Daniel woke to find himself lying on a makeshift pallet in a darkened room, alone.
It took a moment for memory to return, for the pain in his side to remind him just what had happened and where he was. And that he wasn’t really alone—he had made the decision to come looking for Jack and had found him. He vaguely remembered the previous night too, if it had been night, when Jack had shared this pallet with him.
As he tried to sit up, Daniel thought about how angry Jack had been to discover he was the rescue party, and the reaction when he’d admitted he wasn’t totally sure there was a way back to Earth. He’d burned his bridges coming here, wherever here was, and there wasn’t really all that much waiting for him if he did return anyway.
Of course that didn’t mean Jack was in the same boat. Though he’d obviously not considered himself indispensable, otherwise he would have never persuaded Langford that he should take Daniel’s place as the first man to travel through the newly-activated Stargate. So perhaps they both had nothing left to return for.
Daniel’s stomach rumbled, though the continual sound of the storm outside almost drowned it. He’d brought some food with him, enough for a couple of days at least, and his stomach was now reminding him of that. There was no sign of his pack, no sign of Jack either, so he had no choice but to go looking for both.
As he left the room where he’d been sleeping, Daniel discovered that the stairs were immediately in front of him, winding their way upwards into the darkness. As he climbed upwards, pausing every couple of minutes to catch his breath once more, Daniel noted how the noise of the storm grew. It seemed that Jack had found a haven from the storm, otherwise there was no way he could have managed to get any sleep himself.
He passed another chamber, taking a look into it at the artifact that dominated the center of the room. There would be enough time for that later, he hoped, but for now food was the first priority.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of climbing, Daniel reached the top level of the building, emerging into the room where the Stargate stood. The storm was louder up here, the smell of ozone more distinct and the frequent flashes of lightning sending waves of light across the chamber. There was a rumble of thunder too close and the building seemed to jump in response, a horrible creaking sound running through the nearby stones as dust began to fall from the ceiling. The floor bucked beneath Daniel’s feet, sending him stumbling across the now-uneven floor to slam against the base of the nearest wall. A wall which cracked and shifted even as he tried to right himself, slabs of stone above where he stood shifting as well, teetering as he watched horrified.
He was back in London, trapped in the rubble once more helpless, alone. And this time there would be no rescue. Daniel heard the scream that erupted from his mouth, even though he barely recognized the voice as his own. As the masonry began to fall around him, all he could think of was Nick, and the irony that he’d survived the bombing only to die the same way on this planet thousands of light years from home.
"Daniel!" That wasn’t Nick’s voice. For a moment Daniel didn’t recognize it, though the urgent tone was unmistakable. "Come on!" A hand pulled at his arm, breaking him out of his fugue state, the here and now slamming into Daniel with all the force of one of those stone blocks now falling around them.
Daniel felt his face flare with heat as he followed Jack to a more stable part of the building.
Eventually the storm died down, the incessant howling of the wind now replaced by the constant murmur of the sea far below. He glimpsed an alien ocean out there, gray and forbidding—somehow the sight of it chilled Daniel to the bone. Nothing lived there, he was sure of it.
"It’s not what you think," Daniel began, hesitantly.
He watched Jack tend their small fire, his back resolutely to Daniel. It could be his imagination, but he thought he’d seen disdain on Jack’s face, a reaction to his weakness, and the thought of that cut deep.
They’d huddled together for warmth the night before, sheer survival instincts overcoming any awkwardness they might otherwise have felt. They were hardly lovers by any stretch of the imagination, just because they’d shared some brief moments of pleasure together, Daniel didn’t think to fool himself that way.
Tonight already seemed different. Jack felt distant, almost as if he’d withdrawn physically though he was no further away.
"You don’t need to explain anything to me," Jack said, without looking round. His voice was flat—was that disappointment Daniel heard?
"I think I do." He took Jack’s silence as assent. "I was living in London …"
"With the man in the photograph?" Jack asked, without moving.
"Yes." This was easier than he’d expected, somehow. Perhaps it was the fact he was talking to Jack’s back that made it easier to speak of it. Perhaps time had dulled the pain Daniel felt when he thought of Nick, made losing him a little more bearable. "There was an explosion, a fractured gas main." He remembered it now, remembered it all. "I was trapped in the rubble …" He knew his voice had faded as he spoke, the recollection of those awful hours making Daniel wish he’d never started.
Jack had turned round by now and was looking at him thoughtfully, though his expression gave Daniel little clue about what was going through his mind.
Daniel studied his shoes for a moment, considering how to change the subject. He didn’t want to think about Nick, about all the things that had happened to him and had led to him being here, stuck on a planet somewhere else in the galaxy. He shifted slightly, and then winced as he felt the bullet wound on his ribs. There was something a little less personal to talk about, if he could get Jack to tell him what he thought he’d been doing.
"Why did you do it?" he asked, smiling to himself at the puzzled expression his words created.
"Go through the Stargate." Daniel waved his hand, indicating the room they sat in. "Come here."
"I talked to Langford," Jack replied. He didn’t seem inclined to talk about it, but Daniel found himself pushing for more information anyway—he’d always been told he was stubborn that way.
"He was going to send you," Jack said, the words snapping out. "And looking at where I ended up, I think I made the right decision."
"It’s definitely a one-way trip?"
"As far as I can see. There’s some kind of control device down there, it has the same symbols as the Stargate, but I can’t get it to work."
"What happened?" Daniel asked.
"Some of the symbols lit up when I touched them, and the Stargate itself moved, but then it stopped working."
"I should look at it …" Daniel said, half getting up. Jack’s hand on his arm stopped him, pushed him back to a sitting position—in truth, he hadn’t resisted it.
"Food first," he said. Jack held out a fruit bar from one of the K rations. Daniel paused, then took the bar, although a little reluctantly. "I also have coffee," Jack continued, smiling when that grabbed Daniel’s attention.
After they’d eaten and Daniel had drunk his coffee, albeit from a makeshift mug that had formerly been a can of some kind of meat, he was able to persuade Jack to let him look at the device.
The symbols were familiar, as Jack had said, which seemed to confirm a link—experimentally Daniel placed his hand on one of the glyphs at random, which shifted under his palm and lit. The Stargate began to move, the inner circle rotating till the marking he’d indicated was in line with one of the chevrons, which locked and glowed red.
"That was you, right?" Jack called, from his seat by the fire.
He tried a couple more glyphs, choosing ones that he remembered from the cartouche. Two of them worked, the third did not respond. All the chevrons on the Stargate winked out. On an impulse, Daniel tried the sequence of markings from the cartouche. This time only two of the chevrons locked before the device failed to respond.
He looked at it, wondering just how many possible variations there were on the sequence of symbols. Daniel had never been much of a mathematician but he knew that the number had to be astronomical. Too high to allow them the luxury of a swift return to Earth, even if that seemed like a particularly bad idea at the moment.
Daniel gave up, crossing back to the fire and sitting down once more.
"If we could go back …" Daniel’s voice ground to a halt. "No."
"You’d go back there, no matter what, wouldn’t you?"
"I’m still a member of the US military, Daniel," Jack said. "Of course I’d go back."
"I’m not sure I would," Daniel continued. "After all, I broke into a military facility and almost got myself killed getting here. Somehow I doubt I’d be too popular back on Earth right now."
He’d tried the address and it wasn’t working, so this conversation was kind of moot anyway. All Daniel could assume was that the Stargate at the other end had been incapacitated somehow, buried again like it had been in Giza, making it impossible for anyone to dial in.
Not that he’d told Jack this, not yet.
Daniel considered that for a moment, wondering just what it was he’d thought to achieve by keeping that particular piece of information to himself.
"Before I arrived," he said. "Did you try to make the gate work?"
"I couldn’t remember the sequence," Jack replied. "I thought I knew which symbols we used, but it didn’t work."
"I don’t think it was the symbols, Jack." Daniel watched as Jack’s hands stilled what they were doing. "I think they buried the gate again somehow."
"So what you’re saying," Jack said, turning to face Daniel as he spoke, his face dark with emotion, "is that we’re stuck here?" He gestured around him angrily, as he got to his feet. "If you hadn’t noticed, this place is falling to pieces!"
"I noticed," Daniel said, but Jack didn’t seem to hear him.
"And there’s nowhere to go?"
Daniel stayed silent. It seemed unlikely that the Stargate only worked between two places—why else would it have all those symbols if there weren’t a number of possible destinations to choose from?—but he wasn’t sure Jack was in the mood to hear that right now.
"This is it?"
"I’ll keep trying," Daniel said. "I’m sorry." It was a platitude, and one he wasn’t sure he really meant, but the quiet words seemed to take the wind from Jack’s sails, his anger dissipating as quickly as it had emerged.
"It’s not your fault," Jack said, as he sat down again. "If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work."
"I’ll keep trying," Daniel said once more.
He had to give that to Daniel, he was persistent. Focused on what he was doing, trying combination after combination of symbols and hardly seeming to be perturbed by the idea that they didn’t work, Jack wondered whether Daniel even noticed the passage of time. He was certain Daniel didn’t know he was being watched, absolutely sure he didn’t care anyway.
And why should he care if Jack was watching him?
It wasn’t as if there was much else to do around here anyway. Jack had hardly ventured far from the ruined building—a part of him didn’t want to leave in case Daniel made the Stargate work, even though he knew the odds in favor of that possibility weren’t good. Did he think there was a chance Daniel would leave him behind? He laughed at the idea—Daniel had risked his life to come find him, so that was the last thing likely to happen.
He couldn’t help thinking, as he watched Daniel’s long-fingered hands travel so surely over the surface of the alien device, of the pleasure those hands had brought him. That was one thing they hadn’t actually talked about, either in the aftermath or since Daniel’s unexpected arrival, and that was something Jack had no intention of remedying any time soon. They’d reached a truce of sorts, established the beginning of a friendship. Anyway, Jack didn’t know where to start, where to begin in dealing with the fact that he clearly wasn’t what he’d always thought he was.
He couldn’t blame that on Daniel, any more than he could blame his plane for the piece of metal that had ended his time as a pilot. Daniel’s attentions had merely been the instrument to help him discover that change, not the author of the change itself.
Had he always been this way? Did it matter if he had?
One thing he was sure of: he wanted a repeat performance. More than anything else, Jack wanted to see Daniel’s face aglow with the rapture he knew had been on his own, but had no idea how to initiate that. Or whether, once he was well enough to do so, Daniel would welcome his advances after the way he’d reacted to him last time round. He had to hope Daniel felt something for him, that his trip through the Stargate wasn’t motivated by solely platonic reasons, but what if it was?
Was it worth risking the friendship of the one person he was stuck with on this planet when his own right hand could give him the relief he craved just as easily?
He hadn’t called out when the first few chevrons lit. That had happened before and Daniel had noticed the shortness of Jack’s temper the third or fourth time he’d called his attention to what was happening. This time he didn’t yell Jack’s name until the sixth chevron lit, until his eyes were searching the surface of the device, trying to figure out just which symbol he needed to complete the connection.
"What?" Jack asked, as he skidded to a halt in the doorway to the main room. "You made it work?"
Daniel didn’t answer, as he contemplated the different symbols. There was one he didn’t recognize from the gate on Earth, which complicated matters a little. But wouldn’t it make sense if the final symbol were unique, one he didn’t otherwise use? Well, if he was wrong, he could always replicate the first six and keep trying.
Jack was at his shoulder by this point, probably wondering just what was going on. He wasn’t the only one. Daniel pressed the unique symbol, grinning to himself as his gamble paid off and the inner circle of the gate began to rotate, the seventh chevron locking.
No whoosh of water-like substance emerging, no pool of water, only seven lit symbols.
"Something else," Daniel said, more to himself than to Jack. He looked at the device again. "Something else."
The crystal. It lay in the center of the device—it could be just there for decoration, or could it be there for another reason? Daniel reached out, his palm resting on the cool curve of its surface; he felt it give way a little under his hand, felt the warmth as it activated, felt Jack’s hand come to rest and tighten on his shoulder as the gate erupted into life.
"You did it, Daniel."
He couldn’t move. If he moved the tableau would shatter, this would all be a dream, they wouldn’t really have a way out of here and a future that wasn’t solely comprised of falling rocks and terrible storms.
"I did it."
"Come on," Jack said, his hand moving from Daniel’s shoulder. It left him feeling oddly cold there, even as Jack slapped him lightly on the back and headed for where they kept their supplies. "We need to go." He was replacing the K rations, what was left of them, and the first aid kit into the bag Daniel had brought with him.
"We have no idea if it’s safe, Jack," Daniel said, as he crossed to where Jack was picking things up.
"Do we have anywhere else to go?" Jack asked. He didn’t look round as he spoke, but Daniel knew him well enough by now to know that he was listening for his answer.
"No," he admitted. "It might take days or even weeks to get another set of symbols to work, and even then we’d face the same problem. It’s a one-way trip."
"Exactly." Jack shouldered the bag. "We have to go, Daniel."
Daniel nodded, knowing Jack was right about this. They didn’t really have a choice; he just hoped that what they were doing would work out. Not that he was completely unfamiliar by now with trips into the unknown, and at least this time they’d be making that trip together.
"Let’s go," he said, as he followed Jack up the steps towards where the Stargate waited. He could have sworn the last thing he felt as he stepped through the gate to who knew where was Jack’s fingers insinuating themselves into his.
They’d separated by the other side; Jack was a couple of steps away from him as Daniel emerged from the other side into bright daylight, in a slightly less undignified manner than the last time he’d traveled halfway across the galaxy.
"Look familiar?" Jack asked, without looking round. He was tense, the set of his shoulders enough to tell Daniel that Jack was expecting trouble, all his instincts kicking in.
"No," Daniel replied, even as he finished wiping the slight frost from his spectacles and replaced them on his face.
He had hardly known what to expect, the two possible places the Stargate linked barely giving him a clue. If the first gate, the one he’d used initially had been found in Egypt, then the second was located in a crumbling alien edifice, Daniel hadn’t expected to emerge from the third address into an obviously man-made clearing amid trees that were strongly reminiscent of Earth.
There was a path leading away from the steps on which they stood, curving round away from them into the trees. The chittering of nearby birds was undisturbed as the pool of light vanished from behind them.
He wasn’t used to taking orders, but there was something about this place that made Daniel very glad he wasn’t alone there. That he had someone else who could take the lead, if he was inclined to allow him to do so.
"Well," Jack said, dropping his pack at his feet as he turned to look at where Daniel still stood. "We could wait around and see if anyone else drops by."
"Or we could follow that path and see where it leads," Daniel suggested, his curiosity piqued by the evidence they were not alone.
"I’d feel better about that idea if we were armed," Jack said.
Daniel shrugged. He understood Jack’s feelings on the matter, and to some extent shared his concern that they were essentially vulnerable to anyone they came across, but the opportunity hadn’t presented itself when he’d been scouting for supplies to bring with him. And in some ways they might get to stay alive longer if they weren’t obviously carrying a weapon when they encountered whoever lived there—it was a gamble, either way.
"So," he said. "Stay or go?"
Jack glanced at the path again, then back at the gate. Daniel waited—he’d learned the folly of trying to push Jack to make a decision before he was ready to do so; he wouldn’t make that mistake again.
"Go," Jack said, finally. "That path doesn’t look particularly well-worn, so it could be days before anyone else turns up here." He glanced around once more. "And I’d prefer not to be out in the open waiting for them."
After a few miles, the path began to turn downhill, leading them to the brow of a small valley in which sat what looked like a temple.
"I don’t recognize the style," Daniel said. "Though there are elements about it that look kind of familiar."
Jack nodded, concentrating on where he was going and keeping an eye out for company. They hadn’t seen anyone so far and parts of the path looked like it had been a while since anyone had traveled that way, but it didn’t pay to be careless. He couldn’t help still wishing for a weapon.
The temple itself was even more imposing close up. Jack kept a weather eye on Daniel, who was already in fascinated raptures about the architecture and seemed likely to forget they were in any danger whatsoever. It was nice to see Daniel so enthused, though, so Jack tried to make the best of it and enjoy the moment while it lasted.
The scuff of boots on stone was their first warning, before half a dozen robed and hooded newcomers emerged from behind pillars.
"You couldn’t have brought a gun," Jack muttered to Daniel, as they were surrounded. If these were the natives, then they were most definitely hostile.
Daniel didn’t even look at him, but Jack could see the tension in his body and knew that it was mirrored in his own. You didn’t need military training to know these were the kind of guys who played for keeps—Daniel was no soldier, but Jack would have bet his last cent that they were both aware of the perilous nature of their current situation.
One of their captors spoke, barking out a question in a language Jack had never heard before, the weapon he carried lifting a little as he spoke, as if in punctuation. He’d never seen anything like it, but somehow Jack had the feeling it wasn’t something whose effects he wanted to experience first-hand.
"I think he’s asking where we came from," Daniel said. "The language is familiar but I can’t quite place it …"
The man spoke again, the head of the weapon flowering open with an ominous ripple of electricity.
Jack watched as Daniel crouched, never taking his eyes from their inquisitor, his fore-finger drawing a familiar symbol in the sand at his feet. The symbol he remembered Daniel had told him was the one representing Earth, the pyramid with two people praying. Back in a conversation that seemed to have taken place in another lifetime.
Their captor took a step forward, as if he couldn’t believe what he saw, anger written clearly on his dark face. Daniel moved backwards, instinctively, coming to his feet just as he collided with Jack. One heavy boot stamped on his drawing, scuffing it from existence, the weapon raising once more in their direction. If he’d thought the weapon looked menacing before, closer up …
Jack closed his eyes, even as he felt Daniel’s hand unexpectedly grasp his own—there was nowhere to run, no way to defend themselves.
That was a new voice and it came from behind them. Jack opened his eyes again, the continued pressure of Daniel’s fingers on his own a reminder he wasn’t alone in this situation. Whatever it was that happened next, they were together.
The weapon lowered, its head closing as their captor turned to greet the newcomer. Daniel was listening, Jack could tell, his lips moving slightly as he tried to make sense of the language, and it seemed he was teetering on the very edge of understanding.
"You." That was the newcomer, a stockily-built man with receding hair, his dark eyes wise. "You are of the Tauri." The fact that he spoke English, even if in a very rudimentary fashion and with a strong accent, was utterly unexpected.
"The Tauri?" Daniel asked. "I don’t understand."
The newcomer sighed, and then lowered the staff-like weapon he held, using the end of it to trace a symbol in the sand. Bearing in mind the size of the tool he used, Jack immediately recognized it as the mirror of the one the younger man had erased.
"Yes," Daniel said. "That’s where we’re from. I’m Dr. Daniel …"
"Enough." The man’s voice was brusque, but not unkind. "I am Master Bra’tac. You will follow me." With that he turned, confident it seemed that his orders would be obeyed.
"Do we have a choice?" Jack asked.
"You do not," Bra’tac said, without looking round. "What is this place?" Daniel asked, as they followed Bra’tac along a dusty and clearly little-used corridor. He tried to forget the others were with them, concentrating on the reassuring presence of Jack beside him and the conundrum that they were following. "And how is it that you speak our language?"
Bra’tac didn’t answer, and they traveled on in silence.
After a few minutes had passed, he led them through a doorway, pushing the curtain that covered it aside with one hand and entering the small room. The furniture, such as there was, was wood and roughly made, two benches either side of a small table.
"Be seated," he said, gesturing towards one of the benches. "Teal’c will fetch us food."
The man who had apparently been so angry with them before, his face now as calm as that of Bra’tac, nodded once then turned and left the room silently. The curtain dropped back into place behind him. It was only as he sat that Daniel realized he and Jack were now alone with Bra’tac, the others having left them in the corridor.
"You ask many questions," Bra’tac said, his dark eyes pinning Daniel where he sat. "This is not good."
"He’s like that," Jack said, from where he sat next to Daniel, the heat and close proximity of his body a comfort even in the relative warmth of the room.
"He had best learn to curb his tongue," Bra’tac said, addressing Jack this time. "Or else he might lose it." The words were calm, but they carried a hint of menace.
Daniel felt Jack stiffen beside him, ready to leap to his defense, even though the old man was probably right. He needed to be more careful what he said—they had no idea how this society worked, what they’d walked into the middle of, and that lack of knowledge was dangerous for both of them.
The curtain moved once more, allowing Teal’c’s return; he was shadowed by a woman dressed similarly to the men they’d already encountered. Like them, she was dark of skin, darker of hair, her eyes showing that she carried the food for them only because she chose to do so.
"My thanks," Bra’tac said, to an answering nod from the woman. Daniel felt her dark intelligent eyes rake over both him and Jack before she left, the curtain falling closed once more.
"Now," Bra’tac continued. "We shall talk."
"We shall?" Daniel asked. "You said I had too many questions."
"It is I who shall ask the questions here," Bra’tac said, settling himself on the bench opposite. "And you, Tauri, shall answer them."
Jack’s hand gripped his leg under the table, warm palm resting just above Daniel’s knee, before giving a warning squeeze as Daniel opened his mouth to answer Bra’tac’s peremptory words.
"I will try," Daniel replied, in a meeker tone than he’d originally intended. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jack suppress a slight grin and vowed to have his revenge on him for this, even as curiosity burned within him.
"It has been a long time since any of the Tauri came to Chulak," Bra’tac said, as he reached for a piece of bread. He shoved the rough platter the woman had brought towards where Jack and Daniel sat, before breaking a piece of bread from the chunk he held and contemplating it carefully. "Why have you come?"
"Chulak?" Daniel asked, even as he tried not to choke on the piece of meat he’d put in his mouth. "Is that where we are?" Bra’tac nodded, his face severe once more. Daniel remembered his warning. "We’re here by accident," he continued.
"Accident?" Bra’tac looked doubtful. "Where did you intend to go?"
"What Daniel means," Jack said, interrupting, "is that we’re trying to get home. Not that your hospitality isn’t appreciated."
"You have no respect for the breaking of bread," Bra’tac said, dropping the piece of bread he’d been toying with onto the table. His face had darkened at Jack’s tone, his silent companion stiffening beside him even though it was clear he didn’t understand a word any of them were saying.
"My friend meant no disrespect," Daniel said, trying hard to remember what the man had said his name was. "We are just travelers, Master Bra’tac. And we thank you for your kindness to us, unexpected as it was."
He hoped his tone was grateful enough to take the sting from Jack’s previous glibness. This time he was the one who reacted, kicking Jack under the table, glad when Jack winced as his boot made contact with Jack’s shin.
"Very well," Bra’tac said, reaching for a piece of meat. Daniel kept his eyes focused on the platter, watching carefully as Bra’tac picked over what was there, but he could see the other man relax. "Now you will tell me of the Tauri."
"It is a long tale," Daniel said, as he returned his attention to the meat he’d been eating. "Our Stargate was buried many thousands of years ago."
"So we had heard. And the rumor among the Jaffa is that Ra was driven out, the Jaffa who served him killed in the uprising against him."
"Jaffa?" Jack interrupted, querying the unfamiliar word.
Bra’tac ignored him, his attention now fixed upon Daniel, who found himself squirming a little under the dark regard of those intelligent eyes. This was a man who’d experienced much, the ruggedness of his face hiding a sharp mind.
"Ra?" Daniel asked, ignoring Jack also in favor of a subject he might at least be able to talk about. "Ra is a myth."
Bra’tac laughed, a sharp bark of amusement.
"Ra is no myth," he said. "And neither is the god we serve." He pushed back the hood he wore, gesturing to Teal’c to do likewise. As the two of them did so, the torchlight hit two odd insignia on their foreheads—gold and black respectively. "See, we carry his mark."
Daniel peered at their foreheads, leaning forward as he did so. "That’s the mark of Apophis," he said. "The serpent god," Daniel explained to Jack as he leaned back once more. "Ra, the sun god, ruled the day, Apophis ruled the night."
"You claim Ra is a myth," Bra’tac said. "And yet you carry the mark of one of the System Lords." He pointed to Daniel’s chest. Daniel looked down, to where the amulet Catherine had given him hung in plain view. "What trickery is this?"
"No trickery," Daniel said, tucking the amulet back out of sight.
It was Teal’c who spoke then, his tone earnest even though Daniel struggled to make sense of the words.
"Teal’c would have me turn you over to my lord Apophis," Bra’tac said, when the other man had fallen silent, his dark eyes now baleful towards the travelers.
"That doesn’t sound good," Jack said. His hand tightened on Daniel’s leg once more, the warmth of the grip reassuring even as it appeared Bra’tac was about to sentence them to death, if they were lucky.
"It is clear you do not speak our tongue," Bra’tac said. "And that alone makes me believe you speak the truth. Agents of another system lord would know the language of the Jaffa, no matter what they pretended to be."
"It is familiar to me," Daniel admitted. "But I can’t make out more than a few words."
Bra’tac nodded. "After you have rested, you will tell me how the people of your planet overthrew a god."
|Continued in Part 6...|