Stay in Touch
"That’s… muddy. Great." Jack lifted his boot from the ground with a slurping sound. He tramped for a short distance and slowly turned in a circle, getting a panoramic view of his surroundings. The side of a mountain shadowed the sodden land. The Stargate had been erected on a plateau, edged by deep chasms on either side.
There was no sign of vegetation except for patches of red moss. Rivulets of water ran downwards following the gentle slope, scoring the soil in their wake. It resembled a field recently ploughed, neglected and left to soak. Who would be desperate enough to cultivate anything here when it was so cold and windy?
"At least it’s not raining. Daniel, remind me why it was so important we came here?"
"The MALP showed a cobblestone road… There! I think that’s it!"
How Daniel could run in this mud was anybody’s guess. Barely a second later he was kneeling, his fingers tracing the edges of a group of small square stones scattered on the ground. Some were laid flat, some on their sides, some were buried in the mud, and some were entirely missing. Whoever had built this path hadn't done a very good job.
"This road does not seem to be in current use," Teal’c observed.
"Can you get me the address of the guy who built this?" asked Jack. "I’ve been thinking of redoing my balcony."
"There has been… people were going to the gate… maybe they knew what it was for."
Gusts of wind drowned out half of Daniel’s speech. Jack zipped his jacket shut.
"Sir, the UAV detected strong electrical activity. There still might be some sort of civilization or interesting minerals. Maybe even naquadah. This soil looks promising."
"Sweet. Where did it crash, this time?"
"There." Teal’c pointed.
Hell yeah. There was the UAV, at three o’clock. In bits. It was squashed against a lone rock no bigger than a dog. Jack rolled his eyes. He had honestly believed that the small drones would be an improvement in scouting technology. He still believed it most of the time. If only they didn’t crash so often. This one, at least, had been thoughtful enough to do so near the gate.
"Daniel!" Jack yelled at the archaeologist to make himself heard over the rain and wind. "Help Teal’c with the UAV. Carter, keep an eye on them."
Jack trudged to the road. This mess was their only way in if they wanted to explore this world. A few steps forward positioned him where he could see the land below the plateau -- a bumpy, ugly valley covered with brown coniferous trees and red grass. The plateau was linked to the plain forty feet below by a narrow set of spiral stone stairs. Handrails were obviously an unknown concept on P8J-453.
The road resumed beyond the stairs. It was flanked on each side by a row of carefully spaced large trees. The obviously artificial alignment was somewhat broken up by ferns, bushes, and younger trees, as the surrounding forest slowly reclaimed the area. The road meandered to some far away clearing. Jack could only guess from the broken vista that a city was concealed in the gloom.
He turned around. Daniel and Teal’c had put the UAV on the ground near the DHD and were waiting for his orders. "All right campers, I hope you’ve brought your sleeping bags."
"Shall we send the UAV and the MALP home, Sir?"
"Do that, Carter. Confirm we'll be back in seventy-two hours."
Teal’c didn’t enjoy walking down the stairs. The steps were narrow, high, and slick from the recent rain. The wind didn’t help, either. He was the last one to go. O’Neill, Major Carter and Daniel Jackson were already safe far below. The Jaffa was agile and brave, but in this particular exercise, his bulk was a hindrance. He envied Major Carter’s smaller frame.
One last turn, eight steps to go. Teal’c relaxed. His next movement was not as careful as it should have been. His left foot slipped and he fell backward. He slid down the last of the stairs on his buttocks, wounding his dignity on each step before Daniel caught him at the bottom.
"Are you OK, Teal’c?" Carter asked.
"Thank you, Daniel Jackson. Major Carter, I am well."
"Did you film that, Daniel?"
"I should have…"
The two men barely chuckled. Teal’c was grateful for that. He had been fortunate the fall had not occurred from a greater height. As it was, his sore backside was going to haunt him in his next kel-no-reem. Teal’c adjusted the straps of his backpack and seized the staff weapon that Major Carter was holding out. "I am ready to proceed O’Neill."
"Let’s go, then. I'm taking point. Carter, watch our six."
"I really wonder who designed these stairs," said Daniel. "And why?"
"Practical joking. If you look up those trees, I bet you'll find a webcam."
"As I speak Teal'c's pratfall is being broadcast on the local Hidden Camera channel."
Teal'c stopped listening. He focused on the path ahead, ignoring the pain radiating from his abused anatomy with every lurching stride. Using his staff weapon as an oversized walking stick, Teal’c did his best to avoid the worst potholes dotting the road. He was not always successful and tripped more frequently than his companions.
"Are you sure you’re fine, Teal’c?" Daniel asked.
"I have bruised my tailbone, Daniel Jackson."
"Ow, that hurts," Sam winced in sympathy.
"Indeed. My symbiote is working on it. You do not need to stop for me."
"If you’re sure…"
"I am positive, O’Neill."
After a short break the group started walking again, led by a deliberately slow colonel. Teal’c sighed. This walk would be a long one.
"What’s wrong with this place?" Ruins were not uncommon on the planets Jack had visited. They all came complete with rubble, junk, weeds, and an air of lingering death. But usually the buildings hadn’t been half-swallowed by the ground, nor had they been raised on out-of-place mounds.
"It looks ancient but at the same time…" Daniel had to stop mid-sentence to swallow a large amount of air before going on. "It’s still happening."
Teal’c raised his most meaningful eyebrow. "Your statement does not make sense to me, Daniel Jackson. Have I misunderstood?"
"Nope, Teal’c. Remember, it’s Daniel. He says weird things all the time."
"Yeah, that’s what geeks do," Daniel snapped.
"That was uncalled for," Jack complained, assuming a wounded expression. Teasing the archaeologist was one of Jack’s favourite occupations, and Daniel didn’t seem to mind. Usually. The colonel gave his team a quick glance. Sam had knelt down. Her left hand was full of a clod of wet soil. She didn’t seem to be breathing at all, and her jaws were clenched tightly. Daniel focused straight in front of himself. Instead of his handcam, he had drawn his sidearm. Teal’c was doing what he was best at, being inscrutable.
Sam closed her hand, and the soil oozed through her fingers.
"Any ideas about what caused this mess, Carter?"
"The topography may have been modified by an earthquake, Sir."
"That is most probable," Teal’c agreed.
Jack would have sworn the Jaffa had sighed in relief.
"I hate to think what happened to the people who lived here," Daniel whispered.
"Do you think you might find something interesting?" Jack directed the question at his scientists.
They didn’t answer.
"Hello Daniel! Carter! I’m asking you if you want to have some fun in these ruins!"
Daniel stirred, but didn’t reply. Sam mumbled an absent "Sir" and left it at that.
Jack took a longer look at the place. The ground was definitely treacherous, full of holes, bumps and the abundant local mud. There was no sign of life, except for a few fist-sized birds. "Teal’c?"
"We will have to proceed carefully. Although I can see no immediate danger, I would advise that we stay aware of our surroundings."
"As always, big guy." Jack frowned. This place was definitely giving him the creeps. That he didn't understand the source of the feelings only made it worse. "You know what, kids? The sun is getting low. Let’s backtrack to the clearing. We’ll set up the camp there, have a good night’s sleep, and come back here tomorrow."
They returned to the ruins after an uneventful night. After half an hour of exploration, the rain turned into a downpour. Sam thought there was some serious mining material just below. She kept fiddling with her favourite doohickeys and getting Teal’c to gather various soil samples.
"Rain, and mud, and more rain. This planet is lovely."
Jack’s muttering drew Daniel out of his reverie. He found himself toying with his Beretta again. The military life was starting to have a really bad influence on him. He squinted, trying to collect himself. One deep breath, and the archaeologist in him was back. "Jack, if you think it’s OK, I’d like to examine that tower over there. It’s still mostly standing."
This was more than could be said of the other buildings. While most of them appeared to have been constructed in a circular design, judging by the foundations, it was hard to tell how high they had been. Everything over a foot in height had crumbled to the ground. Most of the material had apparently disappeared. Daniel presumed that the stones of the broken village had been used for new construction by someone else -- people who might still be around right now.
"Yeah. I’m with you. You heard that, Carter?"
"We won’t be far."
The terrain was difficult. It took the two men almost ten minutes to cover the short distance to the tower. Although it was constructed from the same moss-covered stone as the other buildings, its wall were much thicker, accounting for its better state of preservation. It was quite large, probably about fifteen meters in diameter at its base. Daniel couldn’t determine whether the top had been pointed, domed, or flat since the upper part of the edifice had collapsed.
"I’ve found the entrance." Daniel removed some moss from the doorway, revealing the bluish cast of the stone underneath. "There are carvings. Can you see that, Jack?"
"Yup. That’s a fancy house number."
"No… It’s more like a type of snake or something." Daniel scrubbed more of the moss away. "Yeah look, here’s the head. It’s… yikes."
"Very good description."
"Goa’uld, Jack. It’s a Goa’uld larva."
"Hey, relax! That’s old, you know." Daniel peered inside the building. Fragments of walls were scattered on the floor, partially obscuring the large oval stone table in the centre of the building. "It looks like a meeting place of some sort."
"A snakeheads' HQ?"
"I'm not sure." A few careful steps led Daniel to the simple, sturdy table. Definitely utilitarian. It was the only piece of furniture visible. "You know, Goa'uld like to live in luxury. That's not their kind of place."
"Hmm. Anything of interest in there?"
The archaeologist scrutinized the circular wall, the table, and the floor, looking for writing, painting, carvings -- anything. "Nope."
"Come out, then."
Daniel was already outside when he started shaking his index finger in the air. "Wait! There's something wrong. Look inside!"
"Don't you see? The stones are clean! And look out there now. What do you see?"
"It's still happening, Jack!" Daniel ran towards a big stone, shrouded by the local red ferns and completely covered by a thick layer of moss. "Whatever destroyed this city is still happening. The rocks inside have fallen more recently than these ones here. And look, that one is even older." He tore the fern away and threw it to the ground. "I don't trust this place, Jack."
"Carter! Teal'c!" yelled Jack in his radio. "Go back to the woods! Now!"
"Daniel, I won't pretend that I understand what you're babbling about, but we're leaving."
Sam quickly gathered her samples and stowed them in her bag. She glanced around quickly, searching for Teal'c. She was relieved to find him near, waiting for her. He helped her clip her backpack into place, without a word. Sam nodded and led the way to the forest.
She was trotting, not running. Despite the colonel's impatient order, she refused to leave her teammates too far behind. They were close enough for her to occasionally catch a glimpse of them. They weren't running either, probably because the ground they had to traverse was even more treacherous.
"What the hell's happening?" she muttered under her breath. She didn't like this place, and neither did her companions, but that didn’t come as a surprise. It was cold, damp, muddy, and raining hard. That wasn't all, though. If Sam believed in ghosts she would have said that these ruins were haunted. Her scientific mind denied such an illogical explanation. She certainly felt uneasy here, but she refused to dwell on it. Her fear was unfounded, or so she had thought until her radio had crackled to life, carrying the worried voice of her CO.
And still she could detect nothing to corroborate her anxiety.
It started merely as a sound, deep and low. A gentle vibration, barely perceptible underfoot. Jack frowned, picking up his pace as much as he could without risking a fall. He focused on Daniel's boots in front of him, trying to match his friend's paces. Jack was not certain that he understood all the implications of what Daniel had seen and said – what was that again? 'It's still happening.' Earthquakes? That's what Carter had said last afternoon. It didn’t matter. He knew better than to doubt the archaeologist's instincts when it came to crumbling stones. The kid had more than enough experience in the matter.
And sure enough, after the sound came the quivering. The tremor was light at first. Small stones rolling down boulders. Raindrops bouncing in weird directions. Nothing to phone home about, really. But it was increasingly more difficult to stay on the treacherous path. Daniel came to an abrupt stop and Jack collided with his backpack.
"What the hell?"
The first strong shock took him by surprise. Mirroring Daniel, Jack dropped to his knees. The muddied road beneath him was vibrating in rhythm with a deafening noise. Was it thunder? No, the sky had nothing to do with this. The noise originated from below. Jack stared in shock. The ground was lifting right in front of him. In an instant, a three foot square mound of stones, plants, and mud -- previously level ground -- was raised several feet in the air. And its top was tearing open.
"Geyser!" he yelled, trying in vain to get back on his feet.
Daniel gave him a hand. The two men were still half-crouched when the Thing popped his head out of the mound.
Teal'c almost dropped his staff weapon when he fell. He wasn’t on his hands and knees for long. A strong tremor sent him rolling on his back, down a slope that he hadn't noticed before. Teal'c made a frantic effort to right himself and clamber back up the newly formed hill.
Stretched out on top of the rise, Major Carter was reaching down to him. He grabbed her hand. As she pulled him up, he had time for one quick look back.
The land had torn open to give birth to a monster with which he was all too familiar. The Thing hissed, rearing up to tower over him. Teal'c's symbiote wriggled in his pouch. Did it recognize its kindred? The creature was the spitting image of a young Goa'uld.
If Goa'uld grew ten feet long.
"Run!" yelled Jack.
Daniel hadn't waited for his order. He launched himself forward, hurtling over the fallen rocks, avoiding potholes. He could hear Jack panting behind him, somewhere on his right side. The foul beast was breathing down his neck. It was following them, slithering through the mud, and Jack was losing ground.
Daniel grabbed for his sidearm, the gesture complicated by the rapid pace. He almost dropped the weapon as he drew it from the holster. He spun and assumed a firing stance, feet braced and arms extended. Jack was running towards him, the beast writhing right behind, much faster than should have been possible for an animal this size.
"Take that!" He fired five rounds in rapid succession. All struck their intended target. It was so close there was no need to aim. The beast shrieked in pain, blue blood spurting from its wounds, and stopped long enough for Jack to reach Daniel's side. Daniel emptied his clip, the loud report of his 9mm joined by the rattle of Jack's P-90. The creature convulsed. Daniel almost believed they had killed it.
Oh God. If that Thing was dead, it hadn't noticed yet. Jack grabbed Daniel by the arm and they started running again, aiming for the forest. It wasn't far. The furious creature was even faster than before, but Daniel believed that they could make it. Suddenly he felt the ground vanish under his feet. Before he could attempt any evasive manoeuvre, the earth swallowed him and his teammate.
Four worms had appeared out of nowhere and were swiftly advancing on her position. Sam could hear at least one other coming from behind. On her right side Teal’c had just shot the first one with his staff weapon. The charge from the blast still crackled in the air.
She fired at the group of creatures. The smaller one bent to the left, the upper part of its body half split open. Bluish blood was flowing freely from its wounds. Sam almost thought it would fall and die where it was. Instead, it moved to join its kin more rapidly than before, seemingly unaffected by its wounds.
The four were approaching. Sam lowered her weapon to grab a hand grenade. She depressed the lever, pulled the pin, and hurled the grenade with all the strength she could muster. Her timing and aim were perfect. It landed just in front of the monsters and exploded. The beasts howled as they were thrown back.
Two worms were killed. One was alive, but barely moving. The fourth still looked ready to go after its prey, in spite of the pieces of shrapnel embedded in its head. Sam glanced back just in time to register that Teal'c had finished off a fifteen-foot long Goau'ld look-alike. The path was clear.
"Let's go!" Sam yelled.
Jack fired one last burst and threw himself deeper into the tunnel that had opened beneath them. A thundering cry followed. The beast. The beast had fallen in with them.
"Jack, is that you?"
"Yeah." Jack had landed on Daniel face down.
The latter was busily coughing and spitting mud. "You're squashing me. Move," he spluttered.
"Wait a second." The tunnel was pitch black. Jack fumbled in Daniel’s backpack, forcing his shaking fingers to grip the flashlight and point it forward. He flicked it on. "Dammit! Don’t move."
"Why? Is it… not dead?"
"I don’t know. It’s behind me."
"So what’s ahead of us that makes you go 'dammit'?"
Jack ground his teeth. "A hole," he answered. "Six feet ahead."
"We don’t want to fall in it."
Jack took a deep breath. As much as he hated to look at it again, he had to check on the creature behind them, and kill it if necessary. Then he would check Daniel and himself over for injuries. Carter and Teal’c were next on the list. Only after could he try and find a way out of the hole. He hoped it wouldn’t involve the gap in front of him. "I’m going to turn around on you, Daniel. I want to have a look at our cuddly friend. Make sure we don’t slide."
"No problem. My foot is stuck."
Fortunately there was enough leeway for Jack to turn around. The tunnel was wide. They wouldn’t be able to stand, but sitting would be an option once Daniel was mobile. Holding the flashlight between his teeth, Jack slowly turned on himself. He regretted squashing his teammate in the process. Repositioned, he took a good look at the worm. "For cryin’ out loud! Daniel!"
"I told you. My foot is stuck."
Jack stared at Daniel’s left leg in horror. It was engulfed in the creature’s jaws halfway up to the knee. "Can you feel your foot?"
"I don’t think it managed to bite it off, if it’s what you’re asking. Is it, is it dead?"
"It bought the farm. Don’t worry. I’m going to check on the others." Jack keyed his radio. "Carter? Teal’c? Do you copy?"
Static. Gasps. Sounds of shooting. "*…running, Sir.*"
"Roger, Carter. Call me back."
Daniel stirred. "They in the clear?"
"Not yet. Now keep quiet, I’m going to free you." Jack thrust the base of the flashlight into the ground and reached for his Bowie knife. He cautiously inserted it into the beast’s mouth, as close as Daniel’s leg as he dared, using the blade as a lever. Two rows of sharp teeth were getting in the way and diverting the knife. Jack slipped more than once, fearing he would hurt Daniel each time. After a lot of sweating and swearing he had only managed to lever the jaws apart by an inch.
"There’s not as much pressure," said Daniel, sounding relieved.
"Do you think you can move your leg out of there?"
Jack grabbed the flashlight again, focusing on the spot where Daniel’s leg disappeared into the monster’s mouth. There wasn’t any blood, but Jack suspected that it was because the wounds were still too compressed to open. At least the teeth were not stuck in the flesh. They had killed the worm just in time.
Vibrations. Another worm was digging a hole somewhere. Jack braced himself and clutched Daniel. The ground could shake, he would stay where he was until his friend was free. He removed the clip from his P-90 and inserted the barrel of the weapon near the blade. Time for more prying. God the beast was tough, he wouldn’t need to pump iron for a while. "You still OK down there?"
"You might want to cut down on the cookies in the future."
Jack retorted in his best offended tone. "That’s muscle, not fat. Better get used to it. It’s going to take a while."
"Run, Major Carter!" Teal'c kept yelling encouragements at his teammate. How long would she be able to sustain this brutal pace? Shoot, then run, then run faster. That was all he could think about. His staff weapon was burning his palms. High-pitched animal cries and the thunder of the shaking ground didn't cover the pounding of his heart or the rasp of air in his lungs.
Teal'c didn't notice immediately when Carter tripped on the loose pavement. She called for help almost too late for Teal’c to realize what was happening and turn back. He rushed back, stopped, and fired a blast from his staff weapon. One beast down. He ran on. What was this shadow on his left? Another pause, another blast, another one down. Sweat streamed down his face.
Carter rolled on her back, facing the third creature, which was looming over her with its mouth wide open, teeth bared and gleaming. She emptied a full clip into that gaping maw, yelling in fear and defiance. Teal'c couldn't blame her. The creature fell, its side shredded, filled with much more lead than necessary. It was dead, but Teal'c shot it as well -- once, twice, three times. What he would give for an automatic staff weapon…
Teal'c grabbed Carter and heaved her back on her feet. More beasts came from the ground, from the rocks, from the mud. So they ran again, striving to reach the cover offered by the trees. Teal'c dragged his exhausted friend along in his wake.
He had probably dislocated her shoulder in the process.
"Try it now."
Daniel had been waiting for this order for an eternity. His head was pounding like mad. Too much blood in his brain, he thought, and not enough in his legs. Jack leaning on his thighs didn’t help either.
Clutching at the soil, he slowly slid his foot out of the beast’s jaws.
"Hurry," he heard Jack say through clenched teeth.
It didn’t hurt. Daniel could feel the teeth brushing past his shin and over his boot, but there was no pain. Relieved, he pulled a bit harder. He was free.
The Jaffa glanced behind him. Samantha Carter was panting. Her laboured respiration indicated that she couldn’t go on much longer. They had just crossed the swamp surrounding the ruins, and their progress hadn't been easy. "I think that we have outdistanced the threat, Major Carter."
Instantly she stopped, leaning forward, hands resting on her knees. Her breathing was quick and rasping. Teal’c knew that, athletic as she was, she had been pushing herself too hard for too long to escape from the furious creatures. They had followed closely, no matter how badly hurt. Even repeated shots had not slowed them down. It had become a routine: shoot and run, shoot and run.
Now the beasts were nowhere to be seen. While Teal'c didn't believe they were gone, he welcomed the break.
"Teal’c… We need to know… about the others."
"I will contact them with my radio."
He switched on his radio, trying to modulate his tone not to reflect his concern. O’Neill answered in a strangely muffled voice, informing him that he and Daniel Jackson were alive and well, and asking eagerly about himself and Major Carter. Calling him "T". The Jaffa couldn’t stifle a smile.
"We’re both fine, Teal’c. Really. Just make it to the gate and bring some reinforcements."
"*Can you give us your position, O’Neill?*"
"Oh, yeah. You can’t miss it. Just backtrack from the worm’s tail – we’re at its kissing end."
"*I’m not sure I understood, Sir.*"
Daniel chuckled at Carter’s baffled voice.
"Listen, Carter. We’re stuck in a tunnel below the ruins, and it’s plugged by a worm. Find the worm, and you’ll find us. Now get help!"
"*Yes, Sir. Underst…*"
Static again. Daniel closed his eyes.
"Carter!" Jack's fist banged against the beast's muzzle. "Dammit!"
"I’m sure they’re fine, Jack. We’re probably a bit out of range already. The mineral content in the soil is messing up the signal."
A long silence followed. Daniel decided not to open his eyes. Jack would be able to see that he was worried. He would see that Jack was worried, too. And that was even worse.
"Lemme have a look at your leg."
Daniel straightened his left leg and sighed when he felt Jack unlacing his boot. He supposed he could do that himself, but what the hell, it would keep Jack busy. He knew Jack well enough to understand how much he needed that.
Jack always thought better while doing things. He might come up with a plan that would allow them to get out of here, away from the stench and the proximity to the thing that looked far too much like a Goa’uld larva.
Daniel felt the press of fingers on the injured spot on his leg. It wasn't painful, not really. It was nothing like being zatted, or shot. It almost felt like an old blackened bruise when you put your finger on it to check if it still hurts.
"You’re one damn lucky bastard, Daniel."
Now that was a compliment.
Something chilly leaked on his wounds, waking the pain. Daniel winced. Jack's bandaging skills were not on par with his, let alone Sam's.
"Done! It’s going to bleed later on, but it shouldn’t be too bad."
A tap on the knee. The feeling of the fabric back against his shin. The boot laced tightly around his ankle again. Daniel groaned and leaned back to rest against the side of the tunnel. He was half sitting, half crouching, and it was cramped, but it did feel better than laying down with Jack’s one hundred and eighty pounds on top of him.
"Hey, ya still with me?"
Daniel frowned. Sure, he was still here. Where else was there? He was fine. His head felt so light now that the blood was circulating freely again. If only Jack would shut up, he could go to sleep and maybe forget the foul breath -- no, not breath, it was dead -- of the monster near him.
"Come on, Space Monkey!"
The impatient voice echoed in his ears, sounding concerned. Daniel frowned again. He couldn’t see what there was to be concerned about. They were well and warm in a tunnel. Carter and Teal’c were well too, if far away. He was feeling so light. Turning on his side, he stretched into a more comfortable position.
The slap woke him.
"Not down there, Daniel!"
"Remember the hole? Hang on to me." Jack’s strong arms grabbed him and pulled him up. "Ya with me now?"
"Yeah. Sorry ‘bout that."
"We can’t let that happen again."
"How long was I out?"
"Long enough to have me worried." Jack settled Daniel back to a sitting position, close to the monster.
"You’re back. Case closed. Now, I’d like to check what’s down there." Jack pointed towards the hole. He patted Daniel on the shoulder and added: "You wait here."
Daniel nodded. He was well aware of his surroundings now, even though the headache hadn't gone. He felt nauseous. He suspected the reeking beast was the main cause of his indisposition, and wondered if its stench was somehow toxic. The creature was so big that it completely blocked the entrance of the tunnel, which had most likely been dug by a smaller worm.
Fresh air was coming from the hole on his left, which Jack was slowly crawling towards. Daniel could only guess his friend's position by looking at the beam of his flashlight. He had not gone far when he stopped.
"What can you see?" asked Daniel.
"Looks like a cavern. Hmm, there's water down there."
"Water? You mean like a river?"
"More like a small lake. Ah, and there's a platform at ten o'clock. Can't see what's behind…"
So that was where his glasses had gone. Daniel thought he'd heard a splash when he'd lost them.
The beam of light moved again, crawling backwards. A minute later Jack was back next to Daniel -- who was forced against the side of the tunnel as a long, loud vibration sent shivers through his spine.
"That was good timing," Jack panted, after the shaking had stopped. "If I'd been down there…"
Daniel scratched his nose. "The soil seems to be fairly compact. There's a bit of mud falling with each worm quake, but it's really not that much, all things considered."
"And your point is?"
"We might try to dig our way out. We've got knives and there’s a trowel somewhere in my pack. The thing is, we don't have any way to shore up the tunnel."
"How far down are we?"
"The slope was steep to start with, but then it levelled off. I'm not really sure!"
Jack shone his light on the beast. "Our buddy there is about fifteen feet long."
"Let's say it got stuck halfway…"
"I saw a bulge. It had a fat gut."
"You noticed that?" Jack sounded vaguely admiring.
"So, the initial angle was…"
"Almost vertical for at least three feet."
"Which makes a total angle of sixty degrees."
"Yes, sixty degrees sounds about right."
The two men mumbled various mathematic formulas and calculations, and reached the same conclusion in unison. "Ten feet!"
"Give or take," amended Daniel.
They looked at each other in silence.
"We are in deep shit," said Jack.
"Deep being the operative word."
They had to find a way out. Quick. Two of his kids were out there, probably facing Goa'uld of epic proportions. They had to find them, make sure they were O.K. Blast the beasts to hell. Jack fumbled in his backpack.
"What are you doing?"
"Looking for… yeah I got it!" Jack put his zat on his lap to close his bag. "Let's see if a worm plug can be zatted."
"No, wait!" Daniel's hands were flapping wildly. "If you zat it, the tunnel might just collapse right on us. I mean, this Goa'uld thing is too big…"
"Look, when it got stuck, it may have damaged the structure of the tunnel. If -- if we remove it, with the change of pressure and all, we may end up buried."
"Or not." Jack adjusted the straps of his bag. "Would it be OK if we were far enough from the worm?"
"I dunno… Can you give me some light? Right there."
Jack directed his flashlight to the tunnel's roof. Daniel's fingers were there already, grazing the wall in swift and gentle movements whose purpose eluded Jack. Daniel moved further along the tunnel, stopping only to tap the roof with his knuckles. Mud fell.
"Daniel! What’re ya doing?"
The exploration continued. Jack sat silently as Daniel progressed inch by inch towards the hole, knocking above his head at regular intervals.
One more time Jack swore, and ducked to avoid the shower of dirt and small rocks. "Warn me before you do that!" But nothing happened.
"We can try from here. I mean, I think if it collapses, it won't go that far."
"It will have to do. We can't stay here much longer anyway. This place stinks."
"That it does."
"Will you be able to run?"
The answer came half a second too late for Jack's taste. "… Will do." He knew what that meant. Daniel’s wounds were opening. The man would hurt big time in a moment. If he didn't already. It was hard to tell with Daniel.
"OK. Move your butt, I need some room!" Jack moved next to Daniel's position, dangerously close to the gap. He leaned against the side of the gallery, facing the beast. A quick glance assured him that Daniel was doing the same. "Hold tight. I'll probably need to shoot a few times."
Jack secured the strap of the flashlight around his left wrist, and turned the zat on. The head of the gun popped up with a satisfying whir. "One… Two…"
The worm quake boomed at that same moment, sending an unvoiced 'three', two men and a zat'nikatal to oblivion.
Daniel’s heart stopped.
Eyes wide open, he stared above him, where a flashlight played with shadows. It was blurry and slow, slow like the weight that was pushing him down. Daniel felt himself drift. It was comfortable. Something was brushing his left cheek, something that couldn’t possibly be Jack’s hand. And yet it was, for it moved and now he could feel fingers lazily passing through his hair.
It was so typical of Jack, to tousle his hair even though they were dead.
Dead, and cold, and a heart so silent it hurt.
He hit bottom.
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