Jack took off his cap and scrubbed his fingers through his hair, squinting up at the bright sun through his thick sunglasses. The heat slammed into him as he surveyed their arid surroundings. P7F- 492 was not the most welcoming of planets, and he was exceedingly glad they had no reason to move far from the Stargate. The dry, cracked earth of the barren plains stretched away as far as the eye could see, the horizon unbroken by any kind of landmark.
Replacing his cap, Jack turned back to the rest of his team, who were gathered around the only thing of note on the entire planet so far, and consequently the reason for their presence there. About five metres from the base of the Stargate, a stone monolith stood six feet tall, each of its rectangular faces covered in compact carvings. Daniel, of course, was examining them intently, making sure he recorded every inch of the stone's surface with his camcorder. Sam and Teal'c also seemed quite interested in the monument and were quietly discussing possible theories as to its purpose. Jack moved towards them and listened.
"This world must have supported some kind of civilisation at some point," Teal'c pointed out. "How else would this come to be here?"
"But it's so completely empty," Sam remarked, gazing round at desiccated landscape. "Where did they go, and why did they leave this behind?"
"Perhaps a cataclysm devastated the planet and they fled through the Stargate, leaving behind this monument to tell other travellers what befell them," Teal'c suggested.
"Or to warn anybody coming here of some kind of danger," Sam added.
"Daniel? Thoughts?" Jack prompted.
Their archaeologist looked up briefly from his study. "What they said," he contributed, then turned back to the stone.
Jack decided not to pursue the matter, since the sooner Daniel finished, the sooner they'd be able to get off this godforsaken rock and back to the air conditioning of the SGC.
Sam unhooked her canteen from her belt and took a long swig of water. When she had finished, she offered the container to Daniel, who accepted it gratefully. As he took it from her grasp, a few drops of water sloshed out of the neck and splashed against the monument before running slowly down to the dry ground. Daniel drank, passed the canteen back to Sam and continued with his recording.
Moisture seeped gradually through the dead earth beneath the monument and, deep within, something stirred. Brought to awareness by the subtle change in atmosphere, something long dormant roused itself and shifted behind the stone. The tiny amount of liquid that reached its resting place offered a promise of renewed life, and it moved unerringly towards the surface in search of more.
They were all relieved to get back to the SGC, and the brevity of the mission meant that their check-ups with Janet were only cursory. The debriefing session was also short, since nothing had happened other than finding and recording the carvings. Daniel couldn't give much insight into their meaning as yet, and was eager to start working on a translation, so General Hammond dismissed them all after only a few minutes, asking Daniel for an update on his progress in the morning.
Jack wasn't surprised when Daniel disappeared straight to his office to start work. He'd been used to Daniel's attitude to such things long before their friendship had developed into something more, and he certainly hadn't fooled himself into thinking that it would change along with their relationship. He did now take it upon himself to make sure that Daniel left the mountain at a fairly reasonable hour, however, and that he at least occasionally took breaks to eat when he was working on something.
So, at six o'clock, Jack made his way to Daniel's office to suggest they head home. He found the younger man pacing up and down the small room, muttering to himself quietly. Knocking on the already open door, Jack called out, "Come on, Daniel, time to hit the road. You can come back to this in the morning."
Daniel stopped in his tracks, spun round and offered up a strained smile. "Hey, Jack," he said wearily, the nervous energy of the moment before suddenly gone as he sank down into his chair. Pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand, Daniel conceded, "I guess I could use a break."
Shutting the door, Jack crossed the room and laid a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "You okay?" he asked in concern.
Daniel briefly covered Jack's hand with his own and nodded. "Just a bit of a headache," he explained. "I think it's from staring at these inscriptions after the heat of that planet. I'll be fine."
Jack gestured at the scattered printouts of the recordings Daniel had made. "How's it going? Uncovered the secrets of the universe yet?"
The light teasing and implied interest earned him another small smile. "Um, no," Daniel admitted, then chuckled. "Actually, the only bit I've managed to translate is this one phrase." He pointed out a group of words that were bigger than the rest and stood out in the centre of one of the panels. "As far as I can figure out, it says, `dangerous when wet', but your guess is as good as mine as to what it's talking about."
"Well, whatever it is, it wasn't exactly a hazard where we found it," Jack pointed out. "I've never seen a place so dry in my life."
"Exactly!" Daniel exclaimed, getting up again and turning to face Jack, his expression suddenly anxious. "That's what worries me! Why would someone leave a warning about water in a place where there is none? It doesn't make sense!"
"Maybe it'll make more sense in the morning," Jack soothed, more determined than ever to get Daniel home. It was obvious he needed some rest, and Jack meant to ensure that he got some. "Let's go."
Daniel made as if to follow him to the door, then stopped and reached back over to his desk, picking up a half-empty bottle of water Jack hadn't noticed before. As Jack looked on, Daniel upended the bottle and drank its entire contents in several gulps.
"I never knew translating was such thirsty work," Jack remarked with a grin, then they both headed out to the elevator.
By the time the two men had got through dinner, Jack was starting to think there might be something wrong with Daniel. He seemed distracted and a little on edge, and the way he kept downing water was beginning to get worrying. As he reached to refill his glass for the fifth time, Jack caught hold of Daniel's hand and squeezed it gently.
"You sure you're okay?" he probed, and was rewarded by Daniel rolling his eyes.
"Will you quit mothering me?" the younger man snapped, then immediately closed his eyes for a moment and squeezed Jack's hand in return. When he reopened his eyes, he met Jack's gaze with an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Jack," Daniel said. "I'm just tired. And my head still hurts. I think maybe I'll go lie down for a while."
Jack watched in concern as Daniel got up from the table and made his way into their bedroom. Jack cleared away their dishes quickly, then searched out some painkillers and took them through to Daniel with another glass of water. Daniel smiled his thanks and swallowed the pills gratefully. Once he had finished the water, he snuggled down in the bed and closed his eyes. Jack stayed by his side for a while, gently stroking his lover's hair and forehead until Daniel drifted into sleep.
It had been a while since Jack had faced an evening alone, and he found himself somewhat at a loose end. It surprised him how much of an effect his relationship with Daniel had wrought on his life. Without his lover's active presence in the house, Jack had difficulty in settling down to anything and eventually decided he might as well turn in himself. Shaking his head over his apparent inability to function properly without Daniel, Jack made his way back through to the bedroom, quickly stripped down to his boxers and climbed into the bed next to his lover. Throwing one arm across Daniel's bare chest, he soon joined the younger man in sleep.
Jack woke with a start and immediately wondered what had disturbed him. Glancing at the clock next to his head, he discovered that it was still only 11 o'clock. He rolled over to check on Daniel, but found the other side of the bed empty. Then he heard clattering sounds emanating from the direction of the kitchen and got up to investigate.
Heading up the steps from the lounge, Jack stopped dead at the sight that came into view. Daniel was sitting on the floor in front of the sink, gulping down water from a large jug as if he'd been stranded in the desert for days. Crossing the room quickly, Jack knelt down next to him and laid a hand on his arm.
"Daniel? What's going on?" he asked.
Daniel didn't even acknowledge Jack's presence, instead keeping his attention on his drinking.
"So thirsty." he gasped between gulps of milk. "Have to drink more."
Jack grabbed the jug from his hand, then took hold of Daniel's chin and turned his face round. "Daniel!" he said more urgently. "Look at me! What the hell's happening to you?"
It seemed to take Daniel a moment to register that he was there and, when he finally met Jack's gaze, his eyes weren't quite focused. "Jack.?" he murmured uncertainly. "What.?"
Jack pushed himself back to his feet and reached for the phone, not taking his eyes off Daniel, who remained slumped dazedly on the floor. Jack pressed the speed dial button for Janet's house and waited impatiently while the phone rang on the other end. Janet had known about their relationship from the beginning, so there would be no awkward questions as to why Daniel was at Jack's house so late at night.
As soon as Janet picked up, Jack announced, "There's something wrong with Daniel."
"Colonel?" There was momentary confusion in Janet's tone, but she snapped into medical mode almost immediately. "What can you tell me?"
Jack thought back over the past few hours. "He's been complaining of a headache most of the evening, he's been irritable and restless, and now he's sitting on the floor in the kitchen drinking water like there's no tomorrow. What should I do?"
"It could just be dehydration," Janet said reassuringly. "Can you get him to the mountain?"
"I'll meet you there in twenty minutes," Jack stated and cut the connection.
It had actually taken Jack nearly twenty minutes to get Daniel up off the floor, at least partially dressed and out to the truck. By the time they arrived at the SGC, the younger man was barely conscious and Jack was forced to call for help from the airmen at the gates in order to get him inside the base. Half carrying him down to the infirmary, Jack noticed that Daniel's skin was pale and clammy and that his heart was racing despite his apparent lethargy. Janet had fired several sharp questions at him on their arrival, but now Jack was waiting anxiously on the other side of the room while she completed her examination.
Eventually, Janet finished her ministrations and came over to join him.
"Well?" Jack immediately demanded. "What's the matter with him?"
The expression on Janet's face told him he wasn't going to like the answer to that question, and her first words confirmed it. "I honestly don't know," she admitted. "He's severely dehydrated, which is why he was drinking a lot. With his low urine output, I'd suspect kidney failure, but his levels are normal in both blood and urine tests. I've got him on an IV but it's not stabilising his condition. In fact, it seems as if the rate at which he's losing fluid is increasing the more I pump into him. Something is leeching the fluid from his body. I just can't explain it."
There was silence for a moment while Jack digested this information and Janet thought further. Then she spoke up again, clearly vocalising what was running through her mind. "I need to get back to him and do an abdominal ultrasound. Maybe there's an obstruction or something in his urinary tract to explain this, but in the meantime, I have more questions about your mission. Would you come with me please, Colonel?"
Jack followed her to the exam table where a nurse had readied the ultrasound equipment. He pulled over a chair and sat facing Daniel, careful not to touch the IV tubes and monitor wires.
"I'm having trouble nailing down an earthbound cause for this, so it seems likely that it's something from offworld. But if it has to do with your mission today, why aren't the rest of you affected as well?" Janet pondered as she unscrewed the cap of the gel. "Colonel, can you think of anything Daniel came into contact with on the planet that you and the others didn't?"
Jack reflected back but came up empty. "There wasn't anything there - just a monument in front of the gate and a whole hell of a lot of dry earth."
"Did Daniel come up with anything on the monument?" Janet prompted, squeezing out some gel and spreading it over Daniel's abdomen below his rib cage.
"He hadn't got very far with it when I dragged him off home," Jack told her, "but he translated one bit that apparently said `dangerous when wet'. He didn't know what it was talking about." The connection with what Janet had said earlier was obvious. "Wait a minute! Do you think maybe there was something on the planet that sucked up all the water, and somehow it's infected Daniel and is trying to do the same to him?"
"Seems likely, doesn't it?" Janet agreed. She adjusted the monitor and commenced the scan. "Did you have water with you on the planet?"
"Of course," Jack said. "It was damn hot out there - we were drinking from our canteens pretty much the whole time we were there." Now they had a theory, Jack was eager to put it to use. "How does this help us, doc?" he asked anxiously.
"I'm not sure," Janet admitted, focusing intently on the image on the screen, then added, "We've got some time before Daniel's fluid levels get dangerous again. I'll have a better idea of how to proceed once I get the results of my tests."
She continued scanning, occasionally speaking with one of the nurses, leaving Jack in his customary chair at Daniel's bedside. There were no other patients in the infirmary, so they had the place to themselves.
The nurse stepped away, and Jack passed his hand over his face, sighing heavily.
"How do you get yourself into these messes, Daniel?" he muttered aloud to his unconscious lover. "I mean, we were all right there with you, but it always seems to be you the shit sticks to. You must be some kind of trouble magnet." Jack chuckled. "I guess the fact that you attracted me proves that one without a shadow of a doubt."
Janet cast a quick glance over at the colonel and smiled warmly, then moved a bit to reposition the wand over Daniel's belly.
Casting his eyes over Daniel's uncharacteristically still form, Jack suddenly sat up as he noticed an abnormality on the younger man's foot. Just below the protrusion of the anklebone, there was a small swelling with a tiny open wound in its centre. On closer inspection, the small hole appeared to pucker and close. Leaping out of his chair, Jack pointed urgently to the swelling and demanded, "What's that?"
Janet put down the gel and wand quickly and gazed where Jack was pointing. She inspected Daniel's ankle from every angle, then reached out to probe the swelling with her gloved fingers. As she touched the skin, the bulge trembled and then shifted visibly to one side.
"Whoa!" Jack exclaimed, stepping backwards in surprise. "What the hell.?"
"I think we can safely say that's not meant to be there," Janet concluded. "Keep an eye on it, Colonel. I'll be right back."
With that, she turned on her heel and rushed off, leaving Jack wondering what exactly he was supposed to do if the swelling on Daniel's ankle decided to make a run for it.
Half an hour and a great deal of examining later, Janet announced, "It's definitely alive, and it's definitely what's causing Daniel's dehydration. I think whatever this parasite is breaks down the fluid to its molecular level and expels it through that wound. I'd love to study it, but it would be too risky to do so here on Earth."
"So cut it out of him already!" Jack demanded, his frustration at their lack of action beginning to make him irritable.
Janet admirably remained calm, simply pointing out, "You saw what happened when I touched it. There's no telling how it would react if I tried to remove it. The last thing we want is for it to burrow deeper into Daniel's body. We might never find it. We'll have to capture and secure it using an airtight container and proper hazmat measures."
Jack shuddered at the thought of the parasite disappearing inside Daniel's body. "So, how do we get it out?"
Janet started thinking aloud again. "It wants fluid and, at the moment, we're supplying that through Daniel and the IV. As long as it keeps getting what it wants, it's not going to go anywhere. What we've got to do is entice it away from Daniel by offering it a better and more easily accessible source of water." She turned to Jack, her expression grim. "I think we're going to have to stop the IV."
"What?" Jack didn't like the sound of that. "But I thought that was the only thing keeping Daniel alive!" He always hated situations where they had to endanger someone's life in order to save them, but he could see Janet's logic.
"If we do this right," she told him, "we should be able to draw the creature out of Daniel quite quickly, so he won't be in any real danger."
Jack recognised the necessity and gave in. "Just tell me what to do."
It was some time before they were ready to put their plan into action. Jack, dressed in level 3 biohazard gear, was holding a narrow-necked flask of water, while Janet, similarly attired, prepared to shut off the IV. Once she was ready, she signalled to Jack and he carefully placed the top of the flask over the small bulge on Daniel's ankle as she closed the valve stopping the IV drip.
The tension as they waited for a reaction was palpable, but it didn't last long. Suddenly, the swelling shivered again, and something burrowed out of Daniel's skin, diving into the water with a small splash. Jack immediately sealed the flask and Janet restarted the IV. After making sure that Daniel was once again stable, Janet crossed to where Jack stood, and they studied their captive with interest. Floating in the flask was what looked like a translucent slug.
"Nice work, doc," Jack said with relief. "Now to get rid of this little sucker for good." Taking one last look at Daniel, he headed out of the infirmary.
The technician at the gate controls looked more than a little surprised to see Jack arrive in the room in the middle of the night in biohazard gear, holding a flask of water. He was even more surprised at the order he was given.
"Dial up P7F-492, Sergeant!" Jack instructed him, before spinning round and making his way down to the gate.
By the time he reached the foot of the ramp, Jack noticed the little slug had already devoured all the water in the flask. It was lying, inert, in the bottom of the now dry container. "No more drinking for you," he informed it firmly, then tossed the flask through the open wormhole in front of him.
His mission accomplished, Jack told the technician to shut down the gate and lock those co-ordinates out of the dialling computer. He would have a lot of explaining to do to General Hammond, but he figured that could wait until morning. Right now, he had something far more important to do.
Jack smiled down at Daniel as the younger man gradually focused his confused gaze on him.
"Jack?" It always warmed Jack through and through that this was invariably the first word out of Daniel's mouth when he regained consciousness. "What happened?"
Daniel listened intently as Jack related the events of the evening, finally commenting, "So that's what it meant by `dangerous when wet'."
"Apparently so," Jack agreed. Then he added teasingly, "It was looking for something wet and, out of the four of us, it picked you. What does that tell you?"
"That you're a prick?" Daniel murmured in response as his eyes drooped.
"Quite possibly," Jack said with a tender smile as his lover drifted back into sleep. "But one very lucky prick indeed."
|Summary:||Answer to the "dangerous when wet" challenge.|
Author's Chapter Notes: