were kidding.  So this is a cargo ship?”
Jack threw Daniel a skeptical look.  “And I thought you said you had most of your memories back?  You can’t remember what the back of a cargo ship looks like?  Daniel, we practically lived in the things.”
“We did?”
“Well,” Jack coughed, “maybe not so much as lived, more like thumbed a ride from time to time.”
Daniel rose up on his elbows and took a slow look around the room.  “I remember events and people but sometimes the details, the more intricate ones, are a bit fuzzy.”
“Fuzzy?”
Daniel tossed him a pleading stare.
“Any idea whose ship this is?”
Jack sat up and took his own survey of the room.  Standard gaudy Goa’uld décor stared back at him from between equally garish cross beams and the tell-tale ring platform set into the polished metal floor.  “You have got to be kidding me!”  Jack let his chin flop to his chest in a show of defeat as he clamored to his feet.  “Of all the lame ass… Where are you?  Come on, I know you’ve been listening to every word!”
“Jack?”  Daniel pushed up off his elbows and gingerly rose to his feet.
Waving a finger in the air, Jack rocked back on his heels, lips pursed.  “He can hear us!”
“Ah, and that would that be, who?”
“That good for nothing ‘my name is good on over two thousand worlds’ bounty hunter.”
Hands on hips, Daniel shrugged, his eyes reflecting his clear lack of understanding.  “I’m guessing we’ve met this guy before?”
“Oh, yeah.  Guy’s got an ego a mile wide and a bad habit.”
“Of what?” Daniel asked expectantly, as though the Jack had more to say.
“What?”
“A bad habit of what?”
“Oh,” Jack shuddered and looked disinterested, his attention firmly fixed on the door to the cockpit.  “It’s some drug they mix with water.  I don’t know.  Carter can tell you all you want to know.”
“Riiiight.  I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Jack nodded tightly.  “Which is why I’m going to deal with this.”
“Sooo,” Daniel said, dragging the word out deliberately.  “This bounty hunter.”
“Aris.”
“Aris?”
“Boch.”
“Boch.”
“Is there an echo in here?”
Daniel sighed dejectedly.  “I’m trying to understand all of this.”
“Nothing to understand.  He trapped us a few years back and tried to sell us to Sokar.”
“Him, I remember.”
“You remember Sokar but you don’t remember Boch?  Damn ugly guy, built like a mountain with an ego a mile wide?”
“Not a thing.”
“Oddly selective memory you have,” Jack mused as he strode towards a control panel on the side of the door and pulled the cover off.  Looking at the odd array of crystals he tapped each one in turn, flinching with every attempt as though he expected a reaction.  “This didn’t work last time.”
“What didn’t?”
“Carter tried to hot wire the door.”
“Ah. So what happened?”
“She got zapped.  Boch had the door rigged so she couldn’t override the controls.”
“Not then,” he said with a roll of the eyes. “What happened with Sokar?”
Giving up in disgust, Jack thumped the cover back on the panel and moved back to the door, running his hands up and down the smooth center seam.  “I thought you read all the mission reports?”
“I skimmed.”
“Skimmed?”
“Mostly, anyway, not the point.  What happened?”
“We rescued a Tok’ra—you remember them, right?—Boch had a change of heart and we parted ways.”
“Sounds simple.”
“Trust me, Daniel, nothing with Boch is ever simple, there is always some catch.”  Jack slid his fingers into the door seam and tried to pry them apart.  “The guy has a nasty habit of—”
Jack took a quick step backwards as the doors suddenly parted to reveal Aris Boch, face alight with an ear splitting smile and a zat pointed squarely at Jack’s chest.
“Well, well, two for the price of one.  Must be my lucky day.”
Fists clenching and unclenching, Jack opened his mouth to speak but Aris cut him off with a sharply raised hand.
“I’m not interested, Colonel.  We’ve been over this before—it’s just a job, nothing personal.”
Hands on hips, Jack gave Aris his best “not buying it” glare and a snarled smile.  “So who is it this time?  We’ve pissed more than our fair share of system lords and would-be bad guys off lately, any one of them would probably think we’re worth the effort.”
“You think you’re quite the hero, don’t you?”
“Well.”  Jack cocked his head to the side and nodded satisfactorily. “Yes.  Saving the world rates pretty high back home, I should think we’ve come to someone’s attention.”
“So we’re back to this whole ‘Earth is the center of the galaxy’ discussion.  I thought we sorted that out last time?”
“Um,” Daniel coughed lightly and held one finger up for effect.  “Not to break up this reunion but anyone want to clue me in here?”
Holding his gaze on Jack a little longer, Aris slid it smoothly across to Daniel, his expression unreadable.  “Seems you’ve come to the attention of a mighty powerful race, Doctor Jackson.”
“Really?”
Aris crossed his arms and nodded solemnly.  “Xenophobic as well.  All my source would reveal was your name and a delivery point.  Apparently, they’ve been looking for you for the last year.”
“Well,” Jack interjected, clamping a hand firmly on Daniel’s shoulder, “he’s been a bit busy.”
“So I heard.  Ascended right?  Who did you have to kill to get that privilege?”
“Err,” Daniel mumbled, looking slightly uncomfortable. “There was some death involved, though I believe the dying was all on my part.”
“You don’t know?  I would have thought dying was a pretty memorable experience.”
“I don’t remember… yet.”
“Not the point,” Jack interrupted. “You never did say who was looking for us?”
“I didn’t?  Well, sorry.  Funny, I thought I was charge of this conversation.”
Puzzled, Daniel frowned and chewed on his lip.  “You didn’t tell them I was dead?”
Jack coughed, clearly uncomfortable.  “Ascended, Daniel, we use the word Ascended.”
“Right.”  Daniel looked from Aris to Jack and back again.  “Ascended.”
“Considering I’ve only just learned of your recent God status and then fall from grace, I didn’t see the need to worry my source with the details.”
Jack rolled his eyes, clearly un-amused.  “He was not a god.”
“As I didn’t invite you along for this little party I don’t think your opinion counts for much.”
“Hey,” Jack said indignantly, clearly feigning hurt.  “There was a time I used to be worth—”
Aris held up a hand for silence and smiled wryly.  “Yes, well, times have changed, and so have needs, and your worth isn’t nearly as much as the good Doctor’s here.”
“So half a days rations has gone to a full days?”  Jack quipped.
“Half a day?”  Daniel asked, clearing not understanding the statement.
“Yep, Danny boy, when we first met Aris here that was all you were worth.”
“Quite an amount really,” Aris added.
“You clearly haven’t had an MRE.”  Finger in the air, Jack poised for effect.  “No wait, you have as I recall.”
Sighing and clearly losing patience with the conversation, Aris grumbled, “Half a days rations of roshna, Colonel, equates to quite a substantial amount of refined weapons class naquadah.  More than your pathetic planet can expect to get their hands on any time soon.”
“Hey!  We resemble that remark.”
“Let’s just say, Jackson, that your price on the market has increased to the point that with this sale I should be able to keep my planet supplied for a few years.”
Shuffling his feet, eyes to the floor, Daniel tried not to sound ungrateful, “That’s a lot of roshna.”
“Never mind that,” Jack gruffed.  “That’s a lot of naquadah.”
“So, if we’re finished with the history lesson, I’ve got a rendezvous to make and a bounty to collect.”
“What about me?”
Half turned towards the door, Aris looked back over his shoulder and smile mirthfully.  “What about you?”
“Where he goes, I go.”
“If I don’t want you, O’Neill, I dare say my buyers don’t either or they would have asked for you.  There’s a cargo bay door at the back of the ship, feel free to get off any time you like.”
“Seems your worth hasn’t so much dropped as plummeted.” Daniel added cheerfully.
“Funny, Daniel.”
“Well this is all great fun, guys, and the reunion has been a blast but if you don’t mind,” Aris waved his zat towards the back of the cargo hold, “I’d rather you continued this amongst yourselves.  I’ve got a tricky delivery rendezvous to make.”
“Tricky?” Jack asked.
“Yep,” Aris stepped back into the cockpit and reached for the door controls.  “As I understand it, the air these guys breathe isn’t quite up to human standard.  Nasty stuff.”
“Well, that’s… comforting.”

This time, a beam of yellow light enveloped them and almost instantaneously deposited the three of them into… a bubble.
“Well, this is… different.”  Jack turned a complete circle, verifying that they were indeed inside a transparent bubble.
“It’s also… familiar,” Daniel noted, squinting at the pristine white room outside their bubble.
Jack’s head whipped around to face Daniel.  “You can’t remember what the inside of a cargo ship looks like but you remember this?”
“So, you do know these guys,” Aris stated, also sweeping the room with his gaze.
“Well, not exactly,” Daniel began.  “We sort of… Jack, what are you doing?”
Jack proceeded to poke the bubble with his index finger.  “Just checking to see how strong it is.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?”
Jack frowned and pulled his hand away.  Tilting his head slightly, he leaned forward and plastered his face against the wall of the bubble, mouth open and cheeks puffed.
“Jack?”
“What?”  Jack pulled his face away from the bubble and looked at Daniel quizzically.
“Do the words ‘unbreathable air’ mean anything to you?”
A door opened and a figure entered the room, drawing the attention of all three men.  What met their eyes was definitely not human.  Tall, long-limbed, with a large triangular-shaped head and a long, thick tail, it looked more like a reptilian creature.
Jack gave Aris a sideways glance and whispered, “That was a cargo ship and not the Nostromo, right? Because this guy looks like something straight out of Alien.”
Boch’s voice was barely above a whisper. “I’m glad it’s not me they’re looking for.”

The Gadmeer.
Memories flooded Daniel’s mind.  A huge ship burning a path across a planet, listening to the dissonant sounds of the Gadmeer’s ‘music’, trying to convince Lotan to find an alternative to destroying the Enkarans.
The Gadmeer stopped at the edge of their bubble, its large, dark, oval eyes appraising the three creatures inside before turning its attention squarely on Daniel.
A series of screeching tones filled the air, followed by a voice speaking English.
“Welcome, Doctor Jackson.  Thank you for making the journey to our home.”
Turning to Boch, the voice continued translating what was apparently the Gadmeer’s speech.  “We offer our thanks to you, also, Aris Boch.  We are grateful that you relayed our request to meet with Doctor Jackson and that you were willing to provide transportation for him.”
Aris’ eyebrows scrunched together as he considered the words.  “Request?  Willing?  I thought—”
The Gadmeer ignored his protest and turned to Jack.  “We welcome you also, Colonel O’Neill, friend of the Enkarans.  We are pleased you have chosen to accompany Doctor Jackson on his visit.”
“Not like I had much choice,” Jack grumbled, giving Aris a withering glare.
“Although Doctor Jackson is the one we wished to meet, we would be pleased to have both of you join us.”
“Uh, I think I’ll pass, thanks,” Boch replied, “Places to go, people to… uh…  meet, bounties to collect.”
“Coward.” Jack was still giving the man his most threatening look.
“Very well,” the Gadmeer said.  “We will return you to your ship.”
“Hold on,” Aris held one hand up, “what about my reward?”
“Reward?”  the Gadmeer questioned.
“For finding Doctor Jackson.”
“You wish for some form of compensation?”
“Well, yes, that’s the general idea,” Boch replied smugly.
“That was not our intention but we would be happy to offer something in return for your endeavors.  What do you desire?”
“Well, naquadah’s always good.  Man has to make a living.  Don’t suppose you have any roshna?”
“We are not familiar with roshna, but are able to supply you with naquadah.  We will have it transported to your ship.”
Aris was practically beaming as he rubbed his hands together.  “Great!  Looks like I’m all set then.”
“How nice for you,” Jack snipped.
Aris clapped him on the shoulder.  “You boys have a good time.  Remember, it’s nothing personal.”
“If I ever catch up with you again, Boch, it’s definitely going to be personal.” Jack’s threat dimmed Aris’ smile somewhat, but before the man could reply, he was beamed away.
“And you, Colonel Jack O’Neill,” the Gadmeer continued, “do you also wish to leave or do you wish to stay for the ceremony?”
With a glance at Daniel, Jack quickly replied, “Where Daniel goes, I go.”
Daniel’s eyebrows arched upwards, surprised at Jack’s declaration.  His words, however, were directed at the Gadmeer.  “Did you say ‘ceremony’?”
“Yes, it is—”
“What a minute,” Jack interjected, waving an arm toward the space Aris had just occupied, “how are we gonna get home now?”
“We would be glad to transport you to your home world.  All you need do is provide us with its coordinates.  We regret our avatar, Lotan, did not inquire as to your home world’s location as he was quite preoccupied with the Enkarans.”
“Uh, excuse me,” Daniel said, eyebrows still pinched in thought, “but did Lotan stay with the Enkarans, or was he re-assimilated into the ship?”
“He chose to remain with the Enkarans on their home world.  That is one of the reasons we wish to honor you, Daniel Jackson.  You have displayed a great capacity to look beyond the obvious and see each race for its true worth.  Through your efforts, our own civilization was saved from destruction.
Daniel glanced at Jack who shifted uncomfortably.  The image of an overloaded naquadah generator flashed through his mind overlaid with Jack’s tense voice telling him to “give me another option”.
“We have been searching for you for quite some time, Doctor Jackson.  Once we returned to our new homeworld, we finished the transformation process and were then able to begin re-establishing our civilization.  Our records contained information on what transpired when we first arrived on this planet, including your efforts to save both the Enkarans and the Gadmeer.  We owe you a debt which can never be repaid.  Please allow us to honor you in some small manner as a token of our thanks.”
“It’s not… I can’t… really…” Daniel stammered, totally lost with their depth of thanks and the memories that were surging forth in his mind.  He remembered the Enkarans with their unique physiological attributes, and the efforts the SGC had gone to, to relocate them.  He saw the massive Gadmeer ship spewing out sulphur dioxide and microbes in a long wake that spread for miles, killing everything it touched.
“Daniel?”
“Sorry, I remember this now.  Why do they feel they need to go to all this trouble?”
“Oh, I don’t know.  I was only too happy to blow them up; it was you that offered up a solution that worked for everyone and taught me that my first option is not necessarily the best one.  I guess these nice folks appreciate your talents as much as we do.  You know, buddy, if this doesn’t show you that you don’t need to be ascended to make a difference, then I don’t know what will.”
“Well, maybe.”
Suddenly the bubble rose up in the air and Daniel and Jack, caught off guard, struggled to remain upright as it drifted across the room towards a wall, their Gadmeer host following close by.  Coming to a stop, the wall appeared to vanish and the bubble drifted back to the floor.
Arms spread wide, the Gadmeer stepped forward and encompassed the vista before them.  Through swirls of yellow sulphur-heavy clouds, a city, not quite finished, stretched off into the horizon.  Partially completed buildings reached to the sky, their architecture similar in design to the ship they had first encountered.
“It’s beautiful,” Daniel breathed, in awe of the sight below.
Nodding his approval, Jack added, “And you made it happen.”
“Not just me.  We all did this.”
“Nope, like I said, if you hadn’t found a better option, none of this,” Jack pointed down to the city, “would even exist.”
“We’re a team, Jack.”
“A team that you are part of and one that didn’t function that well while you were gone.  You belong here, not up there,” Jack said, pointing upwards with his thumb. “Right here with us where you can make a difference.  Is any of this sinking in?”
“That what I do here is so much more important than anything I could do as an ascended being?”
Throwing his hands into the air, a satisfied smile on his face, Jack declared, “Now he gets it.  Great, I can quit with all this smarminess and head straight to the banquet.  They have food, right?  Didn’t bring us all this way not to feed us?”

 

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