Teal'c heard a rasping sound. Daniel had accepted his invitation. Teal'c stood, his movements controlled. He strove to prevent a draft that would blow the candles out. He cracked the door open wide enough for Daniel to slip in the room. Teal'c led him around the circle of candles to the place he had selected for him.
He couldn't offer Daniel the same kind of comfort as Major Carter did. His female companion warmed her brothers-in-arm by her presence alone. The unguent of her hugs healed the deepest hurts.
Given time, O'Neill would heal Daniel, too. His power lay in his eyes. He had yet to find the strength to look at his friend.
Teal'c's gift was different. He could provide Daniel with an oasis of silence.
At his sign, they sat cross-legged. Daniel closed his eyes, allowing Teal'c to observe him as his breathing eased and his posture relaxed. His eyes moved rapidly under his eyelids, and he twitched. Daniel would reach Kel'no'reem, but it would take time.
Teal'c ensconced himself in meditation. He had chosen a seat opposite to Daniel, so that a line drawn between the two men would coincide with the diameter of the circle. The symmetrical figure soothed the spirit, but lacked in stability. Like Major Carter's motorbike that relied on speed unless it was to fall, this circle owed tribute to Teal'c's steadiness.
The third anchor soon tiptoed into the candlelit shelter. O'Neill was late. Teal'c looked at him, and then at the floor. He controlled this space. O'Neill abode by his rules, and sat without disrupting the fragile flames.
Teal'c shifted to his left. Invisible lines connected the three men in an equilateral triangle. Because tripods could stand without external assistance, Daniel's jerky movements soon stopped. Stillness descended on the contemplative figures.
Jacob pinned the small cylinder onto Daniel's right temple and connected it to a flat console by a thin wire. "I'm sorry, Danny, I will have to use the holographic abilities of the memory device."
Jack frowned. "Too many words, Jacob." He snapped his fingers to get Daniel's attention. "We will see your memories. You understand?"
"George, before we start. Do we really need all these people around?" asked Jacob. "There's no way to control what he will remember. I have to stay, but we might as well give him some privacy."
"Good idea. Colonel O'Neill, as his commanding officer, I want you to remain with Doctor Jackson during this procedure."
"Fine by me. You don't mind, Daniel?"
The man raised his eyebrows, before mouthing an "Oh" when everybody but Jack and Jacob left the room.
"I think he's OK with that," said Jack.
"Let's start, then." Selmak took control. Daniel grabbed Jack as her voice boomed against the concrete walls. "I would like you to agree with him on a stop signal. I'm setting the device to its minimum intensity, but I don't know what influence the implant will have on his memories."
"No offence, Selmak, but we'd both prefer having Jacob around for that."
"None taken," said Jacob.
Jack sat before Daniel. "Can you say stop?"
He touched the device. "Good. If this hurts, say stop. Yes?"
"I hate to do this to him." Jacob activated the device.
A sharp pain pierced his skull, leaving a tingling sensation on his skin. It reminded Daniel of the first time a memory device had been used on him, in the carbon-copy of the SGC created by Hathor. The holographic screen activated, displaying the abrasive face of a greying man -- a fake General. He moved away to reveal another holographic screen on which a scantily clad cow-goddess was blowing pink air on the viewer's nose.
"Focus, Danny. Not that."
Jack articulated much more than he used to. Daniel could hear these disjointed words, and understood most of them. It was hard to believe that this depleted language bore any relation to English.
He concentrated on the temple. It looked a bit like a dig he'd been on with his parents. Now that the Egyptian building was retransmitted by the screen, Daniel observed that the art was different. The sculptures dated back to the Old Kingdom and their design was more abstract than the beheaded statues. The faded colours were very similar, though. Daniel's mother smiled. "This place was alive, once."
Daniel blinked and willed himself to think of his most recent memories. Here, back with SG-1. He could look at the screen again. They were inside the temple. Daniel's hand was doodling in his notebook, while Jack was pestering him. Though he could hear him talking in his head, he couldn't understand what was retransmitted, half a second later, to Jack and Jacob.
Daniel looked up at the wall. The scribbles intertwined in the room, misshaped Goau'ld signs colliding with meaningless embellishments. Daniel licked his lips. There was something here. an idea. Something that he could understand, if only.
Suddenly the picture changed to that of a naked boy.
"Who's that?" Jack asked.
"Paki." His first best friend, back in Cairo. Daniel was six, the other boy around ten. He belonged to a Dinga tribe who camped near the archaeological dig. His grasp of English was nil. To play with him, Daniel had learned Paki's dialect without his parents' help. He'd been so proud when they'd exchanged their first words! Just when Daniel was about to say something, Paki ran to a cow to drink its blood.
"The temple, Danny!"
Daniel smirked. Disgusted much, Jack? That's just the way of the Dinga, he thought. He went back to the square room, and called for Sam or Teal'c to look at what he had found. Something about the embellishments escaped him, but he didn't have the time to tell them.
A column of light fell on him.
After that, there was nothing. Just the light, the buzz, and the pain in his skull.
"Daniel, you can stop."
He hung on until he recalled his coming to. The face of a holographic Jack came into focus, startling the real man. Moments later the room swirled, following Daniel's movements, until he fixed his eyes on the wall.
The scribbles, the flourishes, the faded colours. Why hadn't he noticed earlier? This vine hadn't been there before. That sign was reversed. This other one had shifted to the left. "Jack!"
"No! Jack, it." And then the punishment struck again. "I shall not try again or they will kill me. I shall not try again or they will."
"Jacob, stop it!"
"Kill me kill me kill me!" Daniel fell to the ground. He bit his hand to block the words. They kept flooding his brain. Jack was holding him tight, talking gibberish, calling for help, probably. His voice smoothened and became melodious. Daniel abandoned himself to the lullaby, but not before he'd tasted his own blood.
"Come in, Colonel. Close the door behind you." Hammond stacked reports up on a corner of his desk and invited Jack to take a seat. "How is he doing?"
"Fraiser says he's recovering nicely."
"Spare me that, Jack. I know what she said. How do you think he's doing?"
Jack sprang up from his chair and started pacing Hammond's office. "It's Daniel. He's fine! He says he's fine, as usual. Three days ago you couldn't shut him up, and now he can't even get his name right!"
Jack yanked the chair and fell onto it. Hammond wiped his face. He surmised that he wouldn't be able to grant Jack what he'd come to.
"General, I want to go back there."
"To blow the place up! We can drive those bastards out of there with the right equipment. Then they'll fix him, or."
"Or what? You'll kill them? No."
"Why not? Look, what they've done to Daniel, it's, it's. Nobody's gonna hurt one of my men like that and still be able to tell the tale the day after!"
"Have you assessed the threat? No? I thought so."
Jack tapped the tips of his fingers against the table. "Shit."
Hammond sighed. After a glance at the door, he unlocked the bottom drawer of his desk, and took a metallic flask and two glasses out of it. "Jack, I know I can count on you not to disclose that information."
"Your secret stash?"
"Cognac. From Fine Woods. Not the best one, but not bad either." He poured the golden liquid into the two glasses. He trusted his Cognac could wheedle the wildest men. Maybe they should try it on that planet, he thought.
He sniffed at the precious spirits and took a sip. "It's not poisoned, you know."
Jack turned the glass in his hands. When he finally brought it to his lips Hammond had almost finished his. "You're not going to court-martial me for drinking on the job, are you?"
"What do you think?"
"I think we should do something."
Back to the matter at hand already. At least Jack had calmed down to a manageable level. Hammond put his glass on the table. "I'm not going to send another team yet. Three linguists and Rothman are working overtime on the video Daniel has brought back. Until they've deciphered the language, everybody stays here."
"It's Daniel, George."
"I'm aware of that." Hammond gulped the last of his cognac. He itched to bomb the temple to rubble too. But unlike Jack, he still hoped that Daniel would overcome this trial. The scholar had surprised them more than once. Hammond had looked him in the eyes. Even though he was unable to communicate, his brilliance shone through just as much as before. "It's Daniel. Which is exactly why I won't blow up this world."
"How long has it been?"
Grey dragged himself out of his contemplation of the statues. "Centuries. Millennia. I'm not sure."
Brown was pacing in front of the blank wall, her arms crossed behind her back. "No, not that. I wasn't thinking of the eradication."
"The visitors, then? Three days ago at most."
"Yes. The visitors. They haven't come back."
Grey picked up the nose of a broken statue and crushed it between his fingers. The dust fell on his toes. "I was right. It was enough to scare them away."
"It's a shame."
"Yes, of course. If they were to come back, you could kill them. You're missing on so much fun because of me." The man in the grey tunic stared at one of the few intact statues. Tearing its head off was tempting.
Brown interrupted his blow. "Don't! There are not many left."
"Who cares? They were corrupted."
"So are we."
Sam rubbed her eyes. She'd been working on the latest field samples for hours. "Everything's a blur. What about we stop here for today?"
Daniel looked up from his microscope. "What?"
She made the standard sign for a timeout. He approved. They tidied up in silence, Daniel cleaning up and shelving the anonymous test tubes while Sam took care of everything that was labelled. Once she'd put the last bottle into the fridge, she gave the lab a once over. "Good."
Daniel looked exhausted. Sam had given him enough work to keep him busy all day. He had counted bacteria, double-checked numerical data, and observed geological maps. He made an adequate research assistant. A very quiet research assistant.
Sam whirled to face the newcomer. She wasn't expecting him, especially not this late at night. "Hi, Robert."
"Hi. I thought I'd find you two here." Rothman stepped in the lab, and was promptly relieved of the stack of photographs and of the notebook he was carrying by Daniel.
"You found something?" Sam asked.
"Actually, no, I didn't. I'm stuck. This thing, it doesn't make sense!"
Oblivious to the conversation, Daniel shuffled the photographs and laid them on the table. Sam passed around it so she could look at him. He was waving his hands. A vein in his neck was twitching. Thinking lines furrowed his forehead, and he looked both nervous and focused.
"What is he doing?"
"I think he's got it. He knows what's written on the wall." Sam sat on a stool. Daniel emitted a strangled cry. He picked up the leather-bound notebook, not to read it like Sam had first thought, but to bite it as hard as he could. He was fighting the dreaded sentence again.
"What, Daniel? What does it mean? You know, I'm sure it's completely random."
Daniel shuffled the photographs again, and banged on the table. He let go of the notebook. The marks of his teeth were embedded in the cover. "Wall!"
"Yes, it's a wall. So?"
"Robert, he's trying. Shut up and wait."
One more time, Daniel took the prints and jumbled them before putting them back on the table. Sam couldn't find any logic in his actions.
"I shall not." He winced. "Move."
"Move? You shall not move?"
"No, just 'move'. I don't think he said 'I shall not' on purpose," Sam said.
"I still don't understand, I'm sorry!" Robert tittered. "I can't do this any more, Daniel. We've been working on it for days with the guys, and we haven't progressed one iota! You know what, it's you we need to read that stuff. You."
Daniel tensed. His nostrils flared in anger. He slowly turned towards Rothman and said, "Wall."
"I'm sorry. No."
Sam was on the wrong side of the table. She couldn't stop Daniel from pushing his colleague away. Just as she reached Rothman to help him up, he stormed out of the room. A photograph slid under the door he slammed behind him.
Jack had given up on going home after midnight and an extensive stay near the commissary's coffee machine. It was safer than facing a bottle of cheap whiskey. He had no cognac at his place. Such a shame. Tomorrow he would buy a bottle, drag Daniel topside and give him a taste of Hammond's medicine.
He was strolling aimlessly. It wasn't like he had anything better to do. He couldn't focus on paperwork, and he didn't feel like socializing. Passer-bys were few and far between, thankfully. The quiet of the base was undisturbed by the soft murmur of the ventilation shafts.
Which is why he couldn't miss the commotion round the corner.
Daniel rushed forward, Carter puffing behind him. Rothman was not far either, pleading for Daniel to listen. He likely wouldn't, even given the choice. Jack hopped to the left and jostled into him. Daniel shoved back.
Daniel raised his hands to the sky and dashed on.
"Carter, what happened?"
Rothman answered for her. "He's upset because I've given up on deciphering this language."
"Upset? He looked about ready to kill someone! And, Rothman, you're not allowed to give up."
"Colonel, maybe we should try to reason him."
Jack looked down the corridor. "I'll do that, Carter."
Daniel hadn't managed to get rid of Jack. He'd caught up with him in the locker room and had dogged him to the gymnasium. Daniel pushed the double doors open and turned the light switches on. The neon tubes cracked to life, flooding the room with a harsh whiteness.
He chucked his boxing gloves and his jacket on a bench. It was soon followed by his tee shirt. At the last moment, Jack snitched his glasses from him and placed them on a shelf.
Daniel snarled. It was as close as a "sod off" as he could get. He didn't want Jack's help. There was a reason he had chosen the deserted gymnasium to vent out his anger. Jack should know better than to stay around him when he was pissed off.
Of course Jack didn't listen. Instead he pulled out the hand wraps he'd taken out of Daniel's locker.
Daniel was amazed that Jack had thought of that. Janet would kill him -- she would kill both of them, actually -- if he turned up in the infirmary in the morning with knuckles so bruised they might as well be broken.
Daniel sat. Okay, maybe he needed Jack's help. Maybe he wanted him to stay. It was hard to maintain control, and he wanted nothing more than to jump to his feet and fight, but Daniel let Jack bandage his hands and lace the gloves.
"Go," Jack said at last.
Daniel threw himself at the punching bag.
The brown leather smelled of old sweat. Jack closed his eyes and clutched his fingers into the bag to prevent it from bouncing. Daniel hit hard, repeatedly. Each of his punches felt like a blow to Jack's stomach. He wasn't sure how much of the pain was physical. He'd certainly sport a few bruises later.
What most of Jack's fellow soldiers failed to see in Daniel was his endless supply of energy. Even though he had earned their respect, they still considered him as a flaky bookworm who needed to be nudged in the right direction by someone smarter and more focused than him.
Daniel was focused. He had to be, if only to control this energy which threatened to eat him alive. He was freeing his aggression right now, and Jack was scared. If someone sandbagged him one too many times, if, for whatever reason, Daniel lost control, Jack hoped he wouldn't be around to witness the result.
The punching bag contacted with his cheekbone. Jack cried out, surprised, and the pounding stopped. Daniel pulled away and sank to the ground against the wall.
Jack clenched the bag until his ears stopped ringing before joining his friend. "Feeling better?"
He helped Daniel remove his gloves. Despite the bandages, his fingers were red and swollen. Jack stood to get an ice pack. He knew he would find one in the freezer of the small room that served as the gymnasium's field infirmary, a poor annex of Fraiser's domain. Jack groaned all the way there and back.
"Shit, Daniel, it wasn't even a proper fight!" Jack said, applying the cold bag on Daniel's hands. "Next time you want to beat me like that, let me hit you back, okay?"
"Nothing. Don't mind me, I'm talking to myself." Jack sighed. He missed his friend's constant chatter. He generally dismissed it as an annoying background noise, but now. Hell, Jack would even welcome a lecture! He didn't always listen to them, and when he did, he often disagreed. This banter, though, was an important ingredient of their friendship.
He turned to face Daniel and looked into his eyes. They remained immobile, leaning sideways against the wall, sharing fear and exhaustion in a forced silence. Daniel wouldn't last long like that.
"You want to go? What do you mean? Shower and bed?" Jack spoke slowly, waiting for Daniel to nod his understanding between each question.
Jack bit his lips. Should he allow the kid to go back to the temple and get himself killed? Yeah sure, you bet. "Shower. Bed. That's where you go."
Teal'c hadn't talked during the entire briefing. He had observed as Daniel Jackson had laboriously tried to explain what he wanted, displaying pictures of the wall and pointing at the Stargate. He had watched Major Carter intertwine her fingers with his, rubbing her thumb against his wrist, heedless of the security camera aimed at them.
He had accepted Robert Rothman's apologies, for the man had worked hard and slept little, judging by the shadows under his eyes. Confident that he had done everything humanly possible, Teal'c had stopped O'Neill from tearing the poor archaeologist's head off.
Hammond leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin. He was about to make a decision that would determine Daniel Jackson's future.
It was time for Teal'c to say what he believed. He stared at his wounded teammate and stood. "I concur with Daniel Jackson. It is my opinion that we should go back to the temple where he was attacked."
"Yeah. Only if we can blow the place up, which is not an option, by the way." O'Neill's words dripped vengeance. Teal'c felt the same desire coursing in his blood. If Daniel Jackson was to die because of the implant, Teal'c would destroy the temple stone by stone, even if he had to disobey Hammond to do so. He would find its occupants and strangle them until they begged him for mercy. Then he would kill them. Slowly.
But his friend was alive. Teal'c respected him too much to avenge him without his consent.
Hammond straightened up and looked at him. "Why do you think Doctor Jackson is right? I have no idea what he plans to do there, but if you have a better insight in his motivations, I want to know."
"Daniel Jackson has not informed me of his plans."
"So?" O'Neill was growing impatient.
"I trust him."
That settled it. Half an hour later, SG-1 was back on P9J-733, the planet of the beheaded statues.
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