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Depth Perception

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Daniel sighed with relief as he caught a glimpse of grey stone through the trees. He altered his course toward it, gently steering Sam around the clump of thorny bushes in their way. "Almost there," he told her.

After a few moments of wending their way through the woods, more of the tall pillars came into view. Sam staggered and he stopped, tightening his hold on her. She sagged into his support, and as he adjusted his grip in order to take more of her weight, she moaned, "Oh, this is just ridiculous." Daniel didn't bother reassuring her; it was the same word that'd been running through his own mind ... only in a different context, he knew, than she intended.

She rallied and they forged on ahead, tripping a few times as he guided her over yet another mossy log. When her legs gave out just as they broke through the treeline, he pulled her arm across his shoulder and hauled her over to the nearest pillar. It towered over them, and the position of the sun, low in the sky behind him, directed its disproportionately long shadow into the clearing it guarded.

Lowering Sam to sit leaning back against the pillar, Daniel stepped past it, his attention drawn by the series of dark shadows cast by the line of similar pillars stretching out to both sides of them – oh so apropos, he thought, that the pattern they created on the ground resembled impenetrable bars of a cage.

Then he realised they did indeed fall in a line, rather than an arc, and mentally smacked himself in the head. They'd emerged from the woods along a straight side of the oval, rather than at the far curved end where they needed to be. He stepped past the row of pillars to enter the huge glade and groaned in frustration. One glance at the position of the Stargate in the centre of the clearing, relative to where he stood, confirmed just how far off he was. He'd blown it; Sam needed to be back at the bivouac an hour ago, not facing yet another hike. And no doubt Jack was worried – they were overdue as it was, and sunset was rapidly approaching.

A loud whistle pierced the air, and Daniel swiveled to see Jack off in the distance, standing between two columns at the proper end of the oval. Supporting himself with Teal'c's staff, Jack was a small annoyed-looking figure, waving an arm in a wide overhead arc that plainly said, it's this way, dummy, over here. Well, plainly to Daniel, but maybe, hopefully, he was misreading the distant body language. But just in case not – and what the hell anyway, he was pissed off too – Daniel added a small embellishment as he returned the sweeping overhead wave.

He and Jack had an unobstructed view of one another, and even though he knew Jack would already have done so, the direct line of sight prompted Daniel to test his radio. Predictably, there was nothing, not even the tiny burp usually produced by pressing the push-to-talk switch. He purposefully avoided glancing toward the Stargate, at the likely culprit: the smaller upright stone circle set at angle to the 'gate. It had initially attracted them to this place, but now he was sorry he'd ever laid eyes on it. Keeping his attention on Jack, Daniel waited until Jack heavily limped away before turning away himself, to return to Sam.

"I saw that," she told him with a slight smile when he reached her. "You do know the colonel has the field glasses?"

Desperately sore all over and so very tired, Daniel sighed heavily as he dropped to sit beside her. "Yeah, well, he doesn't have three arms," he replied, and winced at his own tone as she averted her gaze in response to his irritability. He considered apologising, but thought, screw it – he was entitled. He wasn't concerned that Sam appeared exasperated with him in return; he knew he wasn't the only one whose tolerance was flagging.

"How are you feeling?" he asked her, preparing to admit to his error.

"Actually, I feel much better," she replied, sounding faintly surprised about it. He did a quick up and down, and although she was obviously still unwell, she did seem improved. "A bit lightheaded and weak, but no worse than before we left. It must have been the exertion," she decided. "Even with just a few minutes rest, I'm almost fully recovered."

Well, as recovered as she was going to get, Daniel silently amended. Until they found a way out of here, both Sam and Teal'c would continue to suffer. "I hope that means you're up for a bit more walking," he told her.

She tipped her head to one side and the small smile reappeared. "Ah. Went a bit off course, did we?"

He knew he should be glad for that smile, that she wasn't upset with him for having guided her out of their way, but he wasn't. If anything, he felt belittled ... unjustifiably, he knew, so he clamped his jaw against the sarcasm – well excuse me, but the Navstar system isn't responding – that fought for release. Taking a deep breath and letting it out in a long exhale, trying to release his frustration along with the air, he reminded himself that none of this was her fault. Not anyone's fault.

"Yeah. By about twenty, thirty minutes worth, going around the outside," he replied, including a fudge-factor in his estimate to take her reduced stamina into account. It would be a lot faster to cut the angle by going through the clearing, but that was out of the question. "Sorry, but it's all uphill. Can you manage that?"

She nodded. "Absolutely. I might be a bit slow, so we should get going right now if we want to beat nightfall."

He ignored the twinges of protest from his muscles as he helped her up, and offered his arm for support as they headed back into the woods. She was right, though; unexpectedly, the short rest had worked wonders and she was fairly steady on her feet – as steady as a person under constant attack probably could be, anyway.

He tried to reduce the distance they had to travel by keeping them as close to the edge of the clearing as possible, but it was difficult, given the number of obstacles they had to steer around. After pushing their way uphill through the undergrowth for some time, Sam was noticeably winded but still managing on her own. It was a big improvement on the last several hours.

"So, for tomorrow ..." she piped up, well enough that she could talk and walk at the same time.

To Daniel, mired in his bad mood, her recovery to that extent felt like a mixed blessing – he immediately tensed, able to predict what she going to say and hating the prospect of rehashing their disagreement.

"We need to plan for rest periods, so you won't end up having to carry me back," Sam continued, "or worry about me throwing up on your boots again." The lilt to her voice meant she thought she was simply teasing him, trying to lighten his mood. It felt like something else altogether to Daniel, though, and he held his tongue – it wasn't her he needed to convince that trying this again would be futile. It was Jack he needed to talk to.

She fell quiet when he didn't acknowledge her attempt. They walked on in silence for a while, but he could tell from her repeated, uncertain glances that she felt rebuffed. He hadn't intended that. He didn't want to talk about it again, but nor did he want her to take his moodiness personally, so he gave in and responded to what she'd said.

Fully aware it wasn't what she wanted to hear from him – he couldn't give her that – he quietly repeated the opinion he'd first offered over four hours ago. "I don't think we should do this again, Sam, rest breaks or not. For all we know, it was an initial, one-shot burst, and the damage is permanent." Maybe saying it calmly, in a neutral way, wouldn't provoke a resumption of their earlier debate.

Nope. Sam stopped dead in her tracks. "And for all we know it's a constant, limited range interference signal and there isn't any actual damage at all," she rebutted.

"I never denied that possibility," he reminded her. "Look, if we want to have half a chance at figuring out what's responsible for the equipment not working and you guys being sick, I think we have to stay open. All I've done is point out we can't ignore alternate explanations, no matter how unlikely."

"No," she too-patiently contradicted him. "All you've done is vociferously oppose the only plan I can come up with, even though you've no evidence to back up rejecting it."

Vociferously? He let her choice of word slide, too tired to pick apart the small stuff, no matter how inaccurate. "I never rejected the possibility of continuing interference. I just don't think it's worth hiking all over hell's half acre trying to prove it," he told her in kind. "And okay, I agree, when we first started out there wasn't much solid evidence behind my opinion, but –"

Daniel was struggling to stay on the right side of a shaky line of civility made more and more indistinct by physical exhaustion. When Sam interrupted him with an audibly muttered, "No, sure isn't," he lost his cool and leapt right across that line before he could stop himself.

"Wasn't, not 'isn't', Sam – at least get your tense correct," he sniped at her. "And as I was going to say: there was no solid evidence for your opinion either. Things have changed now, though, haven't they? There's plenty of hard evidence now as to why your plan sucks, isn't there?" He waved a hand at her, at his stained boots, at everything.

"Daniel! Enough." They couldn't see him, but Jack was making certain they could hear him. "That's more than enough. Both of you, knock it off and get your butts over here."

Sam shot Daniel an accusing glare, as if he was guilty of purposefully deceiving her as to how close they were to the campsite. "Not nearly that good a woodsman, Sam," he grumbled.

She jerked her head to indicate downhill from where they stood. "No, clearly not." The gloom of approaching dusk partially concealed much of the woods they'd just navigated.

A faint sound of crunching foliage reached them. Daniel shared a concerned look with Sam – Jack wasn't actually trying to come and get them, was he? The answer was probably yes, given that when he hollered at them again, Jack's voice was more laboured than angry. "Don't make me repeat myself," he warned them. "I'm trying to be very aware of not repeating myself."

Their disagreement was abandoned without a word, both them striking out toward the noise Jack was making. As they chose the same path around a large stump, Sam leaned over and whispered, "Is that one of his online quotes things?"

"Yeah," Daniel quietly replied. "Ironically, I'm pretty sure it's off quotesworthrepeating.com."

They rounded the stump, wound to the left past a prickly bush, and almost walked directly into Jack on the other side. He'd obviously been struggling toward them for a while; the camp wasn't within sight, and his face was beet-red and lined with pain. As Daniel hurried to slide under Jack's shoulder on the side of his injured leg, Sam eased Teal'c's staff weapon out of Jack's death grip, passing it across so Jack could hold it on the opposite side. Even with the staff for support, he allowed Daniel to take much of his weight, which confirmed he really wasn't in any shape to be up on his feet, never mind blundering around in the woods.

"What a dumb idea," Daniel chided.

"You're coming from the wrong direction, and it's getting late," Jack quite rightly pointed out, tipping the staff to indicate where he wanted them to go.

Okay, yes, Daniel allowed as they set out – the sun was setting, and this did save him a detour to the clearing to check out their position. All the same ... "Fine; thank you, Jack. We really appreciate the help. But it's still a spectacularly stupid thing to do."

"A groin pull isn't going to kill me, Daniel. It just hurts." Grunting with each step, Jack peered into the quickly darkening woods and gave a course change instruction to Sam.

Daniel obligingly heaved Jack around to face the new direction. He winced at the growl of pain Jack let out at the move, and more gently ushered him forward. He couldn't help himself, though; Jack had handed it to him on a silver platter, after all. "Hey, it's just pain, Jack. It won't kill you."

"Pretty sure I told you to knock it off, did I not, Daniel?" Jack glowered at him, and then muttered under his breath, "And for your information, it was brainyquotes.com."

Daniel immediately felt his irritability ease off. Judging from the obviously involuntary snort she let out, he figured that Sam, helping Jack along on his other side, must have felt the release of tension as well.

"Noted. You're welcome, Carter," Jack graciously said, and then their bivouac was visible through the trees in front of them and Daniel knew he could finally, very soon, fall down and rest.

 

 


 

 

It was pre-dawn and only a few hours after the end of Daniel's watch, but Sam wasn't surprised when he gave up on any semblance of sleep. She watched sympathetically as he rubbed his eyes and levered himself up off his makeshift bed. Teal'c had tried, despite being sick and weak, but it wasn't difficult to understand how, for a person as sore as she knew Daniel was, a collection of dirty leaves haphazardly stuffed into a plastic bio bag wasn't going to cut it.

Moving stiffly, he sketched an indeterminate hand gesture into the air and stumbled off into the dark behind her. Before she could remind him to stay close enough to keep the campfire in sight, she heard his passage toward the surrounding brush replaced by the sound of him watering the bushes. The noise was faint, but the fact she could hear it at all through the crackling of the fire meant he hadn't made it more than just a few yards out before stopping. She grinned to herself as the pattering was accompanied by a deep, heartfelt moan of relief.

She was still faintly smiling when he carefully lowered himself to sit next to her on the log in front of the fire. He frowned at her. "Something amusing?" His voice was thick with fatigue.

"No," she denied, reaching behind him to gently rub his back. "I was just empathising – I know how good that can feel."

"Bliss," he murmured. He leaned into her hand. "And this feels good too."

Glad that her peace offering was accepted, Sam nudged him to turn away. "So I guess you won't mind if I manhandle you, then?"

She gave his sleeve a slight tug, and he removed his jacket. "Go for it," he nodded. Turning to straddle the log, he leaned forward, hands braced on the rough bark for support. She ignored the sweaty feel of his t-shirt; it was no worse than her own. The muscles in his upper back and shoulders were especially tense and she concentrated her efforts there, increasing the pressure until he flinched, grunting softly. "Bit sore there," he explained, and she eased off.

It was predictable that his shoulders would be stiff. He'd not only supported her weight more than once yesterday, but also the colonel's, and although she'd been too sick to see it she could only imagine how difficult it must have been to single-handedly carry, or drag or however Daniel had accomplished it, a writhing Teal'c the rest of the way out of the clearing after Colonel O'Neill had been injured.

Daniel hissed slightly as she hit another tender point. She hesitated, but he told her, "It's okay, don't stop ... uhm, unless you want to?" He turned and looked over his shoulder at her. "My God, Sam, I'm really sorry," he said, and with an abrupt move resettled himself so that he sat next to her once again. "You're sick, and here I am taking advantage of you."

She did her best to assure him it was no worse than having a moderate case of the flu, but she knew he didn't fully believe her. His memory of what had happened when they came through the 'gate was probably crisp and clear, unlike her own which was a jumble of impressions she was still working to make sense of. Except for the pain – that she remembered all too well. Back then, before Daniel had scooped her up and carried her out of there, not stopping until they were in the woods, she'd felt so ill and been in so much pain she'd thought she was dying. Might well have been, for all she knew.

"Honestly, Daniel," she tried to reassure him. "Bit of a headache and butterflies in my stomach, some general weakness, but it's nothing like it was before." She peered at his face, half lit by the flames and half in darkness. "I'm certain the exacerbation on our way back was the result of prolonged exertion; I couldn't take the increase in pace when we ran out of time. We know better now; we just need to include time for rest breaks."

He looked away with the very slow nod that usually meant he was considering something he was uncomfortable with. He glanced at her, then ducked his head and pried a loose piece of bark off the log. "I'm glad you feel better," was all he said, although it was clear there was more than just the state of her health eating at him.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, Daniel playing with the bit of bark he held and Sam poking at the fading fire with a stick, trying to decide if she should add more fuel or just let it die. When Daniel finally spoke, it was so softly she had to strain to catch the words. "Sam, I ... if we can't do better than this, there's no way we're going to get them home."

She looked to the far side of the fire, at the two men sleeping there. Teal'c was sick, very sick, his symbiote hanging on but obviously in trouble. Colonel O'Neill needed attention; he'd clearly torn a ligament at the very least. Forced to continually stress the injury further, without treatment, he was at risk of suffering permanent damage.

"And what are we? Chopped liver?" she quipped, hoping to divert Daniel from going somewhere she was loathe to visit.

He didn't respond, neither negatively nor positively. Shadows danced across his face in the irregular light cast by the fire so that she couldn't read his expression. And as he sat there gazing off into the distance, Sam realised this was exactly what he'd meant by having to do better. They had to go there; they had to talk it through, to listen to one another and try to work together effectively despite their incompatible takes on the situation.

"I'm going to recommend that we set out again at first light, Daniel. I think it's the right, the only, thing to do."

He nodded that slow, thoughtful nod again. "I know you do. I just don't know why."

Sam tamped down a faint rise of impatience. It wasn't like she hadn't explained herself, and it wasn't like he hadn't already acknowledged it. "You already know why," she told him as calmly as she could. "It was thoroughly discussed before we left."

He looked her in the eye. "Yes. You think the improvement in your and Teal'c's condition farther from the 'gate means there are emissions, or interference signals or whatever you want to call it, that have limited range." He shrugged loosely enough, but there was an edge of tension in his voice. "I agree that's possible. And yes, you're right: I agreed that heading out to test the efficacy of that signal over a greater distance from the Stargate was a reasonable suggestion."

"But not for you," she acknowledged. He'd maintained that his time would be best spent in the Stargate clearing, examining both the circle adjacent to the Stargate and the squat obelisks that surrounded both it and the 'gate. She hadn't quibbled with the worth of doing that – the obelisks were probably the source of the emissions and she'd love to get a good look at that circle herself, but she couldn't enter the clearing. What she could do, the only thing she could act on, was to try to find a distance that would give them their electronics back and, presumably, be safer for Teal'c.

It had been a 'both of them go or no one goes' sort of thing, and she'd received the order she wanted from the colonel rather easily. Daniel hadn't fought against it too vehemently at the time. He'd said his bit, they'd discussed how much time they might have before the SGC would check on them, and the colonel had made his decision.

"No, not for me." Daniel chucked the piece of bark he'd been fingering into the fire. He opened then closed his mouth and made a face, apparently unsure if he ought to say what he wanted.

"Go ahead," she told him, and he raised his eyebrows, his way of asking if she was certain she wanted to hear it. She could see the expression on his face relatively clearly now and realised dawn was fast approaching. The colonel's internal light detector would go off soon, and their chance at a private conversation would be gone.

"As far as I'm concerned, you haven't answered the question. Why do you want to go out again?"

Yes, she had. And this wasn't a productive way to spend the short time they had before they'd end up competing for the colonel's agreement. "Why don't you want to go?" she challenged instead, immediately feeling foolish because they both knew it was as redundant a question as his had been. He didn't want to go because he thought it was a waste of his time, and because he'd prefer to spend that time examining obelisks.

Daniel gently replied, "Because I'm afraid, Sam," momentarily stymying her sense of reality. "We hiked three hours out from here yesterday, and nothing changed except that you got worse instead of better," he continued. "I'm afraid you'll deteriorate again under the stress of activity and won't recover."

Sam tried to assure him he was worrying about nothing, that it hadn't happened yesterday and wouldn't today either, but he tapped a finger to his mouth, asking her to wait. "Three hours out, and another two on the return. We spent five hours on it, and nothing ... so how much time do we devote to it today? Six hours? Seven? More? How far do we go before we reach the limits of your ability to recoup?"

He leaned toward her, as if imploring her to hear him. "I'm not willing to risk that, especially considering it probably wouldn't do us any good. We don't know for sure when the SGC might dial in; even if we do get a radio back, what use would it be if it comes too late? And even if it's not too late, the comms don't have that kind of range. At well over eight miles out and without any repeaters, the signal wouldn't carry all the way back to the 'gate anyway."

As his words piled up into a small mountain of solid reasoning, the corners of her eyes stung and Sam was horrified to realise she was near to tears. "You don't know any of that for certain. We could go just one step farther than today and it might all come back."

He tilted his head, regarding her with a focus she'd often seen directed at an enticing linguistic puzzle. The look of fresh understanding that soon appeared on his face thoroughly pissed her off. "What might all come back, Sam?"

"It's worth going if only to save Teal'c unnecessary suffering," she insisted. Unbidden, her conscience reminded her that yesterday's hike had been so onerous for her that she'd all but collapsed; even if they found a distance at which whatever was making them ill abated, Teal'c might not survive the trip.

"What might all come back?" he pushed.

A heavy lump formed in her chest. "We need to try."

Daniel stared intently at her and silently mouthed the word 'why', and abruptly the words gushed out of her mouth without her permission. "Because I need my equipment – the remote spectrometers, EMP generator, the laptop ... everything. Without them, there's no way to detect whatever's doing this, never mind nullify it. If I could make visual observations of the circle or the DHD, at least I'd have a starting point, but I can't go in there; I can't go past the outer columns."

Standing up to look down on him as her mouth continued to over-rule her brain, she gestured at him, and if it felt disrespectful or dismissive her helplessness was willing to steamroll past that. "It's all fine for you. Your usual tools are your hands and your eyes and you can walk in there and touch and see whatever you want. I don't have even that, Daniel. I don't have anything to work with. Without access, without any way to collect data, there's nothing I can do here. Don't you get that?"

The gush of frustration ended as abruptly as it'd begun, and Sam closed her eyes, angry with herself for the loss of control. But that was exactly what had prompted the eruption in the first place, wasn't it? A sense of impotence, of loss of control?

"Yeah, I get that." She felt Daniel's hand on her arm and opened her eyes to see him standing immediately in front of her, close enough that if it were anyone other than a member of her team she would have felt invaded. "I get it, Sam. I do," he assured her, then turned his head slightly to cast a cautionary look over her shoulder. She froze in place, mortified, as she realised who that look was directed toward.

She tried to move away from him, but he wouldn't allow it. Bending slightly to bring his mouth to her ear, Daniel whispered, not exactly compassionately, "I understand how you feel, but for god's sake, please don't do this to me. You think I have the slightest idea what to do, beyond just letting Jack blow it all up and see what happens next?"

Blow it up? She bit her lip at the inestimable risks involved in that possibility, and Daniel's hold on her arm lightened to a gentle touch. "I can be your hands and eyes, but I need you here, capable of telling me what to touch and figuring out what I'm seeing." He paused, straightening up to shoot a more vehement negative glance over her shoulder, and then asked her, "Okay?"

At a loss as to what to say, Sam simply nodded, and Daniel stepped around her. She heard the colonel grouch at him, and Daniel's tart reply that he was sure – yes, Jack, absolutely certain – that Teal'c's bladder could stand the strain of a five minute wait. She was insanely grateful to all of them for the oblique reassurance that her outburst wasn't going to be the topic of the day.

By the time they'd done with the morning's tasks and were waiting to sit down with Colonel O'Neill to devise an action plan for the day, Sam had thought everything over. She was ready to admit that her previous plan wasn't one of her best ideas, and in fact contained an even larger hole than the ones Daniel had rolled his truck through. Yes, she still wanted to head out and try again, convinced she was right that whatever was causing their problems was finite.

Confirmation would be rewarding, yes, but realistically it was highly unlikely to be useful information. Even if she did find the sweet spot out there at which the interference dropped away and her equipment worked, recovering remote sensing ability at that distance wouldn't be of much practical value. The ability to detect emissions, to receive and monitor and analyse data, was all well and good from a theoretical standpoint, but considering the limited range of her handheld equipment she'd never get close enough to set up effective interference. And all the remote monitoring in the world wouldn't identify the specific physical source of the signals.

She looked up from her thoughts as Daniel swung a leg over her log and sat down next to her. As he silently offered to share the only cup of coffee of the morning, she casually told him, "You were right."

"I know." A typically-Daniel understated affability lightened his matter-of-fact tone.

"Don't think I didn't catch your main concern in all that, though," she warned him.

The light undertone disappeared immediately. "I know that, too," he softly admitted. "I don't deny it; I'm being selfish. Just ... you scared the crap out of me, all of you. Don't you dare leave me to deal with this alone, Sam. I can't."

 

 


 

 

They'd arrived. Sam heard their shouts and knew they'd seen her, that in a matter of moments Daniel would be at her side. She curled around the pain and clawed at the dirt as her stomach tried yet again to turn inside-out. Even that slight movement sent her into so violent a vertiginous spin that she wished passing out was under voluntary control. She'd pick that door in a flat second.

She heard Daniel when he got there, his quiet "damn it" and his questions – "Can you get up? Sam? Can you hear me?" – but she couldn't respond. Her world tilted even more crazily in all directions and the pain spiked as her limbs were manipulated this way and then that. She realised she was moaning when Daniel repeatedly apologised, but she was just as helpless to suppress that as she was the vertigo and nausea.

"Don't you puke on me again," she heard Daniel warn her. Then, as she was roughly jostled and the ground fell out from under her, everything disappeared under an explosion of swirling crimson in her head.

Awareness returned in a muted interplay of sensations and sound. A sour taste in her mouth, and something uncomfortably irregular under her body. She heard her own gasping breaths and an indeterminate rustling. And a voice? She opened her eyes to find herself staring up into Colonel O'Neill's nostrils.

"Hey. There you are," he said softly, his lips seeming out of sync with the words. His head turned, then withdrew from her line of sight. "She's awake, but her eyes are wandering."

Sam turned her head in the direction the colonel's had. Daniel was squatting just a few feet away, his loosely clasped hands dangling between his knees. The expression on his face contradicted the casual posture. "She's probably dizzy." His tone was as coldly flat as the look in his eyes.

She tried to get her bearings, vision blurring and head spinning as she raised her head off the ground. Thin trees and scrubby bushes – Daniel had set her down past the treeline, a short distance into the woods. She struggled to ignore the sting of bile in her throat and turned her head in the opposite direction. "Move ... column," she choked out, not very successfully. Raising a trembling hand to point in the direction she wanted to go, she tried again. "Need to go there."

"Oh, I don't think so," the colonel said, his voice no longer quiet nor gentle. "You try this stunt again, Carter, and you'll find yourself tied to a tree."

No, no. "Sir, no, not what ..." Her attempt at sincerity was marred by a painful retch.

She heard a sharp, "Why?" and looked at Daniel. He hadn't moved, and still appeared to be considering non-compassionate euthanasia, but she knew he'd at least try to understand her.

"It will help ... the pillar ..." Another heave, and her head spun. She felt too ill to explain, to even reach up and wipe away the tear she felt leak from the outer corner of her eye. Daniel didn't ask again or respond in any way to her, and she closed her eyes in defeat. Maybe later, she'd be able to try again.

Unexpectedly, hands gripped her upper arms and pulled her forward to sit up. "Can you stand, or should I carry you?" Daniel waited a beat but evidently she was too slow to respond, because she was abruptly hauled upward. She tried to plant her feet, but her knees refused to lock and she sagged in his grip. It wouldn't have mattered much even if they had; the vertigo that returned in full force slammed her senses and her balance into dust.

Words were exchanged over her head – neither Daniel nor the colonel sounded very happy with one another – and with a vaguely-heard mutter of something she felt certain was a complaint directed at her, Daniel got her moving. And it was sheer hell. By the time he settled her down against the base of the closest stone column, tears were streaming down her cheeks and she could barely catch her breath through incessant waves of nausea and vertigo.

"Hey." Sam became aware of Daniel's hands on her face, directing her attention to him. "Don't you dare move. Stay right here or I swear I'll tie you to that tree myself." He didn't wait for a response before leaving her, probably aware she was past providing one.

Don't worry, she wanted to say; it was a mistake, a miscalculation, one she wasn't about to risk making again – fear twisted her stomach at even the thought. Entering the clearing had been stupid; she'd badly misjudged her limits. She swallowed bile and took in a deep breath, settling down to wait it out. And fortunately, as she'd hoped, it didn't take very long. The pain that had prickled her limbs and twisted her stomach was the first to go, and very soon after that Sam felt her head begin to clear. She scanned the nearby treeline for Daniel, confused when she didn't see him anywhere.

Her confusion resolved as she suddenly placed the faint noises she'd been ignoring as the passage of her teammates through the brush, heading toward her. That Daniel hadn't had time as yet to get the colonel over to her position confirmed she was rapidly improving – quickly enough to mean she had to be right about the columns. By the time the colonel laboriously limped into view and Daniel helped him settle onto the ground, she was almost back to baseline.

Colonel O'Neill was in too much pain to bother with her quite yet, but Daniel more than made up for that lack. "You told me you were just going to examine the pillars while I was gone." He was so stoically impassive that she wasn't certain he even wanted a response – not that she knew what to say. She had misled him, and he had every right to be upset with her.

There was something more pressing to be dealt with, in any case. "We need to bring Teal'c here," she told them, waving a hand upward to indicate the towering pillar.

Colonel O'Neill let out an emphatic, "What? Have you lost your mind?"

Daniel, however, shifted his attention from her to the pillar, gazing upward along its height and back down to where she sat at its base. He walked all the way around it once and took a few steps past, out into the clearing, before stopping to stare fixedly at her for a moment. She sighed in relief as he quietly said, "I agree."

"What, is it catching? You can't be serious," the colonel exclaimed. With a quick stab of his finger, he pointed at the clearing demarcated by the ring of pillars. "This place near killed him – it still might – and you want to bring him back here?"

"Colonel, look at me." Sam proved her point by easily standing up, easing her sore muscles in a smooth stretch. Only a slight wobble marred her demonstration. "This degree of improvement took no time at all. Sir, while Daniel went back to camp to get you, I studied the placement of these columns in relation to the obelisks at the circle, and it occurred to –"

"There's a dead zone at the base of the pillar, Jack," Daniel interjected.

"Yes, immediately under each column," Sam affirmed, grinning with satisfaction as she added, "It's a design flaw."

From his seat on the ground, injured leg stretched out in front of him, Colonel O'Neill glared at her. "I suggest you wipe that smile off your face, Carter. You're not out of the woods yet ... so to speak."

Not at all the response she was hoping for, Sam deflated under the weight of his anger with her. But, then again ... "Okay. Go get him," he ordered Daniel. "If he does all right, we'll move everything else here later."

Daniel's shoulders visibly sagged – Teal'c was no lightweight – but he nodded willingly enough and left without a word to either of them. That left her alone with the colonel, who was unhappily disabled, uncomfortable, and irritated enough that he pointedly looked away from her, letting his silence speak for itself.

Just to be certain of her findings, Sam walked out from the column in three directions, avoiding the clearing side like the plague. Sure enough, as had happened yesterday after leaving the pillar on the long edge of the oval, removing herself from its protection resulted in a slight worsening of her condition, returning her to the way she'd felt while at the campsite. Like she had a bad case of influenza.

The colonel's voice interrupted her. "You just pacing, or is there something I should know? Second thoughts?"

"No, Teal'c will be fine at the rear of the column," she assured him. "He may not improve much, but he definitely won't get any worse." And we'd all be together, she left unspoken, where we can take care of each other without further overtaxing Daniel.

He nodded. "Good. Speaking of whom ... Teal'c's far from spry right now. If you think you're up to it, Daniel can probably use some help."

Absolutely. She not only felt well enough for that, she felt cautiously hopeful. No, she didn't have her equipment and no, most emphatically no, she couldn't go into the clearing, but she had a bit better understanding of the situation now. No matter how small and tentative, it was a step in the right direction.

 

 


 

 

"Daniel!"

"Daniel Jackson ..."

Something hit him the face, and Daniel roused enough to understand it was his name he'd been hearing. He opened his eyes to find himself the target in a moss-tossing gallery.

"Come on, Daniel, let's go!" The urgency in Jack's voice had him sitting up in alarm, reaching for his sidearm as he shook off the momentary, dazed confusion of having just awoken.

"It's open again. You gotta go, right now – go!"

Open ...? What ...? Oh! Daniel lurched to his feet and ran past the pillars into the clearing. He didn't bother swerving around the clumps of brush in his way, simply vaulting over whatever was in his path as he pelted toward the Stargate, aware of the need to get there before the 'gate shut down. A strong cross wind joined with anxiety and the heaviness in his legs to make the seventy-some-odd yard dash feel like the longest run of his life.

As he rounded one of the many obelisks ringing the 'gate and its companion circle, thighs aching, he slipped in the dirt and ended up on his hands and knees. The MALP was right there, though, just a few feet away in front of the 'gate dais, and he propelled himself toward it in a half-crawl, half-stagger. Grabbing the front of the MALP to pull himself upright, he spared a glance at the event horizon. The ripple of blue seemed to beckon him in and for a split second he wondered what would happen if threw something at it. Would the incoming wormhole behave normally, or did the circle's malign influence extend to incoming as well as outgoing wormholes?

It was an experiment he didn't have time for; he had to test the MALP while the 'gate was still active. Abruptly, though, the event horizon pulsed and a UAV shot out. Daniel reflexively ducked into a crouch in front of the MALP, even though the UAV's path was an upward one. He didn't have time to feel abashed, however, as the UAV travelled no further than a few feet out from the event horizon before its whine sputtered into silence.

Daniel stared in dismay as the UAV didn't slow in a graceful arc nor fall to the ground at a predictably angled trajectory – rather, the nose abruptly swung up with the cessation of power, its tail skewing sideways, and it plummeted in a violent gyration to smash onto the dais steps directly behind the MALP. So that answered that question: whatever had disabled all the electronic and battery-operated devices, and their naquada-powered weapons, was still humming along just fine.

Daniel didn't bother getting up to check out the crash site, near-overwhelming disappointment sending him onto his butt on the ground, head in his hands. Funny, that – he hadn't even realised he'd been that hopeful. A sense of loss hit him at the sound of the Stargate shutting down. He shook it off with difficulty, his common sense recognising he was being unnaturally, stupidly melodramatic. Not so easy to convince himself of that, though, with a sense-memory of what had happened the moment they'd exited the 'gate onto this world playing in his head – he could once again hear Teal'c's agonised cries as he collapsed before even making it off the dais; and then there was Sam, dropping so quietly a moment after Teal'c, just a surprised gasp – at first – indicating she too was affected.

The alarm in Jack's voice as he yelled he was dialing home replayed in Daniel's mind, along with his own panic as he pulled Teal'c off to one side to avoid the bloom of the outgoing wormhole, then ran to haul Sam back up the dais steps. He wasn't sure how Teal'c came to be at his side as he dragged Sam into the event horizon; he could only assume Jack had shoved Teal'c in from behind. And from there his memory degraded into a chaotic series of disjointed impressions: a pulling sensation; an instant of searing pain; a wash of light. Flying, tumbling, and a teeth-rattling jolt. Screams.

Daniel shook off the unsettling memories. He was aware Jack was watching him, but it took a few more moments before he had the heart to lift his head and acknowledge with a wave that he was all right. A gust of wind was cold against his face as he climbed to his feet and checked the MALP anyway, just for the hell of it. And yes, he confirmed in short order, it was still as dead as a doornail.

When Jack whistled to get his attention, Daniel was trying to decide if he had the energy to head over and check out the one larger obelisk in the ring of them that surrounded both the Stargate and the circle. He turned away from the MALP to see that Sam had joined Jack beside one of the far pillars. They were both waving him in.

He took a quick detour to give the obelisk in question a once-over, something about its shape and size bothering him. Slightly larger than the others, which were all similar to one another in height and width, the look of this one seemed vaguely familiar. He noticed its front surface was decorated with a vertical series of inscribed, intricately looping designs, but that's as far as he got. Three whistles in quick succession was a summons he couldn't ignore. Jack might simply be impatient, but on the other hand, something might be wrong back there.

The wind buffeted him as he jogged back across the clearing. When he was halfway to the outer edge, where Sam now stood alone waiting for him between two pillars, a crack of thunder rent the air and Daniel looked up to see dark clouds scudding across the sky. He'd been so intent on his task that he hadn't noticed a storm was brewing. No wonder they'd called him back. Sheet lightning followed the thunder and he upped his pace, making it back just as it began raining.

Following Sam, he rounded the near pillar to find a makeshift shelter in front of him. Their only tarp had been rigged to form a low, angled roof, its corners attached to two adjacent pillars and roped to a couple of trees at the far end,. He couldn't help but notice they'd used his marked lengths of measuring twine for the pillars. Just terrific, he thought, as he fingered where the twine was tied to the tarp's corner grommet; no doubt they'd cut it to suit their needs, which meant it was useless to him now.

"I'll buy you some more when we get home," Jack sourly commented, poking his head out from under the tarp. "Go, before you get soaked."

Go ... where? Sam tugged on his arm. "There's a good spot over this way." She led him into the woods and right away he saw where they were headed. The cluster of large trees would provide near complete shelter from the steadily increasing downpour.

Sam looked more than literally under the weather – her face was drawn and her hands shaking, so he helped her get safely ensconced before stamping out a Daniel-sized depression in the mossy undergrowth. Jack had likely helped rig the shelter over Teal'c, but the very fact the tarp was available for that, rather than still back at the old campsite, meant Sam had been busy while he'd slept part of the day away. She'd probably overdone it. Again.

There wasn't much he could say about that – it was, after all, his fault this time – so he left it alone, instead asking after Teal'c. Although it hadn't been all that far a distance, helping Teal'c from the old bivouac to the new had been hard on both of them. It unsettled Daniel that he didn't know, had to ask, how Teal'c was doing; that he had fallen asleep not long after settling Teal'c down under the column simply highlighted the extent to which he was unequal to the situation. Getting lost in the woods, falling asleep at the wrong times ... his team was depending on him, and so far he wasn't exactly doing a bang-up job.

"Teal'c's coming along. It took a while, but he did recover from the walk over. He hasn't improved much beyond that so far, but he says his symbiote is resting easier." Raising her voice to be heard over the rain, Sam sounded distinctly pleased as she told him, "It took a few trips to fill the bottles and bring the rest of our gear over, but now ..."

Her recap faded to a halt as Daniel stood up and turned in a half circle, hands raised to his head. She'd done the water run. Moved the gear over. Full bottles, heavy packs. And she was happy about it. He paced out from under the protection of the trees, relying on movement to help loosen some of the tension seizing his gut. He took a few deep breaths to try and dislodge the rest before it choked him.

"Daniel?"

And now he'd worried her. Fantastic job. "You shouldn't have had to do that," he explained, turning to face her. "Why did you guys let me sleep? There were things to do ... look at all the time I wasted."

"It was far from wasted, Daniel. You were dead on your feet."

He ignored that; it was irrelevant. "I threw away over half the day. More, now, because of this weather. I should have done what you did, and been checking out the DHD instead of lying around. And it's obvious the 'gate opened while I was –"

A crack of thunder interrupted him. He closed his eyes and stood still until it rumbled into silence, willing himself to relax. "It was my job. You shouldn't be doing that sort of thing."

"Daniel. Please. Come out of the rain."

He opened his eyes to see her standing, about to step toward him. Holding up a hand to forestall her, he did as she asked, recognising that getting soaked wasn't going to achieve anything other than making him even more uncomfortable. Back at his tree, he leaned his forehead against the damp bark. What he really wanted to do was head deeper into the woods to work off this insane frustration, but that was out of the question. He'd already abandoned his responsibilities once today.

"It's okay. You needed the rest, and everything was fine," she tried to assure him. "Colonel O'Neill ordered the bivouac set up before anything else, so I wasn't there when the Stargate first activated. The colonel didn't even notice the wormhole until just before it shut down."

She was telling him in the nicest possible way that he was being stupid – that even if he hadn't fallen asleep, he wouldn't have caught the open 'gate anyway because he would've been playing pack mule. Although he realised she was right, he wasn't mollified. Because that wasn't really his problem, was it. "Right," he ground out, and sat down. "Everything is just fine."

"I know it's me," Sam said after a long silence. "I know what I did, and all I can say is I'm really sorry, Daniel." The rain had eased off, and the sincerity in her voice was evident.

Her understanding of what she'd done was reassuring. But then she all but negated the apology for him as she added, "It was an accident. I thought it'd be okay to go a short distance into the clearing if I was careful, but then suddenly, literally between one step and another, it hit me hard and I couldn't make it back."

Uh huh. "So was it worth it?" It looked like she didn't really understand, after all.

"Well, it wasn't the way I wanted to do it, but I learned enough about the signal to confirm my ideas about the outer set of columns," she replied. And then she proved him wrong. "It's valuable information, and maybe it'll help us find a way out of here. But no, the way I got it wasn't worth it – I know I betrayed your trust."

Yes, and no. Daniel picked the more important one. "No, it's that you risked your life, Sam."

"I didn't mean to." Yeah, well. He ducked his head, and she hurriedly added, "Okay, okay, I'm sorry. I understand."

"Don't you dare leave me alone," he warned her again. "I'm having enough trouble figuring out what we're going to eat in a few days, never mind how we're going to get out of here."

"I won't." She moved closer and placed a hand on his arm. "Look, Daniel ... I have to say something: I know you're carrying a heavy load, but the only one expecting all the things of you that you're expecting, is you. You might want to give yourself a break, before your overburdened sense of responsibility drives you crazy," she wryly advised him.

He stared at her, incredulous. "Really? You're giving that advice to me? You, the person who just recklessly walked out into the equivalent of a dense minefield because she needed to be doing something?"

Sam grinned at him. "Yeah, well, we both have our faults."

Daniel snorted; that was true. The worst of the weather had quickly passed by, the rain now simply a light drizzle, but from what he could see the sky hadn't lightened much. "I should get going," he said. "There's probably enough time to check out the DHD, at least, before it gets too dark."

Sam shook her head. "Colonel O'Neill already decided that wasn't going to happen today," she told him. "That's why he let you sleep. With the time already taken getting Teal'c to the columns, and considering we still need to get the camp properly set up for tonight, he didn't think it was reasonable for you to go out there. You'd just have to stop soon after getting started."

The pressure of time was a hard push between his shoulder blades. "This was only supposed to be a day trip," he reminded her. "To examine the circle and columns, for you to gather initial data. We're not equipped for anything more." They'd planned on a single day spent right next to the Stargate, within easy reach of the SGC. Food, water, medical supplies; all were limited to what fit in the daypacks used for limited duration missions.

"Yeah, I'd kill for a sleeping pad right now." She sat down, grimacing at the uneven ground.

He appreciated that Sam was trying to prevent his mood from plummeting again, but this was an issue that frankly scared the crap out of him. If they couldn't overcome whatever was interfering with the outgoing wormhole, their food wouldn't stretch beyond a couple of days. Although he'd seen some dried-up scat lying around, none of it was remotely recent and so far they hadn't encountered any other signs of wildlife larger than a vole.

Resigned to the fact he wasn't going anywhere, he joined her on the ground. "Jack and Teal'c are down for the long haul, and you already know I'm not much of a woodsman," he told her. "Plus I really suck at the whole hunting and gathering thing."

"Didn't take Applied Foraging 101, in Anthropology?" Sam rubbed his arm in acknowledgement of his fear but refused to let it fester. "Or did you just bluff your way through it like you obviously must have with urban research methodology?"

That pulled a small grin out of him. Yeah, some things just weren't up his alley. "More a matter of designing my direction of study," he corrected her. "I simply made a well thought out, strategic decision to concentrate in ancient Archaeology and sociocultural Linguistics."

"Before or after the Philology degree?" Sam leaned forward, clearly interested, and Daniel realised they'd never discussed much about their educational backgrounds, the hows and whys of where they'd both ended up.

He gave her a five-sentence-or-less encapsulation of his educational path: from using Anthropology as a stepping-stone to chasing after his archaeological and linguistic interests centering upon ancient Egypt, to his immersion in Philology, further solidifying language as one of the primary mysteries and loves of his life.

"Now, for better or worse," he waved a hand to encompass the forest around them, this place not of Earth, "I find myself involved in things I'd never thought I'd need to know more about, things I never dreamed I'd be called upon to do: precipitous alien sociocultural anthropology; interplanetary diplomacy; Jack-wrangling ..." Routinely despoiling archaeological sites; compromising his ethics; losing people he loved. Fighting a war. Killing other intelligent beings.

Sam's evident compassion meant it was time to shut up, before he said something he shouldn't. She was already aware of the variety of things he did for the SGC, and also how useless they all were here, in their current situation. "What about you?" he redirected. "Did you do a straight run to Theoretical Astrophysics?"

"Me? Oh, I made a well-thought-out, strategic decision, too – to do whatever it would take to get me into the space program," Sam grinned. "At the time, Theoretical Astrophysics in combination with USAF fighter pilot experience was at the top of the probability list. Since you came along, though, I've moved from theoretical to primarily applied activities."

Daniel pointed at himself with an unspoken, what, me?

"Yes, you. In the years since you did an end run around my principal line of research, I find myself more often than not acting as some sort of half-assed jack of all trades. Wormhole theory is still my first love, but it's been pushed way down the list by applied sciences. You know – work on the dialing system, barely competent mechanical engineering, implementing ways to interface with naquada-based and crystal technology. All that stuff."

Daniel bumped her shoulder. "Well, if that's what it takes to get you into the space program," he teased. "You did get to blow up a sun – that's Astrophysics, right?"

She smiled, but it disappeared quickly. "Honestly, Daniel, it's all right on Earth; I love it, where I have physicists from other branches of study and engineers and programmers to bounce ideas off and learn from, but out here ..." She mimicked his all-encompassing wave. "Out here, there are times we run across things so outside my field and experience that I don't even know where to start. That's fine, even fun, when there aren't any lives at stake. But when there are, and people are looking to me for answers ..." The unspoken "like right now" hung in the air between them.

"Yeah, I understand." He toyed with a mossy branch for a moment. "Although, I disagree you're out of your depth with this, Sam. You may not have your sensors or pulse generator, but you do have your knowledge and experience. This is still what you know, even if you can't see it on a monitor screen."

Sam let out a huff. "That's very sweet, Daniel. Unbelievably naive, but sweet."

Daniel rose with her as she stood, and simply nodded as she took refuge in practicalities, filling him in on what had and hadn't yet been done. "It'll be dark soon and I left digging the fire pit to you. I collected wood before it started to rain and stacked it under the tarp with Teal'c."

They arrived back at the new campsite, and while he was busy helping Jack and Teal'c's with their personal needs Daniel was aware of Sam in the background, starting to get things ready for the night. He struggled valiantly to ignore the repeated urge to tell her to sit down and rest, damn it, before she made herself sick again.

 

 


 

 

Sam felt antsy as she and the colonel stood at the edge of the ring of columns, watching Daniel head toward the Stargate. The third time she brought the field glasses to her eyes, only to drop them again with a sigh, he told her, "Don't even think about going back in there." It was clear he didn't entirely trust her common sense at the moment.

She suppressed a shiver at the suggestion. Her eyes were drawn to the furrow Daniel had dragged in the ground at the spot where she'd collapsed the day before. It marked the absolute end of her leash, giving them a visual indication of the extent of the presumed safe zone, but she wasn't about to test that limit again. Not without an inescapably compelling reason.

She gazed up the height of the column next to her, smiling at the memory of Daniel's placid observation this morning that evidently he'd been wrong: they did have repeaters after all. Because that's what the pillars essentially were, what they did; they picked up whatever signals – almost certainly originating from the obelisks – were causing all the problems and extended their range.

She'd found out the hard way that the emissions making her sick dropped precipitously from near lethal, closer to their source in the clearing, to only partially disabling about thirty feet in from where she now stood. The strength of the obelisks' signals must have had degraded over time, to now fall short of their original range. If so, that implied they might be susceptible to interference ... not that she had any way to interfere, unfortunately. But mulling it over was as good a distraction as any, while she uselessly stood by waiting for Daniel to do her job for her.

He was about two hundred feet out now, moving past the inner ring of stubby obelisks to cover the remaining distance to the MALP. It didn't take him long to re-test it, and the exaggerated reverse thrust of his raised arm was an unmistakable thumb's-down even from a distance. Not unexpected, but Sam was disappointed all the same that there was no such thing as magic.

Daniel prodded at the remnants of the UAV, and another thirty feet brought him to the DHD. "It won't go through," she muttered under her breath as Daniel dropped his daypack on the ground next to the DHD and began dialing.

The colonel glanced at her, taking in her tense concentration. "Is that pessimism, realism, or maybe a bit of wishful thinking?" he insightfully asked her. She wasn't sure what to say.

As the Stargate activated, Sam had to steel herself against a sense of longing provoked by the familiar sight of the event horizon's billow and retraction. To Daniel's left, set at an angle adjacent to the Stargate, the smaller circle squatted unconcerned on its dais. It was the reason they'd come here, the sight of it and the inner and outer rings of columns on the initial MALP survey drawing her and Daniel in like flies.

Although she had been one of its victims, she'd not actually seen the circle at work. As Daniel paused to calculate trajectory, mindful of the angle between the facing circle and Stargate, her pulse quickened and breath caught in her throat in a surge of anticipation made up more of scientific interest than apprehension. She raised the field glasses to her eyes, setting the magnification and focus so she could clearly see both the Stargate and the circle.

Daniel hefted the sturdy branch he'd carried in with him and tossed it into the wormhole. The circle erupted in a flat, solid flash of white light and Daniel promptly leapt to one side, tumbling down the shallow steps of the 'gate platform as the branch came flying out of the circle at high velocity, directly toward him. It was simultaneously frightening and exhilarating to see it happen – to see the mechanism that had hurt and stranded them here impossibly usurp the normal functioning of the Stargate, violating the laws of wormhole physics as she understood them. It was both terrible and beautiful at the same time.

Beside her, Jack commented, "And who said white men can't jump." As they watched Daniel climb to his feet and dust himself off, he told her "Major, you're hereby ordered to teach Daniel the difference between left and right."

"Yes, Sir. The minute we get back," she absently replied, her mind replaying what she'd just seen. There was something ... she really needed to see that again. She automatically reached toward her shoulder to activate her comm, catching herself just before she actually tried to activate the useless thing.

"Sir, he needs to do that again," she told the colonel, frustrated at her inability to even so much as communicate, never mind plan and consult, with Daniel from this distance. He might hear her voice as a noise if she were to yell, but having any sort of conversation was out of the question.

"Not calling him back, Carter," Colonel O'Neill irritably told her. "Make a list for later. He's not a ping-pong ball."

He shifted position, grimacing as he tightened his grip on the staff weapon. He'd put up a good front so far this morning but it was slipping badly now. Sam took a good look at him, at the way he held himself and the lines of pain on his face. "This is going to take a while, Sir. If you like, I could help you back to Teal'c and you can take a break."

He didn't even glance at her, simply ordering, "Don't call him in, Carter. He'll come back when he's ready," and labouring to turn and walk away without falling flat on his face. It was acceptance of her suggestion but a flat-out rejection of her offer to help, leaving her forced to stand there uselessly while he struggled.

She watched him out of the corner of her eye until he made his way to the rear of the pillar. When she heard him and Teal'c speak to one another, she turned her attention back to the clearing. "Find something, Daniel; find something for me," she muttered under breath, working on that list the colonel had suggested. So far it consisted of: do that again; and, find something. Anything.

And as for finding ... Daniel was no longer next to the DHD. She scanned the area and saw him over by the larger of the obelisks, belly up to the side facing the Stargate. As she watched, he moved back to stand halfway between it and the 'gate, and proceeded to do absolutely nothing. Even from afar, she recognised that posture and knew she'd have to wait as he thought over whatever might have occurred to him – not that there was anything else she could do.

He stood doing that nothing for long enough that she was on the verge of impatience, then abruptly returned to the DHD and rummaged in his daypack. A few seconds later he was mostly hidden from view, crouching behind the DHD to investigate its inner workings. That wait was much longer, the minutes accumulating into a pile that spilled over into one hour and then another. She paced, she stood, she sat; she heard the colonel and Teal'c talking again and wanted to go see how they were. She was on watch, though, and so couldn't do much more than walk the treeline in an attempt to relieve the tedium.

Finally, a distant call caught her attention. Daniel was loping past the obelisks, heading out into the clearing, one arm raised to hold his hat on against the wind. He was soon close enough that shouted conversation was possible, and she perked up as he yelled to her, "I found something, Sam. In the DHD – something's there."

Then he was pulling up in front of her. "Wait," he puffed, catching his breath as he pulled his daypack open. "Here. The guts of the DHD look different." Sam took the compact drawing pad he held out to her. "I had just enough pages," he told her, bouncing a bit in place.

It was filled with sketches of the inside of the DHD, going from the whole to the specific. No wonder it had taken him so long – he'd been meticulous. "My god, Daniel," she thanked him as she flipped through it. "If technical illustration isn't already on your CV, you need to add it." He'd drawn exploded views, and annotated illustrations of individual components showing their colours, relative sizes, and spatial relationships to one another and the whole. It was instantly clear there were additions to this DHD that she'd never seen before.

"So, what do you think?"

Sam honed in on a couple of drawings in particular. "I think this is going to take a while," she mumbled in response, intent on reconstructing the exploded views into three dimensional mental images.

She didn't look up as Daniel took her by the shoulders and turned her around to face the opposite direction. "Okay, well, before you get too deeply into that, I need to talk to Teal'c about something and I'd like you there."

That lifted her nose from the illustrations. Remembering how he'd stood out there for the longest time, she closed the sketch book and indicated he should lead on. He had an idea, and she definitely wanted to hear it. The DHD drawings tugged at her, but she doubted the changes in its configuration could be solely responsible for all that was going on. The wormhole redirection, yes, most certainly, but it was highly unlikely anything in the DHD was responsible for the signals that were affecting her, Teal'c, and their equipment.

Teal'c nodded in welcome as they approached. The colonel, leaning back against the pillar on the far side of Teal'c, simply snored lightly. Sam thought Teal'c looked a bit stronger – not quite so deathly grey, he was sitting on his own instead of relying on the pillar to hold him up. Hopefully that improvement wasn't just temporary.

"Hey, Teal'c. How are you?" Daniel settled down immediately in front of him, mirroring his cross-legged position. "Can I do anything for you?"

Sam reached to offer Teal'c a water bottle, but he minutely shook his head. "No, thank you. I am fine," he directed toward both of them. He sounded a bit better too, albeit still short of breath and hoarse. "Is there something you wish from me?" he asked, indicating the pack Daniel still held and the sketch book in her own hand. Even this ill, he was every bit as adept as usual at recognising the tamped-down air of anticipation that signaled Daniel was working toward an epiphany.

"I'm sure you remember Cimmeria," Daniel slowly said.

"Vividly."

Sam was pleased to see a spark of humour in Teal'c eyes, accompanying the wry response. He was definitely feeling better – maybe he wasn't going to die on them after all. But then Teal'c tilted his head, his eyes widening in what seemed to be concern. One hand strayed to hover over his abdomen as he stared intently at Daniel.

She didn't understand. "What?" she asked Teal'c, and when he didn't reply she redirected it to Daniel. "What are you suggesting?" Please don't say his symbiote is dying.

Daniel reached into his pack and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. "Do you recognise any part of this?" he asked Teal'c, and as he handed it over to Teal'c Sam caught a glimpse of a drawing of the larger obelisk along with a series of interlocking curved shapes.

Cimmeria. Daniel was reminded of Cimmeria. Sam leaned forward to get a better look at the drawing Teal'c held, dredging her brain for an image of the Cimmerian obelisk. The only thing that came to mind, though, was the memory of Teal'c's pain as Thor's Hammer attacked the goa'uld with no regard for the torture it was inflicting on its carrier. That, and, strangely enough, Daniel saying to her, "Haven't you ever had a feeling that made absolutely no logical sense and it turned out to be right?"

The drawing exchanged hands again, but she ignored both it and the sound of Teal'c answering Daniel's question. What the obelisk looked like suddenly felt irrelevant. Its placement, though ... its position and the relative alignment of the circle and the Stargate – "Oh my god. It's not redirection," she blurted out, the burgeoning realisation solidifying only as she spoke it aloud.

She was on her feet, pacing out her excitement, before she was aware she'd even moved. "It's not the Stargate; this has nothing to do with the wormhole itself. I couldn't understand how it possibly could, but it was equally as impossible to deny what happened. But it didn't, not really. It's, it's ..."

"Transportation?" Daniel suggested.

She swiveled on her heel, grinning at him. "More like a translocation – a transfer," she quibbled, just for the joy of saying the words. "This is brilliant, Daniel. It completely resolves the contradiction between wormhole physics and what, at face value, seemed to have happened." The circle wasn't anything more than just that: a stone circle. It wasn't some strange mechanism that voided the principles of wormhole physics. It was simply a receiver, the end point of a directed transferral signal.

"Okay, well, that's great." Daniel glanced down at the drawing he held. "The obelisk ..." He didn't complete his thought; he simply looked at her, head tipped to one side as if waiting for something.

"What about it?" This was great. She'd need to study the extra connections in the DHD carefully, in order to isolate which alterations were ... That train of thought ground to a halt as she suddenly understood what Daniel was getting at. "You think that obelisk doesn't simply resemble the one on Cimmeria; you're suggesting it's an actual twin to the one on Cimmeria."

"Possibly, yes."

"That it's responsible for the redirection to the circle."

"You tell me." Daniel shrugged.

They hadn't been able to study the Asgard technology on Cimmeria; once it'd been repaired, they'd tried but the Asgard had noticed and expressly forbidden any further mucking around. "That assumes it was the Cimmerian obelisk itself that transported Teal'c to the cavern. We know it scanned for the presence of a goa'uld, but we weren't able to determine if it did any more than that," she thought out loud. "We don't know if it performed the transfer itself, or it sent a signal that activated a remote retrieval system located in the cavern."

"Does it matter?" Teal'c asked. She looked over to see that Teal'c and Daniel sported near identically raised eyebrows.

They were right. To a point. "If the obelisk is responsible for either performing or initiating the transfer, no, practically-speaking it may not matter which. But it's possible it's simply a scanner, if even that – remember, the scanning beam on Cimmeria was visible; we didn't see anything like that here."

Or, had they? She'd stepped out of the 'gate and had been on her knees before she'd even had a chance to take a look around. Daniel shook his head, though, so the answer was no. "Okay, so," she continued, "I don't think we should jump to conclusions. The alterations in the DHD look extensive; I need to study them to see if I can figure out what role they might play in all this."

Daniel counted off the possibilities. "Well, there's a few things choose from: detection of the symbiote or in this case a naquada signature; a transport beam; disabling electronic and naquada-powered technology ..." He shared a glance with Teal'c. "And whatever's affecting you two – which is eerily similar to the effect of the hammer on Teal'c."

"Oh, for crying out loud," unexpectedly came the colonel's voice, rough with either fatigue or pain. Hopefully not both. "Are you saying this place is one huge, stadium-sized Thor's Hammer?"

"Way too big to blow up, Jack." Daniel's voice was tight.

Jack snorted. "It's an obelisk, Daniel. Believe me, it'll blow up just fine."

Sam glanced over at Daniel, remembering what he'd said earlier about the possibility of the colonel blowing things up, but Daniel was intent on studying the ground. It was clear the thought of destroying anything out of hand bothered him, but nevertheless, beyond his initial comment he was clearly abstaining from conversation about it.

"I'd advise against that, Sir," Sam recommended into the void created by Daniel's studious silence. "We don't know if or how the DHD alterations, the obelisks, and the circle might be interconnected. For all we know, destroying the obelisk might completely disable the DHD."

Colonel O'Neill's tone was close to scathing. "Oh, and the DHD is so very helpful to us now, isn't it." He struggled to sit up, pain colouring his voice as he told her, "You have about five hours of daylight left. Use it well, Carter, because if you don't have anything more definitive than 'for all we know', come first light tomorrow there'll be an explosion."

 

 


 

 

Standing in front of the obelisk, Daniel dragged a dirty hand through his equally dirty hair. Heavy overcast ensured the clearing wasn't caged by late afternoon shadows from the outer pillars, as it'd been three days ago, but Daniel felt no less trapped. Whether that stemmed from their continued inability to escape this world, or from the knowledge his team was waiting for him back at the treeline, was a toss-up.

He'd avoided Jack's edict to destroy the obelisk through the simple expedience of being elsewhere for much of the day. It wasn't like Jack was able to do it himself. Daniel glanced over his shoulder at the DHD, recalling the hours spent sitting quietly at Sam's side yesterday, listening to her talk her way through analysing his illustrations. He'd paid close attention as she'd worked to sort the expected from the unexpected and trace power connections, knowing that if she came up with any theories he'd be the one called upon to investigate them.

The hours of remaining daylight had been ridiculously inadequate; Sam's frustrated muttering through much of the night made that clear. She deserved more time. They could blow things up any day – although, even as he thought that, Daniel was acutely aware of both Teal'c's ailing symbiote and their dwindling food supplies: there was only one MRE and a few power bars left between them. And he'd had no luck at all today. He was returning with absolutely nothing to show for having taken the risk of spending so long away from his friends.

"Tomorrow," he regretfully promised the obelisk, reaching out to touch its surface. "You and I, we have a date tomorrow."

His fingers traced the partially eroded lines carved on its facing side. Despite the effects of what was probably a millennium or more of exposure to wind and rain, it was clear the engravings had been sharply incised with great control; the elegant, intricate curves and spirals of the original artwork were, certainly, the work of technology. Daniel couldn't place the design, though. While the innermost circular patterns had a faintly Celtic feel to them, using that nebulous sense of familiarity to theorise provenance would be a stretch. Although, given the assumptive relationship between this place and Thor's Hammer, he supposed this could be the work of the Asgard. Maybe.

He'd never know for certain – he was going to destroy the obelisk, and couldn't elaborate on his earlier quick drawing before he did that because he was out of paper. Not that documenting the obelisk before he blew it to smithereens would be all that useful or interesting if they couldn't get out of here, of course. Daniel sighed, closing his eyes against a rising tide of futility at the reminder that considering any part of this situation from a professional point of view was an utter waste of time. There wasn't any writing here, nothing meaningful to be deciphered. All the archaeological insights in the world on the obelisk, on any part of this place, would be utterly worthless. And ... what did that make him, then?

Annoyed with himself, Daniel turned away and headed over to the DHD. He was far from unnecessary here; he knew that. His training wasn't of any use, but he was honing his newfound function as a dogsbody to a fine art. And if that was what was required of him, if that's what his team needed from him, that was fine. It would have to be enough.

It wasn't enough, though. Daniel turned and scowled at the DHD. He needed to do more. Tossing Jack's P90 to one side, he sat in the dirt behind the DHD and accessed its insides. Sam would probably want to kill him – would actually kill him, if he permanently screwed up the DHD – but he was tired of this, of feeling lost and uncertain and, especially, of placing so much pressure and responsibility onto Sam. She'd reminded him two nights ago that he still had his primary tools, his hands and his eyes ... and he had his brain, too, didn't he? Maybe he could put those tools to use at something beyond attending to everyone's physical needs.

When the first whistle sounded, Daniel was partway through applying his mental map of the power connections Sam had sorted out to the actual guts of the DHD. He was surprised the call hadn't come sooner, actually, as he'd noticed Sam catch sight of him from the far edge of the clearing some time ago. He chose to ignore the summons, but the interruption did remind him there was something he needed to do before carrying on with his task.

The first drops of rain were dusting the ground as he uprooted the closest large weed and stood, waving an all-clear at Jack without bothering to look in that direction. He had a short time of autonomy left before weather and sunset conspired against him, and he didn't want to risk seeing anything that might dissuade him from using it. The DHD responded to his touch and the wormhole obligingly did its stuff on command as well, which was good, and Daniel tossed the clump of soil and weed into the event horizon, just to be sure.

The white flash in his peripheral vision announced that nothing had changed with the circle either. The patter of dirt hitting the circle's dais confirmed the root ball had been redirected, or transported or translocated or whatever, but he had a vague sense of something not being quite right. Something to do with the event horizon or – or, what? He wasn't sure what he'd seen, if anything at all.

The abrupt shut-down of the Stargate coincided with another shrill whistle. No doubt Jack was beyond angry. There wasn't much Jack could do about the day's blatant defiance, though, other than punish him with bad humour turned worse. And whistling. Mind you, the whistling thing really was starting to get on his nerves. Daniel glanced over there, but aside from the long distance waves of ire winging their way toward him through the increasing rainfall, there didn't seem to be any obvious signs of urgency or panic in Jack's stance.

Back under the DHD, he called up his mental image again, using it as a guide to seek out where Sam had indicated the new additions interfaced with the DHD's usual power routing. When he was completely certain he'd located all that Sam had pointed out, he nervously took a deep breath, silently prayed that he wasn't about to kill either himself or the DHD, or both, and reached in to disconnect the new from the old. The first three were within reach, but the fourth proved to be a challenge he wasn't certain his fingers could meet.

It was disappointing, but after a few more minutes of effort, he decided carrying on wasn't worth the risk of damaging the DHD's usual bits. He would reconnect everything for now and head back. Hopefully Sam could identify the components in his way and give him some guidance as to how to work around them – if she'd talk to him at all, that is, once she found out what he'd been precipitously toying with.

That plan was scuppered not ten seconds later. "Oh my god," he whispered, heart in his throat, as a casual overhead stab at the closest DHD glyph unexpectedly yielded absolutely nothing. Oh god ... had his hand simply slipped off the edge of the wet panel, or had he screwed up the DHD? He jumped to his feet and punched a few more glyphs with the same result. The DHD was unresponsive, utterly dead to his touch. A panicked inspection of its guts confirmed that he hadn't accidentally interfered with the usual power pathways he'd watched Sam mark out on the drawings. And Sam wouldn't be wrong, because she understood the innards of the DHD as intimately as she did her own.

Either his memory had failed him, his drawings were faulty, or he'd simply been outright stupid, naively overlooking the possibility of interdependence between the regular and additional components of the DHD. Door number three was the most likely, and oh crap, what if he'd irretrievably interrupted that interdependence? Daniel dove into the increasingly muddy dirt behind the DHD and as quickly as he could, given the tremor in his fingers and the lump of concrete in his chest, reversed what he'd done.

The usual behaviour of the active glyphs when he tried again soothed the pressure in his chest, even as the overwhelming relief turned his legs to rubber. Daniel sagged against the DHD and dialed a full address, just to be certain, and when the wormhole burst out in all its glory he cast around looking for something readily at hand to throw toward it. The wind had picked up nicely, and the closest even halfway weighty enough object to make it across the distance was the useless mag light attached to his vest. He didn't hesitate. He was pretty certain he'd get it back, so what the hell.

No sooner did the flashlight fly past the DHD and over the dais to the wormhole did it come shooting back across the angle from the circle. It hit the edge of the Stargate's outer ring and bounced off to land in front of the 'gate, which snapped off just as abruptly as it had each time he'd tested it. The wormhole closing automatically after the circle having been activated must be part of the whole nah-nah you're all gonna die multifaceted setup, Daniel thought tiredly. As he shuffled through the rain to retrieve his light, his brain signaled it was pretty much done for the day by treating him to a home-made video of the mag light rebounding off the circle straight into the still active Stargate, to then ricochet repeatedly, insanely, back and forth between the two.

Ooh, an infinite loop – how appropriate. The cold from the wet stone leached through the butt of his pants as Daniel plunked himself down next to his mag light, frowning at the snort of laughter that had just threatened to burst from his chest. There was nothing funny about the analogy the mental image of an endlessly rebounding flashlight had brought to mind. That conditions here precluded a functional exit was anything but amusing. He must be even more tired than he'd thought.

Leaning back on his hands, he took a moment to both suppress his confused disappointment and gather his wits – he'd need every last shred of control over himself when he got back to the treeline, because if he so much as tongued a disjointed thought Jack was going to eat him alive.

Daniel's frown deepened as rough, wet stone grazed his fingertips when he slid his hands along it in order to push himself to his feet. What ...? He did it again, and okay, so maybe Jack was going to have to wait a bit longer to lay into him. His fingers were telling him something his eyes had not: he could feel faint grooves of some kind in the stone surface of the dais.

On hands and knees, Daniel crawled about doing his best to sweep muddied grime from the dais surface into the shallow, uneven lines and arcs he suspected could be carved symbols worn away to almost nothing. The rain wasn't helpful, but he tamped the scant mud down as best he could and was soon rewarded with irregularly regular dirty channels, confirming that something, so long ago that its presence was all but undetectable now, had indeed been carved into the surface of the dais. He traced and filled what slight indentations in the stone he could find, and finally, when his hands were so sore that he couldn't continue, he stood and backed away to take a look. It was getting dark, the sun on the verge of settling below the trees, and the rain worked to wash away the bulk of his efforts even as his gaze scanned the width of the dais, but he saw enough. The carved area he'd found appeared to form a border immediately in front of and entirely spanning the width of the Stargate.

The remote possibility it could be language teased him into standing there, trying to burn the disappearing shapes into memory, just that bit longer than he should have. By the time he was well on his way to the edge of the clearing, the sky had darkened significantly. The woods were an indistinct dark barrier ringing the area, and while the rain was easing off, the same wind responsible for that reprieve now swept across the glade, briskly driving a bitter chill through his soaked clothing.

When he got close enough to discern the edge of the clearing, where the columns showed up as anemic grey strips against an inky backdrop of trees, he couldn't see anyone waiting for him. Glad that Sam and or Jack hadn't continued to expose themselves to this weather because of him, it nevertheless threw him off a bit; in the heavy gloom of nightfall, he had trouble picking out the telltale shapes of foliage that marked which columns sheltered his friends.

Nothing to worry about, he reassured himself as darkness sank to earth from the treetops, taking his vision along with it. Everything was fine. Well, no, not everything, and not fine really, because he'd let his team down again, but at least he wasn't lost. He made a course adjustment to angle through the scrub separating him from the murky line of pillars, and skirted them until he was closer to where he needed to be. When he called out, Sam's answering voice guided him the remaining distance to the correct set of pillars.

They were all under the tarp. He could tell everyone was present and accounted for by the trio of objections to his stumble that nearly pulled the shelter down on their heads. As he crawled in, a hand grasped one side of his vest and directed him into place.

"Jeez, you're completely soaked." The same hand that had snaked out from beside Daniel and guided him to sit now pushed him away. "Get the hell away from me. Go drip on someone else."

Despite the complaint, Jack's voice was soft and the push light enough that Daniel stayed where he was. It was the safest thing to do; it was darker than dark under the tarp and he didn't want to blunder into anything or anyone. No way his coordination would be up to deftly skirting people and supplies in the small space, because now that his day was mostly done and he knew they were all safe, he suddenly found himself shaking like a leaf. Worms in his gut and a vague sense of nausea weren't far behind.

Nevertheless ... "You guys okay? Does anyone need anything?" he asked, in reparation for having abandoned them for most of the day.

"Other than you? No." Jack felt up the sleeve of his soaked jacket, and Daniel knew he was aware of the trembling when instead of just telling him to strip off, Jack gently tugged at the shoulder of his vest and asked, "Can you unzip? Are your boots wet through, too?"

Daniel wriggled his toes, decided they were dry, and tried not to jar Jack's leg too badly as he squirmed around to deal with his upper half. His wet jacket was soon replaced with Teal'c's dry one, with a space blanket wrapped overtop it. Sam leaned forward from her position across from him and shoved something into his chest. It was a water bottle, which he pretended to drink from just to make her happy. What he really wanted to do with it was rinse his hands and his hair, but he didn't, because he hadn't been there to do the water run and wasn't sure how much they had.

Teal'c was a dark shape to his right, leaning back against the pillar. "What did you find?" he asked, not sounding too bad. Certainly no worse than in the morning, when Daniel had gone to him for guidance before setting out.

Daniel was glad for the dark that concealed him. "Not much of anything. A couple of burrows, but it looks like they've been unused for quite a while." He tried not to sound too disheartened as he admitted, "I'm sorry, Teal'c. I'm not as sharp-eyed as you, and I need more practice ... or something."

"It's the 'something', Daniel," Sam interjected. "It's not you. When Teal'c told us where you'd gone, we talked it over and we think we know why there aren't any game animals in the area."

"No," Daniel objected to her attempt to let him off the hook. He needed to learn to do this; if they couldn't defeat the infinite loop system very soon, malnutrition would be just around the corner. "They have to be here. The condition of this forest indicates an active food chain – a healthy ecosystem like this mandates first and second order consumers. I just don't know how to find them."

Jack swatted Daniel's arm. "Oh, please. Anyone – especially you – can step in steaming piles of shit without specifically looking for them. But only if they're there to begin with ... and I agree with Carter: I don't think they are. Not right now, at least."

"On Earth, many animals are sensitive to wavelengths unusual to their environment. Infrasound, for example – we've encountered damaging low frequency sound waves ourselves," Sam pointed out. "And both infrasound and electromagnetic radiation are being investigated as plausible explanations for animals fleeing areas of natural disaster prior to the event occurring."

Sam's explanation didn't resolve Daniel's confusion. "But we've only been here for three days." Three long, uncomfortable, emotionally and physically draining days.

"Considering the dearth of wildlife currently present in the immediate area, Major Carter has theorised that an unnatural emission may predate our arrival by some time," Teal'c filled him in. "She proposes the existence of an intermittent scanning beacon which operates independently of the Stargate system."

What? That presumed the wildlife here was too stupid to learn that the area near the 'gate wasn't a long term viable habitat. Then again, if the supposed beacon was regularly timed and highly infrequent, maybe this could be a case of an aversive prompting the development of adaptive behaviour, over a long period of time. Something akin to seasonal migration? Which implied he'd probably have to travel well past the end range of the emissions to find a high enough population of prey to make a kill, given his crappy hunting skills. Terrific.

Daniel suspected the reason for the silence that followed Teal'c's elaboration was that they were waiting for him to respond. He couldn't, though. He was feeling distinctly ill.

"Those steaming piles of shit you've been looking for, Daniel? If Carter's right, it's all just a matter of timing," Jack commented, providing as good an explanation as any for why they just might starve to death here.

Bad timing. Just plain old bad luck. If Sam was right about this, and she probably was, they were hooped. Even if the signals were preset to shut themselves down after a period of time, Teal'c and Sam's continued presence would override that programming, keeping the pseudo-hammer operative. As long as the system detected them here, there wouldn't be a viable food source close enough to the 'gate to allow them to continue working on the problem.

"We have to defeat the loop," Daniel whispered, more to himself than the rest of them. The best way to approach that was probably to shut down the emissions before trying anything else, so Sam could enter the clearing, but for some unidentifiable reason he had a feeling they were missing something even more important.

Jack leaned hard into Daniel's shoulder. "You're going to blow that obelisk tomorrow, Daniel, and if that doesn't work I want you and Carter out of here by mid-day." Ignoring Sam's "Sir!" of protest, Jack harshly ordered, "You'll go, Carter. You'll go as far as you have to, no matter how long it takes – just find the damned end point of these signals."

Not altogether surprised at the order to leave Jack and Teal'c alone here for god only knew how long, basically immobile and with no food and limited water, Daniel simply shook his head. The only way to convince Jack that his plan was premature, even given the food problem, was to convince him that there was in fact something in addition to destroying the obelisk that they had to try first. What that was, though, Daniel had no freaking idea.

His immediate problem was he hadn't had time to mull over what he'd discovered yet, and he was tired. Cold. Wet. Sore. His body and brain were too sluggish to rely on. He'd need to sit down with Sam in the morning, and as a prelude to that, he cautiously admitted, "I played around with the DHD today."

He wasn't certain if Sam had been watching when it had malfunctioned. All she said, though, was, "We saw you looking at it," so evidently she'd left before he'd mucked it up.

Jack shifted, letting out a deep groan. "Tell us about it in the morning," he muttered, hissing as he tried in vain to find a less uncomfortable position on the ground. "I'm sure it's just fascinating ... but not right now. Get some sleep."

Sure. It was always a good idea to get a good night's sleep before demolishing things willy-nilly. Daniel curled himself up to allow everyone else a bit more room, and shivered in misery at the revolting feel of wet underwear and the deep ache in too many places to count. Cold and uncomfortable, the last semi-lucid thought in his head as he dozed off was that, yeah, they truly had stepped in it this time, hadn't they.

 

 


 

 

"So where the hell is he? That obelisk has to hit the dirt this morning, Carter. Not just whenever he gets around to it."

"He's checking it out, Sir. Here: Tylenol 3." Sam handed over the pills and a water bottle. That the colonel readily accepted them meant his pain was near intolerable – he knew all but one of the med kits were completely depleted. Truth be told, she wouldn't have minded taking some herself for the continued headache and generally blah feeling that sapped her resources, but that was out of the question.

"His ass needs to be right there," he pointed to where she sat next to him, "by the time these pills kick in."

Fat chance of that, she thought, but simply replied, "He should be back soon."

A grunt was the only response, and she figured it was safe to assume she was dismissed. The early morning sky was clear, a brilliant blue that promised rays of warmth to dry out the damp ground once the sun rose above the trees, so she untied the tarp from the pillars and rolled it back to expose her teammates to the new day.

Teal'c was resting, eyes closed, and didn't respond. Sam hoped he had finally managed to achieve kel'noreem. The colonel, who wasn't nearly so restful, nodded his approval and gestured toward her daypack. "You have the stuff in there?" When she said yes, it was all there, he waved her away. "Go. Stare daggers at him from a distance for me. When he deigns to grace you with his presence, give him the basics so I don't have to start from square one. Make sure he's good with safe distance and the det cord. I'll go over the rest."

She didn't want to take on that responsibility but didn't have much choice in the matter. It wasn't that she didn't feel competent to advise Daniel; it was just that she had no interest in experiencing the guilt, warranted or not, that would come should Daniel inadvertently blow himself up along with the obelisk. The thought was ludicrous, though, because she knew Daniel would follow instructions to the letter. He was a careful, prudent, sensible person who –

Whose raised rear end, directly facing her, was all she could see. What was he doing? Sam set down the pack and groped for her field glasses. The only unusual thing she got a clear view of through them, however, was the tear in the back of Daniel's pants. She was unable to see much more than dirt on the platform's surface, but had to assume there was something there that had captured his attention. Why else would he be on his forearms and knees in front of the circle, nose down, butt in the air?

Daniel stood and glanced over his shoulder in her direction. He saw her, waved an all-clear, and walked the width of the dais, head down as he studied its surface. When he trotted own the steps, he kept going straight on, moving right past the obelisk he'd been sent out to measure for the colonel's calculations.

The muted sense of anticipation she felt grew stronger in concert with his progress toward her. She hadn't had a chance to talk to him this morning. He'd been up and occupied since dawn, taking a trip to the creek to refill their bottles plus helping Teal'c and the colonel into the woods to deal with emptying bladders and whatever else. And while she'd taken care of her own hygiene, he'd disappeared into the clearing. She assumed he'd gone out to do the obelisk, but despite what she'd told the colonel, Sam knew Daniel had been gone far too long for just that.

He had started to say something about the DHD last night and she wanted to hear what was on his mind, but equally she needed him for what was on her mind. She'd had a bad night, her sleep constantly interrupted by her own discomfort and the sounds of her team mates suffering their various ills. Her head was full of pencilled drawings and remembered computer schematics, so she'd had something to do in her sleeplessness, at least. As the night went on, though, she'd found herself struggling with a vague, unidentifiable something haunting the edges of her consciousness – the tantalising feeling that if she just looked harder she'd see something staring right back at her. It was driving her crazy. She'd reached for it all night to no avail, and there was no one better than Daniel at helping her stretch past her usual limits.

He was close enough now that she could better read his body language. The thought of sitting down with him to go over the drawings again, of him helping her scratch that mental itch, faded into concern that something – something new – might be wrong. Worry and tension were a fact of life for all of them right now, though, so maybe the disquiet in the way he held himself didn't necessarily mean there was an additional problem.

Clearly preoccupied with his thoughts, he slowed as he approached, unintentionally teasing her with his near presence. And yes, it was obvious something was bothering him. She called him in, waving the energy bar he should have eaten earlier. "Hey. You do realise you broke rule number three in the stranded offworld procedure manual, right?"

He closed the distance promptly. "Oh? That's not so bad; at least it wasn't one and two."

Sam thrust the bar at him, leaving him no choice but to take it from her. "You violated those on our first day, Daniel. I have a message from Colonel O'Neill: eat this, or he'll shove it down your throat."

Rather than unwrapping the last of his rations, Daniel stuffed it into a pocket. "He'll have to catch me first," he commented offhandedly, dismissing the subject. "Sam, we have to talk."

She followed Daniel along the treeline until he chose his spot. They settled at the base of a pillar, close enough to their bivouac site to enable a fast return if need be, but far enough that the distance was too difficult for the colonel to attempt. Moments after sitting down under its protection, she felt her symptoms begin to ease off. When Daniel simply shushed her as she began to speak, she understood he was waiting for just that, wanting her at her best.

"What were you doing out there?" she asked him, indicating she was ready. "Is there something on the platform?"

"Something, yeah. I'm not sure what it is or how important it might be, though." He drew some shapes in the dirt with his finger. "Inscriptions of some kind. I think if they weren't so badly worn, they might look similar to the ones on the obelisk. They're so eroded they're incomplete; I'm not sure what they are."

Sam leaned forward to look at the marks he'd drawn but they were meaningless to her. "Maybe they're just that: products of erosion? How porous is the stone?"

"No. It's purposeful, Sam. They form a narrow border right in front of the circle, running across its width. And yesterday I found the same thing on the Stargate platform, right in front of the entrance to the event horizon: a narrow carved strip spanning the width of the 'gate." He paused to let that sink in, then asked her, "When we were talking about what role the Cimmerian obelisk might have played in Teal'c being sent to the cavern, you mentioned that for all we know it might just have been a scanner. What if that's the case here?"

Two similar strips of carvings, each located directly in front of the opening of the Stargate and the circle. Dais modifications? "Oh my god. I think I was wrong," she said, as she realised how well what he'd found lined up with some conceptual gaps. "Daniel, this is important: did you examine the rest of the Stargate? Is there anything about the 'gate itself that might indicate additions or alterations have been made to it?"

"I took a look, yes ..." He thought about it for a moment. "Yeah, no, everything I could see and reach seemed the same. If you tell me what to look for, I can go back out and check again."

The Stargate contained naquada. It was immensely strong, its surface resistant to both wear and interference; it was highly unlikely to have been inconspicuously altered. Her excitement grew as she reconsidered her earlier conclusions in light of Daniel's find. "If only the markings were on the circle, too ..." she mused aloud, staring off into the distance as she thought it through. It wouldn't be proof, but it'd provide as much support as she could hope for.

"Mm hmm. And what if they were?" There was a lilt to Daniel's voice that drew her attention. And yes, one glance confirmed he was teasing her.

She smacked his arm. "They are! You already checked, and the strip continues up onto the circle itself, doesn't it? Why didn't you say so right at the start?"

"What, and miss witnessing your thinking face?" He smiled, a typically quick flash in the pan grin that disappeared no sooner than she registered it. "From what I could feel it goes about halfway up the inner surface on both sides."

She reached out to him again, this time making contact out of satisfaction. "I was wrong. Daniel, the circle isn't just a passive receiver – it must be the instigator. The strip at the Stargate detects imminent entry into the wormhole, and the actual transfer is initiated and controlled at the circle."

Daniel frowned, but his face cleared almost immediately. "Like remote retrieval by an Asgard transport beam? It sends out a signal to locate its target, and gathers it up. You're saying the border at the Stargate is, what, simply a target area?"

Sam waggled her head. "It's design is probably more complex than that, but yes, functionally I think that's the gist of it. The circle probably transmits a constant search signal, and when anything about to enter the wormhole is detected by the threshold at the Stargate, the circle knows to retrieve it."

"Well, but ..." Daniel went to rub a hand along his jaw but immediately abbreviated the motion. "Ow," he complained, looking at his fingers with distaste. Under the dirt on his fingers and palm, they were red and abraded; Sam could see how contact with days' worth of stubble on his face would hurt.

"I crawled all over it; it didn't send me anywhere. And why can't it just as easily be the other way around?" he asked her, gently blowing on his hand to soothe it.

The inflamed scratches bothered her. Daniel's hands were all of their hands. "It makes sense it'd be powered by the Stargate, so it only operates when it needs to," she told him, rummaging in her pack for the remnants of her med kit. "And it can't be the other way around. Not from the Stargate or its platform – it has to do with the portion of the Stargate that's imbedded in the dais, and the physics of the 'gate."

Daniel accepted her incomplete explanation without question. The alcohol wipes she handed him were accepted with much less willingness. "You know, that fits with what happened when we tried to leave," he told her, wincing his way through the sting of cleaning the abrasions. "I felt a pulling sensation, like a really hard tug, just as we entered the wormhole. But obviously we didn't actually enter it at all."

No, Sam thought, we didn't, immediately understanding what had bothered her as Daniel had tossed the branch into the wormhole a few days ago. An object that size would have caused a visible ripple in the event horizon, but it hadn't. Too bad she hadn't realised it sooner; she'd wasted days buried in muddled thinking. Now, though, Daniel's find and his description of the tug he'd felt sealed the deal for her. Neither the obelisk nor the DHD had anything to do with not being able to enter the Stargate.

"So, what does this mean?" Daniel tossed the used wipes aside, not bothering to bag them. She didn't blame him; protecting this place from their refuse wasn't a priority for her either. "If destroying the obelisk works and you're able to get out there, do you think you could defeat the circle?" He tipped his head and his voice took on a challenging note. "Do you think you should even try?"

Pardon? Oh dear, the man certainly was adept at finding ways to confound an issue. A tidge exasperated but too familiar with this particular challenge to be offended or irritated by it, Sam chose to wait in silence for him to make his point ... even though the immediate answer that came to mind was, hell yes, she should try.

"I don't know if this is an Asgard-protected planet – I hope it isn't, because I prefer to think they would have tried to avoid collateral damage," Daniel said, gesturing toward himself. "It doesn't really matter if it's them or some other race who borrowed from and adapted Asgard technology, though. The important thing is, this place is safeguarded from Goa'uld intrusion, Sam."

Ah. "You're wondering why. What we would endanger by destroying the system." It was a good question but unfortunately led to a dead end, as had some of Daniel's past ethical dilemmas. Military culture and her acceptance of the chain of command didn't inure her to ethical contradictions, but that training did make it easier to avoid being immobilised by them.

"Okay, I understand that concern," she assured him. "I wish we could take it into account, but I'm not sure we have that luxury. I want to go home, and I know you do too. The alternative is completely unacceptable."

"Well of course it's unacceptable. I was hardly suggesting we just give up and slink away to die." So much for trying to reinforce the uncompromising nature of their situation; all she'd done was insult him. "And I'm not wondering anything. Regardless of why this place might be protected, I'm outright saying I don't think we have the right to interfere. Cimmeria isn't the only time we've meddled to the point of screwing things up – I'd like to think that at some point along the way we might have learned a lesson or two."

Oh, where was the colonel when you needed him? "So what are you suggesting then?" But even as she asked the facetious question, Sam realised the answer. "There isn't always an acceptable alternative or compromise, Daniel, no matter how hard you look or want one. You know that."

"I do," he reluctantly agreed. "Look, I'm as sick of this place as anyone. I already told you the thought of being trapped here scares the crap out of me. Believing it's wrong to defeat this world's protection doesn't change that – if anything, it makes it worse."

Fisting a hand in his hair, Daniel admitted, "God, Sam, I'm so far out of my depth that I already feel like I'm drowning; I don't need this any more than you do. Believe me, I'd like to pretend the issue doesn't exist, but I can't." He shrugged, the expression on his face making sure she understood he wasn't looking for sympathy or contradictions. It is what it is, he was saying.

"So ... no, I don't think we have any right to interfere," he continued. "But if you truly think it's the best option we have, I'll blow the obelisk. I won't like it, but I'll do it. The thing is, something tells me you're not completely convinced that's our only option."

Was there a way to defeat the system without completely disabling every part of it? The very question highlighted just how little they knew. Daniel hadn't intended to discourage her – just the opposite, she knew – but she simply couldn't live up to the expectations that implied. He wasn't the only one who still felt woefully out of depth.

She had to admit he was right about her ambivalence toward the colonel's order; it felt premature. That didn't mean she had a clue what else to do, though. Considering that ignorance, yes, absolutely, killing whatever was affecting her and Teal'c felt like a good thing to do. And while she didn't want to admit it, underneath that desire lurked another motive: a persistent, albeit illogical, need for her equipment.

Into her silence, Daniel quietly asked, "How useful would your electronics be once the obelisk's destroyed and its emissions are gone?"

"Reality sucks," she mumbled under her breath. Because Daniel was right, of course.

He cleared his throat. "Ahm, no, I'm sorry; that was an honest question. Would your equipment help us get past the transportation thing, or figure out what's wrong with the DHD?"

Figure out what's wrong with the DHD? It dialed out just fine yesterday. Sam sat bolt upright in alarm. "Is there something wrong with the DHD? Doesn't it work?"

Daniel's mouth flapped open and closed a few times. "Uh, well, no, it works. I was just ..." Why was he flustered?

Oh. "You mean the alterations? I'm worried they might prevent the wormhole from connecting with the dialed address, but honestly, that's only because I don't know what else to think. No, the equipment can't help me with that."

He grimaced, and fidgeting slightly under her gaze, admitted, "No, that's not ... okay, so, you remember last night I mentioned I'd had another look at the DHD? Well, I kind of broke it – just temporarily. It was working again when I left."

He kind of broke it. "What did you do?" Oh please, don't have messed with it and changed things around. The thought of having to pore over revised drawings was near intolerable.

Sam stood, then paced around the pillar as he explained what had happened. She visualised the illustrations, following along in her head as he described the connections he'd interrupted and then re-established. She'd already decided those portions of the foreign assembly re-routed some of the DHD's stored power to its own components; disconnecting them should have impaired the additions, not the DHD.

She said it aloud, hoping the sound of it might help more than just the thought. "That doesn't make sense. Disconnecting the added assembly from its power supply should have disabled it, not the DHD." The nebulous feeling she'd had all night of being stared at from the inside reappeared, setting her nerves on edge.

She did just two more circuits around the pillar, barely ten steps, before suddenly finding herself nose to nose with Daniel. He was practically jumping out of his skin. "Sam. Sam, there's crystal technology in the DHD, right?" he asked, grabbing hold of both her arms.

"A little, yes. Not for the main dialing system and interface with the 'gate; that's too complex to be managed with crystals." He should already know this. Why was he asking? Then it occurred to her that he was asking not for information, but for help with processing. "The buffer is stored in a memory crystal, and the central activation core and power reservoirs are crystals," she supplied. "Bog standard crystal technology, nothing special about their use except for the way in which they're integrated with the more advanced tech of the rest of the system."

Daniel jiggled, almost dancing in place with the need to work through whatever was on his mind. "Bog standard crystal technology that the Goa'uld stole and made their own, right? This place," he waved a hand in the air. "It disables naquada-powered technology and electrical devices, from complex electronics right down to battery-operated flashlights. And it's obviously designed to guard against Goa'uld incursion from, well, anywhere, not just through the Stargate. It's very thorough."

Right! "So why does the DHD work?" she finished for him, and leapt three steps ahead because oh wow, with an intense flash of insight she faced down that internal stare and identified the face behind it. "We've been looking in the wrong direction, Daniel. We can't blow the obelisk. There's only enough C4 for one objective, and it has to be the circle."

From the look on his face, he either hadn't followed her or didn't know that about the C4. "Jack only packed a junior demolition kit this trip?" So, the latter then. "I don't want to burst any bubbles here, Sam, but you know what he's going to say."

Yes, she did know. "And I'll tell him in return that this is the best and possibly the only viable option we have right now. There's no loss in changing direction – if it doesn't pan out, it's easy enough to go back to plan A."

"Okay." He turned away from her, quickly heading off. "That's exactly what I'll say to him." She grabbed her pack and hurried to catch up, making it to Daniel's side a few columns before the one which sheltered Teal'c. He paused and held her back, though. "Nope. You're staying out here while I talk to him."

She protested, but he held firm. "Jack's not well, Sam. He's in pain; he's worried about Teal'c; and, I don't know about you, but I cringe inside at just the thought of how helpless he must feel right now. He may not be willing to think this through. Do you really want to risk him ordering you to carry on as planned?"

It would be an impossible order to follow, because Daniel was the only one who could carry it out. She wanted to point out that he was underestimating the colonel, but didn't, because she knew Daniel probably felt that way himself. He simply wasn't willing to chance doing that to her, no matter how slight the risk. "You're being self-serving again," she said instead, letting him know she understood.

"You bet I am," he tossed over his shoulder as he disappeared behind the next column.

 

 


 

 

They were all there waiting for him, gathered at the facing side of one of the columns, when Daniel returned from the DHD. He slowed as he walked the last few yards, mindful of the increase in scrub and debris on the ground as he approached the edge of the clearing. The unit he'd removed sat nested in the pack he carried. Taking no chances, he'd removed his t-shirt to wear just his jacket and vest, using the shirt as padding even though Sam had told him the thing could probably stand more rough and tumble than he could.

"So that's it?" Jack asked, as Daniel settled down across from him and Teal'c and carefully removed the small assembly from his pack. "Where are the crystals?"

Sam sat down next to Daniel, her daypack and his drawing pad in hand. "The DHD has the crystals, Sir." She leaned forward over the device, studying it intently for a few moments before touching it. Tracing the connections between the individual components, comparing them to the illustrations, she lifted her head just long enough to glance at Daniel. "It's just what I expected from the drawings – great job, Daniel."

"Yeah, wonderful," Jack facetiously observed. "It looks like pieces of slag held together with mouldy elastic bands. There are supposed to be crystals. You said it was crystal technology."

"No, we told you it was hooked up to the DHD's power crystals. If it was made up of crystal technology, it wouldn't be able to shield crystal technology from interference designed to disable crystal technology."

"And now there are way too many crystals. Thank you, Daniel."

Sam bent right down and sniffed it. Daniel shrugged his ignorance at the "ew" look Jack sent his way. She picked it up, turned it around and over and under, and gave them a brilliant smile. "This is amazing. I have no idea what it's made of." Her eyes were shining.

Daniel hated to dull that light, but it was probably best to tell her before she found out for herself. "Well, except there's a problem – it didn't work." He pulled the GDO out of his vest pocket and placed it down on the t-shirt, right next to the assembly. Pushed a button. No little activation light, beep, nothing. And as before, when he'd tested it at the DHD, even when he nudged the GDO so that the two devices came into contact there was no response. "I tried the camera and my radio too, just to be sure. I'm sorry, Sam."

She shook her head, looking a bit contrite. "No, it's okay. I didn't expect it to work right out of the box. I'm sorry; I should have mentioned that. Here," she pointed to a particular component, then located it for him on one of the drawings. "This piece? You see how disconnecting it from the DHD crystal would compromise its integrity?"

"Uh, sure." Daniel peered at the drawing and then the device. Jack was right: it was like trying to make sense of a pile of slag. "Okay, no; I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Here; see these embedded lines? They're obviously conductors," she told him. "Think of the piece as being a kind of alien solenoid; if you interrupt the coil, it's not going to work."

Yes, okay, that made sense to him now. He could see a tiny gap where he'd disconnected the component from the DHD. "So, you have to bridge that gap before it'll work. Do you have to do that to all four spots where it was connected to the DHD?"

"More like rebuild the coil than simply bridge the gap, unfortunately. I have to pry up the entire length of the conductors on all four units, and re-seat them." She pulled a small tool kit out of her pack." If you're willing to help, it'll go a lot faster. I know you're good with intricate work, but this will be really painstaking," she warned him.

Jack let out a huff, carefully easing himself down onto his back. "Like laborious isn't already his middle name, Carter. Good time to take a nap, T. You two just wake us when you're done."

Sam showed Daniel what to do, demonstrating on the one in front of her. Painstaking was an understatement, but the actual procedure was pretty straightforward. He took the ultra-fine dental pick she gave him and scooted around to the other side of the device, getting to work on the second marred component. "Like this?" he asked her, to be sure he wasn't going to irretrievably screw anything up.

"Yes, that's great ... but here, look," she showed him. "It has to stay isolated where it passes through here, so maybe go at it more from this angle to be sure you don't accidentally stray over onto the adjacent node." He adjusted his technique accordingly, and she beamed at him, "Yes, just like that. We'll be done in no time at all."

No time at all stretched out long enough that Jack actually did fall asleep. They worked side by side at it, each needing a steady second hand from time to time with a few tricky spots. By the time Daniel shuffled around to help Sam finish off the last of the job, his back was sore from sitting hunched over and he wished his tender fingertips would join his teammate in blissful unconsciousness.

The GDO still didn't work though. Daniel wasn't sure if the burn in his eyes was from having stared at infinitesimally fine lines for so long, or from disappointment. Sam was less concerned. "The battery or the electronics could be blown," she pointed out. "It doesn't mean the shield isn't working." She placed the thing back into the pack and stood up with it. "There's only one way to know for sure. I'll be right back."

"Hey, hey ... when hell freezes over," a pain-thickened voice intruded.

Daniel was right there with Jack on this one – yes, she was the only one who could test it, but no way was he about to let her take so much as a single step into the clearing without him at her side. He was already standing, one hand on her arm, before Jack even voiced the order.

"Daniel, go with her. Carter, no pushing any boundaries, you hear? One out of place hiccup, and you get back here."

Staying close enough that her shoulder overlapped his, Daniel kept a constant eye on her as they stepped away from the protection of the pillars. Remembering that the escalation in effect hadn't remained gradual when she'd stranded herself the other day, he looked for the furrow in the ground that had marked the point of collapse. Repeated rain and wind had obliterated it, though.

"You doing okay?" They were about fifteen feet out, moving step by cautious step into the clearing. She suddenly stopped dead and he reflexively grabbed her arm. "Sam! What is it?" Pale. She was so pale, and sweaty. Shaking.

This wasn't going to work. He tugged on her arm to urge her backward, but she resisted. "No, it's all right. I'm fine, Daniel," she told him. "Just ... just don't ask me that, okay? It makes me realise how terrified I am."

Right. Of course. "Me too," he admitted. "Sorry. I won't do it again."

Sam seemed rooted to the spot. "The GDO? It probably means you were right about the possibility of initial damage. But now there's this stupid voice in my head asking, what if this thing is specifically programmed just for crystal technology?"

Yeah. He was worried about that too. "Well, like you said, there's only one way to find out. You ready to go?" Coddling their fears wouldn't do anything other than prolong the wait.

One more foot, then two ... a full yard farther, and another. Sam's steps faltered, and Daniel hurried to place a hand under hers to help support the device. "I should be feeling much better by now, if this thing works outside the DHD," she said, the quaver in her voice telling him her hesitancy was something other than physical.

"Yeah, well ... I'm not supposed to ask," Daniel reminded her, and got the short snort of laughter he was hoping for.

"If it works outside the DHD ..." she repeated softly. Her steps slowed to a halt and she looked over her shoulder. "Daniel, I don't feel a lot better, but I'm not any worse either. Last time, there was a slow deterioration even before I overstepped."

Daniel followed her gaze back to where Jack and Teal'c sat watching. "This looks pretty close to where it hit you. Maybe another few feet or so," he estimated.

She suddenly turned her head and stared at him. "Outside the DHD. It's you. It must be," she whispered, then more loudly told him, "I want to try something. Move away from me. Gradually, a step at a time."

It was only a few steps and she didn't seem on the edge of collapse, so he slowly withdrew. Her attention was directed inward and he didn't distract her with questions such as, how far away? He just did as he was told – well, as near as he could interpret the instruction, anyway – and continued to slowly move away.

"There, yes," Sam abruptly exclaimed. She grinned at him. "Take a few steps toward me."

Sam had him move however many steps forward, and then a few back again. She was grinning like a loon the whole time, and also, he abruptly realised as he sharpened his attention on her, looking much better. "It's working?" he tentatively asked. Please let it work.

Her giant step forward farther into the clearing was his answer. She turned to walk backward – an alarming development, considering the irreplaceable treasure she carried – and beamed at him. "Oh boy is it ever," she chirped. "I feel completely normal, Daniel. It was you, your proximity – there was too much surface area. I should have thought of it earlier."

He twirled a finger and she obligingly, thank goodness, pivoted to walk facing front. Daniel kept a few feet to one side, still alert for any signs she might waver. She didn't, and by the time they were almost halfway to the Stargate he was elated enough that he wanted to swoop her up into a hug. He was ready to call this a done deal, but Sam insisted on going all the way to the DHD before turning back. In retrospect, the decision made sense; they had to confirm the device would remain powered long enough to be useful.

Comfortable with letting Sam enjoy the glow of good health in privacy for the last thirty feet, Daniel upped his pace. As he lowered himself down to sit next to Jack, offering him a bottle of water and a pleased smile, all he received in return was a light smack on the back of the head. "Ow. What?" he complained, although he already knew what it was for. "She's okay, Jack. She needs a few minutes alone more than she needs me."

"You were supposed to stay right by her side but not five minutes into the deal, what did you do?" Despite Jack's glare, Daniel suspected he wasn't much into playing the displeased commanding officer. A heavy, resigned sigh indicated he was right about that. "Jeez, Daniel. Do you have any idea how many incidents you should be written up for once we get back?"

Oh, lots and lots, probably. "Haven't been keeping count." Daniel flapped a hand to indicate both Jack and Teal'c. "Been too busy doing other stuff."

The distraction of keeping an eye on Sam watered down the flippancy in Jack's retort. "Oh, don't think for a minute that's going to save you. A few days of personal care doesn't balance out insubordination and abandoning a team mate in jeopardy."

"She told me to leave. Something about both of us being too large for the shield to handle." Which, if he was understanding Sam, was not good news for Teal'c. She was not five feet away now, though, and Daniel was only to happy to turn the conversation over to her. "Sam," he called her over. "Jack wants to write me up for abandonment."

"Well you did spend the whole day yesterday avoiding orders," she unhelpfully pointed out. Squatting in front of Teal'c, she gently placed the daypack into his lap. "I don't know if it'll help your symbiote recover, but it should protect you from further harm on the way to the Stargate." She glanced at Daniel, biting her lip, and gave Teal'c the bad news. "I think the internal power supply is proportional to the surface area to be shielded. Do you think you can walk on your own, Teal'c?"

It was a long way. Teal'c didn't mess with them – no "if I must" or regal nods of assent. The silence drew out long enough to be uncomfortable before he responded with a question of his own. "Will this device render our Goa'uld weapons operable?"

Whoa. Daniel sat up straight, looking from one person to another as Jack immediately negated the question. "Doesn't matter, because no one's going to be using them, Teal'c."

"I'm not sure. Naquada power cells aren't as susceptible to damage as electronics or batteries, so theoretically, yes, they might work again under its protection."

"Carter. Stop talking," Jack warned.

Teal'c calmly faced Jack down. "You cannot automatically reject an option as invalid simply because you do not wish to hear it, O'Neill."

Jack muttered, "Yes I can," under his breath.

"If I cannot make it the whole way under my own power, the device may prove ineffective?" Teal'c asked, focusing on Sam.

"Its effect was diluted by Daniel's proximity." She grimaced an apology in Jack's direction. "So, yes, if you need help it's likely you'll be left open, to some extent, to further harm."

Jack scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Look, it's a plain old bad idea. We don't know if your symbiote would survive it. There's no point to getting you through the 'gate if you're dead before you hit the other side."

Daniel wanted nothing to do with the conversation. He wasn't going to zat Teal'c. He understood the motive behind the suggestion – Teal'c was loathe to face that sort of agony again, and it would be easier and faster for Daniel to get him to the Stargate if he was unconscious as opposed to uncontrollably writhing in pain. No, he didn't want to see Teal'c suffer through that again, but Jack was right: even the most remote possibility it might doom Teal'c's symbiote meant it wasn't worth considering.

"Well, no one's hitting the other side if we don't get on with this," Daniel interrupted the useless discussion, climbing to his feet. "I don't know about you guys, but I have a ton of things to do before we know if this plan is even feasible."

He didn't wait for any responses. No, he wasn't going to zat Teal'c, and yes, he really didn't have the nerve or time to consider it right now in any case. He had an eight foot high stone circle to blow up, and that was just to start. Forceful long strides took him away from them before anyone could utter a word.

The bivouac and the daypack containing the C4 was as far as he got before his forced determination petered out. He stood there, head down, the unopened pack hanging from his hand as he tried to recover the energy he'd need for all the running back and forth in his immediate future. He didn't mind – in fact he was looking forward to doing something inarguably constructive – but oy, his legs already ached just thinking about it.

The instructions Jack gave him on setting the charges were reassuringly precise. Daniel drew the circle and dais in the dirt and Jack decided on the load-bearing points most likely to collapse under detonation, guiding him on how to best shape the direction of the explosions. Daniel was aware of Teal'c and Sam speaking quietly together in the background, and wasn't surprised when Sam approached him as he was readying to leave.

"There may be a way to better Teal'c's chances," she told him, placing one hand suspiciously gently on his arm.

He looked from her face to that light touch. "I get the feeling now's a good time to go with the 'don't ask' thing."

She wrinkled her nose. "Probably. Daniel, I might be able to boost the shield's output enough that someone could help Teal'c for part of the way ... but I won't know for sure until I see it alongside the DHD."

Uh, no. "You have detailed drawings here; can't you use those?" He plucked her hand off his arm. "You wouldn't be able to see it, Sam. You'd drop like a stone the minute you hooked it back up to the DHD."

She was resolute. "Not necessarily. Connecting it up to a power crystal without actually placing it in the DHD should preserve enough protection to keep me going."

Don't ask, don't ask, don't ... "How?" Damn. She didn't answer, though, which told him a lot. "You're just talking through your ass, aren't you," he accused her. It didn't much matter; he knew she was going out there with him whether he approved of it or not. He didn't even bother asking if she intended to clear it with Jack.

She sent him off to do his thing while she did hers – something about stripping potentially compatible parts from the defunct pulse generator – and too soon for his nerves he was kneeling behind the DHD, heart starting to pound as he finished reconnecting the shield. The DHD gamely came alive for him, and the circle just as cooperatively proved all was unchanged when he chucked his dented flashlight at the wormhole.

Unwrap these, separate that, put those there and there, attach that; rinse and repeat twice more ... crouched behind the large obelisk, Daniel pared off a goodly bunch of shavings from his magnesium strip and placed the cut end of the first length of det cord on the pile. He barely got his hand out of the way after striking the flint edge, the size and suddenness of the flame unexpected. A bit overzealous there, he told himself, blowing on his singed fingertips.

The blast was a lot bigger than Jack had led him to expect, but fortunately he'd done it right and the bulk of the debris had flown in the opposite direction. The noise, though – he'd underestimated that. His eardrums were very unhappy. A quick assessment of the damage to the left side of the circle, where it used to be embedded in what used to be that portion of the dais, confirmed he was good to go and Daniel ran the second length of cord to repeat the process again. Then again. By the time the third block had done its thing, the circle and its dais were reduced to a pile of small to huge chunks of stone and Daniel was wondering if he'd irreparably damaged his hearing.

He tested the system again, relieved that amid the hissing in his ears he could discern the sounds of the DHD panels and 'gate chevrons and the whoosh of the wormhole. Before tossing it in, he advised his battered light, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I hope I never see you again."

A second later, profound relief drove him to his knees on the dais. The 'gate was still open when a new sound, different from the ringing in his ears, repeatedly penetrated his release of tension. Jack was at it again. This whistling was more than welcome: a celebration rather than a summons. Daniel stayed put, kneeling on the dais in front of the open 'gate until the wormhole winked out of existence and the lump in his throat dissolved.

 

 


 

 

Daniel's shadow passed over her for the fourth time as Sam sorted through the pile of wire and electronics she'd had him strip from the MALP. Pacing the short distance between the dais and the DHD, on a path that took him as close to where she sat as possible without risk to her, Daniel was conspicuously hovering despite that she'd assured him she would be fine.

Head down, she smiled to herself. She understood it wasn't out of a lack of confidence in her; he was just concerned. And she appreciated that. Really, she did. But ... "Daniel, can you worry on the other side? You're blocking my light."

He shifted over with alacrity and crouched down just outside the protective range of the shield. "Are they going to be long enough?"

Sam held up one of the lengths of electrical cable she'd separated out from the rest, showing him the maximum distance they could keep the device from the DHD while still having the two connected. "I don't want to splice them for more length," she told him. "The power output from the crystal is stress enough; we need to avoid potential defects."

Using relatively crude electrical components to adapt the interface between the DHD crystals and this new, unknown technology was dicey enough; the last thing they needed was for a weak spot to give out at just the wrong time. Well, any time would be the wrong time, she corrected herself, loosely twisting together several lengths of cable and tossing them to Daniel. He caught them before they hit the ground and pulled out his knife to begin stripping the plastic sheathing off the copper.

"You know we can't dial home," he casually mentioned as they worked.

That had occurred to her, yes. "I know. If the wormhole was never actually redirected or compromised, it means we've been knocking on the door all this time. The SGC will be on high alert."

He nodded, adding another stripped wire to his pile. "The only things that could get through the iris are a GDO or a communication signal. We don't have either of those." But then his head snapped up. "Wait. Could we make one?" Indicating both the DHD and alien device, he asked her, "Is there any way to use the crystals to power up the ... oh. Okay, so not the MALP, but can we use any of that as a power source for our radios or the GDO?"

It was a nice thought. "No, sorry. You're to blame, you know," she told him, holding up one of the control boards from the MALP. "They're blown beyond repair."

"Yeah, well, being right all the time is a hard cross to bear."

Sam tossed a hunk of sheathing at him. "Yes it is. Not that you'd have any direct personal experience with that."

She told Daniel how many strips of fine copper wire she'd need him to twist together to form a thin cable, and when they'd made enough it was time for the delicate part of the job. They both dropped all pretense of lightheartedness as she hooked the delicate wires up to the correct places on the shield device. Daniel paid close attention to her running commentary on what and how she was doing, and what adaptations he'd need to make at his end.

She slid both the shield and herself toward the DHD, and immediately felt the drain as a lightheadedness and uncomfortable flutter in her stomach. It worsened steadily as she inched closer to the point where the unattached ends of the cables would reach into the DHD's interior. As the dizziness turned to vertigo, she realised she might get too sick to do what was necessary, especially once Daniel was added to the mix.

He moved in to do his part inside the DHD, and a sharp heat skittered along her limbs. Her vision blurred, then narrowed to a grey tunnel. She was too close. The DHD, Daniel, herself: it was too much. His voice was a buzz she'd no hope of understanding. A sensation of movement turned her stomach inside out and everything hurt. Exploded. Her head –

She woke to a pounding headache and the prickle of paresthesia in her arms and legs. Soft, indeterminate sounds came from somewhere close by. The feel of dirt under her hands reminded her where she was. As Sam raised her head, the first thing she saw, right in front of her, was an orange crystal wired into the shield ... and the second, and third, were Daniel hunched over with his hands in the DHD, and a zat lying on the ground next to him.

The little ... "Oh sure," she croaked. "But you'll do it to me."

He turned his head, bumping his ear on the edge of the DHD column. She'd startled him. Both hands still inside, he twisted his shoulders to turn more toward her. "Sam. Thank god."

It wasn't hard to tell just how upset he was. "It's okay, Daniel. I'm all right," she told him, and as she said it she realised it was true. She felt much better. Sitting up, she saw three of the cables she'd connected to the shield now running into the DHD. The fourth ran to the crystal beside her. "In fact, I feel great. How many are attached?" she asked, eager to find out how much additional power was responsible for the improvement in coverage.

"Uhm ... well, none." He studied her intently. "I've only had time for that," he told her, pulling both hands out from the DHD to indicate the crystal. "God, Sam, you were ... I couldn't move both the shield and you without damaging the work you did. I'm sorry. I didn't know what else to do."

She grimaced as she realised she must have fought against his attempt to help. The more important thing, though, was that he hadn't done the other three yet and here she was, just fine despite being this close to him and the bulky DHD. She stared at the little crystal, imagining she could hear it humming away as it fed power to the shield, bolstering its strength. God, the time she'd wasted.

"No, that's good," she reassured him. "You did the right thing. But I've been an idiot – I didn't need to get so elaborate." One crystal was enough. If she hadn't been trying to overcome a lack of confidence, she might have realised that before they'd gone to the time and trouble of preparing to hook up all four.

"Too diligent?" Daniel obviously understood. He sat back and scratched his forehead. "You think just this one is going to work for Teal'c, then?"

No better way to find out than to try it. She beckoned him closer, and he hesitantly crawled across the short distance between them. They sat together, arms and shoulders touching, and it felt marvelous. "Power to spare," she grinned, but even so it was another few minutes before she felt him start to relax.

"You did it," he whispered, and let out a quiet huff that she couldn't exactly call laughter. "You figured it out, Sam. I think this redefines the word 'nothing', don't you?"

She was puzzled for a moment, until she recalled her panic on that first terrible day. She felt helpless without her tools, she'd told him ... Without access, without any way to collect data, there's nothing I can do here, she'd said.

"You can let Teal'c know that using a zat on him wouldn't help – he'd still suffer and I'd still need to deal with him awake," Daniel told her as they sat there leaning against one another. "It didn't fire at all until I moved you away from the shield and took your place, and even then it was under-powered. He'd wake up long before I could even reconnect the shield and dial out." Daniel shrugged dismissively, adding, "It was never going to happen anyway."

Sam nodded, realising that was why she had woken before he'd been able to do any more than just remove the crystal from the DHD and hook it up to the shield. "Not worth the risk to him or his symbiote," she agreed. "I'll tell him. To be honest, Daniel, as much as I desperately want to go home, I'm not looking forward to the moment you have to put this thing back into the DHD."

They both knew he'd be sending Teal'c through first, and what that meant for her. "I'll work as fast as I can," he promised her. She knew he would; that went without saying.

She checked the join he'd rigged, for stability, and made sure he was clear on how to reconnect both the crystal and the device to the DHD. The job done and the crystal-bolstered device safe in the daypack, they walked side by side across the clearing together in continuous close contact, and although they formed a single unit larger than the DHD's surface area, her health didn't falter.

While it was clear the adaptation was a success long before they reached the treeline, Sam kept her arm around his waist for the entire distance. Continuing the test wasn't necessary; it just felt good, and she was grateful to him. His insights, his drawings, his persistence ... that out-of-the-box intelligence that intuited opportunities and options she might never realise existed without prompting – she'd probably still be somewhere out there in the woods, stubbornly looking in the wrong direction, if not for that.

"We can't just dial up and leave," Sam told everyone as they sat to discuss their next step. "We need to figure out how to perform a test run, to be sure the wormhole actually connects with a dialed address."

"Bra'tac," Teal'c promptly offered. "He intended to visit Sat'nai to reflect, following the Rite of Mal'sharran. He will still be there."

Bra'tac had the means to contact the SGC, even during a state of high alert. It was a good idea, but Sam wished there was a more immediate way to get confirmation that the 'gate worked as it should. None came to mind, though.

"We need to send him a message." Daniel pulled a felt pen out of his vest pocket and reached for the sketch pad.

He passed both to Teal'c, and read over Teal'c's shoulder as the note was scrawled along the edge of one page. Sam didn't need to caution Teal'c about Bra'tac not coming through to them; the message Daniel translated for them was a perfect, succinct combination of warning, call for help, and RSVP request.

Daniel tore off the bit of paper and placed both it and his SG-1 shoulder patch in a plastic bag, Teal'c gave him the 'gate address, and they watched him head across the clearing with the daypack in hand. She missed it right away; the headache and vague nausea even the dead spot under the column couldn't ease was all the more noticeable from having felt so well just a moment before.

Disappointed at once again feeling ill, Sam eyed the position of the sun overhead. "This might take a while. Days, even. There's no guarantee Bra'tac will be anywhere near the Stargate to receive the message."

The colonel sighed. "Or he could be standing right there when it comes through, Carter."

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed, telling her, "The meditation site is but a stone's throw from the Stargate. Even if he is inside the complex, he will hear the Stargate activate."

"There, see? Not days."

Daniel had reached the Stargate and was crouched at the base of the DHD. Please don't have any problems, please ... Sam was unable to take her eyes off him as he stood and moved into position to dial. The slight pause after he first leaned forward and laid a hand on the panel caused her heart to stutter, but she relaxed when his body shifted to reach for each glyph. He'd done it; the device and the crystal were correctly back in place, and apparently none the worse for having been interfered with.

"Good job, Carter," the colonel told her as the 'gate came to life. "Damn good job."

Daniel was only halfway across the clearing, returning to them empty-handed, when the Stargate erupted with an incoming wormhole. Caught out in the open, there was little he could do other than ready his weapon. Sam grabbed one of the P90s and ventured as far out as she could without risk of being struck down, but evidently protection wasn't necessary. Daniel was heading back toward the 'gate before the wormhole had even shut down.

She was trembling with insuppressible impatience by the time Daniel made his way back to them, carrying a small object which he tossed to Teal'c. "Bra'tac's family totem," Teal'c identified. "It is a sign of welcome."

Daniel grinned at her. "Looks like we're good to go," he commented, and came over to give her a one-armed hug. Do not, not, not cry, Sam instructed her stinging nose and filling eyes. He gave her a gentle squeeze and let go, asking, "How long should we let it recharge?" It was distraction enough that she could regain control over her emotions.

"Is the time it'll take for Daniel to get me over there long enough?" the colonel asked. "I'll hold you up if we all go together."

It was a good point. "Actually, Sir, that's a great idea. You should go through first anyway, so if you guys head out now you can dial it up and do that before Daniel removes the shield. The additional 'gate activation should ensure there's more than enough power to support Teal'c and me."

He was clearly affronted. "How do you figure? Never mind, scratch that; it doesn't matter. It's not going to happen, Carter."

Daniel stepped in. "It's probably best, Jack. Teal'c and Sam will collapse the minute I reconnect that thing to the DHD. You can barely stand up on your own – how can you help with that? I'm going to have to shove them through and I'll be a lot happier knowing you're on the other end when I do that."

The response was swift, angry, and absolutely unshakeable. "Not my job to make you happy, Daniel. Everyone pay attention because this is the last time I'm saying this: not going to happen. Consider it an order. Now get over here, Daniel, get me up off my ass, and let's get going."

Sam paced the treeline as Daniel helped the colonel limp across the clearing. It took forever and was so obviously hard on the colonel that Sam halfway wished he'd just pass out from the pain. Their postures at the DHD told of an intense argument, and when Daniel dialed and the Stargate came to life she thought for a moment the colonel had actually relented. Daniel was the only one to approach the wormhole, though, and a second later he bounded back down the steps. The 'gate shut down, and Daniel's crouch behind the DHD confirmed the end result of that discussion – Colonel O'Neill was determined to see his team through the Stargate.

The SGC shoulder patch was missing from Daniel's jacket when he arrived back at the pillar, daypack in hand. He saw her notice it was gone. "Yeah, had to dial up to bolster the charge anyway, so I let Bra'tac know to expect incoming."

Sam felt better within seconds of Daniel handing her the daypack. He got Teal'c up and passed him off to her, backing away but not making a move to head out until he was satisfied Sam was going to be able to handle Teal'c. She felt fine, completely well, but Teal'c was weak enough that it wasn't going to be an easy trip. They slowly shuffled along for a few yards, Daniel well off to one side to avoid affecting the shield's coverage. Suddenly Teal'c stopped, though, muttering something in Goa'uld. His weight against her lightened somewhat as he stood straighter and said something else, much more loudly.

Daniel laughed. "Rough translation: Holy crap!"

They carried on more easily, Teal'c still requiring support but not so much that Sam couldn't manage. Part way along, Daniel gestured toward the Stargate where the colonel stood leaning against the DHD. "Jack's going to help by dialing out. That should speed things up a bit, but it's still going to be tough on both you and your symbiote." He bit his lip, anxiety creasing his face. "I'm sorry, Teal'c, for what I'm about to do to you."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "You are about to save my life." His hand on Sam's shoulder tightened slightly. "I owe great thanks to you and Major Carter. You have both done well."

Sam appreciated the sentiment but felt it might be a bit early to celebrate. Yes, they'd gone from barely treading water to learning to swim without a life vest, but the job wasn't done yet. Something could still go wrong.

And it did. A few feet out from where the colonel and Daniel waited at the DHD, a wave of dizziness hit her. Clearly, she'd been wrong about there being ample power to last the distance; she wasn't feeling very well. Teal'c grunted, then stumbled, and she was unable to separate from him before he went down. The daypack hit the ground underneath her as she fell, hard enough that she heard the crystal fracture even through the padding and heavy fabric. The effect of the complete loss of the power crystal was instantaneous. Beside her, Teal'c was in trouble, deep trouble.

She tried to swing the daypack over to him, thinking he'd suffer worse than she from the lack of it. But Daniel was suddenly there, opening the pack, then pulling both her and it further from Teal'c. "No, no," she fought against him. "Teal'c –"

"It's broken, Sam. I need you." His hands were tight on her arms, his words an urgent demand, as he dragged her to the base of the DHD. "There must be a way to compensate – you have to tell me what to do."

She felt terrible, and it was getting worse by the second. Head whirling, nausea rising, skin prickling. The DHD had built-in redundancy, so yes, he could bypass the missing crystal, but how would the shield device tie in to the new configuration? Teal'c called out in pain, then outright screamed, and the tenuous grasp she had on her own composure faltered.

"Jack, don't touch the DHD – get away from it." Daniel pulled her forward, shoving her up against its pedestal. "Sam! Come on, hold it together. Tell me what to do."

Without the crystal, the shield wasn't able to protect her with Daniel and the DHD right there. Sick, she felt sick and Teal'c was screaming and ... and ... and what? She had to think – she forced herself to concentrate, knowing she hadn't much time before the pain hit and her inability to respond would kill Teal'c. "Re-route it. Blue to the red," she gasped, struggling to maintain a mental image of the inner workings of the DHD. "Tie it in to the red, from the blue ..."

The pack disappeared from her lap. The sudden press of Daniel's shoulder drove her away from the DHD access hatch, but it didn't matter because she could no longer see anything but a black-ringed blur anyway. Daniel yelled something she thought might be encouragement – hold on? – and then something else, but she couldn't parse the words through the pain as her stomach violently rebelled.

Something pushed past, knocking her to the ground, and vertigo erupted, along with another burning gout of bile. Her head exploded. Screaming. Teal'c; or no, was that ...? With a sudden rush of heat, everything disappeared.

Choking and gasping, she snapped to awareness staring into a smelly patch of emesis on the grass in front of her. Hands held her up out of the mess, and nearby were voices – unfamiliar voices, she realised, and jerked upright in confusion, trying to get her bearings. The hands supporting her belonged to Bra'tac, and as she stared at him her brain came back online. The crystal had broken and Daniel had needed her help. She must have passed out. Teal'c had been ... god, where was he?

Right there, not five feet from her, a Jaffa she didn't know was bent over Teal'c. Lying on his side, Teal'c was awake. He was both awake and alert, she realised with relief, and moved to scramble over to him. As she easily slid out of Bra'tac's grip, though, she realised everyone's attention was steadfastly focused elsewhere. Following the direction of Bra'tac's expectant gaze, she turned her head just in time to see Daniel and the colonel emerge from the open Stargate.

It didn't fully hit her until Daniel was crouched at her side, Bra'tac supporting a pained Colonel O'Neill over to where Teal'c rested on a blanket of soft grass. It was the partially dried tear-tracks on Daniel's face that did it to her, that tumbled her across the boundary between simply knowing they were safe and actually feeling it. She desperately tried to ward off tears of her own, but to her embarrassment they fell anyway.

Daniel caught a few of them with a gentle hand on the side of her face. ""Way to go, Sam. Blue to the red," he softly told her. "It worked. We did it."

The fingers on her cheek were trembling. He must have been riding the edge of panic, she realised, and yet had been able to take her brief instruction and not only make sense of it but also keep his hands steady long enough to perform the delicate work needed to carry it out. Long enough was apparently just about over, though.

"Well, it's nothing to cry over," she poked, trying to fend off his impending case of the shakes, as well as her own tears. Catharsis was best suffered through alone in the bathroom, not in public at a Jaffa meditation site.

Daniel clearly agreed that was the way to go. "Yeah, well, that's not what got me," he told her, showing her the noxious stain down the side of his arm. "That's twice you've puked on me, Sam. Never do that again."

Twisting his upper body, he shouted it over his shoulder at the Stargate: "You got it? Never do that again!"

Sam was totally sympatico with him on that. With him, period.