Human Reflections

Epilogue to the Asgard Sequence

Sequel to 'Symbols'

By Gumnut

Nov 2003

Jack O'Neill hated his dress uniform.

In fact, he hated it with a passion. It was tight, it was uncomfortable, and the damn tie never sat straight. He much preferred his casual BDUs. Military decorum aside, he was a lounger at heart, and his dress uniform was the anti-thesis to lounging.

It did have a couple of advantages, though. Women loved it. Before he had met Sara, he had worn it when he could to attract the appropriate attention, but as he had gotten older, and as the medals had gotten heavier, the memories along with them, he had begun to dread putting the thing on. There were things in his parade of ribbons he would rather not be reminded of.

But right at this moment it wasn't the medals that were bugging him, it was the tie again.

Janet had reached up to straighten it after his physical. He had glared at her, but as with all his facial weaponry in regards to the Doc, it had no effect. She had just smiled at him and patted his shoulder.

By the time he made it to the conference room for a last minute run down with Hammond, it was crooked again. This time it was Carter that smiled at him and smartly straightened his tie. He eyed her dress uniform, communicating with his eyes that he thought it damn unfair for women not to have to suffer the torture of a tie like he had to.

The briefing, for once, lived up to its name and was brief. They had all gone through his notes - yes, you heard right, his - not Daniel's, not Carter's - his. He was the Ambassador after all.

He rolled that thought around in his head. Jack O'Neill, Earth Ambassador to the Alliance and to the Asgard. Who would have thought it? He did have to admit to himself that he did approach the role with some trepidation. He had never really considered himself to be particularly diplomatic. In fact, he had gone out of his way to be as undiplomatic as possible on most occasions. But Thor seemed to think he had it in him. He just hoped the little guy was right.

He smiled at the thought of Thor. The sight of the President of the United States of America clambering out of bed in his nightwear had been a memorable event. He had left that open invitation to O'Neill in the past to drop by and visit, he just hadn't expected him to take advantage of it at three in the morning accompanied by an alien.

And after Thor had frozen a couple of secret service guys who had come immediately to their chief's defense, the President had been quite happy to sit down and talk. It seemed that Thor had that effect on people.

Half an hour later, O'Neill had his pardon, SG-1 was free to operate as usual, and Hammond had been awoken from his slumber as well.

It seemed that no-one could refuse Thor anything. Not even O'Neill.

He thought it had something to do with those puppy dog looks Thor was good at throwing at people.

The meeting with Hammond had been nowhere near as spectacular. All of SG-1 had had their hearts in their throats as they were beamed to the SGC.

They had landed at one end of the conference room. Hammond had been at the other.

A man to whom he had sworn his loyalty, and then betrayed. The President may have pardoned him and his team, but that didn't negate the fact that he had let down a friend as well as his commanding officer.

Hammond had just stared at them for a moment, his face showing nothing. Jack had felt uncomfortable under his gaze, and he could hear Carter squirming beside him, shifting from one foot to the other. He chose to break the ice first.

"Sir, I'm sorry."

"You better damn well be." Uh, oh, this wasn't starting off well.

"Sir, I had no choice-"

"Colonel O'Neill, as you are fond of saying 'There are always choices'." And Hammond was stalking the length of the room. Jack almost stepped backwards as suddenly his CO was standing directly in front of him, his lack of height made up by his towering presence. The General pinned him with his glare, looking up at him as if searching his eyes for something. He must have found it, because suddenly the moment broke. "I'm just glad you made the right one."

Then Hammond's hands were on his shoulders, a smile on his face, and everything was all right again.

Mostly.

O'Neill spent a laborious debriefing going over detail after detail of the extensive mission, and he and Hammond still had a few discussions on Ambassador versus Colonel duties ahead of them.

But for that moment things had been good.

Until both Carter and Daniel dobbed him in, and Janet had been called. Between his long day of emotional visitations, the trip to the mountain top, the drop in on the President, his worry about Hammond, and a huge dose of the hyperspace version of jetlag, he was on the verge of collapse.

It had been the return of the good old coughing fit that had done it. A couple of splutters, and Teal'c and Daniel had an arm each, and he was literally carted off to the infirmary. And to be honest, after all the Asgard medical facilities he had been touring, it was like coming home. His head had barely touched the pillow, and he was out like a light.

That night had been over a month ago.

Now he was hale and healthy complete with a certificate framed on his office wall saying this Colonel is fully fit for duty. His wrist still ached when it rained, but since most of his body had been broken at one time or another, he didn't really notice amongst all the other aches he had when it rained.

When the briefing finished - brief because as he had said on various occasions, Jack O'Neill was a man of few words - SG-1 made its way to the gateroom.

It was extremely strange to be standing ready to embark on a mission dressed in his formal getup. It was even stranger to have both General Hammond and Janet Fraiser standing ready to accompany him.

Now they only had to wait for Thor.

He fiddled with his tie, damn thing was strangling him.

A nudge from Daniel, and a pair of blue eyes told him to leave his tie alone.

He glared back. His tie, his hands, his rules.

Blue eyes rolled skywards, and suddenly Teal'c was directly in front of O'Neill. The Jaffa was taller than him, not that Jack usually noticed, but his friend's stance seemed to communicate it rather loudly at that moment.

Teal'c bowed his head slightly in respect before reaching out with both hands, clasping O'Neill's tie, and wrestling it straight. He didn't say a thing, but O'Neill had the distinct impression that if he reached a hand up to play with his tie once more, it might go missing before it could come in contact with it.

Okay, O'Neill, calm down, or you're gonna lose it.

He had to admit he was nervous, and not a little reluctant. Thor hadn't given them any details, just that they be ready for pick up in the gateroom at a certain time. They were attending some sort of Asgard ceremony, celebrating who knew what, but O'Neill and gang were required attendees. They didn't even know whether they would be beamed up or should be expecting to travel by gate. Another reason for a brief briefing - lack of information.

The look on Thor's holographic face during the invitation had been similar to the one he'd had prior to their unexpected visit to the President, so Jack didn't know whether be reassured, or just worried.

His thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt as the stargate started spinning, its alarm echoing throughout the base. Okay, stargate it is. The now fully expected power loss occurred, and the gate room grew dark briefly before the gate erupted in its usual display of shattered event horizon.

Thor entered the room, and the gate shut down, plunging the room into darkness.

Once the lighting was restored, O'Neill stepped forward.

"Hey, Thor, how's it going?"

"It is going well, O'Neill. Are you ready?"

"As ready as we ever will be. Where are we going?"

"Othalla. Please, come." He reactivated the stargate with a wave of his magic stone, and led the small group up the ramp to be swallowed by the shimmering water.

**********

They stepped out into midair.

Jack gasped, coming to an abrupt halt directly in front of the stargate.

What the?

There was no ground, there was only sky.

Jack O'Neill found himself standing on clouds. Sunlit, pure white, cottonwool clouds. To his right towered a majestic thunderhead, its top sporadically lit from within by the lightning it generated, its rumble echoing amongst the lighter, less threatening cumulus.

There was an exclamation of 'Holy Hannah' and Carter barrelled into him from behind. He stumbled slightly, but did not comment as she mumbled an apology. There were similar sudden intakes of breath as the rest of SG-1, Hammond and Fraiser took in their new surroundings.

Rays of late afternoon sunlight bounced from one cloud to the next, contrasting their white with the clear blue of the sky above. Jack had seen such a sight before, but it had been behind glass, from the safety of a cockpit. Here...there was nothing beneath his feet except a feeling of solidity with no apparent source. He literally was standing in midair.

O'Neill glanced back at the stargate only to find it gone. Glancing around he found out why.

Renaya, Niikrahl, and an unfamilar Asgard stood off to his right, framed by the thunderhead. The Nox bowed her head slightly in his direction. Val, High Councillor of the Asgard stood beside them, a curious smile on his face. And they all seemed to be defying gravity as much as he.

He turned to Thor, questions on his lips, but the expression in the Asgard's eyes held him back. Thor simply looked up at him and said, "I heard you love to fly."

It was true, he did. A wave of Thor's hand and the invisible platform holding them began to move.

A soft breeze ruffled what hair he had not secured by his cap, but apart from that, there was no sense of movement, only the sigh of the passing clouds.

It was an awesome sight. To stand, unconfined, almost able to reach out and touch the sky...Jack's heart thrust itself into his throat. He had the urge to stretch his arms out to feel the breeze course over his body, to experience existence itself. He held himself back, content to settle for the brush of the air across his face, but he did shut the others out a little, telling himself that it was just him and the sky, and for a while he just flew.

Eventually the clouds thinned and the ground became visible. Slowly the platform drifted down, its target the Othallan Capital City in the distance. Jack could see the spires stark against the angling sun, and the sight, though beautiful, sent a shiver down his spine. Memories could be a curse.

There was something different this time however. Atop each spire a thin thread of flag flew. Many colours, many shapes, all fluttering softly in the breeze.

And then the platform was amongst them, swooping in and out at a dizzying speed. It was both frightening and exhilarating. There were a couple of gasps behind him, and not all were human. He glanced at Thor. It seemed O'Neill wasn't the only one who enjoyed flying. The look on Thor's face was pure glorified mischief.

Again, he was about to say something to the Asgard, but again was interrupted - this time by a familiar sight.

The platform had levelled out, skimming across a section of low buildings, and in the distance one piece of architecture stood above them all. The House of Fires.

But no longer was it old and broken. Where before it had been grey, it now was marble white. Not plain white, more a white of many colours, the sun interacting with a firelight seemingly generated within, so now the intricately carved flame appeared to move like the flames that had adorned the walls of its interior.

"My god." The exclamation came from Daniel, and O'Neill was forced to remember that his team had not seen this place before. The look on the archaeologist's face was pure astonishment. O'Neill made a note that should they go down there, to point out the sculptures for Daniel - the man would be in heaven. It would be worth the risk of having to send Teal'c in later to drag him out kicking and screaming when they needed to go home. "It's beautiful."

"Why, thank you Doctor Jackson."

O'Neill jumped. The unfamiliar Asgard had come up behind them, and now stood between himself and Daniel. He was staring at O'Neill. Jack stared back, suddenly realising there was something familiar about him.

"Have we met?"

The Asgard smiled. "Why, Nemo, I thought at least you would recognise me."

O'Neill's eyes widened. "Eelyn?!"

"In the flesh, my dear Colonel, thanks in a large part to you."

O'Neill's eyes darted over his friend. Gone were the infirmities, gone was the blindness, and he stood several inches taller. "My god, Eelyn, you look...great!"

Eelyn smiled, and O'Neill turned to Thor. "How?"

"Our investigations into the Ancients' gene manipulation technology has been met with some success. Finally we are able to help some of those Asgard afflicted with genetic degradation. Grand Master Architect Eelyn was among the first to recover."

"And it was just as well, this city was falling apart without my attention." The Architect looked off into the distance, and Thor smiled.

"The Master was somewhat eager to return to his work."

Eelyn glanced at Thor, his new face attempting a frown, but only managing a smile.

Their invisible ride darted around the House of Fires and came to an easy halt about twenty feet off the ground.

When O'Neill had been here before he must have entered through the back way because the other side of the House of Fires stood on the edge of a large square.

A large square currently filled with Asgard.

They were everywhere. The ground was hidden by thousands of alien bodies, in the buildings bordering the square, on floating platforms above the buildings, in hover cars, even a few floating in midair by themselves - it was an audience in three dimensions consisting of probably most of the planet's entire population.

He looked at Thor again. What was going on? Why were they here?

Thor, as if sensing his unasked questions, turned to him and said, "We are here for a dedication. Please, O'Neill, take a seat, I will speak." He handed O'Neill a small gadget, indicating he should attach it to his clothing. The others received the same each, Hammond staring at his with some interest before lodging it beside a medal.

Several chairs appeared with a flash, Asgard size, human size, and one Furling size that dwarfed the rest. O'Neill found himself seated next to Niikrahl, and used the moment to fully introduce Hammond and Fraiser to the group. The look on the General's face at the sight of the huge Furling patting his second-in-command on the back in welcome was worth the possible broken rib. At O'Neill's quick questions as to why they were here, Niikrahl just eyed him, and said nothing, managing only a mischievous smile. Did everyone know what was going on except him?

Thor turned, stepped forward, and faced the throng.

"My fellow Asgard." His voice silenced the roar of the crowd, and thousands of dark eyes suddenly turned in their direction. There was an abrupt silence except for the combined subtle movements of many small bodies, and the soft sigh of the breeze. "I come before you on this day in commemoration." Thor's voice was speaking melodic Asgard, but a translation echoed in O'Neill's ears, the gadget on his lapel proving its worth.

"Several cycles ago our race was reintroduced to one we had thought beneath us. We considered them a primitive race, one not worthy of our attention. Over those few cycles we have been educated as to how our pride could have led us to our downfall, for the people of Earth have demonstrated to us that technology is not the indicator of race maturity we once thought it was. They taught us that character, determination, and outright stubbornness," O'Neill could hear the smile in his voice, "can take you a very long way in a universe that shows no mercy. And they have proven that youth is not necessarily a handicap, and the young can often teach the old.

"So today we celebrate a union, formalise a trust, with these people, for they have proven that we are stronger together than we are apart." He paused, and then turned towards O'Neill. "And the Asgard would formally like to thank Colonel Jack O'Neill for his recent sacrifices in the name of the Asgard people."

At the mention of Jack's name the crowd erupted into a roar. Arms waved, voices screamed, and O'Neill was shoved to his feet by a large Furling hand. Thor motioned him forward, and O'Neill reluctantly found himself to be the centre of attention.

Thor continued his speech, one hand firmly grasping O'Neill's arm as if he knew that the one thing O'Neill wanted to do at this point in time was bolt. There were so many eyes on him. Eyes that now looked at him in adoration where just recently so many had looked on him in accusation and despair. Again, he didn't know what was worse - condemnation or celebration - for he did not fully understand either, his heart beating in his throat. How could he be to these people what they obviously thought he could be if so many of their deaths stained his soul?

But Thor continued on regardless, his voice magnified to carry to the thousands around him. "It is for these sacrifices, for the strength of his indomitable spirit, for his determination in the face of insurmountable odds that we have engraved his name into our history. I give you the 'O'Neill'!" Thor thrust an arm into the air and suddenly the sun was blocked by a great shadow. The air trembled.

A great starship hovered above them, its engines pulsing in rhythm with O'Neill's beating heart. Oh, god. It was the 'O'Neill'. A reincarnation, a rebirth. Jack craned his neck, his eyes widening as he saw his reflection in the shining hull. She was as sleek as her predecessor, her great red racing stripe now accompanied by a purple streak the colour of Asgard blood. At the sight of it, he knew it could mean only one thing. His throat tightened. Oh, god, how could they?

Thor's voice became stern. "There are some among us who have said that the Asgard need not patrol the universe in the defense of others, that we should hide ourselves, protect what is ours, and leave the rest of the universe to its own devices. There are some who oppose the naming of this starship, some who say blessing it with a name of non-Asgard origin is an offense to those Asgard who have given themselves in the name of our people." Thor's eyes ranged over the thousands as if challenging them to refute his claims. "To those of you who believe this, I ask you, define what it is to be Asgard, define what it is that all those Asgard died defending, and you will find that it is the same thing that all races hold dear. For they may seem alien to us, and us to them, but how much more alien are they to us than we are to ourselves? We are one in this universe. We are all birthed of the same stardust. The 'O'Neill', flagship of the Asgard Fleet, serves to remind us of this. Dedicated to a man who stood, and ultimately offered up his life, for those not of his race, and a simple reminder that by helping others we ultimately help ourselves."

The throb of the starship's engines was the only sound. Thousands of eyes stared at him, and he knew not how to answer them. O'Neill recognised the great honour that had been bestowed, but had no words to express how he felt. He opened his mouth, knowing he would have to say something, and praying he wouldn't make an idiot of himself at the same time, but he was interrupted by a voice from below, clear above the throb of the engines.

"The name 'O'Neill will never stand for anything but death!"

He heard Thor's intake of breath, heard Daniel swear softly behind him, heard the mutter of the crowd, and his eyes tracked for the source of the statement. A lone Asgard with a rapidly growing space around him stood directly in front of the floating invisible platform, his face a mask of anger. Out of the corner of his eye, O'Neill saw Thor open his mouth to reply, and held up a hand to stop him. He had finally found the words. It was Jack O'Neill's time to answer his accusers.

With deliberate slowness, he unclipped the translation device, and, holding out a hand, dropped it to the invisible floor. The murmurs no longer translated, the aliens before him seemed even more alien, but with his heart in his throat, and a prayer that he got the syntax right, O'Neill spoke.

"I can not ask your forgiveness for the loss of the lives of loved ones. I can only offer mine in return. If the sacrifice of my life would regain those that have fallen, I would not hesitate. I am not Asgard, but I can offer my blood for what I believe, and I believe that you are worth fighting for."

**********

Thor looked at O'Neill in astonishment, as the crowd roared out its approval, the swell of sound reaching up and enveloping them. The Asgard language was not an easy one to learn. Thor had appreciated O'Neill's willingness to attempt to learn it, but had never dreamed he would become fluent in it. His accent wasn't flawless, but he was easily understood.

The effect of those few words in Asgard on the population below was staggering. Even the one who had scoffed at him, now stood shocked, his face an illustration of confusion, as if the man who had spoken now conflicted with the man the Asgard had envisioned.

O'Neill stood silent, his stance erect and tense. Those small dark eyes suddenly turned to Thor, and for once the emotion was clear in them. This would be an alliance like no other.

Saying nothing, but holding those eyes with his, Thor raised his arm above his head and, far above them, the sun was blotted out by the Asgard Fleet, its many ships straining the atmosphere with their weight. A blunted arrow stretching across the sky.

Another wave of his wrist and the 'O'Neill' moved to take up its position at point, as flagship.

Thor turned to his people. "We, the Asgard, are strong. Our ships patrol this galaxy and others, we defend the less fortunate, we save those who can not save themselves. But there came a time when it was us who could not be save ourselves, and it was the Humans of Earth who stood against the darkness in our stead. Let us never forget that we are stronger with them, than without. Let us never forget that while there is life there is hope. But, most of all, let us never forget the name O'Neill."

And again the crowd erupted with a roar.

**********

Jack O'Neill stared at the alien he had learned to call friend. A small alien, a grey alien, an alien who had some fancy gadgets that could do wonderous things. An alien standing as a representative of a great people, a people calling his name above the roar of the fleet far above them.

Ambassador O'Neill of Earth held out his hand, and a small grey palm grasped it. A pair of dark, velvet black eyes caught his, and he saw himself reflected in them.

His reflection smiled.

**********

THE END.