by Carlyn

“Watch your step there, Dr. Jackson.”
Skipping gingerly around a helmet-sized rock in his path, Daniel Jackson nodded a quick thanks to his companions and resumed his slow trek along the low passage. Holding his spare equipment a bit awkwardly in front of him, he followed the lead of his flashlight until the effect of its glow was dimmed by the sudden enlargement of the area under its influence. He paused just long enough to glance upward, before cautiously ducking through the entryway of the room that opened up before him.
“The altar is over there on the right.” All sunny cheeks and tight red curls, Dr. Kent Bigelow, SG-11′s new archaeologist, chattered excitedly behind him. “There’s writing on the front, but I didn’t recognize any of it.” Sidling around Daniel, he threw the beam of his own light crazily around the enclosed space. “There are some niches in the walls, too, perhaps additional repositories for gifts or sacrifices—”
“Geez, Kent, at least give the guy a chance to straighten up first,” Major Frank Baer chastised with a laugh. “Colonel Jenson’s given us the whole day to investigate, so there’s no need to try and cram it all in at once.”
Sending a slight frown in the major’s direction, Kent offered Daniel a nervous shrug. “Sorry. This is my first off world temple.” He rolled his gaze around the compact space. “Well, I know it’s not a proper temple, but it’s obviously a shrine or a fane of some kind.”
“Yep, looks like it,” Daniel concurred readily, head bobbing further confirmation.
The young archaeologist’s face drew out in a proud smile, and Daniel discreetly moved his flashlight to the right, secreting his own grin in the shadow.
Kent had been among the few civilians that Daniel himself had recruited right out of graduate school during the SGC’s last hiring boom. So, naturally when, on P3Y-303, a seemingly uninhabited world, SG-11 had stumbled upon an ancient place of worship not visibly associated with any Goa’uld, Daniel’s protégé had suggested contacting the base for permission to investigate further.
In his office, cleaning up some files prior to heading out on a week’s forced downtime when the klaxons sounded, Daniel had just as naturally wandered down to the control room and so overheard the appeal. Hammond eventually approved SG-11′s request to check out the temple and, since SG-1 was on stand down anyway, Daniel’s request to join them.
Daniel set down the battery powered flood lamp he’d lugged through the Stargate, absently rubbing his palm across the bandana snugly secured over his scalp.
“Where do you want these, Daniel?” Major Baer moved in behind him, hefting a second lamp.
Hurriedly casting his flashlight around the approximately thirty by twenty foot space while he considered his options, once he’d made his decision, Daniel utilized the beam like a laser pointer. “Put one here, facing the altar, please, and the other in that far corner. Try to angle it so it illuminates as large an area as possible.”
The major confirmed the request with a nod and, kneeling, placed his MP-5 and his flashlight on the ground to unpack the equipment.
Daniel took a few steps towards the altar, shuffling back a pace when Kent moved unexpectedly into his light. “So, Dr. Jackson, any idea how long this temple has been abandoned?”
“It’s Daniel, and not from just one pass of my flashlight, no,” Daniel responded, quickly shaking off his astonishment.
Behind them, Baer stifled a snicker. “Kent, why don’t you take this other lamp across the way and let Daniel get a good look around?”
Kent aimed his flashlight at the officer, careful to keep the glaring brightness below the level of the other man’s eyes. “Sure,” he agreed readily. Snagging one of the flood lights as he passed, he swung the beam into the space Daniel had suggested and strode purposefully after it, the shaft of light bouncing merrily before him.
Watching him go, Daniel dropped his gaze to the major, who likewise observed the young man’s movements, shaking his head in bemusement.
Unclipping his backpack from his vest, Daniel reprimanded mildly, “Cut him some slack, Frank. He’s just excited. Surely, you remember the first time you came across some off-world discovery. I know it’s been a while since you took that archaeology course in college, but I hope it gave you more of an appreciation than someone with no experience at all.”
Frank snorted outright. “I was forty-three and twenty years into my service in the Air Force when I came across my first alien temple. I was pretty much jaded by my earthbound life experiences, so it didn’t really impress me as much as it should have.”
Daniel pursed his lips as he considered the major’s statement. Lately, the thrill of exploration had begun to wane for him as well. Or, more accurately, his wonted delight had been greatly overshadowed by heartache and trauma.
Shaking his head at that melodramatic bit of introspection, Daniel sighed. Maybe working with the ‘newbie’ was just what he needed.
“This little hole in the wall worship center may not do much for us seasoned gate travelers,” he opined with a deliberate smile, borrowing some enthusiasm from Kent. “But, for a twenty-four-year-old on his first professional dig…” Daniel allowed the thought to trail off, Kent’s unrestrained zeal speaking for itself.
“Guess that does put his lack of control in a new light,” Frank conceded with a wink. “Speaking of which…”
A nearly undetectable snick and a low buzzing provided accompaniment to the soft glow of the flood light. The brilliance grew incrementally, and about half a minute later, the front of the altar was bathed in its glow.
Turning to check out the light’s efficiency, Daniel tipped his head until his ear nearly rested on his shoulder. “Back it up about a foot,” he directed. “Yeah, right there. Thanks.”
Snapping off his flashlight, the major surged to his feet and turned to Kent just as the second lamp burst to life. Instinctively shading his eyes against the brilliance, he checked out the resulting illumination over his shoulder. “All right, that’ll do it,” he nodded approvingly.
“Good work, Kent,” Daniel concurred. Dropping his flashlight in front of the altar, he dug in his backpack and pulled out his video camera and several new cassettes. “Now, why don’t you take this and get me a good panoramic of the entire cave, then take some detailed shots of those recesses you mentioned.”
Even before Daniel completed his instructions, Kent scampered across the room and reverently lifted the camera from Daniel’s outstretched hand. “Yes, sir, Dr. Ja—Daniel,” he stammered. Ducking his head, he reached blindly for the video cassettes and retreated to his place near the flood lamp.
Again, Daniel followed Kent’s progress across the room, pointedly ignoring the grin Frank quirked on the periphery of his vision. Turning away, he bent to his pack and took out his journal and digital camera. Laying the former on top of his pack and tucking the latter in his pants pocket, he snagged his flashlight and moved closer to the altar.
Swooping down, Frank picked up his weapon and flashlight, and stood with a groan. “If you’re set up here, I’m gonna step outside and check in with the colonel.”
Daniel, finally getting his first real look at the altar, acknowledged the receding footsteps with a wave over his shoulder.
The altar was a simple structure. A large rectangular block of stone about six feet long, four wide, and four high, with a second, flat stone lying atop it. Moving his light slowly over the top surface, Daniel noted the absence of any stains which might indicate the place was used for blood sacrifices. Running his hand over the stone he confirmed it was unmarred, nary a chink in its smooth surface.
Stepping back and to the side, he gazed for several long moments at the characters etched on the front of the supporting stone. Unaltered by the elements, and only slightly obscured by dust, the script was unfamiliar at first glance. But one word, a name actually, did stand out—’Kaliamman.’ Daniel grinned. Recalling he’d once found a reference to that name somewhere in his vast readings, he recognized it as an obscure incarnation of the Hindu goddess, Kali.
Okay, Daniel reasoned silently, so, extrapolating from that information, it’s probably safe to assume the rest of this is some form of Hindi.
He narrowed his eyes at the inscription. Hindi was not a language Daniel spoke with any great proficiency. And since Kent had confessed that he didn’t know the language either, they’d have to get pictures, maybe even an etching, and take them back to Dr. Jain for a translation before they’d learn any more of what the inscription entailed.
However, he needed no one to tell him of Kali, the Black Earth Mother, the personification of death and destruction in the Hindu pantheon.
Daniel returned his gaze to the altar top. Kali was often seen as a blood thirsty goddess, depictions nearly always showing her with tongue lolling, seeking the life-giving fluid. On Earth, some of her worshippers still sacrificed animals to her. The lack of blood stains on this altar seemingly dedicated to her was, therefore, curious.
He perused the inscription again, looking for anything even vaguely familiar that might tell him more.
“Damn it,” Kent’s soft curse broke into his contemplation. “Why do they seal these things with this impossible to break plastic?” The voice grew louder as the younger man came closer. “Daniel, I can’t get the wrapping off this cassette and I left my knife back at camp. Can I borrow yours?”
Without taking his eyes off the altar, Daniel reached across his body and unerringly located the penknife in the lower most right side pocket of his tac vest. “This will work better than the field knife.” Tearing his eyes away just long enough to hand it over, he resumed his examination of the inscription.
“Thanks.” Working the large blade out, Kent ripped into several of the packages. Closing the knife, he muttered, “Here you go,” and passed it back to Daniel, who absently stuck out his left hand and took it, dropping the knife into his pants pocket.
Whistling softly, Kent went back about his business, and Daniel resumed his review of the writing. Pulling out one of his brushes, he cleared out the dust and dirt untold years had deposited in the carvings. He had just about given up hope of puzzling out any more of the inscription when Major Baer returned.
“The colonel says to wish you luck and he hopes you find something worth the two hour hike.”
Putting his back to the altar, Daniel smiled crookedly and gestured at the altar with his flashlight. “There’s a reference here to Kali, so I’d guess that this planet was once under her influence.”
“Kali?” Kent moved out of the corner he was working in. “The Destroyer Goddess? I don’t remember seeing much in the archives related to her.”
“We’ve never encountered her Jaffa,” Daniel recollected, “though last year SG-8 did log a ceremonial blade that held an inscription to her. But, if I remember correctly, they’d found it on a recent battlefield, not at a dig site.”
“So, if this is a temple, it would be the first real evidence of Kali worship that anyone’s brought back to the SGC,” Kent reasoned, his enthusiasm ramping up again.
“It would,” Daniel agreed, his own excitement mounting with the younger man’s. “And the discovery belongs to you.” He arched a brow at Major Baer, warning the man not to squash the youngster’s optimism, but Frank merely nodded and smiled, concurring readily with Daniel’s assessment.
“How about I see if there’s anything interesting in these alcoves?” the major offered, tossing a thumb over his shoulder at one of the little crannies cut into the cave wall.
“Just make sure Kent tapes it or you get digital photos before you disturb anything,” Daniel automatically instructed.
Frank tossed him a mock sneer. “You know, if you weren’t technically my boss at the moment, I might be offended by that. It’s been a while, but I did actually learn something from that archaeology course. Even had the opportunity to work an excavation site.”
“Duly noted,” Daniel grinned, tipping his head in a theatrical show of respect. When his eyes came up again, his brow lowered, and his entire body tilted to the right as he tried to see around Frank. “How did I miss that?” he asked no one in particular, bringing his flashlight to bear on a deeper shadow in the wall opposite the altar.
Sly grin in place, Frank teasingly guessed, “Uh, because there was an altar with writing on it in the room?”
Daniel favored Frank with a look he usually reserved for Jack at his most annoying and started towards the large recess. “Kent, bring that lamp closer, would you?”
Moving to the center of the cavity, Daniel trailed his flashlight around the outer edges, estimating it to be approximately eight foot square. “The rock face shows signs of cutting—at least part of the alcove has been dug out, probably by pick or axe,” he surmised. On the ground, just to the right of the opening were several mounds of rocks, no doubt the byproduct of the aforementioned cutting.
At the back of the recess was an odd little shelf about half way up the rock wall. Roughly triangular in shape, it was approximately four inches wide, and protruded from the top of its flat surface to the floor a good two feet into the chamber.
Stepping away from the alcove as Kent’s lamp illuminated the area, Daniel cast his flashlight over the walls on either side of the opening. There, as per Kent’s report, were small cut-out cubbyholes spaced approximately every five feet from the larger recess.
“It looks like a burial chamber,” Kent whispered reverently as he came to Daniel’s side.
Daniel nodded. “It could very well be.”
Kent flailed a hand vaguely around the room. “Then, maybe these niches are designed to hold the dearly departed’s worldly goods.”
“Or they’re places to leave offerings to the gods, as you suggested earlier,” Daniel countered. “We may be better able to determine that once we’ve translated that inscription.”
“Well, thankfully, whoever was supposed to end up here is not already in residence,” Frank observed dryly. “Which begs the question, why not?”
“You mean, why hasn’t the chamber been used? I don’t know.” Switching off his flashlight, Daniel strolled over to the rock pile. “We haven’t found any evidence of habitation in this area. Maybe they moved on before it was needed.”
Stooping, Daniel lifted one of the stones. Dust and small bits of rock sifted between his fingers as he turned it, tipping it towards the lamp light. “It’s difficult to say how long ago this cut-out was made. This space is amazingly dry and, covered as they are, there are no other weathering effects to disturb these stones.”
“Are there any clues in the writing?” Kent inquired hopefully.
“None that I’ve found yet,” Daniel sighed. He glanced over his shoulder, scowling slightly at the elusive message. “I think it’s Hindi, but I’m not familiar with this form of the language. I’m gonna take some stills and a couple rubbings of the script. Why don’t you two finish with these niches then get detailed shots of this chamber and the rocks? Pick out two or three of the smaller ones to take back. We can date them at the SGC.”
“Right,” Frank answered, immediately instructing Kent to redirect the lamp.
While his companions recorded the details of the cave walls, Daniel resumed his study of the altar. Taking photos from all angles, with many close up views of the inscription on its face, Daniel had gotten half way through his rubbings, when Frank stood abruptly from his inspection of the stones.
“Do you hear that?”
The alarm in Frank’s voice pulled Daniel from his work. Standing, he laid his rubbing on the altar, his hand resting atop it, ears straining to determine the source of the low rumble he’d been alerted to. Facing the entrance, he was the first to see the light dancing around the long tunnel leading to the cave.
“Someone’s coming,” he said conversationally, not as easily disturbed as his military associate.
Snagging the rifle he’d leaned against the cave wall, Major Baer tucked it under his arm and took aim at the cave entryway. “Colonel Jenson?” Herding Kent behind him with a sweep of his hand, Baer called out again. “McBride, is that you?”
As the light and the murmuring from the tunnel increased, Daniel slid behind the altar, his hand resting on his Beretta. He had just enough time to pull the sidearm when a large group of nearly naked men streamed through the opening.
Frank got off two shots before he was set upon by the mob. Several men tried wrestling his weapon from him but it took a cudgel to the head before he let it go. Kent had retreated against the wall, so startled he’d forgotten his own firearm. Instinctively he raised his hands as the men circled him.
Daniel had taken aim at one of the intruders surrounding Frank, when the room was plunged into relative darkness, the clubs taking out their flood lamps. In the guttering light of the native’s torches, the bludgeon that knocked the gun from his hand appeared as though from an old movie, the wavering light giving the movement a sort of flickering effect.
Within seconds, fists and cudgels assailed Daniel from all directions. He fought back, his shouted offers of appeasement ignored, until someone in the crowd decided he’d heard enough. Snatching the bandana from Daniel’s head, he shoved the material in Daniel’s wide opened mouth, muffling his cries.
Even after he’d been gagged, Daniel continued to struggle until one of his assailants ended the battle. Grabbing Daniel’s left wrist, he violently twisted his arm behind him, an audible ‘pop’ accompanying the maneuver. Daniel screamed, the wail cut short when he fell headlong into unconsciousness.
Well, isn’t this a hell of a note?
For half a second Daniel’s addled brain pondered the inanity of that statement given his current predicament. Lacking the energy—or the time, evidently—to chide himself for his ludicrous musings, Daniel instead marshaled his limping brain cells to deal with the problem at hand.
He was laying on his right side, bound hand and foot. And gagged, because, it seemed, the heretofore undiscovered indigenous folks of P3Y-303 didn’t care for the strained tones of his voice at full volume. Cautiously moving his head, he took in as much of his surroundings as the severe pain in his dislocated shoulder allowed.
He first blamed his fuzzy vision, his glasses lost almost immediately after he was attacked. Then he decided it was possible he was misreading the situation; he wasn’t military after all and not really well-trained in threat assessment. It could have been, too, that the blows he’d taken to the head had skewed reality towards the farcical. But damned if it didn’t look as though his captors were hell bent on sealing him into that curious carved out chamber behind a wall of those propitiously placed rocks.
Based on the rate at which the open space in front of him was disappearing, Daniel estimated he had precious little time before the chamber was sealed completely. Even now, as he looked up from his position on the ground approximately three feet from the wall, his captors’ feet and lower legs had disappeared behind the divider.
He counted six men, though really it could have been twice that many they were moving so quickly. They worked in practiced tandem, some sluicing the rocks with whatever passed for a bonding agent in their culture, the rest artfully setting stones one on top of the other. None of them seemed the least bit interested in him.
Wondering fleetingly what had happened to Frank and Kent, Daniel roughly shoved that worry aside as not really helpful at this particular juncture. There was no use, either, in hoping that Colonel Jenson and Sergeant McBride would miraculously show up to assist him. Since none of them had raised the alarm before the room filled with big-ass-stick-wielding locals, it was safe to assume the rest of SG-11 had no idea its archaeology team was in trouble.
Which meant Daniel was on his own.
While he remembered acquiring the gag shortly after he’d begun insisting, quite vociferously, that he’d meant no disrespect in touching the altar, the stringy, fibrous ropes around his wrists and ankles had been added while he was down for the count. They’d taken the time, too, to pull the bandana from between his lax lips and tie it securely, in proper gag form, behind his head.
Giving an experimental tug against his bonds, a surprised gasp escaped him when he found there was some give in the restraints. He balled the fingers of his right hand into a loose fist and twisted his wrist clockwise until the movement began to pull against his left arm. So, he had enough room to rotate his wrists, but it would take a great deal of effort—not to mention discomfort—to break his fetters. He glanced up at the workers, his brow pinched in resentment.
You’d think the rock wall would be enough, he complained in his head.
Daniel flinched involuntarily as a globule of the adhesive mixture plopped onto his face just under his left eyebrow. Instinctively, his body twisted to the left, sending painful spikes through his injured shoulder, and Daniel yelled into the gag.
Pulling himself into a ball of misery, he panted harshly, and waited for the bright white spots dancing behind his tightly closed eyelids to cease. He noted with detached interest that the lights pulsed in time to his heartbeat. Fascination turned to disconcertment as the beat grew prominent in the pit of his left arm. Subclavian artery, Daniel deduced, having squirreled away that bit of knowledge gathered during a conversation with Janet at Jack’s bedside after the older man had dislocated his shoulder in a fall earlier in the year.
As the lightshow dimmed, Daniel slowly unclenched his tensed body and rolled carefully onto his back, shifting to find a position that didn’t press on one of the multitude of bruises adorning his body. His shoulder ached abysmally and he was forced to torque his right wrist until his left arm slid into a more comfortable position, his left hand resting high on his chest.
Hope you weren’t planning a vacation any time soon, Janet. He sent the mental apology to the base CMO, feeling some measure of comfort just thinking the name of ‘she who dispenses the good stuff.’
The corner of Daniel’s mouth lifted awkwardly behind the bandana that constricted the movement of his lips. Jack had referred to Janet by that nickname after their recent narrow escape from Netu. It was one of the more complimentary descriptions Jack had come up with over the years for their pint-sized physician.
He’ll no doubt find some twisted humor in the fact that his archaeologist has been entombed, Daniel mused absently. In direct opposition to that viewpoint, a vision flashed into his mind of Jack’s face at the moment Daniel’s lifeless body was revealed behind his solid prison wall. Jack looked anything but amused.
Jack was gonna be pissed.
Spurred by the realization that there was every possibility his friends would have to suffer through yet another of his deaths, Daniel clung tenaciously to the desire not to cause them that pain.
Okay, he considered, you can just lay here—uncomfortable, but with the pain at a manageable level. You’ll conserve oxygen and extend your life, but in the end you’ll likely die of asphyxiation.
Pulling a stuttering breath at the very thought that his oxygen supply waned with each stone placed between him and free access to the planet’s abundant air, Daniel moved quickly on to plan B. Or you can get the hell off your ass, find a way out of these bindings, and—
And what? Reason broke into his heroic monologue. Judging from the way that drop of alien goo is tightening the skin over your eyelid, that stuff’s gonna quickly harden like cement, sealing all the cracks between the stones, making that wall not only airtight, but damn hard to knock down. And let’s face it, in your present condition, you couldn’t knock down one of Jack’s beer can pyramids.
Daniel stiffened. Usually reason was his friend, offering calm alternatives to off-the—handle responses of gung-ho military types. This incarnation was wholly unfamiliar.
He was also most probably right. The lack of an uncomfortable lump in the small of his back already confirmed that the natives had taken his field knife. Not that it would have done him much good behind his back since his hands were bound before him, his good right arm securely tethered to his basically useless left one.
They’d also taken his sidearm and his radio, yet, interestingly, had left him his tac vest. But, really, what good was the odd collection of things he habitually stuffed in there going to do him?
Beating down a dangerous surge of hopelessness, Daniel cast his gaze upward and noted with alarm that the native’s work had continued unabated during his internal argument, and several more layers had been added to the barrier.
Needing to take some action, Daniel did the first thing that occurred to him. Flattening his feet against the rock floor, he shuffled them sideways, spinning clumsily, like a turtle knocked onto its back, until his toes faced the wall. The movement grated his injured shoulder against the rock, and Daniel ground his teeth against the bandana, grunting harshly into the fabric. Hiccoughing a breath, he held it, and raised his legs, flattening the bottoms of his feet against the stones. Biting into the gag, he adjusted himself slightly, angling his disabled shoulder away from the ground, and pushed with all the strength he could muster. He kept up the pressure, his legs so taut his backside lifted from the ground, until his thigh muscles trembled, threatening to dump him back onto the hard floor. Explosively releasing his breath, Daniel relaxed his legs incrementally, gently settling himself back down. He lowered his feet to the floor, his nostrils flaring, his respirations coming in hard bursts.
One of the natives peeked over the barrier, and Daniel swore the man smirked contemptuously at him, blatantly confident that their captive’s undertaking was in vain. The visual taunt landed like a physical blow and Daniel reeled for a moment.
There had been no movement whatsoever in the stones. That so did not bode well. It was difficult to tell since his watch had been smashed when he’d raised his arm to block a club that had landed a glancing blow to his skull anyway, but, based on the fact that the stones he’d tried to shift had been laid after he’d regained consciousness, Daniel estimated the bonding agent set completely in about fifteen minutes.
I need a plan C, he decided anxiously.
Daniel knew now that his only chance was to keep the wall from being completed. Desperately searching his highly esteemed brain for a way to accomplish that goal, he growled when it failed to spit out the solution. Come on, thinking outside the box is your forte, he pep talked, snorting an ironic snicker when he realized that, this time, the expression was literal.
The chuckle jostled his shoulder, spikes of pain lancing the surrounding tissue. His breath hitching, Daniel slammed his eyes shut. His left hand clenched convulsively, the fingers wrapping lightly around the item in the vest pocket beneath them.
When the fire raging across his chest was finally banked, Daniel relaxed his hand, and nearly set off another round of laugh-induced torment. Hidden beneath his palm was the first element in his new plan of attack against that wall—his hand trowel. Maybe if he wedged it between a few of the newly laid stones before the sealant hardened… He wouldn’t be able to free himself, but if he could lever an opening, he just might keep enough air coming in to survive until a rescue team found him.
But, to do that, he’d have to get up from the ground and that wasn’t likely to happen any time soon. Plus, at the rate those men were throwing up the barrier between him and the free flow of oxygen, even if he did manage to get to his feet, he would have to reach above his head to find a spot that hadn’t yet hardened—while hampered by a dislocated shoulder that hindered his ability to move much at all.
So, the next logical step was to try and reduce the dislocation.
Jack had been very bitter the last time he’d dislocated his shoulder, because the injury had happened on the left side. He’d told Daniel that, had he dislocated his right shoulder he could have quickly and easily taken care of the problem himself. Apparently, Jack’s right shoulder joint had been separated so many times that all he had to do was lift and twist his arm to set it right.
Not giving himself any time to think about what he was doing, Daniel planted his right foot in the stone floor and pushed off, rolling to his left. At the same time, he shot his right arm up and to the left as far as it would extend, whiplashing the tethered left one up and out with it. Eyes clamped tight, Daniel screamed into his gag as agony ripped through his upper body, pain equivalent to the stabbing of ten thousand needles cascading the length of his left arm and out through his fingertips. Bathed in sweat, he shuddered, his piercing cry cut short as the pain stole his breath, but still, the shoulder did not reset.
Unable to continue, he collapsed onto his back, yanking the arm back to its former position.
“Oh… god,” he mumbled around the gag, tears, sweat, and saliva soaking the material. “Motherfu…ah!” he shouted again, giving full-voice to the curse as the shoulder flared.
Warmth flushed Daniel’s tormented body then fled abruptly leaving a quickly cooling, shiver-inducing dampness in its wake. Bile rose to the back of his throat and for a brief, heart-stuttering moment Daniel was terrified he would choke. He dragged enough of his attention away from his shoulder to swallow the bitter substance down, opening his lips as much as the gag would allow, sucking in large gulps of air to calm his churning gut.
Slowly, mercifully, his suffering eased. He opened his eyes to find the natives gaping at him over the barrier. One of them gave him a ‘what the hell were you thinking’ shake of his head.
Okay, obviously that didn’t work,’ he conceded snarkily, glaring at the men until they all went away. Bonding agent splashed and rocks clicked into place, reminding Daniel that he needed to find a way to execute his plan—and fast.
It occurred to him suddenly that, whether or not his dislocation was reduced, he was going to have to free his good arm for action. So, the next order of business was to lose the ropes. Which meant he’d have to dig his pocket knife out of his vest, tugging his injured arm along for the ride.
Unable to deal with the trauma Daniel was again contemplating putting himself through, his mind unaccountably wandered back to his estimation of the dimensions of the alcove in which he was being imprisoned. Seemingly of its own volition, Daniel’s gaze wandered to the far corners of the room and he wondered how much oxygen such a space would hold, figuring he’d have to factor in the amount of carbon dioxide he was dumping into the mix with his panted respirations.
Daniel smirked humorlessly. Without Sam’s scientific mind the information was only so much brain landfill. He had no idea how to use it to estimate the time he had remaining before he suffocated to death. Not that the minutes and seconds count was essential anyway. All he really needed to know was that time was of the essence here.
But, damn, this was gonna hurt.
Prompted by the reminder that time was running out, Daniel gathered his courage, subconsciously calling forth his staunchest supporter.
Okay, Jack, what do I have and what do I need?
Comforted somewhat by the lopsided-grinning visage of his friend the invocation set in his mind’s eye, Daniel tucked his tongue beneath the bandana, and bit down until his jaws ached.
Slowly, in increments as large as he could manage, Daniel slid his right hand to the lower most pocket of his tac vest where he always placed his pocket knife. Drawn along after, the fingers of his lax left hand slid smoothly over his abdomen until they reached the edge of his vest where the nails scraped over the zipper with a sound similar to the stressed chain of a poorly shifting ten speed bike.
Trying to keep his left arm as still as possible, Daniel rotated his right wrist, thankful that the bonds allowed such movement, and, holding his breath, snaked a few fingers into the pocket, working his way in around the Velcro fastener.
His brow scrunched in confusion. The pocket was empty.
Hoping that he’d just misjudged when he’d packed his vest earlier in the day, Daniel diligently walked his fingers higher and tugged at the flap of the second pocket. The Velcro separated abruptly, jarring his shoulder and eliciting an involuntary yelp of pain. Daniel chewed at the gag, chomping down against the intense discomfort. He ignored the stinging sweat pooling in the corners of his eyes and determinedly pushed his hand in.
Withdrawing a fistful of energy bars, he released them to tumble over his ribs and to the stone floor. Daniel snorted derisively, an inappropriate quip filling his head. At least I’m not going to starve to death before I run out of breathable air.
Worried now that he’d lost his knife somewhere along the way, Daniel cast his harried thoughts back to the last time he’d seen it. Kent, he recalled after a moment. The younger man had borrowed his knife. Had he given it back?
His eyes drifting shut, Daniel revisited the scene. Kent had opened a package of video cassettes and extended the knife in Daniel’s direction. Distracted by the altar, Daniel had taken the knife and… absently put it in his left pants pocket.
Daniel unleashed a peevish growl. The only place more inaccessible to him at the moment was the pocket on his left thigh.
Praying that his recent activity hadn’t worked the knife into some impossible to reach crease in the pocket, Daniel wished for the same sort of mental retreat that he’d experienced when he’d mindlessly put the knife in the alternate location. Twisting his right wrist until it faced his left hip, the left hand draped limply over it like a dead carcass on the back of a horse in some old Western movie, he began the arduous journey, fingers crawling across his beltline.
His left shoulder shifted as the hand progressed, and Daniel was unable to stifle his agonized groans. Pausing, he fisted his right hand against a particularly torturous spasm, becoming concerned, when the pain moved far into his chest and stole his ability to breathe normally.
After several paralyzing moments, the tension slackened and he drew a grateful lungful of air. Pulling another in, he held it and pushed his fingers the short distance to the line of his pocket. He hooked a finger around the edge and a mad chuckle bubbled up from the back of his throat. There at the top of the pocket, within easy reach now, sat his penknife.
Surmising that the knife had slithered to the top of the pocket during his unsuccessful attempt to push down the wall with his feet, Daniel curled a few fingers around it and relaxed with a sigh. Recalling the native’s mocking glare, Daniel quirked a scornful responsive grin. Too late to quash his captor’s dominant attitude, it nevertheless lifted Daniel’s spirits.
Fingers twined around his penknife, it occurred to Daniel that there might be other useful items hidden in the depths of his tac vest. Suddenly aware that his left forearm rested on a prominent lump, too high and near his belly button to be his hip bone, he mentally pictured the small flashlight habitually tucked into the lower left pocket. Figuring that he might need the illumination at some point, and cushioned somewhat by the euphoria of his successful quest for the knife, Daniel dropped the blade in the hollow above his belt buckle and carefully worked his way beneath his injured arm.
Wriggling his fingers into the gap on the side of the pocket, he grasped the end of the flashlight, withdrawing it smoothly. It took a small tug to tear the flared head free of the opening and Daniel let the cylinder drop from his grasp. It rolled across his upper thigh and slid over the side. Bouncing off the floor, the resulting metallic ping ricocheting from the various rock surfaces, it ultimately tucked itself beneath the crook of Daniel’s right knee.
His breath whooshed out as all his straining muscles, save the ones surrounding his shoulder, unwound. Instinctively, Daniel lifted his right elbow, carefully hauling his arm across his midsection, and, with it, the injured arm, in an effort to relieve some of the pressure on the left side of his chest.
In what passed for serendipity in Daniel’s world, his right hand ended up at the edge of the pocket housing his trowel. Arduously working his fingers under the flap, he eased the Velcro loose and slipped them in. Closing his eyes he sifted through the myriad of brushes he also kept in there, locating the trowel by the thickness of its handle. With the last of his waning strength, he pulled the small shovel out of the vest and dropped it beside him.
Unable to do anything else at the moment, he cracked his eyes open and watched the indigenous people slap up more stones, the light, and his only source of oxygen, disappearing at a frightening rate. He could see his captors’ faces, but no one was checking on him anymore, which meant they had either lost interest in his attempts to untie himself, or they knew there was no way he’d get out of his prison now, even if he did manage to lose his bonds.
An overwhelming desire to prove them wrong filled him, lending strength to his wounded and weary frame. He rallied his slowly recovering body parts to execute the next phase of his escape plan.
Realizing he’d need more maneuverability and better access to the rope in order to cut through it, he turned his right hand and, winding a few fingers through the fibers, pulled experimentally. The tie slid apart a negligible distance then held fast for a second, taunting its captive with the specter of failure, before giving way just a little more.
Not nearly ready to reawaken the agony in his shoulder, Daniel tugged a second time, his brow creased with determination. The bindings loosened further and Daniel slackened his hold. He breathed heavily into the ever increasing darkness, a barely audible moan tagging onto the exhalations.
Flicking his fingers to free them from the stringy remnants of his manacles, Daniel twisted his wrist and cradled his left hand. He frowned in dismay, believing that he should be better able to perceive the probing touch against his left wrist.
The shoulder’s been dislocated, he reminded himself unnecessarily. It’s not surprising there’s some loss of sensation.
Filing the worry away next to the fate of his fellow explorers, Daniel eased his wrist back onto his belly and picked up the penknife. Staunchly bearing the escalation of discomfort in his shoulder, he lifted his head from the floor so he could see what he was doing.
He sucked nervously on the bandana pressed between his teeth; this was going to be so much more difficult if he couldn’t get his left hand to cooperate. Rolling his fingers, he maneuvered the ringed end of the knife over his left index finger, relieved to find he could still flex the digit tightly enough to hold the penknife in place. Laboriously picking the levered sections away from the casing, he fumbled out the nail file and a bottle opener before he found what he wanted.
With a gratified sigh, he rested his head back against the stone and using just his sense of touch, worked the ring off his finger. Grasping the knife firmly, he raised his right arm. When he felt the restraint tugging on his left arm, he rotated his hand, pulled the rope taut, and bending his wrist as far as it would go, drew the blade across it until the loss of tension signaled that the ends had been severed.
Heedful of the sharp instrument wrapped in his fist, Daniel let his arm fall to his hip. His entire body slumping in exhaustion, he throbbed with every scrape and bruise from the natives’ abuse, the pain in his shoulder only the most grievous among many.
Reaching up, he worked his fingers into the tight space between his bandana and his cheek, roughly yanking the muzzle out of his mouth. He released it immediately, the wet portion of the gag plopping heavily against his neck.
Drawing a calming breath, Daniel one-handedly flipped the blade closed and tucked it into its customary hiding place in the right side of his vest. Then he slipped around his injured arm and gingerly excavated a pocket on the left side of his vest. Plucking out blister packs of antihistamines and Tylenol, he popped three pain relievers out of their foil enclosures. Silently cursing the natives for not even leaving him his water, he dry swallowed them before shoving the medications back where he’d found them. The drugs would do nothing to assuage the agony tearing persistently through his left side, but he hoped they’d at least lessen the discomfort from his other hurts.
The next phase of the operation was crucial—he had to get to his feet. Trying to work out how best to do that, Daniel opted for momentum. Grinning wryly at the prospect of using his captor’s nefarious intent to his own advantage, Daniel again pressed his feet to the solid wall and pushed off. Rounding up to his toes once his legs were fully flexed, he drew his knees in, and brought his feet down hard.
His upper body surged a foot or so off the ground before the pain caused Daniel to abort the move. His legs dropped in a tangle as he twisted to keep his injured shoulder from impacting the rock. He came to rest on his right shoulder; his spine curved awkwardly, his right buttock supporting the lower half of his body.
Daniel wheezed out heavy breaths and gingerly settled his head upon the stone, shutting his eyes against the suddenly defeated feeling welling up from within him.
Refusing to give in to it, he drew one quick, deep breath and then consciously slowed his respirations. Rearranging himself in a more natural repose, he cast his apprehensive gaze about him, only just restraining a shout of triumph when, on the wall behind him, its true purpose a complete mystery, Daniel spotted hope in the form of a strange triangular shelf of rock.
He was never going to carry out this plan if even the slightest shift in position made him long for the sweet release of unconsciousness. When Jack had dislocated his shoulder, they’d tried immobilizing it and walking back to the gate. But less than halfway there, Jack had sternly commanded—though to Daniel’s ears it sounded distressingly like a plea—that Teal’c reduce the dislocation. Under Jack’s direction, with a suggestion for minor adjustments from Sam, Teal’c had dropped to his knees with his back to their team leader, draped Jack’s arm over his shoulder, then carefully pulled the arm out as he stood and leaned forward, lifting Jack onto his back. For the rest of the day, Daniel’s head had echoed with the sickening snap of the shoulder resetting and Jack’s scream, but Jack had been much more comfortable once the deed was done and they made it back to base without further delay.
Gulping down the dread that rose at the memory of the kind of pain he was about to again inflict upon himself, Daniel firmed his resolve. Okay, Jackson, he prodded, let’s see some of that boundless courage everyone is always marveling at.’
His mind engaged in preparation for this venture, Daniel absently patted the stone around him. Locating the trowel and his flashlight, he roughly shoved both into his right pants pocket. Using the action as a kind of signal to begin, Daniel pulled a deep, fortifying breath, easing it out between his teeth.
Praying his jailers would continue to disregard his efforts; Daniel scooted his feet closer to his butt and gingerly pressed his heels into the rock. Like a crazy, oversized inchworm he propelled himself away from the barricade. Several of the natives eyed him curiously, but no one made a move to deter him. It took several long, agonizing strokes but finally, the top of his head connected with the back wall.
Sooner than he really was ready for, Daniel grunted into a sitting position, controlling the move as much as possible in spite of the tender condition of his abdominal muscles. Even as his stifled curses split the tainted air, Daniel silently thanked Jack for forcing him to push himself hard in their monthly physical assessment drills, drawing some measure of comfort in the knowledge that Jack was quietly proud that Daniel could match most of the other SG team member’s crunch for crunch.
Vertigo came with the sudden change in position and Daniel instinctively leaned forward, tucking his left arm against his midsection. Drawing his legs in, he rested his forehead against his knees until the desire to pass out waned.
His head filled with a sound reminiscent of a hundred soldiers marching on gravel as his newly liberated teeth ground together against the spasms of muscles angered by the disturbance of his severely stressed joint. Daniel sat still, giving his battered brain and body time to adjust, the only movement his involuntary shivering, his labored breaths rasping.
After a moment, he lifted his head and shot an exultant sneer into the curious eyes still visible above the partition. Their foreheads going slack with boredom—apparently they found this performance lacking after his last, more expressive show—the natives glanced at each other, before turning back to their task.
Sweat dribbled from his hairline, and Daniel swept the back of his hand over his forehead, scowling briefly at the moisture coating his knuckles which appeared to contain as much blood as sweat. It was only then he remembered the blows to his head. His lips taking on an ironic twist at the thought that the pain of his dislocated shoulder had taken his mind off his probable concussion, Daniel absently wiped the hand on his shirt. Almost as an afterthought, he dug out his pocketknife and cut through the cords that bound his ankles.
Securing the knife away, he hurriedly rammed the still wet portion of the bandana between his teeth—a metaphorical bullet to bite on—taking just a second to steel himself against the agony he was about to reawaken in his shoulder.
He held his breath and rolled forward and to the side, tucking his legs under him. In one quick motion, he surged up onto his knees, and, utilizing momentum more effectively this time, pushed himself forward and up, barely managing to get one foot under him before he stumbled back against the wall.
A howl was ripped from his throat but he determinedly pushed off with his right elbow, slumping none too gently with his back against the shelf. Unaccountably still on his feet, he closed his eyes against the stinging sweat that slid down from his forehead and moaned into the approaching darkness.
Drawing ragged breaths over the gag, Daniel slowly became aware, as the pain in his shoulder decreased to merely searing, that the rough cloth was digging deeper into the corners of his mouth. He tensed his jaw, confirming his suspicion that the left side of his face was swollen. His groans transmuted to growls, as he recalled with pique the maniac who had found it necessary to smack him silly prior to wrestling him to the ground and forcing his own bandana between his teeth.
Daniel winced. Now that he concentrated on the damage to his face, he keenly felt the soreness and the heretofore unnoticed sensation of fabric moist with saliva and perspiration rubbing over tender, chapped skin.
The distraction lasted only a moment before the shoulder again demanded his attention. Determinedly redirecting his focus, Daniel noted with dismay that the fingers of his left hand were becoming numb and ungainly. He fervently willed the sensation to travel the length of his arm and deaden the dreadful ache in his shoulder.
Determining that neither time nor rest would pacify the inflamed joint, Daniel laced the fingers of his right hand through the fibrous fetters wrapped around his left wrist, squeezing to firm the hold. Teeth tightly clenched against the bandana, he pulled upward with all the strength he had left, at the same time pivoting to his left until his injured arm was draped over the shelf. Letting his legs give out, he yanked on his wrist, hearing as much as feeling the shoulder joint rotate and snap back into place. The sudden movement sent lightning bolts of hell through him, and Daniel’s muffled scream—an odd blend of misery and triumph—rebounded from the wall of the enclosed space.
Wheezing, he lurched to the right and fell heavily onto his side. The frenzied echo faded to nothingness, and Daniel’s strident breaths filled the void. Fat tears added to the wetness at the corners of his mouth, streaming unimpeded through his tightly squeezed eyelids.
His tension eased, the pain becoming more manageable now that his shoulder was correctly positioned. Spitting out the gag, Daniel rolled and looked up, just as the natives set the final stone in his burial vault.
As the last of the light seeping into his prison was extinguished, he took out his palm-sized flashlight and switched it on. Though small, the light efficiently illuminated the enclosed space. However, Daniel reflected bleakly, it did nothing to brighten the shadowed places in his thoughts where creatures of despair still lay in wait.
Mentally shooing the images, Daniel struggled to his feet, his hesitantly optimistic smile chasing away the demons of hopelessness the flashlight had not. The pain in his shoulder had lessened considerably, but Daniel knew the relief was temporary. Instinctively hooking his fingers through a belt loop to minimize the jarring to his injured joint, he aimed the flashlight out in front of him and stumbled forward.
The room tilted slightly and Daniel gasped, swaying drunkenly for a second. Panting, he shook his head sharply, wondering whether the sudden lightheadedness was the product of his concussion or a sign of his dwindling air supply.
Idly considering the possibility he’d used half of the oxygen available to him in the nearly enclosed space with his latest exertion, Daniel determinedly altered his breathing, pulling long, slow inhalations, holding each one for a few seconds, until his breathing normalized. It was likely an irrational fear—the chamber had only just been sealed—but one he couldn’t rationally counter, knowing he now had no access to clean air. It didn’t necessarily make sense in the circumstances, but something was interfering with his ability to function and the symptoms were distressingly like those associated with hypoxia.
He’d been breathing heavily into the ever decreasing space, draining it of oxygen and filing it with carbon dioxide, for quite some time. It occurred to him, too, that the bonding agent his captors had used to seal this tomb could be having some sort of adverse effect on the air. He hadn’t smelled anything to alert him to the fact, but it was still possible the cement was designed to somehow taint his breaths, speeding his demise. And, though he’d seen no evidence of any sort of technology that would allow for such an occurrence, his giddy brain also dragged out the possibility that the natives were pumping in some sort of toxin.
Hoping the bastards weren’t waiting on the other side of the wall and that they didn’t have some hidden means to witness his final exit, Daniel focused all his being on his goal. He only had this one shot and limited time—about 15 minutes if his previous estimation was accurate—before the cement solidified and he was officially out of options.
Biting his lip against another bout of vertigo, he sucked the lip into his mouth when his stomach lurched, and staggered toward the rough wall. Twice his knees threatened to buckle, but he locked the joints and pressed on.
Sweat rolled into his right eye, and, mindful of the flashlight still gripped in his hand, Daniel pushed his wrist into the socket, roughly clearing away the moisture. He was assailed again by a vague ill feeling, and Daniel speculated with mounting trepidation that he had little time left before the atmosphere became dangerous.
Quickening his awkward pace, he extended his hand as he neared, gripping the wall with trembling fingers, the anchor barely enough to keep him from collapsing under the oppressive weight of sudden fatigue. He pressed his aching forehead against the cool stone, closing his eyes tiredly.
Taking a step back, Daniel shook his head firmly; conscious that the move would vibrate through his tortured body, but just as sure that the resultant pain was his only defense against the overpowering drowsiness enveloping him.
He widened his stance to better balance then, releasing his hold on the wall, transferred the flashlight to his left hand. Grasping it tightly, he angled the beam to shine directly in front of his face. Shaking off the lethargy that threatened to undermine his efforts, he wrestled the trowel from his pocket, and wrapped his fist around the handle, tightening his grip until his fingers ached with the force.
Mentally counting to three, believing he had no more time than that to prepare, Daniel held his breath and, watching from the corner of his eye, cast his arm up and over his head. With a squelching thunk the trowel took solid purchase in the space between two recently placed stones. Daniel released his breath with a groan, and surged to his toes, twisting and pushing the trowel with every ounce of energy remaining in him. His knuckles scraped across the rough surface, bits of skin flayed from his hand, but finally, the stones shifted and fell outward.
Daniel wheezed out an excited cry. With the loss of resistance, he instinctively released his grip on the trowel, which teetered precariously in the opened space before following the stones through the hole, tumbling with a clatter to the other side.
Observing the moment outside light entered his burial chamber, he cackled softly, knowing that new oxygen floated in with the glow. Convulsively, he drew in huge draughts of dusty air, greedily filling his lungs the way a starving man would gobble down food.
Exhausted, he tottered backward a step and instinctively jerked forward to keep himself from falling. Overcompensating, he fell against the wall, catching himself on his left elbow. Jolted from his grip, the flashlight tumbled and rolled, creating a dizzying pattern of shadow and light around the space. But Daniel was only dimly aware of the kaleidoscopic effect as he caromed off the wall, an involuntary cry inspired by the new levels of pain awakened in his shoulder as the joint shifted again and quickly resettled.
He nearly blacked out, his legs folding to dump him none too gently on his backside. The landing jarred his teeth and set up a violent ringing in his concussed brain. Every wound inflicted by his captors reasserted itself, the cumulative impact stealing his breath. Daniel dropped his chin to his chest and squeezed his eyes shut, his brow creased in resistance to the torment.
He gasped harshly against the onslaught and slowly the discomfort again localized to his injured shoulder, which ached with paroxysms of ebbing and flowing discomfort.
Convinced somehow that he would eventually awaken, Daniel gave himself over to the bone-tired weariness beating him just as assuredly as those natives had what seemed a lifetime ago. Pulling one more deep, stuttering breath, Daniel released it and with it, his conscious state.
Jack O’Neill halted mid-step. Turing to his team and the members of SG-5, he irritably snatched his hat from his head and swept them with his squinted gaze. “Okay, we’ve been walking almost two hours. That cave has gotta be close. Baer said six kilometers due west.”
Casting his eyes to the ground, Teal’c tipped his head at the collection of footprints etched in the loose dirt. “This way,” he uttered confidently, choosing a slightly northwesterly path.
As they pushed their way through the choking brush, headed more urgently in the direction Teal’c led them, Jack replayed the events that had brought him here.
Barely an hour on the road to his cabin for a few days respite from the craziness that had become his life, his course was jackknifed by Hammond’s call: Major Baer and Dr. Bigelow had stumbled through the gate with talk of undiscovered natives, hidden temples and a missing Daniel Jackson. Stifling questions regarding Daniel’s presence on another planet when he’d been ordered to take it easy Earthside, Jack had listened dutifully to Hammond’s recitation while he pulled an illegal u-turn through the median and headed back to the Springs at double speed.
“Dr. Jackson was in the control room when SG-11 radioed in that they’d found a temple,” Hammond had told him. “He asked to join their expedition and I couldn’t very well deny him. Not after the year he’s had.”
The confession had been uncharacteristically candid, and Jack understood all too well where the General was coming from. Lately, Daniel had been knocked around, physically and emotionally, far too often than was good for the sensitive man’s soul.
He’d kicked off the year from hell in the clutches of the she devil who’d raped him. And Hathor had turned the screws nicely, Goa’ulding Jack in the bargain. A forced vacation in mental health, the death of his wife, and ‘betrayal’ by his best friend all followed—capped most recently by mind games and shock treatment at the hands of a religious nut. At least Daniel had gotten a research assistant out of that fiasco.
Jack shook his head. A lesser man than Daniel Jackson would have been completely undone by the crap heaped upon him in such a short time. And lately, Jack had wondered if even Daniel would regain his bearings.
Recalling the rest of his conversation with Hammond, Jack prayed his friend would have the chance.
“Their radios and weapons were taken. Some of the natives stayed back with Dr. Jackson, but Major Baer and Dr. Bigelow were dragged out of the cave. They managed to escape and, as the Stargate was closer than their base camp, they came directly here.
“Jack, Major Baer said Dr. Jackson had been beaten. He got roughed up a bit himself until they got his weapon from him, but they kept at Dr. Jackson even after he’d been disarmed. Neither the major nor Dr. Bigelow could tell us why Dr. Jackson was singled out for abuse.”
Jack had screwed his face up automatically, the answer occurring to him without effort—whipping boy seemed to be Daniel’s allotted role in life.
When Hammond had told him that Carter and Teal’c were heading out shortly with SGs 3 and 5, he’d confidently assured the general he’d be there and ready to lead the S & R, thankful that the base was only about twenty minutes off his route at his ill-advisedly excessive speed.
A call from SG-3′s team leader brought Jack back to the present. Jenson and McBride had been located, both unharmed. Now that the rest of Daniel’s host team was on their way back to the Stargate, Jack put all of his body and mind into retrieving his wayward archaeologist.
Briefly closing his eyes against the memory of Bigelow’s despondent gaze when he’d asked what sort of shape Daniel had been in when they’d last seen him, Jack willed his feet to pick up the pace, sensing that Daniel was somewhere nearby. Pushing through the treeline, he easily spotted the cave SG-11 had been exploring. He frowned deeply at the sparsely attired men standing guard just outside the entrance.
God, please let him be alive, Jack begged silently, raising his MP-5. Before he could pull the trigger, the men were enveloped in blue lightning. Casting just a quick sidelong look at the zat Teal’c held out in front of him, Jack barked at SG-5 to secure the perimeter and keep an eye out for more hostiles, before rushing headlong for the cave opening.
Pausing at the entrance, he placed his back against the wall on the left side of the doorway and waited for Carter to take up a position on the opposite side. Secure in the knowledge that she had his six, Jack ducked and rolled into the enclosure, unsure whether anyone would be on the other side to stop him.
Like anyone could keep me from Daniel now, he sneered mentally, bringing his weapon to bear on every opponent, real or imagined. When no one challenged him, Jack dragged himself to his feet with a speed that surprised even him, and calling to his teammates, made his way to the inner chamber Major Baer had described.
The way twisted and turned for what seemed like a mile underground, before Jack stepped through the entrance to the altar room, his gun leading the way. Immediately he began a visual search for Daniel among the wreckage of SG-11′s equipment, his ears keenly tuned to detect any sign of his friend.
Jack spun on the ball of his foot, both feet instantly marching in the direction his Jaffa teammate was bound for. He arrived at the rock wall at the same time Carter did. Teal’c was just rising, having stooped to retrieve something from the ground.
Lifting a quizzical brow at the trowel and stone Teal’c held out to him, Jack raised his flashlight and gazed up into the Jaffa’s grim face. The light penetrated the gloom behind the larger man and Jack’s eyes widened with understanding.
“Shit!” Pushing past Teal’c, Jack thrust his hands through the hole he’d seen and attempted to pull himself up to it. “He’s behind here,” he grunted, every instinct he had regarding Daniel telling him it was true. “Teal’c, gimme a boost.”
Almost immediately, his flailing foot was cupped by a pair of large hands, and Jack was raised to the small opening. He had no more space to look through than that taken up by a pair of goggles, but it was enough for Jack to see the feeble illumination of Daniel’s small flashlight and an immobile leg adorned in regulation SGC gear.
“Daniel!” Sam cried spontaneously, every bit of her concern for her friend evident in the shout.
“Daniel,” Jack echoed into the peephole. Dropping his flashlight, he wrapped a hand around one of the stones, pulling until he thought he might pop a tendon. The stone refused to budge.
He called to Daniel again, a shout of relief escaping him when the foot jerked a bit and a pained groan wafted through the hole. Immediately, Jack pushed away from the wall, dropping lightly to his feet when Teal’c automatically let him go. He strode to the opposite end of the wall, his hand caressing the surface of Daniel’s tomb as he went.
“We’ve gotta get in there,” he snarled urgently. Whirling on his teammates, he spied Teal’c’s staff weapon propped against the wall. Practically mowing Teal’c down in his haste, he stomped purposefully over and took up the weapon. “Carter, climb up there and tell Daniel to cover his head,” he ordered. “Teal’c, help her up.” Swinging back to the wall, Jack took careful aim high on the wall, at the spot he deemed furthest from their trapped teammate.
Waiting impatiently while Carter delivered her message, Jack motioned them both away from the wall once she’d gotten Daniel’s choked acknowledgment. He fired the staff and dropped it, forgotten once it had served its purpose, and swinging a hand before him to clear away the dust and particulate debris, charged to the wall.
Carter slid into place before him, shining her light into the newly opened space, and Jack elbowed her aside. Both officers peered cautiously over the crumbling barrier, afraid of what they might find.
As the fine bits of ruined stone quickly settled to the ground, forming a blanket of powder, their lost teammate came into view. Daniel was wedged in the corner, his knees pulled against his chest, his right arm draped protectively over his head. The dust over him stirred as he barked a short series of weak coughs.
Clambering through the opening, Jack called back, “Carter, go to the cave entrance and radio SG-3. Tell them to send back for a medical team and some engineering personnel. Teal’c, bring me that flashlight.”
“Yes, sir,” Carter responded automatically, and Jack watched her move without hesitation back through the tunnel.
Teal’c appeared with his abandoned flashlight and Jack snatched it from him, anxious to get to Daniel’s side. He fell down before the younger man, a hand impulsively cupping Daniel’s knee, the body part closest to him.
“Hey, buddy. Damn, it’s good to see you. Shift around this way so I can check you out, okay?” He tugged gently on the knee to guide Daniel, jerking his hand back when the gesture was met with a hissed curse.
“God, I’m sorry,” Jack placated softly, a sympathetic wince pulling at his features. “Where are you hurt?”
Daniel’s arm slithered down from around his head and a pain-filled eye peeped into Jack’s concerned frown. “Might be quicker to tell you where I don’t hurt,” Daniel bit out between the gasps forced from him as he shifted to more nearly face Jack.
Needing both hands to gently assist the maneuver, Jack handed the flashlight off to Teal’c, who had, of course, followed him into the tomb. As soon as Daniel was settled, he plucked the light from Teal’c’s grip so he could see the damage their young team member had sustained. Recognizing the dark stain smeared across Daniel’s forehead as blood, Jack tucked his fingers under Daniel’s chin, and lifting the younger man’s head slightly, shone the flashlight into his eyes.
“Ow,” Daniel complained and flinched away. Another curse spilled from his chapped lips and his right hand wrapped defensively around his left elbow.
“Daniel?” Jack queried worriedly. Daniel’s pupil reaction had been satisfactory, but Jack filed the head wound away to be dealt with as soon as he’d examined Daniel’s arm, which seemed at the moment to be causing him much more distress.
“Dislocated my shoulder,” Daniel wheezed. “Hurts like a bitch.”
Moving around to the archaeologist’s left side, Jack noted that Daniel had stowed his left forearm in the shelter beneath his ribcage, his hand tightly fisted.
“Daniel, I need to check it out, okay?” Jack warned before sliding his hand beneath the jacket and slowly skimming his fingers over the joint. It was hot and swollen, but the shoulder seemed to be situated normally. “You got lucky, huh? Slipped back into place on its own?”
Daniel shook his head vaguely, but offered no verbal response. The blue eyes squeezed together, and Daniel moaned, a very distinctive sound and one familiar to Jack, who had seen Daniel sick more times than he cared to number.
“Try to hold still,” he reprimanded mildly, “You’ve likely got a concussion and moving around’s just gonna make the nausea worse.” Slipping back to Daniel’s right side, he again gave the flashlight to Teal’c, directing him to illuminate the top of Daniel’s head. Gingerly combing his fingers through the brown hair, he located the source of the blood he’d noted earlier. “Yep, nice big lump to add to your list of owies,” he quipped with a wise-ass grin, trying to lighten the grim mood a bit. “You need water, but if you’re feeling sick—”
“I’m thirstier than I am nauseous.”
Jack received the confession with an ill-humored grimace. Instantly pulling the flask from his belt, he opened it, and held it to Daniel’s lips. “Careful with that,” Jack cautioned, backing the flask away as Daniel began to slurp loudly, “or you will throw up all over yourself.”
Eyeing the container longingly, Daniel huffed in annoyance, “I know, Jack.”
“I know, you know,” Jack allowed, a touch of impatience showing. “That still doesn’t keep you from guzzling if I don’t warn you against it.”
Daniel stared at him wordlessly and, recognizing the tired plea behind his friend’s attempt at a snarky glare, Jack relented, once again placing the flask to Daniel’s mouth.
Carter noisily climbed into the chamber. “Med team’s been notified, sir,” she said, coming hurriedly to join them. Teal’c instinctively stepped aside, making room for her to kneel beside their team leader. “How is he?” The question followed so closely on her sit rep that it could have been part of the same sentence.
Daniel signaled he’d had enough water. “I’m alive,” he choked lightly on his last swallow. “I mean, I’ve got to be alive, right? I don’t remember dead being this painful.”
Snorting an unladylike laugh, Carter smiled at the colonel, who grinned briefly before turning a worried countenance on their teammate. In spite of his bravado, Daniel was in considerable discomfort. Slumped against the wall, his pale skin shone with perspiration beneath the layers of dust and blood.
“He’s got a nasty wound on his scalp and a probable concussion,” Jack disclosed, feeling not the least bit odd that he was the one now reporting to her. “He says he dislocated his shoulder, but I’m not so sure. It might just have been partially dislocated, but it seems stable enough now.”
“No, Jack,” Daniel croaked, authority discernible under the fatigue, “The shoulder didn’t just slip, it was completely dislocated. Believe me, I know the difference.”
Daniel’s brow dipped in annoyance as Jack’s rose in skepticism. “I reduced it myself,” he answered the unspoken query.
“You what?” Jack blurted at the same time Carter bellowed, “How?”
“Rock shelf, back of the chamber,” Daniel huffed tiredly.
Following Daniel’s vaguely gestured stab to the right, Jack shook his head “He reduced his dislocated shoulder on that ledge, dragged himself up this wall and forced the stone out,” he interpreted, a curious mix of awe and irritation coloring the response. “Damn it, Daniel, that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do.”
Daniel’s brow puckered now, his eyes taking on a wounded look. “I couldn’t have made it to the wall otherwise,” he defended weakly, the utterance trailing off as his energy flagged.
Improvising a smile, Jack gently patted his good shoulder. “Let’s just hope you haven’t done any permanent damage or that’ll be the least of your worries when Fraiser gets her hands on you.”
Tweaking a weak grimace, Daniel sighed, “I thought you guys were on vacation.”
“Supposed to be,” Jack grumbled, though there was no irritation in his tone. “Teal’c was just getting ready to head out to Chulak. You know Carter never leaves,” he shot his 2IC a disapproving look, “and I turned around as soon the general got me on my cell.”
“You gave up a week at the lake to come rescue me?” Daniel’s eyes had closed, but they sprung open at Jack’s revelation.
“Well, I weighed my options.” Jack lifted his hands before him about shoulder width apart, palms up. “A week of peace and quiet, all alone at my cabin in the woods…” He pushed his right hand up a bit as the left dipped, the gesture signifying the compromised balance on a scale. “Or” the left hand came up, much higher than the right had, “an action packed day with my teammates, searching an alien planet for my trouble prone best friend.” The hand representing the lake option dropped with a slap at his thigh. “It was no contest, Daniel. You win every time.”
It was difficult to tell in this light, but Jack could swear Daniel’s eyes glistened with unshed tears. He shook his head in amazement. Could it be that Daniel still didn’t get how important he was to them?
Turning to look at Carter, Jack caught sight of the chamber behind her. Casting his gaze about the small space in which Daniel had been imprisoned, Jack suddenly felt a little sick himself. If Daniel hadn’t knocked that hole in the wall, they’d be waiting for the stretcher to carry his dead body back to the SGC.
Daniel’s grunt of pain drew his attention away from the worst case scenario, helping him focus on the wonder that was their very much alive civilian teammate.
“Any idea why the natives walled you up in here?” he asked, wanting to hear Daniel’s voice.
“I didn’t really get a chance to ask them,” was the gravelly response. Daniel cleared the dust from his throat, wincing as even that slight movement hurt. “But, um, there’s an inscription on the altar that references the goddess, Kali. I remember reading once about a small town in modern India where they ritually bury their children alive for a short time, as appeasement to her.”
Jack harrumphed, a grimace of distaste telegraphing his opinion of such archaic practices. “And they singled you out for this honor, why?”
His mouth pursed, a decidedly reluctant expression, and Daniel shrugged vaguely. “Well, I’d only be speculating…” he began hesitantly.
Jack smirked knowingly. “Gimme your best guess.”
The corner of Daniel’s lip lifted in a sheepish grin. “Maybe because I was touching the altar when they came in?”
Jack’s mouth flattened to a tight line. “Still haven’t learned to keep your hands to yourself, huh? You know you’re no better than that kid, what’s his name, Ken?”
“Kent,” Daniel corrected. What little color was left in his face drained away and Daniel grasped agitatedly at Carter. “Sam, “SG-11—”
“Are probably back at the SGC right now getting checked out in the infirmary,” Jack assured him, a hand rubbing comforting strokes over Daniel’s calf. “Though, I suspect ole Doc Fraiser isn’t among the medical personnel in attendance on our fair archaeological SG team.” He arched a roguish brow. “Something tells me the little dictator is gonna make the trip through the Stargate to personally chew your ass for making her fill out the extra paperwork required every time someone gets hurt on the job.” He sighed and his eyes lit with exasperated fondness. “I figure, as many times as she’s had to do that for you, you, my friend, are personally responsible for the deaths of thousands of trees every year.”
Daniel huffed dismissively, his breath hitching as the outburst caused his discomfort to skyrocket.
“Easy, easy,” Jack soothed, gripping the hand that waved in his direction, gratefully serving as Daniel’s anchor against the tide of misery sweeping over him. Once Daniel settled again, Jack leaned over his friend, waiting for the glazed blue eyes to latch onto his.
“Trees we can spare, Danny,” he said quietly. “Don’t do this to me again.”

Daniel swallowed the tears welling in the backs of his eyes. Jack’s gentle admonishment, while an ‘on the face of it’ reprimand, was also a reminder to the archaeologist of how much his teammates thought of him. ‘You are far too precious,’ the comparison to the countless trees’ deaths Jack attributed to him had said. ‘Not so easily replaced.’
Closing his eyes, Daniel acknowledged the literal statement and the underlying sentiment with a gentle nod. The events of the past year had weighed him down, had even made him doubt whether he still belonged at the SGC. And though he’d just gone through another trial of physical and mental endurance, he knew now it was all worth it, because giving up this work meant giving up his team—his family—something far more painful to contemplate than what he was currently suffering.
Drawing comfort from the presence of those he held every bit as dear as Jack had just confessed he himself was considered, Daniel relaxed, reserving his strength for the next predicament he’d have to get himself out of—explaining to Janet how he’d been injured in the first place.

The End

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