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Veil, by Eve11

Title: Veil
Author: Eve11
Rating: G
Written for: Tripoli
Summary: shān-gǔ ān: From the Mandarin meaning "peaceful valley" (shān-gǔ – 'mountain gorge,' valley; ān – pictorially a woman under a roof, tranquility).

Notes: Thanks for such an interesting challenge! Hope you like what I’ve done with the place. This story takes place late season 5 (between "The Warrior" and "Menace.") No spoilers, all language mistakes (and general other mistakes) are my own. Many thanks to auntiemeesh, lem0nb0mbs, and fbf for all their helpful comments. fbf, you were right on point six, and I bow to your superior beta-ing wisdom.

For those who would like it, here is a quick Mandarin pronunciation guide for the story. Some of the accented text is written in unicode and may have problems switching between browsers. Sorry in advance.


ETA: (6/5/06): Updated to final version with some minor changes.


--------------
**************

"It's amazing, really." Daniel sits forward in the small chair, tapping a finger on his thigh. His eyes travel the VIP room walls, neatly avoiding the door and the chair in the corner where Jack has tried to make himself as unobtrusive as possible.

"What's that?" Jack shifts in his chair. Daniel reacts to the movement, looking at Jack for the barest second before retreating back over to the bed to sit facing the wall, fingers worrying the blue fabric bedspread.

Watching Daniel this jittery makes Jack's jaw ache and his hands clench into fists. No sudden movement. No loud noise. Forget the fact he wants to explode out of this chair, grab the archaeologist by the shoulders and look him straight in the eye with a healthy dose of "Snap out of it!"

Jack lets out a slow breath. It’s only been two days. Really, Daniel is doing well, considering. Jack runs a hand through his hair and repeats his question.

"What's amazing?"

"The planet really was beautiful. We didn’t have time to take it in, to appreciate it."

Leave it to Daniel. Unbelievable.

"Who says I missed anything?" Jack says. "Flowers, cliffs, temples. Pretty planet--"

"Worth a second chance."

"--full of ugly, crazy people."

Daniel eyes the ceiling. "If we explain to them about the Goa'uld--"

"No way. See, that would involve going back."

"Jack--"

"Can't do it. I hit my pagoda quota last time."

That earns an exasperated sigh. "What about Shen Luo?"

"What about her?"

"You don’t think we should help her?"

The grade A petulance is maddeningly normal, and it’s pissing him off. Before Jack can stop himself he’s rising up out of the chair and his voice is rising to match.

"Like she helped us? Forget it! Let'em--"

"Jack, would you just lay off!" Daniel's outburst halts Jack mid-step. He shuts his mouth and sits down, but Daniel is already in the corner, looking like he wants to climb the walls. God, his heart must be beating out of his chest.

"Sorry," Jack says. "Sorry, Daniel, it's just me."

"Oh, I know." Daniel rubs at his eyes, looking wired and exhausted. "It's just I can't -- God, Jack, this is driving me nuts."

You and me both. "Give it a few more days. Doc says it's wearing off. You want me to scram?"

Daniel nods. But as Jack heads for the door Daniel adds a quiet "Wait."

He turns around, his gaze meeting red-rimmed blue eyes. Daniel fidgets but keeps eye contact long enough to ask a simple question.

"How is Sam?"

Jack looks down at his hands. "As good as to be expected. They gave her something for the pain but she's still..." he waves an all-encompassing hand at Daniel, who flinches away, looking miserable. "You know."

******************

"What is that, maybe three hundred feet?" Jack asked. This was the first time any of them had emerged from a Stargate that was fused this high into the side of a cliff, and he had to admit, it was damn impressive at first glance. If not slightly vertigo-inducing, what with the rather small ledge and rather large drop.

Carter peered over the edge, nodding an affirmative. "Looks like it. Wow, what a view."

"Good thing we didn't get a running start," Daniel added, adjusting his pack. "They really didn't leave much room for error."

Jack looked around. The only way off the ledge was a narrow staircase chipped into the rock. "Not very practical, either," he said.

"It is a ksang'ai," Teal'c said, surveying the rock face. "But it appears to be in disrepair."

Jack turned around, mindful of the drop. "A what?"

"A ceremonial gate, meant to instill awe upon the populace as their God arrives." Teal'c surveyed the terrain again. "This one has most likely been abandoned for many centuries."

Daniel turned. "Instilling awe? And that's different from the usual chappa'ai how?"

"The ksang'ai is accessed from the gate in an orbiting vessel, to which it is linked," Teal'c explained. "The system lord would not use it for Jaffa deployment or travel, but as part of the mythos of the subjugated culture."

"That would explain the problems Command had pinpointing its signature," Carter said. "It was almost like tracking two intertwining signals. We had to extrapolate and uncouple the naquadah feeds, and this was the only one that would lock."

"So, it's for show?" Jack asked. "Like the good china in the dining room hutch?"

"Indeed, O'Neill. It allows for a certain -- decadence, in the construction."

"Decadence . . ." Daniel said, trailing off and staring at the rock face. "Is an understatement."

The rest of the team followed Daniel's gaze. It took a few moments for Jack to realize what they were looking at. The lines and crags in the cliff face were definitely not random. It was hard to judge the details from this angle, but something stretched away in all directions, carved into the entire side of the mountain.

Carter dropped her gear. "Holy cow. What is that?"

"Extreme makeover, Goa'uld edition," Jack said. "Let's get down."

They descended in single file down to the valley below. The staircase was treacherous and narrow, worn down on the edges and crumbling in places. But the planet itself wasn't abandoned. Daniel pointed out wisps of smoke curling up through the forest canopy, and a few hints of red pointed roofs.

At the bottom of the stair they exited to a small clearing-- a verdant collection of trees, flowered vines, moss and slate paths, worn but well tended. The trees were close enough to shade the sun but the leaves were high and the trunks spread out, more like a garden than a forest. The land was criss-crossed with several meandering brooks.

"Do we know which system lord we're dealing with?" Carter asked, looking around.

"I’ve got a pretty good idea," Daniel said. The archaeologist had turned around to study the cliff face through the trees, and now Jack, Sam and Teal’c came to his side to look. From this vantage point, the gashes in the cliff came together into a massive mural. The staircase they had just painstakingly descended was camouflaged into one of a series of bold, sweeping strokes radiating out from the center of the cliff. The gate itself was intertwined seamlessly into a pattern of circles tiled lightly across the rock. But all of those designs and marks took backstage to a single, gigantic symbol taking up the entire height of the cliff:



Jack squinted. "Lord Stick House?"

Daniel sighed. "Lord Yu."

"Lǎowài," came a small feminine voice behind them. "Shanguan welcomes you."

******************

Excerpt from field report A2469-1:
Regarding historical origins/culture of human settlement on P4X-997
Dr. Daniel Jackson, special assignment SG-1


山谷安
shān-gǔ ān: From the Mandarin meaning "peaceful valley" (shān-gǔ – 'mountain gorge,' valley; ān – pictorially a woman under a roof, tranquility). However, an alternate meaning of the second syllable is the surname , confirmed by the inhabitants as an ancient term for Emperor or God, and consistent with texts discovered in on both P29-366 and P4X-598 as referencing the Goa'uld Yu. As is typically seen in civilizations conquered by Yu, the interpretation of the character ān is both utmost tranquility and utmost indenture – a traditional indication of a human who has given themselves up as a Goa’uld host. Thus the meaning of the name is both the direct, simple "shāngǔ ān" and the symbolic "Shān Yù Ān," loosely translated as "in service to the mountain lord."

This etymology, along with several of the cultural myths (see next section) supports the conclusion that P4X-997 was once a "host nursery" for Yu and his descendants. This leads to the speculation that the practice and ability of zhēgài miàn (hidden face) evolved as a defense mechanism to counteract Yu’s oppression, and ultimately led to the abandonment of the colony and to the intolerance for zhēn miànmù.

Although the characters in the name have remained unchanged through the civilization’s history, pronunciation has evolved from the original three syllables with the stress on the second syllable, lengthened third tone () into the shortened "shān-guān," which may be understood simply as "mountain pass" in spoken Mandarin (eg. Shānhǎi guān -- eastern terminus of the Great Wall of China). Whether this is a deliberate attempt by the society to further eschew the influence of Lord Yu, or merely an effect of limitations in speech due to the progression of physical abnormalities is unclear.

******************

"Daniel, what’s going on?" Jack murmured, scanning the small group of natives.

"I don’t know," Daniel murmured back.

Ten people had gathered at the pathway near the rock face. They had been smiling, Jack thought, until his team turned around. But it was kind of hard to tell, because it was like staring at a crowd of puppets. Puppets that were moving and talking on their own, and seemingly getting more and more agitated. Women, men, children, all with dark hair set atop overly large, strange faces with deep-set eyes and small mouths.

"Articulated masks--" Carter ventured.

Every single one of the villagers was wearing a different mask. Each one looked custom molded. Some were long, some wide, some painted in red and black. Some had texture carved into the cheekbones or forehead. All of them looked disjointed at the jawline – the chin pieces moved freely as the crowd murmured.

It's not that the masks were ugly. They were human features, just accentuated and – Jack kept falling back on the word strange. He was used to strange encounters, but this was the first time he had been completely unnerved by the look of something. He frowned, trying to keep an eye on the natives without – keeping an eye on the natives. Carter eyed him warily, and Teal’c subtly strengthened his grip on his staff weapon. The crowd backed away in strange, stilted movements, murmuring. One phrase stood out.

"What the hell is 'jun myan-moo?'" Jack asked, trying to stay still and unthreatening.

"Mandarin," Daniel said. "Face. Something to do with face."

At the back of the group, a child suddenly shrieked and bolted. A woman set after him with a cry, "Xiǎohuà!", and the rest of the crowd scattered like a burst dam. In moments the small group had disappeared back toward a string of red houses peeking through the vines.

Jack stood with his team in the resulting silence, only slightly dumbfounded.

"That went well," he said.

"Zhēn miànmù," Daniel exclaimed. "True face. Maybe it's some kind of welcoming ceremony."

"That," Jack indicated the scene with a wave of his hand, "wasn't very welcoming."

Daniel shrugged, looking around. "I guess we're underdressed."

"Daniel," Carter said, "Those people weren't affronted. They were afraid."

A rustle of movement had Teal'c spinning to his left, ready to bring his staff weapon to bear.

"Lǎowài, lǎowài!" It was the same feminine voice they had first heard. It came from a young woman hovering at the side of the path, her face dressed in the same kind of strange mask they had seen in the crowd. Hers was colored off-white, with three raised, red characters adorning the cheekbones and high forehead. She wore a simple gray dress. Her dark hair was pulled back in a high bun, her dark eyes were small but bright in the shadow of the mask.

"Shanguan welcomes you, honored foreigners..." she said as she stepped tentatively forward.

Daniel came forward to meet her. She put a hand to his face, awed.

"You have the zhēn miànmù," she said. "So like--" she stopped, suddenly nervous. Her cheeks flushed, her brow knitted.

Jack blinked back surprise. Daniel took the woman's hand in his own.

"Oh my god--" Daniel said.

Jack finished the thought. "It’s not a mask."

******************

Supplement to field report A2469-13:
Regarding physiology of human settlement on P4X-997
Doctor Janet Fraiser, chief medical officer


The existence of maxillofacial bone tumors is evident in human cultures around the earth, from mild cases of bumps and nodules to extreme cases where the tumors grow unchecked and absorb the bone structure of the face. Some variants, such as craniofacial "cherubism" (Eppley, 1972) are caused by genetic factors. Such tumors are rare and disfiguring. Surgical solutions involve carving new facial features from the tumor itself. Ossification and rapid growth can also occur in soft tissues of the body, either as a result of a genetic disease like FOP (Coakley, 1957), a past trauma, or a progressive non-genetic defect like Proteus syndrome (Cohen and Hayden, 1979).

In no documented case can a human being willfully control the growth or shape of new bone structures, facial or otherwise. If the inhabitants of P4X-997 have developed such an ability, as the evidence from SG-1's encounter suggests, it is certainly worthy of further study. The benefits to orthopedic and oncology research alone would certainly fall within ethical boundaries of the technology and justify the risks.

******************

In a red-roofed cottage at the edge of the village under the universal, ubiquitous Yu, Jack paced. It was a small room but he managed a cadence of three steps forward, three back. The shock was wearing off, downgrading back to the usual unease. On top of being truly eerie, the whole situation was just plain not good. Teal'c felt it too. He stood by the small front door, looking especially huge and especially dour. Jack caught Teal'c's attention with a glance and a gesture. Keep an eye open. Be ready to leave quickly.

Teal'c nodded. Was that a frown? Not a good sign.

For the moment, the brains of the team seemed to be faring well. Daniel was managing any misgivings he had, asking a regimen of questions in patented first-contact style. He and the woman, Shen Luo, were seated on the floor in the cottage's main room, before a low table. Carter flitted around the pair, offering phrases like "genetic anomaly," and "punctuated equilibrium."

As Daniel continued the cultural anthropology gig, Carter came forward, arresting Jack’s pacing.

"You look apprehensive, sir," she said.

"Not in the slightest." He lifted his hat, scrubbing a hand over his eyes and through his hair. "We're offworld on a potentially hostile planet with a three-hundred-foot highwire act between us and the only way out. What possible reason do I have to be apprehensive?"

"We've been in worse first contact situations before," Carter said.

"Yes, we have. Good times." He eyed the house, noting any form of alternative exits. One small back door, two windows, loft. "You said it, Carter, those people were scared. Fear is unpredictable—no, I take that back. Fear is predictably bad."

"Part of it is just nerves, on both sides," Carter said. "I have to admit, it's kind of bizarre."

Shen Luo poured more tea, and Jack stared, only for a second. Even her hands were abnormal, with long spindly fingers and wide palms.

"We're the strangers here," Carter continued. "We're the ones in their uncanny valley."

"No kidding." He gestured to the window, taking in the Shanguan scenery. Carter smiled.

"It’s a term from robotics, sir. We're setting off their natural aversions, just like they’re setting off ours."

"Ah. I knew that." He didn't, really.

At that moment, Daniel spoke up. "Sam, come take a look at this."

Jack followed Carter back into the main room, where Daniel and Shen Luo had moved to a small cabinet at the back of the room. There, Daniel held a miniature mask made of smoothed, darkened wood. The mask itself was featureless, like an upturned bowl with small holes for the eyes, nose and mouth. The only decoration was the subtle swirling accents of the wood grain. Daniel hefted it in his hand; the wood was dense and had some weight.

"That was mine, from the zhēgài miàn," Shen Luo said. "It was carved by my father."

Daniel turned it over. On the underside a tiny, familiar face was embossed, in negative relief, into the wood. High forehead, wide cheeks, and a set of three characters, carved into the grain. Jack looked up at Shen Luo, to see the same three characters on her cheeks.

"It's you," Carter said, amazed. "You wore this as a baby?"

"It teaches the bone, before the child knows how to shape it," Shen Luo said. "Zhēn miànmù flees. The bone remembers."

Daniel set the mask back into its place in the cabinet, but as he went to close the door he stopped. He reached for the lower shelf, for another tiny, dust-coverd bowl. "What about this one?"

A delicate hand stopped him, gently but firmly guiding his arm away. "It-- was never used," Shen Luo said. Jack saw a flash of emotion pass over her face. He recognized the grief behind those words. An entire life-- hopes, fears, dreams-- was resting, deserted, underneath that empty little dome.

He tried to say "I'm sorry," but he couldn't find the words. They wouldn't help, anyway.

"Shen Luo," Daniel said as she closed the cabinet door. "You seem more comfortable with the true face than the others."

"It is like looking at the newborn," Shen Luo answered. "Before the zhēgài miàn. Just the newborn. The bone starts growing within days, and people forget that we all start with the true face."

"But you're different," Daniel said. "You're talking with us, you're not afraid. Why?"

She raised a hard gaze and looked Daniel in the eye. Behind those foreign features, Jack could tell she was at odds with herself. Searching Daniel's face, she must have found something familiar, something she could trust.

"I will explain," she finally said. "But first you must promise, you must help--"

"O'Neill," Teal'c called. "There is activity outside."

Carter hefted her weapon, scientific discovery thrown to the back burner. Jack grimaced, motioning for Daniel and Shen Luo to stay where they were.

"Are they armed?" Jack asked.

"I see no noticeable weapons," Teal'c answered.

"Carter, scope out the back." Three paces and Jack was at the front window, surveying the crowd. He recognized a few faces from earlier, but in front of them was a more quaffed procession.

"Eight underlings in gray, four bigwigs in long red robes, with long, dark faces to match," Jack said. "Do you know these guys?"

"It's the sēnyán." Shen Luo sat back on her heels, fear reflected in her porcelain face. "So soon, so soon--"

"Daniel," Jack said. "They don’t look happy."

Daniel took Shen Luo's hand. "What do they want? Are they dangerous?"

"I was ill," she said. "They said I was ill. Qǐshì-- they will know I wasn't cured, they will find--"

"Shen Luo, please," Daniel said. "We can help you. We can talk to them."

"Qǐshì," she said again. She looked at Daniel. "I'm sorry."

Then, Shen Luo bolted for the door.

******************

Sam is sick of the infirmary. She is sick of being in pain and not being able to do anything about it. She is sick of freaking out at the staff. Janet comes in every four hours to change the dressings on her hands and it's all Sam can do to fight the panic and keep still until she retreats to the other side of the curtain again.

"You're doing great," Janet says, every time. But Sam can't help wondering what Janet must think of her, seeing those wounds and knowing what happened.

She can't think of it. Janet says the effects will wear off. She just has to be patient.

"Major Carter," comes Teal'c's calm baritone from the other side of the curtain. "How are you feeling?"

She closes her eyes. "I'm bored out of my mind. I want--" I need to get out of here. "-- I want to work on my motorcycle." She can focus on that, on the piston and the chrome, nothing remotely human about it.

There is a rustling sound on the other side of the curtain, as Teal'c rearranges some papers. "Perhaps it would be wise to wait until your hands have healed, for that endeavor."

God, her hands. For the motorcycle she'd still have to use her hands. She'd still have to look at them, and despite Janet's assurances, she doesn't know if she can stand the sight of her own body yet. Rationally, she knows there's nothing wrong, but that knowledge just doesn't help. The only thing that will help is time.

"I'm terrible at waiting," she says. "I can’t do anything. I'm thinking too much and it's kind of freaking me out."

"Is the effect not waning?"

Her heart skitters in her chest. Even just his voice and that shifting shadow, are enough to paint the picture of her friend in her mind. It's the strangest sensation, this visceral reaction that defies any logic her mind can throw at it. Get out of my head, she thinks. Get out and put it back the way you found it.

"Major Carter—"

"No!" she spits. "I mean, I don’t know. Maybe you should go. I just can't deal with people right now."

He doesn't leave. There is a long pause, and another shift of shadows on the other side of the curtain.

"I have brought some reference material with me," Teal'c says.

It is such a strange segue, she's taken completely off guard. "Reference material?"

"I have been researching this," pause, shuffle of paper "—Laplace transform," Teal'c says. "I do not understand the appeal, or the affection you have for it."

Integrals. Of course-- she had forgotten. She slows her breathing and offers thanks to whatever it is that makes Teal'c understand exactly what she needs. The symmetry of time and frequency is still such a beautiful thing, and alien enough to baffle the Shanguan sēnyán.

"You really want the lecture?" she asks, smiling.

"Indeed."

"Well, to explain it thoroughly, I should start with the exponential function," she begins, relaxing into the familiar cadence of mathematics.

******************

Before Teal'c could stop her, Shen Luo had opened the door and was bowing meekly in front of the priests. And before Jack could stop him, Daniel had followed her. That was when they discovered the procession was armed. Three of the underlings drew small staffs from under their gray robes, staffs that looked remarkably like Goa'uld painsticks, and pointed them nervously at Daniel. They said something, and Daniel's shoulders sagged.

"The house is surrounded, Jack," he called.

"Wonderful," Jack said, signaling Teal'c and Carter.

They lowered their arms, coming cautiously out of the house. Daniel tried the "We mean no harm, we're peaceful explorers," routine, but it didn’t get them very far. Actually, it got them on their knees, in a line in front of the four bigwigs, and staring at the ground. It didn't help that Jack couldn't read their faces, and only understood half of what was said. Out of the corner of his eye Jack could see Shen Luo sitting on her knees, practically kissing the ground at the priests' feet, pleading.

As he listened, Jack could see Daniel’s brow furrowing deeper and deeper. "That's not true," the archaeologist said. He said this a few times, but the priests ignored him. He tried a few stilted words of Mandarin before switching back to English. "We came through the gate, in the mountain. In the mural."

Jack raised his gaze to see the four high-and-mighties looking at them skeptically. Daniel too, tried to make eye contact, but the guards behind them forced their heads to bow again.

"Miànzǐ shì zhēn miànmù," someone said. "Keep your faces hidden."

"Daniel," Carter whispered. "What's happening?"

"What’s going on is, Shen Luo here is selling us out," Jack answered. Amazing how little of the language he had to know in order to figure that much out.

"She says we're from the far mountain villages," Daniel muttered. "She says we tried to tempt her but she was afraid and resisted."

"That’s a rotten lie," Jack muttered back. "It doesn’t make any sense."

"But it’s working," Daniel said.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Yeah, because it's better than, 'We came out of the side of the big cliff.'"

A prod from one of the guards ended the conversation. Their heads were guided up, to see the four equally creepy faces of the priests in charge. Jack would have preferred looking at the ground.

One priest strode forward, followed by an underling holding two small clay pots.

"Pride is the true face," the priest said in slow, accented English. A distorted scowl passed across his face, and he dipped a spindly thumb into the first pot. It came out with a coat of clear, glistening gel. "You are obviously deviant. Ill. You need treatment."

"Oh, that's not necessary," Jack started.

Hands held his and his teammates' heads still. The underling uncovered the second pot and the priest used his coated thumb to dab a dot of reddish-brown ink on each of their foreheads.

"We will take you to the hospital to begin the process," the priest said. "You will be much happier afterward."

Beside him, Jack saw Carter sway on her knees. "Sir--" she started, then slumped forward.

Jack's legs started feeling way too much like rubber bands. Daniel's voice carried strangely. "It’s some kind of anesthetic..."

"Ah, crap," Jack managed. Then the world grayed on the edges and faded out.

******************

Teal'c lights the candles and kneels on the floor, palms upward. He slows his breathing and closes his eyes, concentrating on the subtle pinpricks of heat surrounding him. These are the pressures of the world, and kel-no-reem is the space between, the inner light. Usually, the space expands around him easily, and he sinks down into dreamless rest. But now, it is as though he can feel every flicker of flame on his face. Kel-no-reem will be elusive tonight, again.

He opens his eyes and sits back. In the evenings following their return from Shanguan, he has found it difficult to meditate. He knows why. He tries too hard; he undermines the natural communion between host and symbiote.

He has not rested in four days.

O'Neill says he is "psyching himself out." Doctor Fraiser believes it is a consequence of the plight of his teammates, that he feels responsible for them. But he knows, it is none of those things. The disruption is occurring because part of himself is surfacing, a part that needs to stay buried.

He blows out the candles and makes his way to the small bathroom sink. He washes his face in near darkness, his golden tattoo glinting in the mirror, catching his eye. The Goa'uld are truly a vain species, he thinks. Evil creatures. Their whim has sculpted so many worlds and scarred so many people. The Shanguan are one race among thousands, one race radically changed.

He looks at the mirror and thinks, he too is adorned. He too is changed.

Violated.

Teal’c draws and releases a slow breath, chasing the word from his mind and body. He cannot kel-no-reem, cannot give over even the smallest control to the symbiote, with that thought upon him. And without rest, he cannot survive.

People adapt to survive, Daniel Jackson has told him many a time. The Shanguan fought back as they could, growing new faces that the Goa'uld would not favor. And even the Shanguan, for all their covered, colorful faces, are more human than a Jaffa.

It is easiest to believe he is not human at all, and never was.

******************

"O'Neill," came a distant voice. Something was jarring him, repeatedly. Jack opened bleary eyes to see Teal'c staring down at him. His vision jittered as the Jaffa shook his shoulder.

"O'Neill, you must awaken."

"Knock it off, I'm awake," Jack answered, batting at Teal'c's hand. "Why--?"

At that moment his brain helpfully core-dumped the current situation directly to his nervous system. He sat up, alert, feeling the remnants of a headache and a need to move. "We're still on Shanguan," he said.

"We are," Teal'c answered. "I awoke in this cell a short time ago. I have not seen Daniel Jackson or Major Carter."

Jack looked around. The cell was hospital clean and hospital white, accented with red trim around the ceiling. He did a quick scan of room and body for personal effects. Vests -- gone, weapons -- gone, sunglasses -- gone (damn it). Boots, belts, clothing, dog tags, one concealed GDO and half his team accounted for.

"Guards?" Jack asked.

Teal'c eyed the door. "I have heard none. I do not think they expect us to be awake for some time."

Jack stood up. "Feel like getting the hell out of here?"

Teal'c nodded, raising an eyebrow. "Indeed."

Breaking out was remarkably easy. The door opened with minimal force and the resulting short hallway, lined with windows on the wall opposite the door, was empty. Jack caught sight of tiered roofs sloping down and away from the windows, and signaled to Teal'c.

"It's a cube," he said. "Rooms in the center, lined by halls on the outside."

They formed a regular search pattern, avoiding the staff they could and quietly disabling the ones they encountered. Two floors down, they hit paydirt. Peeking around the corner, Jack spotted four guards in gray surrounding a single door. Their faces suggested they were underlings of the sēnyán. And hanging on a peg beside the door were two SGC vests.

"Think we can take those guys?" Jack whispered. There was no opportunity for ambush; they had a good fifteen feet from the corner to the door.

Teal'c took half a second to look around the corridor for himself. "I believe they do not stand a chance," he said. "I will take the two on the left."

Opportunity presented itself as Jack watched, when a frantic pounding started coming from behind the cell door. He could hear Daniel's voice on the other side but couldn't make out what was being said. The guards turned.

"Now," Jack said.

The rush was over quickly. Distracted as they were, the guards fell easily, and Jack thrust open the cell door.

"—door! I think she's—Holy jeez, Jack!"

It was not the welcome Jack was looking for. Daniel scrambled back from the door as fast as he could, tripping over a low cot and careening into a far corner. He leaned his head against the wall, eyes tightly shut, breathing heavily through his nose.

"Nice to see--" Jack started, but Daniel held up a hand.

"Don’t! Say. Anything."

"What--?"

"I mean it!" Daniel pounded a fist on the wall.

Jack stared at his friend, sarcasm gone. Daniel was shaking, and he still hadn't opened his eyes. What the hell was wrong?

"Sam," Daniel forced out in low, measured tones. "They did something to us. Lights, more of the red stuff... I don’t know. I think there's something wrong with Sam."

"O'Neill," Teal'c called quietly from behind him. Before turning around, Jack saw Daniel grimace and sink to the floor. Then he turned toward the near wall, where Teal'c stood beside another cot. Carter was almost level with the door-- he hadn't even seen her. She sat on the cot, head bent forward, clutching a white linen that was streaked with blood. Her hands were raw and scratched, deep wounds still oozing.

Jack started. Those wounds looked self-inflicted.

"You think there's something wrong?" he exclaimed. "Would you look at her?"

"I. Can’t!" Daniel enunciated, trying and failing to stay calm. He pressed the heels of his hands against his ears, fingers clawing at his hair.

"Jesus." Jack and Teal'c locked eyes, keeping still and silent for a bare second. When Jack spoke again he forced his tone to stay low and tempered. "Teal'c, keep an eye on the door."

He cautiously sat down next to Carter, who tried to look at him but quickly looked away, closing her eyes tightly.

"Sir, everything's wrong," she said, panicked. "You, Daniel, me. My hands-- they're not mine. They're not mine.” She started to scratch at the backs of her hands again. New blood pooled and mixed with older stains.

Jack gently took hold of her wrists and she flinched, pulling away as though he had physically hurt her. He tried again and she bit her lip, but let the touch remain. As calmly as he could, Jack lowered her hands to her lap.

"Find something that's still right, Major, and get it together," he said evenly. "That's an order."

"Okay, okay, yes sir, gimme a minute." A few seconds later a smile ghosted across her face, but the panic didn't let it stay long.

"Laplace," she said. "Laplace transforms. L of U of T is one over S. L of E to the A T, U of T is one over S plus A. L of E to the minus A T sine T, U of T is one over one plus S plus A, quantity squared. L of..."

Whatever it was, it was distraction enough for Sam to let Jack wrap her hands in some of the torn linen. It was a crappy field job. Jack felt like a heel. He also felt like running out and murdering the next Shanguan priest he saw.

Instead he asked Carter, "Can you walk?"

"Yeah," she said. "It's better. Moving is better."

"What about you, Daniel?" Jack asked. Daniel nodded, warily opening his eyes and making his way to the front of the cell, staring practically at his shoes.

"O'Neill, we must go," Teal'c said.

They made a strange procession, their two injured teammates walking haltingly in front, with Teal'c and Jack at their blindsides-- two paces behind and flanking them. Neither he nor Teal'c could get any closer than that. Stay back, don't talk, don't touch. It was the only thing they could do to make it easier for Daniel and Sam, and it was the hardest thing to do.

Meticulously, they made their way out of the hospital into the village under cover of night. They made better time in the dark, faces cloaked in the dim starlight. The trip up the stair to the gate was something new for Jack to put on his "Never again in a million years" list. But after a slow procession of stops, starts, terror and Laplace transforms, Jack had his team home.

******************

Excerpt from supplement to field report A2469-26:
Regarding sēnyán conditioning practice of P4X-997
Doctor Janet Fraiser, chief medical officer


The exact substance given to SG-1 during their encounter with the Shanguan priesthood is unknown, but the effects are clear. When coupled with a specific visual stimulus, it imprints a heightened adrenal response to the stimulus. This form of conditioning was performed on both Doctor Jackson and Major Carter, as the Shanguan attempted to "reprogram" their natural concept of the human face, instilling an aversion to what we consider a normal human face by brute force.

In a society where most people live their entire lives without seeing a single unadorned human face, the conditioning would act only to heighten fears during already stressful and unusual events. But the Shanguan did not realize that the vast majority of SG-1's experiences are formed around the so-called "true face." Therefore the effects of conditioning on Doctor Jackson and Major Carter were especially acute. Interaction, recognition, memory and even body sense were affected, and the result was an almost constant assault of physical symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness and panic. The symptoms could not be controlled by medication and made even the simplest interactions extremely stressful.

The patients responded to isolation and limited communication, only insomuch as it allowed for the drug to be cleared from their systems. It is unknown at this time whether there will be any lasting psychological effects. A full psychological evaluation for both patients is recommended, as well as a long-term monitoring schedule.

******************

Five days after returning from Shanguan, Daniel's jitters are mostly from caffeine. Doc had tried to tell him to stay away from it, but he accused her of being a cruel alien in disguise, and has made regular trips to the canteen for a fix since his release from isolation. Daniel insists that the coffee helps, and although Jack can't fathom how it could, he doesn't push the issue when Daniel returns from the line with his second cup.

For now it's just the two of them. Teal'c is sleeping in his quarters. Sam's reactions are mostly back to normal, but she has been spending her time alone, buried in her lab with the guts of a 1971 Yamaha Enduro, a reference manual, and a steady stream of parts purchased through ebay. Fraiser says the work will be good physical therapy for her hands now that the stitches are out, as long as she doesn't overdo it.

Then again, Janet also agrees with Daniel, that Shanguan is worth another look. Daniel has made this point abundantly clear.

"You know, Janet agrees with me," Daniel says for the millionth time. He tips the sugar tumbler over his mug, pouring nonstop for what must be ten solid seconds.

"I know." Jack has discovered it's easier to argue with Daniel when he can't look you in the eye. "Want some coffee with that sugar?"

Daniel isn't swayed from the argument. "We need to go back. Shen Luo needs our help."

"She turned us in, Daniel."

"She didn't have a choice. And it's only a matter of time before the sēnyán comes back for her."

Jack mixes his oatmeal noncommittally. "Maybe the same treatment you got will help her lead a normal life. We don’t know."

"She wasn’t sick. She just wasn't afraid."

Jack sighs. "Those masks are normal for her. An adverse reaction to us is normal for her. What justification do we have for risking us and ours, again, to pull her out of a situation she might not even need to be rescued from?"

Daniel stirs his coffee, spoon clinking against the white porcelain mug. "Did you ever wonder why she wasn't afraid of us?" he asks. "I've been thinking about it . . ."

He trails off, staring at, of all things, Jack's bowl of oatmeal. Jack pauses, spoon halfway between the bowl and his mouth. But before he can say anything about Daniel wanting his Maypo, Daniel's head snaps up.

"Qǐshì," he exclaims. "Qǐshì, of course!"

"Chee-shur is the reason?" Jack asks, dropping the spoon back to the bowl.

"It means 'enlightenment,'" Daniel says. "Qǐshì, enlighten the masses, but in certain dialects--" The words tumble out faster and faster until he's practically tripping over them. "--I mean-- I thought it was just an expression."

"And it's not. So what?"

"So it's not a what, Jack. It's a who." Daniel stands up, abandoning the rest of his coffee. "We need to go back, right now."

The last sentence is barely out of his mouth before he's gone, leaving Jack at the table with coffee, oatmeal, and a whole lot of catch-up. Jack finds Daniel in the hallway, already half-way to Hammond’s office, and finally coaxes an explanation out of him.

"Are you in?" Daniel asks afterward.

"Yes, of course I'm in," Jack says. Before Daniel can respond, he holds up a hand. "Ah, ah, ah. On one condition."

"Jack, I can't believe you're going to argue when--"

Jack cuts him off with a glance, and continues. "This time, we use the back door."

******************

Excerpt from Addendum to field report A2469-35:
Regarding gate travel to P4X-997
Major Samantha Carter, SG-1


Colonel O'Neill's suggestion of "reversing the polarity" was actually quite close to the true solution for accessing the orbiting gate. Upon closer inspection, we discovered that the original path of naquadah tracers was redoubled between the main gate and the ksang'ai. This weak spatial fold was caused by the tracer's residual negative energy pooling planetside, and it was also concrete evidence that the main gate did still exist. Adding a positive energy component to the tracer balanced the signal and allowed for a lock on the main gate. We speculate that it was abandoned by Yu in orbit when it could not be de-coupled from its twin on the planet.

Dr. Lee assures us that the gliders recovered from P29-366 are up to specs. Dr. Chen has devised an ingenious method for using the planetside DHD remotely to access the orbiter, and has retro-fitted the glider crystals appropriately.


******************

They approach from the south, keeping the swell of the mountains between the low-flying gliders and the inhabited section of the valley. They set down just before dawn in a tiny clearing under the looming cliff, two miles from the village. Carter's hands still aren't a hundred percent, and as she's currently favoring the company of machines over people, she stays behind to guard their rides. Meanwhile Jack, Daniel and Teal'c don some native camouflage in the form of gray hooded robes. They've foregone the idea of masks; the look is for long distances only, and besides, this time Carter's got their backs if they run into trouble.

The trip to the outskirts of town is quiet; even their footsteps are muted in the morning mist. They reach Shen Luo's cottage without setting eyes on another soul. The house itself is dark and silent.

"Inside," Daniel says, and they enter cautiously.

The house looks as though it was abandoned quickly. A few dishes sit on the table, the cushions in the main room are untidy, and every few steps Jack catches the remnant scent of a meal that smells like chicken casserole. Daniel and Teal'c start searching, while Jack keeps an eye out for any nosy neighbors.

They find the child in the loft, in a small bedroom disguised behind a false wall. He is young, maybe five years old. Old enough to know to be cautious, and to be taught how to go to ground. The boy looks up at them, with large almond eyes and no hint of zhēgài miàn on his face. Whatever gene or mutation caused the covered faces of the Shanguan, this child didn't have it.

"Qǐshì," Daniel says, approaching cautiously. "My name is Daniel. We’re here to help you."

"Dà zǐnǚ!" the boy says, followed by another stream of Mandarin. Daniel laughs.

"What did he say?" Jack asks.

Daniel offers his hand to the boy. "He says we're the largest children he's ever seen."

Of the three of them, Qi-shi takes to Teal'c the most. He sits quietly in Teal'c's lap, playing with the fabric of his robe as he describes how Shen Luo left with the priests two days before. How they were planning for a trip, to go to the mountains, but when the priests came for her, he needed to stay hidden and wait for her to return. How he waited, even when it got dark and he was scared.

"You were very brave," Teal'c says, patting the boy's side. Qi-shi smiles shyly and buries his face in Teal'c's arm. The big Jaffa beams.

"The priests are afraid of him," Daniel says. "They're afraid of people like him. But without Yu's descendants to drive their evolution, the face of Shanguan is changing."

"You believe there are others like Shen Luo and the child, Daniel Jackson?"

"I do."

"Well, come on then," Jack says. "We're no use to anyone, lounging around here."

They leave for the clearing as the sun rises over the far side of the valley, illuminating the cliff and glinting off of Lord Mighty Stick House and his fabulous décor. As they hit the edge of the village Teal’c lifts the boy up on his shoulders, taking the path in long strides. Qi-shi holds tight, scared and excited like it's the highest he's ever been in his life.

Sam's face lights up when she sees the boy, and Jack knows for sure that she'll be okay.

"So," Jack surveys the gliders, and then waves to the tiny child perched on Teal'c's solid shoulders. "Let's go get your mom."

***************

For the first time in her life, Shen Luo is not alone.

It will not be easy, the lǎowài explained. The sēnyán is not something that can be stopped overnight. But she already knows, in the center of her heart, that this is true. It does not hurt as much as she thought it would. Nor does packing their lives into one small suitcase, or closing her door for what may be the last time. Because she also knows, in the center of her heart, that they will win. And that makes it feel not so much like running away.

News of the foreigners has traveled, beneath the ears of the priests, over the eyes of those who do not want to see. News of her plans, to move to her uncle's abandoned farm in the mountains, has also traveled. Today Shen Luo travels with a group of strangers, strangers whom she thought she had known. Libo the calligrapher's assistant, a solitary young man who astonishes her by pressing a well-hidden release behind his ear and removing the hand-crafted zhēgài miàn to show his true face underneath. Ming and Guan-yin who live behind the butcher's shop, who look at Qi-shi and see the face of their own daughter, lost many years ago to the drugs and failed growth experiments of the early sēnyán. Others she does not recognize, yet. But she knows all of them, zhōng xīn. In the center of her heart.

When the lǎowài came back for her she was amazed. When they forgave her for betraying them she was heart sick, because it was in that moment she realized how much they would give, for her, and how much they had suffered for her reckless fear. She held Qi-shi to her heart and cried with joy, and then it was the lǎowài who were amazed.

"The sēnyán," Daniel had said. "How can you--?"

But O'Neill knew, she was sure. At the edge of the group, unseen to any of the others, he had smiled. He had known what she would answer, zhōng xīn.

"He is my child. He will always be the most beautiful thing in the world."


***************

Request was: offworld, secret societies, The Uncanny Valley


ETA (09/2010): Browsing through old fic; if anyone still comes by here and reads this, I wrote a DVD Commentary for this fic a while back, if you're interested in those kinds of things :)

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Comments

( 70 comments — Leave a comment )
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cofax7
Dec. 14th, 2005 11:50 pm (UTC)
::boggles::

fan-fucking-tastic.

More later. But WOW.
eve11
Dec. 15th, 2005 01:16 am (UTC)
wow, thanks! :)
poohmusings
Dec. 15th, 2005 12:23 am (UTC)
Oh, my. I'm ... *flails from the fantasticness* Superb story. Wonderful details, everyone was in character, and the plot rocked. (And marvelous job integrating the Uncanny Valley request, by the way.) I'm completely bowled over. Thanks for this treat.

Btw, I melted at this: Of the three of them, Qi-shi takes to Teal'c the most. He sits quietly in Teal'c's lap, playing with the fabric of his robe as he describes how Shen Luo left with the priests two days before. How they were planning for a trip, to go to the mountains, but when the priests came for her, he needed to stay hidden and wait for her to return. How he waited, even when it got dark and he was scared.

"You were very brave," Teal'c says, patting the boy's side. Qi-shi smiles shyly and buries his face in Teal'c's arm. The big Jaffa beams.


EEEEEE! *melts again*
eve11
Dec. 15th, 2005 01:28 am (UTC)
Oh, my. I'm ... *flails from the fantasticness* Superb story. Wonderful details, everyone was in character, and the plot rocked. (And marvelous job integrating the Uncanny Valley request, by the way.) I'm completely bowled over. Thanks for this treat.

Thanks so much! I basically started with the premise of the inverse of the uncanny valley, and took it from there :)

EEEEEE! *melts again*

When I was outlining scenes for this idea, one of the very first ones I wrote down was just "Teal'c and the child". Had to have it in there. Glad you liked it.
tripoli
Dec. 15th, 2005 12:27 am (UTC)
I swore up and down that I'd finish my story before I read anyone else's--so I guess this is sort of placeholder feedback to say THANK YOU, and sorry for such a weird and random challenge; it seemed like a much better idea at the time ;-) I can't wait to read this!
eve11
Dec. 15th, 2005 12:59 am (UTC)
Okay then, this is placeholder feedback for "you're welcome" :) I didn't think it was such a strange request -- I had two ideas off the bat but had to abandon the first one because it was going to be waaaaaay too long. Anyway, I think you will like it :)
katie_m
Dec. 15th, 2005 01:24 am (UTC)
Wow. This is fantastic; a vibrant, living, successfully alien culture, and all four of the team whole and vivid--I'm particularly impressed with how you handled Jack and Daniel, the texture of their conflict and its resolution. Very good.
eve11
Dec. 15th, 2005 05:06 am (UTC)
Thank you very much. I'm glad it came through well; this is kind of my first experiment with the whole Jack-Daniel interaction.
tealc_junky
Dec. 15th, 2005 02:20 am (UTC)
Absolutely beautiful. Love the scene with Teal'c and the child - for some reason he's always struck me as someone kids would gravitate to, despite how imposing he is - but I especially like how you dealt with his reaction to the way the people were altered and how it relates to his own alterations as a Jaffa. Great to see things like that addressed about Teal'c. So many great details that just made it come alive - about the gate, the mountain face, the languange, masks, everything. Very cool.
eve11
Dec. 15th, 2005 05:10 am (UTC)
Thank you for your kind compliments. I figured in a story about the fine lines between human and alien, Teal'c would definitely have something to say. They are so quick to just call him an alien on the show, but he's really not. He was born biologically human -- somewhere inside he has to know that.
thehallway
Dec. 15th, 2005 02:59 am (UTC)
omg!
wow.

this just blew me away. elegant storytelling, exquisite characterization for everyone.

and the details! you created something incredible with your world building here.

too much to take in in one reading. so i will definitely be re-reading.

thanks for this lovely gift.

eve11
Dec. 15th, 2005 06:11 am (UTC)
Re: omg!
thank you very much. :) *blushes* I'm glad you liked it.
jenlev
Dec. 15th, 2005 03:09 am (UTC)
this is stunning, powerful, just astounding. you write these characters so beautifully, and the world they visit so completely. very very fine.

i love how they are so much themselves with each other, and how that sustains them through the whole experience; and opens them up to the others. sweet. *g*
eve11
Dec. 15th, 2005 06:00 am (UTC)
Thank you very much :) You are very gracious in your compliments. I'm grinning like an idiot right now. :)
(no subject) - jenlev - Dec. 15th, 2005 11:32 am (UTC) - Expand
auntiemeesh
Dec. 15th, 2005 04:13 am (UTC)
Dude, this rocks! You did a fantastic job with it. I like the changes you made, particularly the last little section with Shen Luo.
eve11
Dec. 15th, 2005 04:40 am (UTC)
thank fbf for that last part -- she made me write it. :)
kellifer_fic
Dec. 15th, 2005 05:46 am (UTC)
Simply beautiful.
eve11
Dec. 15th, 2005 06:15 am (UTC)
Thank you! :)
somedaybitch
Dec. 16th, 2005 03:03 am (UTC)
suh-wheet.
eve11
Dec. 16th, 2005 03:28 am (UTC)
Thanks! Glad you liked it :)
(no subject) - somedaybitch - Dec. 16th, 2005 06:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - eve11 - Dec. 17th, 2005 03:04 am (UTC) - Expand
tripoli
Dec. 16th, 2005 04:07 am (UTC)
Uh, Eve?

Seriously, that's amazing. It's so freaking cool. I've got nothing even remotely coherent or helpful to say, except that's an incredibly awesome idea and has so many little moments I like so much--Daniel in the cell, Teal'c with Qi-shi, Jack at the end, Shen Luo--and holy crap, it's so freaking cool. My mind's just racing over the ideas you've got going here, and that doesn't even go into how you portray the characters. Thank you so much for writing this.
eve11
Dec. 16th, 2005 05:03 am (UTC)
*grins like a loon*

Thank you very much! And I have to say, I really loved your challenge. I like to think of myself as a parametric problem solver, and tight constraints make things interesting :) I'm usually pretty good at coming up with ideas -- it was the writing that scared me on this one. This thing clocks in at like 20 pages or something -- for me that's a tome. That's probably as long as everything fannish I've written in the last 2.5 years, strung together. I'm just glad I got it finished.
_minxy_
Dec. 19th, 2005 06:28 am (UTC)
Oh goodness gracious I am so blown over by the loveliness of this. The complexity and creativity of the bound faces, your use of the Laplace Transform and mathmatics, the beauty of Sam and Teal'c both individually and together, Daniel wanting to go back and Jack understanding instinctively... your OC's are fantastic and well drawn, your world is marvelously drawn.

This is a beautiful teamfic. I'm shocked that it took me so long to read! Aaaaiiii! *g* Really magnificent work. Goodness.
eve11
Dec. 19th, 2005 07:32 am (UTC)
Thank you very much :) And thanks for your rec on your lj too. I'm glad you enjoyed the story; I had a great time writing it, and am truly flattered by your compliments :)
(no subject) - _minxy_ - Dec. 19th, 2005 08:07 am (UTC) - Expand
maab_connor
Dec. 19th, 2005 12:42 pm (UTC)
minx rec'd this, and all i can say is WOW! amazing job! and sweet, sweet teamfic!

thanks for sharing this! and thank you Minx for pimping!!
eve11
Dec. 19th, 2005 02:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! :) *still grinning*
(no subject) - _minxy_ - Dec. 19th, 2005 11:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
juliefortune
Dec. 19th, 2005 04:44 pm (UTC)
WOW.

I'm stunned. There's so much to rave about in this story, from the careful research to the wonderful, startling, moving theme to the spot-on perfect characterizations. It's brilliant.

A few of my very, very favorite moments:

Extreme Makeover, Goa'uld edition. *BWAHHHHHHHHH*!

And:

"Not in the slightest." He lifted his hat, scrubbing a hand over his eyes and through his hair. "We're offworld on a potentially hostile planet with a three-hundred-foot highwire act between us and the only way out. What possible reason do I have to be apprehensive?"

"We've been in worse first contact situations before," Carter said.

"Yes, we have. Good times."


Wow. COULDN'T. BE. BETTER.

Bless you.

-- Julie
eve11
Dec. 19th, 2005 08:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! It was fun (if not slightly obsessive) to write and it's just making my week to see how much people are enjoying it :)

Extreme Makeover, Goa'uld edition. *BWAHHHHHHHHH*!

*g* -- bit of an anachronism, that (Season 5 = 2002?), but I had to leave it in.
(no subject) - juliefortune - Dec. 19th, 2005 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - eve11 - Dec. 20th, 2005 01:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - juliefortune - Dec. 20th, 2005 01:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - eve11 - Dec. 20th, 2005 02:05 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - juliefortune - Dec. 20th, 2005 02:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
crayonbreakygal
Dec. 19th, 2005 07:30 pm (UTC)
juliefortune recc'd this story. I am so glad she did, because this is amazing. I love how you handled the team, how you handled the relationships, especially between Teal'c and Sam. Priceless. We don't see enough of how they interact. Jack's lines were spot on. Some writers take his snarkiness to the extreme. You did not. Perfect mix. Thanks for sharing this with us.
eve11
Dec. 20th, 2005 12:48 am (UTC)
wow, thank you very much :) I'm glad you enjoyed it and I'm beyond happy to share :)
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