As Daniel slowly sauntered into the Gateroom, Jack glanced at his watch, taken aback to see that SG-1�s resident archaeologist was nearly ten minutes early. He had his backpack hanging from his arm and was rummaging inside the heavily packed sac, obviously searching for something.
Jack�s elation at Daniel�s change in trend quickly changed to frustration when General Hammond called Daniel�s attention over the room�s speakers.
�Doctor Jackson.� Daniel stopped and turned to stare up questioningly at the General, squinting slightly as his glasses fell forward on his nose.
�Doctor Fraiser just called.� The older man pursed his lips in irritation. �It seems you forgot to report to the infirmary today to receive your booster shot.�
�What?� Daniel had that wide-eyed, confused look Jack knew so well. He turned to Jack, as if begging him to say the General was mistaken. �That was today?�
�Don�t tell me you forgot!� Jack grabbed the strap of Daniel�s backpack and pulled it to him. �Daniel, we�re a little short on time here so you had better get your butt down to the infirmary and get that needle or so help me�� His words trailed off as Daniel first began walking backwards and then turned and literally ran out of the Gateroom. Jack looked up and traded glances with General Hammond. Trust Daniel to be on time for once, and now Jack just knew he�d have to hold the �gate open for his friend until he returned.
- - - - - -
Daniel drummed his fingers impatiently on the elevator doors, willing the car to rush down the few levels separating the Stargate from the infirmary. How could he have forgotten? Everything had been going wrong for him since he�d arrived at the base today. He�d been in a perpetual rush to get everything fixed and finished before leaving for today�s trip through the Stargate. He�d finally gotten everything together and had actually made it to the Gateroom earlier in plenty of time, except he�d suspected he had forgotten his book on ancient Sumarian in his office. And now this?
The booster shot was needed so that SG-1 could visit one particular planet scheduled for three weeks from today. The people there had been experiencing a very virulent plague and had refused to allow anybody to come through to their world until they were inoculated. Janet and her medical team had had to test the serum the people of P3P-993 had sent through to make sure firstly, that it was safe and secondly, that it would be effective. Then the team assigned to go to that world required a series of injections at very specific intervals in order for the inoculation to work. He had had a twenty-four hour window, which was obviously today and since he was going offworld in... he glanced at his watch� damn, the Stargate had activated one minute ago.
He hoped Janet would forgive him for having rushed her staff today, especially when there were obviously busy. And poor Kathleen, the nurse who had just given him the shot. He�d kept trying to glance at his watch while trying to hold the edge of his long-sleeved shirt up as she tried to give him his injection, and he knew she�d been a little exasperated with him. He�d need to apologize to her properly when he returned from this mission. Or at the least, he�d make sure he�d be in the infirmary in plenty of time for his next booster.
He ran to the Gateroom, out of breath, and was greeted with the sight of an active Stargate, and with Jack standing at the top of the ramp, tapping the butt of his P-90 impatiently. Teal�c and Sam were nowhere in evidence, they must have gone through already.
With an apologetic look to General Hammond, Daniel ran up the ramp, slowing down just long enough to grab his heavy pack from Jack. He slid through the vortex, his form disappearing through the blue shimmering flux of the wormhole.
- - - - - -
Jack stepped out of the Stargate and was witness to Daniel�s headlong flight towards a series of crumbly steps. Teal�c�s arm snaked out and stopped him just in the nick of time before he stumbled down the stairs.
�Thanks,� Daniel puffed, still out of breath. He straightened up and patted Teal�c�s shoulder.
Jack knew he should be upset at Daniel for having held them up, but he knew his friend had had one hell of a morning. Actually Jack could only blame himself for Daniel�s tardiness. He should have made sure Daniel had gotten his shot at the same time Jack had first thing this morning before breakfast. But it seemed to be one of those days for his friend where everything was going wrong, and Jack had quietly backed out of Daniel�s office when his friend had spilled his coffee over his desk, his curses following Jack down the corridor.
Jack turned his mind to the mission at hand. They were stuck on this planet for a minimum of forty-eight hours, which was how long this DHD took to recharge after each use. The Stargate had also been altered; the Naquada didn�t retain a charge like all the others they�d encountered. Its energy was constantly leached, and thus was wholly dependent on the DHD feeding it energy before it could be activated.
A previous team sent to this world had believed themselves stranded at first, until the unusual properties of the DHD had been discovered. He knew that Carter had been dying to examine it more closely; if they had enough time on their way back he�d give her a chance to play with it. Until then, SG-1 had a date with SG-4 and three scientists at the observatory.
Jack looked around, noting that the area around the Stargate was devoid of people.
�Weren�t we supposed to be met by someone from SG-4?� Jack asked no one in particular.
�Indeed,� Teal�c said, coming to stand beside Jack and gazing out into the distance.
Jack clicked his radio on. �Siera Gulf four niner, this is Sierra Gulf one niner. Come in.�
He listened carefully, but only heard static. He repeated the call, feeling a chill go up his spine which had nothing to do with the cool air of the planet.
�Okay, folks. The town is east of here, and we know it�s a good three hour hike. Carter, take point, Teal�c, you�ve got our six.� He didn�t need to tell them to keep their eyes open; the ominous radio silence meant that anything could have happened.
Jack fell into step behind Daniel along the well-trodden dirt path, trying to adjust the straps of his heavy pack so they didn�t dig into his shoulders.
The people of this world had been very accommodating, from what Jack had heard. They had recently discovered the remains of an ancient temple, the news of which had greatly interested Daniel. SG-4 had sent photographs of the sketches on the walls and Daniel had requested permission to go and explore. Hammond had granted it to him and thus SG-1 had been sent to play courier.
They were bringing several needed pieces of equipment to enhance the telescope SG-4 had set up in this world�s observatory. This planet was approaching a strange gaseous mass that had the astronomers drooling, and they kept asking for more computers, more software and more time.
Jack wondered what could have happened to said scientists. Could the Goa�uld have shown up on this planet, which apparently had been snake-free for centuries? It would mean quite the coincidence, but then again, SG-1 seemed to experience their fair share of those.
Jack hoped it wasn�t illness, remembering another time when they�d come to join an SG team, only to witness the decimation of a population at the hands of a Goa�uld. The only good thing about that mission was it having brought Cassie into their lives. He realized he hadn�t seen the young teenager in a few weeks and made a mental note to call on her when he got home.
His musings were interrupted when Daniel stumbled in front of him. Before Jack could say anything, Daniel recovered and continued on. Jack could see him trying to adjust his backpack and Jack commiserated, his own was already uncomfortably heavy.
Jack tried the radio again, without any response. He hated the thought that if anything serious had happened, they were all stranded here without backup for at least two days.
He realized that he was walking more slowly and noticed that Carter had gotten a good distance ahead of them. It wasn�t him, it was Daniel who had slowed down and Jack had automatically adapted his pace to maintain the same distance between him and Daniel.
He moved up, clapping Daniel on the shoulder. �Hey, slowpoke, wanna get a move on?�
�What?� Daniel asked, slowing down even more and then coming to a stop. He staggered a moment and reached out for Jack�s shoulder to steady himself.
�Whoa, you okay?� Jack asked in concern.
�I don�t know,� Daniel replied as Teal�c joined them.
Jack heard Teal�c keying his radio and alerting Carter. Jack took a good look at Daniel, noting that he looked a little dazed. Carter�s footsteps thudded on the path as she jogged back to them.
�What�s wrong?� she panted as she came to a stop beside them. Their friend simply stood there, his hand still on Jack�s shoulder, breathing heavily.
�I feel strange,� Daniel told them. �Tired.�
�Did something bite you, sting you?� Carter asked, passing her hands quickly over Daniel�s exposed skin, checking his hands, neck and face. Daniel simply stood there, allowing her to examine him without complaint.
�No, just� tired. Really sleepy.� His voice was thick, his words a bit slurred.
Jack looked around, trying to see if maybe something or someone had tried to attack them while Carter moved on to check Daniel�s clothes. Jack checked his watch and noted they�d barely been on the planet ten minutes. Nothing in the air could have affected one of them that quickly, could it? Jack felt fine, the others looked fine.
�Anyone else feeling funny?� Jack asked. Both Carter and Teal�c answered in the negative.
�Okay, let�s take the pack off of you for a minute and let you rest, okay?� Jack said, unbuckling the straps to Daniel�s pack and setting it on the ground. �You wanna sit?� he asked. Daniel nodded.
�Easy!� Jack cried when Daniel suddenly bent his legs and made as if to sit on a chair. Jack wasn�t sure if Daniel�s legs had just let go or if his friend was confused. He managed to catch Daniel before the man landed on his butt, Teal�c and Carter helping Jack lower Daniel the rest of the way down.
Teal�c took up a defensive stance beside them, while Jack sat beside Daniel on the ground. Immediately Daniel leaned into Jack, as if he wasn�t able to stay upright by himself. Jack put an arm around Daniel, holding him close.
Daniel�s eyes closed and he opened them after several seconds.
�Wanna sleep,� Daniel said before his head dropped onto Jack�s shoulder.
�Don�t go to sleep,� Jack said, shaking Daniel�s shoulder. Daniel lifted his head and opened bleary eyes. His friend�s breathing was coming fast and shallow in his endeavour to stay awake.
�Daniel,� Sam said as she bent over their friend, �did you take any medication today?�
Daniel frowned. �Anti� anti-his�� Daniel�s voice trailed off and Jack shook him once more.
�Stay with me here, don�t go to sleep,� Jack repeated.
�Can�t,� Daniel sighed, his breathing evening out as his eyes closed and his head lolled forward against Jack.
�Damn,� Jack said quietly. He looked at Carter, who had her fingers on Daniel�s neck, monitoring his pulse. �Any ideas?�
Carter frowned. �All I can think of is that he�s had some kind of allergic reaction to the booster shot,� she told him. �His pulse is strong, Sir, but he�s out. I think we should try and make camp and wait until he wakes up.�
Jack looked around, knowing they were pretty exposed at the moment.
�There are trees not far,� Teal�c supplied. �We would be hidden from anyone walking this path.�
Jack looked at the small copse of trees about a quarter mile away and made his decision.
�Teal�c and I will take Daniel and make camp. Carter, you go back to the Stargate and see if you can dial the SGC.�
�Sir, you know that the DHD��
�I know, we used up the charge for the Stargate when we came through and it needs to be recharged. But humour me, okay? If there�s any chance that we�re wrong about the DHD and we can get through to Earth��
�Yes, Sir, you�re right.� She stood up and took looked down at both Jack and Daniel.
�Leave your pack, you�ll move faster without it,� Jack ordered. He saw her hesitate a moment when she realized that Jack would be doubly burdened with both hers and Daniel�s on top of his own. But if she was going off on her own, she might need to move quickly. She swiftly divested herself of the bulk and placed it beside Daniel�s.
�I�ll try to make it fast,� she said as she took a step back.
�Carter, be careful. We don�t know what happened to SG-4.�
�Yes, Sir.� She turned and began jogging back the way they came.
�I shall convey DanielJackson,� Teal�c offered. Jack nodded, removing Daniel�s glasses before pushing the unconscious man from him to allow Teal�c to grab onto him. Between the two of them, they hefted Daniel to his feet. Daniel�s head came up and his eyes opened, the movement bringing him to awareness, but he was unable to hold his weight. They tried to get him to walk but he simply collapsed against them.
Teal�c took Daniel into a fireman�s carry and Jack picked up both Carter�s and Daniel�s packsacks. He wasn�t sure who had the heavier load as he swung both backs over his shoulders.
It took them fifteen minutes to reach shelter, with Jack constantly checking to ensure they went unseen. Near the end of that time, Carter radioed him and reported that she�d been unsuccessful in activating the �gate. She was on her way back to join them.
Finding a secure spot between several large trees and thick growth which would hide them from prying eyes, Teal�c slowly bent down and lowered Daniel to the ground. Jack dropped his packs and helped settle Daniel. Their friend opened his eyes for a moment but closed them without even trying to look around. Jack rummaged in Daniel�s pack and removed a tee-shirt and placed it beneath Daniel�s head as a pillow. He dug out Daniel�s sleeping bag and put it aside. If Daniel didn�t wake up before very long, they�d need to keep him warm. The weather wasn�t that cold, but Daniel would soon start to feel a chill.
He spotted Carter coming along the path and stepped out to wave her in to their hidey-hole. She immediately went to Daniel, assuring herself there hadn�t been any change.
�There was no sign of anyone,� Carter reported as she checked Daniel over once more. She reached for the sleeping bag and shook it out. Jack and Teal�c helped her roll Daniel over so she could slide the covering under him. �And as I suspected, the Stargate wasn�t functional. I just wish I could have contacted the SGC, maybe Janet could give us some insight to what happened to Daniel.� She flipped the edge of the sleeping bag over Daniel, covering him up to the chest, but without zipping it up.
�Well, he�s just sleeping now.� Jack shrugged. �If anything bad were to happen, wouldn�t it have already?�
�I don�t know, his blood pressure could be dropping, his kidneys could be affected, his heart� there�s just no way of knowing, Sir, especially since we don�t know why he�s unconscious.�
Jack scratched his head in irritation, looking at Daniel who simply appeared to be sleeping peacefully. He pulled his attention back to the situation at hand. �Teal�c, you and Carter go out and do a perimeter check since it looks like we�re gonna be here for a while. I know we�re a good distance from the town and SG-4, but stay out of sight if you spot anyone.� Both nodded and picked up their weapons. He didn�t need to tell them he�d stay with Daniel.
He watched his team members as they slipped out of the trees. Although they were soon out of earshot, he found himself straining to listen to their progress. He was aware of Daniel�s soft breaths, a few twitterings of alien bugs or beasts and the rustle of wind in the trees.
His job was the worst, sitting here feeling helpless because there was nothing he could do for Daniel except stand guard. Which was why he chose to be the one who remained behind with their friend; at least Teal�c and Carter were doing something useful.
Recalling Carter�s supposition that Daniel could be affected adversely in ways he wasn�t aware of, Jack put his hand to Daniel�s neck, feeling the slightly cool skin and the strong, rapid pulse beneath his fingers. He slid his hand under the blanket and placed it on Daniel�s chest, feeling him breathe. Jack cocked his head in concentration. Was it his imagination or was Daniel taking quick, shallow breaths?
Jack keyed his radio once, his signal for an update. Teal�c�s tinny voice sounded in his earpiece, confirming an all clear. He estimated they�d be back in five minutes.
Jack leaned back on a tree trunk and checked his watch. They�d been here on the planet barely forty-five minutes and already one man was down, a team might be in peril and they had no backup. Could things get worse?
He glanced at Daniel instinctively at that thought and realized something wasn�t right. He leaned forward, trying to figure out what was wrong. His heart leaped into his mouth when he realized Daniel wasn�t breathing!
�Shit!� Jack swore as he leaned over and placed his ear to Daniel�s mouth. Nothing. Jack grabbed Daniel�s shoulder and shook him, his other hand lightly tapping Daniel�s face while calling his name. Jack was rewarded with a soft gasp and Daniel�s unfocused gaze before he closed his eyes again. Upon hearing his friend�s faint inhalations, Jack relaxed, but kept his attention on the soft sounds, afraid they�d suddenly stop again.
Teal�c and Carter returned, having ascertained that there was nobody around their impromptu campsite.
�Is something wrong?� Carter asked Jack, looking first at him and then down at Daniel.
�Yeah, he stopped breathing for a second or two,� Jack admitted. �He�s still not doing so good,� he said, his hand resting on Daniel�s ribs. Carter�s face paled at his news while Teal�c knelt beside Daniel and gently touched the younger man�s face.
�You are indeed correct,� Teal�c said in a low voice. �He appears to be incapable of breathing deeply.�
�Help me prop him up,� Carter said. With Teal�c�s help, they pulled Daniel into a seated position. Jack scooted over and pulled his friend into his embrace so that Daniel was sitting sideways, leaning against Jack. Daniel mumbled softly at the change in position, quieting as Jack positioned Daniel�s head against his shoulder.
Jack could see immediately that the position eased Daniel�s breathing. He could hear Daniel�s breaths and feel the soft puffs of air against his neck.
�He needs medical attention,� Carter said as she pulled the sleeping bag up and over Daniel�s shoulders, tucking it around his neck. Jack hadn�t realized how cold he�d gotten sitting still until he felt the heat of Daniel�s body.
�I know,� Jack said softly as he leaned back against one of the trees to take the pressure off his back. He saw Carter and Teal�c looking at Daniel with worry, and he knew they were going to hate his next order.
�I want the two of you to make your way into the town. We don�t know what happened to our people, so try and stay out of sight for as long as you can.�
�Sir, what about Daniel?� Carter asked. Jack could see the worry for their friend vying with their mission orders.
�I�ll stay with him. We�ll try and join you if we can, otherwise we�ll stay holed up here until you two find SG-4 and the others.�
�With all due respect, Sir,� Carter began. �I don�t think it�s a good idea to leave you and Daniel alone.�
�Got any better ideas, Carter? We can trade places, you stay with Daniel and I�ll go off with Teal�c, but you�re the scientist here. If whatever�s happened to our people has anything to do with that weird gas up in space, you�ve got a better chance of solving the mystery than I do.�
�Yes, Sir,� she answered glumly. �You�re probably right. It�s just that I hate��
�As do I, MajorCarter,� Teal�c said. �But O�Neill is correct. We may have need of your expertise. DanielJackson will be fine.�
�Leave the equipment here, take the minimum you need,� Jack ordered. Immediately Teal�c went through the packs and took out emergency rations, packing enough for two meals for both himself and Carter, plus the seven missing men and women.
�We�ll leave the blankets for you,� Carter said as she took half the share of supplies. �If you can�t move Daniel, you�ll need to keep him warm. It�s going to get cold tonight and you won�t be making a fire. Hopefully Teal�c and I should be back here before nightfall, if all goes well.�
Jack nodded. �Report in every hour,� he said as he adjusted his radio�s earpiece. Teal�c and Carter did the same, and with a final worried look at Daniel, Carter picked up her weapon and led Teal�c away from their safe haven.
Ten minutes later Jack was sorry he�d sent them away. He�d sat there quietly, listening to Daniel breathing, beginning to think he�d been mistaken earlier in thinking Daniel had actually stopped breathing when his friend�s respirations become more and more shallow. Within moments, the soft puffs against his neck stopped.
His heart beating wildly, Jack shook Daniel�s shoulder.
�Daniel,� he called as loudly as he dared. �Come on, wake up,� he pleaded as he gently slapped the slack cheek lying against him. Jack shook him harder and was finally rewarded with the sound of air being sucked in. But Daniel still wasn�t breathing right.
He clutched his friend as Daniel began sliding out of Jack�s grasp, Jack�s earlier movements having dislodged Daniel from where he had been resting against him. He shifted Daniel slightly, bringing his knees up and trying to hold him in position with his legs.
Jack continued to cajole Daniel into waking up, not liking the way Daniel was breathing or the waxy hue of his skin. But his efforts were in vain. In a scenario that was almost surreal, Jack heard and felt Daniel stop breathing once more.
�Daniel, please, don�t do this,� Jack begged his friend when this time calling Daniel�s name didn�t wake him. He slapped Daniel�s cheek, but his friend didn�t react. Jack shook him hard, then listened carefully. Nothing. He slapped Daniel�s cheek with more force, wishing he could hear Daniel�s voice complaining about the mistreatment.
He brought shaking fingers to Daniel�s neck and felt for a pulse, and was relieved to feel it beating strong and rapid. Quickly he laid Daniel onto the ground and pushed the sleeping bag off of him. He reached down and grasped the skin of Daniel�s inner thigh and squeezed, hoping the pain would wake him and cause him to inhale.
�Damnit, Daniel. Wake up!� Jack said between clenched teeth. He grabbed his canteen and splashed water over Daniel�s face, but his friend remained unmoving. Knowing time was running out as he watched Daniel�s lips begin to turn blue, Jack straightened Daniel�s limbs and tilted his head back while pulling his jaw forward. Pinching Daniel�s nose closed, Jack took a deep breath and placed his mouth over Daniel�s. He exhaled deeply and was relieved to see Daniel�s chest expand. He kept his ear close to Daniel�s mouth and heard the air being expelled.
Recalling his training, Jack began counting and breathing for his friend. Every minute or so he�d stop and make sure Daniel�s pulse was still beating strong. Jack began to lose track of time, but he was sure he�d stopped to check Daniel�s pulse at least four times when he heard the faint sounds of Daniel breathing on his own. He lowered his head to Daniel�s shoulder and rested a moment, feeling tired and a little light headed from his efforts.
He waited a moment longer to make sure Daniel was going to continue to breathe unaided, then raised him up into a seated position once more, his hand supporting Daniel�s neck. He pulled the sleeping bag over Daniel one-handed, feeling slight shivers coursing through the unconscious man�s body.
�What the hell�s going on, Danny?� Jack spoke softly to his friend as he rubbed the man�s back, the synthetic material of the sleeping bag making a slithering sound. �You need to fight this, whatever it is.�
- - - - - -
�Colonel O�Neill, do you read me?�
Jack ignored Carter�s insistent voice in his ear, concentrating on keeping his friend alive. When the worried voice changed over to Teal�c�s, Jack raised his head and reached one hand for his radio while the other searched for Daniel�s pulse.
�Stand by,� Jack said curtly into the small radio as replaced his hand over Daniel�s nose. He�d been breathing for Daniel for the past fifteen minutes, sweat was coursing down his back and ribs and he didn�t know how much longer he�d be able to continue. He was dizzy and breathless, and he had to stop a moment before he keeled over himself.
�Come on, Daniel,� Jack said angrily at his non-responsive friend. �Give me a break here.� Trying to get his emotions under control, he lowered his head and placed his mouth over his friend�s. His world narrowed once more to the warm body underneath his, the feel of slack lips and burning lungs and hot breath and fear and sweat. The terror of losing his best friend because Jack simply couldn�t force one more mouthful of air into him was enough for Jack to ignore his exhaustion and keep breathing for his friend. As long as Daniel�s heart was beating� there! Was that a�? Yes!
Exhausted, Jack pulled Daniel�s head onto his lap while turning him onto his side. Jack slumped over his friend, trying to get his breathing down to normal. He shivered when his sweat-dampened clothes began to cool and he reached for a blanket, pulling it over his shoulders to ward against the chill.
Belatedly remembering his other team members who were probably worried by now, Jack keyed the radio. �O�Neill. Go ahead.�
�Colonel,� Carter quickly responded. �Is everything all right?�
�Just peachy,� he answered as he settled Daniel more comfortably against his legs. �Any problems?�
�No, Sir,� she replied. �We�ve barely seen a soul, although we�ve passed a couple of houses and there are signs of life. I�m getting a strange feeling, like the people here are afraid.�
�How do you mean?� he asked as he grabbed the blanket that was beginning to slide off his shoulder. He hitched it back up in irritation.
�Curtains moving in the windows indicating people are watching us. No children in the yards although I can hear them crying inside. I can�t explain it any better than that, Sir.�
�I see,� he answered, although he didn�t. If she was right, what was scaring these people? SG-4?
�Sir, is Daniel��
�He�s having trouble breathing,� Jack admitted. Which was one hell of an understatement, half the time Daniel *wasn�t* breathing.
�O�Neill,� Teal�c interrupted. �Do you wish us to return?�
�Negative. There�s nothing you can do.� Which wasn�t entirely true. Jack would have given anything to have someone else here with him the next time Daniel went into respiratory arrest. And he was sure it would happen again. In the past hour, Jack had had to give Daniel rescue breathing three times already, the last incident being the longest in duration. But by the time Carter and Teal�c would make it back, another hour would have passed. Maybe, hopefully, by then Daniel would be recovering from whatever was ailing him.
�You have your orders,� he continued as he splayed his hand along Daniel�s cheek and underneath his nose. Warm, moist puffs of air travelled along Jack�s cold fingers, indicating that everything was under control, at least for the moment.
�Yes, Sir,� Carter replied.
�Report back in an hour.�
�Understood.� A moment�s hesitation and the radio came back to life. �Sir, about Daniel��
�I know, Carter,� Jack said softly, wishing there was more any of them could do. �I know,� he repeated.
- - - - - -
Sam carefully circled the large, brick observatory, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. She knew Teal�c was standing guard behind her, but still she�d have felt safer if both the Colonel and Daniel had also been with them. But Daniel was sick, and the Colonel had sounded distracted each time she�d communicated with him. She knew he was hiding something from them, probably that Daniel was worse off than she suspected.
She pulled her thoughts back to the present, knowing it would be dangerous if she were distracted by her worry over her friend.
The old tower appeared empty, but appearances could be deceiving. She walked softly to the door and stopped a moment, listening. Other than the wind and the buzz of insects, she couldn�t make out any human sounds. Flanking the wooden door, she pressed her back against the cool bricks and reached for the metal handle.
At her touch, the door opened up a crack. It wasn�t latched. She glanced back towards Teal�c and he nodded his understanding. Her weapon held at the ready, Sam stormed inside while Teal�c moved to stand by the open door.
She was greeted by sunlight and empty space. Four open doors led into small rooms and she quickly peered inside. One was a makeshift kitchen, which looked like a meal had been interrupted. Food was left congealing on plates, a glass had spilled its contents onto the table and which had dripped onto the floor. Insects were having a feast on the abandoned meal, with no sign of the people who had prepared it and had left it in a hurry.
In the other rooms, which had been turned into bedrooms, she saw clothes, books and other personal articles which she recognized as having come from Earth, but still nobody to whom they belonged. A metallic spiral staircase wound up towards to what she assumed was the makeshift observatory. She climbed the stairs as quietly as she could, her footsteps ringing out despite her best efforts to be quiet.
The large telescope the scientists had carried from Earth was set up in the center of the room, and three small worktables set up on three sides opposite the staircase all held laptops and a variety of books and journals.
Sam returned downstairs and exited the tower, quickly moving to join Teal�c at the door. She shook her head at his questioning look.
�There�s no one there, but it looks like they left in a hurry.�
�We should proceed to the town,� Teal�c suggested. �There is nothing more to be learned here.�
�Right,� Sam agreed. As they began walking towards the town limits, she reported in to Colonel O�Neill.
This time he answered her call immediately. The two previous times she�d tried to contact him, he�d taken up to five minutes to get back to her. She reported her findings and he bade them to be cautious. As she signed off, she wished he�d tell her what was going on with Daniel. She knew he didn�t want to worry them unduly, but she had a pretty good idea what was happening. And she didn�t like it.
- - - - - -
Jack quickly slid from beneath Daniel, trying to ignore his own exhaustion as once again, his friend was unable to breathe by himself. Jack laid Daniel flat on the ground and shifted close to Daniel�s shoulders, prepared to provide rescue breathing once more. To his surprise, Daniel�s eyelids fluttered slightly and he turned his head, soft breaths starting up voluntarily.
�Thank God,� Jack whispered as he wearily lowered his forehead against Daniel�s shoulder. Hopefully this was a sign that whatever crisis Daniel had undergone was fading. He remained bowed in that position for a few minutes, his hand resting on Daniel�s chest, ever-vigilant in the status of his autonomous breathing.
Pulling the sleeping bag back up over his friend�s body, Jack decided to take the opportunity to stretch his legs for a few minutes. He took a few steps away and emptied his bladder, then paced the area, keeping watch on Daniel�s slowly rising chest while working out the kinks in his aching legs and back.
Daniel coughed and Jack froze. Daniel shifted and brought his hand up, scratching his nose. If anything, the sound of his inhalations was deeper and more rhythmic than the previous few hours.
During the next hour, Jack only had to shake Daniel three times to remind him to breathe. The last time he did so, Daniel opened his eyes and looked at Jack for a second. He fell asleep immediately after, soft snores coming from the sleeping man, which were music to Jack�s ears. Daniel turned onto his side, his hand curled up beneath his chin.
- - - - - -
�You!� The voice came from behind Teal�c and he turned quickly to assess the threat. MajorCarter remained alert, but she did not point her weapon at the man. He was the first who did not run from them as the two of them strode through the eerily empty town.
�You must leave here!� the man yelled at them, poised to run at the slightest hint of danger.
�Why must we leave?� Teal�c asked as he took two steps towards him, stopping when he saw the panic spreading over the man�s face.
�They will come again. You must not be out in the open when they do. Quickly, seek shelter.�
�Wait!� MajorCarter yelled as the man fled away from them. �Damn,� she muttered softly under her breath as his footsteps quickly faded. She looked at Teal�c, shrugging her shoulders in the way he knew her to express frustration.
�We should continue. Perhaps someone else will be willing to provide information,� Teal�c suggested. His team mate nodded, stepping beside Teal�c as they continued down the empty main road.
They came to what appeared to be a large meeting house, and heard the murmur of many voices inside. With a look, they both agreed to enter the building. Teal�c slowly opened the door, bringing the sound and scent of many bodies crowded together in close quarters. They were yelling loudly at someone, voicing their displeasure.
Teal�c began pushing through the crowd, trying to see who the crowd was unhappy with. One man stood on a dais, trying to get the people to listen to him. As Teal�c and Major Carter wound their way forward, the people around them quieted. Soon only those before him were yelling, and they quickly stilled as they became aware of the silence around them.
The man on the dais watched them approach, as did everyone in the room. Teal�c was used to this sort of exposure, but he knew that his team mate was not. But she remained calm and sure of herself, watching Teal�c carefully to see if he would address the person who appeared to be in charge.
�We are searching for our friends,� Teal�c said in a voice that carried through the whole room.
�Yes, they said you would be coming,� the man standing before Teal�c answered. �My name is Kareeb, I am Headman here.�
�What happened?� MajorCarter questioned. �Why is everyone so afraid?�
�Your friends caused this,� a man spat out at them. Angry murmurs sounded behind them, but Teal�c ignored them. His companion shifted slightly, conveying her nervousness to Teal�c.
�Whatever has occurred, I am confident my friends did not do it purposely. You will tell me now what it is they have supposedly done,� Teal�c ordered, years of commanding Jaffa making his words an order, with an underlying threat if disobeyed.
�They have caused the legends to come to life!� someone screamed. The crowd shifted forward slightly, and Teal�c simply turned his head calmly to stare at the closest few. The mass of people backed off and murmured amongst themselves once more.
�How can someone make legends come alive?� MajorCarter asked. �What did you do with our friends?�
�They have been taken into custody to keep them safe from the townsfolk,� a woman standing beside them said softly. �Many blame them for this and feel that their death will be the only thing that would assuage the monsters. Although I�ve been trying to tell Kareeb that the monsters� return was expected, but no one would listen to me,� she ended sadly.
�Our friends are safe?� Teal�c asked.
�For now, yes. But Kareeb is having a difficult time trying to convince these people that killing the strangers would only make things worse.�
�What happened? What monsters?� MajorCarter asked.
�Last night, they came from the night sky. They have set fire to one house, murdering the family inside, and three others were found dead below a cliff where they were pushed to their death. Our lore tells us that the monsters are harmless, but with these deaths, I am afraid I may have been wrong in my beliefs.�
Immediately Teal�c suspected the Goa�uld had arrived in ships. He asked for description of these monsters.
�Lights, some hear sounds, and they fly like the wind. They have no bodies, but their touch is death.�
Teal�c raised an eyebrow in surprise. He had never heard of such beings.
�Can we speak to our friends?� MajorCarter asked.
�No one may see them,� Kareeb interjected. �Not until I have decided whether they are to be sacrificed.�
�But maybe they can help us understand what happened?� MajorCarter said, her voice rising in exasperation. Between her worry for their friend, DanielJackson, and the disappearance of their people, she was quickly losing her temper.
�May we return to the tower, the observatory,� Teal�c asked. �As you will not permit us to speak to them, perhaps our friends� notes there may shed light to these occurrences.�
�You may,� Kareeb said. �But do not attempt to visit the prisoners, or else we will be forced to arrest you also.�
Teal�c inclined his head in understanding, and grasping his staff weapon in his hand, turned and strode out of the building.
- - - - - -
Jack had just finished eating a cold MRE and was in the process of returning the used packaging to his packsack when he heard Daniel stir behind him. He shoved the garbage deep inside the bag and turned to his friend. Daniel was lying there, staring at Jack with half-lidded eyes.
�Hey,� Jack said with a relieved smile as he shuffled forward on his knees to sit beside his friend.
�Hey,� Daniel responded, followed with a yawn.
�How are you feeling?� Jack asked as he reached behind him for a canteen. He raised it questioningly, and Daniel nodded.
�Tired,� Daniel admitted, rising onto his forearm and accepting the water. His hands were shaky so Jack reached over and helped him hold the container to his lips. Daniel swallowed a few sips and handed the canteen back, falling onto the ground with a heavy sigh. He closed his eyes, then opened them again, looking around sleepily.
�Where are we?� he asked.
�P3R 2823,� Jack answered.
Daniel frowned and rubbed his forehead.
�The observatory? Supplies for the astronomers?� Jack offered in the hopes of nudging Daniel�s obviously flagging memory.
�SG-4 and the scientists are missing?� Daniel asked tentatively as he squinted at Jack.
�That�s the one,� Jack said with a smile.
�Is it morning?� Daniel asked, obviously still confused.
�Late afternoon,� Jack said. �You�ve been unconscious for a good four hours.�
�What happened?� his friend asked as he closed his eyes. Jack could see Daniel succumbing to whatever malady that still had him in its grip. He suspected the last question was asked more out of courtesy than actual curiosity.
�You collapsed on us,� Jack said softly, waiting for Daniel�s eyes to pop open. When they didn�t, Jack knew that Daniel had gone back to sleep. Jack adjusted the sleeping bag around Daniel, then brought a hand to his neck to monitor his pulse. Slow, rhythmic and steady. His skin was warm, but not overly so and he was breathing deeply and evenly. Now that his fear over Daniel�s survival had eased, he turned his focus to their mission.
�Carter, this is O�Neill, over,� he spoke into the radio as he made himself comfortable beside his sleeping friend. He waited several seconds, and his 2IC�s voice sounded in his ear.
�Colonel. It�s good to hear your voice,� she said. For a moment he had to think why she sounded so cheerful, then realized that nearly each time she�d contacted him, he�d been brusque with her. Of course he�d been a little busy trying to save their friend�s life at the time�
�Any news?� he asked, knowing she and Teal�c had returned to the observatory and was now trying to glean any clues from their peoples� notes and equipment.
He heard the end of her sigh before she answered. �There�s so much information here, it�s going to take a while. I don�t even know what I�m looking for.�
�I don�t know, several hours. I think it�s best if Teal�c and I stay the night. Sir, will you and Daniel��
�I don�t know, Carter. He�s still sleeping, but seems to be improving. We�ll try to join you before nightfall, but don�t hold your breath.�
�Understood,� she answered.
�One more thing. I wouldn�t spend the night in the observatory. Take some precautions and keep some distance between you and the town, just in case the townsfolk decide they need a few more prisoners.�
�Yes, Sir. We�d already decided on that. Teal�c�s searching for a campsite as we speak.�
�Keep your eyes and ears open, willya? And let me know if you find anything.�
�Yes, Sir. Carter out.�
Seeing that Daniel�s breathing still appeared to be normal, Jack decided to take the chance of running a perimeter check. The exercise was welcome; his legs and back were stiff and walking got the kinks out of them. He moved quietly, not expecting to see anyone, but not taking any chances at any rate.
He returned and checked on Daniel, who was still sleeping and didn�t appear to have moved at all in the twenty minutes Jack was gone.
He felt somewhat useless waiting for Daniel to get better and wake up, and if he were honest with himself, he was slightly irritated at Daniel for remaining asleep, although Jack knew it wasn�t his friend�s fault. Now that the all-consuming worry was over, Jack could spend more time concentrating on their mission and felt that his hands were tied with Daniel being out of the action.
He picked up a small branch and began peeling the bark off of it, amusing himself by trying to pull it off in long, thin strands. Carter had informed him that something strange had occurred last night, frightening the villagers and blaming the visiting Earth team for the ensuing chaos. Jack was pretty sure whatever it was that had taken place, neither SG-4 or the astronomers were to blame. But what if it happened again? He was worried about Teal�c and Carter; he knew they could hold their own, but certainly not against an angry mob. And that mob *had* captured seven of his people.
Damn, he didn�t even have confirmation that those seven were in good health, let alone seriously injured. Teal�c had tried to locate them once more before leaving the town, and had come up against a heavily armed escort who insisted they not try to go any farther. Carter had confirmed that she�d glimpsed a building with several guards posted around the door so they had a good idea where their people were being held, but they very obviously didn�t have the manpower to go and attempt to free them.
Of course, if they waited the two days before the DHD was fully charged before contacting Hammond, it would be another two days before help could be sent through the Stargate, and then another two days before they could chance a rescue and dial Earth and escape. He sighed heavily. Yep, he hated waiting and he hated having little options with which to work.
Daniel stirred, and as Jack looked at him, his friend sat up. He pushed onto his knees, swaying slightly.
�Hey, easy there,� Jack cautioned as he reached over to steady Daniel. �Where do you think you�re going?�
�Gotta pee,� Daniel replied. Jack smiled and grabbing Daniel under the arms, lifted him up until he was standing. The unsteady man reached out and placed a hand on Jack�s chest for a moment, head bent, eyes closed. After a several seconds he opened them, and looked around. Jack guided him a few steps away and carefully let go of him.
Daniel braced himself against a tree trunk and relieved himself. When he finished, he made his way back to the sleeping bag, dropping down into a seated position a little too fast for Jack�s liking.
�Where are we?� Daniel asked, looking around at the trees surrounding them.
�P3R 2823,� Jack answered him while handing him his glasses. Daniel stared at the proffered lenses a moment before blinking at Jack in surprise.
�Why are we camped here?� he asked as he took his glasses and put them on. �Where�s Sam and Teal�c? What happened? Weren�t we supposed to meet SG-4 and Doctor Lalonde�s team?�
�Looks like something weird happened last night and SG-4 and the scientists are being blamed for it. The townsfolk have taken them into custody� Carter and Teal�c have gone on ahead to try and find out what�s going on.�
�And we�re still here because�?�
�You got sick barely ten minutes after we �gated through.�
�I did?� Daniel asked, his eyes widening in surprise. �I don�t remember. Wait,� he said, his hand coming up to massage the bridge of his nose. �I remember you trying to contact SG-4 and not getting an answer, but after that, everything�s kind of fuzzy.�
�Well, you�ve been either unconscious or asleep for over five hours,� Jack said.
�I have?� Daniel looked down at the sleeping bag he was currently sitting on. �Um, sorry about that.�
Jack patted Daniel�s shoulder, telling his friend there was no need to apologize with the touch.
�You hungry?� Jack asked, reaching back into one of the packs.
�I don�t know,� Daniel answered. �I still feel a little weird,� he admitted.
�Maybe a little sustenance in your stomach will help you feel better. Now, you want some macaroni and cheese? Or how about some Thai chicken? Oh, I saw some meatloaf with gravy somewhere,� Jack said as he rummaged through the packs. �Don�t tell me Teal�c took that one,� he grumbled to himself. He abandoned his pack and reached for Daniel�s. �Cheese tortellini, beef with mushrooms,� he continued as he removed those meals he knew Daniel liked. �We have a huge selection this time around,� Jack said cheerfully as he placed the packages on the ground beside him.
When he heard no response from Daniel, he glanced over at his friend, and sighed when he saw Daniel had curled up on his side and was fast asleep. After removing Daniel�s glasses and covering his friend with a blanket, Jack stuffed the food back into the packsacks. Looked like they weren�t leaving anytime soon.
- - - - - -
�I still don�t understand why you didn�t wake me up,� Daniel complained as he licked the chocolate from his fingers, the dessert not quite satisfying his sweet tooth. He eyed his empty plate, wondering if there was any scrap of food he�d missed.
�Well, considering you�ve been sleeping for nearly ten hours straight,� Jack told him as he scraped the last of his meal onto his fork, �and were barely coherent whenever you did wake up, the last thing I wanted was to force you onto your feet and maybe make things worse by trekking overland for three or four hours.�
�Ten hours?� Daniel exclaimed, looking at his watch. Unfortunately, Jack was right. And since the sun would be setting in two more hours, Jack had deemed it too dangerous to set out now and chance arriving at their destination in the dark. They�d be leaving at first light instead.
Daniel felt fine, except for a faint residual headache that was reminiscent of having been a partaker of Janet�s happy juice. He still felt a little tired, but he figured that was from having slept the day away.
�I still can�t believe you let me sleep all that time,� he reiterated.
�Daniel,� Jack said, putting his empty food container on the ground beside him. �You were more than just asleep. At one point you�d stopped breathing. I had to perform rescue breathing for a while to keep you alive.�
Refraining from giving into the urge of wiping his mouth with the back of his hand at the thought of Jack giving him mouth to mouth, Daniel went to accuse Jack of teasing him, but he saw the serious mien on Jack�s face. �I stopped breathing?� he said incredulously.
�Yep. Scared the shit out of me each time.�
�Each time? You mean it happened more than once?�
�On and off for nearly four hours, Daniel,� Jack said softly.
�Oh,� Daniel replied, not knowing what to say, and understanding now why Jack had been so solicitous with him when he�d woken up thirty minutes ago.
When Jack reached over and offered him his cookies, Daniel looked at him suspiciously. Usually Jack coveted these particular sweets and always wheedled and finagled everyone�s share of them. Daniel took them cautiously, expecting Jack to pull them away at the last minute. But his friend simply smiled at him and began clearing their campsite.
�Thanks,� Daniel said as he took a bite. He saved the last piece for Jack, and offered it to him when his friend finished and settled down beside him. Jack smiled his gratitude and took the treat.
They sat in companionable silence for a while until Daniel saw Jack stiffen slightly. Daniel was alarmed until he saw Jack reach up and key his radio. Daniel fumbled for his earpiece and switched his own on, clumsy in his haste.
��were damaged. It took me a while, but I managed to retrieve some of the data. His notes say that about 500 years ago, some sort of cataclysm occurred on the planet, Doctor Lalonde suspects it was a meteor hit. But in any case, the visits from what the people used to call �the shadow chasers� stopped after that time.�
�Sam, who were these visitors?� Daniel interjected as she stopped to take a breath.
�Daniel.� He could hear the pleasure in her voice at the simple uttering of his name. �It doesn�t say. They traced them back to old folk tales. What were stories told with joy seem to have evolved into what�s this planet�s equivalence to the bogeyman. It might have something to do with the fact that these people were nearly decimated by the cataclysm, and it took them a long time to build up to what they have now.�
�That makes sense,� Daniel said, looking over at Jack. �Many civilizations have lost massive amounts of lore and culture due to some kind of disaster. Sometimes only the folktales remain, and centuries later, they became twisted from the telling.�
�There are several mentions of the old temple, Daniel. I think whatever happened last night, that temple has something to do with this. Teal�c and I are on our way there to have a look, while there�s still light.�
�Jack,� Daniel said, �the temple is closer to our position that the town, right? If we left now, don�t you think we might make it there before nightfall?�
�We�d have to move pretty damned fast,� Jack said, looking intently at Daniel. �I don�t think you�re up to it.�
�I�m fine, Jack. Okay, I�m a little tired, but even if we can�t make it to the temple tonight, at least we�d be that much closer.�
Jack continued to stare at Daniel, making the younger man uncomfortable. Yes, he was tired, and although he hadn�t admitted it to Jack, he was still a bit shaky. But he was confident that he�d be able to make the journey without much trouble. And even if they travelled half the distance, it was that much less they�d need to journey tomorrow.
�You sure?� Jack finally asked. Daniel nodded.
�Carter,� Jack said into his radio. �Daniel and I are gonna pack up camp and try to meet you at the temple. If we don�t make it before sunset, we�ll either try to find your camp or we�ll find you come morning.�
�Understood, Sir. Hopefully we�ll be seeing you in a couple of hours. Carter out.�
Both men got up and began sorting through their gear, and were ready to leave within minutes. They left the heavy, unnecessary equipment they�d been bringing for the scientists hidden under some bushes, and with a last glance around their campsite, Daniel followed Jack out into the open.
- - - - - -
Daniel leaned wearily against a tree, his pack feeling twice as heavy as it had earlier although he was carrying barely one fourth of the equipment they�d started out with. They�d been walking for over two hours and Daniel could finally see the remains of the old temple in the distance, back-lit by an incredible sunset. He knew they probably wouldn�t make it to the temple itself tonight, Jack had already contacted Sam and Teal�c to try and find out where they�d camped out, and was in the process of zeroing in on their location.
Jack changed direction, turning slightly south and so keeping the amazing color display to their right. The light was fading fast, and at the moment Daniel simply wanted to find a place where he could sit down and rest. He was feeling much better than when they�d started out, but he still had no energy to speak of. Hell, he�d slept most of the day away, you�d think he�d be feeling refreshed?
He couldn�t keep his eyes off the colourful sunset, not that it wasn�t breathtakingly beautiful, but something kept nagging at him.
�Jack, is the sky supposed to be moving like that?� he finally asked, coming to a standstill. While walking, the movement had been so slight it had been hard to make out. But now that he�d stopped, he could tell that the colors were shifting, blending, expanding, visible to the naked eye. It was almost like the Northern Lights.
�Jesus,� Jack swore as he stood staring up at the sky. �Carter, can you and Teal�c see the sunset?�
�Affirmative, O�Neill,� Teal�c�s voice rang in Daniel�s ear. �It is obviously not a natural occurrence.�
�Ya think?� Jack said softly to Daniel. �It looks like the freaking Aurora Borealis,� he said into the radio. �Do you think this is what spooked the villagers last night?�
�I think so, Sir,� Carter added. �We just heard two persons running down the road, screaming to one another that it was happening again. I�m not sure, but it might not be safe to be out in the open. Apparently whatever is going to happen is going to do so when it�s fully dark.�
Daniel glanced at Jack and they both picked up the pace.
�We�ll be with you in twenty,� Jack said. Daniel tried to ignore the alien exhibition and faced the direction they were travelling in. They began jogging, trying to take advantage of the minimal light. Pretty soon they were forced to slow down in order to watch their footing. The sky had darkened, the colors remaining, but turning a deeper hue.
Daniel slowly became aware of a brightening of the area before him. Jack obviously had also, slowing down when the way ahead of them became as clear as day. They glanced at one another, Jack positioning his weapon more comfortably in his hands while Daniel tried to peer into the light.
Long and thin, round and elongated, bright and colourful, soft and muted, constantly shifting tendrils moved among the trees, slowly approaching the two men. They moved continuously, stretching twenty feet into the air, and then quickly or slowly snapping back into a luminous ball no more than one or two feet in diameter. They shifted through the spectrum of the rainbow, sometimes all one color, sometimes several at once. There appeared to be seven or eight of them, but they were so intermingled that it was hard to tell at times where one began and the other ended.
As the lights moved towards the two men, Jack changed direction, veering hard to the right, out of the way. The shifting amorphous lights swerved just as quickly, staying with them and speeding up. Before they knew it, they were surrounded.
Daniel turned in a circle, the display of these creatures incredibly beautiful. He realized Jack was staying still, his gun aimed at the one being remaining relatively motionless before them. It displayed soft, pastel colors as opposed to the very vibrant shades of its brethren. It varied its colors occasionally, although green appeared to be the dominant one. All the others continued to sway and shift, but by its demeanour, this one appeared to be a leader or spokesperson. Because Daniel was positive these were intelligent beings. He just hoped they were friendly, intelligent beings.
�Hello,� Daniel said, stepping forward. Jack�s arm was a hard barrier, stopping him short. Daniel frowned at Jack, then raised his eyebrows in supplication. �Jack, it can�t hurt to try and talk to them.�
�Careful. Carter says they�re responsible for a few deaths.� Jack lowered his arm, granting permission. But as Daniel stepped forward hesitantly, Jack followed him pace for pace. He stopped about two feet away from the being of green light, whose color changes slowed even more.
�I�m Daniel Jackson. We�re visitors to this planet. We, um, came to study the strange mass out there in space,� Daniel said, waggling his fingers towards the sky, �but I guess that�s all your doing, huh?
�Can you tell us what it is you�re doing here? Is there something you wanted? Is there a way of communicating? Are the colors you�re exhibiting words? Expressions? Emotions?� Daniel cast a quick glance at Jack, who had his eyes glued on the leader. �You don�t understand a word I�m saying, do you?� Daniel huffed this last in exasperation. The light continued to shift slowly, showing no reaction to his words.
Daniel took a slow step forward, reaching his hand out. Swearing, Jack grasped him firmly, pulling him back, saying his name in a scolding manner. Daniel was still glaring at Jack when the luminous being reached out and touched a filament to his retreating hand.
Sky and earth exploded, sounds and colors rang riot in his head. He tasted grit in his mouth and tried to spit it out, his teeth crunching uncomfortably on it. Until he felt his head and shoulders lifted off the ground, he hadn�t even realized he was horizontal. The world tilted until he concluded it was him who was half lying on Jack�s legs. Warm hands touched his face, wiping gently at painful scrapes.
He blinked a few times to clear his vision, and saw the being scrunched into a ball above them, its colors now swirling painfully and sickeningly fast. Daniel wondered if perhaps their shift in colors reflected their moods. Would this be anger? Or concern?
He eased off Jack, feeling his friend help him straighten up. At his movement, the being pulled away from them, stretching again as its colors slowed slightly. Jack was talking, at least Daniel thought he was talking because his mouth was moving. He shook his head and rubbed his ears with his palms. Jack stared at him and Daniel saw him articulate the word �what�?
�My ears are ringing, I can�t hear anything,� Daniel said. Jack�s mouth started moving again and Daniel knew he�d be blushing if he could have understood the words. �I�m fine, I�m fine,� he quickly said as he stood up, bringing Jack�s cursing to an end. He brushed himself off, feeling a few bruises along his shoulder and hip.
He looked around. The leader had gone back to its original position, but it was still shifting colors quickly. The ringing in his ears began to change; it became a more musical tinkling, like rain falling on leaves, easing back in volume. Actually, he thought he could hear Jack now. He looked at his friend, and saw him talking into his radio.
Daniel reached for his ear and realized his earpiece had fallen out. He put it back in and was rewarded with Sam�s voice.
��all congregating at the temple, Sir. There appears to be hundreds of them, maybe thousands.�
�Just make sure you stay away from any stray lights, Carter. Don�t go and touch them, they seem to wallop quite a punch.�
�Um, I guess Daniel��
�Roger that,� Jack said, looking at Daniel with a tight smile.
�I�m fine,� he reiterated. �Do you think we should keep on going to the temple? There must be something there that these beings want. Or maybe we�ll find the answers there to this mystery.�
�If they let us out of here,� Jack replied. �Carter, Daniel and I are going to try and make our way to the temple. Meet us there, but don�t go inside, understood?�
�Yes, Sir. Understood. Carter out.�
Jack took a tentative step towards the temple, which he could see glowing brightly like a laser show. The beings sprang apart, allowing him to pass between them. The leader quickly floated beside and slightly above them, keeping pace, while the others raced up into the sky, bobbing and weaving over their heads like an aerial escort. Its light lit up the way before them, and Daniel could see why they were called �shadow chasers�.
As they moved away, the chiming sounds faded. He could still hear a slight sound and realized it was coming from the leader.
�Can you hear it?� Daniel asked Jack.
�Hear what?� Jack looked over at him with a quizzical expression.
�Never mind,� Daniel said, suspecting that whatever he was hearing was due to the creature�s touch earlier.
The ground was well lit thanks to the aerial display, and Daniel had no fear of tripping over hidden roots. Actually, the colors were so vivid that everything appeared surreal. They walked for twenty minutes, Daniel�s eyes beginning to water from the brightness of the congregated beings. Finally, he snapped his clip-ons onto his glasses, earning him a bit of relief. He noticed Jack had donned his sunglasses.
As they finally trudged up the overgrown path to the old, abandoned temple, the sounds he�d heard earlier came back, but much louder. The laser-like show, if anything, increased in intensity, causing Daniel to squint beneath his dark glasses, his eyes tearing once more with the glare. The noise kept getting worse, becoming almost painful. On top of this, his head throbbed with a budding headache.
He gritted his teeth and continued on. As he approached the ruins, Daniel could see the damage the years had wrought. Pillars and walls had fallen, although the entrance had been cleared of debris. He was only a few feet away when many of the lights swooped down towards him, causing both him and Jack to duck. The noise of their passing blared on his sensitive ears, and he lost his balance trying to block the sound by covering his ears with his palms. He felt hands holding him up, and he blinked into the glare, seeing Sam and Teal�c kneeling beside him and Jack
�I�m fine,� he said as he rose to his feet. The leader of the group suddenly drew itself up into a long, thin tendril, stretching straight up into the sky. It glowed white for a moment, then changed to a beautiful emerald green, and held onto the color and shape for several moments. Movement in the sky stilled, looking like a snapshot. Then all but a dozen of the beings zoomed away in various directions, the quiet and the darkness a more than welcome relief for Daniel. He removed his clip-ons and put them away.
When the still-green being shrank back into its smaller, more-rounded size, Daniel thanked it. He assumed it knew the others had been causing him discomfort. He led the way into the interior of the temple, noting how the ceiling and walls had been shored up. This was the reason why he�d come on this mission; although abandoned for centuries, the locals had recently begun excavating the interior and had discovered a large room behind the debris. Daniel had offered his services as the language he�d seen in the videos had appeared familiar. He assumed it was a derivative of one he�d seen on another planet and had figured it would be worthwhile to study it, possibly proving useful in future missions.
Assuring himself that the building was safe, he quickly spotted the newly-excavated corridor and followed it till he found the until-recently hidden room at its end. Daniel settled before one wall that held several painted pictures and writings, all in fairly good condition. One painting, in particular, held his attention.
�Jack,� he said excitedly. �When I first saw these in the videos SG-4 sent back, I assumed that these were clouds,� he said as he pointed to several colourful squiggles painted above houses. �But here�s the proof that these� shadow chasers, have been here before.�
He glanced around at more pictures, moving excitedly from one to the other, forgetting his headache and fatigue. �Look, they�re touching,� he pointed to another picture where man and being were touching hand to tendril, just like he had unintentionally done earlier tonight.
�Great. Can you tell me what they are, what they want and what they�re doing here?� Jack said sarcastically.
�Of course not. I�ll need to translate this before I can even come close to hazarding a guess.� He glanced at his friend with affection, knowing his gruff demeanour sometimes was his way of letting off tension. Two of the beings had entered the room with them, providing just enough illumination for Daniel to work with. He quickly pulled out pad and pen from his pack, and settled down on the sandy floor before the wall, intent on doing his best to translate the script.
The writing, as he�d suspected, was a derivative of one he was somewhat familiar with, having come across it last year on a planet in a totally different part of the galaxy. But since Jack had left the notebooks and textbooks he�d brought with him back at their original campsite, he had to rely on memory and deduction. It was slow going and soon he was engrossed in his job.
It was only when the light began to dim and he couldn�t see well enough to work did he look up in irritation. The creatures had left the room, their glow fading as they floated down the corridor. He got up, surprised at how stiff he was. His back and legs were cramped from hours of sitting in the same position, a hazard that came with his job but one that he was accustomed to. His head still throbbed, but it was a manageable pain, just distracting. His bruised hip and shoulder, on the other hand, were very stiff and he stretched carefully as he groped for his mag light. Turning it on, he left the room and met Jack coming down the hallway, his own light blinding Daniel until Jack aimed it towards the ground.
�They�re leaving,� Jack said, turning around and leading the way back outside. As Daniel left the temple ruins, he could see the sun rising in the east, and faint colourful streaks lit the sky, moving towards the fading Northern Lights. The leader was still hovering nearby, bobbing up and down in short, anxious movements.
He walked up to it, hearing the chimes in his head coming fast and harsh. �You�ll be back tonight?� he asked of it, knowing it probably couldn�t understand him. �Hopefully by then I�ll have finished translating the rest of the stuff in there, but I know for a fact that your people befriended those of this planet, and you�re not here to harm anyone. I think you�re just as surprised at their reaction as they are at seeing you.�
It stopped its up and down movements, glowed a soft purple for a moment, then extended a still purple-tinted tendril towards Daniel. He flinched, then forced himself to stand still. His skin tingled as he felt an energy surrounding him before he was hit with the overwhelming memory of dry heat, sand underfoot, musty tombs, and childish laughter as large, loving hands carried his small body against an adult one. Right on top of this memory came the scent of Shau�re�s musky perfume, the heat and sand of Abydos blending right in with those of the Egyptian desert, her small arm encircling his waist as they both walked side by side across the desert sands. The cool, recycled air of the SGC�s ventilation system was almost a shock, but Jack�s warm hands clapping his back in friendship, Teal�c�s strong grip as he grasped his bicep and Sam�s enthusiastic hug were as heart warming as the previous two memories.
He opened his eyes, feeling at peace with himself. He saw Jack looking at him with worry and he smiled, breathing deeply. He searched for Sam and Teal�c, who were watching with concern. His friends, his family.
The tendril move towards Jack and the older man took a step backwards, keeping away from it.
�Whoa!� Jack exclaimed.
�It�s okay, Jack,� Daniel said softly. Jack looked at Daniel, stilling at his words. Daniel watched Jack�s eyes close as the being seemed to stroke the air just before his cheek, and a gentle smile graced his friend�s face. The being fell back after a couple of seconds, and Jack opened his eyes, looking at Daniel, then his gaze moving on to Sam and Teal�c. Daniel knew pretty much how Jack felt.
�Wow,� Jack said simply.
�Yeah,� Daniel agreed as they watched the being float away into the night sky.
Daniel yawned, suddenly tired. He felt like he could sleep, but he knew he needed to finish translating the wall.
�How about we all grab some breakfast,� Jack said, clapping Daniel�s back in mimicry to the flashback Daniel had just had. Daniel nodded, joining his two other friends as they made a small campfire to boil water for coffee and to heat their MREs.
As they ate, Daniel related to them the bits that he had managed to decipher.
�These beings would come and visit every time this planet passed close enough to their home,� Daniel explained, waving towards where the Aurora Borealis display had been visible during the night. �Sam, you said that a meteor probably hit the planet some 500 years ago? Could that have been enough to shift the planet off its orbit?�
�It�s possible, but doubtful,� she replied. �At least not to the extent we�re talking about here.�
�Well, something�s prevented these aliens from visiting for the past couple of centuries. Maybe there are periods where the two just don�t pass close enough, I don�t know. Maybe their home is drifting, with some passes they�re just too far away to meet the planet�s orbit? Probably Doctor Lalonde could answer these questions, but suffice it to say that they were always welcome here. They weren�t considered Gods or anything like that, just friends coming to visit. Their coming was usually looked upon with lots of rejoicing and partying. I�m guessing the meteor hit caused a lot of damage.�
Sam nodded when he turned to look at her.
�So people were more interested in simply surviving after that cataclysm than believing in folktales, especially if, for whatever reason, the aliens didn�t come when expected.�
�So you think these beings didn�t cause any of the deaths or fires they were accused of?� Jack asked.
�Did they look dangerous to you, Jack?� Daniel huffed.
�Well, you went flying pretty hard when it touched you,� Jack snapped.
�That was my mistake,� Daniel admitted. He played with some dirt trapped in a scrape along his finger. �I put my hand out in greeting. According to one of the paintings, it�s one of their ways of communicating. But in the painting, there appears to be a buffer between man and light, some kind of device, I think. The man is reaching out to the being with one hand, and his other hand is touching what looks to be a crystal. I need to go and examine the text there today,� he said as downed the last of his coffee. He eyed the coffee pot, wondering if there was any left. He smiled his thanks when Sam picked it up and emptied the last of its contents into his cup.
�The fire and most of the injuries could have been caused by people panicking,� Sam said as she rinsed out the empty coffeepot. �There weren�t any eyewitnesses to any actual injuries or deaths, unless somebody did what Daniel did and stuck their hands out to them.�
�From what I hear, everyone�s cowering under their beds and wouldn�t have the courage to approach any of these guys,� Jack snorted. �Carter,� Jack said as he wiped his face with a dirty hand. �You and Teal�c go back to the village, see if the creatures might have caused any more havoc, intentionally or not. Try and explain to those in charge that they�re harmless, and that we�re trying to work on a way of communicating with them. Also try and see if you can get to talk to any of our people, maybe they can answer some of the questions Daniel has come up with.�
�Yes, Sir,� she replied. She stood, wiping her hands on the seat of her pants. �Daniel, we found what looks like some sort of lamps stored in a corner of the temple. You might be able to use those to illuminate that little room.�
�Thanks, Sam. If they�re not bright enough, maybe SG-4 has some lighting equipment at their camp.�
Teal�c rose gracefully and he and Sam both grabbed their weapons and started down the path towards the village.
Daniel yawned, wiping a gritty hand over equally gritty and stubbly face. He figured his friends were just as tired as he was. No, they had to be even more tired since he�d slept the day away, they hadn�t. He got up, wincing in stiffness, and reluctantly limped back to the temple and work. He knew Jack would spend his time watching the area, leaving him to work in peace.
He found the lamps Sam had mentioned and he carried a few into his work space. After fiddling a bit with them, he realized they were oil-based, and although he needed several to properly illuminate his surroundings, they did give off enough light to save the batteries of his flashlight.
Daniel sat down stiffly and set out to work. But he wanted nothing more than to sleep, his tired body drooping and fighting his attempts at sitting up straight. Soon the shapes and squiggles before him blurred and seemed to shift. His body ached, and felt heavier than normal. He kept having to drag his focus back to his work, his mind feeling like it was stuffed with cotton, his earlier energy having faded with the departure of the beings.
He hadn�t realized he�d dozed off until the scrape of a boot on stone startled him awake. He bent his knees and picked up the pencil that had fallen out of his hand and held it poised over the pad of paper he�d repositioned on his lap, trying to pretend he�d been working hard. Jack entered the room, his shadow blocking out the meagre daylight and forcing Daniel to squint up at him.
With a sigh, Jack joined him on the hard ground. He spread his legs before him and leaned back tiredly on the stone wall.
�Teal�c just radio�d in,� he said in a strangely low voice. �The townspeople panicked last night,� he continued, looking straight ahead and not at Daniel. �They broke into the building where our people were being held. Doctor Lalonde was killed, as was Captain Carmichael. Three more are injured, one severely.�
Daniel sat there in shock. There had been no reason for this, the beings were harmless, the people here had been safe. It was ridiculous, neither SG-4 nor the astronomers had anything to do with this. Daniel should have gone to the town, spoken to the people, convinced them�
�Why?� Daniel finally managed to ask.
Jack rubbed his open palm over his mouth and cheeks. �You tell me.� He sighed heavily. �They believed the devil came down to punish them, brought here by the people studying the sky. It�s just a matter of too little information and too little time.�
�If I hadn�t gotten sick yesterday, this might not have happened,� Daniel said with a sinking heart.
�Oh, come off it, Daniel,� Jack growled. �Don�t go blaming yourself for something you know you couldn�t help. We don�t even know if they�d have listened to us yesterday if we�d tried talking to them.�
�But maybe I could have found the buffer for what I�m sure is a communications device. We could have talked to the aliens, shown the people they meant no harm.�
�You mean that thing?� Jack asked, pointing with his chin towards the picture of the alien and human touching. The thing in question was a two foot high tripod receptacle, the legs appearing to be intricately worked metal intertwined together. They merged on top to make a nest for a smooth rainbow-hued crystal about the size of a dinner plate.
�Yes. We could talk with the shadow chasers if we had it. We could show the people here that there�s nothing to fear from them. The beings could tell them exactly why they�re here, explain the history of these drawings, everything the people on this world have lost in the past centuries.�
�It�s here. I saw it buried behind some rubble.� Daniel felt a rush of energy at Jack�s statement but as he turned excitedly towards his friend, the next words just as quickly drained him, and he fell back heavily against the wall.
�The crystal isn�t there, just the frame.�
�Damn,� Daniel muttered, taking his glasses off and rubbing his burning eyes. His tired brain suddenly woke up. �If the crystal isn�t with the receptacle, maybe it�s buried somewhere else? Come on, we can start looking.�
Ignoring his encroaching exhaustion, Daniel jammed his glasses back on and stood up quickly, and the world tilted alarmingly. He braced himself on the wall as his ears rang and his vision grayed out. He felt Jack�s arms holding him, and he concentrated on breathing deeply until the room stopped spinning. His legs felt shaky and Jack�s voice still seemed to come from far away.
�I�m fine, just got up too fast,� he finally managed to say to still Jack�s concerned questions.
�Like hell. You look like shit. C�mon.� Jack tugged on Daniel�s arm and Daniel followed him out into the corridor, suddenly anxious for some fresh air and sunshine. He sat down gratefully at their small campsite and took several sips from the canteen and scowled at the proffered power bar. He broke off a piece and chewed. It tasted dry and crumbly, and he swallowed it down with difficulty.
�Look, you didn�t get any sleep last night, and you�re still not quite recovered from whatever hit you yesterday. Why don�t you lie down and sleep for a couple of hours?�
Daniel wanted nothing more to do just that. His head had begun pounding and he was feeling jittery and was having trouble concentrating on things. But he couldn�t, not now. Not with what had happened in the town last night.
�I can�t. I have to finish the translations, and we have to find that crystal before dark. I�� He quieted at Jack�s upended finger, his friend�s lips pressed together in a way Daniel knew he�d brook no argument from him.
�I�ll look for the crystal, you get some sleep, and then when your mind�s a little clearer, you can go back in there and finish up with the translations. Don�t try to kid me, Daniel. I saw you didn�t get much work done this morning.�
Daniel hung his head, knowing his notebook sat mostly empty since he�d gone back to the room this morning. A warm hand squeezed his knee and he looked up at Jack�s concerned face.
�You really look like you could use the rest. Look, we both know you�re tired and not running at a hundred percent. Carter and Teal�c are talking with the guys in charge, trying to get our people released. I�ll let you sleep until they come back, and then we�ll decide on our next step, okay?�
�I should at least try to finish the translation, Jack,� Daniel said guiltily.
�Yes, you should. And you will. After you�ve had some rest. Damnit, Daniel, you weren�t breathing for a long time yesterday. We don�t know what caused that, and we don�t know if it�s gonna hit you again. I�m laying bets here that your exhaustion isn�t going to help you any and so help me God, if you get sick again because you�re too stubborn to get a couple hours of sleep�� Jack�s words trailed off and Daniel only then began to get a sense of the worry he�d inadvertently put his friend through yesterday.
�Okay, I�ll lie down for a while. But you�ll promise to wake me up in a couple of hours?�
�Scout�s honor,� Jack replied as he raised his right hand up to his shoulder while pressing two fingers together, then waggling them a bit before lowering his hand.
�I could still go help you dig through the rubble,� Daniel said as he carefully and slowly got up. Oh who was he fooling, he felt like he was going to keel over if he did.
�I know,� Jack replied as he spread out Daniel�s sleeping bag on the ground near the small fire he�d kept burning throughout the day.
�I could get some rest later,� Daniel argued as he sat down a little too fast on the inviting make-shift bed, landing hard and jarring his back, his teeth closing with an audible snap.
�You could,� Jack said as Daniel rubbed his hip and then gratefully lay down in the sleeping bag.
�Two would be faster than one,� he continued as Jack pulled the edge of the material up to Daniel�s chin. Daniel closed his eyes, relishing the feeling of actually lying down.
�Um hmm,� Jack said softly. Daniel felt Jack remove his glasses then felt the weight of his friend�s hand before he squeezed his shoulder. �Go to sleep,� Jack ordered.
�Daniel, wake up.� Daniel squeezed his eyes tightly before forcing them open. Sam was kneeling beside him, her hand resting on his forehead, a smile on her face. He realized he�d been hearing her voice calling his name for what seemed a long time, seeming to come from far away.
�What?� Daniel mumbled, feeling like he�d been dragged from a deep, deep sleep.
�The Colonel says you�ve been sleeping for three hours and he�d promised to wake you up.�
Daniel rolled onto his back and rubbed his eyes, trying to get the sleep out of them. Yeah, he�d asked Jack to wake him, and he knew he had work to finish, but his body felt like it was rebelling and he just wanted to go back to sleep.
Steeling himself, Daniel pushed the sleeping bag aside and sat up wearily. His stomach churned sickeningly and his head felt more muddled now than when he�d gone to sleep. Sam handed him his glasses and he looked around for his friends.
�Where�s Jack?� he asked, not seeing either Jack or Teal�c around the camp. The somewhat battered frame from the painting had been removed from the cave and was lying on its side across the fire from him.
�He went back inside to show Teal�c something,� Sam answered as she sat down beside him on the foot of the sleeping bag. �Are you feeling okay?� she asked. �I was a little worried, you were hard to wake.�
�I�m fine, just a little tired.� He was. Fine, that was. And still tired, of course. Nothing that a nice hot shower and a soft bed and twenty-four hours� worth of uninterrupted sleep wouldn�t cure, though. He thought of getting up to go see if Jack had found any sign of the crystal when he spotted him coming from the ruins, Teal�c a step behind him.
�Did he find the crystal?� he asked Sam.
�Hey, you�re up,� Jack called out to him as he approached, interrupting Sam.
Teal�c came up to Daniel and knelt beside him, smiling.
�I am relieved to find you were merely resting. I was concerned upon arriving and finding you asleep.�
�Yeah, for a second there, we thought you�d fallen sick again.� Sam�s voice was a little strained. Her face was pale, and Daniel suddenly remembered she�d discovered that their people had been killed.
�You couldn�t get the rest of the prisoners freed,� Daniel stated. Sam shook her head sadly, and Daniel felt guilt course through him, knowing he�d wasted more time sleeping. He had to get back inside, find the crystal, finish up the translations.
�Jack, Sam said you didn�t find the crystal. Did you look everywhere? Maybe the four of us can go over the area.� Blaming himself for the situation they were in, he gathered energy and began planning the excavation of the immediate area in his mind. �Damn, it could even be outside,� he said, looking at the overgrown bushes surrounding the crumbling walls of the temple. �Maybe two of us can look outside and the other two can go check the insides again. There might even be another hidden corridor like the one that was discovered where the pictures are��
�Whoa ,whoa, slow down,� Jack said as he handed Daniel an MRE. �The crystal�s not here. Teal�c just informed me he saw it over in one of the buildings in town today.�
�He did?� Daniel turned to Teal�c excitedly. �You did?�
�Indeed. I saw a representation of it stating it was a holy relic being kept in their church.�
Daniel took a bite of food, feeling too tired to eat but forcing down the food anyway.
�Then we can go to the town and ask to borrow it,� he said with his mouth full. He swallowed quickly. �We�ll show them tonight that this was all a mistake.� He shovelled in another forkful of food and chewed eagerly, feeling a little more energetic now that they knew where the crystal was.
Jack scratched the underside of his chin with his fingers. �Yeah, well, it seems that that building is closed off to us for the time being. The Headman wants us in the town hall at sunset.�
�Kareeb doesn�t trust us, and he made it clear from the start that we weren�t permitted to go inside the church,� Sam explained. �Teal�c and I thought maybe there might have been old records inside which we could bring to you to look at, but when we asked, the Headman got angry.�
�But we can still ask Kareeb tonight. I�m sure when we explain why we need it, he�ll let us use it.�
�Daniel, think about it a minute. If we ask Kareeb for something he thinks of as being sacred and tell him we�re going to use it to talk to the devils, how do you think he�s gonna react?�
Jack was right. Damn it, Daniel should have figured that out on his own. His brain obviously wasn�t running on all cylinders quite yet.
�Yeah, maybe not my brightest idea,� he admitted. �But what if one of us sneaks into the church? Then we could bring it out when the aliens show up and�� He paused at Jack�s hard look.
�No. Kareeb wants us all there, he knows there are four of us, people have seen us together. He threatened to kill the rest of his prisoners if we don�t show up before sunset. We have no choice.�
�What part of negative do you not comprehend?� Teal�c asked him. Daniel turned to the Jaffa in surprise, then smiled when he saw the glint of amusement on his face.
�Thanks, Teal�c,� Jack said with a smirk. Teal�c inclined his head, the start of a smile curling at his lip.
�Jack, we�re just so close. I hate this,� Daniel said, appreciating his friends trying to make light of the situation, but feeling frustrated at being so helpless. He threw the uneaten portion of his meal onto the ground in pique. Daniel stared at the blades of grass peeking up and around the material of his sleeping bag. A hand on his shoulder squeezed in empathy.
�Me too. Look, we�ll bring the fancy stand with us and try to explain to Kareeb. Maybe someone will recognize it and realize it goes with the crystal. Or maybe the guy will be so desperate by then that he�ll allow us the use of it. We�ll just play it by ear, okay?�
Daniel nodded reluctantly. He checked his watch, noting it was mid afternoon. �We have a couple of hours, right? I�m gonna go see if I can get more of the writing translated.�
He walked away without waiting for Jack�s answer. He knew his friend would come and get him when he was ready to leave. He just needed to be alone right now. He had to figure out a way to get that crystal, they so needed to talk to the aliens.
- - - - - -
The sun was low in the sky when the town limits appeared before them. Jack cast another worried glance towards Daniel, who had been trudging along beside him. Daniel had easily kept up the pace Teal�c had set, but Jack could see his friend was slowly losing ground. He was still too pale, and Jack had caught him nodding off a few times whenever he sat still for too long. He definitely hadn�t recovered yet, and Jack hated having to bring Daniel into what could become a volatile situation in a couple of hours. He wished he could have simply cocooned Daniel into a snug little corner and let him sleep for several more hours, and he smiled at the thought of what Daniel�s outraged comments would have been at the suggestion.
A welcoming committee was waiting, and without any words exchanged between them, the five men surrounded them and led SG-1 down into the small city. Jack looked around curiously, seeing scared faces peering out of doors or windows.
Daniel stumbled and Jack reached out to steady him, as did Teal�c. He smiled his thanks at them then put his head down, walking without showing interest in his surroundings. This worried Jack; Daniel always was interested in new architecture and this town reminded Jack a little of a small European city. He half expected Daniel to tell him exactly where the roots of these people came from, but Daniel was solely interested in watching the back of Carter�s boots before him.
They were led into a large open building where many people were jammed inside. Their escort pushed a way through the throng and SG-1 was led into a smaller side-room, where the city officials were waiting for them. The noise of the crowd lessened as the door was shut behind them.
�Colonel O�Neill, this is Kareeb,� Carter said, stepping to the fore and pointing out the Headman of the village. Kareeb inclined his head and motioned for Jack�s team to join him at a table already laden with food and drink.
�Please, sit. It is past time we discussed what has been happening.�
�Right,� Jack said as he counted the number of guards in the room with them. They weren�t heavily armed, Jack figured if it came to a fight, they�d be able to shoot their way out of this room, but they�d never escape with the mass of people between them and the exit in the other room.
As they approached the table, Jack saw Daniel sway and catch himself on the wall.
�Kareeb,� Jack said as he watched Daniel make his unsteady way to the table. �My friend here has been sick and hasn�t quite recovered. Is there a place where he could lie down and rest for a couple of hours?�
�Jack, no, I�m fine,� Daniel said as he straightened himself with obvious effort.
�Of course,� Kareeb said, taking in Daniel�s still-pale face and shaking hands. �There is a room with a cot in the basement of this building. It is located in the back of the building and I assure you, it will be quiet. Many of us use it on occasion. You are welcome to take your rest there. Delar can show you the way, and you can return and join us when you are refreshed.�
Before Daniel could open his mouth to complain, Jack quickly assured him. �We�ll wake you up just before sunset, Daniel. I figure you can get two, maybe three hours� snooze before all hell breaks loose again. Look, we three can handle the discussions now, we�ll need you sharp and steady a little later, comprendes?�
Daniel sighed heavily and nodded, turning around and reluctantly following the man Delar. Knowing that Daniel would be getting some much needed rest, Jack pushed that particular problem to the back of his mind and sat down, eyeing the food before him. He was hungry, and the food looked appetizing. Carter and Teal�c sat beside him, Teal�c placing the wrapped bundle that was the receptacle down beside him.
�So, Kareeb, tell me about these so-called demons that have come to call,� Jack said as he helped himself to a piece of bread.
- - - - - -
Daniel pressed his hand hard against the bloody wound in his side, feeling the warm liquid trickling down his waist and leg. He stopped and leaned against the wooden building and looked around it, hoping the coast was clear. It was.
He held the blood-slicked crystal tightly against his chest and staggered down the empty street, aiming for the communal building. He could hear the murmur of the crowd inside, and the closer he got, the louder the buzz.
He turned down the alley that ran alongside the building with relief, and found the steps leading down to the room that he had been provided with just thirty minutes earlier.
What an idiot he was. He�d managed to fool Jack into thinking he was more tired than he actually was, hoping that he�d be able to excuse himself and leave the group with the excuse of going to sleep somewhere. He had even been left alone to rest in the small room without a guard. His plan had worked wonderfully until he�d sneaked into the church and had been caught by surprise, and had literally walked into the knife held by a very bewildered priest. He wasn�t sure who had been more shocked, him or the priest.
He�d zatted the man into unconsciousness, hoping that the room had been dark enough so that he hadn�t made out Daniel�s face or his clothes. Daniel had tied the priest up and dragged him into a small side chamber. Hopefully, with luck, nobody would find him for a few more hours.
He entered his room and shut the door behind him, making a beeline for his pack. He placed the crystal on the bed beside him and fumbled in the pack for bandages. He removed his jacket and lifted his tee-shirt, seeing the deep slash for the first time. He knew it needed to be disinfected and at the moment he had no wish to incur more pain on himself. He settled for putting a pressure bandage on the wound, and then cleaning the blood off of him as best he could.
He downed several painkillers before changing his tee-shirt for a clean one, wincing as the movement pulled on his injury. He took off his pants and rinsed the blood out in a small sink, then put them back on, figuring they�d have time to dry before Jack came to collect him.
He examined his jacket and was grateful that whatever blood he had gotten onto it hadn�t quite bled through to the outer side. Satisfied that there were no visible signs of his injury, he rinsed off the crystal, cushioned it in his torn and bloody tee shirt, and stuffed it into the bottom of his pack. By that time reaction and pain were setting in and his legs suddenly had trouble holding him up.
He staggered to the bed and stretched out on it, removing his glasses and clumsily dropping them to the floor near the head of the bed. Soon he was shivering and he sat up to pull the folded blankets at the foot of the bed up and over him. His side began throbbing as he curled up in exhaustion. Despite the pain, he quickly slid into sleep, aware that he was still feeling cold and weak.
Cool hands on his face woke him, and Jack�s uttered �Jaysus, he�s burning up� had him turn and blink dazedly at his friend.
�Yeah, it�s me. Carter, you got some water with you?�
He was hot, and the blankets were smothering him. He tried to kick them off, but Jack was sitting on the bed, effectively pinning them beneath him and his legs didn�t seem to have enough strength to push them from the other side.
�Hot,� he muttered irritably, and he felt the mattress move as Jack stood up. Soon the blankets were pulled off his body and cool air swept over him. Sam soon traded places with Jack, her hand brushing his cheek before she helped him lift his head up. Water dribbled into his mouth.
�Daniel, I need you to try and swallow these.� He blinked and focused on the blur of pills sitting in Sam�s hand. �We need to get your fever down and hopefully some antibiotics might help whatever it is that�s causing this.�
He pushed himself onto an elbow and felt a cool hand on his back helping to support him. His head throbbed, his whole body ached and his ears were buzzing. How had he gotten feverish so fast?
The blade. He hadn�t disinfected his wound and he suspected the priest might have picked up some sort of ceremonial knife which had probably been sitting around on display in the church, gathering all sorts of germs until it had been wiped clean against Daniel�s insides.
Stupid, stupid, stupid!
He swallowed the pills with more water, and then pushed himself into a sitting position, biting back a groan as his side erupted in agony when he tried to shift his legs over the edge of the bed. Teal�c was behind him, holding him up and Daniel was grateful for the support. He wanted to wrap his arms around his ribs to try and ease the burning that had started up with the movement. He wanted to lie back down and tell Jack he was hurt and to take care of everything. But instead he looked around for his glasses, forgetting where he�d put them.
�Here,� Sam said, bending down and picking them up off the floor. Daniel put them on and glanced out the open door. It was dark in the alley but he could make out the last rays of sunshine bouncing off of something on the roof, tinting the interior of the room with a reddish glow.
�It�s almost time?� he asked.
�Be dark in about fifteen minutes. But I think you�re better off staying in bed.� Jack�s face looked grim in the strange light, long shadows making it look skeletal and non-human.
�No, I�m fine.� He pushed himself up with effort, his legs seeming heavy and cumbersome. With a few tottering steps, he made it to the door. He began climbing the handful of stairs with Jack at his side, his hand on Daniel�s arm. Teal�c and Sam were right behind them. Suddenly Daniel stopped. He�d forgotten the crystal.
�My pack,� he exclaimed, realizing it was still inside the room.
�It�s okay, we�ll come back for it later.� Jack pulled gently on Daniel�s arm, trying to get him to continue up the remaining few steps.
�No, I need it.� He dug his feet in and refused to budge, almost losing his balance when he pulled away from Jack�s insistence.
�It�ll be safe here, Daniel.�
�Damn it, Jack. I want it now.� Daniel hated the way he sounded, like a whining child. He began to turn around to go back inside when he heard footsteps going into the room, Seconds later, Sam�s voice called out.
�I got it, Daniel.� She appeared in the door, pack in hand. Daniel reached for it and when she handed it over, he found the pack seemed to weigh three times more than normal. He shrugged it over his shoulder and allowed himself to be steered up the stairs and down the alley.
�What did Kareeb decide?� he asked as he forced his heavy legs to move his feet in a straight line.
�Didn�t want to hand over the crystal, doesn�t quite believe the aliens mean them no harm, did let us see our people for a few minutes, though. Not that we were able to do anything for �em except try and make �em comfortable.�
Daniel glanced at Jack, seeing the closed look on his face. He guessed the wounded weren�t doing that great. He hoped nobody else got hurt again tonight when the aliens returned. He hugged his pack to his chest when it slid off his shoulder, praying his decision and action had been the right one.
They stopped in the middle of the street, before the entrance to the communal building. He saw Kareeb and several dozen more people standing huddled near the entrance, nervously looking around. Teal�c squeezed by them and entered, returning a short time later with the receptacle. He placed it on its wobbly legs on the dirt road before Daniel.
�They didn�t�� Daniel waved at the metallic frame as Teal�c pushed and pulled at its legs until it stood firm.
�Didn�t ring a bell with them, nope.� Jack was looking up at the now visible Aurora Borealis-like display beginning to decorate the sky. �Won�t be long now, kids,� he warned quietly.
Daniel couldn�t stand looking upwards for long; the lights and the angle of holding his head up were making him dizzy. He glanced at the small crowd gathered nearby, watching as they nervously peered up, unconsciously gathering even closer together. The communal building was still crowded, though; he could still hear the hum of conversation over the ringing in his ears.
He heard the faint, familiar tinkling sound, getting louder as the seconds went by.
�They�re coming,� he said. Within moments streaks zipped by, reminiscent of shooting stars. The noise and light assaulted Daniel�s already strained senses, and he squeezed his eyes shut, feeling himself swaying as nausea assailed him. The light bled through his tightly closed eyes, and he felt someone fumbling at his jacket, then at his glasses. Hands gripped him and then an arm went around his back. The person holding him was slight, he knew it to be Sam and he gratefully lowered his head onto her shoulder as she held him steady.
Long, uncomfortable moments ensued, until the sounds suddenly eased off. Shivering suddenly, Daniel pulled away from Sam and cautiously opened his eyes. A slight breeze wafted over him and he felt goose bumps erupt on his skin. He had his sunglasses on, but most of the beings had risen high above them that he didn�t need the dark lenses to cut the glare of their essences.
�You okay?� his friend asked, her eyes a vivid blue in the strange lighting. He nodded, tensing his muscles as he held back another shiver. His body felt strange; his muscles obeyed sluggishly, and he felt lethargic, heavy.
An alien was floating before them, once again glowing an emerald green. It bobbed slightly towards the metallic frame, then insinuated itself around it, almost like a cat rubbing on its owner�s legs. It quickly glowed a bright orange, then pulled back to float once again before them, slowly going through the colors of the rainbow.
Daniel glanced behind him, noting that half the observers had fled the scene. Kareeb, however, had taken a step forward, watching intently. With a silent prayer, Daniel reached into his pack and slipped his hand beyond the now crusty tee-shirt, and removed the crystal. Hiding it with his body from the townsfolk, he dropped it onto the cradle and took a step back.
�Son of a shit!� Jack exclaimed. �Daniel, you didn�t!�
Wrapping numb arms around himself both to retain heat and to try and still the throbbing in his side, Daniel raised his head and stared at Jack.
�There�s no other way to convince them, Jack. We have to get the aliens and the people talking. This was the only thing I could think of.�
�You stole their relic?� Jack shook his head, suddenly smiling widely at Daniel. �Doctor Jackson, you never cease to amaze me.�
�So, shall we get this show on the road?� Or rather, Daniel thought, let�s get this over with before his legs decided they weren�t going to obey him any longer.
Placing one hand on the crystal, he raised his other one out towards the leader. When Daniel had produced the crystal, the alien had begun bopping up and down very quickly, the colors changing faster with the movement. As Daniel brought his shaking hand up, it stilled its movements and a tendril slowly reached out and touched Daniel�s fingertips. He felt a spark of energy course through him, not quite unpleasant but somewhat disorienting. He thought maybe if he hadn�t felt so sick, it would have been nice.
�We are pleased. We are happy. We have waited many years before this world�s orbit permitted us to return. We have missed your sounds.�
The sudden words seemed to come from all around Daniel. He shook his head, thinking for a moment he�d imagined them, but he saw Jack straighten up, and the townspeople had begun whispering amongst themselves.
�The interval between visits was longer this last time, wasn�t it?� Daniel asked, realizing the alien had spoken.
�Yes. We were anxious to return. We do not understand why you did not bring the transposer earlier. We have missed your sounds.�
�The transposer is this thing I�m touching?�
�Sounds? Do you mean speech?�
�No. Yes. The discussions are welcome, as always. But we enjoy hearing your harmonizations.�
�Music,� Daniel said softly, almost to himself. �Music and song.�
�The people here have forgotten about you. They didn�t know what the transposer was. They�re afraid of you.�
�Forgotten? But we have not forgotten them.� Swirls of white and lavender blinded Daniel for a moment and he turned his head away from the glare, his eyes tearing. When he was able to see again, he continued, this time looking at his feet instead of the being of light before him. His hand was shaking where he was holding it up to maintain contact with the tendril, the muscles in his arm beginning to burn.
�There was a cataclysm here after your last visit. Many of these peoples� records were destroyed. Their memories of you are vague. It wasn�t their fault, they had to reconstruct their way of life. But your appearance here two nights ago has frightened them badly. We��
Daniel swayed, suddenly dizzy. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly full of saliva. He cleared his throat, then tried to continue.
�We have been trying to convince them� that you won�t harm them��
�Daniel?� Jack�s voice seemed to come from far away.
�You are not from this world.�
�No.� The word came out as a sigh as Daniel�s vision filled with grey.
�Then your people are unkind. Why do they allow you to suffer such agony?� A yellow tendril floated towards Daniel, brushing millimetres from his wound.
A hard thump along his right hip and back sent pain screaming along his injured side. He panted in agony while hands raised his shoulders and something soft supported his head. He shivered, and something covered his upper body, helping to ward off a fraction of the chill he was experiencing. There was noise in the background that he couldn�t quite make out.
Finally the pain began to ebb and he opened his eyes. Jack was kneeling before him, a worried look on his face. His hands were pulling at Daniel�s tee-shirt and were gently removing the bandage he had placed over his wound earlier.
Daniel caught a glimpse of Sam�s blond hair above him and he realized his head and shoulders were resting on her lap. He didn�t remember lying down, or even sitting down, for that matter. Then the sounds he�d been hearing finally coalesced into loud, angry voices. He could see Teal�c�s legs standing beside Jack and he realized the Jaffa was guarding them.
�They are evil! We warned you, but you would not heed our words!� That was definitely Kareeb, with many others echoing his sentiments.
�Oh, for crying out loud, the aliens didn�t do this to Daniel! Look, he�s been stabbed. These floating lamps couldn�t even hold a knife if they wanted to.� Then more softly, Jack asked, �Christ, Daniel, what the hell happened?�
�Didn�t leave an offering when I took the crystal, and walked into a knife for my trouble.� Was that his voice? He sounded so breathless, weak. �Tell Kareeb, the priest� I tied him up� but he�s okay. Someone should go untie him.�
�Damnit, somebody should have been watching your six,� Jack told him softly as he pressed the bandage back into position. �Daniel got hurt when he stole the crystal,� Jack yelled over Kareeb�s loud protests.
�Who did this?� Kareeb demanded, his voice seemingly closer than what it had been earlier. Daniel tried to turn his head to see if the man had actually approached them, but Sam was in the way and he couldn�t make anything out.
�Daniel says he surprised someone, a priest. Who by the way might be a little pissed when he finds out he�s missing this party. He�s fine, by the way, just a little tied up at the moment.�
�It is nothing less than this one deserved,� the outraged voice replied. �He stole something that was ours.�
�That thing he stole is what your people used to talk with these aliens! Your shadow chasers.�
�Jack,� Daniel said, lifting his arm and grabbing Jack�s bare arm. He frowned at the feel of chilled skin beneath his fingers, confused. Then Daniel realized that Jack had wrapped his jacket around him. �Talk to the aliens,� he whispered. �Show Kareeb that they�re harmless. I think they want to hear music. And song. There were references in the translations about festivities where music was played for days on end.�
�Daniel, you�re hurt. I can�t��
�I�ll be fine. Go talk to them,� Daniel urged, feeling his pulse beating in his head as he raised his voice.
�Get him back into bed,� Jack ordered as he exchanged a look with Sam and Teal�c. Jack got up and shifting his P-90 so that it hung out of the way, he resolutely placed a hand on the crystal and offered his other to the alien.
Someone lifted Daniel to a sitting position and he groaned in pain. Teal�c�s strong hands lifted him up onto his feet, his knees nearly buckled but Teal�c was there to support him. With the man�s help, Daniel began reluctantly shuffling down the street.
He could hear Jack talking and the alien responding, but as he was slowly helped back to the small room in the back of the building, only snippets of the conversation made its way through his muddled brain.
�Aided� destroy� Stargate� parasitical enemy� Goa�uld� our enemies too� sounds� joy� you mean music� no fear.�
Suddenly he was being lowered onto a bed and he gladly gave in to its comfort. A soft glow infused the room and Daniel realized one of the alien beings had accompanied them. Warm blankets covered his legs and hips, and the bed dipped as Teal�c sat beside him.
�Here.� Sam popped into the room and handed Teal�c a pack. �Do you need my help?�
�I do not. Although perhaps some of your water would be beneficial.� Teal�c removed the first aid kit from the pack and took out disinfecting materials.
Sam unclipped her canteen from her belt and placed it on the floor by Teal�c�s feet. She smiled down at Daniel. �I�ll be back as soon as I can,� she told him. He blinked, and she was gone.
�I am reluctant to administer morphine for your pain,� Teal�c said as he popped two pills from a blister pack. �The drug would most likely affect your respiratory system and I am uncertain if you have recovered fully from your earlier illness. These will help, but it will take time before their effects are felt.�
Daniel accepted the Vicodin and gratefully gulped the pills down with water. As he lay his head back onto the pillow, Teal�c warned, �This may be painful,� as he removed Daniel�s dressing. Daniel tensed, knowing that there was no *may* about it. It would hurt, but it needed to be done and should have been done sooner.
The alien that had followed them approached, glowing a soft orange. As Teal�c touched Daniel�s wound with an antiseptic pad, it touched a tendril to Daniel�s head and the pain disappeared. He could feel the cool, wet liquid on his side, but other than that, there were no other sensations. The relief was beyond belief and he gasped in surprise.
�I�m fine. It doesn�t hurt. He�s stopping the pain,� he whispered, relaxing totally into the mattress. Teal�c worked quickly, probably knowing he wasn�t causing Daniel any pain allowed him to speed the job up. But the moment another pressure bandage was applied and his tee-shirt pulled down over it, the pain returned. Slowly, increasingly, getting worse and worse until Daniel was biting his lip and trying not to yell from the agony. He wasn�t sure now if the short reprieve had been worth it.
He felt Teal�c�s hand on his forehead and then something cool and wet wiped away the layers of sweat and grime from his face. After what felt like an eternity, he began to get accustomed to the agony and slowly he relaxed. He lay in a feverish haze, waiting for the medication to kick in.
�You don�t have to stay with me,� he finally said to Teal�c, somewhat uncomfortable, knowing that Jack had two less team members to back him up.
�I will not leave you alone in this condition, DanielJackson,� Teal�c replied softly. �And I prefer the quiet of this room to the discussions proceeding outside.�
�Jack might need your help,� Daniel argued.
�Do not fear for O�Neill. He is in control of the situation. Do you not hear? Kareeb is now communicating with the visitors.�
Daniel strained to listen but could only hear a faint murmur over the blood rushing through his ears. He lay shivering on the bed, enveloped in a cloud of fever and pain.
Slowly, the Vicodin began to kick in and the pain began to ebb. He was feeling sleepy and he closed his eyes, allowing himself to drowse to the sound of falling rain.
�Teal�c!� Sam�s voice held an urgency that got through to Daniel�s drug-induced rest. He opened his eyes as her footsteps neared his bed and was surprised to see her face near his own.
�The ceremonial dagger was laced with poison,� she told Daniel breathlessly. �Not much, just a trace. But enough of it so that it�s probably going to make you sick.�
�You mean, I�m not sick now?� he joked, forcing a smile, his lips feeling numb and dry as they stretched across his teeth.
She drew her fingers gently across his cheek, then paused. She frowned at what she found.
�I think we should give him more Tylenol for his fever,� she said, speaking to Teal�c. She turned back to Daniel, explaining. �The knife that stabbed you is used to represent the Goa�uld�s defeat. They keep a trace of poison on the blade as a ritual to prove that they�re ready for battle should the Goa�uld return. Kareeb assured me there�s not enough poison to kill you, but it�ll make you pretty sick.�
�Oh great,� Daniel sighed.
�We�ll be leaving for the Stargate at first light. Colonel O�Neill has made arrangements to get everyone out, and he�s getting transportation ready for us all. He�s with the other prisoners now. They�re finally getting medical attention, although I�m not sure if Captain Howard�� Her voice trailed off and Daniel realized she didn�t want to worry him more. �Try to get some rest, okay?�
She helped raise Daniel�s head when Teal�c produced the medication and Daniel swallowed the pills and water, feeling the liquid land into the pit of his stomach and begin to churn the already not-so-pleasant contents that were beginning to make him nauseous. His fuzzy brain realized he�d taken antibiotics and painkillers already on an empty stomach, and he really didn�t want to add throwing up on his list of maladies.
The next time he opened his eyes, Sam was gone and Teal�c was sitting on the floor beside him. Relieved to know that Teal�c had remained with him, Daniel closed his eyes and let himself drift off, the sound of music coming faintly through the closed door, weaving with the tinkle of rainfall through his fevered dreams.
- - - - - -
Jack stared down at his sleeping friend, whose face was pale in the soft glow of the room. The small alien had remained with Daniel and Teal�c throughout the night, floating in the upper corner of the room every time Jack had come in to check on Daniel. Daniel�s breathing was a little fast and laboured, but nowhere close to the distress he�d experienced the previous day. Jack assumed this time it was due to the poison coursing through his body.
The sounds of hoof beats and the creak of a wagon informed him that their ride was here.
�Daniel,� Jack said as he shook the sleeping man awake, feeling the heat of fever seeping through the blanket which covered him. Dull, watery eyes blinked at him, the momentary lack of recognition worrying Jack until a tiny smile twitched at the corner of Daniel�s mouth. Jack sat down on the side of the bed, feeling so tired that he wished he could simply stretch out beside his friend.
�Yeah, it�s me. Sorry, we gotta get you up.� Jack shoved his hand beneath Daniel�s back and lifted until Daniel was sitting, leaning heavily against him. Holding him tightly against his chest, he reached over and pulled Daniel�s legs until his feet were on the floor. He knew this weakness was due to the poison but he hated seeing Daniel so helpless.
�Where we going?� Daniel asked, lifting his head to look at Jack.
�Outside. There�s a wagon with a bed with your name on it. The aliens checked out the Stargate and confirmed that by the time the sun rises, the DHD will be fully charged. We�re going home, Danny. And I hate to say this, but Fraiser�s gonna be pissed.�
Daniel leaned his head back down onto Jack�s shoulder. �Better let me escape now, before she starts sticking needles into my butt.�
Jack chuckled. �Ah, but it�s me she�s gonna be pissed at. I�m the one who was supposed to be watching your six.�
�But I�m still the one who�s gonna get the needles,� Daniel groaned.
Jack tightened his grip and stood up, ignoring Daniel�s whispered �sorry� when his legs buckled as Jack stood him on his feet. One of Kareeb�s men had been standing by the door, waiting for this moment. He quickly moved and placed Daniel�s free arm around his shoulder, helping to support the injured man. Together, they got him up the steps, down the alley and to the wagon, the little alien following behind.
Jack could see Teal�c and Carter helping with the other injured, getting them settled into the two wagons. There were three conveyances in total, but the third, smaller cart was carrying the two dead men home.
As he manhandled Daniel onto the thick mattress in the back of their wagon, Jack glanced over and saw that Captain Howard had been strapped to a make-shift backboard in the wagon next to him. The man had suffered a severe head injury and a possible neck and back injury. Major Thompson had a broken leg and ribs, with possible internal injuries, and the others, although badly battered and bruised, were at least ambulatory. Carter was going to ride with them, while Jack and Teal�c would ride with Daniel and one of the scientists.
Jack settled himself beside the makeshift bed as Teal�c and the astronomer shifted slightly to make room for him. The scientist looked battered, his face was bruised and his arm was in a sling. But he was sitting up, and in obvious better shape than half of SG-4.
The wagon lurched as the horses pulled away, and Jack saw Daniel�s eyes open in bewilderment, glancing around the wagon.
�It�s okay,� Jack soothed, placing his hand on his friend�s shoulder. �We�re going home, remember?�
�Yeah,� Daniel sighed, then winced as the wagon hit a pothole.
Jack leaned over the top of the conveyance and looked at the road. The aliens were flitting around in the sky, and the night was lit almost as clear as day. He could see the rocks and potholes littering the dirt track they were following and realized they were in for a rough ride.
�Here, this might be more comfortable,� Jack said as he slid his legs beneath Daniel�s shoulders and manoeuvred his friend until he was lying against Jack�s chest. He pulled the blankets up and wrapped an arm around Daniel�s upper body, holding him steady. Daniel was still burning with fever, but he seemed a little more awake at the moment.
�Thanks,� Daniel said as the right wheel dropped hard, jarring Jack�s back against the wooden boards.
�Hey, take it easy,� Jack called out to the driver. �We got injured people in here.�
Immediately the wagon slowed, and the ride became a little smoother.
�He stayed with me all night.� Jack looked at Daniel and saw his friend was staring at the lone little alien who was keeping pace with their wagon a few feet away. Jack had begun to recognize the colors and patterns of several of the aliens, they all had a �signature� and �tone� that appeared to be inherent to each. Jack was pretty sure Daniel was right and the one accompanying them was the one who�d been babysitting Daniel most of the night.
�Yeah, I think you�re right. I saw him come out a few times and �talk� to the head Riamah.�
�Riamah? Is that what��
�Yeah, that�s what the shadow chasers call themselves. We couldn�t get individual names out of them, but they do understand the concept. It looked like they were all worried about you.�
�Oh.� Daniel was still looking at the alien. �He helped with the pain. When Teal�c disinfected the wound, he took the pain away for a little while.�
�Sweet. I bet Fraiser might like a couple of them on her staff.� Jack shifted slightly, trying to find a comfortable position against the wooden back of the wagon. �They feel responsible for your injury. As does Kareeb. Did you know the poison that was on the knife was the weapon Kareeb�s ancestors used to defeat the Goa�uld centuries ago?�
He felt Daniel try to turn to look at him, but his friend�s muscles simply refused to obey him. Daniel swore under his breath, his breathing increasing with his attempted efforts.
�Hey, don�t try to move. It�s okay, I know you�re feeling weird, but it�ll wear off. The poison does something to the connection between your brain and your muscles. Carter spouted all the medical stuff at me, but I understood enough to realize that it severs the link between snake and host. It also suppresses the immune system, so both Jaffa and Goa�uld would quickly die either from their injuries or the poison.�
�Die?� Jack heard the worry in Daniel�s voice.
�Yeah, but that would be at full strength. Kareeb assured us that there wasn�t enough poison on the knife to do much damage to you except make you sick for a while.� He rubbed his hand along Daniel�s shoulder in a soothing manner. �Anyway, the recipe for the poison was provided by the Riamah. And you know the thing about the Stargate not holding a charge? That was the aliens� doing also. The Goa�uld would �gate to the planet, the people here would attack them with poisonous darts and arrows, and the bad guys would be dead within twenty four hours, with no chance of being healed or reanimated by a sarcophagus.�
�Sounds like we could use a sample of the stuff ourselves.�
�Yeah, well, I asked. Very nicely.�
Jack felt Daniel harrumph and smiling, he gently tightened his grip around his friend in a one-handed hug.
�Well, I did. But they refused. Kareeb explained that the making of the poison is a secret held by the religious faction, and the local priest in charge wasn�t willing to share.�
�Well, I guess your stealing their crystal didn�t enamour us to them, but we�ll keep asking.�
Daniel remained quiet and Jack thought he�d fallen asleep, until he spoke again. �Aren�t we going home?�
�Yes, but the Riamah are very curious about us and they want to learn more. They said they�ll be here for another twelve days, before the planet moves out of range, so I�m gonna recommend to General Hammond that he send back a diplomatic team to talk with them during the time they�re here.�
�And ask the aliens for the formula for the poison?�
�Well, yeah. If they can do so without insulting Kareeb�s priests.�
�So Kareeb believes the Riamah.�
�Oh yeah. As soon as the Riamah began recounting a few �sacred stories�, they had Kareeb and his people eating from the palms of their� tendrils.�
�What about ships?�
�What about ships.�
�The Goa�uld. Why didn�t they attack with ships if the Stargate wasn�t working?�
�Ah, right. There�s some kind of energy given off by the aliens� home that just doesn�t seem to sit right with engines. Seems every time a Goa�uld ship would even come close to this solar system, it would break down. They eventually just gave up.�
�So they�ll be allies?�
�It sounds almost too good to be true, huh? But if they are willing to help us in our fight against the Goa�uld, it�ll all be thanks to you, Danny. You got the people here talking with them, and now if our people can fit in a bit of quality time with that stone in the coming nights, we might have a new weapon or two.�
The night was darker now that they had moved away from the village. Only a few of the aliens were accompanying them back, their illumination enough to guide the horses on the darkened path to the Stargate. Jack saw Daniel close his eyes, and he knew their short conversation had tired his friend.
�Go to sleep,� he said softly. Daniel blinked up at Jack a moment, then he closed his eyes once more, his breathing evening out slightly as sleep overtook his battered body.
- - - - - -
Jack grunted, hoping the voice would go away and let him sleep.
�O�Neill, you must wake now.�
Teal�c. Not a voice one usually associated with lazy mornings when one wanted to sleep in. Jack cracked an eye open and groaned at the stiffness of his neck and back. He tried to straighten up but a hot, heavy encumbering weight lying on top of him suddenly reminded him where he was.
�Daniel!� he exclaimed, waking up fully in an instant. Teal�c was looming over them, and he realized the wagon wasn�t moving. There were only the three of them in it, and dawn was fast approaching. Jack spotted the large bulk of the Stargate off to the side, and knew they had reached their destination.
�We have arrived at the Stargate,� Teal�c informed him needlessly.
�Yeah, I can see that,� Jack groused. After checking on Daniel and seeing he hadn�t gotten worse, he shifted in order to lay the slumbering man down onto the mattress and realized all his muscles had stiffened up considerably. �Hey, can you give me a hand here? My butt�s asleep and I don�t think my neck and shoulders are ever gonna be the same again.�
Teal�c gently lifted Daniel so that Jack could slide from underneath him. He moved to the edge of the wagon with difficulty and gratefully got down, stretching his back and legs. Teal�c hopped off lithely, Jack envying him his ease of movement. Teal�c joined the others in helping carry the injured SG team member to the �gate while Jack assessed their situation.
Several streaks of light flew across the brightening sky, while others floated placidly nearby. Jack noticed that their little companion was gone and he wondered when and why.
Jack judged the sun would be up in another fifteen minutes. He saw Carter examining the DHD and she nodded at him. They were ready, all they needed was for the sun to rise and they could dial home.
A bright green light came streaking towards them, stopping a few feet from Jack. He recognized the alien leader and he smiled, nodding at it. The light bobbed up and down a few times before floating over to the wagon. A smaller, familiar orange light followed behind a little more slowly and Jack supposed their little friend had gone back to town to inform its leader that they had arrived at their destination.
The leader went to Daniel and hovered over him, its color changing from green to blue to yellow, then back to green. Jack could even hear the change in pitch in the sounds it made as the colors shifted. He shook his head, thinking of these aliens� love of music, when they made such melodious sounds without realizing it.
The sun began creeping over the horizon, and the aliens began to fade as the sun caused them to become transparent. He saw the leader of the Riamah extend a semi-translucent tendril over Daniel�s face, and his friend sighed in his sleep, a small smile curling on his lips. It rose up over the wagon, approaching Jack. As the day grew brighter, the alien grew harder to see. It extended a wisp of color over Jack�s face and he felt a rush of emotions once more; comfort, safety, friendship and a sense of belonging. He realized the creature was telling him everything would be okay, and was inviting him to return. He widened his eyes in wonder, and smiled, his exhaustion forgotten for a couple of seconds.
�Yeah, I�ll do my best to try and come back for a quick visit,� Jack said out loud, knowing it couldn�t understand him without the translating crystal. It bobbed a few more times before disappearing completely in the sunlight. Jack wondered if they ever remained on the planet during the day, although the people here wouldn�t be able to see them, unless they were in a darkened room.
�Sir,� Carter called out to him. �We�re ready to dial Earth.�
�Go for it,� Jack yelled back. The Stargate began revolving as he climbed back into the wagon and pulled Daniel�s mattress towards the tail of the conveyance. He heard the Stargate activate and was peripherally aware of SG-4 entering the wormhole, being helped to its edge by their wagons� drivers. The movement woke Daniel, and he stared at Jack dully.
By the time Jack and their driver had gotten Daniel into a seated position, most everyone had gone through the �gate and Teal�c was pushing the bodies of their dead personnel through it. Having finished his grisly duty, he came to help Jack and together they managed to half carry, half walk Daniel the few feet to their destination. Daniel sagged in their arms as they left the quiet, dew-strewn planet and stepped through the Stargate and into a medical bedlam.
At first glance all Jack could see were gurneys positioned haphazardly all over the Gateroom, and the white lab coats of the medical personnel as they hovered over the exhausted and injured returning men and women. As he and Teal�c lowered Daniel to the metallic ramp, Jack searched the sea of white uniforms, ignoring the two dead bodies which had been laid out at the bottom and to the right of the ramp. He looked for the petite powerhouse whom he knew Daniel was in desperate need of. He straightened while Teal�c remained kneeling with their now-unconscious friend. Jack met Doctor Fraiser�s eyes across the room as she looked up at him from where she was working on Captain Howard, with Carter standing beside her.
He saw her eyes widen and her face go pale as she took in Daniel, lying at Jack�s feet. He could have sworn she swayed a moment, then Carter touched her arm and spoke quietly to her, waving towards the three of them. Fraiser gave several quiet orders to her people and then rushed towards them. She knelt beside Daniel and examined him, then quickly had her people place him on a gurney while Jack and Teal�c gave her a list of Daniel�s injuries. Jack watched as IVs were started and oxygen given before Daniel was rushed to the infirmary.
He watched as the gurney bearing his friend left the Gateroom. As the petite woman glanced around the room, eyeing the remaining personnel before following behind it, Jack snagged her sleeve.
�Doc, I forgot to mention that Daniel got really sick minutes after coming through the Stargate two days ago. We think he had some kind of allergic reaction to something, maybe the booster. He was better yesterday, but I think you�ll need to test him for any unknown stuff he might have been exposed to.�
She turned to look at Jack and he could see she was upset about something.
�Sir, I need to talk to you later.� She bit her lip, and then looked over the dwindling number of people left in the room. �I have to get to the infirmary� I��
�Doc, it was pretty bad. He lost consciousness and he stopped breathing. It took a few hours before he came out of it, but even then, he was really weak and tired for a while afterwards.�
�I know. We�ll talk later, Colonel. Please, I have to go.� She rushed off before Jack could question her further.
Jack stopped as she rushed out of the room. He felt a presence beside him and turned to see General Hammond. �Sir,� he acknowledged.
�Colonel. It looks like you had a pretty hard time of it.�
�Yes, Sir, but it was really a sort of misunderstanding. It�s a long story.� Jack gave him the pertinent details as they walked slowly towards the infirmary, and was relieved when the General informed him that they�d debrief the next day once he�d had some rest. They entered the medical area to see most of the beds in the section occupied. Jack sat on the nearest one, searching for Daniel and when he didn�t see him, assumed he was being treated behind one of the curtained-off areas.
Jack sat quietly, enduring the standard physical examination while waiting for one of the doctors to come and give him the all clear. He was worried about Daniel, but knew he was in good hands. Something about what Fraiser had just said nagged at his tired mind. When the nurse finished with him, Jack stretched out on the bed and closed his eyes, feeling strangely peaceful and calm. He could hear the usual quiet chatter around him, and as his exhausted body slowly relaxed, the noise faded as he slid into healing sleep. He never felt or heard as Doctor Warner finished examining him, or when a nurse removed his boots and spread a blanket over him. But Fraiser�s words, �I know�, had followed him down into a dream-filled sleep where Daniel wasn�t breathing as he floated in a bed of bright lights and Jack wasn�t able to reach him.
- - - - - -
Jack opened his eyes slowly, realizing he was in the infirmary but not feeling the usual pain or fuzziness that normally accompanied his waking there. Actually, he felt pretty good, rested but hungry. He sat up, glancing around, and noted he was still dressed in his BDUs, and was in dire need of a shower.
�Good morning, Colonel. How are you feeling? You�re looking a whole lot better after a twelve hour nap.� Janet Fraiser had come up behind him and rounded the bed, greeting Jack with a smile as he sat up, stretching.
�Morning, Doc. How�s Daniel?� he asked without preamble.
�He�s stable, and although his fever is still high, the poison in his system is showing signs of breaking down, so I�m hoping the antibiotics will start working soon on his infection.�
�Can I see him?� He bent down and began putting his boots on.
�Of course. You might want to take a shower and get something to eat beforehand, though.� She smiled to take the sting out of her words.
Jack paused while tying his laces, silently agreeing with her about the shower when he caught a whiff of himself. �Shower sounds good, but I�ll take a minute with Daniel first. What about Howard?� Jack asked, remembering the severely injured Captain as he stood up and followed Fraiser to Daniel�s bed.
�We�re going to have to transfer him to the Academy Hospital. His injuries are too severe for me to treat here. I�m afraid his prognosis isn�t good.�
Jack had known the younger man had been badly injured and he hoped the doctors at the hospital would be able to help him. He approached the curtained off area and pushed the heavy drapes aside. Carter was sitting beside Daniel�s bed and she smiled at him as he slipped inside.
�Sir, I was just going to come wake you in a few minutes. General Hammond has scheduled our debriefing in an hour. You�ll have time for a shower and some breakfast.�
He looked her over and noted that she looked rested and freshly showered. He nodded his thanks and turned his attention towards their friend. Daniel appeared to be sleeping peacefully, although that fact could be due to the medication being supplied through multiple IVs. Jack placed a finger on Daniel�s cheek, wary of the oxygen mask, and felt the heat coming off of his body. Fraiser stopped beside Jack, her eyes scanning the equipment out of habit.
�Colonel,� Fraiser said softly as she turned pained eyes towards him. �You need to know� earlier when you said Daniel had gotten sick after arriving on the planet. I� we tried to stop you, Sir,� she said in a rush. �But Daniel had already left and by the time we�d gotten through to the Gateroom to inform you of our mistake, you�d already gone through the wormhole.�
Jack shook his head, a little confused at her words. �Mistake? You mean when Daniel collapsed� a mistake?�
�The booster shot!� Carter exclaimed, her eyes darting between Fraiser�s and Jack�s.
�Yes, it was an unfortunate mistake. The nurse giving Daniel the shot realized almost immediately what had happened, that she�d given him Versed instead of the inoculation. If Daniel hadn�t been in such a rush, we could have stopped him, kept him in the infirmary, given him some Romazicon to counteract the effects of the Versed and watched him carefully for respiratory compromise. Chances are we wouldn�t even have had to intubate him. But since the dose of Versed he received came on top of his normal antihistamines, together, both were sure to adversely affect his breathing.�
�That�s a world of understatement. He stopped breathing, period.� Jack fisted his hands tightly, fighting back the memory of Daniel lying limp and helpless on the ground while Jack struggled to breathe for him.
Daniel made a soft sound in his throat and stirred. Carter spoke softly to him and placed a hand on his forehead. He quieted at her words and touch, and she picked up his hand, stroking the limp fingers.
Fraiser lowered her voice, whispering so not to disturb her patient further. �We had no way of warning you, Sir. We tried dialing the planet, but the chevrons wouldn�t engage.� She looked at Jack, her brown expressive eyes haunted. �You kept him alive, Sir.�
�Yah,� Jack mouthed silently, thinking of the gut-clenching fear he�d gone through not knowing what was happening to Daniel at the time. If he�d at least known the effects the drug would have dissipated after a short time, he�d have had an easier time coping.
�How did this happen, Janet?� Carter�s voice wasn�t accusing, but as she held onto Daniel�s hand, Jack could see how her fingers trembled slightly, waiting for the answer to her question.
Jack turned to Fraiser, knowing how efficiently and regulatory she ran her infirmary. Errors of this kind were definitely not run of the mill under Fraiser�s domain.
�Murphy�s Law, Sam. Daniel came rushing in at a time when we were all busy and that, coupled with one second of inattention when one of my nurses put down a pre-filled syringe meant for another patient led to her giving Daniel the wrong medication. It wasn�t her fault, it wasn�t Daniel�s fault, it was just one of those unfortunate accidents that couldn�t have happened at the worst, possible time.�
At her words, Jack could picture Daniel rushing pellmell into the infirmary, breathlessly asking for his shot while informing all that the Stargate was about to be opened and simultaneously apologizing to them for having to make them hurry. Jack was sure Fraiser had scolded Daniel about being so late and ignoring the reminders she had sent them all. He bit his lip, forcing himself to keep his temper in check. The petite doctor was right. It was nobody�s fault. Except maybe Jack�s. He should have made sure that Daniel had been up-to-date with the boosters.
�Will there be any adverse effects from the Versed?� Fraiser shook her head at Carter�s question.
�No. He would simply have slept off its effects. I�m more worried about the infection in his wound right now.� With a nod to Jack, Fraiser left the area. Jack stood staring at Daniel for another minute before announcing he was off to the showers and that he�d meet Carter in the briefing room. His stomach gurgled, reminding him that he hadn�t had much to eat in the past few days.
- - - - - -
The meeting with General Hammond had been long and wearisome, although Jack knew that part of the tedium had been mostly because he had wanted to be here at Daniel�s bedside rather than meticulously going over the events of the past two days. He had missed Daniel�s presence in the briefing room, and could have used Daniel�s voice in arguing for a return visit to P3R 2823. And it all seemed to be for nothing since the General had advised them that he wasn�t willing to send a diplomatic contingent there to talk to either the Riamah or the planet�s inhabitants as the latter had murdered two persons and had severely injured one more.
Jack, Teal�c and Carter had argued for the need to return to the planet, and although the General had agreed that the opportunity for getting their hands on either a sample of the poison or its ingredients was alluring, he didn�t deem it worth the risk of chancing the loss of more of his people.
Jack knew how important this new weapon could be for the SGC, and he was planning on arguing his case privately with the General a little later, maybe when news that Daniel was getting better would put the General in a more amenable mood.
And better he was. Daniel had broken into a heavy sweat a short while ago when his fever had finally broken, and although he hadn�t woken yet, Fraiser had seemed inordinately pleased with what the medical equipment was telling her.
They�d been shooed out of Daniel�s room while her medical staff cleaned him up and changed his bedding, and the three of them had gone for pie and coffee, going over possible arguments they could approach General Hammond with, carrying the conversation back to Daniel�s bedside when they�d been permitted to return. They�d sat around his bed, talking softly, until they�d finally run out of ideas. All three now sat staring at the floor, trying to think up one more brilliant idea that would convince General Hammond to open the �gate to P3R 2823.
�Don�t worry, he�ll have to dial there to let it go home.�
Daniel�s voice surprised all three, Sam�s soft �Daniel� beating Jack�s �Danny� by a fraction of a second. Clear blue eyes looked up at them, and Jack felt the grin on his face stretching cheek muscles which had been held too tightly clenched for far too long a time.
�What are you talking about?� Jack asked when all had told Daniel how glad they were to see him feeling better.
�We have a stowaway, Jack. Can�t you hear him? He�s been singing to me, keeping me company.�
�What?� Jack exclaimed as he glanced around the brightly-lit room, not seeing or hearing anything out of place. But he lifted a finger to quell Carter�s comments, and closed his eyes, trying to listen beyond the hum of ventilation and medical machinery. It was faint, but yes, if he concentrated, he could hear the musical tinkle of one of the aliens.
�Carter, get the lights,� Jack ordered as he opened his eyes. As she rushed off to do his bidding, Jack noted Daniel was staring at him.
�Why�d you think he followed us here?� Jack asked him.
�I don�t know. Maybe to check out what kind of people we really are?�
�If the being stayed here with you during your illness, DanielJackson, perhaps it simply wished to ensure your recovery.�
Jack thought back to the ease and peace with which he�d fallen asleep upon his return from the planet. �I think it paid me a visit, too,� he admitted quietly.
The lights suddenly went out, the area illuminated only by the soft reflection of the medical paraphernalia surrounding Daniel�s bed. And the glow of the small, orange being which had kept Daniel company throughout his illness on the planet and which was now floating above Daniel�s bed by the ceiling.
Jack stood and faced it, his hands spread out at his side. The being, realizing it was now visible, bobbed several times, changing color in its excitement.
�Oh my God!� Fraiser exclaimed from the room�s edge as she stood beside Carter, staring wide-eyed at the glowing alien.
�Doc, go get the General. But don�t sound the alarm. I don�t think it�s come here to hurt anyone.�
The being floated down from the ceiling and hovered near Daniel. It brought a tendril down to him and held it near Daniel�s bandaged side, and a burst of sound came from it which Jack knew meant pleasure.
�I think he just gave me his all-clear,� Daniel said with a smile as the being floated back up to the ceiling.
�Colonel O�Neill.� Hammond�s voice was soft and he stood near the entrance to the infirmary. �So I take it this is one of the alien beings which caused such panic of P3R 2823?�
�Yes, General. I think it might have taken a shine to Daniel here, or maybe he�s simply under orders to make sure Daniel got proper treatment. In any case, like I told you, I got the impression I had been requested to return to 2823 from the leader, and this is probably why. The Riamah wanted to make sure Tiny here got home okay.�
�And you say the two of you can hear it?� Hammond took several steps towards Daniel�s bed, ignoring the alien and looking at Jack and Daniel to answer him.
�Yes, Sir,� Daniel answered softly. �Sam and Teal�c can�t because they didn�t communicate with them. His music is fainter now, maybe because I�m feeling better. But every time I woke up, I heard him singing to me, just like I knew when one of you guys was sitting here with me.�
When the General�s eyes met Jack�s, he nodded also. �He�s hard to hear with all the other noises in here,� Jack said as he waved his hand at the equipment, �but now that I can see him, yeah, I can hear him.�
�You weren�t aware of him until just now?�
�No, Sir. Not until Daniel pointed him out. And he�s all but invisible in the light.�
�I see. Do you believe if we dial the Stargate in another twenty four hours, the alien will know well enough to return home through it?�
�Yes, Sir,� Carter replied. �Since these aliens helped the people of P3R 2823 modify the Stargate and DHD to prevent the Goa�uld from escaping once they were poisoned, I�m sure it�ll understand that we�re sending it home.�
�And I expect that you�re going to request a diplomatic team return with it.� The General frowned at Jack, but before Jack could reply, Daniel answered.
�Yes, Sir. After all, they did request we send a diplomatic team to learn more about us. And since their world will be cut off from us in less than two weeks for about fifty more years, we really can�t afford to lose this chance to learn about them. And maybe obtain some knowledge we can use against the Goa�uld in the interim.�
Hammond stared up at the alien, who floated easily near the ceiling, seemingly ignoring the people who were discussing it and its people. Daniel continued to argue his case to have a diplomatic team return to the planet for several more minutes when the alien suddenly zipped down to hover near Daniel. It blinked white and orange several times, the gentle music now coming fast and sharp as it placed itself in front of Daniel, as if it were trying to hide him from the General.
As everyone exclaimed over the alien�s actions, Jack looked at Daniel and saw how tired his friend appeared to be. Fraiser must have noted the same thing because she moved past the alien and took Daniel�s pulse while placing a hand on his cheek, testing for fever.
�I think our friend is trying to tell us that Daniel�s had enough excitement for now,� she said as she pulled a blanket up and tucked it around Daniel�s shoulders. Everyone quieted at her words and stared around the alien at Daniel, who seemed to have lost his energy now that he wasn�t actively talking.
�Colonel, I want you and the rest of your team to brief SG-8 bright and early tomorrow morning. They�ll be returning to P3R 2823, along with this little fellow, once their DHD is charged.� Hammond looked around the glowing ball at Daniel. �Get some rest, son. And I�m glad to see that you�re feeling better.�
�Thanks,� Daniel mumbled. Jack could see Daniel fighting to stay awake, his eyelids heavy and drooping.
�We�ll let you sleep,� Carter said as she kissed Daniel lightly on the forehead. �I�ll come back later, k?�
�As will I. Sleep well, DanielJackson.�
As the room began to clear, the alien resumed its place near the ceiling. Daniel closed his eyes and Jack could hear the soothing noises the alien was making. Jack was feeling sleepy himself; this thing was better than a sedative. It had been a long day. Pretty secure that Daniel and his guardian angel would be okay for the night, Jack headed for his assigned room, ready to bed down himself.
- - - - - -
Jack hung up the phone and returned to the living room where he and Daniel had been watching TV. Jack turned the volume down when he saw Daniel had fallen asleep on Jack�s couch. He went over and spread an afghan over Daniel�s sleeping form, glad to see his friend looking better. It was nearly suppertime, and although Jack had made some homemade vegetable soup earlier, he decided that along with a sandwich, it would be filling enough for them both.
As he prepared supper, Jack thought back to the events of the past week. Jack had accompanied SG-8 to the Gateroom, intent on seeing both the SG team and the little alien off. At General Hammond�s orders, the lights in both the Gateroom and control room had been extinguished, and the little orange being was clearly visible as it flitted curiously around the large, cavernous room.
They had lost the little creature once the Stargate had erupted to life, but their computer equipment had clearly shown five life signs entering the Stargate. Jack had sent a little silent thank you after the retreating creature, curious as to what it would be reporting to its leader upon its return. He shook his head, looked up and grinned at General Hammond, and then returned to keep Daniel company and report to the sleeping man once he woke, that their friend had returned home.
Some of the shadows had lifted from Daniel�s countenance once Fraiser had informed him that Daniel hadn�t been responsible for his illness when he�d arrived on the planet. Jack and Fraiser had finally convinced Daniel that he wasn�t responsible for the death of the two men, and that he wasn�t to blame for getting sick and delaying SG-1�s interaction with the aliens and inhabitants of the world.
Captain Howard had woken from his coma the very same day the alien left, mentioning later that he�d followed the sound of falling rain out of a deep, dark chasm. He still had serious neurological problems that might affect his going through the Stargate again, but at least the man had survived.
Now Daniel had been released to Jack�s care for the next few days. Jack hoped that the news he�d gotten from General Hammond just now would be the trick to chase away the last of the shadows which occasionally haunted his younger friend.
- - - - - -
A streak of light flashing along the wall above the couch caught Daniel�s eye and he sat up from his relaxed position on the couch, swearing at the pull of healing tissues as he pushed himself to his feet a little too quickly. Holding a hand to his side to stem the sudden pain, he excitedly searched the room for the alien, then slumped dejectedly when he realized the light had been from a car�s headlights as it cruised down the street.
�You�d think after more than a week we�d stop looking for them,� Jack said from behind him. Daniel twirled a little too fast, startled, and a little embarrassed at being caught mistaking the light for the Riamah. Daniel sat back down with a groan and a sigh. He was recovering from the poisoning and infection and stab wound, but the healing was slower than he�d like. He�d just been released from the infirmary and was staying with Jack for a few days to recuperate. Jack came to sit beside Daniel and handed him a tray bearing his supper. He looked at the soup and sandwich, his appetite suddenly having fled.
�I did exactly what you just did for the first three days. Even found myself stopping the Avalanche and pulling over when I spotted an incredible sunset; lying in bed listening for their music; glancing up at the ceiling at the oddest times, just in case.� Jack smiled at Daniel and patted his knee, and suddenly Daniel didn�t feel quite as self-conscious at having mistaken the lights.
He longed to be able to say goodbye to the aliens, and envied those SGC personnel who would be �gating to 2823 in two days for the huge farewell party the Riamah had asked for.
�You don�t think Janet would�� Daniel sighed and picked up his spoon, dipping it into the soup and stirring the steaming liquid.
�I hate to tell you this, but you�re not quite up to a three hour hike,� Jack said quietly.
�I know.� Daniel took a sip of soup, holding the heat of it in his mouth for a moment to counteract the chill of disappointment.
�So when the Riamah asked for you, Doc said only on the condition that the party was moved away from the village and to the Stargate itself, to avoid your having to make the journey.�
Daniel almost choked on the bite of ham and cheese sandwich that he�d been chewing. He turned incredulous eyes to Jack, and saw him grinning at Daniel.
�Everyone agreed. Doc said so long as you didn�t get overly tired, and as long as she was invited also, there was no reason why you couldn�t go.�
He quickly swallowed, the action difficult to achieve due to his haste.
�You�re not trying to kid me, are you?� As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew from the gentle smile on his friend�s face that no, Jack had been serious. Daniel grinned, the aroma of the soup causing his stomach to rumble, reminding him that he was hungry and he needed to get his strength back before he was let off world again.
Daniel didn�t know why these gentle creatures of light had affected him so. Perhaps it was the touching gesture that the leader had shown in its concern for Daniel. Maybe it was their intelligence, maybe it was simply the sheer beauty of their beings, from the sounds and colors they emitted. Maybe they were simply addictive to the human brain. In any case, he just knew that he had to say goodbye, that that final farewell would hopefully be more than enough to tide him over for the next fifty years, in which time, if he were still alive, he�d petition whoever was in charge of the Stargate to allow him to come back to 2823 and say hello to the returning aliens. He looked over at Jack, and saw the same determination on his face.
He just knew that sunsets, Aura Borealis and the sound of rain would have a whole new set of meanings for him until he was able to see the aliens once more. Their memories would chase the shadows away, bringing light and hope into his world whenever he thought of the gentle beings. Daniel looked forward to those next fifty years.
The gang, as usual, has kept me on the straight and narrow, informing me with no holds barred if our Daniel isn't quite whumped enough. Thanks, guys!
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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.