Oh fucking hell! Now we've gotta get out of the boat. Shit that hurts. God damn, watch the leg will ya? OK, OK, I know we gotta hurry, really I do. I have no desire to tangle with entire boat full of hungry lizards. I'm moving. I am.
Oh mother-fucking bloody shit hell...
I curse violently as Daniel half carries, half drags me out of the boat and up onto the ledge with Blue Stripe's help. Nosey and Sneezy leap up after us, huddling behind us as Red Stripe tosses a bag after us and then take off. Daniel grabs the bag, grabs me, and pulls us down a tunnel.
I stop swearing simply because it hurts too much even to speak. Daniel's taking as much of my weight as he can, but there's only so much he can do. He's exhausted too, he has to be, and he's got the bag the good lizards gave us as well.
Still, I manage to keep moving. Hell, this isn't quite so bad as when I had to walk through the desert with a concussion and broken ribs. At least I'm not alone this time.
I grit my teeth, bite down on my bottom lip to keep from screaming, and force myself to take one step at a time. Just step, step, step... I can do this. I've got to keep going. I won't let Daniel down. Not now, not when we've got a chance to get free. I can, literally, see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can do this...
Daniel suddenly moves us sideways, gently settling me to the ground behind a large outcropping of rock. It is then that I hear the noises behind us, moving closer. I know that swishing sound now, it is lizards and lots of them. They are not speaking, but I know they will find us soon.
A low grunt of triumph from Daniel makes me turn to look in his direction. He's brandishing one of those small blunt lizard guns, lifting his head and shifting closer to the open edge of the tunnel. He's preparing to fight.
I lick at my lips, trying to tell him - I'm not sure what, just something - that I love him, to be careful, escape without me - but nothing comes out. Nothing I say would matter now, anyway. There's nothing I can do but sit here, taste my own blood in my mouth, and wait while Daniel fights for us both.
He inches forward, entire body tensed, both hands closed around the alien device. All I want to do is scream with frustration and fear. I want more than anything to be the one protecting him, not the other way around. He shouldn't have to face this, he's a scholar not a soldier. Instead of having to kill to save our lives, he ought to be safe and cared for back on Earth, buried in his books and ancient pottery, typing away on his computer, the lamp light turning his hair to burnished copper.
A loud whistling sound warns that the lizards have found us. Daniel rises from his crouch and begins to fire. A blast hits the top of the rock protecting us. Pebbles and dust hail down on my head. Daniel ducks back, then twists forward again, firing again and again. Another blast sends him falling backwards and I reach up to catch him. I somehow manage to steady him long enough for him to catch his breath.
He straightens up and moves relentlessly back into the fray.
I feel so damn helpless!
I can hear the lizard's version of shouting now. I can't tell if that is pain or rage or fear or something else in their tones. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that Daniel survives. Please, please, if there is any God out there, let Daniel survive.
He's still firing, ducking back, moving forward to fire again. There are three more blasts in our direction, one sending Daniel flying away from me. I can see him roll across the tunnel floor in a lop-sided somersault and come up firing. Blue light flares wildly and I cover my eyes and scream his name.
Then there is silence.
They're coming, and this time I'm ready for them.
From where Jack and I are crouching, behind the minimal protection of an outcropping of rock, I can hear the lizards shuffling as they come closer and closer. My hand tightens reflexively round the weapon I'm holding, my mouth suddenly becomes dry, and the realities of the responsibility that I'm about to take onto myself become more evident to me.
I'm responsible for keeping us safe, maybe even for keeping us alive - I don't want to kill any of our pursuers, but I know I may not have the luxury of choice. Whatever happens here, I can't allow the lizards to capture us again.
I can feel Jack watching me, his eyes burning into my back, as I edge my way round the rock slightly, hoping to see them before they see me. Part of me wants to say something profound, just in case, but I don't want to chance it. Some strange sense of foreboding grips me, as if saying my goodbyes can somehow make the worst possible outcome come to pass.
A whistling sound heralds the advance of the lizards towards where we are hidden, the leader of the pursuers signalling our position to the rest of them. Without waiting for them to come any closer, I open fire, ducking back when they respond, dust and splinters of rock raining down on me.
Another blast follows, this one far too close, and I stumble backwards, straight into Jack's arms. As much as I want to stay there, I can feel his heart hammering against my back as I catch my breath, and that strengthens me, makes me more determined to keep fighting till my last breath.
I try to keep moving forward, laying down a steady stream of blasts from the weapon I hold, dust flying as I squint towards where our pursuers are sheltering. I can't even tell if I've hit any of them yet, but it's not for lack of trying.
Then, through the clouds of dust, I hear a thump as one of the lizards hits the tunnel floor with a thump. Just then, a blast hits too close, and I leap away from the beam as it arcs towards me, slamming into where the wall and floor meet, an ungainly tangle of limbs. As my head spins, the world momentarily upside-down, all I can hear is my name echoing through the tunnel.
I'm winded by the impact, but still aware of the silence that has fallen in the tunnel.
Even as I'm lying there, dragging in a shaky breath, I hear the shuffling sounds that mark the movement of two lizards, coming closer and closer. I feign unconsciousness, half-closing my eyes and trying not to twitch.
My name echoes down the tunnel again.
'Damnit, Jack,' I think, 'not now!'
From under my eyelashes, I surreptitiously watch the lizards coming closer and closer to where I am lying, playing possum.
'Just a little closer.'
As the first one approaches me, my hand tightens instinctively on my weapon, and, at the same moment the lizard pauses. For one long moment, I wonder how much those large, unblinking, yellow eyes have seen, and freeze again. The lizard comes closer, his cohort still a little further away, more suspicious maybe?
Even as I'm readying myself to fire, for the sudden movement that I will need to make to surprise my would-be attacker, I hear another noise, coming from where I had left Jack. Something tells me that Jack is trying to come to the rescue....
Even with the way that the echoing sound in the tunnel distorts Jack's voice, I can hear the fear and concern in it.
Both lizards turn then, drawn to the noise, looking for its source, and I open fire, striking the first in the chest. It crumples, hissing, becoming silent before it hits the ground. Even as I fire at my first target, the other lizard turns, faster than I could ever have thought possible, levelling its weapon at me, yellow eyes fixed on my face.
We are in deadlock, weapons aimed at each other - stalemate.
My mind is racing, looking for a solution, but finding no way out. I risk a quick glance towards where Jack is, and find he is standing beside the outcropping, resting his weight on it while he rummages in the bag that Yisshee and Sheezaa gave us. Turning back to the lizard, it is still focussed intently on me, its weapon gripped in an unshaking paw. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of silver-white.
Before my mind can make sense of it, I see the lizard crumple, watching in astonishment as it hits the ground, the weapon which had been pointing at me now flying from its nerveless paw. Some distance away from where the second lizard is lying is the canister of medicine, a nasty dent in one side, presumably from impact with the lizard's head.
Turning to where Jack is, he favours me with a shaky grin, his hand massaging the biceps of his throwing arm.
I pause briefly, gathering the lizard's weapons, as well as retrieving the canister that had just saved my life, before returning to where Jack is.
His smile is still shaky, as he watches me come closer. Dumping all that I'm holding into the bag that's lying by Jack's feet, where he must have dropped it after finding the canister, I straighten up and wrap myself around him. I'm careful to avoid putting pressure on his wounded arm, but I feel him relax perceptibly as we embrace.
I don't know about Jack, but I'm just glad to be alive! And some time soon, when he's better, I intend to show him just how good being alive can be....
I pull back slightly from our embrace, nuzzling at Jack's ear, before making a swift move round to his mouth. He is eager, despite the way he is trembling with weakness, but I know that neither of us are in any condition to get too passionate now. Shame.
Settling for a swift kiss, our tongues exploring each other's mouths briefly, I pull back, a little reluctantly.
"We should go," I whisper, kissing the sensitive skin beneath Jack's ear again.
Even as he is writhing slightly at what my mouth is doing to him, I hear Jack groan, both in need and in agreement. Much as I would love to stay like this forever, with my arms wrapped round the man I love, I know we really have to leave here, get as much distance between us and the lizards before they wake up.
Disentangling myself from Jack's embrace, still reluctant to let go of him, I manoeuvre myself round till I'm taking as much of Jack's weight as he will allow me to. He's smiling still, his eyes sparkling with life in a way that I'd feared not long ago I would never see again.
Leaning down as far as I can with Jack clutching onto me, I snag the bag from where it lies, swinging it till it hooks over my shoulder. It's not heavy, despite the canteen of water and the weapons, let alone whatever else might be in there that I don't know about, but it is awkward, putting me a little off-balance.
"Let's blow this popsicle stand, Daniel," Jack drawls, with a grin.
Grinning back at him, catching the infectiousness of his smile, I can't help wondering how I've ever deserved to have the love of this man, what I'd ever do without him.
"Let's..." I echo, and we set off, slowly of course, but steadily heading away from our time in captivity.
"Daniel!" I scream helplessly, panic tearing through me. Oh God, Daniel…
He's lying there in a boneless heap on the ground, not moving. I try to push myself up, try to move closer to him. He can't be dead. He can't be - and if he is, then let the damned lizards get me. I don't care. I don't want to live without him. I feel as though I'm sinking back into that quagmire of quicksand and this time I want to let it swallow me up.
Time itself slows as I barely make it up on one knee, ignoring the pain as it strikes violently. I clutch at the nearest handhold of rock, forcing my legs to support me, even the wounded one. I have to touch him. I have to…
His hand moved. I know I saw it. His fingers clenched, his arm shifted, just slightly. What does that mean? Is it just a dying reflex or does it mean he's alive? Maybe just wounded? If so, then I've got to do something. I need a weapon of some sort, any sort. There's got to be a big enough rock or…
The bag! Maybe there's another weapon in it. I scramble forward, half-crawling, half-dragging myself on one hand and one leg. I get to the bag, but this also gives me a better view down the tunnel. Two lizards are close, too close, their weapons aimed unerringly at Daniel's prone form.
I can't help myself. In aching desperation I shout his name. "Daniel!"
The lizards turn in my direction, their weapons swinging around. Fine, let them come after me.
There's a blast of blue light, bright, nearby, and I gulp for air, certain that I'm dead. But I'm not. One of the lizards crumples to the ground and the other spins back in Daniel's direction. Daniel! He has risen up to a crouch, his weapon pointed directly at the second lizard. I gape at him, stunned, then suddenly understand. He'd been playing possum. Oh clever Daniel! I ought to be pissed at him for terrifying me like that, but all I can feel is a deep and intense pride.
'Well done!" I want to shout, but I know not to distract him. Daniel and the lizard are locked into a Mexican standoff, each aiming at the other, barely a couple of feet apart. He needs to stay focused; anything that causes him to lose concentration could prove deadly. Instead, it is the lizard I need to distract.
The bag is still at my feet and I turn to it frantically. My broken forearm hampers me. I'm right-handed, so depending on my left isn't easy. I've done firearm training with my left hand but I don't have a gun. And there's apparently no other weapon in here. Just a small metal canister and some fruit.
So I make use of what I've got. Hauling out the canister, I drop the bag and brace myself against the outcropping of rock. Pushing upward with my good leg, I somehow manage to reach a standing position. Cautiously, I put some weight on my wounded leg. Even expecting the pain, it shocks me. I shake, but refuse to give up.
The lizard isn't paying any attention to me. Its yellow eyes are riveted on Daniel. Good. I heft the canister in my left arm, swing it back over my head and then fling it forward. Right at the bastard's head.
It hits with a satisfying clunk. The lizard silently topples over, the weapon clattering out of its hand. All right! That was worth the pain! I'm still in this game yet. So take that you slimy lizard bastards! Yeah!
I notice that Daniel is staring at me and I grin at him. The effort is catching up with me fast, but I don't care. Even the fact that both arms are now hurting doesn't matter. We won!
Daniel's mouth creases in an echo of my smile, then he bends to pick up both weapons and the canister, tucking them back into the bag at my feet before coming to me. I'm willing to wait just for the look in his eyes as he reaches out to hold me. He's cautious, obviously taking care to not hurt my arm, but I don't care. I settle into him, letting him hold me, holding onto him with the one arm I can use.
Daniel squeezes me, then pulls back far enough to aim for my ear. He nibbles at it, then shifts to kiss me on the mouth. That touch, fleeting, tender, is exquisite. The taste of his mouth, sweet and hot, is precious to me. I return his caress, opening my mouth to let him explore me, then taking a quick sweep of him in return. Just making sure he's real, he's there, he's mine again.
Then he pulls out of the kiss, lingering long enough to kiss the side of my neck. That sends a jolt through my body, reminding me that I can still feel something other than pain.
"We should go," he whispers, his breath warming my skin. I groan, knowing he's right, but hating to let go of this. Of him. But he's already shifting around, moving sideways so that he can tuck his arm under mine. I can live with that for now, feeling the bony side of his hips press against my own.
He bends over to pick up the bag, slinging it over his other shoulder, stumbling slightly as he tries to support me and carry it at the same time. I discover that I'm still smiling, rather inanely, so I go with, grinning even more widely at him.
"Let's blow this popsicle stand, Daniel," I say softly, trying to invest the words with humor.
His return smile is quintessential Daniel, starting off shy and sweet, building into passionate enthusiasm. God how I love this man!
"Let's..." he says, guiding me forward. Walking hurts, but far less than it did before. There's light ahead of us, true sunlight, and we move slowly, but steadily towards it, together.
When we are finally outside in the forest again, I lift my face to the sunlight streaming down among the leaves and sigh. I can't help wanting to collapse right there and then, spreading myself out and drinking in the glorious sight of the day. The air is fresh, clean, flower-scented. The trees look more inviting than they ever had before. Damn if I'm not happy to see them.
Daniel urges me forward again and I follow his lead. He's right, we need to put as much distance between us and the lizard tunnels. Somehow I don't think they often venture outside, but given that monkey is a part of their diet, they must make at least occasional forays out of their tunnels. Therefore, distance is a necessity.
We walk for what seems hours to me, though I know it's not really that long. The problem is that my leg is still a major problem. My fever is gone, but the wound is not healed, and each step puts additional stress on it. While I don't want to stop, don't want to be a burden on Daniel, the pain slowly eats away at my remaining strength. Finally, I stagger, unable to still a ragged gasp of pain.
"Jack?" Daniel calls out softly.
"I…uh…how 'bout a short rest stop?" I suggest, biting off the words to keep them from turning whiny.
"Yes, of course, I should have thought…" Daniel says, his words tumbling as he lowers me to the ground. I drop onto my ass with a sigh of relief, then reach out to stop him from continuing.
"It's OK. I just need a minute."
He stares down at me, then shakes his head.
"You need more than a minute. Why didn't you say something sooner?" he demands. He sits down beside me, rummaging through the bag while he waits for an answer.
"We needed to cover some ground," I state the obvious. He sighs, but doesn't bother to argue with me. Instead, he retrieves the canister from the bag and proceeds to mix the contents - a bluish paste - with some water from the canteen. He holds up the gooey results, cupped in his hands to my mouth.
"Drink this," he orders.
I look at doubtfully.
"Jack! It helped before. Drink it!" he commands again. I make a face, but give in as gracefully as I can. I lean forward and let him dribble it into my mouth.
"Yuck! That tastes like shit!" I complain, pulling away. He glares at me. I glare back. His mouth droops, a sad expression darkening his eyes. I pout, but he refuses to relent. And I've never been able to stand up to that look on his face. Hell, I've never been able to refuse this man anything.
Squishing my nose, I give in and let him feed me another mouthful of the foul-tasting concoction. He rewards me with a warm smile and kiss. Well, in that case, maybe this stuff ain't so bad after all.
There's some fruit in the bag thanks to the two good lizards, and we make a meal of it. The sun is beginning to set and the events of the past-I-don't-know-how-many - days is catching up with me. I yawn loudly, suddenly unable to keep my eyes open. Daniel glances at me, then reaches for the bag again. This time, he pulls out the weapons.
"Get some sleep," he tells me. I protest, but he's adamant.
"You need it more than I do. I'll wake you later."
"You'd better," I reply sleepily, my eyes nailing shut on me even as I speak. I barely hear his grunt of a response before I slide into unconsciousness.
It still seems strange for me to be keeping watch over Jack.
Somehow, his protective attitude towards me, that I've seen on so many missions in the past, seems so natural, that this sudden role reversal is a little difficult to handle at times.
I've shifted position, squirming around until Jack's head is pillowed on my leg, one of my hands stroking his hair as he sleeps. He must have been even more exhausted than I suspected, he's so deeply asleep, not having stirred when I moved him.
I desperately want to sleep too, but I know it's not safe here, and that knowledge keeps my eyes open when they might otherwise have closed by now.
Jack frowns slightly in his sleep, and I stroke my hand down over the lines, as if I can take them away. At least the fever hasn't returned, for which I'm eternally grateful to our lizard friends - I don't think I could cope with feeling that helpless again any time soon.
When Jack is asleep, the way that his face relaxes takes years from him, belying the grey that's starting to pepper his temples - all I am reminded of is when we first met, and how far we've travelled since then.
If someone had told me that the Stargate project would change my life, I'd have laughed at them - I wasn't looking for a life-changing experience, I was just looking for a way to make ends meet.
I was alone in the world, ridiculed by my peers, without any hope of getting a job in the academic world any time this century, so I leaped at the chance of the security Catherine was offering, even if it was short term.
Meeting Jack was the cherry on the cake - it took me a little while to see that this was the case, I have to admit, but that doesn't mean I wasn't instantly attracted to him. I've always had a thing about men in uniform, and he was about as military as you could get. His eyes were dark and mysterious, but also cold - there was something frozen about Jack, rigid and brittle.
And now look at us.
After all the ridicule, I was right, even though I was never able to say 'I told you so' to any of my detractors, and I'm stuck here now as a result of it all.
And Jack.... well, something of the ice at the core of the man has melted, leaving behind the man I was proud to call my friend and am now delighted to find harbours a passion for me that equals mine for him.
How lucky can one man get?
I watch the dawn rise, my hand still resting on Jack's head - he's slept dreamlessly this time, unlike the fever-induced nightmares he had suffered before, and I am reassured by this.
I have no idea where we are, or how long we were underground - we lost all track of time, and the way that the tunnels curved round, distance was impossible to calculate either. For all I know, we could be just the other side of the hill from where we started, or halfway across the planet!
It's time for breakfast, even if Jack isn't awake yet, or, with the way my stomach is rumbling again, it's soon going to serve as an alarm clock. I manage to pull the bag closer to where I'm sitting, reaching awkwardly into it, in an attempt to keep from waking Jack.
He grumbles slightly in his sleep when I move, but soon settles down again.
As I'm tucking into one of the fruits, the weapon temporarily lying beside me on the leaf-covered ground, there is a movement in the trees nearby.
Please god, don't let it be one of those cat-things!
Dropping the fruit, which rolls away across the ground, gathering leaves to its stickiness, I reach for the weapon, bringing it up as smoothly as I can to point towards the movement I spotted earlier.
For a moment, nothing happens, then there is a rustling sound, and two small monkeys come bursting out of the bushes, chittering and bouncing around where I am sitting.
It is all I can do not to shoot them, they appear so suddenly, one of them pouncing on the fruit I have dropped with what sounds like a triumphant cry.
"I'm glad to see you too," I say, making shushing noises as they dance around me. "But keep the noise down!"
With a start, Jack wakes up, struggling slightly as he tries to make sense of his surroundings.
"It's okay," I say, still stroking Jack's head, and he relaxes as suddenly as he had wakened, grinning up at me.
"Morning," he croaks.
"It was morning a while ago," I reply, leaning down despite the uncomfortable angle to kiss him.
As I do so, Jack's hand comes up unobserved, his fingers wrapping themselves into my hair, holding me in place for a deeper kiss than I had planned. When we finally separate, panting slightly for air, Jack just grins again.
"You're feeling better then," I observe, grinning back at him.
After we share the last of the fruit between us, watched avidly by Sneezy and Nosey, it's time to move on. As I pick up the bag, the canister of medicine rolls out, and is pounced on by Sneezy - after a brief tussle, I retrieve it, and the markings on the side of it, even twisted slightly as they are by the way the metal is dented, catch my eye again.
I must have stood there for a moment or two, my fingertips running over the markings, which seem slightly raised from the metal surface - although I can't read them I recognise them as one of the languages from the chamber in the castle.
If only I knew what they meant...
Jack's voice shakes me from my contemplation of the canister, and I smile a little sheepishly, stuffing the container back into the bag.
I help Jack up from the ground, and he seems to be able to put a little more weight on his leg today. We set off again, travelling across as level ground as we can find, to put as much distance as possible between us and the lizards.
Sneezy and Nosey seem content to amble along with us, rather than rush ahead, as if they don't want to let us out of their sight again.
After a couple of hours travel, we find another clump of fruit trees and stop for a rest - having the monkeys with us comes into its own now, as they retrieve fruit for us, dropping it down so we can catch it. Once we have eaten our fill, we rest, and this time it is Jack watching over me, at his insistence, as I fall into a fitful sleep.
The sky is full of fire - great clouds of smoke and steam are wafting over the top of the mountain, obscuring its lower regions from view.
I am not myself, but there seems a naturalness to the way I am moving, leaping from one tree to another with previously unknown agility, so I do not spare any time to wonder at it.
All I know is that I must see what has happened, what has come to this place.
As I leave the tree-line, heading up the mountain, I can feel the heat as I reach the place where it has happened.
What is that thing that lies half-buried by the wreckage of the trees it has ploughed into? Nothing I have ever seen before has prepared me for this strange object, the way that the light glints from it, casting strange rays from its silver-white surface.
And now something is moving, part of the side of the thing itself, moving smoothly, opening to reveal its contents to this, my planet.
They are here.
Loud chirping noises bring me awake, though I feel groggy. It takes me a moment to remember where I am. A hand strokes my hair, tenderly, and I focus on it. Daniel. I open my eyes and relax into his touch.
"Morning," I say, my voice cracking. My throat is dry and a bit sore. Yet otherwise, to my surprise, I feel far better than I have in quite a while. Maybe it's just the sunshine that is shimmering down on our heads, filtering through the thick green foliage.
"It was morning a while ago," he replies, leaning down to kiss me. The touch of his lips, whisper soft on mine, is a tantalizing delight. I clutch at the heavy silken strands of his hair, keeping his mouth on mine so that I can savor it. Better than any other breakfast imaginable.
When we pull apart to breathe, I know that I'm grinning idiotically at him. But it feels so good to be here with him, alive, and about as safe as we're likely to be on this planet.
"You're feeling better then," Daniel says, echoing my smile.
"Ya think?" I reply, taking a stab at my customary sarcasm. It doesn't quite work, since I'm still smiling like a kid at his birthday party, but that's OK. Daniel understands. He laughs and kisses me again.
Then he settles back, pulling me up into a sitting position. We bind my right arm inside of my jacket, using it as a sling, then busy ourselves with finishing off the rest of our fruit. The monkeys watch us as we make a game of our meal, popping pieces of fruit into each other's mouths, licking at sticky fingers. Having fun you little voyeurs? I sure am!
Daniel becomes all business once we're finished our elongated meal. I know that he's worried about the lizards following us, but for some reason I doubt it. I have a feeling that they don't venture far from their caves, particularly not in daytime. Still, I certainly don't mind getting the hell away from here.
Daniel packs up the meager rest of our supplies in the bag, stopping to gaze wide-eyed at the metallic canister. There are odd marking on it, and Daniel, of course, is simply fascinated by such things. He could probably stand there all day, trying to decipher the symbols, but now that I'm awake, fed and prepared to go, I want to get started.
"Daniel?" I call out, gently breaking his concentration. He gives me a shy, sheepish smile, typical Daniel. It's hard not to go soft and let him dawdle all he likes. But he's already put the canister into the bag and is reaching out to help me up.
I'm extremely gratified to find that it doesn't hurt as much to put weight on my leg, but I continue to lean on Daniel for support. After all, it does hurt some and there's no reason to overstrain the healing muscles. Of course, I don't in the least mind being able to feel Daniel move against me as we walk.
Neither of us has the slightest idea of where we're going, since our sense of direction was completely shattered by the time in the tunnels. We could be anywhere. So there's little else to do but put as much distance between the tunnel entrance and ourselves.
Sneezy and Nosey move along with us, and that makes me glad that we have to move slowly. I can't imagine what all of this has done to poor Nosey and her babies. Yet, she seems fine, happy to be wandering through the forest with us. She's one tough little lady!
We stop to rest and both Nosey and Sneezy decide to use our heads for target practice. It turns out rather well, however, since they're using edible ammunition. Daniel and I manage to eat most of what they drop on us and it becomes a fun little game. But I can tell that Daniel is completely exhausted. I know he didn't sleep last night while he watched over me. So it's my turn to watch over him now.
I insist that he sleeps and he doesn't give me much of an argument, which, of course, means that he truly is tired. I stretch out against a tree and draw him to me. He rests his head against my good leg and falls instantly to sleep.
Nosey curls up against my side, apparently happy to join Daniel in a nap. Sneezy wanders over and sits beside her - like me, watching over his mate.
It's late afternoon now and the world is hazy with sunshine, heat and humidity. The air is filled with the scents of vegetation, flowers, rich brown soil. There's some unwashed human and monkey odors too, but somehow those just blend into the mix. We do need to find another water source soon, but I'm certain that we will.
I suppose that, again, our best bet is to move uphill. If we're lucky, we'll hit the seashore again and be able to use that to get out bearings. Maybe. I'd sure like to find our homesite again. As miserable, primitive and crooked as it is, I'm fond of our little house. Well, cabin is a better word, but we built it ourselves and that counts for a lot.
I doze a bit too, struggling to stay awake just in case of trouble. Daniel is out cold and I can hardly blame him. I can only imagine how difficult our last 'adventure' was for him. Thank the stars he's all right. He's one of the greatest gifts this universe has ever given me, second only to my son. I wish…
There's no use thinking about the impossible. Besides, if Charlie hadn't died, I'd probably still be married to Sara. Maybe. Our marriage wasn't exactly rock-solid to begin with. Charlie was the glue holding us together.
If I'd met Daniel and fallen for him while I was still married... I don't know. I don't think I want to know. Those choices were taken away from me and sometimes its better not to question fate. What is done is done, and all regrets aside, I have to live in the here and the now. Or I couldn't live at all and I've already been down that road. If it hadn't been for Daniel...
What I do know is that Daniel and I complete each other in an extraordinary way that I have never experienced before with anyone else. It's as though we're two interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle or a lock and key - our grooves match. We fit. We fill up the empty spaces inside each other, Daniel pouring into my heart and soul and making them whole.
He stirs against me, obviously dreaming actively, and I gently stroke his hair, letting the chestnut strands slide through my fingers. He sighs, wriggles, his hands flailing. Even in sleep, he's expressive. Those elegant hands always moving, emphasizing everything he says and thinks. I wonder if he know how much I love to watch him, even when I'm pretending to be irritated with him and his obsessive focus on things I barely understand.
Daniel's so much smarter than I am that it scares me sometimes. His mind works at such lightning speed that I often feel left behind. Inadequate. So I react badly, even when I know I shouldn't. He doesn't do it deliberately, it's just who he is.
And I love him for it, for all of him. I just get frustrated when I can't keep up. I hope he understands that. I suppose I ought to tell him sometime just to be sure. There are a lot of things I should tell him. Someday.
Now he's turning over, his dream pushing him to react. I tighten my grip on him, try to soothe him, but he bolts awake, eyes wide with shock.
"Hey Daniel, it's OK. It's just a dream. Looks like a doozy, though." I tell him, stroking his hair, his cheeks, rubbing his shoulders.
It takes him a moment to fully wake up. When he does, he looks up at me, raising his arms across mine to touch my face. I kiss one of those hands and he smiles.
"Yeah. It was… different." He frowns in concentration. "A bit strange, really. It was so real. I could have sworn…"
"Dreams'll do that to you, especially if you haven't slept in a while."
"I suppose," he replies. He withdraws from me just enough to pull himself into a sitting position, then he snuggles closer. I am perfectly happy to take the opportunity to rest my head against his shoulder. He wraps an arm around me and kisses the top of my head.
"Do you think we should go further today?" he asks.
"Nah," I respond. "It'll be dark soon and we have enough water to last until morning. We're both exhausted and Nosey could probably use the rest as well, given her condition."
"What's wrong with Nosey?" he demands, concern rising in his voice.
"Oh, nothing really. But she's pregnant and…"
"Pregnant!" Daniel exclaims. I lift my head to meet his gaze, grinning.
"Yup. It looks like she and Sneezy have been up to some hanky-panky while we weren't looking." I grin, looking down at the two sleeping monkeys.
"I didn't even know she was a she!" Daniel says, surprised. "How did you know?" he asks, his eyes narrowing.
Uh oh, confession time. Maybe if I phrase this just right, he won't be too pissed at me for not telling him sooner.
"Well, she's gotten awfully fat," I say. He just gives me his 'Jack is being an ass' look. Major uh oh. "Well, You know…shekindatoldmeaboutit." I say as fast as I can, garbling the words together.
"She kind of told you about it," he repeats slowly and meticulously. Now there's no way out of this.
"You were right," I sigh. "They are telepathic. Sort of. I mean, I don't get words from them, not like real language. Just emotions, ideas, images, that sort of stuff. Sometimes I just know what they're thinking."
"I knew it!" he exclaims, his excitement overtaking his annoyance. Whew! I mentally wipe my brow. Thank heaven he's too good-natured to stay mad at anyone for long, especially me! Now there's just the problem of that overactive curiosity of his.
"How long has this been happening?" he questions, staring from me to the monkeys and back.
"I don't know. A little while. Since before we took the rafting trip."
"Does it go both ways? Can they understand you?"
"Yes, I think so. Sometimes."
"How do you make them understand you? Do you just think at them? Do you…"
"Daniel! Chill. I don't know. It just 'happens.' I don't really control it or anything."
"We might be able to work on it. Figure out how…"
Oh for crying out loud! There's no way out of it now. He's in full scientist mode now. Damn, if he's going to be that focused on me, I'd much rather it be for another reason. Another purpose. In fact…
I grab his face, pull him close and shut off his words with my mouth.
When I let him go, he's just staring at me, silent and wide-eyed. I've seen that look before. Ah ha - when Sha're planted that kiss on him back on Abydos before all hell broke loose. So she figured that little trick out too. The best possible way to knock Daniel out of 'Daniel-mode' is to kiss him.
Works for me. I kiss him again.
When we pull back out of that kiss, he's looking a little less shocked and a bit more aroused. Definite progress.
Or so I think.
His eyes suddenly grow distant and he grasps my shoulders and shouts.
"That's it! I'm dreaming monkey memories!"
Waking from my dream, I am disorientated for a moment, the strange sensations I had felt in it still too fresh in my mind.
In particular, the sensation of leaping from tree to tree - I have never been that agile, but my mind seemed to recall the movements, the calculations required, as if they were second nature.
So, startled, I bolt awake, stiffening even as I realise that the grip holding me is Jack's hands, that the soothing sound I hear is Jack's voice.
"Hey Daniel, it's OK. It's just a dream. Looks like a doozy, though," Jack croaks, his hands roaming over my body, stroking me.
Then reality hits me like a slap of cold water in the face, and I am able to focus on Jack's face for the first time, see the worried look that is there as he looks down at me.
"Yeah. It was… different," I agree, reaching up to cup Jack's face in my hands, as if I can take away the worried frown there by osmosis. It seems to work, as Jack smiles, kissing my hand as it rests again his face.
I struggle to find the words, conscious of Jack's eyes on me, but the sensations of the dream, though still tangible, prove elusive when it comes to explanations.
"A bit strange, really. It was so real. I could have sworn…"
"Dreams'll do that to you, especially if you haven't slept in a while," Jack says, interrupting my train of thought.
"I suppose," I reply, still musing over what I had felt, though the images were fading quickly.
Jack's still looking at me with the tiniest frown, so I mentally push the subject to the back of my mind, filing it for later contemplation.
I pull myself upright, reluctantly freeing myself from Jack's arms, settling beside him instead, snuggling as close as I can manage. I wrap my arm round Jack as he settles against me, planting a kiss on his head, a kind of benediction for the way he has kept watch over me.
"Do you think we should go further today?" I ask, hoping that Jack's answer will be negative. I'm still tired, and so is he - even more than either of us would like to admit, both being as stubborn as the other and then some.
"Nah," he answers. "It'll be dark soon and we have enough water to last until morning. We're both exhausted and Nosey could probably use the rest as well, given her condition."
"What's wrong with Nosey?" I am concerned, more than I would have ever thought possible for a monkey.
"Oh, nothing really. But she's pregnant and…"
"Pregnant!" I yelp.
Even before he looks up at me, I know what Jack's expression will be, and I'm not disappointed - he's grinning fit to burst, like a proud parent himself.
"Yup. It looks like she and Sneezy have been up to some hanky-panky while we weren't looking."
'Well,' I think, 'at least he managed not to use the phrase 'monkey-business' in there somewhere....'
"I didn't even know she was a she!" I blurt out, then a thought hits me. If I didn't know that Nosey was female, how did Jack know?
"How did you know?" I ask, verbalising my thoughts, and looking intently at Jack.
He squirms slightly, looking down briefly, before returning eye contact.
"Well, she's gotten awfully fat," he begins, and I am not impressed. Somehow I can tell that this isn't the whole story, and I'm not going to give up on this until I hear the truth.
It seems that this determination somehow crosses the small space between Jack and myself, and he starts to speak again.
"Well, You know…shekindatoldmeaboutit."
My brain sucks these words in, analysing and examining them, as I repeat them to myself.
"She kind of told you about it."
But that would mean.... No, there was no way that could be the case, could it? We know the monkeys are smart, but this would be exceptional!
"You were right," Jack says, so quietly I almost miss the words.
"They are telepathic," he continues, in the same quiet tone. "Sort of. I mean, I don't get words from them, not like real language. Just emotions, ideas, images, that sort of stuff. Sometimes I just know what they're thinking."
This is amazing!
"I knew it!" I exclaim, and then the questions start to flood into my brain.
I need to make some notes, find out exactly what is going on, why I can't communicate with the monkeys in the same way that Jack does, run some tests when we get settled again....
"How long has this been happening?" I ask, as my mind races, contemplating the possibilities.
"I don't know. A little while. Since before we took the rafting trip."
"Does it go both ways? Can they understand you?" I press, desperate for more information from which to form a hypothesis.
Why isn't Jack more forthcoming, can't he see how important this might be?
"Yes, I think so. Sometimes."
I can feel my frustration level beginning to rise, as Jack continues to give me near monosyllabic answers. I know he's teased me in the past about being like a dog with a bone once I get a theory in my head, but can't he be a little more cooperative?
"How do you make them understand you? Do you just think at them? Do you…" I continue, then realise one of my hands is working its way round my jacket pockets, subconsciously looking for my notebook, I suppose.
"Daniel! Chill. I don't know. It just 'happens.' I don't really control it or anything."
Of all the short-sighted, pig-headed....
"We might be able to work on it. Figure out how…"
As I begin to outline a plan of action, I'm so far away, lost in a myriad of detail, that I fail to notice Jack moving. So, it's not until I realise I can no longer breathe, that Jack is kissing me with a great deal of passion and determination of his own, that I fathom his intentions.
When we separate for breath, somehow the plans I had been making to test my hypothesis don't seem quite so interesting or enthralling - still, something is lingering in the back of my mind, some piece of information that doesn't quite fit....
Jack kisses me again, and for a few moments, all I can concentrate on is the arousal I'm feeling as he wraps himself around me, his tongue exploring my mouth like he intends to set up home in there.
This time, when we separate, I can see the arousal in his eyes, dark pools that seem to suck me in, can feel the warmth pooling in my groin, the way my heart is pounding.
Then, of course, at the most inopportune moment, it hits me - I know what it was that didn't seem to fit.
"That's it! I'm dreaming monkey memories!"
For the longest moment, Jack just stares at me, the arousal in his eyes being banked down, replaced with confusion and something else that I can't quite name.
Then Jack begins to laugh.
"Of all the crack-brained ideas...." he begins, almost choking on his laughter.
I am devastated.
If anyone had asked me what Jack's reaction might be, after all we've been through together, then this would have been the last option on the list. I thought we'd gotten past this.
I know I'm right, it's the only theory that makes any sense at all.
For some reason, Jack can communicate with the monkeys while he is awake, while I have to be asleep for it to happen - maybe I'm just trying too hard to communicate when I'm awake?
As for it being memories, what else could it be? Maybe it's the same kind of thing that makes some creatures instinctively return to where they were born, who knows?
Before Jack can react, I struggle my way out of his embrace, pushing myself up and away from where he is sitting.
I am so angry, I don't even trust myself to speak.
After all we've shared, the closeness, the intimacy, the times we've made love, now he's making fun of me?
I need to get away from here.
Without a glance backward, to where I can hear Jack struggling to get up, cursing as his leg and arm twinge with pain, I stalk out of the tiny clump of trees, heading away.
Where am I heading? Away - that's all I have planned, for now.
From behind me, back in the trees, I can hear Jack's voice calling my name, but I can't turn back now and face that ridicule. It's happening all over again - just like two years ago. I was right then, and look what it got me.
I have no idea where I intend to go, all I know is that I need to be alone, to get away from the ridicule that Jack had surprised me with. I keep walking, heading for the nearest rise - maybe when I get to its brow, I'll be able to see more of the landscape, figure out what to do next....
As I walk, my anger is steadily dying, being replaced, slowly but surely, by a feeling of disillusionment.
How could I have misjudged Jack like that?
Over the past weeks, let alone the time since we went to Abydos together, I have grown to trust Jack like no-one else in a long time - his admiration has become important to me, his respect as vital as oxygen, even back before we had been stranded here together. And now this....
But I can't survive on this planet alone. More than that, I don't want to. The only problem with storming off though, is going back - and at the moment that's the last thing I want to do! Whatever reaction I would get from Jack when I return, it's going to be painful.
If he can't keep from ridiculing me, I'll be forced to live with it, despite the way his scorn will tear at my heart - if he apologises, I'll feel guilty for dragging an apology out of him, knowing he's likely doing it to keep the peace between us....
'Still,' I reason, as I continue my scramble up the rise, 'plenty of time for that... Let's just see what's on the other side, then I guess I'll have to go back.'
It's not easy going, as I scramble and crawl my way up the rise - I spend most of my time pulling myself from one boulder to the next, resting frequently to catch my breath.
Like all hills, this one looked a lot smaller when I was at the bottom of it!
Finally, I get to the top, and pull myself onto a large rock to rest, panting like I've never climbed a hill in my life. What I see on the other side takes my breath away, and all I can do is stare. It's just like in my dream! I remember it all now, as clearly as if I had witnessed it myself - the ship, the landing, the creatures that left through the hatch that slid open on the side of the silver-white shape.
The monkeys remembered it all, and passed that memory onto me!
I stare at him for a moment, still caught up in my desire. What on earth did he just say? I couldn't have heard him correctly, could I?
"Of all the crack-brained ideas?" I stammer as laughter overtakes me. Daniel's come out with some amazing ideas in his time, but this one takes the cake. I'm not even certain I understand what he means. 'Dreaming monkey memories?' No, in fact, I'm totally certain that I have absolutely no idea whatsoever.
His eyes sparkle with a new emotion and suddenly he's scrambling up and away from me. What the hell? Did he really mean for me to take that seriously. Oh shit! He did, and now he's royally pissed off.
Damn it Daniel! How'm I supposed to know that you were serious when you said one of the most ludicrous things I've ever heard in my long and varied life? You could at least try to explain things to me in terms I can understand. I know your mind makes bizarre and brilliant leaps, but the rest of us aren't so lucky. I'm a bit slower here - how about making a few allowances when I can't keep up?
And you have to admit that it was a truly bizarre thing to say, just like that.
He's running away and I'm too slow to stop him. Just trying to get to my feet hurts. My leg's better, but it's not that much better, and I am forced to limp cautiously. All I can see is the direction he went, and I'm stuck following at my snail's pace, hoping he doesn't take any radical turns.
It seems to take forever to find him, though he's only gone about a quarter of a mile. But a good length of that is uphill and I'm not in the shape to be doing this kind of climbing. If it wasn't so necessary to find out what he's so upset about - and give him an earful myself - I'd be tempted to sit and wait for him to come back. After all, there's really no place for him to go and neither one of us will survive alone. But we need to talk about this now.
Finally, I get up close to him, only to find his eyes pinned on the valley below. I take hold of his arm, partially to steady myself, partially to grab his attention, but my eyes unconsciously turn to follow his.
"What the hell is that?" I exclaim. This isn't a valley, it's a pit formed by something very big crashing into the ground. That something is huge, elliptical and silver. It's been there for a while, as the vegetation is re-growing in around it. Already, there are streaks of the ubiquitous ivy vines crawling over the metallic surface.
"I told you," Daniel says dully. "I saw this in my dream, saw it fall. The monkeys remember."
"You dreamed this?" I respond, confused. "You didn't tell me that!"
"Yes, I said..." Daniel began.
"You told me that you had a strange dream then you said you were 'dreaming monkey memories.'" I interrupt. "What the hell does that mean anyway?"
He shook his head, his eyes constantly darting back to the giant silver object half-buried below us.
"In my dream," he explains emotionlessly, "I could move like a monkey, quick and agile in the trees. Then I saw this thing crash. When you said you were definitely receiving from the monkeys, I realized that I must be too, though only when I'm sleeping."
"So why didn't you tell me that?" I demanded. "I could understand that." I frowned. "Well, sort of, but better than what you did say! And what the hell made you run off like that?"
His attention suddenly withdrew from the object and focused totally on me. It was like being hit with a blue laser beam. His eyes bored into me.
"You laughed at me!"
"You said something funny," I retorted.
"It wasn't funny! It was a good theory and it was right!" he yelled. "I was right! So why won't anyone ever believe me?"
Whoa there, Danny. Slow down. We've got even more of a problem than I thought. I wait for a moment, giving him time to cool down and pay attention to me. I reach out to hold his shoulder, squeezing hard to emphasize that I mean what I say.
"Yes, you were right. You usually are. I know that. You don't have to prove anything to me. And I do believe you..." I pause, the corners of my mouth curving up in an involuntary smile. "Well, most of the time. Occasionally, you do come out with some pretty crazy ideas. But even then, I try to listen."
He doesn't look appeased. In fact, I can now see the hurt underneath that anger.
"You laughed at me," he repeats softly. His mouth trembles then clamps tightly as he fights to restrain his own emotions.
"Daniel, for goodness' sake, so what if I laugh occasionally when you toss out a bizarre idea? That doesn't mean that I won't listen to you or take you seriously, once you explain it so that I can understand it."
He shakes his head, unwilling to accept my words. Suddenly I'm angry too. Doesn't he have the slightest idea how hard it is for me to keep up with him?
"Damn it!" I swear rawly. "Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to always get left behind you?" He looks confused, starts to speak, but I shut him off. "And I don't mean physically, though I wish you wouldn't do that either. I mean mentally. For God's sake, Daniel, you're so much smarter than me, hell, you're smarter than anyone I know except maybe for Sam. Sometimes I feel like an absolute idiot trailing after you, trying to figure out what's going on from the few breadcrumbs you leave along the way. You go so fast! You skip over things that I need to know, taking them for granted. Well, guess what? I'm not so smart. I need the middle things explained to me! Like how we get from kissing each other to you saying that you're dreaming monkey memories, which still doesn't make the slightest bit of sense to me. Maybe I'm just dumb, but..."
"No!" he yells, grabbing my shoulders. His grip is tight and I wince as pain lances through my wounded arm. He lets go as though burned, his eyes brimming with tears.
"You're not dumb. Don't say that!" he insists.
I shrug. "Maybe not in comparison to your average monkey, but compared to you...yeah, I am." The truth's the truth.
"No, no," he denies vehemently. "You're not. You're smart. You know lots of things and I've learned a lot from you. Don't say that about yourself. You can't know..." He stops, apparently unable to form the words.
"Know what?" I urge, gently now, my anger fleeing as fast as it had risen.
"How much I admire you. How much I want you to respect me. No one's ever respected me. Or listened to me, except you, sometimes."
I can feel my skin flush beneath its tan. I had no idea. My chest feels like someone punched me. How can such an amazing man think so little of himself?
"Danny, Oh God, of course I respect you. I respect you more than I can say. You're brilliant! Your mind works so fast that sometimes I feel like... like I'm trying to chase a sports car on a bicycle. You're also the bravest man I've ever met. And the kindest and most decent and.. .Oh hell, don't you know how I think of you by now?"
"I thought I did," he whispered, blinking away tears. "But then you laughed at me." Hurt lances his eyes and I caress his cheek, trying to sooth it away.
"Yes, I laugh sometimes," I try to explain, "when you say something bizarre - and like it or not, this monkey dream thing is just plain out there. But that doesn't mean I won't take you seriously once you explain it to me. You've just got to make allowances for the fact that I don't think as quick as you. OK?"
"Jack, you think plenty fast." I gaze at him firmly and he sighs, rubbing his cheek against my hand. "OK, maybe I do make leaps now and then," he admits.
"Now and then?" I tease lightly. He rewards me with the smile I desperately want to see.
"Well, sometimes... anyway... I'll try to explain more next time," he offers.
I nod, stroking his cheek. "And I'll try not to laugh at you when you do. I can't promise that I never will, but... I'll try."
He covers my hand with his, nodding solemnly at me.
"Deal!" he says, then he moves my hand to his mouth so that he can kiss it. I lean forward and his the back of his hand in return, sealing the promise. Then we drop our hands and kiss, mouth-to-mouth, deep and tender.
I definitely prefer making up to arguing.
But Daniel's mind is still working, and he draws back to look down at the strange metal object below. I sigh under my breath, trying hard to ignore my body's demands. After a couple of deep breaths I can, somewhat, forget what I'd really like to be doing with Daniel right now and focus on the new puzzle.
I have to admit that it definitely different and potentially interesting. Ah well... There's no use fighting the inevitable.
"Come on," I say, giving in gracefully. "Let's go take a look."
I'm still staring down into the valley, transfixed by the sight laid out before me, when Jack reaches me. I'd heard him coming up the hill, of course, how could I miss him?
He is panting even worse than I had, and his leg must have hurt him a lot if his exertion was anything like mine. Despite how angry and disillusioned I am with Jack at the moment, a pang of guilt shoots through me, that I made him follow me like this.
Jack grabs my arm and I brace myself for him to start berating me, cursing at me, whatever.... I can't tear my eyes away from the valley and its contents though, not that I want to see the emotions that I'm afraid will be clear for all to see in Jack's eyes.
"What the hell is that?" Jack gasps.
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see that he is gazing down into the valley too, and his voice reflects the surprise he must be feeling.
"I told you," I say, managing to keep my voice far steadier than I feel inside. "I saw this in my dream, saw it fall. The monkeys remember."
"You dreamed this?" Jack blurts out, looking at me, rather than down into the valley. "You didn't tell me that!"
"Yes, I said..."
Jack interrupts me, and I look at him for the first time since I left him at the bottom of the hill - I find my eyes drawn back to the valley and the ship that's nestled there, and I turn back to it, even as he is speaking.
"You told me that you had a strange dream then you said you were 'dreaming monkey memories.' What the hell does that mean anyway?"
How do I begin to explain something like this when Jack doesn't believe me, has laughed at me a handful of minutes ago?
"In my dream I could move like a monkey, quick and agile in the trees," I explain, not looking at Jack, though I'm conscious of his eyes on me. "Then I saw this thing crash. When you said you were definitely receiving from the monkeys, I realized that I must be too, though only when I'm sleeping."
"So why didn't you tell me that? I could understand that," Jack says, frowning slightly. "Well, sort of, but better than what you did say! And what the hell made you run off like that?"
The anger I had thought ebbed away earlier, during my climb, comes sweeping back over me and washes me away. How could he be so insensitive?
"You laughed at me!" I reply tersely, looking Jack in the face.
"You said something funny."
Inside me, the anger is mounting, and I'm suddenly sure that all I want to do is shout and scream, hit someone, anything but remember the sound of Jack laughing at me.
"It wasn't funny!" I yell, and I can see Jack is taken aback by the venom in my voice, so I take a breath and try not to fly off the handle completely. "It was a good theory and it was right! I was right! So why won't anyone ever believe me?"
I take a couple of deep breaths, biting down on the way I want to just keep ranting, to lash out for once in my anger, knowing that I need Jack, I can't afford to alienate him, angry or not. I wait for the explosion, for Jack to lose his temper too, to tell me not to be childish, maybe even to just walk away and leave me here to stew.
"Yes, you were right. You usually are," Jack begins, and his words take a little of the heat out of how I'm feeling. "I know that. You don't have to prove anything to me. And I do believe you... Well, most of the time. Occasionally, you do come out with some pretty crazy ideas. But even then, I try to listen."
He doesn't understand.
I realise that Jack hasn't mentioned that one act that upset me so much.
"You laughed at me," I repeat, all too aware of the way that my emotions are so close to the surface - I can feel tears pricking at the back of my eyes, ready to come rushing out with the least provocation.
"Daniel, for goodness' sake," Jack says, his hand still on my shoulder. "So what if I laugh occasionally when you toss out a bizarre idea? That doesn't mean that I won't listen to you or take you seriously, once you explain it so that I can understand it."
'He doesn't get it,' I think, shaking my head slightly, 'and any minute now he's going to tell me I'm over-reacting!'
"Damn it!" Jack blurts out. "Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to always get left behind you?"
It's Jack's turn to be angry now, and suddenly I'm on the defensive, startled by the distress in his tone. Not only is he angry, I have no idea what he's talking about....
"And I don't mean physically, though I wish you wouldn't do that either. I mean mentally."
Jack is speaking passionately now, the words tumbling over each other as they escape his mouth.
"For God's sake, Daniel, you're so much smarter than me, hell, you're smarter than anyone I know except maybe for Sam. Sometimes I feel like an absolute idiot trailing after you, trying to figure out what's going on from the few breadcrumbs you leave along the way...."
If this were a cartoon, then I would probably have a lightbulb hanging over my head right now - inspiration has definitely struck and now I know what happened between us down by the trees.
"Maybe I'm just dumb, but..."
Jack's words shock me back from my moment of enlightenment, and I grab at him, wanting to shake those self-deprecating words from him.
"No!" I yell, letting go of Jack as pain rips through him. I feel guilty again, but I can't let those words rest. "You're not dumb. Don't say that!"
"Maybe not in comparison to your average monkey," Jack replies, shrugging, "but compared to you... yeah, I am."
Jack's casual reply tears at my heart. How can he say such things about himself? I have to tell him, share with him how I see him, how much I respect him, but I'm a little unsure how to begin.
"No, no. You're not. You're smart. You know lots of things and I've learned a lot from you. Don't say that about yourself. You can't know..."
"Know what?" Jack asks, his eyes intent on my face as I speak.
"How much I admire you. How much I want you to respect me. No one's ever respected me. Or listened to me, except you, sometimes."
There, I've said it. For good or ill, Jack knows now how much what he thinks of me means. I watch, fascinated, as Jack starts to blush. That wasn't the result I was expecting at all - part of me had thought that he would just laugh again, maybe say I was being melodramatic....
"Danny, oh God, of course I respect you," Jack says, erupting into words. "I respect you more than I can say. You're brilliant! Your mind works so fast that sometimes I feel like... like I'm trying to chase a sports car on a bicycle. You're also the bravest man I've ever met. And the kindest and most decent and... Oh hell, don't you know how I think of you by now?"
"I thought I did," I say, and the tears that had been threatening for so long are here for real now. "But then you laughed at me."
Why can't I get away from the consequences of that one action, the way it tore its way through all the intimacy and trust like it was so much tissue paper?
Jack's hand comes up, gently stroking my cheek, and when he speaks, his tone is equally gentle.
"Yes, I laugh sometimes when you say something bizarre - and like it or not, this monkey dream thing is just plain out there. But that doesn't mean I won't take you seriously once you explain it to me. You've just got to make allowances for the fact that I don't think as quick as you. OK?"
I'm torn between believing Jack and wanting to chide him for putting himself down - the bad experiences of my past make me hesitate, even though I desperately want to trust him again.
"Jack, you think plenty fast," I begin, not wanting to scold him, though I don't like the way he is talking about himself. "OK, maybe I do make leaps now and then..."
"Now and then?" Jack echoes, a small smile playing round his lips.
Maybe this will all be okay, after all.
"Well, sometimes... anyway... I'll try to explain more next time," I stammer, smiling back at him.
"And I'll try not to laugh at you when you do. I can't promise that I never will, but... I'll try."
"Deal!" I state, kissing Jack's hand in a pledge of my intentions.
After we have made up, Jack agrees to go and investigate the ship. Who knows, there might be something down there we can use!
Going downhill is no less tricky than getting to where we had been - even though the slope is not as steep, the valley that the ship is resting in being so much shallower than the one we had left behind, the footing is treacherous.
The vegetation makes it difficult to see where the ground is not safe, so our progression down into the valley is painfully slow.
As we near the ship, its sheer size becomes more and more impressive - this was no Death Glider, this ship looks more like something for interplanetary use.
The surface of the ship itself is made of that silver-white metal we had seen so often in the hands of the lizards. When seen in such scale, it seems to glow with the afternoon light, not quite reflective, but still luminescent.
There is no sign of an entrance, and I try to recall the dreams, the latest of which had featured creatures emerging from the ship - thinking hard, I lead us to the section of the ship that had slid open in the dream, and start to search for a mechanism.
The surface seems flawless, marked only by the occasional heat-mark spreading across the side of the ship - there are no obvious indentations.
After a few minutes, I hear Jack sigh.
Turning back to him, I see him sinking onto a nearby log, sighing again as he settles there. When he sees me looking at him, Jack waves a hand back towards the ship.
"I'm okay, just a little tired. Keep looking, Daniel - if anyone can figure out how to get into this monster, I know you can," he says, closing his eyes as he finishes speaking.
There's nothing like a challenge.
As I turn back to the ship, a thought crosses my mind, and I think back to the previous day, when I had been studying the canister.
Maybe I was going about this all wrong? I had been looking for indentations, when I should be looking for....
Getting as close as I can to the surface of the metal, I squint along it, looking for raised marks. There!
Without taking my eyes off the marks, I crouch, reaching down with one hand for some dirt, which I slap onto the marks, smearing the dirt onto them. I can't suppress a triumphant cry, which escapes my lips before I even realise I've made a sound at all.
As I inspect the raised marks on the silver-white surface, I feel Jack coming to stand behind me, peering over my shoulder at my discovery. I raise my hand and gently brush some of the surplus dirt off the marks, leaving them clearly visible, against the brightness of the surface.
"I knew you could do it," Jack's voice whispers in my ear, his breath sending a shiver through me.
If only I knew what the symbols meant.
A sigh of frustration escapes me, and I feel Jack's hand on my shoulder, squeezing gently - I reach forward, pressing the symbols, but nothing happens.
Then, suddenly, there is a rumbling noise, and the side of the ship begins to shift in front of us.
It opens, a burst of stale air rushing out, making us choke.
After I have smiled at Jack, silently thanking him for his confidence in me, I lead the way as we enter the ship, the entrance sliding shut behind us.
Down we go, slipping and sliding. If anything, this is harder than climbing up onto the ridge for me, but at least I've got Daniel to help this time. Thank goodness we've settled this latest problem. Relationships are difficult and I don't have the best track record where they're concerned. Maybe the failure of my marriage is what makes me try so much harder with Daniel. I'm so terrified of losing him that nothing else measures up on the scale of horror.
I'm even, sometimes, talking about how I feel. Aloud. And it's actually not quite as painful a prospect as I'd always considered it to be. Maybe that's just Daniel's influence. I've never met anyone who wears his heart on his sleeve so openly. He never holds anything back. Whatever he's thinking, whatever he's feeling, it comes tumbling out of that mobile mouth of his, streaming out of the gorgeous eyes of his. All of it there for the world to see.
I'd feel like even more of a coward than I already am if I didn't at least try to give him back some of myself in return. Who knows, with a little more practice, I might actually get good at this expressing my feelings thing.
Then again - probably not. But for Daniel, I'll try.
Finally, we make it down to the half-buried object and I can see it more clearly. All other thoughts flee my mind as I gape openly at it.
It's a spaceship! It's gotta be. The hull is made of the same strange white-silver plasticky-metal stuff that the lizards use. The shape is like an elongated ellipse, not quite a traditional flying saucer, more like a giant egg. I just want to stand there, rest my aching body, staring at it, but Daniel seems to have a definite purpose in mind.
He urges me onward, picking our way around the curve of the ship until he reaches a slightly flattened end. There, he lets go of me and steps forward to touch it. Instinctively, I reach out to stop him, but he's too quick. There's no response when his hand strokes the surface and I sigh with relief.
It's obviously been here for a long time, given the way the vegetation has grown in around it, so it's probably safe by now. I hope! Anyway, Daniel's absolutely fascinated. I'm rather interested myself, but I decide to leave the exploration of our new find to the expert. If anyone can figure this out, it'll be Daniel.
So I sigh softly, find a downed log, probably due to the recent storm, and plop myself on it. Oh heaven, it's good to sit. I stretch out my legs, rubbing gingerly at the wounded one. To my surprise, not only is not bleeding after all that exertion, it actually looks like it's healing. The wound is a long, pink pucker in my skin that will leave one hell of a scar, but otherwise isn't going to hamper me much anymore. That disgusting lizard paste stuff must be good medicine, it certainly tasted like it.
Daniel turns to look at me, obviously worried, so I wave at him.
"I'm okay, just a little tired," I reassure him. "Keep looking, Daniel - if anyone can figure out how to get into this monster, I know you can." I close my eyes as I finish speaking, letting the exhaustion wash over me. Daniel can handle this thing while I rest. He'll probably be occupied with it for hours.
Sounds good to me.
Of course, it was stupid to underestimate Daniel. It's probably less than a half-hour before he cries out in triumph.
"Daniel?" I call out, wearily propelling myself back to my feet. I limp closer to him, then stare over his shoulder as he rubs dirt over the surface of the ship. There, revealed against the shimmering surface are marks, symbols. Daniel brushes off some of the extra dirt, his eyes pinned to his new discovery. I don't have to see the expression on his face to recognize it. Daniel's in scientist heaven.
"I knew you could do it," I whisper in his ear, happy to have the chance to compliment him. His earlier insecurity still disturbs me and I promise myself to make sure, as often as I can, to remind him how special he is, especially to me.
He sighs, a mixture of awe and frustration, and I gently squeeze his shoulder. He'll get there, sooner or later, Daniel always does. He lifts his hand and presses on the symbols, trying the obvious solution first.
Sometimes, the obvious is obvious for good reason. There is this loud, rumbling noise, then a grinding, like badly oiled gears shifting, then the wall before us just disappears in a loud whoosh.
'Sweet' I think, minus my usual sarcasm. This, without question, is truly cool. I can't say the same for the blast of stale air that rushes out. I cough, turning my head. That thing obviously hasn't been open for a *long* time and unless I miss my guess, someone died in there, albeit not recently.
But Daniel's caught up in the exhilaration of discovery and he smiles toothily at me, his eyes sparkling like light-struck sapphires. I can never resist that look on his face. Well, I can never resist him, period, so I shrug and gesture for him to lead the way.
Holding onto the open edge of the ship's hull, he steps up and in. I follow more slowly, giving my eyes time to adjust to the relative gloom. I don't want to be caught by surprise by something nasty. Been there, done that, have no desire to do it again.
"Jack, look at this!" Daniel calls out and I hurry over to his side. We're in a small corridor, the walls curving and rounded, all made of that same silvery stuff. Daniel has stopped by a small alcove, his hands hovering in the air above what looks, even to my untrained eye, like a computer console.
"Be careful!" I tell him. "We don't know what any of those'll do."
He frowns, but nods, his hands still resting in the air a bare inch from the tantalizing buttons. He's itching to play with them, I know him. So I distract him as best I can.
"I wonder what's down there?" I ask, slapping him on the arm as I move past him deeper into the ship.
He follows me, reluctantly, his eyes darting back to the console even as he walks towards me. I step onward faster, my limp not disturbing me much as I, too, become fascinated by my surroundings.
"It looks a lot like the lizard tunnels," I comment.
"Yes, of course," Daniel responds eagerly. "I wondered whether the lizards had actually constructed the tunnels and their tools or whether they had simply borrowed them. This alien race must have made them, then the lizards took them over."
"How can you be sure the lizards didn't make this too?" I ask, coming to a fork in the hallway. I randomly decide to go to my right, towards the narrower end of the egg. Daniel follows, gesturing widely.
"The symbols on the canister and on this ship, they're the same as one of the writing styles in that room near the Stargate. All of this, the ship, the tunnels, all of it must have been made by one of those four races. The lizards are sentient, but I don't think they're advanced enough to create all of this. I think it must belong to one of those four races. It doesn't look like it was constructed by the Nox or Thor's people, but that still leaves two other possibilities."
"You could be right," I mutter, my eyes scanning the tunnel ahead. It appears to come to a dead end. I stop in front of the wall and reach out to run my hands over it. I can feel, though not see, more marking on it. Strange... But I copy Daniel's approach and press inward on the raised spots.
There's a whooshing sound and the wall abruptly disappears. I turn to glance at Daniel. He nods at me, his eyes bright even in the faint gleam of the metal walls. He touches my shoulder and I smile wryly at him. Then taking a deep breath, I step inside.
"Oh my God!" I whisper. The room lights up the moment I place my foot on the floor. It spreads out below me, the floor concave. We're standing on the outer edge of a shallow incline that leads down to a pair of large, padded chairs. Huge, glittering consoles, like the one we'd seen in the alcove, only much, much bigger, cover two walls. Smaller ones sit like islands beside both chairs. But it is the far wall that demands my attention.
It looks like a curved movie screen, with silvery gridlines crossing it. A set of the same type of symbols that we'd already seen shimmer across it, glittering on one spot, then disappearing, then reappearing in different combination on another part of the screen.
Daniel steps up beside me, his mouth parted, his breath coming in short gasps.
"It's still working," he whispers, his voice as hushed as my own. "There's still power."
We turn to gaze wide-eyed at each other, possibilities, hopes, and fears racing through both of our minds simultaneously.
"Jack," he says softly, and I know what he's going to say before he says it. "If we could figure out how to fly it..."
"We could go home," I finish for him.
In hindsight, I suppose it wasn't the smartest thing to do, going into the alien ship like that....
But that's just the way I am, I suppose - I don't always think before I act, especially if there are discoveries to be made. Well, that's what Jack keeps telling me!
So, I lead our way into the ship, squinting slightly as I move slowly down the corridor from the doorway, trying to see my way in the gloom.
Although it was still daylight outside, it doesn't take very long before the gloom inside this vessel seems to overwhelm the light from outside, and I shiver slightly.
It's not really cold, it's just there is an atmosphere here, something I can almost touch, and it unnerves me slightly. I feel as though we are being watched. I hope Jack hasn't picked up on my nervousness, or I'll never hear the last of it!
Shrugging, I push my paranoia to the back of my mind and concentrate on my surroundings again.
Nearby there is an alcove of sorts, in which some device is placed - the fluid lines of the construction of the ship are echoed in the lines of the device. No sharp corners, no angles at all that are not rounded and flowing.
"Jack, look at this!" I call, sensing without looking round that I have left Jack a little way down the corridor.
My hands hover over the device as he approaches, as if I am drawn to it somehow. I want to touch this alien thing, make it respond, set up a line of communication with the past that this machine represents.
Isn't that why I became an archaeologist in the first place?
"Be careful!" Jack's voice comes from beside me, breaking into my thoughts. "We don't know what any of those'll do."
He's right of course, but that doesn't stop the frustration that I feel suddenly, and I nod, showing that I have heard what Jack has said. I have to agree with him, but that doesn't mean I have to like it!
"I wonder what's down there?" Jack asks, suddenly, and I know he's trying to distract me, protect me from what might happen if I do try to use the alien device. Jack slaps my arm as he pushes past - this gesture has the same effect on me, I discover, as if he had slapped my fingers!
I leave the device behind grudgingly, to follow Jack, my desire not to be alone for once outweighing my curiosity. My eyes return to the 'console' as I leave it behind, as if I am promising it that I will return, even as I follow Jack down the corridor.
"It looks a lot like the lizard tunnels," Jack says suddenly, looking round as if noticing the corridor for the first time.
"Yes, of course," I reply, then pause, wondering if this is another case of making too big a leap.
I'm encouraged by the look and smile Jack gives me, a non-verbal 'carry on' clear in his expression.
"I wondered whether the lizards had actually constructed the tunnels and their tools," I continue, heartened by Jack's interest, "...or whether they had simply borrowed them. This alien race must have made them, then the lizards took them over."
"How can you be sure the lizards didn't make this too?" Jack asks.
I follow him unthinkingly, as we reach a fork, and he leads us down to the right, towards the front of the ship.
"The symbols on the canister and on this ship, they're the same as one of the writing styles in that room near the Stargate," I explain. "All of this, the ship, the tunnels, all of it must have been made by one of those four races. The lizards are sentient, but I don't think they're advanced enough to create all of this. I think it must belong to one of those four races. It doesn't look like it was constructed by the Nox or Thor's people, but that still leaves two other possibilities."
That seems logical, doesn't it? No missing steps, no leaps of logic?
"You could be right," Jack mutters, and for a moment I'm not sure if he was talking to me or to himself.
We seem to have reached a dead end, but Jack is brushing his hands over the surface of the end wall, then pressing on a portion of the surface.
There must be more markings there - what does that say about the race that created this ship, that language?
If they choose not to have writing that is legible that easily, do they rely more on touch? Or is their eyesight better than ours?
After a moment, there is a whooshing sound, and the solid wall in front of us just.... disappears!
This time, it's Jack's turn to lead, and mine to follow. He glances round at me, and I nod encouragingly at him, stroking my hand across his shoulder to half-push him forward. He grins back at me and then steps into the room.
"Oh my God!" Jack whispers, the words flying across the room and back as if they had been shouted out.
After the gloom of the corridors, the sudden lighting up of this room comes as a shock, but it's obviously triggered by Jack stepping through the doorway.
The room is vast, in some ways resembling nothing more than a cinema, with a vast curved screen dominating the furthest wall from where we are standing now. What can only be seats of some kind are arranged within the room, larger versions of the alien device we had already encountered, all facing towards the screen.
There are symbols on the screen, symbols I recognise from the castle, shimmering across its surface, appearing and disappearing seemingly at random. Or are they?
There must be some pattern to it, I suppose, but I have no idea what the symbols on their own mean, let alone when they appear in combinations.
I'm suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of my own ignorance, a feeling of being out of my depth, something I haven't experienced for a long time....
"It's still working," I whisper to Jack, moving to stand beside him. "There's still power."
I look at Jack then, and see in his eyes a reflection of my own sense of smallness. But there is a chance, if we can only figure out how, a chance to... no, I can't bring myself to say it.
"Jack, if we could figure out how to fly it..." I begin, not certain if I have the nerve.
"We could go home," Jack says, as if finishing my sentence, and I know I wouldn't have had the nerve to say it.
Suddenly, I don't know what to say, I'm filled with so many different thoughts and emotions, some of which I had tried so hard to put to one side and ignore, hoping they would go away.... As long as there was no chance that we could leave this place, then we had to make the best of what we had here - now, if there is a chance, even the slimmest of opportunities, we have to seize it.
So why do I feel guilty?
A part of me doesn't want to leave here - despite all that has happened to us here, I wouldn't change any of it if it meant that Jack and I weren't together. I've experienced some of the happiest times in my life right here, and a small, selfish, part of me doesn't want that to end.
I can feel Jack's eyes on me, as I look round at the screen again, and I think I know what he's thinking. We've got to try it, we have no choice. Jack is military, after all, and duty is an important concept to him.
"I'm not sure if I can do this," I say, starting a sentence I'm not certain I know how to finish.
"I know it's a shock," he begins, pulling me gently round to face him, his hand lifting my chin so I have to look him in the eye. "But if we can get back to Earth... we have to try, Daniel!"
"I know," I sigh, "it's just... I'm not sure I know how to do it, I have no idea what the symbols mean, after all, let alone when they're together...."
My words grind to a halt as I realise that Jack is grinning at me, his hand still holding me in place.
"What?" I snap, pulling away from his hand with a jerk.
"You're saying you don't know how to make this thing work?"
I nod, standing stiffly as Jack reaches out with his hand, his fingers brushing my cheek and coming to rest in the shorter hair at the nape of my neck. After a moment's thought, I realise what Jack had thought, and open my mouth to protest my innocence.
It's then that Jack pounces, his fingers tightening slightly, his other hand coming to wrap itself around my waist and pull us together, his mouth stilling any protest I was going to make.
When we surface, still reeling from the passion and the lack of oxygen, the two brain cells that are still working remember what I had been about to say.
"You thought...?" I begin.
"I'm sorry," Jack replies, simply, "I should never have thought you'd be that selfish. I should know better by now. Forgive me?"
My protests die unspoken, and I decide I would prefer a repeat performance.
Daniel couldn't say it, so I did. This ship gives us a possibility that I had given up on - the chance to go home again. That changes everything and I can see it hit Daniel hard. As hard as it is striking me.
Home. Stargate Command. Earth. Our friends. Hot showers and McDonalds…
And Daniel's wife. That memory does more than strike me, it staggers me. Being trapped here had ended his quest to find Sha're again. Being rescued would revive it. What would that mean for us, for Daniel and me? Before this place, I'd never quite thought of Daniel and myself that way, at least not consciously, but now… Now I need him. I love him and he says he loves me. What will this mean for us?
Is that what he's thinking about too? Or is he so caught up in our discovery that he can't think about anything else? That would be typical of Daniel. We got stuck here in the first place because he didn't want to leave those strange electric lights behind. Is he still so fascinated with this place that he doesn't want to leave, or is he as afraid as I am about what going home will mean to our new-found relationship?
"Daniel..." I call out, not quite sure what to say, but needing to try.
"I'm not sure if I can do this," he interrupts.
I'm sorry, Daniel. We have to try. If there's even the slightest possibility that this alien spaceship can take us home, then we've got go for it. Earth needs us. The Goa'uld are still out there. We have too many responsibilities calling upon us both. I know the risks. I feel them acutely. It would be so easy to stay here and spend the rest of our lives making love by the river. But we can't. In the end, we'd never forgive each other if we don't at least make the attempt.
"I know it's a shock," I say, reaching out to urge him to turn and look at me. I gently lift his chin so that our eyes can meet. He has to understand how important this is, to both of us. "But if we can get back to Earth... we have to try, Daniel!"
"I know," he sighs, "it's just... I'm not sure I know how to do it, I have no idea what the symbols mean, after all, let alone when they're together...."
Oh, good heavens! Here I am worrying myself sick about us, Sha're, whether he even wants to try to get home, and he's already trying to figure it all out. I shoulda known that he wouldn't be able to resist this challenge, the consequences be damned. Oh yes, that is my Daniel. And even though he doubts his ability to figure this thing out, I know him. He'll make it happen. He'll never give up.
"What?" he snaps, yanking his head out of my hands. I suddenly realize that I'm grinning at him like an idiot.
"You're saying you don't know how to make this thing work?" I tease him gently, unable to resist touching him again. Even covered in stubble, the skin of his cheeks feels wonderful, warm. I slide my hand around through his hair, coming to rest on the back of his neck.
Daniel nods in response to my semi-serious question, then his eyes light up. I think he just figured out that I had been questioning his willingness to try to go home. I don't think that he realizes that most of those doubts were my own as well. He opens his mouth to speak, his tongue darting out to moisten his lips, and I lose all desire to anything but taste that mouth.
We can talk about this later. I never much liked talking anyway, particularly when it deals with touchy subjects. I'd much rather kiss him senseless. Dive my tongue deeply into the furnace of his mouth and sweep up the taste of him, savor him, suckle on him, breathe him.
If only I didn't have to have air to feed my lungs. However, when they protest strongly enough, I am forced to pull away, both us of gasping for oxygen. His eyes are dilated behind the lenses of his glasses, the brilliant blue iris only a thin shadow around the black pupil. He swallows hard, then refocuses on me.
"You thought...?" he demands.
"I'm sorry," I interrupt openly. "I should never have thought you'd be that selfish. I should know better by now. Forgive me?" Groveling is good, especially when it makes him smile like that.
I've had enough oxygen to last me a while. Definitely. So I claim that smile and make it my own.
I'm quite delightedly having Daniel's ear for lunch when a sudden chirping erupts into a rapid series of loud musical chimes.
"What the hell?" Daniel and I separate, spinning around to find the source of all the noise.
"There!" Daniel points. Racing across the machinery to our right are a pair of familiar little critters. Nosey is obviously excited, she's chasing Sneezy, chattering up a storm. I can only catch the edge of her emotion, but she's upset. That's not excitement, that's one pissed-off monkey.
Sneezy leaps across the floor in front of the giant screen, then jumps in our direction. He aims straight for Daniel, climbing up his body and trying to bury himself in Daniel's hair.
"Oh! Shit, Sneezy! Get down from there!" Daniel yells, but Sneezy's hanging on for dear life. Given the emotions rolling off of Nosey, I can't say I blame the little fella one bit.
Nosey, a bit slower given her condition and the extra weight she's carrying around, hurries over in our direction. I move to intercept her, calling out her name.
But she doesn't have any patience for me. She climbs me, then leaps off my shoulder towards one of the chair things. She's hissing now, her emotions bubbling. I glance back at Daniel and Sneezy, who have settled into a more comfortable position, the monkey clinging to Daniel's shirt, Daniel holding him by the scruff of the neck and gazing wide-eyed at me. Probably waiting for an explanation.
What am I supposed to explain? I don't know anything about pregnant monkeys.
Nosey's jumping up and down on the seat, bouncing, and I move to catch her. Just as I grab for her, she leaps sideways, damned agile for a pregnant critter. She manages to land on Daniel's shoulder while I go down, face-first, on the couch.
Those musical chimes sound again, louder, right in my ear, and I twist around, seeking purchase. The surface of this seat feels slippery, rubbery, almost like it's moving.
It is moving! I barely turn onto my backside before it wraps up around me, molding itself to my form. A bright green glow flows down from the ceiling and coats me and that damned chair. I struggle to get away, but it's holding me in a bizarre embrace.
Daniel screams my name, but it's as though he's a million miles away. First my skin tingles and then my brain itches. I feel like someone is teasing the inner surface of my skull with a feather. I don't know whether to laugh or scream and then it hits harder. A wave of indescribable sensation waves through my brain and down my spine. I arch against it, then collapse into it.
Something, someone, alien, powerful, strange slides its fingers through my mind. A thousand tentacles of electricity fire, seeming at random, throughout my mind. Memories flash before my eyes in rapid sequence, barely distinguishable. I open my mouth to scream, to breath, to...
Then suddenly it ceases. I take one deep breath, storing air for a violent expulsion of sound from my lungs, but I never get the chance. Those chimes sound again, like a hundred miniature bells, but now - now - I understand. It's not exactly language as I've ever known it, yet I know exactly what those sounds mean.
"Repairs are completed," it says in those musical tones. "Waiting for instructions."
Making up is such fun - but only when it follows minor misunderstandings like this one. The major stuff is too painful.
So, Jack thought I didn't want to go home?
Well, I have to admit that he is partly right, or I would if I had any higher brain function left to think with at the moment. All that is concentrated on the feeling of Jack as he brushes his lips across my ear, the tingle of blood rushing to other places, the warmth developing elsewhere.
Why is it, on the verge of such a great discovery, with the thought of home dancing before us like a mirage in the desert, that it only takes him to touch me and my other brain takes over?
I'm filled with desire, it surges over me like a tidal wave, coursing through my veins, and all I want to do is keep on doing this. Forever. Horizontally if possible, though that's optional. All thoughts of discoveries are way at the back of my mind, though one or two tenacious brain cells are hanging on in there, I suppose. They must be the ones that register the noise when it comes.
A sudden chirping, some musical tones, cutting through even the desire I'm feeling.
"What the hell?" Jack yells, as we both whirl round. Our eyes race across the variety of consoles in the huge room, scanning for the source of the disturbance. My head spins slightly from the speed of the movement and the blood returning to my head from, well, other places....
It's then that I see them.
"There!" I cry, pointing at our companions, who are chasing each other around. Or rather Nosey is chasing Sneezy, chattering at him with an angry tone in her voice.
Seeing me, Sneezy decides to head for cover, throwing himself across the intervening distance, then attempting to hid himself in the back of my hair. His claws dig painfully into my scalp, and all I can think is that I'm glad Jack isn't laughing this time - it reminds me too much of what happened when we first met the monkeys, all those weeks ago.
"Oh!" I yell, my hands trying to get between Sneezy and the sensitive skin of my scalp, before he gives me some permanent injury. "Shit, Sneezy! Get down from there !"
I can feel the waves of trembling shaking the tiny body as it clings to me, and that softens my tone, though the scratches I can feel him making are a pain.
After a long moment, Sneezy shifts, moving reluctantly round to my shoulder - I manage to get hold of him by the scruff of his neck, just in case. One set of monkey-inflicted scalp lacerations is enough for one day, thank you.
Nosey, despite Jack's attempts to distract her, to try and calm her down, is having none of it. Having scrambled up Jack's body, a little slower in her pace than her mate, she throws herself onto one of the 'chairs' nearby.
She is still vocal, the chittering almost a hissing tone now, her fur upright on her arched back. She is bouncing up and down on the 'chair', almost as if she wants Jack to grab her, and, after a moment of watching her with his head cocked slightly to one side, that's exactly what he does.
Well, that's what he tries to do.
The problem is, even in her condition, if she doesn't want to be grabbed, Sneezy is much too fast for Jack. Even as he is reaching for her, she is already moving, coming in my direction, and I brace myself for the impact.
I stagger back a step or two, as Sneezy hits me, my eyes closing involuntarily, so that the last thing I see is Jack, face-down on the seat Sneezy had just vacated. So, by the time I have steadied myself, now the perch for two monkeys, it has started.
Jack is moving around, squirming, struggling in the 'chair' - his movements recall the thrashing about when I rescued him from the quicksand. They are desperate, straining movements, stilled suddenly when the material of the 'chair' wraps itself around Jack, holding him firmly in place.
I can hear my voice, I'm screaming Jack's name, over and over again - I can't get anywhere near him. There is some kind of barrier between me and Jack, the air between is translucent but somehow solid, and I struggle against it.
A green light is bathing Jack where he lies, wrapped up by the damn 'chair', only the movements of his head and feet betraying the fact that he is still alive, still conscious whilst all this is going on. He is thrashing now, moving stiffly against his constraints as I hammer against the immovable barrier with my fists, all my effort futile.
Then, after a set of chiming noises, the wall between us just.... goes.
I fall forward with a thump, not realising how much I had been throwing myself at the barrier that had stood between us, the monkeys still clinging to me like limpets on a rock. As I hit the ground, they let go, but they don't go far, choosing instead to squat nearby, watching me silently.
I crawl across to where Jack is, my concern for him momentarily taking over from any concerns about touching these alien devices.
The 'chair' has relaxed, freeing Jack, and there is something unnerving about the boneless way he is lying there. His eyes are glazed, and even when I reach a trembling hand to touch his cheek, there is no reaction.
It's a good thing that I don't have to think to remember to breathe - all my concentration is focussed on Jack as he lies there, unmoving. I dare not move him, worried that the 'chair' will resist, but he still doesn't react. I've tried speaking to him, yelling at him, I even summoned up the nerve to slap his face, but still nothing.
In some ways this is far worse than when I thought Jack was dead.
Seeing him like this cuts straight to my heart - Jack is normally so full of life, that seeing him lying here like a puppet with its strings cut seems an obscenity against nature. Even when he's asleep, he is still a vital, vibrant individual, with the way that his face moves. Even the way he snores is reassuring, it lets me know he's there with me.
But this.... this half-life is wrong. Not that I will leave him, my heart and brain agree on that within moments of Jack's initial lack of reaction. If I have to wait for him to come out of this whatever-it-is state, then I'll wait for as long as it takes.
I make myself as comfortable as I can, my fingers entwining with Jack's where they lie lax on the alien material - at least he is still warm, still breathing, his heart still beating steadily as ever. That, at least, is of some reassurance to me.
Resting against the 'chair', even though this pulls my hand up awkwardly to where Jack's hand is lying, I settle back to wait for Jack to come back to me. However long it takes, I'll be here. After all, didn't Jack promise that wherever we went, we'd go together? I have to believe that he won't leave me here, not permanently....
How could we think that we could discover how to make this ship work? The arrogance of that thought astounds me now that I have a chance to reflect on it.
Human beings. What a joke - we get to be masters of one small planet and think we know everything. Compared to the race that built this ship, whoever they were, we're like Sneezy and Nosey, but infinitely less endearing.
And going home...
My brain refuses to even start to think about what that would be like. How could I fit in there again, when I struggled so much before? Except last time, I had Sha're, my need to find her.... oh God, Sha're!
A whole succession of if's parade before my mind : if we get back somehow, if we find Sha're, if Jack still wants me....
I can't think about that now.
I refuse to worry about something that might never happen - that kind of speculation is no help to anyone. We can't even get off this planet, we're stuck here, Jack and I, so what's the point of thinking any further than that?
Jack says that my mind is a couple of steps further down the road than everyone else's, that while they're thinking about breakfast, I'm already pondering what's for supper. This time, I can't be like that - I don't *want* to be like that.
All I want, at this very moment, is for Jack to be okay, so we can get the hell out of this ship, get back to our shelter somehow and live what will hopefully be long and happy lives. Together.
Now, if only Jack will cooperate with my plan and wake up some time soon....
The next hour or so seems like an eternity.
My thoughts, willfull as ever, refuse to play along, tantalising me with thoughts of home, of what it might be like being there with Jack. Just as I'm starting to try and get them under control again, struggling against the torture of thoughts of making love in a real bed, Jack moves.
In an instant, I'm on my knees beside the 'chair', hovering over him as he struggles to wake up, his eyelids twitching with the effort as he surfaces.
When he wakes, it's convulsive, as he thrashes upwards from the surface of the 'chair', his back arching with the effort. His lungs heave as if he had been underwater all this time, not lying there boneless, and it's only as he relaxes slightly, hitting the 'chair' again, that his eyes open.
"Hey," he whispers, his hand, still in my grasp, tightening on mine.
"Hey, yourself," I whisper back, pressing a kiss against the back of his hand. I hardly trust myself to speak, I'm all too aware of the way my voice shakes, even with those two words.
Jack's other hand moves, jerkily, coming across to brush across the hair on my forehead, pushing it back out of my eyes as I look across at him. A shaky smile crosses his lips, and I am so relieved to see it there that I can't help but return it.
"That bad?" Jack whispers, the fingers of his free hand tracing their way across my cheek and picking up on the moisture there.
I just nod, not willing to take my eyes off him, off the life that's shining out of those beautiful eyes.
Then, as we're just looking at each other, just glad to be alive and together, it happens. A succession of chiming noises, and Jack cocks his head to one side, as if listening to them - his face becomes thoughtful, reflective.
"Daniel..." he whispers.
"I... this'll sound flaky, I know," he begins, his voice still quiet, and a little sombre.
"More flaky than telepathic monkeys?" I joke, not liking the severe look on Jack's face. I'm rewarded with a fleeting grin, then Jack returns to the subject in hand.
"Maybe not that flaky... Daniel, I can understand those sounds, I know what they mean!"
"WHAT?" Jack's eyes widen slightly as I start to stutter with the surprise. "You... that... you're saying that what happened to you, that was so the ship could communicate with you?"
Jack nods, his eyes intent on my face - I let go of his hand as I get up from where I had been kneeling. Getting up seems like too much effort for him, but he watches me as I pace, his eyes following my every movement.
"Then you can fly this thing?" I conclude, after a minute's thought.
"I think so," Jack replies hesitantly, "but there's only one way to find out for sure...."
This is so bizarre. My body is frozen, trapped in this seat. About the only thing that works are the automatic functions. At least I seem to be still breathing. I damn well hope I'm still breathing. But I can't make my mouth move to generate sounds. I can't lift a hand. All I can do is lay here and think. My brain feels like it's on overdrive.
This is far, far beyond what I'd felt with the monkeys. With them it was the faintest brushes of connection, feather-soft stirrings of emotions and ideas that I simply knew were not my own. But this - it is like having my brain plugged into a giant computer. No more than that, into an entity that is much bigger than myself. It's as though I can feel this entire ship, the touch of vegetation on its hull, the dirt closing around the bottom, the circuitry humming throughout its entire being.
It's alive. Not quite the same way I am, but still aware. I can feel it, waiting patiently for me to respond. 'Waiting for instructions' it had said. But what do I tell it?
Who are you? I ask - no - I think.
The music tells me that it is 'ship' - instead of getting the equivalent of words this time, I get instead an image, a sensation, the totality of what it means to be the ship.
Major 'WOW' time here.
Again it is waiting, so I push at it with the softest of demands Show me?
So it does. My mind is no longer connected to my body, it is flying along the mass of circuitry and metal and power that is this ship. I am the ship. I can feel how it all connects together, which parts are propulsion, which are control, which are storage areas, which are rooms for its occupants.
Where are they? What happened? I merely have to consider the question and it gives me the answer. Damage - pain - from a collision. Asteroids? It rushes by me so fast. The crash. The crew's deaths are shared by the ship through this very same psychic connection that I'm experiencing. Grief and agony race through me, not my own, but now part of me.
Then a quiet, long stretch of time runs through my mind, encapsulated in a sensation of 'waiting' - but not waiting any longer.
"Instructions?" again it queries.
Release me? I ask. I need time to think about this, to consider, to ask Daniel what he thinks. Daniel! How long have I been here like this? He's probably going nuts worrying about me.
No sooner have I thought it than it happens. The ship's presence in my mind retreats to a thin thread. It's there, but only barely. Somehow I know I can seize upon it again when I'm ready, but it won't intrude until I decide to call upon it. Winging a silent 'thank you' in its direction, I reach for awareness of my surroundings.
My mind pops back into my body, remaking connections with a frame that seems strangely small and fragile. I gasp for air, my body convulsing as it responds to the returned presence of my consciousness. Every nerve in my body test-fires, as though verifying the circuitry. Whew.
Then I settle down and can open my eyes. Daniel is staring at me, his eyes wide with terror. I squeeze his hand, trying to reassure him.
"Hey," I whisper, finding it strange to actually hear my own voice.
"Hey, yourself," he replies, lifting my hand to his mouth and kissing it. His voice trembles with emotion. Immediately, I reach up, my muscles moving in weird jerks as I resume control of them, brushing my fingertips over his forehead, his bangs, pushing them back from his eyes. I try to smile, again hoping to assure him that I'm really all right.
He smiles crookedly back at me, his expression still dark.
"That bad?" I ask, seeking and finding the trace of tears on his cheek.
He just nods, staring at me as though terrified I'm going to disappear on him. Oh Daniel, I'm here and I will never willingly leave you. Promise.
Just as I open my mouth to try to say that to him, the ship communicates again. This time the musical tones are followed, like an echo, with their meaning. The same again, waiting for instructions, with an accompanying 'status fully powered and ready to go.' I think the thing is actually impatient. Well, I suppose that if I'd been stuck unable to do anything for as long as it has been, I'd be impatient too.
But it'll have to wait. Daniel comes first, and do we ever need to talk!
"Daniel..." I say, wondering how I'm going to manage to explain this.
"What?" he asks, his voice calming, curiosity beginning to lighten his eyes.
"I... this'll sound flaky, I know," I say seriously, struggling to figure out where to start.
"More flaky than telepathic monkeys?" he teases lightly.
I grin at that, sharing the mutual joke for a moment before tackling the issue of the moment.
"Maybe not that flaky... Daniel, I can understand those sounds, I know what they mean!" I tell him. The resulting explosion is almost faster than I'd expected.
"WHAT?" he shouts, his jaw dropping. Then he starts sputtering excitedly. "You... that... you're saying that what happened to you, that was so the ship could communicate with you?"
I nod. Right now I'm very grateful that Daniel's mind is so quick. It makes the explanations easier when he gets there almost faster than I can tell him about it. He's fully engaged now, letting go of my hand and getting up to pace. I consider getting up too, but frankly, I'm totally exhausted. I feel limp, worn out, and decide to stay put and let Daniel do the moving for both of us.
Of course, it doesn't take him long to hit the most important point.
"Then you can fly this thing?" he says, less a question than a statement.
"I think so," I reply, letting my doubt color my words. I'm not sure..."but there's only one way to find out for sure...."
"Is it safe?" Daniel asks, coming back over to gaze worriedly down at me. "You were unconscious for nearly an hour."
My head jerks upward and I push myself up into a sitting position. "That long?" I ask.
He nods grimly. "You scared me," he admits.
"I didn't realize it was so long," I reply, reaching out to stroke his arm. "It was just so...so..." He's staring at me, all curiosity, as I try to find the words. "The ship is alive, sort of, I mean maybe it's some kind of artificial intelligence, but it connects telepathically with the minds of the people who built it. That's what it did with me when I landed on this couch - it adopted me as a pilot. Not sure why, but it did."
"So you communicated with it telepathically?" Daniel asks, obviously fascinated.
"Yeah." I agree. That's as good a description as any other. I close my eyes and reach for that strand connecting my mind to the ship. "There's a connection now," I tell him. "The ship is waiting, has been for a long time, for someone able to instruct it. I think if I tell it what I want it to do, it'll do it."
"That's amazing," Daniel says, his eyes bright. "Maybe it was able to connect with you because you're a latent telepath. You were able to respond to the monkeys much more easily than I was. I had to be asleep to hear them, so you must have..."
I give him a look, but he ignores it, typically, continuing to theorize.
"Daniel!" I interrupt, reaching out to pull him close. "I don't care how this happened. I just want to see if it works!"
Now it is his turn to give me a look and I can't help chuckling. This is so us. Old engrained patterns of behavior. Daniel wants to understand anything in minute detail and I just want to get things done with a minimum of fuss. He should be the one hooked into this ship. He'd love it!
He catches the change in my demeanor and attends to it.
"What?" he asks, suddenly concerned.
"I wonder if it could connect to you too. There's another chair," I say, gesturing towards it. His eyes light up, a smile curving his lips, as he grabs onto my suggestion. I don't even get a chance to warn him that it packs a pretty big punch before he launches himself over and onto the chair.
He convulses, gasping, as the chair grabs hold of him and the green glow cascades down from the ceiling to encase him. His eyes close and he's gone, his mind flying down the same pathways that I now knew so well.
Jack thinks he can fly this ship - he says he can communicate with it, but I'm not sure if I like where this is leading. After all, he was unconscious for a long time, it seemed like an eternity.
"Is it safe?" I ask, looking down at where Jack is still lying, looking a little drained. "You were unconscious for nearly an hour."
Jack's reaction to this makes me realise he had no idea - despite the effort it takes, he pushes himself to a sitting position, a worried look coming into his eyes. For once, I think I can hear the wheels turning, like he says he can for me.
"That long?" he asks, frowning.
I nod, then add the obvious, just in case he hasn't figured it out yet - it's turning into something of a litany for me....
"You scared me," I say, trying to keep my voice calm, and mostly succeeding.
Jack's worried expression deepens, and he reaches out, his hand coming to rest my arm as I stand there near where he is seated.
"I didn't realize it was so long," he says, stroking my skin gently, "It was just so... so..."
Well, here we have it, Jack lost for words - a new experience, that's for sure. He might not have the biggest vocabulary in the world, but Jack's not stupid, and he normally comes up with something. This time, though, he seems to be struggling, and this makes me stare at him, waiting patiently for the description to come.
"The ship is alive, sort of," Jack says, "I mean maybe it's some kind of artificial intelligence, but it connects telepathically with the minds of the people who built it. That's what it did with me when I landed on this couch - it adopted me as a pilot. Not sure why, but it did."
"So you communicated with it telepathically?"
"Yeah," Jack replies, closing his eyes. The worried expression has left them, and for a moment he says nothing. "There's a connection now. The ship is waiting, has been for a long time, for someone able to instruct it. I think if I tell it what I want it to do, it'll do it."
And I think that Jack has just found us a way off this planet, and my mind races with the possibilities, compiling evidence, testing and rejecting theories, all in the time it takes for Jack to open his eyes and look at me again.
"That's amazing," I begin, "maybe it was able to connect with you because you're a latent telepath. You were able to respond to the monkeys much more easily than I was. I had to be asleep to hear them, so you must have..."
I'm rambling, and I know it, but it's suddenly all too much to take in, and my mouth manages to successfully camouflage the panic I'm starting to feel. We can really go home! Oh shit!
Jack says my name sharply, and I'm jolted back into the realities of this world, my brain and mouth both juddering to a halt. Jack's hand has wrapped round my arm, pulling me closer, while I've been thinking and talking, and I never noticed it happen. Jack's speaking again, and I have to concentrate on what he's saying before I can understand it.
"I don't care how this happened. I just want to see if it works!"
That's Jack alright, prosaic till the end of time - I'm flying mentally and he manages to ground me, pulling me back to reality with just a handful of carefully chosen words. Good thing too, who knows what kind of trouble I'd get into if he weren't around....
Then his face changes, and suddenly Jack is the one looking thoughtful.
"What?" I ask, leaning forward, not liking the paleness of Jack's face under his tan.
"I wonder if it could connect to you too," Jack ponders, his eyes still thoughtful. "There's another chair..."
If I'd had time to think, time to reflect on what effect the chair had on Jack, then maybe I wouldn't have done it. Reflection has never been a strong suit for me though, as Jack would doubtless be able to give countless examples if asked.
When I hit the chair, the first thing that I think is 'what the hell am I doing?' and then it's too late.
The material of which the chair is made, that strangely tepid, strangely textured substance, wraps round me, almost tight enough to choke the last breath out of me. When the green light comes, bathing me with a strange glow, I can feel my body convulse, but it feels like it's a long way away, the sensations travelling to me from a great distance.
If I'd thought that I knew what pain was before, I was mistaken - but this isn't pain as in agony, just an intensity of sensations. Just when I think it can get no more, it's as though a dial is turned up, and the level increases, coming in waves now to sweep me away.
Then a strange feeling, like that feeling you get when you trickle a handful of sand through your fingers, but this time it's happening all over my brain. A sensation of rippling movement within my head, as if I can feel the thoughts spreading out, each piece of information followed relentlessly by another and another.
I want to scream out, to cry for it to stop, that it's all too much, but it just keeps on coming, as if time itself is something I've stepped outside of, and I can watch myself be taken to pieces and reassembled by this alien knowledge.
I can hear myself, as if I'm listening to a badly-tuned radio, a strange whimpering kind of sound coming from a long way away, distorted by distance and interference.
A kind of warmth creeps into me after that, and, rather than recoiling from it, like I want to run from the information that's deluging my mind, something makes me reach out towards it.
He's here - Jack is here with me.
I can feel his presence, though the words are nothing like as precise as speech. It's more a combination of words and emotions, but whatever it is, I am so glad to experience it. I am not alone, and that relief is almost tangible.
Jack - I know you're here with me. We should leave this planet. Now, while we can.
Mental images of the monkeys reach me, and I realise what Jack is trying to communicate. This is their world - it would be wrong of us to try and take them with us, even if they wanted to. We don't know where we might end up when we leave here.... And even if we did ever get back to Earth, what would happen to them?
I can feel Jack's mind reach out to the monkeys, I can see through his eyes, as he concentrates on where Sneezy and Nosey are crouched, watching us intently. I see his hand move as he waves an arm in their direction, but they just sit there, gazing at him, heads cocked to one side, looking for all the world like a pair of bookends.
Jack looks round at me then, and I see myself through his eyes - a strange experience in every sense of the word.
I am ragged, my uniform fatigues torn and stained. My face is covered in stubble, my hair tangled, and there are dark bags under my eyes. But then, to my surprise, I don't just see myself, I feel what Jack is feeling, the way his heart lurches when he looks at me. The odd constriction in his throat, the way his pulse quickens when he recalls us making love....
Thinking his name sends my consciousness slamming back into my body, and I start to gasp for air, disorientated for a moment as my body keeps twitching with the sensations that had been flooding into it.
I'm an idiot.
Of course, not everyone gets the chance to feel what their lover feels for them, so I guess I can forgive myself - all I know, as I feel the chair's strange material relax around me, is that I have the goofiest grin plastered across my face. He really loves me!
After a few minutes, I'm able to get my body back under control, and my limbs start to obey my commands. I swing my legs off the seat, even though my head spins slightly as I go from horizontal to vertical - Jack is sitting up too, his eyes locked onto my face.
His expression is puzzled, so all I can think is that I still have that same stupid grin on my face.
"Daniel?" he whispers.
"I'm fine," I say, though I feel a little strange still. "We need to get Nosey and Sneezy out of here, so we can leave."
"You're grinning," he says, a smile creeping across his face.
"And that's a problem?" I reply.
Jack just shakes his head, and I realise that he felt it too. That it wasn't a one-sided experience, that he knows now how important he is to me, how deeply I care for him, how I wouldn't want to go on without him. Knowing and being known - I've never felt this kind of closeness with anyone before, that sense that the other person knows all the darkest recesses of your soul and still feels the same way about you.
Even with all the ways I think about myself, the things I regret, those I'd rather stuff into the darkest place I can find and throw away the key, Jack still loves me.
And even when he's at his most arrogant and pig-headed, when he pushes me away because he thinks that this will keep me safe, I still love him. More than I could ever express, ever even think about logically.
Because there's nothing logical about it.
Jack says that I make leaps of logic - some might say that falling in love with Jack was the biggest leap I could ever have made.
"Let's go guys," I say, standing up. I swing my arms, as I step towards where the monkeys are squatting, trying to herd them before me.
Nothing. They just sit there and stare at me, as if examining me.
"I'm trying," Jack says, and I turn to look at him. His eyes are closed and he's clearly concentrating hard, trying to communicate with the monkeys.
I close my eyes too, stretching out my mind towards him and....
I'm there! Back inside Jack's mind, feeling the thoughts that Jack is sending towards our small companions, and their responses, images of sadness and loneliness - they don't want to leave us, that much is clear! But Jack is insistent, sending the same images again and again - us far away, the monkeys here together, smaller monkeys gambolling around them as they crouch in front of our shelter.
After some time, it seems to work. Nosey and Sneezy chitter, then turn and leave the chamber, the door whooshing open to let them leave. Our joined mind can feel the monkeys as they move through the ship, until, finally, they go outside.
We shut the door to the outside world, then I take my seat again, relaxing back into the strange material - closing my eyes, I concentrate on becoming part of the ship.
Let's go home, Jack.
|Continued and concluded in Part 6...|