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His arm was numb.  Damn.  He must’ve fallen asleep at his desk.  Again.  What was it he’d been working on?  Translations?  Artifact cataloguing?

Daniel flexed his fingers, waiting for the pin-prickle sensation of circulation returning.  It didn’t come.  And he was lying on his back, so unless he’d managed to fall off the chair and onto the floor without waking himself up…

Then he noticed the smell – that unique mixture of alcohol and medication and something else he could never quite put his finger on – and the cold, stale feel of the air.  Somehow, the infirmary always seemed a few degrees cooler than the rest of the base.

He groaned, half out of frustration and annoyance, half because of the twisted knot of pain at the back of his head.  So which was it this time?  Arm or head?  Probably both, knowing his luck.  Oh, yeah.  Now he remembered.  It was both.  A big surge of something like electricity through his arm, then his head slamming against the wall when the jolt kicked him backwards.  On P4J549.

He carefully slitted an eye open, then squeezed it shut again.  Yep.  The infirmary ceiling.

“So, how long have I been out?”  No one answered.  Strange.  There was always someone here.

He opened both eyes and carefully raised himself up on the elbow that wasn’t numb, then dragged his other arm across his body.  There didn’t seem to be anything outwardly wrong with it – no cuts, bruises, burns, gunshot wounds.  Didn’t feel like broken bones, either.  He tried wiggling his fingers again and was relieved to see them moving slightly, although there was very little sensation.

As he tried sitting up a little further, the ache in his head grew from a dull throb to a full-fledged pounding of kettledrums.  He blinked hard, slowly dangling his legs off the edge of the gurney.  Somehow, sitting up all the way made the pounding recede a little, enough that he could focus on his surroundings.

“Hello?  Anybody home?”  Still no answer.  And there was a certain quality of stillness to the air.  Noises that were normally lost below the everyday rustle of activity came sharply and clearly to his ears – the steady flow of air in the circulation system, the pinging of steam running through pipes, the hum of electricity in the lighting fixtures.  Apart from his own breathing, there were no human sounds at all.

And adding to the general strangeness – his jacket was missing, and so were his boots and socks, but he was still wearing his pants and t-shirt.  Sort of.  There was a slash running several inches up the shirt from the bottom hem, as if someone had stopped in the process of cutting it off.  There was no sign of that someone, though, no sign of the missing articles of his clothing, and no sign of any medical equipment or supplies of any kind anywhere near the gurney.

More annoying than strange, there was a small puncture on the inside of his arm and a fresh trickle of blood, like someone had inserted and then removed an IV.  He pulled his arm across his leg, wiping it off on his pants.

It was as if everyone had just stopped right in the middle of treating him, gathered up their equipment and walked off.  But that was totally and utterly crazy.  What the hell was going on here?

He eased himself out of bed and quickly looked around for his glasses.  No luck.  No one came to scold him for getting up, either.  Yep, he was definitely very, very alone.  Every other time he had so much as twitched towards the edge of the bed without permission, someone had appeared to give him a stern look.  He swore the doctors and nurses were all mind-readers and just liked to provoke their patients by asking them all kinds of questions.

Just to make sure, he made a cursory check of the adjacent offices.  The only discovery he made was that the concrete floors in here were very cold.  As if he didn’t feel lousy enough already.  Couldn’t they have left his socks on, just this once?  He shivered and tried to wrap his arms around himself, but only one responded.  The other just hung there.  Great.

Where the hell is everybody?  Okay, Daniel.  Get a hold on yourself.  One thing at a time.  Feet first.  Yeah, you’re always jumping into things, so that’s appropriate.  Maybe there’s a spare pair of slippers in the supply room.

He shuffled over and pushed the half-ajar door open with his fingertips.  The light was on, but nothing – absolutely nothing – was home.  The shelves were bare.  So they took the supplies but left him.  Oh, just dandy.

That thought led to a renewed pounding in his head, which in turn caused him to glance longingly at the empty shelves.  Oh, wait.  The shelves weren’t completely bare.  There was something still in one of the bins.  Yes!  Aspirin.  Such a lovely little miracle.  Two entire packets.  He grabbed both, tore them open and gagged all four tablets down dry.  Ack.  Baaad idea.  Water fountain, in the hall.

As he headed back out into the infirmary, he glanced at the clock.  Wait a minute.  That couldn’t be right.  Just before eight in the morning.  But they hadn’t even left on their mission until nine.  Had he been unconscious for an entire day?

He forgot about the water fountain and made his way back to Doctor Fraiser’s office, quickly locating her desk calendar.  That couldn’t be right either.  The calendar showed Friday the 25th of June.  “Cassie – Pizza Night” was hastily scrawled at an angle across the lines below the date.

The mission had been on Monday the 21st, but he couldn’t remember anything from that day up until now.  They wouldn’t have just left him here for four days – would they?  Unless… something… had happened.  To him?  To them?  Maybe both?  Around here, just about anything was possible – and not always explainable, either logically or otherwise.  He wasn’t going to find answers of any variety standing here staring at a calendar, though.

He was heading back across the infirmary yet again when he finally noticed it.  Amazing that he hadn’t tripped over it when he got out of bed.  As Jack would say, if it was a snake-head, it would’ve blasted him.

It was tucked up against the wall right next to the gurney, sleek and silver and shining dully, disturbingly similar to the artifact that had knocked him across the room back on 549.  The shape was slightly different, more of a truncated cone, and a plate was pried off the side, exposing wires and faintly glowing silver circuitry.  A pair of wires trailed out of the opening and down to the floor.  They were attached to a piece of equipment that was even more disturbingly familiar – a trigger device with a timer.  The timer was ticking.  Less than three minutes left.

Shit.  He couldn’t move.  Couldn’t yell.  He had the absurd urge to laugh, but could only manage to blink his eyes rapidly, quicker than the countdown of seconds.  Five seconds ticked away.  Ten.  Two more and he was sprinting out into the corridor, slapping the alarm button as he went.  Red lights flashed and the siren whooped its warning.

He darted down the hall, ducking his head into offices and storage rooms as he went.  No point.  No one here.  Nobody to help, and he already knew there was trouble.  Very big trouble.  He rounded the corner and narrowly avoided slamming numb shoulder first into a sealed blast door.

It was all like a very bad dream, a sort of twisted, bizarre reflection of reality through a shattered mirror.  It was absurd and decidedly not funny all at the same time.  Somebody stop the world.  He wanted to get off.  Now.

Screw it.  He had to do something, and fast.  He could try calling for help on one of the phones in the offices, but if they knew what to do, they would have done it already.  No time for anyone to get back down here, either.  He could try taking cover in one of the offices or down here by the blast door and hope it wasn’t a very big bomb.  It was small enough size-wise, but what the hell did he know about explosive yields, especially if the device was alien?

That left one choice, and it was completely insane.  He could go back and try to defuse it.  His knowledge of explosives didn’t go very far beyond setting them up for detonation, plus he only had one functioning hand to do the job – but there were only two wires connected to the timer.  He had a 50-50 chance of picking the right one to cut.  It seemed to be better odds than any of his other options.

He pelted back down the corridor, ignoring the fact that his head now felt like it was going to explode on its own at any minute.  He could worry about that later – or not, depending on how his luck was running today.  He grabbed the doorframe and whipped into the infirmary.

Three seconds.

Shit.  Too late.  No!

Two.  One.

Oh, God.


* * * * *

Four days earlier…

“For crying out loud, Daniel.  Do you always have to touch everything?  I swear, you’re worse than a kid in a china shop.”

“I believe the correct expression is ‘a bull in a china shop,’ O’Neill.  Or perhaps you meant ‘a kid in a candy shop’?”

“Yeah, Teal’c, that too.  Daniel, are you okay?”

He took a moment to take stock before answering.  The artifact was still sitting there on the worktable among piles of wires and circuits and metal shavings.  It looked harmless enough – just a smooth cylinder of polished metal, approximately half a meter tall and half again as wide, completely unadorned.  It packed a hell of a punch, though, enough to hurl him backwards and slam him into the wall.  “Other than my arm being numb, yeah, I’m fine.  Give me a hand, will ya?”

Much to Daniel’s chagrin, Jack stepped back and started applauding, slowly and very loudly.  Yep, Jack was annoyed at him, but also relieved or he wouldn’t be so proudly displaying his prominent sarcastic side.  What a smartass.

Sam shook her head and grimaced at Jack, then held a hand out to Daniel, pulling him to his feet without saying a word.  She took a cursory look at his hand, pushing the sleeve of his jacket up to get a better look at his forearm.  “No signs of trauma.  You said it’s numb?”

He nodded.  It pretty much felt like a hunk of dead meat from the elbow down, but he pushed that disturbing comparison aside.  “Felt like an electrical shock of some kind.”

Teal’c turned toward the table holding the offending device.  Sam glanced up from Daniel’s arm and frowned at the artifact.  Jack, though, was having none of it.  “Okay, girls and boys.  We can play Mr. Wizard later.  Let’s get back to the ‘Gate and get Daniel checked out.  Then you can come back and take another look at the… whatever it is.”

Daniel nodded, more than willing to set curiosity aside for the moment.  He felt… very strange.

All of a sudden, the room tilted and slipped sideways.  Or maybe it was him that tilted and slipped sideways.  His vision blurred and translucent specks swirled in front of his eyes.  Like foam on waves.  Crashing on the shore.  He could hear the waves, but from a distance, the sound of air rushing through a seashell.  He had the sensation of falling, rushing down and out the end of a dream, but just before hitting bottom, he was jerked back.  He was being toted to the ‘Gate, slung between two warm, steady bodies – Jack and Teal’c?

There was a rolling, twisting, turning, somersaulting ride through the wormhole, even more disorienting than usual, streaks of light screaming across his field of vision and swirling together in a reckless whirlpool of celestial bodies.  They stumbled into the ‘Gate Room with the very familiar sound of boots on metal, then his awareness broke apart into disjointed bits – voices issuing orders and demanding explanations, the metal wheels of a gurney clacking down a concrete hallway, fluorescent lights flashing past overhead, faces pinched with concentration and concern bobbing in and out of his field of vision, an annoying tugging at his feet followed by cold air on bare skin, a shiver rippling up his back and down one arm – maybe both arms, but he still couldn’t feel the other one – then… nothing.

* * * * *

“Damn, damn, damn.”  Jack was making a good start on wearing a hole in the floor.  Sam wished she could vent like that, but she hadn’t gotten where she was by crying over spilt milk – or spilt guts, for that matter.  Why couldn’t it be something as simple as spilt guts, just this once?  Why did it always have to be something unknown, alien, something they’d never seen or even heard of before?  Holes could be sewn up, guts could be stuffed back in, bullets could be removed.  What did you do when you were faced with something that you didn’t understand in the slightest?  You went crazy, you guessed, you got desperate.  All things she hated, but sometimes you had no choice.

She had a haphazard knowledge of trauma procedures, most of that gathered the hard way, but she still didn’t understand half the things that were being said, asked, repeated, whispered, half-shouted among the various personnel clustered around Daniel.  One thing was clear, though.  The underlying tension and the harried, worried, confused, confounded looks on the faces of the medical team added up to a Very Bad Thing.  The medical terminology was flying over her head like stray bullets, and all she wanted to do was duck and cover her head.  But it was like driving past a car wreck.  She had to look, even if she thought she was going to see something horrible.

She centered her attention on Janet, the focal point of the chaos.  Everyone else was looking to her, so Sam anchored herself on the sound of her voice.  “Okay, good – pupils equal and reactive.  Reflexes?  Good.  What do you mean, his heart rate is 30?  You just told me it’s 120.  Well, check the equipment.  I don’t care if you just checked it.  Do it again.  Take his pulse the old fashioned way in the meantime.  And get that IV going right now.  Christ, his blood pressure readings are all over the place.  Let’s get that O2 going, and keep an eye on the oxygen saturation.  And why is that thing showing a flatline?  I’ve got my fingers on his pulse right now.  Make sure you’ve got it hooked up right.  Hey, I told you to keep an eye on the O2 readings.  No, they’re not fine.  Eighty-one percent is nowhere near fine in anyone’s book.  Damn.  He’s stopped breathing again.  Okay, let’s get ready to intubate.”

Then the flurry of activity jerked up short.  The members of the medical team were pulling back from the gurney with an eerie kind of fluidity, while Daniel was… warping, his body seeming to twist like a reflection in a funhouse mirror.  Or maybe the air around him was warping, distorting like the air over hot asphalt in July.  No, worse than that, like the air coming out of a blast furnace, only it was as cold in here as it always was, maybe colder.  Sam couldn’t be sure, but the phenomenon seemed to be centered in or on or very near his hand – the hand that had touched the artifact.

Pure white light flared with the abruptness of a flashbulb going off, leaving an afterimage burned into her retinas of his hand, fingers stretched to their limit, the tendons along the back of the hand standing out in sharp relief.  Someone gasped.  Then petrified silence.  She blinked furiously, trying to clear her vision, hoping her eyes were playing tricks on her.  But they weren’t.

Daniel was gone.