by Eilidh17

“It’s been two days, sir.”
“I can count, Carter.”  Jack’s brusque tone mirrored that of the small rescue party gathered around a dying fire.  The wind-chill factor outside the cloister of camouflage tents was bone numbing, and Sam didn’t want to even think of how Daniel would be spending this night.
If, in fact, he was still alive.
The team had fallen into trouble a few days earlier when the Tok’ra had informed them of a possible archaeological find in a cave system on PL2-101.  Besides the obvious question—what were the Tok’ra doing in the cave—Daniel was positively gushing at the small palm-sized stones the Tok’ra had presented him with.  Each stone was covered in the angular and distinctive writing of the Asgard, and looked as though they might have belonged to a much larger relic.
“A device perhaps?”  Teal’c had asked, arching one eyebrow questioningly at the Tok’ra operative, for which he got an expressionless and decidedly neutral answer.  Once again, the Tok’ra were bearing gifts but not giving up any pertinent details.
The merits of venturing into an uncharted cave system were discussed, but Daniel was quick to remind everyone of the SGC’s research mandate and the possible benefits of learning more about the Asgard.
Squaring his shoulders, meeting each member of the team in turn with a steely gaze, General Hammond ordered his team to be ready for an early morning departure.
Daniel was vibrating with anticipation, which Colonel O’Neill had countered with a heavy hand to his shoulder.  “Steady boy, before you sprain something.”
SG-1 had a go.

Sam pulled the collar of her thermal jacket up around her ears and cast a disparaging look at the brooding night sky.  Thunder clouds rolled overhead from a point beyond the horizon, their dark spongy plumes heavy with rain.  On the opposite side of the hearth, Teal’c sat in quiet kel’no’reem, the cold seeming to have no affect on his battered body.  He sat with his hands on his knees and his head back slightly, eyes closed.  A river of bruises washed from his right-side temple down his neck before disappearing under his jacket, and with a shudder, Sam found herself silently thankful his symbiote was taking care of his other more sinister injuries.
The collapse of the cave system had caught everyone by surprise.  When they’d made their way into the mountain, the tether linking them together was their only reliable means of finding their way out, as the crude map provided by the Tok’ra had been nothing more than an approximation of the winding system of tunnels.  The threat assessment of the planet was negligible and Daniel, having the most caving experience, took point.  Sam had been second, the beam of her flashlight squarely centered on Daniel’s back as they walked deeper into the mountain.
“It’s dry in here,” Daniel commented, as he moved his light in a sweeping arc from side to side.  “These tunnels haven’t seen water in a long time.”
“Is that a problem, Daniel?”  Sam asked.
“Not really, well… maybe.  It depends on when the last time was these rocks saw water.  Surprisingly enough, when rocks are very dry, they tend to split quickly under the pressure of water.”
“They become more porous?”
He stopped and swung his flashlight in her direction and muttered, “Exactly,” as though her answer had surprised him.
“Hey, what’s the hold up?” Jack called from further back in the tunnel, tugging on the tether to get their attention.
“Nothing,” Daniel called back, and went back to marking their way with light sticks.
The trek to the location the Tok’ra had found the Asgard artifacts was long, but thankfully uneventful, and with a sigh of relief, Sam silently praised herself for packing extra rope—the Tok’ra operative’s method of measuring distance had proven inaccurate.
“This is…wow!” Daniel breathed, his voice bouncing off the sides of the small amphitheatre they found themselves in.
After nearly an hour of trudging through the narrow passage ways, the tunnel brightened and opened out into a larger chamber.  Roughly spherical in shape, the area was crowded with stalagmites and stalactites jutting out from the ceiling and floor.  A bioluminescent organism clung to the walls and bathed everything in dim bluish light.
“Well, water is getting in here somewhere,” Daniel said, shining his flashlight at the roof of the cavern.  “Maybe an overhead river or some other body of water.”
“From the rock formations?” Sam asked, shining her flashlight over one particularly large stalagmite.
“That… and the sulphur scores pocketing the walls.”
Jack wrinkled his nose and squinted.  “Explains the smell.”
They wound their way through the cavern to the far side, where the Tok’ra operative had discovered the relics.  Set on a ledge, crafted crudely into one wall, was an arrangement of stones similar to the ones Daniel was carrying in his pack.  Donning gloves, he took a brush from his kit and carefully cleaned away accumulated dust.
“Definitely Asgard,” he murmured.
“I thought we knew that already?” Jack countered.
“One or two relics from the same race doesn’t make it a definitive find, Jack.  When archaeologists recovered ancient libraries in Greece and Sumeria, they quite often found objects belonging to other races among the debris.  For all we know, this could be some long forgotten space pirate’s hide out, and these stones were part of his haul.  It’s too early to be certain.”
“Space pirates, ya’ say?  As in ‘Yo ho ho’?”
“Needs work?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.”
Jack peered over Daniel’s shoulder, sweeping his flashlight across the ledge.  “But those are definitely Asgard?”
“No doubt about it.”
“Cool!”  He tapped at the radio on his chest.  “Think this will work this far in, Carter?”
Sam frowned, momentarily confused.  “Sir?”
“I want to let Teal’c know we’re coming out.”
Daniel collected the stones and wrapped them in a cloth, carefully putting them inside his pack. “We’re leaving?  Already?  But we only just got here.”
“We found what we came here for, Daniel, and to be honest, this place gives me the creeps.  Gather up your rocks, let’s go.”
Jack held up his hand, forestalling further debate.  “We got here late and the sun would have set by now.  I don’t want us trying to work our way back to the surface in the dark.”
“Ah, sir?”
“We’re already in the dark,” she said, tapping the side of her flashlight for effect.  “Can’t get much darker.”
“Not the point,” Jack returned.  “Teal’c is up there in the dark, and you know how that scares him.”  His tone was lighthearted, but he made it clear the conversation was over.
“What if there’s something here we haven’t found yet?”
Jack squinted at Daniel through the glow of the flashlight. “Ten minutes,” he said tapping the top of his watch.  “Ten minutes and then we’re out of here.”
Fate gave them barely five.
They hadn’t heard the rumble at first, as the mountain moved restlessly beneath their feet.  Daniel noticed it when the light from the flashlight he held between his teeth picked up fine particles of dust dancing on the surface of several unearthed stones.
“Anyone feel that?”  He swung the light out into the cavern in the direction of Sam and Jack.
Jack shielded his eyes and shook his head.  “Feel what?”
As if motivated by Jack’s words, the floor groaned under their feet, followed by a steadily growing rumble that worked its way from the tunnel side of the cavern to the far wall.
Like slow motion, the walls seemed to yawn and the stalagmites quivered threateningly above them.
“Move!” Jack stumbled, struggling to stay upright.  “Leave everything and run!  Teal’c!” he screamed into his radio, tumbling to his knees as another tremor flowed through the cave churning up everything in its path.
Dust choked the air, rocks bounced and skidded across the floor and stalactites that had hung for centuries cracked and broke, showering the team with sharp slithers of calcium carbonate.
“Teal’c!”  Jack’s voice barely rose above the roar of the tremor.
Sam pulled on her rope, gathering it in until she could feel the weight of Daniel on the other end.  Arms straining, she tried to find him through the swirling dust but the sway of the rope was the only indication she had that he was still tethered.
Behind her, she could just make out the colonel clawing his way towards the tunnel entry.  He slapped one hand out again the wall and flipped onto his bottom, fumbling for the rope around his waist.  Looking up, he squinted at her through the dust falling on his face.
“I can’t see Daniel!”
“I’m reeling you in.”
Time slowed down.  She could see the colonel take up the slack on his line as he over-handed it in until she felt herself being pulled towards him.  On her end, the rope was tight to the point of straining and she still couldn’t see Daniel.  Suddenly she was being pulled in two directions.
“Sir, I think Daniel’s stuck!”
But he wasn’t listening.  The look of concentration on his face, the determination with which he was reeling in the line, made it clear his focus was elsewhere.
In a split second of time she was falling backwards, arms flailing as the rope she was holding onto flew back at her, smacking her in the face and shoulders.  She could just see the end of it as it whipped across her chest: it had been cut.
The force of the landing knocked the breath out of Sam.  She flipped onto her stomach, inching slowly towards the colonel as the floor lurched again, sending a fresh plume of dust and debris into the air.
“I have you, Major Carter!”  Strong arms grabbed her and pulled her forward into the tunnel.  She couldn’t breathe.  Dust coated her face and seared its way down her throat to settle in her lungs.  Every attempt, every chance to draw breath caused her more pain.
“I can’t—”
Her words died in the air as a damp cloth smothered her face and dragged its way down her throat, wiping away the thick silt with it.
“Are you able to breathe now?”  Teal’c’s strong voice was like an anchor in the dark, reassuring and safe.
“Colonel O’Neill?”
“Beside you.  We must leave.”
“No, we can’t!  Daniel!”  Sam reached for the rope still tied around her waist, gathering it in and hoping she’d imagined the end being cut.  There was nothing.  The end was clean, barely starting to fray from the rough cut that had severed Daniel from the rest of his team.
Another tremor rocked the mountain, louder and stronger than the first few.  Sam felt herself being picked up and propelled along the writhing tunnel to the surface.  The walls cracked and fractured, following the course of the tremor like a wave breaking the shore.  The light sticks they’d left to mark their way, barely registered through the debris.  Stumbling, crawling, they eventually broke the surface as the tunnel collapsed behind them, catching Teal’c as he lunged for the opening.

Daniel couldn’t tell how long he’d slept.  All sense of time was lost along with his wristwatch which had been shattered by a falling rock, breaking his wrist in the process.  Pain radiated up his arm and spiked in his shoulder.  His fingers weren’t so bad, although he knew this was likely from nerve damage that had numbed the now-useless digits.  Small mercy, really.
With the cave coming down around him, he had narrowly missed being impaled by a falling stalactite when Sam pulled on his tether.  The massive rock plowed into the ground, trapping him against the wall and leaving him unable to do anything more than protect himself from flying debris.  Above him, the small ledge they found the Asgard stones on collapsed.  Daniel threw a hand up over his head to deflect the falling rocks, letting out a cry as a broken section of wall crashed down and pinned his arm to the ground.
Pain slammed into him, knocking what little breath he left out, while above him, the roof split open and rained down rocks and thick dust.  Without warning, the tether around his waist pulled tight, reminding him that he we still attached to Sam.  He couldn’t see her through the maelstrom of debris, but he could feel her trying to pull him towards the entrance to the tunnel, and mindful of the further danger he was putting his team in by lingering in the cave, he found himself choiceless.
The rope jerked again and he heard Sam’s panicked voice calling out to him above the roar of the quake. Biting down hard against the pain, he reached behind with his uninjured arm and felt for the knife at his waist.  Following the line of rope to a point well clear of his belly, he slashed across the fibres, slumping back against the wall as the tether fell away into the darkness.
Scant moments later, the ground beneath Daniel tilted. The cave seemed to vibrate with the force of the quake, sending yet more rocks tumbling to the floor and crashing about him.  He tried to turn away from it all, curling up as small as he could, given that he was pinned tight, but the quake crested in intensity and the wall above exploded, showering him with rocks.
The first time Daniel woke, it had been to the sound of rocks groaning all around him as they settled into place from the collapse of the cavern.  There was barely any light.  The bioluminescence that had provided them with a modicum of light was virtually gone now, most likely buried under tons of earth and dust, and what little light he could see appeared to be coming from behind him.
He shifted, cautiously testing out his confines, but found he was still wedged into a crevice of the wall, his freedom hampered by a large jagged boulder.  His body protested with his every action: muscles tensed and cramped from being inactive for so long and bruises peppered his abused skin.  His wrist throbbed in time with his heart and almost matched the banging in his head that was centered where he had been struck by rocks.
Sleep came far too easily.
Daniel wasn’t sure what had woken him next, but a need to pee was high on his list of priorities.  Wriggling his butt to shake off the numbness from having sat in one spot for too long, he found he had enough room to twist onto his side and drag out his pack with his good hand.  His other hand was still wedged under the remnants of the fallen ledge.
The pack was cumbersome to move, but a blessing once he’d managed to move it out from underneath him.  Besides working out how to pee without making a mess, he needed to free his hand.  Rummaging through his pack produced three light sticks, the last of his supply.  Daniel returned two to his pack and pushed it away. Taking one of the sticks, he flexed it against his thigh until the chemical capsule in the center broke with a satisfying crunch.  A quick shake and his little corner of the collapsed cave was bathed in a sombre green hue.  He tossed the light stick down next to the rock trapping his wrist and reached for his knife.
The blade shone in the dim light and he caught his own hazy reflection on its steely surface.  Dust and grime coated his face but not quite enough to hide a myriad of bruises and cuts left behind by the falling debris.  They were the least of his problems. Knowing he had no choice but to try and dig his trapped arm out, he wriggled on to his side and began a careful excavation.
Chipping away at the hard earth was eating up all of his energy reserves.  The need to pee and drink were becoming urgent, but the pain radiating from his wrist drove those needs to the back of his mind and made him careless.  The blade came down on top of a small rock and skidded off to one side, and Daniel lost his balance, falling forward onto the fragment trapping his wrist.  It moved under his weight, shifting backwards towards the wall.
A scream tore itself from his mouth as bones ground and crunched under the heavy weight of the moving rock.  Clamping down hard on his tongue he tried to stop himself from pulling his arm out, but the reflex was too strong.  Fear overshadowed common sense, and without any conscious thought, he slumped sideways and pulled his injured arm with him.
Flesh stretched and pulled, bones moved free of joints under the skin as the pain hit its pinnacle and Daniel collapsed, totally unaware that he’d managed to free himself.

Captain Rogan didn’t quite fit with Jack’s impression of what an engineer should be.  The man was built like a Russian tank, with a thick moustache that curled slightly at the ends giving him an Orson Welles type appearance.
“C4 isn’t the answer to all of life’s problems, Colonel.”  Rogan gave him a look Jack used to reserve for Charlie when his kid insisted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were the staple diet of all five year old boys.  It hadn’t worked with Charlie, but Rogan had somehow managed to make the look seem menacing.  Years of practice, Jack supposed.  “We have procedures for this type of disaster and blowing a hole in the side of a mountain that’s just been subjected to multiple earthquakes isn’t one of them.”
Jack frowned at the man, looked him up and down as though he was sizing him up, and hoped his ‘Colonel in charge’ look was cutting some mustard.
Rogan didn’t even flinch.
“Then what?” Jack asked grimly.  “We’ve pulled about a ton of rock out of the tunnel already and managed to get how far in?”
“I didn’t bring the mountain down on you, sir.  These things take time.”
“Time Daniel doesn’t have.”
“There’s a good chance—”
A hard look crossed Jack’s face. “Don’t want to hear it, Captain. This is no damn body retrieval mission, got that?”
“The reality of it is, sir, we don’t pull many people alive from situations like this.  Even if he is alive down there, how long will his supplies last?  As I understand it, SG-1′s mission was only slated to last one day.  A quick in and out mission to verify the intel you were given by the Tok’ra.”
Jack eyed the man critically.  “I don’t need a rehash of my mission parameters, Captain.  But if you must know, we were each carrying several days’ worth of MREs and other supplies.”
The Captain didn’t look convinced.  “So, what?  A week tops?  What about water?”
“Two canteens and a spare in his pack.  Daniel takes antihistamines so he always carries extra water with him.”
“A month.”
“For what?”  Jack ducked his head and scrubbed a hand across his brow.  “Are you telling me it could take a month to reach the cavern?  That’s a joke, right?  I’ve seen you guys burrow through solid cement to get to someone, how can this take a month?”
Rogan threw his hands up in defense.  “Solid cement, yes, and in a building we had blueprints for and some idea of where the missing person was.  This is different.  You have no idea how many tunnels are running through this mountain.  It’s an old volcano and probably littered with lava tunnels and caverns just like the one Doctor Jackson is trapped in.  Based on the density and composition of the rock we’ve already excavated, a month would be a generous estimate.  It could take much longer, and I don’t need to tell you that—”
“Yes, yes, the SGC doesn’t have the funding or authorization to mount a rescue for that length of time.  Dammit.  There must be another option.”
“Look, sir.” Rogan closed the gap between them, his back shielding Jack from the rest of his team on the other side of the camp.  “We’ll keep going for another day with the method we’re using now.  Hopefully we’ll hit a pocket of tunnel that didn’t collapse.  We can reinforce it and go deeper.  If that doesn’t happen, I can try hitting it with shaped low-yield charges.”
“I thought you said C4 wasn’t an option?”
“It’s not, not in its tactical form.  A shaped charge affords us better control of the explosive range and direction, lessening the chances of bringing the rest of the mountain down on top of us.  It’s still not an exacting science, not as far as using it in a situation as unpredictable as this, so we’ll remote detonate.”
“What about camera probes and microphones?”
“A possibility,” admitted Rogan, “but useless until we’ve cleared a segment of tunnel big enough to send in a listening device.  They’re remotely operated and work well in collapsed buildings, a bit harder for this type of rescue when you’re talking about unknown quantities of solid rock.”
“You carry one with you?”
“Always, sir.” Rogan turned and looked across at the rest of SG-1.  “For what it’s worth, I really do hope we find him for you.”
“One thing I’ve learned about Daniel is never say never.  Man is surprisingly hard to kill.”

Get up.
The dying thread of a dream jerked Daniel awake.  Next to him, his last remaining light stick had just about served its purpose—when it was gone, he’d be plunged almost completely into darkness.  There was some light behind him; he could see it reflecting off the shiny calcium surfaces of the remaining stalactites and stalagmites.  At a guess it was the same bioluminescent organism they’d seen on the walls when they first arrived.
He’d started a routine now.  Reaching for his radio and testing it across the available frequency range was always first.  He refused to believe his team would instantly assume him lost and leave.  Jack’s ‘leave no one behind’ creed had served the team well on several occasions and this would be no different.
Twisting to his side, Daniel took his weight onto his good hand and shuffled himself upright, steadfastly ignoring the wealth of aches and pains all jostling for attention.  His wrist and head hurt the most and he’d pretty much used up what little Tylenol he’d carried with him.  There was still the option of the pre-loaded doses of morphine, but he’d chosen to hold those in reserve.
The sling he’d made for himself was crude but effective, and supported his arm close to his chest.  With some effort he’d managed to shrug his BDU jacket off and then put it on again, keeping his injured arm tucked inside the body and adding an extra layer of protection.  Putting the free sleeve end in his mouth, he’d used his good hand and a lot of creativity to knot a bandage to it.  Job done, he’d looped the sleeve across the front of his jacket and under the bulge that was his broken arm and thrown the bandage behind him.  Twisting backwards, he picked up the bandage and tied it to the cuff of the sleeve again.  His first aid skills wouldn’t win him any awards for beauty, but the result was effective.  His arm was secured to his chest and the relief it brought his tired shoulder muscles was immediate.
Food and water were a concern.  Sure that his team would be trying to find him, Daniel used what little light he had to take an inventory of his supplies.  MREs enough for three days, three canteens of water, the obligatory power bars and little else.  They hadn’t planned on staying for more than a day so there wasn’t a need to pack beyond the basics.  Having said that, he hadn’t touched his supplies since being stranded.  Quickly calculating how best to ration himself, Daniel repacked his pack and threw it over his good shoulder.
He rose gingerly to his knees, holding the light stick aloft to try and spot the ceiling.  The cavern originally had a domed roof, which he’d assumed had formed from a bubble of lava many thousands of years ago.  It wasn’t domed any longer.  The walls had warped and fractured with the force of the earthquakes.  Heavy slabs of rock lay at varying angles to the ground and most of the calcium formations had been destroyed completely or had their ends severed.  Shards littered the floor, making him grateful he was wearing boots.
Looking to his left, he could just see the curious blue hue of the bio lighting peeking out from behind a jumble of rocks.  With his own light sources almost depleted, it was his next objective.
Debris crunched underfoot and there were several times he’d misjudged distances between boulders and sent already dislodged stalactites tumbling to the ground.  Stress was once again eating at his energy reserves as he fought his body’s need to rest.  It wasn’t far though, and when he finally thought he could go no further, he stumbled into a small clearing where the light source was at its greatest.
Only to find it wasn’t coming from the walls.

“Clear the tunnel! Clear the tunnel!”  Rogan’s voice rang out from everyone’s radios and clear across the small field that separated the cave entrance from the makeshift camp.
Aftershocks tumbled across the land, shaking the ground with enough force to knock everyone to their knees.  They were brief but very unpredictable, and even with the monitoring device Sam had requested from the SGC, they were unable to gauge when one was about to hit until it was almost on top of them.
The planet was highly unstable, a fact Sam couldn’t be sure the Tok’ra were aware of when they had given the address to the SGC.  Colonel O’Neill had already voiced his opinion on the matter—his mistrust of their “allies” was no secret to anyone.
The ground slowly stopped swaying.  Sam stood up and dusted herself off, looking about for the rest of her team and finding them doing the same thing.
“Carter!  You okay?”
She waved off his concern with a muttered, “I’m fine, sir.”  Truth was, she wasn’t.  They were on day three of trying to clear the tunnel to the cavern Daniel was trapped in and there had been little progress made.  The private discussion between the colonel and Captain Rogan had been heated, and although she wasn’t privy to the details, and Colonel O’Neill had declined to discuss them, she could well imagine what was being suggested.
What annoyed her most was not knowing why Daniel had cut his tether and effectively stranded himself.
“Colonel O’Neill!”
Rogan was clearly a man on a mission, his purposeful strides carrying him across the small field in short order.
“What!”  Jack snapped, his voice colored by frustration at what was likely going to be another delay in the rescue operation.  “If you’re going to tell me—”
Rogan held up his hand, a tight smile on his face.  “We can’t go on, at least not today.  This latest round of tremors has destabilized the retaining work we’d already done and there are several new fractures along an already unstable fault line in the central tunnel.  I can’t risk letting my team go in any further until we give the area some time to settle.”
“How far does the fault stretch?”
“Can’t tell, I’m afraid.  I tried to send a probe in past the main blockage but it hit a wall of rock and until we can work past it, we won’t know if the tunnel is clear behind.  At this point we have to wait.”
“Ah, can I ask something?” Sam interjected hesitantly.
Jack swept his hand towards Rogan.  “Be my guest, Carter.”
“I’m no engineer, nor a geologist, but wouldn’t a shaped charged detonated by remote control be able to clear away the debris in the tunnel and give us better access to the obstruction?”
Rogan sighed heavily and flicked his gaze over at the colonel.  “As I’ve already discussed with Colonel O’Neill, Major, the instability of the mountain and the presence of other chambers and lava tunnels like the one we’re working in gives us reason to hold off using charges of any kind.  I’m even more reluctant to use them considering the amount of aftershocks and minor tremors we’ve been experiencing.”
Teal’c, a quiet observer up until this point, asked, “Is it not possible for the cave system to have a second exit?”
“There’s probably quite a few,” Rogan admitted, “but this mountain used to be a volcano many thousands of years ago and if we assume it erupted several times—which by looking at the area around it we can tell that it did—then it’s impossible to know how many lava tubes exist and how many of them are connected.”
“Like a rabbit warren?” asked Sam.
“Of the worst possible kind. Look, I want to find Doctor Jackson as much as the rest of you, but this area is one big playground of volcanic activity.  The UAV flight we took earlier picked up at least a dozen hot spots of activity following the lines of two colliding tectonic plates.  We’ve obviously caught this planet during one of its more active geological phases.”
“So we can expect more quakes?”  Jack asked.
“Without a doubt.”

Bluish light streamed out from a crack in a far wall of the cavern.  It wasn’t much; in fact, had the fault been any smaller, Daniel was certain he would have missed it completely.  Falling to his knees, he cleared away shards of rock until he’d made a decent enough space to settle down in and shrug off his pack.  The pain in his arm was manageable although he knew it wouldn’t be for long. The cost of his little expedition had not only been the taxing effort on his body but the need to use up the last of his Tylenol supply.
The wall was an enigma to him.  Pushing his discomfort to the back of his mind, he ran his hand over the semi-smooth surface towards the source of the light.
“Okay,” he said, “this is different.”  He paused above what looked from a distance like a natural roughing of the surface, only to find there was a set of ridges carved equidistant apart.  He traced his fingers over the ridges and down to a groove along the bottom, which he followed until it looped around and met to form a complete oval.
A sense of familiarity stirred in Daniel and he grabbed for his pack.
“Please tell me I didn’t lose you,” he said, rummaging one-handed through the contents until he hit upon a bundle wrapped in cloth.  “Yes!”
Daniel nudged the pack away with his knee and set the bundle down on the ground, carefully unwrapping it to reveal the Asgard stones he’d collected before the earthquake.  At a glance, each stone seemed similar in appearance, but there were subtle differences.  The writing varied quite obviously, and if he flipped them over, there were distinctive raised markings unique to each stone.
“And stone A fits into slot B,” he muttered, holding one particular stone towards the light.  It was so tempting.  All he had to do was slide the stone over the markings and see what would happen.  Hesitation and doubt gnawed at him though.  The stones were clearly Asgard, but they still knew very little about the race beyond their status as a member of the four races and their guardianship of the Protected Planets Treaty.  That they were technologically superior to humans was evident, and a part of him argued strongly for not messing with something that had the great potential to be more than he could understand.
It didn’t really matter though.  As Daniel sat in the stony silence and darkness, weighing up his options, the mountain stirred.
Barely discernable at first but growing in intensity, a small tremor shook the cavern causing Daniel to press himself close to the wall, dragging his pack in with him.  The cold stone bit at his injured arm, sending pain burning along his nerve endings.  Above him, stalactites shifted and groaned in protest, sending more slivers of calcium crashing to the floor below.  The roar of the tremor seemed to rise through the ground, howling off the walls and reverberating around the cavern.  Anything loose or lightweight danced about on the floor, while the bigger rocks and segments of broken wall shifted on their flimsy foundations in an attempt to settle.
Daniel knew he was running out of time.  Every tremor was adding to the eventual total collapse of the cavern, and with the only exit totally blocked, he found himself choiceless once again.  Still clutching the tiny stone in his palm, he threaded his arm through the strap of his pack and slammed his hand over the grooves on the wall.
Seconds passed and nothing happened.  The small space he’d found for himself was slowly being eaten up by falling stalactites and boulders being nudged about like bowling balls as the tremor washed over the cavern.
And then he was falling backwards.  The wall he was leaning against was gone and the motion of the tremor jolted him about, flipping him onto his injured side and tossing him against something cold and hard.  Pain blossomed behind his eyes and for one brief moment his world was bathed in a brilliant blue light before he sank down a well of darkness.

Jack had little choice but to check his temper at the ‘gate before he returned to the campsite.  Under mounting pressure from above, General Hammond had been forced to order the return of the engineering team, effectively scaling down the rescue effort to the three remaining members of SG-1.  Jack understood the reasoning and accepted Hammond’s sympathetic apology, but it didn’t lesson the feeling of finality that had settled in his stomach.  The withdrawal of the engineering team sealed Daniel’s fate.  SG-1 weren’t geared for this type of S&R, and leaving them planet-side was the general’s way of allowing the team to say their goodbyes.
“Carter.”  Jack acknowledged her as she strode purposely towards him across the field on the opposite side of their campsite.  “Tell Rogan and his men to pack it up, they’re going home.”
“You heard me, Major.”
“They’re calling off the search?”
Jack’s silence was answer enough for her.
“They can’t do that, sir!  We haven’t even sent a probe down the tunnel.  For all we know he could be on the other side of the obstruction.”
“What would you like me to do, Carter?”  He swiped the cap from his head and tossed it at the ground in frustration.  “I’m not the one making the call on this.  Hammond’s not happy either, but he has his orders and he’s not about to countermand them for the sake of one man whether he agrees or not.”
“But this is Daniel, sir.”
“One among many.  We all know what the risks are and accept them.  You have your orders, Major.  Have Rogan and his men pack their gear and break camp.  SG-4 needs their bridge building skills on PJ7-002.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Where’s Teal’c?”
Sam looked over her shoulder in the direction of the mountain.  “He’s scouting to the west of the tunnel entrance near the river bed.  He and Rogan got into a conversation about where the most likely exit points for lava tubes would be during an eruption and he decided to take a walk.”
“No, Corporal Lewiston has gone with him.”
“Fine.  Call them back.  Tell Rogan he’s to head to Earth for supplies before joining Makepeace.  Hammond is expecting them back within the hour.”
Carter nodded once, her dark gaze lingering just long enough on Jack to make him uncomfortable.

The floor was cold.  The last few times Daniel had woken up, the pull of his injuries or some quickly forgotten dream had been the culprit, instantly bringing awareness to his still tired mind.  This time was different.  Not only was the floor cold, it was also flat, and that in itself was unusual.  Daniel shifted his weight about, waiting for the inevitable stones to bite into his back and thighs and dust to stir his sinuses, but there was nothing.
Biting down hard on his lip against an expectant tide of pain, he rolled slowly onto his left side using his good hand to support his injured one.  The move had been less of a chore than the previous times he’d tried, and letting out a long breath, he levered himself up on his elbow.
A gauzy blue light swam about him, not really bright enough to illuminate the area, but just enough for him to know he was no longer in the cavern.  It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust, but eventually shapes began to evolve through the gloom.
The wall in front of him was smooth.  No jagged rocks or stalactites hanging from the ceiling, no pocketing from where other rocks had hit them during the quakes.  As he reached out towards the wall, his hand connected with another surface.  This one had right angles.  Perfectly formed to the point of being seamless, Daniel knew without doubt that whatever he was touching was manufactured.  Using the surface as leverage, he pulled himself upright, relieved when his head didn’t connect with the ceiling.
Adjusting his injured arm in its sling, he scrubbed a hand down his face in an attempt to push away his tiredness.  The room was a mystery, an enigma where none should exist, especially miles underground.  In the far corner, Daniel noticed the light seemed to be more intense, and suspecting it was likely the source, he picked up his abandoned pack and started to feel his way towards it.
Another tremor ran under his feet and the walls shook, showering him with fine dust from somewhere above his head.  The realization that this room was no more stable than the one he’d left began to sink in as he looked about for somewhere to shelter while the tremor passed.  There was nothing though.  What small amount of light he had was barely enough to give him a vague image of the shapes around him and nothing more.  Like the ones before it, this tremor seemed to move like a wave under his feet, rippling the floor and causing the walls to yaw and groan.  He lost his balance for a moment, staggering forward, and reaching blindly into the dark before connecting with another smooth surface.
As soon as he’d managed to anchor himself in one spot, the tremor rumbled past and the noise faded into the background, leaving him alone once again.  Letting out a sharp breath, he hitched his pack back onto his shoulder and headed for the light source.
Curiosity called out to him in the form of a partition jutting out at a right angle from the longest wall in the room.  Light spilled out from behind it, just barely enough for him to catch sight of glyphs etched into its smooth surface.

A cup of steaming coffee was offered in silence.  The fire that barely gave off enough heat to chase away the chilly night air was starting to dwindle but no one made an effort to toss on a fresh log.  Jack didn’t generally harbor defeatist notions, but the departure of Rogan and his team felt like a sucker punch.  He understood the reasoning and accepted the decision that had been made to move the team onto more urgent missions, but he was finding it difficult not to take the withdrawal of support personally.
Jack looked around the campfire at the faces of his teammates, their expressions closely mirroring his own.  He’d seen Carter staring off into the distance at the mountain, eyes squinting ever so often as though she was trying to look straight into its heart.  There was nothing to see.  Night time on this planet descended quickly and shrouded the land in an inky darkness.  Teal’c tried to give the outward appearance of meditating but Jack knew better.  He guessed it was the nervous tension in the air or something, because he was hyper-aware of the other man’s emotions simmering just beneath his calm exterior.
“Sir?”  Carter broke the silence.
“What is it, Carter?”
“I think we should…” she trailed off, as her gaze wandered from him and back to the mountain.  “Maybe we could—”
“I’m not good at guessing games, Major.”
“Teal’c and Corporal Lewiston found several other entrances earlier.  Maybe they’re worth investigating in the morning.”
“You heard Rogan, those tunnels could lead anywhere, and we don’t know how safe they are.  I really don’t want to explain to Hammond how I managed to lose more members of my team.”
Carter drove her heel into the ground in frustration.  “Then why are we still here?  Why recall the engineers and leave us here if we can’t continue the search?”
“I don’t know, Carter.”
“They wish for us to have a moment of closure,” Teal’c added, eyes still firmly closed.  “Is it not the tradition of your people to give those closest to the deceased an opportunity to say their farewells?”
“Yes, but—”
“Then if we cannot resume the search for Daniel Jackson, we must assume that he is lost to us.”
“You know,” Jack started, mouth twitching with hesitation, “I don’t… aw, hell!” He rose and shook out his legs.  “I’m gonna take a walk, clear my head.”
“Would you like some company, O’Neill?”  Teal’c started to stand.
“No,” said Jack, gesturing for him to sit back down.  “You and Carter get the camp ready.  We’re bugging out first thing in the morning.”
Sam looked up sharply. “We’re leaving?”
“Pretty sure that’s what I just said, Carter! Look,” Jack pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. “Just… clean this place up.  I’ll be back soon.”

Familiarity beyond the obvious connection with the Asgard teased the edges of Daniel’s mind.  An old college lecturer of his came to mind, with his tweed jacket and matching pants, hair swept to the left in a comb over, he stared right through him now as he had all those years ago.  The man never connected with his students on a personal basis, in fact, he held class as though he was imparting his wisdom to an empty room, but he knew Germanic languages like he’d been born to the period.
“A man can be a king in his own kingdom, but that doesn’t make him inventor of all that he claims.  Take the Romans for example…”
When Daniel managed to separate the man’s inane ramblings of historical proclamations versus actual fact, what he was left with was an intuitive way of viewing runes and associating them with their meanings.  The discovery of the Asgard and their use of the runic language both thrilled and excited him.  What was difficult to understand was the connection they held with the Nordic nations of Earth.  Common theory was that displaced persons carried their culture with them, but what happened with the Asgard?  The Goa’uld kept their own language and distinctive writing style, but the Asgard—aside from assuming the persona of known Nordic gods—used a style of writing virtually identical to Germanic runes.  They didn’t have their own unique written language?
Did this mean the Asgard established the Nordic nations on Earth, or was theirs the first culture they had interacted with and decided to adopt some of their ways?  An eerie thought crossed his mind: If they were the forefathers of modern day Scandinavians, would that also make them the true gods of Nordic culture?
He used the puzzle of the wall as a distraction from the throbbing pain in his wrist.  Rows of the angular glyphs flowed across the surface, back lit from a source that Daniel couldn’t see.  The opposite side of the wall was almost identical, the only difference being a cluster of groves cut into the surface, similar to the one that had ultimately led him into the room.
Daniel set down his pack and opened it, taking out the cloth of stones and laying them out on the floor.  One by one, he held up each stone, matching its surface with the grooves on the wall.
“Now,” he whispered, “if you could only tell me what you all do.”
He set the stones aside to concentrate on the wall.  Whatever the origin of the Asgard language, their use of the Elder Futhark alphabet was obvious and made individual character recognition relatively simple.  Determining which of the Germanic languages, however, would have been a greater chore if it hadn’t been for the sampling of Asgard they’d discovered on the wall at Heliopolis.  No, in this instance, it was the light that would be his greatest enemy in trying to decipher the wall.  Whatever source was illuminating the characters was not constant.  Whole segments of text flickered and died, only to flare up again seconds later.  Daniel likened the whole exercise to trying to read with a strobe light.
The wall on Ernest’s planet had been relatively simple to read in comparison to this one.  Best he could determine, it read like a work manual of sorts, but the terminology was difficult to translate.  Perhaps the dialect was older than the Heliopolis panel?  A written language adapts, evolving over time to incorporate a broadening of its oral twin and changes in the civilization.  As cultures evolve, new phrases and objects are introduced that require a place within the language.  It was possible that was what Daniel was seeing here, but also more likely that this wall contained information not meant to be shared outside the Asgard people, and was written in some form of shorthand.
“Yeah, didn’t think it would be that easy.”
Simple words flowed to become more complex sentences which he stumbled over when he couldn’t grasp their meaning.  Some symbols appeared to represent whole words while others had to be joined together like individual letters to form a word.  Whatever the Asgard had used this room for, what secrets it held, it wasn’t going to be easy for Daniel to decipher.
After several hours staring at the symbols, and with only a vague idea of their meaning, Daniel finally succumbed to the need to rest.  He pulled his sleeping bag from his pack and rolled it out, deciding to make use of its thickness for comfort rather than climbing inside it.  Lying on his side, his injured arm supported by the sling and the ground, he let his gaze wander over the wall and down to the ground, taking the text as a whole.  Nothing stood out to him, and kicking his legs out in frustration, he let sleep take him over.

Daniel was jolted to wakefulness as a small aftershock rattled its way through the cave.  Panicking, he struggled to rise, reaching blindly for any support as he clambered to his feet, gasping for air.  The tremor subsided quickly but he couldn’t control his breathing.  Realization quickly dawned on him.
He was running out of air.
The room had most likely been sealed for a long time and the air had gone stale.  All that he had was what had been let in with him when he’d activated the stone.  It was precious little, and running out by the second.
Not wanting to be left out of Daniel’s troubles, the ground beneath him rose slightly; just enough that he needed to spread his legs wide to maintain his balance.
“Not now,” he growled breathlessly.
The mountain was waking up and he was quickly running out of air.  The wall had to hold some answers for him, a way out.  He reasoned that for the Asgard to set a facility this deep into the mountain, they had to have had more than one exit. He had seen, first hand, the technological might of the Asgard, and refused to believe they would purposely establish a base this far underground with some form of alternative escape route.
Time was slipping away.  His mind felt sluggish, hampered by a throbbing pain in his temples that he attributed to oxygen deprivation as the air continued to waste away.
He skipped the first wall he’d spent so much time on earlier and concentrated on the text around the stone grooves on the opposite side.  The writing was larger there and grouped into blocks of text surrounding each stone groove.
Instructions perhaps?  Daniel plucked the stones from his pack again and set them on the ground, sitting cross-legged in front of the wall.  He headache gnawed at him now, and with his supply of Tylenol well and truly used up, it would only be a matter of time before it became a complete distraction.
There were twelve grooves cut into the wall.  Each groove was different; some subtly so, others more obvious.  He’d started out with eight stones, including the ones the Tok’ra had given them.  Of the seven he’d recovered on the rocky ledge, one was identical to the Tok’ra stone, and it was the same stone he’d use to enter the room.  He idly wondered if these stones functioned in the same way the SGC card readers did.  Plucking out the duplicated stone, he pushed it into his pocket and dismissed it.  This left him with six.
Matching the six stones with their grooves was easy; understanding the text surrounding each set of markings would prove more troublesome.
With each labored breath, he knew his time was running out.  There was no time to make a detailed translation of each block of text, and even less time to worry about whether the technology they were supposed to operate was still functional.
The first block of text held reference to names and places and read like a roster or worksheet.  The details weren’t clear but the layout of the names led Daniel to believe the first stone probably activated some type of library function.  He tucked the stone away with the first one.
The second and third blocks held very little text but there was a reference on one to food stuff and on another to rest facilities.  He quickly dismissed them.
Several words on the fourth block of text caught his attention.
“Passage way?  No, travel way maybe?”  The text was obscure and the wall seemed to fade in and out, as his body tried to adjust to the dwindling oxygen supply.  He rubbed his thumb over the matching stone in his hand, letting the heat generated by the friction warm him slightly.  Closing his eyes, he tried to concentrate on his breathing, slowing it down enough to draw out the length of his breaths and take in more oxygen.  He opened them again and focused back on the wall, relieved when, for the moment, he could see the rune details clearly.
He knew the Asgard had beaming technology, but was it too much to expect a facility as old as this one was would have something similar?
“Activate the passage? No, that’d be too easy.”  The words fell from his lips at the same time the ground moved under his bottom, tipping him to the side to land on his injured arm.  Pain radiated from the break, shooting its way up to his shoulder and stealing his breath away.  The roar from the growing tremor gathered in intensity until it became unbearable.  Daniel tried to climb to his knees but the ground beneath him tilted, fracturing the walls around him and showering him in rock and debris.

“Sir!”  Carter ran across the field, swinging her flashlight from side to side so she could see where she was stepping on the uneven ground.  On her left side, Teal’c was doing the same thing, only the beam from his light was trying to cut through the pitch black of the night to light up the cave entrance.
Colonel O’Neill had been gone for twenty minutes when the first of several aftershocks rocked the area.  They’d been putting up with these distractions now for days, ignoring the smaller ones, and trying not to think of what the larger might be doing to the tunnel system inside the mountain.  As the tremor had petered off, a larger, more sinister quake rolled in.  It was followed moments later by a shock wave that swept in from a nearby mountain range and snaked its way towards the cave.
There was either something interfering with their radios or something had happened to the Colonel, but he wasn’t answering their hails.  The cave loomed before them, its yawning mouth cut roughly into the side of the mountain like a wound.  Rocks tumbled about it, some partially blocking the entrance, others crashing to the sides, splintering with enough force that they both had to go to ground to escape being hit by flying shrapnel.
The ground was still heaving beneath them, but Teal’c risked lifting his head and shining his flashlight towards the cave.  There was very little to see, as the entrance was almost fully blocked now and the pathway leading up to it was littered with debris.
“You don’t think he—?” Sam asked.
“I do not believe O’Neill would be foolhardy enough to venture into the cave.”
“I’m not so sure.  It would explain why he’s not answering his radio.”
“There would be nothing to achieve that the engineering team has not already attempted.  Endeavoring to reach Daniel Jackson—”
“Carter!  Teal’c!”
Sam scrambled for her radio.  “Sir!  Where are you?”
“South, about a click and a half from the campsite.  You two okay?”
“Yes, sir.  We tried to contact you when the quake hit.”
“I know.  I found the entrance to another tunnel and got caught just inside when all hell broke lose.  Only just managed to get myself out before it collapsed.”
“Speaking of collapsed.”
“The entrance to the main cave is completely blocked.”
“Crap.  How far away from it are you?”
“A hundred feet or so.  The area took a real pounding.”
There was a moment of silence before Jack spoke.  “This whole place is unstable now.  I’m not sure we can wait until morning.”
“You’re thinking of heading back now, sir?”  Sam struggled to keep the desperation out of her tone.  “Wouldn’t it be better to move in daylight?  There could be a possibility the quake has dislodged some of the debris blocking the main tunnel.  If Daniel is still alive, he could—”
“He’s not, Carter.  I don’t know what you saw from your location, but this side of the mountain from about five hundred feet up pretty much collapsed in on itself.”
Sam’s hand flew to her mouth, as she closed here eyes against the cold realization that Daniel was dead.  What little hope she’d held out for his survival was now lost.
“Are you in need of assistance, O’Neill?”
“Teal’c!  No, I’m fine.  The ravine took a hit but I should be back at the camp in about half an hour or so.  There’s a ledge on the opposite side of the gully I want to check out first.”
“Would it not be safest to return to camp and explore further at first light?”
“Probably, but I pass by it to get to the camp anyway.  Won’t be long.”

Daniel gave up trying to sit up, instead curling into a ball and wedging himself between the wall and half panel.  It was all he could do.  His arm screamed in protest as he tried to hold it tightly against his chest, away from the rocky shards ricocheting around him.  He felt like he was being tossed about in rough seas as the ground rippled, pitching him from side to side.  Next to him, the paneled wall flickered.  Whatever was powering the back light was straining to keep it lit.  Blocks of text brightened and dimmed in quick succession as rocks bounced off, scoring the surface.
Nowhere was safe.  From the corner of his eye, Daniel caught an intense burst of light as the wall he’d entered the room through flared briefly and then died away to reveal the original cavern.  A hologram?  He didn’t have time to wonder at the science.  That moment of light had revealed an almost total collapse of the cavern, and Daniel knew this room was next.
Asgard craftsmanship might have been outstanding, but the walls holding this place together were twisting and warping under the might of Mother Nature.
A deafening roar exploded above Daniel, and like slow motion, the ceiling split open.  Rocks rained down on him, some bouncing off the walls and ground, others hitting with such ferocity and force that their impacts drove him further into the wall, seeking any shelter he could find.
Amid the chaos and dust so thick his throat constricted with every painful breath, Daniel slapped his good hand against the half-panel, searching out the grooves in the wall.
“Four.”  He counted the grooves; dismissing those he didn’t have stones for.  “Raido.”  The raised marking resembled a modern day letter ‘R’ which translated to ‘journey’ in Nordic.  Daniel patted the ground, tossing rocks aside until he scooped up the remaining stones.  As the room crashed down around him, and with barely enough light to see past the end of his nose, he flipped the stone over in his palm—grooves facing outwards—and finding the right one, slammed it into place.
Seconds later, his world flared a brilliant white.

“Damn it to hell.”  Cussing wouldn’t get Jack anywhere at this point but he was beyond caring.  He knew better than to risk his own safety by travelling at night on an unsafe world, and he also knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was only delaying his return to camp because he didn’t want to be there.
Up ahead, at the top of a small rocky incline, was the ledge he’d seen earlier.  Sweeping his flashlight up the slope, he caught sight of what resembled a staircase, roughly hewn into the underlying rock.  Thick scrub covered the slope, and behind the ledge, Jack could see a wall of tall trees, their craggy limbs swaying in the light breeze.  Overhead there were two moons, neither of which offered much in the way of moonlight.  The first moon was simply too far away, its light virtually undiscernible within the dense star field.  The second moon was in a lower orbit, and if he squinted, Jack could just make out craters dotting its dull-grey surface.  The orbit was too low though, and tall trees blotted out the weak light it threw off, making its usefulness in guiding his way mostly negligible.
Jack didn’t know what he was trying to achieve in climbing up to the ledge.  It was far too dark to be scrambling about on such unstable terrain, and he’d almost decided against the added hike in favor of a warm campfire.  The staircase had been the clincher.  Roughly hewn, yes, but even in this dull light, Jack could see it had been purposefully built.  He guessed it really shouldn’t have surprised him; after all, there was plenty of evidence to show that the planet had been inhabited at some point.  The Tok’ra operative who led them to this world had said as much in his briefing.  Still, the ledge stuck out as an oddity that Jack wanted to investigate.
Jack tested the first step cautiously, and finding it solid enough, started slowly up the stairs. Wind whistled through the trees and stirred up the underbrush.  The climb wasn’t long, but it was awkward.  The steps were small and rather close together, almost as if they’d been made for a child.
Jack pulled his collar tight around his neck as the wind picked up.  Turning, he quickly looked down at the ground he’d covered, wondering for a moment if it would be wiser to head back down.  Looking up, he shone his flashlight ahead to the row of trees above that marked the flat plateau.  The ledge was definitely closer than the ground, so he decided to keep heading upwards.
With his next step, the ground shook again.
“Crap,” he muttered, deliberately falling forwards and catching himself on the rocky staircase to ride the tremor out.  Twisting to sit down, he shone his flashlight out over the ravine and up towards the side of the mountain.  Even at this distance, he could see boulders slowly sliding downwards, collecting other debris along the way to form a rock slide.  The earlier tremor had loosened the top layer on the southern slope of the mountain and turned the whole area into a potential avalanche zone.  This ravine and another that ran parallel to it, were now serving as catchment areas to tons of soil, rock, and trees.
“O’Neill!”  Jack’s radio sang out.
“Yeah, I’m here.  You back at the camp yet?”
“We have returned.  A small crevice has opened up along the base of the mountain and stretches northwards towards the Stargate.”
“Roger that.  Is it going to cause a problem?”
“Major Carter believes not.  The crevice has stopped at the site of an old quarry and progressed no further.”
“How far?”
“Approximately two kilometres from the Stargate.”
“The camp?”
“It is heading away from the camp.  However, it would wise to delay returning to the Stargate until morning.  We are unable to determine if other crevices have opened up within the remaining distance.”
Another tremor washed up the ravine and Jack felt his grip on the stone step tighten.  “I’m just gonna ride out these aftershocks and return to camp.”
“Do you require assistance, O’Neill?”
“No, I’m good, Teal’c.  Hopefully this is just the ground settling again and they’ll pass quickly.  I’ll check in again in fifteen minutes.  O’Neill out.”
Decision made, Jack clicked off his radio and turned back towards the path as a massive clap of thunder roared across the land.  The ground heaved, tossing him off the path and into thick underbrush.  He groped blindly for the stone steps, looking for purchase to stop himself sliding down the slope on his belly.  With his free hand he swiped at his radio, grunting as his knuckles dragged across the jagged rocks.
“Teal’c!” he called out, sure he had opened a com line.  Around him, the ground seemed to pitch.  Trees appeared to float in the air, straining their roots, before crashing back into place.  The moon that had been sitting low and just above the horizon was now above him, smiling at his helplessness.
He rolled onto his back, one hand gripping the rocky stair, the other slapping the ground, searching for his flashlight.  His radio blared out at him.  First Teal’c and then Carter, their voices strained and slightly distant.  He was helpless to answer them.  Suddenly the ground above him was bathed in a brilliant white light.  The ferocity of the flash left an imprint of the trees on his retinas, and had him blinking furiously to clear his vision.
The shockwave from the quake finally rode off into the distance, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.  Jack rolled back over onto his front and scrambled to his knees, swaying drunkenly as he tried to find his equilibrium.  Pushing to his feet, he picked up his flashlight and shone it up towards the treeline.  Curiosity won over common sense, and tossing his hesitation to the wind, he stole up the last few steps to the ledge.
The ledge wasn’t very wide.  Trees ringed it like an amphitheatre, creating a wind break and concealing the area from curious eyes.  Jack hovered on the top step and swung his flashlight over the area.  There was nothing, save for some fallen rocks and tree litter.
Shrugging, he turned to leave, only to be stopped by the sound of a moan being carried on the wind.
“Hello?”  He shone his light in the direction of the cry.  “Anyone there?”
Movement near a pile of branches caught his attention, and he instinctively reached for his weapon.  “Just so you know, I’m armed,” he warned.  The likelihood of it being some animal that had been injured during the quakes registered high on Jack’s list but he wasn’t taking any chances.  Flashlight in one hand, weapon in the other, he kicked away several branches.
Daniel was lying on his side, one arm outstretched, the other held tight against his chest.  His face was a mess of cuts and bruises.  Blood flowed freely from a scalp wound hidden somewhere beyond his hairline.
“Daniel,” Jack called again, more softly this time, as he secured his weapon and dropped down by his teammate’s side.
Daniel shuddered under Jack’s touch and tried to move onto his back.  Taking in a deep breath, he forced one eye open and smiled weakly.  “Asgard,” he mumbled, and lifting his arm up, dropped the small rune stone into Jack’s hand.  “Good guys.”
“Good guys… what?”
“Watchers,” he chuckled feebly, clearly the only one who understood the reference.
“Okay.”  Jack shrugged off his jacket and wrapped it around Daniel’s shoulders.  “Long story, huh?”
Helping Daniel to his feet, Jack thumbed his radio and informed the rest of his team that he was on his way back to camp.  He deliberately “forgot” to mention that he wouldn’t be making the trek alone.
Look what followed me home, kids… can we keep him?

Back or either side.  The choices weren’t infinite and it really should have been a simple decision, but when your body had been battered all the way to hell and back, well, getting comfortable wasn’t easy.
“You want me to get Fraiser?”  Jack peered out at Daniel over the top of his newspaper.
“No,” Daniel grumbled into his pillow.  “No drugs.”
“It’s only been a day, Daniel.  Actually, not even that.”
“I said no.”
“How’s your wrist?”
“My, we are snarky.”
“I can’t get comfortable.”
“Well, Doc did say to stay on your back with your wrist supported.  She usually knows what she’s talking about, but don’t tell her I said so.”
Daniel turned onto his side and presented his back to Jack, staring briefly at the ceiling.  “I need to get out of here.”
“Yep,” Jack drawled out, enunciating the ‘p’. “And that’s going to happen.  Have you looked in the mirror lately?”
“I’m tired.”
“Is that all?  I’ve seen you tired and hurt before and you generally aren’t this pissy.”
Daniel pulled the pillow over his head.  “I just want—”
“Somewhere where the walls aren’t closing in on you?”
He turned over again and glared at Jack.  “This is stupid.”
“Why?  Cut yourself some slack, Daniel.  I can’t imagine being trapped under all that rock was any picnic.  It’s only natural to want some space around you.” He paused, before adding, “I would think.”
“Janet thinks I should see Mackenzie.”
“Yeah, she mentioned that to me while you were in recovery.” Jack flipped to the next page of his newspaper. “What do you think you should do?”
“Get out of here.”
Jack sighed.  “Besides that.”
“I don’t know.  I’m tired, and when I’m tired I don’t think straight.”
“Only when you’re tired?”  Jack teased.
“Still awake, Doctor Jackson?”
Daniel closed his eyes and frowned.  He hadn’t heard Janet sneak up on him, but there was no way Jack could have missed her approach.
“Traitor,” he whispered at Jack, before turning towards Janet.  “I’m fine.”
“Really,” she grabbed for his good wrist to take his pulse.  “I’ll be the judge of that.  I expected you to be sound asleep considering you’ve only just come out of surgery.”
“He’s uncomfortable,” said Jack from behind the sports pages.  “You might wanna give him something.”
“When can I get out of here?”
“Answering a question with a question isn’t generally your style and I asked first.”  Janet rested his arm back on the bed. “Do you need something for the pain?”
“I said I’m fine.”
“Which I’ve learned to interpret as ‘I’m in pain but not about to admit it’.” Janet smiled at Daniel’s scowl.  “Patient-speak not a language you’re familiar with, Doctor Jackson?”
“Obviously not,” Daniel replied, turning back on his side away from them both.
“Well, that’s okay,” Janet patted his thigh, “I’ll be back in a moment with some pain relief.  Maybe that’ll help you get some sleep.”
Daniel waited until her footsteps receded before turning back to Jack.  “Haven’t you got some place better to be?  A report to write or something?”
“Nope.  Gave Hammond a preliminary briefing while you were in surgery.  We’re waiting on yours now.  So, tell me, back on the planet, what did you meant by ‘Watches’?”
“Yeah.  You gave me the rock—”
“Whatever!”  Jack waved a hand absently.  “You gave me the rock and said the word ‘Watches’.”
“No.” Daniel closed his eyes briefly, brow furrowing.  “Not watches, watchers.  As in someone watching.  I think I’ve worked out what the Asgard were doing in that cave.”
“Cool!  And?”
“They were watching the population on the planet, well, at least the ones living by the gate.  Probably the same thing they’ve been doing to us and dozens of other races before we made contact with them. Watching us.  Studying our society and how we evolve.”
“Kinda throws that whole Roswell incident into a brand new light.”
“Maybe.” Daniel rubbed at his eyes.  “Makes perfect sense though.  They operate from a concealed base, venturing out only when necessary.”
“You don’t think the locals might have been a bit suspicious of little grey men turning up to their barn dance? They do kinda stand out in a crowd.”
Daniel shrugged.  “We know they have holographic technology.  Perhaps they could disguise themselves somehow.”
“They’ve probably been among us for centuries and we didn’t know it?”
“I’m only guessing.”
Jack folded his newspaper and put it on the night stand.  “I don’t suppose you got a look at anything else in this room other than the wall?  Didn’t happen to see any weapons or other cool stuff?”
“No.  It was dark, and to be honest, I really didn’t have much time to take a tour of the place.”  Daniel turned slowly onto his back and pulled his injured arm across his chest.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to be you when Carter finds out you were in an Asgard lab and didn’t bring her back a souvenir or two.  You know how cranky she gets when she feels all left out.”
“You say that like I got stuck there deliberately.”
“According to Carter, the rope was cut.”
Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a long breath.  “I was pinned under a rock.  It’s not like I had a choice.” He paused for a bit and stared hard at Jack.  “I didn’t get myself stuck down there on purpose.  You know that, right?”
“Relax.”  Jack leaned over and squeezed his shoulder.  “When you get a moment, have a chat with Carter.  This kinda felt a little too permanent this time, and she took your loss pretty hard.”
“Explains the rib-cracking hug she gave me when we got back to camp.”
“And Teal’c—” Jack started.
“I don’t remember him trying to hug me.”
“No, but he mourned you in his own way.”
Daniel smiled.  “Stoically?”
“Eyebrows didn’t move an inch.”  Jack stood and pushed the chair away.  “Get some rest.”
“I think I can help with that,” Janet announced, pushing back the curtain screen and wheeling in a cart.  “Something for the pain and a muscle relaxant.”
Daniel groaned as she flipped off the syringe cap and emptied the contents into his IV line.
“There.”  She dropped the empty syringe into a sharps bin and turned to Jack.  “Colonel, General Hammond would like to see you in his office when you’ve got a moment.”
“Any idea what it’s about?”  Jack frowned at the blank expression she gave him as an answer, muttering, “No, I guess you wouldn’t.  Okay, well, be good for the doc, Daniel.  I’ll send Carter or Teal’c down to sit with you.”
“Nah.” Daniel waved Jack away, clamping his good hand to his mouth as a yawn threatened.  “I’ll be fine.  Just gonna get some sleep.”
“We’ll take care of him, sir.”
“I’m sure you will, Doc.  Don’t let the walls fall down on him while I’m gone.”
Raising his hands in surrender, Jack made his retreat, but paused at the doorway to look back at Daniel.  “Just making sure Daniel has his ‘watchers’ looking out for him.”

The End


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