"Daniel, go home. That's an order," Jack said with all the command presence he could muster while lying on his couch covered in blankets strewn with used Kleenex.
"Jack, what part of 'he needs someone to stay with him' don't you understand? Would you rather be in the infirmary?" Daniel replied, setting his laptop aside in frustration and leaning forward in his chair, rolling his eyes at having to make this argument yet again.
"Fraiser is overreacting as usual. Who ever heard of 'round the clock nursing, and I use that term loosely, for a cold?"
"As you know," Daniel replied in practiced pedantry, "you have the flu, not a cold. And you fainted, Jack. In the briefing room. In front of everyone."
"Daniel, hear this,” Jack said with a wagging finger, "Air Force colonels do not faint. We might pass out given the right circumstances, preferably involving scotch, but we do NOT faint. Point two: you were giving the briefing. Passing out was a perfectly natural response."
Daniel ignored the predictable jibe. "If Teal'c hadn't caught you, you would have hit your head." 'And then you would be in the infirmary and I would be doing my work instead of playing nursemaid,' he added silently, feeling only a bit guilty for having that thought.
It had been a long three days, trading off caring for Jack with Sam and Teal'c. Jack had stayed in the infirmary for two nights after the 'passing out' incident, but had then conned Janet into letting him leave, on the condition that the rest of SG-1 keep an eye on him. Of course, to Jack that meant stopping by for a few minutes once a day, but Janet had made it clear he needed full-time attention to make sure he took his medicine, drank enough fluids, and didn't cough up any vital organs. Well, she hadn't put it exactly that way, but that was the gist of it.
Daniel reflected on what an infamously bad patient Jack was, known both for his ability to complain endlessly about his ailments, and paradoxically, for his resentment of needing to be taken care of. Sam's take on it was that Jack probably felt his team seeing him in a weakened state would somehow lessen his ability to command. Daniel had been bemused. First, who better to take care of you than friends you had been with to hell and back, and second, he was sure taking care of Jack wouldn't affect his inclination to follow his orders. He had smiled at the irony of that.
Rousing Daniel from his thoughts, Jack continued, "Besides, I'm feeling much better now, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Really? How about you stand up and walk to the kitchen and back, just to show me you can do it by yourself after I leave."
"Oh, as if I can't make it to my own kitchen!" Jack scowled. He untangled himself from the blankets, sat up, and swung his sweats-clad legs around to set his bare feet on the floor.
Daniel could see how much the sudden movement was costing him - his face was two shades paler, sweat breaking out on his forehead. Worried now, he stood up and said, "Jack, stay there. It's obvious you can't even sit up, much less walk."
"Sure I can. Just need a second here to get my bearings," Jack said. Then he stood up and took a step, but immediately began to sway. Daniel was at his side in an instant, a steadying hand on his elbow, his eyes meeting Jack's.
"Jack, please lie back down on the couch. I'm sorry I said anything." Daniel could empathize with the misery in Jack's expression, and he felt guilty for contributing to it.
Daniel's concern must have gotten to Jack too, because he let Daniel settle him back under the covers without protest, saying quietly, "Thanks Daniel, it's just, you know, this really sucks."
"You're welcome, and I know it does, but the more you rest, the quicker you'll be well," and Daniel felt his earlier irritation dissolve, knowing he was helping Jack, and Jack was grateful for it.
Five days later, Daniel was in the briefing room watching the MALP video on the TV monitor along with the rest of SG-1 and General Hammond. Sam described the scene, recorded ten hours earlier. "It looks like the 'gate is centered at the bottom of a large basin, or crater. The basin surface is smooth and pale gray, and the shape is so regular, I doubt it was created naturally. MALP analysis can't identify the material, but it seems quite dense. The UAV shows the area beyond the crater is lightly wooded, mostly in pine, with rolling hills. There are very large bodies of water within a few clicks to the north and south; they might be inland seas. No sign of sentient life, but there is a group of structures in a clearing a few hundred meters north of the crater, elevated above it. The weather seems to be pleasant and dry. The material on the crater surface might have some value to us, sir," she said to Hammond in conclusion.
"Not only that, Sam - if someone created that basin, we should try to find out who and why," Daniel added. Sam nodded agreement.
Sitting to Daniel's left, Jack asked, "How big is the crater, Carter? Will we be able to hike out without climbing gear?" As Jack spoke, Daniel used the opportunity to risk giving him a quick once-over. Well, in spite of Janet clearing him for full duty, Daniel thought he still looked less than fully recovered.
He'd been back to work on light duty for a day, having finally proven he could look after himself two days before that. He'd been predictably restless and eager to get back into it, and Daniel suspected he'd worked his charms on Janet to get her to clear him. Sure, he was over the virus, but the aftereffects were still there. Jack looked pale and tired, and Daniel wondered whether he was up for an off-world mission. But he knew if he said anything Jack would explode, so he kept those thoughts to himself.
"It's about 2 klicks across and 30 meters deep, sir," Sam was responding. "The sides are a bit steep but we should be able to walk up without a problem."
And that was it for information; time for the general to make a decision. After a moment he said, "Pending a final visual from the MALP, you have a go in 2 hours, SG-1."
Belying his reputation otherwise, Daniel arrived at the 'gate room right on time. Jack and Teal'c were already there, geared up like him for a two-day mission. Daniel glanced at Jack and nodded, and he guessed there must have been a hint of doubt in his expression, because Jack felt the need to say, "I'm fine Daniel, and no, you will not take my temperature again as long as I'm conscious to stop it!"
Daniel snorted in an attempt to stifle a laugh, earning a half-hearted glare. In truth, he thought it had been good for the team to take care of Jack for those few days, to let him accept their help for a bit, and maybe Jack knew it too.
Overhearing, Teal'c raised an eyebrow and added, "It is my understanding, O'Neill, that the more traditional method of measuring body temperature is somewhat unpleasant. Perhaps I should have Doctor Fraiser instruct me in it for future use."
"Very funny, Teal'c. Do you even know how annoying it is that you never get sick?" Jack asked.
"I fail to see why my excellent health should annoy you, O'Neill," Teal'c said in a vaguely threatening tone.
Before Jack could respond, Sam arrived, looking distracted. "Sir, we weren't able to contact the MALP for our final observation. Maintenance reports its comm unit has been acting up lately, so it might just be a malfunction, but we can't be sure something on the planet hasn't damaged or interfered with it."
Jack asked, "Hey, I know, how about we send a MALP that works?"
"All the units are either off world or down for maintenance, sir," Sam replied. It was clear to Daniel that Sam wasn't going to offer a recommendation - there just wasn't enough information.
Daniel thought if Jack had been well, he would have decided to wait for a back-up MALP. But he was so anxious to get out to the field again, to put the past few days behind him, he was willing to take a gamble. General Hammond called from the control room; he already knew what was going on, but was leaving it up to Jack to decide. The twelve-hour period since the last observation was within acceptable parameters for a mission.
"Well, General, based on what we know so far it looks safe enough. I'd like to assume the MALP blew its own gasket. If we find out differently, we'll be back before you notice us gone, sir," Jack said.
"Very well, Colonel. SG-1, you have a go." Davis dialed it up and they waited for the outgoing wormhole to engage.
As they walked up the ramp, Jack turned to them and said, "Heads up, kids, there could be a surprise waiting." As usual, Daniel consciously took a deep breath as he stepped into the wormhole, behind Sam and Teal'c, Jack at his side. To him, the entry and trip were the same as ever. The arrival was anything but.
Daniel knew he had reintegrated - the wormhole trip was over. He was standing up, but he wasn't standing in air. It was too thick to be air. There was a terrible pain in his ears and a feeling of pressure over his whole body. Everything was blurry and distorted and dim. He was cold, and he was...wet. With a jolt of utter disbelief, he realized they were under water.
They were standing at the base of the 'gate, just where they should be, but they were under water. Daniel ruthlessly shoved down impending panic, trying to focus on what was next, and on not trying to breathe. He pinched his nose closed and blew, clearing much of the pain from his ears. He peered around and could make out the separate figures of Sam, Teal'c, and Jack, all standing in shock just like he was.
Daniel focused on Jack, who raised his arms and pointed upward - there was light in the distance above, 100 feet up. No chance but to head for the surface. Easier said than done - weighed down by all his gear and clothing, he could barely move much less swim.
Jack gestured for Sam and Teal'c to stay together, and then pointed at Daniel and himself. 'Okay, clear enough.' Then Jack started stripping off his weapons, pack, vest, and jacket; Daniel and the others followed suit. The boots would be a problem, but there was no time to take them off. Already Daniel's throat and lungs were burning with the urge to take a breath. It had probably been no more than a minute, but it felt much longer. Daniel saw Sam and Teal'c push off the floor, Teal'c grasping Sam around the waist, both of them kicking and using their free hands to propel them upward.
Daniel pushed over to Jack, moving in very close so he could see his face; his expression was something Daniel hadn't seen before. Desperation, maybe, and doubt. He must be starving for air already. Daniel grabbed Jack around the waist with his left arm and kicked off the bottom, hoping Jack would be able to help him.
At first Jacked did help, kicking and pulling along with Daniel, and they were rising, too slowly, but Daniel could see the light was getting brighter. Then Jack's movements slowed, and he wasn't releasing air bubbles anymore. Daniel kept kicking and pulling with his free hand while looking at Jack, who was watching in return, eyes open, though Daniel couldn't make out his expression.
Suddenly Daniel felt Jack's hands on his chest, trying to push him away. Daniel understood what Jack was trying to do and shook his head furiously. He tightened his grip around Jack, who tried to pry Daniel's fingers loose from his waist. But he was weak, and Daniel resisted his attempts easily. Jack brought his hand up again, this time to rest it on Daniel's shoulder, as if to say he was sorry. Daniel shook his head again, trying to convey his forgiveness and sorrow.
Jack closed his eyes, and Daniel felt him stiffen and then go limp, his arms falling to his sides. Daniel's own lungs were screaming for air, his vision graying at the edges, panic threatening. Still he was not ready to give up, to die like this, not even knowing why. With a last burst of anger-fueled determination, he kicked and pulled with everything he had, but they were too heavy and after a few seconds he knew it wouldn't be enough. He wouldn't be enough to save them. As the need to breathe overwhelmed him, Daniel wrapped both arms around Jack. He knew it wouldn't matter, but he didn't want either of them to die alone. Then a sort of calm overcame him, his fear dissipating, turning to reluctant acceptance.
Finally he gave in to the primal urge, and drew water into his mouth, into his lungs. As his vision went black, he thought he felt something brush his legs, but he had no time to consider it. Then there was nothing.
Sam thought she was never so grateful for anything as that first lungful of air after she and Teal'c breached the surface. Sure she was coughing and wheezing, and Teal'c had to slap her on the back a couple of times, but things were looking much better than they had a few seconds earlier. Teal'c seemed fine, his only outward sign of stress the force of his grip around her as they treaded water to stay afloat.
"Are you all right, Major Carter?"
"I'm good Teal'c. Thanks for, uh, bringing me up." Scanning the smooth surface, she saw no sign of their teammates. "Daniel and the colonel should have made it by now too."
"Yes. I am concerned for them as well," he said, frowning.
"You don't think they could have..." she found she couldn't say the words.
"They did not have the benefit of my symbiote, and Colonel O'Neill is weakened from his illness," Teal'c replied. "If you can remain here without my aid, I will dive and search for them."
"Go, Teal'c - go, I'll be fine," Sam assured, her dread growing.
With that Teal'c let go of her and slipped quietly back under the surface. Once he'd gone, Sam realized how much he had been helping keep her afloat. She began to kick harder, and became very aware of the weight of her boots. She knew she couldn't get them off without sinking as she did so, so she would have to work harder. She moved her arms as well, using them also to spin in slow circles, searching for her friends, willing them to appear.
Just a few minutes ago her team had been joking in the 'gate room. Now two of them might be gone forever. She knew that was the nature of their jobs, but to have it happen right in front of her, to two of the people who meant the most to her... If only she'd insisted they wait for another MALP. But it made no sense - how could so much water collect here in so short a time? It could not have been natural. Her mind was racing with the possibilities when Teal'c rose beside her. A lump formed in her throat as she saw he was alone and what that must mean.
After taking a deep breath, he turned to her and said, "I returned nearly to the bottom but saw no sign of them, Major Carter."
Sam was shocked. "No sign? But that makes no sense, Teal'c. Even if they're... even if they've drowned, there are no currents here - their, uh, their bodies should be very near the 'gate."
"I agree, but I did not have time in a single dive to scan the entire area around the Stargate," Teal'c said. He noticed how hard she was working to tread water, and once again put his arm around her to help. "I would like to perform a more thorough search, but I believe it would be better for you to wait for me on shore."
Sam wanted to stay but knew she couldn't stay afloat for long without Teal'c's help. "Okay. If you could just help me get these boots off, I'm sure I can swim that far."
Unencumbered a few minutes later, Sam began to swim to the nearest shore. She turned back once to see Teal'c had already disappeared, leaving behind a glassy surface. She willed herself not to feel alone.
More than half an hour later, Sam waited on the grassy shore near the basin's edge. The sun was directly overhead and felt warm on her back, somewhat compensating for the discomfort and chill of being wet. Her clothes were beginning to dry, the evaporation leaving behind a residue from the mild saltiness of the water.
She tried to process the astounding events since their arrival. Obviously the MALP had failed from the high-pressure submersion. She recalled seeing it when they'd come through. The DHD was there, too, but of course they couldn't use it to dial home as long as the basin was full - the water would travel with them and flood the SGC. And, if they tried to go anywhere else, the water would sweep over them on the other side, killing them with its force. There were likely to be here a while. The question was, why?
She was relieved a few minutes later to see Teal'c swimming toward her, not far away now. She was saddened but not surprised to see he was still alone. He climbed from the basin and walked toward her. She saw he was holding his staff weapon, two pairs of boots, and was wearing one of their packs. She shook her head in amazement at his unsuspected aquatic abilities before returning her thoughts to their missing friends.
"What did you see, Teal'c?" she asked, dreading the answer.
"I dove many times and was able to search a sizable fraction of the basin floor, Major Carter. I found nothing to indicate the fate of our friends. If they perished, their bodies have been moved away from the Stargate."
Sam sighed in a relief that then turned to puzzlement. "What else could have happened? For one thing, we know this crater didn't become a lake this quickly on its own. Some intelligence is at work here, maybe life forms hidden from the MALP and UAV. Daniel and the colonel could have been taken somewhere by... someone or something." She knew it was vague, but it fit the facts as well as anything, and it gave them hope.
"I concur, Major Carter, but how are we to determine their fate?"
"The only signs of civilization were the structures to the north. I think we should head there, but first let's get dry and rest for a bit."
"Yes, I require a short period of kel-no-reem," Teal'c agreed as he wearily sat down beside her.
The first thing Daniel became aware of was a headache. And then the hardness of the surface under him, and the damp coolness of the clothes on his body. And then the fact that he was breathing, in and out, blessed air, as much as he wanted. He levered his eyes open, squinting at a blue-tinged light shining from a sphere on the ceiling maybe 20 feet above him. Things were blurry, and a quick survey of his face confirmed his glasses were gone. He wasn't surprised.
Coming fully awake, his next thoughts were of Jack, and he rolled over and pushed himself up to his knees to look around. Jack was there, just a few feet away, looking ghastly pale in the blue light, lying on his back and not moving. Fighting the headache and a bit of nausea, Daniel crawled over to Jack and pressed his fingers to the side of his neck. Thank God, a pulse, strong and regular. His skin was a bit warm, but it was better than the alternative. Daniel gripped him gently by the shoulder and called to him, and he slowly opened his eyes and looked up.
"Hey, Jack. Are you okay?" Daniel asked, overcome with relief.
Jack brought his hands up and ran them through his hair in a familiar gesture. "Ouch, head hurts. Ah, don't tell me, we came back from the dead, again." Daniel was glad to see he was alert enough to remember those last moments, as unpleasant as they were.
"Appears that way, not that I'm complaining. Someone must have revived us, because I know we both, um, drowned."
"Yeah, about that...I distinctly remember giving you an order," Jack said as Daniel helped him sit up.
"I didn't hear any order, Colonel," Daniel said with a smile. "Besides, I don't usually obey orders to kill my friends to save my own ass."
"You don't usually obey orders at all!"
Sensing a non-constructive tangent in the conversation, Daniel went for the diversion. "Jack, shouldn't you be assessing the situation or something?"
"Yeah, you're right. What do we know so far?" Jack asked, looking around the small room.
"Well, our clothes are still pretty wet, so we haven't been here too long. They must have left us alone after they, uh, brought us back to life."
"Least they could do," Jack responded with a snort.
They stood up to take in their surroundings and noted that the room was about 15 feet on a side, with light gray walls. There were two window-shaped rectangular outlines, one high and small on one side of the room, the other larger and lower on the opposite side. On either side of the smaller window were matching outlines that began at the floor, as if they could be doors. All were of the same gray material. Some air vents were obvious near the ceiling. Jack signaled that they'd need to assume they were being watched and eavesdropped on. From the windows, perhaps.
"Jack, I don't think it was a coincidence that the crater filled with water after we sent the MALP through. Maybe it's some kind of defense mechanism against unknown travelers."
"Well if they could orchestrate turning a lake on and off, why not have something simpler like an iris?"
"I don't know." Daniel wanted to add that the water strategy wasn't guaranteed to kill all travelers, their teammates being hoped-for examples, but he knew he shouldn't give away their existence by mentioning them.
"Why don't you do your thing, Daniel?" Jack gestured at the smaller window shape.
Daniel nodded and launched into a variation on his usual speech. "Hello? I'm Daniel Jackson; this is Colonel Jack O'Neill. We're peaceful explorers from the planet Earth. Will you reveal yourselves? We'd like to thank you for saving our lives."
After five minutes of no response to his repeated greetings, Jack tapped him on the shoulder, and they sat down together against the opposite wall. Daniel used the time to take a look at Jack again, to see how he really was. He gathered his courage, placed his hand on Jack's forehead, and was not surprised to get an "Oh, for crying out loud" in response. The problem was, Jack did seem a bit feverish. Maybe all the trauma had led to a relapse. "Jack, I'm serious - you have a fever. How do you feel?"
"Like I've been sick for a week and then drowned and brought back to life. Otherwise, fine, Daniel," Jack said, closing his eyes and tipping his head back against the wall.
Further discussion was cut off by a noise from the smaller window. A cover slid back, revealing a transparent material. Behind it Daniel could see shapes moving slowly. Long gray faces, smooth skin. Small, dark eyes, radiating awareness and intelligence. Daniel realized with a shock that the beings were swimming.
"Fish, Daniel. And me without my gear." Jack lamented as they both stood up.
"Please, Jack. This is amazing! Besides, they seem to be mammals," Daniel added, noting no obvious gills but not able to see a breathing hole either. "I'd say they look like dolphins, just based on what we can see. Bottlenose, maybe."
"Hmm, does this mean you should call me Sandy, and I should call you Bud?"
Daniel had no idea what pop culture reference Jack was making, so he ignored him. He said to the creatures, "Hello, can you understand me? I am Daniel; this is Jack. We don't mean you any harm."
"Yeah, I'm sure they're very afraid of us right now, Daniel," Jack whispered as he nudged him with an elbow.
The beings were looking right at them, and their movements seemed to quicken. Then a rather high-pitched, synthetic-sounding voice erupted from the globe fixture above, saying quite clearly, "We are the Stenelli. Why have you come to our world?"
Daniel glanced at Jack, who nodded for him to answer, "We are explorers. We seek to learn about other worlds and make alliances, for trade and protection. How is it you are able to speak with us?"
"We have encountered your language before. We are able to translate. Why do you seek alliances?" the voice asked. It was not clear which being was speaking.
"We have, um, certain enemies who are more advanced than we. We seek to ally with others who struggle against them."
"What enemies?" There was enough inflection in the synthetic voice to discern some level of suspicion in the tone. Daniel looked again to Jack, who shrugged and nodded for him to answer.
"They are called the Goa'uld - a parasitic race that enslaves beings such as us. They seek only power and domination. They will not make peace, therefore we fight them."
"We know of this race. They do not interfere with us." The tone was almost proud.
"Tell me, when we sent our probe, the Stargate basin was empty. Why was it filled with water when we came through? Was this in reaction to our probe?"
"We will not provide that information now," the voice replied.
"Oh, for crying out loud, they sound like the Tok'ra," Jack hissed.
"Do you mean you don't trust us yet?" Daniel asked, motioning for Jack to be quiet.
"We have no cause to trust you. Trust is a hard-won prize among our race; it is not given lightly, though it is crucial." Daniel detected a hint of warning in those statements.
"But you saved us - why?"
"We were able to. We saw your need." Daniel realized then that it had been one of the Stenelli he'd felt brushing his leg in the water. They must have dragged him and Jack through some opening in the side of the basin.
"And if you come to trust us, is there a chance of an alliance between our worlds?"
"Trust is a beginning, but we can make no promises. We have our own concerns." There was a pause and then the voice asked, "Did you come here alone?"
Daniel kept his expression blank, but his mind whirled at the sudden shift in conversation. Did they already know about Sam and Teal'c? Was this a test of their trustworthiness? The timing of the question left little room for doubt. But Jack had trained him in the art of being a prisoner, training he had used on Bedrosia when they had been interrogated about Teal'c's existence. They should not expose their teammates.
Before he had a chance to answer, Jack did. "Just the two of us, I'm afraid."
Daniel turned to look at Jack, trying not to give away his doubt. Before he could take a step, the light fixture above them came alive, shooting fingers of pulsing blue energy that enveloped Jack. Jack's body began to spasm, his face contorted in silent agony. His torso was bent back so far he should have fallen, but the beams seemed almost to be holding him in place.
"Hey, what are you doing? Stop! " Daniel shouted, darting his eyes from Jack to the window and back.
"He lies," came the simple reply.
"Let him go - I'll tell you what you want!" Daniel screamed.
"Did you come here alone?" the voice asked again, so calm while Jack suffered the agony they inflicted.
"Let him go and I'll tell you," Daniel said through gritted teeth.
"You are warned. You will not lie," the voice commanded.
"I won't lie - just let him go. Please, you don't have to hurt him," Daniel said quietly, setting a piercing gaze on the beings, trying to make a connection.
The beams ceased, and Jack dropped to the floor in a boneless heap. Daniel knelt beside him and gently turned him onto his back. For the second time in as many hours, Daniel checked Jack's vital signs. Airway open, breathing shallow and rapid, pulse weak and also rapid. Skin clammy now, and so pale it was almost gray. Daniel took Jack's hand in his and called his name, but he didn't move. Looking up to the window, he saw the creatures were gone. He sat down beside Jack to wait, unable to do more.
Sam rested at the edge of the basin, nearly dry now, considering their situation. Teal'c had just awoken from his kel-no-reem. She knew she had a tendency to, well, 'look for the dark lining in any cloud' was how the colonel had described it. Still, it was hard to see a positive aspect in what was going on.
"I have to admit I'm feeling a bit under-prepared for whatever comes next," Sam said, gesturing at the two of them - only one pack, one staff weapon, no jackets. She searched her pants pockets and did a quick inventory. A knife, some waterproof matches, 3 crushed energy bars. Teal'c had a knife and some food also. The pack was hers - she knew it had some MRE's, a blanket, a spare canteen, some basic first aid supplies, and a sensor similar to the one the UAV carried to detect energy signatures. That could be valuable. She was grateful for the pack being water resistant. Everything seemed relatively dry and undamaged.
"We have been successful with less in the past, Major Carter," Teal'c said, and if she didn't know better she'd think he was giving her a bit of a pep talk.
Sam couldn't remember when, but nodded anyway, looking at her watch, "We have about 46 hours until we're overdue, 8 hours more til Hammond sends reinforcements. We have to find a way by then to get back or warn the SGC not to send more people through."
"Then that is our mission - to find Daniel Jackson and Colonel O'Neill and return through the Stargate in less than 54 hours."
"Well, it sounds so simple when you put it like that, Teal'c," Sam said with a grin.
"Thank you, Major Carter," Teal'c replied, revealing nothing. He stood and offered her a hand up, which she took gratefully. They set off northward toward the structures in silence.
"Did you come here alone?" the voice broke the silence, startling Daniel from his vigil beside Jack, whose condition had not improved. He looked up to see two Stenelli floating once again in the window.
A pit formed in his stomach as he considered the risks of what he was about to do. "I will tell you the truth, just as I promised. And that truth is I am bound by my duty not to tell you whether we came here alone."
The volume of the voice increased in well-synthesized anger, "You dare to evade our questions! The other will die now." The light fixture crackled to life above them, threatening to finish what it had started.
"How are you so sure we weren't alone? What evidence do you have?" Daniel shouted, standing up to straddle Jack's body. The beams would have to come through him first.
"You are not in a position to demand evidence," the voice threatened.
"Why not? We have done nothing to harm you, yet you have harmed us."
Then the two beings began to move behind the window, apparently in agitation. Daniel had the impression they were arguing.
He watched in silence until they quieted, and then the voice said in a much calmer tone, almost as if a different being were talking. "We understand the needs of duty, and your loyalty to your comrade. We therefore tell you this: we have seen two others like you; they reached the edge of the basin and are now moving along the surface of our planet."
"They're alive? Thank God," Daniel said to himself, then realized the Stenelli didn't have to be telling him the truth. "Yes, we came with two others. But you could have guessed this. Tell me what they look like."
"Still you do not trust." There was amusement in the voice, incredulity.
"No, not yet. You understand," Daniel said, glancing down at Jack for effect.
"One is female, pale skin, pale hair. The other male, dark skin, no hair."
Daniel let out a sigh of relief. Sam and Teal'c were alive. Or, he realized, the Stenelli could have just as easily been speaking of their corpses, sitting at the bottom of the basin. He decided not to assume the worst. He nodded to the Stenelli in acknowledgment of their openness, then decided to press his luck one step further.
"My friend is hurt. Can you help him?" Daniel asked, moving to stand to one side of Jack.
"His punishment was just. Its effects are not our concern." That seemed to be the more angry voice again.
"Punishment?" Daniel replied in disbelief. "Look, I know he lied, but he is a soldier and acted according to his responsibilities, to protect us and our friends on the surface. He doesn't deserve to die. If you can help him, you must, please."
"We told you of the importance of trust; he did not heed us."
"Yes, you did tell us, but we had no reason to trust you, either. Surely you understand that."
After a few moments the voice demanded, "Move away from him."
Now it was Daniel's turn to trust. He took two steps backward, fists clenching, eyes focused on Jack's body.
Where before there had been searing blue bolts, now there was a wide, faintly yellow light that enveloped Jack, pulsing slowly. Jack didn't move, didn't seem to be in pain. Daniel relaxed a bit, beginning to believe they really were trying to help Jack.
The 'treatment' seemed to be having no effect, but then Daniel saw Jack take a deep, shuddering breath, his head tilting back as he inhaled. Daniel took a deep breath of his own in sympathy and relief. The light shut off abruptly, and Daniel settled next to Jack again. Now his pulse was strong and steady, his breathing was deeper, and color was returning to his skin. He seemed to be asleep rather than unconscious, but his fever had returned, and Daniel thought he could hear congestion when he breathed. So the treatment didn't cure everything, obviously.
"Um, thank you. He's much better," he said, looking up at the window. "But I'm afraid he was ill before we came here, and now he's getting worse. We need to join our friends and return through the Stargate, so we can care for him."
"It is impossible. The Stargate will remain submerged for an estimated five more of our days. You cannot leave before then."
"Five days! We can't stay in this room for five days." Rather than argue further, Daniel decided to look for a compromise. "Can you show us the way to the surface, so we can join our friends and wait there?" He was sure they would have a better chance of survival on the temperate planet surface than trapped in this room with no food or water.
"I am sorry. Your presence represents a risk, and we have been ordered not to let you leave."
"A risk to what? I've told you we have no hostile intentions." Again, the creatures moved away from the window, ignoring his question. At the sound of a groan, he turned back to see Jack rolling onto his side, trying to get up.
"Take it easy, Jack," Daniel said as he knelt beside him, wrapping his arm around Jack's shoulders to help him sit.
"What the hell happened?" Jack asked him with weary eyes.
"Well, you remember when you said we came here alone? Turns out they're sticklers for the truth, and they didn't believe you."
"Oh. Why not?"
"They already knew about Sam and Teal'c. They've been tracking them - they made it to shore, apparently. I'm sorry, Jack. I saw what the Stenelli were up to when they asked if we were alone, but I didn't warn you in time."
"No, my fault for not seeing what they were up to myself."
"Well, I don't think you've been feeling your best."
"I'm peachy, really," said Jack, dragging a hand across his forehead.
"You know, this is a profound discovery," Daniel remarked after a moment. If he couldn't help Jack, maybe he could distract him.
"That Teal'c and Sam are better swimmers than we are?"
"Christ. Sentient, technologically advanced sea creatures, Jack. No more dexterous than dolphins, in fact, very similar to them from what we can see. How do they manipulate their environment? How did they build this room? They must use technology, maybe voice activated, but how did they develop it in the first place? They have a societal structure, a chain of command -"
"And I should care because... " Jack interrupted, eyebrows raised in challenge.
The ideas were forming in Daniel's head as he spoke them. "They must have had extended contact with humanoids. They understand our physiology, or they couldn't have revived us. Maybe they were even helped along by some advanced humanoids, sort of a mentor race. So, they might have good, um, memories of beings like us. We should be able to reason with them."
"Or not." Jack pressed his palms into his eyes.
"You need to rest, Jack." Daniel guided him to the wall and helped him slide down to sit against it.
"Good idea." Jack closed his eyes. His passive acceptance told Daniel all he needed to know about how Jack was really feeling.
Sam and Teal'c stood at the edge of the clearing surrounding the structures the UAV had spotted north of the basin. There were four low, rectangular buildings. They appeared to be made of the same material as the basin, smooth and light gray. There were almost no external markings or features of any kind, save for a series of small globes set into the walls at regular intervals just below the flat rooflines. They appeared to be made of a different, transparent material, and were giving off a faint blue light.
"The energy readings are coming from the buildings and from below us, Teal'c," Sam said, moving the small energy sensor back and forth. "There must be large structures of some kind buried beneath us as well; I assume these buildings are connected to them somehow."
"I do not see any doors or other means of entrance to the structures, Major Carter."
"I know, and I do think we have to get in there to look for signs of Daniel and the colonel. Let's get a closer look. If all else fails, we'll try your staff weapon."
"Agreed," Teal'c said.
They had taken only a few steps toward the buildings when three of the nearest globes came to life, crackling with blue light. Suddenly the globes were shooting bolts of energy that hit the ground directly in front of Sam and Teal'c, spewing dirt at them. They stepped back in alarm, Teal'c raising his staff weapon, preparing to fire at the devices.
Just as suddenly as they had started, the energy bolts stopped. "I believe that was a warning of some kind," Teal'c said after a moment.
"I wonder if it was automated or if someone is watching us." Sam decided to test her theory. "Hello, we are peaceful explorers. We seek two others who traveled here with us."
Sam did not expect a response - this place looked completely deserted. So, she was beyond startled when a few moments later a strangely artificial voice sounded, apparently from one of the globes.
"We know you are here to seek your companions. We have them. They are safe and alive, and will remain so as long as you stay away from this place. If you try to enter, they will be killed, as will you."
"How do we know you are telling the truth?"
"They call each other Jack and Daniel," the pronunciation was a bit off but the words were clear.
Sam gasped in shock and couldn't resist grabbing Teal'c's arm with both hands. "They're alive, Teal'c! "
"It is at least possible," Teal'c acknowledged.
His words brought Sam back to herself; this whole ordeal was far from over. "And why will you not release them?"
"When the danger to our world is over, they will be released."
"What danger? Not from us?" Sam pressed.
"No, the threat you pose is minimal. Enough questions. Move back to the trees. Do not cross into the clearing again until we give you permission, or we will carry out our threats."
Sam and Teal'c looked to each other helplessly and backed up slowly until they were beyond the clearing once again.
"I'm not sure what's going on here, Teal'c, but we really need to get inside those buildings."
"I concur. However, I am quite sure I would not be able to destroy all of the globe devices before they would injure or kill us. I believe we have no choice but to do as the voice has commanded."
Sam nodded in agreement, then pointed at a small rock outcropping about 50 meters away. "If we wait on top of those rocks, I think we'll be able to keep an eye on the buildings and the crater at the same time."
They walked to the rocks and climbed atop them. It was true; from here they had a good view of the clearing as well as most of the basin. It was late afternoon now. Sam sat with Teal'c in silence, very much comforted by his calm presence.
Daniel was somewhat surprised to realize he was bored. Rather ludicrous after everything that had happened in the past few hours, but these gray walls tended to suck the life out of a person. Still, he knew he needed to stay awake, keeping watch while Jack slept.
He had passed considerable time looking for some way to open one of the doors, assuming that was what they were. He'd found nothing. Now he busied himself trying to fathom this incredible race of beings and their level of technology. He could find no other explanation than some sort of outside assistance, maybe even genetic engineering. He wanted so much to ask questions of their captors until the mysteries were explained. The other things keeping him awake were his growing physical discomforts - thirst, and the need to pee.
Daniel glanced down at Jack, who was stretched out along the wall at Daniel's side, his head pillowed on Daniel's thigh. He could feel the heat radiating from him, almost uncomfortable as it penetrated the fabric of his BDU's. Jack's breath seemed to be rattling in his chest. Daniel guessed he had some infection secondary to the virus, maybe bronchitis, or he feared, pneumonia. He wondered how many hours they had left before even Janet's best efforts would not guarantee Jack's recovery. Five days seemed far too long.
Finally losing his patience, he gently settled Jack onto the floor and stood up, facing the now familiar window. "Hey! We could really use some help here, if it's not too much TROUBLE!" He knew he was channeling Jack, but it felt good.
After a minute or so, one being swam into view. "Daniel, isn't it? What do you require?" Daniel wondered from the polite tones if this were the creature who had argued on his behalf earlier.
"We need you to let us go. If that's too much to ask, then we need fresh water, food, and, um, facilities, if you know what I mean."
"To relieve ourselves. To rid our bodies of waste." Daniel refused to be embarrassed.
"I understand." The creature swam away but returned less than five minutes later. Daniel gazed at him expectantly, and then was startled to hear a hissing sound to the right of the window. He turned to see a previously hidden door slide open, revealing a small room. On the floor were three containers. He stepped inside and examined them. A bottle of fresh water, a jar of something that might be edible, and a rather large lidded box with a thick fluid filling half of it. The last must be their version of a toilet, custom made for visiting humanoids.
Daniel brought each item into the room. He noticed they were wet with salty water, and guessed that the small alcove must be some sort of airlock. A way to transfer items from the water environment. He wondered if that's how they had been moved here. Maybe the whole room could be flooded when necessary. There must be a complete network of water-filled tunnels, perhaps linked to and filled by the large lake to the north. Those thoughts occupied his mind as he abandoned his modesty and used the toilet with great relief, noticing the liquid chemicals neutralize his urine before he closed the lid.
Jack was still sleeping, but he thought it was important for him to drink, so he reluctantly went to him and woke him. He helped him to stand on unsteady legs and brought him up to date. Jack was grateful for the toilet and the water, though drinking brought on a worrisome coughing spell.
Daniel noticed the lone Stenelli was still watching them from the window. He wanted to ask all about their culture and history, but he knew there were more important matters to get to, such as Jack's survival.
"Thank you, very much. Can you tell me now why you're holding us here? You can see how sick my friend is, how important it is for us to leave," Daniel said.
The being must have been anticipating his question, because almost immediately the larger rectangle across from its observation window opened to reveal a transparent window as well. Daniel led Jack to the window. He was shocked to see the basin through it, and could even make out the faint outlines of the Stargate in the distance, still submerged. He guessed their room was about half way up the side of the basin.
"They going to tell us how to pull the plug on that thing, empty it out?" Jack asked, bracing himself with an arm against the window.
"I was hoping they'd at least tell us why we're stuck here," Daniel said, coming to stand next to Jack in case he needed help.
"We are at war," the being declared suddenly from behind them.
"Care to elaborate?" Jack asked, turning to look at the creature.
"Two weeks ago, we filled the basin to allow the arrival of a diplomatic envoy from our long-time rivals. They had sent word they were ready to negotiate for a lasting peace after many years of great tension and occasional armed confrontation."
"Uh, wait a minute - are they Stenelli as well?" Daniel asked.
"They are the same species, but they have lived on another world for many generations. Their leaders became covetous of our planet's resources, and they launched attacks through the Stargate. Until then, it had always been submerged to allow easy travel between our worlds."
Continuing, the voice said, "The diplomatic mission was a ploy. One of the members released a poison, killing several of our senior government officials along with the assassin's own team. We drained the basin to prevent further attack until we were ready for our own offensive. Yesterday, we launched a full-scale attack through the Stargate in retaliation."
"So the filling of the basin had nothing to do with the arrival of our reconnaissance devices?" Daniel asked.
"No; we guessed from your technology that you were humanoid. We did not know if you were a threat, but we assumed you were not allied with our enemies. In any case, we had to proceed with our plans."
"That good ol' SG-1 timing strikes again, eh, Daniel?" Jack asked, and Daniel nodded with a wry smile.
"So, what are you waiting for?" Jack asked the being.
"We are awaiting word on the success of the first wave of the attack. We have prepared reinforcements for a second wave. Look now."
And there they were, dozens of sleek gray creatures swimming purposely away from them toward the 'gate. They swam in small formations of four or six, and all of them were wearing harnesses with various attachments. Daniel imagined there must be weapons, communications gear, small missiles, everything you would expect from a fighting force. He saw cylinders that could be air tanks, so the soldiers wouldn't have to surface to breathe before going through the 'gate. He was impressed yet horrified to see the path that Stenelli evolution had taken. He wasn't naive about the brutality of life in the sea, but this was tragic somehow.
Wave after wave of Stenelli went forth, an undulating gray highway spread out before them, converging on a point at the distant 'gate. It was an amazing, terrifying sight.
Daniel looked at Jack, who was engrossed, taking in the scene with narrowed eyes. "God, Daniel, does anyone climb out of the primordial ooze without the overwhelming urge to kick their neighbor's ass?" That remark surprised Daniel at first - he'd thought Jack would be fascinated by a new race of soldiers. But Jack had seen enough to see the futility of war, too.
"Sea life on Earth can be very aggressive. Dolphins are capable of great violence, even killing their own offspring sometimes. Maybe that aggression has been part of these beings for a long time," Daniel said.
"Wherever it comes from, I've seen enough. I'm ready to go home," Jack said with palpable weariness.
As curious as he was about the Stenelli, Daniel didn't argue; didn't even want to. Instead, he rested a hand on Jack's shoulder and said, "I'm sure Sam and Teal'c are looking for us. We just need to hang in there a little longer."
"Isn't that usually my line?" They both smiled.
Looking into the distance again, Daniel thought he saw the Stargate activating, the telltale whoosh flashing in different hues from the surrounding water. "Here they go," Jack said.
"It is an incoming wormhole!" the voice exclaimed in surprise behind them. "We are under attack."
Sam and Teal'c waited in watchful silence from their rocky overlook, she facing the clearing and the buildings while he faced the basin. "Do you think they're still alive, Teal'c?" Sam asked. Her earlier enthusiasm had been dampened by time for reflection. Whoever was behind that voice could be lying just to keep them from causing trouble.
"They had the opportunity to injure or kill us earlier, and chose to warn us instead. This speaks well of their intentions. I am inclined to believe them."
"You're right, but I'd feel better if I could see whoever they are face to face, or better yet, if they'd allow us to talk to the colonel and Daniel."
"Certainly, that would be preferable," Teal'c replied, and Sam was pretty sure he was humoring her.
"Major Carter, there appears to be some new activity in the basin." Sam turned to follow his gaze. Teal'c was right - the surface of the water had gone from placid to choppy, although there was no wind to speak of. As they watched, the chop increased, and Sam could almost swear she saw something else in the water, fleeting glimpses of gray forms blending with the waves.
"Should we not move closer and investigate?" Teal'c asked.
"I'd like to, but we need to stay close to the buildings...God, Teal'c, what the hell is that?"
As they watched, the surface of the water became a roiling mass of what looked to be dolphins, seemingly locked in battle with each other. They got clearer glimpses of the creatures as they leapt from the water, their flukes visible as they turned to dive back into the water. They looked on in dismay as slicks of blood became visible on the surface.
Sam caught a glimpse of a streak of light near the water, and then there was an explosion behind them, near the structures. "That was launched from the basin, Teal'c!"
"Yes - we must take cover." They scrambled off the rocks to take shelter behind them.
Three more missiles hit in rapid succession. Teal'c stood for a moment to assess their effects. "There is a breach in the wall of one building. The defensive devices appear damaged."
"Do you mean we could get inside?"
"It is possible. I believe we should try."
Sam knew they could be trapped inside the buildings if the attack continued, but she was willing to take the risk to rescue their friends. They waited a few minutes, and when no more missiles arrived, made their way quickly to the clearing. Stepping forward cautiously, they noted no response from the globes. Not wanting to waste any more time in this vulnerable position, they ran to the ruptured wall and stepped inside.
Daniel watched with Jack in helpless fascination as "enemy" troops poured through the 'gate, recognizable because their skin was somewhat lighter, their harnesses gray instead of black. They engaged the waiting Stenelli immediately. It was frantic and brutal. Some of the harnesses held projectile weapons, small spears capable of piercing enemy flesh from some distance. Their equivalent of hand-to-hand combat involved flailing their powerful flukes at each other, or ramming snout into soft belly. Just like dolphins on Earth, Daniel noted.
Daniel had thought he'd seen missiles on some of the harnesses, and now he saw the other side had them too. Soldiers armed this way moved in the center of protective packs, and Daniel saw several launches, the missiles starting off painfully slowly but quickly accelerating upward and out of sight. From the faint vibrations, Daniel assumed the missiles had impacted somewhere above them.
Beside him Jack said, "I don't like the looks of that, Daniel." He was pointing to another group that seemed to be focused on their position. Jack instincts were right - in the next moment a missile was on its way to them. More of a torpedo in this case, Daniel thought.
They instinctively stepped away from the window, for all the good it would do. The impact was far to the left. They heard the explosion but didn't see any signs of damage. Two more soldiers got into position, and then two more torpedoes were incoming.
Jack turned to the internal window, but the Stenelli being they had been speaking with was gone. Jack said anyway, waving his hands for emphasis, "Hey, if you were ever going to let us out of here, now would be the time!"
There was no response, and Daniel could only shout his friend's name before the next torpedo impacted just above them, followed by a direct hit, dead center in the window. The sound was deafening, but at first there was no other effect. Then a small crack appeared at the point of impact and grew quickly toward the upper and lower edges of the window.
Daniel watched the crack grow in mute horror. The crack was thin, but it was all the way through the depth of the glassy material. Inevitably, water started to seep in, slowly at first, and then at an impressive rate, squeezing through the imperfection in a continuous jet to splash loudly on the floor.
Daniel felt Jack step up beside him, and they watched the water spew for a moment.
"Daniel, have we not already done the drowning thing once today?"
"At this rate we have some time, but the whole thing could give way completely any second, I think."
"Now there's a positive attitude," Jack said, then added after a moment, "Damned mission protocols. Twelve hours - anything can happen in twelve hours!"
Daniel looked at Jack with a raised eyebrow. "None of this is your fault, Jack. It was just bad timing. Nobody's fault."
"Shit, Danny," Jack said, watching the rising water at their feet. He looked very weak, as if he might collapse any moment, and Daniel put a supportive arm around him.
"I know," he said.
The water was above their ankles already. Daniel helped Jack to lean against the wall under the observation window while he searched yet again for a way out.
Sam was grateful to see lighting inside the structure in spite of the damage. There was only one direction to move, down a staircase that seemed to lead to the center of the four structures. So they descended to a larger chamber, some 10 meters underground.
Once there, they could see two hallways, one angled slightly downward and back toward the basin, the other level in the opposite direction. "The energy readings seem to be stronger this way," Sam said, pointing her device toward the sloping hallway. There was no other information to go on, no idea where their teammates might be held, so this was as good a direction as any. She nodded to Teal'c, and they headed out.
The hallway was like a switchback trail, with sharp turns every few dozen meters. There were doors every so often, all closed. There were no energy readings coming from behind them, so there was no reason to stop.
Sam was quite sure the hallway was leading all the way to the basin. They'd been walking for nearly half an hour with no end of it in sight. She was amazed they hadn't run into anyone. Had the inhabitants retreated when the attack started?
A few more minutes of walking, and the hallway ended abruptly, in a dead end, but with a final door along the wall on their right side.
"This is where the readings have been coming from, Teal'c, beyond this wall somewhere. Maybe this door leads to that area. Can you blow it open?"
Teal'c aimed the staff weapon at the door and fired. It charred, but didn't break through. He fired again, and this time created a hand-sized hole. They saw something move and then were happily shocked to see the face of Colonel O'Neill staring back at them.
Daniel was so relieved at his friends' arrival, he was able to forget for a moment the water that was now nearing chest height, making it hard for he and Jack to stand. He stepped up behind Jack at the door.
"Teal'c, Carter! Thank God. Daniel was starting to worry, here."
"Right, Jack. Are you guys okay?"
"Yeah, Daniel, very glad to see you both alive," Daniel heard Sam from beyond the back of Jack's head.
"Enough with the pleasantries," Jack said. "Teal'c, you need to blast us out of here - the place is flooding."
"Stand back, O'Neill."
Teal'c blasted the door repeatedly until a hole big enough for a man to fit though. Water started to pour through the lower part of the hole as well.
"Let me help you through, Jack."
"You first, Daniel. No arguing."
"Jack, come on, you're wasting time. That window is going to go."
"Daniel..." but he was interrupted as Teal'c unceremoniously reached through the hole, grabbed Jack by his arms, and pulled him through.
Jack had barely tumbled to the floor on the other side with the window began to give way completely, bending to the incredible forces assaulting it. What had been a single crack became a spider web of widening flaws in an instant, and the spray of water became a torrent. The force of it threw Daniel against the door, hard enough to stun, threatening to pull him under. Again Teal'c was there, strong arms reaching for Daniel, dragging him through.
The water was gushing nearly full force through the hole in the door. Teal'c and Sam helped their teammates scramble out of the direct path of the flow. They were all soaked now, Jack coughing violently and having trouble standing. Teal'c helped him up and grabbed him around the waist, pulling Jack's arm across his own shoulder. Sam did the same with a groggy Daniel, and then there were running up the hall, the water rushing in behind them, around them.
Sam knew the water would stop rising once it was at the same level as the water in the basin. Only 50 feet or so of height, but the slope of the hall was shallow, and it would be a fair distance. She was right, but after 10 minutes of panicked flight, the water stopped chasing them, settling itself at its own level. They all slowed to a walk, not daring to stop but unable to keep running.
"Daniel, how are you feeling?" Sam asked, still supporting him.
"Just a bit dizzy. I'll be fine in a minute. You're timing was fantastic, Sam." Daniel smiled at her.
"We got lucky." Sam shuddered at how close it had been and held him a bit closer.
"How is Jack?" Daniel asked Teal'c, who was walking a few paces ahead with the man in question.
"Jack is alive and kicking, Daniel," Jack answered in annoyance before Teal'c could.
"Kicking is an exaggeration, O'Neill. You are barely walking." It was clear Teal'c was bearing quite a bit of Jack's weight.
"What's wrong with the Colonel?" Sam whispered to Daniel.
"He's had some sort of relapse. He has a high fever and congestion."
"We have Tylenol to help with the fever but not much else, I'm afraid. Once we get topside we'll check him out and do what we can. Daniel, what happened to you two?"
Daniel separated himself gently from Sam so he could use his hands and tell their story with full effect as they continued walking. Teal'c and Jack stayed close enough to hear, and Jack interjected the occasional grunt, the tone indicating disagreement or approval of Daniel's version of events. Sam was suitably amazed by the story of the Stenelli, and told them of their adventures as well.
Finally they reached the structures on the surface. There were signs of further missile damage, but nothing blocking them from getting out. The sun was setting, but a nearly full moon was rising to provide some light.
Teal'c said, "I recommend we move into the woods, away from this target area." Jack managed a nod and they kept walking.
Two kilometers east, they found a small clearing. It seemed a safe place to stop. Teal'c helped Jack settle against the trunk of a large fallen tree. Daniel and Sam brought her pack over to see what they could do for him while Teal'c began to scout the area, securing a perimeter.
Daniel could see Jack was exhausted, breathing rapidly but not seeming to get enough air. "Colonel, I think this could be some sort of follow-on to your flu," Sam said. She didn't mention it, but she was afraid it was pneumonia. "I think you should start taking this Tylenol; at least it will help with the fever. I'm sorry we don't have more."
"Better than nothing, right Carter?" Jack replied and took the pills, swallowed them with a good portion of water from the canteen. He leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes.
Sam and Daniel stepped away to talk. "You're right, Daniel, he's really sick. The Tylenol won't help with the congestion. If this is some sort of bacterial infection, five days is a long time to wait to treat it."
"Well, five days was their guess before the counter-attack. Who knows how long it'll be now," Daniel said, wanting so much to feel hopeful but seeing no reason to.
"Let's get a fire started; it doesn't seem too risky under the circumstances. It will be nice to really get dry finally," Sam said. Daniel was happy to have something constructive to do and readily agreed.
A few hours later they rested around the fire, everyone dry right down to their socks. The night air was quite a bit cooler, but the fire was enough to keep them comfortable in their tee shirts, as long as they stayed close. They'd opened two MRE's to share, but Jack had managed only a few bites of the stew before refusing to eat more.
Daniel had again offered his leg as a pillow to Jack, who was wrapped in the blanket, sleeping fitfully, waking now and then to ask what was going on. Not wanting to abandon his command, Daniel knew, so he answered patiently each time. In fact, nothing was going on. They were at the mercy of whoever was controlling the water in the basin, and he felt utterly useless.
The sound of distant explosions reached them every so often, but they knew the bulk of the battle was raging out of their hearing, in the depths of the basin and who knew where else. In the morning they would check on it again. They spent the night trading watches, waking Jack once to give him more Tylenol, resting as much as they were able.
Sam had last watch and saw the sun rise in solitude. She hated to wake everyone, but it was time to get going. The explosions had stopped, and she thought it would be best to head back to the basin, so they would know as soon as it was emptied, or perhaps find a way to make contact with the Stenelli and ask for help.
Daniel looked so peaceful, asleep with his back against the fallen tree. The colonel looked flushed with fever, but comfortable too - 'Daniel Jackson: archaeologist, pillow', she thought with a smile. She shook Daniel's shoulder gently, and sleepy eyes eventually met hers. "Hey, Sam. What's going on?" he said as he stretched his arms and yawned.
His stretching jostled Jack, who rolled over and sat up too quickly and then began coughing, a deep rattling hack that had Daniel and Sam exchanging worried looks. Daniel rested a hand on Jack's back, but was afraid to do more. "God, that hurts," Jack managed to say as he coughed, his arms wrapped around his ribs as if to keep them from flying apart.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Jack," Daniel said. He kept his hand on Jack until the fit subsided.
Daniel waited as Sam checked Jack over, noting the fever seemed no worse than the night before. The Tylenol was keeping his temperature from rising further, at least. She gave him another dose along with as much water as he was willing to drink.
"Jack, do you think you can travel? Sam wants us to head back to the basin and -"
"Or, maybe Teal'c and I should go check it out while you two wait here," Sam interrupted, clearly worried that Jack wouldn't be able to make it.
Teal'c had awakened from his kel-no-reem and stood watching Jack in concern. "We could make the journey and return in less than two hours."
Jack spoke up, "No, we stay together from here on out. We need to be ready to go when we get the chance, not waste hours coming back for stragglers." Daniel wanted to argue that being sick was a valid excuse for straggling, but he knew it would be pointless.
They shared a single MRE. This time Jack refused to eat anything, but Daniel managed to get him to drink the last of their water. They packed up what little they had and began making their way southeast to the basin. Daniel insisted on helping Jack so Teal'c could take point. Jack was too sick to argue about it, and accepted Daniel's support without much complaint.
At their slow pace, it was nearly two hours before they had the basin in sight, from a hill just a hundred meters away, where the trees began to thin. They settled onto the soft grass. Daniel was glad for the rest - his back was strained and sore from aiding Jack, who seemed to get weaker with each hour.
The basin was nearly full of water. Not a surprise, but still disappointing. The water's surface was smooth again, which they took as a sign that the battle was over. There were bits of debris floating, the only hint of the mayhem they'd witnessed the day before.
Jack sat against a tree with a view of the water. Sam offered him the canteen, which they'd been able to fill at a stream along the way. He drank but then had another coughing fit. His breathing sounded worse to Sam.
"So what, we wait?" Jack finally asked no one in particular.
Teal'c raised an eyebrow, apparently wondering if Jack expected an answer.
"Maybe we can make contact somehow," Daniel said, "convince them to help."
Sam saw the colonel smile at that. Daniel could still be sweetly naive at times. "Daniel, they wouldn't open the door when we were about to drown in that damned room. What makes you think you can convince them to hold up their war for us?" he asked.
Because if they don't you're going to die, Jack, he thought, but after a moment said, "You're right, Jack. We need something to offer them in return, to make it worth their while."
"From your description, their technology is more advanced than that of the Tau'ri, Daniel Jackson. What would you have us offer?" Teal'c asked.
"To be honest, I can't think of anything, Teal'c" Daniel said after a minute or two, and he stared at his hands in his lap.
After an hour of resting that had turned to waiting, Daniel couldn't bear the situation anymore. He jumped up from Jack's side and headed for the basin without a word.
"Crap. Teal'c, go with him, will ya?" Jack managed to say.
"Daniel Jackson, what are you planning to do?" Teal'c asked as he caught up with Daniel.
"I have to try to talk to them, Teal'c."
Teal'c didn't argue, but walked along side him. At the edge of the basin, Daniel shouted for someone to come make contact. He could see no activity, but then Teal'c tapped him on the shoulder.
"Daniel Jackson, there is something moving there, amidst that debris," Teal'c said as he pointed to their left and out away from the shore.
Without his glasses, Daniel had to take Teal'c's word for it, since all he saw was a blurry mass. "What do you see, Teal'c?"
"I believe it is an injured being, trapped by the debris and some sort of netting. It is moving; it appears to be looking at us," Teal'c said with some surprise.
"It, um, he or she, might be from this planet. Do you think we could help it out? They helped Jack and me. Sort of," Daniel said.
Teal'c didn't look convinced, but he nodded anyway, stripped down to his boxers, and dove into the water, knife in hand. A few strokes brought him to the trapped creature. Daniel heard him say something he hoped was friendly to it, then saw him set about cutting and clearing away the debris. Only a couple of minutes of effort, and the being wriggled free, dropping below the surface. Teal'c swam back to shore and climbed out.
They watched for a few minutes, but there was no more sign of any of the creatures. Teal'c dressed, and they walked back to join Sam and Jack. Jack seemed to be sleeping, sitting up against the tree. Sam stepped over to meet them, out of Jack's hearing, and Daniel told her what had happened.
She said, "I hope they'll appreciate the gesture, Daniel. The colonel is coughing up...well, let's just say I'm sure it's pneumonia now. The combination of a weakened immune system after the virus and the drowning were enough to cause it, I think."
"Crap, I knew it." Daniel felt another pang of guilt that he hadn't challenged Jack's decision to come on this mission.
"Is there nothing we can do for him, Major Carter?" Teal'c asked.
Sam shook her head, "He needs specialized antibiotics, oxygen, medicine for the coughing. We can try to hold the fever down, but as the infection spreads the Tylenol will stop working, I think. We need to keep him sitting up so he can breathe easier, make sure he stays hydrated. Other than that..."
Daniel shrugged, "I'm not sure what more I can do. They know we need to leave; I don't know if we're important enough for them to change their plans."
Sam laid her hand on Daniel's arm. "Let's hope we are, Daniel."
It was mid afternoon. While Teal'c kept watch over the basin, Sam went in search of anything edible. Daniel sat against a tree, with Jack sitting between his legs, leaning back against him. He'd fallen over in his sleep and had another painful coughing fit, so they'd decided not to leave him alone anymore. His fever seemed higher, and Daniel could feel chills coursing through his body in waves, could feel his sweat-damped clothes even through the blanket wrapped tightly around him.
Jack stirred, his head popping back suddenly into Daniel's shoulder. "Daniel?" he asked in a raspy, weak voice. Daniel brought the canteen to Jack's lips, said "Yeah, Jack, right here," as he helped Jack drink.
"Are we spooning, Daniel?" Jack asked, knocking his head gently against Daniel's chin.
"I guess you could say so, but your virtue is safe with me, Colonel," Daniel chuckled. "How are you feeling?"
"A bit better, I think" he said, but Daniel knew he was lying. He described their encounter at the basin. Jack asked, "So they owe us one, don't they?"
"I hope they see it that way."
They sat in silence for a while. Daniel couldn't focus on anything but the labored sound of Jack's breathing, the fluid rattling in his lungs, the sense his friend was never getting enough air.
Jack sat up a bit straighter, said, "Look, Daniel, no matter what happens -"
"What do you mean, no matter what happens?" Daniel said before he could think; he knew the answer to that, and it was not acceptable.
"I mean, no matter what happens, as in, no matter how this turns out -" Jack began again with a bit of exasperation.
"Jack, we're all going home, very soon," Daniel interrupted again. "That basin is going to empty, and we're going to walk right up to the 'gate, dial up Earth, and go home. And Janet will be there with lots of needles and tubes, and you'll get a few days vacation in the infirmary. You'll start annoying the nurses, and complaining about the food, and you'll be okay. You believe that. Of course you believe that." Daniel found he had twisted around so he could see Jack's face. Jack was smiling weakly at him, mildly amused.
"Hey, who's arguing? Wouldya just calm down and listen for a sec? My point is, no matter what happens, you did great here. I haven't exactly been at my best, but you and Carter and Teal'c, you all did good, Danny,” Jack fell silent, as if the effort of speaking even that much had exhausted him. The words must have been important to him.
"I appreciate that, Jack, but I feel like all I've done is react, like uh, like a weather vane or something. No anticipation, no control over anything."
"Yeah? Well now you know how I feel every time I bring you kids through the 'gate."
"If that's true, I don't know how you stand it," Daniel said, and he found he really meant it.
Jack laughed softly, and then settled back against him again. "Getting a little sleepy here. Sorry."
"It's okay. Just take some more Tylenol, then you can rest up for the trip home." Daniel hoped the worry he felt didn't come through in his voice. He knew Jack couldn't last forever without treatment. But then, Jack knew it himself, didn't he.
It was nearing sundown, and Teal'c was sitting with Jack. Sam had started a fire, but had not been successful finding food. They would have to make do with their two remaining MREs.
Daniel was once again standing at the edge of the basin, not expecting any more contact, but needing to keep watch. And if he was honest with himself, he needed a few minutes away from Jack. No, not Jack, Jack's illness, a bogeyman that had snuck up behind SG-1, perhaps to steal one of them away. Just one, leaving the other three bereft. He tried to imagine what life would be like without Jack, but could see nothing beyond grief and desolation. He couldn't speak for Sam and Teal'c, but losing Jack would not be something he would recover from. It wouldn't kill him, not if losing all the others hadn't killed him, but he wondered if there would be enough of himself left to be worth anything.
'Ah, what a load of self-pitying crap, Jackson. You're not the one dying.' He shook his head, trying to snap himself out of it.
At that moment, one of the Stenelli appeared in the water in front of him, its head turned sideways, one eye fixed on Daniel. Daniel could almost swear this was the same being who had spoken to them from the observation window, the 'nice' one who had disappeared as soon as the attack started. What if it were also the one they had saved? Or at least a comrade of that one. If that were the case, this was an opportunity.
Daniel said, "If you can understand me, please help us. We need to return through the Stargate," and he pointed at the 'gate, though he couldn't see it. "I believe we've proven ourselves trustworthy and of no threat to you. Please, let us go."
For the first time, he heard the Stenelli in its own language. A high-pitched, lyrical sound, nearly continuous and of course unintelligible to him. Beautiful, though. After a few moments, the Stenelli quieted and dove beneath the surface, its fluke arcing gracefully above the water.
Daniel stood wondering what the creature had been trying to tell him for long minutes. Then, passing his eyes over the surface of the water again, something struck him as strange; the floating debris was moving in a pattern, as if slowly circling the basin. In desperate hope, he fixed his eyes on the edge of the water, watching the level. After a couple of minutes, he was sure. The water level was dropping.
Sam saw Daniel rushing back up the hill and jogged to meet him. "What happened, Daniel?"
"They - they're emptying the basin! I'm sure of it, Sam," Daniel said with grin, pointing back at the water. "The Stenelli from this planet must have won this battle and retained control of it. They're taking pity on us, I think."
"That's great," Sam grinned in return. "We know it took less than twelve hours to fill, so maybe it will be that quick to drain it. I imagine they'll drain it into the lake we saw to the south on the MALP - it's several hundred feet lower in elevation. They must use gravity - " Sam could see Daniel didn't want to speculate on the details with her. "Well the thing is, that's great news, Daniel."
"Um, how is he?" Daniel nodded toward Jack and Teal'c, dreading the answer he knew was coming.
"I'm afraid he's still getting worse. He's not very responsive now. I think he'll survive twelve more hours, Daniel. The question is whether we'll be in time for Janet to help him once we're home."
Daniel nodded, his smile gone, and turned to join Teal'c and the colonel. Sam watched him go with sadness and concern. It would be terrible for her to lose the colonel, but for Daniel it would be devastating. SG-1 was all the family Daniel had, really, and the colonel was his best friend. She blinked away tears and went to rejoin her friends.
It was nearly dawn and Daniel waited, once again with Jack settled in front of him, more unconscious now than sleeping. Even by the firelight, Daniel could see Jack's lips had a blue cast, strangely at odds with the heat of his fever. Sam had said this was a symptom of pneumonia, an indication he wasn't getting enough oxygen. His breathing was so shallow now, as if there weren't enough room left in his lungs to hold a deep breath, and each breath took far too much effort.
Jack had awakened once during the night, mumbling about snakeheads and death gliders and deserts and other things that held dark places in his memories. Daniel had given words of comfort, telling him he was safe and that everything would be okay. He'd said what he was supposed to say, even if he couldn't fully believe it.
They were waiting for sunrise, needing the light to assess the water level. They didn't want to stumble into water that was deeper than it looked in moonlight. Daniel had slept earlier, didn't want to sleep now. He couldn't help thinking about the Stenelli, wondering why they had taken pity on this group of travelers; if it was just timing again, or gratitude. He wanted so much to learn more about them, how they lived, how similar their ancestors were to cetaceans on Earth, whether they could have a meaningful exchange of knowledge. But he would very likely never know these things, because they would never be allowed to return. And that would be okay if it meant Jack would recover. If only he could trade one for a guarantee of the other.
As soon as the sky lightened enough for them to see beyond the firelight, Sam and Teal'c went to have a look at the basin. They returned in only a few minutes, looking pleased.
"Daniel, you were right, the water is nearly gone. We can see the Stargate; it's almost clear. If we go now it'll be completely above water before we get there."
"Oh, that's great Sam. How are we going to take him?" Daniel rested his arm on Jack's.
"We will bear him together, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c promised.
"Of course, Teal'c. You guys pack up, and we'll be ready." While he was waiting, Daniel tried to wake Jack to get him to drink some water, but he wouldn't rouse.
Together Daniel and Teal'c were able to lift Jack, and a few minutes later they were on their way, supporting him from either side. As they got closer, Daniel was amazed to see the basin for himself. Completely empty but for a receding pool in the center. He could see large openings in the floor where the water was draining. Everything was gone - the battle remains, including the soldiers who must have died here, their own packs and the MALP also long gone, swept away.
They made their way carefully down the side of the basin. Jack was a dead weight between them. After they tripped and nearly fell, Sam took hold of Jack's legs, and they were carrying him. Even with their burden, they were soon at the DHD, their boots barely wet in the puddle that remained.
Sam stepped to the DHD to dial up Earth. "Daniel, there are several symbols here I don't recognize. Do we have any idea which is the point of origin?"
"No, I never had a chance to find out, Sam. I guess we'll have to try each one." That would mean more delay they couldn't afford.
They heard a crackle and turned to see the source. It was one of the Stenelli orbs, mounted on a pole next to the 'gate. A light shone from it, illuminating one of the unfamiliar symbols on the DHD.
Realizing the beings were telling them the point of origin, Daniel said, "Um, thank you. Thank your for helping us. I hope our two planets can one day establish peaceful relations."
"You have proven yourselves worthy," the familiar voice sounded. "We will welcome your friendship, but not until we have defeated our enemies."
"We understand. Um, I guess we'll check in now and then."
"We hope your friend will recover."
"Yes, thank you. So, good bye then," Daniel said, the overall strangeness of this mission leaving him feeling awkward.
Sam dialed up Earth, ending the address with the lighted symbol, and the 'gate came to life. She sent the GDO signal, and SG-1 went home.
Daniel was in the 'gate room on Abydos, the air hot and dry. He was waiting for someone to come through the Stargate. There was a high-pitched, musical sound, then the 'gate activated. He smiled in anticipation, but the wormhole surface became a torrent of water, rushing at him, pushing him into a corner and holding him there. And he couldn't breathe or move or scream, and there was no one to help him. Then someone was calling his name, shaking him.
"Daniel! Wake up, it's okay," Sam gently shook him again, relieved to see him open his eyes and look at her. She turned on the bedside lamp, and he squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. She sat on the edge of the bed.
"Yeah, it's me. You were having a nightmare. It was a bad one, huh?"
"Hmm, I think Freud would have a field day," Daniel said with a quick grin. He rubbed his eyes and picked up his glasses from the table. The VIP quarters were comfortable and anyway, Janet had ordered him to get some sleep in a real bed, so here he was.
"Sam, how did you know to come wake me up now?" Daniel asked, suddenly worried, propping himself up on an elbow. "Has something happened to Jack?"
"Yes, but it's good news, Daniel. His fever has finally broken. Janet thinks the worst is over. I thought about waiting til morning to tell you, but I knew you'd kill me." Sam gave him a brilliant smile and took his hand for a moment.
Daniel flopped his head back onto the pillow, his relief so profound he thought he might float away for the weight lifted off him.
Jack had been in the infirmary's intensive care ward for three days while Janet and her team helped him fight off the infection that had spread from his bloodstream through his body. When they'd first arrived home, she'd been worried about his chances - the bacterium appeared to be from the planet, and it had taken precious time to find an Earth antibiotic that was effective against it. Daniel had been there with him nearly every minute, knowing they might not have many left. He thought Jack wasn't really aware he was there, but every so often he would open his eyes and look around, grasping weakly at the pressurized oxygen mask on his face. Daniel had been able to calm him.
"Is he awake? I need to be there." Daniel said, sitting up and throwing back the covers.
"Wait, Daniel," Sam said, pushing him back gently. "He's asleep. Janet says he'll sleep for hours, and her orders are for you to stay here and do the same. After which, you are to eat, and as cute as you are in those infirmary jammies, it might be good to shower and change clothes, too."
Daniel rolled his eyes at that last observation. "Okay, she wins, as long as someone is there in case he wakes up early." He settled back into the pillow.
"Yes, Mother Jackson," Sam smiled. "Teal'c is doing kel-no-reem in the colonel's room. He'll keep an ear out, you know."
"He's going to be okay, Sam," Daniel said sleepily as she pulled the covers back up over him. "Make that Mamma Carter," he laughed as she left him to a sleep free of nightmares.
Daniel glanced up from his book for the twentieth time in an hour. Jack was still asleep, looking quite peaceful in fact, reclining against the elevated upper half of the bed. A nasal cannula, which Daniel knew Jack would hate when he woke up, had replaced the earlier oxygen mask. He still had an IV running and various monitors attached, but there was less equipment than there had been at the peak of his illness.
Daniel went back to reading, but in a couple of minutes felt compelled to look up again. Finally this time, he was rewarded with a pair of brown eyes looking back at him, tired but aware.
"Hey, Jack. You took your time waking up," Daniel said quietly, scooting his chair up next to the bed, setting his book on the table. He laid his hand on Jack's arm, managing to avoid the tubes and wires.
"Didn't realize we had to be somewhere," Jack said in a croaking voice. Daniel helped him drink some water. Jack asked, "So, what did I miss?"
"Oh, you know, doctors yelling 'stat', beeps interrupted by alarms, 'we've done all we can for him', that sort of thing," Daniel said, trying to sound casual but not able to meet Jack's gaze at the memory of it.
"That good, huh?"
"I was... we were a bit worried. Janet says you're going to be fine, though."
"It's all pretty hazy, but I remember you being here, Daniel. Thanks."
"Sam and Teal'c were here too, uh, whenever Janet ordered me to sleep."
"Looks like she didn't do that often enough." Jack said, looking a bit worried himself.
"I'm fine. I'm fine now."
"So, when do I get out of here?" Jack asked, weakly waving his free arm.
Daniel sat up straight in distress. "Ah, Jack, you're not starting that already! You just woke up, your lungs are a mess, Janet says you'll need oxygen for days, and really if you start nagging to go home now, I'm just... I'm just not sure I'll be able to take it, to be honest." Daniel took a breath and really looked at Jack, saw he was trying but failing to suppress a devilish smirk.
"Jack - God dammit!" Daniel sighed, shaking his head and smiling. "Okay, you got me this time. I so owe you."
"Is there a problem here, Daniel Jackson?" Daniel looked around to see Teal'c just inside the doorway, Sam next to him smiling from ear to ear. They'd heard his ranting, apparently.
"No, no problem, Teal'c. Jack was just expressing his appreciation for the care he receives here in the infirmary. Oh, hello Janet," Daniel said innocently as she strode into the room, heels clicking.
He looked back at Jack, who looked decidedly more nervous than he had only a moment ago. Daniel thought his payback would come quicker than he could have hoped.
"Good to see you awake and acting like yourself, Colonel," Janet said with only a hint of irony. She stepped to his bedside to check the various monitors and attachments, taking his pulse by hand as she always did.
"What, no penlight?" Jack asked in mock disappointment as she stepped away, making a few notes on his chart.
"You're on the mend, Colonel, but that doesn't mean you're well yet. I expect you to show the same patience your teammates have shown waiting for you to come this far," she said, her expression kind but concerned.
"You bet, Doc, and thanks," Jack said softly. Daniel noticed his eyes were starting to droop already.
"Okay, folks. Five more minutes, then everybody out so he can rest," Janet said, and they all nodded as she left them.
Gathering around Jack's bed, they chatted and joked with him quietly until his eyelids grew heavy and he fell asleep.
"You heard Janet, Daniel. Let's go get something to eat and then you can rest too," Sam whispered.
"Can you bring me something back, Sam? I just want to stay for a little while longer."
"You have seen for yourself he is going to be all right, Daniel Jackson. Why must you stay?"
"Just for a little while, Teal'c. Janet won't mind."
Sam patted his shoulder indulgently, and she and Teal'c left him with Jack. Now that he was asleep, Daniel wasn't embarrassed to take Jack's hand in both of his, so grateful for the warmth that was not a fever.
"I promise not to complain about you being in charge ever again," Daniel said quietly.
"Don't make promises you can't keep, Danny. You know I'm as irritating as ever," Jack slurred behind closed eyes.
"Exactly," Daniel smiled.
|Summary:||Led by a recovering O'Neill, SG-1 encounters a new and very different race.|