Broken Friends

Chapter 26

Daniel was studying the wall carvings in the Jihnnsai meeting house. The technique was unlike anything he’d ever seen. To put the images into the wet clay would have required several artists working simultaneously, but they seemed completely congruent as if they had all been made by a single crafter.

His intense concentration was interrupted by someone clearing their throat. When he looked up there was Pembi-Keran, standing just inside the door with a wicker basket in her hand.

“Hello,” Daniel said in Arabic – his favorite pick of the Jihnnsai ‘daughter tongues’. She smiled, her face lightening up with joy as she returned his greeting.

“I came to request you join me in a meal by the pond,” she continued and held up the basket as substantiation.

“A picnic?” he responded. “Why not?!”

They walked – none of them actually walking – along the paved path to the pond by the Stargate.

“As I said earlier,” Pembi-Keran said, “you may remain in our village for as long as you wish. Some who come to us remain until their time in life is up.” She cast him a sideways glance that seemed to hold both hope and regret. Daniel found himself unable to find something to say to the confusing emotions directed his way.

They reached the pond and Pembi-Keran paused to spread an elaborately embroidered mat on the sand. After helping Daniel down onto it she took up the thread of conversation, the smile on her lips extinguished like a candle in wind.

“You will leave us soon. What we have read in the heavens points towards it.”

“We can come back, though?” Daniel said, as much a question as an offer. “Our peoples could be friends – allies.” To his bewilderment she didn’t seem comforted by his words, and her voice was full of sorrow as she replied.

“I am saddened to tell you our hope will not be fulfilled in the matter of an alliance. When you leave us you will not return to continue our friendship, Daniel Jackson. This the Jioti Chaarc has told me without ambiguity.”

“Why? Is something going to happen? Something bad?”

She avoided his worried eyes and laid back to gaze up towards the blue sky, her body so close to his that he could feel its warmth even in the midday heat.

“All your possible paths bring you away from Jinileme as you travel farther than any of your friends, in every way conceivable,” she said cryptically into the wavering air.

They both stayed silent for a while, both looking at the sky with their own thoughts as company. Daniel couldn’t make sense of what she had said. It was almost as if she was deliberately making her words in to more indecipherable riddles than usual.

“You know,” he said, turning his head to look at her. “I might have to agree with Jack – it would be a lot easier if you could just speak plainly.”

She turned her head as well to meet is eyes. A crocked smile tugged on the left corner of her mouth.

“The heavens is…”

“…cryptic,” he finished her sentence and laughed. “But it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be easier if it wasn’t.”

Pembi-Keran joined in the laughter, the heavy melancholy lifting with the sound as it drifted towards the tree tops. When the mirth ebbed she returned her eyes to the sky, but her voice was just a smidgen lighter when she spoke.

“That is accurate. Many things would be different if the heavens spoke plainly to us. Our way may not have been to stand aside from the mechanics of Jioti Chaarc but to intervene. We may have been able to halt dusyilan’s advances. As the universe is however, there are too many factors to consider, and we would have been no better equipped to act as gods of the galaxy than them.”

Daniel nodded. Just by glimpsing the kind of knowledge the Jihnnsai could extract from their divining he was already tempted to use it. Knowing the future could put any man in an extraordinary position to change the Milky Way, to from his perspective make it a better place. Knowledge is power – but power corrupts, he thought and remembered a young boy wise beyond his years who had taught him that very same lesson.

“It is an honorable notion to recognize ones limitations,” he said in an attempt to bring Pembi-Keran out of her gloom. She turned and looked at him, her eyes holding an expression he couldn’t quite define.

“You are the honorable one, Daniel Jackson. You have sacrificed much for others, never placing yourself above them even by well-meaning. Your mind is different from any I have touched, full of nobility and kindness.”

He felt his cheeks flame red. He had never liked flattery, just as he had never considered himself noble or honorable. To him it was just a matter of doing what was necessary and right. Helping those who needed it came as naturally to him as breathing. On the other hand he did know that many, even his teammates, saw him with the same eyes as Pembi-Keran. He didn’t remember much of his last hours alive after his radiation poisoning on Langara, but sometimes his dreams brought him back to those tortured moments and he heard them – Sam, Teal'c, and even Jack – telling him what a hero he was. He hadn’t believed them then, and struggled with it still.

“No,” he said to Pembi-Keran. “I am not those things. Kindness I try for, but that is just decent humanity. Please, can we talk about something else?”

His plea seemed to make Pembi-Keran disappointed. She turned her eyes back to the sky again, barely noticeably inching herself away from him. She didn’t speak, not of Daniel’s heroism or anything else. After a while, when the food was all gone, Daniel pushed himself up on his elbows. He gathered his courage to ask Pembi-Keran to help him into his chair but she anticipated his request and rose to aid him without a word spoken between them. Despite her gentle hands there seemed to suddenly be a distance between them, a distance that hadn’t existed even in their first meeting. As soon as Daniel was back in his chair she laid down on the mat again, all the while avoiding his eyes. Puzzled he wheeled away to return to the village.

Teal'c left the meeting house with a specific goal in mind. Following Jack’s orders to learn as much as possible of the people of PQX-830 – Jinileme – he quickly decided to search out the eldest of the village. His experience was that they were most commonly the ones who held the greatest knowledge of the history of their people. He stopped the first Jihnnsai he met; a young woman. The swirling smoke of her us-hayat was a deep dark purple and she was carrying a basket of laundry on her head.

“Excuse me, miss,” Teal'c said with a small bow. “Can you direct me to the house of your eldest and wisest?”

The woman pointed him to a house in the inner circle of the village. Teal'c thanked her and approached the designated building. It was in no way different from the ones on either side of it, but the door stood open and the scent of incense drifted out through the opening. He stepped inside, pausing just inside to allow his eyes to adjust to the gloom.

The room was very similar to the meeting house, furnished only with colorful carpets, half a dozen divans and a few low tables. The sparse furnishing made Teal'c wonder if neither this or the meeting house was a place of living but simply a room of assembly. As his eyes took in the room its five elderly inhabitants turned their eyes to him with varying grades of scrutiny. Keen to give a good first impression Teal'c greeted them with the respectful bow. Before he had an opportunity to voice his errand the man placed on the divan closest to him spoke.

“Welcome.” He gestured to a vacant divan. “Sit and listen. We shall answer your questions and tell you of the Jihnnsai.”

It was apparent that the old man was reading his mind, but despite that it worried him Teal'c took the offered seat. He cleared his mind of everything but the present, like he would when he meditated, and hoped that would keep the elderly Jihnnsai from gleaning anything compromising. The old man made no sign of having noticed his adjustment as he continued:

“You have been told of our past, and now you seek knowledge of our present, yes?”

“Indeed. I am curious of your life on this planet. Are there many of your kind?”

“Yes.” The old man got a nostalgic look in his eyes as he answered. “When we arrived from Youva our numbers was fewer, but over time Jihnnsai have spread to populate the entire surface of Jinileme. The desert tribes are greatest in numbers. Through our time on Youva the desert came to be our preferred habitat, but there are tribes who have chosen to live in the forests as well. Our tribe however has the privilege of living by the Dynia-Kapase.” The old man swelled with pride and Teal'c nodded that he understood the honor implied. Satisfied that the message had gotten through the old man continued, “For one fathraintu we are kabile derhaiba. At the next Buyu-Bethai another tribe will be chosen to hold this privilege.”

Unlike Pembi-Keran the old man made no effort to translate the Jihnnsai words he used in his account. Some of them, like this people’s term for the Stargate, Teal'c recognized, but others needed clarification for him to fully understand the meaning of what he was told.

“’Fathraintu’ is a measure of time?” he inquired. The old man nodded, and continued unasked to clarify.

“Fathraintu is five circuits of the sun, and marks the distance on the wheel of time between Buyu-Bethai. At the Buyu-Bethai all of Jihnnsai gather in celebration, and the leaders of the tribes convene in the assembly of leaders. They choose the tribe found worthy of receiving the honor of being kabile derhaiba for the next fathraintu. It means ‘greeting tribe’,” he added sharply, no doubt in response to the slight frustration in Teal'c’s mind to understand.

The pointed remark would not have bothered Teal'c as much if it had not been for the implication of the elderly Jihnnsai’s presence in his mind. The thought of mindreading was disturbing, in no small part because of the purely tactical disadvantage. The fact that these people might through his mind gain access to essential information concerning Earth and the SCG alarmed him, but there was also the purely personal revulsion of violation of privacy. There were things in his mind that he never spoke of. Things he had done and things he had witnessed throughout his already long life. There was darkness there he rarely wanted to admit to himself, and even less to a stranger race he knew very little about.

He rose, and bowing he excused himself. He didn’t bother to make up a pretext for his leaving, sure that the old men and women already had read the truth from him. Despite it being at least partial disobedience of his orders he decided to head for the ‘gate and wait for his teammates to finish up so they could go home.

After making his report to General Hammond, Jack wandered aimlessly around the village. Here and there he peeked in through a doorway, observing the Jihnnsai going about their surprisingly ordinary daily routines. For a long while he sat under the tree at the centre of the village, watching a group of children play a game that was awfully similar to tag. Eventually he decided to search out Pembi-Keran. There was something he had to ask her; something that had been tickling his mind all day.

He found her in the shadow of the palm trees by the Stargate pond, lying on the mat in the warm sand where Daniel had left her. When she heard Jack approaching she quickly rose to greet him. Her movement was graceful, like a cobra hypnotically raising its head from the sand.

“P-K!” Jack paused and considered. “Can I call you P-K?”

“You may.” A gracious, slightly flirtatious smirk touched her lips. Jack was surprised; he hadn’t really expected her to agree to the nickname. Most aliens didn’t like it when he couldn’t pronounce their names.

“Be not surprised,” she said with a giggle, “I know you mean no harm. My name is difficult in your mouth and I am different to your mind. I simply unsettle you.”

“Yeah, you do.” He didn’t realize how offensive the words were until they had been uttered. “Sorry,” he muttered embarrassed.

“It is alright, my friend.” She moved closer, right into his personal space, and placed a thin hand on his cheek. The warmth from her skin seeped into his and inexplicably made him blush. She smiled again coyly and continued, “I shall try to adapt to your way if it makes you more comfortable.”

“Yeah, well…” Jack suppressed a pubescent falsetto break in his voice and cleared his throat to cover it up. “You can’t help what you are. Daniel always keeps telling me to be more open-minded. Or would that mean that you could read my mind even better?”

“If I wished to read your mind openness would make no difference.” She laughed when he flinched at her statement, a coquettishly purling sound that somehow reminded him of a gurgling brook in the woods. The sound made his heart flutter, while it still quaked from the creepiness of her words.

“Why did you come to see me?”

Pembi-Keran’s mouth was unexpectedly close to his ear, her words an inviting whisper of hot air against his skin. The flutter in Jack’s heart was joined by a swarm of butterflies in the pit of his stomach, making him feel uncomfortably much like a teenage boy on his first date. An involuntary giggle escaped him, and he twisted away with another cover-up cough. What is this? Is she doing this to me? What is she doing to me? He cleared his throat again.

“I wanted to ask you something, P-K.”

“Yes?” She tilted her head and spun around him in a quick circle, the smoke of her us-hayat twisting around him like a snake. He froze, not knowing if he could move through the smoke without hurting her. Her head appeared in front of his, the smile on her lips turning mischievous as she wrapped her arms around his neck and said, “It would not hurt me, but it would be quite uncomfortable.”

“Would you stop that?!” he burst out and unwrapped her arms. Pushing her away he quickly stepped through the us-hayat. The feeling of the smoke swirling in tendrils over his skin was like walking through an icy mist. The chill took his breath away. Pembi-Keran laughed at the shocked gasp that pushed itself up his throat.

“I didn’t say for whom it would be uncomfortable,” she said with a wink and drew nearer again. Holding his hands up defensively Jack took another step back to maintain the distance between them.

“Enough! I just wanted to ask you something.”

She stopped advancing, and crossed her arms. Her sweet smile morphed into a pout, and the tone of her voice became icy.

“Fine, what is it?”

He ignored her reaction and plowed on along the course to the answer he sought.

“Your technology is pretty advanced right?”

“Yes!” Her tone was short and condescending, the warmth and welcoming from earlier wiped away and replaced.

“So that goes for your medicine too?” Jack asked. The question returned a smile to her lips, except it wasn’t amorously teasing like a moment before but proud and boastful as her response.

“Yes, there is no illness we have encountered that we could not heal.”

“Thank you. That’s all I wanted to know.”

Jack turned on his heel and left her sulking. It was time to find the rest of his team and get off this planet.

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