Hearts of Stone

By: Sharilyn

EMAIL: sharilyn

The characters of Stargate SG-1 do not belong to me; in the writing of this fic and the use of these characters, no copyright infringement is intended.

i.

Jack~

I hear the stones singing. I can and have counted them, many times over; I know just how many there are, here under my feet. Three rows of three, then two rows of five, a row of seven, one of nine...that makes thirty-five. Thirty-five stones of varying sizes, each smooth and irregularly shaped, all laid out in rows...all of them crowding together to completely cover the floor of the roughly six by seven foot cell I share with them. I call it a cell, this place, though it's more like a small cavern, with walls of bare earth and rough, gray stone and some diffuse, artificial light source drizzling down from somewhere high above...

But I digress. It's the singing that bugs me, the singing I have to talk about now. I do hear them, these stones beneath my feet, and I'm pretty sure each has its own unique voice. Sometimes I can't think straight, they make such noise; and when the racket starts, I wonder if maybe I'm crazy--if the only reason I hear them singing is because I've gone completely, frigging NUTS. There's no one else here to tell me if I am or if I'm not; for however long I've been in this place, there's been only me and these damned, possessed rocks with their singing and sighing and murmuring...and all the while they sing, a strange, vibratory warmth emanates from them and fills up the quiet all around.

The only other sound is the continuous, slow dribble of lukewarm water that runs nonstop down one wall and pings into a small silver basin embedded in the wall just above the floor; sometimes that goddamned pinging sound is worse than listening to the rocks carry on. And if I don't drink it all, the extra water that eventually overflows the basin seeps quietly into a tiny seam in the floor along that wall and is quickly absorbed and gone. There's nothing else, just me and the water and the stones; and I tell myself I'm NOT crazy, that I'm okay. That this can't go on forever, and I'll find the others and we'll get the hell out of here...But I'm beginning to wonder if what I think is reality really ISN'T, if just maybe I'm in some sort of galactic looney asylum or in a nice padded room at Mental Health, trussed up in a straitjacket and just imagining I'm here...wherever here is.

Oh, geez, there they go again, tuning themselves up for another jam session; I can feel them, vibrating almost imperceptibly under my ass as I sit here, forced into uneasy cohabitation with all thirty-five of them. Gingerly I shift my ass cheeks off the steadily warming stones beneath me and pull myself up the wall to my feet, practically standing on my toes to avoid as much direct contact with the rocks as I can. I don't know if they can think, if they know I'm here or if they're even truly alive in any known sense of the word; but something tells me they are. Alive, that is. And I don't know how they feel about ME, about having me walk on them and lie on them and sit with my ass on top of them...but it's not like I have any choice, dammit. Even though the ceiling stretches away overhead into a distant spire high above me, the actual space I inhabit down here is barely long enough or wide enough for me to lie stretched out on; sometimes I get this weird feeling that it's all an illusion and that there's really a lot more space all around me that I'm just not seeing. But I can't be sure of that, can't be sure of anything anymore.

The damned stones keep making those sounds, sounds like water burbling and tree branches swaying and voices murmuring in dark, smoky bars; sounds like clouds sighing and wind chimes tinkling and the smooth, seductive whisper of lovers, of skin on skin and subdued, orgiastic moans. And from some of them come the most unbearable sounds of all--the lonely, muffled sobs of souls who have no one, souls who are completely bereft and alone and forgotten. Their chorus is both beautiful and eerie,their songs hypnotic and disturbing and maddeningly elusive in these cramped confines.

God, make it stop; make the singing stop, make these damned rocks stay cold and still beneath the sensitive flesh of my bare feet--not all warm and tingling as they feel to me now. The silent buzz of energy that ripples from their surfaces into the soles of my feet, zinging all the way up my body and into my head, is enough to make me scream sometimes. It's too real, too vivid and immediate in all its tactile intimacy, for me to be imagining it only in my mind. Isn't it?

Dammit, where is everyone?! What's happened to Daniel and Sam and Teal'c; and who the hell sees to it that food appears here periodically (though always while I'm sleeping)? And I have a theory about THAT, about the sleeping part...somehow they put me under each time, I think, knock me out slowly so I don't even notice I'm going under...and then they slip the food in--some tasteless kind of paste and a flat, dry sort of cracker--before I can awake again. Maybe the stones are in on it, maybe they have something to do with singing me to sleep now and then...

Aw, Jesus; if I don't get out of here soon, I really WILL go nuts. I will. Iraq, Apophis, Kronos and that vacation in Hell...doesn't matter that I stood up to all that and kept it together then. Rocks shouldn't sing like these do, and if they keep it up I'm gonna gouge my own freaking eyeballs out!...

Okay, stop; enough of that, get a grip...if Daniel was here, he would already have figured out some way to communicate with the damned rocks, to crack the language barrier and proclaim himself a peaceful explorer from Earth...hell, he'd be joining in with them by now, jamming right along with them in some impromptu concert... What do they WANT, these stones all around me, with their vibrating and their humming...God, why don't they JUST SPEAK ENGLISH!!!...

Getting sleepy now, must be chow time again...son of a bitch, I have to fight this, have to stay awake, see just who these bastards are that are holding me here, doing this to me...where the hell are my friends, what have you done with my team?!...Oh, God, make them stop, stop your singing, stop it, for crying out loud!...


ii.

Daniel~

I've never seen such colors in my life. Reds, blues, yellows, greens, oranges, purples, browns...every shade, every hue, every color you might ever imagine--and some colors imagination can't begin to fathom--all here before me, all around me. Everywhere.

These colors have no comparable earthly names; to study them and then try by way of description to slap labels on them--monikers such as teal or crimson or magenta or indigo or sapphire--would constitute the gravest of disservices. The plethora of vivid hues arrayed floor to ceiling all around me in this large rectangular room defies mere words; even the sharpest, most discerning eyes couldn't possibly process or appreciate every nuance, every subtle gradation of color and warmth and depth emanating from the stones that line the walls of my prison.

And that isn't all; oh, no, not even close. Jack would probably say I'm losing it, that I've let the almost overwhelming display pressing in on me from every side affect my brain. And he just might be right. But something tells me I'm not completely bonkers, that I haven't had a total breakdown of some sort and am now just imagining things in my head. I've weathered such things before, been mistakenly locked away in a white padded room with drugs and shrinks and all the trappings of insanity lurking close, so close, around me. Within me. So I know the drill, so to speak.

But I wasn't crazy then, and I know I'm not crazy this time, either. Something inside me, some quiet form of intuition, lets me know that at least some fraction of what I think is real here, is. It feels so true, so right, this sense I get of the stones somehow...communicating...one with the other, flashing each other incomprehensible messages with every subtle ripple of shimmering irridescence, with every warm pulse of incandescent light that seems to radiate from their smooth surfaces.

God, maybe I AM losing it; maybe I'm under the influence of some unknown alien drug or mind experiment or am just suffering from the cumulative stress of being here for an unknown quantity of time, continously exposed to the rising tiers of stones set into every available surface of this fifteen by twenty foot space--a space that has become my whole universe. Absently I wonder where the others are, if Jack and Sam and Teal'c are in rooms just like this one somewhere close by. Are they seeing the same thing I'm seeing, experiencing this same, startling intuition that there's more--much more--to these columns of stones than meets the eye? Jack would probably deny it; even if he did see or sense something untoward in a bunch of rocks on a wall, he wouldn't give credence to the notion that the stones might somehow be...alive. Sentient, even.

No; he would approach the whole situation realistically, rationally, attempt to pin any spine-shivering ripples of subliminal awareness on the same culprits I've already theorized about, myself--stress, drugs, mind control, hallucinations...If he IS in the same type of environment I find myself in here and now, I imagine he's royally pissed and is making some sort of snide inner commentary to himself about Sam and me and how we might be handling this decidedly bizarre situation. And I'm sure he would expect Teal'c to react in conventional soldierly fashion, approaching the intriguing problem of living, pulsing colored stones with his usual Jaffa imperturbability.

I wish I had them all here with me now, that I could be certain my friends are all okay. I can't be sure how long I've been here, and I have no conscious recollection of ever seeing any sort of ambulatory beings while here, of having any direct physical contact with my mysterious captors. There's no one else here but me: just me and these ascending ranks of scintillant, preternaturally beautiful stones. I sit here in silence on a bare wooden floor, and I find myself beginning to believe more and more strongly that every one of these stones around me is fully as aware of my presence among them as I am conscious of their silent, strangely comforting companionship.

I tell myself to get a grip, that this might all just be a vivid figment of my imagination; I consider the possibility that perhaps, in some ironic fashion, this is my subconscious mind's way of ultimately protecting my sanity in the midst of this long sojourn in solitary confinement. Is it only in my own mind that I have created a certain... atmosphere...for this room; is it only my own literary leanings that have sketched upon my eye the unmistakeable imprint and impression of being inside a library--albeit one where shelves of books and learned tomes have been replaced by rank upon rank of indescribably beautiful stones?

My sense that the stones possess awareness, that they are to some degree cognizant of both themselves and their surroundings, might be little more than an elaborate coping mechanism on my part as I attempt to deal with my surroundings. But something deep inside me knows that isn't true. I'm a linguist, dammit, a student and aficionado of the myriad ways sentient beings communicate amongst themselves and with others; and with everything in me I believe that these colored stones are in fact trying to communicate with ME.

Each time they begin to warm and shine and pulse with quiet energy, radiating corruscating, cascading ripples of color and light and an almost subliminally hushed vibration, I become more and more certain that I'm beholding some sort of mysterious code--intercepting an inexplicable message whose contents I've yet to succeed in translating. God, if only Sam was here; I know she'd understand where I'm going with this, that her keen scientist's mind would be able to analyze not just the geologic structure of these stones but also to arrive at some logical theory that could explain the sense of...intelligence...I'm receiving from the semi-precious gems inset into the walls around me. Maybe her professional input would keep my own wild musings from seeming so nonsensical, I think wryly now. And I can't help remembering another mission, another run-in with a particular blue crystal that turned out to be so much more than we could ever have imagined...So there's at least a precedent for the thoughts swirling round in my head now.

"Okay, guys." Wincing a bit at the loudness of my voice after such a long period of silent meditation, I pull myself up from the smooth floor of my prison and flash a tentative, hopefully nonthreatening smile at the mute audience of tranquilly glowing stones set into every available wall surface.

"Perhaps the time has come for a more formal introduction," I continue hesitantly. Swallowing down the small,niggling sense that I'm doing nothing more than making a colossal fool of myself (at least the others aren't here to see it, I think drily), I clear my throat and begin.

"Um...hello. My name is Daniel Jackson, and I come from a planet called Earth..."


iii.

Sam~

What I wouldn't give for some decent lab equipment. This cogent observation has become my rallying cry, an oft-repeated refrain as I restlessly pace the sun-drenched confines of my light, airy prison cell and chafe at the futility of it all.

I mean, here I am, surrounded on every side by a breathtaking array of the most gorgeous crystalline gems I've ever seen; and though my fingers itch to investigate every brilliant, rainbow-hued facet of each sample in minute detail and to run systematic analyses on the composition of every crystal, my quarters here are spartan to the nth degree, offering up little beyond a simple cotton sleeping mat, two small white bowls for food and water, and rudimentary bathroom facilities. There are no tools or implements on hand to use or modify for the purpose of studying these amazing geological specimens scattered so carelessly and casually all about me; heck, I can't even begin to figure out why the crystals are here to begin with. Or why I'M here, for that matter.

I know I was captured, along with the rest of SG-1, some three days ago--three days according to the solar cycle of this planet, that is; but the details of who took us and why remain disturbingly sketchy in my mind. I miss my team mates, and I AM a bit worried about them; but for some reason I can't explain, I don't feel they're in any mortal danger at this point. I have absolutely nothing concrete to back that up,of course, but I find it comforting, this strange inner sense I have that my friends are safe from harm. I do wonder if they're locked away in digs similar to my own, if they find themselves even now esconced high on the side of a cliff in a small, glass-sided habitat just as I am, one filled with sparkling, fiery, vibrant gems...

Geez, Louise, what IS this place, I think for maybe the hundredth time in the last three days; why don't I ever SEE any sign of my captors, why am I always asleep when he or she or they bring me fresh food and water? What's the point of leaving me here, alone and uninformed, cut off from the hazy world below me and suspended midway between earth and heaven in this bright, spare aerie? Why are these crystals here, and what am I expected to do with them?

If Teal'c and Daniel and Colonel O'Neill are in similar straits right now, I can just imagine their individual responses. I HAVE imagined them, over and over again for the past several hours, in a semi-desperate attempt to distract myself from the growing intuition that these crystals aren't just here for decoration. I can't imagine what might be going on in the minds of the unseen beings who locked me away here; but I know these crystals play a vital part in it somewhere, somehow. And if my friends are sharing THEIR captive quarters with the same sort of specimens that are rooming here with me, I imagine they've all found themselves coming to the same conclusion. These crystals aren't just inanimate hunks of prismatic color; they seem to breathe, to pulsate, to thrum on a level below human hearing with some low, not unpleasant vibration that hints of an energy, an AWARENESS...

Lord, I can just imagine the Colonel's response to that; after what he went through with one particular crystalline lifeform we encountered on a previous mission, he's not going to be in any hurry for another brush with the same sort of intelligence. Not that I have any concrete proof that these pretty, scintillating crystals surrounding me here possess any sentient characteristics at all. In fact, they don't do ANYTHING, really, just sit there all day, greeting the dawn with glorious bursts of fiery color that erupt from deep within their multiple facets, each crystal giving off an aura of wild, exuberant joy as the first rays of golden sunlight caress their glassy surfaces...

"You're losing it, Carter," I mutter to myself now, turning from the unbreakable expanse of window that stretches across one side of my prison to eye the innocent collection of crystals strewn on the floor all around me. "If Colonel O'Neill was here, he'd make some smart-ass remark about letting fantasy overrule my scientific nature; he'd probably make some chauvinistic comment about me being locked away here, high in my ivory tower like a fairy princess..."

With a frustrated sigh, I take a few slow steps across the smooth white floor, my bare feet sliding like a whisper between several gorgeous vermilion crystals; crouching down on the balls of my feet, I reach out a tentative hand to lightly--so lightly--stroke a finger down the smooth, cool side of a gem no more than two inches across. Some fanciful part of me almost expects the thing to move suddenly or to purr in catlike ecstasy at my gentle caress; so strong is the impression that these crystals KNOW me and are cognizant and awake and aware, that I feel a shiver ripple through me.

Daniel would understand, I think wistfully, suddenly missing him so much I feel tears tighten my throat. If he's dealing with this same kind of situation, I'm sure he's already sensed some level of sentience from these crystals and he's probably at least tried to communicate with them or figure out their purpose. I can't explain or shake this weird feeling I have that I'm here as much for the purpose of being observed by the specimens around me as to observe them in return; and though that makes no sense--though I have absolutely no proof of such a fantastic surmise--I find myself feeling more and more self-conscious and uneasy in the presence of these beautiful conglomerations of intricately faceted minerals.

I could use a big old cup of hot coffee right about now, I think somewhat testily as I rise to my feet again; either that or an emergency session of kel-no-reem with Teal'c to try to settle my rampaging thoughts. I wonder if he's surrounded at this moment by crystals like these and what his response to them might be; a reluctant grin crosses my lips as I remember another particular mission and the silent glare of chastisement Teal'c had offered Daniel and me when he realized we'd used his staff weapon in the gate room WITHOUT the General's permission; we hadn't meant to get him in any trouble, of course; we were just so excited about finding out the secrets of that blue crystal...

Well. Just in case these quiet little guys here are mind readers, maybe I shouldn't dwell too much on the mental image of blasting one of their distant cousins with a weapon...Sigh. Maybe I just have some weird form of cabin fever or acrophobia, I tell myself, stuck as I am way up here in the middle of the damned sky. I can't tell what's below me, can see nothing but pale blue sky and white clouds and the barest hint of the cliff's top if I press my nose to the thick window glass and look above me. I see no sign of any other dwellings like this one around me, and I find myself wondering and worrying once again as to the whereabouts and condition of my team mates.

The sun is moving now, sweeping a slow, majestic arc across the west wall of my enclosed prison; and as the fading rays of its final passing brush lovingly across the scattered crystals on the floor, the interior of each begins to glow and pulse with a steady, tranquil energy; it's as if the crystals are absorbing the last, faint tendrils of light and power from the setting sun and are drawing that energy, that beauty, down into their very depths, to keep and sustain them through the dark night.

And it WILL be dark soon; I sigh with frustrated regret at the knowledge that there is no artificial light source of any kind here in my humble abode and that once full night has come, I will have only the light of faint stars outside to illuminate my world. And it isn't only that; with a sense of foreboding I realize that it is at nighttime more than any hour when hints of KNOWING, of feeling the energy of busy communication going on between the silent crystals, hits me the strongest. I lie awake through much of each night, holding my breath and listening, listening with everything in me for the slightest, smallest evidence that the crystals are speaking to me--maybe speaking OF me to one another. Does this mean I'm going crazy, that something was done to me by the unseen ones who put me here to make me THINK the crystals are alive...or to make me question my own sanity?

"There has to be a way out of here," I mutter tightly to myself now, moving back to the glassed-in side of my prison and starting for seemingly the millionth time a slow, careful exploration of every inch of wall stretching all around me. "Oh, God, Colonel, I don't want to be here much longer; I need out of here, I need to know I'm not losing my mind trapped in this place." But there's no one here to listen to my plea, nothing but the room and night coming down and the deep, slow pulse of the quiet crystals as they wait along with me, ever patient.


iv.

Teal'c~

I have never been in such a place as this, nor do I understand the conflicting sensations troubling my symbiote and causing it to writhe within me in this most unpleasant and distracting fashion. I have been imprisoned here for three days, and in that time I have seen no sign of the rest of SG-1, nor any hint as to the identity of those who captured us. For all of us WERE taken, of that I am certain. Memories since that time are hazy; but I clearly recall my rage and frustration at being unable to come to the aid of my friends as we were overpowered...how? It troubles me that I cannot recall the details of our capture.

Night comes soon, and with it the end of another fruitless day. For perhaps the tenth time since my inner clock first informed me (some twelve hours past) that morning had come, I find myself casting my eyes around me at the infinite expanse of imposing gray monoliths that tower above me. Scowling at the realization that I have found no new insight into the perplexing circumstances of my imprisonment, I settle myself on the stony ground in preparation for kel-no-reem. Perhaps if I meditate deeply enough, listen closely enough to my own inner spirit, fresh insight will come to me. I grow weary of this place and am impatient to be free, to go forth and find my missing team mates. But some type of invisible force shield keeps me here, imprisoned against my will.

As I place myself in the lightest level of meditation, I am struck by the sudden and rather startling sensation that I am being observed; faint intimations of covert surveillance have come to me before this, but thus far a thorough search of my spare environs has turned up no evidence of any sort of hidden cameras or monitoring devices. There has been absolutely no sign or indication of any living presence nearby save my own, and I have come to the less-than-satisfied conclusion that I have merely imagined the feeling of being watched.

But now the same sensation washes over me again, much stronger this time, and I find that I cannot sustain my attempts at kel-no-reem. My symbiote remains agitated, as well, twitching restively within my pouch and uttering low, angry vocalizations that send a vibration of unease through my body. Biting back a disturbed scowl, I open my eyes and encounter nothing more than the same, familiar hulks of stone that have remained in place around me these past three days, serving as silent, impassive sentinels in this barren landscape.

Perhaps it is their mysterious presence here that gives me such a strangely intense sensation of being observed. In my time here I have had the opportunity to study these monoliths, to walk around each one and raise my eyes up the smooth, unmarked sides of each to the gray skies far above; but for all my curious regard, I have been unable to penetrate the mysteries behind the peculiar distribution of these standing stones.

There are a total of eleven stones, varying in height from a mere eight feet to an impressive twelve feet tall; they range in color from pale gray to a black as dark as onyx, and all show signs of extreme age, of the weathering and erosion of untold centuries. None of them bear any sort of manmade marks, no signs of carving or symbols or any overt clue as to their original purpose. They appear to have been here for a very long time, and the loose symmetry of their placement on this flat plain of land points to an unknown but deliberate intent.

Someone or some THING placed these stones here--perhaps for some religious or spiritual purpose or with some other obscure design in mind--and I find myself wondering if the descendants of those who first positioned these monoliths here are the same ones responsible for my capture and that of my friends. It must be the concealed presence of these faceless ones that I sense now; this cold chill of awareness that tingles warningly at the nape of my neck is echoed in my symbiote's increasing unrest, and a slow ripple of anger wends its way up my spine and settles into a dull ache in my head.

"What do you want?"

The words leave my lips almost before I am conscious of having framed them; and as I rise to my feet and glower at the lifeless landscape around me, I feel again the very strong impression of some energy, some...intelligence..lurking close by.

"I grow tired of this game!" I call out harshly now, my hands clenching into fists at my sides. "Whoever you are...if you can understand my words...I demand that you show yourselves! Where are the others of my party; what have you done with them?"

Slowly I turn a full 360 degrees, my eyes taking in the flat, unremarkable expanse of empty land stretching from just beyond the bounds of my prison to the distant horizon. Nothing stirs; not a breath of life or movement greets my eyes. But still I know I am being watched, that someone or something has heard me.

"What is this place?" I shout, lifting my hands to gesture at the seemingly open sky above me and the eleven stoic and silent monoliths standing in patient rows alongside and behind me. My prison stretches for roughly thirty meters all around, its invisible walls effectively trapping me within this space while giving the illusion that I am standing outside, exposed to all of nature and the heavens above. To be faced with deceptive openness on every side of me and yet comprehend that I am not free to step beyond a certain boundary fills me now with agitation; and growing frustrated with the silent inscrutability of the stones surrounding me, I turn to the nearest of the monoliths and briefly consider lashing out against it in anger.

I realize as I take a half-step forward that the more primitive side of my nature would find it extremely satisfying at this moment to vent my growing rage and confusion on the implacable granite face of this towering stone behemoth. But such foolish exertions would serve no useful purpose and would only drain me of vital strength and energy I might have need of later.

So it is that I stay my own angry momentum and forbid myself the passing satisfaction of 'kicking holy hell' (as O'Neill would say) out of the monolith before me. Instead of attacking the impervious stone with feet or fists, I find myself standing almost at attention before it now, a slow, speculative sense of wonder easing its way past my guard to worry at the edges of my mind.

There is something about these stones, I muse, some indefinable aura of might and power and perhaps even of wisdom, though it is of a sort that appears incomprehensible to me. I believe that if Daniel Jackson stood beside me now, he would no doubt be able to disseminate a wealth of useful knowledge concerning the placement and purpose of these stones; but as I am not afforded the luxury of my friend's expert knowledge in this particular situation, I must rely on my own thoughts and observations as I attempt to gain my freedom from this place.

Once again I focus my attention on the monoliths surrounding me, but most especially on the specimen directly before me. Standing some nine feet tall, with an impressive girth measuring three feet around, the stone of pale ash-gray that looms over me now almost seems to possess an awareness of my scrutiny, to be actively conscious of my gaze upon its slightly pitted surface. A disturbing stab of self-consciousness surges through me, and I feel my face tighten into a defensive scowl as my eyes trace the monolith's outline. With both my eyes and mind assessing its surface foot by foot in search of anything unusual--for even the shadow of markings or designs made by the hands of others--I make a slow, thorough circuit around the stone and end up back where I began.

Nothing moves, nothing has changed; all seems to be just as it was before. But suddenly a knowing comes over me, a dead certainty that I can neither explain nor deny; this stone directly before me, as well as all its brethren, is watching me, I realize...studying me, just as intently and with just as great a curiosity as that with which I have been studying each of them in return. A chill both of wonder and of foreboding travels down my body, and my symbiote squeals its unease and displeasure from deep within its protective pouch.

"How this can be, I do not know or understand," I hear myself rumble evenly now, my eyes fastening on the rows of silent granite beings rearing up like proud, implacable soldiers at a formal inspection. For that is how they seem to me now--beings, rather than the lifeless, inanimate hulks of rock and minerals I mistook them for these past three days.

"I do not know if you can understand my language," I continue steadily, my voice firm with determination and no small amount of impatience. "I do not know how I came to be here or what it is you desire of me; I know only that I do not take kindly to being played for a fool. If I am indeed correct and you do possess sentient awareness, then I request from you the courtesy of putting an end to this charade you have carried out for the past several days; tell me why you have placed me here and where my friends may be found. Tell me what it is you want; and then let me go. Let ALL of us go free. Return my team mates to me, unharmed, and we will leave this place...leave YOU in peace. We meant no harm to you and do not deserve such in return."

Only silence greets my voice, a silence so vast and deep that my ears begin to feel as thick and muffled as if they have been stuffed full of cotton; frustrated and growing angry with the stones' obdurate, frozen refusal to grant my words even a minimal response, I utter a low growl of rising agitation and turn my back on the mute columns of what I now know to be my jailers. Stalking to the invisible edge of my prison, I curl my hands into angry fists and draw them up to my chest, forcing myself to breathe in long, slow breaths and to call up the scattered fragments of my disentegrating composure.

I will not allow this; despite the extreme oddness of my circumstances, I will not give in to the weakness and confusion of mere emotions. Just as the monoliths stand united and impervious against me, I will gird my mind and soul to stand against their blind regard. I will immerse myself once more in kel-no-reem, forewarned and forearmed this time with the new knowledge of the stones' awareness burning within me. I will find a way to make the stones give up their secrets, just as Daniel Jackson has so often coaxed the mysteries of the ages from half-demolished ruins and bits of carving on worn obelisks. I tell myself that I will make Daniel Jackson proud with the results of my efforts; and as renewed determination fills my heart, I turn and gaze long and hard at the faceless, eerily attentive stones aligned against me.

I will not be beaten; my desire to be reunited with my fellow team members will not be thwarted. Silent challenge has been offerred by the eleven towers of granite facing me; and that challenge has been accepted. A strange whisper of respect--of honor, it seems--tingles through me now, a quiet, reluctant sense of emotion flowing into me from outside of myself that unnerves as well as amazes me. I realize dimly that this feeling is startlingly reciprocal, running along an invisible line from the monoliths to myself and back again; and it is with an almost fearful sense of awe that I begin to understand what is happening: communication, real and active communication between the stones and myself, has begun. And I do not know if I should be relieved at this breakthrough or if I should prepare myself for yet more unknown and unimaginable travails in the near future.


** The Song

This one sleeps now, though his dreams are restless and angry. So much anger, so many dark, sorrowful shadows in the corridors of his mind...Lonely, as well, oh so lonely!...

He does not like our songs; our souls fill with pity and with sadness that he does not understand, that he does not realize WHY we sing. These things he must hear, must face, must ultimately embrace; they are of him, from him, ARE him. They are all beautiful, these songs that tremble and sigh and whisper--just for him--from the very center of our beings. They are his legacy, his heart, are ripples expanding from the eternal river that even now carves a path of strength and destiny and indomitable will through the bedrock of his soul.

We wish that we could make him understand, help him to SEE; we mean him no harm, only love. Love and wellness and freedom. He believes himself to be imprisoned now, to be held here against his will; he will not accept that the only captivity he faces is his own unwillingness to release the chains binding his heart and mind. He does not want this--this blending and soaring of our many voices into one; he thinks--mistakenly--that we mean him harm. But we will not--we cannot--stop.

We sing to him his own song to illuminate the trail his spirit must tread; melody and harmony blend together in notes of joy and lamentation, of humor and ire, of passion and grief and fierce, undying loyalty. The song is his alone, and its raw, unflinching beauty is as stark and unadorned as the lean planes and angles of his vulnerable human face.

Even in sleep he will not relax his guard; his limbs twitch, his fingers scrabble to caress some nonexistent weapon of defense. A low groan catches deep inside his throat, and the sound of it fills us with boundless compassion and regret.

We are sorry for this small hurt we must administer now on the path to his greater healing. Soon, we hope--very soon--he will be ready to face the truth, to hear with his heart as well as with his reluctant ears. He may forgive us then, or he may not; it matters little. We sing for him nonetheless, and we do it gladly. It is a matter of honor and is our sacred duty. All is as it must be. He is strong but will be stronger still; his soul is a thing of jagged beauty becoming ever more beautiful, his life a psalm of grace and hope in the night valley of his soul's passage through this plane. This we honor; this we praise.


v. Jack~

Okay, I've just about had enough of this. A guy tries to be diplomatic in these situations, tries to keep his cool and figure out all the angles; and what does he get for his trouble? More son-of-a-bitching singing!

Why won't they stop; why does it never end?! What the hell do they want from me? I've tried talking to them, whoever they are--the ones who are somehow manipulating the stones beneath me into making these noises, these songs; I've made an idiot of myself, yelling to someone who isn't even here, alternately threatening and cursing and offering up useless bids for negotiation as I try unsuccessfully to find a way out of this place.

I know what this is, what it must be; this is some form of torture, a way to break me and drive me insane so they can...what? Of what possible use can I be to these beings, whoever or whatever they are, if they turn me into a gibbering idiot before they can even glean any useful information from me?

But maybe that's the point; maybe their goal is exactly that, to drive me insane. This place could be some giant, honking psych lab, and I'm just an experimental rat, a test subject for some sort of mental warfare invention they've created. Sounds as reasonable as any other damned explanation I can come up with as I sit here going rapidly NUTS with frustrated aggravation. And I wonder, is the same thing happening right now to Sam and Teal'c and Daniel? Are they confined as I am, locked in tiny cells and forced to listen to the maddening whisper and tremble and soft sussuration of tones and sighs and wordless longing that erupts every so often from the stones in the floor?

"What do you want?" I mutter aloud in a low, angry growl, pacing the confines of my prison and glaring down at the floor. I'm all out of dire threats, bankrupt in the deal-making department; I'm tired, and I can't hide the note to hopeless resignation in my voice now.

"What will it take for you to stop this, to let me OUT of here?" I groan frustratedly.

And to my utter shock--after three plus days of nothing but that damned, incomprehensible singing--the floor beneath my bare feet answers me.

"LISTEN," the stones murmur clear as day, a subliminal shiver of yearning vibrating up from their smooth surfaces to tingle along the soles of my feet. "LISTEN, O'NEILL; ONLY THIS WE ASK. LISTEN..."

I find myself standing stark still, frozen in a stupid sort of shock as I come to grips with the certain knowledge that I'm NOT crazy, that I'm NOT having auditory/sensory hallucinations; the damned rocks--thirty-five in all, in their orderly rows covering the floor--just freaking SPOKE to me, the perfectly clear English words shimmering into being and rising up, up to fill my disbelieving ears: LISTEN.

"It's a trick," I bark out now, despising the shakiness of my voice underneath my furious growl. "You've got some sort of hidden speakers or mikes or SOMETHING buried under the floor--under these goddamned stones--and you're speaking from somewhere else. SOMEONE has been slipping food in here while I sleep, and it damned sure isn't rocks doing the honors. The words I keep hearing, the music...ALL of it, it's coming up through the floor,isn't it, distorted just enough to make it sound like the stones themselves are producing the noises..." Oh, yeah, O'Neill, you're really on a roll here, batting a thousand; so why don't I believe the words pouring out of my own mouth?

All is silent around me, no answers forthcoming to my heated questions; heaving a sigh of exasperation and barely veiled unease, I force a sardonic grimace of a smile onto my face and try again.

"C'mon, fellas; don't I get SOME sort of consolation prize for at least making an educated guess?" I coax. Nothing, no response.

Unable to mask the rising frustration in my voice, I drop to my knees now and lay my hands on the stones of the floor, running my fingers and my palms over the smooth, strangely warm rows of flat rock that seem to vibrate beneath my touch as if alive, as if somehow absorbing and responding to the sensation of my living flesh against them. I try to convince myself that there's absolutely no sense of consciousness in these stones, not one shred of true sentience or self-awareness; but as a minute tremble shivers from the slightly rounded surface of these stones and tingles its way into my fingertips and across my palms, I can feel my heart begin to thud heavily against my chest wall.

"Shit," I hear myself bite out as I jerk my hands away and rock back on my heels. "Shit, you really ARE alive, somehow. You really have been...singing...to me. But why? If you could speak my language all along, why not just TELL me what it is you want? Why not just COMMUNICATE, for crying out loud?"

Sliding back against one wall of my small cell, I wrap my arms around my knees and chew distractedly at my lower lip, never taking my eyes off the now infuriatingly silent stones. Nothing that unusual about them in appearance, nothing really special to look at, I find myself thinking idly as I study them with grudging interest. Just stones. Varying in shades from browns and tans to pale yellows and ochre reds, the stones seem to fit seamlessly together, with no sign of any sort of grout or cementing material between them to keep them so neatly aligned.

Maybe I am hallucinating, I grouse wearily to myself as the ridiculousness of the whole situation hits me. Singing, thinking, living rocks, for God's sake! Yeah, THAT I've seen a million times. (Well, there WAS that crystal, the one that stole my shape and my very life for a brief time once, I muse dimly now; but this situation--these stones right here before me--nope, not the same thing at all.)

And even as one part of my mind dwells on the seeming impossibility of such a bizarre phenomenon as sentient rocks being a reality ANYWHERE, another part of my brain finds the whole idea to be less and less fantastic, feels that it's somehow even quasi-believable, though I can't begin to explain how.

"All right," I say now, feet tapping out a restless beat on two of the stones as I glare down at them from between my knees. "You say you want me to listen; I can do that. I HAVE been doing it, for nearly four days straight as near as I can tell. But obviously I'm missing something here, some important message you're trying--in your oh-so-indirect way--to get across to me. So I'll listen AGAIN, and I'll try to give you what you want. But what am I listening FOR? A little help here, fellas? Please? Just a hint..."

The stones are merely stones for a long breath after my speech, the oddly animate warmth I felt in them before seeming to leave them, rendering them cold and dull and casting a strangely lonesome pall over my cramped environment. Suddenly, inexplicably, I feel a terrible need to hear them again, to regain that elusive sense of vitality and purpose and awareness that I have been feeling so strongly from them up to this point.

"I'm listening," I hear myself repeating over and over, like a mantra of quiet desperation. "I'm listening, so please..."

And finally, as if in unanimous agreement, the stones begin to hum in concert, weaving together a low, vibratory compilation of wordless tones and sighing regrets that fills up first this small space and then my head, insinuating deep, deep into the inner recesses of my soul the revelation of truths I've held grimly at bay for such a long, long time now. I want to fight this music, reject this song that tears my soul asunder and has me rocking helplessly back and forth as harsh sobs I can't contain rack my body. Some distantly observing part of myself is freaked that I am losing it like this, is stunned by the force and rapidity with which raging, tumultous emotions are rising up within me. But despite all my outer efforts at regaining self-control, I am helpless within the song's grip, paralyzed by a growing tide first of grief and then denial, closely followed by a burgeoning sense of wonder as the haunting, indescribably beautiful blending of a spirit's--my own spirit's--deepest cries and groans of tribulation and of triumph echo everywhere around me.

And suddenly I realize what this is, what the song means...Oh, God, it IS me--all ME--and I find I can't fight it anymore. It washes over me, into me, devastates and consumes me and fills me with memories and images and with every sensation and emotion I can ever recall feeling, even back to the earliest days of my childhood. Faces appear before me with startling clarity--my parents, my boyhood friends, teachers and coaches and girlfriends, military buddies and then Sara and Charlie...Ah, God, Charlie! Tears stream down my face as the stones sing and sing and sing, laying my heart and soul bare, flaying me with love, with regret, with anger and fear, joy and compassion and the need, always the secret need not to be left alone, so all alone...I can feel the stones grieving with me for all that I've lost in my life, for all that I failed to do or be; I allow them to show me with loving objectivity all I came to be and am right now, I listen to them whisper to me of all the things I might and will be in the future...

I lose all sense of time as the grand opus of my life plays on, drawing me out of myself and away from this place, to some deeper, truer reality that's lain hidden inside the core of me all along. I sink and soar and sob, losing and finding myself all in one trembling glissade of unbearably poignant music. And finally, tenderly, it's done. I come back to myself, find myself spread full-length upon the stones as if absorbing every last nuance of sound from their surfaces, as if holding on to them for life, itself.

The song has ended; the stones, still so warm and so unquestionably alive beneath me, subside into an exhausted but strangely satisfied silence. A gentle thrumming emanates from each one for a full minute after the song itself stops, and it is only this that accompanies my hoarse, gasping cries of grief and longing and of a sharp, peculiar joy. I am thunderstruck, enervated--stripped bare and shorn of all pretense--and in the process am somehow inexplicably comforted. Somehow renewed. I feel...I feel scrubbed out, raw, every nerve afire, every neuron and synapse fried and sizzling; but for the first time in a very long time I also feel restored, at home with myself...at peace.

And maybe most of all I feel hopeful. Not the cynical, world-weary sort of fake cheer that I've played at ever since Charlie died and my world went to hell; not the skirting-the-edges-of-danger and 'shit-I-HOPE-we-make-it-out-of-this-one-alive' sort of hope I always feel when SG-1 takes on another kick-ass-dangerous mission. No; this is HOPE, with a huge, honking capital H. Hope that fills me with the knowledge of all that's still good in me and true, that calls before me now the crystal-clear images of my friends, of Daniel, Teal'c, and Sam...

Suddenly it all falls into place, the rightness of my being with them now, of what roles we have chosen to play with each other on this journey we've signed on for together in this particular place and time in history. I know I'm SUPPOSED to be with them now, that we've known each other in spirit for so much longer than the limited plane of our present reality would seem to indicate. As their faces linger in my mind's eye, I find that my soul is brimming over with a rush of unreserved, unashamed affection for my team mates; a great, swelling bubble of laugh-out-loud exuberance fills my heart, and suddenly I know I can't be here another moment longer...that I don't have to, don't NEED to, stay here even another second.

I have to SEE them, I think feverishly, excitedly to myself, as I rise to my feet; I have to find out if they've heard THEIR songs, too, and if they feel as free and dizzy and exhilarated as I'm feeling now. This isn't a time for brooding, for being alone; I want to see their familiar faces, hear the sound of each of their unique voices, relish the touch of their warm fingers clasping my own, all of us united in friendship and purpose and fired with a new light of energy, of direction. I feel as if I've been locked in a dank dungeon for months and months now, ever since the recent string of bad, hard-luck missions that have stressed us all to the breaking point and have had each of us questioning what the hell we're even still doing, playing at a game that's no longer fun, no longer rewarding or filled with the easy camaraderie we've all come to need and depend on so strongly.

But it won't be that way anymore, I find myself thinking with a growing sense of excitement; hell, no, not anymore. I have to get out of here, find Daniel and the others and see if they know this, too, see if I can SHOW them how freaking WONDERFUL we all are as a unit, as friends, as just the unique souls we are, whether individually or together. Suddenly I feel at least a decade younger, feel years of burdens and anger and loss drop away from me like the disintegration of fragile, dew-laden spider webs in the first light of the morning sun. Resisting the urge to laugh out loud, I turn and eye once again the rows of stones beneath my feet. But this time my lips curve into a smile of comprehension rather than a grimace of frustration, and the words come from my throat with quiet sincerity:

"Thank you. Just...thank you."

And with that the cell fades away around me, releasing me into the glorious, verdant energy and life of brilliant green hills stretching away on every side in the late afternoon sun; my bare toes curl appreciatively into the wet, deliciously cold tufts of emerald grass tickling my soles, and a breeze stirs my hair and lifts tiny goosebumps on my exposed arms.

Slowly I turn from the astounding vistas of light and air and the gorgeous, cobalt-blue sky above me to see the stones have made the transition along with me; all thirty-five of them are in their usual orderly rows, nestled quite contentedly into the green grass that insinuates itself around each one as if welcoming and embracing a lover who's been sorely missed. The stones bask in the late afternoon sun, sending up a complacent, low-frequency hum that vibrates down my spine and leaves behind a sensation of near-erotic pleasure. Everything around me seems to be burstingly, riotously alive and fertile, and I can no longer even remember why we first came here or what we thought we'd accomplish or gain by doing so. What was done to me here, what was GIVEN to me over these past few days, has been a gift beyond measure, a high-dose therapy session the likes of which MacKenzie or any other head shrinker back on earth could never hope to emulate in decades of doling out their pitiful versions of counseling.

I know I haven't quite connected all the dots yet, still haven't filled in every missing piece to the puzzle of what's just happened to me here; but as the stones behind me hum a sedate tune that seems to be their version of offering up a fond farewell, I find myself lifting a hand to return the sentiment, not in the least self-conscious over the notion that I'm waving bye-bye to a bunch of what appears to be rocks. But if I've learned nothing else in my time here, it's that appearances can be deceiving; and as I turn away and begin the trek to find my friends, I know that I'll never again carry around such a condescending, superior attitude toward things and beings whose inner complexities I have no way of measuring or understanding. God knows it won't be easy, especially since I more than anyone understand what a smart-ass son of a bitch I can be on my best day. But today I've found a place to start. It's a time for new beginnings, I think with a quiet stir of satisfaction; and as I stroll down the hill in all my barefoot glory, my heart is already racing ahead, reaching out to find my friends and reconnect--not just to them, but to the best part of myself I know I'll see reflected in the affection in their eyes when they look at me.


*** Wisdom

This one possesses a soul of rare openness and purity; as he stands here now, offering up overtures of friendship, fellowship, and a genuine desire for communication, we are pleased beyond the telling with the simplicity and beauty of his spirit. We see the dark shadows at his soul's edge, of course, shadows that have tried over time to weave themselves into the tapestry of his being like a blight or stain that can never be removed. But his heart and will are strong, and even after all he has suffered, he has managed to hold the darkness at bay, to confine those tattered shades of hopeless night to the merest outer fringes of his mind and spirit. His silent courage is astounding; we honor the wonder and tenacity of a soul that has held itself together with such unfailing integrity in the face of so much hurt, so much unremitting evil directed against it.

We have brought him here to teach our young; his presence among us serves as a living example for all of how a light as blindingly pure as that which resides within Daniel Jackson may cast out the cold, endless dark--a darkness that would swallow everything and everyone around it if such as this one soul were not created by the light to fight the void's insidious spread.

He does not yet realize his own importance in the greater scheme of things; in his life thus far he has sampled but the tiniest taste of the power that resides--dormant for now-deep within his very marrow. Indeed, this self-effacing figure who stands before us now, gesturing and emoting with such enthusiastically endearing animation, has almost no notion of the real and awesome potential resting inside himself. Not to say that he is completely ignorant; he sees himself quite clearly for a mere human, for one encased in such a fragile physical vehicle. We marvel that ones constructed as he and his friends are have the courage--locked as they are within such easily destroyed shells--to undertake the arduous journey all souls must travel on the path through darkness and beyond. But Daniel Jackson sees further than most--intuits more than his blue eyes alone can see, more than his hands may touch or explore. He knows just enough of himself to realize how very little he knows of ANYTHING; and that is the wisest place to start. That is the beginning of true wisdom.

But it grieves us, how sorely his heart sometimes festers and pines within him; he has lost so much, has suffered untold trials and injustices and indignities in the course of his journey beyond the place of origin, of all beginnings. He has approached too many times the edge of the unbearable abyss, has teetered at the brink of the truest, deepest privation a soul may know--the total loss of the fine, fragile link between one's own soul and all other souls. In the midst of an unbearably lonely childhood, he was never quite afforded the sense of recognition and acceptance that would let him know he is not alone...and oh!, how he has suffered for it over the years.

It grieves us beyond measure to experience, even if only by osmosis, the especial pain of the invisible child that Daniel Jackson felt himself to be after his parents died. So alone in the world he was thrust into without warning or ceremony; so brave and stoic and so very, very broken inside. How, how did he fix those broken places, small, frail child that he was? Where did he find the strength of heart and will to make himself into the amazing being that stands before us now, still sporting the glued-together seams of every evil, every hurt, ever done to him, and yet...no longer broken. Stronger, in fact, better, wiser. So much power there, such force, held so tight and silent within the deepest well of his soul; and we know, we sense--with all that is in us to do so--that he will have need of every last whisper of that power before all is said and done concerning the grand adventure that is his soul's destiny.

And in the end? He will prevail, or not; but the final result will not matter. The NOW is all that is, all that must be attended to; and in THIS now, in this particular place and time, he will teach our young, even as we impart to him a new lesson for his own edification. He will share and grow, give and accept and continue increasing, always increasing, in the wisdom and stature of his spirit. All is well with him, though he does not know or understand this. All is well, for he is Daniel Jackson. He is pure and free and eternal. Where his light shines, darkness flees; and we must whisper to him the glad news that what he fears most--his terror of being consumed and annexed by that darkness--will never come to pass. He will be guided and guarded, loved and succored and borne aloft by hearts and hands and the redeeming power of love--his love and the love of those who care for him so deeply, both here and beyond. This is our message for him, and it is his time to hear it.


vi. Daniel~

Be careful what you wish for...

That particular adage (an oldie but a goodie) flashes through my mind now as I sit here in the floor, my knees drawn up protectively against my chest, my head cradled on my arms; like a child who convinces himself the monster can't see him if HE can't see the monster, I close my eyes tight within the curve of my arms and find myself wishing, wishing with quiet desperation that I could just make it all go away.

But I know that isn't going to happen; blessed (or cursed, as the case may be) with a bit more savvy than the small child in my imagination who's still cowering in the dark, I can't fool myself that any of this will stop just because I refuse to SEE it, to acknowledge what's happening to me. I tried the old 'it's all just a vivid hallucination' thing, but I knew even before I muttered the words how futile THAT tactic would be. No; for good or ill, I initiated this whole thing when I so 'wisely' made my introduction...and now I guess I have to deal with the consequences of my actions.

But who knew? Who knew that such power, such an eerie sense of knowledge and familiarity, would rush from these stones on the walls to sweep over me at the conclusion of my brief introduction? Well, okay, so I SORT OF knew...or at least suspected...that there was more going on with the stones than their merely looking pretty on some prison wall. But to realize--to actually experience firsthand--just HOW amazing these sparkling squares of color and light surrounding me really are, has been a bit more than I'm prepared to deal with. I wouldn't really call it mental telepathy, this 'thing' they're doing to/with? me now; while the word is accurate enough in some respects, it doesn't even begin to cover the general sense of what is happening here.

No, not telepathy at all, I decide; it's more like...like some form of complete life review, similar to those near-death testimonials from people who swear they journeyed to the Other Side and returned--but not before being shown their entire life, as if watching their own very personal home movie. I suppose that is the closest analogy I can dredge up now to describe what I feel happening to me. This unsettling sense that the stones are gearing up for one very intense double feature starring yours truly has my gut clenching tight inside me now and is pushing a blinding headache steadily to the front of my brain. And believe me, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DANIEL JACKSON is not a film I want to review.

Sure, parts of the events of that life were okay, even great; but there was so much else that was...bad. Horrible. Disturbing beyond words, degrading, humiliating, monstrously unjust and sad...God, I can't live that again, experience things like my parents' deaths and the loss of Sha'ure to Apophis...all the abuses and injustices heaped on my head like coals of burning fire from a young age onwards...Why does this always happen to me; why can't the bad guys just go for straight-on physical torture and leave my mind--my heart--the hell alone?!

"Why are you doing this?" I lift my head from my arms long enough to say, keeping my tone calm with some effort. I know my face must be very pale; I'm cold and sweaty and feel sick--almost faint--and I want very much just to throw up and pass out and avoid all this. I want to wake up and find Jack's half-concerned, half-irate face looming over me, his hands supporting me with the strange gentleness that always lurks beneath his irascible exterior; I want him to make these stones go away, or at the very least to shut them up with one or two well-phrased bits of O'Neill sarcasm.

But that isn't going to happen; the stones are sending me a message, silent but as clear as the simplest code of translation ever devised--listen, they say to me over and over. Look...look at us, watch the way we shimmer and glisten and sparkle...and as you watch, listen. Hear us, feel us, feel WITH us all that is inside you, all that IS you...

"No, thank you," I demur quietly, my voice rough with strain, with the beginnings of protective anger. "I know my own life, I know all that's happened to me. I don't need this; I don't want it."

They don't answer this, the stones that shimmer so beautifully, so hypnotically all around me; but I know they are conferring among themselves, deciding on the best way to approach me, on the...kindest...way to force me into facing what I don't want to face. Into reliving, rehashing, rebreathing old hurts and injuries and all the dubious 'learning' experiences of my life. They're not going to let me out of this, won't release me till I've given in and done what they ask, given them what they want. But I don't know WHY they want it, what they hope to gain for themselves from such cruel voyeurism. My mind is in turmoil, caught up in anger and trepidation and the confused sense beneath it all that the stones really AREN'T evil--that they must have some deeper, more humanitarian purpose behind what they're doing to me.

"Humanitarian," I harrumph softly to myself now, the smallest note of irony entering my voice as I eye the many-faceted legions of stones all around me. "Now THAT'S an interesting choice of words for me to use, I'd say."

Somewhat testily I raise my voice, speaking directly to the inexplicably attentive gems surrounding me. "What would you know of humanity; you're not even...well, ALIVE, technically. Biologically, I mean. How do I know that you could EVER understand my life, my feelings, my soul? How dare you presume to? How dare you force me to divulge to you experiences and memories and feelings that you've no right to take, to see? If you want information about humans in general, I can give you that; I can give you a consolidated history of the whole human race in a few hours. But this...this is an invasion--not just of my privacy but of my soul, my spirit. Do you understand that; do you know what SPIRIT is? What it means?"

I realize that I've risen to my feet as my voice unfolds its censorious diatribe and that I'm pacing restlessly, nervously back and forth, with my hands tucked below my armpits as I speak. I can hear the mix of anger and pleading in my voice, and some small, distantly intrigued part of me marvels at the tiny, glowing kernel of interest--of excitement, even--that lurks beneath my outrage and fear.

I can't help it, I think defensively; just the thought of actually communicating with these stones, of discovering sentience in something that humans technically don't even consider to be ALIVE, is truly amazing. I can FEEL their intelligence, their intense and lively curiosity; I can even sense individual essences, can somehow...intuit...that multiple conversations are going on even now all around me, the stones discussing me at great length and with some vehemence. My skin tingles with an almost subliminal vibration of energy, of a power carefully constrained and controlled; and I stand here before those who are unexplainably but undeniably holding me hostage and I wait, my jaw tight with anger and apprehension and the almost unbearable need to make myself understood, to understand in return...

"Why are you doing this?" I repeat, importuning the wall closest to me; stepping up to it with some hesitation, I reach slowly, so slowly, to rest one finger a scant millimeter from the lustrous surface of a cobalt-blue stone embedded in the wall. What will happen if I touch it, what will it--or its fellows--do to me? In the back of my mind I hear Jack's exasperated, oft-repeated refrain of "Don't touch that, for crying out loud!!" And almost--almost--I pull my hand away. But something compels me, the same damnable, insatiable curiosity and sense of wonder that always whispers so seductively in my ear...and, helpless to resist, I watch myself press my right index finger, briefly and with the lightest of touches, to the cobalt-blue stone.

Instantly a thrumming runs through me from fingertip to toes, a low, rosy, pleasing energy that is warm and vibrant and tingling with a nervous excitement and surprise to rival my own.

'Hello, greetings, salutations!' comes the message, zipping along my nerve-endings, careening with wild, exuberant abandon through every cell of my body from fingertip to toenail. 'You are Daniel Jackson, you are teacher, you are honored guest! Welcome, welcome, we join with you, we are filled with wonder, with amazement, with much muchness of all we see and taste and find in you!'

"Who are you?" I hear myself whisper in beguiled amazement, jerking my finger away from the stone almost guiltily, even as I yearn to reach out and stroke its smooth surface again. "How...how are you doing this? How do you know me?"

I am aware of a hum of energy, the vibration of an enthused response, rippling lightly across the stone I so recently touched; but without direct physical contact I seem unable to receive the message I am certain it's trying to communicate to me. Cautiously I extend my finger again, lightly feathering it along the warm, glowing width of the blue stone.

'...many hours, waiting, hoping, anxious for speaking with you...' comes to me, shivering through my body like some strange, exotic melody. I can't help the small, intrigued smile that flits across my face at the childlike tone I am somehow 'catching' in this one's message; and as the thought crosses my mind the stone interjects with mild chagrin:

'Please, to touch the honored one you know as carnelion,' I hear/feel in the palm of my hand, in my mind. 'Is my mentor, is adult. Will explain more.'

"So you ARE a...young one? A-a student?" I murmur, and a ripple of enthusiastic agreement zips like a static charge up my arm.

'Is yes,yes, so very yes!' the blue stone crows, and a delighted laugh escapes me as the stones around it seem to vibrate in a concerted display of mild scolding and indulgent affection.

"You want me to touch this one...here, next to you?" I ask carefully, some paranoid part of my mind wondering if this is a trick, if I'm being led down the garden path by a seemingly harmless decoy, perhaps being tricked into doing just what they want...

But I hear the intensely curious, captivated part of my mind silently telling the suspicious part of me to shut up and bugger off; and with barely a hesitation (and a muttered, 'Sorry, Jack,'), I reach to touch the gorgeously glowing carnelion stone directly to the left of my new blue friend.

As my fingers make contact with the hard, richly-hued gem inset into the wall mere inches from my face, I am instantly overwhelmed by an inrush of images and sensations and emotions so varied, so complex and intense, that I quite literally find myself gasping for breath as I yank my fingers away, a sharp cry of astonishment flinging itself up past my throat. A ripple of dismayed darkness flares all across the wall, and I am hit almost simultaneously by a wave of worried apology and solicitude. I sense the stones are asking if I'm okay, and I give a shaky nod; but I find it more difficult now to reach out again, to risk another influx of the powerful communication that seemingly requires my body itself as a conduit for expression.

"Okay," I murmur uncertainly, a bit reluctantly. "Okay. I know I have to do this, I HAVE to find out more, risk whatever danger you fellows might pose to me...I don't understand why you've kept me here so long, what it is you want from me or what you've done with my friends...so you understand I might have more than a bit of justification for being rather leery of this whole thing." I pause a moment, sighing with frustration.

"And I don't even know if you're getting all this, at least not without me touching one or more of you directly. So...I'll do it," I decide briskly. "I'm willing to try again. I NEED to know why you're so interested in my life, my memories, why I FEEL you trying to draw them from me and make me relive scenes and moments from my past. But if I do this...if I give you what you want...will you satisfy MY curiosity in return? Will you give my friends back to me, safe and whole? These are my conditions, my...requirements. You understand?"

Cautiously, slowly, I raise my hand and press it--oh so fleetingly, just a whisper of a touch--against the carnelion stone; and again, instantly, a bewildering wealth of information rushes into my fingers and hand, up my arm and all through me in a maddeningly kaleidoscopic whirl of colors and sensations and emotions. But I feel a great restraint being placed now on the flow of input allowed me, a new understanding and consideration of the limits of my system in processing this unique and fascinating method of communication. I can almost 'hear' the excited murmuring of hundreds upon hundreds of this one's fellows as they share in the link between Carnelion and myself; I can clearly identify the almost irrepressible buzzing of youthful excitement coming from Cobalt, the eager student. Amazing, I think; so amazing...I have to get this recorded, have to remember everything...

'As the young ones go, so you are,' Carnelion vibrates through me with a slight impression of smiling. 'Mind buzzing-humming-chattering-NOT listening...NOT attending, yet wanting learning, input...For you we come here, for you we honor. This pain, this...remembering...you question us. No trust, much anger underneath. Suspicion.'

As the stone 'speaks' to me, sending wave after wave of gentle admonishment and patient explanation through the contact point of my palm against its/his? surface, I find that slowly, surely, my anger and distrust is fading. Almost infinitesimally--dawning in my soul as hesitant and coy as the first, pale blush of morning light--I begin to realize that what the stones ask of me, I must do. This is important ('Big-time stuff,' as Jack would say); this is their gift to me, maybe even their purpose.

'Or YOURS, in coming here at all,' I 'hear' Carnelion suggest with calm complacency. 'Your purpose, ours; one and the same, perhaps. To share, to know, to join...all continuing, all forever, all one. Unity and joy and grace. Listen, you? Allow this, you? After, very soon, your friends we return, your friends await. All good, all well. You say now?'

I can feel them waiting, feel the underlying tension of their anxiety and desire and excitement humming like a live wire through the pores of my skin, through my blood and marrow and bones. I feel no menace from them, only this overriding need to join, to share, to SHOW me something important, something vital...and I realize that the something is inside of me, IS me, somehow.

The lure of learning their 'language'--this unspoken but certain knowledge thrumming through me that I am about to be given the 'code' to the seemingly random and incomprehensible flicker and ripple and scintillation of light and energy across the surface of each and every stone--plays only a small part in my decision now; I still don't relish the idea of delving back into certain areas of my past, of sharing painful moments and feelings with beings whose form and essence were unknown to me only a short time before. In one sense it is troubling that they do know so much about me already; but I feel a strange and steady confidence that their request is undergirded with wholly genuine sentiments of integrity and honor and celebration. And this intuition, this...knowing...both disarms and emboldens me.

Taking a deep breath and praying Jack never finds out about this, I draw myself up now and lift my other hand to tickle the surface of the blue stone next to Carnelion. A ripple of youthful gaiety and enthusiasm skips along my skin and transfers itself from the hand I'm resting on Cobalt to the hand I still hold cautiously against Carnelion. With myself as the focal point--the nexus, if you will--of connection between the three of us, a surge of incredible vitality and intelligence flares between and through us and seems to spread and circulate around all four walls, through every stone in place within this room. I'm sucked in, blasted with input and emotion and bombarded by the relentlessly unrolling scroll of my own story, of the unique thread of my being and doing and knowing that has weaved itself into the complicated skein of the universe, of life and time itself. There is no going back now, no escaping what I've begun; and as the boundary between my body and the shapes of the stones dissolves and becomes irrelevant, I finally understand why I am here.


*** She Walks in Beauty

We find this one to be lovely, truly lovely; as a prime example of the female of her kind, this Samantha Carter meets all the requirements for good health and physical attractiveness among her species. She is tall and slender, with a ready smile and large, expressive eyes of a sky-blue color to rival that of the purest blue among us.

But it is not merely her outward appearance that pleases and invigorates us; behind her beauty lies a kindness, an intelligence, an inventiveness that stirs delight and eager interest within our ranks. She has much to share with us, concerning both her scientific knowledge and her myriad fascinating experiences with those accompanying her; but there is also much hidden beneath the efficient, no-nonsense exterior which she displays to those around her.

Helping her to plunder the dark, bittersweet and richly complex depths of her innermost soul is a duty we accept with great seriousness and honor; the things Samantha Carter does not wish exposed--those aspects of her nature which are her shadow side, intricately layered and mysterious and redolent with all the pain and longing of her deepest spirit--those things must be revealed to her with great care, with great love. She must be made not only to face but to embrace those parts of herself that she has denied her conscious mind access to for so long; this revelation is vital to her ultimate well-being, to the harmony and joy of her soul as it continues on its journey. So much has she given to her world, to her friends and family; yet she deprives herself of so much in the process.

She has become quite adept at hiding her inner loneliness; she shrugs her own deepest feelings aside, pushes them down deep and immerses herself in her work, her career. It grieves us to sense the pain of loss and need that curls in on itself, bruised and silent, so deep within her. We wish only to assist her in healing herself of the wounds that have filled her heart with doubts and misgivings and a mistrust of her own natural intuition. We wish for her the release, the joy, the inestimable gift of far-seeing, of self-knowledge and of the emotional cleansing that will accompany the opening of her spiritual eyes.

She already suspects we are more than we seem, knows somewhere in her spirit that we have brought her to us for a singular purpose. We have been careful not to frighten her, to sustain ourselves at low energy until she becomes accustomed to our vibration at this setting. But now, now the time for revelation draws near; now we must prepare both Major Samantha Carter and ourselves for the final denouement, for the epiphany her heart requires in order to release her soul into the fullness of its complete, indescribably beautiful strength and glory.

Samantha Carter honors us with her light, her essence; we serve and revere her and endeavor to share our own knowledge in humble exchange for the truth and blessings her spirit will soon bestow upon us. She does not know it yet, but the blazing light of her inmost spirit--of her TRUE self unbound--will be of such dazzling brilliance it will put our own paltry glow to shame.


vii. Sam~

Okay, I was wrong earlier, wishing for a lab; what I really need is a drink, the biggest damned shaker of booze this weird planet has ever seen...and barring that, I wonder if MacKenzie makes house calls offworld and halfway up inaccessible cliffs...Cause it appears that I'm beginning to really lose it here. Not the pseudo-schizophrenia poor Daniel suffered after that whole debacle with the Linvris, but the real McCoy. Nutsville.

No; no, I am NOT crazy! I mean, I don't FEEL crazy...What I think is happening here really IS. I'm a scientist, capable of being objective and observant, able to make a systematic analysis of all hypothetical data available to me and to carry out an empirical study and continuing experimentation based on the mishmash of concrete information and rational speculation at my fingertips...Oh, screw that. I've been observing my ASS off here, truth to tell, and I have definitely picked up on some sort of low-level...frequency (for want of a better term right now)...from these blasted crystals.

Dammit, if only I had some equipment here! I can think of a half-dozen handy machines just sitting in my lab back at the SGC--'doohickies,' as Colonel O'Neill would call them--that I could really use here to test such things as these gemstones' electromagnetic energy, as well as equipment to break down their basic composition and density and thereby maybe discover any unusual mineral, chemical, or radiant energy being given off by these crystals all around me...

"Look," I say aloud now, rising to my feet from my narrow cotton mat and glaring uncertainly at the ceiling above me. "I don't know who you are or why you haven't answered any of my questions; I don't know what you want from me, what you expect me to do or say or how I can convince you to let me see my friends. To let me OUT of here. I'm...willing...to share knowledge with you, to divulge basic information about my people, my world. But I can't DO that if I don't understand what it is YOU want in return. I know that these stones here--these beautiful gems you've placed all around me--must have some importance, some role to play in this whole situation. But I'm a little confused...Please, won't someone talk to me?"

Nothing but silence in return, silence and the slow arc of the morning sun scrolling across one wall of my prison; another night concluded, leaving restless memories of another agonizingly slow and lonely descent into darkness and then the strangely attentive silence of the stones lying invisible in the gloom around me...

And now, morning again, sequeing into the monotony of early noon and the stubbornly mute but strangely chipper presence of the gems, variously glowing and sparkling and shining like children's freshly washed faces in the light of this world's twenty-hour days.

"Okay...If no one OUT THERE will talk to me, I'll just have a little conversation with your rock collection," I mutter angrily, casting one last, malevolent glare at the low ceiling above and at the glassed-in wall behind me. "Maybe they'll be a bit more communicative; God knows they seem to have their own unique energy signatures. Which I could check if I only had my damned equipment!!" I end rather vehemently, throwing up my hands and stomping back over to my sleep mat. Grumpily I fling myself down on its slightly padded surface and fold my legs in a relaxed lotus position, silently adjuring myself to calm down, to think rationally about this.

"It's these crystals, dammit; I KNOW my being stuck here has something to do with them. Either they're some sort of alien testing device used to carry out unknown experiments on me, or they're some sort of alien recording devices or..."

Sighing dejectedly, I ruffle my hands through my already messy hair and find myself chewing at my lower lip while I study the nearest gems with critical eyes. For the hundredth time I run through my checklist of all I know about geology and gemology and snort disgustedly as I realize just how paltry my knowledge of each subject really is. What little I do know seems singularly unhelpful in this particular situation, and as I glare at the stones around me, I find myself wanting to just throw a good, old-fashioned temper tantrum.

"I HATE this!" I yell out now, startling myself with the grating intrusion of my voice into the peaceful silence. "I am NOT enjoying this; I need to be doing something, learning something, finding my friends! Please, PLEASE, whoever you are...please, just tell me what you want."

I'm almost whimpering with boredom and frustration, and when no one comes or answers my plea, the anger returns in full force. I leap to my feet, vaguely wondering where I've lost my boots and socks, and in a frenzy of agitated frustration I find myself indiscriminately scooping up several of the innocuous but nonetheless disturbing crystals scattered about my enforced accomodations. The stones are smooth in my grasp, their polished facets hinting at having been cut and sculpted by unseen hands before being relegated to this place, to my less-than-voluntary company. Muttering mild imprecations to myself, I carry my cache of colorful gems back to my sleeping mat and drop to my knees, setting the stones in an orderly row before me at the edge of the mat.

"Okay," I snarl balefully at all the pretty rocks, settling myself back into a lotus position and glowering at my silent audience. "You guys seem to be the only game in town, and I know I am NOT crazy in feeling like there is something going on here. Oh, geez, what am I saying? I'm sitting here talking to colored stones, for pity's sake, and yet I don't think I'm acting NUTS?! Get a grip, Carter."

Sighing, I drop my head into my hands and mutter dourly to myself, thinking glum thoughts about all the needles Janet Fraiser's going to poke in me and all the fun good old Doc MacKenzie in Mental Health will have with my head if and when we ever get back home.

"But I am NOT crazy," I repeat stubbornly to myself, and with renewed determination to figure out SOMETHING useful, I lift my head and almost scream out loud in shock.

The stones have moved. Soundlessly, seemingly without effort and without any outside intervention, the single row of crystals I'd lined up before me only a moment ago have rearranged themselves on the floor next to my mat.

Oh, God, maybe I AM crazy, I think dizzily, a sick wave of nausea churning in my gut. Maybe I moved them myself out of frustration and anger and didn't even realize I was doing it, I muse feverishly. But I know I'm not THAT far gone; I know I had nothing to do with the stones' unexpected shenanigans. And I damned sure didn't arrange them to spell out 'Hi,' as these stones are now doing so cheerily.

"Hi," I whisper fearfully as I read the simple message aloud; torn between the desire on one hand to reach out and scatter the stones with a violent sweep of my arm and the equally strong desire to scuttle my butt as far away from them as quickly as possible, I find myself doing neither.

"Hi," I murmur again instead, stupidly, my fingers trembling against my lips as I lift them to trace the shape of that single word.

Hi.

"What...what are you?" I hear myself croak hoarsely, my gaze flitting from the stones to the empty room around me and then back to the stones again. "How...how did you do that? Why don't you just show yourself, talk to me in person?"

There is no answer to my queries, no sudden materialization of any recognizable life form or energy here in my prison; but as I nervously eye the crystals, the small one forming the dot over the letter 'i' suddenly begins to glow, a bright, pulsing light surging up from its depths to ripple across its lovely opaline surface.

I gape foolishly at it for several moments, my heart racing as I try to figure out what this means, what message I am receiving now in the form of this gem stone's steadily pulsating light. For a long breath I find myself resisting the notion that it is the stones themselves that are trying to communicate with me; surely they are merely the vehicle for some higher intelligence, some unseen life form controlling the stones remotely from some other location. After all, the stones didn't build this place, and they aren't the ones regularly supplying me with food and water while I'm asleep. There has to be someone else here, nearby...

But the feeling of awareness, of consciousness, that I sense emanating from the crystalline gems before me now sends my mind spinning in confusion; rather than feeling that the stones are merely an inanimate conduit for some other, invisible intelligence lurking in the shadows, I sense that the stones themselves are intelligent--that they truly ARE the driving force behind the capture of SG-1 and my continuing imprisonment here. And if that's true, then no matter how impractical or incomprehensible it seems, this small gem in front of me is probably 'speaking' to me now, trying to communicate. But how to understand what it wants?

"All right," I hear myself murmuring softly, my hands clasping and unclasping restlessly as I think aloud. "Somehow you've picked up my language, at least enough of it to say 'Hi;' and I guess we could have you play "Musical Stones" and keep rearranging yourselves to spell out words for me to read. But there aren't enough of you to form yourselves into anything more complex than two or three words at a time, so that's hardly an efficient method of communication." The small opaline gem flickers wildly at this; and the other stones begin to glow energetically, as well, as if each one is desperately trying to gain my attention.

"What?" I mutter frustratedly, watching the seemingly random play of light across the various stones and searching desperately for any sort of code or pattern I can decipher. "What are you saying to me; how can I understand you?"

And almost as the words leave my mouth, the smallest gem seems to LEAP from the floor to my hand, its movement so incredibly fast I find myself disbelieving my own stunned eyes. If not for my clumsy, instinctive catch as the stone hurtled my way, followed by the undeniable reality of its solid presence in my hand, I would have thought I'd hallucinated the whole thing. But it happened, it was real; and as I cautiously uncurl my fingers from around the cool, smooth shape resting in my palm, a tingling begins in my skin at every point of contact with the stone.

My first alarmed reaction is an overwhelming urge to cast the stone as far away from me as possible, before it can zap or shock or otherwise harm me; but something deep within me--some greater awareness than my conscious mind can process--has me wrapping my fingers securely around the gem again, offering MORE of myself to its delicately vibrating energy.

"Oh..." I can barely force the word out, can barely express the small, wonder-filled sound that escapes me as awareness, as vibrant THOUGHT, tingles like gentle static up through my fingers, along my arm, into the rush and roar and thrum of my blood.

'Greeting, Major Samantha Carter,' I hear/feel/taste as small explosions of glorious color erupt with celebratory exuberance inside my mind. 'Much excitement, much joy we bring! To speak with you at last, to assuage your curiosity, to touch and experience your energy and light..! All is good, all will be well and more than well!'

"Who? Who ARE you?" I ask, both unnerved and fascinated by this unbelievable exchange of thoughts and energy. "How are you even DOING this?" My mind is filled with a sudden, overwhelming array of information that I realize is simply their response to my question; THIS, they are telling me, is how we do it, how we live and are. But it's too much, too fast, too compressed and compacted for me to make any sense of it; it's all I can do at this point to even wrap my mind around the realization that I am communicating with this small stone in my hand.

'Is no matter; you remember later,' the stone is sending complacently, glossing over my rising frustration at my inability to process all of its input. With a soothing tingle of good-humored reassurance emanating from its surface and rippling all through my body, my new friend begins to emit a sustained, steady glow of soft white light as its fellows do the same; soon I am surrounded by a small sea of tranquilly glowing gems as my befuddled mind absorbs a score of individual welcomes and greetings.

'For you we are here,' the stone in my hand sends the thought to me quite clearly now, its unique 'voice' rising above all the others' and bringing their introductions to a halt. 'You honor us; we rejoice to bring you clear-seeing, to fill your heart with truth and beauty...is beauty of you, is remembrance of all you are. Much is sad, but this too is well; this too you need, this you own and weave into the song of your soul.'

"What do you mean?" I murmur uncertainly, a frisson of unease jittering down my spine. Suddenly I want to set the stone down again, want to close my eyes and shut out the sight of all the glowing, self-aware crystals ringed around me. But something holds me still; something deep within my spirit stirs and shifts and begins, painfully but inexorably, to push its way to the surface of my mind.

"I don't want this," I whisper brokenly, tears filling my eyes without conscious volition. "Please, not like this, not this way..."

But the stones ignore my pleas as they instead start up a strong, humming vibration that surrounds and encloses me and holds me still with firm but strangely tender compassion.

'Maybe want not...but need, yes. See this, Samantha, what is in you; see and feel and breathe what you are, what you have lost, what you gain in exchange. Embrace your soul, love and release all that hurts, all that pains and darkens and drains your spirit's glow...'

"Great, just great...I get the New Age, flower-power rocks of free love," I quip testily, trying to downplay, to trivialize the very real, very strong sense of purpose and determination I feel emanating from the stones. They're going to make me do this, I think in growing panic; make me see and feel carefully forgotten things I don't want to see and feel again...and I sense there is nothing I can do about it, no escaping whatever this is they have unleashed upon me.

This is monstrous, the grossest invasion of personal privacy, I protest silently, futiley; oddly enough, however, I find I can summon no real anger or hatred toward the crystals for what they are doing. I sense no intrinsic malice at all in their actions, only concern mixed with stubborn resolve; and though I try to fight the images crowding my mind now, I know it is useless. It is myself they fill me with, nothing more or less, and I know there is no escaping my own soul. But I have to ask, have to know...

"Why now?" I whisper brokenly as scenes from my life rush in upon me. "Why not sooner, why wait in your silence?"

'Time was not right; now time is,' I feel the reply; and as I begin to shake and moan and cry helpless tears, I hear like a breath of deliverance the whispered comfort:

'Do not fear...rather embrace; accept. BE.'

And then I am shattered--torn asunder--as every disappointment, every failure, every terrible loss I've ever known, washes over me in a thunderous wave. Oh God, such grief and loneliness, such shame for all I've failed to do or be or earn! I don't want this, can't bear this, am embarrassed and infuriated and enraged by my own fear of myself, by my steadfast denial of all the pain and vulnerability I've kept hidden so deep inside my soul. I wouldn't face it before, didn't want to feel it or deal with it or acknowledge it in way. I counted those emotions as weakness, as something shameful and disturbed; but now I begin to see everything so clearly, see so much, understand so much MORE, as I sink ever deeper into the infinite well of my own spirit. And as sobs of mingled grief and exultation rise up from the very depths of my being, I feel the humming vibration, the strength and power of the stones nurturing and sustaining and holding me safe through it all.

"My God," I murmur in wonder, a strange joy rising within me; I am lost now, engulfed, drawn up and away as the stones sing and sing all around me; and as their song trembles in my heart, I fall on my face and surrender myself to the gentle purging of my soul.


Merciful Grace

This one--this Jaffa called Teal'c--is not as the others; this one has evolved differently than the companions he travels with now. His kind has been bred and fashioned for millenia to serve a grimly utilitarian purpose, to suffer lives of miserable subjugation under the cruel despotism of a parasitic race who would be seen as gods while yet behaving in the manner of demons.

Trained from a young age to kill with impunity, to enslave and destroy countless others without mercy--without pity--Teal'c has nonetheless managed to retain an inviolate core of integrity, of compassion, deep within his soul. He found the strength and courage to throw off the shackles of the Goa'ulds' execrable servitude, to overcome his fear of those he had been falsely led to believe were gods. He did not accomplish this alone, it is true; but even with the assistance of the one he now calls friend, his own initiative and strength of character pushed him to take that first step.

For Teal'c, Jack O'Neill was merely the catalyst for that step, for the change Teal'c had to make; in O'Neill Teal'c beheld a laconic, fiercely principled figure of right and justice and retribution--one who came seemingly from nowhere, charging into Teal'c's bleak prison and flinging wide the heavy doors that had kept the Jaffa's soul in grim darkness for so long. Because of this Teal'c retains a deep respect and veneration for everything O'Neill did for him on that day of freedom and revelation; and even now he feels in his heart a fierce gratitude for all that O'Neill has done for him since.

He is not blind to O'Neill's faults, however; he has never fallen into the mode of hero worship that a weaker, less mature soul might stumble into when confronted by a spirit as strong as O'Neill's. But Teal'c has done something better, something wiser; he has embraced O'Neill as a brother, as a fellow warrior and a true friend of his heart. Where O'Neill is concerned, Teal'c feels the need for neither submission nor superiority but accords his team mate the same grave level of honor and respect his own soul demands in return.

Teal'c has the heart of a warrior and carries within himself the scarred but valiant spirit of one who has seen too much evil--one, moreover, who has himself been the perpetrator of that same evil on numerous occasions. And as a consequence he has always known he must bear on his conscience the indelible stain of all the blood he has spilled over the years of his life, all the deaths he has administered. He accepts without demur his culpability, stands stoic and silent before the condemning eyes of the ghosts of those his own hands destroyed. The weight of his guilt has been enormous, the strain of it evident far back in his impassive gaze.

But he knows now that he is also more than the darkness, that he is a being of light and courage and integrity, as well. With the help of his friends and through his own inner strength, he has expiated much of his guilt; he has looked into the anguished eyes of one friend in particular and has found his true measure. In the person of Daniel Jackson--one whom he wronged and savaged most grievously in his former incarnation--he has seen reflected his own brokenness and regret; he has made difficult but sincere peace with Daniel for the atrocities he committed against that gentle soul and for his part in the loss of Daniel's deeply lamented wife, killed by Teal'c's own hand. Teal'c loves Daniel now as a brother and has--ALMOST--forgiven himself, just as Daniel Jackson has learned his own painful lessons of forgiveness in return.

And so it is that we stand now, amazed and truly humbled, before the grace and strength and beauty of this man Teal'c's indomitable spirit. We look into his heart and see one who is father, son, husband, student, friend, warrior, and so much more...we see a man whose soul was created for greatness, whose spirit has barely begun to explore the outer edges of his own vast potential. He has much to teach us about strength and will and the bedrock courage of his convictions; and in return we wish to offer him a taste of the illimitable grace and humor and joy he possesses in such abundance but has too often repressed and denied.

We wish to gift him now with the sound of his own laughter, to see the undisguised light of simple joy and amusement shining in his guarded eyes. We wish to remind him that life is GOOD, that HE is good and deserving of joy and fulfillment and the desires of his deepest soul.

He frets now over this inactivity we have imposed upon him, chafes at his inability to rescue his friends, rages inwardly against what he feels is his own incompetence in this situation. But soon he will see, soon he will KNOW...and we will rejoice with him, standing alongside him in glory as the sun rises on a new turning along his soul's remarkable odyssey.


viii. Teal'c~

I have no weapons with which to fight my way out of this place; and it appears, oddly enough, that I have lost my footwear, as well. Why this should be I do not know, but I grow increasingly restive and anxious as I pace the constricting environs of my invisible prison. My symbiote has fallen into a sullen state of withdrawn silence within me, and in the midst of the greater silence all around me, I suddenly find myself missing my team members with a sharpness I find disconcerting. I can only hope that they fare well, wherever they may be.

I have no doubt that even now each of them is giving single-minded attention to the problem of escape; I can envision Colonel O'Neill's frustration at not knowing the condition of the rest of his team, can imagine Major Carter's stubborn attempts to devise a method of escape; Daniel Jackson is undoubtedly occupying himself with efforts to establish a dialogue between himself and his captors...which leads me to wonder if he--if all of them--are facing the same silent but inexplicably aware monoliths of stone that surround me here now.

"I believe you have been waiting," I say aloud at this moment, my gaze fixed steadily on the nearest of the monoliths. "Waiting for me to recognize you, to become aware of your intelligence; waiting to request of me what you will. I am now prepared to hear your requests, to engage you in whatever manner will expedite my release from this place. As well as the release of my friends, of course, wherever it is you are holding them."

Having communicated all I meant to say, I fold my arms across my chest and wait, holding myself still and outwardly impassive even as I feel my heart rate increase minutely, sense my muscles readying in preparation for whatever might lie ahead as a result of my words. There is no movement anywhere around me, no breath or stir of wind on the still air; but I can feel something building in the atmosphere, sense the alien intelligence that has fluttered at the periphery of my awareness gathering itself in some fashion.

My symbiote feels it, as well; as the skin along my arms begins to tingle a warning, the larval Goa'uld within my pouch gives a low shriek of displeasure and twists about in agitation, protesting in its own way whatever this is that ripples through the both of us like restless waves atop an increasingly stormy sea. I glare suspiciously at the nine foot stone towering to my left, studying its pitted surface and finding no clues, no evidence of any sentience hidden within its ancient bulk. But still I know--suddenly I begin to see, to FEEL the energy and will of these monoliths as they begin to stir to ponderous life, begin to beckon me closer through some form of telepathic signaling.

"Why should I trust you?" I bite out harshly, lowering my arms to my sides and frowning at my captors. "What do you want; why have you not revealed yourselves before now?"

TOUCH...The word whispers within my mind now like the dying gasp of an old man's last breath; a chill I cannot control shivers down my spine as the word repeats silently,insistently, within my brain. TOUCH...

"I have touched the surface of these stones before," I argue doggedly, determined that I will not reveal my apprehension to the beings now attempting to coerce me into an action not of my choosing. "Nothing happened as a consequence of that attempt. Why then should I repeat the exercise?"

I understand that I am being stubborn; I know that I am 'pressing my luck,' as O'Neill often warns Daniel when the linguist argues too vehemently against the Colonel's orders. But I find that I am angry, that my enforced period of brooding inactivity has left me in no mood for playing games.

"If I touch this stone, the one that is taller than the rest...will you explain who and what you are and why you have kept me here? Will you return me to my team mates, allow us to leave this place?" My voice rings out clearly in the gray, slightly damp air of late afternoon, and for a long moment there is no reply, no whisper of response touching my thoughts.

'Touch,yes...that one...tell you much,information will be given...'

I feel/hear within my mind the injunction to proceed and ruthlessly squelch the start of shrill protest from the prim'ta I carry in my abdomen. I find myself eager for this, more than willing to confront my mysterious captors and put an end--one way or another--to these futile days of waiting.

"Very well," I sniff, then lower my head in the barest gesture of acknowledgement as I step forward, weaving a careful path among the monoliths until I find myself standing before the tallest one, the most impressive. "I am here; shall we begin?"

No answer is forthcoming, but I sense in my mind the smallest frisson of amusement, of patience with what they consider to be my lack of same. I sense eagerness and fascination emanating from the tall monoliths around me, even as the one I have targeted radiates a mute but definite aura of permission, of encouragement.

TOUCH...

And so I do; I reach out and grimly, puposely place the palms of both hands flat against the cold, gritty surface of the massive stone before me. For the briefest second nothing happens; I am absently aware that a slight drizzle has begun from suddenly gray skies and has apparently found its way past the force field keeping me here; I feel the moisture of the delicate rain slanting down from above and have time only to think, vaguely, "Perhaps the shield has failed; escape may now be possible..."

But it's too late; in almost that same instant I am struck by a powerful current, my body ravaged by an unbelievably strong surge of electricity and consciousness and will. I feel/hear my symbiote scream in stunned outrage within me and then--mercifully-fall silent, incapacitated but not permanently damaged. I know this, am told this; even as I fight uselessly to withdraw my hands from the stone, to pull myself away and check my pouch, many voices assure me that all will be well. My own inner voice agrees, knows with a certainty beyond measure that no real damage has been done. Yet still I struggle, still I find myself writhing in futile rage against the unprecedented wave of power washing over me, holding me inert and impotent in its grasp.

"I demand to be released!" I cry inside my mind, pushing with all my might against the disorienting cascade of strange voices in my head. "I will not allow this...I will not speak to all! Only the leader, only the one I now touch...honor this, or release me completely!"

Suddenly it grows quiet within my tortured mind; a last wave of regret and apology and something close to embarrassed chagrin shivers through my body and then is gone, leaving in place only one voice...one very strong, very old, very wise Voice that rumbles now with inexpressible gentleness inside my whirling thoughts.

'Apologies,' the Voice says, stroking gentle fingers down my spine and sending a helpless shiver from the crown of my head to the tips of my bare toes. 'Such excitement, such honor they feel in touching a spirit as strong as yours! Forget themselves, much regret for our rudeness...Honor, we wish only to honor...'

"Honor?" I growl, though whether I speak the word aloud or only in my mind is uncertain. "How can you speak of honor when you have held me here, separated me from my comrades, left me in the silence and solitude of days with no explanation?"

'Never solitude...never alone,' I hear the refutation, the quiet protest inside my heart, my thoughts. 'Us, always here, always with you...waiting for the time, waiting to speak, to show...'

"Who are you; what manner of beings are you?" I hear myself mutter almost feverishly, resting my forehead against the monoliths' rough surface as my hands cling, energized and frozen, to the stone that is communicating so clearly its 'thoughts.'

'We are who we are, have always been,' the stone replies philosophically, a touch of wry humor trembling from its depths to glide like smooth honey along my every nerve ending. 'We...live...here, this place. We...help...many. Not the first, you...and not the last. Ones come, ones need, we give...To you now we give, to you we bring healing your soul asks of us...'

"My soul asks nothing of you," I gasp in denial, the rage I feel deep within me struggling as weakly as a newborn child in the grasp of a tiger's jaws. "I demand to be released, I demand my freedom!"

'Have it so you shall,' is the patient response. 'Freedom we bring you, joy we have for you...you remember now, you see him there, so bright, so perfect! He is your life, your light, he is Ry'ac...'

"No! You will not do this; you will not speak to me of my son!" I snarl, twisting my body with infuriated fervor as I attempt to break the monolith's hold on me. "I will not speak with you of private affairs; you have no right to take these thoughts from my mind!"

'Peace, Teal'c!...Peace, only peace we mean...You are intelligent, you know the master must discipline sometimes the wayward student...Master Bra'tac knows you well, taught you better...listen now, you will; struggle no more, proud one...LISTEN, and hear well...'

And even as I try to fight, as I growl and curse and turn my face from the shame of hot tears trickling from my eyes... this one will not release me, will not let me be. The Voice murmurs in my mind, trails careful, oddly respectful fingers down into my very soul and begins a slow, inexorable excavation, pulling up from deep within me images and feelings and memories I had thought were forever lost, forever tucked away in the disused realms of carefree childhood.

And it WAS carefree at times, I remember now with a sudden shock of recognition. Even a child on a subjugated planet, even a young Jaffa, might have many chances at playful sport, golden times of fun and games and innocent laughter. Even the soul of one who grew to be a killer, one who has slaughtered and damaged and destroyed so many, has yet within him the kernel--the untouched core--of grace and perfection and joy. I laughed once, laughed long and hard and with the unfettered, unrestrained boisterousness of all the hope and promise of childhood, of newness in the world; but it has been many long years since such spontaneous merriment has touched my heart, since simple pleasure has spilled the hidden riches of my soul...

"No," I whisper now, my voice rusty and low and broken. "No..." But I am fighting no longer; as sensations of pure joy rush over me, as beautiful, clear images of everyone I have ever loved and cherished and held in the bosom of my spirit rush into my mind to greet me, I sag against the venerable stone that has been my captor and is now my support, is now the stanchion of strength and peace that upholds me as I give in to all that I have denied myself for so long. I am Teal'c...I am strong and intelligent, I am stubborn and brave and I have much to be joyful about, much laughter bubbling up from so deep, deep within and seeking expression, needing release...

'Be free, my brother; the sun shines upon you, your laughter fills our hearts and brings joy to all...so long we have stood, for so long we have seen such sorrows...you bring gifts of priceless worth, honor our sacred duty with the mirth of your deepest heart...Laugh with you now, we laugh...'

And as wave after wave of euphoria sweeps over me here in this place, I find that I am glad, so glad, to share in its abundance with the graceful, age-drenched stones standing all around me; the joy in my soul flies up and into every stolid monolith, sets aquiver gales of pure and beautiful merriment--enough to free a galaxy, enough to hint at the eternal hope, at the endless love and growth and the unquenchable zest of the immortal spirit within everything that is.

"The others; I must find the others, tell them, show them..." I gasp, and a ripple of love and humor and excitement circles round the company of monoliths and lodges firmly, sweetly, in my breast.

'Yes...you go now, find those you love, tell them, as they will tell you...Honor, appreciate, embrace. Much to do, much still ahead to share, to discover...Go, with joy and peace and blessings. Go...'

And I find myself alone, truly alone, standing in the midst of a grassy meadow under the cloudless bowl of a perfect blue sky overhead. The monoliths have vanished, the gray drizzle is gone; my symbiote sighs once within me and settles itself, quiescent, as I gaze about me with puzzled incredulity. Did I hallucinate all that I believe just happened to me; have I been under the control of some sort of alien device or ingested some unknown substance that has kept me in a delirious state?

No; no, I still feel it within me, the laughter, the knowledge and wisdom and grace of the monoliths and the message they shared with me. It was real, very real, and my soul is as certain of this as I am certain my name is Teal'c and that I am a Jaffa, a warrior from Chu'lak who now serves the cause of the Tau'ri.

Blankly I gaze down at my bare feet, watch in absent fascination as my toes curl experimentally around the soft, luxuriant blades of grass pushing up between each digit. I do not fully understand all that has happened to me, nor can I even begin to explain it; but as I stand in the warm rays of friendly sunlight beaming down upon me, I feel an unaccustomed smile curve my lips upward; I know that what I felt, what I learned, was as real and as vital as the slow, even breaths I now take as I look around me. There is a strange dignity in this laughter that still bubbles and rises just beneath the surface of my soul, and I find myself eager, very eager, to search out my team mates--my friends--and to look with simple gladness upon their beloved countenances.

I draw myself up tall now, anticipation thundering like a tympanny in my spirit; and as I turn to scan the low, rolling hills ringing me on every side, I feel my heart leap as a familiar cry echoes across the sunlit meadow:

"TEAL'C!! HALLO, BIG GUY!!"

"O'NEILL!"

My own voice reverberates with childlike delight as I spy the gray-haired, rangy form of my team commander standing atop the nearest of the gentle inclines surrounding me; he gives me an exuberant wave with both arms over his head and begins to whoop and cheer like a crazy man, his voice overflowing with energetic joy as he begins to run down the slope toward me.

"YEE-FREAKING-HAW! Hot damn, my man, looking GOOD!" O'Neill is crowing with boisterous glee as he dashes pellmell in my direction, and I feel the grin that erupts across my face stretch impossibly wide as I begin to run across the velvet grass.

"O'Neill! You are well?" I call as I run, my legs effortlessly eating up the space separating us; and as I give the Colonel a wave of my own, he stops long enough to perform a rather remarkable victory dance near the bottom of the slope he is descending.

"I'm just great, Teal'c; I'm BETTER than great!" O'Neill yells exultantly; and as we meet halfway it is with unrestrained joy that our bodies collide,our arms circling up and around to hug and pummel and thump each other soundly on biceps, chests, and backs in a mutual display of simple pleasure.

"ALL RIGHT!!" Jack O'Neill grins at me, his brown eyes alight with a youthfulness and energy I do not believe I have ever beheld within him before. "Damn, but it's good to see you, buddy!"

"I too am pleased to be reunited with you, O'Neill," I smile in return, unable to resist pulling him into a bone-cracking hug. I cannot believe the level of unabashed, unfettered happiness that explodes all through me as O'Neill gives a muffled grunt of mingled strain and amusement and grips my arms with his hands, squeezing back with good-natured affection.

"Are you okay? You all right?" he asks, and I pull back to nod smilingly into his briefly concerned brown eyes.

"I am well...very well," I say somewhat gruffly, and the Colonel eyes me warily for a heart beat before another huge grin splits his lean face. He looks suddenly, amazingly young, the stress and sorrows of many difficult years wiped from his face--along with many of the deep lines his traumatic experience had put there. I see that he is studying me with as much interest and delight as I am lavishing on him, and he gives a sudden shout of laughter and startles me by pulling me in to plant a loud, wet smack of a kiss right on the brand on my forehead.

"You big, beautiful hunk of Jaffa!" he grins, a tremendous gentleness underlying the exuberant words. "God, you're one gorgeous sight! Have you seen the others...do you know where Daniel and Sam are?" Anxiously he looks around us, his eyes scanning the low hills on every side with the smallest twinge of impatience darkening his gaze.

"I do not know their present whereabouts, O'Neill," I reply regretfully, but there is no worry in my heart as I join him in gazing about us. "But I believe we will soon be together again, all four of us. And I believe that Major Carter and Daniel Jackson are...just fine, as you might say."

"Well, I don't want to stand around here just waiting, son!" Jack interjects, a wry smile curving his lips. "We've got stuff to discuss, places to go, people to see, things to do!! I feel...I feel...God, Teal'c, I feel like I could fly to the moon, run around the globe without stopping, dance the night away...!"

"You are indeed looking most well, O'Neill," I compliment him with a small, humorous smile; and at the gravely respectful nod of my head in his direction, he gives another burst of ebullient laughter and grabs me in a brief headlock, his knuckles ruffling affectionately across the bald crown of my head.

"So are you, Big Guy," he murmurs, the light of friendship glowing deep in his gaze. "So are you. Now, let's go track down Danny and Sam and see what sort of mischief those two have gotten themselves into. Shall we?"

"Oh, indeed," I reply sedately, cocking one eyebrow as O'Neill makes a grand gesture for me to proceed ahead of him. "I too am quite curious as to all our friends have experienced here."

"Yeah...speaking of which, how about you, Teal'c? Where ya been, what happened to and with YOU while we were separated?" Jack O'Neill's voice is as energetic and curious and animated as that of a young boy, and as we fall into easy step beside one another, I find myself beginning quite naturally to divulge the story of the monoliths and of the quest for joy I did not invite but ultimately found to be so very essential. Jack's eyes go wide as I speak, his body quivering with intrigued fascination as I relate my recent experiences; and as we head up one of the low hills cutting us off from an open view of the country surrounding us, I think to myself that I cannot wait to hear HIS tale of all he has seen and heard on this unusual world.


Reunion

"This is amazing, truly amazing." Daniel's voice is light, his tone a mix of awe and inspired glee as he flaps his arms in an endearingly gangly fashion and circles the rest of us in a burst of uncontainable energy. "Everything that's happened to all of us, the things we've seen--! And look at you all, just look!"

His body practically levitating with delight, Daniel beams at me and then gestures toward Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill, speaking animatedly to them. "When I first saw you guys coming over the hill toward Sam and me, I thought I was hallucinating!" he exclaims, his blue eyes sparkling behind his glasses. "I mean, my God, you both looked so,so--"

"Handsome? Virile? Studly?" Jack teased, turning in tandem with Daniel's exuberant movements and giving an exaggerated flex of the muscles in his right bicep.

"I was gonna say larger than life, Jack," Daniel grinned, a devilish glint coming into his eyes. "But if you're fishing for compliments, yeah; I'll give it up to you, will agree that you and Teal'c are two damned fine-looking specimens."

"Don't look at me, sir," I chortle as Jack spins and raises one disbelieving and decidedly suspicious brow in my direction. "I didn't put him up to it. Though, if truth be told, you and Teal'c ARE looking extremely...alpha male right now."

"Alpha male, Carter?" A slow, burning blush heats my face as Jack gives me an incredulous look, but I can't help the tiny smile of satisfaction that curves my lips as I notice Teal'c quite actively preening before the stargate.

"Oh, indeed, exactly," Daniel agrees, folding both arms across his chest and leaning back to study both men with critical eyes. "I'm growing new hair on my chest just from being in close proximity to you two guys. Er, excuse me...I meant to say MEN...manly men, men with biceps of iron and ball--"

"That's enough, Mr. Dirty Mouth," Jack chides warningly, but his eyes are full of laughter as he reaches out and swats Daniel lightly on the side of his head. "Don't forget, there is a lady present."

"Where?" I quip, spinning around as though startled beyond words at the thought. Teal'c stops admiring himself long enough to incline his head in my direction and announce with subtle humor:

"I believe the Colonel is speaking of you, Major Carter; and if I may be so bold as to speak briefly out of turn, your present appearance is even more beautiful than is customary. You are always lovely,that is to say; but at this moment I find you quite...breathtaking."

As my mouth quite literally falls open in shock, Jack lazily tsks tsks the quietly smiling Jaffa at his side and turns to me with a look of intense interest on his lean face.

"You know, he's right, Carter," the Colonel muses, his brown eyes studying me with such frank admiration that I feel myself blushing fiercely to the roots of my hair. Like THAT'S attractive, I think absently; but even Daniel is smiling bemusedly at me, a speculative gleam in his eyes that seems to raise the temperature around and inside me several uncomfortable degrees. Holy Hannah, I think distractedly, what's up with you idiots?! But as I drop my eyes from the disconcertingly besotted regard of my male team mates, I can't quite tamp down the secret, tiny glow of supremely female satisfaction that ripples through me like warm honey. Well, geez, I AM still a woman, I think defensively to myself. I'm entitled to a little...sashaying now and then.Yeah, VERY little, the practical part of me snorts, and I smile, quickly recovering from my brief moment of female vanity.

"Okay, people, okay," Jack mutters now, trying for testy but barely achieving mild chagrin. "Before we all descend into a veritable orgy of mutual admiration that will get us all court-martialed or worse, I say we clear out of here and get back to the SGC; it's gonna be SOME debriefing, I have a feeling. And by the way, has anybody seen our shoes? What's THAT about? I mean, what the hell do a bunch of rocks--highly evolved and intelligent rocks,admittedly, but feetless just the same--what do they NEED with our shoes?!"

"It's just another one of life's unexplained mysteries, Jack," Daniel murmurs, wiggling his bare toes in the grass in front of the DHD with an expression of quiet bliss on his face.

"Well, shoes or no shoes, I'm going through that stargate," Jack grumps cheerfully, nodding for Daniel to start dialing us home. "And I'm taking us all out for dinner--the biggest steaks and baked potatoes you've ever seen, my treat."

"That would be most welcome, O'Neill," Teal'c nods, a light of hungry interest flaring in his dark eyes. "I will procure videos for the weekend, as well, if that is acceptable to the rest of you. I do not believe that we have rented the classic "Conan the Barbarian" yet It stars Arnold, I believe, though in this one he does not play a killer robot."

"Oh, get real; you could kick Ex Mr. Universe's ass coming and going, Big Guy," Jack scoffs as the lovely, familiar sound of the gate starting up fills the air around us.

"Indeed," Teal'c agrees without false modesty. "But I believe I would enjoy the scenes of sword play and the movie's undoubtedly comic moments."

"Not to mention there's always a hot chick the star gets to rescue and then nail," Daniel snorts lightly, trotting up the steps of the stargate platform with a sardonic grin. "And I hear the girls in this one are scantily dressed."

"Well, there you go; we gotta have that one," Jack agrees, punching Teal'c lightly on the arm and then giving me a decidedly unrepentant smirk. "Oh,and don't go getting your drawers in a knot, Carter; Arnold might be getting a bit long in the tooth now, but this is an oldie, and back then he could still flaunt about ten miles of gleaming, sweaty flesh and rippling muscles. We wouldn't dream of leaving you out of the fun, after all."

"Gee, something for everyone," I retort, giving the Colonel a small shock as I flash him a coy flutter of my eyelashes. But the effect is ruined by the accompanying gleam of challenge in my eyes that I can never quite suppress when talk turns to sex and gender-related issues among us; and the Colonel gives me a demure, good-natured little smile in return that suddenly sets me completely at ease.

God, I love these guys, every testosterone-charged one of them, bless their hearts; and as we all stand shoulder to shoulder in our bare feet, our spirits overflowing with the wealth of enlightenment and joy this strange world has so recently delivered up to us, I know that each of us will return to Earth and to our lives there--both individually and as a team--with renewed vitality, renewed enthusiasm and interest and the joyful realization of just how blessed we are to have each other, to look into one another's eyes and know that each of us is special beyond words to each other, that we are right where we belong and doing just what we need to be doing...together, a unit, a family.

"Let's go home, kids," Jack murmurs now as the stargate beckons with its peaceful blue ripples; and heedless of how it might look to General Hammond and the others when we arrive on the other side, we link arms and step forward into our future, laughing.


Epilogue~

'Are they then returned?' The Voice is everywhere and nowhere, one with all that listen in and with the formless landscape stretching seemingly without limits in every direction.

'Yes,' the answer comes. 'They have gone back through the gate we set before them, back to their world. Much happiness emanated from their spirits, much success was had with these.' A murmur of agreement circles around the gathering; feelings of warmth and light abound.

'We are pleased and honored; we wish them well,' the Voice intones with quiet satisfaction. 'But others come; others have need of our aid. Are we prepared?'

'These new ones are difficult; there is much grief, much suffering to assuage in these,' comes the doleful response. 'But we will be ready.'

'We will transport them here as they sleep, and they will believe they are still on their world' the Voice orders serenely. 'The young one has said his prayers these many nights running, always the same prayer, the same plea. Now is the time to grant his request, to gift the last of his race with the one morsel of hope that will give them strength and courage to continue, to try again.'

'Are we sure this is the gift they seek, the impetus they need to save their entire race from extinction?' comes the uncertain query; and the Voice fills the void all around with compassionate and loving laughter. Well he understands the novice's confusion; but this one soon will see how even the most ordinary objects may contain within them seeds of the miraculous.

'For months they have run from their relentless enemy,' the Voice picks up gravely now. 'For months they have struggled to carry their remaining young on legs almost too weary to support their own frail weight, much less the weight of the children. They run across brutal terrain, hiding from the marauders and mourning the loss of all they have ever known and loved. They are at the end of their resources, they want nothing more than to die. But they have struggled this long for the children's sake; the brave one of their young who still remembers how to pray is all that keeps their souls together. He has made his request from a heart of childlike purity and love, and we will answer it. We will transport them here at first light, and all will be ready. We may not take them completely from the pain and travails of their destiny; but we MAY offer hope and comfort and love to sustain them along their way. Yes, we will be ready. The stage will be set.'

And as the Voice fades out, as the Circle of energies winks out with the departure of these busy souls on their important errands, the void all around becomes a world, dusty and arid and torn by the savagery of war and hopeless death. Where once velvet grass and pretty, humming stones filled the space with light and life, colorless gray dust and the wilted fronds of drought-stricken plants litter the landscape.

But in the midst of this depressing environment, in the first dim light of another hopeless day, a ragged man appears, his bowed shoulders straining under the weight of a dirty brown sack. His body is stick thin,his long white beard matted and filthy; but the amazingly clear blue eyes that peer out from his emaciated face are strangely lively, their animated gaze cheerful and limned with friendly wrinkles formed by years of smiles.

'Soon,' this one mumbles to himself as he toils along the remains of an abandoned trail. He can hear them just ahead, the four exhausted adults and their precious, hungry children--they are almost the last, practically all that is left of a beautiful, grace-filled people who watched their number devastated and destroyed at the hands of an invading race from a world light years' distant from their own. The adults can go no further as they now are; their feet are completely ruined and torn by the harsh terrain they must cross, balancing their young ones on their backs. They are weak and sick, crippled and tottering, hungry and caught in the last throes of desperation.

'But all will be well,' the ragged man says now, a small smile playing around his mouth. 'Much hope I bring, here in my sack; so little, it seems, but really just enough. Certainly on their own they will find the strength they need to move on, to start again. But hope they need first, a little push to remind them of their spirits' unlimited power. Yes, these will do; these are the young one's answer to prayer. With these they will find reason to rise up, to find their inner courage, to live.' And with the smallest sparkle in his eye, the ragged man peers deep into his sack and spies them there, the four nondescript but nonetheless miraculous pairs of military boots; a vivid image of four lovely and entertaining souls ripples through his memory, and his eyes briefly flash the warm, glowing color of carnelion, and of cobalt blue.

'Much to share, all souls help the progress of all others,' he murmurs with quiet satisfaction; and as he prepares to answer a little boy's prayer for shoes to keep his family alive, the raggedy one knows that the great circle will continue, that in the end all will most definitely be well and more than well.

****at the SGC****

"And you're sure they're REALLY SG-1?" Hammond repeats for the second time this day to Janet Fraiser.

"Umm...yes, sir...as certain as I've ever been, especially where Colonel O'Neill's team is concerned," Janet replies carefully; both turn to gaze somewhat dubiously through the doorway into the VIP quarantine quarters and the four people laughing uproariously inside, and Hammond heaves a resigned sigh.

"Okay, it's the real SG-1," he agrees. "But why don't they remember where they WENT when they were supposed to be on PGX979 but never showed? Why did they come back so damned happy and-and YOUNG looking from wherever it was they DID go; and what the hell happened to their boots?"

"I can't tell you, sir," Janet Fraiser sighs, inclining her head toward the room where Arnold Swarzenegger wields a huge sword while snarling something in a thick Austrian accent, much to the apparent enjoyment of an SG-1 still recovering from a five-course meal. "All I know is that they're healthier than they've been in two years of physicals, they're cheerful and relaxed and...well, pretty much completely normal. The only thing even a bit out of the ordinary are their reports of dreams--vivid dreams of singing and castles high in the air and chests full of gorgeous gems. And in Dr. Jackson's case, something about talking library books that weren't really books. Frankly, I can't make heads or tails of any of it, and I don't know if these dreams were implanted in them by some unknown alien race or are fragmented bits of some real experience they underwent while they were missing."

"But at this point you don't feel they pose any threat to this base,to this planet, or to anyone else?" Hammond finishes, his gaze distracted as another wave of laughter rolls through the open doorway.

"I think they're all just fine," Janet shrugs, lifting perplexed brown eyes to General Hammond's worried blue ones. "I'm giving them a clean bill of health, and as far as I'm concerned, they should receive full clearance to return to active duty within forty-eight hours...barring any unforeseen complications, of course."

"Of course," Hammond mutters, taking one final look at his premier offworld team as they lounge around the tv in the VIP room, all of them healthy and happy and obviously delighted to be in each other's company. Not a grumble has passed their lips since the announcement that they would be detained and quarantined until this baffling mix-up with their latest mission is straightened out; if anything, each of them has fairly radiated enthusiasm as suggestions and ideas for how to fill the extra downtime have bounced energetically back and forth between them. They all seem blithely unconcerned about the fact that they were missing for approximately four earth days, days they have no conscious memory of spending anywhere else; and when questioned about their lack of footwear upon their return, Daniel Jackson had merely shrugged and murmured winsomely,

"Just one of life's little mysteries, General. But wherever they are, I'm sure all will be well with them."

And as Hammond leveled a decidedly worried stare on the linguist in response to his cryptic statement, Jack had snorted and clapped the befuddled general on the back.

"Really, sir, we can always requisition new boots, can't we?" the Colonel smiled. "And if it bothers you that much, we'll put up wanted posters all over the galaxy: 'Wanted, dead or alive!--four pairs of stinky, grimy, worn-out military boots. These boots should be considered armed and dangerous; do not attempt to approach these babies yourself, but call for immediate backup..."

"Yeah; YOUR boots, especially, Jack," Daniel snorted drily. "They should use tactical weapons, maybe even nukes, on your boots if they find them."

"Very funny, Monkeyboy; very funny," Jack had grimaced in reply; and as the four members of SG-1 had padded their happy, barefoot way to the Infirmary and a full medical and psychological work-up, Hammond had sighed and looked to the heavens. Why me, Lord, he mused to himself with a longsuffering expression. Why me?

And somewhere far away but closer than the good General knows, the Circle smiled and smiles still, confident in the answer to that question. Because you are blessed, dear George; blessed and richly blessed, four times over.

END

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