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Unyielding gunmetal grey seemed to go on forever. The touch of black and olive drab green of Daniel's BDU's and vest offered the only relief from the expanse of flat, dreary neutrality surrounding them. It was boring as hell.

Forcing himself to attend to business despite his boredom, Jack kept watch as Daniel carefully touched the wall in front of them with the tip of one finger. When nothing catastrophic happened, Daniel laid his palm against the grey surface, and then frowned. He mumbled something about temperature and slid his hand over a few inches. Not quite hearing what he'd said, Jack quickly glanced right and left, dutifully checking their six – even though there was nothing other than monotony to be found anywhere – and then moved to Daniel's side.

"What was that? Something up?" he asked, alert for signs Daniel was concerned or had made a discovery. Jack prayed to himself that wasn't the case – boring was boring, yeah, but boring was also good. He was more than looking forward to backing on out of here if they couldn't find anything interesting within the next half hour. Some other team could come back and have an infinitely dull time trying to find the source of Carter's mysterious energy readings.

Daniel pushed his sliding glasses up into place with his free hand. "Oh. Nothing specific yet. I was just thinking."

It seemed nothing else was forthcoming. Jack was torn between wanting to turn away and leave it at that, and doing his job, forcing out of Daniel an explanation that'd probably be even more boring than the long, featureless corridor they stood in. He had no choice, though, really.

"And, so?" he prodded, as Daniel stood there, his glasses again sliding down his nose as he looked from Jack to the wall and then back again. "Thinking, what?"

A faintly obstinate expression appeared on Daniel's face as he shook his head. "Jack, I'm pretty sure I just said 'nothing specific'?" Predictably, one finger went up in the air to waggle between them. "No, no, scratch that – I know I said it. So, no," he rattled on, picking up speed, "I haven't found anything yet. Don't look to me for a reason to call it a day. As far as I can tell to this point, there's nothing threatening here. Okay?"

Jack would have crowed in delight but that would have given him away. Instead, he put on his best scowl and batted at Daniel's finger with his own. He was oh so close to wrapping this up; every minute that passed in which they made no progress was a minute closer to that decision. If Daniel had found something even remotely interesting, though, something that could be further investigated, then they'd have to stay. It occurred to him that Daniel must be seriously off his game if he didn't realise he'd just handed Jack exactly what he wanted, but, hell, that thought didn't disturb him nearly as much as the idea of having to hang around here much longer.

Seeming satisfied at Jack's lack of argument, Daniel turned back to the wall, slowly running his hand horizontally along it. Jack watched as he just as slowly, just as carefully, reversed direction and did it again. Then he moved his hand up and over a few inches, and... wait for it... did it again. Then, wow, look at that, just amazing, he moved his hand back some and advanced it, in infinitesimal increments, vertically upwards. Then, he –

Gah! Crap. Boring wasn't nearly strong enough a word for this torture.

Jack backed up to his previous position, where he had a good view of the entire length of the corridor in both directions. Well, for as far as his eye could see, anyway. Flat, completely plain walls, floor, and ceiling stretched off into the distance to his right, finally ending about a ten minute's brisk walk away in just as featureless a dead-end wall as the one in front of them. To his left, no less than one hundred feet on from where he stood, the corridor took an abrupt right turn, disappearing from view. And everywhere he looked inside this internal, windowless corridor was what his brain interpreted as daylight. Which was impossible, of course.

The branch of corridor to their left, he knew, was essentially identical to this one with just one exception: at its end was a square, wide open chunk of nothing – the entrance to this building, the only interruption they'd found to the smooth, windowless and otherwise doorless expanse of grey metal that made up the outside of the place. Lots and lots, and oh, just gobs of smooth grey metal. Huge on the outside, the structure filled what the MALP analysis geeks claimed was four-point-six acres – give or take a millimetre either way – of the rocky, dry flatland close by the stargate.

It had taken Daniel and Carter close to three hours to survey the outside of the building, while he and Teal'c had reconnoitred the local area. The best they'd ended up with was tentative confirmation they were alone here, as far as they could tell, and that the single obvious opening facing the stargate dais was the only discernible way in. Jack still didn't quite believe that, despite their best efforts to prove otherwise. The twelve-plus foot width of these corridors, while expansive, was inconsistent with the overall size of the huge structure. There had to be other ways in, accessing other areas of the building, and if not that, then there must be something inside leading off these two blank corridors.

They hadn't found any other way in, though, so now they were going with Plan B. Jack figured that not even the craziest, most weird-ass aliens would build such a large structure to house just two entirely doorless corridors to nowhere. Plus, therey'd found nothing to account for the internal light, so much like daylight but at the same time so far in from the open doorway and so consistent despite changes in the sky outside as the day progressed.

Those barely registering power readings Carter was salivating over must have something to do with the uniform light in the corridors. But why light empty corridors that went nowhere? No; both his head and his gut told him there was at least one hidden doorway somewhere, which is why he'd let this go on as long as he had. But, geez, three hours outside plus well over another hour, so far, puttering around inside examining two featureless corridors with the exact same sort of surface, with absolutely no reward, was pushing his patience to the limit. He wasn't sure when dusk would come around on this planet, but barring anything exciting happening in here he had no intention of being around when it did.

Sounds from two separate sources interrupted his musing, and for the moment he chose to focus on the ones coming from Carter and Teal'c instead of Daniel's soft "Uh, Jack...".

"Find anything?" he turned and shouted down the corridor to them as they followed their own noises around the far corner. He knew they probably hadn't – they would have radioed if they had – but he asked anyway, because the quiet tone Daniel had used probably meant Daniel had found something, or at least suspected something, and Jack didn't really want to know that. He was done with this place. He wanted to go home.

Carter waved her doohickey at him from afar, the gesture clearly carrying the weight of considerable frustration. So, no, then. That was a no. Reluctantly, he turned to Daniel. "Wait," he ordered, holding up a warning finger as Daniel opened his mouth to speak the moment he saw Jack's eyes on him. "Just wait. If you're going to say something that'll mean we can't put this in the can and get out of here, just... don't."

Daniel's mouth closed, and stayed that way. A sardonic twitch of his lips was the only movement on his face, slightly spoiling the carefully impassive expression. Jack nodded with just as feigned satisfaction, and then valiantly tried to wait Daniel out. One of them would cave soon enough; that was a certainty, because they both had a job to do here. Jack was determined it wouldn't be him, though. He knew he had to hear what Daniel had to say, but, damn it, he wanted to dial up the 'gate and bug out – it wasn't going to be at his own prompting that became an impossible dream.

Daniel put his hands on his hips and rolled his eyes, and Jack was just fighting off a mental smile that threatened to find its way onto his face when the arrival of Teal'c and Carter interfered with the stand-off.

"Sir?" Though she addressed him, Carter's concern was more with Daniel. "What's up?"

Jack wasn't in the least offended by her assumption Daniel was the one in need of support. After all, he had this in the bag. "I don't know," he quipped, gesturing toward Daniel. "Bad loser?"

No longer looking as concerned, she replied, "Very funny, sir," even though she clearly thought the opposite.

Jack indicated the wall, and advised her and Teal'c, "Daniel might have something here."

A triumphant expression appeared on Daniel's face, which Jack completely ignored. It was time to get back to work here. And anyway, there was no way he would admit he'd lost this round to Daniel – it was Carter's fault.

They all looked to Daniel. He tapped the surface of the wall next to him and turned a thoughtful look on Sam. "You said before, just after we came in here, that the temperature difference between outside and inside seemed unnatural. Also, that it was strange the temperature inside was so even in both corridors." She nodded, and he continued, "Well, I realise I'm only going on touch, which is admittedly imprecise, but the temperature of the wall right here seems to me to be pretty close to the ambient air."

Carter aimed her handy-dandy all-purpose Jack didn't care what it was device at the wall. She frowned, did something to it, and then placed the sensor portion of the thing directly on the wall's surface. "Okay, this is odd," she said, sounding puzzled. "The thermocouple reads the ambient temperature just fine, but I get nothing from the wall."

Jack shrugged. "So the wall temperature is the same as the surrounding air. Daniel just said that, didn't he?"

"No, sir, that's not what I mean. I literally get nothing. The reading drops to zero at the wall."

"Just use your hand, then. Touch the wall, Sam," Daniel urged her.

She placed her hand on the wall beside Daniel's, and he stood there with the sort of expectant look on his face that usually prefaced a "So, of course you see where I'm going with this..." followed by lots of stuff Jack hadn't seen coming at all.

This time Jack wasn't alone in his ignorance, though, because after a few beats of silence Teal'c announced, or teased, rather, complete with overdone gravitas, "I do not see where you are going with this, Daniel Jackson."

In response, Daniel ducked his head, trying unsuccessfully to hide a smile Jack was only too glad to see. Any sign that Daniel and Teal'c were doing okay, Teal'c so recently having killed Sha're, was more than welcome.

"In most structures the temperature of the walls is different than that of the surrounding air, Teal'c. I'm sure you've noticed that, right? In part, that has to do with whatever materials the walls are made of, and how much heat or cold those materials retain or give off."

Teal'c accepted the obvious patiently, knowing it was probably just an introduction. But, so? Wasn't much to introduce, was there. So the wall temperature might be just as unnatural as that of the air – how did that help them? Dead end, Danny me-boyo. Jack was just about to rub his hands together in decision and give the order to blow this joint, but Daniel, damn him, moved Carter's hand a few inches to her left.

"So. Then, what about here?"

Jack watched as she frowned in concentration, and then her eyes widened with interest. "It's slightly warmer here," she exclaimed, and slid her hand back to where it originally had been. "Yes, there's a definite difference."

"Yet there's no discernible surface difference in composition or structure of the wall. So, when you think of what else might be responsible..." Daniel both clarified and queried, and Jack groaned to himself. Crap. They were staying.

"There is something giving off heat within or possibly behind this wall, at that location." Teal'c joined the other two in carefully, intently feeling up the wall.

Jack preferred boobies, himself, but when in Rome... . He found a good spot near Daniel's left elbow, and joined in. It was strange, actually; at first, in the initial second or two, the only way he knew there was even a wall under his fingertips was because he could see it. It was only after his brain got past the absence of altered temperature input, finally acknowledging consistency and texture, that his hand rather than his eyes told him he was touching something. Then when he moved his hand over to where Daniel had indicated, the very slight warmth was evident for a few seconds before he acclimated to it.

Depositing their packs against the far wall, they got to work. Daniel and Teal'c started a systematic touchy-feely survey of the wall while Carter tried her thingamabob again, taking readings from the two locations. She repeated it several times without giving so much as a peep of commentary on her findings, so that by the time she did open her mouth to say something Jack was on the verge of ripping it out of her hands and trying it himself.

"Well, I'm not getting anything. And unfortunately the background energy readings are just as faint and diffuse here as they have been everywhere else," she finally reported, disappointment clear in her voice. She looked sadly at the device, and headed over to her pack to tuck it away. "This isn't going to be of help in figuring anything out. Not yet, anyway."

"O'Neill." Teal'c turned away from the wall to face him, accidentally smacking Daniel in the shoulder with his zat holster in the process. Jack hadn't noticed Daniel had gone spelunking, and wondered for a moment just what he was doing crouched between Teal'c's legs, almost tucked right underneath Teal'c. That question was answered before it could even be asked, as Teal'c continued, "We have discovered a demarcation line."

Daniel reached up to Teal'c-belly height, then drew his finger down the wall in a vertical line. "A well-defined division of temperature zones, and it goes all the way down to the floor," he clarified, and after tracing the figurative vertical line right down to the bottom of the wall abruptly plopped right onto his belly to lie flat. "I wonder if it carries on along..." His voice tapered off into an indistinct mumble as he became engrossed in trying to detect any differences in temperature between the floor and the wall.

Jack rubbed a hand through his hair, wincing at the strength of Carter's frustration as she frowned and complained, "This is ridiculous. We're working blind, here." She started bopping back and forth from one side of the newly discovered great divide to the other, testing out the feel of the wall. "If it were the power source we've found, you'd think the readings would be stronger," she muttered.

"Well, okay, but at least it's something, Carter," Jack tried, but it fell flat as a pancake.

She stopped her survey of the wall and stared at it none too positively, almost as if to keep optimism at bay. "Something we have no chance of figuring out without bringing in more equipment, sir. Because the only thing that might make any sense is there's something behind this wall that's giving off heat. And with just what we brought with us, we can't get at it."

Right. There weren't any doors anywhere, were there. And the need for more equipment implied a need for a more intense, extensive exploration, which would mean turning this place over to the tech survey team. Jack nodded in understanding, realising just how disappointed she was. He wondered if it might improve her mood if he gave her permission to go at the wall with a blowtorch before they had to surrender the site. Or maybe a kiloton of C-4? They had C-4 with them.

Daniel, still on the floor, flipped over onto his back. "Not necessarily, Sam." Then in one smooth move, a quick, lithe flurry of limbs that had Jack stepping quickly out of the way, he rolled onto his stomach again and swung himself around to face the opposite direction. "If I'm right," he continued, only to pause momentarily as he felt along the join of floor and wall, "...it's possible that what we have here..."

And? Waiting. We're waiting... . All three of them watched with varying degrees of growing impatience as Daniel apparently forgot he had just been in the middle of a sentence and intently examined the lower edge of the wall, scuttling forward a foot at time to advance along the floor.

"Daniel, thanks for trying, but you may as well forget it. If the sensor can't find anything, your fingertips sure aren't going to," Carter complained, and then let out a carefully inoffensive huff of annoyance, which she repeated a little more loudly when it became apparent Daniel wasn't paying any attention at all to her.

They stood there for another moment watching him ignore them, and Jack decided to let it go on for about five more feet worth of progress before putting an end to the suspense. It took only a well-placed boot sliding in between Daniel and the wall to gently encourage him to turn over and pay attention to them. Daniel not only got the hint, but carried the momentum much further, his mouth going even faster than his body as he leapt to his feet.

"Sam, wait. Look, we know there must be something behind this part of the wall. It's the best explanation. As far as we can tell, there's no difference in composition, there aren't any evident sources of heat outside the wall, this corridor is puny compared to the outside width of the building –"

The triumph of discovery absolutely oozed from Daniel as he waved a hand toward the wall. "But all the same, even though there must be something behind the wall, I don't think what we've actually found here is simply that there's something behind it," he beat about the bush in stellar Daniel fashion. It drew an impatient look from Carter and a raised eyebrow from Teal'c, but Jack just shook his head in bemusement. He recognised the strength of that buzz of discovery. A grand pronouncement was on the horizon.

Daniel pointed to the floor, and then seemed to decide that wasn't nearly specific enough; he sank to his knees and traced a finger along the bottom edge of the wall. "The difference in temperature is here, too, between the wall and the floor, running in this direction. And Sam, come look at this: I think that travelling right along with it is a very fine, almost undetectable variation in texture."

Jack smiled to himself as Carter leapt to, bounced off Teal'c, and practically sat on top of Daniel, so quickly did she move to get there and replace Daniel's hand with her own. While he had a clue, Jack wasn't willing quite yet to assume he was clear on just what they'd discovered, but that didn't matter. He already had the most important bit – after the stress of their last mission, seeing his team relating and working so well with one another was all he needed. His earlier boredom now just a faint memory, he was content to wait for one of them to tell him precisely what they'd discovered.

He didn't have to wait long. "You're saying... you think..." Carter frowned, then her face cleared. "A door. It's a doorway."

Daniel nodded, with that quick but annoying smile on his face that always made Jack feel as if he was a less than average student who'd finally grasped the obvious. Although, Carter didn't look like she wanted to de-ball the guy right then and there for that expression ... so maybe it was just him?

Clearly not offended, Carter thought intently for a moment and then nodded, a smile of her own banishing her prior disappointment. She poked Daniel's shoulder – maybe just a bit harder than necessary, but as far as Jack was concerned that was exactly right – and conceded his unspoken point. "Okay, yes, Dr. Jackson, Professor Sir. You're right. Technology isn't everything." She traced the junction of wall and floor with her fingertips. "You think the border demarking the temperature change outlines a doorway. Okay, yes, I can go with that."

"And now all we have to do is find the other side and the top, and figure out how to open it," Daniel chirped, all happy-eyed.

Jack figured he may as well find a spot and sit down, because yep, they were going to be staying a while longer. A whole lot of a while longer, no doubt.

 




The word incredible wasn't nearly overkill for this. Growing excitement threatening his concentration, Daniel tamped down on it so he could pay proper attention to what he was doing. It didn't stay down for long; a scant few moments later he flashed a triumphant grin as he discovered another short section of what just had to be a continuous seam. Invisible to the naked eye and barely discernible to touch, the minuscule line would easily have passed as simply a slight imperfection if he hadn't already suspected otherwise.

It was little more than a quarter inch long, but looked to line up well with the three other similar flaws they'd found below it. All three were about twenty feet to the left of where Teal'c and he had found the first demarcation between temperatures. They'd already put in over an hour's work over there, finding that although the line seemed to mostly go straight up, there were short sections where it either deviated on a diagonal for a short bit or was entirely undetectable.

As far as he was concerned, this little fourth line was pretty conclusive evidence. There was a hidden door here, and he'd just confirmed its second vertical side. No longer needing to concentrate on what his sense of touch was telling him, he gave his enthusiasm free reign. That maybe wasn't such a great idea, because it had him moving so quickly to face his team that, between trying to both keep his finger in place on the wall and to turn around, he dropped the grease pencil he'd been holding.

It posed a complication, but not one that affected his mouth. "Yes! Guys, look at this. This is it," he gushed, trying to keep his finger from sliding off the sweet spot while simultaneously looking at Sam, Jack and Teal'c and chasing the rolling pencil with the toe of his boot. "There's four of them; this has to be it. All we have to do now is – Oh, shit." His finger moved. Just a bit, but enough he knew it wasn't johnny on the spot anymore.

Daniel focused his attention back on the wall, feeling around for the tiny spot again with the tip of his finger. Damn, where was it? The grease pencil appearing in front of his face distracted him, and suddenly realising how stupid he was, he snatched it from Teal'c, annoyed with himself. He only just barely remembered to thank Tea'c before using the pencil against his temple as a hammer to knock some sense into his head.

"Sam, I need something I can use as... uhm, just a sec –" He did a quick mental estimate. "Three feet. A three foot long straightedge."

"Where's your stuff?" Jack asked. "Don't all good little archaeologists carry a laser-guided Extreme Archaeology all-purpose do-everything tool? Or at least a ball of string?"

Oh, in his kit, of course. He was distracted, okay? So shoot him. He turned to ask Sam to get his pack for him, but she had already had it covered. "Daniel, how high up was it?" she asked, and he turned to see her kneeling on the floor, holding the thin nylon climbing rope from her pack stretched out against the wall to line up the three existing pencil marks.

It wasn't ideal, but neither would his string have been. It'd work well enough. Daniel hopped-to with the pencil, making a few carefully small dots at intervals along the edge of the rope between the highest of the existing three and where he had found and then lost the fourth imperfection. Sam advanced her makeshift straightedge to allow him to place an additional mark above where he thought it had been.

The pencil was suddenly, unceremoniously plucked from his hand. With an exasperated, "No, Carter, leave it right there. Don't move it. For crying out loud, I'm aging here while you two fiddle around." Jack aimed the pencil at the wall.

Daniel's surprise turned to horror as Jack's intention became obvious. He leapt for the pencil and missed, but managed to latch onto Jack's hand just in time to prevent Jack from obscuring the surface of the wall with a broad, crude, waxy long line. They'd never be able to feel anything through that.

Sam removed the rope from along the wall, and joined him in glaring at Jack. "What?" Jack stared back at him, seeming truly unaware of why he'd just earned fingernail stab marks in his hand. "I'm helping. You want a line, just draw a freakin' line, Daniel."

"Sir, no, we don't want to draw a line."

"Yes, you do, " Jack insisted, but nevertheless stepped back from the wall. "You're using a straightedge to line up the marks to make a line to find more marks, to..." He scratched his head. "To find a line."

Daniel tried to take the pencil from Jack, but he wouldn't let go of it. "No. We were just using the straightedge to help locate the mark I found before. We can't outline the door your way. We can't assume its edge continues straight up from here."

Jack still refused to give up the pencil. "If you draw a line along where the temperature changes, that'll be the outline of the door. All this pussyfooting around with feeling for itsy bitsy invisible notches on the wall isn't necessary... right, T? Am I right, or am I right?" He eyed Daniel. "Which, of course, makes you, oh, what ... wrong."

Daniel tugged at his end of the pencil and Jack yanked back on it. Daniel turned to appeal to Teal'c, who seemed to be carefully considering Jack's question, even as inane as it was. He didn't get a chance to say anything, though.

"It is most likely the temperature differences denote the edge of the door, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c supported Jack, who punched the air in front of Daniel's nose in triumph. "That is your own original theory, after all."

Sam joined in explain that yes, while they hoped that was the case, there were in fact a number of possible relationships between the temperature variations and the minute line along the edge of the floor and how it was important not to assume the significance of either, or take anything for granted, and about the need to systematically take all possible variables into account, blah blah, and... yeah. Even though that was in fact exactly right, and exactly what he and Sam had been keeping in mind, Daniel found himself, never mind Jack and Teal'c, glazing over before she was three sentences in. She was losing them – not that she'd ever really had them in the first place, mind you.

He carefully interrupted her spiel by catching her attention with a finger against his own mouth, and shook his head slightly. "Look, Jack," he offered a compromise. "How about if Sam and I carry on with what we're doing over here, and you and Teal'c can go over there and do whatever you think is right, with the other edge?"

They'd already found and marked over five feet high worth of imperfections along the temperature demarcation he and Teal'c had first discovered. A lot of careful work had gone into searching for and studying the blemishes over there. Yes, with just a few minor changes in direction, the temperature difference and the imperfections coincided with one another. That probably wasn't just due to chance, but it didn't mean the temperature change outlined the actual door itself, and especially, it didn't mean they could automatically assume they'd find the same thing on this side.

So, fine; let Jack draw his lines over there. Hopefully Teal'c would have the sense not to allow Jack to carry over into unexamined territory. Daniel raised the hand not attached to the grease pencil, and twirled his finger in a small circle – go, just turn around and go – and gave the pencil a gentle shove in the right direction just for good measure. Cautiously, he released his hold on it, fully prepared to grab it again should Jack decide to take a petulant stab at Daniel's side of the wall. The man could be such a child at times. Not like himself. No, not at all.

Sam turned back to the wall, clearly done with both of them. Daniel wanted nothing more than to join her but it wasn't safe yet; Jack hadn't gone. But then Jack did move away, with a facetious wave goodbye, taking an exaggeratedly giant step toward where Teal'c stood at the wall. Daniel watched long enough to be sure they weren't going to mar places on the wall that hadn't been examined yet, and then allowed Sam to pull his attention back to where it belonged.

She'd gently tugged on his sleeve, he realised, and when he turned to her he saw she'd located the small imperfection he'd had his finger on earlier. Of course, his grease pencil was otherwise occupied now, so unless he left Sam standing there with her finger marking the spot while he dug through his pack for the mechanical pencil which he knew wouldn't leave so much as a speck on this metal, he'd have to mark the spot with his indelible ballpoint. That was annoyingly bad practice, tantamount to despoiling a research subject. Determined not to allow Jack's willingness to scrawl all over the wall to force him into marring it himself, he asked Sam, "Do you have anything handy? All I have on me that might work is my ballpoint, and I don't want to use that."

"What about your pack?" she asked. "Don't you have your tools with you?"

"I don't think the mechanical pencil will mark this surface, and the chalk and charcoal sticks are too thick and soft," he pointed out. "I doubt there's anything in there that'll work, but I'll go look, if you can..."

He waggled his finger at the wall, and Sam almost – almost, but not quite – grinned at him. "Oh I think I can handle this on my own for a few minutes. I'm highly educated too, you know."

Warmed by the humour in her eyes, Daniel went over and retrieved his pack. He stopped for a moment to snatch a few sips of water and watch Jack busying himself drawing, with surprisingly careful, light strokes, what appeared to be a hangman's stand and noose. A rush of fondness for all his team swept through him, the acknowledgement of what they meant to him carrying with it a renewed awareness of what he'd lost. He determinedly pushed aside the memory of Sha're's death, concentrating on how gratifying it was to see Jack had confined himself to a safe portion of the wall, far to the right of where Teal'c was busy trying to confirm that side of the hidden door.

Satisfied there wasn't any risk to the areas they were concerned with, Daniel walked back across the wide corridor, tugging the pack open on the way. He leaned sideways against the wall, a good enough distance to Sam's right to avoid interfering with the area she was working on, then slid his water bottle into his pack and dug around until he found the mechanical pencil. He carefully tried it on the wall, but sure enough the fine lead tip didn't leave any sort of visible mark, and when he used a bit more pressure it simply broke. Great.

"Want to borrow my pencil?" Jack's voice, altogether too insouciant, floated over to him, and Sam grinned widely.

You traitor, Daniel silently mouthed at her. His open pack dangling heavily from his hand, he rolled his hip and shoulder against the wall to lean with his back against it, where he could watch both Sam on his right and Jack and Teal'c on his left. "Oh, no, no, that's all right," he answered just as nonchalantly. "We'll figure something out, maybe find another completely inappropriate and inadequate tool to try. We don't want to be a bother, interrupt your work, and all that. You just carry on getting in the way of scientific inquiry, while we..."

"What? Like this?" Jack interrupted. With a raised eyebrow that placed all the blame for what he was going to do on Daniel, he placed the end of the grease pencil onto the temperature demarcation line in front of Teal'c, between two of the pencil marks they'd made earlier. The short stripe of black grease he applied wasn't overly thick, but any line Jack might have drawn would have been completely and entirely too wide for Daniel's comfort.

He had a split-second in which to feel annoyed, and then he was falling.

 




0 hours


Whoa! Jack yanked his hand away. He was so startled by the sudden, completely silent disappearance of the section of wall behind Daniel that for a few precious seconds he wasn't sure what had happened.

Even though it took but a scant second, by the time he jerked out of his surprise and into action the crackling snap following Daniel's backward fall through the void had already happened. He watched with alarm as an energy field of some kind fully established itself in the doorway, in a faintly glittering expanse of pale blue. In the same time it took for him to back off and bring up his weapon, it faded into near invisibility. He knew it wasn't gone, though; that'd be far too easy. A light-speed visual survey later, he rapped out, "Carter, work some magic. Whatever it is, get rid of it," and then softened his tone. "Daniel? Can you hear me? You all right?"

In the room on the other side of the energy field, on a same-looking gunmetal grey floor as the one Jack stood on, and bounded by identically plain walls on three sides, Daniel was awkwardly sprawled on his back. His lips moved, but Jack couldn't hear what he said, and so cautiously moved toward the doorway, lowering his gun so he could get as close as possible. At about eight inches away, he felt a vague tingle start up on the exposed skin of his face and hands, and stopped. Teal'c stepped up beside him, and it was clear he felt it too.

"Carter?" he asked, keeping his eyes front and centre on Daniel, who hadn't yet made any move to stand up and was looking more than just a little confused. That was somewhat worrisome.

"I don't know, sir," she answered from afar, and as he heard some rustling he realised she was back at the packs, probably fetching her sensor-thing.

In the otherwise empty room in front of them, Daniel fidgeted a bit, kicking his pack off his legs. In an uncoordinated move that would have made a newborn seem graceful, he attempted to... well, Jack wasn't sure what Daniel might have intended, but whatever it was, it didn't work. He ended up flat on his back again, arms outstretched, and stayed that way, unmoving.

Okay, so no 'somewhat' about it; this was now officially very worrisome. Not waiting for Carter, Jack stuffed the stupid grease pencil he was still holding into a pocket and took a chance – supporting his MP5 on his forearm, he poked the business end of it toward the opening. Even though what he really wanted to do was run in there, scoop the guy up, and double-time it back to the 'gate, he reluctantly used caution. He had to do something, but the point was to help Daniel, not to end up just like him or worse.

He advanced with the MP5 carefully, and when it contacted the energy field a blue sheen appeared around the metal. The tingle intensified in his arm and hand but it was still quite mild, not at all painful, so he ignored it and went further, pushing the weapon forward until the first four inches of the barrel penetrated the entryway. Okay. Good. So it was permeable, at least from this side anyway.

"The readings just spiked slightly. Hold it still, right there, sir," he heard from beside him, and there was Carter and her doohickey, both woman and machine focused intently on the faint ripples that spread out from the point of entry of the MP5. Or, maybe not entirely focused on that – Carter looked at Daniel, clearly concerned, and bit her lip. "He doesn't look very good," she stated the obvious. "It didn't look like he fell hard enough to have injured himself, though. Sir, I assumed the energy field came up just after he entered the room, but now I'm thinking it might have been there from the start. It may be dangerous; I suggest we don't touch the field with any part of our bodies until we know a little more."

"You are suggesting the field was already in place behind the closed door, or that perhaps it established itself at the same moment the doorway opened," Teal'c commented.

Carter moved sideways, taking readings from around the upper and right side of the opening. "Yes, maybe," she responded, moving behind Jack to the other side of the doorway to repeat the process there. "Probably, in fact. It hasn't repelled the MP5, so yes, there's a distinct possibility Daniel fell right through it."

Jack checked to be sure his hands weren't too close to the energy field. "So that thing zapped him, or something, when he made contact with it?"

"Something's certainly put him down, sir," she absently replied, concentrating on her sensor.

"Well, Carter, if you're right that things can go in there through it, then they can probably come back out again." He raised his voice, yelling, "Yo, Daniel!" Maybe the increased volume would provoke some sort of at least semi-coherent response – if Daniel was even able to hear him at all, that is.

The only response Daniel offered was to roll his head from side to side and shift lethargically on the floor. Jack's worry and impatience turned to fear for Daniel as he caught a glimpse of his unnaturally pale face and realised Daniel was drooling. Now that just wasn't at all normal, not even for Daniel. They had to get him out of there. He intensified his efforts, inadvertently shoving a bit more of the MP5 resting on his forearm into the field as he leaned forward slightly and yelled even louder. "Hey, Jackson, up and at 'em!"

Was that a response? Yes, maybe... . A tenuous wave of a hand, but was it purposeful? He watched closely, his attention straying momentarily when Carter asked him to please not move the MP5 again quite yet. On impulse, Jack quickly pulled his mostly empty water bottle from his belt and lobbed it toward Daniel. It readily sailed through with a faint pop and crackle of blue noise, its path of travel altering slightly as it came out the other side. It went off course just enough to hit Daniel smack on the chin, bounced the wrong way to strike his forehead, and then rolled across his face and down onto the floor. And yes, absolutely, that clumsy, sluggish – and completely unsuccessful – attempt to pick it up and throw it right on back had a typically pissy-Daniel air to it.

He'd go in there for Daniel if he had to, sure, but if Carter was right about the energy field being responsible for Daniel's current state, it would hardly be helpful to end up with both of them lying there in pools of drool, would it? Teal'c shifted beside him, and Jack knew exactly what was on his mind. "No," he said outright, "No way."

Teal'c stared at him, but it wasn't going to work. Not yet, anyway. "Teal'c, don't say a word. I just said no. Yadda yadda; symbiote healing; jaffa this, that, and the other thing. I got it. But the answer is still no. Let's see what Daniel's capable of before anyone else goes in there."

"No, wait, sir –"

Oh, here it comes. She hadn't even said anything yet, and he already knew it was going to be a downer. Jack felt himself closing in on boiling point, growing angry over the need for inconvenient caution. Frustrated with the situation... hell, with everything crappy that had ever happened to any of them. With himself. If the barrel of his gun weren't stuck in this damned –

"Colonel, if we're right and it is contact with the field that's done this to Daniel, we don't know what a second encounter with it could do. For all we know, it could kill him."

Hell and handbaskets came to mind. "So turn the damned thing off, then, Carter," he snapped at her. She flinched, and yeah, okay, that wasn't fair, but what the hell else – Wait. If the barrel of his gun weren't stuck...?

What had the back of his brain meant by that? He looked at his MP5, still lying across his arm, its end poking into the energy field, and suddenly realised it felt a whole heck of a lot lighter on his arm than it ought to. He waggled it, only to find it actually wouldn't waggle. Side to side; up and down; backward – nothing. There was definite, strong resistance. Uh oh.

He heard Carter say his name, questioning what he was doing, but he ignored her. How much resistance was suddenly the most important question in the universe, and finding the answer worth his full and undivided attention. He wrapped both hands around the weapon, leaned back, pulled hard... and, oh crap.

"Is there a problem, O'Neill?"

Crap, crap, crap. "Stupid question, Teal'c. Yes, there's a problem," he gritted out, and pulled harder. Teal'c's hands joined his, but the thing just wouldn't come back. Going in any direction other than forward was out of the question. Leaving the MP5 to Teal'c, he let go and unclipped it from his vest. Running both hands through his hair wasn't near self-expression enough, so he grabbed what strands he could and yanked, holding on tight. "Agh. This is just great. Carter, get it out of there."

"What? Sir," she protested, "I don't even know what that field is, how and what it –"

He interrupted her, this new frustration fueling a sense of impotence near impossible to swallow. "If we can't pull four inches of damned gun out of there, sure as tootin' we won't be pulling six feet worth of archaeologist out either. Fix it, Carter. I don't care if you have to rip this place apart. Hell, I'll set the charges for you! Just figure it out."

Stewing in anger over the situation, he watched as Teal'c slowly released his grip on the weapon. It hung there in mid-air, the end of the barrel held up by the energy field, and then, with a beautiful display of shimmering blue ripples around its point of entry, the heavier stock end slowly sank downward six inches or so. The barrel stayed put, the end result being that the MP5 hung there canted at a forty-five degree angle.

Jack watched the magic act until the MP5 stopped moving and the accompanying light show died away. He turned away, thoroughly disgusted with the situation, but as he did so something snagged his peripheral vision. Motion from elsewhere... yes, in the room; it was Daniel. Jack moved as close as he dared to the energy field, offering encouragement as Daniel worked to roll onto his side, to face toward them. "Hey, buddy, good job," he told him. "That's it, just a bit more." He looked him over, and thought maybe he was looking a bit better. He wasn't quite as pale as he'd been, was he, and was less uncoordinated? So, yeah, hopefully improving.

Or, not.

With a painful-looking retch that Jack could not hear but could see all too clearly, Daniel spewed onto the floor. Even before the grimace that made it to Jack's face had a chance to settle into place, Daniel was trying even harder to expel things that had no right to see the light of day. He heard a faint sympathy gag from Carter behind him, and yeah, he had to agree. Not a pretty sight. But in the next moment all thoughts of prettiness or a lack thereof were swamped by dread as Daniel clutched at his chest – oh hell, was he having trouble breathing?

Not knowing what to do, Jack clenched his fists, wanting to beat them against something. Anything. And then, as Daniel flopped over onto his back with an uneven jerking of his limbs, rampant anxiety set in. In the same moment the idea Daniel was arresting or maybe having a seizure flew into his mind, reflexes took over. He darted forward to help, passing through the energy field without even having made a conscious decision to do so, pretty much without thought... until he involuntarily found himself heading for the floor on the other side.

That was food for lots of rapid-fire thought – the most central one being, stupid! stupid! – as he discovered stopping his fall was impossible; his arms and legs were completely useless. And then all he had time to think was, oh boy, you've really done it now, as the bad stuff hit.

 




Still unable to properly tell where his hand was, Daniel accidentally poked Jack in what appeared to be the ear. Or, it might have been the jaw? He carefully re-adjusted, blinking furiously as what his eyes told him and his sense of where his hand was in space simply refused to match up for a few moments. Pretty sure he was at least closer to being in the right place, he tried again, this time with moderate success.

It took a few attempts, carefully sliding his fingers across the hot skin of Jack's neck, to locate the pulse point. Once he found it, he gave Teal'c and Sam a sloppy thumb's-up, a bit confused as to where they were going when Sam looked relieved, nodded at him, and then both she and Teal'c immediately moved out of view. He didn't bother thinking any more about what they were doing, though. Trying to help Jack was more important. Concentrating on the pulse under his fingers, he was relieved for both himself and Jack. For himself, because he'd recovered enough sensation that he could actually feel the pulse under his fingers well enough to count the individual beats. And for Jack, because hey, he could feel Jack's pulse under his fingers and it wasn't so rapid as to be impossible to count individual beats. So, it was all good, then. They were both all right. Right?

Daniel snorted to himself, yeah right. Everything was just great. He vividly recalled the speed at which his own heart had raced, skittering alarmingly in his chest as he'd lain flat on his back completely incapacitated by the energy field he'd fallen through. Jack had asked him if he was all right, and he'd answered no, he wasn't, and told them a couple of times not to touch the barrier. "Don't touch it," he'd said, and "No matter what, stay out there." It had cost him a lot to painfully force the words out, but had Jack listened?

Speech came more easily now that he was recovering from whatever twisted thing the field had done to his nervous system, and planning on talking, he was. Just as soon as he made sure Jack was safe. The nausea had been dreadful, and until Daniel had got back enough use of his arms and legs to somehow manage to roll over, he'd been convinced he was going to be sick where and as he lay and asphyxiate himself. He didn't want Jack to suffer that fear.

He still felt an odd sense of disequilibrium, as if the world was tilted, and it still wasn't easy to co-ordinate his limbs. But he was getting better by the minute now, and with a few ungentle heaves he got Jack over onto his side and into a rough approximation of the recovery position. That done, Daniel struggled out of his vest, awkwardly rolled it up, and stuck it under Jack's head. Exhausted by just that little bit of activity, he paused, giving himself both a short rest and a mental pat on the back for having accomplished putting the vest in place without accidentally taking Jack's eye out. Settling in behind Jack, he supported him as best he could and tried to ignore the sensation they were both about to roll backward down a hill.

Once he'd caught his breath, Daniel leaned over Jack to catch sight of his face, and finally allowed himself to blurt out the chide he'd been holding back on just in case Jack was actually seriously hurt. "What the hell were you doing? What part of 'stay out there' didn't you understand?"

Jack's stare, wide and wildly startled to this point, took on an annoyed cast, and he tried to talk, but Daniel cut that off at the pass. "No. Give it a few more minutes – trust me, you don't want to force yourself to talk right now. Besides, there's not much you can say, is there? It was a dumb thing to do, Jack."

He glanced up to see Teal'c was back, standing in the corridor intently watching them, so he did his best to shrug with easy resignation, knowing it probably looked more to Teal'c like an uncontrolled spasm than the reassuring casual gesture he meant it to be. Ah well, Not quite there yet, but at least his body was doing roughly what he told it to, the nausea was fading, and his head didn't feel like it'd explode with each word. As for Jack, though... well. Full well knowing what Jack was going through, Daniel winced, and belatedly tried to reassure him.

"It's okay; this is the worst of it. You'll be up and about in a few more minutes," he told him, but Jack simply rolled his eyes in apparent annoyance, and with what Daniel knew was a huge effort raised his hand. More words of reassurance and encouragement were on the tip of Daniel's tongue, but then Jack's middle finger twitched itself into a different position than the rest.

Oh, fine. Yes, very mature. Daniel snapped his mouth closed on the reassurances, and transferred his attention to Teal'c. "He'll be okay, Teal'c. He's mostly back to being an ass already – not that he actually ever stopped. It'll just..."

Teal'c raised a hand as Daniel was speaking, but they were both abruptly interrupted by the inevitable as Jack noisily threw up. Daniel's own nausea was fully revived by that, but he was able to hang on and breathe through it as Jack retched a few more times before settling down. "It's okay," Jack gasped out after a few moments. "Better now." And he was; Daniel could see the colour returning to his face, and he could feel muscle tone definitely improving in the body under his hands.

Daniel shuffled and groaned and sweated, and managed to pull Jack back a few feet, away from the mess on the floor. After making sure Jack was stable on his side, he tried to stand. He got most of the way up, then dropped painfully to his knees as his trembling legs gave way. His arms seemed in better shape, felt stronger, and for the first time since he'd been so rudely dropped through the doorway – it is a doorway, I was right, a small voice in the back of his mind celebrated – he took a good look around. But there was nothing to pull himself up on; the walls in the small room were completely bare, and the room empty save for Jack and himself.

Three grey walls, plus equally as grey ceiling and grey floor, looked to be exactly the same material as out in the corridor. Teal'c stared in from just the other side of the opening, and the only other notable thing Daniel saw was Jack's MP5 mysteriously hanging in mid-air, its barrel poking through the energy field. A faint blue sheen around the metal marked the point at which the weapon entered the field. That was puzzling. He recalled that while he'd been lying here with most of his body in shut-down mode, pain and nausea being notable exceptions to the futz-out he'd been in, Daniel had heard Jack sounding pretty pissed off, yelling at Sam. Maybe this had something to do with the loud conversation?

First things first, though. His need greater than his disability, Daniel struggled to crawl, slide, and reach over to his pack, then managed to find and pull out a couple of folded bandanas. Once they were in place over the noxious puddles, relieving his nausea somewhat, he crawled back to Jack and refocused his attention on something less disturbing – at least, he hoped it'd be less disturbing.

He looked from the MP5 to Jack, to where it should have been clipped to Jack's vest, and then to Teal'c. "What happened?" he asked Teal'c, waving a hand toward the gun.

Teal'c looked at him, opening his mouth but then simply shaking his head without saying anything, and Daniel turned away as a faint growl from Jack caught his attention. "Stuck," Jack ground out, trying to push up against the floor, and Daniel frowned, not sure if Jack was referring to himself or to the MP5. He rather doubted Jack had been paying attention to his question to Teal'c, but then again... .

He decided to hedge his bets. "What do you mean?" he asked, crawling on hands and knees around Jack just enough so Jack could see his face. "Stuck? The gun? Or do you mean, you're stuck? Or, stuck... something else?" But Jack just glared at him in response, so Daniel turned back to Teal'c. "Do you know what he means by that?"

Teal'c shook his head again, and the hand he'd raised before – the one Daniel hadn't paid near enough attention to – came right on up to his ear, and with a gesture that left no doubt, Teal'c let Daniel know he wasn't able to hear him. Struck faintly stupid by this unexpected news, Daniel found himself absurdly complaining, "You can't hear me? Why can't you hear me? I talked to you; you heard me before."

"Didn't," Jack told him, managing to raise his head all by himself. "Couldn't hear you. Thought you weren't..." He squirmed slightly, and twisted himself to get a better view of Daniel. "Weren't able to speak aloud. Was wrong." He followed it up with an almost mournful-sounding, "Too bad," and then let his head back down onto the makeshift pillow.

Daniel collapsed onto his backside from off his knees, surprise and dismay momentarily eroding his returning strength. He stared at Jack. "You didn't hear me? Not at all? I heard you." Jack raised his eyebrows, clearly sceptical, and Daniel realised that Teal'c hadn't said anything since Jack had, for some reason Daniel still couldn't fathom, thrown himself through the energy field.

"I heard you, Jack. Teal'c, say something," he instructed, but then realised how dumb that was, and instead played charades, pointing to his own lips and in turn to Teal'c, making chatter with his fingers.

Teal'c frowned for a second, then his face cleared. "You wish me to speak," he said loudly, plus keyed his radio and practically hollered into it. "Daniel Jackson, can you hear me?"

Daniel cursed as the volume of Teal'c's words came both through the energy field and over his and Jack's comms far too loudly. Pain spiked, and okay, so yeah, his head obviously still hadn't completely recovered. Jack groaned miserably and retched again. Daniel quickly pantomimed turning down the volume, and gestured that yes, yes, Teal'c, we're hearing you just fine; no need to yell.

Long moments of mutual confusion were shared by Daniel and Teal'c. They stared at one another, and as Daniel thought about what the hell could be going on here, he saw Teal'c obviously considering the same thing. Objects could pass through into the room, and so could sound, but evidently sound wasn't travelling out in the other direction. What else wasn't travelling out that was able to come inside, Daniel wondered. Atmosphere? He sure hoped not, uncertain about how their breathing would affect carbon dioxide levels and air pressure if they ended up having to stay in here for very long.

Anything else? Still afraid of what had happened to him, not wanting to go through that again unless he absolutely had to, Daniel wasn't willing – as of yet – to test whether or not he, or any part of him, would be able to pass through to the outside. There was one other thing, though, he could test out. Wrinkling his nose, he pointed to the puddles he'd covered, and non-verbally asked Teal'c if he could smell their noxious odour. The moment he did that, though, he realised that even he couldn't smell it much any more. He doubted it was a matter of acclimation; no, the odour was fading very quickly. Some sort of ventilation system?

Not surprisingly, Teal'c's answer was no, but then Teal'c appeared to concentrate harder, and told Daniel, "I do not know if the very faint odour I believe I detect is real, or a product of my imagination. However, Major Carter will soon return with many devices. Perhaps one of them may provide a more definitive answer."

Right. While he was busy with Jack, Sam must have gone back to the stargate. That made sense. It was also heartening to think she'd come back with people and technology that'd make it unnecessary for Jack and him to have to risk suffering this again. All they had to do now was sit it out. Wait for help. Yes, he could do that. Sounded great.

It appeared Jack might think differently, though, and Daniel's dumb idea radar stirred as Jack croaked out, "Take forever." With great effort, Jack partially sat up, supporting himself on one elbow. He cleared his throat, and sounded much stronger as he continued, "Teal'c. Want you to –"

"He can't hear us, Jack," Daniel interrupted, hoping it would just end there. He was about to brief Jack in on his and Teal'c's silent conversation, as filler, but was in turn interrupted.

"I know that," Jack quickly, and irritably, claimed. "Didn't forget. I was just thinking aloud."

"Sure," Daniel agreed, trying to avoid annoying Jack further. In the long silence that followed, he had to forcibly clamp his jaw to keep himself from asking Jack what he had been about to say to Teal'c. Whatever it was, it'd probably be something potentially painful; he just knew it. All the same, morbid curiosity pushed him toward asking. He was a born sucker to curiosity. A slave to it, damn it. And here it came: "Uhmm, what, ah... what did you want Teal'c to do?"

Their comms came to life just then, General Hammond's voice coming through via the MALP at the stargate. Teal'c confirmed reception, and Hammond told him they were assembling the necessary manpower and equipment. The downside was that it'd take a while – the tech team was being recalled from P8X 806, and they'd have to recalibrate their equipment and gather up whatever they'd need before setting out. Daniel groaned to himself at the general's estimate of about six hours.

Just before Teal'c's acknowledgement, he quickly spoke into his own comm, imploring someone, anyone, to respond to him, hoping but not expecting that his voice would somehow be heard through the radio. But it was clear the energy barrier wasn't letting the radio signal through.

"Nice try," Jack told him. Daniel wasn't sure if the comment was meant as a compliment for his quick thinking, or as a snide poke, but then Jack added, "Keep it up, Daniel. Whatever comes to mind, give it a shot."

A strange look came over Jack's face, and almost immediately morphed into a grim smile. Daniel's idling dumb idea radar revved up, pinging an urgent warning, and he warily asked, "Jack? What are you thinking?"

Jack didn't answer, instead squirreling himself around to look the room over. Daniel's gaze followed Jack's, seeing the three walls, the ceiling, the expanse of floor that they sat on, and his pack. Oh, and the water bottle that'd hit him in the face, which he'd wanted to tell Jack to shove where the sun doesn't shine. Their grey box wasn't tiny, but it wasn't huge either. The length appeared to be a bit over its width, and as the width was the same as the open doorway he figured the room must be somewhere in the area of twenty by twenty-four.

For the first time, he realised that his sense of being tilted, of feeling off-balance, wasn't entirely due to the effects of the energy field. He felt around on the floor with a hand, and yes, the floor definitely sloped downward away from where they sat. Relieved that it wasn't his equilibrium at fault, and curious, he went to crawl around Jack to follow the slope and see how far it went. From this angle, the floor at the back wall didn't seem much different in height than at the front, so that'd mean –

"No. Don't wander off." Jack grabbed his belt, stopping him. "Fetch that for me, will you?"

Daniel looked over his shoulder to see Jack doing a chin-thrust toward the water bottle, which although not even four feet away was far enough that Jack couldn't get to it, not having recovered enough strength to move around. Daniel didn't want any water himself, the memory of turning his guts inside out too fresh to allow him to even consider swallowing anything other than his own spit. But sure, yeah. If Jack wanted some, he was only too happy to help. He reversed direction and crawled over to it on his hands and knees, legs still shaking enough he didn't want to try standing just yet.

He considerately – he thought it was considerate of him, anyway – managed the spout for Jack when he got it over to him, only for Jack to scowl at him, snatch it away, and clumsily twist it closed again. "Don't want to drink it," he corrected Daniel, looking faintly green at the thought of that, and then drew his arm back and threw the water bottle at the energy field.

Okay, yeah, that was a good idea. Even as weak and uncoordinated as Jack still was, the water bottle made it the short distance to the open doorway, albeit just barely. Daniel watched with dismay as it hit the energy field, created a brief display of blue streaks, and then actively bounced off back into the room. Jack swore aloud, and Daniel saw a faint snarl on Teal'c's face as he too watched the bottle indicate they weren't going to be able to go back through the active energy field.

In morose silence, they all considered this new information. Teal'c, a disgusted downturn to his mouth, stood guard at the door, staring at the water bottle as if he wanted to use it for target practice. Jack whined a mostly inaudible complaint that Daniel didn't understand – something about throwing but not throwing a fit, or fit to kill, or something? Never mind. Jack could be indecipherable at the best of times, and this definitely wasn't one of those. Sitting back on his haunches, he surveyed their small, hopefully extremely temporary surroundings and noticed the water bottle, having hit ground toward the opposite side from them, was still moving. It slowly lolled around a bit, and then even more slowly set off roughly in the direction of the centre of the room. Daniel watched, interested to see what it could tell him about the slope of the floor.

"All right, here's what we're going to do," Jack announced, and Daniel hoped that was a royal we, rather than a literal one.

He looked over to see Jack with a very familiar decisive expression on his face, fumbling around in a vest pouch for god knows what. "No one has to do anything yet, Jack. Sam will be back as soon as she can. She'll find a way to turn it off."

Jack snorted. "We're not going to just sit here, doing nothing." With a nod of satisfaction, he pulled Daniel's grease pencil out of the pouch. "Getting much easier to manage," he noted, flexing his fingers. "But it's not there yet. You, though..." He eyed Daniel. "You look almost back to normal. Well, your normal, anyway. Here." He held the pencil out, and Daniel eyed it hesitantly. "Write what I tell you."

Oh yes, like that would ever happen. "Tell me what you want me to write, and I'll consider it," he answered, all his alarm bells ringing as he recalled the weird look on Jack's face and the comment that had immediately preceded it. "Wait. You aren't thinking what I'm thinking you're thinking, are you?"

"It's a good plan."

"No! It stinks! Jack, that's... that's..."

"Well, if you don't like it, Dr. Jackson, then come up with something better yourself." Jack glared at him, and manoeuvred so he could write on the floor. He raised his eyebrows at Daniel and waited. All Daniel could think to do was scan the room, hoping an alternative other than waiting for Sam might pop into his head. Didn't happen, though.

Jack obviously saw that, and nodded with satisfaction. "Yeah. Thought so. Okay, here we go then." He bent to his task, his still weak hand and arm producing the first few letters so crudely that Daniel felt a small glimmer of hope: maybe Teal'c wouldn't be able to read it. But Jack improved quickly, and as it turned out the message was so simple there was no doubt about Teal'c figuring it out, even written upside down to him as it was. But surely Teal'c would ignore it, right?

"Staff. Shoot it," Jack had written, and was exaggeratedly gesturing to Teal'c to read the floor.

Teal'c did as he was asked, and after a few moments thought stepped away from the opening. Daniel practically swallowed his tongue in alarm when almost immediately Teal'c came back into view, stood back from the doorway with staff weapon in hand, and raised it to firing position.

"I shall perform a three-count before firing, O'Neill," Teal'c advised, and Daniel took full advantage of the little time he had. He waved his arms at Teal'c to hold off, and struggled to his feet, staggering as his legs protested. He planted himself right in front of the doorway, his back to Teal'c, knowing Teal'c would never fire with him standing there, even with an energy barrier apparently between him and the staff's blast.

"No! For god's sake, Jack, that's crazy," he protested vehemently. "There's no way of knowing what an energy bolt will do to it. For all we know it could cause an explosion, or, or..."

"Or, Daniel, it could do nothing," Jack raised his voice to overcome Daniel's, and then softened his tone. "Or, it could get us out of here, like it did Teal'c on Cimmeria. That's the objective, right? It's not going to happen by just sitting around."

Yes, sure it could, Daniel thought. Waiting around for Sam was probably the best way to get out in one piece. He didn't say it though, instead focusing his argument elsewhere. "Wait. If the objective is to get out, then what sense does it make for the first thing we try to involve something possibly coming in from the outside?"

When Jack just stared at him blankly, he clarified, "We already know things can pass through from outside to inside. What if that holds true for energy bolts as well? If you won't wait for Sam, then shouldn't we be concentrating our efforts on getting things to go from inside to outside, before we try something that involves someone aiming lethal weapons in at us?"

Jack stared aggrievedly at him, and when he didn't wave Teal'c off Daniel got suspicious. He knew – knew for certain – that Jack well understood his argument made perfect sense. He checked over his shoulder on Teal'c, who thankfully had silently dropped into standby, and then, reassured, returned his attention to Jack. "Okay," he said slowly, drawing the word out as he considered the situation. "What's going on?"

Jack looked away. "I have no idea what you mean." He didn't wait for Daniel to challenge him again, though, turning eyes front almost immediately. "Look, I just want to get the hell out of here. There's nothing... there's no..." He paused, and with an aggressive lean forward hissed at Daniel, "Look, you should know. It must have... you know? To you, too." He waved a hand toward the energy field and then back at himself, and Daniel was completely stymied. He had no idea what Jack was trying to tell him.

"Oh Christ, are you clueless or what?" Jack moaned, grinding a fist into his own forehead. Daniel helplessly shrugged, and Jack lost what little cool he may have had. "My gut's churning like water!" he yelled at Daniel. "Do you see a latrine anywhere in here?"

Oh. Daniel grimaced. Okay, yeah, that could be a problem. Maybe not one worth risking their lives over, mind you, but he understood now where Jack was coming from. "Uhm. Okay, well, how long can... uhm..." he stammered, and flapped a hand in front of his own abdomen hoping that'd suffice so he didn't have to actually talk – as in, use real words, out loud – about this.

"Not six hours," Jack sullenly told him. "Starting to hurt like hell."

Daniel couldn't help it – his gaze strayed of its own accord to the covered puddles on the floor, and his stomach did a loop. Uh boy. They were quite enough, thanks. He didn't want to try anything dangerous, but he had to admit that no, he couldn't think of anything other than getting out of here that might be even remotely helpful to Jack. He suddenly realised, with mounting worry, that the problem wasn't just one of privacy and aesthetics; Jack had been affected by the energy field in a way he himself had not. Jack needed to get checked out, needed to be in the infirmary.

It suddenly occurred to Daniel they hadn't actually ruled out the obvious yet; there was a big difference between a plastic bottle and human tissue. He rubbed the back of his neck to give himself a moment, then turned to face the energy barrier. Sucking in a deep breath, he took a not so determined step toward it.

Behind him, Jack hollered, "Wait, just what the hell are you doing?" Daniel felt a hand brush across the back of his calf, but Jack was too slow to actually grab hold.

He took another step, and as Teal'c realised what Daniel was up to he too voiced some rapid-fire objections, but they weren't effective restraint either. Daniel ignored them both. He stopped just short of coming right on up to the energy field, feeling a strange tingle in his face and hands. Admittedly scared of having his nervous system zapped into disarray again quite so soon, or something even worse happening, he paused, questioning if this was where curiosity kills the cat. But it wasn't curiosity driving him, it was concern for Jack's health; they had to know for sure if this was an option for them.

Working on solidifying his resolve, he blocked out Jack and Teal'c's continued complaints with a cleansing deep breath, and focused his attention on the energy field. Squinting in an effort to better see the almost invisible blue sheen, Daniel slowly reached forward, and touched it with the tip of his finger.

The zap travelled along his hand and up his arm like fire eating a gasoline trail. And it was every bit as painful as gas-hungry fire looked to be. He jerked back and was on the ground in an instant, clutching his arm, biting his tongue to keep from crying out. Surprisingly, though, the pain settled into partial numbness almost right way, and although his arm was weak and trembling, it moved on demand. Okay, so clearly, the strength of the effect must be related to the amount of the body subjected to the field... and as that occurred to him, so did it occur to him that he hadn't actually achieved anything here. He hadn't done any more than just barely touch the surface of the thing – other than it hurt to do that, there'd been nothing learned yet. He had pulled away of his own accord. He wasn't finished.

He looked back at Jack, who was staring at him with one of the angriest looks Daniel had seen Jack wear in recent memory. Not daring to talk to Jack right now, he simply nodded that he was all right and did his best to look hale and hearty as he stood up. Jack swore under his breath and then took Daniel's name in vain much, much more loudly. But otherwise, Jack did nothing, which told him Jack wasn't strong enough to physically interfere. Not sure whether to be glad or disappointed about that, he turned back to the energy field, and... oh, look. He was right in front of the MP5. A tentative touch to the metal with his finger didn't change anything, nor zap him, so he cautiously pushed at the portion of it sticking through onto his side. He nudged it up, down, left, right, with no results, and carefully eyeballed the top and sides of it where it was in contact with the field.

Coward, time-waster, a little voice in his head taunted him, and even as he argued with it that this might be important he knew he wasn't being honest. It was just procrastination. All he needed do was push at the field just as he was pushing at the MP5, but, well, he wasn't ready yet. He'd be ready in a minute, just another minute is all. Or two. Two minutes, for sure. Promise.

Wobbling slightly on rubbery legs, he crouched down to have a look at the underside of the MP5, just for completeness' sake. Reaching up, he placed his palm against the muzzle and pushed it backward – oh, against an apparent brick wall. He tried again, and might have seen a brief spark of bright blue around the muzzle as he pushed back, but it was there and gone so quickly he couldn't be sure if it had even existed.

It didn't matter whether a spark had been there or not, really. The thing that mattered was that he was still within his two minute procrastination limit, so he grasped the fore-grip and this time pulled on it, watching the underside for any change in the field. He was startled as the gun slid far too quickly and easily forward, almost as if it was being helped along through the barrier by something other than his own hand. Kind of like being sucked forward, or... oh, wait. Why hadn't this possibility occurred to him before?

He swivelled quickly to spout his revelation to Jack, his hand still wrapped around the MP5. "Jack, look at this. I think – Oh!"

His legs had decided not to co-operate with his quick turn. In a frantic attempt to avoid falling into the energy field, he leaned sideways to plant his free hand – the still mostly numb hand that he belatedly realised wouldn't be able to hold him up come hell nor high water. As fate would have it, the hand clutching the MP5 reacted in synch with his attempt to stop his fall. With the inadvertent movement, the weapon came toward him through the field with alarming momentum that his body automatically sought to counterbalance.

No, no, no, his mind shrieked as he pitched forward. Through vision filled with streaks of brilliant blue, he saw Teal'c, hands outstretched, coming down to meet him. He felt an impact, sharp and cold and hard against his face, and a strong vibration jolted through him, almost instantaneously turning to fire... and underneath it all he was aware of being really, really pissed off, because his two minutes weren't up yet.

 




2 hours


"No!" Jack flung himself forward as best he could, but it was too little, far too late. All he could do was watch as Daniel did a completely uncontrolled face plant against the energy field. The MP5 hurtled into the room, its stock catching Daniel hard on the shoulder. It changed direction, hit the ground equally as hard, and Jack had to pull his leg aside to avoid being struck as it maniacally skittered by.

A scant second later, Daniel himself was a projectile as he bounced off the field and skidded backward into Jack's legs. He was completely limp, obviously out cold or worse, and with trembling hands Jack grabbed him and scrambled to bring himself 'round to check Daniel out. The carotid pulse he found was too fast to be completely reassuring, but hell, it was there, and Daniel was definitely breathing.

"This is getting old!" Jack threw his head back and hollered at the ceiling, aiming high and far, just in case there was something out there orchestrating this little farce. Three times now in less than, what, a couple of hours, tops? He followed up his bellow with a good, long inarticulate shriek, just for good measure. After all, a little stress relief never hurt anyone, and even if it did he couldn't give a shit.

It obviously scared Teal'c silly, though. "Daniel Jackson! O'Neill – you must perform CPR, O'Neill. You must not delay!" Teal'c was down on one knee right in front of the barrier, still looking as if he were preparing to field a ground ball, and practically jumping out of his skin.

Jack realised there was a very good chance Teal'c just might decide to be as equally stupid as Daniel and he had been, and so hurried to give him as vehement a correction as he could. He shook his head, let go of Daniel for a moment and gave both a thumb's up and an OK signal, and took great pains to try to smile convincingly. Daniel was alive, he was all right, stay right god damn freaking well over there, Teal'c.

"That is good news. What may I do to help?" Teal'c asked, backing off. Jack was at a loss as to how to answer – not that Teal'c would be able to hear him if he did – and turned his attention back to Daniel. His glasses were gone, and Jack didn't bother trying to locate them. Judging from the bits of shattered plastic lens in Daniel's hair, there was little point. Of greater concern was the blood spilling freely from his nose. Not wanting to tip his head back too far in case of a neck injury, Jack fingered Daniel's mouth open and settled for firmly squeezing his nostrils. It was a multipurpose act, he figured; if this didn't wake Daniel, well, there'd be little point in doing the face-slapping thing.

He sat there holding Daniel against him and dolefully wondered how much more excitement he could suffer through before he exploded. Before long, Teal'c's, "Your attention, O'Neill," warned him of an incoming package only seconds before a decent-sized bundle plopped down beside him, easily within reach. Good thing Teal'c had such good aim, because he couldn't have moved even if he was unencumbered. Intermittent sharp cramps in his gut, at their worst with movement, virtually nailed him in place.

It was a full water bottle, cushioned with what was instantly recognisable as a piece of fabric hurriedly sliced out of a space blanket. That reminded him of Daniel's pack, lying there not four feet away, which would contain one of their smaller field trauma kits. It might as well be four miles away, though. Jack released Daniel's nose, glad to see the bleeding had stopped, and used a bit of the water to clean Daniel up as best he could. Teal'c gave him another warning and a smaller, lighter bundle popped through the energy field, hitting him on the arm. It was the rest of the space blanket wadded up into its pouch, and even though Daniel was plenty warm enough, for lack of anything else constructive to do Jack spread it out overtop him.

Frustrated, he lightly cuffed the side of Daniel's head. "You twit," he whispered to him. "Wake up so I can yell at you properly. This just isn't doing it for me." He appreciated Daniel's rampant stupidity, he really did; he realised Daniel had wanted to test the barrier because of worry for him. Hell, he was a bit worried about himself, too, but he hadn't wanted Daniel to risk his life. "The staff probably wouldn't have done a damn thing, Daniel. At the very most, it was an unknown; this, though..." He softly gave Daniel's head a poke. "This, any idiot could have predicted."

They were even, he guessed. He was uncomfortable, trying to stave off an inevitable humiliation, but was no more at risk of dying from some weird gut malady as Daniel had been having a seizure earlier. He'd taken a fall trying to help Daniel, based on a wrong assumption, and now Daniel had done the same in return. There was one fairly big difference, though – the result. Daniel was a lax weight on his thighs, and while the strong pulse and regular breathing were reassuring, all the same Jack was terribly worried. There was a lot more to a person than heart and lungs.

Time passed, with the only change being that the cramping of his gut grew more frequent and increasingly difficult to ignore. Daniel showed no sign of waking, even when Jack did borderline nasty things to him. The best he was able to get out of Daniel was withdrawal to pain, which wasn't near enough to satisfy him that Daniel was going to be all right. As for himself, well, best not to dwell on that. Maybe it was a good thing after all that Daniel was still out cold.

He'd been aware of Teal'c's restlessness as Teal'c alternated between standing guard over them and fruitlessly examining the walls of the corridor for anything that might help. Now, as Teal'c returned from yet another sortie down the corridor, that restlessness had noticeably changed to impatience. In answer to Teal'c's unspoken question, Jack shook his head that no, Daniel's condition hadn't improved, and wasn't at all surprised when Teal'c finally broke.

"This is unacceptable, O'Neill," Teal'c snapped. "Such inaction is intolerable. Daniel Jackson requires medical attention. As do you." The butt end of his staff weapon thumped against the floor as Teal'c further vented his frustration by maligning the organisational ability of the SGC. "Time and time again your channels of command and communication interfere where prompt action is required. Achievement of important strategic advantages are risked, rescue missions are delayed. Of all the flaws of the Tau'Ri, it is this which vexes me the most," he ranted, not looking in the least bit guilty over having finished up with a white lie. There were lots of other things that equally drove Teal'c up the wall, if not more so, Jack knew.

Teal'c's biggest problem was that he was forced to stand out there, unable to leave, unable to help, unable to do anything to improve the situation. Jack's biggest problem right at the moment was the same – he needed Teal'c to either find a way to get them out, or to not be there for a little while. Luckily enough for him, though, Teal'c had just supplied him with the answer to both their frustrations. Jack couldn't help with the last two, but he could help them both with the first. Gesturing to Teal'c to stand by, Jack wormed out from under, eased Daniel onto the floor, and felt around for the grease pencil.

He wrote out his message to Teal'c, and hoped Teal'c would do as he'd asked. It was a crap shoot, because both common sense and protocol said Teal'c should stay here, being the only one of the three of them free to move about and react to anything that may arise outside, not to mention being their only access to communication with the outside world. It was Teal'c's awareness of that last which Jack was relying on, though, and as he watched Teal'c consider his instructions to leave them, to go to the 'gate and request a medic attend, he could see the decision before it was even voiced.

And then Teal'c was gone, and Daniel was still unconscious, so he was free to express himself. Clutching his stomach as a cramp hit, he bent forward and let out a roar of pain and annoyance. This was worse than ridiculous. Completely humiliating, even without immediate witnesses. He grabbed the space blanket and forced himself to his feet. It was time to settle in, and step one on his housekeeping list was to fashion some sort of latrine area.

First stop was Daniel's pack, with his next target being a back corner of the room. Forced to his knees by legs not yet steady enough for much activity, he'd only gone a few feet when he heard something other than noise of his own making. Daniel? He turned his head and shoulders too quickly for his precarious balance, and thumped over onto his side. And yeah, Daniel was lying right where Jack had left him, but with his eyes open, looking right back at him. He didn't look great, but he was awake. Jack would take it.

"Jack. Floor," Daniel huffed out, sounding pretty shaky. "Slopes. Follow."

Whoa, okay, even as cryptic as that was Jack understood it, and yeah, the floor under him sloped and that probably meant something, but this was hardly the time to go exploring. His gut gurgled alarmingly, reminding him of his purpose. "Not now," he told Daniel, and rolled back onto his knees to continue his trek to nowhere near far enough away. But Daniel obviously wasn't satisfied, repeating the few words again as insistently as he could considering his condition. Since he was obviously going to a lot of trouble to talk before he was fit for it, Jack figured maybe this was one time he ought to stop and listen, at least long enough to make sure it was something he didn't care about, anyway.

The floor sloped from front to back... and, okay, yes, from the side wall, five feet to his right, toward him. Jack shuffled further toward the back, and as he passed the midpoint of the length of the room he suddenly found his kneecaps changing their aim, shifting upward slightly instead of carrying on downward. He ran his hand along the floor to confirm that perception, and then backed up until he thought he was at the point where down became up.

"Maybe... to left. Convergence," Daniel croaked.

Jack looked over his shoulder, glad to see Daniel strong enough to have rolled onto his side to watch him, and then realised the sense of Daniel's suggestion. They'd found out the hard way why this place had lit corridors that seemingly went nowhere – because they didn't go nowhere, in fact – and so maybe it was a good idea to take a few minutes to try and find out why the floor in an empty room might slope.

"Convergence. You're thinking a hidden opening of some sort." Right. A something, where the different slopes met. Jack looked at the doorway behind Daniel, piecing together what Daniel was probably thinking. It hadn't been there, then poof, it had, and so yeah, even having been totally zapped Daniel had a decent idea here.

He faced left and moved slowly down a definite incline in the short silence before Daniel spoke again. "Construction, layout, this place. Consistent with human concepts."

All right, that was more like it. Almost complete sentences, still spoken in that same croak but at least with some strength behind the voice now. "Hey. You're feeling better," he said, wanting to smile with relief but the pain in his gut not allowing that luxury.

"Yeah. Getting there." Daniel struggled to sit up but abandoned the effort almost immediately. "You, though..." He raised his eyebrows at Jack. "How bad?"

Jack ignored the question. He didn't want to think about it. Wait – okay, he was kneeling on a flat surface now, he was sure of it. He backed off, and leaned forward to run his hand along the floor. It reminded him of what they had done out in the corridor, before they'd found the opening, and, so...

"Feel for temperature," Daniel prompted, sounding excited.

"I know. Already on it." With just one more careful pass of his hand across a particular spot, Jack found confirmation. "Yeah, right here. Feels almost the same as the wall outside."

"How far does it extend? What shape is it? How big?"

The grunts and slithering noises which followed all the questions meant Daniel was awkwardly on the move, even though he probably wasn't strong enough to get far. Jack didn't bother looking over at him, knowing nothing he said would make Daniel give himself the time he needed to recovery properly. So, instead, he ignored him and carried on with his exploration of the floor, finding it difficult to follow the change in temperature. This wasn't eactly like outside, where for the most part the warmer versus cooler sections of the wall were either side of a straight line. And, oh god, ouch. He didn't have much more time for this.

Daniel stopped his grunting and slithering long enough to pant out, "Hoping it might be a drain of some sort." As if feeling Jack's need himself, there was a note of urgency in Daniel's voice as he advised, "Try what you did before. Anywhere. Everywhere."

At first Jack didn't understand, but then remembered the swipe with the pencil that apparently had opened the door to the room. He also remembered that he didn't have the pencil with him; it was lying on the floor back over where Daniel was. Correction: back over where Daniel had been, because as he looked over there Jack saw that Daniel had laboriously dragged himself a decent distance. "So. Do you think there's something special about grease and pigment, or..." he asked, and then not waiting for an answer swiped his fingers in broad, firm strokes along the floor.

"No, no," Daniel wheezed, on the move again. "It's you, Jack. Your natural aura."

"Careful," Jack warned. He repeated his experiment, moving a finger's breadth over and doing it again. And then again and again.

"I said aura. What's wrong with that? I could have said aro–"

The floor opened up so abruptly that Jack's fingers dove into the hole before he could pull back. No zap, thank god. He stared at the new opening, happier than happy that Daniel was apparently right but equally as disappointed he hadn't been wrong, because he'd rather have found a honkin' great huge door that'd suck them in and spit them out right beside the stargate.

Daniel made it over to his side a moment later, still looking and sounding worse for wear. "Oh. That's... interesting."

Jack snorted. Yeah, well, it was different. Roughly eight inches across at its widest part, the opening was uneven, one semicircular edge on one side being faced by an irregularly undulating, stepped edge on the other. The inner surfaces of the stepped bits were visibly honed and polished, like knife edges, and he made a mental note to avoid touching them. Or sticking his foot into the hole. He'd been lucky, he realised, to have opened the hole from the other, smooth side as he'd swiped his hand along the floor.

Looking down into it, Jack could see walls apparently made of the same grey metal as everything else here. They went straight down for a foot or so before beginning a gradual slope toward the rear of the room and disappearing into darkness. He drew back and settled himself onto the floor beside it, deciding what the hell... as long as it was usable he didn't give a hoot what it was shaped like.

 




3.5 hours


"Daniel, go away. Now," Jack had told him, and Daniel was trying his best to comply but every inch of progress he made was at the expense of what little energy he'd recovered to begin with. His tank was just about empty. All four limbs felt as if they were weighted with lead, while at the same time being spongy and insubstantial enough there was no way they'd support him. His face and nose hurt, and he was nauseated again. All in all, he felt like absolute crap. It wasn't pleasant.

Still, though, when he raised his head to check out how far the last, oh, million or so mostly unsuccessful attempts to crawl forward had taken him, he was pleased to see that despite his six inches forward - rest break - six inches forward - longer rest break rhythm, he was only a few more laborious slithers from his goal. The side wall beckoned to him, promising support for his aching back, somewhere he could recline in exhaustion and let his strength return at its own pace, unhindered by activity. And it would return, he knew; other than a longer recovery time, there wasn't much difference in the way the field had affected him this time than it had the first time. Well, other than he'd been put out cold... but he was wide awake now so he figured that didn't count.

From what he could tell Jack was just about done and no doubt would come to help in just a moment, but in the meantime – crawl, collapse, creep, slither, and repeat. Crawl, co–. Uh oh.

Daniel stopped dead, his face suddenly entirely way too close to a wall that was still well over a foot away in front of him. A wall toward which he abruptly decided he did not – not, not, not! – want to go after all. The hair at the back of his neck rose at the recogniseable tingle in his face and hands. It was unmistakable, and even though he knew the wall wasn't about to leap toward him of its own accord and crash itself into his face, he immediately reversed direction. It's okay, it's okay, he chanted to himself, struggling to propel himself backward. Despite the well-reasoned part of his mind being aware he wasn't in any more danger than he had been before he'd felt the tell-tale sign, impending panic stole his breath and settled a heavy stone into his stomach. There was no way he could move back fast enough.

His foot contacted something, and the blow was immediately followed by Jack complaining, "Hey, hey. Take it easy. That's my leg there. What are you –"

"Jack!" Daniel found himself almost yelling, and took hold of his errant nerves and gave them a good hard shake. Enough of being foolish. He closed his eyes for a second, taking a deep breath to calm himself, and then more rationally answered the question his fear hadn't let Jack finish asking. "The wall. It's there. It's there too."

Jack crouched next to him, and from his concerned tone of voice Daniel figured he hadn't been as successful as he'd intended with the getting-rational thing. "All right, easy; take it easy. Get it together," Jack soothed, taking Daniel's chin in his hand and peering straight into his eyes. "You okay?"

Daniel nodded dumbly, taking Jack's hand along for the ride. Yes, okay. Nothing had changed, really. He realised he wasn't feeling that tingly sensation anymore, that he had backed away enough for it to have faded into nothing. Also on the plus side, he could see Jack was feeling much better.

"Okay, there you go. Good," Jack acknowledged his effort. "So. Slightly more words this time around, Daniel. The wall is there... and... ?"

"Put your arm out. You'll feel it," he told Jack, and then his brain caught up and he hastily added, "But don't touch it!"

"Feel it, but don't touch it. Sure. Whatever you say." The look Jack gave him plainly conveyed Jack thought he was nuts, but that was nothing new to either of them, so he wasn't surprised that Jack did as he asked despite his obvious skepticism.

"Aw, crap!" Jack yelled, clearly feeling the buzz. He glared at the wall. "Give us a break, eh? This isn't fun anymore." He ripped off his watch and threw it, quickly dodging as it bounced off the blue crackle that spread across the wall on impact.

"Pretty sure you broke it," Daniel remarked as the watch struck ground beside his hand and its glass face promptly separated from the rest of it. "You didn't need to throw it so hard," he pointed out, wincing at the memory of his own encounter. "A light touch of a Kleenex probably would have been enough to confirm it."

"Didn't think I did." Jack looked at his watch, and then at Daniel's arm. "How are you, by the way? And besides, I don't have a Kleenex on me."

"You could have used something else. A shoulder patch or something." Daniel lightly fingered the bridge of his nose and decided it probably wasn't broken. If it was, it'd hurt a lot more than it did, wouldn't it? "I'll be fine," he belatedly answered the actual question.

"Yeah, well, in a few hours you'll be able to give a racoon a run for its money in the..." Jack trailed off, and then, looking faintly aggrieved, added, "What do you care, anyway? It's not your watch." Then he got serious. "Look, I need more than that, Daniel. I need to know how you're doing. And what you're capable of."

Daniel sighed and rolled over onto his back. What he was capable of? Not much at the moment but hopefully that'd change with a bit of rest. It was somewhat moot anyway, because there was no way they were getting out, at least not on their own. It occurred to him Jack didn't know that for sure yet; Jack had no idea what this thing probably was. Daniel wasn't looking forward to explaining the sudden flash of insight that had come to him just before he'd gone face-first into the barrier, but knew he had to and supposed there was no time like the present. He opened his mouth, but to his surprise the words that sprang into the air were not his own.

Definitely non-regulation hails of "Colonel!" and, "O'Neill," closely following one another came from their comm units. Sam and Teal'c, and it sounded like they were really on the move. Sam's voice came through next, advising they were just entering the building and they had a medic with them. It was followed up with a noticeably anxious, "I hope you can hear me, sir. Tell Daniel to hang on; we'll be right there. Tell him..." she paused, then might have thought better of whatever she had been about to say, because she simply finished up with, "Help is coming, sir. We're just around the corner."

The quaver in her voice came through all too well, and Daniel was touched by her concern. He was also a bit suspicious, though. He eyed Jack, aware he'd been unconscious, yes, but seriously doubting he would have seemed so unstable as to have warranted all this. "Take a little license, did you?"

"Hey," Jack protested, a bit too vehemently Daniel thought. "You were flat out and not responding. For all I knew you were about to kick the bucket." Daniel prompted him with a raised eyebrow, but Jack refused to rise to the bait. "You were down deeper than a bottomless pit, Daniel. A doornail is more lively than you were."

Right. And you took full advantage of that to conceal your own little health issue, didn't you, Daniel thought but didn't come right out and say. Jack was looking much better – not nearly so grey and pained-looking – and Daniel was very glad about that, but really, he couldn't help but feel chagrined over being the focus of so much unnecessary worry and excitement. Speaking of which...

Hurried footsteps and the noise of ungainly objects being carried at a run came from down the corridor, and within moments they were there, sliding to a messy halt in the doorway: Sam, Teal'c, and a medic, laden with heavy packs and carrying between them a large container no doubt full of medical equipment they didn't actually need. Well, didn't need right now, at least, Daniel amended, mentally wincing at even the thought of possibly more energy field zaps in their futures. And the prospect of either he or Jack alone at the helm of potentially lethal medical equipment was equally scary.

"Daniel Jackson." Teal'c looked surprised but then a grin spread across his face. Daniel happily returned it, giving his would-be rescuers a small wave from where he still lay on the floor. "Are you well now?" Teal'c asked, and Daniel gave him a thumb's-up that was immediately contradicted by Jack landing a slap on his hand and providing an answer of his own.

Daniel thought he saw a flash of exasperation, possibly equal to his own, pass across Sam's face at Jack's inventive cross between a rocking 'so-so' hand movement and a very rude gesture. Then she was all business, wordlessly prodding the medic out of his dumbfounded stare into the room and starting to sort out the packs they'd brought. Jack leaned in close to him and whispered, "Gotta be PMS. They never say hello during PMS."

"Did you ever think it might be you?" Daniel snapped. "And why are you whispering? They can't hear us – not that I wanted to hear that either."

Thankfully, Sam interrupted before Daniel was able to make out much of Jack's quiet mutter about male PMS. "Sir, when Teal'c called in about Daniel we came back right away, but he also filled us in on the communication problem and while I waited for Thomas I gathered up a few things to try. I need to get it set up, though, so we'll go low-tech for the moment." She pulled a small whiteboard out of one of the larger packs and glanced up at them. A quick, relieved smile lit her face as she looked at Daniel, and she directed her next comment to the medic. "Thomas, you're up. Daniel's obviously improved from when Teal'c last saw him, so hopefully you don't need the monitor after all. We can't assume it'll work in there anyway."

Sam dragged two large packs off to one side, hunkered down over them, and got started doing whatever it was she needed to do. Courtesy of Teal'c and the medic, fairly mundane-looking supplies appeared from out of the remaining packs and pouches. The whiteboard, with its marker and eraser taped onboard, was the first to be stuck into the energy field from the outside. Daniel's breath caught in his chest as Jack cautiously approached the doorway, and he bit down hard on his lip to keep from nagging Jack with what Jack already knew – don't touch the field, don't touch the field. Teal'c propelled the board right the way through with a strong enough push, though, that all Jack had to do was kneel a foot away and catch the thing, and Daniel relaxed. A decent sized medical pouch came through next, followed by a hard cover binder.

"You strong enough to paw through this?" Jack held up the pouch and binder, and when Daniel nodded, yes, sure, he brought them over and handed the pouch to him. The binder, containing instructions for use of the equipment, plus blank medical records pages, got a disdainful glance from Jack and was immediately tossed aside. "I'm just going back over there while you open that; got a short letter to write. Anything you want me to include? Is there anything you need?" Jack knelt beside him, gently placing a hand on his shoulder as he spoke, and the last remnants of Daniel's irritation with him evaporated.

"No, wait. Don't sit him up yet, sir," Thomas hastily warned, and they both looked over to see him crouched in front of an open box, placing a handful of syringes and needles inside.

"Uh oh," slipped out of Daniel, and Jack nodded in agreement. "What else has he got there?" Daniel asked, not able to see inside the box from where he lay.

Thomas' advice that he'd like Daniel's blood pressure taken before he tried to sit up was half hidden under Jack confirming, "Oh, more of the same, and a bunch of vials and ampoules."

"I'm fine now. Sit me up," Daniel promptly ordered, but Jack simply smirked and took the pouch from him. It contained all the essentials for the low-tech version of physical assessment, including the dratted penlight which Jack used on him with far too much enthusiasm for Daniel's liking. A bit of fumbling around on Jack's part later, Daniel yelped when the blood pressure cuff was way far over-inflated, then dutifully shut-up and let Jack get on with listening through the stethoscope, because if Jack couldn't hear then he'd have to go through it all over again.

Jack went away to report numbers and write his letter via the whiteboard, and even though Daniel knew he was being bad – that Thomas wanted to be the one to decide how Daniel was doing – he struggled to sit, squirming to get onto his butt as he pushed up with his arms. And it was fine. While not easy, it was not quite as difficult as he expected; even with just the short rest he'd had since discovering the energy field extended to the side wall, his strength had improved.

He squirreled himself into place, listening to Thomas tell Jack how reassuring the vital signs were and ask questions which Jack answered with squeaking strokes on the whiteboard: how long had Daniel been unconscious; was he completely lucid at present; did either of them have any open wounds; were there any other symptoms or problems that hadn't been mentioned yet. He knew Jack wasn't going to admit to having had stomach pains and an attack of the runs, thankfully both of which appeared to be gone now. Really, Thomas should probably just go home, Daniel thought, and looked up toward him, an apology on his face for all the wasted time and effort... only to laugh out loud at the sight of what Teal'c had done. Jack looked back at him overtop the whiteboard, a big grin of amusement on his own face.

As they watched, Teal'c straightened from having bent to retrieve another object from the pack at his feet. He selected a waist-high spot and with great care and deliberation pushed the field medical kit he'd chosen most of the way through the energy field. It stayed there, stuck in place, three-quarters of it on the inside where Jack could reach and pull it through without much risk of touching the field itself. Similarly lodged in the barrier, alongside and around the kit, Teal'c had stored a number of other helpful items: two full water bottles, a small duffle bag that Daniel suspected carried rations, and a rolled-up emergency blanket, much cushier than the compact version they already had.

They hung there as if suspended in thin air, each item ringed with a faint bluish tint where it entered the field. The stash looked ridiculous, and judging from the self-satisfied expression on Teal'c's face this was probably just the beginning – he seemed to be enjoying himself.

"I guess this is more interesting than just putting the stuff in a bag and tossing it through," Daniel remarked. Jack didn't answer him; in fact, he realised, Jack was sitting on the floor completely motionless, as if frozen in place. His back was to Daniel, the whiteboard lying apparently forgotten beside him. The marker Jack had been using dropped out of his hand, beginning a slow downhill roll, and Jack didn't react at all.

"Uh, Jack? Hello?" Daniel prompted, but there wasn't any response. He waited a few moments, giving Jack time just in case he was busy with something Daniel couldn't see, although he couldn't imagine what. He couldn't stand it any longer, though, when the marker leisurely rolled by him. He only just managed to grab it before it went out of reach. Certain something was wrong, he tried again, "Uh, getting a bit worried here. What's the matter?" No reaction. Nothing. Anxiety washed over him and he scrambled to crawl forward, raising his voice this time. "Jack, are you with me?"

It was not his own but Teal'c's abrupt worry that finally got a reaction out of Jack. "Daniel Jackson, what is wrong?" Teal'c called, seeing his anxious, clumsy attempt to rush forward. "O'Neill, something is amiss with Daniel Jackson!"

Jack jumped as if stung by something, leapt to his feet, and twisted around. "What? What's wrong?" He stared in what looked like surprise to see Daniel poised there on hands and knees, about to fall over, and then seemed abashed. "Oh. Guess I should have answered you."

He moved quickly to Daniel's side and offered a helping hand, which Daniel completely ignored. On all fours, his heart pounding from a release of adrenaline his body still wasn't strong enough to handle, Daniel stared at Jack in disbelief. "You heard me calling you. You knew I was sitting here freaking out," he marvelled, leaving the "you are a total ass" part unspoken.

"Hey. I was thinking," Jack protested the complaint.

Oh, of course. Sure, that explained it. Daniel rolled his eyes, allowing Jack to steady him as he settled back onto his butt. Afraid to ask but once again a complete slave to his own curiosity, the question rolled out of his mouth without his permission. "Thinking; right. And, so...?"

Jack's answer was to turn his back on Daniel and walk toward the doorway. He went almost right up to it, then poked at a water bottle stuck bottom end first through the field. He stood there, fingertips on the end of the water bottle, his head tilted slightly, and Daniel sighed, knowing he wouldn't get anything out of Jack just yet. He did his best at crawling forward, and as he slowly made his way over there noticed that Sam had joined Teal'c in the doorway.

Sam queried, "Sir?" and looked back at Daniel, but all he could do was shrug at her. It was clear Jack was working on an idea, but Daniel hadn't the slightest clue what it could be. Teal'c and Sam clearly had no idea either; they stood there regarding Jack with what looked like the same measure of wariness Daniel felt.

Just as Daniel made it alongside the whiteboard, Jack turned around and on seeing where Daniel was gave him an encouraging smile. "Great. Good to see you moving around that well," he said. "You think you're good to go? As in," he made a shoo-shooing motion toward the corridor and then rocked back on his heels, looking smug, "actually go? Because, I, Dannyboy, just may well have found the way out."

Really? "What? How?" It had better not have anything to do with lethal weapons.

"Seeing as you and Carter are so fond of the Scientific Method, we'll start with a little experiment." Jack said, and motioned toward the whiteboard. "You can do the easy bit – let Teal'c know what we want." He turned away again and prodded the end of the water bottle, the proximity of his fingers to the energy field alarming Daniel.

"I can't let Teal'c know what we want because I don't know what we want," Daniel muttered to himself. Jack heard, and turned back around to face him. His smug expression still firmly in place, he indicated the back wall of the corridor with a jerk of his thumb. It took Daniel a moment, but then he noticed the rolled-up foam pad over by Sam's pack, and, oh, okay, yes, what an interesting idea. He didn't think it'd work, given what he suspected about the energy field, but hey, he had an open mind.

Daniel quickly wrote it on the whiteboard for Teal'c and Sam. "Sleeping pad, into field".

They didn't understand at first, Teal'c apologising while he went to get the pad. "I am sorry, Daniel Jackson; of course, you cannot rise and are uncomfortable."

He brought the pad over as he was speaking, holding it up as if a javelin, and Jack jumped to, waving his arms emphatically to prevent Teal'c from simply throwing it through. Daniel hurriedly added "No. Roll loosely, hole through centre," to his note and double underlined the whole thing with broad strokes.

Sam's penny dropped. "Yes, I see," she exclaimed, doing a quick visual inventory of everything already in the room with them. "Everything is fully enclosed, double-ended so to speak, so far. It's worth a try. Good idea, Daniel."

Daniel couldn't help but shrink back under the strength of Jack's withering glare.

 




4 hours


Good idea, who?

Jack stared at Daniel, insulted to his core – okay, no, not to his core; that was a gross exaggeration. But it was satisfying to see how Daniel folded in on himself slightly under the look Jack gave him.

Daniel almost meekly offered, "Yeah, good idea, Jack," but then totally spoiled it by being unable to hold back his innate honesty. "It's a great thought. It probably won't work, though, because I think..."

Daniel trailed off under a successful renewal of the glare, and Jack dismissed his concerns with a wave of his hand. "Yeah, yeah. You know better. But as the lady said, it's worth a try. And if it does work, " he pointed at Daniel, "you can damn well bet I'll never let you forget it."

He was pleased to see the ghost of a saucy grin on Daniel's face at that, accepting it as another indication Daniel was recovering. He used the opportunity staring in condemnation at Daniel gave him to do a quick assessment and yeah, Daniel was looking better. Although he was still too damn pale, he wasn't nearly as visibly shaky as he'd been. Just the fact he'd made it the short distance from the hole to the whiteboard in the time he had was promising; it was a big improvement over how much trouble he'd had getting over to the hole in the first place.

Speaking of holes... . Jack narrowed his eyes to warn Daniel that any thought of supplementing that grin with a verbal remark should be quashed in its tracks, and turned back to Sam and Teal'c. Teal'c had re-rolled the pad loosely and was just replacing the elastic strap that held it from unrolling. The clear space through its centre was big enough for his purposes, and he quickly grabbed the water bottle in front of him and pulled it the rest of the way through the field.

"Oh." Daniel's little squeak was followed by other squeaking, the marker against the whiteboard, and Jack looked over his shoulder to see Daniel had told Teal'c to insert the pad at an upward angle. Yep, good. This was gonna be so good.

Or, bad; it was so bad. Within moments, Jack found himself staring into the space down the middle of the loosely rolled sleeping pad, right at the stupid water bottle that stupidly sat, unmoving, halfway down the stupid tunnel where it had come to an abrupt halt against the stupider than stupid energy barrier, which they now knew not only surrounded the sleeping pad but went right the way through it. Damn. He'd really hoped this would work.

He struggled to hold back from physically lashing out in frustration as Teal'c unnecessarily informed everyone, "This method appears to be unsuccessful." The announcement was accompanied by noises from Carter about permeable foam versus less permeable materials such as certain metals or plastics, though it would be a long shot, yadda yadda yadda. Annoying as hell. Everything about this whole day was worse than annoying. Tense beyond tolerance, Jack reached up and grabbed the edges of the foam pad and shook it violently. That wasn't very satisfying, because while the thing flexed and shook in his hands it didn't actually move or break into pieces or scream in pain. So he did it again, harder this time.

"Jack." A hand placed gently overtop his own where he gripped the pad stopped the short but intense silent tirade. "It's not the pad's fault."

Aw shit, Daniel. "No, it's mine," Jack spit out, and abruptly yanked the pad the rest of the way through the barrier. The water bottle sat in mid air against the energy field for a split second before falling to the floor. He kicked out at it, and it slammed against the field and bounced backward, clipping him in the leg before winging off to his left to hit the floor. The screw cap flew entirely off upon impact and half the water in the bottle erupted out the opening, spraying everywhere.

"Your fault? What do you mean? No, it's..." Daniel started to say something, but Teal'c's voice loomed larger overtop Daniel, advising them Carter was just minutes away from testing her communications device. Whatever that meant.

Jack checked to be sure Daniel was stable on his feet, which he absolutely was not. He shouldered himself under Daniel's arm to support him, and then slipped the elastic strap off the pad. "You should be taking it easy. Not looking too steady yet." Moving back from the barrier, he placed the pad on the ground, avoiding where the remaining water slowly gurgled out of the bottle to wander downhill. "Here. Take a load off. What are you doing over here, anyway, Daniel?"

"I couldn't see into the pad from there."

Good reason, Jack thought – yeah, duh – even as he snorted, "Phht. What's to see?"

"Jack." An entire empathy-filled sentence came across in just the one word, and while Jack was thankful for the support and commiseration...

Whoa! What the hell? Jack lunged to grab hold of Daniel as an abrupt heavy spray of water washed down onto them. At least he sure hoped it was just water – he didn't have much time to think about it, as Niagara Falls Jr. abruptly pelted them and everything else in the room into total submission. He found himself supporting Daniel as Daniel all but collapsed. They both ended up on their knees, gasping as multiple streams of cold water slammed into them with stinging force. It hurt. Not daring to look upward and subject his face to that punishment, he kept his head down, holding Daniel against him to be sure Daniel didn't end up face down on the floor. Yes, that floor, the one that was quickly disappearing – several inches of what he could now see, to his horror, probably wasn't water after all had already accumulated. The thicker than water, orange-tinged liquid was rising fast, and there was no sign of the deluge letting up.

They did fall, both of them, as the torrent continued and the depth of the viscous liquid increased. It was slippery as hell, and Jack did his best to keep the both of them up out of it but soon lost his balance under the onslaught. Daniel went down along with him, and Jack wasn't able to check out how Daniel fared after that, being hard pressed to keep his head up out of the stuff as his hands kept slipping on the floor. He was vaguely aware of Daniel struggling by his side, though, and figured as long as the guy seemed to be moving he must still be alive. He was aware of Teal'c, Sam, and the medic, too, as they hollered information he simply didn't have the time nor energy to process. He let their words go without even trying to decipher them, too busy trying to avoid inhaling goop instead of air to care what they were saying.

After what seemed an eternity, it ended as abruptly as it had started. The stinging flow snapped off as if cut with a knife, and Jack pushed himself up and knelt there, shivering, stunned and hurting. He heard Sam immediately helpfully – oh, so not – inform everyone eternity had lasted just under six minutes, and heard but equally ignored the medic repeatedly asking them if they were all right. Sam quickly rattled off something to Teal'c about the ceiling and she'd never seen anything like it, and oh, are you two all right?

Well, no, Carter. What do you think? The active retching coming from beside him ought to be enough of a clue that she needn't ask, even if she couldn't actually hear the noise. Jack turned to Daniel and grabbed the back of his jacket, yanking him up and back until he was able to choke and spew from a safer position than slumped with his nose just an inch above the surface. Daniel had obviously gone face-first into the stuff – now at least two feet deep – that lazily swirled around them. His hair was soaked, and his obvious nausea indicated he might have got a mouthful and found it didn't taste any better than it looked. Jack just hoped to hell Daniel hadn't actually swallowed, or, god forbid, aspirated any of it.

"What the hell is this place?" he whispered, unmitigatedly scared for the first time since they'd got trapped in here, as it occurred to him they may well be up against something beyond their ability to solve. It was just getting too weird. There were too many obscure things going on, too many baffling, unanticipated things. They'd only opened the door by accident; this barrier didn't behave even remotely like anything else they'd ever encountered; and, what the hell was it with the not-water waterworks?

Beside him, Daniel gagged one more time, and coughed out through his shivering, "I think... I know for sure, now."

Jack took his attention off Daniel just long enough to give the guys outside a quick knife-cut across the throat gesture, because they were damned distracting with their shouting, "Sir, Colonel, Daniel, Daniel Jackson, O'Neill, are you guys okay," and assorted other things. Coping and concentrating were difficult enough without having to entertain them.

Then he asked Daniel, "You swallow any of this stuff?" He threaded his fingers through the liquid pool. The stuff was very cold, worryingly so, and moved away from the disturbance he created in sluggish ripples. "You think you know what for sure?" he added as an afterthought, not understanding what Daniel was talking about.

Daniel spat. The gob of saliva that came out was tinged orange. Jack's fear for his friend went up a notch and stayed there, even when Daniel told him, "No, it's okay. Got a mouthful just at the end there, but none of it went down."

It wasn't okay, Jack knew, because if the stuff was dangerous Daniel getting it in his mouth could be all it would take, but he tried to seem relieved for Daniel's sake. They couldn't do anything about it anyway. "You should rinse your mouth, get the taste out," Jack advised, carefully avoiding the real concern, and the curt nod Daniel gave him said he agreed with that approach.

Jack twisted around one way and then the next, looking for the closest water bottle. What he saw, now he was paying attention to something other than himself and Daniel, damn near astounded him. Their pale orange wading pool looked almost alive, moving counter-clockwise in a minutely slow but steady swirl, accompanied at each wall by an underwater display of mobile blue threads that reminded him of zat tracers. Visible through its depth all around the perimeter, Jack could see the active snap, crackle, pop of blue, as sluggish eddies prodded the walls and doorway. It answered one question not yet asked, but that wasn't what really caught his attention.

Improbably, but actually, yeah, actually floating in the whatever the hell this crap was, bobbing slightly as it sat low in the... the... okay, the water – just call the damn stuff water, he told himself, taking at least one load off his mind – was Daniel's full pack. It was just one member of the bizarre flotilla of objects ponderously taking what looked to be a vaguely circular route, and ah, look at that, for crying out loud. In the centre of the room the space blanket he'd covered Daniel with earlier was performing a Queen of England style wave hello to the crowds, languidly floating in a slowly rotating vertical column rising through the water's depth, up from the hole they'd opened in the floor.

Well, so that was why the room had turned into a bathtub. He prepared to stand up and go deal with the problem, moving carefully in the slippery water, but Daniel spoke up just then and the edge of worry in his voice had Jack pausing before he even made sense of what was being said.

"Uhh. Jack? I think there's something strange going on. Do you feel that?"

Not even bothering to be his usual facetious self about the fact that yeah, duh, of course there was something strange going on, Jack turned back and met Daniel's gaze with one equally as serious. There was weird shit, and there was bad shit, and then there was this place: weird bad shit. If Daniel thought there was even more crap yet to come then tossing him off with snide comments was hardly the way to go here. But, did he feel... what? He felt cold, tired, faintly nauseated, bloated; everything ached... but he hardly thought that was what Daniel was asking.

On his knees in the stuff, just as Jack was, Daniel dropped one hand into the water and fanned his fingers. He nodded toward his hand, which moved slightly forward, following the vague counter-clockwise motion of the water. "I'm not purposefully moving, Jack. And given the viscosity and probably pretty high specific gravity of this stuff, what I'm feeling seems stronger than a simple gravity-driven current."

His attention drawn to it now, Jack felt it too. A steady tugging sensation on his legs, a feeling that if he weren't touching bottom he might be slowly swept along just like their belongings, be taken hold of and sucked – wait; sucked... as in...? Ah, give it a break!

"I don't think we should remove that blanket from the drain quite yet," Daniel said. Jack simply closed his eyes and reached down deep for the patience to carry on without having an out and out hissy fit.

 




Daniel knew what this place was. It all made sense: the energy barrier that allowed stuff in but wouldn't let anything out; suppression of noise transmission to the outside; a punishing but not fatal shock to anyone – or anything, as the case may be – coming into contact with the walls or doorway; and, the slope of the floor that led directly to the opening in the centre of the room.

It was a slam dunk, he figured, no pun intended, as he struggled on his knees through the treacherously slippery pool. He made a concerted effort to keep his weight low and slide his legs forward carefully; moving in this kind of buoyancy, especially not being at his strongest, was taxing exercise. Jack had retrieved the whiteboard and backpack already, so Daniel made for his half-floating, half-sinking, couldn't make up its mind which to do, tactical vest. On his way there he paused to collect a mostly empty water bottle and the grease pencil he saw at the last minute as he went by. He paused for a second before picking it up, watching it excitedly hop and skip along the surface in the disturbance caused by his and Jack's movement.

He only half-listened to Sam and Teal'c explaining to him and Jack what had happened, how countless small openings had suddenly appeared in the ceiling, each of them aiming multiple streams in a variety of directions, shooting the liquid into the room at high velocity. Yes, thank you, Sam, he thought, for letting them know how the torrent was so dense she had been hard pressed to see the back wall of the room through it. He may not have had the view of it she had, but he knew what had happened much more intimately than she did nonetheless. And her advice that such a lot of 'water' having been directed down at them meant there must be large storage and drainage tanks somewhere in the building was equally as unnecessary a comment.

The ceiling showed no signs at all of the openings hidden there, now. It was back to being a blank sheet of grey, just like the walls in the corridor where Daniel was absolutely certain other hidden doorways lurked. He may not have entirely recovered all his brain power since that last big jolt he'd suffered – he was aware of the on-again, off-again fog that clouded his thinking from time to time – but he was improving rapidly; he was fine, and his conclusion wasn't in doubt. He knew what this place was, what this room with its sloped floor and centre drain hole was for, and he knew what that terrible shower of orange was. And they added up to something that mandated the existence of more rooms just like this one. Lots of them.

He met up with Jack at the centre of the room and they both knelt there for a moment, staring down, trying to see through the orange-tinged water and past the floating blanket. And, oh. Okay, that wasn't good; yes, the hole was plugged, but not for the reason Daniel had thought. The blanket had got snagged, but the real problem was thick folds and chunks of foam padding sticking out at all angles, surrounding the blanket. Daniel realised with faint alarm there was barely a foot of length left of the pad. The faint suction he felt had to be just a drop in the bucket. To have yanked most of the thick foam sleeping pad in, well, the vacuum exerted via that drain had to be pretty strong.

He and Jack both simply shook their heads toward the doorway as Sam asked what was there, what they were seeing. There really wasn't any way they could respond. This wasn't something you could describe via a game of charades. Even though the drain was well and truly plugged, what was left of the pad alternately surged and receded with short, obscene-looking thrusts in the viscous water. "That's just... disgusting," Jack complained.

Daniel knew Jack was really asking without asking what they should do, and to be honest he hadn't a clue. He could feel the disturbance against his legs, the give and take of the water caused by the combination of the movement of the pad and the force trying to suck it the rest of the way in. "I guess we ought to help it along," he tentatively suggested, "unless we want to sit in this stuff for the duration."

"You do realise there are a whole bunch of knife-sharp edges down there, starving for finger sandwiches, right?"

Right. That was stupid. How could he have forgotten that? Very sharp-looking edges, and what was probably tremendously strong suction just waiting to be set free. Okay, well... "We wouldn't necessarily have to reach right down into the drain to unstick it," Daniel offered, wondering if just wiggling the stuff sticking out might be enough to dislodge something. Or... something.

"By all means, my guest," Jack waved him on.

Oh. That wasn't quite what he'd had in mind. "Uhm. I'm a bit... I've got..." Daniel hefted the items he was carrying.

Luckily for him, Jack was reluctant but not completely unwilling. Although he huffed scornfully, he chucked the whiteboard aside to free up one hand. It skipped along the surface like a large, flat, ungainly stone over to the back wall, and then bounced off. Daniel watched the brief display of blue sparklies, gladder than glad the water didn't conduct whatever caused the jolts he'd received.

"You ready?" Jack was poised with one arm underwater, his hand wrapped around the end of the pad.

"Go ahead," Daniel told him, hoisting his vest onto his shoulder and sitting back, resting his weight on his heels. The water came far up his chest, but he hoped he'd be more stable that way.

Several sharp tugs on the end of the pad were all it took. It shifted, and then was yanked downward with a force and speed so sudden and strong Jack didn't even have time to let go before he was pulled forward.

"No!" Daniel lunged for him, dropping the vest and water bottle. But Jack had let go and was pulling away from the madly churning vortex before Daniel could lay a hand on him.

"Away," Jack barked at him, scrambling back from where both the pad and the blanket were being utterly, violently eaten "Get away, Daniel."

Daniel was frozen in place for a few seconds, unable to interpret what he was seeing. The now intertwined pad and blanket thrashed about, alternately being shredded, pulled down an inch or so, clogging up again, then quickly sliced and diced and pulled down further. In the next instant, enough of it was destroyed that the suction was given free reign, and he was abruptly caught in a rushing whirlpool of viscous water. He fell sideways, and was only saved from going under by Jack's arm around his waist, yanking him up and away.

He found himself set upright, back onto his knees, with dizzying speed as Jack yelled, "This is crap!" and then was gone. Confused for a split second, he thought Jack had been torn away and frantically twisted to locate him, but then it occurred to him the pull wasn't strong enough for that. No, Jack was going after the frenetically spinning whiteboard, he saw, and realised the water wasn't the only thing swirling around him. He only just managed to grab the water bottle he'd dropped as it swept past him – or maybe it was a different water bottle – and made a grab for the stethoscope but missed. His vest? Where was...

"No! God damn it," he heard Jack shout, and looked over to see Jack had the vest. Sort of.

With Daniel's pack clipped to his belt and holding onto the whiteboard with one hand, Jack had a grip on the vest with the other and was struggling to keep it from going the way of the foam pad. Following the line of the vest as it stretched from Jack's hand to down under, Daniel could just barely see, through churning orange, that the lower edge of the vest was caught up on the irregular edge of the drain.

The flow buffeted them both, and even though the water level had gone down by close to a foot already, Jack was clearly struggling. "Don't just sit there staring," he grunted. "Help me." Without waiting for Daniel to so much as breathe, never mind move a muscle, Jack winged the whiteboard toward him, took a two-handed grip on the vest, and pulled hard – and was abruptly yanked forward, just as he'd been before.

"Let it go, let it go," Daniel shouted at him, images of the gory death of the foam pad replaying in his mind, only this time Jack's hand was right there suffering the same fate. "Jack, just leave it." He lost the water bottle while collecting the whiteboard and... oh, screw it anyway. The hell with it.

"Don't want it to plug up again," Jack grunted, and with a mighty heave managed to break the grip of the edge of the hole.

The water bottle eagerly took the place of the vest, one side of it shredding alarmingly easily as it was washed down the hole. It was rapidly followed by a small assortment of things that must have slipped from his open pack, and then another water bottle, none of which Daniel was able to field without risking losing hold of the whiteboard. By the time he realised he was protecting something that was by virtue of its shape pretty much entirely safe to begin with, a lot of good stuff had been washed down the drain. He lost interest in the proceedings when an MRE from his pack got caught up on one of the razor sharp ridges and twirled madly in a circle as it split, nauseatingly gushing its contents before being sucked down.

Then it was over. A tidal wave of water raced for the drain, a soft slurp and bubble followed the last of it down, and there was a moment of turbulent air movement around them until the suction shut down. A thin film of orange covered the floor, sluggishly sliding toward the centre of the room, but otherwise there was blessedly nothing pulling, pushing or sloshing against him. Shivering in his cold, wet clothes, Daniel collapsed onto his back, his legs suddenly deciding they'd had more than enough. And whoa, he'd thought he had managed to withstand it all right, but maybe not. He hadn't realised while it was going on that he was quite so breathless. So shaky. So freaked. So... so everything. The best he could do was lie there pulling in air, waiting for his limbs to stop trembling, his heart to stop pounding, and his stomach to stop churning.

"This is the biggest most weird-ass son of a bitch toilet I've ever seen."

"In the whole universe," Daniel agreed, and was hit with sudden minor case of the giggles.

Jack snorted. "So who flushed? God?"

Even if he'd have been otherwise physically capable of getting up, Daniel couldn't have; he was breathlessly pinned to the floor in his effort to keep his insanity silent. Eyes closed, hands pressed against his abdomen, he struggled to keep it all in. There was a definite hysterical feel to the sniggers and choked off laughter seized in his chest, and he could hear that same edge in the assortment of subdued noises coming from Jack. Sam and Teal'c were calling them again, though, and he could hear the clatter and snap of containers being shifted, opened, and closed... and then Jack's hand landed on his arm and it was time to get real again.

"You okay? Ready to beat this place?" Jack softly asked, and Daniel opened his eyes to warm brown ones crinkled with residual amusement. "Come on," Jack slapped him on the shoulder and offered him a hand up.

It wasn't as bad as he'd thought it would be. His body protested at first, his head spinning and legs wobbly as Jell-O, but once he was up it only took a few moments before he was steady enough to walk. With a bit of help. "So, is that all you got?" Jack asked as he supported Daniel toward the front of the room, gesturing back toward the whiteboard. Daniel stopped walking and nodded, momentarily feeling guilty that he hadn't tried harder to save more stuff, but Jack just shrugged. "Doesn't matter. None of it fit with the decor anyway."

"No, wait... we've lost the marker," Daniel groaned, and Jack gave him a 'you stupid dumbass' look that Daniel didn't quite understand until he remembered there were plenty more markers where it had come from. "Guess I'm not quite firing on all cylinders," he mumbled, embarrassed. Jack ushered him back into motion, obviously and quite efficiently pretending not to have heard that.

The others were waiting, not exactly patiently. Teal'c's face was set in a deep scowl, and Sam looked moderately pissed off. Daniel knew it wasn't him and Jack that had caused those looks; it was the damned room, and the whole situation. Their team-mates were forced to stand there and watch helplessly as bizarre stuff happened, and because they couldn't hear what was going on inside they had precious little to alleviate their worry over his and Jack's condition. And he and Jack certainly hadn't been very co-operative on that front.

Sam started to say something, but Daniel didn't hear what it was because Jack chose that moment to insolently wave at them, loudly ordering, "Time to call this one. Back to the 'gate, kids – this place is a wash."

Daniel stumbled, and they both collapsed to their knees. "Jack. Stop. Don't," he managed to wheeze past the balloon full of perverse snorts of laughter stuck in his throat. "Don't do that."

"Spoilsport." Jack helped him up and directed him forward again. "You just don't like to think I might be right sometimes."

"Sir? Daniel?" Sam worriedly called – for the second time in as many moments, Daniel realised – and then settled back into an 'I'm so annoyed I could spit' posture when she saw they were not only all right, but struggling not to laugh.

Daniel indicated their friends. "Well, you are right, but no, don't do that again. You're upsetting Sam and Teal'c."

"I'm upsetting them? It's you who can't breathe and stand up at the same time, not me."

"Irrelevant."

Jack stopped dead. "Wait... I'm right?" Looking very pleased with himself, he repeated it. "Of course I'm right."

"Sir, we've tested the communications system. Whenever you're ready, we'll pass your equipment in to you."

"Ah, Daniel? What... just what am I right about?"

Sam had more than caught Daniel's interest, and he let Jack's confusion go. Extracting himself from Jack's arm around his waist, he moved forward to the point where he could feel the tingle from the barrier, then took a giant step back and studied the equipment lying at Sam's feet. Infrared? Yes, oh beautiful; what a terrific idea.

He gave voice to his delight. "Sam, this is great. Jack, look." He reached back excitedly over his shoulder and his hand collided with Jack's nose. "Oh, sorry."

"I see it," Jack told him. "So let's get this show on the road, then." There was equally as much pleasure in Jack's voice as Daniel knew there'd been in his own.

Noticing that the orange film on the floor was somehow gone, evaporated or something, save for a small area right around the edge of the drain, Daniel lowered himself to sit cross-legged. He was more than happy to rest while Jack took control of their end of manoeuvres. The first thing Jack did was to pull the remaining water bottle lodged in the field through and pass it to him, and Daniel finally, thankfully, rinsed out his mouth. He used some more of the water in the bottle to crudely wash his face and hands while Sam sent their portion of the data array over and Jack quickly set everything up.

"It works! This is so great," she gushed. "I'm receiving data... ambient temperature, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels... just getting some preliminary EM spectrum – Oh! Oh, wow, this is fascinating. Look at these frequencies. It's a good thing we're near-infrared band capable; I'm not seeing any wavelengths longer than –"

Jack practically fell over himself rushing to snatch a small over-the-ear headset taped to the data transceiver. "Carter," he yelled into the microphone. "Wet, cold, injured people trapped – I say again: trapped – in here!"

Injured? "Jack, I'm not..." Oh, look, they'd heard Jack. Hell, he'd heard Jack – twice. It really did work. Oh, thank goodness. Daniel scrambled to grab a second headset Jack was holding out to him. It was about time something positive happened.

He quickly assured everyone he wasn't injured per se – just a bit weak still, was all – and was both tickled pink and a bit disconcerted to hear his own voice doubled, coming back at him from outside through the speakers Sam had set up. That might be a small miscalculation on Sam's part, but hell, he'd take it and wouldn't complain. Jack did, though, asking if they could turn down his volume a crank or two or ten.

"If you did not shout, O'Neill, perhaps you would not be so loud," Teal'c calmly advised, turned away, and slowly strolled off with his hands clasped behind his back. Daniel was pretty sure he saw signs of a relieved smile threatening to break out on Teal'c's face just at the tail end of the turn.

"Sorry, sir. I was just so glad it worked, and I guess I... I..."

Sam's voice trailed off and Daniel glanced over to see her looking not at Jack, but staring straight at him, blinking furiously. "It's okay," he whispered into his headset. "Sam, I'm all right. We both are. A little freaked out," he added, and dodged Jack's 'hey, speak for yourself' glare. "I'm sorry to have scared everyone like that."

"Don't flatter yourself. You don't scare me," Jack inserted, and Sam grinned. Jack flashed a quick smirk back, gave Daniel a little shove in the shoulder, and then, that job done, got down to business. "What have you got, Carter? What do you need from us?"

Thomas The Medic stepped up, and with a nod to him Sam answered, "Well, we have to wait for the tech team to bring the big guns before we can start trying to figure out this energy field. So, information to start with, sir. But first we really do need to check you guys out. We're going to send a lifepack unit over, and Thomas and I will talk you through hooking it up to the data relay system."

"Not sure it's a good idea to send too much expensive equipment in here, Carter." Jack waved a hand back toward the now seemingly innocuous drain sitting in the centre of the floor. "I mean, hey, just look what happened to the last bunch of valuable communication and assessment tools we had. I gotta tell you, it was pretty ugly."

What, a dry erase marker, blood pressure cuff, and stethoscope? Daniel would have laughed but for the fact Jack's point was valid. Suddenly curious, he scanned the room and was startled to see the only things left were his vest, the whiteboard, his pack, and Jack's MP5.

"We have a pretty sound theory about that, sir. I doubt you need to worry about it happening again. We think it's controllable; it was just a few minutes after the floor got wet that the spray initiated."

"What? Carter, what are you..." Jack turned to Daniel. "What's she going on about?"

Uh, no. No, that wouldn't be it. "Ahm. Well, " Daniel cleared his throat and lowered his voice confidentially, forgetting for the moment that he was wearing a microphone. "It sounds like she thinks there are sensors... that the waterworks were in response to the liquid from the broken water bottle."

Jack stuck his hands on his hips and assertively debunked her theory. "No. Daniel puked all over the floor a long time before that, Carter. Remember? And no monsoon. "

It was then Daniel realised the puddles of emesis they'd been carefully skirting were gone too. The realisation was a mixed blessing, as with that thought came a sickening visual image, and suddenly the need to get out of his wet clothes was overwhelming. "Need clothing. Can someone run back and call the SGC for some dry clothes?" he interrupted the conversation. "And some cleansing pads or disinfectant or something?" A bucketful of bleach to sit in? Acetone? He didn't wait for an answer, stripping off his jacket and tossing it aside.

He knelt to untie his boots, and Jack went down with him, holding up one finger to ward off whatever it was Sam probably had on the tip of her tongue. Leaning in close, covering his microphone with two fingers, Jack quietly said, "Hang on, I get it now. She's thinking it was the water from the bottle going down the drain that caused this. And... what are you doing?"

"Taking off my clothes." One boot down, one to go. "And, yes, that's what she's saying. And yes, we both know she's wrong." He glanced up to see the medic hurriedly stuffing some dry BDUs into an isolation bag, and decided when they got out of here he was going to buy the man dinner. Or a Porsche.

"Daniel says you're wrong," Jack announced into the mic and then covered it again to whisper to Daniel, "We do? Ohh. Yeah, we do."

Daniel only half paid attention as Teal'c's voice joined the conversation, asking why that was so and how did he know that. He saw Jack pick up the water bottle, and didn't think anything of it as he threw his second boot aside and stood to strip off his t-shirt. Just as he was pulling it over his head, strident objections from the three people outside hurried him along, and he yanked it off to see Jack standing at the hole, pouring the remaining contents of the bottle messily onto the floor right next to the drain. The water went down in an instant, and Jack stood there, arms held wide, face turned up to the ceiling, radiating false expectancy.

The sight of the water coming out of the bottle sparked awareness of another problem, but he pushed it aside for the moment. Knowing Jack's and his earpieces on the headsets were inactive, that he and Jack were sending only, not receiving, Daniel whispered to Sam and Teal'c, "Jack already, uhm... he had a bit of a stomach... . Well, in short, your theory's wrong, guys."

He mentally kicked himself as his voice came out the speakers all too audibly, though, and when the medic immediately jumped into action Jack turned on Daniel. "Hey. You rotten traitor." He covered the distance between them in quick, long strides, and his tone softened with concern as he placed one hand on Daniel's shoulder. "That's about the hundredth stupid thing you've done in the last couple of hours. You really aren't quite on the ball, are you? I guess we better go with this medical assessment thing. Get you checked out as best we can."

Daniel was going to object – he was fine, he really was – but while Jack had exaggerated that didn't mean his point wasn't valid. He realised the intermittent mental fog he'd felt earlier was still there, waxing and waning unpredictably, and yeah, he guessed there were times he wasn't quite on the ball.

"I'm sure we can come up with some sort of protection for the equipment, to prevent possible water damage," Sam told them. "Coming through, sir. Everything you need to hook it up for data relay is in the box with the lifepack. "

Teal'c lodged a heavy-looking container into the energy field, and true salvation immediately followed in the form of two iso bags with the dry clothing in it. Daniel moved to retrieve them, but Jack got in his way, solicitously removing his t-shirt from his hand while gently pushing him backward. Irritated by the suggestion he was incapable, Daniel snapped, "Hands off, Jack. I'm fine," and went around him, grabbed each of the bags, and pulled them the rest of the way through.

Excellent. There was underwear and socks in with the usual t-shirts, pants, and jackets. Perfect. No boots, but that was all right; socks would do just fine. He was about to pull a dry t-shirt out when he saw the hand towels and big bottle of disinfectant, and yep, it'd be a Porsche for sure.

There were other things to do first though, and so he had to suffer his wet pants for a while longer. The first priority was to deal with that little other problem, and it was with great reluctance that Daniel took off his headset and whispered his need to Jack. Using the drain, facing the back wall as Jack stood directly behind him as a wholly inefficient privacy wall, was not the high point of his day. Sadly, it wasn't the low point either, which said a lot about just how bad this day was. Embarrassed as hell, he did what he had to and when he turned back it was to find that Sam and Teal'c had tactfully disappeared from the doorway.

When they came back, he helped Jack get the portable lifepack defib/monitor unit sorted and hooked up to Sam's equipment. They used the disinfectant and towels to wash their upper bodies before plastering electrodes and leads onto their chests, under Thomas' direction, and then wrapping a blood pressure cuff around each other's arms in turn. And by the time all was said and done and Thomas and Sam had confirmed receipt of some decent data on their physical condition, Daniel decided Jack was probably more right about his condition than he was – the process had been dizzying, seeming a lot longer, more confusing, and exhausting than he knew it ought to have.

It was okay, though, he assured the worry curled in his gut. He'd be all right. There'd been no permanent damage done; he just needed to rest and recoup. Above all, what he needed right then was a head-to-toe scrub down including brushing his teeth, a full change of clothes, and Sam to get them out of here. In that precise order.

 




Jack didn't hear what was said when the medic radioed from the stargate to Carter and Teal'c, and wasn't that interesting? He fiddled with his comm, but the conversation between Carter and Thomas didn't come through. It must not have survived the orange slime; Daniel's certainly hadn't – it had gone down the drain. That was all right, though. He didn't need to hear both ends. Carter's brief acknowledgement, and her order for Thomas to just go on through to the SGC to report to Fraiser and await the supplies he'd been sent to request, was enough to fill Jack in.

He went back to listening to the conversation between Teal'c and Daniel with half an ear as he moved through the short list of things Sam wanted him to do. Yes, he got that dangerous blue crackle from all three walls, and she got the small spike in her data with each attempt; now he was back to the right-hand side wall, holding the little sensor / data transmitter Sam had sent through as close as he dared to the energy field, while once again tossing his SGC shoulder patch at the wall.

He had to agree Daniel was probably right about this room – what with a kick-ass, one-way force field and the apparent, what Daniel believed to be, decontamination shower they'd been subjected to, it sure fit the bill for containment of living beings. Daniel was thinking some sort of temporary holding pen for large animals, a sort of zoological centre, but Jack had a different perspective. To put it succinctly: Prison. And not just temporary either. Daniel had protested, complaining Jack always opted for the most negative conclusion, but really, zoo cage or prison cell, what difference did it make? Six of one, half dozen of the other.

Jack had his doubts about the current topic of discussion, however. He kept them to himself, though, knowing this was something for the tech team – where ever the hell they were – to figure out. Other than a demonstration of lack of confidence in Daniel's ability to think rationally, his skepticism wouldn't add anything to the conversation.

"You know how when you exit a wormhole, Teal'c, and there's that little extra push-pull you feel at the end?" Daniel was saying. "As if you're being gently sucked out through the event horizon? It's like that."

"No, it's no good, sir. I'm not getting anything I didn't already get before. I think we can abandon that now," Sam told him, cutting into Daniel's attempt to support his contention that the energy barrier was a wormhole event horizon.

Okay, well, to be fair Daniel wasn't claiming precisely that... but close enough. It sounded wacky regardless. Jack slapped the patch back into place and headed over to where Daniel was lying on his back on the second foam pad to be passed through the barrier – where Daniel was supposed to be resting, not flapping his mouth and holding his head up off the camp pillow at what had to be an uncomfortable angle while earnestly willing Teal'c to agree.

"Well, even if that's the case, Daniel... " Sam turned her full attention to the conversation, and Jack winced at her choice of words and Daniel's immediate, uncharacteristically defensive response.

"If that's the case? There's no 'if' about it, Sam. I felt it."

She didn't sound all that chastened. "All right, fine. But even so, and even though it's one way only and so is the event horizon..."

"And, it is blue." That bit of inanity shot out of Jacks' mouth unbidden, and he had to turn away from the hopeful look it brought to Daniel's tired face. He busied himself with zipping the little sensor into its case.

"That's hardly a significant argument, sir. Daniel, as far as we can tell the 'gate event horizon allows all frequencies of electromagnetic radiation through in both directions, but this one doesn't. Plus you can't see what's on the other side of an event horizon; that's General Relativity 101. And they certainly don't impair you upon contact."

"No, of course they don't. Stargates would hardly be effective modes of travel if they did. I didn't say this is identical to the event horizon in the stargate, Sam. I'm just suggesting it might be a manipulated variation of that. Look, effectively, the stargate event horizon is the access point to a wormhole, right?"

"No," Carter countered. "An event horizon isn't an access point. Simply stated, you could say it's a boundary in spacetime. And even though that's an overly simplistic statement, it's enough."

Daniel closed his eyes momentarily, and then tried again. "Okay, yes, I admit I don't know much at all about general relativity and quantum physics. But I do know there are things about the stargate event horizon that are inconsistent with current theory. You complain about that all the time." When she nodded, he backed up a bit. "It's not the definition of an event horizon I'm trying to get at, Sam – that's way beyond me. What I'm talking about is how we use the big puddle on the stargate. Essentially, in terms of its use, it's a local 'entrance' to a non-local corridor that's way far outside the immediate environment. Right?"

Daniel nodded with evident satisfaction as Carter reluctantly agreed with that, and Jack listened with growing interest as Daniel then pushed his point home with a quick thrust that an old soldier such as himself couldn't help but admire. "Even though we can't see through it into the wormhole, the 'gate event horizon allows all sorts of EM spectrum frequencies through; we can communicate, and receive MALP audio and visual signals. Wavelengths pass through. But here, Sam, you're saying that because this thing, which remember is in a local corridor inside the immediate environment, lets visual spectrum frequencies through means it can't possibly be related to an event horizon."

Jack had to admire that even as exhausted Daniel obviously was, and as spotty as his thinking skills were at times, he still had it in him to mount an at least semi-coherent argument. But he still thought Daniel was wrong, even though he'd be damned if he could figure out anymore just why he felt that way. Oh, wait, right... the radios.

"Yes, you're right; there are things about the stargate event horizon that are inconsistent with our science. We don't really know why it manifests as it does. That's why we're reconsidering those theories." Carter walked a small circle, thinking it over. "Okay, so while you make absolutely no scientific sense, Daniel, I think I understand what you are trying to say. You're wondering if the spacetime environment on the other side of the stargate event horizon, in comparison to the situation here, is reponsible for the discrepancy, rather than it being the event horizon itself that makes the difference. You're suggesting that the 'gate horizon is designed to... but, if that's the case, then..." she faltered, and then stiffened.

"Yes," Daniel encouraged, clearly not recognising the change in her mood. "Think about it: What if what we call the 'gate event horizon, not just in the most simplest of terms but actually in the most literal of terms, is essentially a protective doorway overtop of an actual event horizon?"

Jack frowned in confusion at the hard expression on Carter's face. But it vanished almost immediately as she recomposed herself. Her voice was calm and neutral as she skipped ahead to make a new point. "There's a pretty big a flaw in your theory, Daniel." She tapped the infrared transceiver box in illustration.

Daniel let his head drop back onto the pillow and brought his arm up to cover his eyes. "A flaw. How do you know that?" was all he had to say, looking and sounding like the discussion had used up pretty much all the energy he had left.

Well, duh, yes they already knew that flaw existed, and so this couldn't be a knock-off of an event horizon. Wasn't that obvious? Wasn't it?

"We have already ascertained our radio signals do not pass both ways through the barrier, as they do with a stargate," Teal'c said, sounding just as confused as Jack was by Daniel's seemingly nonsensical comment.

Carter didn't seem confused, though; she seemed thoughtful. She stared hard at her comm unit for a moment, and then nodded sharply to herself. "Colonel, I'd like to try something with the comms. Don't send anything, though; just leave it on and listen, and..."

He interrupted her. "No can do, Carter. It's not receiving, and Daniel's has gone overseas."

She didn't even pause to think it over. Pulling her own comm from her vest, she tossed it through the barrier to him, went over to her equipment, and told them what she wanted to do. "I'm just going to set this to... . Okay, good. Teal'c, activate your comm and keep talking until I tell you to stop. Sir, when he's done I'll need you to do the same."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow, but did what he was told, announcing, "O'Neill, it is I, Teal'c." Jack rolled his eyes and was sure he saw Daniel's chest jerk with a suppressed snort as Teal'c continued, "I have been instructed to attempt to make radio contact with you. I am hopeful that even despite our previous unsuccessful –"

"Keep talking, Teal'c." Carter spoke over him. "Sir, we can't hear it at this end. I need confirmation: do you copy?"

"Yes, I copy," Jack gave it to her. "He's coming in just fine." As Teal'c stiffly prattled on and Carter studied incoming data gathered by the sensors in the room, Jack crouched next to Daniel. "You okay?"

Under cover of his arm, Daniel nodded, and then quietly said, "Your turn, Jack," as Carter confirmed her equipment had detected the radio signals in the room.

Okay, sure. Not quite sure where this was going, Jack shrugged, activated the comm, and didn't even try to sound in the least bit intelligent. Carter soon jumped in confirming the comm was working just fine, sending a good strong signal.

"There's no sign of an interference or dampening field – which makes sense; that would have blocked incoming transmissions as well as outgoing," she said, and Jack scratched his head, baffled. It didn't seem to him they'd achieved anything, but Carter had a gleam in her eye that usually suggested she was embarking on some sort of grand scientific adventure. "This is amazing, really. We can't hear you guys on the comms, nor speaking either, but we are hearing you via infrared," she mulled it over aloud.

"You're saying both sound and radio waves coming in here from outside, and the ones produced in here, are normal, right?" Jack asked her, and got a definitive nod in reply. "So, something's preventing them from going through the energy field, then. Didn't we already know that hours ago?"

"Yes," Daniel mumbled from under his arm.

"Right," Carter agreed. "But we didn't know why. Daniel has a point; I was making assumptions. We had to do this, to gather basic data. We now have information that rules out some possible explanations I hadn't even bothered to consider... but, as it turns out, we still don't know why." It looked and sounded to Jack like she was thrilled right down to her undies that there wasn't a ready answer. And there you go, right there: that was one of the biggest reasons scientists drove him nuts.

"I think I do," Daniel softly asserted himself.

Carter nodded, conceding. "I know you think so, and okay, even though I don't agree I do see how you got there. This phenomenon is way over our heads – it should be impossible, but obviously it's not. So yes, you're right that I can't use the comm issue to discount anything. Until we know more about what's causing the problem, I can't use it to eliminate any possibilities."

In his head, Jack added the part she hadn't said aloud and from the sounds of it would never admit to: and that includes the possibility of a funky one-way energy barrier – one that zaps people into tomorrow and traps them in rooms that flush – possibly being a bad apple offspring of a stargate event horizon. But where did that leave them? Apparently still stuck in this toilet, no further along in finding a way out than they had been at the moment Daniel had been dumped inside. On the plus side, those little white pills the medic had sent in seemed to be helping erase the last of the cramps in his gut.

Teal'c offered another camp pillow, and tossed it through when Jack nodded. Jack sat on it, next to Daniel, and didn't bother asking Carter if there was anything else she wanted him to try. They'd determined the energy field was active on all three walls, top to bottom and side to side, and of course in the doorway. And above, too; when he'd gently tossed the water bottle up to the ceiling there had been the same blue crackle when it hit.

Thinking he was being oh so clever, he'd tried shooting water up there from a full bottle, the idea being that maybe the field up there would let a liquid through in both directions, but it hadn't worked. All that had happened was that he'd got a bit wet when the stream of water had weirdly shot right back down on him. And now that he thought about it, he wasn't sure how it would have helped them even if the ceiling hadn't been energised. But it was, and so other than Carter and the tech guys figuring out how to turn the barrier off, the floor was their only option... and where the hell was that blowtorch?

A single, quiet snore came from beside him, and he looked up when he realised he'd heard it come through the speakers in the corridor as well. Carter smiled fondly at Daniel, gestured to her ear, and then moved over to her transceiver. By the time Jack had carefully removed the headset from over Daniel's ear and placed it beside him, thankfully not waking him in the process, she had turned off the speakers, reset whatever she needed to, and both she and Teal'c were donning headsets of their own.

"Test?" she said, her voice coming directly into his ear via his earpiece. Jack perked up and grunted an acknowledgement, pleased when he didn't hear himself echo.

Okay, this was better. They had the option of having public conversations, with the speakers on, or she could turn them off and switch things up so they could speak privately through headsets. That might come in handy when the crowd showed up. Jack hadn't been happy about having every comment and burp instantly blared out of speakers for all to hear, but he wasn't keen on cutting themselves off from being heard outside either.

Teal'c passed a clean blanket through. As Jack spread it over Daniel, she asked, "How is he really, sir?"

He wanted to give her a flip answer – how should he know, he's not a doctor, Jim, he's a colonel. But he didn't, because they were struggling with frustration and worry out there just as he and Daniel were in here, not to mention he figured it'd be a good idea to fill them in on his concerns about Daniel while the guy wasn't awake to hear them.

"That second jolt fried him worse than the first, Carter," he whispered to them, keeping an eye out for signs he was disturbing Daniel's much needed sleep. "He was out cold long enough to worry poor old Teal'c half to death, and when he came to he wasn't capable of much. He seemed to be getting stronger, but I don't know; he seems off. I don't think he's capable of thinking straight sometimes. He's noticed it himself."

"He was pretty cogent about the energy field, sir. If it's an on and off thing, maybe it's just a matter of not having the physical energy to meet demands. The brain needs energy just like the body does, and if there's not enough to go around..."

"Yeah, maybe." Hopefully. It was possible, he supposed. Daniel had been forced into some pretty strenuous activity before he was ready, what with the floodwaters and all. Speaking of which..."By the way, he did get a mouthful of that stuff. But he was foggy before that too, so I don't know, Carter."

The radio she had sent in blared suddenly, and Jack sprang to turn it down. It was their good friend Thomas, telling them he and the tech team had arrived. Daniel shifted restlessly in reaction, his arm dropping to his side to reveal slitted blue eyes that soon closed again. Jack waited until he was sure Daniel was well under again, and then moved off to make what he hoped would be very quiet noise. Thomas was bringing gear, and waterproof sheeting and metal stands for the equipment, and food and other necessities; there was no time like the present to get organised to do something with it all.

If they were going to spend any length of time in here, which looked more than likely, it'd soon get pretty crowded as stuff came in and nothing went out. So he dragged the two iso bags – stuffed with their wet clothing, used towels, and Daniel's pack and vest – back to the far end of the room, placing them as close to the far corner as possible without them touching the wall. He thought about where the equipment and whatever supplies they needed should be placed, but only because he wanted to be sure to have plenty of elbow room left for himself. No way this place was going to be turned into a clone of Carter's lab or Daniel's office, not while he was in here. And that brought another issue to mind. Teal'c and Carter had been obliging about vacating the area when Daniel had needed them to, and Carter had been more than happy to turn her back when he and Daniel had cleaned up and changed clothes... but an unknown number of people were just around the corner, and one of their main activities would be to peer endlessly into this room. Privacy was an issue.

He gave it some thought, and ten minutes later, by the time the sounds of the team's arrival echoed down the corridor, he had a solution in mind. Lots of noise got closer and closer and then they were there, Thomas plus six other people that under normal circumstances Jack might want to cross to the other side of the street to avoid. Serious-sounding multiple instances of "are you two all right" and "we'll get you out of there, sir" were directed toward him, but hey, he wasn't completely deaf to non-verbal language – these were eager-assed scientists, and he could see that behind the concerned comments they were all a-twitter about tackling this latest exciting mystery.

They huddled around Sam and her equipment, and while she brought them up to date Teal'c started sorting through the many packs and boxes they'd brought with them. Thomas came up to the barrier, overburdened with packages of waterproof sheeting and whatever else, and quietly asked Jack if there was anything new he should know about.

"Not really," Jack answered. He gestured over his shoulder toward Daniel. "Except it might be helpful if everyone could try to keep it down over there."

Thomas couldn't hear Jack's answer, though, until Teal'c passed over his headset. So Jack repeated himself, and then jumped out of his skin when the last bit, "...to keep it down over there," suddenly came blasting out of the speakers.

Heads jerked up in surprise, and Sam hurriedly turned down the volume and then tapped on her keyboard. "Sorry, sir. We're back to the original configuration now," she sheepishly told him. She was still wearing her headset, but he didn't hear her voice through his earpiece. Her gaze shifted to behind him, and she added, "Sorry about that, Daniel. You okay?"

He turned to see a pale, bleary-eyed Daniel lying on his side facing the crowd staring in at them. He fumbled with his headset, and once he got it back on, told her, "It's all right. I was already awake." Sitting up, somewhat unsteadily Jack thought, Daniel acknowledged their new audience. "I see the gang's all here. So, what happens now? What can I do?"

Jack knew it was a white lie. Except for that speaker glitch, Daniel might well have slept through the team's arrival and set-up, even as noisy as it was. As far as Jack was concerned, Daniel had really needed to sleep through it, and well beyond, but now that he was awake it was going to be near impossible to get him down again. Thomas seemed to realise it, too; it wasn't difficult to tell that the medic was silently assessing Daniel with a practised eye, and not entirely happy with what he was seeing. That was confirmed when he just as silently turned, bent over his medical supplies, and came up holding a vial and syringe.

"I think the best thing you can do, Dr. Jackson, is to lie down again and rest for a while longer," Thomas advised, juggling the syringe and vial meaningfully.

Shades of little napoleonic power mongers in-training... . Jack very nearly burst out laughing. He quickly suppressed it though; no doubt Daniel wouldn't consider this amusing. "I'd consider doing what he says, Daniel. He's obviously a quick study," he mock-seriously confided.

"Very, sir. And I learned from the best," Thomas assured them. "It's going to be fairly noisy, so perhaps a mild sedative might help you relax enough to get a couple of hour's sleep. I have it in pill form, or there's this." He held up the vial. "The injection is stronger and takes effect more quickly than taking it orally."

"Well, it's hardly a good idea to shoot me up with something that'll put me out to the point I can't react in an emergency, is it," Daniel reasonably pointed out.

"All right, the oral medication then." Daniel shook his head in refusal, but Thomas didn't give up easily. "Sir, I really do think you need the rest. Please let me do my job here."

"And if I say no, what are you going to do about it? Come in here and force it on me?"

Everyone stopped what they were doing for an instant, and then carried on as if they hadn't heard the overtly irritable retort. Thomas flashed a quick sideways glance at Jack, and he more than willingly answered the plea for help. "Carter, turn that off," he said, pointing to the speaker, and although she hesitated a second, she did it. When he thanked her, all he heard was his own voice coming out of his own throat.

Jack took off his headset, threw it aside, then crouched next to Daniel and did the same to Daniel's headset. "So. What's that all about?"

"I don't like being treated like an invalid, Jack. If there's really something wrong with me, a few hours sleep isn't going to cure it. I need to stay awake, to be aware of what's going on out there."

"Why is that?" Jack pressed. When Daniel just turned away, his mouth mulishly clamped shut, Jack provocatively pushed harder. "What, because you have all the answers? You think they can't solve this without you?

Daniel's head snapped round, and as he stared at Jack for a second Jack thought he saw something vaguely akin to regret in his eyes. "Come on, Daniel. What's up?" he carefully prompted, but Daniel didn't answer the question, instead simply looking down to pick at the edge of the foam pad under him.

For someone who had just slung out such an aggressive challenge to Thomas, when pressed Daniel seemed to feel more guilty than he did brash, much to both Jack's relief and worry. He reached out and grabbed Daniel's hand, interrupting the fidgeting. He didn't say anything else, because he understood now that this was one of those times he had to give Daniel some space. It wasn't possible to dictate to Daniel how and when he dealt with whatever was bothering him so much that he lashed out at people who were only trying to help. Daniel would do that in his own good time, and not before.

It was clear there was something wrong – something other than the obvious – so he made himself comfortable at Daniel's side to wait him out. Either forcing the issue or turning away from it wouldn't be very wise. They were going to be stuck in here together for god only knew how long, and if it did turn out to be a long time things were going to get pretty crowded and disheartening. They had to be able to work together here, or their relationship might never survive the enforced close quarters. Jack didn't want whatever was affecting Daniel's behaviour hanging over them like a dark cloud – and oh, please, let it be some temporary emotional thing rather than some sort of zappy brain damage thing, he prayed.

He listened to the chatter outside as the tech team and Carter discussed how to proceed, equipment was set up, and people started on their jobs. He watched the medic pace, and watched Teal'c unload and organise the stuff that was to be passed into the room. And he watched Teal'c and Carter watch him and Daniel out of the corner of their eyes as they did their work. But he didn't watch Daniel, because he knew Daniel wouldn't like that and it would just take all that much longer for him to come out with his problem.

"I think the energy field was active all along, even before the door was opened," Daniel finally said, looking and sounding utterly miserable. "And if I'm right about what it is – and I really do think I am – then it's entirely possible... I think.... God, Jack, there may not be any way out of here. I'm sorry."

Ah. Okay, that outburst made sense now. When Daniel thought he was right about something he was like a dog with a bone, only willing to back away from what he saw as the bottom line if and when something really compelling prompted a re-examination. Well, that sure hadn't happened yet. Plus the Daniel he'd got to know had so far been remarkably resilient; he didn't quit, lose heart or surrender easily, if at all. So, okay, this was a case of a typical Daniel trait provoking an atypical Daniel outcome, with sparks of distress flying as a result.

"So you'll just have to be wrong then," Jack told him, and was rewarded with a fleeting almost-smile. "And because you're wrong, you can just knock off the giving up crap."

"If I'm wrong," Daniel allowed, but then started to add, "But I'm just about as sure –"

"Ach. Stop right there." Jack shoved a forceful finger into Daniel's chest. "I refuse to be trapped in here with a whiney quitter, so you're wrong and that's all there is to it. Besides, there's a damn strong chance of that. That second hit laid you out pretty good, Daniel. Even you've noticed you're not always completely on the ball here."

Daniel peered at him, clearly aghast over his people skills. "Oh, thank you so much. I feel so much better now."

"You're very welcome."

"Look, I realise I need the rest, Jack. But if I take something that affects my alertness, even something mild, then... I just..." He threw up his arms, clearly frustrated. "Look, you don't get it. I really do want to be wrong, Jack. I can't begin to tell you how much I want that. It's not going to be easy, though, because at the same time I really do think I'm right. So if I'm going to find a way to prove that I am wrong after all, I have to be able to keep up, and to be aware of what they're doing out there and what they're finding. I have to be capable of thinking this through and finding a solution."

Oh for christ's sake. Talk about muddled thinking. "Daniel, look outside." Jack grabbed Daniel's chin and forcefully turned his head. "There are nine very smart people out there. What are they? Chopped liver?" He released Daniel and stood up, noticing that despite doing techy stuff Carter was watching them both like an anxious hawk.

"Their job is to get us out of here, and your job is to sit here and help when and where you can. It's not the other way around," he told Daniel, and carefully ignoring the dejection in Daniel's eyes put his headset back on and made eye contact with the medic. "From what they're saying out there, it sounds like they've got hours of data to collect and fuss over before they can even get started on trying to interfere with the damn barrier. And you are going to use that time well."

He gestured to the medic, and while Daniel gave him a dark, unhappy look he didn't protest. A foil packet containing two small blue pills was tossed through to them, and Jack was only too happy to make sure they were put to good use.

 




11 hours


Mild, my foot, Daniel muzzily thought as he tried to tell the difference between his own limbs and the foam pad beneath him. If that was a mild sedative, he sure was glad he hadn't been given the stronger stuff. He'd be out of it for weeks.

As it was, he'd fought the stuff and his own exhaustion for almost an hour, desperate to stay awake and listen to the goings-on outside as the tech team investigated the situation. But their voices and the noises as they worked had been hard enough to make out even before the drug took effect, and once it had everything had blurred into an indistinct background wash of sound. He'd given up, and had fallen so soundly asleep that he hadn't roused even when Jack evidently had moved him.

It was a bit confusing to wake up and find himself on the other side of the room, lying behind an angled, strategically placed wall made of tripods and waterproof sheeting. He wondered why Jack had bothered, annoyed by the obstruction, but then realised he'd be able to see overtop it if he knelt. It only took a moment to understand the benefits – he could see out sitting up, and had a good view of the rest of the room even lying down, but unless they came right up to the barrier and stood over his position no one outside could see him unless he wanted them to. That left this little area as private as it could be under the circumstances, but still open to view from outside in an emergency. Or by simply nosy people, but Daniel was sure there weren't any of those in the group out there.

He used his good view of the rest of the room to take a look around, and had to smile when he caught sight of a metal shelving frame and saw what Jack had done with it. He could imagine the response of the scientists outside when they'd realised Jack had no intention of using the frame members to build a safe, secure home for the valuable equipment now stacked high in the opposite corner of the room. Instead, the frame was perched a few feet to the front of the drain, and hung on it, shoved open to one side, was a makeshift curtain of waterproof sheeting.

Probably making matters even more iffy to the scientists, the shelves themselves weren't placed underneath the transceivers, data arrays, medical equipment, and assorted other things scientific that had been added while Daniel had been asleep. No, no, not even nearly – because there was Jack, sitting not two feet away on a squat bench made out of metal mesh shelves.

Noticing he was awake, Jack slid down next to him, sitting on the floor. "Welcome back. How do you feel? Any better?"

Daniel had to scoot his tongue around the inside of his mouth to unglue everything before he could answer. "Okay," he tried, and then cleared his throat when it came out as a rough croak. "Drugged. Pretty numb and lethargic."

"You want Thomas? The speakers are off," he told Daniel, "but I can jump up and down to get his attention if you need him."

No. Oh, unless... "How long was I asleep?"

Jack looked at his watch. "Close to five hours. Thomas said the stuff is fairly short acting, but you'd probably feel it in your system for anywhere up to about six hours. So it should wear off soon."

That was okay then. He wasn't dying of some unspecified lurgy or anything, even though it felt like his arms and legs were only vaguely attached to his body and he had a headache. In amid all that, though, he realised he did feel somewhat rested, and certainly alert enough to remember that Jack's watch was broken.

Jack grinned as Daniel suspiciously checked his own wrist and discovered his watch was still right where it belonged. "Hey, there's new stuff just for the asking. No need to feel territorial."

Jack flapped a hand over his shoulder indicating the room at large, and Daniel realised he'd missed noticing something. Jack had certainly been busy; there was a small, low metal frame assembled at the back of the room, holding several bags and boxes. The iso bags that held their wet clothes were hung on hooks attached to the metal, and there were several empty hooks. For bags of garbage, Daniel realised, feeling a stone settle in the pit of his stomach at the knowledge they'd be in here long enough to need somewhere to store such stuff.

"Everything's attached," Jack unnecessarily told him. "Just in case that... you know..." he gestured to the ceiling, and left it at that.

Which gave Daniel an idea. "Have you tried stuffing something solid into the drain to see what happens? Maybe we won't need to store garbage."

"No. I'd like to keep all my fingers, thank you. But please feel free."

Jack whipped a water bottle out from under the edge of the sheeting, and offered it. Then he raised his eyebrows and waved toward the drain. Understanding the unspoken question, Daniel shook his head. No, he was fine. He thankfully took a few sips of the water, trying to decide if his stomach would tolerate food, but raised voices from outside interrupted. Worryingly, they seemed to be in argument.

It didn't seem to bother Jack, though. He stood up, shrugged lazily, and held out his hand. "They may be a noisy bunch of squirrels, but they've made some progress. Come see what they've found."

"Why are the speakers off?" Daniel asked as he put down the water bottle, accepted Jack's outstretched hand, and was hauled to his feet.

"I think they got tired of listening to my advice," Jack quipped, but Daniel knew that wasn't the case. Okay, yes, well, they probably did get tired of listening to Jack, but Sam would never have left them incommunicado for that reason. Jack must have asked her to turn them off, or maybe Jack never had them turned back on in the first place?

But that didn't matter. What did matter was what Daniel saw when he stood up and faced forward. They'd opened up another room. Across the corridor, slightly offset from this room's opening, was one which looked to be of identical size. Blue crackles and tracers shot across the entire expanse of the doorway, stimulated by what looked to be electrical leads stuck into the energy field. Daniel couldn't hear the faint snap and pop he knew accompanied the display, nor could he feel that ominous tingle, but all the same his muscles shook and shuddered as if he did. The urge to back away was huge.

Jack didn't seem to notice his reaction, or if he did he carefully overlooked it. "They've been playing with it for a couple of hours now," he told Daniel. "The arguing is nothing new."

"Daniel Jackson." Teal'c noticed him, and Daniel appreciated the relaxed pleasure he heard in his friend's voice. "Are you well?"

Almost everyone else heard Teal'c as well, and within seconds Daniel found himself the subject of much attention. It wasn't quite the sort of attention he appreciated, though; this consisted not of pleased enquiries after his health, but instead voices talking over one another as his being awake now was used to further various sides of whatever argument the team had been having. His nod of thanks to Teal'c was much belated as he tried to sort out what the heck was being debated.

"Some of them want to shoot it, and others say it's too dangerous," Jack filled him in.

Shoot it? Oh, not that again. "Jack, you didn't –"

"No, I didn't. Wasn't me." Jack seemed faintly offended but then grinned. "Actually, maybe I did. I think it's me some of them really want to shoot. They're just using scientific experimentation as an excuse."

Daniel regarded the unprotected stack of equipment, understanding why. "Okay, well, what has that got to do with me?" He looked across at the other room, and, past the legs of a couple of the tech team members, saw there was a flat, wheeled dolly in there with some equipment on it.

Jack nudged him to get his attention, and handed him an earpiece. As soon as he had it in place, he heard Sam's voice, quietly concerned, through the earpiece. "Daniel? How are you feeling?" she asked, and he nodded, telling her he felt better. And yeah, he realised, he really did feel better. Now that he was up and moving around, close to normal sensation and strength were returning to his limbs and the unpleasantly muzzy, stuffy feeling in his head was quickly receding.

Thomas' voice came on the line. "I'd like to get some telemetry, Dr. Jackson. You can hook up any time; I'm ready to receive on this end." Daniel groaned, suddenly aware of the sticky pull of ECG electrodes on his chest.

"So what's the story, Carter?" Jack asked. "T? You on with us?"

"I am, O'Neill. Currently, the score stands at four to two in favour, Major Carter and myself excluded."

"Yes." Jack pumped a fist in the air. "You owe me, Carter."

Daniel was completely confused as to what Jack and Teal'c were talking about but figured it was probably better if he didn't know. While he lifted his t-shirt and hooked himself up, then flicked the switch on the lifepack monitor, he tried to listen past the immediate conversation to the one going on in the background. After a moment, he caught a few informative comments that gave him a pretty good idea of what was going on.

Apparently the equipment they'd passed into the other room wasn't sending, and they had no way to get it out of there to check and recalibrate it. No working equipment meant no data from inside the room, and not as much benefit gained from testing the field over there as there would be over here. But this room was occupied, and two of the team were worried it might be dangerous to muck about with the field when they didn't know what effect, if any, the tests they'd perform would have on the interior of the room.

Getting a glimmer of how he factored in to this, he turned to Jack. "You refused to help them?"

Jack was genuinely affronted this time. "What? Are you kidding? Hell, I'll give them my... well, no... your left nut if it'll help get us out of here, Daniel."

"The colonel refused to even consider letting them try anything while you were asleep, Daniel," Sam filled him in. "He was concerned for your safety if something weird happened and he was somehow prevented from getting to you."

"Getting to me?" Daniel stupidly repeated, confused again, and glanced around their cage. "From where? I don't see anywhere to go..."

"They require one of you to manipulate the settings on their equipment," Teal'c advised. "We did not feel it was wise for O'Neill to be occupied so, while you were defenseless."

Defenseless? God, Teal'c, they'd be defenseless in here even jazzed up fighting mad on amphetamines, wearing full body armour and armed to the teeth. But as far as Jack manning the sensors and other equipment, well, yeah... that was probably the bad idea of the century. And four out of six of those scientist were in favour of that plan? His confidence in their ability to get them out of there dropped several points on that alone.

The tech team had silenced and were watching them, Daniel realised. When they saw him looking at them in return, two of them smiled at him, two looked away, and the other two focused on Sam and asked to have the speakers turned on. Daniel thought that was fair enough, and so when Sam turned a questioning gaze onto him and Jack, for his part he gave her a definite yes. Jack was less happy about sharing his conversation, but after a few long moments that Daniel suspected were designed to show the scientists who was in charge here – even though he really wasn't, being compromised and all – Jack finally nodded his assent.

"Uhm, hi, how are you?" Daniel waved to them once the speakers were on. Most of them just stood there looking at him as if they thought he was nuts, but that didn't bother him. He understood how a pleasantry could seem misplaced, even unintelligible, to a scientist caught up in an interesting puzzle.

One them did wave back, quite belatedly, and then stepped forward. A few sharp looks were cast his way by his fellow team members, and then with varying amounts of mumbling the rest of them went back to whatever tasks they were involved in. Daniel raised his eyebrows at the medic, and upon getting a thumb's up in return he turned off the monitor. Popping the leads from his chest, he moved forward to Jack's side.

"Uh, yes, well," the short, middle-aged guy stammered. Daniel tried to place him but couldn't. He didn't think he'd ever seen him before. "Okay, so, yes; I'm just fine, thanks," he continued, and indicated the others with a thumb over his shoulder as he sort-of introduced himself with a rush of nervous chatter. "I've been elected as the one to pass on our findings and discuss our options with you. Mind you, I'm the new guy and I think being voted to be the voice is probably the same as being voted as least likely to figure –"

Sam interrupted him with a hand on his shoulder. "Bill..." She raised her eyebrows at him, and Daniel could easily read her gentle 'let's just get on with it' message. "This is Dr. Bill Lee, guys," she told Daniel and Jack. "He's a relatively recent addition to the department. He's been actively studying Goa'uld technology for the past few months, but this is his first major project and his first time through the 'gate."

"Oh, that's just... " Jack began, and Daniel elbowed him in the ribs. "Swell. Just swell. Nice to meet'cha," Jack insincerely finished off, stepping on Daniel's toe in retaliation.

Dr. Lee didn't seem to notice the by-play, and leaning forward slightly, his eyes wide, blundered on. "Oh, yes, well, thank you. I've been looking forward to meeting both of you. Especially you, Dr. Jackson. I've heard so much about you. The things you've accomplished are... I think it's amazing that you –"

"Oh for– . Yes, he's a walking miracle," Jack interrupted, sounding more bitchy by the moment. "So now we've met. Everyone's happy. When are you getting us out of here? In the next ten minutes would be good."

Despite the warning note in Jack's voice, Daniel found himself smiling at Dr. Lee. "Don't mind him; he just – oh!"

Abruptly yanked backward and manhandled into facing the back of the room, Daniel allowed his grin to widen. He listened to Dr. Lee most definitely not offer any apologies as he told Jack, in a bumbling sort of way Daniel found endearing, that Jack's ten minutes idea was just plain silly. Then and there, Daniel decided he liked the new guy.

He turned around to face forward again as Sam evidently decided it was time to exert some control. "We're working on it, sir. As you know, opening up the other room was relatively simple now that we know just what to look for and have better equipment. Finding some way to turn off the field, though, is going to take a while, especially if it turns out the field isn't generated locally. This is a big place; it could take a while even just to locate a control room."

"Major Carter has explained your theory to us, Dr. Jackson." Interest quickened Dr. Lee's delivery, removing most signs of awkwardness. "I think it's a fascinating idea. The stargate event horizon is still a mystery; we can see what it does, but we don't know how it does it or precisely what it is. Although..." he looked over his shoulder at the others, his voice lowering. "That's not a popular statement, so maybe don't tell anyone I just said that."

Sam prodded Lee gently, clearly to get him back on track. He waved a hand toward the doorway in the other wall of the corridor, where electricity still taunted the energy field. "While there are apparent differences, there are also definite similarities, so one of the avenues of study includes –"

"Study?" Jack sounded and looked offended.

"He means, 'study' as in learn how to turn it off, sir," Sam hastily clarified, and after a momentary look of confusion Dr. Lee bobbed his head in agreement.

"I think Jack's swipe on the wall simply opened what's analogous to our iris." Daniel felt both stimulated and reassured by the clarity of his thoughts as his brain snapped on. His suppressed fear that his contact with the energy field might have caused some sort of permanent deficit all but vanished. "It could well be that what you're looking for isn't simply a self-contained on/off switch associated with field activation for each room. Or even centrally. Similar to the stargate, there may well be a combination of things involved – a series of sequential steps for engagement and disengagement."

Dr. Lee's head was going like a bobble doll's. "That did occur to us," he confirmed and then immediately negated. "However, they pretty much rejected it right away. Unless we find something readily at hand on the walls here, the idea is impossible to follow-up on anyway because we don't have enough equipment or manpower to search farther afield than this corridor. That'd be premature anyway – we need more information, to figure out what to look for. So we're concentrating on other avenues of exploration."

"We're waiting for more help from the SGC, Colonel. General Hammond is assembling a survey team and some more equipment. In the meantime, we've applied various types of stimuli and taken energy readings from the field across the doorway, but so far the results are disappointing," Sam explained. "Because of the equipment failure, we can only take readings off the outer interface, and those fluctuations have proven to be minimal with both manual and electrical stimulation."

"So they wish to, as O'Neill would say, 'ramp it up'," Teal'c explained.

Right. To shoot it. That just didn't sit well at all. "Energy bolts go right through the event horizon into an active wormhole," Daniel pointed out.

"We don't know that's what this is, Daniel."

"We don't know it isn't, either, Sam," Daniel quickly retorted.

Dr. Lee jiggled in place a bit, one finger waving in the air. "Either is a possibility. Firing an energy weapon at it takes us one step closer to figuring that out. If it does go through, that'd be one more similarity, evidence in –"

"If it doesn't go through," Jack mildly commented, "it just might short-circuit the damn thing off. But, yeah, it might just pass right on through."

Daniel turned to look at Jack, incredulous at the accepting tone of voice. "Yes, it might," he marvelled, "and you sound like you're okay with that."

"I'm okay with just about anything that could possibly get us out of here, Daniel. The risk is probably minimal. If it comes through, it'll just smack into the back wall. It's not a bullet; it doesn't ricochet or anything."

Daniel stared at the wall in question and then at the ones to his right and left. Sam clearly made an assumption as to what could be on his mind, because she quickly justified Jack's evident lack of concern. "Most everyone is convinced it'll be all right, Daniel. The strength of a blast weapon is dependent on the size of the power source. With the personal staff weapons, the blast declines over time and distance, which is why it isn't as effective a long range weapon as it is a short and mid range one."

Teal'c nodded, and Daniel groaned to himself. He was so outnumbered. "You're telling me that even if the field over the wall conducts the blast instead of absorbing it, the energy will dissipate in time. Well, I'm sorry, but I don't find that quite as reassuring as you do, Sam."

"The floor is clear of the energy field. As long as you don't make contact with the walls or ceiling – which you aren't about to try doing even now – you'll be fine."

Ah, the ceiling? What was she...? Daniel turned wide eyes onto Jack, who shrugged. "It zaps water bottles," Jack told him. "You didn't catch that? I guess you were too busy trying to convert Teal'c to notice what I was doing."

Daniel read a definite, between-the-lines, "you weren't firing on enough cylinders to have noticed" in Jack's comment, but let it go, because that wasn't the important part. The barrier affected the ceiling too. The ceiling, where jets of... oh!

"It's not just the doorway; the field must lie to the inside of the surface of the walls and ceiling too," he almost shouted, the revelation seeming hugely significant for some reason. "It's not a matter of the material of the walls and ceiling being somehow energised; there has to be an actual separation between the surface and the barrier, like with the doorway. And like our stargate and the iris." God, the energy field is probably actually layered in front of the walls and ceiling, independent of the surface itself, he thought, and then all words and thoughts trailed off as he became completely tangled up trying to figure out why that bit of information felt so, so, so damned important.

"Oh, that's a great observation." Lee's finger waved around again as he spoke not to Daniel, but to Sam. "That would explain how the ceiling jets you described could work. It must have been fascinating; I sure would like to see that," he finished off wistfully.

"Yeah, well, I hope you never do. Can we just get on with it now?"

Jack's impatience was showing, but even despite the explanations he'd received Daniel didn't share the wish to move on ahead. He shook his head, dragging a hand through his hair. He was certain there was a compelling reason they shouldn't try this, but damned if he could put his finger on just what that was. "No," he objected again. "Look, at least try it on the other room, see what it does over there first."

"There's already an ongoing experiment underway over there," Dr. Lee not very helpfully supplied. "If it's interrupted they'll have to start all over again."

"Not if the energy blast short circuits the field and turns it off like you all claim you're hoping it will," Daniel snapped at him, leaving the 'or explodes turning the whole room into a sudden death trap' part unspoken.

Sam tried again to reassure him. "Daniel, we're as sure as we can be that it'll be all right. We need to do this to test field conductivity and energy interactions. It's an essential step toward figuring out what this thing is made of and what might counteract it."

Good grief; he was apprehensive, not stupid. "I'm well aware of that. I'm also well aware that what you're not saying is you're hoping that if it doesn't inactivate the field on impact it will go right through, so you get lots of nice little spikes and waves on your sensors."

It was Teal'c who admitted it. "Indeed, Daniel Jackson. The data they have tried to collect from the second doorway is thus far not much different from that which Major Carter collected with her less powerful equipment." Teal'c eyed the scientists littering the corridor behind him. "'This is not helpful' has been the most frequently spoken phrase over the last several hours."

Daniel noticed Dr. Lee nibbling on a fingernail. It was infectious – he stuffed his hands into his pockets to avoid doing the same. "Look, I don't mean to be obstructive. There's just, I don't know... something..."

"What about a... thatsnick...nickel-toll, tell..." Lee mumbled uncertainly.

"Zat'ni'katel," Teal'c sternly corrected him. Daniel thought it wasn't actually all that bad a first attempt, for a new guy.

"Right. One of those. Start out small," Lee suggested, shrinking back slightly under Teal'c's gaze.

Judging from the degree of general, all around eyebrow-factor that suggestion contained, Daniel was pretty sure Dr. Lee was going to fit right in. He was all for it as an alternative, that was for sure, and it was reassuring to see that Sam apparently liked the idea every bit as much as he did. She was handing a zat to Teal'c even before Teal'c's and Jack's eyebrows had dropped back into their normal position.

The conversation and preparations which ensued left him and Jack pretty much out in the cold, as the tech team members were called away from their various activities and the new plan was set out. Thomas got involved for a few moments, trying unsuccessfully to ensure they knew he wasn't just wall decoration. He gave up quickly, joining Teal'c beside the barrier across from Jack.

"No," Jack told Thomas before the man had even said anything. "I have to work the knobs and dials and all sorts of stuff on the EM sensor things. And even if I didn't the answer would still be no."

Thomas looked over at Daniel. "Okay, so, Dr. Jackson then."

Uh, Dr. Jackson then, what? Jack helped out by drifting a glance toward the lifepack, and Daniel realised Thomas wanted him to once again hook himself back up to the monitor. What? Sit there on a string as a zat was fired in his general direction through a potentially deadly energy field? Oh, sure. Every day, and twice on Sundays. "No way," he said, and then thought to ask, "What for?"

Thomas just shrugged, looking faintly demoralised, and Daniel realised just how long the poor man had been sitting around with pretty much nothing to do. He glanced at his watch and with as much empathy as he could, considering he and Jack had been stuck in this room close to twice the length of time Thomas had been hanging around, he commiserated with the man. "Guess you must be tired and hungry. Your shift has to be long done by now, no?"

Thomas shrugged. "Replacement is coming with the survey group; they should be here in a couple of hours. Don't get me wrong... I'm glad there's not much need for a medic here. I just wish I could be more helpful, is all."

"Hey, he's got it easy. What about me?" Jack moaned. "I've been sitting in this zoo cage for over eleven hours. Plus the time we spent wandering around and playing with walls before that." He poked Daniel in the chest. "My shift is long over too, you know. It's no wonder I'm freaking starving."

"You ate, sir," Sam appeared by Thomas' side and tattled on Jack. "You had plenty, in between spurts of interior decorating. Do you want to quickly have a bite before we do this test, Daniel? We're pretty much ready to go, but we can wait."

Despite realising just how hungry and thirsty he was, Daniel looked at the zat in Teal'c's hand and decided getting it over with, and hopefully then sitting down to leisurely stuff his face, was probably a better idea. So his answer was no, much to the satisfaction of the scientists. And after some hustle and bustle and everyone yelling at Jack at the same time as he tried to set their equipment where they wanted it in the room, everything and everyone seemed ready.

Everyone except him, because there was just something about this that filled him with dread and he still had no idea why.

 




Jack heard Daniel suddenly shout, "No! Wait!" at the very last second, pretty much overtop the sound of the zat firing. In the next instant, something violently struck his shoulder. The blow sent him toppling sideways off his knees, crashing into one of the monitors he'd been kneeling beside, sending it in one direction and himself in another. Immediately on the heels of that he found himself pressed face to the floor, a heavy weight pinning him in place.

Warm breath rushed by the back of Jack's neck. "If the field inside is the inverse of what they're playing with from the outside..." Daniel blurted, but didn't finish whatever it was he wanted to say. There was a strange noise in the background, and he shouted, "Oh shit I knew it!"

The weight on his back shifted and pressed him down even more firmly. Barely able to breathe, Jack reared upward. "Get off me!" he roared, but Daniel just pushed him back down and if anything intensified his efforts to smother him. Oh, sure. Like hell. Jack got one arm underneath him and in a split second he was free, Daniel flying off to one side. He was shouting at Daniel even as he was still swinging around to face him. "What do you think you're doing? What the hell –" Uh... oh. Oh crap!

Zat-fire zoomed by so close to his head he could hear the buzz and feel the tingle of energy against his cheek. He quickly flattened against the floor. Lying face down just beside him, where he'd landed when Jack had flipped him, Daniel looked out from under the false protection of his arms over his head and glared at Jack. "What the hell was I doing? Trying to protect you, you ungrateful bugger."

More zat-fire criss-crossed above his head, confusingly zzz-ing continuously, and Jack became aware of a tumult of voices and activity outside the room. He risked raising his head just enough to see over Daniel's body, and caught a glimpse of Teal'c looming at the doorway while Carter and a swarm of scientists clustered around her equipment. He also saw what looked to be at least a dozen thin blue lines of zat energy hit the barrier right in front of Teal'c. The field erupted in a riotous display, and in among it all he lost sight of what happened to the zat tracers... until suddenly they again sped by, heading back the other way.

"Protect me? What, you're special, you don't conduct zat-fire?" he retorted, and then bellowed, "Carter! What the..." He stopped when he realised he'd lost his headset courtesy of Daniel's tackle, and turned his ire onto him instead. "Can't take much more of this shit, Daniel," he warned as out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of more zat tracers heading in their general direction.

"Don't look at me," Daniel sniped back. "You're the one who wanted to shoot it."

Yeah, well. Jack hazarded raising his head to take a look around, and what he saw made him want to tear his hair out. Erratic lines of zat energy travelled almost too quickly to keep track of between the front and back of the room, hitting and bouncing off the back wall and the field in the open doorway. The activity reminded him of one of those desktop perpetual motion machines, except with blue strings instead of little round balls, and moving in fast-fast-forward motion. And whoa, wasn't that a kicker of a thought – if they'd fired the staff weapon, there'd be a great big and very deadly round ball shooting back and forth just above their heads, instead of... oh. One shot with a zat stuns, two... . Yeah. That.

"Houston, we have a problem," he muttered, staring with growing hatred at the pops and skitters of blue dancing across the back wall where each line of zat energy hit and immediately bounced off.

"No kidding," Daniel muttered right back, obviously feeling more than just a little aggrieved. "If everyone hadn't been in such a hurry..."

An I told you so, from Daniel? Well, okay, it wasn't as if he didn't have the right, Jack figured. He recalled Daniel's breath ghosting across his neck in hurried, partial explanation. If the effect inside was the reverse of the effect outside, he'd chattered. Daniel telling Teal'c about that little suck and push he'd felt, plus a mental image of his watch coming back at him with gusto after he'd tossed it at the wall, had Jack groaning. Yeah okay, he got it now. He had to agree with Daniel – they'd been a few minutes too hasty. Daniel had been spouting off about the energy field, his thoughts zigzagging their way to somewhere, and they hadn't bothered to wait and see where that might take them.

So now here they were. And he'd be damned if he would let an ill-conceived experiment be the death of either of them. Of course, if he didn't get his ass off the floor and do something pretty soon, it just might be that. Even as he watched the lines of zat fire travel at high speed straight, diagonally, off-centre, on-centre, and basically every which way from the front to the back to the front wall over and over again in the space of just a few moments, he noticed how with each impact their path deviated slightly. Each one was becoming harder to track and anticipate as they were progressively separated more and more from one another.

A number of them were travelling lower, too. Of those, a few dipped way low... far too low! He ducked instinctively and reached out to press Daniel's face to the floor, knowing that if the thing was low enough neither act would help. They didn't come that close though, at least not this time around, and as they passed by and skittered off the doorway field at a new angle Jack prodded Daniel into motion. "Over there," he indicated the opposite wall with his chin. "Most of them seem to be playing around on this side for now."

"Yeah, for now," Daniel grumbled, watching for danger, head going like he was at a tennis match. He started slithering over to the other side of the room. "Jack, there's a baker's dozen for the price of one here, and at the rate they're separating and deviating..."

"Shut up, Daniel, and keep crawling." The high-pitched buzz of frantic energy zooming back and forth just above their heads was noise enough for Jack right now. He'd listen to whatever Daniel had to say – maybe even a bit contritely, if Daniel was lucky – once they figured this out and were safe.

Scrambling on their bellies, they made their way over to within a couple of feet of the opposite side wall in less than a dozen seconds. Once there, Daniel rolled over onto his back and concentrated on the wall beside him, which under the circumstances Jack thought was a pretty stupid thing to do. He poked him roughly in the shoulder, keeping his own eyes on the multiple flying menaces in case they needed to move again in a hurry.

"Okay, okay," Daniel knocked his hand away. He raised himself up on one arm, turning his attention back to the air above. "Can't see or hear anything from the wall. So that's one thing, at least: it looks like the field doesn't actively conduct applied energy."

"That's not necessarily true, Daniel." At Sam's voice, Jack realised Daniel was still wearing his headset and Carter had heard what he'd said. "I agree, it doesn't appear to be visibly conducting the energy across its surface past the points of impact, but these readings are so chaotic that we're –"

"Carter!" He'd yanked the headset off Daniel long before she'd even got halfway through – had probably given the man's ear a friction burn – but by the time he'd been able to get the microphone to his mouth she'd had the chance to burble on enough that Daniel was grabbing at the thing to try to respond. He fended him off. He wasn't finished yelling at her – heck, he'd barely even begun.

"Never mind all that, Carter. Just figure out how to get rid of these things," he snarled into the mike. Most of the room at about five feet up was a veritable spider's web of ragged blue lines as the zat threads zipped and zapped back and forth at high speed, as if searching for targets.

One of the poles he'd erected in front of the drain hole was hit, and he watched as blue lines radiated out from the point of impact on the pole and ran across the waterproof sheet. They dissipated almost at once, behaving just as zat fire usually did when it struck something. "Oh Carter? Never mind," he mildly told her, and tossed the headset onto the floor. He smiled grimly as he prepared to move out, but was stopped by a hand on his arm.

"Wait. What are you going to do?" Daniel's voice had that 'I'm afraid the answer is what I think it is but have to ask the question anyway just in case it's not' tone to it. Jack just looked at him, and Daniel tightened his grip. "Jack, that's not safe."

Well, just what would be the safe thing to do in here, Daniel, he wanted to belligerently point out, but he knew Daniel was just worried for him. So he simply shrugged and pulled away. "I'll be fine." As an afterthought, he waved toward all the electronic equipment and quipped, "And if not, yes, you can have my stereo."

Aware of Daniel crawling along behind him, Jack wondered if a judicious kick to the face might dissuade Daniel from taking the risk too. He'd just reached his goal when cheered voices were raised outside, accompanied by a smattering of applause. He looked over to see Teal'c holding his utility vest thrust part way into the energy field. Blue tracers running across the portion of vest inside the room were just at the tail end of dissipation. In the space of a blink, Teal'c let go of his side of the vest, turned toward Carter, and calmly advised her, "You may make a note that energy is not transmitted through the barrier via a solid object, Major Carter."

"Hey, that's my applause he's stealing," Jack looked backward, protesting to Daniel.

Daniel crawled forward, drawing level with him. "Yeah. Just can't catch a break," he absently commiserated, gnawing on his lower lip, his face creased with worry as he tracked their targets above.

"No, but I betcha we can catch some rays," Jack suggested, nudging Daniel's arm in silent support. Together, they pulled the metal poles and attached fabric down, holding the assembly in ready, and Jack warned Daniel, "Be sure to let go right away. I've had enough of scraping you up off the floor for one day."

It worked the first time, Jack simply got brained in the head by his falling pole as they missed the second time, and the third time, well, whether or not it was a case of third time lucky was open to debate. Jack saw a couple of the zat threads zinging overhead catch the top of the sheeting, and before he and Daniel had a chance to let go Daniel's pained yelp told him they were too late. An instant later, just as Jack's fingertips were leaving the pole, a jolt of fire danced over his hands and ran down his arms. There wasn't time for more than a single grunt before the sharp pain sliced into the rest of him, seizing his chest with cruel disregard for his need for oxygen. Hurts like a sonofabitch, his mind yelled, and was vaguely aware of writhing around on the floor as it occurred to him that, damn it to hell, he wasn't unconscious. He should be unconscious. Daniel was right. Couldn't catch a break.

Then everything, all sight and sound, all rational thought, was lost under a spike of agony, all the muscles in his body seeming to go into spasm at the same time. Wasn't sure if he was screaming aloud or not; didn't care. Just wanted it to stop. Oh god, stop. After what was far too long for tolerance, he came out from under enough that he was aware of something other than the pain – movement, which hurt too, damn it, and noises, and a pulling sensation at his waist. He tried reaching out to make it stop, but didn't seem to have much control over his own body, and anyway the attempt sent the muscles in his arms and shoulders into fresh spasms. Defeated, he stopped and let whatever was happening to him now just happen.

He heard a voice from nearby, and at the same time finally identified the vague sense of movement and the pressure at his waist. He was being roughly, short pull by short pull, dragged by his belt. A pause in the movement and an indistinct, unhappy-sounding mutter were soon followed by a prolonged haul that shifted his pants enough to produce pressure in dangerous places.

"That's enough, that's fine," came a yell from farther off. "We'll have them in a minute. It'll be okay."

Carter? Yeah. Jack tried to turn his head to see her but the zat strike hadn't worn off enough for that. His arms twitching painfully at his sides, all he could do was lie there and groan his way through the after-effects.

As the painful tremours settled somewhat, he became aware of other people-type noises really close by. Daniel? Yeah, definitely Daniel, and he was obviously hurting – Jack would recognise that gasp anywhere. It occurred to him that just before he'd been short-circuited he'd heard Daniel cry out, and he wondered how the hell Daniel was even remotely fit enough to drag him around by the belt. It obviously it hadn't been easy; ragged breathing interspersed with deep groans told that story.

Aware of how even more dangerous the situation was with both of them disabled, Jack struggled to move despite his exhaustion and was relieved to find he'd regained enough muscle control to roll over. It wasn't fun, but with a squirm, deep breath, and one last concerted effort he pushed himself onto his side. The first thing he saw wasn't Daniel, though, but the open doorway, which wasn't nearly so open anymore. Over half of it was irregularly obstructed by a patchwork of items stuck into the energy field. Just as his head worked out what he was seeing, a folded-up tarp was shoved partway though, right in the path of two thin blue lines of energy. As the zat threads hit the tarp, Jack's brain worked out something else, too: those were the last ones.

"Teal'c, yes, that's it. Daniel, it's okay. We got them." Carter, hidden from view behind one of the somethings lodged in the doorway, sounded both excited and relieved at the same time.

"Good. That's... good," was the breathless, barely audible response.

Jack followed the wheezing to locate Daniel at eight o'clock. Lying huddled on the floor, the guy was looking almost as worse for wear as Jack felt. But it was over now; the combination of their work inside and Teal'c's outside had caught all the zat-fire. Jack couldn't be bothered using what little energy he had left to slide on down to Daniel, so instead of giving him a pat on the shoulder he toed him in the hip. Daniel lifted a few fingers in tired salute, but otherwise didn't stir.

"Daniel? Colonel?" Carter was crouching to see into the room below the tarp, and from the searching look on her face it was clear she didn't have a good enough view of them to have caught their slight movement. "Are you guys all right?" she tried again, her face creased with worry.

Jack glanced around to see if the headset he'd tossed was anywhere with in reach, but he didn't see it, which was all right with him because he really was far too tired to move more than a millimetre anyway, unless he really had to. Nor did he want to have to respond to any of the million questions Thomas was likely to fire at them. He knew Carter needed some sort of reassurance, though. Daniel's back was to the doorway, so Jack struggled to raise a hand, and gave her as clear a thumb's-up as he could considering his arm shook with the effort.

"Oh, thank god. Thank you, sir." Much to his disappointment, she didn't leave it at that, though. "Daniel's headset is about six feet to your left, sir. We need one of you to go get it."

It may as well have been six miles, for all he was capable of. He lightly kicked Daniel and got another two fingered acknowledgement in return, but then much to his relief Daniel stirred a bit more, mumbling, "Yeah, yeah, okay." Laboriously pushing himself up onto his ass, Daniel took a moment to give Jack a worried, searching look.

"Just tired," Jack told him. "I'm all right."

Daniel nodded, seemingly satisfied, and got up on his hands and knees to head over to retrieve the headset. "Hell of a day," he muttered, and then told Jack, "So it's your turn now: Go to sleep, Jack. I'll hold the fort."

That sounded like the best idea Jack had heard in a long time. Even if it hadn't been, it wasn't something he had much choice over anyway; his brain was shutting down and eyes closing even as Daniel spoke. The last thing he was aware of was Carter sounding close to elated at the sight of Daniel getting up. She immediately started nattering on about... something... was really good... not full-strength strikes... something else... wouldn't still be with us... something, something...

Nothing.

 




14 hours


"They're trying a pressurised gas-powered torch at the far end of the last corridor we opened up. They tried carbide, and a laser, but they barely scored the surface. If this works and they get through there, no matter what they find they'll come and repeat it over here."

Daniel sat up straighter in alarm. "Oh, geez. A cutting torch? There could be anything under the surface. Volatile gases, a different kind of energy barrier, I don't know – maybe something dangerous." He leaned forward, wanting so badly to get closer to his friends where they sat across from him, cross-legged on the floor. And he wanted to reach out and smooth the discouragement from Sam's brow... especially because he knew what he was about to say was going to make it worse.

"Sam, I want you to tell them to stop. Teal'c, please call them? Tell them to wait, that you'll try other things instead."

Teal'c sat motionless, like a stone Buddha, and Daniel wondered for a moment if he was even there with them. Maybe he was deep in kel'nor'eem with his eyes open, or something. But then Teal'c tilted his head and looked Daniel right in the eye. "I will not. There has been an excess of waiting as it is, Daniel Jackson. I am weary of it."

"Yeah, well," he told Teal'c, "I hardly think that's reason enough for people to take risks. It's not worth it. Tell them we'll find another way."

Sam sighed loudly and closed her eyes for a moment. Daniel wasn't sure if it was done out of annoyance with him or something else, but then she opened them again and he saw they were bright with unshed tears. "The survey team has opened four corridors and a total of sixteen other rooms so far, and have thrown several tennis balls into each. All of them have an active field just like this one. All the walls and ceilings," she told him.

It didn't matter. "I don't want anyone hurt, Sam. Jack wouldn't either."

Sam leaned forward as if feeling the same need for contact that he did, biting her lip and blinking quickly as she admitted, "The tech team has been working for over six hours now, and while that doesn't sound very long, it is when you consider they still haven't a clue as to where and how to even begin. It's long enough to figure out that the chances of us understanding what this energy field is, how it works..." She trailed off, clearly unwilling to finish what she had started to say.

Nothing that a more open mind wouldn't fix, Sam, Daniel thought, but chose to keep that to himself. It probably didn't matter, though, because he strongly suspected that even if they did accept his theory and start investigating it in earnest – instead of just giving it passing lip service when they thought he could hear their conversations – it probably wouldn't bring them any closer to eliminating the barrier. This place was too advanced; they just didn't have the knowledge nor the means to deal with it.

He looked across the hall to where a bolt of fire from Teal'c's staff weapon continually flew and rebounded back and forth in the room across the corridor. The new equipment they'd slid into the room on a second dolly had been collecting data on each strike of the staff blast against the wall and doorway for over an hour. Still, though, the attending scientists huddled over two laptops were scratching their heads. Even from afar it wasn't hard to tell they were getting nowhere, unable to untangle the mass of EM frequency readings obtained from each impact.

Sam looked away, avoiding his gaze as she spoke. "Without some sort of miraculous breakthrough in understanding how the field works... god, Daniel, this place is so far beyond us. The floor may be the only viable option right now. If there's no way to you through that, then I don't know how we'll get... how long it'll be before we figure anything out."

Okay, there it was. She hadn't come right out and said it, stopping herself at the last moment, but Daniel knew how much it had cost her to even think it. He knew how much she wanted to believe she and her colleagues could get them out of here, and it hurt her, just as it did him, to face the prospect that might not happen. He smiled gently at her. "It's okay to not know that, Sam. And anyway, it's still early on; we'll learn more in time and figure something out."

His attempt at encouragement pretty much fell flat. While she tried to hide it, most likely for his sake, her facial expression indicated she was thinking no, we probably won't, not any time near soon enough. It was Teal'c who spoke, though, his face thunderous as he completely unnecessarily reminded Daniel, "You have been trapped for fourteen hours, and during that time there have been several emergencies. Should additional problems arise, no one can help you. I do not wish to stand here, helpless, and watch further suffering occur."

"Look, I understand that. I do. But there's no rush, Teal'c. Really, it's all right; we're not in distress here," he tried again to reassure them both through his own heartbreak, and then grinned wryly as he amended, "Well, I'm not, anyway. Not much, that is." He looked over his shoulder to where Jack sprawled still sound asleep, just where he'd left him well over an hour ago. "I think Jack might claim that being trapped in a room with me for anything longer than a few hours is the veritable definition of suffering, but..." He shrugged. "We're all right."

A sudden outcry and commotion from across the corridor captured their attention, and as one Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c leapt to their feet. The four scientists working on the other room had jumped up and were milling around excitedly in front of the doorway. Beyond them, Daniel could see that inside the room it was... raining. Sheets of pale orange pelted down, lit a brighter orange-red along the path of travel of the staff blast. As the scientists quickly got over their initial surprise and hunkered down in front of their equipment, Daniel was able to see the water freely flowing along the floor toward the centre, where, beyond the equipment dolly, he caught sight of the edge of a drain hole.

Dr. Lee rushed over to them, his face alight with excitement. "Is this the same phenomenon?" he asked Sam. "Come, come over and see; tell us if you think there are any variations. We'll run the data afterwards, of course, and do a comparison, but the visually observable component is important too so perhaps you can..." he gestured to her almost frantically, but he needn't have because she was already on her way, passing him while his nattering was still in mid-flow.

Daniel was left standing across from Teal'c, both of them watching the mini-furor of activity for a moment until turning to look at one another. "It appears it was as you said, rather than as they decided despite your advice," Teal'c told him. "The 'phenomenon' was not a result of water contacting the drain." There was a definite gleam of satisfaction in Teal'c's eye and Daniel tried to thank him with a smile for the unspoken support, but Teal'c bent his head to check his watch just in time to miss it.

From the floor behind Daniel came a croaky, "No, of course it wasn't, whatever 'it' is. What's going on? What phenomenon?" Before Daniel made it over to help him the rest of the way up, Jack was already half-standing, moving stiffly.

"It's raining," Daniel told him. "Waterworks in the other room. Apparently everyone thinks it's the best thing they've seen since Gene Kelly with an umbrella."

Jack looked at him dubiously as Daniel steadied him. "Singing in the Rain? Is that the best you can come up with involving falling wet stuff?" He stretched, then shook out his arms and each leg, getting the kinks out. "Geez, Daniel. When we get out of here, there are a few movies you're going to watch."

Over at the doorway, Teal'c raised a hand to get their attention, and then asked, "Is all satisfactory with O'Neill, Daniel Jackson?"

Daniel remembered that Jack didn't have a headset; Teal'c couldn't hear anything Jack had said. So he told Teal'c Jack was fine, and offered his own headset to Jack but it was refused. Waving away the offer and heading off to the doorway to have a look, "Psycho," was all Jack said to him.

It took him a moment to realise it was the movie Jack was referring to, and not him nor Teal'c." I've seen Psycho," he complained, following Jack. "I'm not the complete entertainment neanderthal you think I am."

Hearing only Daniel's side of the conversation, Teal'c looked confused but chipped in anyway. "I too have seen the movie Psycho. The use of lighting and camera angles to emphasise drama in the parlour scene was most impressive."

Jack momentarily almost went cross-eyed with disbelief, then beamed widely, falsely, and waved approval to Teal'c. Daniel only barely supressed his grin in time as Jack turned to look back at him, rolling his eyes in exaggerated sufferance of the both of them. "Fine. Porky's, then. Rated number two on the all-time hit list of 'women in the shower' scenes." Then, as he reached the doorway, he added, "Oh. Guess I missed it." Daniel lagged behind in deciphering that comment as well, but then looked up to see the downpour in the other room had stopped.

Sam bounded over to them when she saw Jack. "Sir, how are you?" She didn't wait for a reply, instead launching into a quick overview of their observations. "We'll check the data to compare the exact duration, but it appeared to last the same amount of time. It's a fair bet the volume of flow was identical as well, although we haven't any way of accurately measuring that. More important is that we've got much better data on the EM emissions associated with it now, plus some actual video of the outlets in the ceiling. But most importantly, get this, guys..."

Daniel handed Jack a headset during her pause for emphasis, and whispered, "Speakers are off. It's just Teal'c and Sam."

On top of Daniel's whispering, Teal'c stole her thunder. "The event occurred four hours after the first pieces of equipment were sent into the room."

Sam simply nodded, clearly expecting Daniel and Jack to get what they were saying right off the bat. "Yeah okay. That's nice. So...?" Jack queried, and just as he asked Daniel did get it – four hours. A timer. The decontamination shower operated on a timer.

"Sir, it was the same in your room. It happened four hours after you opened the door and dropped Daniel inside."

"Well sure, go ahead, blame me," Jack muttered, and then acknowledged the information. "Okay, so it's timed to the initial presence of something entering the room. How does that help?"

"No sir, not to something simply inside the room," she corrected him. "A number of the other rooms opened by the survey team have passed the four hour mark. The ones the balls were thrown into," she explained. "This hasn't happened in those rooms."

"So, you've just asked them to slide something in on the floor?" Daniel guessed, and she nodded. "Okay. Just make sure it's not tennis balls or something else small, Sam," he advised. "If it works, they'd probably just end up down the drain. Or worse, plugging it."

So now they'd just have to wait four hours and see what happened. If it rained, that'd indicate some sort of sensor system related to the floor... which brought him around full circle. "Sam, they have to stop using the torch on the corridor floor. There's no telling what it could set off," he told her urgently, aware of Jack beside him looking confused and leaning forward as if to look out into the corridor for signs of people using a cutting torch.

She gnawed at her lip. "I know." As she turned and walked away she thumbed her comm to life, looking over her shoulder at them. "I'm sorry, sir," she said, and then was gone from view.

"I'm sorry sir?" Jack caustically parroted, and grabbed Daniel's arm. "Sorry sir? What's that supposed to mean? What torch, and why do you want them to stop using it? " He took off the headset he'd just put on and tossed it hard toward the barrier, ignoring it when it bounced off and hit him in the chest.

"Jack..."

"No, Daniel. I'm pissed off. I want out, preferably sometime this decade. But it sounds to me like you just told them to stop trying something that could help make it happen." He poked Daniel in the shoulder. "An explanation would be nice. No, not just nice – it's mandatory. Explain, and if it makes sense you might just get through this intact. If it doesn't make sense, you won't live even long enough to see me pick that headset up to bitch at Teal'c about you."

Daniel explained his worries about the floor. "Yeah, okay," Jack reluctantly, unhappily agreed once he understood that, yes, there was no way of telling what might be under or inside that floor and okay, yes, there was a possibility a blowtorch might not mix well with whatever that was. "For all we know it could trigger something like what's in here." Daniel winced, Jack's words prompting a mental image of the intense flame from the torch disastrously bouncing back at the handler.

Jack scrubbed a hand through his hair. "The most immediately dangerous thing here right now seems to be our own terminal stupidity. So, all right, fine – they don't need to run that kind of risk. But that doesn't mean," he poked Daniel's chest once more, "that I'm content to sit here while everyone minces around on tiptoes out there. I say again: I want out, Daniel. If they need to risk breaking some eggs to make that happen, well, the longer this goes on the more likely I am to tell them to go for it."

"Breaking eggs and risking lives are two different things, Jack."

"Yes, which is why you're still alive to see me do this," Jack replied, picking up the headset and putting it on. "Teal'c? When we get out of here, remind me Daniel's overdue for a thrashing. And hey, while we're on the subject..."

Daniel quickly took his headset off and wandered away, not minding but all the same not in the least bit interested in being a bystander to Jack venting about how undesireable a roommate Daniel was. He set about clearing away from the doorway the zat-ray-catching items he'd plucked from the energy field, and then took the large tarp, another foam pad, and a few other things over to where he'd slept earlier. Jack had only had at most a couple of hours rest in, what, probably close to twenty-six hours now, given they'd headed out on this mission mid-day. In short order he had a wide bed organised for Jack, complete with a refreshment stand within easy reach. The makeshift bed tested out to be considerably more comfortable than the pad he'd slept on, and it was only with difficulty that he peeled himself off it to go get Jack.

It didn't take much to entice Jack over. The man was exhausted beyond tolerance, and he willingly answered Daniel's soft prompt when he saw what Daniel had readied for him. Virtually falling onto the padding, Jack curled onto his side, delaying Daniel's leaving him to it with a grab at Daniel's leg. "I was surprised to wake up without a million wires stuck to me. Where's Thomas?"

Daniel shrugged. "Didn't want to wake you by fussing around too much, so I told him no. I checked you out every fifteen minutes instead. Just before you woke up, he headed back to the SGC. They're sending someone else to take over for him."

"Ah. Okay."

"Why do you care?" Daniel asked, curious. "Feeling neglected?"

Jack peered up at him, his eyelids at half mast. "No. I just wondered... just..." Daniel raised his eyebrows in invitation, and Jack grimaced sheepishly. "Daniel? What the hell happened?"

What...? Oh. "We were hit by zat energy conducted along the poles." Daniel shrugged, trying to pass it off as if it was no big deal, despite that it had scared him shitless at the time. "Me once, you twice."

Jack was upright in a flash, startled. "Twice? That's..."

Daniel quickly interrupted with a raised finger in front of Jack's face. "Yeah, I know. You're alive because we only got a partial charge. That's why we didn't pass out."

Jack nodded and settled back down, his eyes going from bugging out in alarm to half-mast in exhaustion as Daniel carried on explaining. "We already know an energy bolt fired from a zat isn't very tightly cohesive; that's why a strike looks like it does. In here, it didn't hold together when it hit the barrier. Apparently each thread was only partial strength. Sam tried to explain why the effect of a zat is an additive thing while it isn't with a staff weapon, but I'd stopped listening by then."

"Yeah. And I stopped listening to you five sentences ago," Jack mumbled. "Good night, Daniel. Don't do anything stupid and end up killing yourself before I wake up."

Oh yeah, sure. Right; he'd be certain not to do anything stupid and kill himself without Jack awake to bear witness. Daniel gently covered Jack with a space blanket, not because it wasn't warm enough in the room but because he needed to do something that he could at least fool himself into thinking was helpful. He looked around feeling utterly useless, knowing he and Jack couldn't live like this over the long haul. Not and stay civil to one another, never mind stay friends. Maybe even not and stay sane.

There had to be a way. Oh yeah, sure, dream on, he chided himself. Just like the stargate itself, this energy barrier and in fact the entire building were so far beyond them that there'd be no breakthroughs in understanding and mastering them anytime soon – probably not within their lifetimes, in fact. Yeah; they were hooped.

Even as he thought that, even despite knowing what they were up against, Daniel found he couldn't do it – whether for his own sake or for Jack's, he wasn't sure, but he couldn't let go just like that. Not yet, at least. There had to be a way, something he hadn't thought of. Something much simpler than the impossible dream of understanding what the barrier was and mastering how it worked. Another way of finding an off-switch.

The tech team was thoroughly focused on understanding the nature and composition of the field as a means of finding a way to counteract it. But, a dog didn't have to know how stairs were made and what they were made of in order to climb them, right? Jack didn't have to know, well, much of how anything worked in order to use it – if it went bang in the right direction, he was all for it. Maybe they needed to try thinking more like Jack; maybe they... ugh. Daniel shuddered. Thinking more like Jack? God, what was he thinking?

Obviously still more tired than he'd thought, and maybe not even fully recovered, Daniel curled up on the floor next to Jack's bed. Making sure Teal'c knew what he intended, he closed his eyes, tried to stop thinking and gave himself permission to drift off. Just for a little while.

His brain wouldn't co-operate, though, and in short order he found himself starting again at the very beginning, on the road toward mentally re-living, step by step, moment by moment, the last nineteen hours since they'd first stepped out of the stargate. His heart ached in his chest. There had to be something. Some way.

 




19.5 hours


Okay, he was well rested and felt much better now, but this was really wearing. Distracting. Annoying. Quickly becoming intolerable, in fact. As Daniel turned and went by for the millionth time in just a few moments, Jack grabbed the camp pillow from under his head and threw it at him. He scored a bull's-eye but it didn't slow the guy down at all.

Jack was just contemplating finding something more solid to chuck at him when Daniel suddenly wheeled round and glared at him. "Jack! Will you please, for god's sake, stop all the grunting and sighing and throwing crap. What is your problem?"

"Mine? I'm not the one going back and forth like a deranged ping-pong ball," Jack protested, considering reminding Daniel he'd only thrown one thing. He thought better of that, though, as Daniel stepped closer to stand over him, glowering. "You're my problem, Daniel," he altogether stupidly said instead, quickly realising his mistake as Daniel's fists clenched. In a more moderate tone of voice, he tried to apologise without apologising. "Look, something's obviously bothering you. What's the problem?"

Daniel gave him a disbelieving and altogether condescending look. "Oh, I don't know." He waved his arms widely to indicate the room, if not the entire building. "Maybe you can help me out here, help figure out what the hell could possibly be bothering me," he all but yelled, then immediately wheeled round and began pacing again.

O-kay. Jack checked his watch and saw he'd slept for over five hours. Sometime during that five-plus hours Daniel had either been replaced by a bad-tempered clone or entered male menopause abnormally early. Or maybe he'd been infected by the Jekyll-Hyde-Jackson virus, or –

"Hey!" Jack hollered, and leapt to his feet. "Get away from there," he ordered Daniel, and followed it up by lunging over to where Daniel now stood entirely too closely nose-to-wall. "Back off," he told him, grabbing Daniel's arm and yanking him away. "What the hell do you think you're doing? What's the matter with you?"

In direct contrast to his behaviour of just moments ago, Daniel stood perfectly still and in a cool conversational tone told him, "I've gone over it again and again, through and through. There's absolutely nothing since we got here, or since everyone came to help – there's been nothing happen nor one single bit of information uncovered that would indicate I could be wrong about what this is. And there's also absolutely nothing that helps with what to do about it."

"Holy crap, Daniel. Are you telling me you've spent the last five hours..." Jesus. What a loon. Hadn't he already told Daniel who was who and whose job was what here?

So not a clone, or menopause, or some weird viral thing. It was self-inflicted insanity, pure and simple. The man had driven himself bat-shit.

Jack could see, lurking behind the forced calmness on Daniel's face, that the frustration and disappointment which had wound Daniel up so tight he'd near exploded just moments ago was struggling to break free yet again. The panic of feeling lost, of failure, loomed large in Daniel's eyes, so Jack didn't do what he wanted to do – to shake the shit out of him – and instead turned Daniel around and pushed him over and then down to sit on the bed.

"You know," Jack sat down next to him, trying for a light tone he hoped Daniel might find reassuring. "It might not be so bad. For a while, anyway. A break from the responsibilities and demands of everyday life, all the room service we want whenever we want it, and no bill to pay at the end of it all."

Resentment flared in Daniel's eyes. "Don't patronise me, Jack."

Jack sighed. "Yeah, okay."

They slouched side by side in silence for a long time. Jack was painfully aware that although Daniel sat still and quiet beside him there was a volcano bubbling under the surface. Sure, Jack's own frustration skirted the boundary between impatience and impending – if not actual – eruption sometimes, but he had the advantage of ignorance, something that allowed him some degree of faith in the many people outside who were trying to solve this. Daniel... well, Daniel had clearly put his much brighter than better-than-average brain to work and had come to several solid conclusions: that those people were barking up the entirely wrong tree; that he himself had nowhere to go with it either, even climbing the right tree; and, that it was going to be a long, long time, way too long, before someone stumbled onto anything helpful.

It took Jack a while, but eventually a flash of insight hit and he realised Daniel was grieving. Not sure whether that grief was for the loss of their freedom or whether it was something more intensely personal – maybe arising out of the lack of respect his theory was receiving from everyone else, or Daniel's belief that he'd failed them both when it really counted – Jack decided it really didn't matter where it came from. Jack needed it to be premature, unwarranted even, and so there you go, that's what it was. And he was damned if he'd have Daniel believing anything else.

He sat there for a bit longer, quietly thinking, wondering just what to do about it. He knew he shouldn't just reject or disregard Daniel's opinions and feelings, because hey, it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility that Daniel might be right and they would end up stuck together in close-quarters for a hell of a long time. Lingering resentment and mistrust was destructive under the best of circumstances; here, they'd be disastrous. But while he certainly did care about Daniel's feelings and beliefs, and not just in the here and now – hell, there'd been times he'd even respected them – he wasn't the kind of guy who readily demonstrated that, especially not under duress and when he didn't agree. Well, more accurately, he admitted to himself, it wasn't so much that he didn't agree with Daniel's beliefs as it was he didn't feel it was anywhere near time to face them.

His best intentions were pre-empted before he had a chance to do or say anything, though. "Don't feel you have to keep me company," Daniel suddenly grumbled into the silence, staring at the floor as he shifted away enough so their shoulders were no longer in danger of making accidental contact.

Despite his best intentions, mild irritation sprouted from seemingly nowhere. "News flash for you, Daniel: there's no way to stop keeping each other company," Jack grumped, indicating the small room with a wave of one hand.

"No, there probably isn't," Daniel mumbled so quietly that Jack had to strain to make it out, and once he had he winced, knowing it wasn't the size of the room Daniel was referring to. He had got Daniel's point already, and honestly couldn't say what had driven him to respond in the way he had to Daniel's semi-tactful advice that he should please just go away now and give him some privacy.

There was only one thing to be done, and so he did it, wordlessly hauling himself to his feet and leaving Daniel alone. He headed over to the door, taking a three step detour as he spied their headsets tidily sitting atop one of the data monitors. He scooped up both of them, pocketing one and putting on the other. Teal'c was sitting cross-legged in the doorway watching him, and Jack joined him, his left knee cracking loudly as he settled himself onto the floor on his side of the barrier.

"Are you well, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked. When Jack told him yes, he felt better, he heard his voice come back at him through the speakers.

"The speakers were in use for a discussion amongst Daniel Jackson, Major Carter, and several of the science team, while you slept," Teal'c told him, and quickly rose to turn them off. When he returned and sat across from Jack once again, his gaze flicked in Daniel's direction momentarily. "He has been very disturbed since," Teal'c advised in as near a whisper as Teal'c's voice ever got, and then frustratingly just sat there, leaving it at that.

Jack thought that, yeah, disturbed was the right word for Daniel. But beyond that, in all seriousness, he figured a bad encounter with disbelievers certainly helped explain Daniel's mood. He leaned forward, softly prompting with a roll of his hand, "Okay, so? Discussion, disturbed... and...?"

"There was an argument." A dark look settled over Teal'c's face at the memory. "Once you and Daniel Jackson have been freed, O'Neill, I invite you to join me in a discussion of our own with several members of your SGC."

If not for the grave intensity with which Teal'c wanted to protect Daniel's sensitivities, Jack would have laughed out loud. Teal'c's tendency to divorce himself from the SGC with just a look and a word when he encountered something he disapproved of had grown less and less frequent over the last year or so, and while Jack knew it was perverse of him, he was kind of entertained to see it raise its head in response to one of Jack's own pet peeves.

Jack knew this current bout of disengagement probably had more to do with Teal'c's recent increase in commitment to Daniel than it did the actual argument Daniel'd had with the scientists. Not sure if that was a good or a bad thing, owing to the possibility Teal'c might be less than objective these days when it came to Daniel, Jack mentally tabled the issue of their relationship post-Sha're's death until another time. He glanced back at Daniel to see him lying on the bed moodily staring at the ceiling. Jack could see the wheels turning even from over here; no matter how many arguments Daniel'd had trying to convince the others he was right, he was obviously still hard at work trying to find a way to prove himself wrong.

Complicated guy, he thought, not altogether charitably, and turned back to Teal'c. "So what else interesting happened while I was gone?" he flippantly asked, more than done for the time being with considering the ins and outs of Daniel Jackson.

"A backpack placed in one of the rooms provoked the same event as here, four hours later. It was then devoured. Major Carter and Dr. Lee have returned to the SGC to perform some experiments; apparently the equipment here is inadequate for their purposes. And the devices in the other room have met their demise."

What? It was just then Jack realised Carter was indeed missing from the corridor, along with everyone else except a bored-looking young lady who obviously, judging from the way she was idly rearranging the contents of one of the medical kits, was Thomas' replacement. Something else was missing too; the bouncing ball of death in the other room was... well, not. Not bouncing; not even there any longer.

"What happened to the staff blast?" he asked, hoping the answer would provide a touch of hope, because, seriously, he really did want to get out of here sometime before Daniel actually did enter male menopause.

"Its path altered slightly with each impact. Eventually it degraded sufficiently that the blast dipped low enough to strike the equipment." With a slight twitch of his eyebrow that Jack deciphered as part mild amusement and part concern, Teal'c added, "The second shipment of equipment. Some members of the scientific team became... visibly upset. In the extreme."

Ah. Well, there wasn't anything to be done about that now. Jack shrugged it off, hoping what data they had collected to that point would be helpful. "So, what else has gone on in the great beyond?" he asked. "Births? Marriages? De–" No, no, don't go there, he stopped himself.

Teal'c ignored the inanity. "Daniel Jackson tested –" he began, but was rudely interrupted by the gates of heaven opening up inside the room.

Just as the stinging torrent hit him, Jack heard a loud ripping sound from behind him and whirled around. Daniel was up off the bed with a flying leap that carried him almost into the middle of the room, toppling their privacy curtain in the process. "It's still in the drain," he exclaimed. "I'll get it; you grab stuff lying around."

Jack hadn't the foggiest idea what Daniel was talking about, at least not for a second or two until he heard the noise again. He hazarded looking up from under the protection of his arm to see Daniel tugging at a dark bundle of something-or-other stuck in the hole in the centre of the room. Daniel was abruptly jerked forward, sending Jack's heart jerking along with him, but the thing in the drain tore completely apart this time. The suction immediately did the rest of the work, and Daniel straightened up... only to bend once again to grab a water bottle that had escaped from somewhere and was headed toward destruction.

Right. Stuff. Got to grab stuff, Jack realised. The first thing he snatched was his headset, in case it fell off and went down the drain. Then, hunched over trying to protect vital body parts from the pummelling downpour, he cast around for loose items that might cause a problem or meet an early demise. He'd done his job well when he'd set the place up, though; there was little that mattered which needed saving. This time, as the torrent continued, they remained standing on just a slick floor rather than in a thick orange pool. When it ended he turned to see Daniel standing near the drain, holding the remnants of what looked to have once been a t-shirt.

"Why was that stuck in the drain?" he asked, forced calm not even nearly masking his annoyance as he walked over to Daniel. He knew the answer, of course – Daniel must have used it to test whether the suction would come on independent of the waterworks, if something got caught in the drain. He wasn't the least bit interested in how Daniel might choose to explain that. No; what he was interested in was punishment, and he exercised it the very second he reached Daniel's side. "What the hell were you thinking?" he asked rhetorically as he swatted Daniel on the arm. "How many times have I told you: Don't," he meticulously pronounced each word, poking him in the chest with each one, "play with holes that have sharp teeth."

They both ignored the questions and complaints coming from the doorway. "We had to find out," Daniel claimed, and with another swat as warning against any further argument Jack told him that no they didn't, at least not yet. Daniel clammed up for all of twenty seconds, unable to keep from contradicting what he clearly thought was a stupid contention. "I was careful. I don't know what you're fussing about; now or later, it had to be done. You know that."

"No, it didn't," Jack called after him as Daniel walked away, heading for the doorway where a gaggle of upset-looking people stood staring in at them. He eyed the soaking wet room and its soaking wet contents and softened his voice, mumbling under his breath as he set out after Daniel, "Well, at least we know now that it didn't, anyway." Because it had rained again and the suction had come on when the jets in the ceiling had appeared. So while they wouldn't be able to provoke the suction at will, it was a pretty good bet they'd still be able to dispose of larger than poop-sized items of garbage at regular intervals of... what? He stopped to check the time and do a rough calculation, and oh my god, close to every sixteen hours or so, he moaned to himself.

The no longer utterly bored medic and two scientists were complaining, while Daniel helplessly shrugged and repeatedly felt around in the nooks and crannies of the equipment stack. They hadn't tarped the data monitors and relays, what were they doing running around saving water bottles when all this important stuff was sitting there unprotected, they bitched, and Daniel was helpless to answer them because he couldn't find a headset. Jack shoved his hand into his pocket, feeling them both in there, and contemplated pretending he didn't know where they were either. But it would be pointless as they'd just send another one through, so he cut short his enjoyment.

"Daniel," he said, catching his attention, and then tossed one of them over. Grimacing at the orange wetness on the earpiece, he tried to clean the other one as best he could and then put it on. Teal'c caught his nod and went over to turn the speakers on, giving Jack a chance for one last private word to Daniel. "No more unnecessary risks, you hear me?"

Daniel's muttered protest that it wasn't much of a risk came out of the speakers as a barely comprehensible low buzz. One of the scientists made it out well enough, though, and loudly protested that any risk to their equipment, no matter how slight Daniel wrongly believed it to be, wasn't at all acceptable. It was followed up by indignant requests that one of them get over there right now and do what exactly as instructed to test out the stuff, if you please. An unspoken 'even if you don't please' rang loudly through the moment of silence that followed, and with a glare at them Jack turned to do it, figuring he was elected because he had already done this once before.

He fiddled with dials, reported numbers and the shapes of squiggles on demand, and tested the lifepack. And he listened to the background conversation between Daniel and Teal'c as they checked the timing of the event and its implications. Been in here just under twenty hours, four hour mark, then nineteen hours fifty-two minutes, thirteen hours for the other room, do the math, yadda yadda, six hours fifty-two minutes until possible confirmation, blah blah blah.

Jack didn't need numbers. He already knew, deep in his gut, that the water would turn on in the room across the corridor again, probably at the twenty hour mark since the other room had been opened. Then at some point later it would rain again in here. He'd bet his last bottle of beer the initial waterfalls, occurring four hours after the opening of each room, had been just that – a first cleansing. There would be others. Confirmation, shmonfirmation; they were on a timer, he just knew it. The louder his gut feelings were, the more he trusted them, and this one was screaming at him.

He had no idea if Daniel's fears were on target, if their situation was unrecoverable, but one thing he did know, even deeper in his gut which started madly churning at just at the thought of it, was that he and Daniel certainly were going to be here long enough to see the next downpour and likely many subsequent ones as well.

Probably too many. Way far too freaking many.

 




28 days


Boredom was becoming a serious issue. This wasn't simply the common, garden-variety sort of boredom experienced when you'd prefer to be doing something other than what you were, or when you couldn't decide what interested you and so drifted around in a fog of restless apathy. No, this was a bone deep, soul destroying lack of stimulation that threatened to have them at each other's throats with the slightest of provocations.

They hadn't done it yet, thankfully. Neither of them had succumbed enough to actually take it out on the other beyond the usual fits of pique. Daniel knew the possibility was there, though. It was there and growing stronger with each day no one from the tech team came back spouting good news and positive thoughts. Sam returned regularly, often bringing not only the usual supplies but also a small gift for each of them. Daniel suspected those offerings helped ease Sam's guilt at having to leave them behind yet again when it was time to go.

She'd come, and she never minded if someone was indisposed or sulking or fully or partially naked when she got there even though she had radioed ahead to Teal'c to let them know she was on the way. It'd take her five minutes to download the useless data the equipment in the room was still feeding to the outside, and if they still weren't ready she would stand with her back to the doorway and wait. Then she'd join Teal'c in sitting on the floor across from them, and they'd have a powwow during which she'd tell them about the latest results, or actually lack of results, from all the data testing and experimenting going on back at the SGC. Then for an hour or so she'd smile unconvincingly at Jack's forced joking around, before leaving Teal'c to his vigil. She'd come back soon, definitely tomorrow, she'd tell them, and with each tomorrow that passed Daniel grew to miss her more and more in the hours between her visits.

They'd played cards and chess, and read books and magazines. Early on, Jack had played video games and Daniel had done some work on the tablet computer Sam had sent in, until they had enough depleted batteries awaiting recharging stacked up that not only did they have to chuck them all into a garbage bag to get them out of the way, but it was also getting unjustifiably expensive for the SGC. They were carefully rationing the use of that device now. And they'd played nerf-ball squash a few times a day, until it became clear the unnerving, unceasingly menacing crackle and zap of the energy barrier with each strike was something they weren't going to get used to. They rationed that activity now too.

They'd talked, and sometimes still seemed to need to, or at least Daniel felt the need anyway... but they'd pretty much exhausted all the work talk and small talk they had in them. As for not-work and not-small talk, well, Daniel wasn't interested in any convesation that might stray close to the Sha're-Teal'c thing and it was obvious Jack didn't have anything not-work or not-small-talkish that he cared to discuss with Daniel – at least not while he couldn't later escape Daniel's presence, that is.

As time wore on, their communication had devolved mostly to short observances and inept overtures that went nowhere, inane conversations only useful in that they filled the silence. Of course, there were ample grumbled complaints, and some occasional mundane questions with a series of non-committal and mostly mutually uninterested grunts in reply. Daniel wasn't surprised things were going this way between him and Jack, given the day to day drudgery that came with living in a small box and the lack of new fodder to chew on. He'd mostly expected it to be like this, but all the same, it was discouraging.

Sooner rather than later, as if a forecast of just how miserably tedious their days would be, the highlight of their lives had become those times when every nineteen hours forty-five minutes, give or take a few minutes, they started readying for the downpour. They'd been right about the showers being on a timer, but there had been an inexplicable twist: the schedule took a few cycles to establish itself. It had taken several more rounds of getting soaked unexpectedly before it regulated itself and they caught onto precisely when they should prepare.

So, at just under every twenty hour mark, at T-minus fifteen minutes, their alarm went off and they gathered up refuse, bagging everything that needed to stay dry, and then stripped off completely and showered in orange gunk while they disposed of their garbage. They'd done it thirty-four times now and had it down to an art form, the timing exact and the routine well enough established that communication wasn't necessary.

They always exercised together, though – twice daily, long and hard, usually for well over an hour straight – finding mutual, although not always equal, satisfaction in the shared, sweaty, sometimes forceful expenditure of restless energy and pent-up frustration.

"Twenty-eight days," Jack huffed from underneath him. "Taken you twenty-eight Earth-time days to put that one over on a decrepit old man. That's pitiful."

"Twenty-three," Daniel breathlessly corrected him. "Didn't start trying until day five. Do you give?"

He grunted as Jack heaved upward in response, just about escaping his hold. Their all but naked bodies were soaked with sweat, and Daniel knew that as slippery as their skin was there was no way his tenuous grip on Jack would hold much longer. So he readied himself and then let Jack go, jumping back and to the left to avoid the counter he knew Jack would try. Didn't make it, though. Again.

"Okay, twenty-three days then," Jack crowed, pressing him face down into the spongy, smelly gym mat. "And you still fall for that move every time. Like I said: pitiful."

Yeah, well. They'd see about that, wouldn't they? Daniel shifted, flexed, then relaxed and tightened up again under Jack's weight, testing, waiting, waiting... and when the moment seemed right he did his bit and in quick order they were squared off again, each in a crouch, facing one another. The desperate, predatory look Jack'd had in his eye at the start of this extended session had faded, and Daniel nodded to himself in satisfaction. Jack had needed this today, his boredom and frustration sitting far too close to the surface to ignore. And now, with Jack satiated, it was time to call it before someone strained an over-taxed muscle.

Jack acknowledged his unvoiced decision to quit with a nod of his own, and they both sank down to lie flat out. "Need to stretch," Jack reminded once he'd caught his breath, and then sniffed the mat he was face-down on. "Ugh. This thing stinks. You sweat like a pig."

Me? Yeah, sure, you just keep on dreaming, Daniel thought, and Jack rolled over and laughed. "I know what you're thinking, Daniel, and yeah okay, you're not wrong," he admitted, smelling his own armpits. Then he raised the waistband of his underwear and took a quick peek inside. "I think you bruised it."

Daniel was alarmed for a moment, until he saw the teasing, amused look on Jack's face. He was suddenly hit with a pang of loss so strong it just about brought him to tears. He came near enough that Jack sat up in a hurry, asking what was wrong, but Daniel couldn't answer him. He couldn't speak for fear of choking up, and anyway he couldn't very well say to Jack that the cause of it was the sudden, much longed-for appearance of his friend Jack, banishing for the moment the offtimes hostile, and getting more unfriendly by the day, Jack of the last few weeks.

Suck it up, Daniel, he told himself. He was being silly. Maudlin. Full of needy self-pity.

But Jack seemed to understand the problem, seemed to know what was going on. "Daniel, I..." he whispered, and ground to a halt for a moment before forcing out something Daniel knew wasn't what he'd initially started to say. "It'll be all right. We'll be all right."

"Yeah," was all Daniel could say in return, and turned away, starting his stretching routine. Cooled down muscles were happy muscles, he chanted with derision to himself.

A hand on his arm stopped him. Jack had to twist awkwardly to look him in the eye, and even though that he'd gone to the trouble to do that was a good thing, a promising thing, Daniel had trouble returning the favour. Fortunately, that didn't seem to bother Jack too much. "Guess we both need to try harder," was all Jack said, and Daniel nodded.

Jack was right. There were times he wasn't exactly a paragon of good humour himself, weren't there? This was a two way street, and if they wanted their friendship – hell, the ability to co-exist in the same space without wanting to kill one another – to survive, it was up to both of them to behave a little more like mature adult males than self-involved, temperamental teenagers. And perhaps part of that involved facing the reality of the situation, maybe even forcing themselves to talk about it.

"Twenty-eight days is just a drop in the bucket, Jack." God, that was difficult to spit out.

Jack sighed, and there was a long moment of silence before he answered, his voice soft as for the first time he openly admitted that Daniel might not be entirely wrong about their future. "I know, I know," he said, and then scooted round to sit directly in front of Daniel. "But I mean it, Daniel. It'll be all right. Twenty-eight days, twenty-eight months – we'll be all right."

"What about twenty-eight years," Daniel couldn't help but mumble under his breath. It was meant only for himself, but he was tired and his voice didn't co-operate; it came out louder than he intended.

"Geez, Daniel, give me a chance to adjust to the idea of months, eh, before you start talking in years," Jack complained. Daniel sat there mortified at having been so morose and negative while Jack was trying so hard to connect... at least until Jack thoughtfully, gravely added, "One thing's for sure – we'll need lots more snacks."

Daniel snorted hard enough that stuff came shooting out his nose.

"Whoa!" Jack yelped, wiping off his arm and moving away, pretending spray had hit the mat. "Eww, gross. Now we definitely need to scrub this thing down."

Unable to hold back a laugh, even through his embarrassment, Daniel wiped his nose with a sticky, sweaty forearm. "It gets rinsed off well enough in the shower. How much time have we got?"

"Oh, I think this time it's beyond that," Jack teased. "I'm pretty sure I peed on it a little when you were so losing so bad you resorted to kneeing me in the dick."

"It was an accident," Daniel half-heartedly argued, knowing he was destined to pay for that misplaced knee in a million different ways, a million different times. He crawled across the small mat until he had a view of the digital chronometer set up by their sleeping area. "Twenty-one minutes," he told Jack, and hauled himself to his feet. Although it was still a bit early, they needed to start gathering up garbage and getting the place ready for its wash-down – they'd been particularly messy today, leaving stuff everywhere instead of cleaning up after themselves.

"Lots of time. Be right back." Jack jumped up with more energy that Daniel could even conceive of having after such a session. Mind you, whereas he disliked being involved in aggressive contact, Jack thrived on it. While he was exhausted, Jack was invigorated.

Confused, he watched Jack bound over to the back of the room where they stored reusables and rummage through a couple of the waterproof duffles there. In short order Jack was bounding back, proudly holding aloft a two-quart plastic bottle with a spray nozzle and stem taped to its side. Daniel recognised that bottle and wanted nothing to do with it. "Oh no, no way," he told Jack, holding up his hands to ward off Jack's intentions. "It takes the recirculation system almost a full day to get rid of the smell of your model paint and this stuff is like sulphur to a rose in comparison. Just leave it; I'll scrub it down with soap during the shower if that makes you happy."

Jack's tone edged toward early warning system territory. "Well no, Daniel, that doesn't make me happy. What makes me happy is to wash it down with this, right now." He started to unscrew the cap. "We have no idea if the shower really does have an antiseptic effect, and it's high time we cleaned up properly in here just in case it doesn't. Besides, if you bothered to think about it for a second instead of being ruled by your nose, this is a perfect time – the shower will rinse the cleaner off everything for us."

Uhm, okay yeah that was a good point, damn it. The container Jack had fished out was half full of the heavy duty disinfectant used at the SGC, but they hadn't tried it yet, and one big reason was that just barely cracking the cap made it very clear the stuff stank to high heaven. Despite what they'd been told, it was Daniel's opinion anything that noxious surely couldn't be good for him.

"It's safe," Jack maintained, apparently reading his mind. "We just have to be sure to rinse whatever it's used on." He turned the bottle around and quoted from its white label, "Non-caustic, non-toxic. Bactericidal, fungicidal, something about yeast... okay, so make a note: not for use on the mash bucket."

Daniel almost laughed at the thought of Hammond's reaction should Jack turn the place into a brewery. Would have laughed, right out loud, if Jack hadn't opened the lid the rest of the way as he was reading. There was nothing in the least bit funny about the strong, acrid odour coming from that bottle. The only saving grace was the chance the smell might wane a bit once it was properly diluted.

Jack had other ideas. He went straight over to the mat and splashed a liberal amount of the full strength cleaner directly onto it. At Daniel's protest, he snapped, "Oh, will you just knock off the bad attitude for once," and pointed toward their supplies. "Gloves are over there, if you're so worried."

Oh terrific, Jack was back to being grumpy now. Great. The hallmark moment was clearly over. Well, fine. That was just fine with Daniel.

"That's not the point," he retorted, his annoyance ratcheting upward. "It's meant to be diluted. You're wasting it, and oh god, that smells really bad." He grimaced, and then widened his eyes in something approaching horror as Jack untaped the spray stem and dumped it into the bottle. "Oh, don't tell me you're going to spray that stuff undiluted. Like, into the air? Please, tell me you're not going to do that."

He was going to do that, and he did. With a perversity Daniel wanted to smack out of existence, Jack aimed the nozzle in his general direction and repeatedly spritzed. Daniel stepped back instinctively, even though he wasn't actually close enough to get hit by the spray anyway, and then gasped as there was a shrill noise that hurt his ears and simultaneously he was suddenly hit by cold, stinging wetness after all. In an instant, though, he realised it wasn't the cleaner Jack had sprayed that was raining down on him; no, it was their orange deluge starting early, coming down in a far heavier, way more painful flow than usual.

"Crap! What the hell?!" Jack dropped the bottle, covering his head and face with his arms.

Daniel tried to go to him, but after a single step dropped to his knees under the tremendous force of the water, hundreds of inescapable needle-like stabs to his entire body proving too shocking to function through. He huddled there, jaw clamped shut against the guttural cry filling his throat. He heard that strange noise again, and Teal'c calling to them from the doorway, and he heard Jack cursing non-stop, but mostly his awareness centred on the pain and an irresistible urge to escape. He tried reaching over to the gym mat, just a few feet away, intending to try using it as a shield, but as he put his hand down to the floor to do that it splashed into four inches of water. Oh hell, the stuff they'd left lying around today... the drain must already be plugged.

The water level was rising quickly, but he ignored it and crouched there trying to lift the unwieldy mat enough to get it up onto his back. The hole could be cleared and the pool drained after the downpour had stopped, but only if they were physically capable of doing it. At this rate the only thing he'd be physically fit to do by the time it shut off was lie down and drown. But the mat was thick semi-rigid foam, heavily saturated already, and everything was so slippery, and god, oh god, it really hurt.

A quick glance toward the swearing had him taking a new direction, toward something more feasible. To Jack, to the probably minimal but better than nothing protection of the privacy tarp Jack had torn down and thrown over himself. It was big. They'd both fit. And they did, Jack scolding, "Go get your own tarp," even as he made room and arranged it to cover as much as possible of the both of them. Continuing to grumble about squatters and people who couldn't take care of themselves, Jack gave him more than his fair share of the meagre shelter. In return, Daniel tried to make himself as small as possible, grateful to Jack for the distraction and the help.

"What the hell is that?" Jack mumbled, as they heard the weird shrill hooting noise occur again somewhere in the background. Daniel thought it wasn't quite as loud as when it first had rung out, but then he realised that probably was wrong, considering they could hear it this well under the sound of the downpour hitting the quickly deepening pool they crouched in. If the rain continued at this rate, it'd be unmanageable deep within minutes.

It occurred to them both at the same time there was one thing they weren't hearing any more: Teal'c. They both tried to twist around to face the doorway, but the pool was already too deep and the frustrated pull of the drain vacuum too disturbing to allow any quick moves. Jack lost his balance and went down flat in an instant, taking the tarp with him. Daniel reached under to sit Jack up again, but the only thing that surfaced was Jack's head and one hand. He grabbed Daniel by the arm, told him, "Big breath," took one himself, and then ducked back under the surface, yanking Daniel down onto the floor with him.

Oh. It didn't hurt down here. He couldn't breathe, mind you, and there was a disturbing undertow, but he wasn't being strafed to death by hundreds of pneumatic strength needles of water any longer. All in all it was an improvement, and Daniel went with it, staying under the surface until his lungs were about to explode. Two more breaths and dunks later, the deluge stopped, and they surfaced to find that not even getting up on their knees kept their mouths above water. So they supported each other and carefully stood up, mindful of their sore bodies, all the floating and not so floatable paraphernalia bumping into them, and the current tugging at their legs.

"We're in deep shit now," Daniel muttered, feet planted wide to keep his balance as he looked around them. He scanned the surface, but his glasses and their headsets were nowhere to be seen. Everything else, too, was either gone or ruined – food, electronics, bedding, clothing, the communication equipment, everything. Other than items light enough to float, it was all underwater.

"What the hell happened?" Jack demanded to the ceiling.

"The chronometer must be out of whack." Please let that be the problem, Daniel prayed, because the alternative was that conditions in the room might not be as reliable as they'd thought. Beyond reliability was a greater concern, though: stability. He didn't even care to think about the possibility the place might not be stable. That would be very bad.

"No," Jack snarled. "That's not it. The chronometer's fine. Something's changed. There's somethi –" The strange noise repeated itself yet again, and Jack smacked the surface in anger, sending a spray of orange flying. "And what the god damn hell is that frigging noise!"

Part of whatever had changed, apparently. "An alarm of some kind?" Daniel guessed.

Jack glared at him for a moment, then sighed and wiped a hand through his hair. "Let's just stick to 'frigging noise' for the time being. 'Alarm' sounds kinda ominous."

Daniel had to agree; there was a definite negative implication there. But he suspected that's exactly what it was, and wondered just what its relationship was to the unexpected early downpour – incidental, resultant, causal? Parallel? One brain beat later he decided which was most probable.

Jack flicked orange-tinged water off his hand and looked toward the doorway. "Teal'c?" he called out, and then looked even more fed up when Daniel nudged him and pointed to his own ear, reminding him they now had no way to communicate with the outside. "Yeah, yeah, smart ass," Jack told him after a pause during which he clearly made a huge effort to tamp down his anger. He recovered, and clapped Daniel on the shoulder. "Let's see about draining this place. I don't know about you, but I'm wrinkling like a prune here."

They set about trying to do just that, struggling against all sorts of interference to clear the drain, then to simply remain standing as the suddenly unimpeded vacuum placed them dead centre in a debris-laden whirlpool. It was a nightmare, the heavier data monitors and metal shelving being pretty much the only things in the room not uprooted by the water and banging against them, trying to commit suicide at the drain. Daniel stepped on something sharp at one point and fell as he felt it pierce his heel. For a moment he feared he'd been pulled too close to the drain, and panic welled up at the thought of his foot being sucked in and shredded to the bone, but no, that wasn't it.

They built a wall of large bags mostly around the hole, trying to create a debris-free zone immediately around the drain, and it was working. They ignored the small stuff, simply allowing things that wouldn't block it to go right down, and tried to push, pull, lift, and throw larger objects far enough aside so it'd take them a while to make their way back... to once again be pushed, pulled, lifted, and thrown aside. It was a frenetic, chaotic process, the water level falling only so long as they kept the hole from being plugged. While it felt like forever, Daniel knew it probably hadn't taken all that long for the pool to get down to knee-depth.

He also got down to knee-height at right about the same time. He simply couldn't stay on his feet a moment longer and dropped like a stone. Fortunately he didn't land on anything damaging, but he did get bashed in the back by something large and solid a split second later.

Jack shoved one of the full waterproof bags directly overtop the drain, and dropped down beside him. "Let it work on that for a while," he gasped, as the drain vacuum started trying to do the equivalent of suck a hard-boiled egg through a straw.

"Wonder what's in that one," Daniel wheezed. "Hope it's not food or clothing." Jack just shrugged, pulling a large duffel over to use as an armrest, and Daniel thought yeah, good point, who really cares. Everything was replaceable. In fact, it occurred to him, now that they had a bit more control over the situation they ought to start purposefully feeding the contents of any damaged bags into the drain while there was still water in here, before the room realised it was all gone and the vacuum shut down.

But he was too tired. Like Jack, for now he was content to just sit and watch the wobble and jerking of the bag over the drain. When it split, he'd get up and deal with it, he promised himself. Then Jack helped him hold his foot out of the water, and they found the black plastic tip of the game console stylus mostly embedded in his heel.

Supporting his foot by the ankle, Jack directed his attention toward the doorway. "Hey, look at that, over there."

Daniel didn't fall for it. "I'm not squeamish, Jack. Just pull it out. You don't have to distract me first."

"Okay," Jack said, doing just that, which hurt like hell. "But really, I mean it. Look over there..."

The water level had gone down enough to reveal something large and white – a piece of paper, or maybe cardboard, Daniel decided – hanging from the stack of data equipment in the hallway. Even without his glasses Daniel could read what was written on it in large block letters typical of Teal'c. " I will return. Do not be dead," it said.

Okay, so that solved the mystery of what had happened to Teal'c. The intermittent noise was still there, even if Teal'c was not, and as it sounded again Daniel looked at Jack. "The frigging noise that's preferably not an alarm started just when the shower did," he mildly observed, and waited to see if Jack was thinking what he was thinking.

"Yeah."

"Something else happened just about then..." he prodded.

Jack gave him a tired, irritated look. "I'm not squeamish either, Daniel. You can just spit it out." He didn't wait for Daniel to say it, though, doing it himself. "You think this is my fault. That it was the cleaner."

"The cleaner, probably yes, but no, no I don't think this is anyone's fault. There's no way we could have known," Daniel hurriedly corrected him. A spark of impending excitement stirred in him, a feeling he recognised well – there was something here to be discovered, something important. "Look, let's just think about this for a minute. This room, this entire place, is highly technologically intelligent," he mused aloud, starting to work it through.

He was interrupted by noise echoing from down the corridor. He and Jack were both on their feet facing the doorway by the time a clearly anxious Teal'c came skidding into sight. Upon seeing them, Teal'c immediately composed himself and nodded in satisfaction. "O'Neill, Daniel Jackson. You are not drowned."

Daniel heard Jack pointlessly try to answer Teal'c and then mumble something about just how dumb one person could be, but Daniel wasn't paying enough attention to take advantage of the opening Jack had just provided. Rather, his focus was on the herd of people who tumbled to a halt in the doorway a moment behind Teal'c. Among them were Dr. Lee and Sam, plus a young woman he didn't recognise who under normal circumstances he might take note of – which wasn't good at all, because here he was standing in full view wearing only his utterly soaked underwear which no doubt was all but completely a second skin, sticking to every part of him like glue. He sidled over to stand behind Jack, who noticed the move, suddenly said, "Oh," and then tried to do the same thing.

There was a minor surreptitious scuffle as neither of them wanted to be the front runner, and then Jack gave up. "Doesn't matter anyway," he told Daniel, gesturing over to the right hand side of the doorway where the newcomers were now milling about, their attention apparently on the corridor wall. "They don't even know we exist."

Sam did, though, turning after just a moment of ogling whatever it was everyone seemed so interested in. "Sir, Daniel. It's good to see you... I mean, see... that you..." she stammered, blushing to the roots of her hair.

"She means it's good to see us alive; that's what she means," Jack leaned over and whispered to Daniel.

A tall, extremely thin man, sloppily wearing a hastily-donned, too-large tac vest overtop of civvies and a lab coat, stepped in front of Sam. He stared straight at them and demanded, "What happened? What did you do? Tell me exactly, precisely, what occurred," he elaborated, and then stood there expectantly.

"They cannot tell you," Teal'c sternly told the scientist just as Jack opened his mouth and mimicked rapid speech, his actively flapping hands providing emphasis to a non-existent explanation.

Daniel elbowed him in the ribs, hard. "Hey, oww, I was just getting to the good part," Jack complained, as outside Sam reminded the guy why they couldn't comply just then.

Daniel did some mime of his own, indicating with his chin, a hand, and raised eyebrows the right hand side of the doorway. "Oh," she said, sounding startled, and then said it again but this time with a gentle smile as she understood they hadn't a clue what was going on. "There's a panel, guys. Teal'c said it just appeared out of nowhere at the same time as..."

A panel? Daniel's heart raced with hope and anticipation, and Jack straightened up, exclaiming, "A control panel? Yes!"

Sam paused as the probable alarm suddenly bleated again, and the scientists excitedly ooh'd, staring at the walls and ceiling. When it stopped, she carried on, "... at the same time that noise occurred and your shower started up."

Daniel's anticipation stuttered as Sam noticed their reaction and quickly told them, "Sorry, guys." Her regret at bursting their bubble before it had even fully formed was readily apparent. "It's really obscure, just a whole lot of barely visible small lines. Unfortunately, it's not something we can make use of at this point."

Dr. Lee and the lady Daniel didn't recognise stepped over and joined Sam, Teal'c and the thin scientist, frankly staring in at them. Due to both that and the disappointment weakening his knees, Daniel abruptly decided sitting might be a good idea and splashed down onto his butt. All except Sam and Teal'c jumped back when the sizeable wave he created attacked the doorway barrier. As they recovered enough to stare in fascination at where the remaining ripples lapped against the energy field, Daniel realised it must look really odd from their side.

"It's most likely the panel was always there," Dr. Lee told them. "It's probably a matter of the wall in front of the panel, er, disappearing, I guess you could say, in response to some sort of event or new stimuli."

"Like the doorway wall did," Daniel thought aloud. "But they checked out the walls of the entire corridor thoroughly, especially near each room... unless they missed some square millimetre that just happened to be the crucial square millimetre, which is unlikely..." Despite that he had only just sat down, he found himself up on his feet and moving toward the doorway as he talked it through, his eyes fixed on the wall opposite, next to the room across the way.

"I know that look," Sam said as he came close enough to the doorway to feel a warning tingle from the barrier. "We can't hear you, Daniel. Do you want pen and paper?"

He ignored her in favour of following his mental thread. "There was a change in conditions inside; something new was introduced that's different from what we've been doing since we got here. The disinfectant spray."

"Thought you said it wasn't my fault," Jack said from somewhere close behind him, sounding left out.

"Wasn't," he absently answered and waved Jack to silence for a moment. A pen and pad of paper were thrust partway through the barrier but he ignored them too. "We already know there are sensors in the floor in the whole place, even the corridors. And the very existence of the air recirculation system mandates atmospheric sensors."

"Well yeah, duh. It's not like we're trying to decipher zen philosophy," Jack pointed out. "Not complicated. The floor or the air conditioning system, or both, didn't like the cleanser and set off an alarm and the shower. We already went there. So it also must have opened up the whatsis outside. No big mystery."

Yes, yes, of course. "Yeah, but I don't think that's all there is to understand about this, Jack. Sure, that's probably all there is to what's happened, but... the question is, why?" Daniel slowed to a halt, the loud voices of the scientists as they discussed, or make that argued over, how to proceed investigating the appearance of the panel too distracting to think through.

He listened to them spout complicated ideas and plans involving bringing mountains of sensors and equipment and computers, and braved the dreaded tingle long enough to impatiently yank the pen and paper from the field. "Other room," he wrote. "Spray undiluted industrial cleaner."

He held it up and Sam read it, her eyebrows going up in surprise. "That's what you guys did?"

Daniel shook his head no, not us guys, jerking a thumb over his shoulder to indicate where the thank-you cards should be sent. Big, expensive, tastefully done thank-you cards, because he'd just changed his mind – it was in fact Jack's fault, and it was probably the best move either of them had made since they'd got in here. Go Jack.

 




"How can you just dismiss this? That's wrong."

"No, Daniel, we don't think so."

Jack sighed, rubbing his head around the new headset in an attempt to erase the headache the argument had caused. He stooped to pick up yet another bit of flotsam that might plug the hole, and wearily took it over to the bags he and Daniel were filling in preparation for draining the rest of the water. He didn't know how Daniel had the energy to slosh around doing that plus, at the same time, battle with Carter and Geeky Skeletal Guy over who had the best theory. Jack's brain was having a hard time just keeping his arms and legs moving; he'd probably fall over if he had to devote energy to thinking and speaking as well.

Teal'c had gone back to the SGC for something gag-worthy to spray into the other room. The lady scientist had gone with him, taking a long list of equipment needs to fill. The new infrared communication stuff for inside their room had already come through with the first batch, accompanied by yet another gaggle of scientists. Mournfully, Jack realised they were back in a goldfish bowl again. He'd had about three weeks of relative freedom, of being able to shuck his clothes or duck behind the privacy curtain to use the drain without worrying about witnesses – except Daniel who was in the same boat so didn't count – and he was going to miss not being constantly on display.

"A series of barely visible vertical, horizontal, and diagonal markings, organised in what looks like a curvilinear table of twenty-two rows and nine columns – that's what you said. It's right there in front of you, Sam. It's highly probable."

"No, that's not... look, sure, we agree they're probably additive in nature, similar to the way each 'gate symbol adds to the others to form an address," Carter rattled off in answer. "But that's how DataPads and coded information work, Daniel, in a myriad of applications ranging from something as everyday as our own alphabet to complex mathematical and scientific instructions. You of all people know that." Sounding impatient, she concluded, "It's certainly not evidence the barrier is related to stargate technology. Remotely possible, maybe. Probable? No. We just don't see it."

"No, not on its own, of course not. You're distorting my point, Sam. In reality, what I'm suggesting is – and you of all people know this – in combination with other properties of the field that have already been observed, the presentation of these symbols may well provide further support for exactly that."

They were rapidly heading toward a complete communication breakdown. Jack grimaced as Carter told Daniel, blundering in completely the wrong direction in the process, "We've been working on this for four full weeks, Daniel. With all due respect, I think we have a clearer perspective than you on the reality of this place."

She obviously realised the stupidity of what she'd said the instant it popped out, bringing one hand up to her mouth. "Oh. That didn't..."

"Didn't come out right? Wasn't what you meant to say?" Daniel bitterly finished it for her, a sodden pillow dangling forgotten in his hand. "Oh, I think it's exactly what you mean. You guys, all of you..." he waved the pillow to indicate everyone, everywhere, and a spray of orange drops fanned out behind it. "You made up your minds before you even started running your experiments. Of course you don't see it. You aren't willing to look." He turned away from her and yanked his headset off, tossing it into the water.

"Daniel, please. I really am sorry. It was a bad choice of words," Carter tried, but Daniel ignored her in favour of getting back to the clean-up, tossing items toward the drain for disposal with an intensity that bordered on ruthless.

"That was exceptionally dumb, Carter," Jack told her, fetching the headset as it bobbed past his knee. "And he's not the only one owed an apology. What do you think we've been doing here for the past month, if not learning some hard lessons about reality?" He knew it came out harshly, with no small amount of bitterness, but didn't bother trying to lighten his tone. "Now, I'd really appreciate it if you brain trusts, and that includes you Daniel, would get together and actually trust each other instead of playing one-upsmanship."

He got stares of protest from both Carter and Daniel for that one, and nodded in satisfaction. At least they were still capable of agreeing with one another on something. "How long until they get organised?" he changed the subject, watching Daniel out of the corner of his eye in case something salvageable fell victim to Daniel's frustration.

"A few more minutes; they're just about set up. Do you want me to turn the speakers on?"

No, not yet. He had nothing to say right now that anyone other than Carter or Teal'c needed to hear. Actually, there was a lot he wanted to say to everyone out there, but knew it wouldn't be in the least bit helpful if they heard it. The hand that feeds you, and all that.

During the first ten days of being stranded in here, Daniel had tried to convince him that so far all but one – the radio wave problem – of the properties the energy barrier had displayed were the same as those belonging to a stargate event horizon. Contrary to the opinions of pretty much everyone else, Daniel had steadfastly maintained that being able to see through into the room wasn't inconsistent with his theory, and Jack could almost follow Daniel's train of thought on why not. Hearing it explained always gave him vertigo, but after a while he was actually able to follow most of it.

Listening to Daniel and Carter's argument now, and putting it together with what he'd heard before, Jack was beginning to share Daniel's frustration over the lack of interest in pursuing that line of thinking. At the same time, though, he partly understood it. That way led to an almost certain dead end, because they'd been studying the 'gate for many years now and other than in the most general of ways they had no idea what the wormhole, including its event horizon, actually was nor the physics of how it worked. Jack understood that the science team had chosen a path they believed wasn't so predictably a route to failure, but he also understood that for Daniel, ignoring what Daniel believed to be the right direction was surely a road to nowhere.

And okay, witnessing the stone wall Daniel was currently butting his head up against, Jack better understood the source of Daniel's bouts of hopelessness. To Daniel, trying to master the energy barrier by going down either path was a lose-lose situation – unless he could come up with an entirely new and different direction, of course. That more than explained the frustration Jack had been hearing for the past month in Daniel's repeated, quiet murmurs of "they're wrong, and I have to be wrong too," while he thought Jack was sleeping and couldn't hear his misery.

But even though he now understood it, deep in his gut Jack still felt Daniel's doom and gloom were premature. They were still waiting on the Tok'ra to answer their calls, and even if the Tok'ra never did respond there was still a chance this could be figured out. After all, they knew how to turn the stargate on and off even though they didn't understand what it was and why it worked. Theoretically, that could apply to the event horizon too, if it was in fact, as Daniel contended, something separate from the wormhole... which, oh hey, would make it not an event horizon at all, he suddenly understood, and with that insight felt a rush of anger. No wonder the science-guys had rejected Daniel's theory out of hand. Years of believing that a something-or-other was actually a rose, and further years and years of study based on that conclusion, were at stake. Misplaced sanctification, was what this was.

Well, screw 'em. "The control panel," he said aloud, and turned to Daniel. "We can ignore all that other stuff now anyway. It doesn't matter, because we've got an interface."

Daniel straightened up and looked at him with interest, but turned away again with a frustrated roll of his eyes as Carter's voice carried into the room. "Well, we don't know for sure yet that's what it is, sir."

"Well then hurry the hell up and find out, Carter!" he exploded, completely losing his temper. He was bone-bitingly cold, still knee-deep in gloppy orange water, there was soaked, ruined crap everywhere, the drain had already ripped one impromptu plug to shreds and was moments away from creating yet more mess with the second one. ... it was just too much. And from the looks of him, if Daniel weren't such a mature, strong-willed guy he'd be huddled in a corner sobbing his guts out right now. Nope, Daniel wasn't a happy man in the least, and it wasn't Carter or her science-buddies who had to live shoulder-shoulder with him.

Considerably subdued, Carter simply told him, "Yes, sir. Of course." Then she added, "It looks like they're ready now."

Finally. He checked over his shoulder, and sure enough Daniel didn't even attempt to hold on to enough hurt and resentment to pretend to ignore that. As Daniel joined him in wading toward the doorway, Jack tested the dunked headset and found that it worked fine. He went to hand it over, but then had second thoughts. Daniel still looked mightily pissy.

He snatched it back as Daniel reached for it. "Be nice. You can only have it if you're going to play nice."

Daniel glared at him. "Please may I have the god damned headset, asshole-sir, before I'm tempted to do something you'll regret."

"There, see, now was that so hard?" His point made, Jack handed it over and then advised Carter, "Daniel's back on-line. You can turn on the speakers now."

Dr. Lee came over, unnecessarily explaining they had some difficulty getting their sensors placed where they wanted them in the other room, what with the two equipment dollies already in there. Jack had noticed they were having trouble but hadn't bothered mentioning running the test in any of the more distant rooms – he wanted to see what happened rather than just hear about it. Fortunately Lee and his crowd hadn't gone with that obvious and much easier choice. Jack suspected Teal'c and Carter may have insisted the test be done where he and Daniel were, but the reason didn't matter; he was just glad they hadn't. He was really, really looking forward to seeing that control panel pop into existence across the hall. Until he actually saw it with his own eyes, it wouldn't seem real.

Less than ten minutes later, the only thing he could say for certain was really real was the pain in his arm where Daniel had just accidentally smacked him. Five sprays of undiluted industrial cleaner, using an equally as industrial sprayer, and the only thing that had happened was... well, actually nothing had happened, except that ten seconds after the fifth spray Daniel's disbelieving frustration had crossed the line into inadvertent violence.

Everyone was disappointed, of course, but Jack knew Daniel was much more than simply that. He was utterly, bitterly disappointed, probably about to shrivel into nothingness or break up into tiny pieces, or maybe burst into flames. Whichever, Jack wasn't all that far behind him. "So not my fault after all," he muttered under his breath, his dashed hopes not allowing anything more than a whisper to make it past the lump in his throat.

Daniel, sinking down to sit dejectedly in the cold water at Jack's feet, looked up at him with a grudging 'I guess I'm kinda sorry I hit you' on his face which didn't make it to his lips. Probably can't trust himself to speak either, Jack thought, and plopped down to join him. They sat there shivering, watching the people outside quietly talk it over amongst themselves. They kept on casting glances over in his and Daniel's direction, the looks on their faces coming dangerously close to accusation. Jack flicked at the surface, watching the sluggish ripples he created, while Daniel made several aborted attempts at speaking. Why didn't it work? Jack asked himself, and tried to think it through but kept stalling at the question mark immediately following the word 'work'.

Teal'c sat down on the floor immediately across from them. "They are discussing attempting the experiment with various other contaminants, beginning in other rooms while they wait for the mist to be cleared from the air in this one."

Sure, that sounded like a nice idea. Good for them. Jack smacked his hand flat down on the surface in disgust, and Teal'c simply nodded, a look of both empathy and agreement on his face.

Daniel muttered, "There's something missing. We're missing something..." and they all heard his voice rumble indistinctly through the speakers outside.

"We'll get it, Daniel. We'll figure it out," Carter tried to reassure him, and no doubt everyone else, but Daniel was too disturbed and contrary to allow it.

"Oh I'm sure you will," he mumbled, emphasising the "you", seeming to purposefully take her offering in the wrong way. He took off the headset yet again and moved to stand up, no doubt to go sulking off to the nether regions of the pool.

Jack grabbed his arm and made sure he stayed down. Covering his own mike with two fingers, he told Daniel, "You know damn well she was using a royal we, which certainly includes you seeing as you're the biggest royal pain in the ass here. I thought I told you to be nice."

Uncovering the mike, he told Carter and Teal'c, "It didn't do a second dump in here at the regular time, so it looks like we may be on a fresh schedule. I want to get this place emptied out and new supplies safely laid in while we have the chance."

Teal'c rose. "I will return to the SGC and obtain all you need, O'Neill." He didn't bother waiting to hear what that was, and Jack's voice boomed through the speakers as he hollered to Teal'c's retreating backside that dry clothing should be first on the list please. That attracted everyone's attention momentarily, and Jack tried to pretend he wasn't feeling nearly as naked as he actually was.

"You know, sir, you've just brought up a good point..." Carter looked thoughtful and checked her watch. "We've got quite a while before the regularly timed shower goes on across the hall here, so that's good. But if we use other rooms that are still active, we'd need to be careful about that. It would be a waste of time and effort if halfway through a test the ceiling opens up as usual. It might be better to run our tests on empty rooms."

"Maybe that's it," Daniel suddenly blurted out, frowning deeply, and then fell silent again.

As Daniel didn't have his headset in place and showed no sings of fixing that, Jack repeated it to Carter. "He said: 'Maybe that's it', whatever that means. Do you know? I don't have any idea what that means."

He turned to Daniel to ask what it meant, but Daniel was staring down into the water, obviously lost in thought. His brow was so deeply furrowed Jack wondered if bits of brain matter would start to ooze through the wrinkle lines.

"Teal'c said your shower was about twenty minutes early?" Carter asked, and he nodded. "Well, maybe it was the cleanser after all, but the response is somehow related to timing – maybe even a function of it. Is that what you mean, Daniel? That timing relative to the default schedule might be important?"

Daniel lifted his head and looked at her, his gaze unfocused. "What?" he said, and then proved that some corner of his mind had in fact been with them all along. "Oh. Oh, yes, sort of, but not in the same way she's probably thinking, Jack. It could be that timing relative to the regular room schedule is important, but I think it's more likely to be timing relative to the state of the room that's the salient thing. But actually now that I hear it said out loud I don't think that can be the case, because –" He broke off, and then looked back down at his lap, mumbling the last of it. "Well, actually it can be the case, but just not the explanation. So never mind."

Jack shook his head, baffled, and told Carter, "He said yes and no," then turned back to Daniel. "No way I'm repeating that for you. I don't even know what you just said."

Under the force of Jack's glare, Daniel reluctantly put on his headset. "Never mind, Sam. I thought maybe I had something, but I don't. It won't explain the lack of response to the spray contaminating the air over there, so it's probably not worth discussing right now."

Daniel's reluctance to share with her obviously concerned Carter. Jack sure knew it bothered him. He poked Daniel in the arm to get him going again as Carter leaned forward, her face and voice sincere. "I'd like to hear it anyway, Daniel. Please."

"Okay, well... . This place is intelligent, Sam. We know it has senses, so to speak, and now I'm wondering if it learns."

The uncertainty on Daniel's face and his insistence on keeping his head down had Jack transferring his glare to Carter. They really couldn't afford to leave stones unturned here, especially because of a feud over something else. If she so much as twitched out a note of doubt about whatever Daniel had to say, she was going to be second on his list of people to maim once he got out of here. Daniel, of course, held first place; it'd take an annoyance of unimaginable proportions to bump him from that spot.

Daniel continued on, but not nearly far enough for Jack. "I'm wondering if it reads conditions in the room and creates responsive standards, comparative with room parameters. Changes could be relative not just to sudden events, but ongoing general status."

Well, yeah, we just found out big time that it responds to changes, Jack thought, narrowing his eyes in confusion. So? Nothing they didn't already know. He wasn't sure what Daniel was getting at.

Carter looked thoughtful for a moment, and then conveniently expanded on it for him without him having to confess his ignorance. "Ah. Okay," she said. "I see. You're suggesting it might be capable of sensing and analysing conditions, and setting up operating criteria. That it then monitors room parameters and constantly adjusts to changes in order to maintain a responsive baseline? You know, that's an interesting theory. It might explain why the timing of the shower in these two rooms isn't the same, and why it's different still in most of the other rooms."

Daniel's head snapped up. "What?" he snapped out. "The other rooms... it's different? Different, how?" He looked at Jack, eyes lit with exasperation. "Were you aware of that?"

Jack was pleased to honestly say he wasn't. His arm still hurt from the first punch; he wasn't interested in courting another. Carter quickly jumped in to back that up. "I'm sorry, Daniel. A number of people have been working on the various rooms, and I wasn't aware you didn't know. It's an early piece of information, and I guess it's just one of those things that got lost in the shuffle."

"One of those things," Jack repeated. "You mean there's more stuff no one told us? What, there wasn't time in the last month to pass that and other little things on? Or were we too busy, never home when you called to tell us?"

Surprisingly, it was Daniel who softened the tone of the conversation, unexpectedly siding with Carter. "No, no. That's understandable. It's all right. She can't know everything about what we have or haven't been told, Jack," he said.

Jack felt a tad aggrieved that Daniel would think nothing of turning the glare of death onto him but was willing to let Carter off the hook with an understanding nod. Just one more thing that was going to keep Daniel top of that list.

"So what difference, then?" he asked Carter, redirecting the subject. She told them it wasn't much, just that the shower cycled at different times. At this point the only theory they had was that it might be a matter of, well, matter... some of the rooms held less equipment or simply single, inanimate objects, all which were a lot smaller and lighter than two men, so maybe didn't warrant as frequent decontamination.

They mulled it over, and when Daniel made the observation that mass and volume hardly determined how much of a potential contaminant something might be, Jack impulsively chimed in using his own farts as a handy example. It was worth a chuckle, certainly helping to relax both Carter and Daniel, so it was worth the mild embarrassment he suffered when Lee and skeletor-man turned to stare at him. Damn speakers.

Daniel and Carter went on to consider the panel and the situation with the alarm which still intermittently hooted away in the background. Jack was pleased to find he could follow the discussion without much trouble. Wonders upon wonders, he actually understood their conclusion that Daniel was right both about his own suggestion, and about being wrong. The first being right part was that his theory about the room learning what sort of conditions its residents created, and possibly being capable of reacting differently in different rooms accordingly, sounded on target. And the second being right bit – about being wrong – was because that theory was pretty much the opposite of an explanation as to why their room reacted to the spray whereas the other one, pristine in atmosphere up until that point, just sat there doing nothing in response to ten times the amount of mist.

Glad for Daniel's sake that he'd finally had the pleasure of realising he was wrong about something, Jack lost interest in the rest of the discussion. He wandered off to check out the condition of the bag stuck in the drain. Not good. They needed to get it out of there, or it was going to go the way of the first one. There was already enough of a mess to deal with; it was past time to finish doing something about it. In the time it would take for the pool to drain, they'd need to madly feed in whatever they could before the vacuum shut itself off. They simply didn't have enough room in here to replace what had been ruined, plus continually bring in food and other things that would create more space-consuming garbage.

When he heard the conversation behind him falter, he called Daniel over. He came willingly and quickly enough, shivering even worse than Jack was and looking a little blue around the edges. They quickly got to work; Teal'c would come back soon with dry clothing and hopefully something hot to drink, and Jack wanted to indulge in both while they were fresh. The way things were going, such small pleasures were probably the only things they could look forward to.

 




41 days


He'd told him. It wasn't like he hadn't been warned over and over again. Don't do that too often or it will stop working altogether, Daniel had said, but had Jack listened? Fat chance.

Daniel sat on the floor, the waterproof bag containing his much handled, dog-eared folder full of images of the panel held safe on his lap. He leaned back against the stack of mostly useless electronics equipment, and tried, unsuccessfully, to dredge up some sympathy as he watched Jack flap around in a huff. The spray bottle dangled from Jack's hand, the liquid inside sloshing around as Jack paced back and forth muttering expletives under his breath. He was pretty angry, all right, but Daniel wasn't fussed; as long as Jack was moving around and expressing himself everything was all right. The time to start worrying and get the hell out of the way was when Jack went still and silent. Daniel didn't like that Jack at all, that quiet, intense, dangerous Jack. This one, though, stomping about and swearing – this one was fine.

Jack suddenly whirled and stepped over to hang menacingly above Daniel. "Oh, shall I get you a magazine to flip through? Something to buff your nails with?"

What? Daniel looked up at him, puzzled, and Jack took a step back and placed his hands, bottle and all, on his hips. "To complete your perfect picture of indifference, Daniel," he snarked. "Or are you trying out another new 'I told you so' pose – nonchalant boredom this time?"

Daniel sighed. "Oh, please. Neither." He knew it was a lie even as he said it, though, because he most certainly had been sitting here thinking just that. But, wait just a minute... what was that "another" crack supposed to mean? Bristling at its implication, Daniel clambered to his feet and defensively tried to turn it around to his own advantage. "Oh, good, so you're finally admitting you have a habit of not listening and doing stupid things."

They stood nose to nose, staring eye to eye for a moment, and then the nozzle end of the spray bottle banged him in the chest with each word Jack spit out, "Yes, Daniel, not listening..." The bottle disappeared somewhere off to the left as Jack flung it away and replaced it with a finger. "Definitely not listening to you." With a world of emphasis on the last word, Jack gave him one last poke and backed off.

He didn't go away nor stop glaring, though, and Daniel stood there suddenly feeling uncertain as to what to do or say next. He wanted to push back, to vent his own frustration, but this was such a small thing, not worth risking a prolonged mutual sulk. So instead he forced out one of the most insincere apologies he'd ever heard come out of his own mouth.

"No, you aren't." Jack wasn't buying it. "You're not sorry in the least."

"You're right. I'm not," he admitted, raising his chin in what he knew was a pitifully transparent show of false defiance.

"Hah!" Jack triumphantly shoved his shoulder. "So you admit I am right about some things."

Oh drat. Lost that one. Abruptly deciding any view was better than the gloat in Jack's eyes, Daniel looked over toward the empty corridor outside. And, oh! Not so empty.

"Hormones?" Sam quipped. She grinned at them and then sobered, adding, "Other than being at each other's throats, how are you guys doing?"

Daniel beamed at her, so glad to see her that his tiff with Jack was instantly forgotten. In several giant steps both of them made it over to the equipment rack at the same time, fingers dueling for a second over the same headset as they both looked at Sam rather than what they were doing.

"Where'd she come from," Jack complained as they got their headsets on and he activated the system, the last bit of it being spoken into his mike. It boomed out of the speakers outside, which were left on all the time now so one of their babysitters, stationed down the corridor at the corner, would hear them if they needed anything.

Sam's eyes twinkled at them across the barrier. "Whatever you were arguing about, it must have been loud if it let me sneak up on you, Colonel." She already had a headset of her own in place, and reached over to turn the speakers off. "Confirm," she said, and Daniel did so by warmly saying hello to her, pleased to not hear himself twice.

Jack swatted his arm. "You're supposed to say 'confirming'. Hello, Carter. Nice to see you."

Ouch. "Will you please keep your hands to yourself?"

"Will you please stop being so damned annoying that I want to reach out and..."

Sam cleared her throat. "Guys," was all she said, and they both stopped. Daniel looked at his feet, so was unable to see if Jack felt as foolish as he did to have been so childish in front of Sam.

Evidently not, as after a couple of seconds of silence Jack muttered, "He started it."

What?! Daniel's head jerked up and he almost, almost, almost blurted out an indignant denial. He bit his tongue on the words, though, when he saw Jack wasn't standing there sullen nor smirking, but in fact was gently smiling at him. "He told me not to try forcing the shower on again, and he was right," Jack said. "So there, see? His fault."

"Yes, I can see that," Sam nodded, clearly amused. "So it's learned to ignore the spray, huh? Teal'c said the last response was really delayed; we figured that's probably what was happening."

"No probably about it," Daniel said, leaning away from Jack just in case another swat might be coming his way. It hadn't happened very often, but every once in a while, for better or for worse, Jack got a little tactile; today was one of those fortunately rare days when it definitely wasn't a good thing.

"We got rid of a lot of the old stuff with those extra washes, didn't we?" Jack stuck up for himself, as he'd done every time Daniel had warned him what would happen. "Look, you can't deny it's much better all around if we control when the drain's active."

Daniel cupped his mouth for a second, as if wanting to whisper in confidence. "If he asks you for something stronger, feel free to string him along with false promises to keep him happy, but for god's sake don't give it to him."

"I don't know, Daniel. Maybe it's not a bad idea..."

"No, Sam; it's a terrible idea. Stimulating an extra shower once in a while if garbage starts piling up would be just fine, but you haven't been here – trust me, a bored Jack and noxious substances is a bad combination." He ignored the petulant look Jack gave him, and reasonably added, "But the main thing is that it learns, and as it learns it changes its response, so there's no predictability anyway. All this does is upset the regular schedule and prevent us from getting a handle on it."

"Don't you just hate the way he's right all the time, sir?" she teased, then her expression became more solemn and she gestured to the floor, indicating they should sit with her.

Daniel wasn't too sure he liked that particular tease, but pushed it away with the knowledge she hadn't meant anything by it. This was Sam, not Jack; she didn't do gibes. He wondered what was up, but although she had sobered she didn't look gravely serious, so he didn't ask. He could wait; she'd get to it. Maybe if they didn't come right out and ask she wouldn't come right out and spill it, and they'd have her company that little bit longer.

So there was silence as they all sat, the only noise Jack's grunt when his knees cracked loudly as he tried to wrap himself into a cross-legged position. He gave up, lying on his side instead, and Daniel took a moment to go grab a pillow for under Jack's elbow.

He put two fingers over his mike and denied everything as Jack raised an eyebrow at his thoughtfulness. "Don't thank me. I didn't do it for you; I'm just stalling."

"I'm good with that." Jack nodded in agreement, and then amiably put his own spin on it. "I don't want to be left alone with you any longer than you want to be left alone with me."

"Well, guys, actually that's why I haven't made it over here for the last couple of days..." Jack hadn't bothered to cover his mike, and while Sam's words were on the cryptic side it was obvious to Daniel she was responding directly to Jack's comment. His heart rate picked up a bit at the thought maybe there'd been some positive progress toward getting them out of here, however virtually impossible he knew that to be.

"I've come to let you know your peace and quiet... well, your quiet anyway," she amended, "is about to be invaded again."

"That's fine. We'll bring out the good dishes. And for your information, we have peace, Carter," Jack corrected. "Well, sometimes. When he's not being overly annoying."

"Yes, sir," she smiled, favouring Daniel with what he thought was a fond look. Might have just been amusement, though. Or mild indigestion. He could well be a bit off in reading normal social and emotional non-verbal behaviour, what with having been trapped alone with Jack for forty-one days straight.

"How's Teal'c?" Daniel asked, more to divert Jack than because he was concerned about Teal'c's welfare. After all, he'd just left them not even six hours ago.

Sam bit her lip, possibly to keep from laughing. "He's fine. Probably in kel'nor'eem," she dutifully answered even though they all knew it wasn't necessary. "It's only 0540 hours, and he didn't get back until late."

Daniel winced at the reminder of how far off Earth-time they'd drifted. It was the rough equivalent of mid-afternoon in his and Jack's day right now. If the company Sam had indicated they'd soon be getting were to stay through an SGC working day, Teal'c might be the only one of the three of them on their schedule able to get a decent amount of rest.

"I need to tell you something about the rabbit panel."

Both he and Jack jerked upright at that, their mutual exclamations of "What?" and "Has there been some progress?" overlapping. Then, sudden worry overriding his self-interest, Daniel blurted out, "Are they all right?" and Jack smacked him again. He quickly returned to his senses, figuring that yeah, this time he probably deserved it, so he didn't complain.

Ten days ago Daniel, Jack, Sam, and one of the scientists had jointly realised, sadly a full three days after their panel had popped up – sadly, because it didn't say much for everyone's combined intelligence that it had taken that long – that there was in fact one very big glaring difference in the condition of their room and the one across the hall... thus the rabbit room. They'd tried a rat, even though Daniel and Jack had warned them they might want to re-think that. Once the doomed thing had met its predictably violent end, the scientists had settled on nice big, sure-footed rabbits. Four of them, just in case of attrition.

After the next shower had been said and done and survived by all, the rabbit room had been followed by the rabbit room spray cleanser. That immediately, apparently most gratifyingly for the scientists in attendance, had been followed by a redux of the downpour and the appearance of the rabbit panel.

"Who cares about the damn rabbits," Jack griped at him and then turned back to Sam. "Is this a good something, bad something, or I won't give a rat's ass when I hear it something?"

"Well, that's a matter of point of view, Colonel. As you know, we had been working on a two-pronged approach: firstly, continuing with our earlier research and analysis of the EM emissions data we've collected, to hopefully learn how the energy field works; and, secondly, cautiously manipulating the panel and seeing what effect, if any, that had on the barrier or conditions inside the room."

Impatiently, Jack tried to speed her along a bit. "Don't need a refresher course, Carter, we need an update. Have they found any more working combinations on the panel?"

"Yes and no," she hedged, and the reluctance Daniel heard in her voice sparked a realisation that something she had just said sounded a bit off. He held up one finger for silence as he dredged up her words, and yes, there it was: she'd said "we had been working on"...

"Wait. What do you mean? They didn't stop trying, did they?" he asked her, suspicion turning to certainty even before he saw her grimace at the directness of his question. He clutched his bagged folder of images to his chest, so disappointed he felt vaguely nauseated. "Oh, please. Please tell me they haven't abandoned it."

"Well, again, yes and no," she said, and as Jack rolled over onto his back and covered his face with both hands, she leaned forward earnestly and gave them more. "No, guys... it's not as bad as it sounds. I doubt it's been abandoned; they just set it aside for now. I'm not saying I agree with them, but I think it'll be all right. I'm pretty sure I've got a good enough handle on it that I can still make headway despite what they're doing. I can't promise it's going to lead directly to a way out, because I'm still working on sorting it out, but it's entirely possible it –"

"What, Carter!" Jack roared, throwing his hands out from his face in a gesture of frustrated impatience. "It, it, it. What is 'it'? Either tell us what's up, or go away."

Discomfited by an apparent 'me versus them' theme he was picking up on, Daniel sat quietly and listened to her start doing exactly what Jack had said he didn't want – giving them a recap. The tendency to relieve anxiety by seeking refuge in known facts was one Daniel was all too familiar with, and, more than anything else had to this point, that she was doing it now clinched it for him: there was something important lurking, something she was unsure how to tell them about.

She used the excuse she had lost track of what they already knew, so it couldn't hurt to go over it again in case something had inadvertently been left out. He and Jack shared a glance at that, both of them realising damn well things had been left out. Neither of them called her on it, though, now aware of just how much discomfort she was trying to hide. They just listened, and waited for the other shoe to drop.

They sat through a re-telling of the last thirteen days since the panel had appeared – the discovery that the tiny lines responded to the application of heat within a certain narrow range, and then how, after tedious days of trying and trying to get some sort of response, it had been incontrovertibly confirmed: the thing was indeed a control panel. She reminded them that several combinations of lines had resulted in a few changes inside the room, the most visibly significant of which being a change in lighting.

"Yes, and that's why they can't abandon it now, Sam," Daniel urged her to understand. "I need more than that, much more, if I'm ever going to be able to decipher these symbols. They have to keep testing it, keep looking for other combinations that result in changes, so I can at least establish some corollaries."

She already understood. "I know. Believe me, I do. But they've decided there are too many risks in essentially blindly playing with it. Even now, after days and days of trying, they still don't know how to negate the change they made. The rabbits aren't feeding very well under the constantly extremely bright lighting. They're weakening, and might not last much longer."

"More where they came from," Jack simply said.

"It's not the rabbits they're worried about, sir, so much as the usefulness of the two rooms set up for carrying out tests involving live subjects. A funding request for more equipment has been turned down, so they can't just start again in a new room."

"Are you noticing any changes in the enviroment independent of your interference, as they decline?" Daniel asked, and Sam looked startled by the question. She stared at him, wide-eyed, and he realised they'd abandoned not only the panel but that entire room. Ridiculously short-sighted, but as it looked like she was just figuring that out right now for herself, he was gentle as he let her off the hook.

"Maybe it'd be a good idea to have someone continue monitoring the room?" he suggested, knowing she'd understand he was telling her, without coming right out and saying it, that he was well aware of what she hadn't wanted to say. Not only had they stopped directly fiddling with the panel, they had in fact abandoned the site entirely, in favour of toying with Plan A back at the SGC. But even that wasn't the piece of missing information she was hesitant about, he decided, watching her closely.

Clearly, Jack also realised there was more to come. "What else?" he prompted. "Spit it out, Carter."

"Yes, sir. Well, I'm not sure anyone told you about what happened while they were trying to reset the lighting..." When they both shook their heads, she grimaced and filled them in on the loss of one of the rabbits to a beam of energy that had shot from the ceiling in response to a different set of symbols. Oh, and had they been told about the loss of the drain vacuum with a previous trial stab in the dark? No?

"So they used a zat to eliminate the carcass," she explained. "They fired multiple shots through the barrier, hoping none of them would hit the near wall, until they had three direct hits. They were worried that without the active suction the room would flood if the next shower washed it down on top of the drain."

The only saving grace to her continued skirting of the real concern was, to her credit, that she seemed every bit as uncomfortable with withholding information as Daniel felt she ought to be. She was fidgeting now, becoming restless as it came closer to the time she'd have nothing else left to spill other than what was bothering her the most. Even as exasperated as he was growing, Daniel's heart went out to her. He wouldn't want to be in her position, sitting out there helplessly looking in, seeing friends caged like this. Mind you, he didn't much like helplessly sitting in here looking out, either.

He guessed they were all in much the same boat, really, inside or out. They were all trapped somewhere they didn't want to be. That in mind, he smiled at Sam and told her, "We know there's something in particular you're having trouble with, Sam. It's okay; we're big boys and whatever it is we'll take it in stride."

"Who are you trying to kid?" Jack sounded incredulous, but Daniel knew it was just an act. Or at least he was eighty percent certain it was. "Sure, I will, but you? More likely, you'll have a tantrum and go off into a corner to sulk for three days." Okay, seventy percent sure, then. Sixty-five?

Sam wasn't amused. If anything, she was closer to looking like she wanted to get up and leave rather than tell them what was on her mind. She hemmed and hawed a moment, and then admitted, "There's been a change with the research team. There were some differences of opinion on the direction that should be taken, and I'm... well, the team? I'm still on it, but I'm outside of the decision-making process now."

"You don't agree with what those twits are doing," Jack stated flatly, obviously more than ready to decide, without reservations, that the other guy was in the wrong. "They're not going to get this done, are they?"

She didn't answer, just looked away, and Daniel quietly asked her, "Do you still have access to planning meetings, progress review sessions, that sort of thing?"

"Only uninvited, if I even find out about them," she replied, and then sat up straighter, her chin held higher. "I'm still going to provide input, whether they want it or not. I'm still working on this. Nothing's going to get in the way of me trying to get you guys out of here."

"What happened, Carter?"

She looked straight at Daniel. "He did," she said quietly. "Daniel happened."

What? He looked to Jack for help, but Jack just shrugged, saying, "Yeah well, he happens a lot."

"I'm sorry, Daniel. I held a few things back from you. I was studying something, trying to put it all together, and didn't want to say anything too soon in case I was way off base. But as I kept going, I realised..." She paused, curling her lip in disgust, and then continued, "Some people objected to the direction I was moving in, and before I knew it there was this stupid, whole big brouhaha and I found myself up in front of General Hammond fighting for a directive role in the project."

That she'd lost was obvious. What that had to do with him wasn't as immediately clear, but it became crystal clear a moment later as she blurted out, "Daniel, the way we knew the panel lines were activated by heat is because they individually lit up when we got it right... and those combinations of symbols that we gave you? The ones that caused measurable changes? I only found out the other day there's something neither you nor I were told – even with the ones where there's repetition of symbols in the combination, they only work when they're entered in discrete sets of nine, each symbol taken from a different row under each of the nine columns."

Oh god. The derived-from-stargate-technology theory. He'd tried to tell them, so many times... nine columns, nine symbols, nine chevrons. But they'd already known, and ignored it anyway. Concealed it. Daniel's stomach twisted into knots as it tried to rise, sink, and contract all at the same time. He didn't know whether he was supposed to feel angry, vindicated, or devastated, but in fact didn't feel any of them. He just felt... lost. Cold, numb, faint. Nauseated.

"So I'm right?" he squeaked, struggling to swallow the bile that rose into his throat. He hadn't realised until just this very moment how much surreptitious hope he had been carrying around, locked deep inside. Its death was shocking.

Jack groaned loudly. "Just don't expect me to pick out a china pattern," he murmured, glancing at Daniel, and then asked Sam, "You sure about this?"

Daniel thought she looked aghast, but that may have been him projecting. Whatever was behind the look on her face, it was mirrored in her voice as she exclaimed, "Oh, no, no, guys... don't jump to conclusions, okay? This isn't over, not by a long shot. Actually, maybe just the opposite, if I can manage to sneak in some quality time with one of the barriers."

She shifted up onto her knees, leaning forward as she quickly tried to counter their fears. "Thanks to one of Daniel's ideas in particular, I'm finally on the verge of making sense of all the data we've collected and everything we've observed. Daniel, your theory just may well provide the understanding that gets you out."

"How?" Daniel asked, confused. "We're decades away from unravelling the stargate. How can this being derived from stargate technology help us to... to..."

"To kill it." Jack finished off, climbing to his feet. "Screw understanding it beyond that. Just turn it off."

"I hope to, sir." Sam stood up as well, leaving Daniel sitting alone on the floor trying to figure out what there was in his theory to feel so positive about. Could he be both right and wrong at the same time with it? Right in putting the observations together and coming to his conclusion about the basis for energy field, but wrong about its implications? God, he was all twisted up.

"The only problem is that my access to the live subjects rooms has been cut off, so I can't test my theories until I can find a way in there. But I'm working on that. What I want to do is –"

She was interrupted as her comm came to life, Matthews from SG5 advising her everyone had arrived. From the sound of it, SG5 was replacing their current lot of babysitters. Within seconds of Sam signing off, there was a noise in the corridor behind her and she turned to dismiss the current bored team, to be relieved of duty on their way to the 'gate. She turned back, biting her lip, and Daniel climbed to his feet at the urgency in her voice as she said, "We don't have much time, guys. Before they get here, I need to fill you in on one more thing."

Daniel wasn't sure he could take any more news. He was still having trouble getting his head around what he'd heard so far. She'd said she was on the verge of understanding, thanks to one of his ideas in particular; well, he hadn't a clue what she was referring to, and trying to figure it out was tying him in knots. His central theory – that the barrier was derived from stargate technology, and what they'd always loosely referred to as an event horizon might not be that at all, but instead a door overtop of the actual wormhole event horizon – was a result of putting together a number of observations, and he was mystified as to which one of them could possibly spark such optimism.

He couldn't just come right out and ask, though, because she was speaking non-stop now. From her tone of voice it all sounded very important, and – oh, oops. With a mental start, he realised he hadn't been listening. He'd been hearing her voice under his thoughts, and while he was aware of enough to realise it was all somewhat technical, he had no idea what she was saying. That's okay, though. Jack could fill him in... . Oh please. What was he thinking? Jack fill him in on anything even remotely technical?

He brought his full attention around to her just as she was completing an explanation. "...for the communication problem. That's why they think they need you guys. To transmit the frequency from inside for them." Distant noises from down the corridor hastened her speech even more. "And while they're here, doing that, I'm hoping I can leave unnoticed and head off to one of the other rooms on my own."

"Why they think they need us...?" Jack repeated, turning it into a question, which Sam answered with a wry shake of her head.

Okay, so she didn't think whatever they were needed for had a hope in hell of working, but just what that was Daniel hadn't a clue. He supposed he'd find out soon enough, though, because Major Matthew's voice squirted out of Sam's comm, advising her of an imminent invasion, and right on the heels of that came the sound of a shout from down the way. Sam cringed slightly and muttered, "They're here," to him and Jack.

As she turned to face down the corridor, a faint smile of false welcome plastered on her face, Jack tugged at Daniel's sleeve, drawing him back from the doorway. He covered his mike and whispered, "So, you got all that, right?"

Oh boy. "As much as you, apparently," Daniel whispered back. Bodies suddenly filled the doorway, Teal'c plus four scientists laden with gear moving to deposit their loads under the direction of the tall, thin man he and Jack had never been introduced to. Daniel stepped back as Jack rolled his eyes and gave him a light smack on the arm. "What? You're allowed to get distracted, but I'm not?" Daniel protested, and moved toward the opening to watch.

Jack followed him, though, pulling him close to whisper into his ear so the microphone on Daniel's headset was less likely to pick up the words. "Not the point. Look, I'm thinking there's got to be something we can do, but I'm not sure what. So did you get what she said, or not?"

Oh. Daniel let the expression on his face answer Jack's question – no, he had no idea – and just nodded stupidly when Jack said, "Oh, never mind," and mumbled something about having to play it by ear.

Then Jack giggled under his breath. "Get it?" he prodded Daniel on the shoulder. "Play it by ear?"

Yeah, sure. Play it by ear, very funny. Completely stymied, Daniel gave up trying to figure it out and redirected his attention to Sam and Teal'c, who were standing off to one side of the doorway, leaning in toward one another in private conversation. They separated as the tall scientist approached Sam, and Daniel was surprised to see that she didn't even bother to hide her dislike for the man. If anything, she bristled with antagonism just at the sight of him.

Teal'c, on the other hand, his face impassive, simply stepped calmly between them, forcing the man to address her around his bulk. Daniel couldn't hear what was actually said, but there was a definite non-verbal 'don't get in the way' message being levelled in Sam's direction, and he felt his own hackles go up in response.

"Okay, we're all... uh, online," Dr. Lee's voice bumbled into focus. "No, wait..." Daniel looked over to see Lee bend over and fiddle with the infrared receiver. "Uh, okay. Now," Lee looked up toward him and Jack, and offered them a small, rather silly looking two-fingered wave. "We'll all be able to hear you now."

"Yeah?" Jack said, and his voice boomed out of the speakers. Upon hearing himself, he nodded with obvious satisfaction, then crossed his arms over his chest and simply, but oh so decisively, added, "No."

Lee's face creased with confusion. "No?" he repeated inanely. "Well, actually, yes, Colonel. Can't you hear that? I can hear that." He turned to the two people beside him, who were unpacking what Daniel thought looked like an oscilloscope. "You can hear him, can't you?"

Daniel cleared his throat, bringing his hand up to rub his cheek, partly out of trepidation and partly out of embarrassment for Lee, who was so clueless it was near pitiful. Jack was calmly staring across the barrier, his entire bearing screaming insolence to the point only a blind man wouldn't see it.

Apparently Dr. Lee was in fact a blind man, because he fatuously gazed back for a moment, before turning to the rest of the group outside. "You can all hear him, right? Major Carter? Mr. Teal'c?"

Was Sam...? Yes, yes she was. Completely confused, Daniel transferred his hand from his face to the top of his head, fingers clenched in his hair. Sam was doing her level best to keep a straight face, but Daniel could see the laughter sneaking out in the twitch of her lips and spark in her eyes. He followed her gaze to find it securely locked with Jack's. He read the unspoken message that passed between them: "I get it, sir, and yes okay, I like it, keep it up"; plus, "hell, Carter, I haven't a clue, but okay, if you say so".

"No," Jack repeated, more strongly. "Whatever you want from us, the answer is no."

Daniel sidled toward Jack as the tall man, who was obviously in charge, gave Sam a withering look and then turned toward the two beside Lee, beckoning to them to bring the 'scope and a large box forward. "We simply want you to set up these devices for us, Colonel," he smoothly told Jack without even looking at him.

"Yeah? What for?" Jack asked, an edge to his voice that Daniel read as plainly saying no one other than himself had the right to sneer at his team members, thank you very much, so go screw yourself.

"Simply put, we are working on eliminating the obstacle to direct communication," was the terse, patronising-sounding reply.

Jack twisted one way and then the other, as if looking for something. "Obstacle? I don't see any obstacle. Daniel? You see an obstacle?"

Ignoring the impatient look the scientist shot at both of them, Daniel turned his back on the doorway and mouthed to Jack, leave me out of this, but Jack was well into being obstructive now and clearly enjoying it. "Just playing it by ear," he muttered, covering his mike for the moment. "Tell me, honestly now, if these jerks get it right – not that they will – do you really want every sound we make to be audible out there? Every conversation, argument, word, snore, piss, burp, fart..."

Daniel interrupted the flow with a hand in front of Jack's mouth. Yeah, yeah he got it, and no... hell no, he didn't like that idea at all. So that's part of what Sam had told them, that he'd missed. The scientists had come to play around with trying to overcome whatever was interfering with sound transmission from inside to outside. He suddenly got the lame joke, and was ashamed to find a giggle rising in his throat. Play it by ear – it wasn't even worth a smile, never mind a laugh, but here he was snorting away. He'd obviously been in here way, way too long.

He turned to the doorway, and was amused to hear Jack's voice in complete synch with his own, both of them firmly stating, "No," at the exact same time. "You probably don't want to send that stuff in here," Daniel added, pointing to the equipment being readied. "You'll just be wasting it."

"Try the rabbits," Jack suggested. "They're probably a lot lonelier than we are for two-way conversation."

What followed wasn't all that pretty, and after just a few seconds Daniel turned away from it in disgust. It wasn't the first time he'd experienced academics and researchers stooping to airing their professional differences publicly in order to manipulate a situation, but familiarity didn't equate to tolerance. That was especially so now, with it being his friend on the firing line. Sam could take care of herself, though, and she did so, refusing to rise to the bait. She just kept asserting this had nothing to do with her, truthfully saying their decision was just as much a surprise to her as to everyone else. And Jack just kept saying no, a big fat no.

Thankfully it was over with sooner than Daniel expected, three of the four scientists gathering their equipment to head off elsewhere to play around with sound waves. He and Jack got a dark look, Sam got a promise that General Hammond would hear of this, and then they were gone, Teal'c trailing behind to see them off. Sam looked as if she didn't know whether to cry or laugh. She waited for a moment, watching them leave, and then mouthed a silent thank you to him and Jack. Daniel acknowledged it with a nod, not sure if it was all right to speak aloud or if they were still close enough to hear him through the speakers.

Dr. Lee hadn't gone with them. He stood there fidgeting slightly, looking like he was waiting for something. Jack waved goodbye to him, saying, "You too. Permission granted. You can go now."

Permission wasn't what he was waiting on, obviously. Lee stood there silently for another few seconds, his gaze pinned in the direction the others had gone. Then he glanced quickly at Daniel and Jack, and bent to open a pack lying at his feet. "What are you still doing here?" Jack challenged him, making the appropriate gestures as he added, "Go with them. Leave. Shoo."

Not paying a whit of attention to Jack, Lee pulled a portable hard drive out and handed it to Sam. Daniel couldn't hold back a grin as Lee mildly remarked to her, "He doesn't seem to know when to stop, does he. Isn't there an off-switch?"

Daniel's grin widened as Jack turned on him, aggrieved. "Hey, what are you smirking at?"

"They're obviously in cahoots, Jack." Sam paused in hooking the hard drive up to the monitoring system outside the room and nodded, her eyes sparkling confirmation. "So, you were hoping they'd leave and you could work here with us?" he asked her.

"Actually, no," Dr. Lee answered, "You were supposed to keep them busy here, mess up your end of the deal and draw their tests out." He turned to Sam. "Wasn't that what you were going to tell them? I thought that's what..."

"She didn't get to that part," Jack interrupted.

Sam slowly straightened up, frowning. "Actually, I did, sir." She stared at both of them, realisation dawning. "You weren't paying attention. I went through all that, and you weren't even listening."

"Hey. I listened. I did good; I got more of it than I usually would have. Berate him, not me," Jack indicated Daniel.

Daniel winced, silently admitting his guilt as she looked right at him. Chastened, he looked away from her and scuffed at the floor, slightly mollified to see out of the corner of his eye that Jack was doing the same thing.

They both looked up as Sam told him, "Okay, look, I realise I'm probably not your favourite person right now, Daniel, but I hope we can get past that. We probably don't have very much time before they get frustrated with a lack of progress and drift back over here."

"No," he protested. "I was just... it just..." He stumbled around for some way to explain that his inattention wasn't because he was angry with her, but because he was irretrievably stuck in the mud. He gave up after a few stammers, instead relying on the confusion he knew was oozing out of every pore, for all to see, to convince her the problem was with him, not her. "We're okay," he told her. "I'm listening, Sam. Just tell me what you want me to do."

She smiled grimly. "Just be here with me, Daniel, and let me bounce things off you. I've learned my lesson, guys. Sometimes situations aren't as complex as we want to make them, or at least not in the way we make them. This thing," she waved a hand to indicate the room they were in, "is complex all right, but I'm ninety-nine percent certain now that it's not complex in the way we were thinking. And in an oblique sort of way, that realisation opens up the possibility the impact of the 'gate event horizon on general relativity and quantum mechanics theory might not be as complex as we want it to be either."

Dr. Lee, doing something with the equipment behind her, straightened up. "It's all ready to go."

As Sam turned to the laptop hooked up to the equipment and began entering whatever she was entering, Jack muttered to Daniel, "Do you have any idea what she just said?"

Daniel nodded, not even needing to think it over. "She said she thinks they've been chasing the wrong horse down the wrong track with this place. And if they've done that, then maybe they've been doing the same thing with trying to reconcile the event horizon with existing theory."

"Screw stargate theory, unless it can get us out of here," Jack complained. "I want to hear about this horse-race, not that one. I want to go home." Daniel heart ached at the sound of that. He wanted to go home too.

"Okay, well, the energy readings we got from stimulating the barrier are very complex. The data includes all sorts of EM radiation wavelengths," Sam explained, indicating to Dr. Lee he should take her place at the laptop. "The dark horse they're chasing is that turning off the barrier mandates setting up cancellation waves for a vastly convoluted bundle of electromagnetic frequencies. A huge, quite likely impossible task."

"But it doesn't?" Daniel asked hopefully.

"No, we don't think so," Dr. Lee answered from where he crouched in front of the equipment. "We think some of that data doesn't actually represent a unified energy field, the barrier itself, at all. So what we have to do is identify which frequencies actually do what, and..." He punched keys as he spoke, and ended both his comment and the data entry with a flourish, "...viola!"

Viola? Daniel thought sorting out the EM data was what they'd been trying to do all along, so this really didn't help resolve his confusion in the least. He didn't ask, though, as it was clear Sam and Dr. Lee were ready to test something out, and he didn't want to delay things with stupid questions.

"We've been quietly doing unapproved testing in one of the other rooms whenever we got a chance, which unfortunately wasn't nearly frequent enough. More by chance than anything else, we had a huge breakthrough four days ago. Since then, we've been working day and night in the lab, and we're pretty sure we've sorted out most of them," Sam said. "We need you to help us confirm a few things, and if they work out then all that'd be left is to sort through the rest for the ones which represent the barrier itself."

"Carter," Jack growled. "So help me god, if you tell me that means what I think it means..."

"Nothing means anything until it's confirmed, sir."

Teal'c returned at that moment, forestalling any reply Jack might have wanted to make. Daniel was glad of that, because as far as he was concerned there wasn't any point in anyone voicing the possibility they may have been able to turn off the barrier weeks ago, had the scientists not relied on a wrong conclusion. Hindsight was twenty-twenty and all that, and oh, who the hell was he trying to kid here? If Sam and Lee's illicit work ended in a solution, proving that to be the case, well, he wasn't a saint by any means and doubted his behaviour toward the science team would be anything even near approaching civil.

Teal'c leisurely strolled to the doorway. "They will be occupied elsewhere for quite some time," he advised. "They are currently working to resolve an unexpected problem with their equipment. Plus, should they attempt to return here, Major Matthews will discover that one of his men has accidentally soiled the corridor with a contaminant which must be cleaned up before anyone may pass."

Daniel wasn't going to ask, and luckily Jack didn't ask either. The news that they probably had more time than she'd expected seemed to cheer Sam considerably, and she beamed at Teal'c, thanking him for his help. Then she turned to Lee. "Hit it," she told him.

"Already have, Major. Try tossing something that doesn't ordinarily bounce at the east wall, Colonel," Lee advised, pointing to Daniel's left.

Daniel lunged for the bag containing his folder of images as it was plucked from his grip. He managed to grab it back just in time to prevent Jack hurling it at the wall, and quickly took off his watch, offering that instead. "No, that's breakable," Jack told him, and bent over, quickly removed and balled up one of his socks. He put some oomph into it, and as the sock hit the wall it stimulated the familiar deep blue crackle. Rather than rebounding back at them, though, it simply slid unceremoniously down the wall to the floor.

"Holy crap," Jack muttered. He took off his other sock and tried it again, with the same result.

Daniel turned to Sam and Lee, knowing his mouth was hanging open but powerless to close it. They were patiently standing there, smiling with calm assurance; it was clear they'd known that would happen. "You knew," Daniel found himself unnecessarily croaking out. "This was the chance breakthough, in the other room. What else? What else can you do with it?" God, something about this felt so familiar; there was something... .

"How did you know to try that?" Jack asked them, and Daniel suddenly knew the answer before Sam even opened her mouth. Oh geez, he'd been so stupid.

"Way back at the beginning, Daniel came up with the lynchpin." She looked at Daniel apologetically. "We weren't listening, though. Sir? Can you approach that wall, and let us know if you still feel that tingle you guys described? Be careful." The answer was yes, Jack moving close to the wall only to quickly back up with a look of distaste on his face.

"Layers," Daniel marvelled aloud. "It's in layers. Not in the walls, or applied to the material the walls are made of, but layered overtop of them." A flash of visual memory took him back to the moment the thought of the barrier being separate from the walls had first hit him – arguing with everyone about the wisdom of firing an energy bolt into the room, mention of the water jets opening up in the ceiling sparking the realisation the energy field must be independent of the surface itself. But he'd only had it half-right, hadn't he? He'd missed a big, massively important chunk that Sam and Dr. Lee had fortunately been smart enough to catch.

Sam clearly saw understanding hit him, and grinned widely. "Yeah. Layers; it's like an onion," she confirmed. "You were right about the first part, and when we finally realised we should have been listening to what you were suggesting instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, we combined that observation with all the wavelengths data and the rest just jumped right out at us."

"There was bathwater?" Jack facetiously asked.

"It was orange. Very unpleasant," Teal'c deadpanned, and then got real. "The entirety of Daniel Jackson's observations were discarded on the most flimsy of bases, when several of his ideas have indeed proven to be of merit."

Dr. Lee was fussing with the laptop and data sensors, but looked up at that. "Oh, well, I don't think it's entirely fair to refer to the current body of knowledge in quantum theory, general relativity, and Theoretical Physics as 'flimsy', Mr. Teal'c."

Daniel flinched at that, knowing there'd been times since becoming trapped in here that he'd blatantly overstepped his area of expertise by, oh, at least several hundred thousand light years at least. "Really dirty bathwater, Jack," he willingly acceded. "Sam, I get that it was the functional similarity of the panel to the way a DHD works that caught your attention... but if accepted principles in Theoretical Physics say the barrier can't be an altered form of our stargate event horizon, then how are any of my ideas in the least bit helpful?"

"You just need to rephrase that a bit, Daniel, to go back to where you started out," she told him. "Try this, see if it sounds familiar: if this barrier shares too many functional properties with what we call a stargate event horizon to ignore, then who's to say it can't be an altered form of that thing we're calling an event horizon."

There was a big, silent "but" in there, and he said it for her. "But that's neither here nor there, is it?" He got this now: none of that really, in the end, mattered a whole lot when it came to this place.

Sam winced slightly, obviously reluctant, but then told him the bald truth. "No, it's not," she admitted, smiling gently at him. "Your observations about similarities to the 'gate are good ones; in fact, for me they prompt all sorts of interesting questions. But here, with solving this puzzle, they go nowhere. Their main value is that once I eventually seriously considered them, I discovered they were cogent enough to force me to look at alternatives to what we'd been doing. And when I thought over the various things you'd mentioned, I found the biggest clue had been right there all along. Layers."

Dr. Lee interrupted, telling Jack to try it on the back wall. He did, using a spare t-shirt, but the wadded-up shirt came flying back at him like no shirt had any right to do. The satisfied look on Sam's face didn't change, though; it was obvious she'd expected that. In a flash, Daniel understood that each wall was protected separately. She smiled gently at him, turned to examine what Lee was doing, and then told Jack to try tossing the shirt at the back wall again.

This time it flattened as it hit and fell normally, one arm skidding down the wall, prompting not only a show of blue crackles but also a case of abrupt-onset wobbly-knees syndrome. Daniel had to sit down. She'd done it, a shaky voice in his head told him. She'd figured out how to master this thing. God, maybe they would be going home after all.

Jack didn't have any such problem with his legs, and hopped around with both arms above his head for a moment. But hen he stopped, frowned, and said, "Okay, so what about the blue stuff? Why it still there?"

There was silence as Sam and Lee worked at the computer, so Teal'c answered for them. "Major Carter believes the repelling force is separate from the actual barrier. Her work on the other room was interrupted before that could be fully tested out."

"And we're just about to test it here, Teal'c," she said, approaching the doorway. She stuck a pad of paper into the energy field, letting it sit halfway through, and then told them to toss more stuff around in there, this time at the remaining wall and the doorway, and the ceiling too.

Five rebound-free minutes later, Daniel was joined on the floor by Jack. "This is great," Jack grinned, putting an arm around him and squeezing his shoulders. "We'll be home by dinnertime."

Daniel glanced at the pad still stuck five feet in the air in the doorway. "I don't think it'll be quite that soon. They've still got a lot to sort out." He watched Sam and Lee hard at it, crouched in front of the laptop and sensors, their heads together as they alternately talked, typed, concentrated, and frowned their way through their work.

"Spoilsport." Still with an arm around him, Jack bumped against Daniel. "However long it takes, I'll sure be glad to leave you in my dust."

Daniel nudged back. "D'accord."

"I'm thinking separate vacations, this year," Jack seriously commented.

Daniel ducked his head, trying to hide a smile. He couldn't remember if any of them had taken an actual vacation in the last three years, never mind together. Sam, maybe? He sure knew he hadn't. But he was due one now, that was for sure. Somewhere with a hotel suite large enough to play world cup soccer in, and a bathroom big enough that he could spin in a circle with his arms open wide without fear of hitting anything. Someplace with big, open, outdoor spaces where you could see forever off into the distance.

Jack's arm dropped away and they sat in silence for a while, watching Teal'c pace while Sam and Lee did their thing. As time dragged on, they eventually broke out the chess set and halfheartedly played a few games, neither of them able to concentrate on their moves nor caring about the outcome. They put it aside partway through the third game, and settled for just sitting side by side on the floor, waiting. Time moving so slowly it seemed to be mocking him, a couple of hours passed during every minute of which a silent war between doubt and hope was waged in Daniel's mind.

Eventually, it occurred to him to wonder just how long they'd be left alone by the others... if there'd be time for Sam to figure out the rest of it before they returned. Or if it'd take much longer than that. Days, or weeks, even. Or maybe longer. After all, there was still quite a bit left to sort out before all the individual layered elements could be identified and neutralised: the blue crackles; the tingle-zappy thing; the whatever held stuff up in the air like that. It wasn't necessarily as straightforward as Jack seemed to think. Just because the rebound property was on its own layer didn't mean that each of those other things existed on a discrete, identifiable –

"Knock it off, Daniel."

What?

"The thinking. Just stop, okay? Not your job to figure this out."

He didn't bother protesting. Just nodded and tried to relax, failing miserably at that when Sam threw her hands into the air in a gesture of frustration. Jack's arm shot out again, wrapping around him to keep him in place. "Leave them alone," Jack whispered to him. "If there's something wrong, she'll let us know."

Sam looked up at them, exasperation on her face. "There's nothing wrong, guys. Just me being stupid. I entered a sequence incorrectly, that's all." She quickly repeated whatever it was she had tried, and this time when she glanced up it was with satisfaction. "Okay. We should be good to go, to run a test, in just another few seconds. We've isolated what looks to be another cohesive wave pattern, and have definitely countered it. We won't know for sure if it's actually one of the barrier properties we're interested in until you guys test it out."

Well, it wasn't the lighting, that was for sure. None of them even bothered pointing out it obviously wasn't the field still holding the pad up in the doorway, either. "Which wall?" Daniel asked as he and Jack climbed to their feet, his heart pounding as he realised the only way to test if she'd turned anything to do with the barrier off was to approach the walls. They'd been effectively conditioned by the tingle and zap not to do that, to the point even the thought of it made his gut churn with anxiety.

"We don't know," Lee answered. "The signature of the repel field for each wall has different characteristics, and the analyser hasn't finished running all the numbers yet."

Daniel bit his lip, not liking that reply much, as Jack scratched his head and turned to him. "There's never a straight answer, is there?"

That was a pretty straight answer, though – you'll have to try them all, Lee was saying – and it wasn't what Daniel wanted to hear. "I think he means there's a different signature for each wall, for each of the barrier properties, and they don't know what specific difference points to what wall."

"Pretty much, Daniel," Sam looked up from her work. "There are five slightly different patterns for each property, so that means there are a whole lot of EM signals to sort out. We know for sure, now, which wall is which with the repel feature, but we're having trouble isolating individual wall indicators from the wave pattern for this next property. Until we get the data analysis completely finished, we'll just have to counter them one bundle of wavelength at a time, and check each wall to see which one, or even if, we've affected."

Rebound, tingle, zap, crackle, forward-reverse up-down doorway thing... "How many properties do you think there are? How many cohesive bundles have you found?" Daniel asked, counting on his fingers, hoping the numbers would match up and would, in fact, in the end, be for all the right things instead of stuff that wouldn't be helpful... like, oh, gee, shutting down the air supply system or something.

"And how do you know you're even dealing with the right properties?" he added, glancing toward Jack, not wanting to explicitly mention breathable air while within striking distance. Jack jerked upright and stared at him in alarmed understanding nonetheless, though.

"Rest assured, Daniel Jackson. They are only manipulating those frequencies which manifested upon testing the energy barrier," Teal'c replied. Then, seeming pleased with himself, he added, "I have been learning."

Daniel smiled at him. Jack, however, simply muttered, "Oh, please. Only because you've been just as bored as we have."

Daniel explained to Jack, "He means they're only playing with the frequencies gathered directly from stimulation of the energy barrier, so there's less chance of mucking up something unrelated to the barrier itself."

"I heard him," Jack declared defensively, then covered up his mike and muttered, "So, she's not going to turn the place into the surface of Mars, or anything?"

God, he sure hoped not. "Let's check the walls, Jack," he suggested, only too happy to change the subject.

They didn't need any reminders to be careful, and each approached a different wall. Daniel felt the tingle from three paces and stopped dead in his tracks, disappointed. That wasn't the only thing they were looking for, though, so he took his precious folder out of the plastic bag and tossed the bag at the wall. Again, he was disappointed.

Jack had no better success with his wall, but when he moved to the back he suddenly hooted loudly. Daniel whirled around to see a huge smile on Jack's face. "No bad vibes," Jack expansively waved a hand toward the wall, and much to Daniel's alarm stepped closer to it than Daniel thought wise. He didn't try to touch it though, instead tossing a pencil at it. Snap-crackle-pop. But that was okay; two down now, and Daniel was happy with that.

It only took a short time for the tingle to be turned off on all the walls, including the doorway. The blue crackles were harder to deal with, though. Their presence indicated there was still an active layer of energy over the walls, so they carefully kept their distance. After about three more hours of sitting around waiting, Daniel had just resigned himself to settling in for the long haul when Sam and Lee suddenly raised their arms in a double high five, all smiles.

"We're pretty sure that's it, guys," she told them. The pad of paper was still stubbornly in place, but Teal'c gave it a strong nudge and there weren't any blue crackles as it slid slightly further into whatever field was holding it up there.

Jack briskly rubbed his hands together. "So what now, Carter?"

"We're having trouble figuring this one out," she waved at the pad. "The remaining waveform bundle is tremendously complex. We suspect it's applied on the outside, though, because of what it does. It's probably not necessary to counteract it."

Daniel shifted from foot to foot, eager to get on with the obvious next step. "How about we try tossing something through, then?" he suggested, his heart in his throat, already reaching for the spray bottle nearby on the floor.

Jack got there first and with one smooth movement snatched it up and sent it through the doorway. It narrowly missed hitting Teal'c's knee. They all stared at it as it hit the corridor floor and rolled a short distance until Teal'c stopped it with his foot. It took an instant for it to fully sink in that the thing had actually gone through, and then everyone was grinning, fists were pumped in victory, and Jack thumped Daniel on the back in celebration.

They both moved to the doorway, and before stepping through Daniel paused to take a backward glance at the place. Forty-two days. Not really all that long, as time went, but it had been difficult and felt like forever. Jack stopped alongside him and they looked at the cramped space, filled with things both needed and hated, and then back to each other.

Jack smiled at him. "I'll say it was fun if you do," he teased, and unnecessarily asked, "Ready to go?"

But maybe not so unnecessarily... there was a feeling of something not quite settled, something hovering at the edge of Daniel's awareness. He frowned and turned to look back at the room again, and then it hit him. "Sam, hang on," he blurted, whirling around to face her, and waved a hand toward the electronic equipment. "If we leave, and then someone comes back in, will the barrier come on again?"

Jack groaned loudly. "Who cares?" he said, grabbing Daniel by the shoulder to pull him on through the doorway. But then he stopped, his hand dropping to his side. "You're a pain in the ass, Daniel. So, what's the answer, Carter?"

She frowned. "As long as we maintain the blocking frequencies we've applied, I'm hoping it wouldn't. But it might be best not to assume anything – for all we know, field activation could involve an initial EM pulse capable of negating our interference."

Teal'c was already rummaging in a pack, and pulled out lengths of nylon rope. "I will assist you," he said, tossing the coils while holding onto his end, so that the rope snaked through the doorway.

"That won't work, Teal'c," Sam reminded him, indicating the pad stuck high in the air.

Daniel realised she was right, and at the same time Teal'c did, too, tugging experimentally on his end only to find the rope refused to move toward him. With a look of disgust at the useless length of nylon in his hand, he tossed the rest of it through. Daniel shrugged, bent and grabbed the closest coil, and pulled the now U-shaped bit lodged in the doorway all the over to his side.

He left it lying on the floor, and set about quickly gathering whatever he thought General Hammond might think was nice to get back. He tossed most of it right on out and bagged the rest, while Jack, grumbling the whole time about the delay, stacked and tied the monitors, transceivers, and other equipment, both new and waterlogged, together onto their skid with Teal'c's rope.

They were soon ready, and this time when Jack asked if he was ready to go, Daniel was happy to answer, "Let's get the hell out of here, Jack."

They pushed at the bound stack of equipment, and the heavy skid moved reluctantly up the slight slope toward the doorway. "Might be best to send it through in one smooth movement," Sam suggested, and Daniel thought that was probably a wise idea. They didn't know for sure that something going from inside to outside, stopping partway through, wouldn't get hung up like the stuff coming in did.

So they paused when the skid was just inches from the opening, and Jack coiled up the dangling part of the rope and placed it on top of the pile. Daniel readied himself against the stack, bending his knees, prepared to put his back into one last long push to freedom. Jack grinned at him, nodded, and with a great heave they did their thing. After just a couple of feet of movement, though, the skid unexpectedly leapt forward, sliding ahead far faster than he'd expected. As it outpaced his outstretched arms, Daniel abruptly fell forward into the doorway.

Out of the frying pan, but not into freedom and safety after all. No – into the fire. And it hurt.

 




Oh crap! As Jack grabbed at Daniel, yanking him backward, pain raced up both arms. Shocked at its intensity and by the massive muscle spasm that immediately cramped most of his upper body, he dropped like a stone. His hands involuntarily clamped like immovable steel on Daniel's waist, Daniel was dragged on top of him, and boy did that ever not help the situation. Everywhere Daniel's convulsing body touched him, Jack felt himself lighting up like a Christmas tree.

He was vaguely aware of shouting, and someone screaming – was that him, or Daniel? – but mostly he was just aware of the agony, and it drove him to panic. He instinctively twisted and scrambled to get out from under, and didn't even realise his hands had un-cramped and control of his own body had returned until he found himself lying on the floor, no longer in direct contact with Daniel.

"O'Neill!" Teal'c was yelling urgently, and there were unidentifiable other noises in the background. He ignored them. Daniel was hurt.

Pain fading rapidly now, he twisted onto his side toward Daniel. He wanted to touch and help, but at the same time didn't want to, afraid of that pain. Daniel wasn't in full-fledged convulsions any more, but he wasn't recovering like Jack was, either. Sprawled awkwardly, hips twisted one way and shoulders the other, Daniel's body was twitching fretfully, his outflung hand closest to Jack spastically clenching and unclenching repeatedly. And oh god, he was conscious – guttural, choked off cries, tightly closed eyes, and teeth biting down so hard onto his lip it was bleeding all pointed to Daniel's awareness of the pain.

Jack reached out with a shaking hand and tried to check Daniel's carotid, but all he felt was the minute tremours in his own fingers. There weren't any shocking sparks of pain upon touching Daniel, though, so at least that wasn't going to be an issue. He patted Daniel lightly on the cheek, surprised when he tried to say Daniel's name and nothing other than a faint croak came out of his own throat. Daniel reacted to the touch by trying to turn his head, but immediately cried out and stilled the movement. Jack didn't much like the look and sound of his breathing, so strained and irregular, but there wasn't much he could do about that or anything else Daniel was suffering, so he decided it was probably best to leave the guy be. Hopefully soon he'd be able to touch him without causing further pain.

What the hell had happened? They'd pushed the skid into the doorway, and as the rope went through with it he'd seen Teal'c snatch it up and haul mightily, to help them out. Daniel must not have been aware; he hadn't pulled up in time to avoid falling forward. And, oh hell. As Jack realised what this meant he reared up in both anger and anguish.

"Carter!" he weakly shouted, and had a lot more to say than just her name, but as he made it to his knees he saw she wasn't even out there any more, or at least not where he could see her.

Teal'c was there, though, looking every bit as pissed and shit-scared worried as Jack felt, just without the shit-scared part. "Major Carter will return momentarily, O'Neill," Teal'c told him, and then asked, "Are you injured as well?"

No, no he didn't think so. Surprised his headset was still in place, he forced out an answer. "Just got a shock of some kind off Daniel. Where'd she go?" Anger choked Jack's returning voice, and he tried his best to tamp down on it. Being openly hostile wouldn't help anyone.

"I'm right here, sir." She came skidding into view. Lots of noise followed directly behind her, so much so that he barely heard her as she anxiously asked how Daniel was.

Not so good, Jack thought as he looked down at Daniel. Still twitchy and obviously in tremendous pain, Daniel was gasping worse than a fish out of water. Calling his complexion sickeningly grey would be a courtesy. Jack tried placing a supportive hand on his shoulder but once again a spasm shook Daniel. He hastily removed his hand.

Seething, he turned back to Carter. "Fix this. We need to get him out of here. Now."

Only it wasn't just Carter there now; the tall skinny guy and his sheep were there too, all of them muttering under their breath to one another at once as they frantically attached computers and other techy-type stuff together. The guy looked right at him, and for the first time since he'd come on to the scene he looked human to Jack, the worry and regret in his face looming so large it seemed to swamp him.

Despite Jack's anger over the situation and his resentment of these people for the way they'd treated Carter, he couldn't help but acknowledge the man might not be a total prick after all. He stared at the guy, then at Carter, and all but whispered, "Figure this out. Please."

Daniel suddenly convulsed, in a single quick and violent all-over shudder accompanied by a heartbreaking cry of pain. As it ended, he just as abruptly twisted onto his side and folded in on himself, reaching out blindly, spastically, with one hand. Jack shoved his own hand into Daniel's grasp and bent over him. "What? Daniel, what can I do?" The only answer was a deep groan.

"Doctor Fraiser is on the way," Teal'c told him, and so what? Fat lot of good that'd do. There was obviously a dangerous energy field still across the doorway; it wasn't as if she'd have access to Daniel, was it?

"Why is that still there, and why is it so god damned strong?" he griped, the question aimed at anyone or anything that might be listening and have an answer. This jolt wasn't just stronger, though, it was clearly different than the others.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Carter burst out. "We thought the tangle of frequencies we had left were all one thing. We didn't realise..."

"Wait," the skinny guy interrupted. He bent over the equipment, face creased with concentration, and then straightened up. "I think you're right about that, Major. As far as I can tell with just this quick look, they are. It seems you were right about all of it, except maybe this..." He pointed to a monitor, and Carter and Lee both hunched forward to stare just as intently at it. "I'm willing to bet this wasn't actually here before you set up this interference wave..." He shifted his finger, "...or possibly that one."

"Oh my god," Carter said slowly, studying the screen.

Daniel let out another pitiful groan, squeezing Jack's hand. Jack thought he heard something that might have been his name gasped out under that groan, and bent right over, his face just inches from Daniel's. "Hey? You there?"

Yep, definitely language. "No..." came the barely audible, wheezy answer. "Hawaii."

"No, Daniel, that's not how it works," Jack whispered to him, wincing in sympathy as another spasm drove his suffering upward. "We have to get out of here before starting the separate vacations thing."

The acute spasm settled, and Jack ducked his head even lower to hear as Daniel whispered, "Speak for yourself." His chest heaved, and he managed to gasp out, "Feel sick." Jack moved just enough to get out of the potential line of fire.

"It reacted," Carter quietly said. "Our interference resulted in it setting up a new property." She lifted her head to stare at Jack, looking horrified. "Daniel's more right than we realised, Colonel. It learns and responds. When we shut down key elements of the barrier, it compensated by creating a new one. The equipment passed through, so it must be just a punitive field."

"I don't care what it is. Just turn it off," he snarled, not wanting to hear this. Beside him, Daniel cried out and then noisily, painfully, spewed his guts out onto the floor.

Feeling helpless, he rubbed Daniel's back, but stopped when Daniel shuddered and choked out, "Don't. " So he settled for sitting there feeling murderous while a hasty, murmured discussion he couldn't make out went on outside. When the expression on Teal'c's face turned black enough to surpass his own mood, Jack knew without even having heard what they'd said that the news wouldn't be good.

Carter walked right up to the barrier to talk to him, and yeah, bad news. "We don't want to mess any further with this, sir. Right now we know what we've got, what's active and what isn't. The consensus is that we should quit while we're ahead."

Daniel's hand in his was the only thing that kept Jack from flying at her in disbelief. "Quit while we're ahead?" he marvelled angrily, pointing at Daniel. "Tell me, Carter, please, fill me in; just what about this is 'ahead'?"

Her face flaming red, she stammered that no, she hadn't meant it that way, and he let it go because he already knew that. She was telling him they thought the damned room would just keep on fighting back, no matter what they tried, and yeah, that was probably just what would happen.

Daniel tugged at his hand slightly. "Not dead," Daniel wheezed into his ear when he bent over to hear.

"Not dead, yeah," Jack reassured him. "Bet it feels like that'd be preferable, though."

"No. Me. You. Not dead. May work... dead."

What? Oh. Oh crap, no. Not helpful. He told Daniel so, and as he spoke he and everyone else heard him through the speakers. "Well, if being dead gets us out, but being dead means no vacations, then I don't think that's much of a plan, Daniel."

"What happened when the rodent died?" Teal'c's voice boomed out, the question more of a threat than anything else. "If you have withheld –"

Lee hastily replied, "The barrier didn't go down. We know it didn't."

"Signals," Daniel breathed. Jack didn't know what that meant, but he dutifully reported the comment to Carter and then watched as she flushed even more red than before.

"We are so stupid," she muttered, and turned to Lee. "Go to the rabbit room. Shut down everything. Sensors, sending relays, fans, monitors – everything that gives off electricity, radiation, infrared, sound waves, any signal or active frequency of any kind. I'm really sorry, but..." she apologised, probably more to Daniel than anyone else, Jack figured. "After that's done, kill the rabbits. Teal'c, go with him."

They took off at a run. Jack understood the logic behind Daniel's suggestion – this place clearly was designed for containment, and an energy barrier would hardly be necessary to contain totally inanimate, non-emitting, dead objects that the room had previously recognised as animate, emitting, live objects. Daniel had reminded him time and time again, oh too many times for Jack to count, that the rooms were intelligent. Really, really smart. Hopefully, too smart to waste energy.

Jack didn't see what good could come of discovering whether or not the barrier would drop once everything inside stopped doing whatever it had been doing, though. The choice between freedom and death, and hopefully temporary captivity and life, was hardly a choice. A no-brainer.

"Sir, if this works, we can try life-support isolation pods. They don't need to exchange gases with the outside environment, and with any luck the room's sensors won't penetrate the shell. They might give off heat, but if killing the rabbits works then it's obvious residual heat emissions won't be an issue."

Ah, okay. So what was the no-brainer? Him, obviously. Options; this gave them new options to try. He mentally crossed his fingers, hoping the barrier dropped in the other room, preferably while the poor rabbits were still steaming. His hopes were answered just a moment later, as he heard Teal'c's voice on Carter's comm. The rabbits were dead, and... yes! Teal'c reported that one minute forty-six seconds after he'd double-zatted the last rabbit, the energy barrier appeared to have dropped.

Oh, but wait... . Jack sagged as he listened to Teal'c relaying Lee's comments and yet again it became apparent nothing around here was ever straightforward. Objects placed into the doorway now behaved normally instead of defying gravity, and there was no blue crackle. Energy reading from the outside had fallen to almost negligible. However, Lee was cautioning they shouldn't jump to conclusions; there was no way to test to be certain other potentially dangerous elements were down too, without risking activating what had deactivated.

The local conversation which followed Teal'c signing off was no better. There was always the chance an occupied pod would be identified by the room as an inanimate object not worth confining. And they'd just removed dead electronic equipment, right? So the isolation pods were an interesting idea, but if they worked there was no way to remove them from the room – not without the probability that another barrier would come up in response to the activity in the room. Nevertheless, Carter was already on her radio, telling one of SG5 to hotfoot it to the gate and call for two self-contained life support pods.

It wasn't quite what Jack wanted to hear, no, but least they knew more than they had a moment ago. It was worth a try – it wasn't an answer for both of them, but if it was at all possible to get Daniel out of here that way, hell, he'd try it in a red hot minute. He bent over to tell Daniel what was up and was shocked at what he saw. In just the few minutes he'd been paying more attention to outside than in, Daniel's condition had slid further downhill. He was in a cold sweat, alarmingly clammy. His colour had moved from pale grey to pale dusky blue, and if Jack had been worried about his breathing before, well, now he was on the edge of panic over it. "God. Daniel, don't do this to me," he told him, not expecting a reply.

He got one, though, Daniel putting a huge effort into getting enough breath to admit, "Jack. Chest... elephant. Hurts."

Chest pain. Crap, crap, and triple crap. He fumbled for Daniel's neck, and sure enough the pulse under his fingers was too irregular and rapid to count accurately. Not just irregular, but irregularly irregular. From the field first aid training they all got, he knew that was not good at all. Daniel's hand twitched in his, which he recognised as an attempt at a squeeze. It was the best Daniel could do now, a sign of how quickly he was worsening rather than recovering. It couldn't have been more than ten minutes since this had happened; Jack suspected they were fast running out of time here.

"How long to get the pods here?" he asked, and told them the reason. "This isn't the same as before. He's going downhill fast. Muscle spasms, pulse rapid and irregular, chest pain, trouble breathing." He belated added, "Oh, and gut cramps and nausea," as Daniel sobbed once, clutched his stomach, and puked again.

Carter closed her eyes and ran both hands through her hair. Everyone other than Teal'c busied themselves with computers while looking lost as to what to do. "Will these pods work?" Teal'c demanded of Carter, one hand tightening on the zat he still held as if he wanted badly to use it on something.

She opened her eyes to look dolefully at Jack and Daniel as she answered with a non-answer. "I don't know. I sure hope so. But then we'd still need to figure out how to remove them from the room without provoking a new barrier."

"How long!" Jack harshly spat out.

"I don't know," she repeated. "I'm not sure if we have any at the SGC. Janet was requisitioning them every quarter for two years. I don't know if they were ever approved."

So if they did have them, it'd be about a half hour for them to arrive, at best, plus the time to test them and figure out how to remove them. If they didn't have any at the SGC, god only knew how much longer it'd be. Hours, lots and lots of hours. Jack looked down at Daniel lying tightly curled up on his side, struggling through sobs of pain to breathe, muscles still twitching every few moments. His instincts told him even a half hour was probably too long to wait, especially for something that brought with it a whole new problem to tackle.

He tried to raise Daniel up, thinking he might find it easier to breathe if he was more upright, but he went stiff as a board and then outright wailed in pain as Jack tried to lift his shoulders. He hastily slid his legs under Daniel's shoulders to keep him at least as far up from flat as he'd got him, and left well enough alone. Where the hell was Fraiser?

Carter, Teal'c, Lee, and the skinny guy were huddled in tense, whispered conversation. Hands and lips were moving furiously, but even though Jack knew they were purposefully speaking too softly for him to hear, he wasn't in the least bit curious as to what was being said. He'd had enough talk. He'd just plain old had enough, actually. Of everything.

The discussion ended with Lee and the other guy getting back to work at the computers. Carter paced, hands in her hair, and after a few moments suddenly turned to face down the corridor. "I hear them, sir," she told him, and then Jack heard them too. Running footsteps, and a moment after that their voices became audible as they turned the far corner and hailed Teal'c and Carter.

Daniel went rigid momentarily and then puked up bile right onto Jack's leg. The only thing that bothered Jack about it was that Daniel hadn't the breath nor the strength to cry out this time as his stomach had twisted into knots again. Then Fraiser was there in the doorway, shock stilling her step and her voice as she got her first look at their prison. She recovered within an instant, firing question after question at him, and Jack tried his best to respond just as quickly as she shot them out.

Thomas was there, medkit contents flying as he readied whatever he thought she'd need. When Fraiser stopped her inquisition and started chattering at Thomas instead, Jack leaned forward to speak in Daniel's ear. "Hey, Daniel. It's Thomas. Long time no see, huh?" He got a discernible nod in response, and although he was glad to have got that much, it wasn't in the least bit reassuring. Daniel was looking more and more crappy every minute. A particularly perverse corner of Jack's brain suggested maybe they ought to do try doing something sooner rather than later – like, any minute now, huh – because while sharing such close quarters with Daniel had sometimes been a tad bit unpleasant, that was nothing compared to what it'd be like sharing it with Daniel's corpse.

He tried to shut that corner off, not because he was determined that Daniel wasn't going to die in here – he was a realist, after all – but because that sort of shit just didn't bear thinking about. He was a bit slow, though, and the perverse little voice managed to squeeze in the correction that, oh hey, on second thought, if Daniel did die Jack wouldn't necessarily have to share space with him any more after all. He could simply toss the body out the doorway, just as Daniel had done with the items he'd salvaged. Just pick it up and...

"About four hours, sir." Thankfully, Carter's voice interrupted the morbid thoughts. For a moment he had no idea what she was talking about, but then realised with a sinking heart it was the isolation pods.

"Colonel, I need you to hook Daniel up to the lifepack. We're sending a new one in to you." Fraiser's brisk instructions carried on, but Jack was still stuck back near the beginning, on the word lifepack. The barrier might well come down entirely, including the nifty new feature that was killing Daniel, if they did as they'd done in the rabbit room, right? Zat strikes were quick and clean, no dallying, and from what he recalled of the studies done on the weapon its effects were fairly similar to electrocution. Fraiser was here. Thomas was here. They were well equipped.

He needed a few minutes to think this through, so he obediently laid Daniel flat and dragged him as close as possible to the doorway where Fraiser could get a really good look at him. That wasn't pleasant for either of them, and he found his hands were shaking as he set up the stuff she sent in. He quickly ripped Daniel's shirt up the side seam and hooked him up to the monitor, and applied the blood pressure cuff and the thing that squished your finger to bits reading blood oxygen levels. Oxygen itself followed, a small portable tank and nasal cannula set-up. And he speculated. He really wanted to talk it over with Daniel but that wasn't possible, because the guy was just too damned sick to do anything other than lie there and suffer.

The lines that showed up on the monitor were far from organised. Fraiser frowned at them, muttering about cardiac irritability, and then far too calmly for believability announced that things didn't look good at all and she was going inside. If she didn't, he might arrest right there and then in front of everyone, and that wasn't going to happen while she was there to try to prevent it. And that's all there was to it. An argument ensued, and after just a few exchanges Jack shouted loudly to get their attention.

"Oy! Hey!" he yelled, and then did it again louder as Thomas didn't shut down his offer to go inside instead of her quite on cue. When they all went quiet – quiet enough to hear Daniel groan and retch – even the scientists giving Jack a startled look and stopping the conversation they'd been having in the background, he stood up and gestured at all the medical equipment and supplies outside the room. "You can revive someone from full arrest with that stuff, right?" he asked.

Fraiser looked confused over the question at first. "If we're fast enough and the patient's condition isn't unsalvageable, then yes, it's possible. Not a sure bet by any means, but possible." Her face cleared as she jumped to the wrong conclusion. "But if he does code, I need to be right at his side. There are direct IV meds that need to be given, and ongoing assessments done. I need to be in there."

"No, not necessarily," he told her, and then asked, "Between you and Thomas, any chance you could handle two resurrections?"

The responses were immediate and loud as Teal'c, Carter, and several of the scientists understood right away why he'd asked that. He let them have their say, and as he watched Fraiser slowly sink to her knees and stare in at Daniel and the monitor, he became more convinced it was a possibility they had to pursue even despite their opposition. Fraiser's level of concern was rising noticeably, and when she spoke it was so quietly, under her breath, that the only way he knew she'd said anything was because he saw her mouth moving. He hushed Carter's ongoing protest that his idea was just too risky, and got down on the floor across from Fraiser, eyeing her steadily.

"Teal'c," he said, and that was all he needed say. Teal'c understood immediately and crouched next to her, wrapping a hand around her slim arm before she could do anything equally as stupid as Jack wanted to do. "You come in here," he told her, "and you, along with me and Daniel, whether he's dead or alive, might never get out. There's a big flaw with trying those pods, and Carter says there's a chance the barrier might fully re-establish if someone comes in here. If that happens, this place is smart enough there may not be any way to put a dent in it the next time around."

"He's going to arrest," she softly said. "Colonel, even if you can get a rhythm back, you won't be able to treat the underlying problem and it'd just happen again. I can't help him if I'm not at his side."

Jack reached out and placed a steadying hand on Daniel's hip as Daniel weakly, ineffectively tried to escape his pain. "No," he told her. And that was it. Just no way. "Not in here."

Teal'c's voice was rough, impatient. "If he were to die, and you were at his side, you could revive him?" he asked Fraiser. "You could treat him so this would not recur? He would recover?"

"Yes." The answer came with such prompt assurance, such bald-faced bravado, that Jack wasn't actually sure if it was the truth or simply an attempt to convince them to let her go inside.

Teal'c nodded sharply and straightened, pulling her up with him. He stepped back from the doorway and she resisted, but stopped struggling the moment he spoke. "O'Neill, you must send Daniel Jackson through."

Fraiser mumbled an expletive, and dashed forward to Thomas and her gear as Teal'c let go of her arm. Jack sat there for an instant trying to process the words, his brain stupidly stalled, but then they hit home and he banged his fist against his forehead. Of course! He whirled and quickly pulled the leads out from the lifepack and the oxygen tubing off the tank, leaving everything attached to Daniel. He owed Daniel an explanation – and a possible last goodbye, too, but knew he wouldn't be able to get that part out – so he bent close to Daniel and gently cupped his face in his hands, checking to see if Daniel might be aware enough to understand him.

He was. "Jack? What?" Daniel gasped, opening his eyes to look right at him.

"Hey, buddy. You're going on a short trip – that separate vacations thing."

"Okay. This ... it, then?" The completeness of the understanding in Daniel's eyes was a shock, and Jack found himself involuntarily rearing back for an instant. He moved forward again immediately as Daniel spoke on a faint wheeze of air Jack knew he couldn't afford to waste. "S'okay to flush the fish," Daniel told him, trying to smile.

"No, that's your responsibility," Jack answered, sadly unable to dredge up a smile of his own. "You ready? It's going to hurt like hell."

It was a pretty stupid thing to say, really, because Daniel already was hurting like hell. There wasn't any choice, whether he was ready or not, so Jack tried to make it as quick and gentle as he could. He struggled with Daniel's weight and with the convulsive muscle spasms that almost resulted in him losing his grip. The knowledge he was about to kill Daniel by forcing him into contact with the energy field again caused him to falter slightly at the last minute, but he quickly regrouped and made sure the final push was a strong, sure one. The jolt was huge, but he had done it right and forward momentum carried Daniel on through. His body seized up entirely in one huge tonic contraction as he came in contact with and then carried on through the invisible field, not relaxing even as his heart stopped.

Fraiser confirmed the full arrest with a brisk efficiency belied by the tremour in her voice. Her hands were swift and sure, though, as she did what had to be done, Thomas working by her side. They had him intubated in a matter of seconds, Carter bagging, and IV's and CPR were started in a flurry of similtaneous activity. The rest was a brutal thing to witness – full of mainlined medications, punishing chest compressions and repeated shocks from the lifepack paddles.

Jack prayed to gods he didn't believe in, and paced, his palms sweaty and heart racing. True to her boldness, though, Fraiser eventually looked up; Daniel was back with them. While she couldn't guarantee he'd stay that way, she was damned well going to do her best, she told him, and that meant it was time to get her patient back to the SGC. Jack watched them bundle Daniel up on the stretcher SG5 brought over, wanting to say something – a thank you, or maybe a "take care of him" or even a "tell him if he dares die I'll hunt him down and kill him". But as they finished up and carted Daniel off out of sight he still hadn't uttered a word, the lump in his throat too big to force words past.

Carter, her eyes wet, and Teal'c, his eyes uncompromisingly stern, came over to stand directly opposite him. They faced one another for a few moments in a silence that was far more uncomfortable than it should have been, even considering the circumstances, and then Jack found his voice. "Well, alone at last," he joked, spreading his arms wide to indicate his now private palace.

Carter bit her lip and shared a glance with Teal'c. "Maybe not so alone, sir", she quietly said, and then the impossible – the stupidly, insanely, ridiculously stupid impossible – happened as Teal'c confidently stepped forward into the room.

Okay, so had he mentioned stupid? Teal'c's calm, controlled forward motion only stayed calm and controlled for one step, and then he went down with a pained grunt. A sheet of blue fracture lines streaked across the doorway in his wake. "Teal'c!" Jack exploded, lunging to cushion his staggering slide to the floor. "What the hell's wrong with you!"

"Nothing. I am well, O'Neill," Teal'c forced out past suppressed groans, looking anything but.

"No, you're not. God damned insane isn't anywhere near 'well' in my book." Jack crouched next to him, noticing the pallor of his skin and the faint tremours wracking his body. Teal'c had got a jolt, for sure, but nothing near similar to that which Daniel had just suffered.

He looked up to rant at Carter, but she was looking back toward Lee and the others, seemingly waiting for something. Jack looked from her to Teal'c, and then back again just in time to see Carter nod in acknowledgement of something. She turned, knelt, and looked directly at Teal'c. "It's confirmed. Starting from square one, Teal'c," was all she told him, although it sure looked like there was a whole lot more she wanted to say. Then she was up and gone, joining the group of scientists bent over their electronics.

Jack wanted to kill them both. Slowly. With common household objects. He picked up the headset that had fallen off Teal'c when he'd been zapped, and tossed it at the doorway. It bounced back with blue sparks and a vigour that took it halfway across the room. Well, shit. He reluctantly went and fetched it. Then he settled down on the floor to wait for Teal'c to recover from the effects of the barrier, so he could yell at him without reserve. Teal'c's intent was pretty clear, and while he appreciated it on the one hand he really didn't appreciate it one bit on the other. Nothing he could do about it now, though, because the barrier had re-established, preventing him from just hurling Teal'c right on back through, massive jolt or no. Okay, well, no, he wouldn't really do that even if he could, considering that Fraiser and her magic fingers were gone.

"Sir?" Carter. Her looked up, and she asked him to please repeat the object-tossing tests he and Daniel had done. They were re-isolating the barrier's individual properties, just as she and Lee had done before, and so far it looked like the place hadn't thrown in any extra curves. He did as asked, gratified when things went just as they had earlier. The rebound disappeared first, followed by the tingles. The blue crackles took a lot longer again, and Teal'c was almost fully recovered by the time Jack confirmed that success.

So they were back to where they had been over three hours before, albeit minus a mortally injured Daniel, and Jack settled down next to Teal'c again to wait for the isolation containers. Carter and the others kept working on trying to isolate and counter the new zappy-thing that had got Daniel, which they confirmed was alive and kicking now that they'd once again countered the standard barrier properties. From the looks of the flapping hands and terse arguments going on, Jack figured they weren't having much luck.

When the pod finally did show up, fully two hours late, six interminable hours after Daniel had been removed, it was accompanied by Fraiser. Jack leapt to his feet, his heart contracting into a block of concrete. "Daniel?" he snapped, assuming the worst. If she wasn't needed there any longer, then... .

"It's all right, Colonel." She smiled at him, broad and sunny enough to turn concrete to water. " He's not out of the woods yet, but he is improving. The energy shocks he received upset the body's normal chemical-electrical processes, causing multiple electrolyte imbalances and painful abnormal myoelectric and neural impulses. It's taken a while to get a handle on it. I'm sorry, I should have sent word through to you."

"Should you not have remained there with him?" Teal'c stood and asked, looking and sounding strong enough to banish the last lingering bit of worry about him from Jack's mind.

"Oh, I'd much rather be here, Teal'c, with you. I've brought my best and largest set of hypodermics, just for you, because of this little stunt you've pulled." Carter joined her in the doorway, and Fraiser turned to her, overly sweetly suggesting, "Gosh, you look like you could use a shot or two yourself, Sam."

Jack rolled his eyes as Teal'c looked askance at the medkit container Fraiser carried, clearly unsure if he should believe her. His eyes strayed to the iso pod, and it was at that moment he realised there was only one of them. Suddenly, it was of just as little interest to Jack as was Fraiser's baseless threat to Teal'c.

He rounded on Carter, letting her see his anger and disgust. "I don't care if there's a hope in hell of that thing working; I'm not getting in there. This is a waste of time." Even if it worked and they found a way to get it out of the room – which no doubt was why Teal'c was in here – he wasn't going to be in it. "I won't be leaving this room without him," he told her, gesturing toward Teal'c.

"I will not be stranded," Teal'c smoothly lied. He cut off Jack's attempt to face down that absurdity, curtly advising, "One way or another, O'Neill, you will be leaving. Whether you do so willingly, or not."

"Teal'c will only need to stay in there until we figure out how to drop the remaining fields." Carter's sincerity, her calm determination, was clear. "There's more people working on it now. We'll get it done."

He watched the wheeled pod being readied, and as it was pushed toward the doorway he told Carter, "Fine. I'll wait with Teal'c."

Carter's cool noticeably deserted her. "The reason Teal'c is in there at all is to get you out! If we felt it was acceptable for you to stay in there any longer, he'd still be standing out here. Begging your pardon, sir, but you're not exactly one hundred percent these days. Looking grizzled is only tip of the iceberg..."

Grizzled? Jack bristled, and then rubbed his stubbled cheeks. Maybe he'd give her that one. "I'm fine," he curtly told her. "Coping beautifully. Completely copacetic."

"No, Colonel, you're not," Fraiser chimed in. "Observers have noted a distinct –"

"Observers?" he exploded. He knew the people from the infirmary who'd been drifting in and out several times daily to check on his and Daniel's welfare had probably been taking notes, but all the same he suddenly felt violated. There was a big difference between knowing but not openly admitting it, and hearing it said so bluntly, right out loud.

She smoothly carried on right overtop his indignation. "A distinct and increasing deterioration, Colonel, in not only your physical status but also in mood and behaviour. The psychological impact of –"

"Enough!" he interrupted her again. "What about the psychological impact of having left Teal'c to rot in here if they can't figure this thing out? That's okay? You don't mind my having to live with that? Well, I sure do."

"I mind it every bit as much as I do Daniel having to live with both of you left in here 'to rot', Colonel, if they can't figure it out. He's been asking after you from the moment he woke up."

She must have thought that was her trump card but it backfired spectacularly. Jack felt his door slamming, his body and emotions closing down on her. It felt good. "Enough. That's enough," he repeated, only this time it came out in a cool, overly calm tone that he knew would tell her exactly what he thought about her trying to use Daniel as a tool for forcing her will on him.

"I do not want you here, O'Neill," Teal'c told him, placing one big paw on Jack's shoulder. "I am convinced they will soon bring the remainder of the barrier down, and until then I wish to remain here alone, in kel'nor'eem."

There was something in Teal'c's tone, and in his eyes, that unsettled Jack even further than this whole fiasco already had. Was this part of some sort of Jaffa honour thing? Oh, wait. "Sitting alone in here won't erase the memory of forty-two days of helplessly watching us do that. You know that, right?" Jack told him.

"I do," Teal'c nodded, but then compounded the problem. "No more so than having been a part of Daniel Jackson's release can erase the memory of having killed his wife in front of him. However, additional dishonour will be added to those memories should you decide to prolong your captivity because of me and something goes awry."

"Colonel, please." Carter's voice shook as she stooped to pleading with him. "You have to trust us – we will get Teal'c out, I promise. I don't know how long it'll take, though, and it's past time for you to come home."

He had to admit, it did sound good, the idea of getting out of here. Checking on Daniel and then taking a proper shower and sleeping in a proper bed. Seeing the sky, the stars. Closing the bathroom door.

"You sure?" he asked Teal'c. He was bone-deep tired, sick of it all. He knew Fraiser was right, that his behaviour hadn't been completely admirable lately, and while Daniel hadn't exactly been Mr. Consistent either Jack knew he owed the guy more than continued worry. Teal'c's nod was so self-assured, the sudden warrior clasp on his forearm so warm and firmly assertive, that Jack reluctantly gave in. Besides, god forbid he'd be a source of dishonour for Teal'c. His relationship with Daniel was already on unfamiliar ground because of this place, and while he knew what he hoped for, he had no idea which direction it'd go from here. Best not to end up in the same situation with Teal'c.

"You had better get him out of here damned fast," he said, raising his voice so it boomed from the speakers, to be sure the scientists who were eavesdropping on the whole conversation knew he was talking specifically to them. "Remember, I'm going to be out there, standing right next to you, looking over your shoulders." If that didn't put the fear of god into them, hurrying up the process, then nothing would.

"Just get in the pod, sir." Carter helped Lee push it through the doorway.

They'd rigged it with a nylon harness, the rope neatly fastened in hanging loops at the front, forming three separate handholds ready to be grasped as soon as the nose of the thing passed through to the outside. The memory of Teal'c pulling the skid of equipment through, and Daniel, caught unawares, falling forward into the new zapper they hadn't known was there, skittered through his mind and brought with it a question he wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer for.

In the theory that waiting until it was too late to do anything about the answer was probably the best plan, he held off until he was inside the thing, mostly lying down with Teal'c preparing to close the lid, before asking it. "Carter? What if it doesn't fall for it? What if it knows this isn't just another bag full of garbage?"

"Well, I'm right here, sir," Fraiser answered. "We know what its effects are now, and we'll be able to intervene right away. That'll make a huge difference. It won't be like it was with Daniel."

Terrific. Fantastic answer. Just swell. All the same, he nodded when Teal'c asked him if he was ready. He settled in, hands fisted at his sides, and Teal'c reached in and took off his headset. He hated the damned thing, but suddenly felt strangely naked without it.

"Good voyage, O'Neill," Teal'c told him, and closed the lid before Jack had a chance to tell him they didn't use the literal translation in English.

He felt movement, and whispered to himself, "It's have a nice trip, Teal'c, and thank you." Then his world exploded, and he screamed.

 




58 days


"I prefer this one," Jack said, holding up a luridly colourful suggestion that Daniel had ranked pretty much at the bottom of his list. "What about you, Teal'c? What do you think?"

Across from them, sitting cross-legged a cautious two feet from the edge of the doorway, Teal'c picked up his copy and made a show of carefully examining it. "It is my understanding Dr. Fraiser has not yet given Daniel Jackson permission to excite himself in this manner," he just as carefully replied.

Daniel felt his cheeks flush bright red. He ducked his head, but not quite fast enough to avoid awareness of Jack and Sam turning to stare at him with amused questions on their faces. "Engage in strenuous activity, Teal'c," he mumbled a correction. "She said not to engage in strenuous activity."

"Was sexual intercourse not one of the examples you mentioned in your explanation?" Teal'c asked, damn him all to hell anyway.

Jack snorted loudly. Face flaming, the blush extending to creep down his neck and under his t-shirt, Daniel silently gave thanks that the speakers weren't on. "Activity. I said sexual activity," he muttered under his breath, and then raised his voice a notch trying to bluff his way through it. "That's not exactly right, but anyway, but it's over a week ago she said that. It's been sixteen days; it's probably fine, now." Oh god! What? He couldn't believe that had just come out of his mouth.

"Oh, well, that's good then," Jack said. "We'll be sure to reserve a king size for you, Daniel."

Sam stepped in, her voice calm and serious while her eyes laughed. "Teal'c, those pictures don't mean what you think they do. People don't go to Las Vegas to obtain sex. Okay, well, maybe some do..." The smile in her eyes infected her whole face as she got tangled up and then manoeuvred out of it. "Las Vegas is an entertainment centre. The main reason people go there is to see live performances, gamble at games of chance, and view the architecture."

"Are these females not flagrantly displaying their wares in order to entice sexual interest?"

At first Daniel was with Sam in thinking Teal'c was confused, but then Teal'c caught his eye. There was a twinkle there, and a slight twitch of an eyebrow.

"Are you messing with me?" Daniel lightly protested, and turned to Jack. "I don't think he's all that interested in Vegas, Jack."

"Yeah, I got that." Jack started rifling through their stack of brochures and ads. "Okay, so what else have we got? New York... Hawaii... London... Toronto..." He threw the last one away. "Hey, how about this one?"

Sam laughed out loud, and Daniel tried but couldn't hold back a grin. "Oh, smooth, Jack. Well done," he rewarded him, grimacing at Teal'c over the poorly hand-drawn, crayon-coloured image of a lake and a small cabin Jack was showing them. The headline, written in Jack's distinctive scrawl, stated, "Minnesota, Land of The Crappy and Everlasting Beer".

"Is that crappy everlasting beer, Jack, or is the crappy something other than the beer? Not that the beer isn't crappy..." Daniel picked on him.

"Worth a shot." Jack shrugged and threw that one away as well, then continued flipping through the stack. Daniel instantly felt badly for having teased him over it. If Jack wanted to go to the lake and fish, well, it wasn't his cup of tea, but sure, he could –

Jack abruptly stopped what he was doing and swivelled to face directly onto him. "Oh, for heaven's sake. Shut up, Daniel."

Wha...? He hadn't said a –

Jack didn't even let the confusion settle on Daniel's face before he interrupted it. "Yes, I know, you didn't say a word. But you were thinking. And what have I told you about that?" His tone gentled. "No worries, Daniel. All right?"

Then he told all of them, "That was just thrown in there to grab a smile, kids. It's hardly the right season for the lake, and hey, I'd like this to be something we'll all equally enjoy."

"Major Carter?"

Daniel looked over to Dr. Lee, who nodded and waved a hand around in that slightly bumbling – and still somewhat endearing, Daniel thought – half-distracted way of his.

"Looks like they're ready, guys." Sam looked and sounded on edge all of a sudden

Daniel felt the same way, like a gaping hole had developed in his carefully constructed cloak of calm, letting nervousness bulge out into the open. It was only made worse as he noticed Thomas and his fellow medic get up from where they'd been lounging against the back wall of the corridor. Everyone waited quietly while last minute adjustments were made, and then Dr. Lee confirmed their system was turned off and nodded at Sam... and Sam nodded at Teal'c... and Teal'c...

Daniel tapped the earpiece of his headset, not quite sure if he'd heard right. Apparently he had, because after a second's delay a couple of self-congratulatory whoops erupted from the science guys behind him. Jack reached out and pounded his arm, clearly delighted.

"All right, that's the way to do it," he said, giving Daniel another thump. He took his headset off and randomly flung it up into the air, obviously not caring where or how far it went. "Speak to me, baby," he told Teal'c, beaming.

"I am no 'baby', O'Neill."

The response, complete with raised eyebrow, was entirely predictable but absolutely wonderful all the same, because Daniel could hear it unaided, without the infrared. He took off his headset and placed it on the floor next to him, not at all sorry to say good-bye to the thing. If anything, though, his nervousness grew, because the attempt to counteract the communication issue was only the first thing on the agenda. They'd tried this before, numerous times, and other than the sound wavelengths problem now being solved, today was no different from the day before yesterday, which was no different from the days before that since his release from the infirmary.

All the same, his stomach was turning somersaults. There was danger here – the room had proven just as determined to keep Teal'c in as they were to get him out, and Daniel knew first hand just how bad it could get if things went wrong.

The science team got back to work, the medics settling back against the far wall again, and his team got back to their conversation. "So, not Vegas, not the lake... definitely not Toronto," Jack summarised, picking up the pile of brochures again. He pulled out one for Queensland, the image on the front displaying divers exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Teal'c immediately sorted through his pile for the same one.

Sam leaned closer to Daniel, talking to him under Teal'c's questions and Jack's explanation of scuba diving. "I wouldn't mind that," she told him. "Have you ever been diving, Daniel?"

Daniel listened to Teal'c's and Jack's conversation stray over into a description of cave diving. He knew she was trying to disctract him from his worry with idle conversation, and appreciated it.

"A few times, but it was a long time ago and I don't have any training or tickets." Then something occurred to him, and he added, "Unless Teal'c stays in here another month or so, which I sure hope doesn't happen, I don't think I'd be allowed to do that anyway. Mother's still watching."

"Ah. When's your next round with the big needles and all the machines?"

He didn't even have to think about that; he had the schedule memorised. "Bloodwork twice a week and an ECG once weekly for two more weeks, and she wants another cardiac ultrasound in eight days, next Tuesday. Then there's a stress test the Thursday after that. Hopefully that'll be all."

She looked surprised. "You just had a stress test the other day. Janet said you passed it with flying colours. She said there's no sign of cardiac injury."

No, no sign of any damage, fortunately. And thank god he could say the same for Jack, too, who'd also been fried by that thing. Jack had only been exposed to it once and had been treated right away so he hadn't actually gone into cardiac arrest, but nevertheless Daniel worried about him. Although he knew he had come close to crossing the line into pestering from time to time, neither Jack nor Dr. Fraiser seemed to mind his need to be kept filled on on Jack's recovery. Sam was asking about him now, though, and he was only too pleased to do the same for her.

"Well, it's only been just over a couple of weeks so it was a gentle test, and I'm hardly back to peak fitness," he told her. "I guess it's understandable she might want to repeat it a few times as I get stronger." Daniel smiled, and Sam grinned back, clearly anticipating what he was going to say. She nodded in full agreement as he told her, "She's already admitted she's going to be over-cautious with me. She thinks I can't be trusted."

Sam's adopted a sober expression, and nodded seriously. "Good call."

"Hey!" Daniel pouted at her but couldn't hold on to the pretense. Nor could she, though, so that was okay. "So, if we can get Teal'c out of here, it looks like I'll be good to go on leave in ten days." After the last of the tests. God, he was so looking forward to that clean bill of health.

Bill Lee appeared, hovering over them. "Uhm, okay, well, we're ready to go," he announced. "We really think we've got it this time." All conversation stopped as Lee shuffled around overtop of them for a moment and then went back to his job.

Teal'c gracefully unfolded himself enough from his cross-legged position to reach over to his left, where a small cage sat. This was the part Daniel had both anticipated and regretted four times now, both for Teal'c's sake and for the poor test subjects. They'd lost four mice over just the past nine days since he'd been allowed to go through the 'gate to come here, and he knew there had been others before that, during the prior week he'd spent in the infirmary.

"I am interested in this place," Teal'c resettled himself and picked up a single page containing several small blocks of text. Despite the distraction of the probably horrible fate of the small white ball of energy in Teal'c's other hand, Daniel smiled. It was Teal'c's copy of the printout of a web page which Daniel had only just that morning found tucked into the pile he, Jack, and Sam had all contributed to. He wasn't sure who had put it in there, but suspected collusion on the part of Jack and Sam.

"Hold that thought," Jack told him. "We'll look at it with you, out here."

Daniel's gut clenched tightly as Sam looked over her shoulder at the scientists, got the nod, and told Teal'c, "Go any time."

Without so much as a blink, Teal's tossed the mouse through the doorway. Jack fielded it neatly, and Daniel's heart sank for a fifth time as the thing lay limp in Jack's hand. Zap, you're dead, or so close to it that Jack's about to finish you off out of mercy, he thought, clenching his jaw at the memory of how painful it had been for him as he lay dying. No, not just painful... sheer agony. He'd wanted to die, had actually welcomed the idea, just so it would end.

Jack didn't simply twist its tiny neck, dispatching it quickly as he had the others, though, and Daniel felt the tension in his jaw rise. God, it was suffering, and there Jack was poking at it with a finger, lifting one wee leg and then another. He was abruptly swamped by a sense memory of crushing pain in his chest and agonising muscle spasms, the feel of his heart madly skipping beats as he faced impending death. "Stop that! Give it to me, I'll do it," he growled, and reached over to snatch it away. To kill it. To save it.

Jack looked up from toying with his prize, surprise on his face. "Daniel?" He twisted his body, moving his hands, and the mouse, out of Daniel's reach.

Daniel leaned forward, re-lived pain, renewed fear, and new anger driving his hands out in a second try. Sam was there, though, placing herself between him and Jack, unaccountably looking just as surprised as Jack had that he'd object to such torture. She grasped his wrists. "Daniel, no."

No? What was that supposed to mean? The hands on his wrists changed over, Jack taking her place, saying, "I've got it, Carter. Just give us a minute."

That helped a bit, because it meant Jack didn't have the mouse, which meant he wasn't playing with it any more. Daniel looked for it, but he hurt all over so badly and everything was hazy, fading at the edges. "Do you have it, Sam?" he asked, and her answer that yes, she had it, she was taking care of it, seemed to come from farther away than made sense.

"Daniel?" One of Jack's hands released a wrist, moving to his shoulder. "Breathe, Daniel. If you keel over, Fraiser's going to kill us. Just take some slow breaths. Yeah, that's it."

Whoa, freaking out a bit here, Daniel realised, as Jack's gentle encouragement sank in. Jack softly told him, "I know; it was bad. It's over now, Daniel, it's all over. We're okay. We're both okay," and with each gentle tug back to the here and now Daniel breathed, slowly, deeply, feeling more and more the fool as the crushing pain in his chest faded and things came back into proper focus. When Jack asked if he was feeling better, the nod he gave was only part truth, because there was nothing good about how humiliated he felt for having wigged out.

"Good. And this will make you feel even better." Jack twisted the wrist he still held, so Daniel's hand turned palm up. A hyperactive white bundle was placed in his hand, pink nose twitching with the smell of this newest place. "It just froze for a moment, that's all. Guess it doesn't like flying," Jack explained.

"It worked?" Oh god, it worked! Daniel looked over at Teal'c, feeling what was probably a hugely silly grin split his face.

"Indeed," Teal'c said, then actually let rip with a half-smile. "Indeed it did."

So, what were they waiting for, then? Daniel cupped the mouse carefully and scrambled to his feet. Sam rose with him, and filled in the blank. "There's that choice to make at this point, guys. What we discussed before?"

Right. Yes, he remembered now. What with not having been able to sort out and counteract the thing holding stuff up in the air and preventing backward movement, they couldn't be unequivocally, one hundred percent certain there weren't other surprises lurking. The science guys were checking it out carefully, Daniel realised, hearing their muted conversation behind him.

They soon announced they couldn't detect any new countermeasures, which was good, but didn't necessarily mean there weren't any. So it was now up to Teal'c to decide if he was wanted to risk it, or was willing to wait while they continued trying to counter all remaining signals. Daniel knew what the answer would be; Teal'c had already bluntly told him he'd been willing to try walking through five minutes after he'd sent Jack out, but had acceded to everyone else's concerns and remained inside.

"Remember, Teal'c," he quickly put his two cent's worth in. "If there is still an active confinement field, or a new one, the jolt will probably be strong enough to stall your forward movement. If you fall backward... . I was moving ahead when I hit it, and was thrown in the wrong direction."

"I am aware, Daniel Jackson. Thank you for your concern," Teal'c said.

They all knew he was going to do it, so Jack simply gestured for the medics to stand even readier than they already were. He pulled Daniel off to one side of the opening, and advised Teal'c, "Be sure to take a good strong run at it. Lots of momentum."

Sam joined him and Jack, grasping his sleeve, standing right up against him. Daniel cradled the white mouse against his chest, and they all watched silently as Teal'c thoughtfully picked up the mouse cage, went back past the drain, and turned to face the doorway. Without so much a single word, he launched himself at it, and Daniel tried to watch, he really did. But at the last minute his brain must have decided he couldn't, because his head turned without his bidding. So in the end what he knew was limited to what he could hear – Teal'c's roar of aggression, Jack's shout of encouragement, and then... shaky, relieved laughter, the best thing he'd heard in a hell of a long time.

He turned back in time to see Teal'c bow low to the scientists and place the ccage with the rest of the mice, very much alive and active, on the floor. He then immediately came up to them, whole, hearty, and shining with pleasure. He repeated the bow, this time for them, and held out a piece of paper. "I am out here with you now," he said. "And I am interested in this place."

Daniel wiped his eyes with his sleeve. "Me too," he admitted, and then let out the sob-laugh that had risen to the back of his throat. "Sounds great."

Sam laughed along with him, hers sounding even more sobby than his. "I'm in."

Jack grinned. "Baskin-Robbins it is, then. Hah, I bet you guys thought picking somewhere we all want to go would be harder than getting out of that damned room."

Daniel said, "London," and Sam said, "Athens," at the precise moment Teal'c announced, "Detroit."

They all turned as one to stare at Teal'c, and then Daniel grinned at Jack. "I'm good with Detroit."

He was good with anywhere, as long as these people were at his side. He and Jack had some work to do, yes, but Daniel knew with certainty they would come out the better, rather than the worse, for having been forced together in a situation which hardly played to either of their strengths.

If Teal'c wanted them to get started on the healing process at Baskin-Robbins and in Detroit, well, sure. Why not? Yeah, he was fine with that. Better than fine. Tturning away from the others for a moment of privacy, to compose himself, he held the delightfully squirming mouse up in front of him. He smiled as it tried to stretch out toward his face to investigate him, and whispered a thank you to it. And to Jack, Teal'c, and Sam, and absolutely everyone.

He'd keep it, he decided. He'd make a home for it in his office, where it could be looked after by SGC staff when he was away on leave – in Detroit! – and on off-world missions. A good home. Not just a small cage, but a mouse mansion, with colourful crawly tubes to explore and a soft, welcoming nest.

No more cages.