Phoenix Rising

Note: This story first appeared in Jmas' Ancient's Gate VI



Daniel stopped near one of the markers Sam had placed the previous day and surveyed the dying land before him. There was a smell of disease in the air, sickly and pungent, wet and cloying. "It's still spreading."

The blackened, moldy growth was now visible on the bushes and trees outside the invisible line SG-1 had tagged around the infected land.

"And it's spreading fast," Sam replied, stopping beside him. She pulled a pair of latex gloves from her pocket and began setting up another set of markers along a new boundary five hundred feet away from the older one.

Daniel fished into his own pockets for gloves he'd placed there before leaving camp ten minutes earlier, and finished zipping up the protective clothing, similar to Sam's, over his BDUs. "Kansu said the disease was pretty much localized up until the rainstorms began a few weeks ago."

"Whatever is causing this is probably being exacerbated by the humidity. We can only pray the runoff isn't spreading the virus."

"At this rate, how long do you think it'll take before it reaches the ruins?" Daniel looked to his right and sighed at the sight of overgrown growth interspersed in the vast, ancient complex which was built up and across a small mountain. Just over two years ago, during one of SG-5's early missions, that team had come across the enormous temple. But at the time, the information contained within hadn't been deemed important enough for further study; the writing hadn't been familiar to anyone, Daniel included, and there had been no signs of weaponry or technology capable of helping Earth fight the Goa'uld.

The people who lived on P3T 334 had a very simple lifestyle, many of them farmers. Although welcoming and happy to relate their history to the visitors who had stepped through the Stargate, the people here had only ancient myths to recount about the Goa'uld, and hadn't known why or how they had been left in peace.

SG-5's findings had been put aside until recently, when Daniel, who had been searching for something totally unrelated, discovered references to the Ancients in them while going through the archives.

He had been looking forward to studying the complex, which was three times the size of the Egyptian Karnak ruins. But SG-1's mission had quickly turned to one of humanitarianism when the villagers, remembering SG-5's visit, had come to them, begging for help.

"Two days, maybe three, if this doesn't work." She wrinkled her nose in disgust as she touched a dying plant. It collapsed into a liquidy mush, increasing the stench coming from the diseased growth.

"And how long will it take us to...?" He grabbed a handful of coloured markers and began walking towards the ruins, plunging them into the ground as he went.

"If the wind doesn't shift and everything goes the way we planned it, we'll know in a couple of days whether we were successful or not. We have close to a kilometer to cover � but hopefully with the villagers' help, it should go over pretty smoothly."

"It seems a shame to have to burn everything." He eyed the exotic purple fruit hanging from a nearby tree.

"Let's just hope that destroying everything is enough to stop this plague. The contagion seems to be fairly localized to this area still. Hopefully this will do the trick."

Daniel planted the last marker and stood, watching similarly garbed villagers walking through the blackened, depressing mess, slowly emptying containers of flammable liquid onto what had once been their crops. Jack and Teal'c were out there also, strategically placing detonators made of C-4, which, together with the kerosene-like oil, would hopefully destroy the infested growth and stop it from spreading further.

It took them most of the morning to finish what they'd begun three days ago. Even standing on the outskirts of the contagion, the smell was bad enough that Daniel and Sam eventually had to place a cloth over their noses and mouths.

Daniel hefted the heavy barrel, pouring the sticky liquid everywhere he could while trying not to splash any on himself. The sun beat down. Sweat dripped down his chest and back. He didn't envy those who were actually working within the diseased area.

"Carter."

Daniel straightened, hearing a strange quality in Jack's voice despite the distortion through the radio's speakers. He dropped the barrel, taking a short rest.

"We're almost done here, sir." Sam straightened, the smaller container still in her hand. She took a break also, stretching her back while glancing towards Daniel. He hurried towards her; obviously she'd also recognized something in Jack's tone.

"Teal'c and I are at ground zero. I think I know the cause of all of this."

"Sir?"

"Latrine."

Sam frowned at Daniel, shaking her head. But it suddenly all made sense to Daniel � the lab tests, the mission reports he'd read, the layout of the land... He clicked his radio on, speaking fast.

"Jack, you're standing in SG-5's old campsite, right?"

"Got it in one."

"Daniel?" Carter looked at him, confused.

"It's incredible that we've not come across this bef�" He stopped, realizing he hadn't pressed his radio button down. He began again. "It's the microbes in our bodies. SG-5 buried their latrine, as per SOP."

"Oh my God. The bacteria from our waste products! It's killing off the local flora and fauna." Daniel didn't bother repeating Sam's explanation - her comment had been loud enough to carry over his radio.

"Jack, *we* caused this - I mean, SG-5 caused it unwittingly two years ago, but still, it's all our fault because we never considered the possibility that something we left behind might have been harmful to the planet." Daniel looked at Sam's stricken face as Jack simply answered 'I know'. Daniel pressed down hard on his radio angrily. "Why didn't we ever take this into consideration? We should have realized that�"

"We did." Sam put a hand on Daniel's arm. "I mean, it had come up in discussions but we nobody ever really took the time to figure out an alternate precaution. Sir... our camp..." Sam turned haunted eyes towards Daniel.

"Go."

Sam was off and running the second Jack gave the order. She stopped at the edge of the border and stripped her protective clothing off, throwing everything into the contaminated area before sprinting towards camp.

"Jack... what about...? We've sorta been 'watering the trees' everywhere for the past couple of days."

"Sir, we might have to extend the burn to our camp." Sam's voice was breathless as she continued her run to camp. "But maybe it's simply the fact that the latrine had been buried and the waste products concentrated that made it so toxic."

"We can do that as a precaution. Daniel, what's your status?"

Daniel squinted into the sunlit field, seeing the outline of three more villagers coming towards him, emptying similar barrels. "We're just about done here. Maybe ten more minutes." He moved to his own discarded container and picked it up, the liquid inside sloshing noisily. He continued sprinkling the kerosene until he met up with them.

Daniel threw his empty barrel out amongst the wasted plants and began walking towards the mountain, and the ruins.

"Sir. There's no sign of contagion at the campsite. I still think it's best we do a sweep here before we leave."

"Understood. Daniel, Carter, meet us at the rendezvous point."

"I'm on my way." Daniel stopped at the edge of the firebreak and removed his outer clothes. He threw them into the kerosene-drenched grass and began moving towards the highest point of the temple complex.

- - - - - -

Daniel watched as the wind fanned the flames away from them, sending them rushing towards the river over a kilometer away. The fire burned heartily below, thick black smoke rising into the sky. The blaze was stopped from advancing up the mountain and beyond by a wide man-made gulch.

"It's looking good." Sam was peering through binoculars, trained, Daniel thought, on where the whole shitload of trouble had started � SG-5's old campsite. Even without the benefit of field glasses, Daniel could see the large crater that had once been a fertile field, long before people from Earth contaminated it, albeit unwittingly.

Daniel had bit back comments of overkill when Jack had blown up what he'd called ground zero. The explosion had been spectacular, startling everyone except Jack. He'd watched the ground erupt with a hard set to his face, but which Daniel understood to be part guilt, and part worry.

The fire looked like a living thing, writhing and shifting, alternating between giving the impression of something in its death throes, or of being born.

"Let's hope the Phoenix can rise once again," Daniel mumbled, thinking of the lush growth and crops that had once flourished down below.

Tired and dirty and wishing he was heading home for his own bed and a shower, Daniel turned from the spectacle below him and looked at the nearby abandoned ruins, so tantalizingly near. From what he understood, underground tunnels mimicked the streets throughout the complex, adding a depth to the mystery and causing Daniel to wonder if there were yet unfound treasures buried deep inside this ancient city.

A loud bang from the fire site had Daniel pivoting in surprise. Even as he scanned the burning land before him, a portion of the fire was extinguished as the land collapsed into itself.

"What the�"

"Something underground just exploded, sir."

"Jack, I think we better get out of here." Daniel turned to scan the buildings around him. "If there's any kind of flammable gas inside the tunnels beneath us�" He berated himself for not even assuming the possibility of such an actuality.

"You have got to be kidding!" Jack turned to look at Daniel, then at all the buildings surrounding them.

Teal'c turned and pointed to their right. "This appears the quickest route. There is a trail beyond that leads to the river."

"Okay, go!" Jack pushed Daniel, the pressure absorbed by his backpack. Daniel quickly took up a position behind Sam, who had taken point, heading in the direction Teal'c had indicated.

They had barely made several dozen feet when the ground shook beneath them. Debris shot in the air, showering them with rock and soil. As if in slow motion, Daniel saw the building on his right begin to crumble towards them.

"Look out!" He threw himself at Sam, pushing her out of the way. Expecting to land on grass, Daniel grunted in surprise as he flew through the air like another piece of flotsam.

White hot agony burst in his back and along his side, seconds before his head exploded in pain.

- - - - - -

Jack coughed, trying to get some air into his bruised lungs. The area was thick with dust and his ears were ringing from the force of the last explosion. He opened his eyes, saw darkness, and waved a blind hand before his face.

"Son of a shit." He reached into his vest for his flashlight, hoping it hadn't been damaged in the fall. His fingers, although a little numb, found the small utility and flicked it on.

He blinked, trying to clear his vision until he realized everything was hazy due to the huge amount of dust floating everywhere. He sat up, his body protesting the action. He didn't think anything was seriously injured, but hell, he was sure going to be stiff in the coming days.

He waved the light around, noting he was surrounded by stone. Remembering Daniel's melancholic descriptions of the ruins, he realized he must have fallen beneath the street level, into one of the underground tunnels. He quickly aimed his light towards the ceiling. With a sinking feeling, Jack examined the pile of rocks illuminated in the dim glow barely three feet from him, effectively blocking the tunnel.

Cave in.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

"Carter, Teal'c, Daniel." He coughed, his voice a little raspy. He stood quickly, his aching body forgotten in his concern for his team.

He moved the few steps to the rock fall and bent down to pick up a small piece of material half buried under several fist-sized stones. He slapped his cap several times on his pant leg as he called his teammates' names once again, this time into his radio. He looked around frantically, realizing he'd fallen through the hole above and had somehow managed to roll free of the falling rocks. He only prayed his team had been just as lucky, or even better, were still on the surface, looking for him. He just hoped he wasn't walking towards any more hot spots where the air might just explode around him this time instead of beneath him.

- - - - - -

The agony was unbearable. Sweat dripped down Daniel's face as he lay curled on his side. Each panting breath was a hot poker burning down his right side and across his back and chest.

He'd tried to hold his breath for a few seconds' relief, but the need for air had caused him to gasp involuntarily, moving the lancing pain in his back up yet another level.

It was pitch dark and Daniel knew by the position he was lying in, his flashlight was in a low pocket underneath him. Even if it wasn't broken, there was no way he was going to be able to turn himself around to get to it.

"Sam?" he called weakly for the twentieth time, knowing she had to have fallen close by.

If she wasn't answering, then she must be unconscious. He needed to help her, but he couldn't even help himself.

He couldn't move, but he knew he needed to if he was going to get himself and Sam out of here. Slowly he moved his arm to his chest, trying to ignore the piercing pain in his back, and fumbled for the radio in his vest. His hand was shaking so badly he couldn't find the button. It took him several more long seconds before he was able to locate it and depress it.

"Jack," he whispered. "Please, help me."

- - - - - -

She couldn't do more than turn her head and glance at the blurry pile of rocks on her left. Despite the murky glow from her flashlight, she knew something was wrong with her eyesight.

Dizzy beyond mention, she closed her eyes and called out for her team once more, hoping she wouldn't throw up again.

Her voice was raspy and weak; she was aware that she was in trouble, but had no idea what had happened. All she knew was that her head was killing her, her right leg was probably broken, and she was alone.

- - - - - -

He was uninjured, the few bruises and scrapes quickly being attended to by his symbiote. The dark did not worry him, it was the fate of his teammates that did. He had seen DanielJackson and MajorCarter tumble down into a hole nearby, seconds before the earth beneath his feet had swallowed himself and O'Neill.

There was no answer to his calls. His radio, he believed, was not damaged, although again, none replied when he called their names.

He flashed his light before him, searching desperately for a way out. If his friends were caught on the other side of the rock fall, then he needed to get help and dig them out.

- - - - - -

No one was coming. Daniel knew that. He'd lain here for what felt like hours, and now it was up to him. There was medicine in his backpack. Drugs that would ease the pain, and allow him, hopefully, to move around.

That was, if his back wasn't broken. Which at this point, he wasn't so sure.

He could feel his legs and feet, that had to be a good sign, right?

Slowly he reached his arm forward, biting his lip to keep from crying out when the pain felt like a knife slicing through his lower back and hip.

He tried to turn slowly onto his back, realized he couldn't move and nearly panicked until he became aware something was pinning him down. With agonizing movements he pulled his shoulder forward, easing his arm out of his utility vest.

By the time he'd divested himself of the small piece of equipment, he was crying from the pain. Inch by inch he'd turned so he was lying on his back, the agony not lessened in the least from the switch in position. But he'd managed to find his flashlight and with fumbling fingers, he switched it on.

The scene before him wasn't encouraging, except for the fact that he'd missed being crushed to death by mere inches. His backpack was half buried beneath a large boulder, having been partly torn from its buckles. That was what had pinned him down and had prevented him from moving.

As he stared at the crushed pack, the enormity of how close he'd come to dying suddenly pushing the pain away for a few seconds. And then the agony hit twice as hard when he realized what had been inside the pack.

"No!"

Desperately, he dropped the flashlight and still lying on his side, scrabbled for the damaged pack, moaning loudly as movement became nearly unbearable. He quickly located and discarded several items until he came across the first aid kit.

Immediately he knew it was damaged. He pulled it out and opened it.

"Please, please," he gasped as he began to search for the one thing that could help him.

He discarded several bandages, soggy from where they'd absorbed the contents from the damaged bottle of disinfectant. There were small, sharp plastic shards, and he knew they were from the pre-measured syringes he and Sam always carried with him as a precaution.

He forced himself to slow down, removing each item methodically. Finally he was left with only one undamaged syringe.

He grasped it carefully, pulling it out and holding it in the beam of light to make sure it contained morphine, before lowering it to his thigh. With shaking hands, he plunged it into his muscle. At this point, all thoughts of his team's welfare fled from his mind. All he could think of was to end the pain.

It was only when he'd emptied it did he realize he had no idea of the dosage. He could only pray it was enough to stop the pain without killing him. The room spun and his ears rang. He lowered his head onto the ground and gritted his teeth, waiting for oblivion, one way or the other.

- - - - - -

Jack was pretty sure he was going around in circles, or rather, in a circle blocked by a rock fall.

He had walked for about fifty minutes until he came across another cave in. He wasn't sure, but since the air was just as thick with dust motes, he suspected he was on the other side of the cave in. The good news was he hadn't seen any sign of his team, but the bad news was that he hadn't seen any sign of an exit.

"Carter." He let go of his radio's button and listened intently. Nothing.

"Teal'c." Silence.

"Daniel." Still nothing.

"Shit."

There was static, so the radio was operational. Whether or not it was being blocked by the rocks or something within the rocks was another matter. He sighed, turned around, and began retracing his steps, this time trying to pay particular attention to the walls for signs of an exit he might have missed.

Suddenly Jack's vision dimmed and the room tilted sickeningly. He fell against the wall, breathing heavily as his ears rang with a high pitched sound. He rubbed his face as the feeling of disorientation disappeared as quickly as it came.

"O'Neill."

Jack turned so fast he nearly tripped over his feet. Teal'c was standing but five feet away, his flashlight focused on Jack's chest.

"Where the hell did you come from?" Jack demanded. The pile of rocks was behind Teal'c - there was no way he could have come from that direction, and vertigo or not, Teal'c certainly hadn't passed beside Jack to get there.

"I would ask the same of you. You were not here a moment ago."

"I've been here for a couple of minutes. I got a little dizzy... do you think the air's going bad in here?"

Teal'c approached him, aiming his light down the corridor. "I felt a surge of power; my symbiote became strangely quiet for moment. It may have been the cause of your vertigo."

"Surge of power? Like, what? An electric current? Oh shit, not those nintendo things that passed through us where Nicholas Ballard met those giant aliens." Jack glanced around in case he managed to spot one of the microscopic whatever it was that had made them sick that time.

"Are you feeling ill?"

"Nah, I'm fine now. Other than the air being stale and being royally irritated that I can't seem to find a way outta here."

"I was unaffected. I am unable to find words to describe the power surge. Suffice it to say I have never experienced such a feeling before."

"Yeah, well, that may be the least of our problems. There doesn't seem to be any sign out of here, except up there." Jack pointed the beam of his flashlight towards the ruined and blocked ceiling.

"DanielJackson had stated more than once that the tunnels were interlinked throughout this complex. Perhaps the entrances to the other tunnels are disguised."

"Yeah, I was just going to check that out when you showed up," Jack admitted. He began walking down the corridor. "You take right, I'll take left." This time Jack began examining the walls more carefully, looking for any kind of indication there might be a hidden panel of some kind.

"Radio's aren't working," Jack added as he keyed the mic to prove his point. "Carter, Daniel, can you hear me?"

He stopped short when he heard his voice coming from Teal'c's vest. "Or maybe I was wrong." He squinted at his teammate, who had looked down at his radio, then back to Jack. "Why didn't you answer my hails earlier? You had to have heard me."

"I did not. And neither did you answer my own calls."

"Weird." Jack started walking again, then stopped suddenly once more when a faint voice came through the radio.

"Colonel?"

"Carter!" Jack turned and looked behind him towards where he'd first seen Teal'c. "Where are you?"

There was a long pause, and her voice drifted over the airwaves once more, fading in and out. "I don't... dark... fell into... cave."

"I know. We're all underground." He began walking first in one direction, then the other, trying to get a clearer signal. "Carter, is Daniel with you? Can you describe where you are?"

When she didn't reply after several long moments, he yelled into the radio. "Carter, where are you?"

"Sir?"

It dawned on Jack that there was more than a bad reception here. Carter's voice was weak, her voice a little slurred.

He softened his tone a little. "Are you injured?"

"Leg." There was a long pause, and she added, "Head."

"How bad?" Jack turned back towards the cave in. She had to be somewhere behind the rocks, there could be no other place, they had all been too close together for them to have become separated.

"Leg's broken. Head... maybe concussion."

"Carter, listen to me. Is Daniel with you?"

"Daniel?"

"He was right beside you when the explosion hit. Is he anywhere nearby?"

"... Don't see..."

"Can you describe where you are?"

"Cave in... boulders... see far... dark." Her voice began to fade and Jack suspected it wasn't the connection.

"Hang on. Teal'c and I are going to find you." He began striding down the corridor. If she wasn't on this side of the rock fall, she had to be on the other side.

- - - - - -

Daniel jerked with the feeling that the room had shifted for a split second and he'd tilted to the side. He was left with a feeling of nausea and dizziness, his ears ringing slightly until they adjusted to some internal pressure.

He was lying on his back, the position being more than uncomfortably tight and painful, but the band of fire that had prevented him from moving earlier had finally begun to ease a little. He was clasping his vest and flashlight like a lifeline in one hand. He raised his other hand to rub at his face, when he realized he was still clutching the empty syringe. He dropped it, noting the red mark it had imprinted on his palm.

He shifted his legs, trying to see if he could move freely enough to eventually stand. Very slowly, stopping when muscles threatened to cramp and spasm, Daniel made it into a half sitting, half kneeling position.

"Okay, almost there," he told himself, breathing in small, jerky gasps. He wondered if the effects of the morphine had fully kicked in, or if there was more relief yet to be attained. He had no idea how much time had elapsed, he'd been lying there for what felt like forever until the pain had receded enough to allow him to begin to think straight.

He knew his back was injured; how badly was another story. His ribs on his right side were bruised, possibly fractured, but for the moment he was breathing easily enough.

Or so he thought when he tried to reach forward with his right arm to pick up his vest from the ground, not remembering having dropped it. Ignoring the sharp pain radiating down his side and back, Daniel threaded it through one arm and then realized there was no way he was going to be able to maneuver his other arm around to get the vest to sit properly on his back.

Allowing it to hang, he picked up his flashlight and clipped it onto the vest's edge. He was afraid that if he dropped the light, he'd never be able to bend down and pick it up again.

He moved forward onto his hands and knees, ignoring the threatening pain, gasping when spasms forced him to freeze and wait them out.

He raised one leg and pushed with his other, and using the rocks and walls for leverage, he nearly got himself standing when the pain erupted across his lower back and up his side.

"Oh God, oh God," he panted as he waited for the spasm to recede. He couldn't move, neither up nor down, and if he stayed like this any longer he knew his legs would give out and he'd end up falling.

He clutched helplessly at the earth-dusted boulder, squeezing it as tightly as he could as he tried to breathe through the agony. He shifted minutely, praying that some change in position might relieve the pain.

Finally his back spasm released a little and with his jaw clenched tightly, he managed to get all the way up. He couldn't seem to straighten his right side and his right leg felt strangely weak. He leaned heavily against the wall, waiting to catch his breath and hoping the pain would recede a little more.

After several minutes, when there was no sign of it easing more than it already had, Daniel began to look around. He was afraid of what he might find beneath the pile of rocks. He took the light in one hand, careful not to dislodge it from his vest, and aimed it before him. Still breathing heavily and sweating profusely, he found he was trembling so badly that the light bounced from rock to rock, unable to settle on any one boulder.

He finally got his other hand around the flashlight and managed to search the area carefully. Everything seemed surreal, and he expected to see blood trickling from beneath the pile of boulders. He shoved that memory back into the recesses of his mind; there were huge differences here. His parents had been killed in an open, sunny room. The close walls of the dark tunnel were nothing similar to what that experience had been like.

There was no sign of anyone caught under the rockslide, although he kept pushing aside the nagging voice that said anyone could be crushed beneath, just inches away and out of sight. He pointed the beam at the rocky floor once again, then blew out a small sigh of relief when there was still no blood apparent.

He tried the radio once more, hating how tight and breathless his voice sounded. He waited, his ears buzzing uncomfortably, listening intently for an answer from someone from his team.

"Come on," he muttered, hating to admit he was scared to death. His fear was twofold; that one or more of his friends were hurt or worse, and that he had injured himself so badly that he might need help getting out of the complex. That he might be seriously hurt he tried not to think of. He knew even minor back injuries could prove to be extremely painful, and he could move his body and feel pain... God, could he ever feel pain. He ignored the weakness in his right leg and decided it was time to move on.

There was nothing to be done here - there was no way he could dig himself out. He needed to find another exit, so he carefully turned around. Unsteady, he took a shambling step forward, keeping one hand on the wall for support.

He'd taken several dozen slow, painful steps when his fuzzy brain realized something had been missing during his search. He stopped, turned around, and aimed his light back towards the cave in. There was no sign of his backpack or the items he had dumped in his search for the morphine.

- - - - - -

Jack stumbled and fell hard against the wall when another dizzy spell hit him. He'd felt Teal'c's hand on his arm a moment earlier, helping ground him. He straightened and rubbed his shoulder.

"Junior still not liking these surges, huh?"

Teal'c merely raised a brow at Jack. Every time the disorienting pulses had occurred, Teal'c had closed in on Jack split seconds before they hit.

Still rubbing his aching shoulder, Jack pushed himself off the wall. He'd actually taken a step when he realized he'd seen something.

He went back and peered intently at the markings. It was a very garishly painted circle, bright red where it was etched into the stone, about the size of his hand with a bright yellow star in the center. He looked down the hallway and more paint flashed in the flashlight's beam farther along. How could he have missed this?

"Tell me I'm seeing things." He traced his finger lightly over the depression, feeling the rough stone on his skin.

"I see them also."

"They weren't there before."

"Indeed, they were not."

"You think the power surges have something to do with this?" He put a finger to the marking and it moved. Dust trickled down the wall as the edges of a doorway began to appear in the wall.

"Perhaps the surges removed an invisibility screen?"

"Perhaps." Jack shone his light into the opening and saw another tunnel, clearly leading down, deeper into the mountain. "Or maybe it's moving us around, like a transporter."

He took a step towards the newly discovered tunnel, when from behind him he heard the sounds of retching.

"Carter? Daniel?" His voice echoed down the previously empty corridor. Teal'c was already rushing forward before the sound of his voice faded. Ignoring the partly open door, Jack ran after him.

And came to a stop just before the cave in.

There was Carter, lying against the wall.

As Jack hurried to her, something else caught his eye. Not too far from her, on the other side of the rock pile, was something half buried beneath. He stopped and flashed his light over it. His heart dove into his mouth as he realized what it could be.

He took a few steps sideways and glanced at Carter's back while Teal'c began to assess her condition. Her backpack was in place, which meant that Daniel's...

Oh God! His hands shaking, he knelt beside the crushed pack. The force of the rock had caused some of the contents to scatter where the edge had torn open, and the other half was...

He checked for blood, but there was none... Frantically he passed his hands over the rocks, trying to determine if they could dig his friend out, but from the size and sheer number of the boulders lying on top of the pack, he knew it was hopeless.

Resolutely, he swallowed his grief and turned to his injured team member. He shook his head when Teal'c raised an eyebrow in question. Jack saw him glance towards the crushed pack and he suddenly became very still. Then, like Jack, Teal'c turned his attention to Carter.

It didn't take them long to assess her condition; as she'd told them, she had a broken leg and had suffered a blow to the head. She didn't move as they immobilized her leg, for which Jack was extremely grateful. By the time they'd taken the emergency blanket out of her pack and spread it over her, she began to stir.

"Sir?" She frowned as she looked at him with half-opened eyes. Jack put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently.

"Yeah, it's me."

"What happened?" She tried to move but cried out in pain as she shifted her leg.

"Easy, easy." He adjusted the blanket around her legs once again. "There was a cave in. Looks like you had a bit of a rough landing."

"...Think I landed on my head."

"Yeah, I think you did. Lucky for you." He smiled down at her.

Her eyes drifted shut, and she frowned once again at him and Teal'c. "Where's Daniel?"

Jack turned to look away, finding himself staring at the dark shadow that was left of Daniel's pack. Suddenly he found he couldn't talk, his throat tight and thick with emotion. He felt both guilty and thankful when Teal'c answered her question.

"DanielJackson did not survive the collapse of the tunnel's ceiling."

Carter didn't respond at first, but Jack heard her breathing begin to speed up. She clutched at his arm, desperation giving her sudden strength.

"Sir? Is it true?"

Jack turned to look at her and there must have been something in his face because she broke off. Her eyes shone in the dim light and Jack watched, transfixed, as a tear pooled and ran down her cheek. She reached out and wiped it away. He'd let her do the grieving for them all; right now his duty was to get all the living the hell out of here and back to the surface.

"Look, Carter, we need to find a way out of here. The tunnel just leads around in a circle, but Teal'c and I found a few more options. Do you think you'll be okay for a little while by yourself while we explore? I sure as hell don't want to start dragging you around for nothing."

"Yes, sir. I'll be fine." She sniffed, turning her head away from him. Jack felt like a heel, not wanting to leave her alone, but he really had no choice. He and Teal'c would probably make better time if they split up.

He stood, made sure Carter had everything she needed, and began walking back to the newly discovered tunnels.

- - - - - -

Daniel carefully leaned his shoulder against the wall, trying to take some of his weight off his feet, and looked dejectedly at the jumble of fallen rocks before him. Still reeling from the last dizzy spell, he waited until he felt rested enough to move on.

He'd known by the slight curving of the tunnel walls that he had been moving in a circular direction, but he truly hadn't expected it to go full circle. He had no choice now but to explore one of the several doorways he'd seen. A cursory examination of the first two showed they descended deeper underground. Daniel had decided not to go that route since he needed to go up instead. Maybe one of the other tunnels led to the surface. He hadn't had the energy to go exploring and, at that point, had simply walked the simplest route and merely noted their existence.

He leaned his temple against the cool rock, wishing he could take the chance of lowering himself down to the ground and simply lying there for a few minutes. But he was afraid that if he got down, he'd never make it back up.

With a grimace, he straightened as well as he could and began walking in the direction he'd come from. He needed to move while he still was able to; he knew as soon as the morphine wore off, that would become an impossibility. With one hand on the wall, he began a shuffling walk, hoping he wouldn't be overcome again with dizziness that seemed to hit with regularity, and without warning.

He kept his eye on the wall, searching for the barely discernible pattern he'd spotted earlier. So it was a surprise when he came to the next geometric shapes and found they glowed iridescently, almost like a hologram.

He raised a hand to press the pattern, not surprised at the tightening of muscles in his back and side at the movement. The door shuddered and moved open an inch, then stopped. Daniel pushed ineffectively against the stone panel, gritting his teeth against the flare of agony the movement set off.

Still, the door wouldn't budge and there was no way he was going to try and force it open. Not in his condition.

Gasping both in pain and effort, he hobbled off, looking for the next door. It was farther away than he remembered and he wondered if he'd missed one in between, or whether it was his own sense of time and distance that had become distorted.

The symbols here were also sparkling softly in the beam of his flashlight. He stepped to the other side of the door and tried looking at it from that angle, thinking maybe the change in appearance was due to his coming from a different direction. But the image didn't fade or change; the colors continued to shimmer, different from the plain, gouged rock surfaces he'd passed earlier.

He pushed the door open, this one sliding easily with only a slight pattering of debris. Daniel shone his light down the dark abyss, noting the corridor appeared to be straight and didn't descend, unlike the first ones he'd looked at. The walls were plain and unadorned, with no signs of other tunnels, stairs or doors as far as his flashlight could illuminate.

He figured this was as good as any to begin with. He began down the depths of the corridor but only after taking a few steps, realized he should have marked his route.

He rued the lack of his pack and the package of chalk he always carried within. He looked at his feet and took note of several rocks. They might work... except he needed to get down, and his back...

He knew if the tunnels were any sort of labyrinth, he'd need to mark his passage. Especially if he began hitting dead ends or doors that wouldn't open; if he were to start backtracking, he needed to make sure he wasn't duplicating his steps. He definitely needed some kind of marker, but if he attempted to get down and pick up those rocks and they wouldn't work...

He kicked at several pieces of rocks, moving them together. He then pushed down on one with his foot and dragged it a few inches. It made a white mark.

So trying to keep his back as straight as possible, he began slowly lowering himself down to the ground.

Thigh muscles burning, he bent one knee forward, intending to lower his other knee to the ground, when his back erupted in agony. He froze, unable to move, the sudden onset of pain taking him by surprise. He scrabbled for a handhold, something, anything, to help pull him back up, but wasn't able to find any on the smooth rock face.

His right leg, which had been far weaker than his left, finally gave out and Daniel fell to his knees with mind-numbing pain. He dropped sideways against the wall, later thankful that he had been that close to it and it had prevented him from toppling completely over.

He didn't know how long he half sat on his knees, knowing nothing but pain and gasping breaths, but finally the red mist before his eyes cleared and he recalled why he was in this position in the first place.

He'd dropped the flashlight, thankfully it was still attached to his vest and was simply hanging there, illuminating the wall beside him.

Trying to move as little as possible, Daniel groped the ground and picked up the first stone his fingers encountered. He scratched the wall with it, gratified to see a nice, white mark.

"This'll do," he muttered, and put it into his pants pocket, within easy reach. That had been easy; now if only standing up could be just as simple.

Not eager to experience the pain again, Daniel closed his eyes for a brief moment, trying to take advantage of the unexpected rest. But the position was uncomfortable and was pulling on his side.

"Damn it," Daniel swore as he slowly moved his legs into position to stand. Maybe if he used only his leg muscles and... but despite his caution, pain flared again and Daniel found himself screaming as he fell forward against the wall. He was in a half crouch and he forced himself up, bit by bit. His fingernails dug into the wall as he tried to claw his way up.

He heard the sound of his scream echoing down the corridor, bouncing eerily off the walls as sweat dripped down his back and under his armpits. He dry heaved a couple of times, then moaned softly at the tightening of muscles across his chest and shoulders.

The stone was cool beneath his skin and he pressed his damp cheek against it, trying to slow his breathing as the pain slowly began to ebb.

"Piece of cake," he muttered to himself several minutes later as he removed the rock from his pocket. He realized then that he should have picked up more than one. Should he drop this one...

His fingers suddenly felt damp and clumsy. Daniel cupped his hands protectively over the stone, afraid that he'd not be able to hold onto it. He shuffled over to the original tunnel and made a mark with an arrow pointing at the door and scribbled his initials underneath. Then inside the second tunnel, he drew an arrow pointing in the direction he was headed in. He had only taken two steps forward when he heard a faint sound over his radio.

"Sam!" He grabbed his radio and yelled into it. "Sam! Sam, can you hear me?"

He waited impatiently, listening carefully. When no other sounds came, he continued moving on, feeling dejected and strangely, abandoned.

This had been the second time he'd heard Sam's voice on the radio. She hadn't answered the first time, either. And the voice had broken up - he hadn't been able to make out what she was saying, except to note that it had been her.

But then again, maybe it hadn't been, maybe it was just static that sounded like her. Maybe it was just the drug, making him imagine he was hearing voices.

He continued walking, wondering how long it had been since he'd taken the morphine. He looked at his watch out of habit but although it read a little past six, he couldn't manage to make his brain work well enough to accurately recreate the past hours.

- - - - - -

"This one also leads deeper into the mountain."

Jack lowered his hand from his radio and swore for the twentieth time. Every single side tunnel he and Teal'c had encountered headed deeper underground. Nothing so far even hinted that it led towards a way up and out. It was weird, considering the size of the ruins; you'd think there would be doorways to the surface somewhere.

"As does this one, O'Neill. I believe I am nearing the end of�" Teal'c's voice broke off as a dizzy spell hit Jack and he careened into the wall. He quickly pushed his back against the stone and laid his head back, waiting it out.

Eyes still closed, he keyed his mic. "Junior getting complacent about these surges? A little warning would have been nice."

He straightened and wiped a hand across his mouth before removing his cap and wiping his forehead with the back of his hand.

A little unnerved at the silence from Teal'c's end, he spoke into the radio again. "Teal'c? Hey buddy, you there? Don't tell me you decided to go exploring downstairs, now?"

When the silence continued, Jack swore once more. He turned around and began hurrying back the way he'd come. He ran into the circular tunnel, taking a second to aim his light towards where Carter lay several dozen feet away, just to ascertain she was fine before hurrying down to the next doorway, where Teal'c had gone exploring.

What he saw brought him to a halt.

Carter wasn't there. There was no sign that she had ever been there. Moving forward, his heart pounding, Jack stopped when something flashed in the beam of his light.

He bent down and picked up the object before aiming his light towards where the last of Daniel's belongings had been crushed.

The pack, also, was no longer there. As a matter of fact, the cave in looked just like the first time he'd seen it. Empty of any signs anyone had been here.

Except for the empty syringe that he held in his hand.

- - - - - -

Daniel coughed, bile still burning the back of his throat. He spat the taste from his mouth, silently cursing the last bout of vertigo. Trying to ignore the increasingly worsening band of pain spreading across his back and chest, he sidestepped the wet spot on the ground with difficulty and raised his head to look at the closed door before him.

And blinked in surprise.

No longer shining softly, the symbols he'd been examining now had raised edges and were sloppily painted a deep, bright, vibrant green and yellow, as if a child's hand had hefted the paintbrush. But he had seen them just seconds earlier, the same symbols, just a different, softer shade, and gouged in the stone rather than raised.

He touched the raised symbol before pressing down on it. The door began to open and he'd forgotten that it would open inwards. He found himself shambling quickly backwards, nearly tripping in his attempt to get out of the way.

Panting, he moved forward with difficulty when the door stopped moving. Even walking now was almost impossible. He knew he didn't have long, the morphine was wearing off quickly.

The corridor he'd followed ended, and he stepped into the new one. He flashed his light up and down the tunnel, and realized he was in the circular one again when his light illuminated a mass of rocks to his left.

He must have gone across, from one end to the other in a straight line through the mountain. He sighed, realizing now he had no choice but to descend deeper underground and keep moving while he still could, when he heard a soft moan.

He turned quickly, the movement eliciting a gasp of pain, which he ignored as his light revealed familiar blond hair.

"Oh God! Sam!"

He rushed towards her in small, hobbling steps, bent over like an old man. He saw immediately that her leg had been splinted, and there was dried blood beside a painful looking bruise on her temple.

"Sam? Are you okay?"

She moaned again, then turned her head towards him. Her eyes opened; a small sliver of blue barely apparent in the dim light.

"Daniel?"

"Yeah, Sam, it's me." He smiled weakly through his pain.

"No, I'm dreaming." She closed her eyes, her face tight with pain. Her eyelids were swollen, as if she'd been crying. Damn, she must be hurting badly.

"Sam, no, I'm really here." He shuffled nearer, wishing he could get down closer to her and make sure she was okay. To see if he could do something for her. "Oh God, I thought you were dead."

She laughed at his words, then moaned. "Yeah, right. If I'm seeing you, that must mean I'm dead, too. But I hurt too much to be dead, so I must be alive." She clutched a hand to her thigh. "Broken legs don't hurt when you're dead."

"What are you talking about? You're in pain... is there something I can do for you?"

Then he laughed. What could he do to help Sam when he could barely help himself? He'd noted she was using her backpack as a pillow, and from the blow to her head he was pretty sure Sam had a concussion and shouldn't be given any strong painkillers. But a couple of Tylenol weren't out of the question, although she needed something stronger, like morphine, for her leg.

But in order for him to give something to her, that meant he'd have to get down there, and right now, that was physically impossible unless he fell down... then he realized... she had a pack. Which meant, she had to have some morphine.

Then what she'd just said hit him like a blow to the stomach. "Wait, what do you mean, you're dead, too. Who else? Sam, who else is dead?"

"You are, Daniel. You're dead. And you're haunting me." Her words slurred, and her eyes began to drift shut.

"No. No, I'm not dead. Sam, I'm not dead. Listen to me. Are Jack and Teal'c here? Have you seen them?"

"No, you're going to haunt them, too. Go away. Let me sleep."

Another wave of nausea swept over him before he could answer. He lost his precarious balance and he toppled sideways.

He became aware again after an eternity. He hadn't passed out; that would have been too much of a blessing. He'd simply lain there, partly on his side with his arm flung over Sam's thighs. It was a miracle he hadn't fallen on her broken leg - that, he would never have forgiven himself.

When he thought he could move after yet another eternity, he carefully reached for her pack, but came short. Sam appeared unconscious, and he inched forward, the pain constant and almost unbearable, until he could shove his hand inside the pack. The first aid kit was near the opening and he removed it very, very carefully.

He opened it with shaking hands. There, right in the center of the small box, lay three pristine syringes, all with the pain-numbing drug. He took one out, trembling so badly that the tip caught on his pants before he was able to jab it into his muscle, aware of a small keening sound close by.

It was only later did he realize it was him making those sounds.

It took forever for the morphine to finally begin to dull the agony. He lay there beside Sam, his thoughts wandering all over the place, both the drug and the pain making it difficult to concentrate.

Sam had said she was afraid he'd haunt Jack and Teal'c. Which meant she had to have seen them, right? Had they patched up her leg? Made her comfortable? Where were they now? And why hadn't they heard him calling on the radio?

Why had the pictures on the doors changed in front of his eyes? Where had Sam come from? He was sure this was the same place he'd fallen through, even though his pack was now no longer there.

Or was it? Reality was doing weird things to him.

He opened his eyes and looked at the spot where he'd first become aware, half a lifetime ago, and there, half crushed beneath the rocks, was his pack. He shut his eyes and tried to think harder. *It* had definitely not been there when he'd found Sam. But she was here, her body warm and comforting next to him. So... what was the connection?

He thought the dizzy spells might be the key - he'd had one just before seeing that the symbols on the door had changed. But if people and things were shifting, altering, why were he and Sam still both here after the last one?

He shivered. All this reminded him too much of the time he'd been out of phase when they'd discovered the crystal skull.

Out. Of. Phase. Could that be it? Could something be causing them to switch in and out of reality?

A dizzy spell overcame Daniel and he heard Sam moan softly. He continued to lie there after the effects faded, enjoying the increasing freedom from pain. If he didn't move, he was almost comfortable. He sighed sleepily, then realized he couldn't go to sleep. He needed to get Sam out of here - if he were wrong and his teammates weren't down here...

He turned to look at his pack, and noted it was gone again. Then an idea hit him.

- - - - - -

"God damn it!" Jack would have kicked the wall if he knew he could do it without hurting himself. Thinking he'd gotten turned around and had gone the wrong way, he'd circled around to the other side of the cave in. But there was still no sign of Carter.

So, what next? Look for Teal'c and hope Jack just *bumped* into him. Again? He hated what was happening, and hated more the fact that he had no idea what was going on.

So, okay. Teal'c had said he'd nearly reached the end of the corridor he'd been exploring, and so had Jack. So maybe the next thing Jack should do was retrace his steps and finish exploring what he'd started. He turned around to go back to the other side when something on the wall caught his eye.

An arrow, with scribbles beside it, beside an open door. A door which Jack knew he hadn't opened.

He tried to read the scribbles, but they were illegible. At a guess, he'd have said they were Daniel's initials, but he knew that wasn't possible.

Marking his way might be a good idea - if nothing else, it would save him the trouble of running around in circles. He returned to the cave in and after finding a rock that would leave a mark, scribbled on the wall that this was his starting point. Then he put his initials beneath the arrow, and entered.

Several feet inside, Jack noted a dozen small pieces of rocks had been displaced, with scuff marks in the dust around them. Someone, and very recently, had rounded those rocks. Possibly whoever it was had made the marks outside the door?

Teal'c, maybe? Or some stranger? Maybe the villagers were looking for them.

Jack began to hurry down the tunnel, barely glancing at the open tunnels, all leading deeper underground.

- - - - - -

Daniel placed a sheet of paper with the number eleven written on it to the left of where the sheet of paper with the number ten had just disappeared. Each time a dizzy spell hit, a sheet of paper vanished, proving his theory, at least to a certain extent.

He and Sam were somehow shifting around - but whether it was to different realities, to alternate phases, to different times - was yet to be determined. His backpack had showed up during shift number three, and had disappeared during shift number four, encouraging him immensely that his theory was right. What Daniel was trying to determine, now, was how many variations they were actually going through.

The spells hit at varying times. Sometimes after five minutes, sometimes ten, fifteen, thirty. There was no pattern that he could yet figure out.

He tried to relax; as long as he didn't move, the pain was bearable. He turned his flashlight off and, raising his hand to his radio, began calling Teal'c and Jack. They were possibly shifting along with him, and maybe, just maybe, if he got lucky and they were within radio range...

He waited, eyes drifting shut despite his attempts at keeping them open while he listened to the static. Sam's body was warm against his side, her fingers intertwined with his, her breathing deep and regular. She'd finally let Daniel talk her into taking some stronger pain killers and at least was now getting some much-needed pain-free sleep.

They had theorized from the start that anything they touched shifted along with them, so if they weren't in physical contact with one another when these shifts hit, they would both be sent into different realities. Two sheets side by side, touching at the edges, had proven that theory.

Because the shifts seemed to be occurring randomly: during shift number six, sheets two and four had popped up. Daniel had at first speculated that sheet number one would appear when they'd cycled through all the possibilities, but these shift combinations had just thrown that particular theory out the window.

He jerked awake as a rush of nausea hit him. He opened his eyes and flicked on the flashlight. Sheet number eleven was gone, but sheet numbers one, three and eight had appeared. He sighed. This was getting him nowhere.

He needed to try and find out what was causing this, find Jack and Teal'c, and get Sam out of here and back home, where she, not to mention himself could get medical treatment. Steeling himself, Daniel let go of Sam's hand, preparing to try and stand up. He groaned softly as his back cramped as he tried to turn onto his side. He got one arm beneath him and pushed himself into a seated position.

"Where are you going?" Sam looked at him with sleepy eyes.

"I need to get us some help." His voice was tight and clipped, his jaw barely opening as he tried to wait out the pain.

"Colonel O'Neill will�"

"He doesn't know what's happening, Sam."

"But he�"

"I need to try and stop this. What if it's affecting everything on the planet's surface as well as inside the tunnels? Is the cave-in the cause of this? Or the contamination up top? Because SG-5 never reported any kind of anomalies when they went into the tunnels two years ago."

Daniel reached for a nearby boulder and pressing his weight onto it, began to lever himself onto his feet.

The fire in his back spread quickly up and down his right leg, the pain worsening, feeling like someone was cutting him alive. Aware of Sam's gaze, he bit the inside of his cheek to prevent himself from screaming, and with a desperate heave, got himself upright.

He couldn't do anything but hang onto the rocks and wait for the agony to fade to a mere, burning pain.

"Daniel?"

"I'm fine." He forced the words out, and he didn't *sound* fine to himself.

"You shouldn't be trying to move around." Sam's voice was starting to slur and Daniel could see she was losing her battle. The drug, added with the effects of her concussion, was pulling her back under.

"If you see Jack or Teal'c, tell them to stay put, right here, and wait it out."

Sam's eyes closed and Daniel yelled her name. She opened her eyes to look at him.

"I'm going to take the first tunnel that goes deeper underground. If I can't find anything, I'll come back here. Sam, remember, I'll be here, waiting for the shifts to cycle until I find you again. Don't let Jack or Teal'c move you, okay?"

Sam nodded. "I'll stay right here." She raised a hand and rubbed at her eyes like a sleepy child.

"Don't go anywhere."

"I won't," she promised, then sighed, her eyes fluttering closed.

- - - - - -

"Carter!"

Jack hurried to her side, relieved to have found her again. As he waved his light over her, he noted she didn't appear the worse for wear. He placed a hand to her forehead. Good, her temperature appeared normal.

She opened her eyes and looked at Jack. He smiled at her and then frowned when she appeared confused.

"Carter? You know who I am?"

"Um... yeah." She licked her lips, and then turned her gaze behind Jack, as if she were searching for someone. "You're Colonel O'Neill."

"Good. I was a little�"

"Where's Daniel? Damn, I think you just missed him."

Jack winced. Don't tell him he was going to have to go through all of this a second time. Speaking gently, Jack tried to break the news to her once more.

"Carter, Daniel's gone. We were caught in a cave in and�"

"No, you're mistaken. He was here up until a couple of minutes ago. I couldn't have slept for that long. He's hurt, sir. He needs help." She tried to get her arms beneath her, struggling up onto her elbows.

Jack quickly laid a hand on her shoulder, trying to push her back down. "You were dreaming."

"No, no!" She struggled against him, and Jack had no choice but to grab her arms and forcibly lay her back down.

"For crying out loud, Carter, take it easy." He knew people with concussions could be easily confused, so he figured maybe his best bet was to humor her. "Okay, you said I just missed Daniel. Where did he say he was going?"

She immediately calmed down and grabbed his arm. "He was going to look for the cause of the shifts. He said he'd be going deeper into the mountain, but if couldn't find anything, he'd come right back here."

"Shifts?"

"Whatever's causing us to shift from one plane of existence to another. You must have noticed something odd was happening?"

"Yeah, the power surges Teal'c mentioned."

Carter let go of his arms and let them fall by her side. "And Teal'c is...?"

"Shifted?"

She smiled at Jack and he noticed that the lines of pain seemed to have faded from her face. "Carter, you feeling okay?"

"I'm fine. Daniel gave me something and it's helping."

"Speaking of Daniel, Carter. You remember me mentioning his backpack earlier...?"

"It's crushed beneath the rocks. I know. But Daniel's not under there." She swept her hand towards the large pile. "He figured out that we're undergoing some kind of phasic shifts. Look, see the paper?"

Jack reached for the sheet of paper and glanced at the number seven written on it. Then he looked again. That was definitely Daniel's print.

"Daniel wrote this?" he said, interrupting Carter's explanation. Disappearing numbers, shifting combinations... all he knew at the moment was that Daniel was definitely alive. Then he remembered something else she'd mentioned earlier. "You said he was hurt. How bad?"

"His back." Carter pointed to her right side. "He wouldn't tell me exactly what was wrong, but he needed morphine." She lowered her voice. "He's in pretty bad shape, sir."

Jack dropped the paper and stood. "I'll go look for him."

"No! He said to stay here. He was going to come back here if he didn't find anything."

"Carter..." Jack sighed. He had two missing team members out there, and if he understood his 2IC correctly, they were all shifting in a way that hid them from sight of one another. "What if he's too badly hurt and can't make it back."

She bit her lip, turning her face away from Jack a moment. "Take some morphine... just in case you find him. Leave the other syringe with me, in case he makes it back."

Jack reached for the first aid kit, removing one of two remaining needles. He placed the other within Carter's easy reach. "Is there anything you need?"

She shook her head, turning to look back at him. "Just... you need to be touching someone when the shift happens, sir. Otherwise, you both transfer to another..."

"Dimension?" Which explained why he and Teal'c had been able to remain together for so long. Teal'c had always had that warning just before it happened and would place a hand on Jack's shoulder.

"Phasic variance. If you find Daniel... or Teal'c..."

"I won't let go of them. Got it."

- - - - - -

Breathing heavily, Daniel limped out of the tunnel and into the vast, dark expanse. The weak beam of his flashlight barely illuminated a small area around him. From the sound of his footsteps, he could tell the place was enormous.

Along the wall were openings leading back into the mountain every few feet, each with a different symbol painted on the ground before each tunnel. The one he'd just exited had geometrical shapes; others had simple sceneries, others, he theorized, were words, letters, numbers.

Daniel started following the wall, hoping he'd recognize one of the symbols as a representation of a way out. But after several minutes, he realized it was hopeless. He had no idea what he was looking for. He supposed going into any of these tunnels would eventually lead to a way out, but he was in no shape to even begin to start exploring.

Then he realized something else. He couldn't see quite as well as he had a few minutes ago. He turned the light towards him and realized the beam was definitely weaker.

Batteries. His batteries must be dying. But he had spares. Of course he had spares. He patted his pockets down, and then stopped when he remembered where he'd put them.

In his backpack.

Which was up there, somewhere.

He glanced around the quickly darkening space, suddenly afraid of being caught down here in the dark. He turned, quickly heading the way he'd come from. He aimed his light before him, wishing he could remember how many of these corridors he'd passed before he'd�

There was a bright flash behind him and suddenly Daniel lost his equilibrium and fell against the wall. It took all of his strength to remain upright while his back tightened in a painful, burning knot. The nausea and dizziness was worse this time around and he dazedly wondered if he'd just found the source of their shifts.

Then his flashlight dimmed a little more and Daniel knew he had to move, whether his back was ready for him to or not.

One small step, then another. He supported himself by brushing against the wall in between the tunnels, then walking slowly past each gaping hole, afraid he'd lose what small stability he had before he reached the next portion of stone wall. He gasped with each step; nearly dragging his right leg forward. Had he done something to his back when he'd lost his balance? Or was it simply the morphine starting to leave his system? Again, he had no sense of time. Had no idea how long he'd lain idyllically beside Sam, playing with vanishing sheets of paper.

Then the nearly extinguished beam caught the familiar symbols, and Daniel turned into the tunnel. But as he put his hand against the wall to begin the climb back up towards Sam, his right leg gave out. He fell, this time the pain so overwhelming that he welcomed the approaching oblivion.

- - - - - -

"So, what the hell are you?"

Jack stared at the small lamp-like object that sat on a small pedestal in the chamber's center. It's *shade* appeared to be slightly askew, and it wasn't giving off any heat or light � except for when it pulsed in those phase-shifting surges. He'd seen it glow fiercely, the light blindingly bright in the darkness of the huge underground chamber. It had taken him to his knees, dizzy and nauseous.

He recovered from the effects after several long seconds. Jack assumed it was worse due to his proximity to the thing � although what it was and how to stop it was beyond him. There was writing on the pedestal; just his luck that it wasn't written in English.

Well, at least he knew what the thing looked like and where it was. Maybe Carter could figure it out. He turned to go back, when the damn thing pulsed, right in his face.

"O'Neill."

Jack blinked and looked up, not remembering falling onto his butt. Teal'c put a hand out and Jack gratefully accepted it when the room stopped spinning.

"Glad to have caught up with you, Teal'c." Jack began brushing the dirt away from his pants and then eased off when muscles and skin protested the action.

"As am I. When I was unable to find you and MajorCarter, I decided to explore further, and discovered this. I have observed and experienced several surges, but am unable to determine how to turn it off."

"You didn't touch it, did you?"

Teal'c didn't answer, but simply raised an eyebrow.

"Right. Sorry, obviously I asked the wrong person."

"Indeed."

There was an awkward silence and Jack pushed back thoughts of Daniel. It hurt too much to think of him right now.

"Perhaps MajorCarter would understand the workings of this device."

"My thoughts exactly. I told her I'd get back to her and�"

Jack broke off when a weak call came through his radio.

"That sounded like DanielJackson."

"It is. Carter said she saw him." He thumbed the radio. "Daniel! It's Jack. Where are you?"

They listened intently, waiting for an answer.

"Jack?" His voice was unmistakable, although it was weak and full of pain.

"Daniel, where are you?"

"Tunnel."

"Which one? Where?"

"Chamber... tunnels."

"A large chamber with lots of tunnels?" Jack looked at Teal'c. Would they have time to search the place before they shifted again?

"... Yeah."

"Stay put. We're coming for you." Jack began running the way he'd come, turning right once he reached the wall. They could go around the chamber at least once if they hurried and if they didn't shift.

"I will go in this direction."

"No!" Jack didn't stop running, but he did slow down as he yelled back. "We have to stay together. Physically, otherwise we'll shift again. Stay with me, Teal'c."

The Jaffa hurried and caught up with Jack and they both jogged their way around, Jack holding on tightly to Teal'c's arm. He quickly explained what Carter had told him. After they made what Jack figured to be half the circuit, turning two corners, he spotted a dark form up ahead. They put on a burst of speed, Jack breathing heavily as he dropped to his knees beside Daniel.

His friend was lying on his stomach, in obvious pain from the way he was panting. Jack leaned down, bringing his head close to peer at Daniel's face.

"Daniel, Carter told me you'd hurt your back. Can you move?" He placed a tentative hand on Daniel's shoulder, then instead reached for the hand that was curled near his radio. The fingers squeezed his in a bone-crushing grip.

"No. God, please. Morphine? Please tell me you have some."

"Yeah, I do. Hold on." Jack squeezed the fingers gently, then pulled away when Daniel let go. He silently thanked Carter for her foresight and took the small syringe out of his vest pocket, making sure his knee remained in contact with Daniel's leg. Just in case.

And just in time. The room tilted again and Jack found himself falling until Teal'c's hand stopped his sideways progress. Jack coughed, trying to force the room to stop spinning. When it wouldn't, he silently handed the syringe to Teal'c.

Jack tried breathing deeply, hating the feeling of disorientation this new level of shifting gave him. By the time he felt more himself, Teal'c had given Daniel the shot and there was nothing to do but wait until the drug took effect. He reached for Daniel's hand once again, while Teal'c grasped Daniel's shoulder.

Slowly, the tense body began to relax, the breathing eased, the fingers clutching his loosening their death grip.

"Carter told us about your theory," Jack said, trying to distract Daniel and needing to hear his friend's voice. Although Carter had shown him proof Daniel had been alive, there had been that little negative spark within him that had kept whispering in his ear Carter had dreamed everything. But here was Daniel, breathing, sometimes moaning or grunting in pain, but the important part was, he was alive!

"Still can't figure out why it's happening." Daniel turned his head towards Jack, his chin scraping on the stone floor. "And is it just me, or does it feel worse down here?"

"The effects of the power surges are indeed more powerful at this level. Perhaps it is because we believe we have found the source of the surges."

"You did?" Daniel tried to turn over onto his side towards Teal'c, but cried out in pain and fell forward again.

"Shit. Don't move."

"On my back. It's better on my back," he panted.

"Okay, okay, but give the stuff a bit more time to numb the pain. Then Teal'c and I will try and turn you over, k?"

"Okay."

Jack rubbed Daniel's shoulder and then moved onto his nape, massaging the damp skin, trying to get his friend to relax. Daniel closed his eyes and his breathing slowly evened out.

"Ten more minutes... think we can get him turned around with a minimum of pain?" Jack spoke softly, and Daniel didn't stir.

"It would be easier if we had a brace for his back."

"Yeah, I know, but we don't." Jack looked down the dark, empty corridor Daniel had obviously been trying to enter. "Do you think if we drag him up this tunnel several feet, the effects of that thing might be a little less irritating?"

"Perhaps. We may attempt to do so."

"Okay, here's the plan. We turn Daniel around, get him away from that thing. Then you go get Carter, make some kind of travois... there's plenty of timber around the cave in, and bring her here."

"I can erect two constructions, one for MajorCarter, and one for DanielJackson."

"Just so long as you can manage both."

"It will not be a problem." Teal'c looked down at Daniel's drowsing form. "As I understand it, I must return to the cave in area and simply wait until MajorCarter and I both appear in the same phase?"

"Yeah..." Daniel's voice was drowsy, but he looked up at Jack. "It might take a while... several shifts, but you'll eventually meet."

"Then I shall return here with MajorCarter and await the shift that will reunite us all."

"Sounds like a plan..." Daniel moved his head, trying to get comfortable, and Jack noted he was moving more easily, so he motioned for Teal'c to get ready.

"Daniel, we're going to try and turn you now. Look, we'll do all the work, I just want you to try and relax and let us roll you over."

"It's gonna hurt, no matter what you do." Daniel gave Jack a final squeeze and let go his fingers. "Go for it."

Jack placed his hands beneath Daniel's shoulders after removing the vest that was hanging off one of Daniel's shoulder. Teal'c moved to Daniel's waist. At Jack's nod, they began to turn him over. Jack tried to ignore Daniel's small cries and concentrated on getting him turned around in a controlled manner. By the time they finished, Daniel was shaking with pain, his face damp with sweat.

Wordlessly, Teal'c grasped Daniel's shoulders and with Jack supporting Daniel's head, they slowly dragged him away from the chamber. They continued on until the tunnel curved and the end of the tunnel was no longer in sight.

"I've got it now. Go get Carter." Teal'c nodded, stood, and moved down the corridor without a word.

"What did you find?"

"Huh?" Jack pulled his gaze from the fading glow of Teal'c's flashlight and looked down at Daniel.

"You said you'd found the source of these shifts."

"Some doodad that looked like a lamp, sitting on a pedestal. Oh, right." Jack snapped his fingers together. "There was some sort of writing on the pedestal."

"What did it say?"

"How the hell do I know? It wasn't written in English."

Daniel laughed. It sounded hollow and laced with pain. "I wish I had my video camera. You could go back and film it and show me what it said."

"No way. I've found you, and I'm not leaving your side until Teal'c and Carter get here. It's bad enough we had to leave her alone all this time."

"I shouldn't have left Sam."

"You're right. What's the first rule of rescue?"

"Huh?"

"What's the first rule to follow when you're lost, marooned, crashed, stuck in a cave-in?"

"Survival?"

"No, Daniel. You stay put. You found Carter; you should have stayed with her until we found you."

"I didn't know if you would come back. I told Sam I'd return�"

"And you ended up not being able to get back to her. You shouldn't have wandered off."

"And you didn't?"

"We knew where Carter was all the time."

"Excuse me?" Daniel frowned up at Jack.

"Okay," Jack admitted. "I knew where Carter was, in the right phase. But it doesn't excuse the fact that we all found Carter at one point or another. Because *she* wasn't wandering around."

"Point taken." Daniel surprised Jack and raised a hand. "Help me up?"

"What?"

"I think I can get up now. I can walk. I want to go read what's written on the pedestal."

Jack bit back a surge of anger. "You have got to be kidding me. Thirty minutes ago you could barely lift a finger. There is no way I'm going to help you up."

"Fine. I'll do it myself."

Incredibly, Daniel got his arms beneath him and began to push himself up. Immediately his face tightened in pain and Jack had no option but to grab hold of him and help him until he was sitting up.

"Thanks. And that was the easy part," he gasped.

When Daniel began moving his legs, Jack knew other than knocking the man out, he'd have no choice but to acquiesce to his request. "Wait, how about if I get behind you and pull you up." Jack placed his arms around Daniel's chest and in one continuous move, got him onto his feet.

"Gah!" Daniel immediately lost his balance and Jack tightened his hold. He waited until he felt Daniel steady, then slowly loosened his grip. When Daniel nodded, breathing heavily, Jack moved to Daniel's side, picked up the discarded vest and threaded it through Daniel's arm. He kept a hand around his friend's back, both to help support him if he needed it, and to keep in physical contact should they experience another shift.

"Where's the pedestal?" Daniel asked, peering into the darkness, walking with an odd shuffling limp.

"Front and center. Finding it is probably the easy part. Finding our way back might not be so easy."

"Memorize the symbol on the ground." Daniel turned and waved at the geometric forms at their feet. Jack nodded. A square within a triangle within a circle. Simple. Except that he'd seen squares within circles within triangles. It would be too easy to mix the symbols up.

"You wouldn't happen to have a pen on you, would you?"

Wordlessly, Daniel patted down his pockets and produced a Bic. Jack took Daniel's palm and drew the symbols, then did the same on his own. "Just in case," he said, handing the pen back.

Daniel nodded, and they began walking towards what they thought was the center. Jack kept a hand around Daniel's waist, both for support and to remain in physical contact with him. He tried to keep track of the direction they were moving. But without any physical reference points, it was nigh to impossible.

"You know, a little light might be helpful," he said, flicking Daniel's dangling flashlight with a finger.

"Batteries are dead."

Jack swallowed, realizing that not only had Daniel been stuck down here alone, in too much pain to move, but he'd been lying in the darkness through no wish of his own. Jack had one set of spare batteries in his pocket, but decided they really didn't need the added light. It wouldn't make any difference in the long run.

"Look, if by any chance we get separated, we stay right where we are until we both reappear. Agreed?"

"Okay." Daniel turned to give Jack a fleeting smile.

"No peeking at that doodad on your own. You wait for me."

"I'll wait. I promise, Jack. Anyways, you've got the flashlight."

"Yeah. Right."

The light pulsed slightly to their right and Jack immediately enveloped Daniel with both arms, locking his knees and hoping he didn't lose his balance. He fought the dizziness and suddenly he found he was holding Daniel's full weight.

Jack opened his eyes, fighting to retain his footing. Daniel's head drooped against Jack's shoulder as Jack tried to keep him from sliding to the ground.

"Hey, you with me?"

He felt Daniel's forehead move against the material of his shirt, then after a moment, Daniel raised his head.

"Oh, that wasn't very pleasant."

"Let's make this fast so we don't have to go through another one."

They turned towards where the light had been, finding the pedestal several minutes later. Jack held his light steady on the writing while Daniel tried to read it.

"So, what does it say?" Jack asked impatiently, noting with a sigh that his batteries were dying and he'd need to replace them soon. After the fresh ones were gone, they'd be in the dark. He only hoped Carter had more batteries � he didn't relish the thought of having to stumble their way blindly through the tunnels while searching for a way out.

"Nothing helpful. The best way I can describe it is 'Stroke of Variance'."

"What does it mean?"

"Well, variance could refer to the varying shifts. Or phases. Stroking meaning... to touch?"

"Ack, no touching." Jack reached a hand across Daniel's chest to ensure he didn't try to touch the thing.

"Don't worry. But I think the force of the cave in might have disturbed it." Daniel looked up towards the ceiling, then waved his hand around the area. "For all I know, we could be right underneath it. There's dust and small rocks all around here, but there aren't any anywhere else."

Jack pointed the dying beam of his light upwards. He thought he could make out a couple of cracks in the ceiling directly above. He couldn't tell where he and Daniel were in relation to the cave in but the explanation sounded plausible.

"Hold on, I'm going to replace the batteries." Jack made sure Daniel had a good grip on him and then began switching the batteries in the dark. He clicked the light back on. "So, you think that thing's going off on its own?"

"Well, look at it. It does look a little off kilter."

Jack leaned closer and in the stronger beam of light, saw that yes, the 'shade' should fit into a groove, like a lid. And it had definitely shifted. He could easily tell now the overall color of the stone was darker than the small, lighter portion where it obviously had fit below the groove.

"How do we know it's safe to touch it?"

"We don't. But I'd suggest that once Teal'c and Sam get here, we come back and try to straighten it out. Maybe it'll reset, or something."

"Or something. Right." Jack pulled gently on Daniel's arm. "Let's get out of here before it goes off again."

"No argument here."

They turned back, heading towards the wall. Once there, Jack began searching for their geometric symbols.

It didn't escape his notice that Daniel was walking more slowly and with more difficulty. Not that the drug was wearing off, he still probably had a couple of pain-free hours left - but the pain itself must be wearing on Daniel's body. Jack was anxious to find their tunnel, if only to get Daniel back off his feet and have him get some rest. Sleep, if he could manage it.

Out of habit, Jack checked his watch and was shocked to realize they'd been underground for over twelve hours. His stomach rumbled, reminding him he hadn't eaten since a few hastily chewed bites of a shared powerbar at mid day.

It had to be the middle of the night on the surface. Would any of the villagers have even thought to send someone to the Stargate for help? Had they even noticed SG-1 had disappeared, or were they too busy dealing with the burn? SG-1 wasn't due to check in until mid-morning, still many hours away.

His flashlight finally illuminated a familiar squiggle. He stopped, then was surprised when Daniel kept on walking, breaking contact with him.

"Hey, we're here." He took a quick step to catch Daniel's arm and saw the sheer exhaustion reflected in Daniel's face. He raised his hand and double checked the figures he'd drawn in ink. Twice. They matched, both times.

"Come on, let's get out of here and wait for the others."

Getting Daniel off his feet was going to be another matter which Jack didn't relish, since he knew no matter what he did, it would hurt his friend. But Daniel took the option out of his hands when he leaned against the wall and began sliding down, finally curling onto his side with a loud yell.

Jack quickly turned Daniel onto his back, straightening his limbs and waiting for the pain to pass. The hard, damp floor couldn't be helping Daniel's muscles; Jack wished he had some kind of heating pad to offer.

Jack threaded the vest from where it hung from Daniel's shoulder and raising Daniel's head, placed it beneath as a thin pillow.

"Thanks."

"Just don't do that again without warning me, okay?" Jack fumbled in a pocket and took out a powerbar. He unwrapped it and broke off a piece, handing it to Daniel. "Here, eat."

Daniel took it and bit off a small bite while Jack fumbled for his canteen. He shook it; it was less than half full. "Can you raise your head a bit?"

Daniel swallowed the mouthful and did as Jack asked. Immediately Jack placed his hand beneath Daniel's neck, helping support Daniel's head as he shared his water. When his friend closed his eyes, Jack tapped the hand that was still holding the sticky piece of food.

"Eat. Then sleep."

Daniel finished the meal in a few bites, apparently hungrier than he'd thought. In the process of licking his fingers clean, he fell asleep. Jack smiled indulgently at the sight of Daniel looking like he was sucking his fingers. Then he took pity on him and lowered the hand to the floor.

Licking the sticky residue off of his own fingers, Jack snapped his flashlight off and settled beside Daniel, making sure that he was in contact in case he dozed off.

- - - - - -

"O'Neill."

Jack jumped, lifted his stiff neck, and peered into unending darkness.

"Teal'c?"

"Colonel." Carter's voice joined Teal'c's as Jack turned to face the other way, and was suddenly blinded by a bright light.

"Ack!" Jack exclaimed as he raised a hand to his eyes. Immediately Teal'c moved the light aside, and Jack blinked, spots dancing before his eyes.

He couldn't see much until he realized he was staring at Teal'c's back, which was blocking most of the tunnel. He heard a scraping sound, and then Teal'c was there beside him, pulling Carter along a homemade stretcher made out of a blanket tied to two long pieces of wood.

"How you doing, Carter?"

"I'm okay. How's Daniel?" She immediately turned onto her side and reached out to touch the slumbering man.

"Sleeping. He's doing okay," he added. "Teal'c, did you...?"

"He's not asleep, sir."

Something about the tone of Carter's voice had Jack scrambling to Daniel's side. He flicked on his light, and immediately saw Daniel was in serious pain. "Damn it, Daniel, why didn't you wake me?"

"Wouldn't... do... much... good," Daniel panted.

"I could have..." Jack broke off his words. What, held Daniel's hand? Well, yeah, at least he could have provided some kind of moral support, if nothing else. Instead, Daniel must have realized Jack had dozed off and hadn't wanted to wake Jack up.

Or had Daniel called for Jack, only to get no answer because he'd been too deeply asleep? No, he was pretty sure he'd have woken at the sound of Daniel's voice.

"Sir, I still have that last syringe."

There was a pack lying on Carter's thighs, and she reached down for it. She handed him the small needle and Jack immediately plunged it into Daniel's thigh. He rubbed the injection site once finished, then figured, what the hell. He picked up one of Daniel's tightly clenched fists and rubbed gently at the stiff fingers, waiting impatiently for the drug to take effect.

"I shall build a second travois for DanielJackson." Teal'c pulled another blanket from a pack and began fiddling with the wood. Jack then realized he'd tied two extra pieces of wood to Carter's stretcher.

Within a short time, the travois was ready, but Daniel wasn't. Jack figured they wouldn't even be able to attempt to load him up for a good thirty more minutes.

So they sat there, helpless to do anything but silently watch Daniel bear his pain. While Jack held onto Daniel's hand, Teal'c's leg rested against Jack's. Teal'c also kept a hand on both Daniel and Carter, ensuring that when the next shift hit, they wouldn't get separated again.

- - - - - -

This was getting old really, really fast. Daniel swallowed back the bile that had risen into his throat, the last of the disorienting effects of the latest pulse from the alien object.

He heard his friends stirring and opened his eyes. Jack had pulled his knees up to his chest and was rubbing his face with one hand. Sam was facing away from Daniel, but she took a deep breath and exhaled noisily.

"Are you well, DanielJackson?"

Daniel turned to face Teal'c, and nodded. "I think it's past time we try and see if we can make that thing stop doing this." He went to wave towards the chamber beyond, but found his hand caught up in Jack's. At Daniel's slight tugging, Jack let him go.

"Help me up?"

This, also, was getting old. He wished he could either stay on his feet or flat on his back. The pain from the back-and-forth up and down was going to kill him.

"Nope. You're staying put. Teal'c made you a stretcher." Jack pulled something out from near Daniel's feet and spread it out beside him. It was one of their emergency blankets tied up to two long pieces of wood. Pretty ingenious, except that...

"I think I'll walk." Daniel tried to get up onto his elbows and gasped as the movement hurt.

"Daniel. Will you please not be so stubborn."

"Jack..." He lay back down and grabbed a handful of the cloth. "I appreciate the gesture but this won't have enough support for my back and being carried on that is going to hurt way more than my trying to get up."

Comprehension flitted across Jack's face, which then fell in disappointment. "Oh. Right. We... I didn't think."

"It's okay. Really." He put a hand out towards his friends. "Just... help me up?"

It still hurt, with both Jack and Teal'c helping him up, but certainly not as bad as when he'd done so by himself. Teal'c picked up the top part of Sam's stretcher - although it was built in such a way that he could pull it himself with the bottom part dragging on the ground, Jack picked up the other end. Daniel moved to Sam's side and she gave him her hand.

They began walking towards the center of the chamber once more.

It was more disorienting this way; if Daniel were to lose his balance, there was no strong hand to hold him steady, but he felt that he was helping Sam by being there beside her. He turned to look at her in the bobbing beam of the flashlights. Although the light cast eerie shadows across her face, she seemed much more alert than when he'd found her near the cave in. She must have sensed his gaze on her because she turned to smile up at him.

The walk seemed to take much longer. Maybe because Daniel was more tired; maybe because he was afraid of the consequences of disturbing the device; or maybe he was just plain fed up and wanted to get this over and done with. He walked mechanically, keeping his gaze on Teal'c's hand where it grasped the wooden beams, watching as it disappeared and reappeared in the sway of Jack's flashlight.

When Teal'c stopped, Daniel looked up, confused. Then Sam's hand was tugging at his and he opened his fingers to release it, not understanding when Sam was lowered to the ground.

"Teal'c... what...?"

Jack moved into his view and he grasped Daniel's shoulder. "We're here." Jack's voice was strangely soft, and his sharp gaze left Daniel's after a moment and flitted to somewhere behind him. Daniel turned and saw the pedestal behind Teal'c.

Daniel took a deep breath, wondering why his brain felt so foggy. He wiped his eyes, trying to force himself to be a little more alert. A cup or two of coffee wouldn't be amiss right now. Or maybe a nap. "Okay. I guess we should all keep in physical contact while I do this, just in case it�"

"While *you* do�? What the hell, Daniel."

"Jack. We don't know what the effects of touching it are going to be. It makes more sense if I�"

"Why you?"

"Because I'm the one who's incapacitated and if something happens to either you or Teal'c, I won't be able to do much to help you!" Talk about being fuzzy. Maybe it wasn't him, maybe it was Jack who needed the stimulant.

Jack exchanged a look with Teal'c, then finally relented. They got into position. Daniel stood before the pedestal, Jack with a grip on Daniel's shoulder. Teal'c grasped Jack's leg while squatting beside Sam, holding her hand. With a deep breath, Daniel reached out for the small lamp-like object.

As his fingers neared, they began to tingle, as if there was an electric current running through the device. With a quick glance to make sure his friends were ready, Daniel grasped it.

Immediately his body stiffened as it began to shake. The muscles in his back seized, the agony flaring up and down his body despite the drugs in his system. He needed to shift the top of the thing, but his muscles, his joints, were locked. Patterns of color flashed before his eyes and Daniel realized he was zipping through the various shifts as the pedestal before him changed minutely.

With what felt like superhuman effort, Daniel forced the 'shade' downwards to his right, and he felt the object slide easily, then click into place. Then the current that was holding his body captive ceased, and a bright light enveloped him.

He felt himself falling.

- - - - - -

"Colonel. Colonel O'Neill."

The words seem to come from all around, dizzying as it echoed from right to left and back again.

"Major Carter, can you hear me? Doctor Jackson? Teal'c? Are you there?"

"What the..." Jack raised his head and realized he was lying on the ground, draped over Daniel's legs. Teal'c was in the process of sitting up and turning to check on Carter, who was stirring even as Jack watched dazedly. Daniel, though, appeared unconscious. Which might be a good thing, considering how Jack was lying on top of him.

"Colonel, are you there?"

"Oh shit!" Jack sat up as fast as he could, fumbling for his radio. "Ferretti! Lou, are you there?"

"Colonel O'Neill!" The relief in the major's voice was evident as it echoed in all four of their radios. "Jack. Where the hell are you? We've been searching for you for hours."

"Well, that sort of depends where you are. I..." Jack trailed off when he saw a light moving on his right. "Um, Lou, would you be in a very big chamber with lots and lots of tunnels leading to and from it?"

The light continued moving as Lou Ferretti answered. "Yeah. Don't tell me you're down here. We just finished searching the damned room."

"Um, yeah, we are." Jack waved his flashlight back and forth, and the light weaved back in reply.

"Stay put. We're on our way."

"Wait, we need medical help. We need at least two stretchers and a backboard."

"Gotcha. Doc's on her way down already."

"We'll be here." He heaved a sigh of relief, then turned his attention towards Daniel. Whatever had happened had knocked them off their feet. Daniel was lying on his side, and Jack felt that with the shape of his friend's back, it was probably best not to move him until Fraiser got a look at him.

He glanced up at the pedestal, noting the device appeared to be properly positioned. Still, out of a sense of precaution, he placed a hand at the back of Daniel's neck and one on Carter's stretcher. Teal'c, Jack noted, also kept hold of Carter's arm and Daniel's hand.

Ferretti must have been at the far end of the chamber because even though the light bobbed, it didn't appear to be getting any brighter. Jack waited anxiously, half afraid that the device would shift Ferretti and the rescue teams away before they reached them. He wanted to yell at them to hurry up and had to keep telling himself that Daniel had fixed the thing.

Seeming to feel Jack's tension, Teal'c spoke softly to Jack. "It will not shift again before they reach us. DanielJackson has brought all realities into one."

"Yeah, well..." Jack looked pointedly at where Teal'c was touching their two team members. "I guess one can't take chances, huh?"

"It is apparent that the search for us had commenced several hours prior. As we had never once encountered any signs of the rescuers, it is logical to assume that we are now in our proper reality, and will not leave it unless we attempt to touch the device."

"It's the 'assume' part of your logic that worries me," Jack muttered. He went to complain a bit more when he felt Daniel move beneath his hand. "Hey." He leaned down, trying to see if Daniel was waking up. Daniel moved his arm, and Jack stroked the tight neck muscles with his thumb. "It's okay, don't move."

"Did it work?" Daniel tried to turn and Jack forcibly kept him in position by planting his knee against Daniel's shoulders.

"Considering we have a rescue team coming our way, I'd say that was a yes. Look." He leaned closer to Daniel and pointed down past Daniel's chin at the now fast-approaching lights. Daniel moved his head slightly, then relaxed visibly.

"Colonel. Doctor Fraiser's almost here. She'll probably pop out to your left." Just as Ferretti's words broke off, a second set of lights appeared, even closer than Ferretti's. Within a few minutes, Fraiser was kneeling by their side, Ferretti and his men joining those that had accompanied Fraiser to stand around, watching.

"Carter's got a broken leg and a concussion," Jack said as Fraiser quickly assessed Sam visually. "Daniel's done something to his back."

"I'm fine, Janet. I can wait." Carter motioned the doctor toward Daniel, and Fraiser nodded.

She leaned over Daniel, running her hands quickly and efficiently over his body.

"Daniel, can you move your legs and feet?"

"Yeah, no problem." He moved his legs to show her. She took his hands into both of hers and asked him to squeeze.

"How'd you manage to do this? Did you fall?"

"You could say that," Daniel said. "I fell into the tunnels when the ground collapsed."

"This happened over fourteen hours ago?"

"Yeah. It's not so bad now � Jack gave me something for the pain."

Fraiser turned from Daniel and looked at Jack questioningly.

"Uh, morphine."

Fraiser's eyebrows drew together as she turned her attention back to Daniel. "How long ago?"

"Um, I'm not sure... an hour?" Jack looked at Teal'c for confirmation, and the Jaffa nodded.

"I do not believe we were unconscious for more than a few seconds�"

"Unconscious?" Fraiser demanded, turning her gaze on Teal'c.

"We had to fix something on the thing which was preventing us from getting out, and the resulting power surge sort of knocked us out. Teal'c's right, I don't think it did more than stun us."

"Is it worth retrieving, Colonel?" Ferretti moved forward towards the pedestal and Jack held out a hand to stop him, or anyone else, from getting closer.

"Don't touch it. I don't know what it does do but we had hell's worst time getting it to stop doing it. And I do NOT want it anywhere near the SGC."

Ferretti nodded, and backed away.

"Okay. Daniel, we're going to turn you onto your back and strap you onto a cervical collar and backboard. Colonel, if you could get his hips. Teal'c, his legs?" She looked at the nearest SG personnel who was standing around gawking. "You, when we turn him, slide the backboard underneath him, understand?"

The man nodded and squatted close by as Daniel complained.

"Janet, I can do this."

Fraiser moved to kneel by the top of Daniel's head.

"This may be nothing more than sprained muscles, Daniel," she said as took a moment to position her hands on Daniel's neck. "But you might have some broken vertebrae and the less you move around, the better."

At her words, Jack felt the blood rush out of his face and he had to force himself to listen to her instructions.

"Okay, gentlemen, on three, we'll turn him onto his back. Slowly," she cautioned.

Despite the care they took, Daniel cried out in pain. Jack winced at the sound, thinking that maybe they'd done irreparable damage to Daniel's spine by allowing him to walk around all this time. Jack felt Teal'c's hand on his shoulder as Fraiser expertly wrapped a collar around Daniel's neck, then tied him securely to the backboard.

As she turned to Carter, Jack moved to sit beside Daniel, who was looking very uncomfortable, trussed up as he was. "You doing okay?" He put a hand on Daniel's arm.

"Yeah. I just wish she'd let me walk out of here."

Jack squeezed the muscles beneath his hand. "We'll probably need to climb out, and I don't think you could manage that." He turned to look up at the Search and Rescue team, and spotted Ferretti. "Lou, how'd you get here?" Jack stood, wiping dust off his pants.

"The villagers realized what had happened and Kansu used the Stargate to dial the SGC. Seems the little shit had seen you talking via the MALP and memorized the 'gate coordinates. Well, he got through and told us what happened. We managed to dig a hole beside the cave in and started searching the place. One old priest had a partial map of the tunnels and it took us longer to figure that out than it did to get through the rocks." Ferretti moved closer and knelt beside Daniel. "And the Colonel's right, Doctor J. You'll need to climb and with a bum back, that's gonna be pretty hard to do. Just let us do all the work, okay?"

"Okay," Daniel conceded with a sigh.

"Colonel?" Fraiser stood and turned to Jack. "Major Carter is stable. We can proceed to the exit. I'll need to transfer her to a more secure stretcher when we get there but this will do for the time being."

"Okay. Let's get the hell out of here. Lou, you know how to get us back?"

"Yeah, geometric symbols." He reached out for Jack's hand and turned it palm up. "Kinda like those." He grinned.

"Funny. Remember, *we* didn't have a map."

Jack stood as four men took up Carter and Daniel's stretchers, and without any shame, Jack moved forward and grasped Daniel's hand. He felt Daniel's fingers curl around his, and he saw Teal'c doing the same with Carter. Hell, he wouldn't feel safe until they were out of this warren.

Ferretti moved to walk beside Jack, glancing curiously at their hands.

"That thing on the pedestal back there?" Jack tilted his head the way they'd just come and Ferretti nodded. "It was causing some kind of..."

"Phasic shifts," Carter offered.

"It was sending us into different realities or dimensions, but not together, not in the same one, unless we were in physical contact at the time. I guess it's just habit right now."

"You mean you were all in different places and couldn't find one another? Well, that explains why none of us saw any of you guys up until you popped up a few minutes ago in a bright flash of light. That was when you fixed that thing over there?"

"Yeah. I guess."

They were following the wall now, the people up front searching for the right tunnel and Jack was more than relieved to allow them the task of finding it.

"So, Jack, I guess chewing you out for not staying put near the cave in isn't worth the trouble, huh?"

Daniel snorted, and Jack grinned back at him.

"No, Lou. Daniel figured out the phasic shift thing, and we found the device while exploring."

"What would have happened if you hadn't been together when you fixed it? Would the rest of you have been stuck in the... space you were in at the time?"

"I doubt it." Carter's voice drifted behind Jack, almost swallowed up in the vastness of the place. "Once it was properly aligned, I think we could have cycled through each separate variation, ending up in this one."

"It's not something I'd like to test," Jack said absently as two of the men up front stopped and shone their flashlights up into one of the tunnels. They waved the stretchers forward, and as Jack turned into the tunnel, he glanced at the symbols at his feet to make double sure they had the right one.

A square within a triangle within a circle. He turned his palm up and tried to surreptitiously compare them with those symbols. He relaxed when they matched.

"You don't trust us?" Ferretti teased as he walked behind Jack.

"Just double checking."

"I know what you mean. This place can be pretty confusing. And it's huge. So, what do you think that thing was for? I mean, why all the realities? Did they encompass the whole complex or only this part?"

Jack rubbed his nose. "I dunno. We never really figured out how far the thing's range was."

"It's probably something we'll never know." Jack turned to look back at Carter when she spoke up. "One reason could be storage space. Imagine how much you could store in just one reality, only coming down to get stuff when you need it. Or it could be simply for more living space. Maybe certain families or various castes occupied different ones. Unless the villagers have something recorded in their history, or if there's anything written elsewhere in these ruins, it's all just speculation. Anyways, that's Daniel's field."

Jack turned to Daniel, waiting for him to speak up, and realized Daniel wasn't with them anymore.

"Hold on... hold it, stop", he ordered the men. "Doc?" Jack said, turning back to Fraiser, who'd been walking Sam, talking with her while Jack and Ferretti had bantered about. She quickly squeezed by Teal'c and Ferretti and bent to examine Daniel.

"He's sleeping," she said softly. "He's exhausted. Pain like he's experiencing can take a lot out of a body." She motioned for the men to go on. "It's okay, Colonel." She added a smile to her words.

They walked along in silence, possibly because they had nothing more to say, but Jack figured they all didn't want to wake Daniel up. When someone did speak, it was in a loud whisper.

The walk back to the cave in area went much more quickly than any of the other times Jack had made the trip. He squatted beside Daniel as ropes were tied to his stretcher, and as they began to pull him topside, Jack finally let go of Daniel's hand.

Daniel chose that very moment to open his eyes and glance around. From the way his gaze was bouncing around everywhere, he was definitely disoriented. "It's okay, Daniel," Jack called out. Daniel just had time to turn his eyes towards Jack before he was raised out of sight. "I'll be right behind you. We're going home."

Ferretti waved Jack up next, and he clambered up a ladder and into the bright sunlight. He rushed to Daniel as they placed his stretcher off to the side and he knelt beside him. "See, sunshine. We're going home."

Daniel looked up at the sky before glancing back at Jack. "The fire... did we get all of the contagion?"

"Daniel, now's not the�" He broke off, realizing that the whole mission had been to destroy what their people had inadvertently brought to this world. "I'll find out, okay? Go back to sleep."

Daniel closed his eyes, and Jack stood up and stepped to the edge of the building for a view down the mountain.

The blackened area was unmistakable. Nothing appeared to have survived the fire; hopefully their mission had been a success.

"Lou, we'll need to keep some men on the planet to look out for signs of the disease. And we need to burn our camp site. I'll give you details on our way back."

"Looks like you guys did a pretty thorough job."

"Too thorough. We think gases ignited underground, causing the cave in. Hopefully we won't need to do this a second time around."

Jack stood as everyone climbed out of the pit and they began their slow descent towards the Stargate.

- - - - - -

Jack lowered his newspaper as he watched Daniel slowly descend the stairs into the living room, one hand on the wall for balance, taking each step one at a time.

"Should you be up?" Jack asked as Daniel made his way towards the couch. Daniel eased down onto the cushion gingerly, then very visibly relaxed as he tested the couch's support for his back.

"I'm bored." Daniel slowly turned towards Jack and offered him a pleading smile.

"What, you want me to read you a story?" Jack snapped the newspaper, pretending to search for an article to read out loud. Daniel had complained about the meds giving him double vision, and he couldn't read or watch television for any length of time.

"No, just talk to me for a while."

Jack lowered the paper, folding it before tossing it onto the coffee table. "You gonna stay awake this time?" he teased.

Daniel frowned at Jack, and Jack smiled back. "Gotcha."

Daniel rolled his eyes at him, but Jack saw the smile he was trying to hide. Jack didn't hide his, though. As much as Daniel was still uncomfortable and in pain at the moment, the good news they'd received a few hours earlier, just before leaving the infirmary, made his and Carter's injuries almost worthwhile. Ferretti's team, who'd stayed on P3T 334, had confirmed that after three days, there was still no sign of the contagion anywhere on the land. The SGC would continue monitoring, of course, but that little tidbit had put them all into a happy mood.

"Hey, you got any more candies?"

"Yeah, sure." Familiar with the mouth-drying side effects of the muscle relaxants, Jack had stocked up on hard candies for Daniel's benefit. He jogged up the stairs into the kitchen, and returned with a small bowl of the sweets.

"Thanks." Daniel popped one into his mouth, and Jack placed the bowl within reach, along with a bottle of water.

"You're not gonna be able to sit like that for long," Jack warned, seeing Daniel beginning to squirm as strained back muscles began to complain. As comfortable as the couch normally was, Daniel needed more support for his back.

"I'm fine." Daniel immediately stopped fidgeting, and Jack sighed at his stubborn friend.

"Look, why don't you lie down. It'll be easier than sitting up. And I have something that might help."

Jack went into his bedroom and got the heating pad he'd dug out last night. He returned to the living room, where Daniel was trying to find a comfortable position. Jack plugged the heating pad in and waited for Daniel to settle. It seemed to take him forever, but due to the fact that he couldn't move easily, it was understandable. Finally he stilled, lying on his side, head resting on a small cushion.

"Here." Jack laid the now-warm pad over the injured area of Daniel's back, smoothing it down gently to make sure it was in contact with his sweat shirt. "Here's the controls. It's got an automatic shutoff so if you fall asleep, it won't burn you."

"I won't fall asleep."

"Sure." This time Jack bit back a grin; he knew from experience that the muscle relaxants and pain killers Fraiser had prescribed, combined together, packed quite a punch. And plus, in the past three days, he'd seen Daniel go from talking excitedly about something to snoozing in ten seconds flat. The moment his attention wandered, the guy was out for the count. Jack figured with the heat from the heating pad, Daniel would be counting sheep in ten minutes, max.

He reached over Daniel and removed the afghan from the back of his couch and spread the small blanket over Daniel's legs. He ignored the glare Daniel sent his way and returned to his chair.

"It's not fair, you know."

"What's not?" Jack picked up his newspaper and opened it up to the crossword puzzle.

"Sam's the one with a broken leg and concussion, but she's back at work already."

"Carter can sit for eight hours without needing a crane to pry her out of her chair." He reached into a small drawer in the coffee table and removed a pen.

"She broke her leg."

"You sprained your back."

"She's on crutches."

"You're on drugs. Slight difference there."

Jack heard a small huff as Daniel took his glasses off and folded them. He looked for a place to put them and Jack sighed, got up and took them from him before he dropped them. The medications were making Daniel clumsy; he'd already broken a glass and dropped his fork countless times during lunch.

Daniel grabbed the edge of the afghan and pulled it up higher, past his waist. For someone who hadn't wanted to sleep, he was looking like he was ready to settle in.

"You need help with that?" He squinted at the paper in Jack's hands.

"Sure." Jack settled back into his chair, and looked over the first couple of clues.

"Seven letter word for: State capital, constellation, Arabian bird, operating system." Jack held his pen poised over the squares, ready to write in the answer.

"That's funny."

"That's not seven letters, Daniel."

"I mean... what Lou reported today. It's almost coincidental."

"That he couldn't wait to get back to the SGC and use proper facilities?"

"No." Jack saw a flash of white out of the corner of his eyes and just knew Daniel was rolling his eyes at him. "That there are signs of growth coming out of the ashes."

"Some seeds need heat to germinate. You yourself told us that."

"But isn't it ironic that it's like the fable of the Phoenix? Rising out of the ashes where it dies every 500 years?"

Recalling the scene of the inferno of just a couple days ago, Jack felt a shiver go down his back. "It is pretty amazing that something will grow out of the mess we made."

"Just as long as everything grows back healthy." Daniel yawned loudly. "We're gonna need to find new methods of waste disposal offworld."

Jack nodded, then turned his attention to the crossword. "Shit brigade. Hammond's already setting up a think tank for that," he said distractedly. "And sending teams to the other worlds to make sure nothing similar has happened anywhere else. So far, so good."

"It's an important issue, Jack."

"If you think breaking up shit into harmless components is important, sure." He pored over a few more clues, entering the easy ones as he went.

"So," he said after a few minutes, glancing at Daniel. "What's a seven letter word for State capital, constellation, Arabian bird...?" He cut off his question when he saw that Daniel had fallen asleep.

Smiling to himself, Jack wrote the answer in. 'Phoenix'. A pretty tenacious beast, that mythological creature, he thought. Had to be, if it needed to survive for 500 years, only to come back to life when it got old.

Kinda like his friend, Jack thought. Not that Daniel was old, but he had a stubborn streak a mile wide. But that doggedness had helped get them out of that weird flux they had all been in.

Jack finished the crossword and got up to slip a hand beneath Daniel's sweat shirt, testing the heat of the skin beneath the heating pad. Daniel didn't stir at his touch, and Jack deemed it far from being in danger of causing burns, so he left it on.

He stared down at his friend for a few minutes. A few weeks' recuperation, a bit of physical therapy, and Fraiser had said he'd be as good as new. Kinda like the bird; Daniel always rose to meet a challenge, no matter how hard.

"Rest while you can," Jack whispered with a grin. What Daniel didn't know yet was that he was going to be part of that shit brigade until he was fit for going offworld.

 

FINIS!


Author's Comments: Many thanks to Jmas for trusting in me and publishing this story in her E-zine 'Ancients Gate VI - Gods and Men'

If you want to see more of Jmas' ezines, here's her link:

And sending virtual hugs to devra once again for keeping watch for those nasty plot holes.

Note: I have to give credit of the idea of human waste materials causing havoc on an alien planet to Dr. Stephenson and Hugh Gregory during a discussion panel at the Concept 2004 convention. Of course I lost track of the discussion as I evilly plotted SG-1 trying to fix the problem.

 

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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.