Daylight fades out behind us as we are propelled deeper and deeper inside the mountain. The cavern is almost a tunnel, rock walls surrounding us. The current tosses us forward, but the water is rushing hard, splashing against the rock walls, smashing us as well. All I can do is hang on, huddled down on the raft, clinging to it.
We rocket from side to side, zig-zagging across the narrow water, the jagged rock edges tearing at the raft. The logs and vines begin to splinter and tear, and I scream out to try to warn Daniel as it begins to come asunder.
Then all I can do is grab onto the log under my feet and cling to it as we are ripped apart and sent hurtling onward, downward, deeper into darkness.
I come awake, stuck to the log, somehow still on the topside of it. The water has slowed a bit, and I carefully lift my head, trying to make out something of my surroundings. A sharp pain strikes at my left arm and I bite down hard on my tongue in response.
Damn! Shit, that hurts!
There is a faint gleam of light up ahead and I float into a wider cavern, light seemingly generated by elaborate crystal structures. I blink, my eyes streaming with tears, trying to readjust to the brightness. By the time I can see again, it is too late.
Something grabs me and hauls me up onto a rocky ledge. My damaged arm is jarred roughly as I come down hard, my leg hitting a jagged crystal edge. It tears at me skin and pain jolts through me, reverberating back and forth from limb to limb. I moan, twist over, and look up.
Several pairs of gleaming yellow eyes are staring down at me. Yellow eyes that belong to... I must be hallucinating. Please, please, let me be hallucinating. But the agony in my body says otherwise.
They are lizards. Sort of. Upright lizards with shiny, scaly skin and short forearms that end is hands. Four-fingered, but still recognizable as hands. They have short tails, stumpy legs, big clawed feet, and the ugliest faces I've ever seen. Skin flaps cover what must be the equivalent of noses, while their protruding mouths are wide and toothy with thick, white lips. Their jaws bleed into their chests, with their necks sticking out in the back. One is at an angle to me and I can see a long row of colorful ridges stretching from the top of its skull all the way down to the bottom of its tail.
One of them is holding the edges of the net that had swept me up out of the water while two others are pointing metallic devices at me. I haven't the faintest idea what those things are, but I'm smart enough to make a wild guess that they are weapons of some sort.
"Uhh, hello?" I try to say. There's no response, so I try again. "Hi, how are you? My name's Jack O'Neill and I'm from a planet called Earth. My friend and I got stranded here during the storm. Have you seen him, by any chance, fellow about my size, long brown hair and glasses. Kinda cute in a geeky sort of way?"
Something in my voice must have set them off, because they break out into a strange whistling, high-pitched type of speech. I get the faintest sense of words in there, the idea that this is indeed a language, but it's like nothing I've ever heard before. My desire to find Daniel turns from a stomach-twisting fear into outright panic and blatant need.
If anyone could figure out how to communicate it would be Daniel. Without him, I'm lost. I would be anyway.
"Daniel?!" I cry out.
There is no answer outside of the unintelligible conversation being carried on by the lizard guys. I try to move, to disentangle myself from the net, but that catches their attention again. Those metallic cylinders twitch in my direction and I freeze. Two of them step forward, gather up the edges of the net, and easily lift me up between them. They carry me away, along a thin ledge, then turning to enter a long, dry tunnel.
Why do I suddenly feel like a fish caught in some fisherman's net, designated for that evening's supper pot?
They deposit me in a small chamber cut into rock, lined with the shimmering light-giving crystals. It reminds me somewhat of the Tok'Ra tunnels, though far less patterned or well-designed. They free me of the net, which is relief, but that relief doesn't last for long.
One grabs me by the wrist, the wrist attached to my apparently broken forearm and drags me over against the far wall. Lost in a crashing wave of pain, I don't have time to protest before something cold and solid clamps down on that same wrist. I shriek with pain, then, blessedly, pass out.
So, we were never really alone here.
That was my first thought when I woke, though that thought was nearly driven away by the agony rocketing through my shoulder and down my arm, sending needles of pain shooting to my fingers.
If it weren't for the pain I could believe myself trapped in some terrible nightmare - then, if this were not real, I could just wake up, maybe find myself snuggled up with Jack in our shelter.
But this is my reality now, and always will be.
The numbness is still with me, blanketing my mind, wrapping itself like a cocoon around my heart, but without the same chance of promised life.
It's all I can do, it seems, for my heart to keep beating, my lungs to pull in one breath after the next - a tiny part of my mind is glad those actions are automatic.
Jack is gone.
Torn away from me by the river, his life ripped from him because he humoured me, went exploring when he didn't really want to, but because he knew how much it meant to me.
Is that always going to be the pattern of my life? Daniel Jackson stumbles on, impervious, whilst all around him his friends and lovers are destroyed - whether it was being chosen as a Host, or an ill-fated river journey, gone is gone.
From where I sit, slumped against the wall of the cavern, favouring my arm which throbs painfully, I can watch my captors. If I were alive, I guess I'd be fascinated, but the majority of my interest was swept away with Jack and it's all I can do to concentrate on what they are doing.
Tears stream down my face - I can feel them trickle warmly across my cheek, but I can't bring myself to wipe them away.
Do you run out of tears after a while?
Even when I lost Sha're, I never cried like this. I had too much to do, too much hope that we would find her - I never had time to grieve for her. Maybe that's the problem here, not just losing Jack, but the loss of hope.
As long as Jack was here with me, I had hope.
Even when things were at their worst, I had conviction, the certain knowledge that Jack would look after me, as he had always done, protect me, even from my own folly. I never meant for this to happen.
Lowering my head onto my arms, I can feel my shoulders begin to shake - the tears are flowing freely now, as I start to sob, great wracking sobs that seem to come from the core of my being.
After some time has passed, I feel myself beginning to shake slightly - my sobs are lighter now, more like hiccuping, and I rub my face on my sleeve, removing most of the tears from my eyes.
It is now that I realise I have an audience.
Half a dozen of the lizard-men are gathered round me, in a loose semi-circle, staring down at me with their unblinking yellow eyes. They make no noise as they stand there, looking down at me balefully.
Their language makes no sense to me, so I decide to try a different tack. Reaching out with my uninjured arm, I scratch a design into the dust on the cavern floor - I'm not an artist, but I try my best.
Drawing a stick man to represent myself, I then tap on my chest, and say my name.
Still they stare at me, some looking at the design, others studying me, it seems.
Sighing, I press on, drawing more and more symbols, pictures, pictograms, anything I can dredge up from memory. Their unwavering glance is disconcerting to say the least - it's difficult to tell if I have made any impression on them at all.
When my supply of possible subjects start to thin, I sigh again and give up, sinking back onto my heels against the rock wall.
'What use are you?' I think. 'You can't even get them to understand you, you've nothing in common with them.'
After a few moments, my audience disappear, drifting away one after the other, without even a backward glance in my direction.
Time seems to have no meaning here, deep under the earth in this dimly-lit cavern where I find myself. My watch is still working, but the passing of the hours means little here, and I'm no longer sure if it is day or night.
The lizard men don't seem to sleep, not as I understand sleep anyway - even when they rest, their eyes never close or blink, so it's impossible to tell if they are resting or merely watching events unfold around them.
It's only as my stomach begins to rumble, complaining of its emptiness that I begin to realise the kind of time that must have passed - I can't begin to imagine how long it is since I last ate something.
My hosts are gathering now, a jostling circle, pushing and shoving round something I can't quite see from where I am, crouched here by the wall. It's more effort than I like to admit to get up from here, and if it weren't that I need to communicate with them, to get some food from them, I wouldn't move at all.
My collarbone isn't broken, just badly bruised, I've decided - my shoulder had been dislocated some time during our wild ride down river, but I think the unceremonious way I was dumped onto dry land sorted that particular problem out. I ache all over, with waves of pain lancing across my upper chest if I'm not careful how I move.
My head spins slightly, from lack of food, as I get up from where I had been for what seems like days. As I push deeper into the crowd of jostling lizards, they make way for me, not even glancing in my direction, till I reach the centre of the group and the unmistakeable smell of raw meat hits me.
A few tufts of fur cling to what is left, and a sudden realisation hits me. A wave of nausea replaces my hunger and I run to the furthest part of the cavern I can reach before I begin to retch.
I'm left with the bitter taste of bile, and the knowledge that my hosts are certainly carnivores - it seems their favourite dish is monkey.
All I can hope is that which ever of our companions it was, they were already dead before the lizards got hold of them.
My vomiting, if not my interest in their meal, has attracted an audience, and I stare horrified at the lizards as they watch me unblinking.
Their long noses are speckled with blood, the occasional tongue flicking out to swipe over their scaly skin as I find I can't tear my eyes away from them.
Is that why they pulled me out of the river? To be their next meal?
After all, a small scared-sounding voice in the back of my mind argues, what are you to them if not a very large tail-less monkey?
My stomach heaves again at the thought, and I clamp my hand over it in an attempt to keep myself from a repeat performance.
As I am being stared at, I notice one of the lizards who had been standing near a crevice in the wall turn and reach into it.
Before I can tell what he is doing, he approaches me, one stubby foreleg extended - his clawed hand is clutching a fruit, one of the pear-like ones, which he holds out to me.
Glad to have something to take my mind off the lizard's most recent meal, I grab it eagerly, biting into the fruit without a second thought. I have never tasted anything so delicious in my life, wiping away the bitter taste of bile and quieting my stomach considerably.
If I'm not imagining it, the lizard gestures to me, his fore-leg hooking slightly towards himself, before he turns and heads towards the entrance out of the cavern.
I follow, hesitantly - whenever I have tried to leave before, my way has been blocked by an immovable wall of reptiles, and I have not wished to try my luck in an escape attempt. Their teeth look sharp, and I have no reason to believe they would not use them on me.
This time, however, the lizards part before me, and I follow my new guide down deeper into the cavern, following him down a twisting tunnel to who knows where.
If I cared at all, then maybe I would worry about where we are headed, but I am just glad to be leaving the cavern, with its stench of blood and meat.
We seem to walk for a very long time.
Despite the shortness of his legs, and the slightly lurching gait the lizards seem to have developed, we have travelled a long way, my silent companion and I.
I have no idea where we are heading, but there is nothing else for me to do. Losing Jack, I am alone here now, and one way forward is as good as any other.
My future seems cloudy, uncertain, but I can't seem to summon up enough energy to care - loneliness stretches before me like an unbroken layer of snow, unmarked by footprints.
It is blank, featureless and terrifies me when I think of it, so I try to distract myself by concentrating on the smallest detail of things. I try to count the scales on the back of my guide, make the luminescent veins travelling through the rocks we're passing through into animals, anything to distract myself.
And none of it works.
All I can think about is Jack, and how this is all my fault - he stayed here, for me, and now I have torn his life away from him as surely as if I had put a gun to his head.
We reach a smaller cavern, having looped back to join the river somehow. It flows slower here, meandering through a narrow passage-way our raft would never have been able to squeeze through anyway.
Lying on the ground, by the side of the river, I see something that makes my heart leap, then plummet into the soles of my shoes. That something is Jack's jacket, torn and battered, liberally marked with blood.
I walk over to it and pick it up, examining it in the dim light shed by the crystalline material running through the rock. The sleeve is torn, blood marking it, shredded by something sharp, something like.... teeth.
I gasp, unable to believe that what my mind is suggesting can be the case. Could it be true? Could they have....?
My stomach lurches again, but somehow I manage to get it under control.
My guide has stopped, suddenly aware that I am not following, and is standing there, looking at me, with as curious an expression on its face as the blankness of his gaze permits.
I am filled with anger, it sweeps over me like a wave, wiping away my previous numbness. Clutching the jacket to me, I run from the cavern, elbowing my way past my would-be guide and hurtle deeper and deeper into the tunnels that lead away from my awful discovery.
I wake to find myself still a prisoner in the small, open cell. My clothes are still damp and I find myself shivering in the cool damp air. The pain in my arm has dulled to a low throb, and I discover that the offending manacle is attached to a long length of silvery rope made of an unfamiliar substance.
Agony strikes as I pull on it with that arm. Bad idea, that. So I hold that arm still and pull with the other. Less hurt. No results.
So back to basics. I try to take stock of myself and my surroundings. My arm is broken. My left leg is drenched in blood, but the wound seems to have scabbed over. It looks nasty, probably infected, but at least I won't lose any more blood. My head aches, but not too badly. I'm alive.
Unfortunately, the lizard guys took all of my tools, including my knife. I'm left with the clothes on my back, my boots, and…
There's a sudden scratching on my back and I twitch around. Shit, that hurts! OK, I shouldn't move too fast. But what the hell is crawling around on me?
There's a low screetch then something crawls around and pokes its head out from under my chained arm.
"Nosey!" Ah hell! I'm amazed he's still alive and with me. He looks half-drowned, his fur all matted. He squeezes out and sits down on my belly, gazing sadly up at me.
"I know, little fella, we're in deep shit. I told you not to come, remember!"
He tilts his head at me, radiating worry. An image flashes into my head of Daniel and Sneezy being tossed loose into the water, clinging to logs, and I share the intense sense of loss.
"I miss them too," I respond. "They could still be alive. Maybe they got fished out of the river too." As an attempt to cheer both of us up, it's hardly first rate. Nosey's doubts reverberate with my own, a cutting wind of grief that slices at us both.
"Oh shit," I mutter, reaching down with my good hand to stroke the little guy's back. "What am I gonna do without Daniel?"
I don't even want to think about it. I can't know for sure, so I will keep on believing he's alive. I feel as though I should know if he was dead. Surely, he'd take a piece of me with him. I couldn't be whole without him. I couldn't live without him. Not here, hell, not anywhere.
Nosey suddenly chirps loudly and I lift my head. Damn, those lizard bastards move quickly and quietly. I didn't hear a thing. Two of them are standing at the entrance to my cell, staring blankly down at us. I stare right back, refusing to be cowed. I consider trying to stand up, but considering my physical state, I decide to stay right where I am.
So we indulge in a staring contest for a moment until a third one appears. This one tosses something small at me and Nosey's chirps get louder and faster. Then I realize that it is fact two monkeys making noise. That object is Sneezy and he lands on my wounded leg, forcing me to gasp in pain.
Now I have two little monkeys on my stomach, busily grooming each other.
I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry, but I struggle to hold in both emotions. I'll be damned if I'm going to give way in front of these lizards. I'm not quite sure why, but I definitely don't like them. Not one bit.
The three of them leave while another one comes in. This one is carrying bowls which he places at a small distance from me, but still in reach. I give him the old Jack glare, but he ignores me, gliding away silently.
When he's gone and I seem to be alone with the two monkeys, I poke at Sneezy to get his attention.
"Daniel?" I ask, a strong picture of my friend and lover appearing in my mind. Sneezy blinks sorrowfully at me, emanating waves of fear and loss. He doesn't know what happened to Daniel and that hits me hard.
"DANIEL!" I scream. "Where are you, DANIEL!"
There's no answer, not that I really expected one. But it still hurts. It feel as though someone has clawed his bare fingers into my chest and ripped out my beating heart while I'm awake and conscious.
'Daniel…' I whisper softly.
Again there is no response except the waves of misery coming from my two little friends. I drop my head back against the wall, tears pricking at my eyes. Oh Danny...
I lay there unwilling to move, uncaring of what happens to me now, except for the faint chance that Daniel might still be alive. It is only that thin thread of hope that keeps me from sinking into the quicksand of my own despair.
If he is still out there, perhaps hurt, wounded, dying... No, I can't think that way. I have to think he's there and he needs me and I have to survive and find a way to get to him and save us both.
Nothing else matters.
And if I'm going to be of any help to him, then I need to gather what strength I can and try to escape. I can smell raw meat from nearby, from those bowls the bastards had left here earlier, and my stomach wrenches.
Not that. I can't eat raw meat. But I'm faint with hunger and thirst. I've lost a lot of blood. I need...I can't...I have to try.
I crawl over to the bowls. Even as I reach out to touch one, both Nosey and Sneezy begin to screetch. A formless cloud of horror radiates from both of them, terror overwhelming my senses. I moan and pull my hand back as though burned, even as my eye falls on the contents of the first bowl.
Raw flesh and muscle, fur... Oh FUCK! SHIT! Oh no, no, no, no...
I tumble over onto my good side and try to vomit. My empty stomach spits up some acidic fluid and nothing more. My mind screams silently, insistently.
They're cannibals... no, not cannibals, just aliens who eat monkeys. Like Nosey and... like me... like Daniel.
Oh God, no! Not Daniel! Oh please, please, please, no...
As I run, blindly, I am only partly aware of where I am going - where the tunnel branches, I choose randomly, running on and on. I bounce off walls, scraping myself on corners, tears streaming down my face.
I can't believe this is happening! How could I have been so stupid, so selfish?
I am out of breath soon, a stitch tearing at my side, tendrils of pain from my shoulder wrapping themselves around me, until I crumple against one of the tunnel walls. I can feel myself sob, and I curl up into a ball, my face pressed into Jack's blood-smeared jacket, my shoulders heaving.
If it isn't terrible enough that I was responsible for Jack being here with me, now I have this on my conscience too? How can I carry on, knowing I am responsible for my friend, my lover, experiencing this appalling fate?
Any thoughts I had of escape, of survival seem like a sick joke now - without Jack, and with the knowledge of what I have caused living with me forever, there is nowhere I want to be, nothing I want to do. Even breathing seems too much of an effort.
From where I have run, I can hear the lizards approaching, the slight shuffling sound they make as they move, their distinctive language echoing down the tunnel towards where I am crouched.
It must be instinct alone that is driving me now, making me flee further down the tunnel - despite the numbness within me, I have no inclination to share Jack's fate and decide that discretion is the better part of valour.
I have no idea where I'm going, choosing turnings at random, one tunnel very much like another. Am I heading deeper into the mountains, have I missed the turn that would lead me out of here? I have no idea....
If there were anyone here to see me, I must be quite a sight - my eyes red and puffy, I stumble along, my arm cradled protectively to myself.
I can't bring myself to leave Jack's blood-stained jacket behind, as it is all I have left of him. I clutch it to myself, wishing he were here with me, to give me the strength I am going to need to even carry on.
Sound echoes strangely here - sometimes I hear footsteps, the clicking and hissing of my pursuers, seemingly so close that I cannot avoid them. Still, when I turn the next corner, they are nowhere in sight.
Or is my mind playing tricks on me? I thought I heard someone calling my name, but couldn't tell where the sound was coming from - I'm so tired now that I don't know what is real and what is imaginary.
It is only when I start to stumble, tripping over the uneven surface of the tunnel floor, that I admit to myself how close I am to exhaustion. It feels as though this is all I have ever experienced, this flight from my pursuers, and everything else in my life before was just a dream.
My head is starting to spin - I need to find somewhere to lie up and rest, or I'll end up lizard fodder for certain.
One of the turnings I take in the tunnel leads into a cavern that seems to be some kind of storage area - there are rudimentary shelves, containers made of a material I can't identify, all lying scattered throughout the cavern.
I decide this is as good a place as any to try and get some rest, huddling up in a corner behind a pile of the larger boxes. Even as I squat there, I can feel my eyelids grow leaden, and I know that sleep is not far away.
I am standing by the castle, looking up into the mountains - the light is bright, stinging my eyes as I squint up into the sky above the nearest ice-capped peak.
All I can hear is a rumbling noise, which seems to be coming from within the clouds that shroud the peak. Something tells me I should recognise the noise, which dips so low my teeth seem to vibrate in sympathy with the throbbing.
Then it happens. A shape bursts through the clouds, heading for the side of the mountain, flames streaking its sides as it descends. It passes behind the mountain, the noise abates and there is silence for a moment, before the sound of the birds begin again.
I am shaken awake, not by the noise I had been dreaming about, but by a sudden movement within the cavern.
A number of the lizards pass through, their eyes fixed straight ahead, heading for one of the exits from my hiding place. As they leave, without looking around, I let out a breath I had been holding, sighing at the closeness of my escape.
As my heart begins to slow down, I feel something touch my shoulder.
I can't help myself, and I let out a piercing scream, which echoes hollowly within the chamber. A small chittering noise comes from behind me, and I turn towards the thing that had touched me.
It is Sneezy!
He is squatting on one of the boxes, his fur standing up like a brush, eyes wide as he stares at me.
"You're alive!" I say, almost as if I expect the monkey to answer me. He cocks his head to one side, as his fur begins to settle down, as if examining me.
Seemingly satisfied with what he sees, Sneezy jumps down onto the ground and begins to root around where I had been sleeping - after a blank moment of staring at him, I realise he is dragging Jack's jacket across the ground, pulling it along by one of the sleeves.
He is heading towards one of the exits, looking back at me frequently, as if he wants me to follow him.
"Give me that!" I exclaim, unwilling to let go of my one memento of Jack.
Snagging the jacket, I pick it up, only to find Sneezy clinging onto one of the sleeves, chittering at me piteously as he swings around. He clearly has no intention of letting go of his prize, but I have no intention of letting him have it either.
Giving the jacket a shake, I manage to dislodge Sneezy's grip and he drops to the ground - there he crouches, baring his teeth at me for a moment, before he runs for one of the exits.
This time he keeps going, not looking back once. I decide to follow him, but, by the time I reach the archway to the tunnel in question, he has disappeared down it.
'Looks like you pissed him off!' I think, but decide to follow anyway.
I struggle against my chains again, ignoring the intense pain in my broken forearm. It doesn't matter, nothing matters, except finding Daniel. I have to get free. I have to get free. I…
The agony is too much and all I can do is collapse to the floor and grit my teeth until my jaw aches, that sliver of sensation lost in the fire of the pain that swells and throbs and bites in my arm and my leg. Tears force their way out of my eyes, dribbling down my cheeks, though somehow I manage not to sob aloud.
I scream instead. I draw in a deep shuddering breath and I yell as loudly as I can. My own voice sounds distant, disconnected from me, as it runs through a full litany of every obscenity I've ever heard. After over 20 years of military service, it takes a while to reach the end of the list. When I hit that, I settle for screaming Daniel's name again. Over and over until my throat is raw and I can't breathe.
I gasp for breath and curl up in a ball of misery so complete that I'm certain it's going to kill me. That's fine, I'll be happy to die. Or would be, if there wasn't the faint chance that Daniel was still alive out there, somewhere. I can't die if he still needs me, a little voice chants inside my head. I tell it to shut it, there's nothing I can do.
'Daniel needs you,' it tells me again.
'I can't,' I whisper back, but it's too late.
If there's even the slightest of chances…then I have to try. But there's no way I'm going anywhere at the moment and the lizards have ignored all of my shouting to this point, so a little more would hardly bring them running. So if I'm not mobile…
The monkeys! I open my eyes and lift my head to look at them, sending one thought as hard as I can, not even knowing how or why they might hear me.
Fear rockets back at me from both of them. I plead again, desperately.
They blink at me, chatter anxiously to each other.
"Hey, I know you're scared shitless, little fellas. I am too. But I can't go," I pull on the chain trapping me to emphasize my words. "So you have to. Be quiet and careful, OK. I know you can do it! Find Daniel, please?!"
Somehow, the sense of what I'm saying seems to penetrate. They bob, still chattering nervously, but I can feel their agreement, reluctant though it is.
'Thank you' I whisper, and Nosey runs forward to rub his nose against mine. Oooh, that's wet and cold. But I do appreciate the gesture. I force a smile and they seem to grin back, though that could just be a grimace of fear. Then they turn and race out the door, disappearing in opposite directions.
All I can do is wait. I hate waiting. I am not a patient man. I never have been, I never will be. And this is a million times worse than any other time I've spent waiting for anything or anyone, even worse than sitting in the hospital lounge hoping to hear that my wife has safely given birth.
That wait had resulted in the best of news, and a period of rare joy in my life. In the end it gave way to the worst tragedy, but I'm slowly, painfully, learning that there is always a price to pay for the good things in life. It seems that there is always a balance between the two and all you can do is treasure the joys when you find them.
Maybe that's why I had spent so little time worrying about my sexuality and what it meant that I had fallen in love with another man. I am too busy being grateful that I have him, that he can love me as much as I love him, to worry about whether I'm gay or straight or something in-between.
Who gives a damn when you've got someone as rare and special as Daniel Jackson to love? I sure don't! I've lost too many loved ones to give this one up without a fight.
So those lizards had better watch out. If they've hurt my Daniel, there'll be hell to pay!
Strong thoughts. Too bad I don't have the faintest chance of backing them up.
I hate waiting!
I stir, moan, find myself curled up in a ball, cradling my broken arm. I must have fallen asleep. How long? Nosey doesn't understand the concept and my watch had taken a beating and not kept on ticking days ago. I look up at the little monkey who has been watching me as I sleep. His fur is dry now and Sneezy's attentions have cleaned out the worst of the tangles. I sit up, stifling another groan as I do so and gesture for him to come closer.
He does so gladly, running up my uninjured leg -- good boy! -- and sitting down on my belly. I reach down and rub the fur of his belly...
"Sheesh! When did you get so fat?" I ask, as I realize that he's gotten quite plump around the middle.
I get assaulted with a kaleidoscope of images and sensations from him, the most glaring of which is...
Holy Shit! He's not a he, he's a she, and she's pregnant!
I draw my hand back as though it was burnt and stare at Nosey with startled eyes.
"Why didn't you tell me? You shouldn't have come along on this trip in your condition! Why..."
Oh, then it dawns on me. Sneezy must be the father. But that still doesn't explain why the little monkey family insisted on staying with us. Then I get sharp waves of unmistakeable affection radiating from the little fel...ah...gal. Ohhh, I hope I'm not blushing now.
Yeah, I'm fond of you too. And there's another reason, or set of reasons, to find a way out of this hell hole. No way I'm gonna let Nosey's babies be eaten if there's anything I can do about it.
I hear the slip-sliding step of a lizard nearby and my head jerks up in response.
"Get behind me," I tell Nosey who does exactly what she's told. They're going to have to go through me to get to her and damaged as I am, I'm still a trained soldier.
The lizard comes into view, staring balefully at me with those obscene yellow eyes. Its snout sniffs the air, then it moves in closer. It looks from me to the untouched bowls of dead monkey then back to me. I'd swear it was wondering why I hadn't eaten yet.
"Hey, I'm no cannibal you scaley-skinned, yellow-eyed mother-fucking sonuvabitch!"I yell at the top of my lungs. "Where's Daniel!" I scream next.
For some reason that startles it, the yellow eyes blink rapidly. But before it can do anything further, something barrels into it from the side, knocking it over.
The lizard topples, like a domino, flopping over onto its side. The next thing I know, I'm blanketed in sobbing human, hands running up and down over my body. It takes me a moment, then I'm returning the body check as best I can with one hand.
Daniel. Oh, thank the stars, Daniel!
Am I just going round in circles?
All these tunnels look the same, and as I stumble on and on, I have a strange feeling of deja vu - I could be going through the same tunnel over and over, without ever knowing it.
There must be a way out of here, mustn't there?
My head's still spinning and throbbing as I stumble along - every so often I think I see a flash of fur as I search for where ever it is Sneezy's got to. I regret arguing with him now. It's not like I've got so many choices here, after all, and he might have been able to help me find a way out of this labyrinth.
The sound echoes strangely in here, rolling down the tunnels and wrapping itself around me - I keep thinking I hear someone shouting, a muffled throbbing that rumbles round me. I can't make out the words, if there are any, or where it's coming from.
A shuffling noise alerts me to the presence of lizards just as I enter another of their storage caverns - I throw myself behind a pile of containers, gasping slightly as I land wrongly.
The air rushes out of my lungs, with a nasty hissing sound, and I'm sure I hear the lizards pause for a moment before they shuffle on.
That was too close.
A chittering noise comes from beside me and this time I manage to bite down on the scream before it leaves my mouth. I know that sound.
"Well, that's an improvement on prodding me," I say, turning with a smile to look at Sneezy as he crouches there gazing up at me. He chitters at me, as if in response, cocking his head to one side. "I'm sorry, okay?" I say, speaking before I realise.
Great. Now I'm apologising to a monkey! If Jack were here, he....
'No,' I think swallowing the wave of emotion that seems poised to overwhelm me, 'don't go there, Jackson. Not now.'
All this time Sneezy is crouched there on the floor, intently looking at me - when I smile at him, he springs up, almost bouncing his way out of the cavern. This time, however, he pauses at the entrance, clearly waiting for me to follow.
"Where the hell are we going?" I ask, almost entranced by the way Sneezy's tail is bouncing along as he bounds down the tunnel in front of me.
As if in response, the monkey pauses, looking up at me with an almost-human expression on his face. Coming closer, he reaches out with one hand, tugging gently at the jacket I'm carrying, before bounding off down the tunnel again.
He couldn't mean...?
That's just too ridiculous an idea, even for me at my most bizarre. He's just a monkey.
Still, I decide to follow him - nowhere better to go anyway.
After what seems like hours, I stop for a breather, slumping against the tunnel wall to catch my breath. I'm so hungry now that the fruit that was my last meal seems like a life-time ago, and I'm almost at the point where I'd consider raw meat.
'Okay, maybe not,' I think, as my stomach heaves at the thought.
That intermittent rumbling sound has been getting louder recently, I realise, as I slump against the tunnel wall - resting my head back against the rock, I can feel the sound echo through into me. Some tiny part of my brain that is less tired than the rest struggles to try and make sense of the sounds - even muffled as they are, I feel as though I should recognise them. Too tired, I guess.
Once I've caught my breath, I start to move on again, my brain still trying to process the sound, even as my feet move into an automatic movement, seemingly independent of my body's control.
I feel like I'm on auto-pilot, watching from outside as I shuffle down the tunnel like an old man.
The rumbling sound stopped a while ago.
I'm back in tunnels that seem to loop near the river again, small caverns marking the passage of the water, then it disappears again for a while. These caverns and tunnels are well-travelled, and Sneezy and I are forced to seek cover often, as what appear to be patrols of lizards make their way past us.
Could this mean we are close to a way out?
I'm following Sneezy blindly still, my feet on auto-pilot, when the noise starts up again, far nearer this time.
I'm close enough, even with the uncertainty of echoes travelling down the tunnels, to recognise the sounds as words, to even pick some of them out.
I feel as though someone has gripped my heart and is crushing it, sending pangs of delight and terror and a hundred other emotions coursing through my veins. My head spins and it's all I can do not to shout out loud.
He's alive! Jack is alive!
A burst of energy runs through me, unexpectedly, and I hurtle down the tunnel blindly, hoping that it will lead me to Jack. Sneezy is charging along too, somehow avoiding my feet as I run.
That question echoes round me as I run, too stunned to answer, too desperate to get to Jack to form a coherent response.
Only moments later, I reach a tunnel with a natural archway to one side - somehow, with some instinct more ancient than the development of language, I know that this is where Jack is.
My momentum is so great, as I barrel into the chamber, that I slam into the back of one of the lizard creatures, sending it flying. But I don't care. All I can see is Jack, slumped against the chamber wall and I wrap myself around him as though I never want to let him go.
I'm sobbing, all the emotion I'd been trying so hard to damp down flowing freely now, and I can't speak. My hands run over Jack's body, as if assuring myself that he is real, that he is truly here with me, that I'm not alone after all. It's only as rational thought starts to return that I realise that Jack is returning my embrace with only one hand. Pulling back, I inadvertantly put my weight on Jack's leg and he hisses with pain.
"Daniel..." he says, but he can't help from grinning at me despite the pain that he must be in.
I pull back further, one hand still lingering on his leg, unwilling to let go of him completely in case this turns out to be just another dream.
"I thought..." I begin, not knowing if I can finish the sentence. In response, Jack brings his hand up to my face, stroking his palm across my cheek.
"I know..." he croaks.
It's then that I see the manacle, that Jack is a prisoner here - then again, what am I at the moment if not a fugitive? The lizard is beginning to stir, struggling to get up, hissing as it flails around. We've got to get out of here. I wrap my hand round the chain attaching Jack to the wall, and give it an experimental tug - nothing. The lizard is making a distressed sound now, a high-pitched keening sound, as it begins to struggle to its feet.
"Get out of here, Daniel," Jack snarls at me.
"If you think I'm going to leave you here..."
"That's exactly what you're going to do," Jack snaps back. "As long as one of us is free, we've both got a chance of getting out of here. Go!"
He's right. I hate to admit it, but Jack is right - despite the way that leaving him here like this tears at me, at least now I know he's alive. I can do this. I can get both of us out of here. I nod tersely, not able to bring myself to look at him, and turn to leave the chamber without looking back.
What if I can't?
I can't leave Jack like this, not without....
Turning back to where Jack is slumped, I crouch beside him and kiss him swiftly, trying to give him the strength to wait for me and take some of his courage and certainty that I can succeed.
"I love you, Jack O'Neill," I whisper, wrapping his jacket around him, "and I'll be back soon."
"You'd better," Jack replies.
It's the hardest thing I have ever done, walking away from that chamber, but my heart is lighter than it has been for a long time. Jack is alive, and soon we'll both be out of here. I don't know how yet, but he believes that I can do this. I hope he's right.
Daniel is clinging to me sobbing and damned if I'm not leaking a few myself. Ah hell, we deserve a bit of emotion here. Just the fact that he's here with me, alive and in one piece is a dream come true. I'm ecstatic, about as happy as I can ever remember being. So I cling right back, with one hand at least, offering up my face for a sweet round of kisses and letting him touch me as he needs to.
I hate it when he starts to pull back, though I know we need to talk first and do this later. Then he puts his weight on my wounded leg and I hiss with pain.
I can see the worry and sympathetic pain stroke him. Damn, Daniel, do I look that bad. From the expression on his face, the answer is a resounding yes.
"Daniel..." I say, trying to grin at him through the latest wave of agony. I want to tell him I'm OK, but I can't lie to him. I'm hurt badly and we're in deep shit. Still, it's so good - so wonderful - to see him that somehow that smile turns real.
He pulls back to a full crouch in front of me, his hand resting on my knee, right below the wound in my thigh. He seems unwilling to give up contact with me and I share the feeling. I'm terrified he's going to turn out to a dream, a hallucination, created out of my desperate desire to see him combined with an infection-induced fever.
But he's real, I know that. I can feel it. Then he speaks, and the low rumble of his voice is the loveliest sound I've ever heard.
"I thought..." he whispers. Just two words, but holding a wealth of meaning.
I reach up to cup the side of his face, marveling at it, how strong and sensitive his skin is, how beautiful.
"I know..." I tell him, my voice cracking. Tears are stinging my eyes. I'd come so close to losing him and the horror of that lingers like a chill ghost at my back.
"How...?" he asks, and then his clear blue eyes fall on the manacle and chain pinning me to the wall. He reaches up to pull on it, the effort straining his muscles. He leans back, putting all his weight on it, but it doesn't help. I'm still trapped.
A sound behind us warns that the lizard he had bowled over is beginning to wake up and move around. It screeches, high-pitched and loud. Damn! If they find Daniel here then we'll both end up chained to this wall like cattle in a feeding pen. I can't allow that to happen. Regardless of what happens to me, he's free and he's got a chance. I won't allow him to give that up.
"Get out of here, Daniel," I hiss at him.
Alarm widens his eyes. His jaw sets stubbornly, refusal written in every line of his face.
"If you think I'm going to leave you here..." he responds.
Damn it, now is not the time for him to get stubborn and self-sacrificing on me. He's got to go - now.
Personally, I don't care...well, all right, I care a bit about getting out of here alive myself since ending up as dinner for these lizards isn't high on my list of plans for my life and my death, but it still matters far less to me than he does. I'd hand myself over to them in an instant if I thought it would buy him his freedom. But right now, the only thing that will give him and me both a chance is for him to run and hide now.
I struggle to find the words that will convince him, fast, to stop arguing and do as I say. That's never easy in the best of times, and this is hardly that. Finally, I settle for honest blackmail.
"That's exactly what you're going to do," I insist. "As long as one of us is free, we've both got a chance of getting out of here. Go!"
He looks behind me at the lizard struggling to get up, then turns back to me. He scurries closer and kisses me, hard and quick. I savor that kiss. It stirs my blood, waking up parts of me that I'd thought were dead.
"I love you, Jack O'Neill..." he whispers, wrapping my jacket around me (so that's where it disappeared to) "...and I'll be back soon."
"You'd better," I tell him firmly, trying to show a strength and courage that I don't really have. I hate for him to leave me and watching him get up and go hurts more than all of my wounds combined. It feels as though an essential part of myself is being ripped lose and he's carrying it out the door with him. I know this has to be, but I can barely stand it.
He edges around the lizard and disappears down the tunnel. Now I can let the tears fall loose and unheeded.
A second lizard appears while three others scurry by. Thank goodness they're hurrying in the exact opposite direction to the one Daniel took. Even through red, puffy, and tearing eyes, I notice that the first lizard needs some assistance getting back to its feet. So they don't balance well once they've been knocked over. That's a useful tidbit of info that I store away.
Now that I know for sure that Daniel is alive, well, and on the move, all of my remaining strength and focus is turned to finding any possibility of getting myself loose. I've got a coupla scores to settle with these bastards and I don't like being the victim needing rescue. Daniel can use my help and damned if I won't find a way to give it.
So I focus my eyes on the two lizards who soon return my gaze. I study them, slowly, from head-to-toes - or is that head-to-tail? I notice instantly that these two are wearing some kind of cloth stripe over their shoulders and the second one is holding a new device I haven't seen before.
I find myself wondering what Daniel would do or say? I'd bet that he'd have some brilliant, crazy, off-the-wall idea that would work against all the odds. I'm more at a loss.
'Come on Jack, think. What would Daniel do?'
He'd try to communicate, of course. The fact that they carry devices, wear markers of rank of some sort, and seem to have a weird language of some sort means that they are a bit more advanced than your average cave-dwelling lizard creature. That doesn't mean I like them any better for that realization. I take serious offence when anyone imprisons me with the intention of having me for dinner.
But Daniel needs my help and if I can, at least, distract them...
So what would Daniel do? I can make no sense of their language. I doubt even Daniel could, though he's been known to surprise me on that score. But it's so high-pitched and whiny. I don't think that I could even imitate it if I tried.
They don't seem to be able to understand me either. All right. So what's left? It's hard to concentrate. My head is spinning, I ache all over, and I'm starting to shiver with the kind of chills that mark a fever. I'm fading fast, but I know this may be the only chance I get.
Then it dawns on me. Back to basics. Draw. Show a sign of intelligence and maybe they'll get a clue that I'm more than just dinner. But I don't have anything to draw with and the floor is smooth and solid.
Wait - I've got blood. Lots of it. And it's not all dried. Hell, I'm still oozing from my leg. Must have torn the scab again at some point. Dizziness washes over me and I struggle to hold on. Stay awake!
Dipping my finger in the wet, sticky stuff on my leg, I lean forward and begin to sketch stick figures on the floor. Two big ones. I create a long fringe of hair for one and then add two smaller figures beside the other. I've got both monkeys back, after all. I dip my finger repeatedly as I draw, ending up with a circle around both figures. Then I draw a line between their hands, connecting them.
The lizards are actually watching me, their yellow eyes intent. I've got their full attention which amazes me. So they are paying attention. OK. I point to the one with the fringe of hair around his face and say, as distinctly as I can, "Daniel." Then I point to the second figure and then point to myself, saying "Jack" each time. I run my hand over the circle and say "together, we belong together." Then I point at the two small figures beside mine and then at Nosey and Sneezy, saying "monkey."
I repeat my gestures and my words twice, then look up at them, waiting for a response. To my shock, one shuffles closer, points at the figure I had designated as my own and emits a whistle. Then it points at me and emits the same whistle.
All right! Progress! I try to whistle back, nodding my head vigorously. My effort at imitating the whistle sound makes them both grimace, revealing long rows of sharp teeth.
So I try again with my own name, jabbing at the floor and then at my own chest.
One of them growls, apparently trying to imitate me, but with no more success than I had had trying to imitate them. But at least it tried.
I nod, smile, trying to show approval. They stare at me for a moment and I wonder what is going through their reptilian brains. Whatever they're thinking, they show little sign of it. Instead, they turn and swish away down the hall.
"Hey wait!" I call out. A waste of breath. They're gone.
Damn! What now?
How quickly things can change.
It wasn't all that many hours I was a gibbering wreck, clinging onto Jack's blood-stained jacket like it was a sacred relic, stumbling along tunnels with no real idea of where I was going, and no great necessity to reach my destination.
Now everything is different.
Jack is alive!
Just thinking those words sends sparks through me, my former numbness driven before them like clouds driven by the wind. I feel as though I've been given a second chance, the opportunity to get things right for once, and that thought both enervates and terrifies me in equal measure.
If only Jack weren't being forced to rely on me for his safety, but at the moment I am all he has....
I've got to get us both out of here, or die trying!
The moment my mind starts to think that way, at first I dismiss it as melodrama, but the more I think about it, the less I want to live in a world that doesn't have Jack in it too. I lived too long like that, denying the way I felt about the man, afraid of what he might think of me, and all along he was feeling the same way.
I've not had the luxury of time to think about the implications of what I feel for Jack, and now it's all I can think of, even though this probably isn't the best time to be thinking about anything but how to get out of here.
If only I get the chance for happiness, just this once....
If only Jack weren't having to rely on me....
First things first, I need some way to get Jack out of that manacle, or neither of us will be going anywhere.
The problem is, whenever I've seen any kind of tool, it's always been in the hand of a lizard.
Even in my extensive tours of their caverns, their storage areas, I haven't come across any stockpiled tools or weapons, so they must be in short supply.
As I haven't seen any evidence that they use fire, maybe the weapons and tools they do have are scavenged, not created.
How else could they work the metal?
That doesn't make my problem any easier to solve, whether the lizards are scavengers or not - I need something to effect a jail-break, and I need it soon.
I have a nasty feeling that Jack is going to be invited to dinner some time soon, and he's going to find himself the main course!
The lizard patrols are more frequent in the tunnels I'm currently travelling. I'm grateful for Sneezy's company - more than once he has alerted me before I've heard anything myself, sending me scuttling for cover just in time not to be discovered.
I've resolved myself to it - the only way I'm going to get Jack out of here is by taking a weapon from one of the lizards, using as much force as necessary.
I hate the idea of it - after all, they're just obeying their instincts. To them, Jack and I are doubtless just extra-large monkeys, but I can't sit by and watch nature take its course.
I tried to communicate with the lizards before, but I've no evidence that, though it's clear they are sentient, we have anything at all in common.
Without a common ground, how can there be communication?
I can't understand their language, they don't seem to have any kind of understanding of the pictographic representations I'd tried - there is no room within this chasm of knowledge for a bridge to be built.
Jack will be proud of me, I suppose - he always says I talk rather than act too much of the time. This time I seem to have no choice!
I bide my time, waiting for the best opportunity - as soon as I get hold of something to free Jack with, I know I won't have much time before the alarm is sounded. Then I have to remember that Jack is hurt too, so that will slow down our escape, and we need all the headstart we can manage. I'll have to hit whatever lizard I decide on hard enough to knock it out, to stop it raising the alarm, and I have no idea how hard is 'hard enough'.
My stomach heaves slightly at the thought that I might accidentally kill another sentient being, but when I think about what they would like to do to Jack, and to me too, if they had the chance, I decide it's worth the risk.
After what seems like an eternity of waiting, a single lizard comes down the tunnel towards me, its feet shuffling along, scuffing up tiny clouds of dust.
As it passes me, I jump out from my hiding place, grabbing at the weapon it is clutching in its foreleg. We sway for a moment, in some kind of grotesque parody of a dance, the lizard hissing at me, until I can wrest the weapon from the lizard's hand and strike it across the head. Time seems to stop as the lizard teeters there, before it crumples silently to the floor.
I stand over my victim, stunned by the enormity of what I have done. I want to check that I haven't killed it, that this planet hasn't stripped that last shred of human dignity from me, but I know that I don't have time. With one last glance back at the lizard where it lies crumpled on the tunnel floor, I turn and run for where Jack is being held.
Even as I approach the cell where Jack is, I can tell Jack is not alone. The hissing language of the lizards echoes up the tunnel towards me, and I don't know what to do. I have no idea how powerful this weapon I have stolen is - it could kill with a single shot for all I know, as I've never seen it in action. Stealing the weapon in the heat of the moment was one thing, but cold-blooded murder?
Walking as quietly as I can, I creep near to the doorway into Jack's cell.
From where I am standing I can see Jack, still lying against the wall of the cell, his face pale in the dim light. Even from here I can see the sweat on his forehead, and I realise that one of his wounds, probably that nasty one on his leg, must be infected. No surprise there, I suppose - we've been lucky so far in so many ways....
There are three lizards in the cell with Jack, and they seem to be conferring. Two of the lizards have what look like strips of cloth across their bodies, the first sign of any kind of clothing I've seen on any of the inhabitants of this underground world. I have no idea what it signifies though.
One of the lizards is reaching towards Jack, and it's then that I decide I've seen enough - taking a deep breath I step into the cell, weapon raised. The lizards wheel towards me, their eyes widening at the weapon I'm clutching, hissing at me and each other, a tone of alarm in their speech. One of them steps towards me and I raise the weapon slightly, trying to look threatening, like I'll use it.
The lizard doesn't stop, and I fire, at point blank range.
The fever is hitting me hard now and I'm wavering in and out of consciousness. The world seems to be spinning around me now, shapes and shadows undulating before my eyes. I hear things too, fragments of sounds, distorted. All I can do is lie on the cold floor and drift. Wishing for Daniel.
Three large shapes approach and I squint at them through blurry eyes. Are they real or a nightmare? I'm not sure it matters anymore. My reality is a nightmare.
They seem to be talking about something, me perhaps, but I can't make out speech. Just high-pitched sounds. I try to focus, to come awake, feeling that this is important, but it's hard to do.
Still, I manage to inch a bit closer and look upward. Praying that one of the shapes is Daniel. But he's not there, just three of the damned lizards. Two of them I recognize because of the colored stripes crossing their chests. The third one I don't recognize, but then, frankly, one lizard looks very much like another lizard.
They're definitely disagreeing, loudly, over something and I'm quickly certain that I'm it. Hell - they're probably trying to figure out if I'm worth eating and when. Damn, Daniel, now would be a good time to come to the rescue.
As if, for once in my life, my prayers have actually been heard by some omniscient force, Daniel choses just that moment to come rushing into my cell at full speed, an odd blunt instrument in his hand which I questionably identify as a weapon.
The third lizard reacts, moving between us, and Daniel proves me right. Raising the object he fires point-blank. Hit with a bright blast of blue light, the lizard goes down fast.
'All right, Daniel!" I want to shout.
What comes out is more of a croak, but hey, it's the thought that counts. Daniel darts over to me, still aiming the weapon at the other two lizards. He drops down beside me, his face taut and stressed, his blue eyes wide, his breath coming in short, harsh gasps.
"Jack! Are you all right? Jack!" he demands..
"I... uh... I'll be OK, just shoot this damn thing!" I answer, yanking on the chain trapping me. Daniel hesitates, his eyes focused on the two remaining watching lizards, then he swivels swiftly, blasting at the wall over my head. The chain breaks free and I'm loose, at last! I moan, as I cradle my wounded arm across my chest, the chain draping from my wrist across the floor.
"Thanks," I tell Daniel, a wealth of emotion in that simple word.
"You're welcome," he replies softly, even as he swings the weapon back to bear on the two lizards.
One of them starts to move, shuffling sideways, and Daniel raises the weapon. This lizard, the one with the blue stripe, stops, then gestures towards the crusty brown remnants of the figures I'd drawn on the floor earlier. Daniel looks at them, then darts a glance at me. I shrug.
"Well, I tried," I mutter. He gives me back a quick grin, then looks at Blue Stripe again, the weapon never wavering in his hand, slowly sliding forward to put himself between me and Blue Stripe. Blue Stripe seems to accept this, he waits until Daniel has positioned himself where he wants to be, then slowly raises the little device he's carrying and points over Daniel's shoulder at me.
Daniel doesn't like this, and frankly, neither do I. But before Daniel can react, the device is speaking. In my voice!
It says "Jack." The lizard changes the angle slightly to point at Daniel and it says "Daniel."
Well, I'll be damned! It's a recording device.
Daniel nods, slightly lowering his weapon and repeats, pointing with his free hand, first at me, "Jack," and then at himself, "Daniel."
Blue Stripe uses the device to repeat the names, then pauses and points at its own chest.
"Sheeeeezzaaa," it whistles. It points at the other lizard with the red stripe on its chest and hisses "Yiiiisheeee." Both sounds are repeated with the same gestures.
Daniel nods, then points, attempting to repeat the sounds.
"Sheezaa... Yishee." Blue Stripe grimaces, but seems to accept Daniel's pronounciation as a fair try. It points at Nosey and Sneezy, who are pressed up against my side, obviously terrified, and whistles, "eeeessseeee," after which the device emits my own term, "monkey." Daniel laughs and repeats both words, pointing at the monkeys. Then he gestures to include himself and me, and says, slowly, "human." Blue Stripe holds the device out and Daniel, obligingly repeats, "human."
Blue Stripe then turns to Red Stripe and gives off a long string of whistles and sounds. Red Stripe responds back, and they enter into a long conversation. They seem excited, both waving their expressive forearms around, looking at us and then each other, repeatedly.
I sure hope they've finally decided that we're too smart to eat. Leaning forward, I grab Daniel by the sleeve. He turns and slides over closer to me, wrapping his arm around me.
"Can you walk?" he whispers.
"I don't know. Let me try," I reply, honestly. We change position so that my good arm is wrapped around his shoulder and his is encircling my back. I put weight on my good leg as Daniel kneels up. Pain lances through my body with every shift of position, my head buzzing. By the time he's pulled me up to a semblance of a standing position, the entire room is wavering around me, sending waves of nausea through my belly.
"Jack!" Daniel cries out, clutching me closer. I lean heavily on him, trying hard not to vomit.
"I'm...uh...OK," I lie. I don't think he believes me, but at least I'm on my feet. Using him as a crutch, I even manage to take a couple of steps.
Oooh, that hurts!
I slump and suddenly there's another grip on me, holding me up. I turn my head and gasp.
It's Blue Stripe!
He left me no choice.
If I'd had a chance to think about it at all, reflect on what I was going to do, then maybe I wouldn't have pulled the trigger, but there was no time.
I've heard about the instincts that drive mothers to protect their children, that make you want to protect the ones you love, but I'd never felt them before. Not the way I felt about Jack, the way I felt as I entered that cell. I would have done anything to protect him at that moment, kill, die, anything. Any ideas I might have had about the sanctity of life went right out of the window where Jack's safety was concerned.
If I had ever harboured any suspicions that the feelings I had for a certain Air Force colonel were just a matter of convenience, just because we were there together, that moment would have driven them away for ever.
The lizard crumpled, a blast of blue light arcing between the weapon I was holding and the lizard's torso - even before it hit the ground I was moving over to Jack, my protective instincts on over-drive. He looks awful, his face blotchy, his breathing laboured - my worst fears about his wounds have been realised, he has a fever. I can almost feel the heat radiating from him even before I touch him to make sure. He's burning up!
"Jack! Are you all right? Jack!"
His eyes are glassy, and for a long moment he hesitates, before he manages to focus on me.
"I... uh... I'll be OK, just shoot this damn thing!"
I don't want to chance the lizards jumping me, there are two of them still standing after all, but if we're to ever get out of here that manacle has to go.
Jack's shaking so much, fine tremors wracking his body as he slumps there against the cell wall, and I dare not shoot the manacle itself, in case I hit him by mistake.
I blast away at the chain, aiming at the point where it's fixed to the wall - it comes away easily, falling to the floor with a clatter. Jack moans as his arm relaxes, aching muscles protesting at the change of position. He's clutching his injured arm to his chest, moaning in pain, but now we have a chance of escape.
"Thanks," he mutters, and I risk a glance down at him.
Such a simple word, deceptive in its simplicity, but it rushes through me - it takes a lot for Jack to say thanks to anyone, I've discovered over the time I've known him, and that makes the word even sweeter.
"You're welcome," I reply, wanting to say more, but I know this isn't the time or the place.
As if to prove it, one of the lizards starts to move - I catch the movement out of the corner of my eye and whirl to point the weapon in that direction. What is worrying is the way the world spins slightly as I move, but I need to keep up the facade. I can't let them know how weak I am, can't let my guard down.
The lizard that moved is the one with a blue sash across its torso, and it's gesturing towards something, its stubby foreleg moving excitedly. I venture a glance in that direction, and see figures on the floor, drawn in something that is brownish-red and drying.
After a moment, my stomach heaves slightly when I realise the medium Jack must have used to make those figures. And he says I'm too desperately interested in communication! I glance back at Jack, who shrugs - maybe my influence is having some effect on him after all?
"Well, I tried," he mutters, quietly.
Whatever this lizard is trying to say, I can see that Jack is even weaker than I am, despite the way he's trying to pretend he's not that badly hurt. I've heard some of the stories, of the injuries he's had, the missions he accomplished despite this or that broken bone, but that doesn't mean it wasn't agony every step of the way!
As I'm moving nearer to Jack, putting myself between him and the lizard, in case it decides to try something, it raises a device and I freeze, uncertain what to do.
Shooting one lizard in the heat of the moment was one thing, but I'm not completely convinced I'll be able to shoot all three, at least not before one of them gets to me.
I can't rely on Jack for any assistance either, I know, despite how much he'd want to help - the way he's cradling that arm of his, let alone the fever he's running, makes his chances of rendering assistance minimal.
That was the device - Jacks' voice, speaking his name.
Jack's voice again.
They want to communicate!
Despite me having shot one of their number, they want to talk!
Against my better judgment, and trying to ignore the way my heart is pounding, I lower my weapon and repeat the words. Then we move onto more complicated subjects - English to lizard is a different matter to lizard to English, it seems. The whistling and hissing is hard to replicate, but I try my best.
Enough communication, it's time to go.
It's been fun... I think, as Jack snags my sleeve, pulling me closer.
The lizards are deep in debate, their colleague still on the floor, unconscious I hope, and they seem to ignore us completely.
I wrap my arm round Jack, wincing slightly as the heat he's emitting sweeps over me - he's worse than I knew, but we have to get out of here.
What little basic first aid I've done tells me he needs to rest, take plenty of fluids, and I need to get his temperature down, but all of that will have to wait. If we don't get out of here soon, neither of us will have much more to worry about!
"Can you walk?" I whisper, still keeping an eye on the debating lizards.
"I don't know. Let me try," Jack responds, an answer so unexpected that I'm momentarily lost for words. I'd expected the O'Neill bravado, the 'I can handle anything' attitude, not this reliance on me and trust in my ability to get us both out of here - to be honest, that scares me!
I wrap my arm round Jack's back, feeling his arm loop round my shoulders - I brace myself to take Jack's weight, and see the way his eyes roll when he stands. So, some of the bravado is still there, even though he'd never admit he was in pain....
Jack slumps against me suddenly, his face pale and greenish - he looks like he's about to vomit.
"I'm... uh... OK," he mutters.
'Oh sure,' I think, 'sure you are, Jack...'
He takes a couple of steps, and for a moment everything seems okay, even though I'm sure he's biting his lip to stop himself from crying out with the pain. Just as he starts to stumble, slumping forwards, he stops suddenly.
One of the lizards is helping me to hold him up!
To say I'm surprised would be an understatement.
This goes straight through surprising, passing unexpected and leaving it standing, then right through to the other side - the phrase for today is paradigm shift...
Just when I thought I had the lizards pegged - sentient but not particularly discerning in their interactions with other species, except in the matter of what they tasted like, I was getting a salutory lesson in not judging a book by its cover. Of course I'm suspicious - after all, it's not so long ago that their sole interest in Jack seemed to be in fattening him up, but I have to take this gesture in good faith. The way Jack is at the moment leaves me no choice.
I have no illusions - there is no way I would be able to get myself and Jack out of this maze of tunnels without help, even if I knew where the exit was. We're both too weak.
Before we leave the cell, however, I need to know that the lizards and I are working to the same plan. I lower Jack as carefully as I can, letting him rest himself on a low ledge that runs the length of the cell - he slumps almost bonelessly, his eyes half-closed, head lolling back against the wall.
Dipping a finger in the blood of the monkey meat Jack had rejected, I start to make symbols on the wall nearby. I decide to start simply, drawing the sun, trees, the mountain, and it isn't long before the lizards are in conference again. I hope I've managed to get the right message over to them - that we need to leave these tunnels, get out into the sunlight again. If they never leave this labyrinth, we could be in trouble!
After a few minutes of hissing and whistling, one of the lizards bows its head to the other, inclining it slightly, before turning and leaving the cell.
'Uh oh,' I think, 'that's not good.'
The other lizard steps over to the wall I had been drawing on - gesturing at the trees I had drawn, its claws scraping across the representation of the sun, it gestures to me and Jack, a sweeping gesture that encompasses all of us.
Let's hope that means what I think it means....
Between us, the lizard and I, we manoeuvre Jack upright, his head still lolling in an alarming manner, and begin to half-carry, half-drag him down the tunnel, heading the same way that the other lizard went before.
Well, this will either be a very good idea, or a very bad one....
I'm too damned weak to do anything but let them hold me up, Daniel and the lizard. As much as I would like to pull away, to get as far away from the lizard as possible, I don't really have a choice. My bones feel like they've been changed into over-cooked noodles and the room is spinning too wildly for my head to cope with. I feel like I got stuck on a merry-go-round going too fast for far too long.
Whew! I think I'm sliding past hurting to past feeling. That's an improvement right? I know it's not, it means I'm worse, but it is still a temporary relief. Daniel pulls me away from the lizard and lowers me towards the floor. Oh good, sitting down is definitely better than standing up.
Now it is more like sitting in one of those Godawful teacup rides. My stomach definitely thinks so. Oh please let me not throw up again. My mouth still tastes like shit from the last time.
Hands take hold of me again, trying to pull me upward. Oh, Danny love, I don't think that's such a good idea. Oomph. That hurts. I'm not so numb after all. But I can feel Daniel next to me, supporting me, and that gives me a small rush of strength. As long as Daniel's here, it'll be OK. It has to be. I love him so much. I want to tell him that. I try, but my voice doesn't seem to come out right.
He shushes me, tightening his hold around my back. I lean against him. When we get home, and Doc Fraser fixes me up, I'm going to take him home and make love to him all night long. Maybe, if it's winter...I can't remember what time of the year it is. ..doesn't matter. We'll pretend it's winter if it's not, and still curl up in front of the fireplace. Yes, that's what we'll do. Turn up the airconditioning...
I wish someone'd turn up the airconditioning in here. I'm hot. No, wait, I'm cold. Well, whoever is fussing with the temperature gauges needs to fix them fast. I'll tell General Hammond just as soon as...
Oh, who just tilted the world? Whee! That feels better. Something damp and cool rubs over my forehead and I reach out to push it away. Something touches my leg - pain - and I yell.
"Watch out!" I reach out, trying to find Daniel. Gotta find Daniel. We're under attack.
"Goa'uld!" I shout. "Daniel, gotta stop Apophis!" He's got Skaara and... he's going to shoot us. No, not Daniel too. Please, I can't lose Daniel too. No, damn you, don't you dare make me live if you kill Daniel. Fucking snakehead! Kill me too and have done with it!
"Daniel!" I scream, struggling against the hands that are holding me down. They won't keep me from him, no one will. "Daniel!"
Darkness swoops down over me and carries me away.
I come awake slowly, the world rocking softly below me. I stir, moaning, my head aching, my throat dry and sore. I try to speak, but a warm voice tells me be quiet. A gentle hand strokes my cheek and I lean into it.
"Daniel?" I whisper, licking at arid lips.
"Yes," he whispers back, bringing up something to my lips. He lifts my head slowly and I discover water trickling into my mouth. I gulp at it, I'm so thirsty, but Daniel tells me to slow down.
"Just a little at first. More later," he says in that same low-voiced pitch. He gives me a bit more of the water, then puts it aside.
"What happened?" I ask, trying to bring recent events back into focus, but finding everything still hazy and uncertain.
"You were delirious with the fever. Sheezaa and I did the best we could. As far as I've been able to figure out, he's their equivalent of a biologist. He had some medicine and though I was terrified to give it to you, I didn't see any alternative." Daniel's voice shook openly with emotion, his grip on me tightening. "I thought you were going to die on me."
"I'm sorry," is all I can think of to say. I hate seeing Daniel this upset, especially when I'm the cause.
"Not your fault," he replies with a wry chuckle. "Anyway, it seems to have worked."
"Yeah," I reply hoarsely. "I do feel a bit better." I try to sit up and the world spins crazily, so I drop back into Daniel's embrace. Maybe not so much better after all.
"Easy, love," he tells me. "You need to rest." That does sound good, but I've got this bad feeling that I'm forgetting something - or a lot of somethings.
"Wait a minute," I say, struggling again to sit up. This time I manage it, though my head instantly punishes me, the pounding behind my eyes turning into a full scale drilling operation. "We've got to get outta here! The lizards... Where are we?" I have a bad feeling that I'm not making any sense at all, but Daniel seems to understand.
"It's OK. Sheeza and Yishee are helping us. From the way they're acting, I get the sense they're operating with official sanction or whatever the lizard equivalent is, but they do seem to want to help. They've put us in a boat made of that weird plasticky-white metal of theirs. Hopefully, we're on our way out."
"Sheeza?" I imitate, trying to pick up Daniel's whistling pronunciation of that name. "You mean Blue Stripe? He's helping us?" I am more than a little incredulous even though Blue Stripe had seemed the least threatening and the smartest of the bunch so far.
Daniel chuckles lightly. "Yes, that's the one. He's been pumping me for words, recording them with that little device of his. As far as I can tell, though, our language is too low-pitched for him to be able to pronounce it. Goodness knows I'm having trouble with theirs. I'm only guessing, but I think they hear and speak on higher levels of the auditory spectrum than we do, so that I'm only hearing part of their language, not all of it. The same may be true when they try to listen to us. I guess the device compensates somehow."
Resting in his arms, I let his voice flow over me. I'm not really listening, just enjoying the sound itself. His voice is like the rest of Daniel, beautiful. Silken strength. I can lose myself in it.
The boat jerks, water splashing up over the side and sprinkling us both. I cling to Daniel as he lifts his head and looks around. Blue Stripe is gesturing, whistling loudly, and I can see a look of focused frustration settling on Daniel's face. He wants to understand so badly. But he obviously can't.
Blue Stripe lands the boat against a small ledge, and motions to us to go. He seems in a hurry, his gestures are getting more and more frantic. The whistling sounds increase in intensity and suddenly I realize that they're not all coming from Blue Stripe, they're coming from behind us also. I turn my head, wincing in pain, just in time to see a second boat full of lizards coming up behind us.
I'm really worried about Jack.
Even as the lizard and I are half-carrying and half-dragging him down the tunnel to who knows where, he's slumped against me, his face still pale and drawn, heat still coming off him in waves. He's muttering something, and I strain to try and hear it, but to no avail - it's so indistinct, I'm not sure if he's even speaking English, or whether the fever is taking control even more. Even the small amount of sound that Jack is making worries me, as we travel, an unlikely group, down these echoing tunnels. The lizards are silent as we travel, as are Sneezy and Nosey, who skitter along around us.
Somehow, they always seem to be able to avoid our feet, occasionally scampering ahead as if they are scouting out the trail.
We need to rest though, as Jack is getting worse, the further we travel. Even the lizards are giving him glances - their faces aren't conducive to the expression of emotion, but I think they are worried too.
Finally, after what seems an eternity of travelling down the same featureless tunnels, we reach a small cavern where the river makes a natural harbour. Between myself and the lizards, we manhandle Jack into a small boat that is moored there, and push off from the jetty.
We lay Jack down in the boat as gently as we can, though I think he's so far gone in the fever now that he wouldn't feel it anyway. One of the lizards rummages in the front of the boat for a little while, coming up with what looks like a canteen clutched in its claws. Another piece of the strange plastic-metal material, with a stopper that fits snugly into the top of it.
Shuffling over towards where I'm squatting beside Jack, it hands the canteen to me, hesitantly, scuttling back as soon as I have it.
I open it, still suspicious, and sniff the contents - I can't smell anything, though I can feel the weight shift as the liquid contents slosh about. I decide to risk a taste, only to discover that it is water. Not the best I've ever tasted, but we have no choice - I need to try and cool Jack down, reduce his temperature if I can.
Jack is becoming more and more delirious, thrashing about, his head rolling from side to side. The sweat is running from him now, individual droplets standing out clearly against the pallor of his skin. I find a cloth in my jacket pocket, and wet it, applying it to his forehead.
Jack reacts, violently, lashing out with an arm unexpectedly, and I stumble slightly, landing on Jack's leg.
He screams with the pain, and then starts shouting, clearly lost in some nightmare.
"Watch out!" Jack screams, and for a moment I wonder where he thinks he is. Then, all too soon, I get the answer to my unspoken question.
"Goa'uld!" he shouts. "Daniel, gotta stop Apophis!"
So, in his mind, Jack is back in the dungeon on Chulak, I guess, and we are in danger.
Jack is screaming my name, over and over again, his voice hoarse with the pain he must be feeling. All I can do is try and hold him down, hope that he feels some comfort from my holding him, and ignore the sounds of distress that the lizards are making behind me.
Then, after what seems like an eternity, it's over.
Jack slumps back, exhausted, losing consciousness before he hits the bottom of the boat again, the river tunnel still echoing to his cries.
I feel so helpless.
Not long after Jack had lapsed into unconsciousness, one of the lizards was again tentatively offering me something. Another canister, this one smaller, marked with symbols that I recognise as one of the languages I had found, what seems like a lifetime ago, in the castle.
Were these things, these tools and containers, the relics of the civilisation that built the castle?
And how are the lizards involved?
Are they just the race that found what the earlier civilisation had discarded, like people pulling apart ancient temples for building materials?
Removing the lid of this container, I take a hesitant sniff at the contents and immediately regret it. A bitter smell hits the back of my mouth, making me gag slightly, until I can slap the lid back on.
The lizards are watching me intently, not that they ever watch in any other way, and when they see me notice their attention, one of them waves its stubby foreleg towards Jack.
I have to believe that they are trying to help us still, though there is really no reason why they should.
If this is medicine...?
All I can think is that this is a risk I will have to take, I will have to trust them, that they knew what they were doing when they gave me this.
But first I have to figure out what to do with it - the cursory glance I gave the canister's contents showed a blueish paste. Its consistency looked a little like molasses, so it could be an ointment, or it could be meant to be taken orally.
With the lizards eyes still on me, I raise the canister, miming removing the lid and scooping out some of the glop inside with my finger. When I reach my hand out towards Jack's leg, and the injury there, they hiss significantly, and I make my guess. Not ointment then. I raise my finger to my mouth, and the lizards whistle, shaking their heads slightly and coming towards where I am crouched. Maybe it has to be administered in water?
When I raise the canteen I had been given earlier, the lizards relax, and I set about giving Jack the medicine.
I've never been a particularly patient person, despite the long hours I've spent poring over ancient artifacts and manuscripts - I was always fine as long as I had something to study.
But now I have to wait, and I hate it with a passion!
All my over-tired brain can do is conjure up images of myself alone, of Jack as he was a little while ago, delirious. I try not to think of Jack being ill in purely selfish terms, in what it would mean to me if he died, but tiredness is bringing out a selfish streak I never suspected I had.
When, after what seems like a life-time of waiting, Jack finally begins to stir again in my arms, and those guilty thoughts scuttle away, back to the dark recesses of my mind.
Jack tries to speak, his voice a croaky whisper - his first word warms my heart in a way that still amazes me.
"Daniel?" he whispers, the word hissing and croaking its way out through cracked lips.
"Yes," I reply quietly, concentrating on giving him a little water.
The fever seems to have broken, and there is a more natural colour to Jack's face - it seems that the lizard medicine worked.
"Just a little at first. More later," I promise, when Jack tries to gulp down the water I'm giving him. He subsides at this, slumping back against me.
"What happened?" Jack asks, his voice still croaky.
I explain then, that I had given him the medicine the lizards had given me, my voice shaking with the fear I had been trying to suppress.
"I thought you were going to die on me," I conclude, glad that Jack can't see my face as I speak.
"I'm sorry," Jack says, quietly.
From just the tone of Jack's voice, I can tell he knows what I was thinking, the desperation I was feeling, not knowing if the medicine would work or not.
"Not your fault," I say, trying to lighten the mood. "Anyway, it seems to have worked."
"Yeah," he croaks. "I do feel a bit better."
Then, of course, being the indestructible Jack O'Neill, he tries to extricate himself from my arms. Even as I reluctantly start to let go of him, he teeters slightly, dropping back into my arms with a shaky sigh.
"Easy, love - you need to rest."
'We both need to rest,' I think, still wondering when we'll next see some food.
After a few moments of quiet, while I'm just appreciating the feeling of having my arms wrapped round Jack again, I feel him tense up and then Jack begins to speak again.
"We've got to get outta here! The lizards... Where are we?"
"It's OK..." I begin, explaining what has been going on while Jack was delirious. I try to put as much certainty into my voice as I can, as much belief that the lizards are doing the right thing for the right reason, but I can tell Jack isn't convinced.
"You mean Blue Stripe? He's helping us?" Jack asks, his voice full of unspoken questions.
I try to explain as best I can, telling Jack my theories about the lizards, their language, but I get the feeling that he's not really listening to me - it won't be the first time he's blanked out one of my 'lectures', so I can't find it in my heart to be offended. I'm just glad that he's here to be on the receiving end once more.
My thoughts are interrupted by a swell of water that washes over the bow of the boat, wetting us both - something has got the lizards worried, I can tell, as they have started hissing and whistling to each other, looking back to where we have come from. Their tone is more and more agitated, and I try to look back, to see what is worrying them so, conscious of Jack hanging onto me as I move.
With a jolt, we hit a small ledge, which runs along the river for a few yards before disappearing into another tunnel - Sheeza is gesturing to me, the hissing becoming more and more frenetic every moment.
We are being pursued!
Somehow, with much pushing and heaving, we manage to get Jack safely onto the ledge, which proves to be wider than it looked before, I'm very glad to say. Of course, the running commentary of swear-words while this was going on were not really all that helpful, but I couldn't bring myself to tell Jack to shut up.
"Thank you," I say, searching fruitlessly for words enough to express my feelings towards the two lizards who had brought us here. I misjudged them and their motives, but they have obviously risked the anger of their kind to help us escape, and I am a little ashamed of my actions towards them earlier.
Without a backward glance, they push off, sailing away down the current, their last action before leaving to throw a bag in our direction, which lands with a thump on the ledge.
I decide we shouldn't wait around to see if the other lizards are following us or not - wrapping my arm round Jack's back, taking as much of his weight from his damaged leg as he will allow, we set off down the ledge, entering the tunnel as quickly as we can.
Even the air here smells different, and after a few minutes, I realise that the light level is increasing - there is daylight in this tunnel!
A shuffling noise from behind us makes us re-double our efforts to move faster - even though I can hear Jack's gasps of pain as his injured leg trembles under his weight, he doesn't complain. Chancing a glance at him, I realise that Jack is biting his lip to stop from crying out, biting it so hard that there is a small trickle of blood running down from his mouth.
We can't go on like this.
Pulling Jack with me, I shuffle behind a large outcropping of rock, fumbling around in the bag the lizards left for the weapon I know must be in there s omewhere. Even as I hear the lizards coming closer, my hand closes on it, and now I am ready.
This stops here.
|Continued in Part 5...|