Jonas looked up at the sound of a tentative knock on the door of the VIP suite where he’d been awkwardly dumped by a pair of soldiers who obviously weren’t quite sure what to do with him. His gut tightened instinctively, but he swallowed hard and called out, “Come in,” as confidently as he could manage.
He was surprised when the door opened to reveal the sheepish but smiling face of a young woman he didn’t recognize, a slender, almost waifish girl with enormous brown eyes and long brown hair that fell over her shoulders like a curtain. She wore glasses like Dr. Jackson–a thought which made the knot in his stomach tighten even more–but with a slightly different shape, and they were sliding down her nose in a fashion that was, quite simply, charming. “Hey,” she announced herself with a shy little half-wave. Half because her hands were rather full–she was carrying a tray loaded down with food the likes of which he’d never seen before. “Thought you might be hungry.”
He realized he was–very hungry. Come to think of it, he hadn’t had a bite to eat since he’d set foot on this planet several hours ago.
Grateful, he nodded. Her smile beamed even brighter as she kicked the door shut behind her and carried the tray over to the little table next to the bed, setting it down with a flourish and then sticking out her hand. “I’m Fred. Doctor Winifred Burkle, actually, but everybody calls me Fred. Dr. Burkle just seems to hoity-toity for me, y’know?”
He didn’t know. For some reason, whatever translation mechanism the Stargate incorporated utterly failed to convey to him what “hoity-toity” was.
At his confused look, Dr. Burkle flushed a bright shade of scarlet. “Oh, that’s right. They probably don’t say ‘hoity-toity’ on your planet, do they? I forget–I don’t go off-world much, and around here even if people think I sound like a hick, at least they know what I’m talking about.”
“‘Hoity-toity’ means like high ‘n mighty, like you’re puttin’ on airs…and that doesn’t help one little bit, does it?”
“No, it doesn’t,” Jonas admitted with a sheepish smile of his own. “But since I guess I’m here for a long time, I have plenty of time to learn.”
His smile faded at that, his own words an unpleasant reminder of everything that had happened today. He had all the time in the universe to learn about this world, if they would let him after what he’d done. Or rather…what he’d failed to do.
He almost voiced that thought, but stopped himself before the words could leave his mouth. The young woman…Fred…Dr. Burkle…was the first friendly face he’d seen since the accident, and he didn’t want to ruin that by reminding her of all the reasons she should hate him. “I’ve been learning everything I could about your world from this device,” he changed the subject, pointing to the strange, squat box on the table, with pictures moving across its glass screen. As he did so, he leaned over and plucked a piece of food from the top of the pile, a long slender yellow thing with a smooth skin that looked intriguing. “It’s remarkable. I’ve never seen anything like it on Kelowna. I have to ask, though, are we part of the vast government conspiracy to hide the existence of aliens from the people of Earth?”
Fred giggled and Jonas just looked at her, bewildered.
“I guess you could say so, but not like on The X-Files. That’s what you’re watching,” she explained with twinkling eyes when he frowned in confusion. “It’s a TV show…like a book or a play, only made for television. Those are actors–their real names are Gillian Anderson and Robert Patrick.” The last was said with a breathy little sigh. “I always wanted to meet Robert Patrick, all the way back when he was the T-1000 in Terminator 2.”
She was speaking a foreign language again. But books and actors, those were things he was familiar with. He’d briefly entertained ambitions of going into the theatre before he met Dr. Kieran. But he’d never seen theatre that looked so real before!
Nodding absently, Jonas turned the strange food over in his hands, trying to figure out exactly how he was supposed to eat it. Fred noticed, and blushed again cutely, all the way from her cheeks to the tips of her ears. “Oh…lemme help you with that.”
“What is it?” he asked as she took the object from him and began to peel it.
“It’s a banana, a kind of fruit. I hope I didn’t bring too much, but I thought you might like to try some new things.” There was the shy smile again, and this time he couldn’t help but return it.
Following her direction, he bit into the exposed end of the fruit and instantly smiled as the mushy sweetness seemed to melt on his tongue. “I do,” he agreed eagerly around the mouthful. “Thank you.”
She shrugged. “It sorta seemed the least I could do, what with everybody else acting all…you know…”
Her voice trailed off and Jonas swallowed hard, the sweet fruit suddenly seeming to lose its flavor. So she did know. Well, he should’ve known he couldn’t avoid it forever. “How is he?” he forced himself to ask in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Dr. Jackson?” Fred shrugged. “I don’t know. Honestly, I didn’t ask. Kinda felt like it wasn’t my place…me being kinda new here too and all…”
It wasn’t ‘her place.’ That was another expression he’d never heard before, but in context it wasn’t nearly as hard to figure out what she meant.
“…I just thought…everybody’s all worried about Dr. Jackson and SG-1, but nobody seems to be worrying much about you or how you were doing, so I figured I would.”
“Did they tell you why?” Jonas asked, a regretful frown crossing his face.
“Well, Major Carter said direct contact exposure equivalent to approximately eight to nine grades of neutron radiation, with full body exposure of over seven,” Fred acknowledged with a little grimace, her tongue tripping lightly enough over the words to hint at some level of expertise. “So, yeah, I figure that’s why everybody’s so worried about him. And the base grapevine says SG-1 are awfully close, so I can see why they’d be worried ’bout them too.”
“No, I meant…” Jonas dropped his eyes and sighed. “It should’ve been me,” he admitted.
That elicited a snort from his new acquaintance, which brought his eyes back up to hers with a look of surprise.
“Daddy always said ‘should’ve never was, so why fret about it?'” she told him with another smile. “Even if what happened was your fault, which I don’t think it was or you wouldn’t be so broken up about it–seems to me that when people do stuff that’s wrong, they’re a lot more concerned with convincin’ everybody that they didn’t do it. You’re just feeling guilty because you’re gonna be okay and he’s not–I think they call that ‘survivor’s guilt’ or something, and everbody else isn’t helping because they’re upset about Dr. Jackson and looking for somebody to blame. But they’ll come around. ‘Sides, what’s really important is what you do now.”
Her upbeat ramble and inexplicable faith in him buoyed Jonas’ spirits almost in spite of himself. He wasn’t entirely convinced of his own innocence…but like she said–or like he thought she said, rather, since he still wasn’t completely sure he was fluent in Fred-speak just yet–he couldn’t change what had happened, but he could control what he did from this point on. Maybe there was something he could do to…not to make up for Dr. Jackson’s death, nothing could do that…but to somehow, somewhat make amends.
He took a determined second bite of the banana, once again allowing himself to enjoy the sweet softness.
“So,” Fred asked cheerfully, changing the subject herself this time, “what else have you learned about Earth so far?”
“I’ve learned I like bananas,” he answered earnestly with an almost cheeky smile, a smile he wouldn’t have dared with anyone else on the base.
A mischievous gleam came into her eyes. “Just wait–I’ve got something even better.” She pointed to something else on the tray, what looked like some sort of meat and vegetables wrapped up in a kind of flatbread. “Tacos!”
If she was that enthusiastic, it must be good, Jonas decided. He was torn between hurrying so he could get to the wonderful ‘tacos’ and savoring the delightful treat he’d already discovered, but finally settled on the former after gaining her promise that yes, there were many more bananas where that one had come from.
She was right; the taco was delicious. His people never would have thought of such a combination of foods, but the first taste made his mouth water. “Do you think they make tacos with bananas on them?” Jonas asked between bites. It seemed logical–bananas were delicious and tacos were delicious, so wouldn’t they be even more delicious together?
Fred giggled again, and he beamed at her in response. He was quickly discovering that he loved her laugh, and especially loved making her laugh.
“Y’know, I think maybe they do. Like some sortof dessert taco or something. If not, maybe we should try it sometime,” she suggested. “Invent it ourselves.”
“I’d like that,” Jonas agreed enthusiastically. It was almost jarring, but in a good way–for the first time since he’d stepped through the Stargate, there was something in his future, however small, that he was actually looking forward to. “So…” he asked, switching topics again. “…how did you start working here?”
“They recruited me straight out of grad school,” Fred confessed shyly. “Funny thing is, I almost didn’t take the job. Guess I watched too much X-Files when I was in college, figured ‘Deep Space Radar Telemetry’ must be a cover for somethin’ big and shady, ‘specially workin’ outta the same base as NORAD. But I had this one professor who would’ve killed to work with wormhole technology or interdimensional travel or the like in practice instead of just in theory, so I would’ve been stupid not to take the chance, even if I didn’t know just how big a chance it was until after I got cleared.”
“I’m glad you took the chance,” the Kelownan echoed with a shy smile of his own, grasping on to the one part of her explanation that made any sense. “Otherwise I would never have gotten a chance to meet you.”
Fred blushed cutely again and ducked her eyes. “I’m glad too.”