Day suddenly becomes night, a very wet night, water shoots up my nose as my eyes automatically shut out the dim watery green darkness. My arms stretch upward through the cold liquid above my head reaching for the now obscured sky. I choke on the water I sucked in before I could get my mouth closed and my sodden clothing is pulling me down. I have to remind myself to kick my legs to counteract my sinking. Bubbles escape my mouth as I churn the water in my sudden unplanned trip into waterworld.
I push down my body's natural panic and kick harder with my legs, pushing for the surface. I think my hands are out of the water, but I can't be sure. They feel wet but they also feel colder, could they be in the air now? Yes, I feel a breeze; my hands have broken the surface.
I am rudely jerked straight up to join my hands in the now cold air and dropped, hard, unto a flat surface.
Sputtering and spitting water, I try to clear my eyes by squeegeeing them with my dripping hands, gasping air into my startled lungs.
"Yeah." I cough out as I try to squint up into the now too-bright light towards the voice.
"Are we under attack?"
'Attack?' Wiping more water from my eyes, I swivel around a bit and focus my eyes upward. The voice's owner is a tall, heavily muscled, dark skinned man, wearing a yellow knit hat low on his brow. He has a young man practically in the air, holding him there, one hand around his throat. The kid is holding onto the massive arm he is suspended from with both hands looking scared.
The wind blowing across the lake is cold against my wet skin as I scoot around further, bringing a leg up unto the wooden dock in the process. I want full eye contact; I brace myself with an arm and look up, up...
"Teal'c, it's okay. They aren't trying to hurt anyone. It's just tradition... uh, customary... It's just what the guys who lose do to the guys who win. Okay?" I gave him a little smile and my most earnest expression.
He turns to look at the kid as he lowers him, then swivels back to look at me. I can't decipher his expression; I smile a little broader and shrug my shoulders encouragingly. He slowly releases his hold and the kid sags a bit as he gains a more solid footing on the damp sun-grayed planking. Teal'c turns his attention back to the kid and begins to speak.
"Please forgive me. I am unfamiliar with this sport's customs." Teal'c inclines his head minutely, his hands now hidden, clasped behind his back.
I still can't get a read on Teal'c, he can be like a blank slate sometimes. Why... Why isn't he covered in goosebumps? He has more skin exposed than I do; he's in shorts and a sleeveless tee, both in pale yellow!
I have no idea where he ever found canvas deck shoes to match, Cassie probably had something to do with the whole 'ensemble,' I'll have to talk to that girl. Teal'c is not a dress up doll. He's even sporting bright yellow-framed wraparounds on a bright yellow cord...
I pat myself down without taking my eyes from Teal'c and the kid. 'Sunglasses, were are my sunglasses, the damn things cost me a small fortune.' My fingers catch at a cord stretched tight across my throat, pulling at it my glasses pop up to the back of my neck. 'Thank god.'
'Just listen to this kid, he's no problem, never see him again, nope never.'
"Sure... I can understand what it must have looked like. I'm not hurt. No foul, no goal. I... I think I'll be going. Bye."
The young man had been backing up while he was speaking, now he stumbles around, picking up speed fast back toward the junction our part of the dock makes with the main dock. Back towards the others dressed in whites with masted boats bobbing behind them, the same others we had been racing with earlier.
I watch as the kid rejoins his friends, I can imagine what he is saying. I can imagine what they all think by what they had just seen. All that hand waving and furtive glances in our direction.
'There goes any rematch down the drain.'
I swing my gaze back towards Teal'c squinting an eye for better focus, I fling an arm up towards him.
"Help me up."
At my words Teal'c returns his gaze from watching the kids at the end of the dock back to me. He reaches down, grasping my arm, just short of the elbow, as I grip his wrist, he pulls gently, and I almost float erect. I am amazed by his total control of his physical strength, I may be lean, but I'm well muscled and muscle is heavy.
I stand and unzip my lightweight khaki colored windbreaker, my cream short sleeved tee shirt looks painted on. I suck in my stomach and pooch it in and out a couple of times, still looks like skin. This would leave nothing to Carter's imagination, if she were around, which she isn't; I glance around, just in case. I drop the jacket to the dock as I bend down to unsnap the elastic cuff of my matching windpants.
Water drips down my bare ankle into my white canvas deck shoe getting my bare foot even wetter.
I unsnap the other leg and shake each leg a couple of times whipping water drops every which a way.
Teal'c catches my eyes once I straighten back up, he raises one eyebrow. I know what he wants, an explanation. Not of my most recent actions, but of why I went swimming.
"Sorry Teal'c. It never occurred to me that they would do that. I'll explain tonight, right now we have to be getting back to camp."
"Tonight then," my friend inclines his head in easy agreement.
"Have you seen my hat?"
Colorado Springs, Colorado in the US of A lies at the foot of a vertical wall of stone, the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, its Precambrian granite extruded three and half billion years ago, the hard granite of Pike's Peak anchoring the range close to its southern end.
A little further to the south and a nudge east is a lesser known anchor, a stony mountain of hard rock that nature had thrust up over softer, much younger shales and limestones.
This tough, brittle granite is broken into monolithic blocks that rests uncomfortably on the ancient sea bottom.
The lesser peak is known as Cheyenne Mountain.
Being 'lesser' known does not mean 'unknown', the Mountain first became noticed during the Cold War when a frightened America found it ideal for housing a portion of the nation's defense network and tunneled a series of deep shafts into its crystalline structure.
Cheyenne Mountain became the eyes and ears of a secret arsenal of nuclear missiles aimed at the Soviet Union to lessen the threat of our own nuclear extinction. Time has a way of uprooting and exposing secrets, the Cold War wound down, Russia cast out communism, and worldwide nuclear disarmament became a fact.
The Mountain became quiet and empty; and soon all but forgotten until NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, greatly reduced by military downsizing, chose it as its new home.
To the general public NORAD is the soul occupant of Cheyenne Mountain, but the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a small secret satellite campus of the nearby Air Force Academy know otherwise. Below its very public face exists one of the world's most secret bases, hidden under the camouflage of the silo's public occupant.
The troops of this hidden base battle in a new Cold War, unknown to even the highest in America's military, and these troops had already prevented every living soul on the planet from being incinerated or enslaved by of all things, aliens.
This battle is carried to this new enemy through an alien device known as the Stargate.
The Stargate unearthed earlier in the last century at an Egyptian dig proved decades later to be a means to travel to worlds circling distant stars. By taking just a single step, light years can be traversed in milliseconds.
Unfortunately, by doing so Earth attracted the unwanted attention of a violent, aggressive and downright evil race of aliens who take human bodies for their own existence, a vile parasitic race convinced of their own godhood.
These parasites pose a real and seemingly insurmountable threat; possessing worlds filled with fanatical troops, superior technology and weapons, and possessing long range spacecraft.
In command of this disavowed base is an Air Force Major General and his 2IC (second in command), an Air Force Colonel trained in covert operations.
They hold sway over the base housing the SGC, Stargate Command, where teams use the Stargate not only to explore but to seek out technology, allies and intelligence to battle against Earth's new enemy.
Captain Samantha 'Sam' Carter, US Air Force, can usually be seen cutting through the Control Room just before a Mission Briefing.
Climbing the spiral metal staircase to the huge conference room above, she always expects to find it empty.
This time the unbelievable had happened, there was life in the room. Usually this 'life' is the last to drag itself to any meeting.
'He must really want this mission approved to be here this early.' A fond smile transforms her serious military mask into that of friend and teammate of the man sitting at the far end of the room.
Dr. Daniel Jackson is seated at the long cornerless cherry table that sports a raceway shaped insert of a black durable material.
He is leant over the papers and books scattered around him, a coffee mug gripped tightly between his hands, his chin so low as to nearly rest on its rim.
He has not noticed Sam enter the room and appears to be mumbling to himself, as he flips pages in one of the books.
Carrying only a single file folder she lightly strides down the room, her footsteps silenced by the thin carpet covering the poured concrete of the base's bunker construction.
Stopping behind him, bouncing on her toes a moment, she leans over his shoulder to catch his eye before speaking.
"I heard that you saw Teal'c before he left with the Colonel?" Craning her body further over Daniel's shoulder, positioning herself to have a better view of his face, but acting as if to peruse his book. Sam Carter carefully voices her words are if they were no more or less serious than with any other polite chitchat.
She expects some kind of reaction to show on his face, keeping her own almost deadpan as to not tip him off that she really wanted to know what Teal'c had been wearing.
"And I heard that you saw the Colonel before he left with Teal'c?" Daniel sneaks a look sideways towards Sam's now attractively pinking up complexion.
'So you did see him.'
"I'll tell if you tell," he sings out in a sotto voce mocking tone and swiveled to face her.
Proud of the fact that he had beat her at her own game.
He now had half of the puzzle and needed her half to complete it, only he intended to have all the pieces first.
Dropping defeated into the chair next to him Sam eyes his face suspiciously. 'What is he up to? No, he's still at it isn't he?'
"Are you still trying to discover what the two of them have been up to for the last year?"
Projecting her disbelief at his audacity into her spoken words while amusement danced in her bright blue eyes.
"Yes," Daniel slightly pulls the word out before continuing, "How was Jack dressed?"
Setting his face into a stern mask and refusing to be baited into providing information until he got his.
However his twinkling eyes betrayed him, clearly showing any who looked just how much fun he was having right now.
Their words carry to the office near where they are talking. It's occupant, Major General George S. Hammond, listens covertly to the scientific half of SG-1, his best 'meet and greet' team. He knows a little about what they are talking about, in fact, he knows a lot about what they are talking about, that their CO, Colonel Jonathan 'Jack' O'Neill, and fellow teammate, Teal'c, 'are' up to something and that Jack is most likely exceeding his authority.
Taking Teal'c to places that the Joint Chiefs would consider too dangerous for the security of this project.
Security is important, but they sometimes forget that Teal'c in not a fixture of this project. He is a free person and should be allowed to come and go as he pleases and, as long as Colonel O'Neill is involved; Hammond will turn a blind eye to their antics.
Hammond gave O'Neill his implicit trust long ago, what Jack does may not be by the rules, but it usually is the right thing to do.
The general tunes out their conversation for now, he has a little time yet to clear up a few items before he needs to face them.
"Ah-ah, you first." Sam wags a finger at him and leans back into the chair to cross her arms trying to look stubborn. Only to abruptly soften her face and suddenly lean forward battings her eyes at him imploringly.
Her behavior very much like a little kid uncertain as to which ploy to use first. Her posture a taunting travesty of her usual serious nature. She's trying to 'up the ante' on the game of emotional poker he has begun.
"Yellow." Sam hears not a hint of emotion in his voice as he nonchalantly flips a page in the forgotten book before him.
She dumbly repeats his reply in the interrogative; bodily motion frozen by her inability to fathom what he could possibly mean.
Daniel grins at her confusion. 'She is so bad at this game.' He begins to explain 'yellow' in an 'oh so sophomoric' way.
"Pale yellow down-to-the-knee Baggies, scoop neck sleeveless tee, canvas shoes, in yellow, along with yellow wraparounds and a yellow knit hat."
He finishes smirking, both hands used now to underscore a 'tah-dah'...
'Score!' Ringing through his head, his right to his acquired point made throughout his description by Sam's slowing, evolving, facial expressions from blank incomprehension to stunned wonder in mere microseconds.
"Wow, he must have looked great, he must have looked impressive and must have made our dangerous colonel look like a tame pussy cat!"
Awe nearly dripping from her disbelieving words.
Chuckling, she sighs, putting on her best starry-eyed expression, doggingly keeping to the gossip theme of their conversation;
"Cassie had to have had something to do with it."
"Why? Did she have something to do with what Jack was wearing?"
'This is interesting.' Daniel desperately tries to keep his smile in place to prevent his intense interest from showing on his face. Hoping that she might say something to help him track down his two friends when they next pulled their annoying disappearing act.
"She used his credit card and got his outfit off the net, something about what all the guys flyfishing for Tarpon are wearing. Whatever Tarpon are? Cassie squeals every time she even thinks about him dressed in it. In fact, if he wasn't my CO I would squeal too."
She grins hugely as her wide blue eyes glaze ever so slightly as she sinks into the tantalizing memory of just how sexy her CO can look. 'Holy Hannah, forbidden fruit!'
"Too bad I missed that, especially since they both are sneaking around again. If only..."
Daniel can't quite imagine how what Jack is dressed like could cause Captain Carter to squeal like a schoolgirl, especially since imagining her as a schoolgirl is nearly impossible. As she isn't in the least obliging about describing what Jack was wearing, he still had only half the puzzle. 'Now just how did I wind up with nothing?' Telling him about what Jack wore and comparing that to how Teal'c was dressed can provide important clues to what they are both up to. Being so intent on this thought he forgot to keep his face from showing it.
"Forget it Daniel, you tried to follow them a couple of times, with the Colonel's covert skills you'll never find out what they're doing."
To stamp finality to that thought she abruptly sits up straight in her chair switching to her usual 'all business' persona.
"Ready for the briefing?"
"Oh, yes, yeah..."
Disappointed in her summary dismissal of his quest Daniel rummages in the papers under his book, extracting a few. "The picture the MALP sent back indicates a possible link to the Ancients..." Shuffling more papers and not quite finding what he is looking for is just an act really giving him time to switch from bantering friend to knowledgeable co-worker.
"Because the Gate address was one of those the Colonel inputted?" She leans toward him puzzled. 'What is he looking for?'
'Have I hurt his feelings by dismissing his investigation into the Colonel's and Teal's activities? I didn't mean that he should quit, just get some help from someone who can outfox the Colonel... '
"That and the symbols on the structures around the gate." Punctuating his words with the now found still photograph of those symbols.
'She thinks that I shouldn't pry into Jack's business. Maybe I shouldn't. He's my friend, if he really wanted me to know he'd tell me.'
"Doesn't the artificial 'pool' interest you?"
Having no interest in the symbols she flops back into her chair, upset with her unintended ridicule of her friend. Yet still wondering why the pool wasn't the center of his thoughts.
"Well, not really. The Ancients seemed to have a great interest in esthetics, a kind of grand symmetry of design." Waving a hand through the air with as much enthusiasm as Sam held for his symbols.
"They liked to impress visitors in lay speak." A new voice interrupts.
Daniel and Sam, pop their heads around towards the lanky, lean and deceptively relaxed man standing before them. Daniel's genuine smile of welcome is reflected back by the man's slight grin of acknowledgement. Sam's bright eyed smirking expression -- not quite hidden quickly enough behind a hand -- accounts for the sudden flashes of bright amber in his normally dark brown eyes.
"Very astute Jack," utters a surprised Daniel. His fondness for the older man radiates from him; Daniel is very conscious that he can't hide his emotions like Jack can.
"For a member of the uneducated masses," Colonel 'Jack' O'Neill grins mockingly as he steps aside to allow the just arriving Teal'c to seat himself across from Daniel and Sam.
"If you were an accurate indicator of the level of intelligence of the 'masses' we would be a civilization nearly on a level with the Asgard."
Jack's face fleetingly shows his shock at such an overt compliment. 'Direct hit.' Daniel mentally marks down his score. 'Two for two.'
"Yah, sure ya betja," the Colonel stutters out, watching Carter's attempts to stifle her giggles, even Teal'c is getting his jollies at his expense. 'How did I walk into that? ' Mentally shaking himself, and vowing to ignore Daniel, he asks, "Are we set to start?" in his best command voice, determined to not let them see how far into his defenses they can reach.
"I hope so," says General Hammond as he makes his presence known.
"People have a seat. Colonel would you start with your assessment of the target?"
He walks around to the head of the table and sits down, projecting an air of professional presence, encouraging his people to reciprocate.
"A foregone conclusion, a 'go' if you will, Sir. Daniel and Carter have outvoted me on this one, as if the military were a democracy."
He casts a mock glare of reproach toward the members of his team before resuming.
"Apparently, there are strong indications that P3R-336 has in the past been within the sphere of the Ancients' influence, if not an outright holding of theirs. No signs of the Goa'uld having ever been there and the three long-range surveys of the UAV's, including Carter's newest long-range model." Pausing he nods his approval towards his 2IC. "No evidence of any living creature bigger than a bread box on the planet. No roads, buildings or other signs of habitation present, beyond those around the gate. My threat assessment is low. As to what we can gain, that's up to Dr. Jackson."
Pinning Daniel with a look, he flips a hand in his direction passing on the assessment to his team's archeologist.
"Dr. Jackson?" Hammond steepled his fingers and peeks over them at the linguist, who appears rather stunned at the Colonel's words of surrender.
Daniel tries to kick his brain back into gear, after realizing that he will not have to fight tooth and nail to get SG-1 onto this planet. Finally recovering somewhat he tears his gaze from Jack and directs it towards the General.
"Uh, no sir. Colonel O'Neill has it in a nutshell." 'Gee, duh oh.' He flung both hands, fingers spread wide, just above the table helplessly.
General Hammond mentally marks a score into O'Neill's column; he had stumped the civilian member of this team. Now how will the other scientist take it? He fixed Captain Carter, theoretical astro-physicist and soldier, with an inquiring look.
"My area is fairly open to interpretation, remote observation tells me little about the possible resources that the planet presents. I'll just have to do a range of samples and survey as usual, Sir." 'I'm always prepared, I'm the women remember?' Carefully she keeps that thought from her face, remembering how unfair it is to the Colonel or other three men in the room. They don't place that extra burden on her.
'Okay, one out of two wasn't so bad on this one. Jack'll have to work harder next time to get two for two. Maybe I should have a word with him about the length of his briefings...' Spreading his attention along the table briefly he utters his judgment.
"Good, I agree with the Colonel's assessment. The mission is a 'go'. And Colonel, thank you for the shortest mission briefing in the history of the SGC, can I expect this efficiency in the future?" Laughing in his mind, he carefully schools his face into impassivity.
The General struggles to not burst out laughing when everyone glares at Colonel O'Neill who ignores one and all with a distinct air of innocence about him. Taking pity on the man, he backs off of his suggestion.
"Too bad, I guess this is just a fluke then. Dismissed, feel free to remain here to iron out the details if convenient." He rises to leave then pauses, turning to O'Neill. "Oh before I leave, Colonel O'Neill where are those estimates of equipment consumption I asked for?" Watching the man expectantly, he observes as intelligent eyes lock unto him revealing the man's frank regard and respect. Always a humbling experience coming from O'Neill.
"Should be in your e-mail 'inbox', Sir. I included my usual notations in case those higher up the line wanted to argue the expected expenditures."
He feels the pride and respect in his words for his superior and friend. He was surprised at finding how unexpectedly easy it is to express these feelings, here, now. He discovers he is experiencing an unexpected pleasure at his unusual and sincere expression of them. Only to sadden at the thought of just how unusual this sharing is.
"Thank you, your insights always come in handy. Carry on Colonel. I know that you and your team need to hash out your approach to your mission." Tapping his folder against the table in final farewell, he returns across the vast room to his office.
O'Neill watches his CO return to his office and just as the door closes he is suddenly pelted with paper balls, futilely fending them off by batting incoherently at them he hisses, 'Hey, hey! How was I to know that he'd like my moment of weakness. I never try to be efficient, It's enough that I know that I can, I don't want to ruin my reputation as a procrastinator."
I've been trying to discover what Jack and Teal'c have been up to for almost a year now. They mysteriously disappear separately or together for a day, a weekend or even several days. I've tried asking Teal'c but he politely ignores me or pretends to misunderstand.
He has to be pretending because Jack goes to such lengths to educate him, buying him books, tapes, magazines and taking him places. I once caught them both in Jack's office; Jack was patiently explaining math to him, not just grade school math either. Spatial orbital formulas, something about a new comet and ballistic flight paths and the effect that additional gravitational bodies can have on it.
Way beyond me, more Sam's area than mine.
Jack and I have discussed his education. On Chulak all Teal'c was allowed to do was elementary math, reading and writing, just enough to do his job as first prime. He is far, far less literate than a human in very menial job on Earth is. Jack wanted to give him the broadest education possible as fast as he could handle it. I tried to talk him into something far less only to discover later that I did Teal'c a disservice. The Jaffa is an extremely bright man, handling what Jack gave to him faster than any human could, soaking up knowledge like a sponge. Jack also wanted to make sure that Teal'c saw as much first hand as possible.
Taking him places.
It's the 'taking him places' part that arouses my suspicions, their outings are always of a covert nature, Teal'c isn't supposed to be off base, period, but Jack, as I, believes that he should not be keep like a prisoner on base. I even know about Jack's abortive attempt to get Teal'c his own apartment, General Hammond quietly and unofficially put an end to that. The real change in their trips is that neither is talking to either Sam nor Me, or in fact to anyone else, about what they are doing. That lack of communication puts up a red flag to me, I'm not worried about them doing something they aren't supposed to, well at least not much, but I am curious, and that I can't stand.
So, with that in mind I jump up from the conference table to dash after Jack, to attempt once more to find out just what the heck is going on. Jack's out the door before I can get around the table, Sam rolls her eyes at me as I pass her, knowing what I'm up to. Jack's legs have to be longer than mine are, he is only a one or two inches taller than I am but I really have to step out to catch up to him.
"Jack!" I call out to him, he has his nose stuck in his notes, and I can see the elevator about twenty feet further. I need to catch him before he boards it. He habitually keys me out, leaving me standing in the hall, if he knows I'm after him to wheedle him about something or other. That's his way of avoiding my prying. Of course, sometimes he keys me out when he has something urgent to do; he does run this place.
"Daniel?" He stopped, in my surprise I almost collide with him. "Whoa, Danny, rein it in. What's up?"
Jack's shuffling back from me, smiling at me, avoiding any possible collision. It's a true smile, unlike that put-on one he always uses, it's good to see him truly smile, and he doesn't do it enough. I smile right back at him, darn, now I feel guilty about probably wiping that smile off his face. I really don't want to spoil this rare open mood of his, but I have to know what's going on, darn it.
'Oh, I just hadn't seen you for a few days, just wanted to catch up on what you've been doing." I do, want to know what he's doing, after all, he's my friend, my best friend and I know that I'm his. He and Teal'c share a mutual respect for each other, sort of a warrior brother relationship, but Jack and I are like true brothers, we fight like cats and dogs and would die for each other, have died for each other.
"Not much. Did a little fishing over the weekend and 'no' I did not go Tarpon fishing."
He reaches down to briefly knead his knee, 'fishing' my foot ! Sitting unmoving for hours, usually asleep, doesn't aggravate his knee. Only strenuous activities will do that.
I'm no fool.
"You don't know about that? Well Cassie decided that I needed to be more 'GQ' when in public, to attract the 'fairer sex' she says. Going on and on about how important it is for a man of my years to have an active sex life. How often, how many partners, how creative or active we should be. Recommending reading material about it. It was embarrassing, can you imagine a kid like that lecturing me on that subject! You know Janet has the idea that I'm corrupting her daughter, let me tell you it took me some time to convince her of my innocence..."
'Oh no, I'm getting the verbal diarrhea treatment!' He knows what I'm here for and this is his tactic. Talk me to death.
"...Did you see what she did to Teal'c, after I saw that I had a long conversation with her about playing dress up with naïve adult aliens..."
'Teal'c naive?' No, look! He's been dragging me along towards the elevator, he'll trap me in there. Death by words. No!
"...I never felt so silly showing up at the lake looking like I was from Florida. Just the looks I got when I had lunch at the lodge café, I've never been so humiliated in my life. I'll be a laughing stock up there for years after that, they didn't even want to sell me a beer, they thought that I'd want a wine cooler just because of how I was dressed. They even tried to charge me more, because I dressed like I came from out of state. Can you believe..."
'Nope, my questions are not worth this price.'
"Eh, Jack, I gotta go." I rush right by the elevator he's backing into, I can see him reaching out to pull me in, no way am I letting him trap me there in his version of the twilight zone. I quickly back down the hall shouting about catching up with him later. He waves while the doors finally close on him.
I had to laugh. That worked well -- it always works well. Danny thought he talked a lot but I can hose him down with words faster than he can process them. Verbal overload, he taught me how, and then I made it uniquely mine. If he would just give up on this quest to know what Teal'c and I do together I'd probably just tell him what's been going on, yep definitely. Not!
It's just too much fun keeping him in the dark, even Teal'c gets a kick out it. I love the kid like a brother, a little brother, but love him just the same. Even if he were my real little brother I'd still do this. Little brothers are for teasing and stringing along. Teaching them the ropes by challenging them, tantalizing them and just plain driving them crazy.
God! Life is good right now.
I know from experience that nothing goes smoothly, so I plan for the roughness of the ride. Expecting everything to go wrong -- and it will -- leaving no surprises.
I hate surprises.
Even preparing for failure doesn't stop the surprises. My best preparations for survival can be subverted faster than Daniel can find trouble in a Goa'uld Mothership. I've never been proved wrong on that score.
I steer my team into doing missions my way. I don't tell them it's 'my way' -- I try to convince them it's all their idea. Less argument that way.
I am once again surprised, and I haven't gotten off world yet. Pleasantly surprised for a change, Daniel went along with my plan, it seems that the only structures he is interested in are those five buildings nearest the Gate. Well, relatively near, about a quarter mile away to the nearest one. Five 'Greek-like' columned stone buildings arranged in a deep semi-circle with an added further quarter mile to the central building, the largest. The others flanking it are close to be the same size, the outermost one of each set of two might be just a tad smaller.
He has the idea that P3R-336 is a stopover place, just a connection to other planets that can't be reached normally. A switchpoint, Grand Central Station of the stars, like San Francisco International Airport, every flight north or south has an hour stopover there, even the ones whose total in-air time is less than two hours.
Carter agrees with him, the Gate network we know, being just a small sample of the whole, has given us indications that no one Gate can reach all other Gates, but for some reason that Carter is still trying to figure out, those instances are rare.
At least to us.
To me it makes sense, I'm not an astro-physicist like Carter, but I do dabble in astronomy. I can point that telescope out there, but everything is not in my direct line of sight, some stars obstruct other stars. Its called 'occultation'. There are too many stars, planets and dust clouds out there in that 'empty' space, some of it is hidden behind whatever is between me and it, so I don't see it unless I move to where I can see it.
Even traveling to a star using a Mothership means going around stars, planets, chucks of rocks and such. At least before you go into hyperspace. Just as airplanes go around mountains or storms here on Earth.
So it makes sense, that I have to go to first one planet via the Stargate and then gate to my ultimate destination from there, at least every once in a while. Even the symbols used on the DHD to dial the gate imply that the wormhole has some kind of point to point path it follows from one Stargate to another. We already know that some addresses don't work all the time, meaning the Gate is probably compensating to a degree on the same problem, like a planet being behind its sun.
That's what Carter believes, sounds good to me.
P3R-336 is a 'safe' planet, no Goa'uld, no natives, no large animal life, no energy signature. Very quiet. Should be no threat to deal with. I don't even have a warning twinge. Milk run. Nice for a change. Not that I intend to let my guard down completely, may loosen it just a tad, but not until I 'feel' the place.
Teal'c and I are the first out of the gate, to sort of check out that it's safe, about 90 seconds later comes the FRED with our gear accompanied by Daniel and Carter. The MALP is sitting here when I arrive and we had checked out the planet using it before we stepped through. I've been caught too many times by 'surprise' after it looked all clear via that contraption, so eyeballing it is much better, scenting the wind, feeling the vibes. Know what I mean?
I soak in the planet, feeling for the blackness that must be there.
P3R-336 is stunning!
The Stargate faces the 'pool' as Carter calls it, if you can call something that is perfectly round, contained in immaculately dressed creamy white stone and is about a mile across, a 'pool'. The Gate isn't right on its edge, it's about a half mile away on a small gentle knoll. Behind the Gate are the buildings that Daniel wants to explore, Teal'c is already checking them out, Daniel knows that he can't go near them until he gives the okay. Meanwhile, Daniel's checking the DHD with Carter, I'm sure that they are enjoying the view too.
The buildings remind me of Greece, Ancient, not Modern. They softly glow in the light of an alien sun, all built of the same stone that contains the 'pool.'
Thank God! There aren't a lot of trees, the ground is covered in a naturally short even grass, looking very much like a really huge lawn. Good visibility, making my job easier, nowhere for intruders to hide, not that we really expect any. It doesn't hurt to be watchful, the impossible happens to us too often. I don't feel any of my warning twinges, in fact I'm relaxed.
The trees are attractively arranged across the landscape, I do mean arranged. It's too perfect to be otherwise. Even the small number of bushes gave the same impression. There are great drifts of color woven through the lawn, flowers, but about the same size as the grass. The 'pool' reflects a sky of a pale silvery blue and occasionally flashes of the flower's colors too. Not much can pierce through to my soul anymore, but this planet has struck deep in just the few minutes I've been here. I normally only feel like this in Minnesota, that awestruck wonder of nature and feeling of contentment, that oneness with nature kinda thing.
If the Ancients were truly responsible for this, I would like to see one their more important worlds; they were true artists of terraforming. If that is what this is, artificial in very controlled natural way, but created by an intelligence. There is no evidence of the chaos of true nature here. Even in the face of such mindful beauty I'm still looking for the serpent that I know has to live here.
Brutal experience overrules my foolish soul.
Jack seems mesmerized by the view, no one can accuse him of not being able to appreciate beauty when he sees it. Anyone can see that admiration in his home garden, how many tough soldiers encourage roses. This place is spectacular, I can just see a swell of green rising beyond the far edge of the 'pool,' everywhere you look is life, a great glory of it, but sadly devoid of those who were meant to enjoy it. I wonder just whom this world was sculpted for; even I can see a mortal hand in this creation.
I glance towards the buildings, Teal'c is returning. I nudge Sam and point him out to her.
"He doesn't look like anything's wrong." I roll my eyes at her in disgust.
"He would look like that," I said, waving an arm in the Teal'c's direction, "even if the buildings were exploding."
We watch Teal'c report to Jack, then they both come over to us.
"Carter, Daniel you remember the game plan?" We both nod. "Good, then you're free to proceed and Teal'c and I will start our walk to the other side. Remember radio checks every hour, or if anything happens. Okay?"
At that Jack and Teal'c turn to leave, each shouldering their packs, Jack is always prepared.
Jack goes only a dozen steps before stopping, Teal'c only half that before he too stops to turn and sends a questioning look to his friend and leader. I don't know what Teal'c saw, Jack didn't make a sound, but Teal'c nodded and resumed his progress towards the lake. I studied Jack's body for signs, hoping to discover why he seems frozen to that patch of ground.
As I am unable to divine the cause I began to edge towards him.
Slowly, as if stalking a timid buck I ease up to stand at his side, he does not react to my presence. I look off in the direction he is staring and study the sight too for a number of minutes. I see the beauty of this place, an uncommon beauty. I turn to study my friend, just his profile, sharp and intense, but somehow different. In the last few weeks, I have seen him struggle with the death of Frank Cromwell and his inability to come to terms with his own anger towards the man, a man who died attempting to save him. Fast on the heels of this emotional storm he undergoes a death of his own, the death of his identity as the Ancients' download took control. I search his countenance for that difference, his harshly held expression, it really isn't as harsh as I remember it, it's softer, his mouth not as tightly pressed into a thin line, nor his eyes as deeply hidden below that other solid line of his brow as usual. There is a soft upturn at the corner of his mouth and his eyes are revealed below an unclenched forehead. Even his body is looser.
Jack is smiling, not just with his mouth, or his eyes, but with his being.
It's a shock; this man hides himself from everyone, including his friends, hiding behind the jovial mask of a jokester, the buffoon. Seldom will he reveal his true feelings. Only the most extreme ones ever escape, briefly and spectacularly. Even then, one really had to be looking to even see that. Yet here he is visibly expressing happiness; maybe he has been able to resolve some of those feelings he rather not have. I feel an earnest desire to see him revealed like this more often, to be less the actor, to be more the player. I know that he is the only one that can ever achieve that switch in his life. Knowing that, I am certain that this rarity before me might never be repeated.
I am reluctant to leave Jack's side, afraid that any move will deny him this small joy that he so deserves despite himself; he seems so at peace here. I wonder if it is this place, or something else freeing him and how long it will last.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Jack sighs, uncharacteristically contented.
"Are you okay?" I eye him critically; he is being so unlike himself.
"Yeah, for the first time in a long time, I feel okay. It's this place; it strikes a cord in me. It's hard to explain. Am I being silly, is this something that others commonly feel, and why don't I feel like this more often?"
The comment wrenches at my heart, how often does Jack feel that he can't enjoy the simple pleasures. I can see the smile fading, I try to fan it back to life.
"It's very normal to have pleasant feelings in the presence of beauty. Don't let it worry you." His smile is not completely gone, just a shadow of it remains. It is encouraging.
"I can't not worry, feeling this good has always had a price later. It's like I'm punished for allowing myself to enjoy something, that I don't deserve this. I have lived in darkness too long and me being here just sullies this. I can only hope that this time I won't be made to pay too high a price just for the privilege of being here."
He huffs out a breath, his smiling lips flatten, dampening his smile further.
Then, without a word, he strides away.
I remain, unmoving, watching him trail along after Teal'c's faint trail of footsteps left in the grass.
'Jack you do deserve to feel happiness. You are not darkness personified. I have seen the pure beacon of your enlightened soul in the darkest of circumstance. Even Teal'c is like a moth to your flame.
Only you are blind to your own virtue.'
Teal'c has left ahead of me, but I'm not concerned. He will wait at the 'pool' for me. I know that he feels the peace of this place as keenly as I do, well maybe not that much. He has far less experience with it. Only Charlie's birth has ever effected me this deeply, deeply enough to fill my eyes with unshed tears.
It frightens me; I have not felt like this for many years.
I can feel my control loosening, never a good thing. Could there be lingering effects from the Ancient's download? Stray bits that resonates with this, a world of the Ancients to cause all of these 'feelings?'
I don't know and may never know. All I can do is enjoy the bitter sweetness while I can, nothing good ever lasts, this I know.
An end comes to all things, especially those good and pure.
I quickly come to a stop next to Teal'c, I say nothing. He doesn't need my words, as I don't need his acknowledgement of my presence. He stands nearly as lost in the staggering grandeur that is before him as I had been with Daniel. I find myself falling back into the spell this place weaves through my grudging soul.
Many would be unable to comprehend that warriors can appreciate such beauty, but beauty is a type of frozen battle lying before us and warriors study battles as a means to their future goals. That battle is a system of forces exerting one against the other, symmetry expressed in an understandable military logic or even mathematically.
Carter would understand the beauty of math as I understand the beauty of a well-waged battle. A garden is a battle also; living things and physical conditions pitted against themselves and a sentient mind. All intent on seeking their goals, but achieving a momentarily frozen balance. Any change in the conditions changes the garden. If I watch long enough I can see the struggle for supremacy between the forces at war.
Teal'c feels this as well as I do.
"Will we have time for contemplation?"
I Glance at the originator of those words -- spoken without moving -- and I contemplate my friend, the statue's question.
"I hope so, Teal'c, I hope so." I find myself sincerely hoping to soak in more of this place; it's narcotic already eating away at my will to stoically endure, to deny the rising 'feelings' in me. Feelings that died with the echo of a gunshot. Their awakening more painful and confusing than their death.
"You feel it deeply. Do you not?" The statue moves, Teal'c's eyes search mine out and lock on, pinned I admit to one of my emerging 'feelings.'
"Yes, it frightens me." It does, I seem to be losing control, but the emotions in Teal'c's softening gaze terrify me. I'm not entitled to such compassion.
I will never be.
"Only great things frighten you."
'Can you see me that easily my friend, am I that far gone. If so...'
"Then this is truly a very great place." My eyes return to the vista we contemplate, awestruck by its power over me.
This place's ability to negate the defenses that prevent those around me from seeing my true self.
I greatly fear that.
"Do you have any questions before we split up?" My words designed to break this planet's death grip on my shriveled dark soul.
"Only, will you be 'fine?' " Teal'c is a feeling creature, unlike me and he feels my fear and seeks reassurance. I try to give him that, maybe I can believe it too.
"Then I am content to continue."
"I hope that we can kick this deep meaningful mood crap before we meet up again, it gives me a headache."
"I agree." He gives me the rarest of sincere smiles before he spins on a heel to walk purposely to the east. I sigh, I can only spout that stuff to him, and he takes it in stride mainly because he feels it too. The need for distance, his soul has a darkness of it's own. If I ever talked like that to Daniel, I think he would faint dead away.
I turn to the west as I pull out my canteen and some Advil, my knee is bothering me, sailing is a little rough on it, and it's been pissy for a few days. I have to keep enough in my system to keep the swelling down that the walking will cause. So, I've been taking it for a few days to prevent that on this trip. I pop a couple into my mouth and wash them down and stow my canteen. Then I step out.
An unaccustomed lightness in my step.
Teal'c and I agreed in advance to take a path well back from the edge of the 'pool,' sort of follow the ridgeline. We'll get a better view of the lay of the land that way. My path is serpent like, moving further or closer to the water to keep to the high ground over the random hillocks of grass.
I keep going.
The grass is soft; I stride easily through it, leaving hardly a mark as my rude boots propel me along. This softly rolling landscape offers wide vistas and places of quiet privacy, a garden of peace. I find myself again wondering just what the function of this planet is in the scheme of things; maybe Daniel will discover that before I get back to the gate.
I have traveled a quarter way around the pool, halfway to my meeting with Teal'c who mirrors my journey to the east.
This is some life here, I discover butterflies; well, they look like butterflies, lots and lots of butterflies. I felt like running and laughing like a kid as some of them crawl over me, I gently brush off the ones on the back of my neck, they tickle and are trying to burrow into my hair. I swoop my arms through the crowded air to encourage their flight from me; they scatter like leaves in a fall zephyr. I heavily skip away a few steps to stop -- not an easy feat with a full pack and watch as they float away on the breeze, and I smile. I really like this planet, a lot. I wish I could shake that little feeling of guilt that lurks at the edge of my thoughts though.
As I walk, I begin to see objects.
They are tall, maybe twelve to fourteen feet high, looking like thick planks of wood with pointed rounded tops, they are thickly scattered across the tidy lawn for probably miles, or at least as far as I can make them out. I stop, drop my pack and dig out my binoculars; they do go on for miles, past the limit of my very good glasses. I study a close one, magnified greatly, they are rounded at both ends, one end planted into the ground. I will give them a wide berth until I meet up with Teal'c. Together we'll investigate.
I increase my pace.
I meet up with Teal'c on the knoll rising at the edge of the 'pool' twin to the one the gate sits on, now opposite us.
Before us are literally thousands of vertical boards, for want of a better word, one end planted in the ground. Just imagine old wooden long Hawaiian surfboards, unpainted ones. That's the best description I can give, and very accurate. I approach one closer, yep, very accurate description, they're shaped identically. Another proof that there's nothing new under the sun, any sun.
"O'Neill." I wrench my head around. "There is a type of force field around these objects."
'What?' I watch as he strokes his fingers lightly just above the board, he then pushes and doesn't quite reach the surface. I grope for my radio.
"Energy readings for this planet, are there any?"
"No sir, nothing from the MALP, UAV or my equipment. Why?"
"Teal'c and I are looking at an object encased in an energy field of some kind, there are thousands of these objects."
"Sir, are all of them encased in fields?"
Teal'c and I swiftly test the nearest dozen or so.
"Yep, all of them we've checked so far."
"Can you describe your interaction with the field?"
Teal'c and I try our darnedest to answer all of her questions.
"Sir, it must be a low energy field, possibly a type of stasis. The Ancients are very advanced technologically; it's very possible that they can generate such a low energy field that it would be virtually undetectable. Just as we could not detect the Nox's floating city, an enormous energy source. Since the objects appear to be wood, a stasis field would be my bet."
"Best guess would be low to nil, especially since Daniel thinks this planet is some kind of a memorial or ceremonial location. The fields are probably just protecting the objects from weathering, Sir."
"Sir is it possible for you and Teal'c to uproot one of those objects and bring it back?"
"We'll try Carter. Out."
"Come on Teal'c let's pry loose a lawnboard, shall we?"
The uprooting turned out to be tricky; each board is not actually sunk into the ground, but is set into a stone socket. Only a narrow band of stone, about half-inch wide encircles the base of the upright board. A dark stripe is centered on the band of stone visible. It appears to be metal imbedded into the stone.
I reach down to touch that dark band and got the shit knocked out of me. I'm suddenly sitting on my ass in the grass, damn that rhymes!
'Get a grip O'Neill!' I hold up my finger, there is no pain and no mark, but my body says that I should have major damage from that jolt. Yet the only pain I have is my suddenly throbbing knee; going down like that has upset it. I must have been sitting there looking a little dazed, because Teal'c is suddenly kneeling next to me. He seems to have been talking to me for some time.
"...O'Neill answer me. Are you injured ?" You don't often see concern on his face, but it's writ strongly across it now.
"Ah, no. Just a little stunned. I don't think it hurt me at all. Ah... maybe a little nerve burn. Yeah, I'm okay."
I'm rambling and I know it, but nerve burn describes how I feel. Like something has burned along my nerves and they're taking their time getting back to business.
"It would be prudent to touch the device with something other than your hand." Teal'c explains in a suddenly relieved voice -- he sounds relieved to me. I know I certainly hadn't meant to get myself fried. I'm surprised that a possible Ancients device is a safety hazard, well maybe not a hazard, just painful. Knowing little of the legendary race, it might not be a danger to them, just to animals and us young ones.
"Ya think!" I exclaim rolling my eyes at his blatant statement of the obvious.
"Should we not look for an 'off switch.' " Teal'c asks with a perfectly straight face. Hell, he probably doesn't realize just how funny his words are. Then again it might just be me, effects of the nerve burn maybe.
It's still a good idea.
I lean to the left and tuck that leg under me to awkwardly lurch upward, Teal'c grabs my left elbow when I don't quite make it, damn knee.
"O'Neill, you are injured." He says it like I lied to him.
"No, it's just my knee. Too much boating over the weekend, then the fall twanged it good." I limp over to my pack for my canteen and pull a couple of painkillers from my vest, which should help with the building throb.
Teal'c doesn't need to say a thing. His approval of my actions I can read on his face, for a change. Either he's really shook up or I'm getting really good at reading him.
I replace my canteen and pull out my belt knife and return to the 'lawnboard.'
I'm determined to pry it from the ground now. It has pissed me off a tad, taking the shine off my nice day that way. I kneel down and began digging the grass out from around the stone socket.
"Is that wise?"
"You suggested the 'off switch.' " I rear back to catch his eye and I wink, of course I get no reaction from him, as I shouldn't. I bet I confuse the hell out of him all the time. He probably spends hours discussing my behavior with Daniel, trying to figure out what I'm all about. I'm fairly confident of this theory, Daniel and I have had some weird conversations late at night that I'm sure boomeranged back at me from moments just like this.
I return to mucking around in the dirt and soon have the device revealed, at least a good seven inches of it and test probes with my blade tell me that it goes a lot deeper than that -- it would have to go in deep to hold up something that tall. I discover two concave dents centered on one of the long curves, like a fingertip is meant to be placed in one or both of them. I point them out to Teal'c, he nods his understanding and raises an eyebrow at me.
"I'm sure as hell not putting my finger on it again." I grind out, a tad put out at his unspoken suggestion. Well, I can use the butt of the knife. The corner of it is close to the shape of a fingertip. Teal'c watches as I wrap the sharp blade in a bandanna that I had in my vest, he nods his comprehension of my plan as I grip the now shielded blade as if it were a handle. Brandishing it briefly, I then lower it to the stone and fit it to one of the inset dimples. Nothing. Okay. I tried the other one. Nothing. Okay. Then it dawns on me, would I really notice if I had succeeded, no probably not.
I raise the handle and press against the board with it; the field is still there. I press the first dimple again and try touching the board again, I can. I press the second dimple and try touching the board again, unsuccessfully.
Okay! I now know that the left one turns the field off and the right one turns it back on.
"You have been successful, O'Neill."
"Just luck, Teal'c." Raising to my feet, I cause the lawnboard to wobble a bit as I balance against it. "Think you can pull it out?"
"I shall try."
Teal'c steps up to the board to grasp it, he gently pulls it straight up, moves it sideways and rests the bottom edge on the ground in the same orientation.
"It is surprisingly light." He is holding it upright with just a few fingertips against its length.
"Let me try to move it." I move to pick it up as Teal'c steps back, I easily heft it but it nearly topples because of it's height, Teal'c steps back in to help steady it. "You're right it is light, just awkward. Now all we have to do is get it to Carter."
"I will fix a makeshift harness to it, after which I can easily carry it." Teal'c states.
"Too bad we don't have Daniel's recorder, Carter would love to see the 'lawnboard's' mount." I turn to follow Teal'c towards the packs, I have some cinch straps that he can use to cobble together that harness. I start out after him. 'Whoa! What's going on...'
I swiftly go down to one knee, I sense Teal'c trying to get back to me but I resume my long fast fall to the ground, totally unable to help myself. I topple like a felled tree as I plow face first into the thankfully grass cushioned ground, or maybe not so thankfully, I now know what the alien grass and dirt tastes like. I can't spit it out, yuck.
'Shit! I can't move!'
I should hurt. My sore knee hit the ground, my face hit the ground and I hit the ground. Thinking of all the things I should be feeling, but aren't, starts swiftly crowding out my thoughts, leaving me unable to think at all. Where's Teal'c? I feel hands on me. The babble recedes at the touch. Teal'c. He gently rolls me over; I can see him now.
'Shit the lights went out!'
I'm in darkness, total darkness. I don't feel anything either. The quiet gibbering that Teal'c's touch stilled begins to swell, erupting into the darkness with an impossible white-hot haze of blacker panic that starts to burn away consciousness, my mind's screams can find no outlet in physicality.
Hanging on to a faint glimmering of awareness I hear Teal'c calling Carter on the radio.
My hearing winks out; the blindingly dark screams accelerate to a deafening crescendo, and...
My swift reaction is to no avail; O'Neill's strangled cry is not enough warning for me to prevent his headlong crash to the ground. I carefully roll him unto his back, his body is stiff, his eyes open, shock and fear emanate from them, he does not respond to my voice. I brush vegetation and dirt from his now stained face, prying some from between his lips. I check to ensure his mouth contains no more. Emptiness suddenly resides in his deep amber eyes; his body loosening rapidly as he slumps against the ground, his eyelids slowly fall over now flat black lifeless eyes.
I cannot rouse him.
I have never been this close to panic for more years than O'Neill has lived; I release my slight support of his body to operate the radio.
'CaptainCarter." My voice is deceptively calm, something that I am not.
My prim'ta rolls in discomfort.
"Teal'c. Is something wrong?"
A valid assumption, as this call is not within our check-in schedule. Kneeling protectively over my warrior brother, I must validate her reasoning.
"O'Neill has collapsed." I await a reply.
"Say again?"Do I detect confusion?
"O'Neill has collapsed. He is non-responsive."
"Was he injured, is he breathing?"
Is that panic? Can that actually be conveyed by our radios or am I projecting my own feelings into her words? Am I truly in control?
"I do not believe he is injured and he is breathing, but I cannot rouse him." I sound in control, for O'Neill's sake I must be.
"I assume you are on the opposite side of the pool from us, it would take us a couple of hours to get to you. Damn!"
CaptainCarter is not one to lightly curse in even the worse of situations, this curse now illustrates the dire circumstances I now find myself in. Is there an alternative to her just alluded to plan of action?
I glance at the 'lawnboard' and feel the stirrings of one; I mentally inventory what I know to be in my field pack and what O'Neill habitually carries in his. I have a feasible plan that should deliver O'Neill back to the gate faster.
"CaptainCarter I have devised a plan to get O'Neill across the 'pool'."
"Across the 'pool?' How?"
I rapidly explain my plan to her and she agrees with it, we both concur that O'Neill's unexplained illness necessitates his rapid return to the SGC, and medical help. This plan offers the swiftest return. I sign off to implement it.