P is for Patches of Sunshine
 
Light had not reached inside the old temple in hundreds of years. The upper floors were gone; sheared off, crumbled away in some ancient quake that had taken out a substantial part of the surrounding city. The room Daniel and Sam stood in was all that remained of an archive that once held thousands of tablets and scrolls, and given shelter to scribes who labored away to preserve the history of the Mekrit.
Even this room, which smelled of time and decay, had not escaped the encroachment of the forest that had all but grown over the old city. Only one wall was free, and that one had been split open at one time to form a grotesque doorway in place of one that had been lost. The other walls were mostly covered in a build-up of sand and clay, though in some places Daniel could just see a hint of what was hidden underneath.
The wall he was working on, gently teasing away centuries of grime and dirt, was in desperate need of preservation. What little of its façade he could see was cracked and peeling away, and the once vibrant colors that washed across its surface were virtually faded beyond recognition. There was writing though, crude and almost totally worn away in places, most likely by time and exposure to the elements.  
"Looks Greek to me," Sam said, peering over his shoulder and adding the light of her flashlight to his.
Daniel directed the beam of his light up to the very top of the wall, to where the writing was more uniform and recent, and slightly more preserved. "It is," he said with no real enthusiasm, because he was totally distracted with what little he had managed to translate so far. "At first glance it looks like whoever carved these inscriptions was taken from Earth around the Hellenistic era, despite some phrasing that seems a little out of place. However, I'm also seeing some Byzantine influences. Classical era. The writing is all over the place... historically."
"Can you compensate?"
"I have been," he said dryly. "Would be helpful if the lighting was a little better."
Sam stepped back and shone her flashlight around the ceiling in a full sweep. The weight of the collapsed floors above had caused the structure of the room to fracture in places. That it had remained standing for so long in such adverse weather conditions was the only reason Cameron had allowed them inside. "Cam, Vala and Teal'c have gone back to the Stargate for a scaffolding and a portable lighting tower. Nothing much, but it should be enough to give you access to the upper part of the wall."
"And there's the next mystery. See this?" Daniel directed his beam over to the far side of the room, to an intersection between two walls that was almost buried to the ceiling in compacted soil. "Repeated earthquakes and subsequent flooding have caused a sedimentary build up that has almost buried this part of the building. I'm almost positive that somewhere under all that dirt there is a mural, a visual representation of the writing on the walls."
"Because this is a Greek thing?"
"Thing?"
"Something you've seen back on Earth. Writings accompanied by a visual depiction."
"Well, the Greeks were famous for their mural work, much like the Romans. No, it's more that I've come across several passages of text that refer to depictions of an object of great cultural and religious importance."
"Like a sign that says, 'this way'?"
"Yeah, that's funny. What has me most confused is the reference to Atlas."
"Greek god of?"
"Nothing. He was the Titan who held up the celestial spheres. Son of Iapetus and Clymene. Mostly known as the Titan of navigation and astronomy. He was also one of two Titans that governed the moon. There is a large bronze sculpture of Atlas at the Rockefeller building in New York which depicts him holding a representation of a celestial sphere on his shoulder."
"I don't see the connection."
"Neither do I, except that in some academic circles Atlas' association with navigation and astronomy was taken a step forward to include acts of heavenly retribution. Thunderbolts and lightning, that kind of thing."
"So this object of cultural and religious importance could be connected to Atlas?"
"The reference is vague. Atlas isn't mentioned by name, more the idea of who he was and what he represented. Call it a form of symbolism."
"Sounds complicated." Sam walked across to the soil encrusted wall. "I guess we can try and dig away some of the debris and hope the rest doesn't come down on top of us. There really is only so much we can do without bringing in an engineering team."
"Not worth it."
"Really?" She turned and shone her flashlight at him. "That's so unlike you to turn down a chance to go digging for treasure, Daniel."
"Now you sound like Vala." He turned back to the wall and its mish-mash of writing. "What I mean is that we don't exactly have the resources to turn this area in to a full blown archaeological site. And then there's the unstable weather--"
"Tell me about it," Sam said, cutting in. "The MALP has registered as many as eight different weather patterns around the Stargate in a matter of hours. I don't know how the Mekrit have managed to survive so long under these conditions."
"They adapted. Not much choice when you have nowhere else to go."
"Yeah, and me telling them their god was dead hardly helped the situation."
"Mot. Personified as a god of death."
"Dead god of death."
"And very out of place here."
"Not Greek?"
"No. Semitic. In this case I'd say he was opportunistic. Saw a power vacuum and moved to fill it. Yet..."
"The writing on the wall tells a different story?" Sam asked.
"Tells no story, at least not as far as who ruled and at what time, which could mean that whichever Goa'uld brought them here from Earth was long gone by the time these walls were used as an historical reference."
"And another one stepped in to fill the void but didn't rate a mention?"
"Or Mot forbade all forms of writing, ensuring there was no historical documentation of his rule."
"Cruel."
"But not unusual, even on Earth."
"Carter, come in."
Sam reached for her radio. "Go ahead."
"Got your lights and ladders. On our way back to you now."
"Roger that. I don't suppose you picked up a shovel or two while you were there?"
"Don't tell me... Jackson found something?"
"More of a might have found something."
"Shop's closed and we have a boat... scratch that, a dinghy to catch. He'll have to get his hands dirty."
"Had a boat to catch. Taphir says the weather is too unstable to risk a trip to the island right now."
"Nothing but sunshine here."
"Give it ten minutes."
"That bad?"
"Oh, yes."
~oOo~
"Bored!"
"Of course you are."
Vala sat on the ground in front of the mostly removed mound of soil that had built up against the back wall of the temple, and balanced a large spotlight on her knees. Every so often, when her concentration waivered, she would look up to find Daniel looking down at her, soil brush mid-swish and a scowl on his face.
"We've been here for hours!" she protested, jiggling the light and knowing full well she was annoying him. "Hours! I don't know why you couldn't just put this light thing on a stand thing and let me go with Sam."
"Because you left the light thing at the gate--"
"Unintentionally."
"Still left it there! And Sam was going on a hospital tour, which you agreed, quite loudly and in front of our hosts, would be a waste of your time."
"Cameron? Muscles?"
"At the barracks watching the equivalent of gladiatorial games."
"All those men in skirts wielding their little knives at each other. Infinitely more fun than watching you fawn over a wall full of squiggles."
"It's writing. And you know full well women aren't allowed at the arena."
"Yes," Vala huffed indignantly, "about that--"
"I know what you're going to say, and normally I'd agree, but we're not talking about a patriarchal society that oppresses their women."
"Really, Daniel? Then what are we talking about?"
"A millennia-old tradition where the men are the protectors. You've seen the Mekrit women. Do any of them look particularly oppressed to you?"
"Positively joyous. Actually, a little too peppy if you ask me."
"There you go."
Vala dropped her head to her chest and blew out a long breath. "So bored!"
"How about you put the light down on the ground, angle it up towards the upper right quadrant of the mural, and come and give me a hand with this last sedimentary layer?"
"I get to dig?"
"No, you get to take one of my other brushes and start carefully removing the soil from the outer edge of the mural. And when I say carefully--"
"You mean with baby strokes."
"Just... just be careful."
Vala sorted a brush from Daniel's roll and stood alongside him. The outer edges of the mural were chipped and fallen away. It was easy to see where layers of color and mosaic had been and where fragments still remained, but this section of the wall had definitely been exposed for longer than the rest. She gently teased at clumps of soil, loosening them enough to fall away naturally or with a minimal amount of help. Where Daniel was working, the mural was more intact but covered in a thicker crust of clay from the original bank that had formed around it over the centuries. She watched him working the groves between tiles with his little brush, flicking and swishing, at times applying more pressure than she was prepared to use.
Daniel knew his trade.
"Here," he said, and handed her his flashlight, "hold this while I work this last layer of soil away. I can almost see an image forming in the center of the wall. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, this whole wall was devoted to this one central icon."
"Then what were the rest of the tiles for?"
"I think they formed a kind of frame and canvas."
"Like a picture?"
"No real purpose except to be decorative. I mean, the framing of the mural is quite a common feature of ancient Greek art, but the content generally fills the frame."
"This isn't the same?"
"No. And there's something else. Most Greek art is heroic; an attempt by the artist to portray the human form through beauty and strength."
Vala took a couple of steps back, which widened the beam from the flashlight to cover a greater area of wall, revealing the image in almost its entirety. "Well," she said in a dissatisfied tone that only served to play up her boredom, "I haven't been so disappointed since I failed that little ink blot test."
"Oh!"
"Don't tell me you find this... this... whatever this is to be interesting?"
Daniel tucked his brush into his vest and reached for his radio. "Sam, come in."
"Go ahead."
"I've just discovered something you're going to want to see."
~oOo~
Sam looked up at the darkening sky and over to a nearby grove of trees whose branches were being tossed about in the growing wind. There was a strong smell of ozone in the air, a hint that rain was definitely on its way.
"Well," she said, turning her attention back to the tiny digital camera screen Daniel was playing back his recording on. "It certainly explains a lot."
"Indeed it does," confirmed Teal'c.
Vala stood off to one side with her arms crossed and one foot tapping the ground in clear irritation. The wind was whipping her hair about her face, and she made no attempt to push it back. "Would anyone care to tell me what Daniel and I found?"
"It's a Touchstone, right?" Cam asked. "The... Madronans? You guys found one of these things there."
"More like returned. Maybourne's rogue SG team stole it from right under the Madronans noses." Daniel shut the recording down and closed the screen. "The Touchstone was used to maintain the weather on Madrona once it had been terraformed."
"The Madronans knew how to use the Touchstone, but not the technology behind it," Sam added. "We never did find out who terraformed the planet. And there are any number of options there."
"The Ancients?" Vala asked, hopefully. "Seems like the sort of thing they might do."
Daniel bent down and put the little camera back in his pack. "The technology isn't Ancient. They're not the type to go leaving huge statues behind to mark their existence."
"No, just huge cities."
"About that..." Sam looked over at the old temple and then back to Daniel. "The depiction in the mural is just the Touchstone, nothing else?"
Daniel frowned for a moment. "The statue?"
"Wouldn't it make more sense to paint a complete picture?"
"Only if we work on the assumption that the statue on Madrona was left by the same people who created the Touchstone and terraformed the planet. It's just as likely the Madronans built it specifically for the Touchstone. High Priest Roham was the only one who knew how to calibrate the device, indicating that it was regarded by the Madronans as an object of worship."
"Which begs the questions of how they discovered the Touchstone in the first place."
"Honestly, I don't know." Daniel shrugged. "We didn't exactly stick around for a history lesson, despite the invitation."
"All really good question, but we've got a dinner to get ready for." Cam bent down and picked up Daniel's pack, thrusting it at him. "And I don't know about you guys, but I'm starving."
"Yes. About that dinner..." Daniel started to say, but Cam was already walking in the direction of the city. "He does know the protocols, right?"
Vala hooked her arm through Daniel's and ushered him forward. "I don't know, but why don't you tell me all about them while we walk."
"Ah, Mitchell? Wait up!"
 ~oOo~
On the odd occasion Vala ever professed to paying attention to more than a few words of a Daniel Jackson mission briefing, she would at least admit to having learned something from the reams and reams of discourse that whirled about her head. She could, if she really tried, pluck something out of the maelstrom and store it in her mental folder of useless information, in the unrealistic hope that Daniel might actually think she had more smarts than she generally let show. Today was one of those moments. With the exception of the weather, the planet was beautiful and the hospitality of the Mekrit--a community of fishermen and women who fit her genetic gene pool theory with astounding accuracy, because they were all blond-haired and blue-eyed--was unparalleled in the amount of banquet courses they insisted SG-1 sit through.
To her right, Cameron sat relaxed in his chair with his stomach forced out, his BDU belt undone and his eyes at half-mast. His earlier belch, which she half expected to cause him embarrassment and SG-1 some kind of diplomatic incident, was met with a loud chorus of applause and tabletop slapping from the large Mekrit gathering. They wanted more, and Cameron was only too happy to oblige, after several tankards of the local honeyed-wine, fortified with an exotic and apparently rare flower she couldn't remember the name of.  
"I thought you said we shouldn't drink the wine?" Vala whispered to Daniel, who was sitting on her left, picking through the scraps of his fruit and vegetable salad, looking either bored or distracted. Sometimes it was hard to tell.
"I did," he murmured in return, piercing something round and purple with his folk and popping it in his mouth. "Actually, no. I said we shouldn't drink the wine. As in you, me and Sam. And Teal'c."
"Not Cameron?"
"No. Well, yes, considering how drunk he is, drinking the wine probably wasn't the brightest of ideas. However--"
"There's a 'but'?"
"Always expect the unexpected. In this case, Mitchell doesn't have much of a choice in the matter. Mekrit politics demands the legally appointed representative of any prospective trading partner pay their due respects by partaking in equal quantities of Dahalas wine with the first leader."
"Mister Taphir."
"Mister?" Daniel asked questioningly, and then nodded quickly.   "I guess mister works."
"So, this is like one of your Earth drinking games?"
"Well, no, more like--"
Vala took a deep, theatrical breath, spread her arms wide and belted out in a decidedly out of tune key, "Ninety nine bottles of beer on the wall. Ninety nine--"
"Vala!"
"I never could get past eighty seven," she said with an air of dejection. "Never. Not even once!"
"I'm more surprised you even know the words!"
"Muscles," she sighed, as she sunk back in her chair and crossed her arms. "Though there's not much fun to be had when your drinking partner isn't exactly drinking."
"Teal'c taught you?"
"After a lesson in counting backwards from ninety nine and a bottle of your Nappa finest."
"Should have known."
"Oh, I don't think so." Vala reached for her fork and used it to push her mostly untouched plate away. "Sam tells me you have a rather discerning palette when it comes to wine. Less light and white and bubbles, and more vivaciously red and expensive."
"Yes. I miss those days where we actually got enough downtime to indulge in more than cork sniffing and browsing for bargains on wine chateau dot com."
"They have bargains?"
"No," Daniel grumbled and pushed his plate to one side, in favor of his mug of the local coffee equivalent.
Vala tipped her head to one side and appeared to study him for a moment, before whispering in a clipped tone, "You might want to practice your sarcasm. I almost believed you."
A loud belch and some more table thumping was followed quickly by a heavily slurred "Yo! Jackson!" and the sound of a chair scraping noisily on the wooden floor.
"Well," Vala announced with a wide smile that quickly faded when she turned to face Cameron, who was now slumped forward and barely sitting on his chair. "Looks like someone has exceeded his limit for the evening."
Daniel rose to his feet and walked behind Vala's chair to get to Mitchell. "Want to give me a hand getting him to bed?"
"Can we do that? What happened to the bottles on the wall? The whole... whole..." She waved a hand frantically in the air. "Oh, you know... equal amounts of wine!"
"I don't know, but I think Mitchell is done for the night, don't you?"
Vala took in Cameron's slumbering form, the puddle of drool spreading over the table under his open mouth, and the nasally snoring that was almost loud enough to drown out the dying enthusiasm of the table slappers. "And here I am without my camera!"
 ~oOo~
 Somewhere, someone was tearing down trees with a chainsaw. Somewhere close. Very close. Probably in the room. Cam turned onto his side and jammed the pillow over his head, not even daring to open his eyes, and desperately trying to tune out the chainsaw and its tree torture.
"Shuddup!" he said just a little too loudly, when it felt like the chainsaw was right next to his ear and about to fine-tune its blade on his scalp.
"You know," came a disembodied voice, "diplomacy is a lot like boxing. You have to learn to fight in your weight. And drinking in excess is a lot like eating in excess. They both rely upon the seldom practiced art of moderation, which is apparently not one of your finer skills."
"Va-la," Cam enunciated slowly, more because his mouth simply didn't want to work at normal speed, and also because somewhere between the two syllables he needed to pause to stop himself from puking up last night's... "Oh, God!"
"Well, no. At least, not anymore. Not sure what I miss most - my followers obeying my every order or my exclusive and quite expensive wardrobe collection."
"Can you just..."
"Be quiet? Shut up?"
"Yes," he hissed.
"I can, but Daniel says Taphir is expecting you for breakfast in about, oh... now."
And then it all came flooding back in the kind of Technicolor dream that Cameron remembered from his high school days, where drinking moonshine in the stable room at the back of his father's barn with some of his closest friends was seen as a rite of passage before turning twenty one, when it all became terribly legal and a whole lot less enjoyable. They practiced a lot.
Too much.
He lost some of his favorite brain cells in that little room.
"Now, meaning--"
"Close the curtains."
"What?" Vala's voice was closer now, her breath just bouncing off his exposed left cheek. "The curtains? Oh, no need to worry about your virtue.   Your adoring fans are all waiting for you at breakfast, where I'm sure you will be serenaded with more cheers and table slapping. Did you know the whole table slapping ritual is only reserved for higher caste members of Mekrit society and visiting dignitaries?"
"No."
"Amazing what you can learn at one of Daniel's oh-so-boring missing briefings if you actually pay attention for a minute or so."
Cam could feel the blankets being pulled back. His legs were suddenly cold, and there was a draft running up the back of his spine. "Vala."
"Something else I learned at the briefing was that the Mekrit are sticklers for adhering to schedules, which means being late for ones celebratory breakfast could be seen as a ancestor to a diplomatic incident. And I don't know about you, but explaining the loss of this trade agreement to General Landry because you were late for waffles and eggs with Taphir wouldn't exactly look good on your personnel record."
"Precursor."
"Pre what?"
"Cursor. You said ancestor to a diplomatic incident, when the word you want is precursor. And what I want is my pants!"
"Oh. Oh! Your pants. I think they're here somewhere."
He heard Vala move away from the side of the bed and then come back a few seconds later, tossing at him what he assumed was his pants.
"You know," she went on to say, heedless of the fact he was semi-naked and freezing cold, "you have a terrible habit of losing clothing at the most inopportune moments. Not that I'm complaining."
"Turn around." Cam pointed towards the back wall of the room and twirled a finger in the air. "All the way around."
Vala sighed and turned away. "You've got nothing I haven't seen before."
"And I'm not about to start showing you."
"Well, while you're covering your bits, you might want to consider layering."
"What?"
"Layering! You haven't heard... no, I guess not. Let me introduce you to the seldom discussed but very fashionable tip of layering, where you start with one piece of clothing and then add another over the top. And so on, and so on, and--"
"You call that a fashion tip?"
"Well, you had no idea. It's freezing outside!"
"I could just put my jacket on ."
"Hence layering!"
Cam stood, pulled up his BDU pants and then looked out the window. "Whoa! What's with the weather?"
"Ahem! Lay-er-ing!" she said crisply, still with her back to him.   "I'm not surprised the Goa'uld don't know about this place, what with the wacky weather and men in little skirts."
"Can we just get this over with?"
"Are you all respectable now?" Vala turned to face him and smiled appreciatively. "Splash of water, a couple of Tylenol, and you wouldn't care about the pictures Daniel and I took of you last night while you were enjoying some quality time with the... facilities."
"Oh, you didn't!"
"I bet you didn't know that once ingested, the juice of the Dahalas flower turns from clear to a lovely shade of violent yellow?"
"Violent?"
"Uh huh! A description more in keeping with the speed and severity at which you managed to puke up every last drop."
Cam sunk back down on the bed and dropped his head to his hands.  Outside, an enormous clap of thunder announced the arrival of a massive electrical storm.
 ~oOo~
 "Morning," Daniel said with as much cheerfulness as he could muster. The breakfast hall was all cobblestone floors and mud brick walls, cold and rather drafty. At one end there was a giant fireplace, stoked high with some local fragrant wood that smelled a lot like tamarack but burned black like it was wet. Unfortunately for him, the fireplace was at one end of the hall and he was seated at the other. He watched with some amusement as Mitchell slowly lowered himself into the chair next to his and tried not to look at the banquet of foodstuffs running down the center of the table. "Headache?"
Mitchell nodded once and swallowed deeply.
"Don't go puking on me."
"Nothing left. I want the number of the bus that hit me last night."
"Ah, that would be the Dahalas wine. What part of pace yourself didn't you get?"
"You told me I had to go one for one with the guy! Equal amounts... or something like that."
Daniel smiled and reached for a pitcher of water. "I did say that, didn't I?" he said as he poured a tankard and pushed it towards Mitchell. "And if you'd bothered to pay attention, you would have heard me say that it was up to the guest to set the pace. I doubt there's anything in the first aid kit that'll help."
"Vala already gave me Tylenol."
"Working?"
"No."
"Told you. On the plus side, though... if there is one… Leader Taphir was so impressed with your performance last night--"
"Please tell me I didn't puke in front of the guy?"
"No, you saved that bit for later. Thankfully. No, he's allowing myself and Vala access to a small island off the coast where the Touchstone used to be housed."
"He knows?"
"I showed him the footage I took of the wall. He's sending the city historian and the local equivalent of an archaeological team to finish the work we started on the building. Which, by the way, isn't a temple after all. It used to be a type of museum, possibly an archive. Apparently it, and several suburbs of the old city, were destroyed in an earthquake about four hundred years ago. About the same time they lost their Touchstone."
"I thought this Touchstone was supposed to control the weather?"
"Weather, yes, but I doubt that included geological disturbances. Besides, the earthquake was caused by a 'ball of fire that fell from the sky'."
"Meteor?"
"Sounds like it. Taphir says there are documented accounts of the event in the city archives, which we should be able to access once the treaty has been ratified."
"Whoa, wait up. They let you play about in some of their old buildings and go visit this island of theirs, but you can't take a peek in their library?"
"Yeah," Daniel shrugged and reached for a piece of toast, offering it to Mitchell... who stared blankly at it before turning away. "I wondered about that as well, but then maybe they figured there was nothing of value at either site for us to find."
"Proved them wrong."
"What I don't understand is why Taphir and those that came before him made no effort to retrieve the Touchstone. On one hand, and assuming this planet was used as a seat of power, a homeworld of sorts, it's possible Mot stopped them from conducting any type of activity that amounted to these people becoming educated, much like Ra tried to do with the Abydonians. Which means, if they did know about the Touchstone when Mot first arrived, then its existence may have been deliberately hidden or taken out of the history books for the sake of it not being found. Especially if it was regarded as a religious item or held some cultural significance."
"And on the other hand?"
"I don't know," Daniel said slowly. "I'd say it held a place in their society as an item of religious importance only. One thing is for sure, the Mekrit either never learned to calibrate the Touchstone, or if they did they lost the ability when the quake struck and they presumed the object gone for good."
"Which it probably is." Mitchell pushed the tankard away and reached for a piece of toast. "Am I going to regret this?" he asked.
"What? The toast? No, it's fine."
"No. I was thinking more about you and Princess alone on some island by yourselves."
"With a local guide."
"Like I said... alone."
"Well, it's either I take her with me or she goes with you, Sam and Teal'c for a tour of a nearby waste management system."
"You're kidding me!"
"Oh, no. And you might want to consider a shower and deodorant, maybe polish your boots."
"Why?"
"You're the special guest at an aqueduct opening ceremony."
~oOo~
 "This ceremony is a waste of time," Teal'c grumbled under his breath, his gaze flicking from Cameron, sitting high above on a podium full of dignitaries and religious representatives, to the crowd standing in front of them. "Should we not be seeking to expedite the sealing of the trade agreement?"
"The art of diplomacy lost on you, Teal'c?"
"Diplomacy is irrelevant unless you are a diplomat. I believe Daniel Jackson to be correct when he complains about time he cannot recover. This may well be one of those moments."
Behind the podium, and running a course that snaked from the outer edge of the Mekrit city to a nearby mountain range, was the aqueduct Cameron was here to ceremoniously declare operational. The structure was impressive, given the technological level at which these people lived. And on the other side of the city, well away from the shanty living areas, there was another much smaller aqueduct that diverted sewerage waste to a collection pond containing an algae that processed the waste and turned it into harmless biomaterial. It was this algae, along with several mineral requests, that was at the top of the SGC wish list when it came to trading with the Mekrit.
"Smile and nod, Teal'c," Sam said. "That's all you need to do until the ink is dry and we can all go home. Besides, if this algae works even half as well as we think it does, it'll go a long way to solving our own waste disposal problems back on Earth. We need what they have."
"In return for mining technologies, and educational and medical support."
"The Pentagon believes it's a fair trade, given the naquadah levels in the soil. We detected enough high grade naquadah in one geo scan alone to put out the next generation of X-304's ahead of schedule."
"If this ceremony does not conclude soon, that schedule may well be put back several generations."
"Teal'c.... was that an attempt at humor?"
Teal'c looked back up at Mitchell and cocked on eyebrow. "I do not believe Colonel Mitchell is enjoying this day any more than I am."
Sam sighed. "Probably not. I think he's a little dehydrated from last ni—" The ground moved, shifted ever so slightly underfoot, and so barely discernible that Sam thought for a split second she must have simply lost her balance. "Did you...?"
"I did." Teal'c looked sharply up at the podium at the very time the ground moved again, only this time the shift was acute enough to bring most of the crowd to its knees. Screams filled the air as people fell into each other, struggling to hold on to anything they could. "Up there," he called out, and Sam stumbled forward and to her knees just as the giant podium started to shake violently and list to one side. She could just make out Cam as he fell to the left and landed on the hard railing.
"Go," she called out to Teal'c, who was already up on his feet and trying to surge forward through the crowd. A cold silence filled the air. The small tremors that rippled their way under the ground were just a taste of what was coming as the sonic boom of a massive earthquake rolled across from the direction of the ocean, bringing down the podium and almost every building around them. The massive aqueduct structure seemed to rise in the air and hang there for a moment as the wave sped beneath it, only to crash back on its base and fracture. Sam tried to climb to her knees but the ground continued to yaw and sway until eventually she heard the sickening sound of the earth splitting open somewhere behind her.
 ~oOo~
 If past experiences held any sway over Vala Mal Doran's current predicament, then the presence of two suns was a sure sign of impending disaster. Normally, she was somewhat pleased to admit to herself, most of the somewhat dire situations she had found herself in over the years tended not to be impacted upon in any way by local celestial bodies. Today, however, was different.
Both suns were high in the sky. One slightly closer than the other and shifting into the red spectrum, thanks to some spectacular atmospheric conditions... or so Samantha had told them with a mixture of enthusiasm-soaked babble and hand waving. The other sun was smaller and farther away, but was still putting out enough heat to fry an egg on the bow of her little boat. If only she had an egg to fry.
Combined, taken as a duet of extreme solar radiation beating down on her lily-white skin, the suns made for formidable foes.
Only a few hours ago, when said suns were shrouded behind a heavy blanket of black cloud that was throwing down enough rain to erode a healthy slice of the mainland, she would have killed for a bikini and a tube of some expensive tropical bronzing lotion. Now, in the light of an offshore earthquake that had triggered a tsunami, followed by the storm, and then followed again by a parting of the clouds to reveal two altogether peppy suns, she was more interested in hiding in a nice dark cave.
Vala looked towards land, what little there was left, and struggled to find any of the landmarks she had taken note of from her and Daniel's jaunt between the mainland and the little island they had been exploring. It would be an overstatement to say she was familiar with the island, despite it not being overly large, and especially because the weather had been so poor during their trip that what they saw was a mostly mist-coated mountain top and the beach... when their guide rammed the little boat into the shore.
Thankfully, they were still relatively close to the beach, largely due to the fact that the boat she found only had one oar. Rowing in a continuous right-hand circle, especially now the sea was calm and the wind had dropped, meant that gaining any great distance was almost impossible.
And right now she had little precious energy left to come up with a better plan.
Movement towards the bow caught her attention, and she shifted cautiously forward, careful not to sway the boat. Mekrit fishermen were known for their boat building skills, or so their leader had declared with an air of pride, but this battered dinghy showed none of that famed craftsmanship whatsoever. In fact, Vala was quite surprised when she had found it wedged between two palm trees and relatively in one piece-- minus an oar, sails, the mast, and a repair kit for the many worm-chewed holes peppering its wooden planks.
"Daniel?" Vala said softly and reached out to touch his shoulder, half expecting him to wake-up with some complaint on his lips, but not surprised when he quickly settled.
The quake had rumbled in from across the ocean, shifting the ground beneath their feet, and roaring across the island like a rock rippling the surface of a pond. She remembered looking across at Daniel, who was moving out from the shade of the ruins and running to where the jungle met the beach. There was confusion and worry on his face, and then there was fear. She scrambled to his side, forgetting the implements she had been holding for him and the journal in which she had been noting down his findings, when suddenly she found herself being forcibly spun about back in the direction of the ruins and shoved forward. He told her to run.
Somewhere in all the confusion, where she was trying to catch a glimpse of whatever it was that had frightened him, she found her pack being thrust into her arms, it's top flap still open and stuff falling out onto the ground.
And then Daniel was suddenly in front of her and pulling her forward. "The ocean!" he said breathlessly as he stopped to let her past so he could boost her up the face of a small rise. "The quake must have triggered a tsunami."
"How—"
"The water in the lagoon is gone.   Up. We have to get up as high as possible!"
"Daniel!"
"Just go!"
And they had. As fast and as high as they could. All Vala could remember was her lungs burning and legs stinging from running and climbing, stumbling and retching. She never did get an opportunity to look back, but Daniel's none-so-gentle urgings to move her butt fueled her forward until they reached a sheer cliff face and could go no further. He pushed her up a tree and made to follow her when suddenly he was gone, and the world around her churned grey and white, cold and wet, as a wall of water slammed into the tree and then the rocky cliff behind her. She held on where Daniel could not. And she cried.
Vala had found him sprawled, broken and unconscious, on a rocky ledge a few hundred feet from where they had taken shelter when the tsunami had struck. At first she thought he was dead. He was pale and still, his head turned to left and a thick trail of blood running down over his eyes and cheek and dripping onto the rock beneath him. She dropped her pack and clambered to his side, one hand reaching, searching for the pulse point on his neck, the other stroking his wet hair as though she could make him better.
"Darling, " she whispered when she realized he was alive, and when the enormity of their situation hit her. All around her, the land had been flattened by the force of the water. What trees were still standing had mostly been stripped of their foliage and left bare and shredded. Debris banked up against the rocks and what remained of the ruins was left as silent witness to the force of the wave and the equally as deadly receding tide.
Daniel had remained still, and it had taken all of Vala's willpower to leave him there while she collected enough fallen branches and wide leaves to cobble together a stretcher.
All that had happened before lunch.
Their guide had deposited them on the shore, handed over a basket of fresh fruit and two skins of water, and announced he would be back at dusk to take them home. Apparently the ruins were regarded as haunted or something, and totally out of bounds for the locals, though Daniel quickly theorized, once the guide was back in his boat and out of earshot, that it was more likely Mot had forbid the Mekrit from traveling to the island. It was all part of his master plan to keep the population under his control.
The ruins were some distance from the shore and well back from the beach, which in itself was nothing more a thin strip of white sand being held back by a low-set natural rock wall. They cleared the shore and headed off in the direction the guide had suggested until Vala stumbled on a moss-covered rock, which turned out to be the start of the temple complex.
Daniel was ecstatic! Vala was lamenting the huge chunk of leather gouged from the toe of her boot by the rock.
There was one thing Vala didn't have in spades and that was patience. She sat on the rock and watched Daniel walk about the perimeter he had established, making notes in his journal and mumbling to himself. And it wasn't until he pulled up a rock next to her and opened the journal out on his lap that she could see the detailed map he had made of the area. Where she saw trees, plants and funny flowers that curled in on themselves when she touched them, he saw the foundations and shattered remains of the temple complex that was hidden beneath.
"The entrance should be here," he said stabbing a finger at a point on his map. "There's a fair amount of structural damage and overgrowth, which probably means we'll have some work to do to actually find the entrance, but--"
"Why there?"
"Where?"
"There." Vala tapped the spot on the map. "Why not someplace else?"
"The entrance?"
"Uh huh."
"Well, because the Greeks liked to face the entrance of their temples towards the rising or setting sun. Almost seventy five percent of all ancient temples in Greece were found to be orientated within about sixty degrees of due east. I took note of the rising sun this morning, which then gave me an automatic reference to the direction of the setting sun. We try this location first," he pointed back to his spot on the map," and if there's nothing there then we go to the other side."
"You do realize we only have a few hours here before our lovely guide returns."
"I know, which means we don't have time to be sitting about. It also means if we do find something then we'll need to return with a science team."
"And you think the Mekrit will let you?"
"I don't know. Taphir moved quickly on the other site when I told him it was actually a museum, so he may well do the same here."
"I wonder why that was?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I don't really know, but Taphir wasn't interested in the building when he thought it was a temple but as soon as you tell him otherwise, he sends in an archaeologist."
Daniel nodded slowly and then smiled. "I think you're on to something there. Makes me wonder if history and education weren't the only things Mot subverted during his rule."
"Made it so visiting this place--"
"Which likely would have been seen as a holy site..."
"I was going to say a crime."
"And you'd probably be right. SG-1 encountered Lord Mot the year I was..." Daniel pointed a finger in the air.
"Playing celestial sightseer?"
"Ascended."
"Ah."
"According to the mission file, Mot was in the service of Ba'al and was in charge of the naquadah mines on P4S-237. Only, Ba'al believed the mines to be depleted."
"But Mot was hoarding the naquadah for himself."
"Right. Apparently, he planned to overthrow Ba'al at some point."
"Don't they all!" Vala laid back and stretched her arms above her head. "I met Mot once. Or should I say Qetesh did.   Just briefly. Wiesel of a man."
"He's dead now."
"Can't say I'm sorry."
"Anyway!" Daniel closed his journal and stood up. "That way," he said pointing to an outcropping of stones. "The upper floors have collapsed down on the structure below. We could be here a while."
Vala groaned.
According to Daniel, the time spent on trying to help the Mekrit uncover a temple lost centuries ago was somewhat akin to them chasing their tails. Vala must have looked confused, given she had no tail and they really weren't chasing anything except too much sun exposure, because Daniel broke into a long lecture about the use of idioms and slang in everyday conversations.
She blah blah blahed, as she did when he tried to educate her in ways she wasn't interested in, and he gave up and went back to counting and cataloging rocks. Stones. Bricks. Whatever.
Which was where they were when the ocean pulled back and then reared up at them.
So here she was. Rowing round and round in a continuous circle, which, in reality, she only did once because it didn't require a degree in rocket science to realize that one oar meant going in one direction.
There was also a moment where she considered using the oar as a mast and her BDU shirt as a sail, except the two suns overhead laughed mockingly at her, promising to bake her to a crisp so she had an outline of her bra as a souvenir of her silliness.
Back to rowing. An oar on the right, swap to the left, back to the right. And pause to wonder why she thought leaving the shore was a good idea in the first place.
There wasn't much current to speak of, but there was a lot of debris in the water, floating and bobbing away, dispersing off into the distance as the slight breeze slowly carried everything away. She looked to the shore again, which seemed a little closer now, and spotted the rocky outline of the ruins they had been exploring. Originally, the site had been overgrown with vines and shrouded beneath tall trees that seemed to knit together to form a kind of barrier around the site. It had all been perfect when their guide first lead them ashore and pointed to where they needed to go, on what was looking like one of the only decent weather days they had. Now, though, the trees were mostly gone, the vines had been ripped away from the crumbling outer wall of the structure... along with the wall itself. Most of what was left was a lower room Daniel concluded had been the base of the structure that had once sat atop the small clay knoll, but had long sunken as the landscape changed over the years.  
"Vala?"
The boat rocked from side to side as Daniel struggled to sit up. He had his right arm across his chest and was using his left hand to reach blindly out for any support.
"Daniel," she called and inched forward, trying not to rock the boat any more. "Just lay still. We're on a boat. At sea."
"Good place for a boat to be," he muttered in return and flopped back into the little alcove at the bow. "Where are we?"
"Boat. Sea. Not obvious enough?"
"Funny." His eyes were still closed and the cut on his forehead that snaked into his hairline was still bleeding quite heavily, despite the field dressing she had applied. "I mean... where are we?"
"Just off shore, about a mile or so, but getting closer." Vala finally wriggled her way over the center seat until her knees touched his. "I thought we would be safer on the ocean than back on the island. Or what's left of it."
"What--"
"Giant wave. Lots of water and floaty stuff. You don't remember?"
"Would I be asking if I did?" He tried to open his eyes a fraction, but snapped them closed again and winced as the suns bit into his vision.
"You lost your glasses," she said sympathetically and with a tired smile. "And your pack with your shades. I did a scout of the area before we set sail, but there was nothing to find."
"Did you try--"
"The radios? Uh, huh. Mine is broken and yours was totally ripped off your vest when the wave hit."
"What about water?"
"One canteen. Mine."
"Care to share?"
"Oh!" Vala dragged the canteen from her pack and reached forward, placing Daniel's free hand around it and pushing it towards his lips. "There's not much, so...."
"Take it easy. Yeah, I get it."
 ~oOo~
 "Colonel Mitchell!"
"Son of a bitch!" Cam bit down hard on his bottom lip and ran a hand across the right side of his chest. Bruised but not broken, he mused ruefully as other aches and pains started to make themselves known.
Coming to a stop beside the broken remains of the wooden podium, Teal'c knelt down next to Cam and tried to assess his injuries. "Are you injured, Colonel Mitchell?"
"Bruised ribs, couple of cuts. I'll survive. Where's Sam?"
"Attempting to provide assistance. She believes the quake originated in the ocean just off the peninsula."
"Wherever it was, it was close. What about Jackson and Vala?"
"Unknown."
Cam reached for his radio but stopped when he found it missing and part of his TAC vest ripped open. "I thought these things were made to last? Try yours."
"I have."
"Nothing?"
"I shall try again once you have been extricated from the remains of the podium."
Cam made a quick assessment of the damage.   There had been five of them on the podium when the quake struck and brought it tumbling down. He could see Taphir off to his right, sprawled on the ground, but being tended to by one of his aides. And beside him were the three other delegates, all sitting up and brushing themselves down. The podium suffered the most amount of damage. Sturdy legs had supported a raised platform that could only be reached by a ladder. When the quake hit, Cam felt the podium shift beneath him, and then in an instant the whole structure shifted to the left and started its eventual and graceless slide to the ground. He remembered stumbling into the handrail and then on to the floor as the other delegates came tumbling towards him.
"Teal'c!"
Cam looked past Teal'c and saw Sam running up towards them. "We've got a ground rupture in the vicinity of the aqueduct!" She pulled up and braced her arms on her knees as she struggled to catch her breath. "I'm almost certain now the quake was offshore, which means there is a high probability this region could be hit by a tsunami. We need to get these people to higher ground."
"What about those in the city?"
"Too many of them and not enough of us. This whole region has been subjected to quakes and tsunamis for generations, so there's a good chance they've worked out some type of emergency plan."
"And the rupture?" Teal'c asked.
"I don't know for sure. The section near us is fairly shallow, but I managed to track it most of the way towards the peninsula with my field glasses before I lost it. It gets wider. I think this whole region must be sitting on an active fault line."
Sam stood up straight just as Taphir hobbled over with the assistance of his aide. He nodded to each of them in turn, and then said somberly, "I am pleased you are all well."
"Likewise," Cam said with a nod.
"Taphir, a ground rupture has opened up between the peninsula and here. It might be wise to start moving your people to higher ground."
"Colonel Carter, we have no facilities beyond the city. Development of any kind was forbidden while Lord Mot ruled this world. Our city and the mining facility to the west are all there is. We have no place to move."
"I'm worried the offshore quake might have triggered a tsunami."
"Tsunami?"
"A string of long waves that are generated by the displacement of large volumes of water. In this case as the direct result of an offshore earthquake."
"Ah! You mean a tidal crest? A wall of water."
"Close enough."
Taphir nodded knowingly. "We have encountered such a phenomenon in the past, but the city has been protected by the peninsula.   I have sent a messenger to the city to appraise the situation there. We will know shortly if the tide has crested."
~oOo~
 Vala jumped out of the boat and into three feet of water. "Just perfect, " she muttered to no one in particular because Daniel was asleep again. Her attempt at steering the boat away from the island had become a futile one, and with night only a few hours away she knew her best course of action was to make a camp back on the shore.
"You know, darling, this is nothing like those quaint little brochures Samantha picked up from the travel agent. Baa-haa-mas, I think she called the island. All cocktails and posh frocks. I hardly call traipsing through muddy water on an alien planet with an unconscious teammate the perfect vacation."
"Me either," came Daniel's slurred response from behind her.
"Oh, good. You're awake again. As you can see, I'm wading us ashore. Or, to be more precise, I'm risking my life by walking in water that contains who knows what type of deadly marine life. I could be taken like one of those teenagers in whatever movie Teal'c made us watch last week."
"Jaws?"
"Uh huh."
"You watched that crap?"
"One of us had to. And you fell asleep!"
"Bad horror movies have that effect on me. I wouldn't waste your time worrying about something grabbing you. Whatever marine life there was would have either been dumped on the island or tried swim to deeper water."
"Oh. So, I'm safe here but once we hit land I could be eaten by a land shark?"
"A what?"
"Well, I can only guess that if you toss a shark on the land it becomes--"
"Vala?"
"Yes, darling?"
"Did you try your radio?"
"You've already asked..." She looked quizzically at him, remembering he likely had a concussion. "Yes. Somewhere between hauling you to the beach and launching the Prometheus."
Daniel groaned. "Do I want to know?"
"Why I called this poor excuse for a worm-eaten boat the Prometheus?"
"Go on. It's not like I have a choice."
"No. Let's call this saving rights. Almost like bragging rights, only I get to explain to my captive audience of one why I had to steal this tiny boat and launch it in the direction of expected salvation. Similar situation, only in this case we have a single oar instead of a fully functioning hyperdrive."
"Expected salvation?" The boat rocked slightly as Daniel struggled to sit up. "You were going to trade the Prometheus for weapons grade naquadah!"
"Let's not quibble over the details, but instead reflect upon my ingenuity--"
"For stealing ships!"
"I was going to say for getting us out of trouble." Vala was jerked to a sudden halt as the hull of the boat scraped the sea bottom. "Well, that was a refreshing little walk."
~oOo~
By the time Cam, Teal'c and Sam made it back to the Mekrit city, the suns had almost slid below the horizon and a large, fat moon was rising to cast its soft light across the harbor. Sam sat at the window seat of their guest room in the main government building and looked down to the street below, to where many of those who had been at the ceremony were just making their way home. There was an eerie silence to the procession, which Sam could only put down to everyone being in shock.
She turned and looked over at Cam, who was lying on his bed with one hand rubbing at a sore spot on his ribs.
"You sure you didn't break anything?"
Cam stopped rubbing and let his hand fall to his side. "Na. Not much I can do about it even if I have."
"We should attempt to return to the Stargate," Teal'c said from the next bed. "The refusal of the Mekrit to assist us in recovering Daniel Jackson and Vala Mal Doran is unacceptable."
"Relax, Teal'c," Cam said. "They simply want to play it safe and wait until morning."
Play it safe. Sam had predicted a tsunami and she had been right, only the unusual geography of the peninsula had protected the city but not some of the smaller islands farther out in the bay. By the time the wave had made it into the harbor, it did nothing more than produce an unusually large high tide. The Mekrit, swayed by centuries of experience living with such diverse weather conditions, had instantly dismissed any thought of sending a fishing boat to the island Daniel and Vala were on. It was too dark, the seas were too unpredictable, and there was no one willing to take them.
"There's also the length of the rupture to consider. It would take us hours just to navigate around the furthermost point and just as long to go the rest of the way to the Stargate," Sam added as an afterthought, and then returned to looking out the window. "The SGC will check in once we're over due."
"Which will be in about..." Cam checked his wristwatch. "Twelve hours."
A bolt of lightning streaked across the darkening sky, illuminating the horizon with a flash of brilliance that reflected off the ocean. The wind was picking up again, and Sam thought she could just make out heavy clouds rolling in from the west. "Looks like a storm," she said softly as another flash of lightning seemed to strike the ocean.
"If this world did have a device similar to the Madronan Touchstone, then it would appear likely to have been stolen," said Teal'c.
"No, I don't think so." Sam got up from her window seat and moved to sit on her bed. "The weather on Madrona was extreme, far worse than what we've encountered here and on Earth. Madrona was almost tearing itself apart."
"You on to something, Carter?" Cam asked.
"No." She shrugged. "Well, maybe. More like hypothesizing. I think we can assume there is more than one Touchstone, which at this point we fairly well know to be true, unless the Mekrit stone was taken and given to the Madronans."
"Likely?"
"I don't think so. I think it's a more acceptable assumption that there is more than one Touchstone, and that whoever created them did so because they needed to terraform more than one planet. It could be that each Touchstone is specifically calibrated to the planet it was made for."
"Custom made?"
Sam turned to Cameron and smiled knowingly. "In its simplest form, yes. So whether the rogue NID team played with the calibration or not, the Touchstone they stole would never work on Earth, except to do the damage it did."
"Still hypothesizing?"
"I think I've gone all the way down to guessing."
"Yeah, well, your guess is better than most people's solid facts."
Teal'c stood up from his bed and moved to the place by the window Sam had vacated. He looked out over the ocean and towards the coming storm. "If you are correct, Colonel Carter, then it would seem that the Touchstone device is still here."
"That's what I'm starting to believe. I don't believe it's broken completely, or we would the conditions here would be virtually unlivable, but it could be damaged enough to upset the calibration."
"Then we must help these people find their Touchstone."
"Not now, Teal'c," Cam said, turning on to his lift side and cursing from the pain in his ribs. The window shutters rattled as a strong wind blew in from across the ocean, cold and crisp. "Now we sleep and hope that Jackson and Vala are doing the same."
~o0o~
 "That's it, Daniel. One foot in front of the other, just like I'm sure you parents taught you."
"Whatever happened to not mocking the injured?" Daniel tightened his grip around Vala's shoulders just as she did the same with the arm she had around his waist. Getting out of the boat had been one obstacle overcome, not without a lot of swearing and a bout of what Vala called manly fainting, but trying to walk across a muddy and debris-strewn beach was proving to be something completely different.
"Pretty sure that only applies to the elderly. In any case, and I'm not sure if you've noticed, but we are about to be rained upon!"
"We need shelter."
"My idea of turning our little boat upside down and hiding underneath wasn't appealing enough for you?"
"Yes to the boat. No to the getting down on the ground and hiding bit."
Vala tightened her grip again as if to urge him on. "If it's any consolation, I didn't fancy waiting out the storm by sitting in the mud either."
There was barely any daylight left. The setting suns, one of which had already dropped below the horizon, gave them hardly enough light left to navigate their way across the debris-strewn beach. Most of the trees were gone and those that were left looked like something ghostly swaying in the building breeze.
"Ruins," Daniel wheezed, and dropped his head to his chest to squeeze out a pain-filled cough.
"Brilliant plan! And about as useful as an upturned boat in a storm. I could add it to our growing list of options, right along with pitching the tent we no longer have on the beach and climbing in to our one and only sleeping bag to share body heat."
"Let's call it Plan B."
"And Plan A is?"
"Me walking one foot in front of the other and getting off this beach."
"That we can do." Vala pointed their one and only surviving flashlight to a point ahead of her. "Not many trees and definitely no curly little flowers, but I'm fairly sure this is where the forest started, which means the ruins have to be... "
"You don't know?"
"Not exactly. I saw what I thought was left of the ruins when we were bobbing about in the ocean, but not so much from standing right here. I am, however, lamenting our lack of an actual map and before and after shots from Mother Nature's attempt at geological renovations! And don't ask me to try and visualize the forest because I may have to hit you."
"Seven hundred and twenty paces from where the guide left us to the outer edges of the ruins."
"You counted?"
"No, I guessed. Of course I counted. Lack of map, remember?"
"Counting steps isn't the same as knowing the way." Strange that trying to validate an answer should be given an instant boost when a streak of lightning shot across the evening sky, followed a few seconds later by a massive clap of thunder. Vala ducked instinctively and almost brought Daniel down with her. "Well," she said, straightening up and smiling nervously, "that was close."
"Too close."
"Seven hundred and twenty paces straight ahead?"
"Give or take." Daniel followed the beam of her flashlight and nodded forward. "Probably give."
The 'give' was considerably more than the amount of paces Daniel had predicted. By about the time they had reached eight hundred, Vala was ready to lower Daniel down to the ground and wrap them both up in the sleeping bag, but the coming storm was building in intensity and pushing them forward.
"There," Vala said ten minutes later as the beam of her flashlight hit the large rock she had found earlier that day. "Ever so humble, but it'll have to be home."
"No." One hand still wrapped around his chest, Daniel reached for Vala's flashlight and shone it in the direction of the temple ruins. "That way."
"That way to where, Daniel? What I could see in daylight, and from a considerable distance, was nothing more than a few rocks. Probably what was left of one of your walls. It's all gone."
"Not like you to give up so easily," he huffed around a half-smile. "The lower levels should still be there."
"Under how much water? I much prefer Plan C, which was actually Plan A but minus the boat. Daniel, we are about to be rained on! We have one pack, missing half its contents, and one sleeping bag. It's dark, I'm cold, you’re injured and bleeding, and--"
"Vala."
"Oh, I know, darling." She sighed theatrically and slipped her right arm back around his waist. "Nothing to be lost by looking, right?"
Vala was right about there not being much left to find. Night had taken over the island, and the light from the rising moon was shrouded by clouds from the coming storm. The sky was angry.  
The light from her flashlight cut through the darkness and settled upon an outcropping of uniformly shaped rocks. Earlier in the day they had been mostly moss-covered and camouflaged behind a veil of tropical plants and exotic flowers, but now they were laid bare and very exposed in the flattened forest.
"If this is it, then there's not much left to speak of."
Daniel nodded slowly and was prepared to agree with her, but instead reached for her flashlight and shone it off to the right of the rock pile. "There," he said, when the beam settled on a dip in the ground and then appeared to dissolve into the darkness. "The wave must have washed away the sediment around the lower ground floor."
"I thought you said it was gone? Squashed."
"No. Come on." He pushed her forward until they were standing on the edge of where the beam had disappeared.
And that was where Vala took one step more than Daniel did... and vanished.
"Vala!" yelled Daniel as he tried to follow her descent through the darkness. "Vala!"
"Ow," came Vala's muffled reply. Daniel grabbed his injured side with his left hand and waved the flashlight around with his right hand until he found her sprawled at the bottom of a ditch, just a few feet down.
"You okay?"
"No, Daniel. I landed on my..."
"Butt?"
"It's not funny!"
"No," he conceded with a smile, "but at least it cushioned the blow."
"You do realize it is impolite to remark on a lady's behind!"
Laughing hurt too much, so Daniel settled for distracting himself by getting a wider view of where Vala had fallen. Where the ruins had once stood there was now a decent sized but not too deep hole in the ground that was shored up at one end by an ancient wall. Directly opposite the wall, the wave had gouged a trough that led straight to the ocean. Daniel suspected at some point in the temple's history the trough had most likely been a paved walkway, which was why soil had been so easily carried away. Some of the massive stones that had once constituted the framework of the upper levels of the temple were now scattered about the floor of the hole, and others had probably been dragged out to sea.
"You knew?" Vala called out from below, gingerly picking herself up and following the beam of light as Daniel circled it around the hole and back to the wall.
"I suspected there might have been a lower floor and possibly more than one room, simply because most civilizations that reach a period in their construction history where they develop the tools to work stone tended to get more grandiose in their designs."
"Well, that was a mouthful. You couldn't have just said yes?"
"Without qualifying my answer?"
"No. Without confusing me. I don't suppose you can get down here?"
To Daniel's right, the lip of the trough started to slope downwards. "Yeah. Just give me a minute."
~oOo~
 "It's a wall."
"Yeah. I got that."
"Would it help if I said I thought it was old?" A strong wind was sweeping across the island and bringing with it a light shower of rain. Vala pulled up the collar of her jacked and zipped up the front, but it was barely holding back the cold and wet. "Daniel?"
"It's got to be here somewhere."
"You've been looking for half an hour now."
"It's here. I know it is." Daniel ran the beam of his flashlight around an indent in the wall, tracing out an almost perfect square. "Jammed or wedged. I don't know."
"And this problem isn't going to solve itself by morning. I'm tired, you’re tired."
"Maybe, but if we don't get out of this weather we'll be a whole lot more than tired." Daniel turned the flashlight on its end and started tapping around the outline. After a few taps, the sound went from a thick thud to something more hollow. "Here," he said running his hand over a point on the wall. "Help me push."
"Really, Daniel---"
"Are you going to help me or are you going to stand here and complain until we're both hypothermic?"
Vala harrumphed loudly but got nothing but an angry stare from Daniel in return. She leaned into the wall and put her weight behind the spot he still held his hand over. "Is it too late to get a refund on this vacation?"
"Just push, will you?"
Daniel bit down hard on his lip as he put all the effort he could muster into pushing against the door. He ignored the sharp pain of broken ribs protesting his every move and the headache that had started to dull but was now back in full force. And yet despite his efforts, the door remained stuck. To his left, Vala had pulled away sharply, frustration etched on her face as she blew out her cheeks and turned to lean heavily against the wall. He thought about doing the same, even knowing there was no way he could offer up enough strength to match hers... when the side of the door they had been trying to move shifted inwards a few inches.
"Daniel?" Vala stepped back, turned around and grabbed the flashlight, shining it through the slight opening and into the darkness beyond.
"More," he urged and took up the strain again. A bright, white arc of lightning streaked down from the sky and hit the ground some way off in the distance, lighting up the entire area for a few brief seconds. In a flash, Daniel could see the small ravine they were in and the extent of the ancient wall. The stone moved beneath his hands, and then suddenly so did his balance as the door shifted on some unseen hinge and opened enough for him to fall through, with Vala stumbling in over the top. Her cry of surprise and a super bright flash of light was the last thing he saw as the pain in his chest erupted and sent him sinking into darkness.
 ~oOo~
 "Honored Leader Taphir sends his regards this morning."
Cam put on his most sincere smile, but when it came to political niceties, he had a few more lessons to learn. He looked over the man standing before him, with his cap of perfectly groomed blond hair and piercing blue eyes that appeared to judge him, and tried not to groan.
"Mornin', " he said without further preamble, because right now that was all he had to offer.
"If you and the rest of your delegation would follow me to the--"
"You're not going to feed us again, are you?"
The man, who had introduced himself as Patha, tipped his head to one side and frowned. "Is it not the tradition on your world to great the morning with a breaking of the nightly fast?"
"Well, yeah, but--"
"Then it is good that we can share our morning bread and wine with you."
"Ah, about that..." Cam looked over his shoulder to where Teal'c and Carter were coming out of their shared room. "We kinda want to get on with looking for our teammates. If that's okay with you."
"Ah! The scholar and his good wife."
"Yeah... you know, I wouldn't let Jackson hear you call her that."
"They are not wedded?"
Cam heard Carter chuckle behind him. "That would be no. Getting hitched isn't high on our list of team bonding exercises."
"Oh. My apologies." Patha appeared to take the news in his stride. He stepped aside and swept his right hand forward to usher them towards the breakfast room. "Leader Taphir assumed from their social interactions that they must have been a wedded pair. It is not uncommon among our own people for couples to bicker in a similar fashion."
"The tension you may have witnessed between Daniel Jackson and Vala Mal Doran is a form of communication they have developed by which they are able to remain in each other's company," Teal'c added, when it appeared Cam was at a total loss for words. "I am sure they will be able to separately attest to their marital state once we find them."
"As you say," Patha said flatly. "If you do not require food then Leader Taphir has made a vessel and navigator available for you to use."
Cam clamped a firm hand down on the man's shoulder and smiled widely. "Now we're talking! Which way to the harbor?"
The last of the dark clouds from the night's storm were rolling their way over the horizon to be replaced by the two giant suns. The harbor was horseshoe-shaped and formed the outer edge of the peninsula that had sheltered the city from the tsunami. Off towards the direction of the Stargate, to the far right and start of the peninsula proper, a range of low hills blocked the view of the rupture from the earlier quake.
Cam checked the time on his wristwatch and then looked up to the first of the two suns. "We'll be overdue in about 2 hours."
"At which time the SGC should make contact," said Teal'c.
"Any chance the quake damaged the MALP?" Cam looked to Carter, who simply shrugged.
"No way to know without actually going there, which will take hours, assuming we can find a way to cross the rupture."
"I'm not about to suggest sailing there when the SGC can send through an S&R team."
They walked in silence through the city streets, nodding at but politely refusing the various market vendors who greeted them with their wares. Flags hoisted high on many of the buildings swayed softly in the light breeze while large seabirds circled overhead, their presence a sure sign they were nearing the harbor.
Clearing the last of the narrow cobbled streets was like crossing the threshold between two distinct zones. The city simply ended without fanfare and the ocean took front and center, pulling Cam forward by its sheer beauty. Boats of different sizes and shapes, colors and designs bobbed on the relatively safe waters of the peninsula. Some had sails unfurled and crews scrambling across their decks as they set out across the ocean, while others were piled high with wicker fish pots and delicate nets. The air was heavy with the familiar smell of sea, salt, fish and seaweed.
Patha led them down one of the many jetties that jutted out from a wharf that spanned the entire length of the harbor. Cam could see the water below through the cracked and splintered planks of the jetty. A group of young boys lined one side of the jetty, sitting with their legs dangling over the side, kicking back and forth while they fished with wooden fishing rods.
"Here," Patha declared as he stopped in front of a sail boat and nodded to one of the men standing at the bow.   "This is Agela. He is captain of this vessel and will carry you to the island to search for your companions. I regret we are unable to assist you any further. Leader Taphir has called court to discuss yesterday's disaster and what needs to be done to repair the considerable damage done to the aqueduct."
At that very moment, dismay overshadowed Cam's sense of reasoning. Lives had been lost, entire families killed when buildings in some of the shanty areas of the city collapsed down on them. "What about the people you lost? Do they count in your discussions?"
"Our people are not your concern, Colonel Mitchell. When you have lived in the shadow of disaster for as long as we have, on a world that is unable to control its rage, you quickly learn that survival is not a war to be won but something to be endured."
"Okay. Well... little harsh."
"Good luck to you all. Agela will hold anchor in the bay and wait for your return." Patha turned on his heels and walked briskly back towards the city.
"Something I said?"
Sam rested a hand on his shoulder. "Doubt it, but we're definitely on our own here."
"Tell me again why we want to trade with these people?"
"Honestly, I'm not sure anymore."
~oOo~
It was the sense of falling that jerked Vala awake, leaving her momentarily disorientated as she tried to remember where she was.   She sat up quickly, blinking away the remnants of sleep as she took in her new surroundings after memories of crashing through the door the night before. The room was rectangular and made of large sandstone blocks, all neatly wedged together until they rose to meet a flat roof. It was clear from the spider webs hanging from the roof and the drifts of sand against the walls that the room hadn't been opened in a very long time. The air was dry and cool, and there was a light breeze blowing in from the semi-open door.
Daniel was next to her, laying on one side with his left arm curled protectively up and over his right side. "Daniel," she called out gently as she inched closer to shake his right shoulder. Getting no response, she pressed fingers to his cheek, then his forehead, and then finally ran them through his hair, pulling back when she felt the slimy touch of fresh blood.
Vala sat back and searched the room for her pack, finding it wedged in the opening of the door and suddenly remembering she put it there to stop the door from closing again.   She grabbed the medkit and rummaged through its contents to find the last of the field bandages.
"Come on, Daniel," she said as she wiped away the blood, assessed the wound and applied the dressing. "As much as I might enjoy watching you sleep, it does get rather boring after a while."
He groaned softly as she wrapped the last part of the bandage around his head and tied it off. "Well, at least you're responsive. Always a good thing."
He cracked one eye open and looked up her. "Vala?"
"Uh, huh. And you remember my name. Now how about yours?"
"What?"
"Your name." She sighed heavily when he frowned back at her. "I'm Vala and you are?"
Daniel rolled onto his back and dragged his left arm with him, still clutching his ribs. "Daniel," he said after a moment and then almost as an afterthought, added, "Jackson."
"Oh, good. Now that that's settled."
"Where are we?"
"Bad weather, tsunami, boat, island, ruins, room."
"The abridged version?"
"Of course. I figured if you can remember your name you might at least recall our little tropical island excursion from yesterday, which ended in falling in to this lovely room in the middle of a lightning storm."
"That explains the bright light I saw before..."
"Fainting?"
"Passing out."
"Actually," she reached behind and grabbed her flashlight from where it landed last night. "I hit you with this when I landed on top of you."
"What's another lost brain cell to add to the collection."
"I did apologize but you had already--"
"Passed out?"
"Not quite. More of a swoon." Daniel pinned her with a hard stare. "Okay, so a very manly swoon. And you being unconscious at the time means that my version of events is all we have. So swoon it is."
Vala turned away and strode further into the room, stopping just a few feet later when she saw something at the far end. "Ah, Daniel?"
"Still sleeping here."
"Oh, well then, I won't bother mentioning the rather large statue at the end of the room."
"Help me up," Daniel asked, holding out his left hand. "Slowly."
"I really don't think--"
"Vala."
"One helping hand coming up." On reflection, Vala quickly realized that standing up might not have been Daniel's brightest idea, when he almost took a nose-dive back down to the ground. "I did try to warn you," she chided.
"Took it under advisement."
"Yes, because it's so unlike you not to listen to me."
"Can we just move?"
"Only if you promise you're not going to puke everywhere."
Daniel flipped her the bird.
"I'll take that as a maybe, shall I?"
~oOo~
There was no mistaking the distinctly male form of the statue. In the heroic context of early Greek sculptures, the proportions were exaggerated in both structure and pose. Daniel tried to think back on the various representations he had seen of Atlas, from the old man crouched low with the weight of a heavy globe on his back, to the bronzed marvel in New York that represented the Titan in his purest form with the heavens held high in his hands.
The smooth-stone statue was the masculine twin of the one on Madrona, right down to the suggestion of movement through the flowing of hair and clothing. Only instead of one hand reaching to the heavens and the other swept back to hold the Touchstone, this statue had one hand raised above the head, while the other reached behind to hold up the bottom half of a celestial sphere.
"Daniel?"
"It's... Atlas." He looked over to Vala and saw the confusion on her face. "I thought what I found in the archive was merely a reference to the idea of Atlas. He's a Titan, a player from Greek mythology, which I realize you know nothing about, but bear with me. When the Olympians defeated the Titans, Atlas was forced to stand on the edge of the earth and hold Uranus on his shoulders."
"And Uranus is?"
"Father Sky. The son and husband of Gaia, who was Mother Earth. Legend has it that the Olympians made Atlas hold Uranus on his shoulders to keep him from returning to Gaia. Uranus is the personification of the sky."
"All very interesting, but where does the Touchstone come in all this?"
"I'm not sure." Daniel stepped forward and reached out to touch the base of the statue. "If this is Atlas, then it's likely the statue on Madrona is Phoebe."
"Husband and wife?"
"Ah, no. No. Phoebe was often regarded as the goddess of oracular intellect and prophecy. She also governed the moon with Atlas. Something to do with the assignment of Titan and Titanides to one of seven planetary powers. She was paired with Titan."
"And the Touchstones?"
"Still don't know, but as I told Sam earlier, there are some historians who take the mythos of Atlas further by expanding on his association with navigation and astronomy to include acts of heavenly retribution."
"Let's pretend I don't know what that means."
"Severe storms, floods, quakes..."
"Ah! That I do understand. Taphir said this was a temple?"
"To his people, yes, but I doubt it started out that way.   We still don't know for sure who created the Touchstones, only that they're used to control and alter the climate of a planet by moving a series of calibrated rings."
"Someone had to show these people how to use the devices."
"Yeah, and that's the kicker. It's likely the knowledge was passed down from one generation to another, but the source of that knowledge has been lost."
"Otherwise, you would know who created the stones."
"Seems reasonable."
"Like your chicken and egg theory?"
"I'm sorry... what?"
"Chicken and egg. Really, Daniel, it's all so logical."
"It is. It is?"
"Yes, darling. The address to this world came from?"
"Ah..." He had to think quickly. "The Abydos cartouche! It came up as part of Sam's cold dialing program, though I'm not sure why we couldn't connect--"
"Which means?"
Daniel stared hard at her for a moment and then lifted a hand to rub at his forehead. "It means the people on this world were probably taken from Earth and transplanted here by some Goa'uld."
"Or?"
"Or... they were taken from Earth to someplace else and then brought here sometime in the recent past. The Madronans said their Touchstone was approximately 900 years old."
"And if we assume the Touchstone was used to terraform a planet?"
"The people had to come after the stone. I mean, the planet would have been uninhabitable prior to terraforming."
"And whoever made the Touchstones wouldn't leave them laying about in the open for someone to stumble over."
"No. The stone on Madrona sat in the hand of a statue of a woman dressed in an ancient Greek chiton--"
"Your Phoebe."
"Well, yes. The Madronans wore clothing that pointed to an early South African influence. This means whoever created the stones either had to leave some historical record on how they worked, how to calibrate them, or--"
"They were about when the new population arrived. Which begs the question as to why they left in the first place."
"I'm missing something here."
"Oh, I don't know, Daniel, you seem to be working this out quite nicely."
"No. No, that's not it. You and I," he waved a hand back and forth between them, "we don't normally work this well together. Usually, you're annoying me and I'm--"
"Trying to get rid of me?"
"Actually, I was going to say 'trying to educate you', but I can see how it might look like I'm trying to--"
"Get rid of me. Well," she shrugged and offered him a half smile, "maybe I decided it was time to pay some attention in your lectures. Can't promise I won't stop annoying you, though."
"Oh, don't go changing on my part." Daniel stepped back from the statue and looked about the massive base. "Well, we have the statue but no Touchstone."
Vala had moved to one side of the pedestal and was frowning at something on the ground. "I wouldn't say that."
"What have you got?"
"Not a what... a who."
 ~oOo~
 "Nothing on the radio?"
Sam shook her head and smiled tightly. She looked up at the clouds gathering overhead and then back to the island off in the distance. "I'm going with their radios being damaged in some way."
"Both of them?"
"Possible. I don't know, but if they got caught by the tsunami..."
"Jackson would have headed for high ground."
"If there was time. Anyway, Teal'c is talking to the captain, trying to coax some speed out of this tub."
"Yeah," Cam said, "about that. I'm all for hyping up my own resume for the sake of first impressions, but this fishing fleet of theirs doesn't exactly match the profile we were given."
"Finely crafted vessels, maximized for the expanding Mekrit fishing trade?"
"There's another thing. I'd like to know exactly who the Mekrit are trading with, considering Taphir was pretty up front about not knowing how to use the gate."
"Local trade? Growing population?"
"Colonel Mitchell!"
Cam turned to face the stern as Teal'c made his way past the crab pots and nets, a dark scowl on his face. "You about done with making friends an influencing people?"
If Teal'c understood the reference he chose not to show it. "Captain Agela is a most stubborn individual."
"Deaf ears?"
"He appeared to hear my every word."
"No, Teal'c," Sam said with a smile. "Deaf ears is a term used when someone refuses to listen to you."
"Would it not be much easier to simply say what you mean?"
Cam started to reply but shut his mouth and indicated for Teal'c to continue.
"I impressed upon him the importance of haste in recovering Daniel Jackson and Vala Mal Doran, but he has refused to drop the excess ballast he is currently carrying."
"Did he give a reason?" Sam asked.
"He did not. But he did suggest he might be willing to meet our request with an amount of monetary compensation for the loss of the ballast."
"Isn't it just water?"
"SG-1niner this is Stargate Command. Come in."
"Perfect timing." Sam reached for her radio and pressed the mic. "This is Carter, go ahead."
"Colonel Carter!" The speaker had changed to General Landry. "Good to hear your voice. We were worried when you missed your regular check-in."
"Sorry, about that, sir. We've run in to some problems here and are unable to reach the Stargate. Requesting a search and rescue team. Daniel and Vala have gone missing after a tsunami hit the island they were exploring. We are en route now."
"No radio contact?"
"Nothing, sir. It may be that their radios were damaged.   Trying not to consider the other option."
"Colonel, if you can't reach the Stargate how is a S&R unit going to get to your location?"
"By sea. There is a beach just west of the gate, about 300 meters. You should be able to launch an inflatable without any problem.   The earthquake that triggered the tsunami also created a ground rupture that has cut the Stargate off from the Mekrit city. The island is approximately 50 kilometers off the coast of the peninsula, visible on a clear day and through field glasses."
"Are Colonel Mitchell and Teal'c with you?"
"Yes, sir. Colonel Mitchell was injured in the quake, along with a number of Mekrit. He is mobile and assisting with the search."
"Fatalities?"
"We're not sure of the numbers yet and the Mekrit seem reluctant to share that information with us. "
"Have they asked for assistance?"
"No, sir. In fact, it took some negotiating to get them to agree to loan us a fishing boat to search for Daniel and Vala. I'm not sure I'd call them xenophobic, but there is definitely some reluctance to accept our advice and help, which considering they don't use their Stargate at all, other than to accept the occasional visitor, doesn't surprise me."
"Okay, Colonel. We'll focus on recovering our own for now and worry about the Mekrit later. I'll have SG-3 and the S&R team gear up."
"One more thing, sir. Daniel found evidence that this planet has a Touchstone like the one on Madrona. Apparently the device was kept in a temple on the island, but was lost when a quake hit the region approximately four hundred years ago. Would explain the extreme weather conditions these people have been living with. Daniel suspects the device is probably still on the island but may have been damaged or removed from its pedestal."
"He believes the device is still functioning?"
"To a degree. If the device was destroyed, this planet would have reverted to its pre-terraformed state. Uninhabitable. It's more likely it is still functioning but has lost calibration."
"I need to find the mission file and brush up on the details."
"Yes, sir."
" SG-3 will contact you once they're planet-side. SGC out."
~oOo~
 "You're going to ask me to pick it up, aren't you?"
Daniel looked down at the desiccated remains of what he suspected was once the high priest who watched over the temple. The man had probably died a lonely death, trapped, sealed tight inside the room when the quake had struck. In his hands, fingers threaded through the rings in a macabre grasp, was the Touchstone.  
"Would you mind?"
Vala stood over the remains, frozen on the spot. "It's not like he'd care. I mean he's dead, right?"
"Very," Daniel said slowly. "Not getting squeamish on me, are you?"
"Hardly, darling. Need I remind you that liberating the armor from a Kull warrior actually requires him to be dead?"
"Which was the bigger motivator? Greed or self-preservation?"
"Really, Daniel, I'm hurt." Vala tapped the boney knuckle of one finger and then delicately tried to pry it away, only to have the bone crack, shatter and fall away. She smiled sympathetically at the remains and then up at Daniel, who could do nothing but shrug at the impracticability of the situation. Ideally, and with the right resources at their disposal, he could have documented the site and made an attempt to preserve the body in order to tell its story.
Vala stood up with the Touchstone in her hands. "I'm guessing putting this back on the pedestal won't set things right?"
"That'd be too easy. Resetting the rings requires bringing them into alignment, but setting them to the specific calibration for this world needs someone with the ability to use the device."
"And that somebody is long gone."
"Not necessarily."
~oOo~
 Cam eased himself gently over the side of the little rowboat Captain Agela had launched from the side of his considerably larger fishing vessel. Teal'c had done the rowing, which was something Cam found a little amusing, considering the wind had picked up in the last hour and tossed the boat around to the point where Teal'c was starting to look a little green.
"You okay, Teal'c?" he asked as he slid knee-deep into the cool water of the lagoon and turned to hold the boat steady for Sam. "Don't go puking on us."
"I do not like this method of transportation."
"See! Now that I don't get. You can fly a space ship, but a row boat in choppy seas has you ready to toss your cookies."
"Toss my--"
"Cookies, Teal'c" Sam said as she pushed off the side of the boat and joined Cam in the water. "It means to throw up, vomit."
"Jaffa do not expel the contents of their stomachs."
"Really?" Cam asked as a large gust of wind hit the side of the boat and nearly pushed him under. "Crap, that's cold."
"Looks like we're in for another storm." Sam shuffled to the front of the boat and pulled it forwards towards the shore, while Teal'c pushed from behind.   The stretch of beach they landed on was heavily strewn with debris from the tsunami. Cam took his field glasses out of his pack and did a general sweep of the area, focusing on a point just back from the shoreline which Captain Agela had suggested was the route Daniel and Vala would have taken to get to the old temple ruins.
"What a mess. Looks like the wave took out pretty much everything for a couple of miles."
"Not quite everything." Sam pointed to an object further down the beach. "Does that look like a boat to you?"
 ~oOo~
 "So, we get to the beach and do what?"
"Build a signal fire, anything that might alert others to us being here. They're counting on us to survive."
"They probably think we're dead."
"Yes. Nothing like positive thinking. You know we don't leave our people behind."
"I'm more worried about our lack of supplies and shelter. We might be better off waiting in the ruins." Actually, she was more worried about Daniel and whether he could actually make the distance to the beach. Without openly stating the obvious, which she was sure Daniel was already acutely aware of, he wasn't looking so hot.
Daniel handed Vala the Touchstone as they exited the temple. "I need you to carry this, but whatever you do, try not to move the rings."
"I thought you said they were already out of calibration?"
"They are, but probably not completely or this planet would have reverted back to its pre-terraformed state. The last thing we want to do is make matters worse."
"Right! So no touching the rings." Vala could do that. Maybe.
The suns were shining when they left the ruins and made their way south towards the beach, but by the time they had navigated their way through a debris field of fallen trees, leaf litter and dead wildlife, there were storm clouds gathering overhead.
"Vala." Beside her, Daniel had stopped and turned very pale.
 "Oh no you don't!" Vala cried as his knees buckled.
 She grabbed him, easing him down and preventing him from hitting the ground face first.
 "Go."
 "What?"
 "To the beach.  Light a fire."
 "And leave you here?  There could be all manner of wild animals just waiting for a chance to take a bite out of you."
 Daniel managed to glare through eyes scrunched in pain.  "Nice thought."
 "Why don't I just build the fire here?"
 "No."  He closed his eyes.  "Beach.  Can be seen better."
 Vala bit her lip.  She didn't like the idea of leaving Daniel alone, but she agreed the beach would be a better place for a signal fire.
 "All right.  Don't go off exploring.  I'll be back as quick as I can."
 He lifted one hand and waved his fingers in a shooing motion.
Vala gently set the Touchstone and her pack down beside him and set off at a sprint towards the beach.
 ~oOo~
 "Standard USAF boot treads."
"They went this way," Teal'c said, pointing in the direction of where the forest had once been. "Their tracks are quite a few hours old."
Cam stood up slowly from where he had been studying the tracks. "Doesn't explain what they were doing in a boat."
"Not much, and not with only one oar." Sam flipped the small boat over on to its hull. "This thing has definitely seen better days. They might have been trying to escape the island but couldn't. Maybe the current was too strong."
"Whatever the reason, they headed back inland. That's where we go."
"Colonel Mitchell!"
Cam turned to Teal'c, who had shouldered his P90 and was aiming it towards one of the few remaining outcroppings of trees.
"Where?"
"Movement at your ten-o-clock."
The silence was broken by a blur of green that darted out from behind a tree, only to stumble and nearly fall before coming to a dead stop at the edge of the beach.   The click of safeties being thrown on weapons must have been enough for the intruder to look up and take notice.
"Hey there," Vala said breathlessly. "You do have me surrounded!"
"Vala!" Sam slung her weapon and ran forward. "You're alive."
"Yes, well, like Daniel, I can be surprisingly hard to kill."
"Speaking of which," asked Cam. "Where is Sunshine?"
"I had to leave him and try and make the beach alone."
"Injured?"
"Chest, head, probably a few other places he wouldn't admit to." She tossed a thumb over her shoulder back in the direction she had come from. "He's about two hundred feet or so that way, in a little rocky outcropping. And he's got the Touchstone."
"You found it?"
Vala turned to Sam and shrugged. "Quaint little object, lots of rings and shiny things."
"Treasure?"
"Apparently not, as it's another one of the life's luxuries I'm not allowed to keep."
Sam grabbed her by the arm and followed Teal'c and Cam off the beach and up towards the temple. "I'm glad you made it. Didn't look good for a while there."
"Yes, about that. Cameron is moving rather slowly."
"Took a tumble when the quake hit."
"No giant wave thing-y?"
"Tsunami? No. The city was protected by the peninsula."
"No such luck here."
They moved inland quickly, skirting through a growth of de-foliaged trees and out to where the land was mostly barren. Far from being flat, the ground undulated in places where natural rock formations that had once been covered where now exposed.
"Over here!" yelled Teal'c, who had stopped and dropped to one knee. "Daniel Jackson?"
Cam knelt down next to him and picked up the Touchstone to make way for Sam.
"Daniel?"
"I'm okay, Sam."
"Really? Because you look like crap."
"It's good to see you too. All of you."
"Sorry we took so long to get here, Jackson. Had a bit of trouble with the locals."
"Not interested in our petty needs?"
"They are a most unaccommodating species," Teal'c grumbled.
Vala watched on as Sam emptied the contents of her medkit onto a survival blanket. She sorted a fresh field dressing for his head and then a dose of Tylenol and some antibiotics. "SG-3 and the search and rescue team are on their way. We should have you home in a few hours."
"Need to get the Touchstone to Taphir first."
"Teal'c and I can deal with that while you and Cam get some treatment."
"Sam?"
"Yeah?"
"The Mekrit can't--"
"There's no one here who knows how to use the Touchstone? I get it, Daniel, but there is someone who does."
Daniel smiled and closed his eyes. "Roham."
 ~oOo~
 Dark clouds were swirling angrily overhead like a plea for help when Roham exited the Mekrit Stargate. He pulled his long cloak tightly around his shoulders and reached out to take Colonel Carter's arm as she led him from the dais, and down the stairs to the waiting delegation.
"Greetings, Taphir," Sam said warmly as the leader stepped forward and nodded politely at them. "I'd like you to meet High Priest Roham of Madrona."
"You are well greeted, Roham." Taphir turned to Carter. "Colonel Mitchell and Doctor Jackson?"
"Both recovering from their injuries, Taphir.   They will be here for the signing of the treaty, with your permission."
"We look forward to them joining us." Taphir waved a hand over his shoulder and ushered Patha forward, who was holding the Touchstone. Roham smiled, his gaze drawn immediately to the object.
"So like ours and yet so different."
"You noticed?" asked Sam. Daniel had mentioned the inscriptions on the Mekrit stone being subtly different to those of the Madronan one, but hadn't expected Roham to pick up on the differences so quickly and from such a distance.
"This one sings a different song, although even I can tell the tune is not quite right."
"The calibration?"
"Yes. If you would call it that." He looked to Taphir and then to the crowd standing behind him. "There is someone here, someone among you who will be able to hear the music of the Touchstone. They will be the one to guide your seasons, pick your planting times and water your crops."
"What if there isn't?" asked Taphir. "What if that knowledge has been truly lost?"
"There is one born in every generation, sometimes more.   Your Touchstone may have been lost but those who have the ability to use it have always been with you, waiting for when the stone returned, unknowing of their role in your history. But for now..." Roham stepped forward and reached out for the Touchstone, smiling as it was placed in his hands. Without thought or hesitation, his withered fingers caressed the rings and brought them effortlessly into alignment, before deftly, and with the smallest of touches, moving them apart to precise settings. There was a moment of silence, where the heavens stopped rumbling and the winds dropped, and a spread of tiny golden orbs rose from the Touchstone and disappeared into the sky.
Sam turned with the crowd to look out across the peninsula as the clouds parted and drifted away to let the light from the two suns through to bounce off the now calm ocean. Relief was the only word she could find to describe the moment. Like Madrona all those years ago, Mekrit had once again found peace from the song of its Touchstone.

The end

 

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