"This is your final word?"
Trasal, who'd just pushed his chair away from the conference table, stood and gave General Hammond a steely-eyed look. Daniel fiddled with his pencil, glancing from the General to Jack, who was staring at the head of the delegation from P4T 009 with a frown.
"It is." Hammond remained seated a moment longer than propriety required as the other three delegates stood. Then he pushed his chair back, forcing Jack and Sam onto their feet. Daniel and Teal'c remained seated as Hammond walked the representatives towards the stairs.
Lowering his head and staring blindly at the notes he'd taken, Daniel allowed his mind to drift while he mulled over the past hour. A joint mining operation between the SGC and P4T 009 had recently led to the discovery of an ancient cavern where a cave-in had buried the entrance long ago. SG-14 had been assigned to retrieve the few artifacts discovered inside the long-lost cavern, and had returned with a device that Sam was still in the process of studying. But her preliminary studies had shown that this was not only a powerful weapon, but could very well be a means to rid their galaxy of the Goa'uld, let alone become the main ingredient in Earth's defense. There only remained the small matter of figuring out how it worked.
Word of the cavern and its treasures had spread amongst the miners and within a day, the authorities on '009 had descended upon the mine, insisting that their mining contract was null and void until the SGC returned what belonged to them.
Several days later, after many thwarted attempts at coming to an agreement, a delegation had finally come to the SGC for face-to-face discussions.
It hadn't gone well.
"I do not believe Trasal's intentions are for the good of his people." Teal'c pitched his voice low, meant only for the four who'd remained at the briefing room table.
"He must know that what we found is a weapon, even though he never came out and said it." Sam picked up her notes and tapped them against the table's edge.
"And we're back to where we were before these guys showed up." Jack pushed the lone piece of paper before him back and forth with an index finger. "What does Trasal and his people want with a weapon when they're not at war with anyone and as far as we know, haven't been under Goa'uld rule for ages?"
Daniel slowly pushed his chair away from the table and stood. "We don't know that for sure. Even though we haven't seen any sign of Jaffa, it doesn't mean the inhabitants didn't lie to us in the first place."
Jack looked up at Daniel, surprise evident on his face. "Since when have you turned into a Doubting Thomas?"
Shrugging, Daniel moved to the window and looked down at the Stargate as it slowly began to rotate. "I guess I've learned from the best," he said over his shoulder. He wondered if part of the reason Jack disliked Trasal so much was because of the man's antagonism towards him when introduced as an archaeologist, or if it was just the man's personality. He seemed to blame Daniel for the removal of the contents of the cavern, despite the fact that it had been Darrin Blanchard's call, SG-14's archaeologist.
Movement at the door caught his eye and the delegation stepped into the Gateroom, followed by Hammond and several SFs. Daniel couldn't hear their words but by the way Trasal was gesticulating, he wasn't happy. Before Daniel could call attention to what could be a potential problem, Jack had stepped up next to him.
"Crap." Jack turned and hurried towards the stairs. Keeping watch through the window, Daniel heard Sam and Teal'c follow Jack, their footsteps echoing on the metal rungs.
Earth had lost the mining rights to an ore necessary for the new technology Area 51 kept churning out, and they were no longer welcome on a world which had been rich in ancient culture. Daniel rued the loss of that potential knowledge, all of this for the acquisition of a weapon which had the possibility of finally bringing the Goa'uld to their knees.
Current score: Air Force, one; archaeology, zero. Same old, same old.
Even as his team hurried into the Gateroom, Trasal seemed to calm and slowly reached for Hammond's arm. It looked like Trasal was going to apologize. Sighing, Daniel took his eyes off Trasal and looked around the room, wishing things had gone better.
The next events happened so quickly, they were a blur. Puffs of smoke erupted from several places in the Gateroom. Trasal placed something over his mouth, as did the rest of his men. Everyone inside the Gateroom collapsed as if pole axed. With some sort of mask over his face to protect him from the gas, Trasal and another of his men grabbed General Hammond and began dragging his unconscious body up the ramp, towards the active Stargate.
Yelling for Walter to shut down the 'gate, Daniel ran for the stairs. He made it three quarters of the way down when he saw, in a split second, everyone manning the Control room either slumped at their posts or lying unconscious on the floor.
And that was when his legs gave out. The room spun as his vision darkened, and his shoulder hit the metal step. He was unconscious by the time he landed at the bottom.
Hearing his name, Daniel tried to open his eyes. He blinked, forcing the blurriness away. A face, familiar despite the lights reflecting off his glasses and hiding his eyes, was staring down at him.
"S... Siler?" Daniel's thoughts were as fuzzy as his surroundings. The only thing he was certain of was the pain in his shoulder and hip.
"Doctor Fraiser, Doctor Jackson's awake."
Everything looked odd. Out of place. Daniel turned his head and looked at the metal steps several inches from his head, at the legs of the overturned chair nearby, and realized something wasn't right. Even as he raised his head and neck to try and figure out what was happening, someone was leaning over him.
"Oh no, you don't. Lie still, Daniel."
"Janet?" He winced as she pushed his shoulder down, bruises meeting the floor none too gently. And everything suddenly fell into place with a stomach-churning jolt. He was lying on the ground, his feet and legs resting on the metal stairs leading from the Control room to the upper level. He stared up the stairwell in confusion. "What happened?"
He shifted his legs, trying to bring them down from the awkward position even as Janet tried to grab his hips to hold him in place.
"Don't move. You fell down the stairs. I need to make sure you haven't broken anything�"
"No..." Daniel muttered as he felt no telltale pain other than the bruising on the back of his right shoulder and hip. "I'm not hurt." It was awkward but he managed to roll his hips sideways and got his legs free of the stairs. His body felt lethargic and heavy. He pushed up so that he was sitting and at that moment, realized several others were lying unconscious on the ground around him.
"I don't know. Some sort of knockout gas, I think." She tipped a finger under Daniel's chin and turned his head so he was looking straight at her. "You stay right here for now. I need to check the others out." She glanced at Siler. "Stay with him."
Janet got up and began moving around the room.
"Are they all unconscious?" Janet was moving quickly from one to another so there didn't seem to be any serious injuries. He looked up the stairs again, wondering where he had been going and where his team was.
"It looks that way." Siler made a small motion with his hand towards the Gateroom. "Everyone in the Control room and Gateroom were affected..." Siler's words drifted off as something caught his eye. He bent over, looking at something stuck to the back of the stair's metal banister.
"What is it?" He'd go look himself, but that meant actually having to move. Despite his assurances to Janet, he still felt woozy. Then again, she probably figured that out herself.
Siler removed a small, plastic-like box and held it out to Daniel. "I think this is what was used to disperse the gas." He looked quickly past Daniel, towards Janet. "I need to go see if there are more of these, or even worse..."
Daniel made a shooing motion. "Go on, I'm fine." When Siler glanced back at Janet, Daniel said more forcefully, "I'm fine. I'm just sitting here. Go ahead."
Nodding, Siler quickly began searching for places that could hold other surprises. People were beginning to stir, and Jack suddenly began cursing. Daniel lowered his head and smiled. A swearing Jack meant he was okay; it was when Jack went quiet that Daniel had learned to start worrying.
He wondered idly why he was still back here, near the stairs while Jack was by the door to the corridor, along with Sam and Teal'c. And then one of those stomach-churning things happened again, and he remembered why he'd come rushing down the stairs.
"They took General Hammond," Daniel yelled, forcing himself to his feet, bruises and lethargy forgotten.
"Here and here," Sam said, pointing at the moving video to the exact times Trasal and a member of his delegation removed a small container from a pocket and unobtrusively placed them in the Control room as they first walked through. She fast-forwarded the videotape and again showed how they hid several more inside the Gateroom.
"The sonsofbitches had this planned from the start." Jack had woken up from the gas-induced sleep in a foul mood and had alternated between snarling orders at everyone and sitting in stony-faced silence.
"It's very likely it was their contingency plan, sir," Sam agreed as she stepped away from the projection screen and took a seat at the briefing room table. "I guess the next step would be to return to P4T 009 and see if we can negotiate�"
"If there's a Goa'uld involved, we sure as hell aren't giving them the weapon." Jack glared at Sam, who pursed her lips and stared straight ahead.
Daniel leaned forward in his chair, the movement easing some of the discomfort of his bruises but not doing much for his lingering headache. "Even if there isn't a Goa'uld involved, we shouldn't be handing over something with that potential level of destruction to a people who are this desperate to get their hands on it."
"Trasal was very emphatic in his wish to procure the weapon." Teal'c sat unmoving in his chair, only his eyes shifted from one to the other. "His people obviously do not have the knowledge to operate such technology, even if they suspect the device's true nature. Logic would dictate that there is someone else behind GeneralHammond's abduction."
Sam pulled out a mission file and quickly scanned it. "SG-14 did say there was no indication that Jaffa had visited their planet for at least a thousand years."
Daniel rubbed his index finger over a hangnail on his thumb, digging at it with a fingernail. "Maybe they really don't know that it's a weapon. Many times throughout history, obscure items have been used as religious symbols and�"
"Or maybe a snake has a spy on the planet." Jack met Daniel's gaze with an impatient look. "Or maybe Trasal knows how to get in touch with one." As Jack rubbed two fingers over his forehead, Daniel realized that most likely Jack also had a headache, accounting for part of his crabbiness. "Our mission is to free General Hammond. Kit up, you're going to accompany SG-14 to '009."
Before anyone could stand, Janet walked into the room. She nodded at everyone as she sat in the nearest chair. "Colonel, I've got the preliminary results of your blood tests." She folded her hands, resting them on the table before her. "You've all been exposed to a very powerful anesthetic gas. It's fast acting but very short-lived, and thankfully dissipates quickly when mixed with oxygen. Otherwise, it could have rendered the whole complex unconscious within a few minutes.
"There doesn't appear to be any side effects other than a lingering headache." She looked around at the team members, and Daniel nodded his head slightly while Sam gave Janet a wincing smile. Jack didn't acknowledge his discomfort but as acting head of the SGC until General Hammond's replacement arrived, he probably couldn't afford to show any weakness. Not that he usually did, anyways.
"So there's no medical reason for my team not to go offworld?"
"No, none, sir," Janet said as she turned her gaze to Daniel. "Although I have reservations about Daniel going�"
"I'm fine, Janet. I'm a little stiff but that's only because I'm sitting. Exercise will do me a world of good."
Janet looked at Daniel for a few seconds longer before turning to Jack. "Then there's no medical reason why anyone who was affected by the gas can't resume their duties."
Jack sat there, staring at them, and Daniel slowly stood. Sam and Teal'c got the hint and a moment later, Janet was walking past him. He waited until Teal'c and Sam left the room and then he went to stand next to Jack.
"There's no way those bastards are getting that weapon," Jack said softly.
"Even if it means the General's life?" Daniel asked, just as softly. He swallowed when Jack lowered his head to stare at his hands, thankful that he wasn't the one having to make these decisions.
Jack's head popped up when Walter hesitantly came up the stairs. "I've just gotten word that General Crawford's plane has landed at Peterson. He'll be here shortly."
Jack slapped the table with his hand. "Great. I've got time to brief him before we head out to '009. Daniel, tell the others we'll be leaving in an hour."
"Damned right," Jack said quickly as he stood. "I was just sitting in until the President sent in a replacement." He walked away from the table, then slowed and glanced back at the chair he'd been sitting in.
"Shoes too big?" Daniel stopped next to Jack, looking at his friend with concern.
"Too tight, actually." He shook his head. "I'm glad someone else has to make the decisions now. Put the pressure in someone else's hands."
"Yeah, well, our hands are still tied if we can't get General Hammond�" The sudden blare of the alarm drowned out the rest of Daniel's words.
"Unauthorized 'gate activation," Walter's voice followed immediately over the loudspeakers.
"Crap." Jack ran for the stairs. Daniel followed quickly, but slowed as memories hit him. He held onto the banister as he forced one foot after the other, recalling the dizzying twist of the room when the gas had taken a hold of him. Finally on solid ground, he sprinted the last few feet to stand behind Walter's chair.
"We're getting a radio transmission, sir."
Trasal's voice came over the speakers. "You will bring what is ours in exchange for your General. You have three hours to deliver the device to the location where it was originally found."
The Stargate winked out.
"Walter. I need to see whatever intel Baker's men brought back on that cavern and the mine shafts leading up to it."
"I'm on it, sir. Would you like me to set up a briefing with SG-14?"
"Yeah." Jack began moving towards the exit, speaking over his shoulder. "General Crawford should be here in twenty minutes. Get a hold of Teal'c, and Carter also. What teams are on base?"
"SGs 2 and 9."
"Get them in on the meeting also. They're going in as backup."
"Three hours, Jack." Daniel hurried to catch up.
"I know, Daniel. But we can't go in there blind."
"Going in with guns blazing isn't going to get the General out of there�"
"No, but going in showing we mean business might make Trasal think twice about what he's attempting to do."
Daniel frowned as he hurried inside the elevator. They'd be going into tight quarters; extensive firepower might not be an advantage. "I remember seeing the videotape Darrin took when he began exploring that cavern. The tunnels are pretty much a maze. And there's not that much room to maneuver."
"We can find a guide to take us through the mine if Baker's men don't remember the route."
"We're going to be cutting it close to the mark."
"Doesn't matter. We don't have any tactical advantages except for showing up in force." The elevator doors opened and they exited into the corridor.
Thoughts churning, Daniel quickly changed and gathered his gear. He couldn't help glancing at Jack; his friend's face was hard and Daniel knew their chances of getting General Hammond out alive were slim. It would help if they knew exactly what they were dealing with. He highly suspected it was a Goa'uld; things otherwise didn't add up. If that was the case, their degree of a successful mission was considerably compromised.
He followed Jack back to the briefing room and seeing that the information on the mission in question was already on the table, sat down and began leafing through the pages, trying to acquaint himself with the area. He hoped he could find something to use to their advantage. At the moment, he kept wondering if maybe trading the weapon for General Hammond might not be their best bet. Once they had the General safely in their ranks, they could go after the kidnappers and deal with them then.
He dismissed the idea nearly as quickly as it came to him � as ruthless as some of those in positions of power here on Earth might be, at least there were safeguards to keep them in check. Trasal, if he was a Goa'uld, or was working for one, had none of those.
So caught up in the pictures before him, Daniel only realized that General Crawford had arrived when someone called his name. He looked up, confused, until he realized everyone else was either seated or standing, looking at him expectantly.
Clearing his throat in embarrassment and stammering an apology to the General, he put the pictures down and brought his attention to the meeting.
"We're nearly there." The close quarters of the fungus-covered corridor muffled Darrin Blanchard's voice. "I recognize that." He pointed to a rock formation that looked oddly like a woman wearing a green and grey, fungus-covered sarong.
Daniel felt his stomach clench as he tensed up, ready for the coming battle. He kept an eye on Jack, and when they arrived at the cavern's entrance, followed his silent orders, staying with his team while SGs 14 and 9 went left and right. SG-2 remained by the exit.
Rubble covered most of the area close to the entrance, much of it pushed aside as the miners had dug their way into the room. Deep inside the cavern, two flickering torches became a beacon, beckoning the rescue party forward. After exchanging a knowing look with Jack, they began moving towards the light. Keeping an eye on his footing until he was past the debris, Daniel flanked Jack's left, while Sam and Teal'c were on his right. He rolled his shoulders, trying to ease the tension and stiffness from his abused muscles. His backpack was rubbing annoyingly against the bruises.
Flashlights illuminated the walls of the great cavern. There was writing there but he'd studied it already from the pictures Darrin had taken and hadn't had the time to even attempt to decipher it. Waist-high pedestals were scattered throughout the room. A few near the entrance had toppled, but the majority appeared unharmed, covered with a thick layer of dust. Daniel surmised they had probably, once upon a time, held or displayed various items, like the weapon discovered sitting on one at the far end of the cavern.
As they approached, it was evident that there was nobody here. All three teams converged before the lit pedestal, wondering what their next step should be, when Teal'c pointed to objects on the pedestal. Four metal stars, lying neatly side-by-side, shining in the flickering torchlight. Obviously taken from General Hammond's shirt � but left here... why?
"This isn't where you found the weapon, is it?" Jack turned to Colonel Baker, who pointed to the right even as Darrin Blanchard moved closer to look at General Hammond's stars.
"It was back there, off to the side."
Before Daniel could react, Jack reached down and scooped the pins up. "No!" Both Daniel and Darrin yelled together, echoed just a heartbeat later by Sam.
Daniel wavered, slightly off balance as the dark cave suddenly disappeared, replaced by a cavernous room. Despite the high ceilings and crystalline walls, the cavern was well illuminated. The red marble beneath their feet appeared to provide the illumination, creating a pinkish tinged light in the immediate vicinity. Farther away, the marble changed colors at regular intervals, giving an almost rainbow effect. Down the center of the football field-sized cavern was a straight line of similar red marble as they were standing on. The effect was almost dizzying, looking at it from this angle.
SG-1, along with Colonel Baker and Darrin Blanchard, were looking around in confusion. They had materialized close to the corner of the huge room, and it was hard to see what was at the other end.
"Okay, what just happened?" Jack was staring at the stars he still held in his hand.
"Looks like you triggered a transporter, sir," Sam said with a hint of derision as Jack placed the pins in a vest pocket.
"Then why didn't it bring the others with us?" He looked pointedly at Colonel Baker and Major Blanchard.
Teal'c took several steps away from them, looking towards the opposite side of the cave. Despite the better lighting, they couldn�t quite make out what was there. "Most likely the device only transports those in close proximity to it. The other members were presumably out of its range."
"What he said," Sam answered when Jack rolled his eyes towards her.
Daniel froze at the sound of Trasal's voice directly behind him. He was aiming some sort of pistol on them, and kept it trained in their direction as he slowly stepped away from the wall where he'd just materialized.
"Leave the weapon and I will free your General."
"Sorry to break the news, Trasal, but we're not handing over anything until we see General Hammond." Jack pushed past everyone, trying to provoke Trasal as he moved closer. The weapon shifted slightly, now aimed for Jack's heart.
"Show me the weapon first."
"Show me Hammond," Jack countered, taking another step forward.
Daniel tensed, his hand slowly easing towards his weapon's holster. He watched Trasal's body, trying to gauge his next step. When Jack moved yet closer, Daniel swore he saw the man's finger's tighten on the gun's trigger. Before he could react, though, gunfire retorted loudly in the cavern and Trasal staggered backwards until he fell against the wall.
Blood flowed out of his chest, blooming over his clothes just as his body disappeared in a transport beam.
Daniel turned to see who had taken the shots and was surprised to see Darrin standing there with his 9ml in his hand.
"Good shot. Let's find Hammond." Jack walked by Darrin, who looked slightly flustered. As Darrin holstered his gun, Jack fished in a vest pocket and removed a set of field glasses, directing them towards the far end. "It's Hammond," Jack said, sticking the glasses back into his vest. "They've got him tied up to a throne or something." He began walking determinedly towards the captive. Everyone fell into step, following Jack, when suddenly Daniel's ears popped.
"Did anyone else feel that?"
Daniel stopped, unable to hear anything. Not even his own words had reverberated within his head. "Jack!" He grabbed his friend's arm, preventing him from advancing. Jack turned on Daniel impatiently.
"What?" Jack's lips moved, but Daniel didn't hear anything. And apparently, neither did Jack, from the confused look on his face.
"I can't hear anything either," Daniel said, turning to face the others. "Is it just us or have you gone deaf also?"
Within seconds, they affirmed that everyone had lost their hearing. Daniel took a deep breath, wondering what had happened, keeping the thought at bay that this was hopefully a temporary situation. They moved on more slowly, everyone a little edgier as now they wouldn't be able to hear anyone approaching.
They walked on for a short time when suddenly Daniel's hearing came back with a loud whoosh. Jack stopped and turned around. "Everyone back to normal?"
Daniel stuck a finger in his ear and shook it. He was relieved that he could hear again, even though everything appeared to be louder, clearer, than before.
"That was weird," Colonel Baker mumbled behind him.
Daniel turned and looked back the way they'd come. They'd just traversed over a grey section of marble flooring and were currently once again walking on red marble stones. Before them, the stones split into two colors; a light blue and a bright yellow. A sudden thought came to him and he hurried past Jack, heading over to the yellow floor. The moment his body crossed from red to yellow stone, it felt like he'd walked into an oven.
He yelled as he jumped back over onto the red marble, looking down at himself to make sure his clothes weren't smoldering even as Jack demanded to know what had happened. His skin felt crisped but other than a slight fading redness, didn't appear burned or blistered.
"I think I know what's happening." Daniel passed a hand over his head, almost expecting to feel charred remnants. Instead, his fingers passed through soft and healthy hair. "Every time we step over onto one of the different marbles, we enter a separate environment."
"And this one is�" Jack stuck his hand over the edge and yelped. "Hot," he said, shaking his hand before examining it.
"This area appears to be the opposite." Teal'c had his hand over the blue stones. "It is extremely cold." He made a fist and pulled his hand back, examining it with a curious look for a moment before wiping his palm on his pants.
"Then I guess we follow the path." Sam followed the edge of the red stones until she reached the center. The red stones led straight across the cavern, from one end to the other.
"This is too easy," Darrin muttered next to Daniel as they walked six wide along the center path.
"I know." He looked up ahead. The blue stones on his right were changing to a dark, striated green. Closer to the wall, the yellow stones would soon become a deep purple. "Trasal was using General Hammond as bait. It's got to be a trap."
When they reached the start of the green marble, they stopped. Sam gave Jack a look, who gave back a short nod. Steeling herself visibly, Sam took a step onto the different colored stones and immediately a strong wind buffeted her body. She had trouble maintaining her place, her body leaning forward as her hair was plastered back against her skull. She tried to take a few steps forward but only after gaining a few feet, the wind pushed her back, and she landed in Daniel's arms. She staggered a moment, got her footing, and blew a breath out noisily as she gave him an apologetic smile.
"Little windy?" Jack asked as she ran a hand through her hair.
"Hurricane force, at least. And it gets worse the further in you go."
They started walking again; now that they had an idea what they were dealing with, Jack seemed less concerned with keeping an eye on anyone sneaking up on them and concentrated instead on getting to General Hammond as fast as possible. They didn't bother testing the rest of the colored areas; although Daniel did notice that they repeated occasionally.
Jack jogged the last hundred feet, almost skidding to a stop before the General. Gagged and tied to a large, ornamental chair, Hammond shook his head, trying to tell them something. Jack pulled his knife from its sheath and reached down to cut the bindings. To everyone's surprise, his knife went through without resistance and General Hammond's form wavered for a split second.
"It's a hologram." Sam sounded indignant.
"Teal'c, Baker, see if there's a door or something in that wall." Jack waved to the back wall behind Hammond. Each took a separate direction, slowly pacing the length, moving away from General Hammond.
Daniel stepped forward and slowly passed a hand through General Hammond's shoulder. He felt nothing; it was as if he was moving his hand through air. "Sir, do you know where you're being held?"
Hammond shook his head again, his face red with frustration. Daniel looked around and seeing two short pillars on either side of the chair, leaned closer to examine the nearest one. He rubbed a finger over a small electronic display, noting it was cool to the touch. Even as he tried to make it out, the symbol disappeared, replaced with another.
"This is Phoenician," Daniel said, recognizing the symbols. "And it's real." When Jack turned to look at him in confusion, Daniel waved at the pillar. "I mean, it's not a hologram."
"Neither's this one," Darrin replied from the opposite side of the chair.
"These are numbers." Daniel watched for a moment, then realization hit him. "It's a countdown," he exclaimed. Movement caught his eye and he realized that General Hammond was nodding. Hammond turned his head and stared to the left, pointing with his chin. Daniel followed the General's gaze and realized that there was something near the wall, halfway down the cavern.
"Well," Darrin said, looking up at Daniel. "Whatever it's counting down towards, we have less than thirty minutes."
Daniel checked his watch, did a quick calculation in his head, and nodded. "You're right. Trasal probably set the timer on this when he sent out the message to the SGC."
"General, do you know how we can get you out of here? Did Trasal say anything?"
Hammond shook his head vigorously, his hands clenched tightly into fists. Daniel got the impression that whatever Trasal had said, he'd probably goaded the General while doing so.
"Colonel." Sam, who'd knelt next to the column, was waving a scanner in front of it. "There's a beam of energy being directed over in that direction." She turned, aiming the scanner towards the left side of the cavern.
"Jack, there's something over there." Daniel pointed while Jack trained his field glasses towards the area Sam was scanning.
"It's a pedestal, kinda like in that other cave and there's something on top of it."
"Sir, there's another one over there." Sam was pointing towards the opposite side of the cave, directly across from the pedestal.
"Teal'c, Baker. Anything?" Jack yelled.
"There is no indication of an opening," Teal'c called out, "or of a transportation device." He was nearly at the end of the red, neutral marble. Baker waved, indicating that he'd had no luck either. Both men started back towards them.
"We're getting Hammond out of there," Jack announced the moment Baker and Teal'c joined them. "Baker, Blanchard, you two stay back, in case we run into trouble. Carter, Teal'c, you go right, Daniel, you're with me."
With Darrin and Colonel Baker trailing them, SG-1 hurried back the way they'd come until they stood in line with the two pedestals. There were three sets of colored stones between it and them. They stood there, each team contemplating the next step. Daniel gave Jack a nod, indicating he was ready, and walked onto the pure white tiles.
And immediately found himself flat on his stomach, the breath knocked out of him while a huge hand pressed heavily on his back. Breathing was difficult, but possible. He could hear Jack yelling. Every muscle straining against the invisible force, Daniel turned onto his side, his backpack throwing him off balance. Slowly, he managed to get up onto his knees.
"Heavy gravity," Daniel ground out. With muscles trembling with the effort, he got onto his feet. Jack joined him in the white space, knees buckling as the heavier gravity affected him, but he'd been ready for it and stayed on his feet. Daniel cast a glance towards Teal'c and Sam across the red path, who were inundated with a deluge so heavy, they'd had to bring their jackets up over their faces to avoid choking in the cascade.
The going was slow; each step a nearly impossible feat. His clothes were soaked with sweat by the time he was halfway to the next border. The bruises on his shoulder and hip ached from the strain of remaining upright. If he'd had the energy, Daniel would have reached over and gotten rid of his pack. Its weight kept threatening to pull him off balance.
Both Jack and Daniel stopped and turned. Sam and Teal'c had traversed the first section and were at the border of the second one. "It's not real; whatever this is, it's not real." For a moment Daniel wondered if he were hallucinating; both were floating an inch off the floor.
"Sure. Feels. Real. To. Me," Jack managed to ground out.
"I'm not wet. It felt like I was going to drown in the rain, but the moment I left that particular environment, my clothes were dry. It's got to be some sort of hologram."
"Gamekeeper?" Daniel suggested, remembering how real everything relayed to him in those chairs had felt.
"I doubt it's the same technology. Teal'c and I are going on. This next environment feels like we're walking underwater; we should make good time."
Jack tried to raise his hand in acknowledgement but didn't manage to do more than raise it past his hip. He grunted as he turned around and they both continued the painful journey to the next area.
Daniel kept his gaze focused on their goal - the transition of the white stones to green. Each hard-won step brought him a few inches closer, until finally, legs shaking almost uncontrollably, his knees threatened to give out. Either he was very tired, or the G-forces in the environment were getting worse the further he went.
Daniel realized belatedly they should have crossed over closer to one of the borders for the next environment, in case the next one was inhospitable. If it was similar to the scorching heat or frigid cold, they could become stuck here, in danger of not reaching their goal. Maybe the environment 'next door', so to speak, might have been easier to traverse.
The barrier was slowly approaching. When they were just a few feet away, Daniel tried to move faster and only succeeding in slamming down hard on one knee. Jack slowed, waited for Daniel to force his body up and together, side by side, step by slow, agonizing step, they were at the edge of the white marble tiles.
"Wait." Jack turned to look back at Sam and Teal'c. Daniel did the same, twisting his body painfully, not sure if he could do the footwork to work his way around. So intent had he been on his goal, he hadn't realized the edge of his vision was beginning to grey out.
Both of his teammates appeared to be stuck in mid-air, a few inches off the ground, wind milling their arms and kicking their legs in an attempt to move forward but gaining very little ground. It would have been almost funny if they'd been in a less dire situation.
"Oy," Jack muttered simply before moving on.
This time they walked through together, transiting without hesitation. Even as the pressure eased, Daniel found himself on his knees once more, this time more out of relief than anything else. Eyes tightly closed as he gasped for breath, he could hear his heart beating loudly in his ears. His pulse was slow, each beat distinct and loud inside his head. He eased himself onto his back, the tiles cold against his sweat-soaked pants. It took several seconds longer before he could feel the chill through his jacket.
His body was still trembling, his muscles twitching through overuse. The sound of his heartbeat eased as his pulse increased to a normal rhythm.
Jack's voice sounded a little hoarse. Daniel nodded, cleared his throat, and nodded. "Yeah, just give me a few more seconds."
"You got 'em."
Daniel opened his eyes, and saw nothing. "Jack?"
"Can you... see?"
"Damnit." The sound of a boot scuffing on stone was loud.
"Was that in answer to the fact that you can't see, or because I can't."
There was more scuffling sounds next to Daniel. "It's because I can't tell which way we were headed when we stopped."
Daniel thought a moment, then sat up, his body still feeling weak and shaky. Jack was right. He had no true idea which way he'd been headed in. The relief of normal gravity had been so great he'd just allowed himself to collapse.
Daniel jumped when Jack's yell resounded right next to his ear. He stuck a finger in his ear and shook it, the shock easing slowly as he tried to listen for an answering call. When he heard Jack take a breath, he pulled back, moving a few inches away.
"Baker! Blanchard! Report!" Jack repeated their names again, this time talking normally.
"Do you think something's happened to them?"
"Maybe, or maybe we're just self-contained in here and no sounds are coming in or going out. They're not answering their radios."
"So... what now? Do we just pick a direction and head off that way?" Daniel waved a hand in front of him, and his fingers smacked skin and bone.
"Sorry." He rubbed his stinging knuckles, glad Jack couldn't see the heat rising to his face.
"I guess that's as good an idea as any � either way we'll eventually find our way out of here and get our bearings."
"Fine." Standing slowly, the muscles of his legs still protesting, Daniel began shuffling forward. The sound of his feet scuffing over the stones was tantamount to the uncertainty he was feeling.
Walking in the dark was unnerving, and although he knew there should be no obstacles, it was the fear of stepping over the line of marble tiles, into the unknown, that kept him on edge.
After a short while, he realized he couldn't hear Jack's footsteps.
When there was no answer, Daniel stopped and swiveled his head, listening carefully. "Jack," he called out, more loudly this time.
After a moment, he heard a faint cry off to his right, which sounded like Jack's voice. He sighed. Not only was this environment preventing them from seeing, it seemed that they needed to have remained close together in order to be able hear. He kept moving, his nervousness not helping the over-used muscles of his legs. He felt like he was tottering and not making much headway.
The transition, when he finally crossed the line, was sudden, as had been the others. Light filled his senses and for a moment, he felt relief to be out of the dark. But that reprieve was short lived when his equilibrium fled. His senses spun, and unable to tell up from down, left from right, he found himself crashing to the ground. Immediately his stomach rebelled and he vomited. He slammed his eyes shut, trying to fool his brain but the nausea and vertigo continued nevertheless.
He tried to call out for help, but only managed in spewing some more. He opened his eyes, the dizziness and nausea so overwhelming that he could only take a quick glance around to try and get his bearings.
The floor seemed to undulate, the stone shifting beneath him like water. He could hear colors, see sound. The two merged, and he couldn't seem to find the edge of the transition area. There was shouting somewhere and the noise slowly bled into the floor. He couldn't think clearly. He curled into a ball, trying to get his brain to focus. He couldn't remember what color the stones of the dark section had been. Green, they had been green. He opened his eyes, searching for the color but couldn't focus beyond his immediate area.
He began crawling, praying he was heading back in the opposite direction, towards the area of blindness. Towards respite. Towards normalcy. At times he felt he was crawling on the ceiling. Other times it seemed he was crawling headfirst down a wall, in danger of plummeting far below in a sea of shifting stones.
His world slowly shrank to putting one arm out and drawing himself forward on aching, bruised knees. He was crawling by rote, not even sure why he was moving.
He'd not even taken two steps out of the dark when Baker's voice came through his radio. Blinking in the sudden light, eyes tearing painfully, he covered his face with his arm while he reached for the radio with his other.
"Doctor Jackson's in trouble."
He turned back to see how far Daniel was behind him. To his surprise and horror, Daniel wasn't anywhere on the green stones.
Despite his tearing eyes, he scanned the area. Jack had made it through the section blindly almost in a straight line. All he had to do now was walk over to the wall before him and get the object on the pedestal. Daniel, however, had somehow gone diagonally and was in the section to the left of him, flat on his stomach, his arm reaching out slowly to pull himself forward inch by inch. And he was heading in the wrong direction, away from Jack and away from the pedestal.
"Daniel!" Cursing when Daniel didn't react, Jack contemplated his options. The section he was in appeared to be one of neutrality. He couldn't feel anything abnormal; his senses were working fine. And he was only a few feet away from the wall.
Priorities. He needed whatever was on that pedestal. He jogged as fast as his still twitchy legs would allow him, stopping just short of the pedestal. He rubbed his fingers together, wondering if it was booby-trapped.
"Well, ya made it this far," he said to himself. With a quick grab, he picked up the small, metallic square. When nothing untoward happened, he pocketed the item and turned towards Daniel.
The red tiles followed the wall for a distance, passing next to the odd, multi-colored stones encompassing the area Daniel was in. He followed the edge, noting that Daniel was heading deep into the center of the environment, moving away from Jack with every painful pull of his arms.
Taking a deep breath, Jack got down onto his knees and stuck his head over into the section.
Immediately nausea filled him and he pulled back, gagging. He swallowed hot, sour bile, breathing through his mouth.
"Gah," he muttered as he tried to shake the lingering dizziness. He took a deep breath and yelled Daniel's name while sticking his head back over the tiles, then pulled back immediately. He let himself fall back onto his side, breathing deeply as he struggled to keep his stomach under control.
Daniel paused, his head turning slightly towards him.
"C'mon, c'mon," Jack urged. He slid a hand over the tiles and slapped the floor. The tiles felt warm and smooth, squishy, almost giving under his palm.
Daniel turned his body, aiming it in a slightly different direction, not quite heading towards Jack but at least not moving directly away.
Taking another deep breath, Jack stuck his head back over and called Daniel's name again. He retreated and this time wasn't able to hold back. He threw up even as he pulled away. Coughing and swearing simultaneously, he crawled backwards, away from the mess.
"It's not real, it's not real," Jack told himself as he moved a few feet to the right, trying to line up with Daniel, and thrust his hand over the edge once more. Daniel seemed to be homing in on the sounds, so he continued, ignoring the alien feel of the ground which seemed to give more and more with each slap.
By now, Daniel was only about ten feet away. He hadn't crawled far but at least now he was heading in the right direction. Jack contemplated dashing over and grabbing Daniel and dragging him back, but quickly dismissed it. If only sticking his head over the line affected him this badly, stepping inside would only mean the two of them could end up stuck there, possibly helpless.
"Don't stop," Jack yelled when Daniel seemed to slow down. He made a small attempt to move but seemed to run out of energy. Slowly, Daniel curled up into himself and Jack could see how badly he was trembling. Thrusting his head and shoulders across the line, Jack screamed Daniel's name, frustration and worry energizing him enough that when Daniel raised his head slightly, he didn't pull back immediately.
He fought the urge to heave. "C'mon, Daniel, just a few more feet." Then the dizziness overtook him and he pulled back, leaving a trail of bile and saliva as he continued to dry heave for long moments after. Forcing himself onto his knees and ignoring the sickening spin of the cavern, he watched as Daniel pulled himself, inch by agonizing inch, towards him.
When Daniel was only two feet away, Jack lunged forward and made a blind grab for his outstretched hand. Unable to see clearly, Jack shut his eyes and scrabbled around until he touched something. What his fingers caught didn't feel like skin and bones. Rubbery and disgustingly spongy, his first instinct was to let go. Instead, he pulled with all his might until he felt the pressure in the change in environment. Digging his feet in, he propelled himself backwards into the safe zone.
He let go of Daniel's hand and circled his arms instead around Daniel's chest. He tugged some more, pulling until Daniel was lying against him. Both of them were breathing hard, Daniel shaking so badly that for a moment, Jack wasn't sure if he wasn't seizing.
"Daniel? You okay?"
In response, Daniel retched and gagged, dry heaving uncontrollably. Jack lay there, trying to catch his breath while still caught up in the throes of vertigo. He rubbed Daniel's back, ignoring his own nausea.
Carter's voice, coming through his radio, sounded a little rough around the edges despite the tinny sound. He shoved a hand beneath Daniel's shoulder, fumbling to reach the radio. He dragged himself up a few inches so that the radio was clear.
"Yeah," he said simply.
"Our time is nearly up. We have to move now."
"I don't know about you and Teal'c, but there's no way Daniel and me can go through all of that shit in less time than it took us to get here." No pressure here, he thought to himself. If that thing was a bomb of some kind, they might end up only losing General Hammond. Worst-case scenario, the bomb would bring down the whole cavern on top of all of them.
"I don't think you have to, sir. Do you have the object that was on the pedestal?"
"I think it's a key. There's a slot at the base. See if you can stick it into the slot. Colonel Baker, maybe you or Major Blanchard should go check out the counters and see if they stop when Colonel O'Neill puts his key in."
Daniel groaned as Jack slid from beneath him, curling up onto his side. Jack lurched towards the wall, seeing two of the pedestals for a moment. He knelt beside it, felt the slot with his fingers and slipped the object into it. It slid in smoothly with a soft, clicking sound.
"Nothing's happening," Blanchard said breathlessly after a long minute.
"C'mon, Carter," Jack urged as he looked back at Daniel.
"Sir, did you place the key all the way in?"
"Yeah, yeah, it's in all the way." Jack fiddled with it, seeing if maybe he had goofed, but the key had slid in all the way, its edge almost seamless with the marble stone of the pedestal.
"Colonel, I'm getting energy readings from the two pedestals. This time they're aimed back towards the far wall."
Swearing, Jack pulled out his field glasses and aimed them towards the way they'd come through. The once blank-wall now had an enormous panel running the length of the wall.
"I see something. Baker, get over there and check it out. Blanchard, you stay with Hammond."
He watched as Baker ran down the length of the cavern, then stopped before the panel.
"Sir, there are five square pieces of slate sitting next to five holes in the stone. If these are keys like the ones in the pedestal, we're going to need all of us to put them in. They're too far apart to reach two at a time."
"Carter?" Jack could see her leaning against the opposite wall. Her hand came up and she ran her fingers through her hair. Jack could see the frustration in her body language.
"I don't know. I need to see it for myself."
"Sir. There's only a couple more minutes before the timer runs out." There was controlled panic in Blanchard's voice.
"O'Neill." Jack looked towards the opposite wall, looking for Teal'c. He could see the man up ahead, walking quickly towards Baker, following the wall. "Follow the edge of the stones; it may well be quicker to exit through this portion of the maze."
"Um, Colonel." Baker had moved closer to where Teal'c would exit if he followed the neutral section to the wall. "There's no red stone here. From what I can tell, the grey marble goes right up to the wall."
"It may be an illusion, sir." Carter was running after Teal'c, her voice slightly breathless. "That may be a way out."
It took Carter all of ten seconds to figure out they probably needed to stick all the squares into the holes at the same time for something to work.
"Daniel..." Jack started, but realized he couldn't drag him there in the amount of time they had. Jack straightened and began running, hoping they could get back into this neutral territory without traversing the various environments again. He ran out of the path, which followed the wall and joined the others. Looking back, he realized that the path had disappeared; the red tiles now back to the grey of before.
Jack grabbed one of the squares, waited till everyone had theirs aligned, and said, "On three. One, two, three." He shoved the piece of stone into the hole and heard it click.
Jack turned, seeing Carter staring at her feet. Jack realized suddenly that all of the tiles in the cavern had changed to a bright teal. He took a step and felt as if his legs were mired in molasses. Looking down the length of the cavern, he realized it was going to be a long walk back. He reached for his radio.
"Blanchard? Anything happening down your end?"
When silence greeted him, all four of them tried to pick up the pace.
The overwhelming nausea finally eased enough for Daniel to slowly uncurl himself. The room still spun, even with his eyes closed. He slowly opened them, testing his senses and was relieved when the vertigo didn't worsen.
"Jack?" He looked around blearily, certain that he'd heard Jack at one point, sure that he'd been there, helping him, leading him to safety. But there was nobody here. Just him.
His throat burned something fierce and he remembered throwing up. Repeatedly. Oh, that would probably also account for the ache in his abdominal muscles and his upper back.
He craned his neck, trying to see if anyone was around. There was movement to his left. Using the wall for support, Daniel stood, surprised at how weak he felt. He took a few faltering steps, then had to lean on the wall a moment before continuing on.
His vision was blurry, but he could make out three shapes. "Jack?" he called out again. "Sam?" None of the people had Teal'c's unmistakable shape.
It wasn't until he was almost upon them that he realized one of the three persons was Trasal. The man was supposed to be dead, wasn't he? General Hammond was standing before Trasal and Daniel suddenly realized that his captor was holding a knife-like weapon aimed at the General's head while Darrin stood a few feet away, seemingly dazed.
"Darrin!" Daniel put on a burst of speed while trying to reach for his weapon and lost his balance. He righted himself after knocking his shoulder on the wall, awakening the bruises already there. He gasped in pain but kept on going. He held his gun out, aiming it at Trasal but couldn't get a clear shot.
He slowed to a walk, his legs jerking as his thigh muscles threatened to seize. He stopped, locked his knees while trying to stop his arms from shaking. That was when he realized that Trasal was talking.
"Give me the weapon," Trasal was saying in a soft voice. "You can save your General. You'll be the hero � all you have to do is hand over the weapon."
"Son, don't do it." Hammond's voice broke off as Trasal pressed the knife end of the weapon hard against his throat.
Cursing the unusual layout of the cavern, Daniel slowly moved closer, wishing he could step to the left, over the colored tiles, and get a clear shot at Trasal, who was using General Hammond as a human shield. Daniel wasn't sure, but it looked like Darrin was mesmerized, standing there with his arms hanging limply at his side. If Trasal was trying to get Darrin back to the SGC to retrieve the weapon, at least Daniel was there to stop him.
Trasal had one hand out, as if in supplication, towards Darrin. The other hand still held a weapon to General Hammond's throat. A bit of blood had trickled down his neck, staining his shirt collar. Trasal didn't seem aware of Daniel's presence; his gaze fixed, he stared at Darrin as if trying to get him to do his bidding by sheer presence of will.
"Darrin," Daniel hissed as the room did a quick loop. He stood his ground, refusing to give in to the dizziness as his breathing sped up. The following wave of nausea caused him to break out into a sweat. He swallowed, desperately trying to control his stomach. He couldn't envisage spewing and trying to keep the gun aimed at the enemy. "Darrin," he tried again. "You have a clear shot from where you're standing. Take that bastard out."
Slowly, Darrin's hands came up, but instead of going for his gun, they moved to unclip his backpack. To Daniel's horror, Darrin removed the weapon that had been stored in Sam's lab.
Daniel contemplated running forward and tackling Darrin, but he knew that even if the last trial hadn't exhausted and weakened his body, even if he'd been in perfect form, he would never make it in time. He watched in horror as Darrin took first one step, then another, his arm holding the weapon he'd stolen slowly rising as he offered it to Trasal.
"Son, don't." Hammond grimaced as Trasal readjusted his hold on his weapon. Daniel chanced a glance at the General; blood dripped down his neck. He realized it was just a matter of time before Trasal severed his jugular.
Screaming his coworker's name, Daniel shifted his stance, aiming the gun for Darrin instead of Trasal. His words became desperate, his tone soft and pleading. "Darrin, please, don't make me do this. Get away from him."
"I can save General Hammond, Daniel." There was a smile on Darrin's face. "I can save him."
Just as Trasal reached for the device, Daniel screamed Darrin's name again and squeezed the trigger. Darrin spun, shot in the chest, and toppled to the ground. Somehow he still kept his hold on the device. The Kevlar vest had saved Darrin from serious injury. Daniel had hoped that the shock of the bullet would have been enough to draw him out of his fugue, but to his horror, Darrin got up onto his knees, and with his weapon held high towards Trasal, began to stand.
"I'm sorry," Daniel whispered as he aimed for the vulnerable area beneath Darrin's armpit. He suddenly resented all the hours of practice he'd had to put in for weapons' training, realizing that his marksmanship meant the probable death of a friend.
This time Darrin went down, and stayed down.
Trasal shoved General Hammond aside and dove for the dropped weapon. Taking his time, Daniel lined up the gun's sights and shot Trasal just as his hand made contact with the weapon. Without hesitation, he emptied the magazine into the man, watching with satisfaction as his body jerked with each hit. Blood flew, splattering the area around him.
Suddenly gasping for breath, Daniel staggered, shock and reaction making the lingering effects of his vertigo worse. He dropped to one knee and had to put a hand out to prevent himself from toppling over.
A moment later, he felt the touch of a cool hand against the overheated skin of his bent neck.
"Just... give me a second," he begged as he brought a shaking hand to wipe the sweat from his face. The hand gave a gentle squeeze, and General Hammond began walking towards Darrin.
"He's alive." Moving quickly, the General began going through Darrin's backpack until he came up with a first aid kit. Daniel watched, shifting off his knees and letting himself fall heavily to the side. He knew he should get up and help, but moving, now that the rush of adrenaline had left him, seemed a feat he wasn't quite up to attempting just yet.
"This is all I can do for him at the moment." Hammond leaned back on his haunches and wiped his bloody hands on his pants. "We'll need to get him to the SGC soon or he'll bleed out." He stood after a moment, picked up the weapon that had been behind the whole scenario, and put it into Darrin's backpack. He dropped the pack next to Daniel and went back to Trasal.
General Hammond reached for something in Trasal's pocket and brought it over to Daniel. Not much bigger than a CD, it was obviously some sort of electronic device. One of Daniel's bullets had gone through it, causing a short circuit, as could be seen from the darkened area around the bullet hole. "Trasal used this to control everything. It linked to a computer. It looks like your bullet managed to turn it off." General Hammond waved vaguely around him and that was when Daniel realized that everything had changed. The red tiles were gone, replaced by a stone floor. A grid built into the floor ran the length of the cavern.
Daniel blinked at the sudden awareness, realizing that the grids were electronic markers which had allowed Trasal to manipulate each and every environment.
"It was all an illusion?" Daniel asked wearily, wondering if the General would object if he lay down for a moment.
Hammond nodded and the motion suddenly upped Daniel's nausea. He quickly placed a hand in front of his mouth, breathing deeply for a moment, until the threat of sickness passed.
"Are you okay, Doctor Jackson?"
Daniel slowly removed his hand and then made a quick, dismissing motion with it. "Just some lingering dizziness. I'm fine."
"Can you walk? This thing�" Hammond waved the remote� "took down the hologram which affected this portion of the caves but obviously it won't work anymore. We need to get to the computer itself."
"What about my team�"
"They're right here, son."
At Hammond's words, Daniel looked up to see him smiling and staring over his head. He turned, moving more quickly than he should and the now-familiar nausea rose up again. But he forced his discomfort down when he saw Jack, Sam, Teal'c and Baker running towards them.
Jack stopped and took everything in at a glance while Baker and Sam both went to Darrin. Teal'c stood close by, probably waiting to see where his help was needed.
"You okay?" Jack crouched down next to him, giving him a searching look.
"Not really," Daniel said softly, knowing Jack wasn't asking about his physical state.
"You had no choice."
"Yeah, we were hurrying as fast as we could but were sort of caught in some sort of... molasses... we couldn't move very fast." He looked over his shoulder at Sam, who was examining Trasal. "Carter?"
"He's dead, sir."
"For real this time? He was dead not an hour ago."
"General Hammond says he used holograms..." Daniel broke off when the General began explaining to Sam what he'd told him just a moment before. Daniel let the words flow over him while he closed his eyes and drifted. Conversation switched to Trasal's computer and he was vaguely aware of General Hammond taking Darrin's backpack and leaving with Sam.
He was fairly comfortable for the moment, sitting here, eyes closed, vertigo only bothering him at odd intervals.
"So, the guy was an expert in holograms, eh?" Jack's voice was close to Daniel's ear.
"It was more than that, Colonel. More like mind control. I'll explain on our way out." Daniel opened one eye to see Hammond leaning over Darrin. He hadn't realized the General had returned.
"But he has hologram technology, right? Because you were over there, in that chair, and�" Jack sighed softly. "Not a hologram, sir?"
"He manipulated you into thinking I was. In fact, you could have cut my bonds anytime and freed me, except you immediately gave up on trying when you thought I wasn't really there."
"Sorry about that, sir."
Daniel sleepily echoed the sentiment as he grew more and more relaxed. He heard Sam return and forced himself to concentrate on her words.
"Found it, sir. I've managed to disengage the controls to the doors. We can leave now."
"Daniel, don't go to sleep on me." Someone shook his shoulder, and Daniel reluctantly opened his eyes. He realized he'd been leaning against Jack, his forehead resting against his shoulder. Jack had an arm around him, holding him steady.
"We going home?"
"Yeah. Can you stand?"
With Jack's help, he got to his feet. He stood there, one hand on Jack's shoulder, wavering like a drunk. His whole body ached; his muscles were twitchy and kept threatening to drop him.
Teal'c already had Darrin slung over his shoulders. Daniel fell in behind, grateful that Jack was staying close to him. He eyed the cavernous length they had to traverse and actually wondered if he'd be able to make it without falling flat on his face.
He kept his eyes on the ground instead, concentrating on the next marked gridline, and the next, trying to aim for one section at a time instead of the whole shebang. Time passed, his legs didn't trip him up. He finally looked up, surprised as everyone else when their radios crackled with SG-2's leader, doing a routine call.
"We're fine. We have General Hammond and we're heading back."
"Glad to hear it, sir. We had no communication with any of the teams."
To Daniel's surprise, they'd crossed half the length already. Teal'c and Colonel Baker were out of sight, most likely having gone through the open doorway directly in front of them; Jack was on his left, Sam and General Hammond on his right. It became obvious to him that he was holding everyone back.
"SG-9? Peterson, you out there?"
"Yes, Colonel. We're holding the 'gate, sir. We've apprised the SGC of the situation and we're under orders to wait, for the time being. Glad to hear you've got the General, sir."
"Peterson, I want you to dial the SGC and warn them that Teal'c's coming in with a casualty. And that our ETA is twenty minutes."
Colonel Baker put a hand to his radio as he gave Jack an inquiring look. When Jack nodded, he quickly clicked the button. "Louis? Stacey? Report."
"Colonel." Captain Stacey's voice sounded relieved. "We're in the mines, and I hate to admit it but I think we're lost."
"Hang tight. We'll find someone to go and look for you when we get to the village."
They walked in silence for a few moments before Jack waved a hand, aiming at the cavern in general. "So, I'm getting the feeling that all of this was a huge setup."
"I have to agree with you, sir. It's quite elaborate. I didn't have time to study the computer but I don't recognize the technology Trasal hooked it up to.
"According to Trasal, this place was used as an entertainment resort." Daniel glanced at General Hammond, who, despite the blood encrusting his neck, looked better off than all of them. Hammond gave them all a short smile, causing Daniel to turn to look at Jack, who had a disbelieving expression on his face. "He bragged about how he discovered the technology and turned it to his advantage. I suspect he also kept the people in the village in thrall through the use of drugs�"
"Drugs?" There was something akin to shock in Sam's voice. "Were we drugged, sir?"
"It was in the smoke bomb he used to plan his escape�"
"The knockout gas."
Hammond nodded at Jack. "The gas also contained some sort of drug which, when used in combination with an audio feed, causes a hypnotic effect with which he can manipulate his victims."
"So that's how he got Major Blanchard to sneak the weapon out of the SGC."
"Exactly. He sent a pulse through the Stargate when he contacted the SGC, trying to manipulate one of you in into bringing the weapon back with you. Then he separated the teams by tricking them with elaborate visuals. He faked his death, trying to lower your guard. He also tried to isolate you individually inside one of the different traps he'd set. Doctor Jackson's perseverance convinced him he needed a different approach so finally, he tricked you all into moving as far as possible from him, to give him time to get the weapon from Major Blanchard." He motioned towards the exit that was slowly getting closer.
Sam had her scanner out and was holding it up in front of her. "I'm reading a sub-audio transmission, coming from where the computer is situated. Sir, you're saying that anyone with access to the computer can coerce us into doing something against our will?"
"It seems to have worked, doesn't it? He used it to manipulate you, to keep you occupied with wild goose chases while he slowly worked his wiles on Major Blanchard who, I have to admit, was trying his damnedest to fight him, although he didn't realize it. Which is probably the reason Trasal didn't try and grab the thing from him in the first place; his hold was tenuous, as he used most of his resources trying to keep you five occupied. But if he'd been alone with the Major, I'm pretty sure he'd have achieved his goal much faster."
"Oy, I can just see the NID getting their hands on this�"
"Unfortunately, blowing up the computer is the only way to stop the effects of this device. Major Carter was unable to figure out how to turn it off and we've had to resort to more drastic measures."
Daniel caught the look between Hammond, Sam and Jack, and as his brain slowly caught up, he made a silent wager with himself that Sam's backpack was short a pack of C4. He also caught the unspoken message and nodded when Hammond shifted his gaze to him. This was one decision he was happy he didn't have to justify to anyone.
There was movement, and four members of an SG-team stepped into the cavern. For a moment Daniel's vision blurred, the four morphed into eight and the next thing he knew, he was on his knees, retching painfully.
From his limited angle of vision, he could see several pairs of boots. They shifted occasionally, as if their owners were impatient for him to get it together and move on. The embarrassment of the situation had him trying to stand before he felt ready and he nearly toppled sideways. Sure hands caught him and someone flung his arm over their shoulder. He forced himself to walk, the continuing wooziness causing him to reel from side to side and he was thankful for the support.
"Okay, this looks far enough."
It felt strange to Daniel to have General Hammond giving orders in the field. He watched, fighting the nausea and dizziness, as SG-2 flanked them as they took cover just inside the cavern's exit. Jack pushed Daniel back against the wall, holding him in place with a hand against his chest as his knees wobbled. Sam took out the remote detonator and with a quick word of warning, punched the button.
Daniel wasn't sure what they'd expected; maybe Hammond had been fearful that the explosion would cause the cavern to collapse. There was a small bang, the sound reverberating loudly through the chamber, and then suddenly there was a release of pressure in his head.
The relief was so sudden that Daniel's knees finally buckled and he slid down the wall, his ass hitting the stone with a teeth-clicking thud. The vertigo eased considerably, as did the nausea and headache. The ache of his muscles from his exertions and vomiting was still there, but with the nearly debilitating vertigo gone, the discomfort was bearable. He sat there, knees bent, head hanging, and simply breathed. After a moment, he had to straighten his legs, the pressure of the material against the bruises on his knees making it painful to hold the position.
"What the hell�" Jack took an unsteady step before leaning against the wall. His leg brushed Daniel's arm a moment before his hand fell heavily on Daniel's shoulder.
"The computer was still broadcasting sub audio frequencies, sir, which were obviously still having an effect on us. The destruction of the computer apparently stopped the broadcast."
"I didn't even realize until it stopped." Jack squeezed Daniel's shoulder. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Daniel raised his head slowly, half expecting the corridor to loop around. But the walls, ceiling and floor stayed reasonably still. "Better." He held out a hand, and Jack immediately released his shoulder, grabbed his hand, and helped him up. He met Jack's concerned gaze for a moment until Jack nodded almost imperceptibly.
To his relief, Daniel was able to limp out of the mines on his own.
It felt odd sitting at a briefing where General Hammond was an active participant and not the person to whom they reported. General Crawford was thorough, however, by the end of the long debriefing, everyone was more than ready for his dismissal. Jack watched General Hammond square his shoulders as he and Crawford waited for everyone to leave. He was glad that for once, he hadn't had to make the hard decisions. Jack didn't envy Hammond having to justify his blowing up the one thing that could, in the proper hands, have made a formidable weapon.
Jack clapped Baker understandingly on the arm. The man had looked lost during the briefing, with one member in surgery and the other two still missing in the mines, although SG-9 had reported the search party was getting close.
"Some days just aren't worth getting out of bed," Baker muttered as they walked to the elevator.
Jack nodded in understanding, following Baker into the elevator. Daniel, while not in danger of losing his life, was still experiencing side effects from the combination of drugs and sub audio signals, enough to have kept him in the infirmary and absent from the debriefing. Except for the very physical muscular aches and pains from a body fighting an illusion, everyone else had shaken the worst of the symptoms.
When the car stopped, both of them stepped out without speaking, walking side by side towards the infirmary.
Jack's immediate reaction was to search out Daniel. To his surprise, his bed was empty. He slowed a moment, confused, while Baker continued walking, heading for the bed, which now contained Major Blanchard. And then Jack spotted Daniel, sitting on a chair next to Blanchard.
Stopping beside Daniel's empty bed, Jack watched as Daniel lowered his head to his chest as Baker spoke to him. He couldn't make out the words but it looked like Baker was pulling words out of Daniel's mouth, which wasn't a good sign. Then as Daniel reached for the IV pole to help him stand, Baker motioned for him to stay.
For a moment, it looked as if Daniel wouldn't listen, but Baker spoke quickly. Daniel nodded finally and settled back into the chair. As Baker stepped close to the bed to get a good look at his teammate, Daniel looked away, following the line of tubing up to his IV hanging on the pole. He sighed, and as he looked down, his gaze finally found Jack.
Jack nodded, wondering whether Daniel was going to return to his bed. But he didn't move, and Jack felt slightly uncomfortable, not wanting to intrude. He hesitated, decided he'd wait a little longer, give Baker a bit of privacy and then go join them. But before he could take a seat on the edge of the mattress, Baker stepped away from the bed.
Jack shoved his hands into his pockets as Baker approached him. "Daniel says Darrin's condition is serious. He's lost a lot of blood and the bullet damaged some organs. But the doctors are hopeful he'll make a full recovery."
"Just a matter of waiting and prayin'..."
"Yeah." Baker sighed heavily. "I told Jackson I didn't blame him and neither would Darrin once he woke up but... he's feeling pretty shook up over this."
"I'll talk to him."
"Jack... I don't think he needs a lecture, I think he just needs a friend."
Nodding slowly, Jack looked over Baker's shoulder. Daniel was watching them, but he quickly averted his head when he saw them looking his way.
"I need to go see about my men."
"I'll see you later, then." Once Baker moved off, Jack slowly walked towards Daniel. From far, it wasn't apparent, but close up, Daniel looked awful. Pale, and with eyes red-rimmed, he was shivering despite his efforts to hide his discomfort. Without a word, Jack turned around and gathered the top blanket off Daniel's bed, opening it up as he returned. Making a small waving motion with his hand when Daniel glanced at him, Jack waited until Daniel leaned forward and then spread the blanket around his shoulders, careful of the IV tubing.
"Thanks." Daniel gave Jack another quick look, obviously ill at ease with Jack being here.
"Welcome." Jack took a seat on the empty bed next to Daniel and stared at Blanchard. "Baker said the docs are hopeful?"
"Barring infections or complications."
"Good. He's a good man."
Daniel swallowed audibly, nodding.
"So, what about you?"
"I'm fine." The words came out fast and clipped.
"Nausea under control?"
"Yeah." Daniel swallowed again, and Jack began to wonder if Daniel was simply uneasy with Jack being there, or if he really wasn't feeling all that great. "Janet gave me something for it." When Daniel closed his eyes and pressed his lips together, the fine sheen of sweat on his face told Jack that maybe it was time for another dose of meds.
He started to slide off the bed and get someone, but even as his feet touched the floor, one of Fraiser's nurses was already on her way towards them, a small tray in her hands. She smiled at Jack, gave a quick glance at the machinery surrounding Blanchard, then turned to Daniel.
"How's the nausea?" she asked in a soft voice.
Daniel didn't answer, and Jack had a feeling that if Daniel were to open his mouth, he might end up spewing. Thankfully, the nurse realized Daniel's predicament.
"I'll give you a stronger dose this time. Let's see if that'll help."
Daniel shivered despite the blanket as the nurse added something to his IV. "You might be more comfortable lying down," she chided softly as she pulled back the blanket just enough to expose his bicep. "Just don't get up too fast, Doctor Jackson. The medication will make you groggy." She gave Jack a meaningful look as she took Daniel's blood pressure.
Some of the tightness around Daniel's eyes and mouth eased by the time the nurse left. Daniel wiped his face with his palm, blinking a little as he looked blearily at the man he'd shot, lying unconscious in the bed.
"You didn't have a choice," Jack finally said when the silence started getting uncomfortable.
"I was aiming to kill." Daniel kept his head turned away from Jack.
"I'd have done no less in the same situation. You got lucky, Daniel. It could have been worse."
"There had to be another way." The words were soft and almost pleading.
"Not from where I was standing. That bastard, Trasal, came this close to getting his hands on the weapon. You were the only thing standing in his way and all you had to work with was your gun."
"I could have tried talking to him."
"Daniel, there wasn't time. It was going down then and there. You did what you had to do. What I'd have done in your place."
"Even if it had been me in Darrin's place?" Daniel finally turned to look at Jack. His eyes were glazed, and no less red-rimmed.
Jack pressed his lips together before nodding hard. "Yeah." And he would have, as he'd already been forced to do during his career. Things that nightmares were made of, and he didn't envy Daniel the ones that he was sure to have over this. "And you'd have done the same if it had been me."
Daniel shuddered and looked away again. They sat in silence after that, Daniel fighting the effects of the meds he'd been given and his exhaustion while Jack watched Daniel watching Blanchard.
"Wouldn't you be better off lying down?" Jack finally asked as Daniel kept fighting to keep his eyes open.
"Someone needs to stay with Darrin."
Jack would have offered to do the honors, but somehow he knew Daniel wouldn't take his offer. So he couldn't say he wasn't relieved when the rest of SG-14 finally walked in some twenty minutes later, smiling and joking together, only to fall silent as they spotted their teammate. Baker allowed Louis and Stacey to surround the bed, hanging back, giving his men time to take in their teammate's condition.
Daniel, to Jack's surprise, stood the moment he spotted them. He wavered, grabbed onto the IV pole for balance while trying to hold onto the blanket, which had slipped off his shoulders. Jack hurriedly stood and grabbed Daniel's arm, afraid he was going to trip over the IV pole's feet.
Daniel tugged his arm from Jack's hold once he was steady. He nodded to the two men, ceding his place, and slowly walked back to his bed.
By the time Daniel reached the bed, the nurse had hurried over and between her and Jack, they got Daniel settled. He curled up onto his side, facing Blanchard's bed, now surrounded by his three teammates. Jack pulled the chair away from the wall and sat, blocking Daniel's view.
"You can go, Jack, I'm fine." Daniel closed his eyes tiredly, turning onto his back, keeping his eyes shut for a long couple of seconds before opening them again.
"Sure you are." Jack reached over and carefully unhooked the arms of Daniel's glasses from behind his ears, folded them, and placed them on the table beside the bed.
"I just..." Daniel turned his head as a nurse walked back, following her with his eyes until she passed Blanchard's bed without stopping.
"How about a deal?" Jack waited until Daniel turned to look at him. "You sleep; I'll sit here and wait. If the Major's condition changes, I promise I'll wake you."
"No, you won't."
"Would I lie to you, Daniel?" He held Daniel's gaze for a long time, wondering after a while whether Daniel was actually mentally there, or if he'd fallen asleep with his eyes open.
"Okay," Daniel finally said. He closed his eyes and was sleeping five seconds later. Feeling smug that he'd gotten Daniel to rest, Jack pushed the chair back so that he could stretch his legs out and anchor his feet on the bottom rail of the bed.
Four hours later, the satisfaction had turned to boredom while Daniel slept on. He honestly hadn't expected him to sleep for this long, thinking he'd wake up at some point where Jack could make his excuses, reassure him that Blanchard was holding his own, and leave. But Daniel was sleeping like a log, and hadn't even so much as twitched a muscle, even when one of Fraiser's nurses came to draw blood.
He couldn't leave, not after promising he'd keep an eye on SG-14's archaeologist. He couldn't trust that the nurses would remember to wake Daniel up if Blanchard took a turn for the worse, or that they'd even want to disturb Daniel, seeing he was getting much-needed rest. The same went for Blanchard's team; they had enough on their plates, taking turns keeping vigil, to have to worry about Daniel.
Needing to stand and work out some of numbness and kinks in his back and butt, Jack moved to the foot of the bed and stretched. It was late; Carter had probably already gone home and Teal'c... Jack blinked in surprise. For a moment, he thought his thinking about Teal'c had somehow transported him out of his mind, into the infirmary. Then he saw Teal'c glance towards Blanchard's bed, nod to Captain Louis, who was currently on vigil duty, and stop beside Jack at the foot of Daniel's bed.
"He is resting?"
"Yeah, been sleeping for a while now."
"I regret I was unable to visit with DanielJackson earlier. I returned to the planet with SG-8 to retrieve as much of the technology that remained undamaged from the explosion."
"You went offworld?" Surprised that he hadn't heard about this, especially as Teal'c was a member of his team, Jack realized that the order must have come from General Crawford.
"There was not much left to salvage. MajorCarter did not believe we would garner much from the remains, and I believe she is right."
Daniel mumbled something and for the first time since he'd fallen asleep, shifted position, turning onto his side.
"We did, however, discover evidence that Trasal has been in contact with Anubis."
"You think he wanted the weapon for that snakehead?"
"Further questioning of the villagers has confirmed that strangers have occasionally been seen in the mines. It is my belief that Trasal had been searching the mines for the weapon for some time. We were shown evidence of excavations that were not sanctioned by the Miners' Guild."
"Well, if nothing else, at least Anubis didn't get his hands on the weapon."
"Indeed. DoctorLee has also informed GeneralCrawford that he believes the weapon to have been ten times as powerful as first believed."
Jack looked down at Daniel, wondering if hearing this news would help ease some of the ache in his friend's heart. He sighed softly, rubbing his belly as his stomach rumbled.
"Perhaps you would wish to get some sustenance and rest? I will stay with DanielJackson."
"Look..." Feeling a little guilty about leaving Daniel but wanting to give in to the urge to get some food and some shuteye, Jack hesitated a moment. "I promised Daniel I'd stay with him and let him know if Blanchard's condition got worse."
"I am capable of waking him should the need arise."
"Blanchard's doing a bit better..."
"You do not wish to wake him to impart this news?"
"No... Just if the man takes a turn for the worse�"
"Just... don't leave him alone, okay? I don't want him to wake up alone."
"I shall remain here until either you or MajorCarter relieves me."
"Yeah... speaking of Carter..."
"She is currently working with DoctorLee, but has expressed a desire to visit the infirmary the moment she is able to."
"You'll tell her to wake Daniel if..."
Teal'c inclined his head in agreement.
"Okay." Jack took a last look at Daniel and waited until Teal'c had seated himself on the chair. "I'll be back after I get a couple hours' shut-eye."
Daniel listened to Jack's footsteps as he walked away. His friends' voices had woken him up and he'd lain there, pretending to sleep, listening to their words. Sometimes he wondered what he'd done to deserve their friendship.
Still half-asleep, he wondered if he should try to go back to sleep before Teal'c realized he was awake.
"Is there anything you require, DanielJackson?"
Too late. Busted.
He turned onto his back slowly, taking stock of himself. His headache had eased, as had some of the dizziness and nausea, making him suspect he'd been asleep for a fair amount of time. He stretched, surprised that the IV was gone, only a small band-aid evidence that he'd sported a needle in his hand.
The change in position informed him that despite the fact that he was no longer being force-fed liquids, his body still needed to rid itself of them.
With a grunt, he sat up, reaching a hand out towards Teal'c when vertigo hit him. "Give me a hand to the bathroom?" His need to pee took precedence over his embarrassment. He stood slowly, getting his bearings and his equilibrium, and with Teal'c's support, he shuffled to the bathroom without making much of a fool of himself.
By the time he finished, he had gotten his sea legs. He nodded at Teal'c as he stepped through the door, indicating he was okay. He slowed to a near stop, deliberating whether to go on towards Darrin's bed, but decided that he was tired enough to sleep some more. And Teal'c had promised to wake him if anything happened...
"We are all in your debt," Teal'c said as Daniel slid under the blankets, pressing his cold feet together to try to warm them.
"I..." Daniel couldn't feel pride over his actions. He'd done what needed to be done. He'd known the stakes. That he'd shot Darrin wasn't the sole thing that was haunting him.
"Among the Jaffa, what you did today would have earned you not only the attention of the reigning Goa'uld, but would most likely have ensured your family lived in luxury for the rest of their lives." Teal'c sat on the chair and rolled it closer to the bed.
"Shooting a friend?"
"Stopping the enemy." Teal'c leaned forward until his face was only a few inches away. "One may fire at the enemy with practiced ease, eventually forgetting they are beings with lives, families, beliefs. They become impersonal, a target which is dealt with impassively. But when a friend becomes the enemy, stopping him requires great courage."
The headache was threatening to return. Daniel wished Teal'c would keep quiet and let him sleep. He was sorry he'd asked Jack to stay, because now Jack was gone and Teal'c was here, saying things Daniel really didn't want to deal with at the moment.
"There is no shame wishing it had been someone else who pulled the trigger."
Daniel gasped, as if Teal'c's words had been a blow to his stomach. Unable to meet Teal'c's gaze, Daniel turned his head, watching the nurse as she went to Darrin's bed and began checking out the readings on the medical equipment.
He didn't know how Teal'c knew, but somehow he'd gone straight to the crux of the problem. He'd been feeling strong emotions towards Jack, and he hadn't been able to put his finger on the reason why. Not just Jack, but to his whole team in general. He wanted someone else to take the blame for shooting Darrin. That would have left Daniel free to try something else, find another way, before the results of Darrin's actions brought him to this point here in time.
All because Daniel had had no option, except to pull the trigger.
"You had no choice; the events have now unfolded and what remains is the hope that MajorBlanchard makes a full recovery."
Daniel jumped when Teal'c placed a hand on his shoulder. "Ponder my words; should you wish to speak about this, I am at your disposal. If you merely wish to sit with me in kelno'reem, it would be my pleasure. I do not wish to make you feel ill at ease; I simply wish you to know I understand."
Teal'c pulled back and pushed the chair away until the back was resting against the wall.
"Now sleep. You are still not yet fully recovered."
Teal'c's words echoed in his head; and the shame he felt, that he was inadequate to take responsibility for his actions, burned through him. He'd shot Darrin because it had been the only way to stop him. Probably it was best that it had been Daniel who'd shot him, and not Trasal, who'd have gunned him down and left him to die like road kill. Did it make it better to have someone who cared shoot you? It didn't take away the physical pain of the injury, but maybe that knowledge could ease the pain in his soul?
Daniel knew that had the tables been turned and he'd been the one shot by Darrin to stop him from handing over the weapon, he'd have been extremely thankful for being stopped. And Daniel wasn't one to turn away from responsibility, so why was he wishing for that now?
He closed his eyes, thinking he'd probably never get back to sleep again soon. He was wrong.
Jack slowed as he walked by Blanchard's bed. The man opened his eyes, saw Jack, and gave a weak smile.
"You're looking better." Jack awkwardly shifted the tray in his hands. The lunch smells were enticing and he was starving.
"Feel awful," Blanchard said sleepily. "But I'm alive. Can't complain much."
Nodding, Jack waited until Blanchard's eyes slid closed, nodded to Captain Stacey sitting next to the bed before moving on.
He ignored a passing nurse's glare as he placed his lunch on the empty bed next to Daniel's. Teal'c stood, offering him the chair.
"You sure you don't want anything to eat? I could have brought you something�"
"I require nothing. Thank you."
"Thanks for staying with Daniel. I didn't expect to sleep so late�"
"You were exhausted. You required the rest."
"Yeah, but you didn't get any." Shifting the tray onto his knees, Jack removed the plastic lid on the Styrofoam cup and poured two sugars into it.
"MajorCarter relieved me for two hours and I was able to kelno'reem. I am quite refreshed."
"Ah, Carter still on base?" Jack picked up a stir stick and gave the coffee a twirl.
"She is resting."
He dropped the stir stick onto the tray and fiddled with the tab on the plastic lid, trying to get it to hook onto the middle. "Look, I'm sorta out of the loop here." The tab caught and he placed the lid back onto the cup. "Did she and Lee find anything worthwhile?"
"They did not. General Crawford's last order was to send the remnants to Area 51."
He went to take a cautious sip of the hot brew, but drew the cup back when Daniel shifted on the bed. He looked at Daniel over the Styrofoam cup and lowered it when Daniel blinked at him sleepily.
"You gonna drink that or you gonna share?" Daniel rose up onto his elbow, his free hand rubbing at his eyes and looking hopefully at the coffee.
With a sigh, Jack handed the cup over.
Daniel sat up quickly, faster than Jack thought him capable of moving. As he took a cautious slurp of coffee, Teal'c reached for the bed's controls and eased it up to make Daniel more comfortable.
Jack's stomach reminded him he was hungry, so he reached for a slice of bacon. Before his fingers could latch onto it, Daniel swiped it away.
Grinning, Daniel bit off half the slice, chewed quickly and followed it down with coffee.
"What? I'm hungry." Daniel shoved the rest of the bacon into his mouth and eyed Jack's tray. "You got jam... no peanut butter?" Frowning, he pushed the two jam containers aside, as if hoping to find hidden treasure.
Sighing, Jack moved his napkin, exposing the mini packet of peanut butter underneath and turned the tray around so Daniel could help himself to a triangle of toast as well.
"Thanks, don't mind if I do." Instead of picking up the toast, Daniel grabbed the tray and slid it onto his lap.
"What, they don't feed you around here?" Jack grabbed for a piece of toast before declaring his meal a total loss, then looked at Daniel with a mock glare when Daniel moved the remainder of the toast to the far side of the tray.
"I'm hungry." He shoveled a forkful of home fries into his mouth and stared at Jack while chewing, as if daring him to take his food away from him.
"So I see." Jack bit into the measly piece of buttered toast, ruing the sight of his fast-disappearing breakfast. Still, he didn't mind giving up his meal if it meant helping in Daniel's recovery. He finished the toast off in three bites, and was sucking the butter off his fingers just as Fraiser showed up.
"Daniel, don't tell me you're still hungry."
"Still?" Jack stopped sucking, greasy fingers poised right before his lips. "You mean he ate already?" He looked at his nearly empty breakfast plate and Daniel's now slightly contrite expression. Without remorse, Jack snatched the last slice of bacon from the plate.
"Obviously he didn't eat enough," Fraiser said with a chuckle as Jack noisily chewed the piece of meat despite Daniel's complaint.
"You said I could eat something later. It's later, and I was hungry."
"That something you ate was my breakfast." Jack eyed the last piece of toast that Daniel now held in his hand, gauging whether he could pluck it out of his hand before Daniel reacted. "According to Fraiser, you already ate breakfast."
"Fine." Daniel tossed the triangle onto the greasy plate and shoved the whole thing towards the edge of the tray. "Here. Have at it."
"It's cold now," Jack whined, trying to sound pathetic but infinitely pleased by Daniel's appetite. He turned to Teal'c and canted his head towards the exit. "Wanna join me for breakfast?"
"I would be honored. Watching DanielJackson devour two meals has whetted my appetite."
"Hey." Daniel leaned forward, nearly toppling the tray. He pushed it aside, looking like he was going to get out of bed. "You're going already? I didn't mean�"
Jack raised his chin, looking down at Daniel. "You don't expect me and Teal'c to hang around and faint from hunger now, do you?"
"But you just got here."
"And they're just leaving," Fraiser said quickly. "While you, my dear, will be busy with a few tests I need to run." She turned to Jack, dismissing him with a smile. "You can come back in a couple of hours."
Taking a bite out of his bacon, Jack smiled to himself when he remembered Daniel stealing his meal from him. He took a sip of coffee as Teal'c slid into the seat opposite him, his tray piled high with more food than Jack would eat in a day.
"Fraiser say anything about how much longer she was going to keep Daniel in the infirmary?" He speared several home fries and began eating.
"She did not. But she was pleased with his progress. He no longer exhibits any of the earlier symptoms and is not quite as fatigued as before."
Jack hurriedly chewed and swallowed. "But he was sleeping when I�"
"Not sleeping. Merely resting while waiting for your arrival."
He stared at Teal'c in surprise. "You mean he was faking it? While I was sitting there thinking Daniel was sleeping, he was pretending to be asleep?"
Teal'c had been in the process of plucking several grapes from the bunch. He stopped a moment, his eyes gazing unseeing at his food. "I believe you may be right. I see now it was a ploy to obtain your repast."
Jack had been spreading jam over a layer of peanut butter on his toast. He stopped, put his knife down and leaned both hands on the table. "You sure you weren't a part of his plan to help him steal my breakfast?"
"To what avail would that have served me? Had you eaten your meal in the infirmary, I would now be sitting here by myself, without the pleasure of your company."
"Exactly," Jack replied, biting into his toast. He let Teal'c's words ruminate in his head a moment and he stopped chewing, giving Teal'c a confused look. He cleared his throat when Teal'c gave him a short nod of acknowledgement.
He'd taken his time getting dressed. Part of the reason was due to the meds wearing off and increasingly stiff and sore muscles and painful bruises, but the main reason for his reluctance was his nervousness in having to talk to Darrin.
He couldn't put it off anymore; Janet had signed him out of the infirmary and Jack was waiting to drive him home. He pulled back the privacy curtain surrounding his bed and stepped out.
Jack, who'd been leaning against a bed, straightened expectantly. Daniel nodded as he walked past, heading for Darrin's bed. He walked stiffly, his bruised knees made moving difficult and his whole body was one big aching mess.
"Daniel." Darrin looked pale and weak but his smile was warm and genuine.
"Hey." Daniel swallowed. He'd rehearsed his speech dozens of times throughout the morning and suddenly the words fled.
"I'm glad you stopped by." Darrin shifted, wincing as he tried to get comfortable.
Daniel pressed his lips together and waited. He looked away. He could see Jack from the edge of his vision but he couldn't meet his friend's gaze.
"I wanted to thank you�"
"Thank me?" Daniel stammered, surprised at Darrin's words.
"Yeah. You stopped me from doing something stupid." Darrin chuckled wryly, the sound ending in a gasp of pain. "It's embarrassing enough to know I wasn't strong enough to fight off the effects of that mind control and that I stole the weapon. I'm just glad you were able to prevent me from doing something I'd regret for the rest of my life."
"It wasn't your fault�"
"I know that here." He raised a hand to his temple. "But I still feel it here." He lowered his hand to his chest.
"It doesn't mean you're a weaker or lesser man than anyone else." Jack took a step forward so that he was standing shoulder to shoulder with Daniel. "Looking back, at one point, I did feel a weird urge to go and get the weapon. I'm guessing he tried manipulating everyone and finally chose the one person who'd probably be the least suspect in its disappearance. Don't forget, he had Carter and Teal'c thinking they were floating in mid-air�"
"He took away our hearing, our sight, our perceptions of what's normal and what's..." Daniel swallowed as the memory of that last environment hitting him as strongly as PTSD. "... Normal," he finally ground out through a straining throat. He took a deep breath, then another, relaxing as the sensation eased. Jack's hand brushed his back and he gave him a quick smile to show he was okay. "I just wish there'd been another way to stop him... to stop you�"
"I'm just glad you're such a good shot, Daniel." Darrin grinned at him. And while Daniel tried to give him an answering smile, he knew it looked as forced as it felt. He was never going to admit to Darrin that he'd been aiming to kill. This time Jack's hand was solid on his back. Jack understood, and for that, Daniel was grateful.
He saw that Darrin was starting to tire. "Well, I'll let you get some rest. I'll see you in a few days." Darrin raised a hand and waggled his fingers at him before turning his head to the side and closing his eyes. Daniel was glad that was over and he walked as quickly as his bruised knees would allow him.
"Hey." Jack hurried to catch up with him. "You gonna be okay?"
"Yeah." He'd dreaded 'the talk', but now that it was over, he felt better. "You were right."
"I'd have done the same even if it had been you in Darrin's place."
"Glad to hear it," Jack said jovially, then gave Daniel a slightly confused look.
"Trasal could have turned his mind control on me at any moment. If I hadn't shot Darrin while he was distracted, chances are he would have turned on me and stopped me before I could do anything to stop him. I got lucky, Jack. I got lucky because Trasal was greedy and became careless."
"See, you could have just listened to me from the start." Jack slid his key card through the scanner near the elevator door and pocketed it.
"Let's just try to not live through that scenario again."
"Hey, you're gonna jinx us now but saying that."
"Oh great." Daniel smiled as he stepped into the elevator. "No pressure, right?"
To devra, who kept assuring me that the story made sense. For those who might be confused - "points finger at devra" - it's all her fault. In either case, showering her virtually with flowers and jelly beans for her encouragement and alpha.
Many thanks to Jmas, for trusting in me and publishing this story in her E-zine 'No One Gets Left Behind' - a Tribute to our beloved Yum@
If you want to see more of Jmas' ezines, here's her link:
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.