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Sunday, July 9th, 2017 12:37 pm
Summary: Off-world universities, solar power, and a riddle of the ages… SG-1 have a mystery to solve.

Notes: Written for the [community profile] stargate_summer Reverse Big Bang, and inspired by [personal profile] roeskva's stunning original artwork. Thank you, Roeskva, for such a gorgeous piece!

Takes place at the end of S2, after 1969. Lots of references to The Fifth Race and a certain episode of S1. I used Stargate-level science (that is, I mostly found information on Wiki or made it up entirely), and it is a grand old tradition to write Sherlock Holmes Stargate style "homages" pastiches.

Many thanks to Aelfgyfu for her careful beta skills, helpful suggestions, and title assistance.

This story can also be read at AO3.

*




Whose was it?

Four who are gone.

Who shall have it?

All those who desire it.

Where were the suns?

Over ring and pilaster.

Where met the shadows?

They were deep at the source.

How was it counted?

Right and right by four, left and left by seven, right by three, left by six, and source and done.

What was offered?

All that they had.

Why did they offer it?

For the sake of the future.

*

Two heads leaned close to study the recordings on the screen, murmuring comments to one another as they sifted through the files. The UAV recordings ranged from sharply focused to vague blurs, but there was enough resolution, in most cases, to get a clear idea of a planet’s potential. Images flickered past: skies of blue or yellow or orange, flashes of trees or grass or bare rock, water and ice, the occasional glimpse of a settlement or ruin.

“No, wait, Daniel. Back up. This one. We have got to take this mission.”

Sam snatched at the mouse, momentarily wrestling with Daniel for it before he raised both hands in surrender and sat back in his chair to give her more room. His mouth quirked up as she eagerly scrolled back through the footage, zooming in to focus on first one cropped image, then another.

“Look at this… and this… Daniel, do you realize what this could mean?”

“They look like some of kind of power source,” Daniel said, patiently stating the obvious and waiting for her to elaborate. “So?”

“So, where are they drawing the energy from?”

He peered a little more closely at the somewhat blurry images that showed sparks of energy dancing across the surface of manmade pillars. “Don’t tell me you can figure out that just from the UAV footage.”

“Not entirely,” Sam admitted readily, “but I can take a good guess.” She manipulated the footage again, pausing at an image of a cloudless alien sky.

Daniel blinked. “Huh. I missed that little detail.” He leaned forward again, his shoulder brushing hers. “Multiple moons are one thing, but multiple suns?”

“Binary suns,” Sam corrected. She hitched her chair a little closer to the desk, so clearly excited that Daniel had to work to hide his grin. “And it's not the binary thing that's amazing, Daniel. A good third of the star systems in our galaxy are binary or multiple – there are theories that suggest that multiple star systems might even be in the majority, even if they're not necessarily visually obvious. No, what's beyond incredible is discovering one that can support life. Depending on the barycenter, a planet that has two orbiting suns could be experiencing wildly swinging extremes of radiation and heat. And if there's any mass transfer going on, the amounts would be incredibly variable. But that's not what we're seeing here. That means that in order for the planet to have such a temperate climate, this system has got to be relatively stable..."

Daniel had listened to enough of Sam's impromptu discourses about her specialty to follow along, but he suspected that he would be completely lost in another moment or two. No matter. He always enjoyed seeing her like this.

"…I'm sure there are hotter or colder periods, but either it's a very long elliptical orbit – long enough for life to get started, be destroyed, and then re-establish itself after conditions change, which is so long that it's beyond our capability to measure – or, which seems more likely, it's a wide binary system that allows for a more even…"

Her voice trailed off as his patient expression clearly told her that she’d inadvertently slipped into lecture mode, not to mention getting distracted by multiple theoretical tangents. Clearing her throat, she finished, “Anyway. Binary planet, which is a fantastic opportunity for studying astrophysics. Potential energy source, which will keep the bean counters at the Pentagon happy. And it’s not a Goa’uld planet, either – this one is from the colonel’s Ancient database. That means it’s probably safe.”

Daniel, still smiling slightly at her enthusiasm, rubbed at his nose. “I don't know if you can say that, Sam. Goa’uld-free doesn’t automatically equal safe. The last time we tried a planet from the Ancient database with two suns…”

“Teal’c, Castleman, Sullivan, and I nearly died, I know,” she said, licking her lips at the memory. “I'm guessing those suns were in an elliptic orbit, and we were there at the time when both suns were at their closest. But this is different.” She grabbed the mouse again and flicked back through the images. “Just look at the place, Daniel. That other planet was barren sand and rock because its orbit was too close to either one or both of its suns, with just enough atmosphere to trick us into thinking it was safe. But this planet clearly supports life.” She switched screens, scanning through numbers and symbols and complex equations that she could read as easily as Daniel could read hieroglyphics. “There were three planetary rotations in the last 68 hours. Many more daylight hours than night hours, which makes sense with the binary system, or maybe it's just summer. Temperatures ranged from 12 C to 24 C. The atmospheric pressure seems a little heavier than what we’re used to, but ultraviolet rays aren’t as strong as I would have expected.” She sat back and looked at him. “There are obvious signs of civilization here. Technology. And if I’m right and it’s solar technology, then they might have techniques and designs that we can translate to what we have, right now.”

Daniel hummed thoughtfully. “Not something that would require naquadah, you mean.”

“Exactly!” Sam’s eyes gleamed with excitement. “Don’t you see, Daniel? This might be something we can really use, without trying to negotiate for technology or power systems that we don’t have the resources to manage. Imagine if we can bring back new methods, maybe greater efficiency for our own solar power cells. Do you know what kind of difference that could make for everyone on Earth? A better source of clean energy!”

If you’re right about the energy source,” Daniel said mildly, but the curl at his mouth gave away his amusement at her enthusiasm.

She smirked right back at him. “How much do you want to bet on it?”

He shrugged. “The only way to find out is to go.”

“So you’ll help me convince the colonel?” she asked eagerly. “Because it’s not just the solar energy that’s exciting, you know. The chance to study a planet in a stable binary orbit that’s capable of supporting life – not to mention the opportunity to measure the binary mass function… I can’t miss this, Daniel!"

“Well, then, we’ll have to make sure you don’t,” he told her. “Let’s go talk to Jack and Teal’c.”

“Talk to us about what?” called a voice from the doorway, and they turned to see the rest of their team just entering the office.

“Our next mission, sir,” Sam said, jumping out of her seat. “P3X-993. Potential source of energy, moderate climate…”

“No big honking weapons in sight,” Daniel added, sprawling back more comfortably in his chair, “but that makes it less likely than anyone will be shooting at us, either.”

Teal’c, now standing behind Sam, frowned slightly and pointed at the frozen image of the planet’s skies. “There are two suns there, Captain Carter. Surely that means dangerous temperatures.”

“No, we’ve been monitoring it for three planetary days. Not every binary sun system is going to be impossibly hot.”

“That is true,” Teal’c conceded, and only Sam and Jack and Daniel had the ability to read the tiny crinkle around his eyes that meant he was still unhappy.

Sam tried to be reassuring. “There’s clear signs of habitation, Teal’c. We know there are people living there, and the temperature readings we’ve done show that we shouldn’t have any trouble.”

“I see.” Teal’c tipped his head sideways in thoughtful consideration. “Do the native population use moisture vaporators, then?”

There was a long pause as Sam and Daniel blinked at him. Jack gave a little cough and tried his best to look innocent.

“You did, didn’t you,” Daniel said wearily to Jack.

“Did what?” Jack asked, a little unconvincingly.

Sam, catching on, laughed. “No, Teal’c, this isn’t like Tatooine. I didn’t know the colonel had showed you Star Wars.

“It was a most satisfactory series,” Teal’c announced. “An entire galaxy brought to freedom by the Rebellion.”

Jack offered a shrugged admission. “He wanted to know why we talked about a ‘galaxy far, far away’ back in 1969. The easiest way to explain was to show him.”

Still smiling, Sam said, “Well, as I said, this planet is nothing like Tatooine. Here, look…” She played back more footage, showing the verdant grass, the tall trees, the signs of a small town deep in the valley below the Stargate. “And see these? That’s some kind of power source. And I’m betting that it’s solar. With a binary system providing so much sunlight, solar power would be the easiest source of energy. This is a double opportunity: we can learn more about stable binary systems, and we might be able to learn more about solar power. This really has a lot of potential.”

“Sam’s specialty is astrophysics,” Daniel reminded Jack. “This mission is tailor-made for her. Don’t you agree?”

“Ye-es,” Jack conceded, rocking back on his heels. “How about solar energy, Carter? Are you an expert on that, too?”

“Not more than the basics,” Sam admitted. She took a deep breath, her face assuming that steady, impersonal look that told Daniel she was about to challenge her superior officer. “But there is an expert in solar energy right here on base, sir. Dr. Tom Silverstone. I’ve read his work, and I think he would have a lot to contribute.”

“So you’re planning on getting a little tutoring on the side before we go?”

“No, sir.” She stood up, her back very straight. “I’m planning to put in a request that he come along with us.”

“Whoa, whoa!” Jack exclaimed. “Where did that one come from?”

“It’s the perfect opportunity,” Sam argued. “It’s from your Ancient database, sir, so there’s no risk of Goa’uld activity. It’s a moderate planet with no signs of danger –“

“No obvious signs,” Jack said, his voice dry. “And we know so very well how frequently we find the unobvious.”

“Hammond’s been talking about bringing experts through the Gate to deal with the unexpected, Jack,” Daniel pointed out, offering Sam his backup. “There’s a much better chance of getting things right when we have the knowledge we need right with us, instead of trying to channel information back through the Gate.” His tone turned a little sardonic. “That is the reason they let me be on SG-1. Unless you suddenly have a problem with civilians?”

Jack scowled. “I have a problem with letting anyone who isn’t certified for Gate travel go off-planet, civilian or military.”

“Then it’s a good thing Dr. Silverstone completed the off-world training course, sir,” Sam said brightly.

“You know, the one that you recommended two months ago, Jack,” added Daniel with a touch of acid sweetness.

Jack’s frown grew deeper. Teal’c looked deadpan in the way that meant he was snickering internally.

“They’re going to start letting consultants through the Stargate sooner or later, Jack,” Daniel said, turning persuasive. “We’re used to being the first. We might as well be first for this, too. And Sam’s right – this planet makes the perfect test run.”

“Well.” Jack shoved his hands deep into his pockets, the frown still lingering. “I’ll bring it up with Hammond, see what he says.” He pulled his right hand out of his pocket in order to aim a finger at Sam. “Write up your proposal first, Carter.”

“Yes, sir!” Sam beamed.

“Geeks can talk me into anything,” Jack muttered at Teal'c, his tone a little too fond to be genuinely annoyed.

"Indeed," Teal'c said blandly, but they could all tell that he was really laughing.

After Jack had wandered out, grumbling, with an amused Teal'c at his heels, Sam turned back to Daniel. "Thanks for sticking up for me," she said. "I know this isn't your thing."

"It is yours," Daniel shrugged. "You're entitled to a mission that suits your specialty." The slight smile deepened and twisted, becoming a little sly. "Besides, I think that allowing civilian experts through the Gate is a very good precedent."

Sam eyed him. "Exactly what are you plotting, Doctor Jackson?"

"Me?" Daniel's expression morphed into civilian, wide-eyed naiveté. "Would I be plotting something, Captain Carter?"

"Yes."

Daniel fluttered his eyelashes at her. "Can't I simply be supporting a fellow scientist?" Her expression answered his question, and he laughed, relaxing into a more comfortable slouch. "Sorry, Sam. To be honest, you're doing me a favor by setting the precedent. Let the hard sciences pave the way for civilians off-world…"

"…And you have a better chance of getting those civilians in your field approved, the ones you've been requesting for months," Sam finished. "Very clever and ambitious, Doctor Jackson."

"Just realistic," he said, sighing. "We need more linguists and archeologists out there. This might help tip the balance."

"In that case, we'd better make sure we have a successful mission," she teased.

He nodded. "I'll do my best."

*

Jack kept a wary eye and half an ear on the arguing pair as he sat quietly in a corner of Carter's office, skimming the report of Silverstone's off-world training.

Okay, so the man had passed – not with flying colors, but with decent stats. When he'd first designed the training program, Jack had deliberately set the bar a little high; Daniel's own original scores would have disqualified him from Stargate travel under the new rules. Which was the point, really. Daniel had more than proved his worth out there, but he'd also died a few too many times for Jack's comfort. He couldn't really argue against taking civilian expertise along when it was genuinely needed, but he could also demand that any civilian was trained enough to give them a higher chance of survival.

He paged through the report again. Huh. Silverstone had actually failed the first time, and then passed when he'd gone back for a second round. At least the guy had tenacity. Jack always appreciated people who knew what they wanted and actually worked to achieve it.

Keeping his eyes hooded, he glanced at Silverstone again. He was being polite enough to Carter, but he wasn't backing down from whatever they were arguing about. He'd heard enough to get the gist of it: Silverstone wasn't sure the energy pillars were actually fueled by solar power, especially as there were signs of a waterfall near the most active ones. He and Carter were stabbing fingers at the readouts from the UAV, using phrases like insufficient surface area and photovoltaic surfaces and no discernable pollution and crystalline surfaces. When he started hearing the same arguments for the third time, he slapped down the papers and raised his voice.

"Hey!"

Carter turned to him immediately, with Silverstone a few heartbeats behind. Yeah, civilian. At least this one wasn't aggressively so; his haircut wasn't regulation, but it wasn't too bad, either. And he didn't seem to think that colonel equaled ignorant barbarian, as too many of Daniel's soft science team apparently assumed.

"Have you two wrangled it out as far as you can without actually seeing those energy things up close?"

They hesitated, looking at each other.

"Yes, sir," Carter answered reluctantly. Silverstone satisfied himself with a begrudging nod.

"Then quit making my ears hurt and go pack. We're scheduled to go off-world tomorrow morning. Final briefing at 0600 hours." He narrowed his eyes at Silverstone, then turned to Carter. "Make sure you double-check his gear."

Silverstone opened his mouth to object, then wisely closed it again.

Well. Maybe civilians could learn something, after all.

*

Sam took a deep breath as she rematerialized on P3X-993, filling her lungs with the air of a different planet. She always loved this moment, when she stood on alien soil and inhaled the indefinable scent of other. The very next moment might bring staff weapon blasts or flashing eyes or random natives trying to kill her, but the first steps on a different world always brought her an inner sense of joy.

"Nice day," the colonel drawled, squinting up into the thin blue of the sky. "You sure there's no UV problem here with those two suns, Carter?"

"Not according to the UAV readings, sir," Sam replied. "There seems to be a very strong ozone layer."

"Good." Still looking wary, the colonel kept his weapon in readiness as he turned in a slow circle. There was no sign of anything stirring outside the breeze that blew softly in their faces. After a long moment, he seemed to relax a little.

"Right, people. No signs of any human activity up here for a while. Let's get this show on the road."

Sam knelt in the grass and started digging into her pack. Out of the corner of her eye, she noted that Dr. Silverstone – Tom, she corrected herself, as they'd argued themselves into a first-name basis – had wandered over to the edge of the cliff and was peering at the town nestled in the valley below, probably trying to pick out the energy pillars even from this distance. Teal'c followed Tom, keeping an eye on the civilian, while Daniel inspected the DHD and took note of the point of origin.

"O'Neill," Teal'c called. "The town is surrounded by a sturdy wall."

Colonel O'Neill joined Teal'c and Tom near the cliff edge, shading his eyes as he looked down into the valley. "Yeah. Enemies or predators?"

Teal'c frowned, tilting his head in consideration. "I am uncertain. In either case, we should be cautious."

"Walls inside the town, too," Tom pointed out.

Daniel had squatted next to Sam to help her set up her astrophysics equipment, but he looked up at that. "Class segregation?" he asked.

"Could be," the colonel said slowly. "Come take a look."

Daniel rose and walked over, keeping a careful distance from the edge. Sam looked up from her work, her hands automatically making the adjustments necessary, to watch as he took the binoculars that Teal'c offered and surveyed the town below. "Definitely an upper class and a lower class," he said after a minute or two. "That building in the back is either the seat of government or a temple of some sort. Then there's the richer homes with all that space around them, walled off from the more crowded areas." He lowered the binoculars and pursed his lips. "Doesn't look too squalid."

"How can you tell?" Tom asked curiously.

"Well, I can't tell much from up here, but the buildings seem to be in good shape. No obvious signs of open piles of trash, either."

Sam turned back to her instruments, making a few final tweaks before getting them started.

"These will run on their own, sir," she said, rising to her feet and brushing off her BDUs. "Teal'c, any sign of those possible predators up here? Do I have to worry about animals damaging my equipment?"

"I think not, Captain Carter," Teal'c said after a careful scan of their surroundings. “We are on a mountaintop. There is nothing here to attract any creatures, nor any visible signs of tracks or spoor."

"Yeah, speaking of that," Daniel said, rubbing at his chin. "Jack, when was the last time we saw a Stargate set so close to the edge of a cliff?"

The colonel frowned, thinking back. "Not too often. Usually they're on level ground in the first place."

Daniel paced the cliff edge, his gaze flicking up and around, his expression oddly focused. "I don't think the Gate was so close to begin with," he said at last. "I think something broke off a large part of the mountain top – earthquake, maybe, or even a meteor strike."

Colonel O'Neill stiffened. "Are we at risk of losing our way home?" he demanded.

"There's no immediate danger, Jack. Whatever happened was a long time ago." He gestured at the grass growing right up to the edge before the sudden drop. "The ground here is long since healed."

"Surely the Ancients wouldn't have set a Stargate weighing 64,000 pounds on unstable ground," Sam said. "Any race capable of creating the Gate system would know enough about geology to site them properly."

"Unless they're put into castles that are falling into the sea," the colonel muttered, and Sam saw Daniel wince at that one.

She cleared her throat. "We're done here, sir. Our next step should be examining those energy pillars so we can determine if they're solar."

"Or hydropowered," Tom said, pointing stubbornly at the waterfall glinting in the light of the two suns.

Sam couldn't help the smile that turned up the corners of her mouth. "I got you off-world on the chance of it being solar, Doctor. Can't you at least accept the possibility?"

"I can," he said, amiably enough. "But if they're running solar power without the need for a lot more surface cells, I'm not so sure we can translate that into our technology."

"Let's not count our solar panels before they hatch," the colonel cut in, and Sam had to struggle to stop her smile from turning into a broad grin at Tom's bewildered expression. "There's still some signs of a path here, so let's follow it."

As the team descended the sharp path down the mountain, they fell into their usual pattern: military in front and back, civilians safely in the middle. Tom eyed her a little uneasily as she fell into step besides him and Daniel, her rifle cradled easily in the crook of her arm.

"Are you all really so worried about some kind of attack?" he asked.

"No," Daniel answered for her. "But a little caution doesn't hurt, does it?"

Tom nodded. "I guess it doesn't."

Daniel artfully changed the subject, speculating aloud about the visual absence of cropland or domesticated animals and wondering if there might be a thriving economy in place to trade foodstuffs with other towns. Tom, piqued despite his own ignorance on the subject, asked, "Is it likely to find that kind of trade going on off-world?"

"The town of Nagada was situated next to the Stargate specifically for Ra's benefit," Daniel said. "Water was at a premium and aside from the mastadges – a camel-type animal that provided milk, meat, and transportation – there was very little to sustain them. But the other towns and settlements on Abydos sent a regular tithe to Nagada, a sort of tribute to pay for the work done in the naquadah mines on their behalf."

"Ah…." Tom looked a little lost, and Sam took pity on him.

"Doctor Jackson spent a year on the planet Abydos, before our Stargate program really got underway," she explained. "So he's in a good position to explain things from an off-world point of view."

"You were off-world for a year? Really?"

Daniel looked amused. "It's nice to meet someone who doesn't actually follow all the SGC gossip."

"Ah, well." Tom shrugged, a little sheepish. "I've never really been the watercooler type."

"You're missing out on the best bits, then," Sam told him. "The SGC rumor mill has a life of its own."

They fell into companiable silence, then, focused more on stopping their boot heels from sliding on the steep path. Tom and Daniel easily slipped into a first-name basis, but a quiet word of caution from Sam advised them to use their titles when they addressed one another in front of the others. Respect for civilians would do better for that gentle reminder to the more military members of the team, and an increase in civilian scientists going through the Gate was something all three of them wanted.

It took over an hour to descend into the valley, but the deep, rich air that greeted them on the lower slopes served to revive them.

"Hold on," Daniel said suddenly, swerving abruptly away from the path. He made a beeline for a jumble of rocks and blocks that, at second glance, might be more than just natural formations. "Jack, look at this."

"What…" the colonel started, then gave a theatrical sigh. "Yes, okay, trust Daniel to find some ruins."

"They are, in fact, difficult to miss," Teal'c said blandly. Sam stifled a snicker.

Tom caught on quickly. "It looks almost like a pile of rubble. Do you think it's something that came down with the mountain when there was that meteor strike or earthquake or whatever?"

By now, Daniel was clambering over moss-covered rocks, peering at the broken pieces of what might have been, once upon a time, something distinct. "They're a little eroded, but there are definitely the signs of some straight edges here," he called over his shoulder. "So, yeah. This might have been next to the Stargate, once upon a time." He brushed gently at a thin layer of soil. "And Jack, this must have happened decades ago, if not longer. Definitely nothing to worry about."

"I'll decide what to worry about," Colonel O'Neill grumbled, but he stood back calmly enough as first Sam, and then Tom, joined Daniel in exploring the remnants of whatever might have once stood atop the mountain. Teal'c remained on guard, eyes flicking from his companions to the surroundings with cool control.

"I've got some marks here that might be symbols," Sam called after a minute.

Daniel's eyes lit up as he scrambled to her side. "Excellent! Let's just see what…" He concentrated, blowing the surface dust away before carefully angling his head to get just the right focus. He drew in a triumphant breath, then suddenly went very still.

"What?" demanded the colonel.

Daniel slowly looked up at them, eyes wide. "I think it's Furling," he whispered.

"Furling!"

"What's Furling?" asked Tom.

Daniel ignored him. "Do you know what this means?" he breathed. "Here's proof of the Fourth Race. Here, on a planet with advanced power sources. Do you realize…"

"We get it, Daniel," Colonel O'Neill interrupted. "And it means that this mission has something for everyone, which is very nice." He scrubbed a hand through his hair. "How sure are you that this is Furling?"

"I can't be sure," Daniel huffed. "This is so badly eroded. But you know how much I studied the video from Heliopolis. And I went back and reviewed it again, after you met the Asgard." He gestured at the remnants of what must have once been an imposing edifice of some sort. "This looks pretty close to that, don't you think?"

The colonel leaned forward, frowning. Sam peered more closely. Even Tom craned his neck for a look.

"Looks a bit Arabic," Sam mused aloud.

"Same graceful lines," Daniel agreed, not-quite-tracing the faded symbols with a gentle finger. "This could be huge, Jack."

"Okay." Colonel O'Neill sighed. "Let's get to the town and play friendly with the natives, ask them if any Furlings have visited lately…"

"And get permission to study their energy sources," Sam said firmly.

"Yeah, that too." He blew out a long breath. "Right. Let's get moving."

*

Gently prodding the two scientists away from their fascinated observations, Teal'c led the way toward the city. The setting suns were casting doubled shadows as SG-1 gathered at their designated meeting point, just outside the walls of Abeitu, to share their findings with one another.

Daniel Jackson had not seemed disappointed that so many of his initial speculations had been wrong. Abeitu was an entire settlement dedicated to higher education; the "temple" at its peak was the main lecture hall, and the more affluent buildings were additional centers of study. The smaller, more crowded buildings served as housing for the students – dormitories, Captain Carter had called them, and her twisted smile had suggested bittersweet memories of her own days of study. Teal'c noted that both Daniel Jackson and Dr. Silverstone wore similar expressions. Perhaps poor quality housing for students was a universal constant.

He had been glad to learn that the walls were more decorative than protective, even if he disdained such useless ornamentation; it meant that the team would not be in danger from predators or enemies as they continued their mission. There were minor skirmishes, they'd been told, between various towns, but Abeitu itself was considered wholly neutral ground.

They were escorted to meet the saru, the leader of the halls of learning. The saru was an old man by Tau'ri standards, his white curls and short beard startling against his dark skin. He was delighted to meet travelers from the Great Circle.

"Of course, now is the only time you could travel through the Circle," he said happily. "How fortunate for us that we are at the beginning of a new sheera'a!" He looked them up and down. "I am sure you have many stories to tell, and much wisdom to impart. Will you join us and teach us?"

"We were actually hoping to learn something from you," Daniel Jackson began, but O'Neill interrupted.

"Hold on a minute. Saru, can you explain what you mean by that?"

"Oh, you may call me Enusat," the man. "You need not address me by title."

"Enusat, then," O'Neill corrected himself, clearly reaching for patience. "Why do you say that this is the only time we could travel through the, ah, Circle?"

Enusat looked surprised. "Because it is the new sheera'a – or it was, a season ago. It is only now, when the suns align in the sky, that the Great Circle can be active."

Captain Carter looked interested. "Are you saying that the Great Circle won't work if the suns are in different quadrants?"

"That is correct," Enusat said, apparently pleased at her understanding. "Nutesh the Younger circles our world much more rapidly than Ligish the Elder. It is only at the start of each sheera'a, when the suns share the same part of the sky, that we can –"

"And how long is that going to last for?" O'Neill said harshly.

Enusat blinked. "Nutesh and Ligish's alignment?"

"Yes."

The saru hummed to himself, eyes turning upward as he performed mental calculations. "There are still eleven kalu left," he said at last. "I do hope you will stay that long. Anything less will not allow sufficient time for study."

"I'm sorry, Enusat," Daniel Jackson interposed himself smoothly, "but we're not that familiar with your terms. Could you clarify for us?" He glanced sidelong at O'Neill, whose face was rapidly purpling and looked moments short of an explosion.

Enusat pursed his lips. "I do know what other terms to use," he admitted.

"Let's see if we can figure it out together," Daniel Jackson suggested, and he escorted the saru several feet away, at a safe distance from O'Neill, to continue their conversation. Teal'c watched Captain Carter duck her head to hide her grin. Dr. Silverstone looked faintly bewildered, but remained silent.

After several minutes' earnest discussion, Daniel Jackson stepped away from the saru and rejoined the team.

"Okay, it's like this," he said. "The sheera'a is a great cycle, a single year of the planet's orbit around Ligish – if I understand you correctly, Sam, that's the further sun. That one orbit takes eighteen years of the closer sun, the one they call Nutesh the Younger. They count the sheera'a from the time that both suns share the same quadrant in the sky. That lasts about four or so Nutesh years. When Enusat talked about kalu, he meant seasons." He frowned for a moment, doing some calculations of his own. "About three of our years, say."

"He thinks we're going to hang around his planet for the next three years," O'Neill said flatly.

Dr. Silverstone muttered, "Hey, if you want to get a degree…" He subsided hurriedly at O'Neill's glare.

"Well, no, probably not," Daniel Jackson admitted. "It does mean we don't have to worry about losing access to Earth. In the meantime, we're welcome to wander around, look at things, ask whatever questions we like."

"That's very open of them," Captain Carter said, brightening. "I can take Tom to look at the energy pillars."

"And I can ask some questions about their history and the Furlings." Daniel Jackson bounced on his heels. "Jack, it's not just a Furling connection. It's a Furling connection with a culture of teaching! This may be the key to lead us to one of the Four Races!"

O'Neill sighed. "Right. Looks like we're splitting up." He turned to Teal'c. "T, buddy, watch Carter and Silverstone while they play with their doohickeys. I'll keep an eye on Daniel." He glanced down at his watch. "Let's meet just outside the front gate at 1830 hours."

"Do we have any idea what this is in local time?" Captain Carter asked.

"No. Who cares? That gives us six hours for research. We'll pool our information, take stock, eat something, and decide what to do next."

While the next several hours could have been tedious, Teal'c rather liked watching Captain Carter when she worked at understanding alien technology. It bothered him little that he, himself, did not understand how his staff weapon worked or the mechanics of the Tau'ri iris. But it gave him great pleasure to know that while the Goa'uld tried to impose mystery and mythology on their servants to proclaim a false divinity, the people of Earth doggedly pursued knowledge and understanding. Captain Carter's excitement at the discovery of new technology, and her determination to understand its workings, was an act of defiance against Goa'uld tyranny that Teal'c savored.

Dr. Silverstone and Captain Carter seemed to work well together. Teal'c gathered that they both rapidly agreed that the power sources were, indeed, solar, but the methodology proved unfamiliar to them. The young woman who had accompanied them showed them the inner circuitry and power systems, but they spent more time asking her questions than actually studying the device.

"Banunu, you're telling me that you know this is inefficient, but you don't see any reason to improve it?"

"Why should we?" the young woman shrugged, dark eyes honestly confused. "We have enough power for our needs."

"But only because the suns provide so much," Dr. Silverstone pressed. "Isn't that right?"

"I suppose so." Banunu seemed disinterested in the question. "Tell me of your own power sources. I wish to learn of those."

"Well, we use a photovoltaic system array with plenty of surface area to absorb as much solar power as we can…"

The discussion continued, Banunu an eager participant. She only seemed to lose interest when Captain Carter or Dr. Silverstone tried to suggest improvements to the solar energy pillars.

"We know about that," she said at one point, impatient. "But why bother, when there's no need?"

Captain Carter and Dr. Silverstone exchanged baffled looks.

After some time, Captain Carter steered the conversation to the binary suns shining brightly ahead, questioning Banunu about fluctuations in energy levels dependent on how close the second, brighter sun came to the planet. Banunu explained the two relative cycles of the suns, arms swinging in widely differing arcs.

"So, about halfway through Ligish's cycle – the sheera'a – the levels of solar energy tend to drop a little?"

"Slightly, yes," Banunu agreed. She showed Captain Carter some symbols within the control panel. "Do you see these numbers?"

"Those are numbers?"

Banunu blinked those large, dark eyes. "What else would they be?"

Dr. Silverstone started explaining the numeric system on Earth, but Captain Carter interrupted. "No, Tom, never mind. Banunu, what do those numbers say now, and what numbers are most common when the levels are lowest?"

Intrigued by the proffered notebook and ballpoint pen, Banunu scratched at the paper with the pen for a moment before drawing her people's numerical symbols on the page. She translated aloud.

"But that's a drop of nearly ten percent," Dr. Silverstone objected.

Banunu smiled at him, like a teacher praising a slow but eager pupil. "Yes, that is correct."

"How do you have enough power during those time?"

"Oh, the power levels are enough, even at their lowest."

Dr. Silverstone persisted. "But with just a little improvement, even the lowest power levels could be higher than they are now!"

Banunu's shoulders rose and fell. "But we don't need them," she said yet again.

Teal'c could see that the others were genuinely bewildered, but they wisely stopped questioning her and continued their studies.

When the time of their rendezvous neared, Teal'c courteously but firmly steered his two companions away from the cluster of energy pillars. Dr. Silverstone was openly reluctant. Captain Carter, too, was unhappy, but her military discipline allowed her an extra modicum of self-control.

"We're welcome here for years, Tom," she reminded the civilian. "Hopefully, we can come back later."

With a last, longing look at the energy pillars, Dr. Silverstone reluctantly followed the others back towards Abeitu.

As they approached the town, Banunu smiled a greeting at O'Neill and Daniel Jackson, who were just emerging from the main gate, and disappeared to some destination of her own. Teal'c observed that O'Neill was tense and Daniel Jackson seemed somewhat subdued.

"Right," O'Neill said. "Everyone safe and accounted for? Good. Let's go find a quiet place where we can talk."

"I have found a good location," Teal'c informed him. "We cannot be overheard and we will see anyone who approaches."

"Excellent. Lead on, Teal'c."

*

Daniel trailed behind the others as they followed Teal'c, too lost in his thoughts to keep pace. They settled down in the soft grass, a large boulder at their backs. At Jack's order, they dug in their packs for MREs before beginning their report. Daniel wrinkled his nose at his rations but gamely started eating.

"First of all," Sam said through a mouthful of spaghetti, "the energy pillars are definitely powered by solar energy. It's incredible, sir. They have enough power to provide the entire town with light and warmth. Even the student housing has running water and the equivalent of an electric kettle for making hot drinks."

"So what's the catch?" Jack asked, frowning.

"The catch, Colonel," said Tom, "is that they're inefficient. The energy pillars give them an abundance of power for two reasons: they don't use very much, and the two suns provide so much solar power in the first place."

"They don't use very much," Jack repeated doubtfully. He glanced at Daniel, who nodded.

"That seems to fit with what I've been seeing and hearing," he said. "A general sense of 'it's good enough, so why improve things?' Oh, they want to know how to be more efficient. They like learning, but it's strictly for learning's sake. They have no interest in improving anything except their own minds."

"But that doesn't make any sense," Tom protested. "Who doesn't want things to get better?"

"These people, apparently," Sam said, her voice dry. She waved the fork in her hand. "I don't know if this planet was first chosen for the solar power offered by binary suns or not, but it's a good thing, considering their reluctance to improve. I have no idea how they have enough power to meet the demands of a growing population. Of course, this is only their university town, so to speak, but I –"

"They don't have a growing population."

"What?" Sam turned to stare at Daniel.

"Their population has remained more or less stable for centuries, Sam. They're having just enough kids to avoid disappearing."

"But why?" she asked plaintively. "Was there some kind of war?"

Daniel shook his head, brows furrowing. "There are some skirmishes, some squabbling, but no real power struggles. They're eager to learn – Abeitu wouldn't exist if they weren't – but they have no interest in any kind of practical application."

"No ambition," said Jack. "No one wants kids. Nobody wants power. No interest in advancement."

"Stagnation," Daniel muttered to himself. "Why?"

"Perhaps this lack of ambition is due to their freedom," Teal'c suggested calmly.

They all turned to stare at him. "You're going to have to explain that one, Teal'c," Daniel said at last. "In our experience, freedom generally encourages advancement."

"People thrive when they're given knowledge," Sam added. "These people have the freedom and safety to learn. They should be advancing, improving."

"Without oppression, why would there be a demand for struggle and ambition?" Teal'c asked. "There must be something to inspire a drive to better a situation."

Daniel blinked at that. Sam looked deeply unhappy. "We're not oppressed," she protested, "and we've never stopped struggling to learn more, to do better."

Teal'c tilted his head to one side, suddenly looking more alien than he had in a long, long time. "In my observations of the Tau'ri," he said, "and from what Daniel Jackson has told me of Earth history –"

Daniel felt himself flush. He'd never been less than honest about the warts and wounds in Earth's past when he discussed it with Teal'c, but he didn't know where this was going.

"Ambition and determination are derived from one of several sources," Teal'c continued. "They can emerge from the suffering of oppression; the desire to oppress others; the wish to defend against oppression; or the belief in a higher power and a desire to satisfy that higher power." He paused. "I, of course, do not believe in false gods," he added flatly. "I cannot speak for Tau'ri beliefs."

There was a long, awkward silence.

"Well, Teal'c," Daniel finally said, his voice subdued, "I don't entirely disagree with you. But I also think that ambition requires an inner drive, even without an outside source to inspire it. It can be used the right way or the wrong way, but a person has to have it. And that's what's missing here."

Sam cleared her throat. "Is there anything you learned today, Daniel, that could explain it?"

"I don't think so." Daniel gave Jack a sidelong glance, but the other man only took another mouthful of beef stew. "I was able to have several very interesting conversations about culture and history, but nothing that would explain the small population and the lack of interest in practical application of anything they learn."

"What about the Stargate?" Tom asked. "Did you find out anything about the ruins we saw?"

"Actually, yes." Daniel sat up a little straighter, hearing his own voice sharpen with eagerness. "They have this formal ceremony, called the Musa'agrav Ritual, at the start of the sheera'a, when both suns share the same quadrant of the sky and the time the Stargate starts functioning again." He frowned, suddenly distracted. "Sam, why would the Stargate only work when both stars are aligned?"

Sam tapped her cheek, considering. "It may be that without that alignment, there's too much interference for the connection," she suggested. "I'd have to study the readings we're getting from our own computers and the instruments I set up, but that sounds pretty likely."

Daniel nodded his understanding. "Okay, so their age of adulthood is nineteen – that’s about fifteen of our years, by the way. Any child who came of age since the last sheera'a participates."

"Participates how?"

"They make the trek up the mountain to the Stargate – the Great Circle – and recite a poem. A riddle, really. Scheduled at dawn, so they can watch the suns rising."

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why do they do that?" Sam asked patiently. "Why chant this poem or rhyme or whatever at dawn?"

"I don't know." Daniel propped his chin in his hands, thoughtful. "It's a very old custom. I heard this from a man named Ubar, who teaches in the history department, but it sounded more like legend than anything else.

"Apparently, the the ritual used to be annual – Nutesh years, not Ligish years – with every child who'd come of age that year participating. Then, several hundred years ago, there was some kind of tragedy that made them stop for a while. Several children were killed, although the records don't state how, and several others were badly traumatized. The ceremony eventually resumed, but they did it less often – only once a great cycle, now." He sighed. "I wish I understood it better. What happened to the kids, and what was the connection to the Musa'agrav Ritual? What made them start it again? Why was it so important to their culture that they didn't want it to be completely lost? Ubar stressed that, actually – how important it was not to lose the ritual. But when I asked him why, he couldn't answer."

"Couldn't or wouldn't?" Jack asked.

Daniel shook his head. "Couldn't. Jack, I don't think these people know how to lie when it comes to imparting knowledge. It's never going to be used, anyway, so why lie about it?"

They lapsed into silence again, slightly troubled by their inability to understand a people that simultaneously loved to learn and had no interest in applying that prized knowledge. Finally, in what seemed to be more a desire to say something than actually curiosity, Tom asked, "Did you get the actual poem, Dr. Jackson?"

"Yes, actually." Daniel rummaged in his pocket and pulled out a slightly battered notebook. "Ubar actually had two versions: the original, which yes, is written in Furling, and the current version, which is written in their own language." He shook his head. "Y'know, so many of the terms and names here have an Akkadian flavor, but the writing is nothing like cuneiform. I don't know how to –"

Jack cleared his throat pointedly. Daniel, with a small inward sigh, got the message.

"Right. So. All those new to adulthood stand up on the mountain, in front of the Stargate, and recite the following riddle:

Whose was it?

Four who are gone.

Who shall have it?

All those who desire it.

Where were the suns?

Over ring and pilaster.

Where met the shadows?

They were deep at the source.

How was it counted?

Right and right by four, left and left by seven, right by three, left by six, and source and done.

What was offered?

All that they had.

Why did they offer it?

For the sake of the future."

"It doesn't rhyme," Jack complained.

"Yes, Jack." Daniel used his overly patient voice, which he knew always got on Jack's nerves. "Translations don't. If I wanted it to rhyme, I would have to do a free translation instead of a proper one, and we might miss some critical nuances."

"Okaaaay," Tom said, his voice dubious. "So what does it mean?"

"I don't know," Daniel said simply. "Nobody knows. That doesn't seem to bother them, really. And even though they have no idea what it means, it's important enough to their culture to survive some past tragedy and be restored, even if it's less often than it used to be." He carefully tucked the notebook away again. "I asked about the ruin, by the way. I was right: there's a meteor strike documented in their history, and there used to be some kind of monolith next to the Stargate that was destroyed when the cliff fell. And I checked the timing on that. Ubar was a little vague about it, but it sounds like the strike was only a few years before they started the ceremony of adulthood again. I can't determine cause and effect, but it's possible that the monolith had something to do with the tragedy, and its loss was what allowed them to start the Musa'agrav Ritual again."

"Isn't that a bit of a leap, Dr. Jackson?"

Daniel grinned at his fellow civilian, unfazed. "Oh, I'm very good at taking leaps, Dr. Silverstone."

Jack snorted at that, and the talk drifted for a while. Sam went back to discussing the solar energy pillars with Tom, commiserating with his frustration at the people's complete disinterest in any kind of improvement. Daniel found himself studying the strange poem again, wondering what it was supposed to mean.

He jerked back to the present when Sam slapped a hand against her pack in frustration. "It makes no sense," she complained. "Why don't these people care?"

"They don't care, do they," he repeated absently, then sat up. "They don't care," he said again. "Look at this line, Sam: Who shall have it? All those who desire it. We know they seek knowledge for the sake of knowing, but they don't have any real desire. Maybe that's why this riddle has gone unsolved for so long – they just don't care enough to solve it."

"It is a strange way to live," Teal'c said gravely. "Yet they seem content."

"They do, don't they?" Sam agreed. "It's not for me, though."

"That's for sure," said Jack, giving her a sly look. "Can't imagine you being happy if you're not tinkering, Carter."

"Yes, well." She gave a mock sniff. "That's the way we humans always have been." She gestured upwards. "We're all trying to reach the stars, aren't we?"

"Literally," Dr. Silverstone agreed, smiling.

For Daniel, that's when it clicked.

"Yes! Literally!" They all turned to stare at him, but Daniel was too excited to care. He leapt to his feet, waving his notebook wildly. "Literally to the stars, Jack! To use the Stargate!"

"What are you talking about, Daniel?"

"The poem, the ceremony, set at the Stargate right when it turns active… what else are they supposed to seek, if not what's out there?"

"Whose was it? Four who are gone," Sam quoted softly. "You're thinking of the Four Races, aren't you?"

"Yes! Maybe." Daniel read the lines aloud again. "I'm not sure about What did they offer? All that they had."

"Knowledge, perhaps," Teal'c suggested. "The knowledge that would enable these people to meet them."

"They need to solve this." Daniel shook his notebook for emphasis. "It's a part of their heritage that's become empty. They need to get it back."

"Oh, well, maybe we can solve it for them, then," Jack drawled, sarcasm dripping off his tongue. "After all, they've only been trying to figure it out for millennia."

"But they haven't been trying, sir," Sam said patiently. "That's the point."

"So?"

"So, maybe if we figure it out for them, we can kickstart their ambition a little."

"Take off the training wheels?" Daniel suggested.

"They don't have training wheels. They're driving with the emergency brake on. No, they're not even driving. They're just cruising in neutral!" Sam threw up her hands, frustrated.

"A push will not change gears, Captain Carter," Teal'c observed. Daniel slanted him a grin at his friend's new grasp of that particular metaphor, and Teal'c inclined his head slightly in thanks. Daniel's recent driving instructions – if lessons that took place thirty years in the past could be called "recent" – had clearly come in handy.

"No, but if they start moving faster downhill, they might…" Sam trailed off, then sighed. "Okay, we can't take this any further. But would it hurt to try, sir?"

"That question is dangerous, Carter, and you know it." Jack absently slapped his cap against his knee. "All right. Let's hear it again."

*

The shadows deepened further as they discussed the riddle, stretching over them in doubled patterns of dark and darker, until both suns finally set. From what Carter had said, there would only be a few hours of night before the suns rose again. She'd commented on the lack of nocturnal animals, too, speculating that at other times, when the suns didn't share the same section of sky, there might be even fewer hours of darkness. She and Daniel had started an animated discussion, comparing their knowledge of the Land of Light with other places that had hours of day and night skewed out of proportion, until Jack patiently hauled them back on point and got them to actually focus on the puzzle.

"Okay, so given the Furling script on the shattered monolith that matches the same style as the script on the original riddle, we can safely assume that the Furlings had a hand in this," Daniel started. "So Four who are gone probably refers to the Four Races. Let's start with that."

"So the question becomes, what was it," Carter said, aiming her flashlight at the hurriedly-scrawled copy that Daniel had given her. "Whose was it? Whatever it was comes from the Four Races, but what is it?"

"Knowledge," suggested Silverstone, rustling his own copy. "Look at the last lines: What was offered? All that they had. Why did they offer it? For the sake of the future. Offering all that they had and saying it's for the sake of the future definitely implies something that would be of use. If not knowledge, than it might actually refer to technology."

"Even better," Jack muttered.

Daniel nodded. "And that fits, too, with all those who desire it. It's there for the taking, but only if someone puts in the effort first."

"So we have the start and the end, but not the middle." Jack concluded dryly. "Kinda hard to get from point A to point Z without the rest of the alphabet, isn't it?"

Teal'c had closed his eyes some time ago, listening quietly to the discussion without actually saying anything, but now he directed his gaze at the others. "If the Musa'agrav Ritual requires the young adults' presence at the Stargate, it seems likely that the Stargate is involved," he pointed out.

"Good point, T," Jack said. "Well, Carter? Daniel? Does that fit?"

"It might." Daniel squinted down at his own handwriting. The suns are supposed to be over ring and pilaster. The 'ring' in question might be the Stargate, but the people here call it the Great Circle, not the Great Ring." He frowned.

"Maybe you translated it wrong," Jack suggested with a trickle of malice.

Daniel was unfazed. "Yes, maybe I did." His brows drew together in consideration, then he brightened. "Ha! Not just ring, but also pilaster. If we change over ring and pilaster to over circle and monolith, then we're fixing the suns' position from the perspective of the mountaintop."

"You're saying that one sun was just over the Stargate, and the other just over the monolith?" Silverstone asked eagerly.

"It would have to be," Carter said, nodding. "And if we're right, that explains why they restarted the ceremony specifically at the start of a new cycle. These three, four years of the beginning of the sheera'a are the only times the Stargate works, so if a puzzle is going to be related to the Stargate, this is the time for it."

"Okay. So one sun over the Stargate," Jack waved a hand in one direction, "and another over the monolith that doesn't exist anymore." He waved his other hand in the other direction. "Where does that get us, exactly?"

Daniel's face fell. "It gets us nowhere, doesn't it? Without the monolith, how can we go on to the next step?"

"That depends," said Carter thoughtfully. "If there's some technological process that involves the suns shining in just the right spot – if the monolith has a role to play other than just a point in the riddle – then yeah, we're stuck. But if it's just to define the point for the next step, we might still be able to figure it out, except…" Her voice trailed off.

"Triangulation," Jack said, nodding. He stifled a smirk at Silverstone's visible start of surprise. Yeah, civilians always seemed to forget that even if it wasn't actually required, most colonels had a master's degree.

"But what's the third point of the triangle, sir?" Carter asked. She looked unhappy. "If I understand the next part – Where are the shadows? – then we're supposed to use those two points to determine the third. One sun here, the other one there, and the intersection of the shadows determines the third point. How can we do that if we don't have a fixed second point?"

"We might be able to get it," Daniel said. "They might have records of the monolith's height before it was lost in the meteor strike."

"But if the records don't also tell us how much of the mountain fell, that won't actually help," Silverstone pointed out. "That would only give us the right height, but not the distance."

"Right." Carter hissed in frustration. "Was the monolith sited just beyond the new cliff, or further out? If they don't have that information, it's useless."

"Maybe we shouldn't borrow trouble before we need it," Jack cautioned. "Daniel, take Teal'c with you and find that Voodoo guy –"

"Ubar, Jack," Daniel said with forced patience.

"Yeah, yeah. Voodoo, Ubar, whatever. Find him and ask if there any records about the monolith. Whatever they've got."

"Right." Daniel scrambled to his feet as Teal'c rose elegantly, and the two of them set off into the darkness towards the open gates of Abeitu. "It shouldn't take too long," Daniel called over his shoulder, and then shadows swallowed them.

An awkward silence settled over the three that were left. Jack scowled. Not even crickets? The quiet seemed too absolute, and he cleared his throat more for the sound than anything else.

"Can we do any more before they get back?" he asked Carter, flicking a quick look at Silverstone.

"Maybe," she said, looking a bit dubious. "Figuring out deep at the source is going to have to wait, but what about this counting thing?

"Right and right by four, left and left by seven, right by three, left by six, and source and done," Silverstone read aloud. He grimaced. "There's that source thing again. It sounds almost like directions on a treasure map, doesn't it?"

Carter snorted. "Yeah, walk four paces right and seven paces left until you find the point marked X. I don't think so."

Silverstone ducked his head with a sheepish grin. "Yeah, okay. But what does it mean, then?"

Carter drummed her fingers on her knee, then slowly read the poem aloud, from the beginning. "Our hypothesis is that the Musa'agrav Ritual is a riddle left by the Furlings, representing the Four Races," she said, staring vaguely into the distance. "We think they're offering knowledge, or maybe technology, to anyone with the desire and determination to solve the riddle. How will they know if the riddle is solved, then?"

"Good point," Jack said. "How?"

"I don't know…" She lapsed into silence.

They were still sitting there an hour later, staring at the frustrating phrases that they hadn't quite figured out, when a faint voice floated towards them on the night breeze.

"O'Neill."

Jack straightened as Teal'c and Daniel came walking back. Teal'c was stoic as ever, but Daniel's gloomy expression spoke volumes.

"Not good news, huh?" Carter said, sympathetic.

"Not really, no." Daniel flopped down gracelessly with a heavy sigh. "They had records of the monolith's height, but not the distance from the Stargate. I asked if anyone knew how much of the mountaintop had been lost in the meteor strike, but no one had that information." He sprawled out on the grass. "We're so close to this," he told the night sky, "and we can't get it!"

"No, we can," Carter insisted, her voice rising. "I know it."

Deciding it was time to put a halt to the frustration before Daniel and Carter started snarling at each other, Jack said briskly, "Look, people, we're scheduled to report in tomorrow morning. If we don't have it by then, we'll let Hammond decide if it's worth staying longer for this. In the meantime, though, let's set a watch. There aren't too many hours for sleep on this planet, anyway."

Reluctantly, they obeyed. Daniel still muttered parts of the poem aloud as he prepared his sleeping bag.

"Deep at the source. The shadows of the sun met at the source. Maybe that word isn't the best translation, just like ring and pilaster were off. I'm not exactly an expert at Furling."

"What would you choose, if not source?" Silverstone asked. "Is that source as in cause, or something else?"

Daniel's brows drew together. "Starting place, maybe. The shadows were deep at the starting place, at the beginning. The point where everything begins…"

Teal'c looked up sharply. "The point of origin?"

Mouths dropped open.

"Perhaps the riddle offers the key to a Stargate address."

"Teal'c, I could kiss you," Daniel breathed.

One eyebrow shot upward. "No, you could not."

Jack didn't even try to hide his smirk, even as he heard Carter choke back her laugh. "So if Teal'c is right about this, can we manage without the monolith?"

"Yes, sir, we can." In the flashlight's reflection, Carter's eyes were very bright. "We don't have to worry about the triangulation, because we already know the point of origin. We solved that clue before we started. Now all we have to do is figure out those last two lines: How was it counted? Right and right by four, left and left by seven, right by three, left by six, and source and done."

"Teal'c answered that already," Daniel said triumphantly. "It's a Gate address."

"How?" Silverstone asked.

"We'd have to test it, of course," Daniel answered, scrambling back to his feet, "but I'm guessing that we follow the instructions, starting from the point of origin. The fourth right key, then the fourth after that; go back seven, and again seven; go back three, and left six. Hit the point of origin and then the central globe. That's source and done."

"Yes!" Carter exclaimed, clearly ready to join Daniel on his charge up the mountain.

"Put the brakes on, you two," Jack ordered. "It's dark, and that's a good two-hour hike up the mountain, if not longer. It can wait until morning."

"But Jack…!"

"It's waited centuries, Daniel," Jack said impatiently. "It can wait another six hours or so."

Carter settled back down, reluctant but obedient. Daniel, on the other hand, looked mulish.

"I mean it, Daniel," Jack added, eyes narrowed. "No one is going to tumble off a mountain just because you got a little impatient."

The stubborn set of Daniel's mouth faded. "Yeah, okay," he sighed. "I'll take first watch, though. There's no way I'm going to fall asleep now."

*

Sunsrise was glorious, Sam decided as she squinted into the dawn. For all her anticipation over what her instruments could teach them about binary systems, she tried to always remember to savor beauty of the physical sort as well as the glorious mathematical precision of science.

"Ready to go, Jack," Daniel announced, almost bouncing in place.

Sam saw Tom suppress a grin at Daniel's evident excitement. The colonel, on the other hand, was openly laughing at him.

"Bootlaces tied? Lunch packed? Did you remember to go before we leave?"

"Oh, that's funny. Cutting-edge humor, in fact." Daniel took a few impatient steps forward.

"Cool it, Daniel. We'll head out together." Colonel O'Neill nodded at Teal'c. "Take point with Daniel, T. I'll watch our six. Carter, take Silverstone with you."

By the time they had retraced their steps and started up the mountain, Sam was glad that the colonel had insisted on waiting for daylight. She didn't remember so many rough spots in the path, and navigating past the ruined monolith would have been downright treacherous in the dark. Daniel was breathing heavily, but he didn't complain and only continued the climb.

They paused halfway up the mountain for a short break. Tom drank deeply from his canteen before dragging a sleeve across his sweat-dampened forehead.

"I thought I was in good shape," he admitted to her quietly, "and I thought Dr. Jackson was, too. But we're both out of breath."

"So are the rest of us," Sam reassured him, regulating her own breathing. "Well, except Teal'c," she amended, grinning. "But that's because Junior lets him cheat."

"Junior?" Tom repeated.

"His symbiote."

"Oh. Right."

"Seriously, Tom, the air is getting a lot thinner and it's pretty hot already. Don't beat yourself up. Just keep improving."

He flashed her a smile. "I can do that," he agreed, and clipped his canteen back onto his belt.

They finally reached the mountaintop, back where they'd started.

"How much time before we need to report in, sir?" Sam asked.

Colonel O'Neill glanced at his watch. "We've got about half an hour. That'll give you time to play ring-around-the-rosy with the DHD and see if we got the riddle right."

"Right," said Sam, ignoring Tom's stifled snigger and the blank look on Teal'c's face that told her that he hadn't understood the joke. "Daniel, let's do this."

They stepped toward the DHD and Daniel gestured at the point of origin. The symbol was high on the right-hand upper arc of the circle, looking vaguely like a fork – if a fork had six tines and a wicked barb on its handle.

"Are we going to dial, Jack, or write down the symbols?" Daniel asked over his shoulder.

"Write the symbols down first," the colonel ordered. "Then we'll decide."

"Got it." Daniel counted aloud. "Right and right by four… that's this one and this one… left and left by seven… this symbol, and the one right after the point of origin… right by three, okay, left by six…"

He stopped abruptly.

"And source and done," Sam finished for him. "So is that a viable Gate address or not?"

Daniel seemed frozen in place.

"Daniel?" A little worried now, Sam stepped forward and laid a concerned hand on his arm.

He closed his eyes for a long moment, then shook himself. "It's viable," he said hollowly. "And it isn't."

"What do you mean?"

"Sam, look at the symbols."

She leaned over Daniel's notebook, scanning the symbols he'd scribbled down. They seemed alarmingly familiar.

"That's… that's not Abydos, is it?"

"No," Daniel said, his voice heavy. "Almost, but not quite.'

"Oh," she breathed. "It's Heliopolis."

"Yes."

"The Furlings wanted their – their children to follow them, to learn from them."

"Yes. And now it's too late."

They stared at each other for a long, long moment.

Tom awkwardly cleared his throat. "I'm sorry. Heliopolis?"

Sam sighed. "It's a long, sad story, Dr. Silverstone."

"Bottom line," the colonel cut in, "it's the place where we first learned about the Alliance of the Four Races. If the Furlings wanted to share their knowledge, that was definitely the place to do it. The problem is that its DHD, and probably the Stargate itself, are sunk at the bottom of an ocean, and the place is completely inaccessible."

"Indeed," said Teal'c. "It is a tragedy that these people waited so long to learn the secret."

"Just a year too late," Daniel said softly. "That hurts."

"Yeah," Sam agreed. "It does."

They stood there for a while, trying to gather their thoughts. "What do we do now, sir?" she finally asked.

"We go home, I guess." The colonel nodded at her instruments, still quietly and industriously measuring solar rays and UV radiation and angles and intensities. "You take your toys home and play with your data. Daniel takes his new translations home and plays with his data. Sorry your part of the mission didn't work, Silverstone."

"It was worth coming, sir," Tom replied. "Even if we didn't find any improvements to take home with us, there's a lot to be learned from an entirely different approach, too."

"But what about the people here?" Daniel pressed, waving an arm at the settlement nestled below them in the valley. Bright and welcoming, it seemed to hum with a promise that would never really be fulfilled. "Do we just let them continue as they have been, learning things without ever bothering to apply anything and move forward in their lives? Do we tell them what they've lost?"

"What would be the point, Daniel?" The colonel shook his head. "They don't seem to care."

"They do care about knowledge, and it's their history."

"No, it's not," said the colonel, "because they never tried to make it their history." He lifted his shoulders and let them drop. "Can't live their lives for them, Daniel. They've made their choice."

"They've chosen not to choose!"

"That, too, is a choice, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c pointed out.

"Even if it's not one that we could understand ourselves," Sam said, a little resigned.

"They've made their choice," the colonel repeated firmly. "Carter, collect your doohickeys. Dial it up, Daniel. We're going home."

*

General Hammond scanned the last page of the report in front of him, then leaned back in his chair.

"Well, people," he said in his soft drawl that commanded absolute attention, "this has been an interesting mission." His eyes glinted. "It's good to learn that SG-1 can play nice with others, Colonel."

Captain Carter ducked her head. Teal'c was sure she was smothering a grin. Daniel Jackson, his chin propped on one hand, made no effort to hide his smile.

O'Neill gave a careless shrug. "Silverstone wasn't as bad as I thought he would be," he admitted, glancing at the civilian scientist. "But there's no way of knowing how he would have held up if we'd come under fire."

"Colonel, I was only allowed off-world in the first place because it was a safe planet," Dr. Silverstone pointed out. "If there would've been a risk of battle, I wouldn't have been there."

O'Neill glared at him. "Silverstone, the whole point of going off-world is that we don't know what's going to happen. You got lucky this time. Don't count on it next time."

Teal'c silently agreed with O'Neill's assessment. Dr. Silverstone had been a decent companion on this mission, but it would be unwise to assume that an untrained civilian would survive an attack by Jaffa.

"And will there be a next time, Colonel?" General Hammond folded his hands. "That's what I'd like to know."

O'Neill nodded reluctantly. "If the circumstances are similar, sir. But that doesn't happen with us very often, does it?"

"No one is suggesting that civilians take part in front-line teams on a regular basis, General," Daniel Jackson added, his face very earnest.

"Except you," O'Neill muttered.

Daniel Jackson ignored the comment and continued. "The whole idea of taking civilians off-world is to allow us access to their expertise when we have already assessed the situation as being relatively safe. I'm sure that follow-up missions will be greatly enhanced by –"

"Yes, Dr. Jackson," General Hammond interrupted gently. "I'm aware of your feelings on the matter. And while I agree with Colonel O'Neill that we can't risk civilians on the front lines, I also agree that we could use more expertise on the other side of the Gate." He held up a hand as Daniel Jackson opened his mouth. "That includes your Dr. Rothman. The training program will remain an absolute must, but I think we can see our way to allowing more civilians off-world."

Daniel Jackson sat back, his eyes very bright.

"Returning to the mission," General Hammond went on, "I understand from your report, Captain Carter, that you obtained a great deal of data regarding binary systems. And you, Dr. Jackson, have been able to add to our understanding of the Furling language. If we meet them, we can hope to communicate."

"We'll keep working on it, sir," Daniel Jackson said.

"Which brings me to the next question. Do we want to follow up this mission with a return visit to P3X-993?"

"No," said O'Neill.

"Yes," chorused Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson.

"Uh, I vote yes," said Dr. Silverstone, waving a tentative hand.

Teal'c only lifted a brow.

"General, we know there was a huge potential there that's already lost. The treasure map led back to Heliopolis, and that's beyond us. So what's the point of going back?"

"The point, sir," Captain Carter insisted, "is that there's still a lot more to learn from them. Their culture prizes study and learning and they'll be happy to teach us whatever we ask. We have a limited time window – only about three years before the alignment of the suns will stop the Stargate from working. We should grab this opportunity while we can, sir. Even if the people there can't teach us anything new, we can still study the binary suns and gain a deeper understanding of astrophysics. It's been amazing to see life thriving with two suns."

"And they can teach us something new, sir," Daniel Jackson added. "They might have more direct translations of the original Furling script than the riddle. The more samples I get, the better we can refine our understanding of the Furling language."

"Yes, that riddle," General Hammond said thoughtfully. "A real pity that they didn't seize the opportunity. Did you ever discover what caused them to stop?"

Captain Carter looked a little sick. "We can guess, sir. Daniel's historian said that several children had died and others had been traumatized. We think they some of them did figure out the riddle, but they didn't know anything about the Stargate and…"

Her voice trailed off as they all filled in the mental image by themselves: laughing fifteen-year-olds taking part in the Musa'agrav Ritual, running back and forth through the great stone ring as others pressed curiously at the buttons on the DHD, until that beautiful, deadly event horizon lashed out and forward –

Even General Hammond winced. "A great pity," he said heavily. He sighed and turned to Dr. Silverstone. "Doctor, your report states that the design of their solar power systems are very inefficient compared to ours. If that's the case, why do you think it would be helpful to return to the planet?"

Dr. Silverstone coughed, clearly somewhat uncomfortable at being the focus of attention. "Well, sir, it's true that their methods are inefficient. But they're also very different, sir. It gives us another angle to look at. Maybe we can incorporate some of their ideas into our systems and make our own improvements along the way."

General Hammond nodded. "It looks like you're outvoted, Colonel. I'll send a recommendation for a follow-up mission to P3X-993 and see what team will be assembled to go back."

"As long as it's not us," O'Neill grumbled, but his heart didn't seem to be in it.

"You know, sir," Daniel Jackson said thoughtfully, "this has been very encouraging, in a way. We know the Nox consider us to be, ah, 'too young,' but the Asgard thought we had the chance of becoming the Fifth Race, and now we have proof that the Furlings, too, liked the idea of their children growing up, so to speak." He waved a vague hand. "They left one key behind. Maybe there are others out there."

"We’ll just have to keep looking, then," said General Hammond. "We'll keep trying."

"The Tau'ri are good at that, General Hammond," Teal'c said, allowing his eyes to crinkle at the corners.

Captain Carter smiled back at him. "No matter how you feel about ambition, Teal'c, I think we can all agree that the determination to aspire is a worthy trait."

Teal'c gave her a grave, courteous nod. "Indeed."

*

End notes:

The Air Force requirement for a master's degree to advance from lieutenant colonel to colonel only went into effect in 2014, but most officers made sure to earn the degree anyway.

The shameless rip-off pastiche, of course, if of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Musgrave Ritual. If you have not read the original, please follow the link and enjoy the real thing. :)