The man leered at the woman in the brown dress. He whispered four names in her ear.
"I am not impressed," she said. "This information was easy to get."
The man in the grey tunic sniggered. She was right, of course. He'd studied them, prying into their minds with only the tiniest dot of light. They hadn't noticed, and he hadn't encountered any resistance. Not even from the Jaffa. "Times have changed."
And it was true. Their home had been unvisited for centuries. Maybe the war was over. Grey hoped it was, even though Brown kept reminding him, with this bitterness in her voice that he hated, that there was no way to be sure.
So they kept on doing what they did best. Being guardians. They were good at that. Thanks to them, none of their people had died for a long time. All things considered, none of them had lived, either. The grey man often wondered if this was not worse than death itself. "Maybe the time has come for new changes."
The woman scowled at him before returning her attention to the room. "This one!"
Grey stared at the man she'd pointed at, searching for what was eliciting such a reaction from his partner. The stranger's body was very similar to the others', as was his clothing. From all the brain patterns Grey had scanned before, his differed no more than they should, considering that no individuals were exactly the same. To the hidden man, he didn't look special, but Brown designated him again and declared, "This one has to die."
"Quit the glaring already!" said the linguist.
Jack snarled something very crude back at him. Sam sighed and walked away from her two irate colleagues. They'd been at each other's throats almost from the beginning of this mission, all because of one of the colonel's bad puns in the briefing room. Daniel had overreacted. Sam understood how he felt about being mocked in front of General Hammond, but surely he knew the Colonel wasn't ill-intentioned. Didn't he?
With nothing better to do, she sat on one of the stone benches against the wall of the small square room. Light poured in from rectangular openings just below the ceiling, casting strong shadows on the floor. Sam had a direct view of a set of statues of fully clothed men and women. Bright patches of colour, often red, were still visible on some of the draped clothing, but most of the paint had faded into murky browns. The vast majority of the sculptures had been decapitated.
Sam rubbed her neck. The Colonel, who had finally left Daniel to his deciphering, was venting his anger by pacing in front of the entrance. Keeping watch on this side of the temple was supposed to be Teal'c's job. Sam noted, amused, how the big man had moved to the back wall as soon as the Colonel had stepped into his zone. She'd probably have acted the same way.
She didn't think anybody would come through the front opening anyway, and felt much better knowing she was not alone in keeping an eye on the ornate door Daniel was trying to unlock. Heavily embellished with vines and volutes, it blended with the adjoining fašade. The sculptures covered the walls as if they had been deliberately placed to conceal the door. Sam had only detected it because the inside of the room looked too small compared to the outside structure.
Daniel had regained his composure. Sam smiled at the way he was muttering to himself, scribbling in his notebook without looking away from the wall. Sam felt that she'd be writhing in pain under the intensity of his scrutiny, were she one of these sinuous lines of text.
"It doesn't make sense," Daniel said. "Bored. Wrinkle. Mush?"
He took a couple of steps backwards. Lips parted in concentration, Daniel swept the entire wall with his gaze. He was playing with his pen, jiggling it between his fingers. His whole attitude screamed that he was about to make one of the intuitive leaps Sam admired so much.
"Come and look at this," Daniel said.
Teal'c and Sam exchanged a look. Slowly, she stood and walked the few paces between them.
Before she could reach him, a white light flooded the room. Sam heard a buzz and passed out.
"You see! I told you he was dangerous." Brown crossed her arms on her stomach. The look of contempt on her face angered Grey. It angered him even more to admit that she'd been right. He would have bet that the woman was more dangerous than this man. He had detected hints of a previous blending with a Goau'ld in her brain. She was bright, too.
"We need to do a thorough analysis of his thought patterns," she added.
Dissection, electrical stimulation, chemical analysis. He was familiar with the process. "Too smart for his own good, this boy."
"I'm not happy about that either."
"Get that smirk off your face, and I might even believe you!" To be honest, Grey didn't care much about the fate of the young stranger either. That scared him. When had he lost his empathy? Why hadn't he noticed?
He glared at the old woman. This couldn't be the person he'd chosen to live this excuse for a life with. Yet, he remembered he had enjoyed her company. They had talked about love, hope, and patience until the small hours, and nothing could have stopped them, not even the perspective that this would last forever.
She wouldn't have sentenced this man to death so readily back then.
Brown placed a trembling hand on the unconscious man's forehead. She brushed a short strand of hair from his face. "Fine. If you show me another way, we'll spare him."
Grey acquiesced. He had to come up with an idea, and a damn good one at that. His own soul was at stake.
Jack slitted his eyes open for the second time. The white butterflies didn't disappear. What the hell had caused this hangover? Oh yeah. Daniel. Maybe trying to drink him under the table after a heated arguing session had been a bad plan. They'd both lost, and it hadn't been pretty. One week later, they were still healing their wounds, even now that they were off world.
Ah. He didn't drink alcohol on missions unless it was called for on some ceremonial occasion. This was not a hangover. It was probably worse than that.
Jack heard a moan. It was a sad sound. As he sat up, he comprehended that it had come from him. Holding his head between his hands he waited for the pain to recede. Eventually the pounding slowed, allowing Jack to take a careful look at his surroundings.
Oh yeah, he remembered now. The temple of the beheaded statues. He envied their fate. At least they didn't need Tylenol. Jack quickly assessed his body for injuries. As far as he could tell, he didn't have a scratch on him.
The statues were silhouetted against the pale walls, lit by the orange rays of the setting sun. Jack flicked his flashlight on. They'd been unconscious for seven hours according to his watch. Peering around the dusty room, Jack searched for his teammates. He remembered Daniel and Teal'c standing near the secret door and Carter sitting on a bench. He could discern three big lumps on the floor back there, near the wall. They were immobile. "Roll call, kids. Carter?"
One of the lumps coughed. "Sir. I'm alive. I think."
Moans answered. Jack propped himself up against a statue and caught a glimpse of the front wall. He blinked. Then he looked again. "Shit!"
The doorway had disappeared. It had been replaced by a solid-looking wall.
The weak voice of his second in command drew his attention back to his team. He'd worry about an exit later.
Jack gulped and pulled away from the statue. He shambled awkwardly toward the back of the room, wincing as his head throbbed harder with every stride. The figures of his friends became clearer. Carter was pressing her hands against her eyes, while Teal'c was sitting near Daniel. The latter was lying on his back, shaking.
"Daniel Jackson is unwell, O'Neill."
"How bad is it?" Without waiting for an answer, Jack knelt near Daniel. He was foaming and quivering, wide open eyes staring at the ceiling. He had lost his glasses. His right pupil was extremely dilated, whereas the left one was reduced to a barely visible pinpoint. Jack searched in vain for a difference in lighting that could have explained this phenomenon.
Blood was leaking from Daniel's left temple.
"Daniel?" Carter gently wiped his face with an antiseptic towelette. "Colonel, he's been wounded. If you look closely, there's a pinprick on his temple."
Jack didn't look. He was watching his friend's eyes slowly returning to normal. He didn't have any energy to spare worrying about what tool the aliens had used to mess with his head. "Memory device?" he asked nonetheless, hoping they had just scanned him for information.
"I doubt it, Sir. The Tok'ra memory device leaves a round mark as well as a pinprick where it touches the skin. There's nothing like that. Besides, it doesn't cause fits."
Jack sighed. Daniel seemed to be stabilizing. He grabbed Jack's sleeve and followed the narrow light Carter was pointing at his eyes. He was clearly aware of his surroundings. If they were lucky, they'd get off with nothing more than a fright. "Hey, buddy."
"Yeah, it's me."
Daniel sat up and winced. Sam grabbed his chin and forced him to look at her. "I'm going to ask you a few questions," she said. "You okay?"
"What's your name?"
It took him an awful long time for him to answer. "Daniel."
Jack stood. While Sam pursued the examination, he examined the scribbles Daniel had tried to decipher. It taught him nothing new. The door was as shut as it had ever been. He tapped against the wall. "Hard stuff," he grunted. "I'd say we blast it open, but we don't have the C4." He strode back to the front of the temple where the doorway had gone A.W.O.L. and was forced to conclude that they were well and truly stuck.
Teal'c was circling around the two scientists, his gait unsteady. Everything was silent but for Carter and Daniel's quiet conversation. Jack snorted. Conversation was too big a word to describe their exchange. If Carter's questions were basic -- "What's your age? Where are we?" -- Daniel's answers were beyond dull. One word, one name, and sometimes nothing at all. That was all the linguist could come up with.
Jack didn't need a degree in neurology to sense that something terribly wrong had happened to the kid. "Stop it, Carter. I don't want to hear any more of it."
He started packing Daniel's discarded equipment. His pen. His notebook. His glasses, lying in the rubble of a statue. Jack blew the dust off them and slid them back on Daniel's nose. He then picked up the handcam, turned it back on, and reviewed the last records. He recalled Daniel filming the wall. Unfortunately, he had stopped a while before the incident.
"Do any of you have an idea of what happened?" Jack asked.
"I don't know, Sir. He called us. I think he had deciphered the writing, or at least he was on the right track. Then there was this light and." Sam waved the air.
"Did he touch anything?"
Teal'c's voice echoed from behind a column. "Daniel Jackson was standing at a distance from the wall. He was not within reach of it." He walked to the ornate door. "The aggressors left no footprints, O'Neill."
"Which means they can fly, or that they bagged us from far away. OK, Danny, if you know a way out." Jack pointed at the front wall. Daniel looked at him and shook his head.
"He doesn't understand you, Sir."
Daniel turned to face the writing. "I shall not try again."
"What did you say?"
"I shall not try again, or they will kill me."
That was, what? Ten words? Much more than what he'd been able to say since he'd come to. The dire message had been delivered bluntly, with none of the inflections that characterized Daniel's speech. The aliens had been using him as a cheap recording device, Jack realised as he helped Daniel up. They would pay. He would make sure of that.
"It worked," said Grey.
"The child makes a good parrot."
Grey clenched his fists. His partner's haughty demeanour started to grate on his nerves. She hadn't even admitted her defeat. Of course, Grey's victory was nothing to be proud of. He had reduced the young man's brilliant mind to a mass of silence and frustration. For the second time in a few hours he wondered what made a life worth living.
He hoped that he hadn't pushed the stranger's limits so far that he had killed his drive for self-preservation.
"What now? What if they come back?"
"Then we'll reconsider our options."
Sam was absorbing Daniel's words when she heard stone rubbing against stone. She ran to the front of the temple, and arrived just in time to witness the disappearance of a portion of the wall in the ground. The doorway was back. With a finger, she traced the tiny lines that indicated the limits between the real floor and the trap door. She castigated herself for not having noticed it earlier. Maybe they wouldn't have run into trouble so carelessly if she had. "Colonel."
"Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out. I got the message. Time to move, campers."
Teal'c picked up Daniel's rucksack from the ground. "Allow me to carry this for you, Daniel Jackson."
"No." As if his retort was not enough, he grabbed a strap of his pack and tore it from Teal'c's grasp. As soon as he'd put it back on, which he did without bothering with the clips, he rushed past Sam and left the temple.
"Daniel, wait for us," she called.
How she wished for an answer! Instead he just fled. She started running after him, followed by the Colonel and Teal'c. The gravelled path Daniel hurried along gleamed white in the moonlight. Sam struggled to catch up to Daniel, and then to stay at his side. Daniel was fixated on reaching the dark shape of the Stargate, and nothing she said could slow him down.
At last he stopped before the DHD. His hand wavered above the signs and clenched into a fist.
Sam sidled up to him. "You can't read it anymore, can you?"
She was unable to tell whether he had understood her or not. But he knew what was happening. His eyes expressed fear and sadness better than any words.
Sam placed her hand on Daniel's and guided him to the signs. They pressed them together. When the seventh chevron locked, he smiled at her, a small smile of gratitude that had nothing happy about it. There was only one more thing to do before the wormhole engaged.
The Colonel gently moved Sam aside. He patted Daniel on the shoulder. "Dial us home, Danny-boy."
Daniel pushed the orange crystal.
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