Picnic


The atmosphere was ambiguous and the weather inclement on SG1's unexpected night on P0X 266. What light the moon leant in its full phase was hindered by clouds. Trees of the deciduous variety were barren of leaves, and when the wind blew their branches cast shadows which appeared as thin, crooked hands and fingers on the ground below. Teal'c shivered. Customarily the chill air was not a bother to him, but he could not seem to retain warmth on this evening.

"It was a dark and stormy night," O'Neill said, no small amount of bitterness in his voice. "And the intrepid quartet were stuck on a cold, dreary planet even though they should have been home...and therefore warm...long ago. None of them were happy, but one in particular was really pissed off."

"I had no way of knowing the device would transport us this far away from the Stargate, sir. We're not due back at the SGC until tomorrow night."

"She had no way of knowing...hear that, Daniel, she had no way of knowing."

"Jack."

"No, I won't ease up. Alien device and transport - both words that should have rung some serious warning bells with someone and don't say I should have heard them, because I did but no one listened to me."

"I'm sorry, sir. You're totally right. This is all my fault," Captain Carter said.

Teal'c shivered once more. Assigning blame was of no interest to him, for it did not change their circumstances. He was of the belief that O'Neill should concentrate with greater detail on starting a fire. Not only would a blaze provide warmth, but it would also cast away the shadows which crept all around them. Unfortunately, the wind was just strong enough that a simple campfire was proving difficult to maintain. For a moment, it appeared as though O'Neill was going to respond to captain Carter, but then he returned his attention to the attempted fire.

"Too bad we don't have our sterno," O'Neill said.

"I really am sorry, sir."

O'Neill finally sparked a fame big enough to withstand the breeze. Within minutes, the blue-tinted dimness changed to dancing orange shadows. Teal'c remained standing while each of his teammates settled down - O'Neill begrudgingly - for the evening. As the portable heating device, their tents remained near the Stargate. They would be 'roughing it'. For some reason, that thought caused him a great deal of unease.

"Okay, we've got fire. Anyone happen to have food in their pockets?" O'Neill sounded more reasonable, and for that Teal'c was glad. "I've got...a power bar."

"I have these MREs," Daniel Jackson said. Teal'c watched, with some amusement, as four pockets were emptied. "They should tide us over."

"Daniel, how did you fit all of those in there?"

"Forget how," O'Neill said. "Why are you carrying all of those in there?"

"I like to be prepared."

"Well, look at that. Daniel Jackson: Boy Scout."

O'Neill spoke with sarcasm, but even in the dim light Teal'c saw the warmth in his expression. He thought O'Neill believed no one was aware of his true feelings. Teal'c, however, saw easy understanding in Daniel Jackson's face, however briefly it lasted there. It was sometimes as dangerous to mask emotion as it was sometimes of great benefit; he hoped his friends realized this.

"Ha ha." Daniel Jackson rolled his eyes and shook his head. Hair fell forward, concealing most of his face. "Do you want any, or do Sam, Teal'c and I get to split yours?"

"Touch."

Teal'c contemplated forfeiting his MRE. He did not care for this variety of Tau'ri sustenance even when it was heated properly, but tonight they would consume it cold. He frowned as Daniel Jackson stood and handed him the pouch of food. In the end, it might be better for him to consume the distasteful meal than endure O'Neill's inevitable commentary. Teal'c sat down next to Captain Carter. The fire and his closer proximity to it did not fully alleviate the chill he felt. For some minutes, the encampment was filled only with the sounds of the fire popping, the rustles of food packets being opened and the wind. There was not much to discuss. The new purpose of their mission was evident - to return to the Stargate.

"Nothing hits the spot like cold beef stew," O'Neill said, breaking the silence.

"Mmm," Daniel Jackson said. He did not appear to require palatability in his food choices. Perhaps this was something he could learn from Daniel Jackson - food as energy only. "I've had worse."

Teal'c lifted a cracker to his mouth, with the mental reminder that their day tomorrow would likely require much energy. Unfortunately, this knowledge did not improve the taste or the texture of the cracker. He would require much practice to learn to eat Tau'ri food for practicality only. He was glad the provisions at the SGC were significantly superior to these rations.

"I'm sure you have, Daniel," Captain Carter said. "They probably didn't have gourmet on Abydos."

Daniel Jackson stopped chewing, his expression becoming both hurt and wistful. Teal'c's stomach clenched. He would eat no more tonight himself. He set his food to the side. O'Neill coughed slightly and glared at Captain Carter, though she was focused only on her MRE. Her intent had not been to cause harm, yet his stomach still felt ill and Daniel Jackson continued to look haunted by good and bad memories.

"I was thinking about college food, but you've got a point, Sam." Daniel Jackson also put his food down. He leaned closer to the fire. Teal'c saw a sizeable shiver. "Flour you grind by hand does lack a certain amount of refinement."

"Oh, I don't know, Daniel. Sounds pretty healthy to me," O'Neill said. "But the discussion about food, as fascinating as it might be, isn't what we should really talk about right now. It's going to be a long, cold night. Anyone have any idea how far we actually are from the 'gate?"

"I didn't do much more than video the device, but there might be some kind of indication there."

"Think you can look at it tonight?" O'Neill cast a look behind him. "I'd like some information to go on by morning."

"Sure."

Teal'c tilted his head. It seemed O'Neill was intent on departing from this planet. Teal'c looked up to the overcast sky and full moon. There was indeed something alarming about this place, though he still could not put a name to that feeling. Being transported and indeterminate distance way from their way home did not help matters.

"I can probably help you with that - study what I can based on the images," Captain Carter said. Daniel Jackson flinched. "It's better than nothing. I can't look for a corresponding piece of technology out here in the dark. It's kind of creepy out here, you know?"

Daniel Jackson nodded, then shivered again. Teal'c did not believe viewing images on a miniscule screen was an effective means to determine anything of value.

"I will secure the perimeter," Teal'c said. They had not yet determined the safety of their location, an oversight that caused him no small amount of embarrassment.

"Good idea, Teal'c, but don't wander too far."

That would not be a problem. Teal'c buttoned his jacket, picked up his staff weapon and proceeded away from the campsite. Their presence in this new region had not provoked response from any of the wildlife. Captain Carter had indicated there were no sentient beings in the vicinity of the Stargate; because they did not know their current location, he did not know if that information was applicable any longer. As he walked up the slight incline, the wind became more of a force. They were fortunate for the vale, he thought. The night without equipment would be more tolerable for his friends in the shelter of the dell.

He conducted a full circuit around the campsite, edging no more than one quarter of a mile away. He did not encounter any nocturnal creatures that would be considered a threat. He did not know what he had expected. He glanced up at the moon, and it stared back at him blankly, as if it were a large open mouth, screaming. Teal'c shook his head. He was being foolish. A strong burst of wind blew through the trees, like a specter. Like a great number of specters. Foolish. He stared at the moving shadows on the ground for a moment, and then pulled the collar of his jacket up. He looked forward the warmth of the fire. He began moving back toward the orange glow.

He moved quickly, pace pushed by his irrational feeling of distress. The wind tugged at his jacket and wiggled its way underneath the hem. Teal'c clenched his jaw, ignoring the tendrils of coldness reaching up his back. He breached the rise, realizing that he could not hear his friends only when he saw that they were not where they should be. It was beginning to appear that his alarm was not entirely foolish. He gripped his staff tightly and brought it up to the ready. He immediately sought cover behind a tree, though he knew not from what. It did not matter.

Teal'c leaned his head back against the rough bark. The clouds were closing in, becoming denser. He watched as they blew over the moon. The silver light was extinguished, and for one terrible moment the darkness closed around him. He felt blind, he was blind until his vision adjusted with the fire's glow. He knew that in order to track his friends he must go to the campsite, for that is from where they vanished. He was reluctant. The hollow, he thought too late, was an excellent a location for a trap. He gripped his staff tighter and pushed away from the tree.

Out of the corner of his eye, the shadows grew darker and larger. He was being monitored by something he could not see. Teal'c clenched his jaw and raised his weapon. He did not have the chance to even prime the staff. A considerable force hit him from behind, knocking him to the ground.

~~!~~

There were a lot of phrases that put the heart into impossible situations. No one was capable of thinking with the heart, for example - that was ridiculous. Technically, the heart didn't even feel much of anything unless it was experiencing a myocardial infarction, and even then it was really not registering that pain. No, thinking and feeling and emotions were all brain, not heart. The heart also couldn't, in fact, beat a million times per second or beat right out of someone's chest. Daniel was pretty sure both of those would result in instant death. The heart might explode, literally. All these phrases were figurative, he knew that.

Daniel sat here, though, the embodiment of a person with his heart in his throat. Well, figuratively. He tried to swallow. Yeah, *that* was why all those figures of speech existed, he thought. Of course. He fiddled with his radio. He'd been just fine until he'd been separated from Jack and Sam. It was dark enough out here for him to be extremely jumpy. He toyed with the radio some more. He really wanted to use it, but it was too quiet. Wind in the trees would not disguise the loud sound of the radio activating, let alone his voice, and whatever was after them would hone in on him.

So Daniel huddled and tried to keep his breathing under control while he thought about what to do. He cursed the clouds - they seemed to be on the payroll of their attackers, blocking out the moonlight. Things would be so much better if he could see. Right, he thought, things would be just fabulous then. Think, think, he had to think. He wished he hadn't dropped the camera. He closed his eyes and tried to play back the image from memory. What little he recalled was pretty much useless. Okay. He had no idea where his friends were, he was cowering like a child afraid of the monster under his bed, he had no clue what was out there in the cold, dark forest and he had no idea how to get away from it. No problem. He was fine. Juuuussst fine.

Jack and Sam wouldn't leave him and Teal'c behind. Oh no, Teal'c would go back to camp and find them gone. Daniel knew now where he needed to go. His new sense of focus and direction did nothing to bring him control or comfort. The breeze picked up. He couldn't stay here all night long. With a shaky sigh, he stood up and held his breath, waiting for some kind of reaction from the mysterious attackers. For seconds, nothing happened and then, then something spindly and rough - a claw? - clutched at his forearm. Daniel ran and ran and never seemed to get anywhere. The footsteps stayed with him pace for pace.

He couldn't run any faster. He already knew he wouldn't even be able to maintain his pace for very long. He kept going. All he could hear was the harshness of his own breathing and those terrible footsteps, except, no, that wasn't true at all. There was singing, high-pitched and eerie. It came from all around, and it was as far away as it was very near. Daniel couldn't help it - he had to understand the barely audible words. His steps slowed.

And then stopped as he went head over heels over head again, landing with a skid and thump on his back. He stared, breath knocked out of him, at the moon, which started poking through the clouds. He thought perhaps he was drowning. It felt like it. His lips must be turning blue. Daniel panicked even more, thoughts of death of a more natural cause than by being eaten alive on some alien planet flicking through his brain. Ironic. His breath came back to him at last, and it sounded like the world was filled with his gasps. The singing was gone. So were the footsteps. He should have been relieved; he wasn't. The moon danced in the sky as he heaved and huffed and where were his glasses? An obscure shaped over the moon, too dark to be a normal cloud.

Daniel squinted, but the shape became no clearer. He wasn't being chased anymore, there were no footsteps and yet he had an uncanny feeling someone was watching him. A cold, sweat-inducing prickle ran up his spine and made his scalp tingle. The darkness slid away from the moon, like an oil slick. He tried to track it, but it blended right in to the night sky and he had an insane thought that the blackness was the thing watching him. He'd never escape that, it was everywhere. He still wasn't breathing at a normal rate.

"Daniel."

The voice was back, only this time he could hear it and oh crap it was here for him while he was sprawled on his back. Daniel sat up. He shook all over, like he was one of the leaveless branches in the wind.

"Daniel," the voice said again, high-pitched and breathy.

He had to run again he had to. His heart hurt at the thought of further abuse, and so did his feet, his calves, his hamstrings...

"Daniel, don't move." Okay. What? That wasn't what he expected to hear. Of course, he reasoned, a predator would naturally like its prey to stay put, which meant he should already be running. "It's right there."

Oh.

"Sam?" Oh, thank goodness someone else was alive. Daniel felt like throwing up. "Are you okay? Where's Jack?"

"Shhh." Something brushed against the back of his neck. He shivered. Sam appeared right next to him. She had her weapon ready. "Didn't you hear me? It's right *there*."

No, it was gone. It had been Sam watching him that had freaked him out, not it. There was no it, he decided then. Daniel shook his head. He was close enough to see Sam's knuckles were white around the MP-5. If she didn't relax, she'd end up with cramps in her hands. She seemed convinced something was right beside them. Maybe it wasn't just in his head. Just like that, he felt the cold fear grip him again, like it was Sam was contagious with it. He started to turn his head, but she grabbed him.

"Don't. Don't look at it. Don't," she said. "Pretend it's not there. Maybe it'll go away."

Yeah, that seemed like a really good plan. That way they could lull it into thinking they were easy prey, but then they'd run. Or Sam would shoot it. Wait...she must not be thinking clearly, or she would have shot it already. Now that he thought about it, Daniel wasn't sure why they hadn't heard shots coming from Jack's weapon. Unless there was only one it and it was focused on him and Sam. He unholstered his handgun and withdrew it. He should have done that a long time ago. He must not be thinking clearly either, but it was hard to think and run at the same time.

"Do you know where Jack is?"

"No, we got split up. I've been all alone." Sam shivered. She glanced around, presumably at it. Then she laughed. "If you go out in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise."

"What?"

He swallowed past that clichd heart-in-the-throat again.

"If you go out in the woods today, you'd better go in disguise."

The moonlight made Sam look like a ghost, shadows forming around her eyes and beneath her nose. She turned her head. The shadows blurred and formed trails that looked startlingly like the thing he had seen in the sky. Suddenly it made sense why she didn't want him to look at it, because there was no it behind him. *She* was it. Somehow that thing had got into her or assumed her shape or whatever and run. He had to run again. Being alone in the dark was better than being stuck next to a monster that could kill him any minute. Daniel raised his gun hand. Sam moved her head again, and he nearly screeched at the oil stains that were her eyes. Instead, he aimed the handgun.

"Daniel? What're you doing?"

"Stay...stay away."

So cold. The wind tore right through his BDU jacket and T-shirt, seemed to penetrate his skin until the very marrow of his bones was ice. Daniel backed up one step, then another. Sam advanced one step, then another. He had to remind himself that it wasn't his friend as he pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Damn, the safety was still on. Sam kept edging toward him. He should have been relieved that she didn't just pounce, but the creeping was creepy. His hands shook. He didn't have time to mess around anymore - Sam or whatever she was - was up close and personal now. He punched her.

And ran.

He seemed to be going downhill, so had a much easier time of it than he had before. It was right behind him, though, and he couldn't let up. The footsteps behind him were strong and sure, where he faltered and stumbled over forest detritus. The fallen leaves were slipperier than they had been before, and they were costing him dearly. His pursuer was gaining on him. He heard her singing in that ghoulish voice. He could hear the words this time, and they weren't in English. They weren't in any language he understood. They were useless, just like the writing on the device.

He could imagine what they meant, though. His imagination easily made them Sam singing about staying out of the woods. God, if he could get out of the woods, he would. His right foot caught a soggy leaf wrong, and his whole body locked as he tried and failed to keep from falling. Once again, Daniel sprawled on the ground, staring up that the sky. The thin, black branches skittered in the wind. For a horrifying moment, he thought they were hands reaching down to grab him.

He reached up to ward them off. The gun...the gun was gone, it must have fallen out of his hand when he hit the ground. Daniel slid on his back, like he could hide himself in the cold ground. The footsteps kept coming and coming. It should have already caught him, he thought muzzily. The footsteps were only meant to torment him. Screw that. He flailed a little bit, turning over onto his side. The rotting smell of the moist leaves invaded his nose, clung inside his nostrils. He retched and turned his head to try to get some fresher air.

Only that isn't what he got at all. He continued retching. The MRE had been unsavory going down; it was worse coming back up partially digested. Daniel struggled to prop himself up on his elbow, now dry heaving. The thing in the forest kept running, running at him. It was messing with his head. He looked down. He supposed there used to be eyes in the sockets that stared back at him, and a nose where there was just...God, he'd never stop gagging.

That was an exaggeration. Of course he'd stop, about the time he died. Died like the very humanoid body right here had. Daniel had never been surer of anything in his life as he was positive he would die a horrible death in the forests of P0X 266.

~~!~~

He didn't know how he had let this happen. He should have kept a much closer eye on Carter and Daniel. What kind of leader was he, anyway? Not only had he lost them, he'd run like a fraidy cat without once considering Teal'c. After he realized he was running alone in the dark and scary scariness, Jack had stopped. The huge giant of an alien that had crashed the campsite was nowhere in sight. That was of very little comfort to him. He didn't dare signal his team, and he doubted very much playing a game of whispered Marco Polo would be very effective.

Jack decided to begin at the beginning. Rule number one if lost was to stay put until found, but considering he didn't particularly want to be found by Mr. Big Hairy Alien that didn't work for him. Rule number two was, if able, to return to the starting point. He figured Teal'c was bound to return, so he crouched in the damp bushes around the campsite. Their fire continued to blaze pretty well. It looked very inviting. He shivered and pulled his coat closer. He should have noted which direction Teal'c had gone.

He stared at the fire. There was something hypnotic about the way flames moved. If he let himself drift just a little bit, he could imagine warmth on his face. It was nice, soothing. Made him want to curl up and take a long nap. Jack closed his eyes. His head felt floaty, like he really was on the edge of sleep. It wouldn't hurt anyone to just relax for a little while. He didn't even care when the bark of the tree he leaned on scratched at his cheek.

He did care, however, when the air was filled with strange crunching noises. It sounded like, ohno, it sounded just like when a cat catches a mouse and spends all afternoon munching on its bones. Jack became instantly alert again and upon that chastised himself for not remaining alert in the first place. The bone crunching did more than just make him alert. Despite the cool air, he began to sweat. The wind seemed all the cooler against the clamminess of his skin.

Then it stopped and he realized that, standing right in front of him was an enormous being. *The* enormous being. Jack reached for his gun, and didn't find it. Shit. Shitshit. Jot that down as one more thing he didn't know how he'd let happen. What an alarming trend that was turning out to be. He clenched his jaw and his fists and tried not to make any noise whatsoever. This wasn't exactly a fool-proof plan but it was all he had. He wouldn't let his bones become this monolith's evening meal without a fight.

Aiming low should topple the mighty giant, he thought. Jack took a big (but still silent) breath and lunged for the creature, hoping at the last second that it had knees in the same place an average linebacker had knees.

It did.

He pummeled the creature with as much brute strength as he could muster. Funny, though, now that he was up close it didn't seem nearly as dark and intimidating and it was wearing clothes that felt remarkably like his own.

"O'Neillllll," it wheezed.

Oh, crap. He knew that voice.

"Teal'c, buddy!" Jack whispered. He didn't know if voices could be paper thin, but his voice sounded rice paper thin to his non-expert ears. He stopped punching and climbed off his friend. "I thought you were something else."

Teal'c rolled over onto his back, with a grimaced expression. Amazingly, the guy still had his staff weapon in his hand. In the pale moonlight, Jack thought somewhat hysterically, Teal'c looked an awful lot like a Zuni hunting fetish doll he'd once seen at a flea market when he was a kid. The thing had freaked the hell out of him. Jack swallowed and shook his head. He was being irrational.

"What has happened, O'Neill?" Teal'c said in a hushed voice.

Jack sat back on his heels. What had happened? Uh. What *had* happened? He stared at Teal'c, trying to remember the precise events that had led to him calling for evac. He couldn't, really. For that matter, he wondered if anything had happened at all. It was possible, given that he'd just tackled Teal'c. Maybe it had been Teal'c he'd seen before, skulking around the perimeter, and not some massive alien.

"Uh," he said.

The bone crunching sound started again. The alien was a saber tooth. There, though. It was real. He squinted at Teal'c, gauging whether or not he heard the sounds as well. He had to, or Jack really was nuts. Teal'c sat up. Jack flinched, visions of Tiki still dancing in his head. That was just too creepy. Good thing Teal'c didn't smile much. On a positive note, Teal'c definitely heard the crunchcrunchcrunch.

"There it is again."

"Again?" Teal'c said.

"You didn't hear it before?" Rice. Paper.

"I did not."

Jack shivered. He did not like this planet, he did not like it at all. He tried to pretend the crunching wasn't there. He tried to pretend it wasn't a monster chewing on bones. It was a monster cracking its Neanderthal knuckles.

"What has happened, O'Neill?" Tealc' said again.

"There was this...thing. It was big. Really big." It had been big. He was almost sure that was true. Crunch. Crunch. Crunchcrunch. He thought about the remaining members of the team, out there in the dark because of him. "I ordered a retreat."

Teal'c frowned at him. Crunch, crunch.

"Where are Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson?"

"I lost them."

Lost. The confession echoed through his skull, rising in pitch until it was a whine. His uncle Louie had been able to do that thing with glasses filled with water, and this sounded just like it. Less musical, though. He couldn't ignore the hum. Instead of giving him a headache like it should, though, the noise made him very tired. Muddled. His brain felt like gelatin. He sat down and imagined his brain jiggling like Jell-o. He closed his eyes. Hummmmmmmm...

"O'Neill."

Wow, he had never heard Teal'c speak through clenched teeth before. Jack blinked a couple of slow times. There was a dark face was right in front of his. Whoa. What? Oh, it was T. Jack yawned. He could really used a nap. All that running before had worn him out. Teal'c's mouth moved, but Jack didn't hear any words come out. Heh. Teal'c was not much of a talker, but that seemed a bit strange to him.

"What?" he said.

"You must not sleep, O'Neill," Teal'c told him. That was when Jack realized there was strange pressure on his upper arms. Teal'c held him up, probably because he was slumping down. "Rest will come when we return home."

"I suppose." Home should be a good prospect. Somewhere in the back of his foggy mind, he figured he should be motivated by the idea of getting home. He'd rather not move. The wet ground was actually comfortable. "Maybe later."

"What of our friends? Do you not care for their welfare?"

Well that was a bucket of virtual ice water in his face Jack sat up out of Teal'c's grip. He had no idea what had come over him. The whine now shrieked all around them, though it probably had always sounded like that. Dj vu. He'd been down this road before. Kind of. He shook his head. Teal'c grabbed his arm. In the silverish moonlight, Teal'c's widened eyes appeared illuminated. The grip on his arm was tremendous now. Oh, he thought dully, no.

"No, yes. Of course I'm concerned." Teal'c didn't let go of him. "My head, it feels funny. I was just clearing it."

They should not be sitting here talking. His butt was soggy and cold. He shifted from cheek to cheek. It wasn't that bad, actually. He'd spent nights on worse. Teal'c shook him. He straightened up. Damn, he was lethargic.

"That'll work too." Jack smiled a little. Even that took too much energy. "I don't know what's wrong with me."

"There does indeed appear to be something affecting you negatively," Teal'c said. "This planet makes me feel uneasy."

Jack raised his eyebrows. He flipped his hand up and wiggled it around. Teal'c got to his feet, then extended his arm. Jack took it and let himself be pulled upright. He felt a little better with minimal movement. He hoped that would last. No, he had to do more than hope Somewhere out there were Carter and Daniel and he could not leave them to the bizarre elements.

"We need to find the others," Jack said.

"Indeed."

Finding the others, though, would not solve the other big issue. They'd never get off this rock unless they figured out where the Stargate was. Actually, if he thought about it, the two issues were tied very closely together. Find Carter and Daniel and there were the two members of the team most likely to come up with a magical answer. Jack yawned. He didn't feel up to wandering around right now. He reached for his radio.

"O'Neill, is that wise? The noise of the radio engaging could draw the attention of the...big thing...you mentioned."

"It's that or stumble around blindly all night. Want to take the chance?" he whispered. Teal'c didn't say anything. Jack thumbed the radio. He jumped at the crackle of static that burst from his companion's radio. "Carter? Daniel? Please respond."

After half a minute of no answers, Jack knew there were three possible reasons why. One, Carter and Daniel were out of radio range. Two, Carter and Daniel had turned their radios off. Or three, Carter and Daniel had been snatched by the hulking thing and were dead.

~~!~~

Daniel packed quite a punch. Sam stared up at the fast-moving clouds for a second, but that was all she could afford. That...Wookie was still stalking her. She got herself upright and fumbled to get her weapon in order again. Her ears rang. She couldn't believe Daniel had drawn his weapon on her...wait, he might have been aiming at the beast. Sam's palms began to sweat. She looked from side to side, using only her eyes. She didn't have much range of vision that way, but she didn't want to chance the alien reacting to her movements.

She was all alone. It wasn't standing there anymore. Oh, God. Alone again. She started breathing faster. Daniel had turned himself into bait. She should feel glad. She was as terrified now as she had been when it was staring at her like she was the first entre in a four course meal. Sam scrambled to her feet. She had to get out of here now, take the opportunity she had. She glanced around. Nothing looked familiar. She knew which direction she didn't want to go in, though - the way Daniel had gone with that thing close on his heels.

She figured the creature wouldn't backtrack unless it lost Daniel. The colonel might retrace his steps, though. Sam felt like she was abandoning Daniel; that seemed less important than surviving at this very moment. She shook her head, trying to rid the tinnitus from her ears. The dark closed in on her like a fist. She started jogging, and soon was flat out running. She sensed something watching her. Had she been wrong about the creature following after Daniel? Shit, through the ringing dulling her auditory sense, she heard footsteps following after her. She couldn't outrun the thing. She froze, then pressed herself up against the nearest tree. Hide. She had to stay hidden. Quiet like a mouse.

"Shit, shit," she whispered between panting breaths.

The footsteps stopped. The thing was waiting for her to make a move, she just knew it. She could move stealthily, even without the training O'Neill had in covert operations. The thought of the colonel again made her tempted to use the radio. She was already being tracked; she didn't need to paint a target on her back. No. No contact. She had to hide and get away. But she couldn't do both, because getting away meant moving and moving meant the thing would know where she was. A curl of desperation started in her pinky toes and moved its way up to her heart. The beating in her chest alone was probably alerting the alien.

Think, she told herself, think. She shifted slightly, making no noise. Her left foot landed in a particularly smooshy pile of sodden leaves. Distracted, she looked down. Something white was beneath her foot. It didn't look much like leaves to her. Sam glanced left and right furtively, then lifted her foot off the object before crouching down. She squinted. There was something alarming and familiar about the shape. She reached out, and then stopped before she was halfway there. She studied her own hand. She studied the object. Oh. Oh, God, that used to be alive.

"Carter? Daniel?" Her radio burst to life. Sam jerked. "Please respond."

She couldn't tear her eyes away from the bloated fingers of the hand she'd just discovered. She knew it. She knew there was a killer out there, and it was coming for her. She whimpered deep down in her throat. Where there was one body, there could be more. The forest was probably full of dead people. She shuddered. It was so cold all of a sudden, the kind of cold that made her lungs hurt. It didn't matter if she answered the colonel or not, they were all going to die out here. She had a choice - to die at the hands of a predator or just end it herself. She looked down at her MP-5. Too unwieldy. She let go of it. It thumped against her once before it dangled on its strap.

She closed her eyes. Visions of being torn apart by a mysterious dark creature tormented her. She did not want that to be the way she died. Shuddering, she opened her eyes. It seemed darker. She glanced up at the sky. It was black, much blacker than was natural. Maybe it was just clouds. She tried to see more clearly. Part of the darkness slid away. There were several slivers of sky poking through what didn't appear to be clouds. The effect was that it looked like a giant hand reaching down for her. She whimpered again. White hand on the ground, black hand in the sky. She was going to die.

"Carter," the colonel said again, breathing heavily.

"I can't," Sam said. "I can't answer and I can't be here."

"Carter!"

Hands on her shoulders, cold and strong. She couldn't die with herself if she didn't face her attacker head on. She'd waited too long, and now she had no choice at all. She didn't want to look.

"Teal'c, help me out here, will you? I need to sit down."

"Captain Carter, you must regain control of yourself so that we might leave this planet. Soon."

Big speech. Sam finally figured out the radio hadn't burst with static. The hands on her arms were human. She gasped like she had forgotten to breathe for several minutes. Her ears still rang. The vague black hand faded.

"Sir? Teal'c."

She felt a little better just by having someone else close. She hoped there wasn't something wrong with them like there was with Daniel. No. She'd decided Daniel was fine. Hadn't she? She made a pretty good case for her being the unbalanced one. If she didn't feel like she was about to have a massive heart attack, she might laugh. Not a funny ha-ha laugh, though.

"Oh good. Carter's with us now."

Not really, she thought. She didn't say it, of course. She had just enough sense left to realize that wouldn't be a good idea. She looked down at the cadaverous hand. Repulsed, she tried to kick it away. She didn't know what was going on, suddenly so very confused. Sam looked back toward the colonel and Teal'c. O'Neill sat in front of her in a deep slouch while Teal'c stared with slightly wild eyes. She wasn't used to seeing either of them that way.

"What's going on?" she said.

"No idea, Carter, other than both Teal'c and I are really keen on getting out of here."

"Take me with you." The colonel straightened up at her whiny tone, and the expression on his pale face made her wince. She shouldn't have said that. "Let's get out of here."

"We have yet to determine the location of the Stargate," Teal'c said. Sometimes she really hated the bearer of bad news. "The whereabouts of Daniel Jackson also remain unknown."

Oh God, Daniel. What was she thinking?

"I saw him."

"You saw him. What the hell happened? Where is he?" the colonel said, sounding upset. But then he yawned.

Teal'c leaned in close to her. Sam saw fear in his dark eyes. Yeah, no kidding. Her own terror rose again. Safety in numbers was apparently a temporary feeling. She couldn't let herself lose it again. She reached out and clasped Teal'c's arm. Contact that wasn't a fist against her jaw felt nice. She might be okay if she had someone to lean on. She didn't even care how weak that probably was.

"Carter."

"I don't really know where he is. I...there's something out here with us," she whispered. Her voice shook. Guess she wasn't as steady as all that. "I ran into Daniel. It watched us but didn't do anything else. Then he...then Daniel went a little crazy."

O'Neill's gaze burned into her at that. She looked at him. His attention was actually on the ground. Funny what the mind projected. She'd rather have him stare at her, though she had no idea why. It wasn't particularly pleasant to be glared at. For a moment, she thought the colonel had found the hand. Teal'c shifted, his arm pulling from under her hand a bit, and shook her CO violently.

"Now is not the time for rest, O'Neill." Sam furrowed her eyebrows. Apparently there was something wrong with the colonel, it just wasn't the same thing as her. Or Daniel. Teal'c shook O'Neill until he raised his head. "Continue."

Huh? Oh, he meant her.

"He, uh, drew his weapon on the thing, but then he hit *me* and ran away."

"Ran where, Carter?"

"That way." She pointed back where she had come from. "But sir, there's something else you should know. We're not the first ones to be lost out here."

She pointed again, this time at the hideous thing at her feet.

"Guh," the colonel said. "That's...unpleasant."

"We must really endeavor to locate Daniel Jackson."

"No kidding. You got anything?"

"Not at this time."

"Keep trying."

Sam blinked at the volley of words. Beneath her and, Teal'c was so tense his muscles vibrated. Her mouth felt dry. She had no idea what they were talking about. Her mind was now fully on Daniel She should never have just left him to fend for himself. That thing could be ripping him apart right now, and it would be at least partially her fault. Now, she was more scared than ever.

~~!~~

There was one thing Teal'c knew he must not do and that was to reveal to his friends how disturbed he was. His concern and frustration with O'Neill's strange lassitude combined with Captain Carter's clear distress served to keep him somewhat occupied, but not entirely. He had yet to encounter anything to suggest there was indigenous life with which they should be concerned, however he had the utmost confidence Captain Carter was correct.

It had been most fortunate that he had been able to hear Captain Carter through the din in the air. A constant Siren had perturbed his hearing for quite some time. The words of the song it sang were indistinguishable, yet he felt a sense of foreboding regarding them. The song only decreased slightly in volume when in the companionship of his friends - in other words, when he was otherwise too engaged to take notice of it. Teal'c could not say for certain if the song was real; neither of his friends seemed aware.

As he looked at the remains of the hand at Captain Carter's feet, Teal'c was grateful the song was not the strange knuckle-popping sound he and O'Neill to which had been witness earlier. He knew that sound would cause Captain Carter to...freak out...in conjunction with the dismembered limb she had found. It might lead her to the same conclusion he had reached - SG1's fate if they did not leave P0X 266 in an expeditious manner would be grim. Worse, their disappearance would undoubtedly provoke General Hammond to send a search party, who would only meet the same unfortunate end. A Jaffa leader would never do such a thing - rescue was a luxury the Goa'uld did not afford their armies.

"It will be most difficult, O'Neill," Teal'c admitted. There was simply too much pulling at his attention and his own emotional state. He could now add shame.

"You're right. Why are we even bothering?" O'Neill said with a sigh. "We're all going to die out here."

Never before had he heard such despondency come from O'Neill. He would not have followed a man who spoke of resigning without a fight. He glanced between his companions. Teal'c could not understand the vast difference between O'Neill and Captain Carter's behavior regarding their as yet unknown enemy. He knew that when they had discovered her, Captain Carter's thoughts were very dark, and this seemed the only link between the reactions. O'Neill often seemed unaware of the magnitude of their situation. Both of them, he thought, were easy prey. And that was the true power of whatever stalked them. It was a power perhaps too strong to battle.

"Sir?" Captain Carter quivered, both in voice and body. "What do you mean? Did you see..."

"O'Neill is unwell," Teal'c said to her.

And so Teal'c ignored his own feelings of apprehension to once again ensure O'Neill did not fall asleep. The other man might not seek his own death in the same overt manner Captain Carter had only minutes ago contemplated. He wondered if he should disarm her. No, among them all she would be fine and her weaponry would prove useful if they encountered the entity.

"I will require your assistance."

She glanced down at the hand, and back up to him. Her eyes were very large, glistening with worried tears. As he had never before seen O'Neill defeated, he had never seen her appear so vulnerable. It was all the more reason to make hast. Between the two of them, they got O'Neill upright. Teal'c did not think they would get much additional help from him. O'Neill lapsed into semi-consciousness more quickly than he had only a few minutes ago. His friend's reactions to this planet served to increase his trepidation. If there was simply a being out there, what was causing this reaction in O'Neill. Teal'c thought it must have some great psychic ability. It was illogical, yet he could not help but believe there was truth in his supposition. And it was perhaps a power too strong to battle.

"O'Neill," he said, loudly and directly in his friend's ear. "We cannot give up. Do not forget we must find Daniel Jackson before any harm befalls him."

He did not enjoy using guilt as a tactic, but it was the only effective means to motivating O'Neill. He would continue to salt that wound as long as was required to get him and his friends to safety. The bizarre song trilled more sharply, as if it knew what was going on in his mind and wished to set him off balance. Teal'c continued to search the woods for more solid confirmation of the strange happenings, a physical explanation for his agitation. Truthfully, the incessant music was beginning to fray his nerves. He feared it was more than difficult to hear any other noises through the eerie melody. He feared hearing Daniel Jackson was an impossible task.

"Yeah, I'm ready," O'Neill said. He did not sound ready.

"I believe we should move quickly."

"Run?"

"Yes, O'Neill."

Captain Carter winced, but nodded at him and they began to jog. On his own, he would have found the terrain treacherous. O'Neill's near-dead weight did not make their journey pleasant. Teal'c struggled to maintain a grip on both O'Neill and his staff. He was strangely relieved O'Neill had lost his weapon - it would have impeded already awkward positioning.

Teal'c kept his eyes focused on the ground much of the time, searching for signs of Daniel Jackson as well as ensuring his friends at his side did not fall. He also watched for any other body parts or corpses, to avoid stumbling across them. The gruesome visage of those already dead would not be a welcome sight. None must have survived, for surely any race who'd encountered this planet would warn others away.

"God," Captain Carter said. By that one word alone, Teal'c knew she was exhausted. She continued. "I wish my ears would stop ringing."

Teal'c stumbled. The melody in his head *was* more like a constant hum, as if his eardrums had been pinged and continued to resonate. The effect came in melodic waves.

"You hear it as well?"

"It makes me want to stop and rest," O'Neill said, indicating he heard it as well. His commentary, however, was most unhelpful.

"I'm sensing a pattern," Captain Carter muttered, then she also stumbled. Her face went slack for a moment, and her skin paled to the point of translucency. "This is it. This is where I last saw Daniel."

"You are certain?"

They slowed and stopped. Teal'c answered his own question with a quick perusal of the scene. He saw where Captain Carter had fallen after being hit. The clouds once again covered the moon, and the wind felt even cooler. It blew some of the wet leaves around. Still, Teal'c determined where Daniel Jackson had recoiled and then began running.

"This way," he said.

"Do we really have to?" O'Neill whined. "You guys go ahead. I'll wait here to die, since that's what's going to happen, anyway."

"Sir..."

Captain Carter appeared horrified. She nearly lost her grip on O'Neill, and Teal'c could not blame her. It seemed O'Neill would not relent in stating his defeated opinion, just as he would not snap out of his stupor for more than a few minutes at a time. The wind cut right through his clothing. Teal'c shuddered. Captain Carter glanced at him, looking even more horrified. She must have felt him.

"Teal'c, are you okay?"

"I am merely chilled, Captain Carter," he lied. "The weather on this planet is most uncomfortable."

He was not an effectual liar, but Captain Carter did not make mention of his untruth. It was not a complete falsehood; Teal'c suspected the weather did in fact enhance all of their anxiety. If he continued to feel it, then surely Daniel Jackson would be suffering even more. By comparison, Teal'c had spent only scant minutes alone. He envisioned Captain Carter as she had been when he and O'Neill had found her. It could already be too late for Daniel Jackson.

"Makes you wonder how the colonel could sleep when it's like this. The cold and damp just soak right into my bones."

"It is this way," Teal'c said. "Daniel Jackson's footsteps are erratic."

"I told you, he wasn't himself."

"As are none of us."

There, it had been said. It did them no good to not discuss what was occurring, Teal'c suddenly realized. It must be as clear to Captain Carter as it was to him that things were far from okay with all of them. He thought O'Neill knew this as well, even on some very remote level, or he would not gain some semblance of responsiveness when prompted. Captain Carter nodded again, and once again appeared very small and vulnerable. He would not let his friends be taken advantage of like this. His skin crawled with cold that could not be attributed to the wind and the temperature of the air.

"Please tell me we're going to make it out of here," Captain Carter whispered. "I think...I think it's right behind us now."

This gave Teal'c pause. He turned his head slightly, to determine if she was correct. There did indeed seem a large dark shape in the woods behind him, though he could not tell if it was truly an animal of some sort. He smelled nothing. He heard nothing. Yet it was there, huge and black and vague.

"We should continue."

"What if that's what it wants us to do?"

"There is little choice."

Between them, O'Neill snored lightly.

~~!~~

He smelled like vomit and dead things. Usually his nose became accustomed to smells once exposed to them after a certain amount of time - after three days on Abydos, he was no longer bothered by the smell of the mastadge pens. This was different. This was death and fear. It didn't matter if he turned into the wind, he could still smell himself. Daniel knew if he could smell himself, the thing would smell him even more; that's just the way animals and other things hunted. He thought if he rid himself of his jacket the smell would fade, but if he did that he would be cold, very cold. He stared at the carcass and felt another round of nausea.

Nothing left in his stomach. He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket. Oh, yeah, the jacket had to go. Daniel sat up and stripped off the jacket. Almost right away, goosebumps broke out across his arms. He'd live with it. He tossed the jacket over the dead body, with a final dry heave. No changing his mind about the jacket now. The footsteps seemed to be getting less like taunting and more like chasing again. He crawled around the immediate vicinity, looking for his gun while avoiding the body. He couldn't see a damn thing out here without his glasses and in the dark.

Finally, his fingers contacted something hard and metal. He picked up his weapon and then picked up himself. His legs quivered from over taxation. Part of him was tempted to just sit down and let whatever was out there get him. Then he thought of mastadges and Abydos and the lack of gourmet cooking and Sha'uri and no, he could not die here. He swallowed, grimacing at the horrid taste in his mouth. That was the least of his worries.

"Carter? Daniel?" Jack's voice burst from the radio, though it was whispered. "Please res-"

Shit, Jack was going to get him killed. Daniel lunged for his jacket, pretending there was nothing but leaves beneath it. He killed the *message* before it could be completed. He was relieved to hear Jack was okay out there, but the radio made him as big a target as the stench of vomit had. He stood up. Now that he had heard a friendly voice, though, he was tempted to turn the radio back on and cryscreambeg for help. He thought of Sam and that horrible sludge she had for eyes. Any one of his friends could be his enemy. Icy air swirled around him, coming from behind instead of in front of him. It felt like something was breathing down his neck.

He ran.

The uncanny singing started once again. Actually, Daniel didn't know if it had ever stopped. He only seemed to notice it every once in a while. This time, he had no intention or interest in finding out what was being said. It wasn't good, and that was all he needed to know. His left knees gave out slightly. He wobbled. The adrenaline that was keeping him going was no longer enough, he thought dully. Hide. He should hide. Running didn't seem to be working anyway. He slowed down a little. So did his pursuer's footsteps. Damned mind game.

There was nothing but trees and bushes, none of them adequate cover for hiding. The thing had found him easily enough when it was in Sam. God, what if that's what happened to people here - they were somehow absorbed into that dark mass he'd seen into the sky? He choked, feeling suffocated already. Shut up, shut up, he told himself. The thing wouldn't have to get him if he kept thinking of terrible things that made his pulse race and breath quicken. He wasn't old enough or unwell enough for a heart attack, but somehow it didn't seem outside the realm of possibility.

His left knee buckled again. He teetered to the left and connected with a tree hard enough to scratch his bare arm. He leaned against the tree, taking a much-needed moment to catch his breath. He didn't bother trying to dampen the noise he made. It made no difference if he crept stealthily or crashed through the underbrush like an elephant, there was always someone behind him. Except there were no footsteps now when he stopped. Daniel twisted his arm and raised it up so he could see how bad the scratch was. It was a flesh wound, barely there, yet it stung like crazy. His arm gleamed with sweat. The moisture made the coolness of the air that much worse.

He took a step away from the tree. The footsteps started again. Daniel whimpered as both his left and right knee decided he wasn't going anywhere. He stepped backward. His back hit the tree trunk with a soft thump, and he slid down until his butt hit the squelchy earth. He let his legs spread out in front of him, resting his hands on his lap. He eyed the Beretta. It was just a shadowy blur against the whiteness of his skin and the drab of his pants. He didn't think it would be of much use to him against the thing, if it was as big as Sam said it was. He snuffled out a humorless laugh. He wouldn't be able to use it if the thing looked like his friends, either. He'd already proven that.

"Oh, Sha'uri, I'm so sorry," Daniel said.

There was no way he was capable of running anymore. He was tired, too tired to even be afraid. He glanced up to the sky, not surprised at all to see the big black stain covering it. It followed him everywhere, just like the thing on the ground. His very own dark cloud, only he thought this was no cloud, and it would bring far worse than rain. His fingers gripped the gun tighter. He toyed with the safety until it was switched off. This time he'd be ready when it came. He wasn't completely resigned to death, no way in hell.

Now that his fear had been dwarfed by exhaustion, Daniel had time to think. Little by little, logic filtered back into his brain. He replayed his encounter with Sam. The whole idea that she had somehow been taken over seemed pretty silly. It had probably been a product of his imagination, which meant his friends were really his friends, and not something else to be scared of. Oh, he wished he wasn't alone right now.

Daniel figured the thing must know exactly where he was. Why it hadn't revealed itself to him was not something he could possibly understand. He stared up at the sky. The slick blackness was more expansive now, and it had started settling down like fog. He thought maybe it really was partnered with the thing - it would kill him and then the thing would eat him. God, and the same thing would happen to his friends. Could he really sit here and let that happen?

He had to go back, even if that meant he had to crawl. He rolled to the right, bracing his muscles for more abuse. He got to his hands and knees, and that was where he got stuck. Something...coldness, slickness...something held him fast. Pressure built on his shoulders, lifted them up so he was kneeling like a penitent. He couldn't see anything. The feeling that someone was breathing down his neck returned, but that wasn't right because breath was hot.

"I am not afraid," he said to himself. But it wasn't true. He was petrified. Even if he weren't pinned down by something, he wouldn't be able to move. "I am *not* afraid."

A flood of noises filled his ears - the strange singing with a resonant hum buried in the background, footsteps, a crunching noise like someone grinding teeth. It jumbled in his head, and there was so much pain. His brain felt like it was melting. It felt not unlike being held by a Goa'uld ribbon device. Daniel tried to move, but it was futile.

"Geilt, sgeun, eagalllll," were the song's words. "Teireachduinnnnnnn. Geilt, sgeunnnnnn, eagal. Teireachduinn."

Sounded almost Gaelic, he thought in the back of his mind, still stupidly trying to translate. The words were death. Daniel gripped the Beretta tightly and lifted his hand up, holding it diagonally across his chest. He didn't think he stood a chance at getting a shot off, but he had to try. Tendrils of cold reached all around him, wrapping around his arms. Pulling at him. Wrestling for his weapon? That seemed wrong, yet the tendrils were stronger on his right arm.

"Geilt, sgeun, sgeun. Teireachduinnnnnnnn."

"Yeah. Well. Que sera, sera," he said. "Whatever will be, will be."

Great, channeling Jack O'Neill at his time of death. And here Daniel had thought things were as grim as they were going to get. The racket in his head seemed to weaken, and so did the coldness gripping him. Maybe Jack's sarcasm did have a point. He wrested his gun arm free.

"I am not afraid," he said again, with as much conviction as he could muster. "Death is just another step in the journey."

The thing wasn't convinced. The pressure on his shoulders increased, and his arms were spread wide. The gun fell from his hand as his head was yanked back roughly. He couldn't even see small patches of sky anymore, it was all black.

"Geeeeeilt."

He was tired of hearing it, he really was.

"Yeah, geilt, sgeun, eagallllll. I've got it memorized."

The force holding his head lessened, but like before the resistance didn't last long. The iciness was everywhere, as if it was feeding off of him, stealing his warmth. He couldn't feel his fingers, and it was getting more and more difficult to think. Something shifted behind him, the first solid thing he had felt since first being pinned. Daniel shuddered. He felt so frail.

"I'm not...I'm not afraid of you," he said again. He wondered if the thing was as tired of him saying the same thing over and over again as he was of its repetition. "Help me, help me."

The teeth-grinding sound clattered loudly, taking over dominance from the strange song. He would be glad if he didn't suddenly realize that it sounded more like bones snapping than teeth grinding. Daniel whimpered, but struggled once again to break from the thing's hold. He was going to lose, and he thought about dying. Did other people have this roller coaster of fear and acceptance and resistance and then even more fear? He decided to be selfish and not really care.

"Oh, God, someone help me."

The thing grew stronger with every unsteady breath he took. He, in turn, grew colder and shakier. It wrenched his head up again, exposing his neck. Daniel knew he was vulnerable already, but that made him even more so. The air around him was frigid, far colder than it should be. He could see his breath, whitish steam against the black tapestry of the vague, vast blackness. It puffed out steadily, the image of his fear. His head was tipped down.

Finally, then, he saw the thing for the first time. It loomed in front of him, a great, grey behemoth of a creature. Daniel narrowed his eyes, trying to distinguish its shape better. He didn't know why. It wasn't like he could tell anyone what had eaten him. It wasn't like anyone would find him at all. His friends...his friends might already be dead.

Daniel whimpered again, and he hated himself for being so frightened. The thing took a step forward, yet remained shapeless. He closed his eyes when it took another step. He heard it rustling through the leaves toward him, slowly at first and then quickly. The bone snapping noise crescendoed, then ended with one final crack. The hold on his body released, and his limbs felt empty. He sagged to the ground, face first. There were hands everywhere, tugging at him, turning him over. He saw a familiar face hovering above his.

"Sam," Daniel said, and then passed out.

~~!~~

Sam thought the colonel was asleep until she heard it. And she didn't believe it until she saw Teal'c look down at O'Neill and then up to her. Like the ringing in her ears, she tried to ignore it, and like the ringing in her ears, she failed. Her CO was crying. Not sobbing, just soft, broken weeping. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She glanced at Teal'c again and noticed his jaw was ticking in a regular beat.

"Anything?"

She'd long figured out that Teal'c must have heard her and that's how he and the colonel had found her. She didn't understand the Jaffa and their mysterious ways, but right now she was simply grateful. If they hadn't shown up when they did...well, she shouldn't really be so shocked at O'Neill's state of total gloom. But Sam knew her own insecurities and emotions; as far as she'd been able to tell, neither the colonel nor Teal'c had them. Except Teal'c was scared and the colonel clearly had emotions.

"No. Daniel Jackson is a very strong runner."

That was true. Daniel didn't look much like an athlete, but he had legs. Not that she had a habit of watching him, but she had noticed he could pretty much keep up with Teal'c whenever they were running for their lives. The colonel and she were always at the rear. It was actually both embarrassing and impressive, but they were lucky they had never been separated before. Teal'c would never allow that to happen.

God, O'Neill was heavy. She let go of the arm she had strapped across her shoulders just long enough to shift her MP-5 so it poked him in the ribs. It was insubordinate and a little bit dangerous, but she didn't care. The colonel was freaking her out. This planet was freaking her out.

"What is that odor?" Teal'c said.

Sam sniffed. She smelled nothing but dead leaves and the colonel's sweat and hair. She shook her head. For all she knew, the scent was a mile away. Teal'c's senses were as amazing as Daniel's speed. He seemed positive it was important. He veered them to the right. She looked backward. The thing was still there, watching them. She still felt as though it was steering them, somehow, even though that was irrational. The only thing steering them was the path Daniel had taken.

It wasn't a mile away. It was only about fifty yards, thank goodness. Her muscles ached. She was torn between being appreciative of the distraction lugging her CO around gave her and irritated by it. Teal'c did most of the work to ease O'Neill down to the ground. Her arms shook in a reaction to overuse. She watched Teal'c crouch down over something. Sam made sure the colonel was okay - relatively speaking - and then joined him.

"What is it?" she said.

"Vomit." Teal'c turned to her. She was close enough to see the vein on his temple thrumming, a physiological signal of agitation if she ever saw one. "It appears that Daniel Jackson has also removed his jacket."

"What? It's so cold, he'll get sick."

Sick. Yeah, sick was probably the hugest threat against Daniel right now, she thought. Sick was, however, what she was right now. Her stomach ached with fear - for Daniel, of this place, of death. Sam shivered, imagining Daniel out there in this damp with only a T-shirt.

"You should avert your eyes, Captain Carter."

She smelled it then. Putrefaction. Decomposition. Daniel had also found a body part. The forest was just one goddamned huge smorgasbord for this monster, and the members of SG1 were next in line in its midnight snacking bonanza. Even without seeing the remains, Sam gagged. She turned her head away as Teal'c suggested, checking on the colonel once more. There he sat, like a lump. She doubted he'd even fight if the thing pounced...the thing. She didn't see it anymore. She grasped Teal'c on the shoulder.

"Daniel Jackson disabled his radio," Teal'c said.

"It's gone." She squeezed, then thumped him on the shoulder several times. "The thing, I don't see it anymore."

Teal'c looked at her. She looked toward where it used to be, and heard him turning his head as well. Nothing in his stance or behavior changed; Sam thought he had never seen it. It seemed she was the only one who had. She had time to think about it, and she was pretty sure Daniel had been aiming the gun at her after all.

"I don't think that's a good thing, Teal'c."

Not good. Not good at all. If fear had a smell, it would be the horrible thick smell that blanketed the area. Sickness and death, sweat and wet leaves. She might be repeating herself even internally, but they really had to find Daniel.

"No, it is not."

Teal'c agreed with her even if he didn't completely believe what she was seeing. That comfort edged into her overwhelming sense of panic for about a millisecond. Both of them started moving for the colonel again. There had to be a way to snap him out of his sluggishness.

"Sir, the thing is going after Daniel," Sam said, embarrassed at how squeaky her voice sounded. Squeaky was nothing compared to begging. "Please, you have to help us."

"Daniel Jackson will certainly perish if we do not locate him soon. Do you wish this to happen, O'Neill?" Teal'c said, really cutting to the chase.

Sam gaped at him, horrified at the implied blame. It was true, yes, but whoa. Again, Teal'c also resorted to physical stimulus, crouching down to first shake the colonel and then slap him several times.

"Dead," the colonel sobbed. "We're all going to die."

Teal'c said something in his own language, and she was no translator under normal circumstances, but she was pretty sure he'd just said fuck. Or maybe shit. Something vulgar, anyway. She, on the other hand, had turned as useless as O'Neill, standing her slack jawed and mute. Teal'c tugged the colonel to his feet and started walking without her help.

"Do you see it, Captain Carter?"

She looked the direction Teal'c was taking. The moon was bright now, illuminating the woods in more detail than she actually wanted. Except for in one spot, where it was black as pitch. That had to be where Daniel was. Sam started jogging to catch up. The colonel pulled his 'I-need-to-sit-down-and-die-now' routine just as she reached her friends. She poked him in the back. Hard.

"Ow, damnit, what was that for?"

"Sir, is that you?" she said, rather stupidly.

"No, it's Krusty the clown."

"Good to have you back, sir."

Even if it was only temporary. Before they had closed the distance to Daniel's presumed location, he was spaghetti-legs again. She wanted to punch him. She should, actually, while she had the chance. Then again, what she wanted more was to find Daniel and find him alive and damn the ringing in her ears was getting louder and louder. No, it wasn't ringing. Sam heard words amid the buzz, alien words. Chilling.

"Faster," Teal'c said. "We must move faster."

Uh oh, that couldn't be good. The colonel stirred at Teal'c's bellow. Now that was good. Sam doubted he had any idea what was going on, but O'Neill started running with them anyway. She hoped the burst would be enough. Teal'c was troubled enough that even a deaf, dumb and blind person would know it.

Their crashing around would alert it, but that might not be such a bad thing in this case. She pictured Daniel in its clutches. He didn't stand a chance. Her lungs hurt from sucking in so much cold air - colder air now than it had been before. She coughed and they felt a little bit better. They burst into a clearing. Sam froze at the sight before her.

Daniel. Daniel.

Something held him up, but it was without solid form or shape. Utter blackness and cold. His bare arms were so white, as was his face. He was shaking. She could see that even from a fair distance. In front of him, though, in front of him was it. It, as it had continually done, just watched. She saw Daniel's lips moving, but she couldn't hear anything. A gruesome sound filled the air now, the sound of bones breaking. Sam shouted Daniel's name, or she meant to.

Teal'c growled. He probably *could* hear Daniel, and from his reaction she was happy to not. He let go of the colonel. Before she could untangle herself, O'Neill's weight dragged her down. She landed on her knees, his arm pulled her shoulders down slightly until she shook it off. Teal'c had his staff up and primed. Sam did the same with her MP-5, taking a moment to aim. She fired several shots, and the thing finally moved. It ran away. Teal'c fired several times. She couldn't tell if any of his shots hit the mark.

She didn't much care. The thing was leaving and the dark mist surrounding Daniel also withdrew. Without it holding him up, Daniel slumped to the ground, boneless. Sam shuddered, but began to run. They were not too late, they were not too late. Teal'c was ten paces in front of her. Belatedly, she realized they couldn't leave the colonel alone. She turned back and raced to his side.

"Sir, wake up. Daniel's right there and he needs our help," she said, trying Teal'c's tactic. It always seemed to work better than a sharp poke to the ribs. "Get up now."

"What?"

"Come on, we don't have much time."

She didn't know if that was true or not, but she didn't care. She and the colonel staggered like drunkards over to Daniel and Teal'c. Teal'c sat there, unmoving and Sam almost started crying. They were too late. He looked at her, then, and she knew he was simply afraid to find out the truth. She let the colonel sag to the ground; Daniel's situation took precedence over him right now. She took a step closer to Daniel and Teal'c.

"We should turn him over," Sam whispered.

Teal'c nodded, and so they did. Daniel's skin was like ice. She nearly threw up. No, she couldn't be weak now. Later, at home, she could cry like an infant. It wasn't easy to move a limp body, especially after such a long run. Finally, they managed to maneuver him onto his back. Sam gasped. Daniel's eyes were open, staring sightless up into the sky. Oh, God. The hand she had found before had been nothing, nothing at all compared to this. Daniel...blinked.

"Sam?" he said.

Daniel's head lolled to the side. Sam cried like an infant.

~~!~~

He was under murky water, drowning slowly. He couldn't hear anything but a drone in his ear, and he couldn't see anything but grey. Amid the haziness, though, was one thing that was absolutely clear. Death approached and he didn't have the will to fight against it. On some level, Jack could see what was happening around him, but he was distanced from it. He was dispassionate, lulled to the warm nothingness of sleep but then murkiness turned to overwhelming black, and he was scared. He couldn't move, but he now he wanted to very much. Sleep was no longer warm, and it was no longer what he wanted. It pressed against him like a live being, squeezing air from lungs with excruciating slowness.

Jack woke with a gasp, clutching at his chest. His lungs burned and he fished around like a crazy person until his breathing calmed. He stared up at the sky, which was overcast, but every once in a while dusky blue peeked through the clouds. He frowned. That didn't seem right to him. He had no idea why. His nose felt like an ice cube and the entire back of his body was wet. He wracked his memory, searching for any clue regarding his whereabouts - and how he had ended up at them. It was as if a thick veil of grey gauze blanketed his memory, just like the nightmare.

Bits and pieces came back to him. His legs were sore; he remembered walking. His upper arms felt tender, as if he were bruised; he remembered Teal'c shaking him. He remembered Teal'c yelling. He remembered darkness and fear and Carter's white face telling him there was no time. He...

Oh, God, he remembered.

Jack sat up and the world suddenly looked dim again, as it had last night. His back muscles protested the sudden movement and the night spent on the lumpy, wet ground of P0X 266. His head throbbed and his mouth felt as though a huge cotton ball had been shoved in it, depriving him of saliva. He felt as if he'd been on a bender last night. He wouldn't mind a drink or two right now, actually. Nothing cured a bad memory quite like scotch. His face itched. H reached up and scrubbed his hands across his cheeks. Something gritty came off on his fingers. He looked at his hands. It was fine salt. He clenched his hands into a fist, hating the memory that went with the salt. He glanced to the left. Nothing. He glanced straight ahead. Nothing. He glanced to the right.

"Carter, Teal'c..." he said. Oh, God. There was one thing he didn't remember at all. "Daniel."

None of them moved. Jack tried to swallow, but his mouth now seemed even drier than it had seconds ago. He gagged, forcing himself to crawl over there. Dead, dead. They were dead, and he'd done nothing. The irony of being the sole survivor - he who had wanted to roll over and just die - was not lost on him. No, it slapped him on his very aware face. He reached Teal'c first, and he was disturbed at how slack his friend's body was. If he didn't know Teal'c, he'd think he was just asleep. That was not what Teal'c did. He reached out anyway, to feel for a pulse. The skin was still relatively warm. He probed Teal'c's neck, even though he knew he wouldn't find anything.

"I do not sleep, O'Neill."

"Jeez!" Jack recoiled, pulling his hand away. Teal'c sat up. "You scared the crap out of me."

"That was not my intention." Teal'c stared at him for a moment. "Are you yourself again?"

Jack winced.

"Yeah, about that..."

"No explanation is necessary, O'Neill," Teal'c said, voice unnervingly gentle. "This planet affected all of us."

Jack nodded, but he gained no comfort from Teal'c's absolution. He remembered enough to know both Carter and Teal'c had worked through what was affecting them, while he had not. That was unacceptable. That was also not something he could make amends for right now. He stared at Carter and Daniel. Carter's cheeks were slightly reddened. Daniel looked as though his skin was made of porcelain. Neither of them showed signs of rousing.

"Please tell me they're not..."

"They are not." Well, thank goodness for small favors, and no thanks at all to him. Jack clenched his jaw. "Daniel Jackson remains very weak."

Blackness, squeezing and pressing. He had seen it. He had felt it, only it had been inside him instead of on the outside like it been with Daniel. Oh, he remembered it all too well. Jack wondered why he didn't look like Daniel right about now, then realized he had no idea what he looked like. He nodded again.

"We were fortunate to find him when we did. We were also fortunate daybreak was quick to arrive." Jack was sure there was a link there, but he couldn't quite grasp it. He didn't really give a damn. All he cared about was that the sun was up and his head was mostly clear. "I do not like this planet, O'Neill."

"I say we get the hell out of here, then," Jack said. It couldn't be too soon. "Only, we still have no idea where we are, do we?"

They could not spend another night on this planet. It was not an option. He shuddered. He couldn't survive being a useless lump again, and he was damn certain his friends would not survive their ordeals either.

"I would not say that, O'Neill," Teal'c said. He tilted his head.

Jack looked where Teal'c was tilting, behind him. There was a minor incline, and at the top of it he saw something that was unnatural to the terrain. It was the most beautiful dirty grey arch he had ever seen in his entire life. He scrambled to his feet.

"How did we end up here?"

"It's where Daniel was, sir." He spun around. Carter was awake, but appeared as if she could pass out again at any second. "And I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I don't really care about answering the two hundred thousand questions I have at this moment in time."

Good point. Teal'c was already up. Jack moved. Now that he finally could, he was going to help as much as possible. Hell, he'd carry Daniel through the 'gate himself. He crouched down and touched Daniel on the cheek. His skin was cool to the touch, despite being bundled up in Teal'c's jacket. Jack furrowed his eyebrows, trying to forget the two hundred thousand and one questions he had. Some of them he might eventually remember. He closed his eyes and saw Daniel, kneeling with his arms spread wide. He heard Carter crying. He shivered.

"Teal'c, can you give me a hand here?"

Daniel moaned. Suddenly, space was crowded as Teal'c and Carter moved in on Daniel's form. It was a bit ridiculous, but they all sat there watching Daniel as he pulled out of unconsciousness. He might not remember all of the details of their ordeal, but he knew enough about Carter and Teal'c to know the tension that radiated off of them meant it was much, much worse than his hazy memory. Daniel's eyes opened slightly.

"Geilt," he said. "Sgeun, eagallll."

Oh, shit. This wasn't a good thing.

"Teireachduinnnnnnn."

"Daniel?" Carter said.

"It wanted our fear," Daniel whispered. Jack put his hand out, clasping Daniel's shoulder awkwardly, like it could somehow offer comfort. He suspected it had almost got Daniel, because Daniel had been all alone. "Feeds off of it."

"That explains a lot," Carter said. She grimaced. "I can still taste fear at the back of my throat."

"So, we were a walking, talking picnic for it, whatever it actually is," Jack said. "Yeah, let's get out of here."

"Please," Daniel said.

Jack tugged at Daniel's shoulder, frowning at how little assistance Daniel was able to give. He shot Teal'c a glance and he got an emphatic jaw twitch in reply. They got Daniel on his feet and started heading slowly toward the Stargate. Carter took point, and she headed right for the DHD when they'd made it over the ridge. She was on the fourth symbol by the time he, Teal'c and Daniel joined her.

"I swear, sir," she said. "From now on, this is the only piece of alien technology I'll ever touch."

Jack appreciated the sentiment, but doubted she really meant it.
The End

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Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a parody for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted anywhere without the consent of the author.