Ciphers
a Stargate SG-1 story
by
Destina Fortunato

Cover art by X can be found here.
Author's notes can be found at the end of the story.




"Can you see anything?" Carter asked. She craned her neck, trying to see around Daniel's shoulders as he wriggled into the small aperture, but there wasn't room. A small ground tremor caused her to sway back and forth; she steadied herself with a hand on Daniel's thigh.

"There's some kind of writing down here," Daniel answered. His voice was muffled, absorbed by the open space below and stopped by his shoulders, which were blocking the hole. "I'd love to get a look at it."

"Forget it," Jack said. He tugged on Daniel's legs. "Come up out of there."

"Pull," Daniel said, and Jack and Teal'c did, hauling Daniel out upside down. He scooted back from the edge, flashlight in hand, and rolled over, then sat up. "Jack, I can't tell anything from this angle, but it's only about ten feet down."

"How important can this stuff be, if it's in a hole? Leave it for the survey team." Jack offered Daniel a hand and helped him to his feet.

"Well, we came to PX2-881 to find ancient Tok'ra texts, and I don't think the Tok'ra would appreciate us telling them it was a little too strenuous for us," Daniel answered. He pointed at the hole with the flashlight. "We're here, so we might as well finish up."

"Sir, there is some time pressure on this. The Tok'ra can't commit resources to excavations on this world if the tombs and texts here don't have information they can use." Carter looked up at the ceiling, then around at the bare walls of the ancient cave. "If one of the first groups of Tok'ra did use this planet as a hiding place, it would explain why so much of what they built here is hidden."

"Perhaps it is now below ground because this world is unstable," Teal'c said. "This may be nothing more than an accident of nature." As if to illustrate his words, another tremor rippled through the cave; tiny streams of dust and rock sifted down from the ceiling above them.

Jack nodded. Teal'c voiced the fears he was keeping in check, the ones that had made him hold tightly to Daniel's legs when he disappeared into that darkness. "We know it's there. Let the Tok'ra come and do their own dirty work."

"Jack," Daniel said impatiently. "Beyond any implications this may have for the Tok'ra, I'd like to see it as well. You know they're not exactly forthcoming with information once they have it."

"Not much with the sharing," Jack agreed. He looked at Daniel, in his dusty BDUs, and then down at the dark hole. Daniel smiled, fully aware that the argument was over, and he'd won. Jack sighed and said, "Let's get it over with, then. Feet first this time, Daniel. Teal'c?"

Teal'c dropped down on one side of the hole, Jack on the other, and Daniel shimmied through the hole feet first. Teal'c and Jack took his hands and lowered him carefully as far as their arms would reach. "Ready?" Jack shouted down to him.

"Yes," came the echoing reply.

With a nod to Teal'c, Jack released Daniel's hand. There was a split second of silence, then a muffled thump. "I'm fine," Daniel called up, and Jack sat back on his heels.

More silence, stretching out to the point where Jack had to resist the urge to drop down in that hole himself and hustle Daniel along. Finally, Daniel's voice wavered up to them from somewhere away from the entrance. "This is amazing stuff, Jack. There are several panels here that depict early Tok'ra history. Early Goa'uld dialects - more than one." Another silence.

"Daniel?" Jack shifted his weight and looked down into the hole, searching for the errant beam of light. "Hurry it up."

"I'm trying, but...the light levels are low." Jack didn't have to see him to know Daniel was futzing with the camcorder, filming the walls. "I'm going to have to make some quick notes, too. Just...hang on."

"O'Neill. I suggest we finish here as quickly as possible." Teal'c was eyeing the walls, which had developed an alarming tendency to drop small stones with every tremor.

"He's quick. It'll be fine." As soon as he'd finished with the token reassurance, his face was in the hole, deep into the cool, musty air. "Daniel!"

"Yeah, Jack, I know." Rustling noises, and Daniel appeared, an outlined figure at the back end of a flashlight. Jack could see him stuffing the camcorder into a pocket in the BDUs, and he stuffed the lit flashlight into his waistband. The light flashed across Jack's eyes, causing a wince. "Hands," Daniel said.

Jack leaned over into the hole, with Teal'c on his legs, and stretched out his hands for Daniel. Daniel made a jump and caught them, and they slid a bit before Teal'c had them firmly again. "Next time, I'm dropping a rope," Jack grunted, as Teal'c pulled them back.

Underneath Jack's belly, the ground rumbled, and Carter's sharp shout of alarm told him what he sensed but couldn't see. "Hang on!" he shouted to Daniel, as Teal'c yanked hard at them. Jack's shoulder snagged at the edge of the hole, and for one nightmarish moment, Daniel's gaze caught his, alarmed and wide and ghostly blue in the stark light. Jack tightened his grip around Daniel's hands, but he was being slammed around by the quake, and Daniel was slipping. He fought for better control, but rocks were striking Daniel - rocks were striking Jack, too, he could feel them slamming into his legs and back. Cuts opened up on Daniel's face where gravel was pelting him, and his hands...Jack lost one of them, and Daniel dangled from the other, as though he were clinging to a lifeline. Daniel turned his face down into the darkness, away from the shower of rocks and dirt.

"Daniel!" Jack shouted, but Teal'c was pulling him, and Jack felt his shoulder wrench, felt it give way against the rock, pulled between the forces of Daniel's weight and the hard rock and Teal'c's strength. He howled with pain, and in that moment, Daniel's hand slipped from his. "Daniel!"

The entire cave was coming apart; rocks everywhere, hitting the ground, bouncing like rubber balls and rolling, and Teal'c half carried, half-dragged Jack away, into a tiny corner where Carter was crouched with her arms over her head. Fire seared through Jack's shoulder, an agony too bright for mere sound. He slapped Teal'c's arm, then gripped it as they rode out the rockslide.

It seemed to go on forever. Jack choked on thick dust and particles in the air; Carter retched beside him. "Carter!" he gritted out, and through the fog of dirt, he saw her back heave, and her hand came weakly up. "Okay?" She waved at him, a mere flutter of her fingers, but good enough. Jack grabbed the front of Teal'c's shirt with his good hand. "The shoulder's out," he said. "Put it in. Hurry."

"I will need Major Carter's assistance," Teal'c said, with a worried look over Jack's head. The sounds had stopped; Carter was done spewing out the choking dirt.

"Now," Jack said. His eyes were on the pile of rocks where the hole had been.

"Major Carter?" Teal'c asked.

Carter scooted up to Jack's back and wrapped her arms around him carefully. "Is it dislocated, sir?" she rasped.

"Oh, I think so. Yeah." Jack gritted his teeth as Teal'c planted his foot in Jack's armpit and, without warning, jerked the arm hard, forcing the joint back into the socket.

Jack's vision greyed out. From a vast distance, he could hear Carter's voice: "Sir? Colonel?" He had no breath to answer her as he sagged against her, fighting pain and nausea.

After a moment, he panted, "I'm fine." He keyed the radio with his good hand. "Daniel!" Moments went by, long subjective stretches of time, while he waited to hear something, but there was no answer. "Daniel. Do you read me? Answer me. Click the radio." He pushed at Teal'c's arm, a signal that was clear. "Daniel?"

They left Jack there, gathering some semblance of strength and listening to silence on the radio. "Report," he shouted at them. Teal'c's expression told him everything as he scrambled back over the top of the heap.

"The aperture is covered, sir. We'll have to dig him out." Carter's voice was grim.

"Staff weapon?" Jack asked, as he struggled to sit up.

"Too risky, sir. The whole place will come down on top of us. The tremors have subsided, for the moment. We might have time."

"Might have." Jack looked at Teal'c, who was already at work, tossing aside boulders the size of Jack's torso. "Carter. Get back to the gate. Get help. Now."

"Yes, sir. What about-"

"I'll live."

She nodded, and Jack got to his knees, then his feet. He went to work beside Teal'c in silence, ignoring the pain in his all but useless arm as they pulled away rock and stone. He couldn't tell where the opening had been.

He tried not to think of the shock on Daniel's face as he'd fallen back into darkness.

****

Daniel had opened his eyes to worse things before, but complete darkness was his least favorite of all possibilities.

Since he'd been a kid, he'd entertained the notion that he might wake one day and find himself blind. It haunted his dreams sometimes; he'd be on a mission, incapacitated and helpless.

He felt on his face and found the glasses there, and a surge of adrenaline coursed through him. He flexed his feet, his legs, his arms. Nothing broken, though he was sure he was one giant bruise. The rocks that had hit him had hit hard, and...he lifted a hand to his head. Blood, on his temple. Maybe that was why he was blind.

With one hand, he keyed the radio. "Jack? Sam?" A breath, then, "Teal'c? Come in...do you read me?" There was no sound to speak of in the dark, stifling space, and no answer from his teammates.

Cautiously, Daniel got to his knees and felt for the flashlight at his waist. Not there. It must have fallen, so perhaps it was nearby. He sifted dirt through his fingers as he crawled around the cavern.

Once his fingers stumbled upon it, he raised the flashlight and clicked it on. Dust motes swirled around him in the thin air and he breathed a sigh of relief-not blind, then. He trained the beam of light on the small aperture above him, where Jack's face should have been right that moment, looking anxiously down at him. One glance told him there were large rocks, hundreds of pounds of them, wedged together above the opening and covering the hole.  

He sneezed - too much dust in the air - and then tried to get his bearings. He moved the light, tracking it through the darkness as he looked for something familiar, until - yes, there; the writing. As the light touched the ancient symbols, Daniel stared, enthralled. Each symbol had its own unique color. "Weird," he whispered, and reached out to touch them. The colors were vivid and distinct, shades he'd never seen in a box of crayons, a palette so ghostly and strange he thought he might be hallucinating.

There were sounds above him, tiny pebbles rolling off larger boulders, but Daniel didn't pay attention. The colors seemed to have no larger meaning. Daniel wanted to remember, to take them back for study.

"Jack!" he shouted, and a brilliant burst of violet exploded before his eyes. "What the hell..." He spoke the puzzled words aloud, but the fading colors that arrived on the heels of Jack's name compelled him to say it again - this time, in a whisper. "Jack."

Same brilliant purples, but muted this time.

He closed his eyes, heart pounding. Definitely something wrong with his eyes. Or his brain.

With a shaky hand, he felt around his head, wincing as he encountered a large bump at the back of his skull. Janet was going to have a field day with this. If he lived through it.

Daniel sat down, back pressed to the wall, and stared into the small, tight space. He supposed he could attempt to pull stones away from the entrance, if he could reach the hole, but there weren't enough rocks in the cavern to build a structure to climb up. And he might be crushed if the remainder fell in. No, it was what was wedged on top - where Jack, and Carter, and Teal'c were - that was the problem. He knew that exerting himself would only shorten his time.

He smiled grimly, thinking of the various ways in which he could die. Already he was shivering; the stone at his back was cold, and the air chilly around him. Maybe the rest of the cavern would collapse and bury him completely. Not the first time he'd been lost that way - but there wouldn't be any sarcophagus to bring him back, and he was fairly grateful for that.

His lungs gave a heaving gasp of protest at the thin breaths he'd been taking.

Not a good sign at all.


****

"How long have we been at this?" Major Brooks gasped, wiping sweat away with a grimy hand.

"Two hours," Carter said. She handed the long metal bar across the pile to Teal'c, who nodded his thanks and levered it beneath one of the rocks. "We were digging for an hour before you arrived."

By the time Fraiser, SG units 6 and 11 arrived to help with the rescue, Daniel had been buried for two hours. No one had been at the gate to meet them because SG-1 was digging frantically, silent and grim with purpose, using sticks as levers and straining every muscle to shove aside the boulders. Their hands were torn open; Jack's left arm was damned near immobile, but he wouldn't stop any more than Carter or Teal'c would.

The cavern grew hotter as sunlight flooded its entrance, as air was choked off by dust and flying rock. It was Daniel's face Jack couldn't forget, the look of utter surprise. Jack knew Teal'c had saved him by yanking him out of that hole; he should be grateful. He'd be dead now, otherwise, buried beneath a ton of rubble, the same rubble that obscured the tunnel that would lead them to Daniel. He wasn't grateful, though. He was pissed. Angry beyond belief, with himself, with Daniel, with this goddamned planet, with physics and gravity and fuck, but it was hot, and his shoulder hurt like a motherfucker.

Nothing to do but keep digging.

"Colonel," Fraiser said, at his shoulder, but he pushed her away and kept pulling at rocks, knocking them down, letting them tumble down the sloping pile to the side of the cavern. "Colonel! Let me treat your shoulder."

"Later," he rasped. Dislocation was nothing new. He'd been through it before. That kind of pain was bearable.

"Now," Janet said, in that tone he hated with a passion.  

"It's fine."

"Colonel."

"Doc, please. I'm a little busy here."

"Yes, I see that. Colonel, I need to put your arm in a sling; it's no good to you as it is, and you could be doing nerve damage by using it."

"I don't give a damn." He returned her stare with one of his own. "I can't afford to waste time like this. It doesn't matter."

"O'Neill." Teal'c's low voice came from the top end of the rock pile, where SG-6 had formed a chain and was passing down rocks like a well-oiled machine. "There are others to dig through to Daniel Jackson."

"Right," Jack said, unconvinced.

"Your injury makes you less useful," Teal'c added mercilessly. Jack squeezed his eyes shut against that little dose of truth. Fraiser read the signal of surrender and steered him to a clump of trees just outside the mouth of the cave.

Her hands were cold, Jack thought, as she stripped away his vest and overshirt and cut his t-shirt away, as her hands felt for swelling and tested his skin for sensation. "How did it happen?" Janet asked.

"My fault," Jack said.

To her credit, Janet didn't start with the "not your fault" speech. She just cradled his arm in a sling, and then hung his shirt back over the injured arm. She swabbed the cuts on his hands and face.

He could barely stand for her to touch him. He swatted her attention away and lurched up from the ground.

Teal'c appeared before him, a wall of resistance. He tried to go around, go through him, but Teal'c was solid. "O'Neill. We will do this. You cannot."

"The hell I can't."

Teal'c pressed a hand to his chest, silently giving him the message. Fraiser pulled him back, settled him on the hard rock. "Rest, sir. Please. Just for a little while. Otherwise, you're going to be out of action for a very long time."

Jack's eyes flicked up, met Teal'c's, and Teal'c nodded once. Jack closed his eyes. His chest was tight, and he imagined Daniel underground, wheezing for air.


****

Daniel had decided to save the battery of the flashlight, just in case he was going to be there for a while. Suffocating alone was bad enough, but suffocating in the dark would really suck beyond imagining. Not like he couldn't imagine it; he'd been doing little else, since he realized how deep he was in this. He'd dozed a little, imagining a quick rescue and hot coffee, and a sudden thought had startled him fully awake: he couldn't even be sure his teammates were alive.

He was surprised it hadn't occurred to him before, the idea that they were dead, but...if they were dead, he might as well eat the Beretta now; no one would find him in time. His mind didn't default that way, couldn't allow him to think of Jack and Sam and Teal'c as corpses underneath a ton of rock, so of course he hadn't thought of it. They were up there now, sound and safe and working to free him, and he owed them his optimism.

Still, it might not be a bad idea to write a few words of goodbye, just in case. Tell the SGC where to find certain translations, various artifacts. They'd appreciate that. His filing system wasn't the most organized in the world.

He fished out his journal in the dark and held his pen between his teeth as he switched on the flashlight. His head ached in protest over the sudden intrusion of light, but he ignored the throbbing pain and flipped open the book.

What he saw made his heart beat faster. "Huh," he said, and stared at the language he'd laid down on the page, suddenly alive with vibrant color. The words had become rainbows scrawled across the paper. It reminded him of a kid's art project, or one of those crazy pens that changed color as the writer used it, but it was oddly uniform. Each "e" was a sort of grayish blue; each "m", a vivid yellow like summer sunshine, each "s" a cool, misty green, and so on, for every other letter of the alphabet.

He waved the light across the page; the colors stayed constant. Slowly, he clicked the pen open, set the pen to paper, and wrote: "Something is wrong with me." Green, red, yellow, grayish blue...still the same colors for each letter.

A certain sort of fearful fascination took hold of him then, and he turned so he was facing the wall again. The Goa'uld markings still had their colors, each as distinct as the colors in the English alphabet. He touched them; they were cold beneath his extended fingers.

And then he remembered the violet of Jack's name, and the test slid from his lips without any more thought than a simple need to say it: "Jack." Purple stained his vision, but did not obscure it. He blinked hard, but the colors remained behind his closed eyelids for a moment or two more, until they finally faded. "Teal'c." A crisp, rust-colored orange appeared. Daniel chuckled. Not what he would have chosen. "Sam." Dark silver-grey. "Sha're." Deep blue-green, like a restful ocean.

He made a few notes about it in the journal. A large part of him was growing sleepy, but he resisted - sleep was most likely death, in this place, lack of oxygen or head trauma or...he might as well enjoy this, while he could.  "Cup." Nothing happened. "Spoon." Still nothing. "Wish." A burst of color, bright red. "Wow," he whispered to himself. "Abstracts."

More notes, scribbled reverently across the page, and he found himself distracted by the colors, lost inside the wonder of seeing language this way. Meticulously, he began writing down his impressions, but the pen moved slowly as he stared at the rainbow emerging from its black-inked tip.

He set the pen down and reached to click off the flashlight, and then he sat in darkness, driving his fears away by whispering words.

***

After an hour's sleep, it wasn't hard for Jack to coerce some painkillers out of Fraiser. She was more willing to listen once he'd tried to follow her instructions. He swallowed the pills dry, slipped his arm out of the sling, and crawled up the rock pile with Teal'c. His friend gave him a look, but he didn't bother to try to persuade Jack to back off.

Jack's hands moved by rote. He left blood behind on every rock.

"Here!" The shout was from Major Brooks, on the other end of the pile. Jack and Teal'c scrambled down, pushing against each other, and made their way around. A tiny hole had opened up, enough for Brooks to get his hands inside and pull rocks away. He shoved his face close to the six-inch hole and called down into it. "Dr. Jackson! Can you hear me? Dr. Jackson!"

Jack lurched closer to Brooks and strained to hear. After a moment, he grabbed for his radio and gave it a shot. "Daniel? Come in, Daniel." He stepped away as the crowd of soldiers began widening the hole. "Daniel, can you hear me?"

"It isn't likely that'll work, sir," Carter said, glancing up at him. Dirt streaked her face like grimy war paint. "Not yet."

"Daniel Jackson!" Teal'c gave it a try; his booming voice echoed around the cavern.

Carter stopped suddenly, head tilted to the side, and clasped Teal'c's elbow. "Did you hear that?"

In answer, Teal'c began throwing rocks aside, so fast he was a blur of motion. Jack clambered up behind Carter and they carefully widened the hole, reinforcing the pile behind them as they worked.

"Bring me a rope," Jack said, to no one in particular; within moments, a hand nudged at his shoulder, offering a large coil of sturdy reinforced rope. "Daniel? Daniel! Answer me!"

A thin sound, far away, half-swallowed by the earth. "Jack!"

The relief was so strong it made Jack sick to his stomach. "Are you hurt?"

"Kind of."

Jack and Teal'c exchanged looks. "What the hell does that mean?" Jack called down.

"I can climb out," Daniel answered. "But I think I hit my head."

"Rope coming down," Jack shouted. Teal'c had already wrapped the rope around his own waist several times; Carter was braced behind Jack, and Brooks and Lt. Williams behind her. Jack flung the rope down with his good hand, but Carter's fingers on his shoulder made him remember just how weak he was. He moved away, stumbling over loose rock as he backed up.

It took two minutes to haul Daniel up; his fingers appeared at the edge, scrabbling at the rock, and two of Brooks' men yanked him out of the darkness. Carter dropped the rope and she and Teal'c took Daniel's arms, leading him down to Fraiser and Jack.

"Uh, Teal'c? You were right about the cave being unstable," Daniel said, looking up at Teal'c. Another wave of relief washed over Jack. He knelt beside Daniel while Fraiser checked his pulse.

"How do you feel, Daniel?" Fraiser asked, as she flicked on the penlight. At the first intrusion of the light into his eyes, Daniel yelped in pain. "Easy," she soothed, even as she continued the torture. "Your pupils are far more dilated than they should be after coming out into bright light from darkness."

"I hit my head," he explained again, pressing his hands to his closed eyes. Fraiser's fingers were exploring his scalp. "I'm seeing colors."

"Colors?" Fraiser looked up at the medic, who noted something on a scratch chart. "What kind of colors?"

"When I talk. When...when you talk," Daniel said. "When I look at words. It's really strange." Huge black pupils swam in the blue of Daniel's eyes.

"There might be an explanation for it, but I'll need to run more tests first. You may have bleeding in the brain or any number of other injuries."

"Great," Daniel said, as Teal'c and Carter helped him up. He waved off the airmen. "I can walk."

"Get on the stretcher, Daniel." Jack made it an order, in a tone Daniel couldn't mistake.

Daniel glanced at Jack's arm. "After you," he said quietly.

"Oh, no you don't. Stretcher. Now."

Daniel nodded tiredly and sank down on the thin board. Fraiser turned to Jack and nodded to the second stretcher - the one she had meant for him all along.  

"I'll walk, thanks," Jack said, eyes on the toes of Daniel's boots as they bobbed out of sight. He looked up at the filthy, exhausted soldiers who'd been working nonstop for hours. "Good job, people. Pack it up and let's go home."

"Sir, I think we should shore up the cave and clear the rest of the debris away." Carter rubbed her cut, dirty hands on her shirt. "Once the cave is safe, we could have another look at that cavern."

Jack stared at her. "Doesn't anything put you off the idea of looking around down there?"

"It's important, sir." Carter wiped the back of her hand across her nose, leaving a diagonal smear of smudged skin.

"Fine. Get the engineers out here, but I don't want anybody else back in that cave without express permission from Hammond. Understand?"

"Yes, sir."

Jack took several wobbling steps toward the mouth of the cave; Teal'c appeared beside him, like his own personal walking stick. "Good timing," Jack said, and let Teal'c shore him up, like iron beneath granite.


*****

 
"Wow," Daniel whispered, as he stared at the blazing rainbow that passed for the infirmary eye chart.

"Daniel?" Janet lowered the card she'd been holding in front of his left eye. "What do you see?"

"Every letter is a different color," Daniel said. "No, wait...all the E's are the same."

"Do me a favor and make a list of the colors for me, would you?" Daniel nodded. Janet picked up his chart and flipped over the history page. "Write it here."

He took her pen and began to write, scrolling rainbows over the paper. E = blue F = red T = purgr

Daniel's pen slowed to a halt; his heart began to pound a little faster.  "Janet?" Explosions of fire-engine red accompanied her name.

"What is it?" she asked, taking the chart from his hand.

"I started to write out the colors, but it's jumbled up in my head. From my head to my hand, the colors got...mixed up."

"That's interesting," she said, looking at the page. "Are you still seeing the same colors for the letters every time?"

"Yes. E is always blue. But when I start to write the word on the page, there are other colors mixed into the word...I start writing other colors. I don't know how else to explain." He took a deep breath; he was shaking. It had seemed fascinating six hours ago, but the thrill was wearing off.

"Try dictating it to me."

He stared at the chart. "E is blue. F is red. T is sort of purple. O is grey." He stopped. "It's not happening now. When I say the letters, I have flashes of color, sometimes, but it's not as distracting as writing."

"Is reading the chart out loud bothering you?"

Daniel shook his head. "No. Not every word or letter produces sensation." He looked up at her. "Is this going to go away?"

She seemed to take a very long time to answer. "I'm not sure."

"What?" Alarmed, he hopped off the table.

"Should you be up and around, there, Daniel?" Jack rounded the corner, followed by Hammond, Teal'c and Carter, like a little welcome-home parade.

"I'm fine," Daniel said, still looking at Janet. "At least, I think I'm fine. Am I?"

"Well, sir," Janet said, as she folded over the list of colors, "it appears the blow to Daniel's head triggered some sort of unusual connection of his senses. Most of the stimuli are linked to the speech and language centers of his brain. Certain words and letters have taken on distinctive colors for him."

"Synaesthesia?" Carter asked.

Janet nodded. "Or something very close to it. It's not unusual for head trauma to produce temporary re-routing of the signals the brain sends - sort of a scrambled signal, while the neurons are misfiring."

"Wait, wait," Jack said, hands up and out, warding off technobabble. "Run this anesthesia thing by me again. Slowly."

"Synaesthesia," Janet corrected him. "Literally, the term means 'a fusing of the senses'. People with this condition don't see and hear things the way the rest of us do. The impulses in their brain are jumbled, confused. They will taste music, or feel it, like wind against their face. Certain words taste like cotton. Other words, like coffee. Letters of the alphabet appear in color, rather than black and white. Some people see shapes in the air when they hear musical tones or touch various textures."

"The connections in the brain don't operate the way they do for most people," Carter added. "What they see and hear, they feel; there's an emotional component as well."

"That's right. Most are born with it, but some develop it as a result of trauma or epileptic seizures. Daniel's experiences fit the diagnostic criteria of the latter group, although generally, the sensations are not so specific. Latent cases often correct themselves, given time."

"Wow," Jack said. And then, "I hear a 'but'."  

"Yes, sir. I don't know the extent of the trauma. All Daniel's tests indicate only slightly elevated brain function in the speech and visual centers, but this sort of thing is very difficult to pinpoint. There's no treatment for it."

"Then there's no reason I have to stay here, is there?" Daniel asked. The pull of his curiosity was maddening; he wanted to sit down with a book in hand and watch the light show produced by reading it.

"Not in the infirmary, no, but you'll need to remain on base for the next 24 hours so we can monitor that concussion. You're already having trouble concentrating."

"Daniel could bunk up in the guest quarters," Jack suggested.

"Yes, that'd be fine."

"Can I work?" Daniel asked.

Janet thought for a moment. "Simple tasks might be best, to get used to this. And no long shifts, Daniel. I'm concerned about the effects of this condition on your ability to process external stimuli."

Daniel sighed. Without serious work to dive into, it would be a long stint on base.

Jack patted Daniel on the shoulder. "See you in the morning at the debriefing."

"Hold it, Colonel; no driving for you, either. You need to rest your shoulder." Janet stood between Jack and the door like a bulldog.

"It's good as new," Jack said. His expression dared anyone in the room to say different.

Daniel reached out a hand toward Jack's arm; Jack skittered away as fast as he'd ever seen the man move. "Uh-huh," Daniel said, and withdrew his hand. A tide of anxiety was rising in him, but he wasn't able to articulate it; it simmered beneath the surface, pulling him down and making him quiet.

Janet said, "Report back first thing in the morning for a quick exam, sir, and I'll release you for limited duty."

"Oh, I'll still be here," Jack said bitterly. "I have a report to type. With one hand."

Five minutes after Jack barricaded himself in his office to work on his mission report, Daniel was scarfing down chili, cornbread and coffee in the mess hall. He tried to keep his eyes on the food and focus on eating and enjoying it, but the scattered chatter around him caused major and minor fireworks. Every sound, every word, every string of conversation brought new stimulation. He closed his eyes and continued eating.

"Daniel?" Sam sounded worried, so he opened his eyes. "Are you okay?"

He thought about his answer before he committed to it. "It's just...very strange. Hard to get used to. Every sound brings sights that...aren't there, things that I know intellectually I shouldn't be seeing. I wish I could turn it off."

"I can't even imagine what you're sensing."

"Want to try it for a while?" He looked up at her over the nearly empty bowl and smiled. She smiled in return and shook her head. "Didn't think so."

"That doesn't make it any less interesting," she protested, smile widening.

"I feel like I'm starving," Daniel said. He scooped up the rest of the chili.

"What does it make you feel?" Sam asked curiously.

"Feel?" The question seemed odd, until he realized each sensation was becoming an integrated whole for him. "It's sort of pleasurable, but distracting." He ate the last bite of his cornbread and washed it down with a gulp of coffee.

"Want another cup?" Sam asked.  

"What I want, mostly, is to go to sleep." As he said it, a yawn rumbled up from deep down, splitting his mouth wide open. His jaw cracked in protest.

"I'll walk you to your quarters." She rose from her chair.

Daniel looked up at her with a pang of guilt; he hadn't satisfied her scientist's need to know, and he understood how she felt. "Sam, I know you're curious, and tomorrow I'll try to give you more details. I promise."

"Only if you feel like it. Come on, let's go." She steered him toward his quarters and he was grateful, because oblivion was waiting there. A few hours' respite from everything sounded like sheer bliss.


*****


"P4T-214," Daniel said. He clicked the remote; a digital photo of giant octopus-looking things filled the screen.

"Whoa," Jack said, leaning back in his chair automatically. "Is that life-size?"

"About two-thirds scale," Daniel said. "One third smaller, that is."

"That's a big...what is it?"

"Xenobiology has given it a name for our preliminary internal classification purposes: orctopopteprus." To her credit, Carter read that mouthful off the briefing report without missing a beat. "We believe its ancestors may have evolved in the oceans of Earth, though it's certainly too soon to tell. They appear to be highly intelligent. This one attempted to communicate with SG-2 via a series of clicks and sub-verbal noises."

"Sort of like Morse Code, we think," Daniel added. He was looking off into the distance, at the far wall. Jack frowned; Daniel seemed distant, not quite engaged in the briefing.

"SG-2 made some preliminary breakthroughs, but they weren't able to stay long enough to discover much about these creatures," Carter said. "The interesting thing is, there are remnants of a written language all over the planet. These creatures may have coexisted with the humans."

Jack asked, "What happened to the Earth-based culture?"

"I'm really not sure." Daniel pointed to his notes with the remote. "The obelisks are the best clue we have, but we haven't translated them yet."

"What is the written language?" Teal'c asked.

"It's a variant of Sanskrit I'm not familiar with," Daniel said. "It's all in the mission recommendation."

Jack leaned forward. "Tell us anyway."

Daniel clicked forward three slides and gestured back at the screen. "This is an example of one of the obelisks photographed by SG-2. As you can see, several of the lines are repeated in various patterns."

"What's it say, Daniel?" Jack was entirely focused on Daniel now.

"The preliminary translation is in the packet, Jack." Daniel flinched just a tiny bit when he said Jack's name. "Mostly, though, it's a guess, based upon what I know of Sanskrit."

Jack smiled. "Humor me."

Daniel hesitated, then opened the packet. He flipped through the pages, blinked several times at the text, then read from the last page: "'We who are the chosen have made this place our own.' This could refer to any one of a number of things, depending upon how old the obelisk is."

Carter picked up the thread and went on. "Because of the unique nature of what SG-2 encountered, they have recommended a return to this world. I agree. I think a preliminary study of the writing would give us some ground to go on."

"General, this is certainly a civilization unlike any other we've seen," Daniel added. He had closed the briefing packet and turned it face-down on the table. Jack watched Daniel's eyes; they moved around the room, skipping objects and signs, until they locked onto that same distant, vacant point at the back of the room.

"Very well then," Hammond said. Unlike Jack, his full attention was on the ramifications of the mission. "I'll give a tentative go to the mission for one week from today, provided Dr. Fraiser has cleared both the colonel and Dr. Jackson for full duty at that point."

"Thank you, sir," Daniel said. He clicked off the internal projector and the screen went dark.

"Dismissed," Hammond said. They all rose from the table as he left the room; Teal'c and Carter followed suit. Daniel began to gather up folders.

Jack spread his fingers and rested his fingertips on the table surface. "So, Daniel. Fraiser tells me you're not required to report in every day from now on."

"She seems to think this is going to run its course. It's not dangerous." Daniel barely glanced up at the question. He continued gathering the folders, placing them face-down in a neat pile.

"Uh-huh. And she's not concerned that it hasn't gone away yet?"

"She doesn't seem to be." Daniel's voice was neutral.

Jack waited a beat, to see if Daniel would volunteer any more information. Finally, he asked, "Did you tell her it was worse?"

Daniel froze. "Is it that obvious?"

"The day Daniel Jackson won't read a line of text from a translation is the day the world tilts off its axis."

A soft snort of acknowledgment, and Daniel met his eyes. "Oh, that's funny, Jack. Very poetic."

"I've been saving it up for the right occasion." Jack smiled to soften the sarcasm. "But enough about me." He had no difficulty making concern sound like a command. He sat back down at the table; after a moment, Daniel sat down as well.

"It's more intense every day. And, yes, I did tell Janet. It's just...I, uh, now I'm starting to have strong reactions to other sorts of words." Jack prodded him with raised eyebrows, so Daniel went on, "It was just names, at first, but now the colors are intensifying when I work on other languages. Particularly Goa'uld. I just...I can't concentrate, and I, um..."

"You avoid reading."

"Yes." Daniel let out a relieved sigh. "I can't do my job this way. The harder I try to overcome it, the more difficult it becomes."

"So we lighten your duties. It's only temporary, right?"

"That's just it, I don't want my duties lightened. I want to learn to ignore it." Daniel was tracing invisible patterns on the tabletop with his index finger. They were probably the only colorless symbols left in his world. "If this doesn't ease off, I'll have to get used to it, won't I?"

"Maybe you can't outthink this, Daniel. Maybe you sort of have to...go with the flow." Jack shrugged. "Maybe it's not something you'll be able to ignore."

"I'd better learn. Or I won't be able to do my job, and I'll be useless to the SGC."

Jack frowned. "Easy, there. You're jumping the gun."

"No, I don't think so." Daniel eased back in his chair, still tense, but not willing to argue about it. They sat in silence for a moment.

"C'mon." Jack rose from the chair. "Let's go see Fraiser and talk this through. Maybe there's something she can suggest to-"

"I've asked her," Daniel interrupted.

"Humor me, okay?" Jack held out a hand. "Come on." After a moment, Daniel nodded and got up from the chair. The two of them set out down the corridor together. "So, just out of curiosity, what color is my name?" Jack asked.

"Purple."

"Purple?" Jack echoed. "Not a nice, steely, gun-metal gray?"

"Uh, no. Purple."

"Huh."


*****

Tick. Tickticktick. Ticktick.

Daniel grunted in frustration and looked up from the page of text he'd been translating. Or not translating, since he'd only managed to figure out one word in the past seven hours. The harder he tried, the more the words seemed to slip away from him. And now, the Percelian clock from PY4-331 was filling up the air with its irregular ticking.

He bent his head and went back to reading over his work. If things were normal, he would have finished the report, dropped it off for Hammond and headed home hours ago. Every now and then he had a flash of fear that this was how it was, now, and how it would be for a long time to come. Maybe always. No more quick work; no more last-minute translations. No more usefulness.

The page was filled with streaming color. He flipped the page, then flipped it back, unable to find continuity in the words. Like pieces of a puzzle scattering, the meaning was slipping away from him. He picked up a pencil and made a few brief notes on the page; when he looked at his scrawled handwriting, it seemed alien to him, indecipherable.

The pencil snapped between his fingers. Daniel clenched his fists and pressed them to his temples. When he closed his eyes, the urge to keep reading was so strong that his jaw clenched in protest. His head ached. If he could only find a way to relax, to not fight against the tides of information...but it was all wrong information, a deluge of textual gibberish translated into colors.

A shout was welling up inside him, a protest against the babbling restless colors in his head, the inarticulate voice of his desire to conquer his own mind.
 
Tickticktick. Ti....ck.

He slammed his hands down on the counter and shoved back. The sound was coming from the shelves behind him. He couldn't remember where the damned clock was. Or even what it looked like. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and stared at the shelves with mounting frustration. If he opened the inventory, it would tell him nothing. His precise, careful accounting of objects would be gone. In its place he would find a useless prism, filtering out all knowledge and understanding and leaving behind only shards of color.

One sweep of his arm, and the contents of the shelf hit the ground in a cascade of debris. He picked up some books and flung them across the office; one bounced off the doorframe and into the corridor. At the very back of the shelf, the clock sat innocently, mocking his anger.

It shattered into a million satisfying pieces when he hurled it at the wall.

Daniel gripped the edge of the shelf with one hand and fought to bring himself under control. The metal bit into his fingers; the welcome pain dulled his anger.

"Dr. Jackson?" One of the SFs peered into his office from a safe distance. "Everything all right?"

The absurdity of the simple question made Daniel want to laugh. "Everything's fine."

The airman came closer and gathered up the trail of books. "You're sure?" he asked, offering the pile to Daniel.

"Yes," Daniel said, and took the books from the SF. He threw them down on the counter. Not even a glimmer of curiosity showed in the SF's face. This one had been on Level 18 for a while and had seen worse things than an outburst of anger. "Thank you," Daniel added, as he edged past the airman, moving as fast as he could without actually running.

Daniel walked around various levels of the SGC for more than an hour before he stopped in front of Teal'c's quarters. For once, both Sam and Jack had gone home. They were probably asleep like the rest of Colorado Springs. He'd wanted someone to talk to, but it was just as well he hadn't found them, because he didn't have a clue how to express what he was feeling.

He held the back of his neck with one hand and looked over the top of his glasses at Teal'c's door; the numbers - like all numbers - glowed with a sort of neutral white halo. He should go. It was almost 2AM. Teal'c was probably mediating. Fraiser was going to kill him for staying so late, and on top of that, he hadn't gotten any work done.  

The moment he turned to go, the door opened behind him. "Daniel Jackson." Daniel turned around and confronted Teal'c's curious stare. "Should you not be resting?"

"If I could have found an airman to drive me home, I might be." Daniel smiled. "How did you know I was out here?"

"At times during kel-no-reem, the senses become heightened and perceptions are clearer," Teal'c said, as if that explained everything.

"If this is a bad time, I can come back."

"It is not a bad time." Teal'c stood in the doorway and waited for Daniel to say something; Daniel tried to think of what to say.

Finally, he said, "I'm not sure what I'm after, exactly, but...I thought you might be able to show me some techniques to help me focus."

Teal'c stepped aside so Daniel could enter the room.  

Inside, half the usual contingent of candles had guttered down to small piles of wax. "You were almost at the end of kel-no-reem?"

"Yes." Teal'c sat down on the floor, where he always looked entirely relaxed and comfortable. "Do not be concerned that you have disturbed me. You have not."

Daniel sat down facing Teal'c and fidgeted around until he felt his body align. This wasn't the first time he'd done this, meditating with Teal'c; ever since they'd returned from Kheb, it had become an ever more frequent occurrence.

"How may I be of assistance?"

"That's just it. I'm not sure." Daniel scratched his left eyebrow. "I'm sort of...okay, I'm completely unable to concentrate. Fraiser can't help, and it's becoming impossible to ignore this thing."

"Please describe what you are seeing."

"Colors. Everywhere. In words, with words..." Daniel stopped, helpless to find ways to explain. "They're becoming more vivid, and now they are beginning to manifest when I hear words in other languages. At first it was just names, but now..."

"Now it is every word," Teal'c finished.

"Yes. And particularly words in other languages. When I look at Goa'uld texts, my brain feels like it's exploding out of my skull."

"I see why you are seeking techniques of mediation," Teal'c said. "I am afraid I do not have much to offer, other than an environment where you may meditate in peace. However, there is a 'trick' you might try."

"A trick?" Daniel raised his eyebrows.

"It is an exercise Bra'tac taught me many years ago, when I first learned how to deepen the experience of kel-no-reem. You must close your eyes and begin to prepare your mind."

Daniel's eyes had already drifted closed. He was soothed by the silence, especially after the bright white explosion that had accompanied Bra'tac's name. He tried to tune in his other senses - to smell the clean waxy smoky essence of unscented candles, hear Teal'c's soft breathing, to notice his own heart beating slow and steady in his chest.

"Now you must reach inside yourself. You must repeat this phrase, unending, until your mind has settled into the act of repetition. Only then will your thoughts be free and your mind clear."

"This is like chanting a mantra," Daniel said. He stretched his fingers out on his thighs. "What's the phrase?"

Teal'c began to speak softly, a long string of Goa'uld syllables. Automatically Daniel translated: I do not hope for anything, I do not fear for anything; I am free.

Daniel winced on the first syllable. Sparks crackled behind his closed eyes. By the last word of the phrase, his brain seemed filled with fire, jagged streaks of lightning crossing the surface of his mind.

Teal'c stopped abruptly. Daniel opened his eyes and exhaled a shaky breath. Teal'c's eyebrow arched up; he looked steadily at Daniel. "Daniel Jackson. If the performance of this exercise causes you pain it would seem unwise to continue it."

"It's not pain, Teal'c." Daniel sighed and pulled off his glasses. He could still see the afterimage of the words in his head, like he'd been staring too long into the sun. "It's like an itch I can't scratch and can't ignore, or like a constant irritation. I have to learn to ignore it. That's what this is all about."

"Perhaps it would be best to recite the meditation in English."

"No."

Teal'c inclined his head in that way he had of telegraphing exactly how much he disagreed, but he closed his eyes again and began to speak. Daniel began chanting with Teal'c. The phrase was simple and repetitive, and the explosions of color were beginning to take on a uniform pattern...

His teeth clicked together and his head whipped back, and he looked up, startled, into Teal'c's face.

"You stopped speaking and you appeared to be lost in thought." Teal'c dropped to one knee beside him, one hand still resting on Daniel's shoulder. Daniel realized suddenly that Teal'c had been shaking him; the ache in his neck was testament to it. "You did not respond to your name."

"I..." An incipient headache was growing now, a combination of fatigue and frustration. He said, "You can let go, Teal'c. I'm fine."

Teal'c released him and stood, assessing Daniel's look of studied calm. Finally, he said, "I believe you should attempt meditation in silence."

"Don't know why I didn't think of that," Daniel said softly, though his gentle sarcasm fell on an unappreciative audience. He pushed himself up from the floor. "Because obviously, this isn't working."

Teal'c frowned. "It would seem wise for you to attempt all possible solutions."

"Probably. But not tonight." Daniel sighed. "I appreciate your help, anyway."

"I am afraid I have not been much help to you," Teal'c said. "And I have no other suggestions to offer."

"That's okay." Daniel opened the door. "You tried."

Daniel closed the door behind him and leaned against it. He was going to have to learn to fake it, then, if he couldn't ignore it. Either way, he had work to do; it was time he got it done.


*****


Three long, hot, strange days of hanging out on a tropical world listening to clicks and whistles, and Jack was beginning to crave a shower and a night of dream-free sleep. He squatted at the edge of the dark blue lake and stared at the bubbles and ripples crossing its surface.  Teal'c was hunkered down beside him, scowling at the murky depths.

Behind them, Carter and Daniel were camped out in the marshy sand, both staring at a computer screen, absorbed in whatever it was they were doing to try and communicate with the octopus-people. Jack sighed and took a quick look at the chronometer. Another four hours and they'd be headed back. Finally.

A tentacle broke the surface five feet from Jack's face. He jumped back with a grunt, staring as it wound up into the air, twisting slowly like a snake. He rested one hand on top of the P-90 and said, "Carter?"

"Sir?"

"It's doing its water ballet thing again."  

"Yes, sir, I see that."  

Teal'c rose slowly and brought his staff weapon to a horizontal position.  "It has made this motion of its..."

"Tentacles," Jack supplied.

"...tentacles eleven times today."

"Oh, it's definitely trying to tell us something." Jack backed up a few more paces, eyeing the water, then turned around. Carter was typing something in response to the sounds the underwater microphones were relaying. Daniel was staring out at the lake. Jack walked around behind Carter and looked at the screen. "Any progress?"

"Not really, sir." She pointed to the rows of symbols on the right side of screen, and the scrolling symbols on the left side. It looked like calligraphy to Jack. "The computer has been running a language match program since we started this morning, looking for patterns in the sounds the creatures are making. We had hoped to be able to give it some help by translating more of the dead written language, or intuiting some of the basic bits of what they're trying to say, but that hasn't been going well." Her eyes flicked over to Daniel, then back to the screen.

"Really?" Jack's eyes narrowed as he looked at Carter; she steadfastly refused to look back. He turned his head Daniel's direction. "Daniel?" Daniel was very still; the breeze ruffled his hair, but his calm expression never wavered as he looked out at the water. "Daniel," Jack said, more sharply.

Three blinks, and Daniel turned slightly. "Did you say something?"

"Several somethings, actually. What's the status of the translation of the writing on the obelisks?"

Daniel frowned and looked down at his hands. "I haven't been able to make much headway with it."

"Take another crack at it. We're running out of time. In a few hours, we're out of here. I'd like to be able to say there's something worth coming back for, other than the fascinating marine life."

With a nod, Daniel picked up his notes, a huge book, and a pencil and moved off in the direction of the road, where the closest obelisk was about a hundred yards away. Jack kicked at the pile of books that remained untouched on top of Daniel's daypack. "Teal'c, keep an eye on Sigmund while we're gone."

Jack caught up with Daniel without much trouble, mostly because Daniel wasn't moving all that fast. "Hey," Jack called, and jogged a few steps, until he was beside Daniel. "You didn't bring the rest of your library."  

"They won't help."

"Really?" Jack slowed down to match Daniel's pace. "With four hours to go, shouldn't you be reassuring me you'll get it?"

"No." Daniel pulled up short. "In fact, we might as well just call it a day, unless Sam thinks there's going to be a breakthrough with the program she's running."

The battered obelisk gleamed in the sun just ahead. Jack pointed the barrel of the P-90 at it. "Not even one more look?"

Daniel flinched. "No."

"O-kay." Jack pulled his sunglasses off. "Talk to me."

"This language is tough. It...it kicked my ass."

"I don't think so." Jack squinted at Daniel; the afternoon sun was behind him. "You haven't met the language that can kick your ass. Now, either you tell me what's really going on, or when we get back, I'm putting you on stand down."

Daniel looked up, then, and what Jack saw in Daniel's eyes shocked him: simple relief. Jack's alarm rose a few notches.  He cleared his throat and said, "Might it be that yet again, you weren't entirely truthful with Fraiser when she asked you if this colors thing was getting better?"

"I told her I could deal with it."

"So you lied." Jack had learned to split hairs with the best of them over his years in the military; this was no different, aside from the surprising fact that it was Daniel splitting the hairs. "And you jeopardized the goals of this mission because of it."

"No. Not intentionally." With a vehement head shake, Daniel said, "I thought I had it handled."

"I repeat: talk to me."

Daniel's lips parted, as though he were about to speak, but instead he stopped and pressed his lips together. Jack tilted his head to see Daniel's face, but Daniel turned away from him and looked down at the ground. Waves of reluctance and hesitation were coming off of him; Jack could feel his own body tensing in response.

"I can't see the words anymore," Daniel said.

"What?" Jack leaned forward. "What do you mean?"

Haltingly, Daniel said, "When I look at the words, I see their...their colors, I guess...the colors distract me from reading the words themselves." Daniel took a deep breath and finished with a rush of words. "When I hear names, I see colors. When I speak words of almost any language out loud, the colors overwhelm me. They obscure the language."

"How is this different from the way it was two weeks ago?"

Misery crept into Daniel's voice. "It's like someone is painting across my eyeballs every time I read or hear words spoken."  

Jack shuddered at the graphic description. "So you can't ignore it anymore?"

"I..." Another hesitation, and Daniel's shoulders tensed. "No."

"Which is why you've been zoning out for the past three days."  

Daniel nodded.

An image flew through Jack's mind: Daniel, crouching in pain at the sounds of shouting and gunfire on a mission gone bad, unable to hear or follow Jack's commands. "This puts a different spin on things. We need to get you home and find out what the hell is going on with you."

"I'm sorry, Jack." So many things contained in such a simple phrase.

"You never know," Jack said. "Maybe this language would have kicked your ass anyway." He smiled at the indignant confidence he saw all over Daniel's body language. "Or not."

"If I could just concentrate..." Daniel murmured.

With a sidelong glance, Jack said, "Listen, Daniel. I have to be able to trust your assessment of your condition. No bullshit. Tell it like it is. Understand?"

"I thought I was."

"Well, you weren't."

Daniel was silent for a moment. Then, "Maybe not."

"You do what you do, and if you can't do what you do, I'll do what I do."

"Even if I could concentrate, that wouldn't make any sense."

"Only I understand me?"

"Something like that."


*****


"How many times are we going to go over this?" Jack let out an exasperated sigh and kicked back on the infirmary bed.

Daniel leaned back on his own exam bed and closed his eyes. At least with his eyes shut, he'd only have the light display to look at. He'd been working so hard to stay focused for so long, all of his energy was channeled into that single objective, and he was exhausted.

"Sir, the last time Daniel was here he was less than forthcoming." Janet was irritated. Daniel couldn't tell if it was because he'd lied to her, or because Jack wanted her to fix the unfixable. "I can't treat a patient who isn't honest with me."

"So you can treat this?" Jack was starting to sound just as irritated.

Daniel let his mind drift. In the background, his motives were being discussed-or more precisely, argued over. Had he lied to get cleared for duty, or because he thought he could handle it? If they'd asked him directly, he would have had to open his eyes and say he really wasn't sure at all, anymore.

Control. Focus. It was hard not to give into sensation, to enjoy the effect of the very thing that was destroying him. To speak simply to see colors born, to read without comprehension, simply for the pleasure of the array of hues and shades he could discover in the texts. There were degrees of importance - duty, knowledge, holding up his end of tthe bargain he'd made when Jack put him on the team. He'd let Jack down, and he knew it, and it pissed him off that Jack had already put it behind him, because Daniel couldn't let it go.

A hand, on his arm; fingers rubbing up and down. Must be Sam. Her touch was comforting. He opened his eyes and sat up. She didn't move her hand. "I thought you might be asleep," she said.

"Who could sleep while they're arguing?" he asked, nodding at Jack and Janet.

"I heard that," Jack said. Then, with barely a pause, he continued: "Just give me some kind of bottom line, here. Something to go on."

"Sir, I can't. His tests are mostly normal; there's been no appreciable deterioration of his higher brain functions since he was first examined, and the language centers don't seem to be compromised. I don't know the answer."

"Maybe it's time to try something different," Sam said. "We've exhausted all the organic possibilities. Maybe something else happened to Daniel down there. Sir, I'd like permission to-"

"No." Jack hopped off the bed. "Look, we don't even know if they've managed to get the cave shored up."

"I was in contact with Major Redburn before I came to the infirmary, sir. They've finished clearing the debris and the caverns are stable. Teal'c and I could go and make a quick survey of the caves using scanning equipment."

"What is it you think you're going to find down there?"

"I'm not sure, but what harm could it do to look?"

"That's what started all this in the first place." Jack scratched the side of his neck. "Assuming the general signs off on this - you are not to go down into that hole, Carter. Am I clear?"

"Yes, sir."

Jack tapped Daniel on the knee. "Be here when I get back." He jerked his head in the direction of the door, an indication that Sam should follow him, and the two of them headed out.

They were barely out the door when Janet had her say. "Daniel, I don't appreciate the way you concealed your condition. These post-mission exams depend upon honesty. You know that."

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "It was done with the best of intentions." He closed his eyes again. The starbursts of color could easily mesmerize him. He wrestled back the urge to stop hearing, to only see, to capture the feeling of color and cling to it, forsaking the meaning of words altogether. "Will I be disobeying medical orders if I go to my office?"

"The colonel will be looking for you here."

"Tell him where I've gone."

It took him ten minutes to make his way to his lab. In the elevator, he became distracted by the conversation behind him and forgot to exit on Level 18. When he finally wobbled out into the corridor, he felt almost shell-shocked, dazed by the sheer power of language when reduced to elements having nothing to do with semantics.

Inside his office, he closed both doors for the first time in all the years he'd been with the program and lay down on the floor. In the silence afforded him by thick concrete bulkheads, he let his mind wander away again, savoring the absence of stimulus. A white space, signifying nothing, no reactive firing of neurons, no displays of color...only a restful, neutral darkness.

He might have slept, because he was slow to realize that someone was shaking him awake. Jack was bending over him, face creased with worry, but he didn't speak. Instead, he gestured, and Daniel immediately knew Jack was helping, Jack understood and was giving his silence. A rush of gratitude made him squeeze Jack's shoulder.

Home, Jack mouthed, and Daniel nodded. No one had to tell him he was on stand-down. He couldn't even bear to hear the sound of his own name.


*****

Jack sprawled on the too-short couch in Daniel's darkened living room, arms crossed over his chest. The apartment was completely silent. If he were at home, he would have turned on the TV and found some sports to watch. Or he might be on the deck, in the frosty night air, watching stars. Instead he was in the dark, commiserating with Daniel, nearby but at a distance.

There was no reason for him to stay but he'd stayed anyway.  Something about the way Daniel's teeth gritted when he tried to wave Jack off at the door. Or maybe it was the way he'd cringed when Jack touched his shoulder and said his name.

So there he was, abandoned in the living room, with one foot on the floor and the arm of the couch poking him in the neck. Every so often, Daniel would sigh. Jack could hear it, even from the living room. Daniel would turn over, and sigh, and make small sounds of frustration. Jack dozed in between, but the hushed sighs and creaking bedsprings caused him to crack one eye open every half hour or so.

In the wee hours, Daniel emerged from the bedroom, moved out into the kitchen and began making tea. Jack listened to that, too; he opened his mouth to call out, but remembered in time to choke off the sound. Instead, he pried himself off the couch, stretched his stiff spine, and followed Daniel into the small, dark kitchen.

His hand on Daniel's arm made Daniel jump; a spoon clattered to the floor, and they both grimaced. Jack patted Daniel's arm in apology and picked up the spoon, then turned on the coffeemaker.

In ten minutes, they were sitting at the table, sipping coffee and tea, with only the city light from the tall patio windows for company. This was when Jack would expect to see Daniel nose-down in a book. It was odd to see Daniel sitting still, doing nothing. Not reading, not speaking. The silence grated on Jack's nerves. He wondered if Daniel was thinking, or if that was off-limits, too.

Almost as if Daniel could read his mind, Daniel raised his head and said softly, "You don't have to stay quiet because of me."

"Oh, you know me. I live for conversation." Jack kept his voice low.

Daniel chuckled in response. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"You didn't."

Daniel's cup stopped its journey halfway to his lips. He glanced at Jack over the brim, as though he felt he should ask the question, but he drank half the mug instead. The question remained unasked.

"What's keeping you awake?" Jack said, since he had no problem asking instead.

Daniel tapped his head. "Won't turn off."

Jack raised his eyebrows. "Your brain?"

"The colors. If I think of words, the colors are there."

"So you'd have to stop thinking."

"I just...I have to...." A break in his speech, and then: "...concentrate harder." Daniel was rearranging the contents of the table into patterns: magazines at the top corner, placemats in a stack to the left, spoon at right angles to the cup.

"Has it occurred to you that maybe you should stop thinking and just...go with it?" Jack hesitated; really, he didn't know what he meant, or how to articulate it. "You're trying not to feel it. Why not just give in to it?"

"Because if I do, I lose all focus. I can't think. I...drift away."

"Is that a bad thing?"

"What?" Daniel looked surprised by the question. "I can't, it's...if I could..." He swallowed and shook his head. "It's a kind of euphoria. So distracting. You don't understand."

"Why not get distracted here, instead of at the mountain?"

"I don't think I can do that." Daniel turned his spoon around and around on the stack of placemats. It caught the light as it spun silently under Daniel's touch.  

"Any particular reason?" Jack said, watching him. Daniel didn't answer.  Jack spread his hands out on the table and looked at his fingers. "Daniel." The spoon stopped spinning. Daniel's stare was fixed on Jack's hands; his eyes narrowed. More softly, Jack said: "Daniel."

Daniel frowned. He shifted in his chair, chafing under the weight of unspoken words, and then leaned forward suddenly. He stretched out one hand across the table, and for a moment, Jack thought their fingers would touch. But Daniel pulled away and closed his hand into a fist.

Daniel pushed back from the table and stood up. He picked up the spoon and set it in the cup, and took his cup to the kitchen. Water ran, loud in the quiet apartment, and Jack heard Daniel switch off the coffee pot. He came back to the doorway and spoke from behind Jack, firm and quiet: "Go home, Jack."

Jack curved his hands until only his wrists and fingertips rested on the table. "You should sit down."

"I should go back to bed. So should you."

Jack leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms. After a moment, Daniel sat down.

Silence stretched thick between them. Jack considered leaving, as requested; he thought it might be the smart thing to do, but there were ideas blooming in the back of his brain. Some of them might have been worth pursuing, if they had more time, or if Daniel wasn't so on edge.

Daniel folded his hands in front of him on the table and stared at them. A muscle twitched in his jaw, drawn tight with the force of his involuntary silence. Jack thought about the chaos inside Daniel's brain, the blurred, marred lines of language, and remembered what it was like to feel his own mind turning inside out, becoming foreign to him. He could sense Daniel's fear wavering beneath the surface of his self-control. Jack wanted to reach inside him, to break down the wall.

He took one of Daniel's hands, earning a startled, wary look from Daniel in the process. His fingers curled around the back of Daniel's hand and he ran his thumb across Daniel's palm, slowly, in small circles. "Daniel," he said. The hand in his grasp twitched. "Daniel, talk."

"This is not a good idea," Daniel said. He closed his eyes.

"What have you got to lose?"

The corner of Daniel's mouth twisted down. Jack's fingers stilled and he waited for Daniel; his touch rested over the steady pulse at Daniel's wrist.

And then, Daniel started to speak. In a low voice, phrases that sounded only vaguely familiar to Jack. It took him a minute to recognize the Abydonian dialect, and the names scattered throughout-Sha're,  Skaara, Daniel's own name, and Jack's. The way Daniel said Jack's name, so softly, made Jack wish he could understand what Daniel was saying. It had only been only six months since Sha're's death. Not so long ago, really.

Jack moved again, finally, and returned to stroking Daniel's wrist, his palm. Daniel's pulse beat faster, and after a moment, his words trailed off. His hand was warm and limp in Jack's, connected through his touch but still distant, and the lines of exhaustion in Daniel's face were relaxed. A flash of fear rippled through Jack as he realized just how quickly Daniel had retreated. It wouldn't take much for him to go disappear into the sensations, to go so deep that Jack couldn't reach him.  

"Daniel?" Jack squeezed his hand.

Daniel roused himself and took a deep breath. "See?"

"Okay, then I'll talk for a while." Jack nodded to himself. "You listen. Just...listen. Don't think."

Daniel smiled. "This will be interesting."

"You think I've never told a bedtime story before?"

"Not to someone over the age of 10 who's more acquainted with the fables and myths of the world than you are."

 "Are you trying to ruin it?"

"Sorry." A glimpse of that tired smile. "Go ahead."  

Jack cleared his throat. "Once upon a time, there was a cranky colonel who led a team called SG-1. And on this team, there was a big, scary Jaffa, and a smart astrophysicist, and an annoying archaeologist."

Daniel raised his head and peered at Jack. "Sam's more annoying than I am."

"I'm telling a story, here."

"Right." Daniel settled back in the chair, but he was smiling.

"This archaeologist...it was pretty easy to tell what he was thinking by the way he'd say certain things. He'd say, 'Jack!' and usually it'd mean, 'Pay attention, sparky.'" Jack turned Daniel's hand over and traced the lifeline across his palm. "Sometimes, it meant that things were on track, things were going okay."

"I'm glad you picked up on that," Daniel said.

Jack looked at Daniel's fingers, at the way they curled at his touch. "But there's a flip side. This colonel...he wasn't much into talking. So sometimes, he'd say 'Daniel', and he'd be saying, 'I'm way smarter than you are, even though it's not clearly apparent at this moment in time.'"

Daniel snorted with laughter.  

"Or he might say, 'Daniel!', and it might mean that he was fed up. Or maybe that he was pissed off, or irritated, or just tired. It might even mean he liked the annoying archaeologist. A little. Under the right circumstances." Daniel's pulse beat faster beneath Jack's fingertips. "Or, he might say, 'Daniel', and..." Daniel's eyes snapped open in response to the tone of Jack's voice. "What color is your name?" Jack asked softly.

"Yellow," Daniel said, in a whisper.

Jack tried to read the look in his eyes, but it was impossible; too dark, too deep. Jack folded his other hand around Daniel's, enclosing it in a gentle grasp, holding it secure. They stayed that way, looking at each other, for a long time.

Finally, Jack rose from the chair. "Come on." He tugged at Daniel, whose hand was still warm in his own. Daniel followed him to the bedroom. Jack sprawled out on the bedspread, then tucked a pillow under his head and turned on his side to look at Daniel, who stood watching him. Jack raised his eyebrows, then closed his eyes and said, "Try to be a little more quiet, would you? I need my beauty sleep."

After a moment, the bed shifted as Daniel climbed in. Jack could feel each wiggle, each small shift of discomfort, but he was too tired to worry about it. Eyes still closed, he reached out, feeling for Daniel's shoulder. He found solid muscle-an arm-and squeezed it.

Beneath his hand, Daniel's tension bled away.


*****

Daniel woke with a start and sat straight up in bed. Immediately, he turned his head and looked for Jack; he touched the pillow, seeking warmth, a trace of Jack's vanished presence. For a moment he thought it might have been a dream, but he could hear a low murmuring voice in the other room.

A dull ache began to spread behind his eyes, muffled, but occasionally sharp, like a pin jabbed into his brain. Well, this is new. The headache intensified when he tried to listen harder, to pick out what Jack was saying, and who he might he talking to. Probably the general. Or Janet. Daniel covered his eyes with one hand and waited for the murmuring to stop.   

A short while later he heard the rattling of paper. With a sigh, he swung his legs out of bed and headed toward the scent of morning coffee.   

He found Jack at the table, wearing the same chinos and black t-shirt he'd been wearing the night before, but with wet, spiky hair. He was reading the paper intently. He smiled at Jack, who smiled back and got up to pour him coffee. Just at that moment, Daniel realized he was a mess - wrinkled t-shirt, old sweats, hair sticking up in all directions. No need of a mirror to tell him; he'd seen it before, every morning. Self-consciously, he ran a hand through his hair, which earned him a grin from Jack. Jack pointed to the bedroom, and Daniel read his mind: Shower. He nodded and took his coffee with him.

The hot water was soothing, in its own way, but not nearly as much as Jack's simple presence had been the night before. The irony of it was startling. He could remember the feeling of being in Jack's shoes - of being the one to stay with Jack, when Jack could no longer communicate with them. But even then, they'd had a common language, or at least fragments of it. Now that was stripped away, too; it was all available, but unusable.

He thought of his hand in Jack's, the night before; Jack's hand on his arm, and the soothing comfort of his unspoken support. For the first time, he hadn't needed words, hadn't even wanted them. Hadn't missed them.   

By the time he'd toweled off and changed into a presentable shirt and slacks, he was hungry. The smell of eggs cooking made his mouth water. Jack had set out a plate of eggs and toast. Daniel raised his eyebrows at Jack, who shrugged with an air of faint embarrassment and tucked into his own eggs. Hiding a smile, Daniel sat down at the table and devoured the breakfast without a word.  

Breakfast eaten, dishes cleared, and almost 0800. Daniel glanced at the clock, then at Jack, who picked up his car keys and tilted his head at Daniel, then at the door, asking a clear question.

Daniel considered his answer-he felt better than he had the day before, and he was rested-and decided it was worth going in to the mountain. Besides, if he didn't go to Janet, she'd come to him. He nodded. "Let's go," he said. The words shifted in his mind, took on the colors he'd become accustomed to, and then-oh. He reached out tentatively for Jack, then dropped his hand.

"What?" Jack took a step closer.

"I'm not sure." Another wave of strange, dissonant colors rippled through his mind like exotic music, sinuous and deep. His eyes were watering. His face drew up in a tight scrunch against the receding chaos of color and...sound? Not sound, but something like it; a noiseless music, cresting on the cusp of language. Jack gripped his arm, forcing his attention. He looked up and said, "Jack, I think I-" He gasped, hitching in a breath on the back of a choked-off scream and reached up, desperately, pressing a hand over Jack's mouth. No words. Words were killing him. He closed his eyes. Jack's arm looped around his waist, an anchor of determination, and then he was being moved, walked in one direction, toward the elevator and the car and back to the mountain, with its sounds and questions and...he stopped, panicked, and looked at Jack.

Jack gave him a curt nod and touched Daniel's face-a soft, reassuring touch, one hand cupping his cheek. Jack's eyes were narrowed, and Daniel could see he was thinking, planning. He glanced down the hall, then back at Daniel, and frowned. He pointed to the elevator, then at Daniel, and squeezed Daniel's arm. Relief flooded Daniel at the simple, precise, military-style signals. Can you make it? He nodded and straightened, and pressed a finger to his lips, begging Jack's continued silence. Jack patted him on the shoulder once and then they were walking again.  

They made it to Jack's truck, but when Jack turned the key the radio popped on, the grating irritation of a commercial. The sensitive ribbon of sensation began winding through Daniel's brain, sliding past conscious thought like a thousand-colored snake. Daniel retched and leaned forward, free-falling, as Jack snapped the radio button off. His warm hand rested on the back of Daniel's neck, holding him together, until Daniel could breathe again. Daniel sat up and shook his head, as though he could free it of the terrifying sensation. Jack slammed the truck in gear and peeled out of the parking space. Daniel leaned his elbow on the armrest and rested his face in his hand. He thought formless apologies in Jack's direction, but could not have spoken them if his life depended on it.

He was barely aware of the truck coming to a stop, so focused was he on the measurements of time inside his own mind. And when Jack pulled open the door and tried to move him, he could only look up, mute, and try to explain with his eyes. The fear on Jack's face barely penetrated the sensation of drowning. Daniel's head lolled forward as Jack lifted him bodily into a fireman's carry; he closed his eyes and drifted away as Jack began to run.


*****


Jack drilled his fingertips against the table, over and over, in time to a sound he couldn't hear-Daniel's heartbeat, slow and steady, several levels above in the infirmary. Where Jack felt he should be. Would be, if the damned briefing was over. He looked up at Hammond impatiently, then at Carter, whose gaze was fixed on his fingers. Probably he was annoying her. Too bad.

"All right, people," Hammond said. "What do we know? Major Carter, let's start with your investigation of the area around the caverns."

"Yes, sir." She gave Jack a worried look; he stopped drumming his fingertips and picked up his pen. "With Teal'c's help, we covered the area within a half mile radius of the cave's entrance. Some of the caverns and tunnels branching off from the caves we discovered are several miles long; the network of caverns goes approximately one mile down."

"Are the tunnels man-made?" Hammond asked.

"We believe the tunnels were created by the Tok'ra. They follow patterns which are unusual in nature." She clicked on the projector and forwarded to a dim picture of a broken wall. "Inside one of the pockets near where Daniel was trapped, we found this." She enhanced the digital photo; a dusty-looking and completely alien piece of equipment filled the screen.

"Inside one of the pockets?" Helpless anger sharpened Jack's question. "Dammit, Carter, I gave you a direct order: do not go down into that cave. What part of that order was unclear?"

"Major Carter and I were in agreement that this was the most efficient course of investigation," Teal'c said.

"You agreed..." Jack sat forward in the chair and looked at Hammond. "I swear, sir, I'm going to get 'colonel' tattooed on my forehead, so there's no confusion."

Hammond gave him a tolerant look. "What's done is done, Colonel. You can take this matter up after the briefing."

"Oh, yes sir," Jack said. He glared at Carter. The laser-stare, cutting her good intentions all to hell. Not that she cared, because she had already lifted her chin with that singular stubbornness of hers.  

"Sir, we considered the danger, but both Teal'c and I felt that time was of the essence. I had a hunch about the caves, and I may have been right. I believe this device may be somehow responsible for Daniel's condition."

"How so?" Hammond asked.

"The device is emitting a low grade energy pulse at regular intervals, almost as though it's sending a signal to confirm it's still active. We compared these readings I took just at the time of the tremor, and they match. The device emitted some sort of massive energy pulse during the quake. It may have been accidental, or caused by the seismic activity."

"What does it do?" Jack asked.

"Well, sir...we're not sure. I've contacted the Tok'ra and asked for their assistance in identifying the object. We'd need to bring the device back to the SGC for study."

"Wait just a minute," Fraiser said. "General, if this device is truly responsible for Daniel's condition, do we really want to bring a potentially hazardous alien device back to Earth?"

Jack nodded. "General, as much as I want Daniel's condition reversed, I don't think we can take the chance. Look at what the damn thing has done to him."

"I do not see that we have a choice, General Hammond." Teal'c nodded to the picture. "We cannot conduct a thorough analysis of the device on the planet. The geological conditions are unstable. Major Carter has determined that personnel may be lost, as may the device itself, if we attempt to study it on site."

"Oh, we have a choice, Teal'c." Hammond looked around the table. "The question is whether or not Doctor Jackson is in imminent danger if we don't proceed with this right away. Doctor?"

"Sir, Daniel is comatose, for all intents and purposes. I placed him under heavy sedation. His EEG is all over the place; I've never seen erratic brain activity like this in anyone other than an epileptic undergoing a seizure. I'm afraid that if I don't keep him sedated, there could be brain damage of some kind. When the colonel brought him in, Daniel was completely aphasic. He couldn't speak, and he didn't seem to understand what I was saying."

"Could someone please tell me how Daniel could go from having normal tests yesterday to whatever this is today?" Jack asked.

"I was hoping you could shed some light on that, Colonel. You were the one who brought him in. Do you have any idea what triggered this?"

Jack thought back on the events of the day and night before. "He didn't get much sleep. He said something about needing to stop thinking. If he thought of words, the colors distracted him." Jack doodled on the pad of paper: letters, the alphabet, precise and squared off to the lines on the paper.

"Whatever has affected Daniel Jackson has become progressively worse. In the beginning, he merely saw colors overlaid onto the written word or accompanying the spoken word."

"You're right," Carter said. "After that, he started to see the colors strongly when he worked with Goa'uld, and then other languages. The colors seem to have taken precedence over the language itself."

Jack said, "He thought if he concentrated harder he might be able to get past it."

"I doubt that ever would have been true, given what's happened." Janet was flipping through Daniel's medical file. "Certainly Daniel had some limited early success ignoring the constant visual stimulation in the early stages, but I believe his cortex simply became overstimulated."

"Basically he had a meltdown, then," Jack said.

"Exactly. Daniel wasn't able to integrate all the information into a useable whole, no matter how hard he tried. The thinking and sensing parts of his brain were at war."

"Is there any way to correct this, Doctor?" Hammond asked.

"Not that I know of, sir. I've ruled out all organic causes, at least to the best of my ability. If Sam's theory is right, his condition may continue to deteriorate, even if I keep him sedated."

Jack nodded. "So, then. I guess we go get the thing and bring it back."

"There's another option, sir." Carter changed the picture. "There's an open field a short distance from the entrance to the cavern. We could set up a temporary campsite there and I could work on the device without bringing it here."

"You will not have access to the majority of your equipment if you are forced to work off-world," Teal'c said. "In addition, the planet is still seismically unstable, as you yourself have pointed out."

"I can take most of what I need," Carter said.

"Lesser of two evils, sir," Jack said to Hammond. He looked steadily at Carter. "You sure you want to do this?"

"It's safer than the alternative, sir." She looked back just as steadily.

"Very well," Hammond said. "Assemble the equipment you'll need. Colonel, you and Teal'c will accompany the major offworld to assist with assembling the campsite and equipment. I'll send SG-5 as well."

"Sir, if there's any change with Daniel--"

"I'll inform you right away." Hammond nodded. "Dismissed."

When Jack reached the infirmary, he hovered in the doorway, watching Daniel from a distance. The idea of a medication-induced coma creeped him out, but it was better than his last image of Daniel - eyes half-open, mouth slack, as though he wanted to speak but had lost all ability to form words. His skin crawled at the thought of it.

"Come in or go out, sir," Fraiser said, from behind him. "You're in the way."

"Sorry," Jack said, and left her standing by Daniel's bedside, pushing him deeper into coma.


*****
 

Jack pulled off his cap and ran a hand through his hair. For five days he and Teal'c had been camped out, making coffee and walking the perimeter of their area, while Carter worked on the alien device. He'd never been bothered much by earthquakes, but the constant tremors had started to set his teeth on edge. Five days, and if Carter was any closer to understanding what the thing was, she hadn't shared. Instead she remained closeted inside the tent with the device, which was about as dusty and old as anything they had ever unearthed.

When Martouf had arrived to assist Carter, Jack had felt a spark of hope for the first time since Daniel's collapse. Even so, Martouf didn't seem confident. Hell, half the linguists at Area 52 and the SGC were poring over pictures of the symbols on the device, and they weren't getting it, either.

Each day, Jack sent Teal'c to check in with Hammond, and each day he thought about going himself so he could see Daniel, see for himself there was no improvement. Each day, he reminded himself his helpless frustration increased times ten at the sight of Daniel unconscious in the infirmary, so he watched Teal'c go, and took the news in stride when Teal'c returned. It was easier that way.  

Jack placed his cap back on his head and ducked inside the tent. Martouf was bent over the device, staring at the markings engraved on the side. "Anything new?" Jack asked.

Martouf straightened and glanced at Carter. "I'm afraid not, Colonel. Despite my efforts to translate this writing, it appears to be in a dialect completely unfamiliar to me. In fact, the words seem jumbled, as though they were written out of order. There are fragments of words I recognize, but they are not in sequence. The language we speak did evolve somewhat over the centuries, so perhaps this is an early relic of our ancestors." He turned to look at the device. "It is quite interesting, in a historical context."

"What about the technology?"

"No progress there either, sir." Carter sat down on a stool next to the worktable and rubbed the back of her neck with one hand. "I think I've discovered the power source, but it's not of Goa'uld design. It may be technology the Tok'ra borrowed from another culture."

"I thought you guys had this super-long memory and could tell us everything about anything," Jack said to Martouf, whose face lighted with a smile.

"Just as the Tok'ra genetic memory differs from that of the Goa'uld because of the point where we diverged from them, so too are there different sects among the Tok'ra. There are many things in our history which have been lost to us."

"I don't want to chance removing any pieces of the device until we have a better understanding of what it does," Carter said.

"Then you might as well come get some coffee," Jack said. He pushed open the tent flap. "Come on."

"Sir, I don't think we can-"

"Carter." His smile was an order.

"Yes, sir." She wiped her hands off and exited the tent.

"You too, Martouf."

"Coffee is not a beverage of choice among the Tok'ra, Colonel. Nevertheless, I appreciate your invitation."

"No coffee?" Jack tilted his head at Martouf. "You just don't know what you're missing."

Carter was gulping down hot coffee by the time Jack joined her at the campfire. Jack watched her for a moment, then said, "In a hurry? Is my company that bad?"

"No, sir." She looked past him, over his shoulder, to the tent. "It's just that I feel like...I'm on the verge of understanding something, and I don't want to be away from it too long."

"How long since you've slept more than a couple of hours?"

"I napped while Martouf worked on the translation."

Right on cue, Martouf appeared behind her and sat down next to her. Jack said, "I thought you didn't do coffee."

"I do not. But this does not preclude me from joining you."

They sat in companionable silence for a while. Carter offered Martouf a sip of her coffee; the horrified look on his face after just one taste caused Jack to choke on his own.

"Martouf, you said you understood fragments of the words, but they seemed out of order," Carter said.

Martouf nodded. "That is correct."

"Maybe they're supposed to be. Maybe that's the point." Her gaze turned thoughtful as she stared off in the direction of the caves. "When you looked at the panels in the cave, did you notice the same order of words?"

"No. What are you thinking, Samantha?"

"Maybe it's a code."

Martouf raised his eyebrows. "You believe the symbols are a kind of encryption?"

"It makes sense." She shook her head. "Except, it doesn't make sense. I ran a program to uncover patterns in the symbols, and no patterns emerged."

"That is very unusual," Martouf agreed.

"If it's a code, why don't we just...decode it?" Jack asked.

"It's not that simple, sir. First we have to find a pattern within the symbols. We need the key." Her face transformed suddenly as a flash of understanding came over it. "But maybe we already have the key, and we didn't realize it."

"The thing in the tent?" Jack guessed.

"No, sir, not exactly. What if it's Daniel? What if that thing did something to him to cause him to...I don't know, to see things differently?"

"That's sort of a stretch, Carter."

"Yes, sir, and it will be difficult to prove. We need Daniel awake for that."

Jack frowned. "Fraiser said his condition would deteriorate if we woke him up. We can't wake him up to test every theory. Proof, Carter."

"Sir, that's a little difficult. I'm not even sure how it works."

"Then you're reaching."

"I don't see that we have a choice, sir."

"I've been hearing that a lot lately." Jack stretched his legs out; his knees both popped, first the left, then the right. "Look, there's a lot of information we don't have here. Or is it just me? We don't know what it does, what the language is, if it's a code, or if Daniel can tell us anything, even if he was able to."

"There is another question as well, Colonel," Martouf said. "We do not know if Dr. Jackson's condition can be reversed. It may be that only Dr. Jackson can provide the answers to the questions about what has happened to him. If this device has somehow altered his perceptions, I believe it would be worthwhile to awaken him."

"It's a lot of guesswork," Jack said.

"Sir, I don't see any other possibilities. Janet ruled out organic causes, and this device is giving off energy which in all probability somehow did this thing to Daniel. It hasn't harmed any of us. Maybe what happened to Daniel was a fluke, something that wasn't meant to happen that way."

Jack looked at Martouf, who said, "I concur."

"Just tell me something," Jack said. "Why would they go to so much trouble to encode whatever's in that cave?"

"I am uncertain," Martouf said. "The information on the panels is very old. It may have been any one of a number of things - most likely, it is information the Tok'ra wished to conceal from the Goa'uld. It may still be of some value to us, if we could manage to decipher it."

"But you don't know," Jack said pointedly.
 
"No."

"So then, it makes sense you would want Daniel to wake up and solve your puzzle for you, regardless of whether or not it will actually help him."

"Please believe me, Colonel. I would not endorse a course of action which would cause additional injury to Dr. Jackson." For a moment, Martouf seemed genuinely surprised, and even disappointed in Jack; it gave Jack a twinge of irritated remorse.

Jack processed all of what had been suggested. The more it rolled around in his head, the more frustrated he became. A code that might not be important and might not even be a code, a device that had no apparent purpose but might be the cause of Daniel's problems, and a friend who might be spending the rest of his life in a coma rather than lose all capacity for speech and thought.  "Bottom line, you don't have any other suggestions," he said to Carter.

"No, sir. Not at this point."

"And if Daniel is able to use whatever's happened to him, then you might decipher the code and figure out how to reverse what was done to him?"

"That's the biggest if in this scenario, sir. But I believe it's Daniel's best chance." Jack turned it over in his mind, weighing each bit of the puzzle against the rest. Carter nodded to the open field behind him. "Teal'c is back."

"Just in time." Jack stood up and slid on his sunglasses. "I'm going to run Carter's theory by Hammond, see what he says. Brief Teal'c while I'm gone." He caught Carter's eye. "If Hammond gives the go-ahead, I'll be back with Daniel. Better be ready."


*****

"Daniel."

Jack, holding his hand, like a silent lifeline. Daniel worked his way through layers of memory. Sleeping in Jack's arms-no, not in his arms. Beside him. The rest had been a dream. He was dreaming.

"Daniel, wake up."

"Be patient, sir. He's been heavily sedated for several days. The drugs are just starting to work their way out of his system. He's going to be groggy for a while." Janet's voice; her words were overlaid with swirling, fluid rainbows.

"How long?"

"It'll be a few hours before he can get on his feet. After that, a few more before he's fully aware."

"We need him sharp for this. No drugs."

"I'm not planning to administer any."

A warm touch to his arm...Jack's fingers, loosely draped over his wrist. "Daniel? Can you hear me?"

Daniel nodded slightly. The effort of forming words--even if only Jack's name--brought a feeling of mild panic with it.  He opened his eyes to the blurry, familiar form sitting beside his bed. Jack's fingers tightened briefly around his wrist and Janet said, "Don't try to talk yet. We don't want to overload you. Just rest."

He twitched a little at the sounds, at the accompanying colors, but he nodded again. He tried to focus in on Jack's face. Jack was looking at him intently, but Daniel wasn't able to make out his expression without glasses. Jack patted his arm. The gesture brought renewed comfort, and Daniel closed his eyes again, lured by sleep and peace.

The hand slid down, over his fingers, and withdrew.

Some time later, he woke again, and opened his eyes to the same blurry form, same blue BDUs, same intense look. This time, he croaked out the name. "Jack?"

"Yep."

"What happened?"

"Meltdown. Too much input."

"Oh." Daniel ignored the irritating colors as much as he could and pushed himself up slightly. "Glasses?" Jack took them from the tray at the end of the bed and handed them to him. "Thanks."

"Carter thinks that device on the planet put an alien whammy on you."

Daniel raised his eyebrows. "As in...?"

"As in, it makes you the key to decode the Goa'uld symbols in the cave."

"Well, that's...interesting." Daniel frowned. He felt like he'd been out of the loop just long enough to have missed some crucial stuff. "How long have I been out?"

"Five days."

"Five?" He stared at Jack. "Unconscious?"

"Sedated." Jack held his gaze steadily. "Fraiser didn't want to wake you up again until we were sure we had an answer."

"She thinks I'm losing it," Daniel said.

"Lost it, actually. When I brought you in, you couldn't talk at all." Jack leaned back in the chair. "How does it feel, now?"

"Same as before. Like fingernails on a chalkboard when I hear words."

"Colors?"

"Yes."  

"Daniel...can you do this?"

"I don't think I have a choice. Do I?" Daniel smiled.

"Not much of one." Jack waited a beat, then said, "You may not have unlimited time to do this, you know."

"So what you're saying is, I'd better hurry before I melt down again."

"Pretty much."

Daniel sat up. His arms and legs felt like rubber. "Help me, would you?" Jack stood up and pulled the curtain. "Clothes?"

"Wait." Jack ducked out from the makeshift cubicle, apparently in search of field clothing for Daniel. Daniel sat quietly, ignoring the random cacophony in his head and trying not to cave into the impulse to crawl away, to hide from the inevitable overload.

Jack pushed through the curtain and dropped a set of green BDUs on the table. "Come on," he said, and Daniel tugged off his hospital gown. Jack handed him the t-shirt first, and then the pants, lending a hand when Daniel hopped off the table. By the time Daniel was dressed, the wobbly feeling had passed. He nodded to Jack. "Let's go, then."

"Daniel..." Jack hesitated. "Listen, we don't have a lot of options. Try to stick it out to the end."

"I get it, Jack." Daniel straightened. Colors were firing in his head, blotches of aggravation against what had been a mercifully clean slate. "We'd better hurry."


*****


Darkness, and then light; a second of disorientation, and Daniel emerged breathless on the other side of the wormhole. Jack was right beside him, steadying him without even a touch. Daniel took a deep breath and set off after Jack. He made his mind a blank, nothing but grass in front of them, and trees in the distance. He missed the clear, sharp patterns of thought he was accustomed to. He couldn't even afford the luxury of mulling over what he was going to see in that cave. The idea of reading those words made him flinch; the image of them struck him like a blow to the face as the sense memory assaulted him.  

Jack's steps slowed and he turned back toward Daniel. Daniel motioned him on and picked up the pace.

Teal'c met them at the entrance to the cave. He gave Daniel a silent nod of support and escorted them inside. The inside of the cave been fitted with an amazing number of braces and scaffolds since Daniel last saw it, and the opening to the subterranean chamber had been widened. It didn't look much safer, though Daniel knew it must have been certified by the engineers. The tremors underfoot swayed Daniel, as though he were surfing waves of earth. Jack turned in a circle and asked Teal'c, "Where's Carter?"

"In the cavern below," Teal'c answered. "We have placed the device back in its original location."

"Ah." Jack nodded and went to the edge of the hole, where a ladder had been anchored to the ground by steel tethers. "Let's not waste time. Daniel, you first."

"Wait, we're all going down there?" Sweat beaded on Daniel's face.

"The cavern is safe," Teal'c began, but Daniel cut him off.

"That's not what I'm worried about. Hasn't anyone thought that maybe what happened to me could happen to the rest of you?"

"Acceptable risk," Jack said, looking steadily at Teal'c, who nodded. Jack's gaze shifted to Daniel. "Teal'c is staying up here, just in case."

"What if I don't think it's acceptable?"

Jack swung his legs over the side. "Not your call," he said, as he looked down into the hole. "Come on, let's go."

With a ladder in place, the descent seemed shorter than Daniel remembered. Swinging from Jack's outstretched hands hadn't been ideal, but even then, he hadn't felt so completely out of focus, as though the world was pitching sideways and taking him with it. He dropped to the ground and looked up at Jack descending. With a grunt, Jack stepped off beside him. Daniel averted his eyes from the Goa'uld markings on the walls and moved deeper into the cave, Jack right beside him.

Sam was crouching beside her equipment. She looked up as he approached, and Daniel was shocked by her pale face, the hollows under her eyes. He hated the idea that he was the cause of her exhaustion. "Sam," he said reproachfully.

She smiled at him and hugged him, pushing his concerns aside. "Daniel. It's good to see you up and around."

He nodded to Martouf, who was standing behind her. "You've got this all figured out now?"

"Not exactly." Sam raked her hair forward and pushed it back again, so it stuck up at an odd angle, out of her eyes. "We're still not sure what the device does, but we have a theory. Did the colonel explain?"

"Sort of," Daniel said; Sam would know better than anyone how Jack 'explained' things. He pointed to the open laptop on the ground with wires leading to the niche in the wall, and the device behind it. "You're hoping this will give you enough information to reverse what happened, right?"

Martouf said, "Dr. Jackson, it is important for you to understand we do not know exactly what will happen when you attempt this. We could be entirely wrong. If that is the case, no useful information may be gained. But it is possible your actions may produce activity in the device, which may be the key to reversing your condition."

"There's been a lot of that key talk," Jack said softly, close by Daniel's ear, which made him smile.  

"Well...let's try it," Daniel said. His stomach tightened, doubling into itself in anticipation of overload.

"Very well." Martouf picked up a datapad and nodded to Sam, who knelt and hit a few keystrokes on the laptop. She nodded to Daniel; he took a deep breath. Jack's hand landed firm on his shoulder.

"Nice and easy, Daniel," Jack said. "Nice and easy."

Daniel lifted his eyes to the writing on the wall. The writing jumped from the crumbling rock, three-dimensional, screaming at him with brilliant, alien colors. "Damn," he gasped, and threw an arm over his eyes.

Jack's shoulder pressed into his, steadying him. "Don't look away, if you can stand it," Sam called, and Daniel nodded; the afterimage of the words was blazing behind his closed eyelids. He opened his eyes and looked again. Colors swam in the open air, pressing upon him like living things, distinct and palpable.

"Do you see any patterns, Dr. Jackson?" Martouf's question registered dimly in the back of Daniel's mind as he stared at the words. Not language anymore, but colors beating at him, demanding his attention. He watched them as they coalesced into strings and ran together.

"Yes," he whispered. So different from what he remembered, the first moment he'd opened his eyes in the darkness and seen...but this was not what he had seen.

"The readings are spiking," Sam said, but her words no longer registered as color. Only the script in front of him, the beautiful hieratic derivatives, mathematically arranged into...Daniel's eyes fluttered closed and he staggered; his head lolled back.

"Daniel!" Jack was there, alarmed; his hand cupped the back of Daniel's neck, even as his body supported Daniel's weight.

"It's a pattern," Daniel whispered. "I see it."

"Martouf?" Sharply, now; Jack made the word a command.

"I am here, Colonel." Daniel reached out for the meaning of what Martouf was saying as he said, "Dr. Jackson, please try to concentrate on the patterns. What do you see?"

Daniel straightened and opened his eyes. Hues of blue and green and gold flooded his perceptions, breaking down into groups and subgroups, a cascade of beautiful, terrible information. "Here," he said, stepping forward. Jack moved with him, close enough for Daniel to feel him there, but not touching him. Daniel stopped a foot away from the wall and lifted his hand. With the other, he ripped his glasses from his face and dropped them to the ground. "Here. This, and this." He indicated two sections of the writing. "These are the same." His hands moved, traveling between shades of blue and cerulean and navy and things he had no descriptions for, drawing lines in the air.

"You getting this?" Jack said low, behind him - to Martouf, Daniel supposed, though he had no thought to spare for any of it but the colors...

"Yes. Dr. Jackson, do these colors correlate to-"

"God," Daniel said, "look at it...look." He opened his hand, fingers spread, and pressed his palm to the wall, touching the color. Like liquid ink, it trailed his fingers. "This, and this." He pressed his other hand to the wall. "See? And this, and this." His hands moved, correlating, cataloging, answering questions he didn't know how to ask. "Here. Here. I'm...oh, god, it's...this is..." He pressed the heels of his hands over his eyes. No way to shut it off now, no hiding from it...

"Sir?" Sam's voice, raised. "The readings from the device are off the chart."

"That's it. Let's get him out of here," Jack said. He keyed the radio.

"No!" Daniel lunged forward, closer to the wall. In Goa'uld, he shouted to Martouf. "All of this. Do you see it?"

"I am recording what you show me," Martouf said urgently.

"Combine them! In just the way I'm showing you."

"What do you mean?"

Daniel growled in frustration and continued on in Goa'uld. "The symbols have to be recombined in this order, in these pairs. The colors are the key to it. Are you getting this?" Daniel turned to Martouf; Martouf's face contorted in horror as he looked at Daniel.

"Dr. Jackson!" he cried, even as Daniel reached for him. Daniel grunted in pain and slapped one hand on the wall.

"Here," he said, panting for air. A high-pitched humming had begun in his head, filling his ears with a steadily rising shimmer of sound. He wiped blood from his face and realized it was streaming from his nose. "And over there."

"The other wall?" Martouf asked.

"Yes. Yes! These, and then those. Do you understand?"

"What's he saying?" Jack asked angrily.

"He is decoding the text," Martouf answered, intent on following Daniel's motions.

"Jack," Daniel murmured. He reached out blindly and found Jack's body, a solid presence. The room seemed alive with an onslaught of words, burrowing into his brain. He couldn't process them; they ran quicksilver through his mind, leaving color and obliterating thought.

Jack gripped Daniel by the shoulders. "Dammit, Daniel...Carter! Find a way to shut that thing off or I'm gonna blow it to bits." Daniel heaved in a deep breath and collapsed to his knees. Jack dropped down beside him. "Don't you give up," he hissed. And then he roared. "Carter!"

Daniel's fingers closed, curling into fists with Jack's shirt clutched between them. "Worth it," he promised, though he wasn't sure how he knew, or why. He only knew that it was truth, wrenched from him at a price he could easily pay. He looked up at the wall; the stream of colors narrowed, pulled down into a tunnel of perception. They grew brighter for a moment, like a lightbulb about to wink out.  

"Sir...the device has stopped emitting energy. It's...it's off."

Daniel collapsed; he sprawled out across Jack's knees, Jack's arms around him. Jack was talking. Not to him - to Teal'c, on the radio. The words were clean, without colors or patterns.

"What the hell just happened?" Jack demanded. "Daniel? You with me?"

"I'm...okay." He touched the blood that was already drying on his chin and lips. "It's over. The colors are gone."

Jack ripped open a package of gauze and handed the pad to Daniel, who wiped off his face. "Your ears, too," Jack said quietly. Daniel touched beneath his ear and saw blood on his fingertips.

"Colonel O'Neill," Martouf said, and at the same, time, the radio came to life. "O'Neill."

"Wait," Jack said to Martouf, and keyed the radio. "Go, Teal'c."

"Will you require assistance bringing Daniel Jackson to the surface?"

Daniel shook his head. "I'm fine."

"Stand by," Jack said, to Teal'c. Daniel shot him a look; Jack raised his eyebrows. "Hey. Until Fraiser says you're fine, it's all hearsay." He turned to Martouf. "What've you got?"

Martouf was staring at the wall with undisguised fascination. "When recombined in the precise order Dr. Jackson indicated, the text is a repeating series of instructions." He moved closer to the wall and began tapping at the datapad. "This will take quite some time to completely translate, but this first series of panels is an explanation of sorts. The device was to have been activated by Tok'ra who possessed the appropriate knowledge. It would enable the Tok'ra operatives to perceive the colors of these symbols and decode the remaining text."

Sam knelt next to Daniel and Jack; Daniel sat up and smiled reassurance at her. "You okay?" she asked.

"Better," he said softly.

Sam squeezed his hand and turned her attention to the wall. "I still don't quite understand how it works, sir, but I think the device taps into some area of the brain and makes temporary changes, altering the host's perception. That explains quite a bit."

"In other words, it wasn't meant for an un-goa'ulded human," Daniel said.

"Precisely," Martouf answered. "Without a symbiote to balance and heal you, the strain of using it was too great for your mind to manage. Undoubtedly, the device was to have been utilized only by those who understood its function."

"So this was all an accident?" The roaring in Daniel's ears was louder than the voices of his friends, louder even than his own voice. He shook his head and opened his mouth wide a few times to relieve the pressure there.

"I think so," Sam said.

"What shut it off?" Daniel asked.

"That's difficult to say. It may have been the way you processed the information, physical proximity...it could have been any one of a number of things," Sam said.

"So what's the point?" Jack said. "Are you telling me this was all to encode some historical texts?"

"I believe it is more than that," Martouf said.

Daniel got up slowly from the ground; Jack and Sam helped haul him to his feet. He swayed for a moment, then looked around. "What happened to my glasses?"

Sam scooped them up from the ground. "Here."

"Thanks," he said, and placed them on his face. His gaze swept over the Goa'uld symbols as he mentally re-ordered them. "Before I forget, I want to..." Daniel broke off, squinting up at the wall. "Something about the hidden source of our knowledge, the fundamental principles of rebellion..."

"Yes," Martouf said. His hand traced the words alongside Daniel's. He checked the datapad, then brushed over a set of panels to Daniel's right. "These."

"Burying our understanding for time to come..." Daniel murmured, and suddenly it became obvious. "It's beneath the floor," he said to Martouf. "Right below us."

"I have not seen a method of entering any subterranean chamber," Martouf answered, staring at the same panel. "There are no ring controls."

Sam went to her laptop and pulled up a diagram. "The survey of the caverns should give us some idea of the depth of all open spaces beneath the surface."

"I know it's there," Daniel said. He squinted at the wall. "This was easier when I could see the colors."

"We could always give it a good shake and turn it back on," Jack suggested. "Carter? Get ready to shake."

"Uh...thanks, but no." Daniel smiled a little and rubbed the back of his neck, soothing his incipient brain ache. "There were two panels the same color, unlike any other panel. Maybe..." He tugged Martouf a few feet to the side. "This one," he said. "Wait--" and he crossed to the other side. He searched a few moments until he located the correct panel. "Touch the top two symbols."

The moment their hands connected with the wall, a tremor began, launching Jack from his casual pose. Teal'c's voice carried from the top of the ladder, without benefit of radio. "O'Neill!"

"It's okay-we're okay," Jack shouted. To Daniel, he muttered, "I hope."

The edges of the back wall separated, splitting in two diagonally and yawning open. Dust and dirt fell around the widening aperture. Finally, after a minute or so, a doorway stood open, beckoning them into darkness.

Sam and Daniel both looked to Jack, who looked to Martouf and asked, "Think it's safe?"

"I do not imagine the Tok'ra who built this place believed an intruder would pass this far. Nevertheless, it is possible they put additional security measures in place."

"I'll take that as a no."

"You're not suggesting we leave without going down there," Daniel said in disbelief.

"Suggest? No. I was about to order, actually."

"Jack. I'd like to think what I went through produced some tangible results--something we can use against the Goa'uld."

"I seem to remember telling you that I had to be able to trust your assessment of your capabilities." Jack licked his thumb and rubbed it across Daniel's jawbone, wiping away a smear of blood. "There's blood all over you, Daniel."

"This is important." Daniel could almost see Jack wavering, but it could still go either way.

Jack closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand, then keyed the radio. "Teal'c?"

"O'Neill."

"We're going down into the passageway beneath the caves. Keep an ear out for trouble."

"Understood."

"Let's go." Jack nodded to Sam. She raised her weapon and led the way with Martouf close behind. They stepped cautiously through the doorway, then left, and disappeared from sight.

"Thank you," Daniel started to say, but Jack waved him off.

"Stick close to me and let's get this over with fast."

Daniel took a few experimental steps and quickly discovered he was veering off to the left. Not staggering, exactly, but close to it. "My balance is off," Daniel said, as he staggered back to the right.

"No kidding." Jack's hand on his elbow pulled him back on track. Jack nudged him into the passageway. "I'll be right behind you."

The dust inside the passageway was choking. For a moment, Daniel was blinded, but he fished out his flashlight and switched it on. He keyed the radio. "Sam?"

"Daniel?"

"Any problems so far?"

"Nothing of note. The passageways are narrowing, so I assume we're nearing the center."

"Just be careful where you step," he warned her.  

"I'm in a bad 80's action movie," Jack murmured, as he trailed behind Daniel.

"How're your reflexes?" Daniel asked, with a smile. "You ready to duck?"

"Very funny. You're the one who's leaning left. Cut out the jokes, would you? Pay attention to where you're going."

The radio crackled. "Daniel, do you read?"

"I read you, Sam."

"We've reached the center chamber."

"Wait there--don't touch anything," Daniel said, and picked up the pace as best as he could. Minutes later, he emerged into the main chamber beside Martouf and Sam. He pulled up short, staring; Jack banged into him and muttered an apology.

"Look at this," Daniel breathed, gesturing to the walls. Text and glyphs, stretching dozens of feet in all directions, and all scrambled, just as the text in the entrance chamber had been. It was an awesome sight; it reminded Daniel of his first glimpse of the cartouche on Abydos.

"This could take a lifetime to translate," Martouf said.

"Do you have any idea what this is?" Jack asked.

"A map," Daniel said. "A network of...locations?" He was guessing, but the guess had an intuitive feel to it.

Beside him, Martouf nodded. "Yes. Locations of other places such as this." He scrawled notes on his datapad. "And more. Lists of names of Tok'ra. Many of the names here are of those we revere as leaders of the movement many of your centuries ago."

"It's a historical record, then?" Daniel asked, still guessing wildly. "A history of the resistance?"

"Precisely," Martouf said. He reached out a tentative hand and touched the wall. "A record of the sacrifices of Tok'ra across the galaxy, in service to eradication of the Goa'uld."

Jack stepped up beside Daniel. "So. No technology?" He looked disappointed. "That's...anticlimactic."

Daniel was watching Martouf, the tense lines of his back and the way his shoulders hunched. "I think in some ways, this is more important than technology. Maybe not to us, but..."

Sam stepped up and put a hand on Martouf's shoulder, offering comfort. Without looking back, he said, "Dr. Jackson, I am grateful to you for your assistance, and I apologize for the difficulties you have endured."

"It's not your fault," Daniel said, dismissing it. He tapped Martouf's shoulder and pointed to the uppermost band of symbols in the room. "Is it just me, or do those look like gate coordinates?"

"They may well be," Martouf said.

"If you can provide those," Daniel said, with a look at Sam, "we can see if they match up with the known coordinates we have."

"Well, that's something," Jack said. He tapped Daniel on the arm. "Come on, let's get out of here. You have a date with Fraiser. Carter, you stay here and see what you can figure out. And you--" he cut Daniel's protest off -- "don't start. This will still be here tomorrow. Get it?"

"Got it." It wasn't so hard to follow Jack's orders, but it was the principle of the thing, sometimes. He stood waiting, until Jack said,

"Well?"

"Don't you know your way back?" Daniel asked. He felt a perverse glee when Jack began to glower.

"You're the tour guide. You lead."

"Not exactly like Indiana Jones, is it?" With a huge smile, Daniel ducked into the passageway and set off with Jack right on his heels. Already, things were edging back toward normal; Jack's irritation washed over him like sunshine, warm and familiar. He'd missed this. Talking, joking, playing with words. It felt like home.


*****

"It's sort of soothing," Jack said. He was swaying in time with the black tentacles in the center of the lake. Like grass in a light breeze, they broke the surface of the water and fluttered left, then right.

"It is curiously hypnotic," Teal'c agreed.

"Yes, and it serves a purpose, too." Daniel was frowning at the screen of the laptop. "Now that I'm fairly certain there's no correlation between their language and the language of the humans who used to occupy this world, I can tell you that this sort of...sign language...is particular to this species." He turned up the volume and a rapid-fire series of clicking sounds ripped through the quiet.

"Sounds like a woodpecker on speed," Jack said, wincing.

"The clicks and the..." Daniel waved a hand toward the water, lips pursed.

"Water ballet?" Jack offered.

"Yes. The water ballet. They go together. It's a little like the way humans gesture when they speak, for emphasis. Except, more complicated. Definitely, more complicated."

Jack caught himself swaying again. He whacked Teal'c on the shoulder. "Stand still, would you?"

"Sir, I think we've managed to capture enough data for Daniel to begin the translation of their language." Carter closed the laptop and stuffed into her pack.

"That was fast," Jack said. He watched Daniel's expression transform from absorbed concentration to satisfaction.

"It helps when I'm not distracted," Daniel said.

"To say the least." Carter smiled.

"Well, then." Jack sat down on the grass in front of the pond and leaned back. "I guess we can enjoy the show for a while."

"There are patterns in their behavior," Daniel said. He sat down next to Jack, journal in hand. "Very specific patterns. It could take a long time to record all the subtleties."

"Or we could analyze it to death and suck all the fun out of it," Jack went on, as though Daniel hadn't spoken. Daniel gave him a tolerant look and opened up his journal.

"It'll be dark soon," Carter said. She sat down to Jack's left and wrapped her arms around her knees. "We should head back before we lose the light."

Jack watched as the tentacles slid beneath the surface, then broke through again smoothly, without a sound. Already Daniel was scribbling furiously in his journal. "What's the rush?" He pushed his cap back and flopped back on the bank of the lake, hands beneath his head. The waning sun cast a mellow golden light over the tops of the trees. "This is a great campsite. We could pitch a tent, start a fire, make s'mores. I tell a mean bedtime story."

Beside him, the sound of the pen on paper scratched to an abrupt halt. Jack smiled and closed his eyes.  

"As attractive as that sounds, sir, I'd really like to get this equipment back to the SGC. The humidity is taking its toll. I'd hate to lose data because of it." Carter shifted beside him, clearly eager to get moving.

"Party pooper." Jack sighed and sat up, then jerked back in surprise. There were twice as many tentacles as before, and they were at least ten feet out of the water, twined together in winding braids. "Hey, that's new," he said. "Daniel? What is that?"

"I have no idea," Daniel said. His eyes were fixed on the display before them. "But it's fascinating. I'd like to stay a little longer and make some observations, while they're still doing..." Daniel made a circle in the air with his pen. "...that."

"Another day," Jack said. "Fascinating as it is, Carter's right." He got to his feet and cracked his back. "Always something new and exciting to see here on Planet Octopi."

"Jack..."

"Daniel, save your argument. You might need it for something more important, and I'm starting to have trouble hearing your frequency." Jack tapped his ear and hid a grin at the annoyed expression on Daniel's face. He stretched out a hand. "C'mon."

With one pull, he hauled Daniel to his feet. Their fingers tangled briefly; Jack drew his thumb across the back of Daniel's hand, eliciting a tiny smile, before he let go.

"This is an important opportunity, Jack. Too important to miss," Daniel said, not looking at the lake.

"You know me. I'm all about opportunity." Jack drew his shoulders back and thought of soft sheets and city light, slanting in through tall windows. "We'll get a fresh start in the morning."

Daniel met his eyes and nodded, once, before turning his gaze back to the lake.

SG-1 stood in silence, watching the aliens move through their liquid world. Sunlight gleamed off their tentacles as their sensuous dance rippled the edges of the dark water.


End
Feedback is always welcome. destina@ix.netcom.com


Notes: Special thanks to Salieri, who worked very hard to help me shape and refine this story. Huge thanks are also due to Martha and Carol S for their insights, and to Barkley and TWM for helping me figure out the resolution and putting up with all my crazy late-night questions. X created the stunning cover art for the story, and I still feel that a simple 'thank you' doesn't quite cover the way I feel about it.

For those who are curious about such things: the Goa'uld phrase Daniel and Teal'c chant in meditation is the epitaph of author Nikos Kazantzakis; the 'music' I hear in my mind when I imagine Daniel's meltdowns is Anuna's haunting rendition of O Viridissima.





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