Manips by JoaG
Funny how certain sounds can elicit specific and immediate reactions, even before you're aware of performing them. Like Jack's cry of pain. At the first pain-filled shout, Daniel dropped out of the ancient world he'd immersed himself in, and his body did that fight or flight thing even as his mind went through several possibilities of what had happened. And none of them amounted to good things, especially as the screams were relentless.
He skidded to a stop, his feet sliding on the scree outside the cave's opening, nearly sending him tumbling down the steep hill as he desperately scanned the surrounding area. Jack's cries came from below, in the direction he'd cautioned Jack not to wander into. Despite the possible danger, he began running downhill, knowing he was deliberately entering into a hazardous area and throwing caution to the wind anyways. At some point he had automatically stuffed the flashlight in his vest and had drawn his 9 ml. At first, Daniel couldn't see Jack. The uneven terrain was filled with wide, bushy trees and tall grass that would hide an elephant.
The sounds that came from behind a scruffy bush, however, were enough to scare said elephant. Jack lay on the ground, the grass flattened by his writhing, one hand holding onto his skull while the other dug into the ground. It was his leg, however, that caught Daniel's attention.
That, and the honking bear trap that was affixed to his calf, just above his ankle, biting through the top part of his boot.
"Aw, shit." Daniel threw himself to the ground next to Jack, trying to see how much damage there was and fearing the worst. Jack's cries cut short and all Daniel could hear were Jack's sharp pants of pain, and the slither of his clothes as he thrashed on the ground. "I told you not to go this way. This is where the Erkans set their traps."
"Ya think?" Jack snapped as Daniel took hold of Jack's knee to hold him still.
"The warning was plain as day, Jack. We're near the water, remember?" Daniel bit back his irritation, which was vying for a spot above the worry that was stuck high in his throat. Some of the tightness in his chest eased when he saw that Jack's leg still seemed to be in one piece. He shifted his attention to the trap itself.
"Hey, covert ops specialist here. I'm trained to detect booby traps�"
"Well, you sure detected this one. What the hell were you�" Daniel pressed down on the release lever and Jack yelled in pain as the sharp points let go their hold on his leg. With both hands fisted over his temples, he lay there panting as Daniel lifted his leg free of the trap.
Hating the damned contraption and understanding its need, Daniel reached for a stick and pressed down on the catch, and the two bloody metal jaws snapped together, breaking the stick with frightening ease. Satisfied that neither he nor Jack would stumble onto that particular snare again, he turned his attention to Jack's injury.
He slowly palpitated Jack's leg once he unlaced his boot and eased it off, and breathed a sigh of relief when he didn't feel anything broken. Chances were, at the worst, Jack got off with a cracked rather than shattered bone. Of course, there was the problem of the bloody gashes that were now bleeding freely.
Aware of their vulnerability, Daniel quickly wrapped a bandana around Jack's leg. It was one thing to be safe inside a cave with someone on guard duty outside, it was another matter with one person down and the other unable to give his whole attention towards anticipating what might be stalking them behind the next bush or clump of grass.
Daniel was also afraid the smell of blood might attract some of the denizens for whom the traps had been set. "We need to get you out of here."
"I know." Jack sat up, his face pale and shiny with sweat. He had recovered from the shock of the injury, though, and his eyes kept glancing around even as his fingers had a white-knuckle grasp on the P-90's frame. Daniel got to his feet and gave Jack a hand up, grabbing Jack's arm as he teetered. Then as Jack tested his injury, Daniel was the one who kept a nervous eye out on the landscape around them.
"Should I call in reinforcements?" Daniel waited as Jack slung his arm around his shoulder and took a few stumbling steps. Together, they started back up towards the cave. A short puff of wind brought the stench of decaying material from the encroaching bog nearby.
"Too dangerous. Sun'll be setting in an hour or so; we still need to walk to the rails and I won't make it before dark with this�Ya!"
Daniel grimaced as Jack slipped and his full weight landed on Daniel's shoulders for a moment. He braced himself until Jack was able to shift his weight again.
"You shouldn't be walking on that leg."
"I also shouldn't have had five pounds of metal attached to my leg to begin with."
"Well, that wouldn't have happened if you'd stayed up there instead of wandering down here."
"Hey, I needed to get a lay of the land before we set up camp. Bad enough we really don't know what's out there�"
"I think those dead carcasses we saw were enough to give us a pretty good idea of�"
A low growling sound, accompanied by the clatter of rocks, brought both of them to a sudden stop. They pivoted as one towards the noise, Jack easing away from Daniel while bringing his weapon to bear towards the animal which had suddenly stepped from behind a tree.
The creature was just as ugly alive as the dead ones they'd seen back in the village. Almost as large as a lion, it had an uneven body, the hind legs shorter than the front. It had a powerful, thick neck, and a jaw that didn't quite close properly as the sharp teeth overlapped one another. It growled again and slobber slid slowly from the side of its mouth.
It took a stiff legged step towards them and Jack didn't hesitate. A short burst from his P-90 swept the creature off its feet and it tumbled down the hill, dead before it could even let out a surprised yelp.
"C'mon." Jack managed several limping steps before Daniel was able to take his eyes off the crumpled body, where it had come to rest against a tree trunk.
"I need to finish studying that script," Daniel said once he got his shoulder under Jack's arm again. He glanced up; they were halfway there, he could see the tumble of rocks that led to the cave's entrance.
"You'll have all night to do it. Just sit me down by the entrance and keep the ammunition coming."
"Right. Should I start melting the lead now to make the bullets?"
"Well, we planned on � ow, damnit!" Jack stumbled and caught himself, hopped on one foot for a few steps, then continued limping. "We planned on spending the night here anyway."
"Yeah, well, that was before�"
"Don't, Daniel, okay? Just... don't. We knew coming in that those beasts were running rampant in this area and�"
"I wanted to see if I could learn something about how the Erkans' ancestors set up the technology in the first place to keep those things away." Daniel looked in the direction where the dead animal fell. "Was it just me, or did that thing look like a hyena?"
They were nearly at the top, walking carefully on the loose stones that had broken off from the rocky cliff over the passage of time. "Yeah, kinda. Although those in The Lion King were a lot cuter. And they sang, which made them a helluva lot more entertaining." They were now near the cave's entrance and Jack pulled away from Daniel, leaning against the stone wall while Daniel fished his flashlight from his vest's pocket. "I was always a little partial to Ed."
"Uh huh," Daniel answered noncommittally.
"Just admit it, Daniel. You slept through the movie and you're just too stubborn to admit it."
"I wasn't sleeping." Doped up to the gills on painkillers, he'd watched the movie but couldn't, to this day, remember a single thing about it.
He stepped inside the cave cautiously, as Jack had done earlier, while this time Jack was the one doing the backup. A quick tour inside showed no predators.
"All clear. No Eds inside."
Jack fell back against the wall, and Daniel hated to see the strain of pain on his face.
"I'm going to go gather firewood before it gets dark."
Jack immediately pushed off the wall and hobbled to the entrance. "Don't go far." He sat against a large boulder, and kept his hands on his P-90.
"I'll be fast." And he was. Keeping within visual range of Jack, Daniel made several trips, dumping the firewood just inside the cave's entrance. They'd rely on the fire for protection, heat and illumination. He'd gotten a good start earlier at examining the writing but wasn't quite sure yet what it meant. If he got lucky, he'd have a breakthrough within an hour or two. He had a feeling, however, he might be working all night as Jack was most likely going to start whining the moment they settled down.
He wasn't disappointed. By the time he had a fire burning and Daniel took out the first aid kit, Jack was sitting hunched over his leg, as if to protect it from the antiseptic he knew Daniel was going to have to clean the wounds with. Daniel slowly removed the items he needed, giving Jack a bit of time to prep for the coming pain.
Daniel knew he was being somewhat callous but damnit, he'd taken the trouble to point out and translate the signs cautioning the traps and the "do not enter" ones as well. But when he gathered everything, he suddenly felt contrite. Although Jack had removed the bloody bandana while Daniel had gone through the first aid kit, Jack looked like a kid who'd skinned his knee and was unhappily anticipating the sting of iodine that he knew had to be applied.
"This is going to hurt you more than it's going to hurt me," Daniel said, then quickly poured the antiseptic over one side of Jack's leg. He ignored Jack's curses, working quickly, getting it over with as fast as possible. The cuts probably needed stitches, but that was beyond Daniel's abilities.
When he was done, Jack was lying on the ground, one arm thrown over his eyes, the other one tightly clenched against the material of his pants. He flinched as Daniel smeared on antiseptic cream and didn't relax as Daniel wound a bandage over his handiwork.
Daniel dropped the soiled paraphernalia into the fire, then tossed the blister pack of Tylenol 3 onto Jack's abdomen. He raised his head, looked at the pills, and brushed them aside.
"I need to stay alert."
"Then take one, or hell, here." Daniel drew the regular Tylenol from the first aid kit and tossed those over also. "Just take something, okay?"
He watched as Jack sat up and swallowed three regular Tylenol with a few sips of water, then pointed to the wall behind him. "I should just go and..."
Jack nodded, and without a word, dragged himself just beyond the campfire and stared at the darkening vista before him.
Daniel stood and walked to the cave opening. The hillside looked eerie; the vapour from the marshy land below them was condensing, sending an oddly green phosphorescent mist up the hill. "We should contact Teal'c or Sam, tell them what happened�"
"The sun's already down, Daniel. Our radio's aren't gonna get through that crap out there."
With a long-suffering sigh, Daniel tried his radio. He berated himself for not calling in earlier, at the very least to tell Janet what had happened. They'd been well warned by the Erkans that their radios wouldn't work at night and Sam had given them detailed explanations why. Then again, worrying them now wouldn't accomplish anything, it wasn't like they needed to be rescued or anything. Morning would be soon enough, although it would mean they'd probably end up staying longer in the immediate surroundings until help arrived.
He ignored Jack's I told you so look and turned to his work. He'd started to get a vague understanding how the ancient technology had been set up to keep the water clean and the bacteria out of it. Hopefully Sam could figure out how the technology worked and fix it, before all of the planet's water turned into ground eating marsh.
"You know," Daniel said as he traced the faded paint with his finger, reading and translating while trying to find the spot where he'd been when Jack had literally gone and put his foot in it, "the terminology they used here doesn't quite jive with what Arrith told us."
He waited, partly to see if Jack was listening, and partly because he needed a moment to concentrate on a difficult passage. He finished reading, heard Jack grunt, and continued. "Arrith mentioned his ancestors several times, but I've come across a couple of passages that just don't make sense. They're referring to spirits�"
"Like Tonane's spirits? Xe'ls and�" There was a hopeful light in Jack's voice.
Daniel was glad to see he had Jack's attention. "Not the Salish's spirits, Jack. At least I don't think so. And I think this is older than the Goa'uld's rule."
"Xe'ls did remove the Goa'uld from their planet."
"Yeah, but there should have been some records here about that." Daniel couldn't help it, he lowered his voice, trying to bite back a teasing smile. "I don't think this is even Asgard. But it just might be... the Furlings," he said in a stage whisper.
Daniel made a face. He really didn't have any evidence of who these spirits were. It was just hopeful wishing on his part that they were the elusive Furlings. "Well, there are definitely no references to Goa'uld, and everyone we spoke to never heard of them so, hell, why can't it be Furlings?"
"So it could be Asgard?"
Daniel shrugged. "I haven't seen any concrete evidence that it's Asgard but yeah, it could be that, too. Sam will probably know for sure by the time we talk to her in the�"
The attack came so suddenly, Daniel barely had time to draw his gun and aim at the large shape which charged past Jack. His body did that reflexive ducking thing at the sound of the animal's deafening ululating roar. Not sure exactly what happened, in that split second when the creature ran towards him and he raised his gun and fired, he figured it had leaped over Jack and the campfire, somehow getting past Jack's surveillance. Based on the cityfolks, the creatures were notoriously intelligent and relentless.
Instead of the creature going down, however, Daniel was aware of a short, metallic sounding ping and pain suddenly erupted in his chest. His back and legs hit against something hard, knocking the breath out of him. Or, Daniel's quickly fading senses supposed, maybe the difficulty breathing was due to the fact that he was now lying on the ground, unable to move.
From far away, he heard the roar of thunder and his name being called. But the wind caught the sound, pulled it away and broke it up into a million pieces, and he went after it, trying to catch it and got lost in the dark.
"Oh God, no, please, no. Daniel!" Jack nearly tripped over the dead body of the creature, the pain in his leg forgotten as he stumbled to Daniel's side. With shaking hands, he turned Daniel over onto his side, exposing the blood-soaked material of his tee shirt.
"Damnit!" Crawling as fast as he could on hands and knees, he grabbed the first aid kit and returned to Daniel's side, tore the tee shirt in two and pulled out a pressure bandage and slapped it over his bloody chest. Daniel was bleeding profusely. The bullet must have nicked an artery or a major organ.
Suddenly remembering the dead creature which he'd thankfully brought down with a single burst from his P-90, Jack glanced towards the unguarded entrance, then arranged his weapon so that he could shoot quickly if he had to. He glanced at the wall where Daniel's bullet had ricocheted. He made a mental note to make sure he didn't miss if he had to shoot.
"C'mon, big guy, don't do this." Jack pressed down on top of the bandage, feeling blood soak through almost immediately and coat his hands. The flickering firelight danced shadows all over the cave, causing Jack to keep nervously glancing towards the entrance. He listened over the crackle of the fire, but all he could hear was Daniel's gasping breaths.
This time he got a second's notice before the attack; loose rocks clattered outside and he reached for his gun, aware of the slick feel of the metal in his bloody hands. He shot the first, second and third beast right at the entrance, and they toppled backwards, eliciting startled yelps below. A moment later he heard several snarls, and he hoped the ones he'd surprised were now fighting over the carcasses, would eat their fill and go play somewhere else.
A little too nervous to relax and let go his P-90, Jack resumed pressure on Daniel's wound with one hand, keeping the gun pointed at the entrance. When several minutes lapsed and the snarls continued below, he eased his death grip on the weapon and gave a little more attention to Daniel.
It took him a moment to realize that the bleeding seemed to have stopped. As did Daniel's strained breaths. For a moment, he felt relief, until he realized what that could mean.
"Oh, no, no." He reached for Daniel's neck, blood-slick fingers having trouble finding the carotid artery the first time. He deliberately forced himself to slow down, pressed on Daniel's neck, and heaved a sigh of relief when he felt the steady and rapid pulse beneath his fingers. Leaning down, he realized Daniel's breathing had eased. Jack blinked a few times, then slowly reached for the edge of the bandage and lifted.
The gunshot wound was evident, but even as Jack watched, no blood slipped out of it. He took the opportunity to change the bloody bandage, then watched it carefully. The pristine dressing slowly turned red in spots where it absorbed Daniel's already spilled blood, but didn't soak through the way the first one had.
He swallowed hard, wondering if maybe he'd first misjudged the injury. Confident that Daniel was okay alone for a moment, he quickly crawled to the fire and built it up. He'd forgotten the pain in his foot and it didn't seem quite as bad now so he stood and limped to the edge of the entrance and peered outside. The green cast of the mist was thick, difficult to see through. He thought he saw a shadow glide past a few feet downhill, but he couldn't be sure. The grumbles from the animals were still going strong, though, and he hoped they were enjoying their supper.
Pressing a finger to the mic of his radio, he tried calling the other members of his team, knowing as he did so that the act was pointless. He couldn't help swearing when he got static for his trouble. Just what he needed; two of them injured, no way out until morning and even that sounded like it could be dicey trying to make their way back to the rail car.
Jack contemplated the landscape before him. At the moment the only thing preventing these creatures from moving into civilization was a gorge, just a dozen miles, which the railway traversed. But the land was changing, and fast. The creatures followed whatever microbes were transforming clear fresh water into murky bog water. And the creatures were here, now, which meant that it was just a matter of time, weeks, maybe days, before they'd be crossing the bog and making their way into the city proper.
"Some help we are," Jack muttered as he tossed yet another log onto the fire, causing sparks to fly towards the ceiling of the cave. "Carter and Fraiser better have the answers to this thing because it looks like you and I have bombed, Daniel." With the adrenaline rush fading, he limped painfully back to his friend's side. Sitting facing the entrance, he took another look at the bandage. It hadn't changed; which was odd because even if the bullet had somehow simply lodged on Daniel's ribs, it should still be bleeding more than it was. And Daniel wasn't awake yet, which was scaring him more.
"I take it back," Jack muttered as one of the creatures screeched loudly. "I didn't like the hyenas, Ed in particular. I liked the warthog."
The humming was insistent, like a mosquito buzzing around his ear. Daniel wished it would stop so he could get some sleep. He started to turn onto his side, intending to bury his head under his pillow, but someone put a hand on his shoulder, keeping him in place. That, more than the fact that the humming stopped at the touch, had him opening his eyes in controlled panic.
Pain filled him, agony spreading through his chest, worsening with each breath he took. He looked around, expecting to see Jaffa or a Goa'uld sneering down at him.
From the years he'd been part of SG-1, he'd come to anticipate just about anything. Coming to in a strange room, on a strange planet, in a strange galaxy was no longer... strange. Disconcerting, yes. Especially when one felt the way he felt, one always expected to face one's enemy. And the person looking back at him was definitely not... human.
Well, not quite as alien as, say, the Asgard, but more human looking than the Salish. It was the eyes, Daniel decided. Well, that and the fact that there was an ephemeral quality to him, almost like a ghost.
Or a spirit?
The stranger's eyes were haunted and saw clear through him. Long hair framed his wrinkled face, held back by a piece of leather. He wore simple clothes, a tunic and pants. Then he smiled, and suddenly the anxiety Daniel felt upon seeing the stranger, fled. He placed a hand on Daniel's chest and closed his eyes. The humming started up again for a short while and the stranger's hand suddenly felt hot against his skin.
"I greet you, Daniel Jackson. I trust you are feeling better now."
"Huh?" At that moment, Daniel realized the agony he'd experienced on waking was gone. He was weak and shaky, and his body felt heavy and lethargic, but the pain was mostly gone. "Um... yeah, yes, yes, I do." He looked down at the bloody material of his torn shirt and jacket and at the bullet hole that marred both. "I, um, got shot?"
"Unfortunately, yes." The stranger smiled again as he removed his hand. "Here, a souvenir." He held his closed hand out, palm down, and Daniel had no choice but to raise his hand, palm up, to receive whatever the stranger was offering him. Something small and hard landed in his palm and he squinted down at it.
Smeared with blood, the bullet was unmistakable.
"Did you just..." Daniel looked at his torso, then raised the edge of the bandage so he could see his injured chest. There was blood, lots of blood, but it wasn't flowing out of him anymore. The bullet hole, which looked so small compared to how much it had hurt earlier, appeared to have clotted over.
"You must finish the work you began, Daniel." The stranger smiled again, and waved to the wall behind him.
"Um, I'm sorry, but, have we met?"
"Liren," the man said with a nod of his head. "I am Liren. We have met now."
"That's not exactly what I meant." Daniel rolled up onto his side and sat up slowly. He felt a mild pull inside his chest but it was more like... parts of him had been overworked. Not painful but just, strange. He rubbed his torso abstractedly with one hand and turned to look at the wall Liren was staring at.
The writing he'd been studying earlier, before the attack, glowed with that same strange phosphorous luminescence of the bog outside, except it was glowing from within the wall itself. Daniel blinked, then turned to Liren. "Are you responsible for what's going on out there?"
"What you call the destruction of the ecosystem? In a manner, you could say that I was. We made this land what it is now, and it is simply attempting to return to what it should be."
"You mean that you created the technology that kept the bacteria from the water."
"In those simple terms, yes."
"Can you fix it?" Daniel leaned forward, hope flooding him with the possibility that Liren was the answer to the Erkans' problem.
"Oh." Daniel sat back dejectedly.
"But your people can."
The hope returned. "How?"
"You must finish the work you began here, Daniel. While our knowledge is more advanced than your people's, our technology is fallible. Repairs must be performed, and in order to do so, you must discover the location of our... computer system." It was obvious by the way Liren said the last two words, that they weren't familiar to him. Daniel began to suspect he was reading his mind, and although a little farfetched, he didn't dismiss it out of hand. The man could simply be very good at reading his body language, but that didn't explain how he came up with unfamiliar terminology, unless that had simply been a false assumption on his part in the first place. Then a thought came to him.
"Are you a hologram?"
The smile was back. "If that thought eases your belief, then, yes, I am."
Daniel pressed his lips together in frustration. "Are you a ghost?"
"If that thought eases your belief, then yes, I am a ghost."
"You're not helping, you know that?"
The smile turned into a chuckle. Again, Liren waved towards the wall, bringing Daniel's attention to it once more, and here and there, parts of the writing flared brightly. Sensing the words were made to stand out for a yet unknown reason, Daniel tried to memorize which ones had lit up as they faded back to their normal, eerie glow. "There is more behind the writing, Daniel. You have until sunrise to determine the location of the mainframe. It will identify those areas which require repairs."
The smile disappeared and Liren's face turned serious. "There is a major component that is on the verge of... shorting out. When it ceases to function, the bacteria will invade the area surrounding the nearby cities. If not prevented from doing so within the next few days, the destruction of the few remaining crops will cause the Erkans to starve. The computer will identify the problem areas and show you where to go to effect the repairs."
"Next few days? So why the time restraint?" Daniel looked down at the bullet which he still held in his palm. "You didn't really heal me, did you? You're not real. You're a spirit or a..."
"Spirits and holograms cannot heal."
"So..." This time it was Daniel who waved towards the wall. "I guess I should get started."
"Good luck, Daniel." Liren smiled and the light shifted, making his eyes almost as luminescent as the wall. It wasn't the Goa'uld type of glow, this came from deep within. Daniel couldn't pull his gaze from Liren's and slowly, the world faded. All that remained was the feeling of urgency that he had to complete his task.
Daniel woke up with a start. For a moment he was disoriented and he looked around for Liren. The strange luminosity was gone, and all he saw was Jack, illuminated by the firelight, staring at him with an odd expression on his face.
"What?" Daniel started to shift onto his elbow, wondering if he had the strength to get up. He wasn't in much pain, but he was incredibly tired and thirsty.
Jack immediately pressed down on his shoulder, keeping him flat against the ground. "Don't move. You might start bleeding again."
"No, I'm fine. I have to�"
"Damnit, you're not fine. You just got shot."
Oh, that explained the look on Jack's face. He'd seen it once, on the suicide mission when he'd been shot by Jaffa on Klorel's ship when he and Apophis attacked Earth. And that look of worry shifted to one of anger and annoyance when Daniel tried to fight off Jack's hold.
"I'm fine. Please, help me up. I have to finish translating�"
"What don't you understand about the fact that you've been shot?" Jack's voice rose angrily on the last word.
"I had a dream, or maybe it was a vision," Daniel said, speaking quickly, wondering why he was so thirsty. "There's a clue somewhere in there, Jack. I need to find it so Sam can fix whatever's gone wrong with the technology."
"You were unconscious and probably delirious."
"I was... unconscious and dreaming..." Daniel could still feel the metal slug in his hand. He turned his hand, palm up, and unfolded his fingers. There, in the center of his palm, was the bullet Liren had somehow removed from his body. There were smears of blood on his palm and on the bullet itself, but nowhere else on his hand.
"What the hell�"
"I had a vision, Jack. He couldn't heal me but�"
"Who couldn't heal you?"
"Liren. A... um... well, I'm not sure if he was a hologram or�"
"How could you hallucinate a hologram?"
Daniel made a face as he dropped the bullet on the ground. "Good point. Still I�" An ear-piercing shriek filled the cave. "What the�" Alarmed, this time Daniel made it onto his elbows as Jack's attention was pulled towards the cave's opening.
"Late supper crowd's showing up."
"Did they try and attack�"
"Got three of 'em. I was hoping they'd keep the rest of the herd... pride... whatever, busy for the night but I can't tell how many of them are out there."
Snarls and growls made it sound like there were lots.
Daniel made it up to a fully seated position and leaned back against the wall. He looked at the bandage Jack had placed on his chest and was relieved to see it wasn't saturated with blood. "Got any water?"
Jack turned to him and gave him a hard look, then reached for a bottle of water and handed it to him. Daniel took several long swallows, finally forcing himself to stop, not exactly sure how much water was left and whether he needed to ration.
"That dream, or hallucination, was real, Jack. I need to see if I can find out what Liren was talking about."
Jack was staring at the bullet. "That's impossible. It must be another bullet, a second ricochet�"
"I fired only one shot."
"Then one of mine ricocheted back here."
"He healed me, Jack."
"Hallucinations or holograms don't heal."
Daniel paused; Jack's words had been so similar to Liran's that it was eerie. He tried for some other aspect. "Then there must be some sort of... I don't know..."
Jack looked around the cave and it was almost funny to see him trying to peer into corners, looking for hidden technology without making it obvious that he was looking for it.
"Then who used it on me? Why didn't they just teleport us back to the rail car?"
"I don't know!"
"Well, neither do I." Daniel sighed heavily and his chest felt tighten. "Look, this is a waste of time. I need to finish that translation." He held a hand out. "Help me up?"
Instead of helping Daniel, Jack reached for his torn tee-shirt. "Let me just check out your wound and�"
"Never mind." Daniel got to his feet with the help of the wall, refusing Jack's assistance when he hurried to his feet once he realized Daniel had made up his mind. He felt unsteady as he took a few shuffling steps towards the wall, while Jack limped beside him. He had forgotten about Jack's encounter with the bear trap and felt guilty but was relieved to see that Jack seemed able to get around.
He picked up the flashlight that he'd dropped during the attack, stopped to rest a moment when the cave spun when he straightened, then aimed the beam on the writing, trying to skim what he'd already translated before moving on to the new text. The constant thirst was annoying but he'd be damned if he'd ask Jack for a favor and get him the bottle. He'd just work for a little while and reward himself with a few sips later when he took a break.
Jack leaned back against the wall and kept a watch on both the cave's entrance, and on Daniel. It wasn't normal for someone to be walking around like that after getting shot in the chest the way he had. It wasn't normal for someone to stop bleeding that fast, either, not without help from some friendly neighborhood alien. He wanted to question Daniel more about this Liren guy, but the man was so caught up in his work at the moment he probably wouldn't appreciate another interruption from him.
Daniel had thwarted his every attempt to try and check him out. He wouldn't sit long enough for Jack to even look at the bullet hole, or take his pulse. The man had to be hurting, and hurting bad, but he didn't give much indication that he was in that much pain. Oh, he was hurting some, that much was clear. He was moving slower than normal and seemed somewhat shaky. But for the past four hours Daniel had either stood there and studied the writing on the wall, or had written stuff down on paper, only to cross it out and start over again, or lean against the opposite wall and just stared at it.
That was what Daniel was doing at the moment. Staring.
"There's more behind the writing."
"What?" Jack straightened, putting weight on his injured leg slowly and carefully.
"That's what Liren said. I thought he'd meant that there was a code in the writing, but I'm beginning to think I'm wrong."
"Maybe you're just tired. Come to think of it, I'm tired. How about a break? My leg hurts." Fed up of trying to cajole Daniel into taking it easy and giving in for a quick look-over, Jack tried a different tactic.
"You'd be more comfortable sitting down." Daniel pushed away from the wall and walked over to the opposite wall. Except instead of reading the writing, he brought his face right up to it until he was just an inch away. With a finger, he rubbed around part of the paint.
"Liren deliberately singled out about a dozen words." Daniel kept rubbing at the paint. "I tried to memorize them but I'm sure I'm missing a few. Even if these are code, I'd probably need all them to figure out whatever he was trying to tell me. But like I said, I think I'm wrong." Daniel stopped fondling the paint and turned to Jack.
The sudden weariness on his face alarmed Jack and he limped over without a word.
"What do you see here?" Daniel pointed to the edge of the paint and Jack took Daniel's flashlight from him. For a moment, the beam illuminated Daniel's face, which was shiny with sweat and paler than it should have been. Daniel simply blinked and stepped back, giving Jack room, so he moved in closer and peered carefully. Then he compared the edge of that particular word with the next one over. There was definitely something around the painted word Daniel was looking at. Like a crack, as if it had been chiseled out and then replaced, with most of it fitting in seamlessly except for a small edge.
"I don't know. Let's see." Daniel pressed on the letters and they began glowing, just a little. He moved to the side, looked carefully at another word and pressed on it. It lit up and the first one glowed just a little more brightly.
A loud growl just outside the cave had Jack whirling towards the opening, P-90 at the ready. Both he and Daniel waited, but apparently the creature decided not to pay them a visit. When they turned back to the wall, the glow had disappeared.
"I need to find all of them."
"You said you remembered some?"
"Yeah. I'll mark them with a piece of chalk. But I don't know how many I'm missing. It could be one, or it could be four or five. It all happened so fast and..."
"Yeah, I know." Jack moved to the left and began examining each word for the nearly invisible line while Daniel marked off those words he remembered. After going through what felt like half the wall, Jack found one that Daniel had missed.
Daniel broke the chalk in half and tossed a section over to Jack.
"How long before sunrise?"
Jack finished marking the word, then looked outside at the darkness which was still eerily illuminated by the bog. He glanced at his watch and did a quick calculation. "About an hour."
"Oh." A pause. "Thanks."
His leg was aching something awful. Trying to ignore it, Jack moved on to the next word. "Any reason why you asked?"
Another long pause before Daniel answered. "No, not really."
"Remember when you said that holograms don't heal?"
"Yeah." No crack. Jack moved on to the next word.
"Well, he didn't heal me, exactly. But I think at sunrise, whatever he did do to me will have worn off and�"
"Damnit." Jack wanted to hurry the job, suddenly feeling a weight on his shoulders, but knew that a careless job would simply slow them down. He heard chalk scratching on rock and knew Daniel had found yet another.
It took them another forty minutes to finish. Jack stood back and allowed Daniel access to the wall and one by one, he began hitting each marked off word. They all lit up one after the other, growing progressively brighter until neither of them needed their flashlights. The moment Daniel pressed the last word, the whole wall began moving inward.
"Not a code, a key," Daniel said, flashing Jack a weary smile. He took a deep breath and walked towards the slowly opening gap.
"Hey, wait, let me check it out first."
"It's okay. It's safe." Ignoring Jack, Daniel slipped sideways through the opening, flashing his light inside.
"Hey, does it say Colonel anywhere on my uniform?" Jack groused as he hurried as fast as he could to catch up.
What he saw inside was definitely way over his head. This was Carter material, and he wondered if even Daniel had any idea what any of this was.
"It's the computer system. With this, I can tell Sam where to go to fix those places that need fixing."
"Can you work this thing?"
Daniel sighed, looking around tiredly. "I don't know."
"Well, a blinking light is always an attention getter." Jack pointed to a light that was flashing on a monitor. Daniel shuffled slowly towards it, seeming to be losing the bit of energy that had kept him going throughout the night. With a visibly shaking hand, he pressed the button that was blinking and a holographic map appeared before them. It didn't take Jack long to identify the area they were in now. There was the gorge, and obviously there was the computer system because writing overlapped the cliff in a you are here type of scenario.
"This is us." Daniel pointed to the area Jack was looking at. He squinted, then pointed to two areas which were blinking red. "Here. Sam has to go here and here and fix... whatever's..." Daniel swayed and caught himself on the console. He swallowed, coughed, and repeated his words. "She has to fix their technology. There are a couple of smaller repairs that need to be made but they can probably wai�"
Daniel's knees buckled and Jack managed to catch him before he hit the ground. Daniel was shaking, and his breathing was becoming laboured. Frantically, Jack reached for his neck, searching out his pulse while he glanced at the bandage. It wasn't bleeding, thank God for small favours, but Daniel's pulse was so rapid and thready that Jack broke out into a sweat.
"I'll be right back."
Half running, half limping, Jack hurried into the cave, having totally forgotten the creatures outside until he heard one of them snarl. He grabbed their packs and the water bottle and ran back. He took a moment to pull a blanket from Daniel's pack, then shoved both packs under his feet, raising his legs above heart level. After wrapping the blanket around Daniel, he reached for his pulse a second time. Daniel's skin was cool and clammy and Jack recognized the symptoms for shock.
"It'll be fine, Daniel, just hang in there."
Daniel's eyes flicked once beneath closed lids and he moaned softly, but didn't wake up.
Jack realized belatedly that the cave had seemed brighter. He reached for his radio and began calling his team, impatient for the interference to fade so he could get Carter off to fix whatever needed fixing and get Fraiser the hell over here.
"Lie still, Daniel."
Confused, disoriented and feeling extremely nauseous, Daniel didn't realize he'd been trying to sit up until someone placed a cool hand on his chest. He knew that voice, and he opened eyelids that felt like they were glued together to squint at Janet's fuzzy face above him.
Something wasn't quite right, though. He'd expected to wake up in the infirmary, just like all the other times he'd woken up feeling this awful, but there was something wrong with the decor.
"How are you feeling?"
"Confused." He dragged a hand across his face and realized he had an IV affixed to the top of his hand. "What... where's Jack?"
"The Colonel's in the computer room talking with Sam. Don't worry, he'll be fine."
Fine? Daniel tried to piece together the bits of memory that were flitting haphazardly through his brain, unsure if what he remembered was a dream or reality, or both. He was hedging towards dream, though, because of the surreal feel of some of the visuals he kept seeing.
Then he recalled Jack's getting his foot caught in the trap. "His leg�"
"Will make him grouchier than a bear for a few days but barring infection, it'll be okay. He just needed a few stitches."
"I don't remember much..."
"Well, I'm not surprised. You went into shock a couple of hours ago. You were shot. Do you remember that?"
Daniel moved his fingers up to his chest and felt the bulk of a bandage. "Yes."
"The Colonel said you figured out how to open that hidden door in the wall and discovered an ancient computer system. It's apparently linked to a bunch of monitoring stations spread out over the land and actually shows which ones have broken down and need repair. Sam's on the job now, along with Doctor Lee. With a bit of luck, they'll be able to reverse the spread of the bacteria and maybe even contain it and reverse the damage."
Okay, so maybe not a dream. He could remember a painstakingly long search for certain symbols in the wall, trying to stay focused and staying on his feet while slowly feeling progressively worse.
"So we're still here?"
"In the other cave. We moved you because there was more room out here. We're waiting for a few more SG teams as backup before we take you back."
He licked dry lips and looked around. "Is there water?"
"I'm sorry, until I know the extent of the damage, I can't give you anything to drink. You'll be going straight into surgery to remove the bullet when we get back."
Frowning, he was pretty sure he'd drank some water earlier. "The bullet's not in me anymore."
"There's no exit wound�"
"I know. But the bullet... it's here, somewhere. I dropped it earlier." He went to try to rise up onto his elbows but at the look Janet gave him, he stayed flat on his back. "Honest."
"Well, we'll just wait and see what the X-ray says. How's the pain? Do you need a painkiller?"
Daniel ignored her placating smile and answered her questions. "It's not bad. I feel more like I've run a marathon than being shot. Although," he said quickly when Janet opened her mouth to speak, "my chest is a little sore. And I've got a headache. And I feel a bit nauseous," he added hurriedly.
"I'll give you something now to take the edge off, and something stronger when we move you, all right?" Janet turned away and loaded a syringe with some medication. "It'll make you sleepy so don't fight it, okay?"
Janet wasn't kidding. Minutes after the medication hit his bloodstream, Daniel couldn't keep his eyes open. He'd wanted to have a chance to talk to Jack, make sure he really was okay and to find out how the repairs were coming along. He'd have to take Janet's words that everything was going okay. He let go and felt himself sliding into sleep, listening to Janet's voice as she spoke quietly with someone.
The confusion, nausea and disorientation were still there when Daniel woke up again. What was different, though, was that the stone walls had been replaced by concrete and streaming daylight by artificial lighting.
Daniel slowly turned his head towards Jack's voice and saw both him and Janet standing next to his bed, staring at him.
"Hey," he said, hating the drugged-hangover feeling. His mouth was dry and pasty and when Janet held a glass with a straw in it to his mouth, he sucked eagerly. She only let him have two sips before pulling it away and he thought about biting down on the straw in the hopes she'd let him have more, but realized even as he aborted the attempt, that she'd simply pull the glass away, leaving him with a silly straw in his mouth. He shook his head, trying to get rid of the odd, disjointed thoughts.
"How're you feeling?"
A deep, experimental breath revealed some tenderness in his chest, but no pain to indicate he'd been operated on. Unless he was still feeling the effects of some heavy-duty painkiller or anesthesia.
"I don't know, you tell me."
"Well, for starters, I couldn't find any trace of a bullet inside you. There was definite damage incurred, especially to your spleen. But the wounds are partly healed, as if they were a week old instead of barely a day."
"I thought you said ghosts and holograms didn't heal."
Daniel looked at Jack and realized only then that he was standing with the help of crutches. "No, you said that."
"Or was it me?" Daniel said softly, under his breath. "How's your leg?"
"Hurts like a bitch. How's your chest?"
"Oh." Jack looked at the floor, looking almost like a kid ready to go on a sulk.
"Is everyone else all right? I hope none of the rescue party were stupid enough to walk into one of those traps."
"Oh, don't you start with me." Jack leaned forward, giving Daniel a pseudo-angry look. "Who's the one who got himself shot with his own bullet?"
"Touch�." Daniel smiled. "Although it has to count for something that I... didn't get healed by a hologram?" His smile widened as Janet tried to hide her grin behind her hand when Jack looked to her for what Daniel supposed was support.
"Everyone's fine, Daniel." Janet reached for his hand and took his pulse, and even though she'd schooled her face, he suspected the only reason she was doing it herself was because she needed to distract herself from openly laughing at them. "And I'm happy to say that the latest test results show that the bacteria is slowly receding from the water in the areas where Sam and Doctor Lee have made repairs."
"Already?" The encroachment of the bacteria had been months in the making. Could the reversal happen so quickly?
"Seems part of the solution is a second bacteria which keeps the first one in check. There are monitoring systems all over the land, and when the harmful bacteria becomes too concentrated, a computer releases the second bacteria to control it. It was the sensors that needed fixing."
"What about those creatures?"
"Well," Jack said as he maneuvered around to sit on the bed next to Daniel's, "we knew they were being displaced from their natural habitat. We thought they were following the marshland but it seems they were following a food source, which was being forced out of its habitat by the bog. The teams have done some culling around the populated areas but our xenologists are pretty confident they'll go back to their natural environment when the food source does. But that may take months, even years."
"What about my visitor?"
"Daniel, I thought we settled this. You were hallucinating."
"What about the bullet? What about the fact that my wounds are partly healed?"
Jack shrugged. "Alien technology?"
"Well, whatever it was, sir," Janet said as she let go his wrist, "was a very lucky thing for Daniel. The scarring shows the damage was bad enough that you would probably have bled out long before a rescue party would have arrived."
Somehow Daniel knew exactly what she was going to say. "But you didn't need to give me any blood to replace what I lost."
Janet shook her head wordlessly. "If you saw a ghost, or a hologram, and it healed you, then I'd suggest you simply say, 'thank you', and let it rest. Miracles happen, and this was definitely one of them." She waved a finger at Jack. "Ten more minutes, Colonel. He may not be in any pain at the moment, but he still needs his rest. As do you."
Daniel and Jack were silent a moment, neither catching one another's gaze. Daniel was truly curious about Liren, and he wondered if maybe he could go back and examine the technology and trigger the hologram again�
"No." Jack was staring at him, a frown on his face.
"You're not going back there."
"Fraiser said those animals are gonna move but it could be weeks, months."
"Then we wait until they�"
"The thing sealed itself behind me when we left."
"What? Why didn't you tell me that in the first place?" Agitated, Daniel rose up on his elbows, truly feeling the pull of half-healed wounds for the first time. "Can't we open it again?" He ignored the slowly spinning room and glared at Jack.
Jack shook his head. "Not without enough C4 that'll only end up bringing the roof down over our heads."
"But there was a code, a key..."
"They're not there anymore, Daniel. Believe me, I looked."
"Maybe if I..."
"You heard what Fraiser said. It could be years before that area of land is free of those hyenas. Maybe your ghost locked the door so nobody else would be tempted to come out there."
Daniel sighed and slowly let himself back down onto the bed. Somehow, going down was more painful than rising up. "It wasn't a ghost. I don't believe in�"
"I know. We had this conversation once before, remember?"
Daniel froze as he adjusted his pillow. "I'm not going crazy."
"Hey, I didn't mean that. I just meant that we're dealing with an alien technology we've never come across yet and..."
"We know nothing about these aliens..."
"Yet." Jack raised an eyebrow. "Maybe this was our first unofficial meet and greet. Who knows." Jack checked his watch and reached for his crutches. "My time's up. I better vamoose before I get escorted out of here."
"You'll let me know when Sam reports in?"
"Of course. It probably won't be for a few more hours."
"Get some sleep."
Daniel watched as Jack hobbled out of the infirmary. He wasn't tired, and now that Jack was gone, he was bored. He yawned and rubbed his eyes, then turned his head to follow the progress of one of the nurses walking past. There was a strange luminosity in the air as she passed by, as if she was disturbing the actual molecules and creating a small wake behind her. Daniel blinked, confused, half-wondering if he were dreaming.
"Thank you, Daniel."
Nope, not dreaming. "I guess I'm hallucinating again, aren't I?" He turned his head to look at Liren, who was sitting in the same spot Jack had been a few minutes ago. The sheen of the cement walls wavered, and the overhead lights cast a soft yellow glow over everything close to the beds.
Liren smiled and canted his head slightly. "Your actions have saved the Erkans much strife and misery. Please know that your people's efforts are very much appreciated. The Tau'ri are indeed a worthy ally."
"You're not Erkan, are you?"
Liren's smile didn't waver, but his eyes crinkled just a little more. "No. And we're not the Furlings either."
"And so... you are...?"
"A friend, a figment of your imagination, a ghost..."
Daniel closed his eyes in frustration. "Look, I get it. You don't want to tell me who or what you are. For all I know, you're one of those ascended beings, like Oma and Shifu. That's okay, you're entitled to your secrets. So, at least let me take the opportunity to thank you for helping me out over there, on the planet, and pointing me in the right direction."
"You most likely would have discovered the entrance on your own had you not been injured."
"But you healed me�"
"I simply altered the space time continuum around your body and allowed it to heal more quickly."
Daniel suddenly wished Sam was sitting here with him and listening to this conversation, because he had a feeling things were going to go right over his head in a minute.
"But you took the bullet out."
"So, I cheated a bit." Liren stood, moving gracefully despite his aged appearance. He handed Daniel the water that Fraiser had allowed him only a few sips from.
He sucked the water, which was still cool, until he emptied the glass. "Thanks."
"You need to sleep now, Daniel. Your doctor is right. You still need to heal."
"You couldn't, um, finish the job?"
Liren laughed as he took the empty glass from Daniel. "Sorry. You will do that on your own, with time." Liren's eyes glowed again, and the infirmary suddenly became cold and harsh again. Sleep tugged at him, and he turned slowly and carefully onto his side, trying to get comfortable. He spotted the glass of water Janet had put aside earlier. It was empty, the straw leaning against the edge.
"I thought you were sleeping."
"Jack. I thought you'd gone home." His eyelids were heavy as he stifled a yawn. "Were you here just now?"
"I've been sitting here for about fifteen minutes waiting for Fraiser... I was going to pass the message on to her but, since you're awake now... Carter says things are looking good. She should be finished with the major repairs in another day and then she can start showing some of the Erkans how to maintain the equipment and continue the smaller fixes."
"That's great news." He gave Jack a nervous smile. "So you didn't see... um... never mind."
"Looks like," Daniel sighed.
"He didn't, um..." Jack waved a hand over Daniel's chest as he leaned forward slightly for a closer look.
"No." Daniel placed his hand protectively over the bandage, feeling slightly ridiculous as he did so.
"Too bad." Jack stood up again. "Hey, next time your ghost comes back, ask him to take a look at my leg, won't'cha?"
Sometimes he just couldn't help himself from saying something just to get a rise out of a friend. Daniel smiled, relaxed and sleepy. "And next time I say not to go exploring where there might be traps, you'll listen to me?"
Leaning on his crutches, Jack scratched his head with one hand, not quite meeting Daniel's gaze. "I might... listen."
Shocked that he'd gotten an apology of sorts from Jack, Daniel stared at him for a moment, then felt a smile begin to curl around his lips.
"Just as long as you promise not to shoot yourself again, deal?" Jack repositioned his weight on his crutches as he caught Daniel's gaze.
"Um..." His smile faded as the heat of embarrassment grew. He probably would never live this down, and Jack was going to remind him of his blunder for a long time to come. Daniel resented the smug smile now on Jack's face. "Right. Deal."
"Good. Saves me the trouble of ordering you back to the firing range."
As Jack hobbled away for yet a second time, Daniel resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at him, then chuckled.
This story is from a zine called In times like these, a zine which was a labour of love, put together by devra and I for our wonderful Jmas last year.
If you want to see more of Jmas' ezines, here's her link:
And Darcy made a vid - you may want to check it out on her site here by the same name - In Times in These, by Mavis Staples
DISCLAIMER:The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.