Title: Look To The Heavens And Number The Stars
Fandom: Stargate: SG-1
Characters: OC POV; SG-1 ensemble gen
Spoilers: For the whole series through early Season 9.
Disclaimer: Cooper, Wright and Glassman own them; I'm just fooling around with no profit.
Summary: Expect the unexpected. 16,000 words.
Claire Carson was buying serials for the library at Macalester College when the U.S. Air Force Colonel showed up in her office.
Technically, she was at lunch when he showed up in her office -- she was eating a bowl of chili and reading a mystery novel at the Acme Deli on St. Clair, and when she got back to the library, her office door (which she was sure she'd shut) was open and a man in a dress uniform, graying hair around his temples and a vaguely amused smirk on his face, was standing behind her desk, staring at the University of Illinois basketball schedule she had taped up next to her computer.
Claire said, "Excuse me, I think you've got the wrong office." Jeff in Collection Development paid for his MS with a stint in AFROTC, but Claire'd never gotten closer to the military than admiring the boys who wore Marine Corps uniforms on ROTC day at Illinois.
"Claire Carson?" the man said, and Claire nodded, speechless. "Then I've got the right office. Colonel Jack O'Neill, USAF," he said, and stuck out his hand.
Claire shook it wordlessly. "Illinois's not going to be very good this year," Colonel O'Neill said.
"I got my Master's there," Claire said. The only chair in her office not covered by serials that needed cataloging was behind her desk and O'Neill had sat down in it, she was still standing, frozen, in the doorway. She didn't know what else to say.
"I know," O'Neill said. "Master's in Library Science at Illinois, Master's in European History at the University of Massachusetts, BA in History at Amherst. You've been in Acquisitions and Cataloging at Macalester for three years, since you finished your last degree. Close the door, would ya?"
Claire blinked, shut the door, cleared a stack of Nature magazines off her chair, and sat down.
"Ms. Carson," O'Neill said, "I work for a group, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense, doing work on deep-space radar telemetry at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs."
Claire toed the stack of Nature on the floor and said, "I'm sure it's very exciting."
O'Neill pulled a terrible face and scowled at Claire's keyboard. "Some days more than others," he said. "And not in a good way."
"So, is there life on other planets?" Claire snapped, because she was three days late with her order for Elsevier.
"Actually," O'Neill said. "We'd like to offer you a job."
It wasn't the strangest non-sequitor Claire had ever heard, but it was close. "I'm not an alien life form," she said.
"No, but you are a librarian," O'Neill said.
"I flunked physics and astronomy," Claire said. "I flunked astronomy twice."
O'Neill smirked at this. "We know. We don't need any more scientists; we need someone who can catalog whatever we put in front of them and not freak out."
"What else do you know about me?" Claire said. She was halfway to curious, halfway to turning and running screaming out of her office, and she had a sinking feeling that if she did, O'Neill was just going to turn up in her living room, drinking her beer and making fun of her movies.
"Carson, Claire Elizabeth," O'Neill said. "Born July 19, 1968, Worchester, Massachusetts. Father Edward, Mother Beatrice. Two sisters, Cassandra, born 1970, and Katherine, born 1973. You speak fluent Czech and passable Russian and Polish, and have studied Serbo-Croatian and Hungarian at the University of Minnesota in the last three years. Your college boyfriend, Jake Monroe, is now a stockbroker in San Francisco. Your boyfriend at UMass was a graduate assistant with the football team, and is now the offensive coordinator at Ashland University."
"He is?" Claire said. "Huh."
"Your Master's thesis at Illinois was about the problems of cataloging Cyrillic languages in English-centric catalogs," O'Neill said. "A colleague of one of our consultants brought your paper to our attention, and we were impressed. We think you could help us solve some problems."
"I'm not a translator," Claire said.
O'Neill rolled his eyes and said, "We don't need a translator, we need a librarian. No, wait -- Daniel told me to say that we need a cataloger. We have some rooms full of stuff, and we have the most state-of-the-art technology that you could want, and we need you to take the rooms full of stuff and put it in a catalog and keep it up to date."
"Who are you?"
"We'll pay you $80,000 a year with full benefits," O'Neill said. "And," pulling a wrinkled stack of papers from the inside of his jacket, "I'll be happy to tell you more when you say yes, and sign these confidentiality agreements."
"Look," Claire said. O'Neill raised an inquisitive eyebrow and leaned back in her chair. "I'm -- you seem like a nice guy. And it's true that this job is kind of shitty, which nobody mentioned when I graduated from library school. But how the hell can I know if I can trust you?"
O'Neill tapped a pen on the desk and said, "You can't, I guess."
"If I sign those, will you tell me what I'm going to be cataloging?" Claire said.
"Sure," O'Neill said cheerfully. "And there's moving expenses, too. Large, grumpy Marines will come and pack up all your stuff for you."
"All right," Claire said, and signed.
Her second day underneath the Mountain, she was sitting in her office trying to make sense of a stack of scrolls that looked pre-Egyptian, except they were too real to be forgeries and too new to be from the era they should have been from, and a distracted looking man drifted through the door and made a couple of circuits of the junk they'd brought Claire to catalog before looking up and noticing her.
"Hi," he said cheerfully. "How would you classify the Stargate, if you had to?"
Claire stared at him.
"Library of Congress or Dewey, either's fine," the man said.
Claire said, "What the hell is a Stargate?"
The man blinked at her, and then grabbed her wrist and tugged Claire out of her seat and out of the office. In the elevator down, he chatted casually about the stuff she'd been struggling with when he'd barged in (it was, apparently, Abydonian, and Claire was going to need a good encyclopedia to do this job, she thought), then he lead her into a control room of some kind, big glass windows looking out over a cavern of a room.
At the center was an enormous circle, set upright and plugged into what looked like a million electrical generators. The man said, "Hi, Walter," and then, "This is Claire Carson, the new librarian," and then, to Claire, "That's the Stargate."
"Oh," Claire said. "What does it do?"
He walked her through all of it -- the glyphs on outer rim, the dialing sequence that someone named Sam Carter had programmed, the way the wormholes worked. Claire stared at him and then said, "You mean -- other planets?"
"Yes," he said.
"Oh," Claire said. "Then, I guess, Travel, sub class Intergalactic, sub class Theoretical."
"Theoretical?" he said.
"It's required by the Library of Congress," Claire said. No one on the planet was writing books about actual intergalactic travel.
"But it's not theoretical," the man said.
"But L of C says," Claire said, and Colonel O'Neill -- "Call me Jack, please," even if Claire couldn't bring her to actually do that -- wandered up behind Claire's antagonist. Claire bit off her sentence, and smiled weakly at Colonel O'Neill, who assessed her expression and turned sternly to the man beside him.
"Don't harass the help, Danny," O'Neill said.
The man spluttered, "Danny?"
Claire said, "The help?"
O'Neill said, "Claire Carson, meet Daniel Jackson, MS, PhD, PhD. Daniel, Claire Carson, MA, MS."
"We don't always introduce people with their letters," Dr. Jackson said, extending a hand. "I'm sorry I forgot to introduce myself. It's just such a pleasure to have a cataloger on staff, finally. If you couldn't tell -- we're a little swamped with stuff."
"Yes," Claire said. "You are."
O'Neill snorted. Jackson cast a reprimanding, amused look at O'Neill and said, "Your paper about cataloging the Cyrillic languages made the rounds in the linguistics communities, you know. That's how we found you."
"Uh," Claire said.
"You picked a good one, Daniel," O'Neill said, elbowing Jackson in the side. "She's as speechless as you are talkative."
Claire said, "I think somebody needs to explain a lot of things to me." Jackson's eyebrows went up. "Honestly, I mean -- who are you people?"
Jackson laughed, and O'Neill snorted again before patting Jackson on the back. He said, "You wanted her, Daniel. Why don't you prepare one of those brain-numbing presentations and sit her down in the briefing room?"
"My presentations aren't brain numbing," Jackson said. "If you'd stop falling asleep during them, you'd stop being thrown in primitive jails off-world when you offend the local leaders."
"The local leaders usually deserve offending," O'Neill said casually. "Hope you're settling in okay, Carson. Let me know if you need anything." He sauntered out of the control room, and Jackson rolled his eyes after O'Neill in an affectionate sort of way.
"So," Jackson said. "I guess no one told you very much?"
"It's kind of been like fumbling around in the Field Museum in the dark," Claire said.
"It's all the blind leading the blind around here," Jackson said. "This won't take a presentation, but I've got most of what you need to catalog in my office instead of in the library."
Claire wondered, for the first but not the last time, what she'd gotten herself into.
She'd never really wanted to be a reference librarian, and when Colonel O'Neill had said that the job was mostly cataloging, keeping a collection in order, and retrieving the occasional reference text from wherever it was shelved, it had seemed like a godsend. Liberal arts colleges were losing funding everywhere, and the libraries were losing money even faster -- they'd wanted her to staff the reference desk on the weekends at Macalester, and Claire had been appalled at the thought.
At the SGC, all she had to manage was half a dozen serial subscriptions to things like Scientific American and the Journal of Theoretical Astrophysics -- and a collection of alien artifacts and texts in languages she couldn't even name unless Dr. Jackson stopped by to help her out, much less things she could catalog in the ways she'd been taught.
Somewhere toward the end of her fourth month working in Colorado Springs, she'd been sitting at the lab table in the middle of what they were calling the library, which was really just three workrooms strung together and outfitted with shelves, when Jackson wandered in. He didn't come by the library much; he seemed to prefer emailing Claire and asking about things he thought she might know about, and actually retrieving the books after she'd gone home for the day. Part of it, she knew, was SG-1's schedule -- they didn't eat and sleep and work like normal people -- but part of it, she suspected, was that he tended to hoard the books in his office and ignore her emails when she begged him to bring them back, because other people needed them.
Claire had her head on her desk, next to a book of what she thought might possibly be early Mesopotamian prophecies about crop yield, when Jackson walked in. "Knock, knock," he said, and when Claire sat up and looked at him, her face must have told him something because he wrinkled his nose and said, "You know, has anybody told you how I ended up here?"
He slid easily onto a stool across the table from her and tugged at the book that was stumping her. "Mesopotamian farming predictions," he said. "This place is ripe with gossip; too many Marines and scientists, neither of whom have ever been properly socialized, to avoid rumors spreading."
"That's what I thought," Claire said, and Jackson looked at her curiously. "About the book, I mean. No one's said anything about you."
"I guess all the threats from Jack finally got through to them," Jackson said. "It's bad enough that they talk so much about all the times I've almost died," and he snorts a little. "I was -- well, the details are unimportant, but I ended up here. Lots of people like me, like you, end up here. It isn't easy, but it's more than enough."
"I need dictionaries," Claire said. "And I need to read -- I don't know what. There's no documentation, they don't teach you how to deal with this in library school."
Jackson snorted and handed the book back to her. "Jack would tell you to trust your instincts. Then again, the last time I trusted my instincts we ended up off-world waist deep in a prehistoric swamp, and Jack wasn't exactly wild about that." He picked up a bowl from the world that Carter's dialing program designated as PR3-X87 and fiddled with it, staring at her like he'd said something she could answer.
Jackson was the sort of person who didn't end up in libraries or in academia, Claire had decided -- the sort who was more concerned about the people around him than about his work being published. Jackson was a workaholic, but she'd seen him sit by Carter's bed for days, when Carter came back from off-world unconscious and bleeding out. He knew plenty about her, and she didn't know anything about him.
She hadn't made the gossip chain yet, she figured. Janet Fraiser, the chief medical officer, came by and talked to Claire, sometimes, but she was it, and Janet was friendly but close-mouthed about all four of the members of SG-1.
It wasn't that she didn't enjoy what she was doing; Claire did, because she came to work and never knew what was going to end up on her table. She said, knowing she sounded cranky and not caring, "My instincts still don't tell me what half the stuff that crosses this table is, much less where it came from."
Jackson smiled, a smile that looked a little sad, and kept fiddling with the bowl on the table. "We don't recruit stupid people, or people who can't think for themselves. Even the Marines -- every one of the Marines was picked because they're the best, but also because they were quick thinkers, savvy on their feet in the field. The scientists are the smartest people in the world, but they're also the ones doing the work that scares the most people."
"And what about you?" Claire said, before she could stop herself.
Jackson swung off the chair, and it had only been four months that she'd known him, but she could see the lines of muscle starting to build, underneath his gawky academic's physique. There was something melancholy and distant about Jackson, though Claire was sure that he worked hard so that no one ever saw that side of him. "I'm the only one who can do my job," he said. "For a lot of reasons. None of which I had when Catherine rescued me from the rain in New York City four years ago." It was clearly the end of the discussion.
"But what am I supposed to do?" Claire said, plaintive.
Jackson smiled at her again, radiant, with his sadness hidden away, and Claire couldn't help but smile back. "I'll send over some mission reports," he said. "The stuff that's less classified. Maybe they'll help." He set the bowl down on the table and nudged it toward Claire with his knuckles, and ambled out of the workroom.
Jackson started spending even more time in the library workspace, even if he didn't bring his books back. (No matter how many times she asked, she never got them back, not if Jackson thought he needed them, and when -- well. There were times she could have taken them, and she never felt right about it. O'Neill called it the Daniel Jackson Memorial Library, because even though Jonas took his office, anyone who needed the texts just wandered in and took what they needed, used it, put the books back on the shelves in the places Jackson had made for the books when the users were finished with them. O'Neill spent a lot of time in the library space that year, just hanging around and fussing with the stuff on Claire's shelves and not talking, and whenever he found his voice to make a joke about the Memorial Library, he sounded so sad that Claire wanted to do something for him.
She didn't figure out how to fix it, and in the end, everything changed again and it didn't matter.)
Jackson was there the day she shrieked and flung the H volume of the Library of Congress classifications across the room, barely missing something that looked like a flower pot and crushing the chalky rocks that SG-4 had brought back to her the week before.
While Claire was panting and clutching the edge of the desk, Jackson had picked his head up from the tablet he'd been studying, ambled across the room and fingered the pieces of broken chalk. "I guess you need a better system," he said.
Claire said, "There is nothing in library school that prepared me for this."
"There's nothing in the world that prepares you for this," Jackson said. "I'm fairly certain those rocks really were just chalk, if it helps."
"It doesn't," Claire said. "Look, I love the Library of Congress as much as the next librarian with a hard-on for classification, but I just have to say, I don't think they're what we need."
Jackson smiled, cat-like and self-contained, and said, "Now you're getting the hang of it."
"The hang of what?" Claire said.
"I'll send some people in to help you," Jackson said, as if it was the easiest thing in the world. No one at the SGC ever answered questions directly, and Claire was almost getting used to it. "One an afternoon, specialists in a variety of fields. You know how to build a taxonomy. Build one."
He disappeared again, taking the tablet with him, and Claire knew she wasn't going to get it back. She picked the H volume up off the floor, swept the remains of the chalk into a box, and sat back down at her desk.
Later, Claire used the H volume to prop up a desk that O'Neill broke in the aftermath of Kelowna.
She had been there a year, and what she knew from the little things she'd picked up in the commissary was that SG-1 had been SG-1 for two years before she started, since Jackson had come back from a year on Abydos, to search the galaxy for a wife he'd lost to the Goa'uld. She made an appointment with O'Neill, and he was bouncing a tennis ball off the wall when she walked in to his office.
It took her six weeks on the job to realize that AACR2 was going to be no help at all, another three months after that to figure out that the only useful part of the L of C Subject Headings was their structure, and another six months after that to work up the nerve to ask Colonel O'Neill if there was someone at the SGC who could design a better interface for the catalog than the out-of-box program they'd bought for her.
"Carson," he said, sounding cheerful, even though she knew from Linnet, one of the anthropologists in Jackson's department, who had heard from Sgt. Siler that SG-1 had come back from off-world three days earlier covered in something sticky, yellow and pollen-like. Jackson was sick as a dog and O'Neill had been righteously pissed that the MALP had missed the trees that gave this stuff off. "What's up? Settling in okay?"
"Well enough," Claire said. She'd gotten a paper cut from the edge of her proposal when she'd picked it up to leave her workroom, and she tried not to shove her finger in her mouth to ease the pain. Or avoid saying something she shouldn't, or didn't want to. "Colonel O'Neill, I wanted to --"
"Daniel told me," O'Neill said. "Something about new software?"
"The catalog software we have can't handle what we need it to," Claire said. "There are so many pictorial languages that don't have English transliterations, I can't put half the stuff I'm brought into the database, and I can't remember where I've stored another half of what I can catalog, because it just -- it wasn't built for this."
"It's a catalog," O'Neill said, and Claire had spent a lot of time listening to Jackson talk to himself in the last year, but she still had no idea how to read O'Neill. She got the feeling that nobody but the rest of SG-1 really had one. "It catalogs. I mean, I'm not missing something here, am I?"
"Technically, no," Claire said. "Technically you're right. But in reality -- we can only catalog the stuff that we can describe in English. We can't describe most of it in English."
"All right," O'Neill said, snapping his fingers across the desk until Claire handed him the stack of papers, sketches of what she thought she might want, technical specs that hardly explained what she needed, but it wasn't something she'd ever needed to know -- she'd flunked her databases course at Illinois. "Let me see what you need, and we'll get a team on designing it as soon as possible. You'll want to set up some meetings, so you get what you want and not something that Daniel thinks you want."
"But don't I need to ... justify it?" Claire spluttered, while O'Neill flipped through her notes, comparing what she'd written to something on another sheet of paper. "I thought I'd have to -- I made a plan!"
"Plans are overrated," O'Neill said mildly, fanning through the second half of Claire's proposal -- 47 pages, detailed explanations of things she wasn't sure she even wanted, but she wanted all her bases covered if she changed her mind later -- and then, "Looks good, and the General will approve it on my say-so. You'll need -- what, some programmers?"
"At least a couple," Claire said. "Database specialists, I guess. I don't -- I've never done this before."
"Looks good to me," O'Neill said. He yanked a form off the top of a stack piled on his desk, signed extravagantly along the bottom, and clipped it to Claire's proposal. "I'll send you some profiles this week, let you pick out the people you want yourself."
"But -- that was easy," Claire said. It was -- she'd expected to be forced to fight, to justify every penny that this was going to cost the SGC.
"Eh," O'Neill said. "Daniel set it all out for me last week, I could have signed this form, could have recommended it to Hammond, before I even saw your proposal. Which is nice, by the way. A lot more comprehensible than most of the stuff Daniel's department asks for."
"Then what was this for?"
O'Neill grinned and said, "I just wanted to see if you could explain it in English. Daniel was totally incomprehensible when he tried to explain it to me, he just managed to get excited enough about the prospect that I knew it was worth funding."
"Oh," Claire said.
"Profiles will be on your desk by the end of the week," O'Neill said, turning back to his computer. Claire stared at him blankly. "You're dismissed, Carson. Go on. Get out. I've got very important things to do."
"Like play Minesweeper on his computer," Jackson said behind her. Claire jerked around and Jackson smiled down at her. "Jack, I need you to come look at something."
"I'm a very busy man, Daniel," O'Neill said, swiveling around in his chair. "I've got six months worth of mission reports to read."
"Everybody knows that you don't read those," Jackson said. "You only say that when you don't want to listen to me and Sam talk about things you pretend not to be interested in."
"Daniel," O'Neill said, in a warning sort of voice, with a flick of his eyes toward Claire, who was sitting frozen, watching the tennis match of Jackson and O'Neill. "Carson, honestly, you can go. I'll have you a list of qualified programmers on your desk by the end of the week, like I said."
"Right," Claire said. "Thank you so much, sir. I'll be -- in the library. If anyone needs me. Or books."
"I'll be by later, Claire," Jackson said, pressing back against the door so she could slip past him. "You'll want to talk to the heads of all the departments, and most of the specialists, to see what they need. I'll get you a schedule."
Claire walked down the hall, feeling vaguely shell-shocked. Twelve months, and everyone here still baffled her completely. Jackson talked to his commanding officer as though O'Neill was a friend, not a boss, and O'Neill seemed uninterested in everything but getting Carter and Jackson's goats. Carter had surprised Claire by having a wicked sense of humor and a talent for classification, even more so than Jackson, the linguist. Janet Fraiser was Claire's second most frequent visitor, after Jackson, and she gossiped about everyone on the base with a voracity that Claire had never seen. And Claire, who'd almost flunked out of library school, who'd written one singularly unimpressive paper, had an unlimited budget to develop a highly specialized set of software.
Life was strange, at the SGC. Stranger than Claire had ever imagined -- stranger than she would ever imagine, later.
She had more space than a lot of the scientists, but it was hidden away, as far from the departure room as space at the SGC could get before it trundled into NORAD's territory, and Claire didn't have a lot of visitors. Six months spent with three Air Force software engineers, and she had a cataloging program that she wouldn't have ever been able to explain to anyone outside of the SGC. One of the men she'd worked with, a captain named Kirkpatrick who usually served as the second-in-command on SG-5, asked her on a date halfway into the design process.
Claire turned him down and regretted it, later, when he was killed by a staff weapon during a surprise ambush on a supposedly uninhabited planet -- he'd been a sweet man, quiet and sort of boring, but when she went home to an empty apartment and didn't have anyone to talk to about her day, she wished for someone with security clearance, someone steady, someone who would understand what it was like to have a stoic but friendly alien (she liked Teal'c, possibly best of all, and he came to see her at least once a week) as a frequent visitor to her library. Or who would understand her grief at the deaths of Marines, of scientists, of people she hadn't known to say hello to, except that they were here, and they were fighting a fight to keep the Earth -- the galaxy, the universe -- safe.
She'd had goals for her life -- a nice house, a couple of dogs, enough bookshelf space that she didn't have to keep things on the floor (and she knew that Jackson shared her desire for the last one, though he told her he'd pass on the dogs) -- and none of them had ever involved a fight like she was fighting now.
Claire didn't even fight. She just stood by and watched people die, and tried to get them the right information for the right missions, so that they wouldn't die. For all the talk about freedom of information while she was in school -- it had never been life or death before this. Claire went to work early and stayed late, bent over mission reports and translations that were clipped to photos and tablets that needed cataloging. When she left, well after five p.m., half the staff was always still there, and Claire went home and ate canned soup and watched reruns of "Law & Order" until she fell asleep on the couch. She didn't know her neighbors in Colorado Springs -- they had lives, and she had work, and she didn't know which she preferred, these days; she could hardly remember having a life that wasn't work -- and she didn't have any friends. Claire had colleagues, and Claire had something to do, and it was an important thing she was doing, but sometimes she was lonely.
She called her parents on Sundays and talked to her dad about Illinois basketball and her mom about why Claire wasn't dating. She envied the closeness of the off-world teams. She sometimes ate with the Marines who'd done her programming, the two who were still alive, in the commissary. She wasn't particularly lonely, but sometimes she felt really alone.
Three weeks after Kirkpatrick died -- she'd been at the SGC 18 months by then, and even though people kept telling her that it would only get weirder, she thought that the weird seemed to have stabilized -- Jackson and O'Neill wandered into her library, obviously mid-argument that appeared to end when O'Neill poked Jackson in the chest and said, "I meant it, Daniel, I am sick of all the death and the sneezing."
"Fine," Jackson said mildly. "You're always sick of everything, and it never changes. But fine. I'll do my best."
"I'd tell you that's not enough," O'Neill said, sounding halfway between annoyed and affectionate. "But I know that you already know that."
"Sneezing and death are hardly the same thing," Jackson said.
"Except when you sneeze, you always sound like you're about to die," O'Neill said, with a finality to his voice that suggested the entire conversation was over. He poked Jackson one last time, just under the ribs, and Jackson wrinkled his nose at O'Neill before turning to Claire, who was trying hard to pretend like their private argument hadn't walked right into her work space.
"Did you need something, Dr. Jackson? Colonel?" Claire said. She was keeping a list in the back of her head: Things They Never Taught Me About In Library School That I Wish They Would Have Taught Me. It was getting longer every day, starting with "sometimes, the Library of Congress isn't actually the answer," and ending, now, with "When an Air Force Colonel and a certified genius civilian archeologist have personal arguments about sneezing in your library, it is probably best to pretend you haven't seen anything."
"Yep," O'Neill said. He thumped a stack of paper down onto her desk and said, "These are from Hammond. Those are the people we can get clearance for. Figure out -- oh, pick six or seven of them out, and rank them first choice to last choice."
"Who are these people?" Claire said, flipping through the paper. Background checks, CVs, photos clipped to corners of official SGC reports.
"People with the right skills to help you," O'Neill said. "Some with library degrees, some with computer science training, a couple career military who would probably rather be pushing paper here than pushing paper at another desk somewhere but they're not field-cleared anymore."
"Jack," Jackson said, "just because you don't ever want to sit around and push paper doesn't mean than no one else does."
"Daniel," O'Neill said, "shut up, it's not your turn yet."
"You mean, people to hire?" Claire said.
"It says Head, Department of Cataloging and Archives outside your door, doesn't it?" O'Neill said. Jackson rolled his eyes at O'Neill, and Claire tried to close her mouth. "Can't be a department if it's just you."
"Uh," Claire said. "Okay. Thank you. I will."
"Soon," O'Neill said. "Hammond wants to get this settled before you go."
"Uh, go where?" Claire said. "I mean, go where, sir?"
"All yours, Daniel," O'Neill said. "I have paperwork to catch up on."
"You're going to hang around Sam's lab until she throws you out," Jackson said mildly, not even looking at O'Neill -- Jackson was focused on the papers in his hands, flipping back and forth between two official-looking briefings. Claire blinked several times, tried to remember where she'd left her passport and if she could escape anyone the SGC sent after her if she tried to disappear, and then wondered why she was thinking that she was being sent to Siberia.
"We're not sending you to Siberia," Jackson said, as if he could read her mind. She'd been there 18 months and she'd talked to Jackson more than she'd talked to anybody else, except for Kirkpatrick. He was a little creepy, like the smartest of the physics majors she'd known at Amherst -- too smart to be normal, no matter how hard he tried, and always a couple of steps ahead of the rest of them.
She'd been at the SGC long enough to know that mind-reading wasn't out of the question, but Claire hadn't heard klaxons and SG-1 hadn't been off-world in two weeks, so it was just -- Jackson's perception, which was rarely wrong. Even, Claire had heard, when he was facing down System Lords.
Jackson said, "Relax. SG-6 found something that seems to be an off-world version of the great library at Alexandria. They brought back scraps of what I think is a lost Sophocles. I thought that -- you've been here almost two years and you've never stepped through the Stargate. The planet's uninhabited, but it was on the Abydos cartouche, so the Goa'uld know that it's there. If we can get approval, we'll try to bring back as much as we can."
Claire stared at him.
Jackson huffed a little laugh and dipped his head. He pulled of his glasses and rubbed them across the tail of his shirt, and when he lifted his head, he peered out at her from under his eyelashes, glasses still in hand. "I forget that not everyone is as sentimental about history as I am," he said, sounding a little sheepish. "It seems as if -- I think that the Goa'uld may have moved as much of the library as they could, and then set the rest ablaze. It would make sense, now that we've found this. God knows why -- God knows why they do anything that's not brutal or destructive. I have some theories about their control of the written word, but -- it's not important. I'm talking too much, at any rate. SG-1 is going back with SG-6 and two people from my department, for at least a week, and we're scheduled to gate out a week from tomorrow. If you want to go, just -- let me know, soon. Today or tomorrow."
Jackson put his glasses back on and was almost out the door when Claire found her voice. "The library at Alexandria?" she said, and was appalled to hear her own voice crack.
"Yes," Jackson said, turning in the doorway. "Amazing, isn't it?" He disappeared out the door and Claire could hear him whistling cheerfully as he went. She looked down at the profiles in her hands and up at the empty doorway, and smiled.
It wasn't amazing, really -- it wasn't the library at Alexandria, at least. The books all turned to be fakes, magnificent reproductions and forgeries, and even Jackson had whistled at how well someone had faked undiscovered Ovid and Euripides.
O'Neill said, "I think some of this is better than the stuff we've found, Daniel." He toed a stack of books with his boot, spilling several volumes into Jackson's lap. Claire was up a ladder, passing books carefully down to one of the Marines on SG-6, and when she glanced down, Jackson was shoving his glasses up his nose and glaring at O'Neill.
"It could be worse, Jack," Jackson said. "The forgeries are really excellent."
"I'd have felt so much better about wasting my time on bad forgeries," O'Neill muttered sarcastically, and then he'd strolled off, whistling like Jackson had the day he'd asked Claire to come with the teams to retrieve the books.
Jackson had peered up at Claire standing on the ladder, and said, "Even if they're fakes, it's pretty impressive, huh?"
"Uh," Claire said, and dropped a book on Major Jacobs' head. "Yes." Jackson smiled at her and turned back to the book in his lap.
O'Neill shouted, "Daniel, if they're fakes, why are you readin' 'em?" from the other end of the library, and that was when the gunfire started outside the main doors.
It turned out that the planet wasn't a lot of things: uninhabited, untouched by the Goa'uld save for the fake library, a nice place to take a weeklong vacation.
"Well, it wasn't one of the worst," Carter said cheerfully in the infirmary afterwards. Janet Fraiser was drawing what felt like all of Claire's blood out of Claire's arm, and Claire was trying to breathe through the pain in her side -- two broken ribs from falling off the ladder in surprise when the gunfire started. Carter was sitting on the bed opposite Claire's, swinging her feet and streaking dirt across her face every time she rubbed at the bandage over her eyebrow.
"Sam, I told you to get out of here," Fraiser said, topping off Claire's blood sample and slapping a Band-Aid over the pinprick.
"Moral support," Carter said, nodding in a direction that might have been Claire and might have been Jackson, on the other side of the curtain, laid up with a concussion from getting whacked with a fake collection of Sappho's poetry -- a fact which O'Neill had found riotously funny, at least after they'd made it back through the gate and safely into the SGC.
"For all they complain mightily whenever they're stuck here with injuries, I can't get SG-1 out of my infirmary when they don't need to be here," Fraiser said to Claire, with a pointed look at Carter. "Daniel's fine, Sam, and it's just patching and painting at this point for everyone else."
"Daniel's fine, for once," Carter grumbled, but she hopped off the infirmary bed with a wince and a groan and started for the door. "You did well," she said to Claire as she passed. "Better than some of the times that Colonel O'Neill shrieked like a girl when faced with surprises off-world, at least."
Fraiser made a flicking motion in Carter's direction, affectionate and scolding all at once, and Claire knew that the stories about how much time SG-1 spent in the infirmary weren't just stories -- Fraiser clearly knew them all, and cared about them all beyond the boundaries of doctor-patient relationships. The thought made Claire strangely happy -- it wasn't hero worship, but O'Neill had brought her in and Jackson had done his best to help her whenever she needed it, and she liked them all a lot. Through the haze of painkillers, Claire was pleased that someone was looking out for the team.
Carter ambled off with a wave, favoring her left knee where she'd slammed into the dialing device while they were running. Claire closed her eyes after Carter disappeared around the curtain toward Jackson's bed, and when she opened them again, it was dark in the infirmary and she realized she'd fallen asleep. Major Jacobs was sitting beside her bed, flipping through a copy of Archeology Digest.
She was thirsty and her ribs hurt dully -- Claire coughed, and Jacobs looked up, startled at the noise, magazine balanced between his fingers. "Hey," he said. "You missed the debrief."
Claire coughed again, and he poured a glass of water and passed it to her. She tried to think of how to respond to him -- she was out of the military chain of command, as Jackson had told her over and over again ("You don't really have to call Jack sir, Claire."), but she knew that mouthing off to the leader of the only off-world team she'd ever traveled with wasn't a great idea. Sorry, I was laid up in the infirmary with broken ribs sounded a little too ... something, even for her ears. She settled for glaring at him, and gulping the water down happily. It was cold, and it was clean, and it felt like the best thing she'd ever tasted.
Jacobs passed over two of the big white pain pills Fraiser had left for her, and, while Claire was swallowing them down, said, "Hey, you're not in trouble."
"I didn't think I would be," Claire snapped.
Jackson had told her that it was easy to get lost in your work, down in the Mountain -- no natural light, no windows, very few clocks. Most of the military personnel had decent internal clocks ("Teal'c's is better than an atomic clock," he'd said, sorting through the briefing reports he was helping her catalog and sifting them into piles) and most of the civilians were workaholics of the first class, so they didn't care about time -- stumble out at 5 p.m. or at midnight, Jackson told her, most of them were still going home to houses full of books and artifacts and scientific doohickeys ("Jack's word, not mine") instead of people.
Claire had tried wearing a watch, but she'd never liked cataloging with one on, even before she was handling delicate, potentially deadly alien junk on a daily basis -- first it had caught on the pages of the subject headings while she tried to wrestle the PS volume into submission, and then it had bumped up against everything she held, scratching at pottery and humming ominously next to anything made of naquadah.
It was at home in a drawer, and Claire had forgotten that she'd even bought it -- because the clocks in the rabbit warren that passed for Technical Services at Macalester were hardly ever working, much less right when they (very rarely) were -- and Jackson was right. Had been right. Was continuing to be right -- Claire's internal clock was ruined forever. She wandered out of the Mountain, headed for home, and was sometimes surprised to drive, blinking, into the bright sunshine of 10 a.m., or into the clear, starry darkness of 3 in the morning.
They'd gone through the gate at mid-afternoon in Colorado Springs -- 1430 hours. It had been past dark on PY7-34Z when they'd come through the gate on the other side of the universe, and it had been mid-afternoon on 34Z when the surprised, surprising, thankfully small band of Jaffa had stumbled on their camp outside the fake library of Alexandria. Dr. Fraiser had told Claire that it was mid-morning when they'd come back through to the SGC, Claire supported at Major Jacobs' side and Carter hauling a loudly complaining Dr. Jackson. (He'd dropped like a stone when Claire had dropped the fake Sappho when she'd lost her grip on the ladder, but he'd come to halfway back to the gate and berated anyone who would listen -- mostly just Carter and Captain Jones of SG-6, who were stuck dragging him along -- about leaving before he was finished looking at all the forgeries. Claire, leaning against Jacobs and waiting for Carter to dial the gate, had heard O'Neill teasing Jackson gently about getting knocked out by a dead lesbian poet.)
The infirmary was dark, and Claire couldn't figure out if it was dark because it was late, because it was actually after 5 o'clock and everyone had gone home, or because ... she couldn't figure out why. Jacobs was watching her carefully, amusement written large in his eyes. "I was hoping you'd wake up," he said, tossing the magazine onto the table beside her bed, "so I could tell you that you missed the debrief, and everyone said good stuff about you. Handled yourself well under pressure. Didn't scream and run straight into danger, followed the instructions we gave you. And conked Dr. Jackson a good one, which you might have been in trouble over, except that Colonel O'Neill thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard, Jackson getting knocked out by Sappho. Plus, you missed Carter trying to explain Sappho to Teal'c, which O'Neill says is going in the hall of Things He Never Thought He'd Hear In A Briefing fame."
Claire glared at him some more. Jacobs patted her hand -- a little awkwardly -- and stood up. "I just wanted to tell you, Carson, if you decide you want to get a permanent spot on an off-world team, I'll fight anybody who wants you. You've got a spot on my team if you want it."
"Uh," Claire said. "Thank you. I think. But no thank you. If -- you know what I mean?"
"Jackson probably would have been happier in his office with his artifacts, working on a team that did nothing but archeological digs," Jacobs said. He was standing by the bed, fidgeting a little, and Claire wanted to tell him to sit down, looking up at him was hurting her neck, but she'd been there a year and a half and if the way to get people to talk to her, to tell her anything about the people she was working with, was to sit immobilized in a hospital bed while Marine Corps Majors talked in the dark to a spot above her head, well. She couldn't complain. "First contact wasn't what he wanted to do, really, but he wanted to find his wife, more than he wanted anything else in the world," he continued. "And the way to do that was first contact, SG-1, all that stuff."
"Why are you telling me this?" Claire said, and Jacobs looked down at her and laughed.
"Oh, I don't know, really," Jacobs said. "I've got a Master's degree in chemical engineering, myself. Some days I'd rather have a lab like Major Carter's, never get shot at by aliens with weird weapons. I understand that you don't want to go off-world. Why you don't want to go off-world."
"Oh," Claire said. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Carson," Jacobs said, and patted her hand again, less awkwardly this time. He smiled at her and said, "That's just my opinion about Jackson, for what it's worth. Don't go repeating that anywhere, you hear?"
"I won't," Claire said. "What time is it?"
"Just after 7 p.m.," Jacobs said. "I'll go get Doc Fraiser, I think she was going to let you go home once you woke up." He disappeared around the curtain and left Claire alone with her thoughts -- too many thoughts.
A year and a half, and she hardly knew anything about what was going on; she could decipher Ancient and Goa'uld and half a dozen alien dialects, and she had a cataloging program that was beyond her wildest dreams of cataloging software. She was never bored at work, even if she was often frustrated, but she was so in the dark about so many things that she didn't even know where to start asking questions -- not that anyone would answer them if she had asked in the first place. If she'd known what questions to ask.
She'd said no without thinking, when Jacobs offered her an off-world spot -- she didn't have the languages to be useful like Dr. Jackson did, and her modern European history wouldn't help anyone, not when the Goa'uld were so focused on the ancient cultures. It wasn't usefulness that had made her say no, or the fact that she'd rather stay in her library with her books, where it was safe. Sitting in the dark infirmary, waiting for the pain in her ribs to leech out into the Vicodin she'd swallowed down, she wouldn't have been able to tell a team of Marines why she'd said no.
Off-world was scary, but it wasn't any scarier than the day-to-day risk that something a team brought back would explode the minute she picked it up, or release alien sex pollen into the ventilation system, or crumble to pieces in her hands. It was more exciting that trying to figure out where to classify the enormous, apparently significant wagon wheel that SG-5 had brought back two weeks ago.
But Claire knew in her gut that she'd be -- that her heart, maybe, would be safer trapped in the Mountain than out in the galaxy somewhere. Everybody on base gossiped and nobody said anything worth hearing, but it didn't take a genius to realize that all the off-world teams were the walking wounded, in one way or another.
Fraiser bustled in, the lights turning on to signal her appearance, and Claire was caught blinking, somewhere between her thoughts and the reality of broken ribs and Vicodin, as Fraiser reached down to take her pulse. "If I send you home," Fraiser said, "will you promise to stay in bed and not show up to the Mountain for at least three days? Call for take-out, lie on the sofa, try not to move too much for at least a little while."
"Sure," Claire said. Her ribs had stopped hurting but her head felt fuzzy, and she felt like Jacobs had said something that she had wanted to hold on to, but it was gone in a haze of painkillers. All she wanted was to sleep in her own bed for something like five straight days.
"Your vitals are all normal, let's get you out of bed and I'll send someone for your personal stuff -- laptop need to go with you?" Fraiser said, sliding a hand under Claire's back and helping her sit up.
"Uh," Claire said. "Yeah. Yes, please. My bag's in -- in my office, I think. Under my desk. I can't drive."
"Nobody expects you to, sweetheart," Fraiser said. "We'll send you home in a car with a Marine driver, or I think Sam's still around and she could take you. Whichever you want."
"Don't," Claire said, frowning, trying to get her feet under her. "Don't put Major Carter out on my account, a car's -- fine." She suddenly, desperately wanted to be home in her own bed.
"The Marines don't bite, Claire," Fraiser said. Claire groped a hand out and balanced against the table by the bed. "Don't sound so terrified. Come on, we'll get you some shoes and somebody will be by in ten minutes with your stuff, and you can go home -- it's Thursday, Major Jacobs told you that?"
"No," Claire said.
"Well, it is," Fraiser said. "Hammond put SGs 1 and 6 on stand-down until Wednesday, and that means you, too."
"Wait," Claire said. "Resumes. CVs. They're on my desk. I told Colonel O'Neill I would read them, and then I had to -- I didn't get to them, I should take them home, they need to be looked at."
"Sure, honey," Fraiser said. "I'll make sure somebody puts them in your bag. But you shouldn't be doing anything once you go home."
"I can't," Claire said, wincing when she tried to straighten up -- a Marine she'd never met before set Claire's clogs on the ground in front of her, and she tried to slide them on without falling over. "I can't just sit still, I have to -- read, or write, or do something. I just have to pick some people out, I can, I won't, I promise, Dr. Fraiser, I promise I won't hurt myself."
"All right, honey, okay," Fraiser said, getting an arm around Claire so Claire could slide her feet into her shoes. "Go down to Ms. Carson's office," she said to the Marine, "and find her laptop, and her personal bag, and" -- she looked at Claire for confirmation -- "a stack of CVs, on her desk?"
"Please," Claire said. She'd remembered the resumes, but that wasn't the only thing that was still hanging in her mind. "Dr. Fraiser," she started.
"Call me Janet, honey," Fraiser said. "Everybody else does -- the women, at least. Colonel O'Neill calls me Doc Napoleon, even if he thinks I don't know about it."
"Janet," Claire said. "I think -- Major Jacobs told me something, and I can't remember what it was, or if it was important, or anything."
"That's the Vicodin," Fraiser -- Janet -- said cheerfully. "If you think it's that important, we can go through the security tapes, but there's no sound on the ones down here. Nobody wants to hear the screaming when Colonel O'Neill comes back after missions. I swear, he thinks I've got it out for him." The Marine was back, Claire's bag stuffed full and slung over one shoulder, and Janet helped Claire carefully to a totally vertical position before transferring Claire over to the Marine, who worked an arm around Claire's waist and took almost all of her weight. "But," Janet said, "that's because I really do have it out for Colonel O'Neill. Man screams like a girl when you come anywhere near him with a big needle. Best entertainment in two galaxies, I tell you what."
Fraiser tucked the bottle of Vicodin in the outside pocket of Claire's bag and said, "Two pills, every four hours. And if I hear about you leaving your apartment -- and I will, young lady! -- before Wednesday, when I send a Marine to get you at the civilized, non-military hour of 10 a.m., I'll have you back in this bed faster than this jarhead can spit."
The Marine smiled brilliantly at Janet.
"I can hear you thinking," Janet said to him, affectionately menacing. "I know what Colonel O'Neill calls me, and you don't have the balls to say it out loud."
"Yes, sir," the Marine said. "No, sir."
"Good," Janet said, and she reached out to squeeze Claire's hand fondly. "Now, take her on home. When you get back, Claire, come see me first. I want to x-ray those ribs again."
Claire slept for two straight days, getting up only to eat canned soup and shower, carefully, without pulling her ribs, and lay on the couch, thinking, for the third. She spent 20 years getting a variety of degrees, and no one had ever said anything about the hazards of the job. The hazards of academia, yes -- one of the reasons she'd gone to library school instead of getting a Ph.D. -- and the hazards of budget cuts and job realignments and being downsized out of an already overworked, understaffed department, but nothing about falling of ladders, or aliens, or epic collections of forgeries.
She thought about what she would teach in a class about how to work in a non-traditional work environment. She thought about Jack O'Neill, standing in the gate room next to her, his eyes focused firmly on Daniel Jackson (fending off a stretcher, insisting that he'd taken worse hits to the head) and Sam Carter (hiding a smile behind a hand), saying We'll have to get you some weapons training.
Claire knew people who'd put themselves through graduate school with a tour in the National Guard, or the Army Reserves. At UMass, she had a boyfriend (briefly, before it turned out that he was actually a sociopath) who liked to go out and shoot things at a target range on the weekends. She wasn't scared of guns, exactly -- it was just that Claire liked to know what to expect. She liked regularity, she liked order. She was a cataloger, and nothing at Macalester had ever tried to bite her when she'd picked it up to copy catalog its dimensions.
(One of the men in Carter's department told her it wasn't a bite; it was a shock given to anyone who didn't have naquadah in their blood. "What, so no one on this base at all?" she'd asked. "I thought only the Goa'uld had naquadah in their blood."
"You didn't get the mission report about Jolinar," he had said cryptically, and then he'd called up to Carter's lab and gotten her down to the library to hold the gadget for Claire, turning it carefully this way and that on Claire's direction, and it hadn't bitten Carter and no one had told Claire what was going on.
She was starting to realize that this was standard working procedure -- need to know basis only, and Claire was at the bottom of need to know -- and she was trying to adjust, she really was.)
Claire liked routines and things that slotted neatly into boxes. Claire's job was all jagged edges that didn't fit together, and people she couldn't make sense of, and languages she didn't speak.
Almost two years, and she still felt like every day was a slap in face, because she never knew what to expect.
It was almost getting to be a routine, expecting the unexpected.
When she fell asleep on the couch, she dreamt about places she'd never seen, strange creatures and strange landscapes that she'd never seen.
Claire limped into the Mountain on the arm of a different Marine than the one who'd driven her home three days earlier, and after Janet Fraiser cleared her for light duty -- no heavy lifting, make Colonel O'Neill do it for you -- she limped into the library to find three people she'd never seen before, and Jackson, sitting around various tables, two of them studying her catalog on laptops, and the third bent over with Jackson, flipping through a book she hadn't entered into the records yet.
"Uh," Claire said. It was the most people who had ever been in the place at one time, excepting the two times all of SG-1 had loitered in the doorway.
"Hi," Jackson said. "I think you'll be seeing a little more business from now on."
Something else unexpected that she hadn't thought to expect: the way that going down in the field ("I fell off a ladder," she said pathetically to Jacobs when he stopped by to check on her, and he had just grinned and winked) gave her cachet with the Marines ("Because you could stomach it," Jackson said) and the scientists ("Because half of them are too terrified to even think about looking at the wormhole," Jackson said) both.
Claire stuck fast to her decision to stay in the library, but her ears listened harder for the Unauthorized Gate Activation klaxon, and she noticed more often who came into the library (the mess, the hallways) wearing gauze taped across their cheeks, or arms fastened firmly in slings. A year's worth of attention to detail, and after a year, it had almost faded into the background.
She had a routine; two and a half years, and she almost had a routine she could set a watch by.
On to Part 2 .