Prologue: Giza plateau, Egypt — 1928
Her father had given her the amulet for her birthday.
Catherine remembered picking it up from the table where the finds were laid before they were catalogued, but she hadn’t realized then that her father had seen her replace it afterwards. Not until she opened her birthday present and found the same amulet inside it.
Even as she slipped the chain over her head, Catherine remembered how that small discovery had been overshadowed by a larger one, as the workmen had labored to move the cover stones and revealed what at first sight had been a fossil. She wasn’t to know how her life would revolve around that cover stone, and the artifact it concealed—how could she ever have guessed?
The amulet was marked on one side with a symbol. It looked like an eye with long drawn-out lines projecting from it—Catherine had seen that symbol painted on the walls of tombs and carved into the stone of obelisks long before she’d known what it meant or who it represented.
When she wore it, most of the time it lay warming next to her skin, but sometimes it hung outside her clothing and Catherine would find her finger stroking the lines that made up the symbol. The Eye of Horus. She wondered what the craftsman who’d made her amulet had thought, how he’d lived and died. Had he been happy or sad? Who had he made the amulet for and had they been thankful for such a beautiful gift, or had they been a spoiled princess who didn’t care for it at all?
It didn’t escape Catherine’s notice that the workmen on the dig smiled and nodded at her more on those days when the amulet was in plain sight. Once she had asked one of them, stumbling a little over the words in her keenness to know their thoughts and he had told her that she would gain her heart’s desire one day.
All she wanted, all she could ever imagine wanting, was to follow in her father’s footsteps. When she was old enough, Catherine told herself, she would be his assistant. They would travel the world together, seeking out famous treasures and discovering the answers to the mysteries of life and death. Like Schliemann they would discover untold riches and unlock the doors of time.
Sometimes Daniel wasn’t sure how he’d come to be here, stuck in England when the world was falling apart around his ears. Other times it made absolute sense, it seemed like the place he had to be, but that was usually just after he’d made love with Nick and was slumped against him wondering who’d stolen the bones from his body.
Despite the privations of wartime, Daniel had discovered that he’d come to love England.
At first he wondered whether he’d made a mistake, coming here instead of heading home after leaving the dig, but there wasn’t really anything to go home to, was there?
There was the university, he supposed, but it wouldn’t have been the same now Dr. Breasted was no longer there. It had, after all, been Dr. Breasted who’d first recognized his interest in archaeology, back when he’d arrived at the University of Chicago, and had helped turn a boyhood interest into an adult ambition. He’d never wanted anything as much as he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Henry Breasted, and that was a desire his family found hard to understand.
They’d never wanted anything, not really. They hadn’t ever needed to so that kind of desire was foreign to them—a son of the Jackson family went to college not because he had to, but because it was what was expected of him. It had taken them months to understand that the University of Chicago was where he wanted to be, that studying with Breasted was more important to Daniel than going to Yale or Harvard, no matter what his other relatives had done.
Once they would have argued with him, but years of dealing with the family meant they also knew how stubborn Daniel was, and that he’d win in the end, one way or another.
At the Oriental Institute, Dr. Henry Breasted had become his mentor, as he’d hoped, nurturing the keen intelligence his tutors had spoken so highly of, training him up to be everything he was. Everything that wasn’t enough when news came to the dig of his death. And Daniel himself was left in limbo, uncertain of his future now this important element of his past and present was unexpectedly taken away from him.
The other side of a thin strip of water, soldiers were fighting and dying, but it seemed unreal. Some talked about the war, but mostly in terms of grumbling over the privations it forced upon them, nothing more unless they had children in the military. Oxford had always been something of an ivory tower, divorced from the real world in the same way divisions existed in the town between "town" and "gown" and the war seemed to make those divisions even deeper.
It wouldn’t be the don’s children who went to war, unless they went as officers. Those who remembered fighting in the previous war spoke of it a little, those that could, while others showed by their pale faces and silence the true pain of the memories they still carried.
Life in the colleges carried on as usual, hardly affected except as conscription and, to a lesser extent rationing, began to bite. There were the same erudite discussions over dinner in halls, the same routine of chapel and classes, and the same air of detachment. The colleges had enough influential friends to ensure that life wasn’t changed too much, though it would have been common to even speak of such a possibility.
And perhaps this sense of normality, Daniel told himself, was what he needed. Some structure he could live within, something to replace the need to think, to decide for himself, as he dealt with the aftermath of his mentor’s death.
Meeting Nick had been a godsend. It was horribly clichéd, Daniel knew that, but their eyes had met across a crowded room and that had been it. The moment he’d seen Nick, something had stirred inside him that he’d always tried desperately to deny. He saw something of a kindred spirit in the other man’s eyes, and was delighted on closer acquaintance to discover Dr. Nicholas Mason felt the same.
He was a linguist, fluent in a frightening number of languages, and so had been exempted from conscription. Once a month he disappeared for a few days, then wouldn’t talk about where he’d been, and Daniel grew to accept that routine, welcoming the time it gave him to himself. He’d thrown himself into a relationship with Nick, embracing the physical release and the emotional ties alike, and that time apart saved him from utterly subsuming himself in the other man.
"You’ve had another letter?" It wasn’t really a question—Daniel knew his emotions were written all over his face. Nick didn’t have to be particularly perceptive to tell when correspondence from home had arrived.
"They want me to come home."
No surprises there—another missive filled to the brim with overt pleas and covert attempts to use emotional blackmail against him. Daniel wondered if his family would be half so keen on his return if they knew all the sordid details of his life in England.
Nick rolled over to face him, dark eyes filled with the wariness Daniel had come to associate with these occasions.
"I’m not going," he said. "Unless the US joins the war and I get called up, or the British government throws me out of the country." As usual, Daniel wasn’t completely sure who it was he was trying to reassure, Nick or himself.
What was there for him to return to, anyway? What family Daniel had left only cared that he behave himself according to their particular moral code. A moral code he’d scorned since his teenage years and broken a dozen times over. And with the death of Dr. Breasted, any desire to return to Chicago had become muted, to say the least. Better to stay here, where he was wanted, where someone needed him.
Nick closed his eyes as Daniel spoke, as unconvinced by his words as ever, it seemed. No matter how hard Daniel tried, the result was always the same. Nick refused to believe what they had could possibly last, and that was a continued source of frustration.
Maybe he was right. Maybe all they had was today, this very moment. If that was the case, Daniel intended to enjoy it all the more. If Nick was right, if their kind of people never knew happiness for long, then what was the point of not indulging themselves now?
The all clear had been sounded hours before. The blast happened without warning, a shuddering boom as the gas main exploded and took away half the side of the house with the resultant blast. Daniel felt the bed shift; the corner dipped as the side of the building disappeared, taking the floor with it.
They’d been asleep, both of them, and Daniel was still only half-awake when the bed shuddered to a halt, one heavy wooden beam pinning him across his back as it pressed him to the bed. He couldn’t move his head, couldn’t even turn enough to see if Nick was there, the only sound that of running water from a ruptured pipe nearby. Perhaps he was fine, perhaps he’d just been thrown from the bed and would be there momentarily, covered in dust and dirt but otherwise unharmed.
The dust choked him as he tried to speak, the splinters from the beam cut into his back, deeper with every breath, every slight movement.
Where was Nick?
He’d given up any belief in a higher power long ago, but in the relative silence of the ruined house, Daniel found himself running through the familiar prayers of his childhood. Then those from an assortment of other religions as the long minutes stretched away, punctuated only by the occasional creak of stressed wood as the building settled a little more.
He didn’t want to give credence to the thought, but the longer it went on, the longer he lay in silence, the more likely it was Nick was dead. Daniel knew that, the memories of their time together and the pleasure they’d shared would be a poor legacy. He’d wanted more, despite Nick’s fears that this was merely a transitory relationship, had dreamed of building a life with the other man, and now an accident was enough to destroy those dreams forever.
"Hello?" Somehow Daniel managed to clear his throat and call out, even as the dust in his throat threatened to choke him. "Nick? Anyone?"
Silence was his only answer. Daniel bit back the words that threatened to tumble from his mouth, the pleas for this to be a dream, for something, anything to be different from how he knew it was.
It was almost morning before they found him. From where he lay trapped, Daniel had been able to see the sky start to change, the first orange hues of sunrise appearing on the horizon as the birds began to sing. Ridiculous how normal everything seemed, how life continued to go on, when his whole world had been ripped apart.
The next time he woke, the antiseptic smell told Daniel his location even before he opened his eyes.
"How do you feel?"
Daniel looked for the source of the voice, finally making his eyes focus on the gray-haired man who stood at the foot of his bed, a medical chart in one hand and a pen in the other.
"Is that your name?"
"No." His head felt as though it had been stuffed with cotton wool, which had to be the morphine they’d doubtless given him. "Daniel."
"Daniel?" The doctor—he had to be a doctor, didn’t he?—asked. "Daniel what?"
The doctor’s face changed. The way it seemed to close down was enough of an answer to Daniel’s question and he turned his head, squeezing his eyes tight shut in the hope that would prevent the tears he felt welling up from leaking out.
"I’m sorry," the doctor said. "There was nothing we could do."
So, Nick had been right after all. There had been no point in planning for the future. There was no future, not for them, no matter how much Daniel had wanted it.
Chicago, Illinois — 1944
Here, at least, he was useful. There was a multitude of things that someone fluent in Arabic and German, among other languages, could be called upon to do. Not that any of it filled the gaping void that Nick’s death had left in him—it was an unhealed wound, a space left vacant that he doubted would ever be filled.
His father had never asked what happened; the cold look Daniel had given him when he dared mention the Blitz on one occasion had been enough to freeze even the usually-erudite Melbourne Jackson mid-sentence. They knew he’d lost someone, that this someone had been close to him, but that was by inference alone. Nick’s name never crossed his lips; he never talked about the experience or the subsequent funeral. Daniel wasn’t sure whether he should be glad or annoyed that he was allowed this privacy, though most of the time he welcomed it.
In some ways, it was none of their business. Daniel knew his family would find it difficult to understand what his relationship with Nick had meant to him, like they’d struggled with the idea he wanted to be an archaeologist. For educated people, which they surely were, their horizons were narrow ones, bounded by the family business and the duties involved in being a Jackson.
None of which meant anything to Daniel, the proverbial black sheep.
At least he was back in Chicago now, even though the Oriental Institute seemed a pale shadow of its former self. There were still familiar faces there, those whose age or infirmity prevented them from being called up, and sometimes it felt as if he had never left. Daniel made sure he avoided the corridor where Dr. Breasted’s office had been, though, the loss too painful even now, in the face of more bereavement.
It ought to be utterly ridiculous, but Henry Breasted had been another father to him, one who’d encouraged his interests instead of struggling to understand them. He’d been the one who sanctioned Daniel’s inclusion on the Oriental Institute’s regular trips to the Amuq valley, even though undergraduates weren’t usually allowed to participate in those digs.
Those had been halcyon days for Daniel, living under canvas in Tell Ta’yinat and toiling under the bemused stares of the locals. But the growing threat of war had put an end to those expeditions, even as Daniel had heard of Dr. Breasted’s death, news that had sucked all the pleasure from the things he’d discovered on that trip.
So here he was, once again back in Chicago, in the bosom of his loving family. Somehow he didn’t think he’d get away from them so easily next time, though he was certain they’d been genuinely glad to have him return safe from England.
The letter he’d received from Dr. Langford had been a surprise. He’d known of the man, of course, the world of archaeology wasn’t that large after all, even if they’d never met. He was working in Washington DC, on some project he was anxious to have Daniel join him on, even if he was vague about the specifics. Knowing Dr. Langford’s reputation as an archaeologist, it had to be something important, even if Daniel didn’t have the faintest idea what an archaeologist could be doing in their nation’s capital.
It had taken a few days of consideration, but eventually he’d wired back his acceptance of the job offer, vague as it was, and packed his bags once more. His family hadn’t even bothered to remonstrate with him, since he wasn’t going abroad again, and the next thing he knew he was making arrangements to have the remainder of his books shipped to Washington DC.
The Army Air Force, it seemed, would be making arrangements for him.
Washington DC — January 1945
He’d known from the moment the piece of razor-sharp metal had sliced through his knee that his life would never be the same again.
Jack knew that it had been a routine mission, before the Zeros that came out of the sun towards them had changed all that. A brief dogfight later and Jack’s Lockheed Lightning had been left limping back to base on one engine, part of the other one having sliced its way through his leg. He hoped it hadn’t hit anything vital—though he could feel the hot blood as it trickled down his leg, Jack was pretty sure that if it had punctured an artery he’d be dead by now.
But his knee wasn’t a pretty sight, and he knew that his life was about to change forever.
Three months later he’d still been convalescing, his knee still heavily swathed with bandages, when his fate had been sealed. Orders received that would separate him from his squadron, sending him back to mainland duty and away from the 13th Army Air Force. Though the doctors thought he’d make a full recovery in time, there was little chance he would fly P-38s again.
Somehow, though, he still had a use. The Army still needed him for something, it seemed, even if it was to baby-sit a bunch of scientists involved in some top secret project. Better to be useful that way than face the alternative—he’d sworn the day he left home to join the Army that he would never go back to the farm.
And that was a promise to himself that Jack O’Neill intended to keep.
Daniel worked his neck, trying to remove the seemingly permanent crick that the last few miles had caused. He hadn’t expected to be picked up from the Oriental Institute by an Army Air Force jeep, one that had bounced and jolted its way across town to the nearest Air Force base where he’d been summarily loaded onto a cargo plane headed for Camp Springs Army Air Field. Where another jeep, with an uncannily similar looking driver, was waiting for him when he disembarked.
"Help you with that, sir?" the driver asked, reaching out for one of Daniel’s suitcases.
Daniel handed it over happily and turned his attention to the rest of his luggage. He hadn’t brought much, the majority of what had accompanied him being a couple of boxes of reference material. Dr. Langford had been vague enough to make him want to be sure he’d covered all bases. The fact that Langford had been interested enough to come all the way over to Chicago and see him was enough to tell Daniel that there was something important waiting for him when he reached his final destination.
The driver had finished supervising loading the rest of the boxes into the back of the jeep as Daniel had considered that. He hefted the last suitcase himself, fitting it neatly into the space the driver had clearly left for it, and then swung himself into the passenger seat.
He had no idea where he was going, but there was little he was leaving behind anyway, so why should it matter at all?
The journey from Camp Springs was long enough for Daniel to begin to feel some curiosity returning, a sensation that had been squashed by his uncomfortable journey.
"Where are we going?" he yelled to the driver, who seemed to be determined to set a new land speed record on the way to wherever it was.
"Sorry, sir," the driver replied, equally loudly. "That’s classified."
A hefty jolt shook the jeep as they hit a pothole, making Daniel clutch for a handhold. If he’d been paranoid he’d swear the driver had done that deliberately, to change the subject.
"Classified?" he yelled.
A few minutes later, it seemed they had arrived at their destination. The warehouse itself was unremarkable, except for the fact it was guarded by heavily-armed soldiers, one of whom stepped into their path as they slowed to a halt at a makeshift barrier.
"Dr. Jackson for Dr. Langford," the driver said.
The guard nodded, and then stepped aside to let them pass.
"This is the place?"
"Yes, sir." They were driving around the outside of the building, at a much more sedate pace than their previous breakneck speed to get here. Wherever here was.
"What is this place?" Daniel asked, more for something to say than because he actually expected any kind of an answer.
"I’m sorry, sir," the driver began. "That’s …"
"… classified," Daniel said, finishing the driver’s sentence for him. The look he received was full of chagrin, so he couldn’t find it in himself to be angry. Daniel understood how bureaucracies worked; he’d been living in academia long enough to know that sometimes people just didn’t know.
"Well, wherever this is," he continued, "it looks like home."
Civilians. What on earth was the top brass thinking sticking him with a bunch of woolly-minded civilians? Sure they were probably all brilliant, the best in their field, but most of them certainly fit the mad professor stereotype, all wild hair and shapeless tweed jackets.
And he was sure he’d seen one of them stalking up and down the path outside the main complex, talking to himself and puffing away on a pipe at the same time.
But if this was what the Army wanted from him, Jack reminded himself, as he felt a slight twinge from his knee, then the Project was where he’d be. And at least being in Washington meant that he didn’t have all that far to go when he wanted to find a little entertainment, or to lose himself in the solitude of large crowds.
Who was he kidding, though?
He didn’t want that, didn’t want anything any more, as far as he could tell. It was as though that kind of interest had been removed from him when they’d taken the fragment of metal from his knee. Jack had heard all the jokes about the Army Air Force putting bromide in its tea to try and keep the sexual drives of its rank and file under control, but he’d never believed it was true. Now he was starting to wonder.
He’d gone out the previous weekend, full of the intention of finding himself a little company, only to discover that there wasn’t anyone he could see that piqued his interest.
It could be guilt over Sara, of course, but he wasn’t convinced of that either. Jack had signed the divorce papers she’d sent without any great degree of reluctance—their marriage had been a mistake, something he’d come to regret within a few short weeks of the actual ceremony taking place. They’d been too different for things to ever work out. Sara had never believed he wanted to get away, so she had been horrified to discover their marriage didn’t mean an end to his plans to join up.
In some ways the war had been something of a godsend, giving both of them a good excuse not to live together any longer.
Jack hadn’t written to her, though he’d put her down as his next of kin should anything happen—that way at least she might get something out of the brief time they’d been together. What would he have written about, if they’d still been married? The war as he knew it was long periods of tedium interspersed with brief moments of terror. He couldn’t describe the pleasure he felt on surviving another day, on a successful mission where he returned to base with the same number of planes accompanying him as when he left. Those were small pleasures, ones that Jack knew he could never explain to anyone who hadn’t been there.
And Sara had never really wanted to know who he was, of that he was sure.
The jeep stopped outside an unprepossessing door, scuffed wood and rusting metal. Daniel was about to question his driver once more, though he was aware of the possible futility of that move, when the door opened. The man who emerged from it was tall and slightly stooped, with white hair and a white moustache. He had a distinct academic air to him, which made him unmistakable.
"Dr. Langford." Daniel got out of the jeep; they shook hands. "I’m very pleased to meet you at last."
"The feeling is mutual, my boy," Langford replied, his slight accent betraying his European origins. "I’m so glad you were able to come and join us."
"Our little gathering," Langford continued. "We have quite a collection of academics here, despite the surroundings. Shall we go in?"
Daniel followed Langford into the building with one of his suitcases, aware that his former driver followed them with the rest of his luggage.
After a few yards of gray and featureless corridors, they emerged into a larger room. It was clear a number of people worked there; each of the many tables that occupied the majority of the space was covered with books and scrawled notes, a familiar sight to anyone who’d ever done research. The room itself, however, was empty of people.
"You can leave your luggage here," Langford said, indicating a corner of the room with an indolent wave. "It’ll be quite safe."
Daniel did as he was bid, the driver depositing the rest of the cases alongside his and turning smartly on his heel to leave them.
"Come on," Langford continued, as if growing impatient. "I have a lot to show you."
"You said there were others here, Dr. Langford?" Daniel asked, as he followed Langford further into the bowels of the building. It seemed to be larger on the inside than it had appeared from the outside, if that was possible.
"Somewhere around," Langford said, absently, as he led them down a dimly-lit corridor. It ended in a plain door, the varnish chipped and scratched. "Through here is the reason I asked you to come, Dr. Jackson."
He opened the door, holding it and gesturing to Daniel to go through. The doorway opened into a room larger than the one where he’d left his luggage, with a high ceiling and rows of electric lights. In the center of the room was a wooden structure, a latticework supporting thirteen wedges of red sandstone, arrayed around a central disc.
"What is that?" Daniel asked, even as he was drawn towards it. He walked around it, marveling at the size of the blocks of stone. It had to be Egyptian, or else why would Dr. Langford have sent for him?
What he saw on the other side, the side not masked by the latticework, took his breath away. Markings. The central disc held a cartouche, either side of which were familiar carvings of the sky goddess Nut, the mother of the gods, stretching over the waters of the earth. Each of the blocks that led out from that central point were covered in markings—some he recognized, others were foreign to him.
"Where did you find this?" he asked.
"The Giza plateau, in 1928," Langford replied, coming to stand next to Daniel where he stood, still transfixed by what he saw.
Daniel nodded—he’d read about that dig and remembered seeing Langford’s name associated with it.
"I’ve never seen anything like this." There was nothing he wanted more, now, than to study these tablets, to pull from them every scrap of knowledge they contained, and it seemed like he was going to get his chance.
"Of course you haven’t, no one has." Langford’s voice was dry, full of humor. "As you can see, there are two lines of hieroglyphs. The inner track has the classic figures; the outer track is like the cartouche in the center. It’s got writing on like we’ve never found before."
Daniel stepped closer, squinting a little at the markings Langford was indicating.
"Those aren’t hieroglyphics," he said. "It might be some kind of hieratic or cuneiform."
He vaguely heard the door open, then footsteps crossing the concrete floor towards where he and Langford stood.
"Here, Ernest," Langford replied. "Come and meet Dr. Jackson, he’s just arrived."
The newcomer was a different man completely to Dr. Langford. Where Langford was lean and gaunt, Ernest was solid and reliable-looking.
"Dr. Ernest Littlefield," Langford continued, as the other man reached them. "Dr. Daniel Jackson."
Daniel glanced at him for a moment, nodding a greeting. There was something about these tablets, something that made him unwilling to tear himself away from them even long enough to exchange civilities with the man who was probably Dr. Langford’s assistant.
"Perhaps now we might make some progress on the inscription," Ernest said.
"See for yourself." Ernest indicated a blackboard, standing in the shadows alongside one of the walls. "I did as much as I could but …"
Reluctantly, Daniel crossed to the blackboard, pulling it around to face the light. He scanned the translation, first checking the accuracy of the hieroglyphics before comparing them to the English words written beneath them.
"You must have used Budge; I don’t know why they keep re-printing his books." He picked up the board rubber, and then swiped out several of the translated words.
"What are you doing?"
" ‘Gebeh’? Then an adverbial use of ‘sedjem-en-ef’ …" Daniel was talking to himself as much as to the other two men—the translation Ernest had done showed that hieroglyphics weren’t his strong suit. "Sealed and buried."
"Dr. Jackson?" That was Langford.
"It’s not ‘coffin,’ " Daniel said, as if that were explanation and answer enough, scratching out the word in question as he spoke. "It’s ‘for all time’." He took a step back, eyeing the translation as a whole and running it through his mind once again.
"This should be ‘A million years into the sky is Ra, sun god, sealed and buried for all time.’ " Daniel paused, and then made another correction. "It’s not ‘door to heaven’ … ‘his Star gate.’ "
"Well, so, why is the military so interested in 5,000 year old Egyptian tablets?"
"That," Dr. Langford said, "is something I can’t tell you."
"Classified?" Daniel asked. "Somehow I thought as much."
|Continued in Part 2...|