The Accidental Tourist
Written by SGC Gategirl and Hoodawhatzit
The Accidental Tourist
and persistence conquer all things."
catastrophe is the natural human environment, and even though we spend
a good deal of energy trying to get away from it, we are programmed for
survival amid catastrophe."
to mountaineering, just a little physical endurance, a good deal of brains,
lots of practice, and plenty of warm clothing."
Colonel Gary Reynolds sighed and stretched his hands above his head. He aimed a particularly exasperated expression at Doctor Jay Felger, one of the lead scientists on the project he was supervising—unfortunately.
Why was it that scientists had to be just about the most annoying people on the face of any planet?
Glancing around what they considered to be the control room—a huge room at the top of the highest spire in the city—he watched as the scientists scurried around, whispering to themselves and others, ordering those with the gene to 'touch this' and 'touch that'.
It had gotten old fast and they'd been here three days already, with another three full days left, not counting today. Apparently he'd done something horrible to warrant this duty. What it was though was anyone's guess.
"Peterson, do you copy?" Reynolds asked, thumbing the button on his radio as he stopped at the window, his back to the room, his eyes gazing out on the city below and the horizon in the distance, mountains rising to meet the evening sky.
"Here, sir," the Captain said a few moments later. Peterson and Bosco had been searching the city today, taking one building at a time, cataloging everything they found. It wasn't thrilling, but at least they didn't have the scientists ordering them around.
"How goes your investigation?"
"Investigation?" The small voice was clearly amused. "Have you been watching CSI again?"
"Not since last week and it was a two parter. The dvd recorder better have worked." Reynolds glanced over his shoulder, rolling his eyes as two of the scientists argued in the far corner. He more or less ignored their little tiffs. It wasn't deadly until the protractors came out.
Although, come to think of it, these guys could probably kill each other with a pencil eraser given the right motive.
"Hang on, Peterson," he said, clicking off his radio. He moved toward the center of the room, stopping as he reached a console, refusing to touch it lest something else turned on under his palms. He'd learned the hard way when he overloaded a circuit the first day they were here by leaning both hands on the top of one of the devices. His mind had apparently run away with the Ancient equipment for a bit. Felger hadn’t been happy.
Although, Felger was rarely happy these days. Something about bad casting on one of his favorite science fiction television shows. He could never understand what the interest was since he was living a science fiction sitcom every day of his life.
"Hey," he called, his raised voice catching their attention, two sets of speckled eyes turning to look at him. "What's up?"
Doctor Brian Nicholson glanced at Doctor Janie Mahoney before answering. "Nothing."
Reynolds' eyebrow rose. "Nothing? It didn't look like nothing." Sometimes he swore he was watching five-year-olds. What did O'Neill have against him this week?
Nicholson's eyes scooted around the room before ending up glancing in his direction again. "Mahoney here was going to disconnect one of my cables to hook up her own monitoring panel. She claims that mine isn't working correctly."
"And," piped up Mahoney, "he's over-acting as usual." An eye roll accompanied her comment.
The other scientist scowled at his brown-haired colleague. "Just because you think your work is more important doesn't mean that mine is less valuable or wrong. And besides," Nicholson continued, "if you'd waited five more minutes I would have been finished with this particular connection. But, no, you had to just go ahead as if you were running this expedition."
Mahoney opened her mouth but Reynolds cut her off, scowling at the two of them. "Do I have to order you to separate corners of the room and call for a time out? The two of you are worse than my nephews." He shook his head, letting out a sigh. Felger, of course, was pointedly ignoring the entire exchange. A glance at the other scientist revealed him quietly working away on the other side of the room, his head bobbing up and down minutely as he pecked away at his tablet PC.
Wait a minute, Reynolds thought, spotting a white cord snaking up into Felger's ear.
He threw a threatening look at the two facing-off scientists. "Just get back to work before I send one of you to check out the recycling plant." Shocked expressions followed as they slowly moved to different panels, shooting their own accusatory glances at each other while he moved toward Felger.
Stepping closer, he could hear the drum beat leaking from the headphones seated in the scientist's ears, the man oblivious to everything except the music and the screen in his hands.
An evil smile twitched on his lips.
He stepped closer the strains from the music nearly recognizable.
Felger's head bopped up and down, its rhythm not even remotely in synch with the beat. His fingers tapped an alternate melody on his computer. Reynolds was thankful that the man had gone into science instead of music. He couldn't even begin to imagine the sounds one man could subjugate mankind to.
Reynolds stepped closer, purposely entering the scientist's personal space. It took about thirty seconds before Felger felt it, his fingers twitching mid-tap.
A few seconds later the scientist's head snapped up and around and he was face-to-face with Reynolds, their noses only a few inches apart. Reynolds swore Felger jumped several feet in the air as he scrambled to move away, his shrill shriek echoing around the room. He nearly lost his grip on the laptop as well—among other things, Reynolds added absently.
"Are you trying to kill me?" Felger asked, his voice higher than normal as he pulled the earbuds from his ears.
Reynolds ignored the question. "How far have you gotten?"
The scientist moved a few steps closer, the headphones dangling from his hand. "It's hard to say, Colonel," Felger said, his eyes glancing down to the computer screen. "I've been able to isolate some systems, but it's going to take some time before we're able to figure out what everything does and how it all works."
"You've had three days."
"And the Ancients built this city in years. It's going to take some time to learn how they did it. Not like I can just absorb everything through my skin."
"Are you talking about osmosis? What does that have to do with anything?"
Felger shot him a surprised glance. "I mean that we're going to be here a long time and if you keep interrupting me to ask questions it's going to take longer."
Reynolds reached over, grabbing the white cords and yanking, an iPod shuffle sliding out of Felger's right-hand jacket pocket. "Then I suggest you get back to work."
"The music wasn't slowing me down, Colonel," Felger said, scowling as Reynolds pocketed the small device. "The translation program from Doctor McKay isn't the fastest thing on the planet and every time I have to ask one of you to turn something on or activate something, it takes ten minutes while I explain why I want you to do it. Not exactly efficient."
"Then why don't you turn it on yourself?" Reynolds' snapped. "Oh, wait, I know why—the gene therapy didn't work on you, did it?" Felger scowled. "Our job is to protect the scientists—from threats and from themselves."
"We know what we're doing."
"And that computer virus?"
"Wasn't my fault."
Reynolds nodded slowly. "Uh huh. The reports say otherwise."
Reynolds shook his head from side to side, trying not to laugh.
"Seriously, Colonel, this isn't exactly an easy job. Alien technology is hard enough when you don't have to worry about a slow translation program and the fact that most of the people working on it have no way to directly interface with it."
"They don't give us the easy jobs, Felger," Reynolds said. "So, why do Doctor Zelenka and most of the scientists on Atlantis without the gene not have problems and issues?"
"They have them, we just don’t hear about it because McKay writes the science reports."
"So maybe we should have Doctor McKay here instead since you don't seem like you're up to the task."
"I can do this."
"Then show me." Reynolds scowled at the scientist, watching as his shoulders slumped.
"I might…" he began grimacing a little.
"I might need some help."
"And you came to this conclusion, when?"
"About two hours after we got here."
"And you didn't share that with me then?"
Felger shook his head. "I thought I could figure it out."
Reynolds took a deep breath. "I think it's about time to get the big guns involved and I know just who to call."
O’Neill emerged from the Stargate just barely managing to contain the relief he felt at his successful escape from Cheyenne.
It was a sad fact of his life that as General Jack O’Neill—commander of the SGC—he rarely got off-world anymore.
Colonels had all the fun, he mused as he moved down the stone steps. Although from the look on his face, Gary Reynolds would probably disagree with him at the moment.
“General, welcome to P3X-841.”
“We have got to come with a better name for this place,” O’Neill observed, as he took in his surroundings. The city was impressive. It sprawled across a shallow valley, lacking the symmetry and order of Atlantis although its Ancient origins were unmistakable.
Soaring spires and towers thrust into the sky, combinations of stone, metal, and glass. Wide avenues knifed arrow straight paths across the city while narrower streets and walking paths curved and wound around buildings and long overgrown parks and gardens.
Given the amount of time the city had been abandoned, it was astoundingly intact.
“We’re still trying to access most of the databases and systems,” Reynolds explained. “Although the technology is very similar to Atlantis, it seems that there are many separate systems. We’re not even sure if there is a central control system that operates the entire city.”
“We really have no idea how old this place might be,” Daniel chimed in. “Based on what we’ve seen so far, we’re pretty certain that this city expanded over time.”
“We’re still assuming these people never went to Pegasus?” Jack asked.
“Yes, sir,” Carter confirmed.
“So where did they go?”
Carter glanced at Daniel who had the grace to look embarrassed.
“We uh… don’t really know,” he admitted.
“Not yet,” Carter quickly added. “But the answer is somewhere up there,” she said, pointing down the long, wide avenue that led from the Stargate deep into the city’s center where the largest and grandest spire soared high above the cityscape.
Their footsteps echoed oddly down the empty streets. It was rather creepy in a way. The lack of life in place so obviously meant to be teeming with people. Teal’c had remarked on it when he’d returned to Earth after his first visit here. The way the city seemed to be waiting until it was brought to life again.
Jack was actually relieved to hear various bird songs and the hum of insects as they strolled past or sometimes through small gardens or parks that had long gone wild and unkempt. It lent a sense of reality—solidity—that balanced the vast emptiness and quelled the irrational expectation that all of the city’s former inhabitants were hiding just around the next corner or building.
“You get used to it,” Reynolds said, seeming to read Jack’s thoughts. “Although I do admit I keep expecting to wake up one morning to find some Ancient asking ‘Who’s been sleeping in my bed?’”
“I’ll bet,” Jack agreed. “I keep wondering what the catch is.”
“For starters, they could’ve left instructions on how to turn the damn thing on,” Reynolds replied. “We keep hoping we’ll get lucky and trigger one of the main databases and maybe get some answers about what’s what. There’s just so many systems and the scientists have pretty much been reduced to best guesses about what most of it does.”
“And that’s different from normal…how exactly?” Jack asked.
“Well, usually they get to push the buttons themselves. I swear, Jack, they’re driving those of us with the gene insane.”
Jack couldn’t help it. He laughed.
“It’s not funny! You just wait until Felger absolutely insists with a straight face that you must have pushed a button the wrong way. Now I ask you… how the hell is that even possible?”
“And you wanted me here to… what?”
“Set some priorities. Make sure they understand some basics—like chain of command. This is big. It’s likely the most important thing we’ve ever stumbled across aside from the Stargate itself and they know it. They’re a little hard to contain.”
“Gary, I learned a long time ago that sometimes you have to let people do what they do best. They’ll figure it out,” Jack assured him. “They always do. One way or another.”
“I appreciate that but it would help if you let them know they don’t have to do it all in a single week. Sir, I honestly think they’re afraid you’ll take it all away from them if they don’t come up with concrete results.”
Jack glanced around at the buildings that surrounded him and shook his head. “If there’s one thing I can almost guarantee,” he said, “it’s that we aren’t going to be leaving this planet any time soon.”
* * *
If he walked by her again and sighed, Sam Carter swore she was going to hit him—or at least have a very difficult time holding back.
He'd been here for several hours already and—thankfully, amazingly—had been very helpful. Colonel Reynolds had toured him through a section of the building they were attempting to get up and running and he'd turned on anything the scientists had asked him to without so much as a complaint.
Interestingly, the power system she's turned on a few months back was the secondary system—according to what she'd been able to figure out from the computers in the control room—but whatever energy source it used was handling the strain of the various systems coming online without a glitch. She was a little hesitant to start turning on power in some of the larger buildings until she could get the main power system up and running, but hopefully that wouldn't take too long—once she figured out where it was.
That was a minor detail, but one that would become increasingly important as they began to get deeper into the systems and as they continued exploring the city. But it was good to know that the secondary power systems were so robust.
Footfalls sounded just behind where she was seated on the floor, half her body hidden inside the one console she was working on. She tensed as they stopped and without looking, she knew it was him.
When she heard the whirl of the power drill she'd left on top of the console, she knew without a doubt that the General was amusing himself with her tools—the ones that were running on the last of her rechargeable batteries. They had yet to figure out how to interface Earth-based power strips with the Ancient systems.
Was it bad that she was considering daisy-chaining several extension cords and power strips to a modified naquadah generator? Either that, or she was going to have to break down and ask McKay how he managed to get everything to work on Atlantis. It might be easier to ask him, but she didn't want to admit that he might know something she didn't. Although, given the age of this compared to the outpost in Antarctica, the systems might be very different.
Sighing, she pushed herself out from under the console, keeping her head down to make sure she didn't knock it again. She'd managed to do that several times already and it wasn't any more fun the fifth time than it was the first. It still hurt like hell.
"Sir," she said, eyeing him carefully as she climbed to her feet. He was still completely kitted up even though he'd been inside for several hours now, in a place they'd been working in for weeks.
"Carter," O'Neill said, turning a broad smile her way as he put the drill down. "How's it going?"
"Fine, sir." She paused, watching as his eyes shifted around the room, his fingers itching to play with something. She moved several delicate tools out of his reach, placing them back in her toolbox. "I thought Felger needed some help downstairs."
His eyebrow rose and he narrowed his eyes at her, annoyance sliding across his face before his expression neutralized. "I stopped there with Reynolds. Turned on what he needed a few hours ago."
"Don't you think you should check on him again? He might be finished with that system."
"Naa. He'll call when he wants something else." O'Neill leaned forward, his fingers grasping a screwdriver, twirling it between his agile digits.
She watched him for a few minutes before speaking again. "You were expecting something a little more…exciting, weren't you, sir?"
"It's an Ancient city."
"Yes, an old Ancient city that hasn't been occupied in a very long time."
"It's an Ancient city, Carter. It's supposed to have cool things that light up and toys to play with."
"It might, but until we can get the rest of the power systems up and running I don't want to risk overloading the secondary systems."
O'Neill rolled his eyes, but didn't disagree with her. "Sow much of the city have you explored?"
He shrugged, the screwdriver twirling a little more enthusiastically in his hands. "Just what I saw on the way in."
"It looks like we have everything under control for the minute, sir. Why don't you take the chance to get some fresh air, maybe take a walk with Teal'c? I'm sure he'll enjoy doing something other than frightening the science staff."
A few beats passed before the General dropped the tool onto the top of the console. "I think I'll find T."
"Good decision, sir," she replied to his back as he made a beeline for the elevator. Maybe now she'd get a little work done.
Jack slipped on his sunglasses as he stepped out into the bright sunlight at street level. “Where are we going, T?”
“Do you not wish to be surprised, O’Neill?” Teal’c asked.
“Well, that depends,” Jack replied.
“It is my belief that you will appreciate this surprise.”
“In that case, lead the way.”
They walked in silence for a time. Jack felt some of the tension of the morning slip away as Teal’c led him through empty streets. The doors on all the buildings in the area had been marked with large fluorescent duct tape X’s to indicate SG teams had already searched the interiors and catalogued the contents. They hadn’t found much of interest, however.
All evidence indicated the city’s former inhabitants had simply picked up and left. Their reason for mothballing the city and vanishing remained a mystery.
Each day that passed without incident helped ease Jack’s anxiety but old warnings about gift horses were hard to set aside.
“Teal’c, how much of the city have you seen?”
“Only this quadrant. The city is very large. Colonel Reynolds has assigned teams to four different areas to speed the search.”
“Have you noticed anything unusual about this place?”
Teal’c turned his head and looked at Jack. “Only its existence,” he replied.
Jack nodded. “Yeah, that pretty much sums it up doesn’t it?”
“We have detected nothing that would indicate danger.”
“You see, that’s a bit unusual too; don’t ya’ think?” Jack said.
Teal’c smiled. “Perhaps we have finally… caught a break?”
“Now that would be unusual. This place…” Jack waved a hand indicating the city rising around them. “Well, it could be just what we need.”
“It would seem so, O’Neill. Yet you seem apprehensive.”
“If we go forward, there’s a lot riding on this idea,” Jack explained. “We sure as hell don’t wanna screw it up because we didn’t check out the neighborhood.”
“Is that not what we are attempting to do?”
“Yeah, I know… I know. Just keep your eyes open, T. I don’t want any surprises.”
“Then we should return to the central tower,” Teal’c teased. “Perhaps I was mistaken to assume you would enjoy my discovery.” He stopped walking and placed his hands behind his back.
“Now come on, T. Don’t be like that. This is the first time I’ve been out of the mountain in weeks. You know sometimes I actually find myself wishing we’d have a foothold situation just to give me something to do besides paperwork, meetings, and butting heads with bureaucrats in D.C.”
“You are indeed in need of rest if you desire an invasion, O’Neill.”
“Exactly!” Jack slapped him on the shoulder. “So are you going to show me this surprise or what? ‘Cause it’s just a matter of time before Carter and the others need me back for some strenuous button pushing.” Jack pulled his cap off and swiped a finger through his hair. “When Reynolds said I was needed, I should’ve known there would be a catch. There’s always a catch, Teal’c. That’s my point! When has there not been a catch?”
Teal’c stood silently, his expression neutral.
“What?” Jack demanded.
There was no response.
“What?” Jack repeated. “Are we just going to stand here all day or are you going to show me what you found?”
“If you would cease your complaining it may begin to become clear to you.”
“Are you telling me to shut up?”
Jack nodded. “That’s what I thought.” He pulled his cap on and adjusted the brim. “Well?”
“Listen?” Jack echoed.
Teal’c’s eyebrow twitched and Jack grinned. “Okay! Don’t thump me, T.”
“It is not my intent to do so…yet.”
“Shhhh…” Jack scolded. “I’m trying to listen.”
It was quiet—too quiet if you were standing in the middle of a huge city. The seeming silence only called attention to the emptiness. Jack closed his eyes hoping if he didn’t see the empty buildings surrounding him his brain would stop telling him what he should be hearing and wasn’t.
As he concentrated, he began to isolate the sounds of the abandoned city—bird calls, insects, the occasional whisper of a breeze or gust of wind. Underneath those sounds was something steadier and somehow familiar. A gurgling.
Jack’s opened his eyes and stared at Teal’c.
“I hate to break it to you, big guy, but I already know about the river from the UAV photos.”
“I am aware of your knowledge, O’Neill. You are correct; the river is not far from our present location but that is not our destination.”
“No, it is not. Do you wish to proceed?”
“Are you kidding me? After this build up? Point the way, my friend.”
Teal’c inclined his head and gestured toward a side street.
They had not walked far before coming to the one of the numerous parks that were sprinkled throughout the city. It was one of the largest Jack had seen. The park was surrounded by a low wall and Jack could see the path meandering through the large trees—at least where it wasn’t overtaken by the undergrowth.
“In there?” Jack asked.
“No lions and tigers and bears I hope.”
“None that we have found,” Teal’c replied.
“You’re not going to tell me are you?” Jack asked.
“I do not wish to spoil your surprise.”
Jack sighed. “Fine. You know, you’re enjoying this way too much,” he said, stepping onto the path. “Are you coming or not?” he added.
Teal’c made no comment as he followed.
“We’ll have to hire some landscapers,” Jack observed. Although wild and overgrown, it was obvious the green space had been meticulously planned originally. There were even benches placed at intervals along the paths.
It was shady and peaceful. The tree branches intertwined overhead. The occasional gaps in the leafy ceiling allowed sunlight to filter through and afforded only brief reminders of the city around them by providing a brief view of towers and spires. The path twisted and curved but in an easy way.
If any of his people were fond of bird watching they were going to be enjoying themselves, Jack decided. Although they’d have to develop their field guides from scratch since from the flashes of color and glimpses he’d gotten as the park’s avian inhabitants flitted from tree to tree were a great reminder that they weren’t anyplace Audubon had ever visited.
The small fuzzy animals that scampered up and down the tree trunks weren’t exactly squirrels either but Jack couldn’t help but make the comparison in his head.
Jack had a growing sense of respect for the city’s Ancient builders who had so deliberately included such natural—albeit at their time tamed—spaces in the midst of such imposing stone, metal, and glass.
They rounded a turn in the path and Jack stopped. He turned to look at Teal’c who seemed very pleased with himself.
“Teal’c, are you going to tell me what I think you are going to tell me?” Jack asked, staring at the sight ahead of him.
“I do not read minds, O’Neill. I do not know what you think I will tell you.”
“Teal’c, just tell me… no beating around the bush… no fun and games… just tell me—are there fish in that lake?”
“Colonel Ferretti assures me there are many fish in that lake, although we have not yet ascertained their edibility.”
Jack looked around the clearing the lake was nestled in. It was much bigger than his pond at the cabin but still not huge. It was irregular in shape, the far end bowed out wide and round while the near end narrowed into a finger-like point. The path ahead split and obviously circled the entire body of water. Jack spotted several points of land that jutted out into the water that would be perfect places for a would-be angler.
“It doesn’t matter, T.”
“I did not believe it would, O’Neill.”
The elevator doors opened and the sunshine streaming through the windows nearly blinded Daniel Jackson as he stepped into the control room—as the scientists and the first-contact team had taken to calling it.
Apparently, no one had figured out if the windows could be tinted or shaded. He didn't think the Ancients were that stupid. Although, he though, remembering the reports about the Atlantis puddlejumpers and their distinct lack of seat belts. Why was it that some of the bad concepts dramatized in 1960s science fiction television turned out to be true?
Shading his eyes with his raised hand, he stepped into the room, squinting through tearing eyes to find Sam. He spotted Colonel Reynolds leaning over one of the main consoles, his weight resting on his elbows as he lounged standing up. His hands were moving, but Daniel couldn't make out the person he was talking to.
Moving carefully around the now booby-trapped room and the randomly-sprawled science team members, Daniel managed to get out of the direct sunlight, his eyes adjusting quickly. He would recognize the blonde head he saw anywhere.
"Sam," he called out, stepping over someone's legs and large toolbox and nearly falling on a PowerBar wrapper.
"Daniel," she said, a smile on her tired and dirty face. "I thought you were working on the consoles downstairs. Are you finished already?"
"I'm not even close to being done," he said offering Sam a hand up which she took, dusting herself off when she regained her feet. "But it appears like that room is a large card catalog—a huge database of sorts. Names and addresses, some descriptions of places, maps, and numbers which might be some kind of personal identification."
"Isn't that dangerous to have there?" Colonel Reynolds asked, his forehead creased in concern as he straightened up. "If anyone could have access to that information—"
"I think that room is set up to be public terminals, almost like a town hall or city center," Daniel explained, his hands trying to explain what words were having difficultly describing. "The more I look into it, the more I think that the consoles were restricted to only accessing publicly-known information."
"And you make this assumption…how? Reynolds asked.
Daniel ticked off the reasons on his fingers. "The placement of the terminals—centrally located, easily accessible. The very user-friendly interfaces suggest that people of all levels could use them. The room is basically all doors and windows, not exactly a secure location. And the doors opened as soon as the SG teams moved close enough." Daniel shook his head. "The main level of this building was definitely a public area."
"So how much information is in there?" Sam asked, her eyes wider than they were a few minutes ago.
"A lot." Daniel sighed, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. "I left Peterson paging through the records, but there are thousands—tens of thousands—of entries."
"How many people lived here?"
He shrugged, turning toward the Colonel to answer his question. "It's hard to tell. I did see several entries that listed the person as 'deceased', so it might store all the name of everyone who was ever in this city either as a resident or a guest."
"So guests could register there too?" Sam asked, her voice showing the awe that was on her face.
"One of the consoles is set apart from the rest and it looks like it needs an operator to use it. That console might be able to access some of the more restricted information."
"But I can't get in."
"And you need the General."
Daniel nodded. "Or his gene."
"Peterson's wasn't working?" Reynolds asked, interrupting Daniel and Sam's back and forth.
"No. He tried, but it might need a 'real' Ancient to activate it or something. Might be a special security protocol."
"But it can tell the difference between a naturally occurring gene and one that was artificially injected? That's…amazing." Sam shook her head, obviously trying to process that piece of information. "There must be some kind of microscopic scanner—"
"Yeah, I know," Daniel interrupted, trying to cut her off before she got too involved. "So…I wanted to come up and see if Jack was around."
"No. He went for a walk with Teal'c about an hour ago," she replied, shaking her head, her eyes shifting to one of the scientists walking past.
"Kicked him out, did you?"
Her head snapped back quickly. "No. I just suggested that he might want to get some fresh air and explore a little."
"And now I'm going to call him back in," Daniel said nodding slowly. "I understand. Do you want me to wait a bit?"
Sam shook her head as she checked her watch. "No. It's going to get dark soon anyway. Colonel," she said, turning to Reynolds, "would you do the honors?"
"Oh, thanks," he said with a grimace. "Give me the dirty work."
"You want me to do what?" Jack O'Neill asked as he stood at the edge of the lake, his eyes twitching toward Teal'c standing silently at his side.
"Daniel wants you to try and turn on one of the consoles downstairs. He said it's locked."
"And he thinks I have the key." Jack sighed at Reynolds' positive reply. Letting the breath out in a long huff, he continued. "Fine. We'll be there in a few minutes. O'Neill out."
"Colonel Reynolds requests your presence?" T asked as they turned back along the path they'd walked earlier, heading into the setting sun.
"Yeah," he replied, gazing over hi shoulder at the calm surface of the water behind them. "Daniel thinks I can turn on one of the doohickeys he's working on."
"Is that not why you are present?"
"Yeah, it is." Jack sighed again as the soft ground changed to stone and they picked up the pace. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm thankful to get out of the mountain and off-world. You have no idea what it took to get this little side-trip approved. It's just that they're…scientists."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "Was that not why you selected these people, because of their specialties in science and technology?
"How are they any different than warriors trained for a specific purpose?"
Jack stopped suddenly, looking at his friend carefully before speeding up once again to catch up with the Jaffa. "Well, they're scientists, first of all."
"Colonel Carter is a scientist."
"Yes, she is, but she's different."
Raising an eyebrow, Jack tried to figure out if the other man was just pulling his leg, but the stoic expression was not giving him any clues. "I thought at your age that you knew about the birds and the bees."
The corner of Teal'c's mouth rose slightly and Jack knew he'd broken through. "Seriously, though, T, Carter's always been different, more soldier than scientist."
"And yet, it was her expertise in science that helped to free us from certain situations where combat would not succeed."
Jack inclined his head toward the Jaffa. "True. It still doesn't mean that they don't get on my nerves."
Teal'c turned toward him this time, his eyes piercing. "I share a similar mind as you in regards to many individuals."
It took him a full minute before he got the subtle undertone of Teal'c's statement. "Are you trying to tell me something?"
"Would I not be forthright if there was knowledge you required?" he answered instead as they approached the central spire, climbing the steps and stepping inside the cool interior. Daniel was hunched over one of the consoles, with Peterson hovering nearby.
"Daniel," Jack called, the other man's head rising, his hand gesturing him over.
"Thanks, Jack. Sorry to interrupt your field trip," he said once they were standing next to him, Teal'c a few paces back next to Peterson.
"Not a problem," he replied, shrugging off the apology. He was here to work even if it was only turning stuff on. "So what do we have here?"
"I think it's a password, or Ancient protected system. It won't let me or Peterson access the data, but I think you should be able to."
Jack moved closer, his eyes skimming across the surface of the console. "Why me?"
"You have the naturally occurring ATA gene, but Peterson's is artificially created. If you can't open it, then we're going to need to get someone to hack the system and I don't know if the Ancients had any safeguards against that kind of tampering."
Nodding, Jack reached out, his hand hovering over the keys. "Am I looking for anything specific?"
"No. I just want you to give me access to the information in this console."
Taking a deep breath, Jack closed his eyes and touched the cool surface of the console. It was strange. He could almost like he could hear the system in his head, posing inquiries and then allowing him to pass through each layer. Deeper and deeper he went until somehow, he knew he was done. It was a feeling, nothing concrete, but when he opened his eyes the console before him was lit up brighter than it had been several minutes ago and Daniel was already beginning to scroll through the information on the screen.
"Oh, wow," Daniel said, the words soft-spoken.
"Did that work?" Jack asked, already knowing the answer as he stepped back.
"Yeah, yeah. That was great. Just what I needed," Daniel replied absently. "Thanks."
Rolling his eyes, Jack chuckled. "I'm going to see what Carter has for dinner. I’m hungry," he said, turning toward the nearest elevator. He turned to find Peterson at his shoulder. "Captain."
"Sir, do you mind if I join you? I need to speak to Colonel Reynolds and he was upstairs in the control room."
Jack shrugged as they stepped into the small enclosure. "Sure." He poked the picture on the back wall and the doors slid shut and they were on they're way a moment later. Narrowing his eyes at the other man, Jack finally broke the silence. "I don't need a babysitter, you know."
"Sir?" Peterson's eyes were wide, his face dropping a shade or two of color. "I need to talk to Colonel—"
O'Neill waved him off. "It's okay, Captain. Who was it this time?"
"Colonels Carter and Reynolds, sir."
He shook his head, muttering under his breath. Peterson looked at him askingly, but Jack ignored him, instead choosing to match out of the elevator once the door opened on the control room level.
"Carter," he said, bee-lining for the scientist, "you've been keeping things from me."
She turned and her face blanched a little as her eyes slid behind him, focusing on Peterson. "Sir?"
"The lake, Carter."
Her lips formed a circle for a moment before she replied. "So, Teal'c showed you then?"
"It's really fascinating, sir," she said, moving toward one of the activated consoles, her fingers floating over the surface, the screen above coming to life with diagrams and images and loads of Ancient text. "It's fed by an underground system…"
Jack nodded as Carter continued her explanation, talking about underground currents and rivers and energy pods and other things. As long as she knew what it all was, he didn't need to know the minute details. He liked the big picture view. Was usually a lot prettier.
When she finally started to trail off, he smiled and nodded. "Sounds great, Carter. How about some dinner?"
She looked at him for a long moment before nodding her head. "Sure. I think Reynolds brought up some MREs earlier." She moved off, finally bending over a pack on the far side of the room, digging through its contents.
Rolling his shoulders, he realized he'd been carrying his pack all day—with his weapon attached—and his shoulders and back were bothering him a little. He needed to get out in the field more if a couple of hours with a pack was going to give him aches and pains. This was ridiculous.
Moving toward Carter, he unclipped his swinging P90, setting it down next to the wall as he shrugged himself out of his gear, leaving his sidearm and knife in place. They didn't weigh much and he'd feel naked without something close.
"Sir?" Reynolds asked, stopping beside Jack as he stood.
"Time for dinner and with everyone else packing, I thought it was safe enough for me to eat dinner without the heavy artillery."
Gary smiled, nodding. "It's been quiet here, but the silence's been putting the patrols on edge. We'll keep an eye out while you get some grub. If you wait a few more hours I think Bosco will be cooking something up in the kitchen. He mentioned something about it earlier."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Real food? I might have an MRE now and try some of that later. I skipped lunch today."
"I'll let him know to expect you then," Reynolds said, moving away as Carter handed Jack one of the brown pouches.
"Thanks," he said, glancing around for a clear spot where he could sit.
"Sir," Carter said, pointing toward a spot along the wall where one of the ledges was large enough to be used as a bench.
"Perfect," he replied with a smile as he moved carefully through the room, the lake Teal'c had showed him before stretched out below him. Opening his meal quickly, he dug in, talking around a mouthful. "Is this how you found it?"
"What, from up here?"
"Actually, no," she replied. "One of the scout teams found it before they discovered the control room. It amazing what you can see from up here, isn't it?"
"Very." He was quiet, enjoying the food, the company, and the view. The sun was setting, giving the sky a colorful hue, different from what was on Earth, but not totally alien. The clouds hovered over the mountaintops, caressing the tree-covered peaks before the green descended into the darkness of the forest, a few breaks in the monochrome covering revealing the sparking of fast-moving water.
He absently realized he'd finished his late-lunch some time ago and Carter had gone back to work, leaving him to enjoy the sights. Rolling his shoulders, he stood, depositing his garbage in one of the bags designated for that purpose. Finding Reynolds on the other side of the room, he walked over.
"Enjoy your food?"
"As much as anyone can enjoy an MRE I imagine," Jack commented. "The view is spectacular, though."
Reynolds nodded. "That it is."
"I do have one question."
"Two floors down, sir. You can take the stairs or the elevator. It's actually closer to the elevator than the stairs."
Jack smiled. "Thanks, I'll be right back."
Heading for the elevator, his eyes skimmed over the scenery below, the setting sun reflecting off one of the larger lakes a little further out from the city. It was probably filled with fish too, he thought as he stepped inside the elevator.
Jabbing his finger approximately two stories down the doors closed behind him and before he could turn around his world turned a bright white.
Gary Reynolds scowled and his forehead scrunched together as the control room darkened suddenly. His head snapped around, his eyes scanning everything in sight. Vaguely he realized that the sun was still shining brightly outside but it was the windows that had changed, tinting by themselves. The lights inside the room, however, flickered several times before settling into a brightness they weren't used to before one of the consoles started showering sparks.
And then everything was back to normal—or at least how it was before Gary thought he was having a stroke.
Until a few seconds later when the power turned off entirely.
"Carter!" Reynolds yelled, turning on the scientist who was cautiously approaching the still smoldering and sparking panel, Peterson at her side.
"If I can pull the crystal it'll stop," she replied before diving forward, her hand outstretched as her fingers reached into the console's underbelly. A few seconds later she emerged triumphant, brandishing a slightly darkened pink crystal in her hands, the electrical display finally ending.
"What happened?" he asked, stepping cautiously around several toolboxes and consoles.
"It looks like we may have overloaded some of the circuits," she replied, wiping her face, only but managing to spread a dark soot stain on her cheek.
"Some? It certainly looked like more than some." Peterson muttered just loud enough for Reynolds and Carter to overhear.
"Sam, what's going on up there?" Daniel's voice was tiny, emerging from the radio on Reynolds' vest. "We lost power."
"Everything under control down there?" Reynolds asked, triggering his radio into transmit mode. "Anything on fire?"
"We're fine, it's just a little darker than before. The sun's more or less down so we've set up some emergency lights," came his reply a moment later. The last few words sounded a little fainter and Reynolds figured that the other man was probably looking around as the rest of the team set up their emergency supplies.
"All the windows up here are helping us with the lights, but not for long," Reynolds agreed, gesturing for Peterson to take out some of their own torches. "Stay tight. We're still trying to figure out what happened."
"Will do. Let me know. Daniel out."
"So," Reynolds asked, clicking his radio off. "What happened?"
"I have no idea. I’m going to have to check the logs and see where the power surge came from. That's what I think happened, but I could be wrong. I've never seen Ancient equipment spark like that."
"Well, it is pretty old."
"No," she said, shaking her head. "That's not it. Something else happened. We were well within our current power limits."
"Well, what were you working on? I wasn't touching anything. Were you, Peterson?"
"No, sir," the other man replied, setting a large flashlight on one of the consoles on the other side of the room.
"Anyone else touching anything up here?"
A series of 'no, sirs' echoed throughout the room.
"So, that leaves the group with Daniel and Felger's group on level five." Reynolds looked at Carter, his eyes widening suddenly.
"And the General," Carter said, completing his thought.
Reynolds reached for his radio, clicking it on. "General O'Neill, come in please."
"Sir," Peterson said, pulling Reynolds' attention. The Captain was holding up a flak vest, complete with a radio attached. "I think this is the General's."
Damn. "Peterson, run down two levels and make sure he's okay. Radio in and let me know. He was headed to the men's room."
"You think it was the General?" Carter asked as Peterson's running feet faded as he quickly dashed down the stairs.
Reynolds shrugged. "He does have the tendency to touch things he shouldn't."
Carter wasn't buying it. "He's been using the elevator all afternoon. Why now? What's different?"
"I don't know, but if we didn't do it, what happened?"
"Sir," Peterson said, calling in on the radio.
"What did you find?"
"Nothing, sir. No one's down here."
"There's only one men's room on this floor."
"Will do. Peterson out."
Carter was looking in his direction but her eyes weren't focused on him. "Carter?"
She moved, picking up one of the tablet PCs and a few cables as she headed to the elevator. Once there, she tugged at the side panel, the cover lifting off. "What if he's stuck?"
"Can you open the door with that?" he asked, gesturing to the equipment she was plugging in.
"Yes. There should be enough residual energy. If not, we can always pull it open."
"Peterson to Reynolds."
"This is Reynolds. Go." He held Carter's eyes, hoping his teammate had good news.
"This level's empty. No one here."
"Yes, sir. Checked every room."
"Peterson, hold one minute. Carter," he said, clicking off the radio. "Get that door open." She nodded, concentrating as her fingers flew over the screen. The doors slid open.
It was empty.
Changing his radio frequency to broadcast on every channel, he clicked on again. "This is Reynolds. There has been a power failure in the main building and General O'Neill is missing. We need to search this building. He could be hurt and he doesn't have a radio. With the power down, there's no way for him to contact anyone. Teal'c will assign teams for the military personnel. Colonel Carter will organize the science teams to get power back up." He paused, holding Carter's eyes. "Let's find him people. Move."
Jack’s stomach lurched and the brilliant white light around him faded.
The panel in front of him popped loudly and a suddenly a shower of crackling sparks erupted in his face. He threw up an arm and back pedaled quickly. The sparks sputtered and died. Thin tendrils of smoke slowly rose and dissipated and the panel went dark.
So did the lights.
Automatically, he reached for his radio.
“Son-of-a—” Looked like Carter and Reynolds had been right after all. A menace like him really did need a baby sitter. “Stupid, Jack. Really, really stupid.” The stubborn voice in his head groused that taking a pee really shouldn’t have been such a difficult operation.
In the total darkness, Jack considered his predicament. Obviously, something had gone wrong upstairs—probably due to the hodge-podge of wires and cobbled-together electronics.
Which meant Carter and the rest of them probably had their hands full. In fact they might not even know he was stuck in here yet.
Which meant that he was going to be cooling his heels in this elevator for awhile before they could get to him.
Unless he could get the door open on his own.
Jack reached behind him, feeling for the door. His fingers connected and he turned to face it. He slid his hands across the surface and around the outer edges. Although when operational the doors where automatic, earlier Jack had noticed another small panel to the left.
“Right about…” His fingers found the panel, “there!” He palmed the button and nothing happened. Jack sighed and leaned his forehead against the door.
Suddenly, he heard a low hum. He lifted his head and the light panels in the walls began to glow very dimly.
Behind him he heard a pop. He turned to look and a pitiful few sparks arced and fizzled. The lights dimmed to almost nothing again.
“No! No, no, no! Come on you piece of junk…” He spun and palmed the button again and was rewarded with a slightly metallic grinding noise. “Damn it! Open up!” he yelled. He placed his hands flat on the door and leaned his weight into it trying to slide it open.
“Where the hell is Teal’c when I need him?”
It moved a bit and he pushed harder. The panel behind him popped again. Jack glanced over his shoulder and was dismayed to see small flames now licking up from the panel’s edges. The door shifted and he grunted with effort, feeling his shoulders strain as he tried to brace his feet and force the door.
The lights flared brighter briefly and suddenly the door slid open about a foot and half wide before stopping. The panel behind him burst into even bigger flames and the lights died completely.
Smoke began to fill the compartment and Jack squeezed through the opening. He backed away from the elevator and nearly tripped. He glanced down to see what had caught his ankle and froze.
He’d tripped over small vine-like bush.
He was pretty certain that wasn’t part of the décor of the building.
With a sick feeling in his gut he lifted his head and looked around.
He turned slowly to view his surroundings. He was standing in a clearing—if you could call it that with the heavy growth of bushes and small trees. The only structure was the so-called elevator in front of him that was still spewing grayish-white smoke from its interior.
Rising around the clearing’s perimeter was a…forest.
Forest. The word didn’t quite capture the magnitude of what he was seeing. He’d been in enough forests to last him several lifetimes but this… this was…
He felt a sudden tightness in his chest and the word he was groping for sprang to mind.
And big. Really BIG.
Honkin’ big in fact.
Rising up around him hundreds of feet in the air in some weird echo of the city’s spires were enormous trees.
Trees—it was an inadequate concept for the behemoths before him. As a kid, his family had once vacationed in California. He’d been very young at the time but the image of his dad driving the family car through the carved out trunk of a giant redwood had remained with him through the passing years.
Those redwoods had been the biggest living things Jack had ever seen—until now.
From what he could see, some of the giants of this forest made those California monsters look like toothpicks in comparison.
As the negative reports came back from the search teams, Daniel's panic level continued to escalate. Reynolds and Carter had managed to get the elevator doors open on the control room level, only to reveal an empty compartment.
While the teams spread out, poking into every conceivable corner of the building, Sam had asked Daniel to stay where he was. She was trying to get some of the systems up and running and she was going to need his hand in the lower levels while she worked above.
He'd protested, but a simple glance from Teal'c had cut off any further comments.
It had been an over an hour since the power surge and in an Ancient city that meant anything could have happened.
Jack, what the hell did you do?
Pressing the button on his radio, he answered his teammate. "Sam? What do you need?"
"I think I'm ready to start with a slow power up," she replied as he rose to his feet, already moving toward the staircase that would take him into the basement—or at least what passed as the basement here. "Grab one of the scientists that are still down there. I need them to monitor energy output while I tell you what to do."
Gesturing to one of the rumpled figures standing off to the side, Daniel clicked off the radio briefly. "Efren, I need your help. Bring your laptop." After he received a nod from Doctor Raines, one of Sam's physicist colleagues, he turned back to the radio, huffing a little as he took the stairs quickly, heading deeper into the building, his right hand clutching the flashlight that was guiding his way.
Footfalls sounded behind him and he knew the scientist had followed.
"Raines is with me."
"Good," she said, absently and Daniel swore he could hear keys clicking in the background. "Have him turn to your frequency. It'll be easier than having you repeat everything."
"Sure." Daniel threw a quick glance over his shoulder. "Efren, you might want to turn to channel four. Sam will be instructing up there."
"I will, Doctor Jackson," Raines replied, his voice a little tight.
"Since we're going to go and play with the power controls down here, I think you can call me Daniel. We're both civilians." Turning back to watch where he was going, Daniel tried to calm his own frantically beating heart.
"Daniel?" Sam's voice cut through the darkness.
"We're moving as fast as we can," he said, his tone getting defensive. "It's a little darker down here so we're trying to be careful."
"I just wanted to thank you for doing this," came back her reply a beat later. "I know this isn't your thing, but I'll walk you both through it."
"Oh," he said, stepping down onto the bottom floor.
"Once you get to the power supply area, I want you to plug in and monitor everything from down there. I want to make sure that I'm getting the same readings up here. It looks like even though the systems are down, we still have residual energy that allows me to see some off the basic system levels."
"Some kind of back-up, back-up system?" Daniel asked as they rounded a corner. He was glad he'd been down here before, otherwise they could spend hours wandering around in the dark.
"Seems like it," Sam answered. She paused and Daniel knew exactly what question was coming next.
"We're almost there. One more hallway," he answered and heard Sam's light chuckle.
"You know me way too well."
"Well…it's been a few years. If I didn't, then I'd wonder about how I got my degrees." The turned the last corner, entering the large room that held the access points for the secondary power systems. "We're here."
"Good. Raines, hook into the main control panel on the right, about mid-way into the room," she said. "Daniel, I need you to eyeball each of the other consoles in the room. Tell me what you see."
As Efren hooked up his laptop with the cables he pulled from his pocket, Daniel walked down the center of the room, his eyes skimming over each of the terminals he passed. "Most of them look to be off-line," he reported a few minutes later as he turned at the back end of the room, heading toward the door once again.
"Any lights on at all?"
"Most of the consoles have a few small lights on. Mainly in the upper areas."
"Good. That's good. They're in stand-by mode." Sam paused, a few muttered words cutting across the channel.
"Oh, nothing. Doctor Raines, what are you reading?"
"It seems like everything is just waiting for initialization." Efren raised his head, his gaze catching Daniel's. "But how can that be? I thought the whole system shorted out."
"I'm not so sure about that now," Sam said. "I'm getting the same readings up here, but I needed to double-check directly with the systems there.
"What are you thinking, Sam?" Daniel asked, leaning a hip against one of the consoles.
"I think the secondary systems are fine."
"So what happened?"
"I think the main power came on for a brief moment, but because it was an unscheduled and unmonitored power-up it overloaded its circuits."
"I…we…think the General did something."
"Have you found him yet?"
Sam sighed. "No. But once I can get the secondary power systems up, I might be able to turn on the internal sensors and access the energy logs. It will give us a better idea as to what really happened."
"So, what do you need me to do?"
Jack sighed as he reached the “elevator” again after yet another circuit of the clearing. The fire had finally burned itself out and the smoke had cleared although there was still the faint acrid smell of an electrical burn hanging in the air.
He eased himself onto the ground and leaned his back against the wall and mentally reassessed the last few hours.
After the initial shock had worn off, he’d realized the Ancients must have had a few tricks up their sleeves. Apparently, they weren’t satisfied with normal boring elevators that just went up and down. Nope. They’d gone and created an elevator that led a double-life as some sort of transporter.
In hindsight, it had been obvious. The flash of light and lurch in his gut when he’d been zapped here—wherever here was—should’ve been his first clue.
It galled him a bit to remember that Atlantis had similar technology but he took some comfort in the fact that not a single scientist had suggested the possibility of such things on 841.
The question of why him and not any one of the people who had been crawling all over the city over the past weeks still loomed but at the moment the why didn’t really matter.
He was here.
He was alone.
He had no way to contact anyone.
And he had very little gear apart from the clothes on his back.
Time to start assessing his options—however limited they might be.
Jack leaned forward and shrugged off his jacket. He began searching methodically through every pocket and came up with a little notepad and pencil and oddly enough a small screwdriver.
He stared at it momentarily before the explanation came to him. It was Carter’s and he’d been fiddling with it as she’d buried her head in the guts of one the Ancient contraptions in the control room. She’d nearly caught him with it and he’d stashed it in his pocket so he wouldn’t have to deal with that look she always gave him.
After all the years they’d worked together, at this point if she didn’t know not to leave stuff laying around to tempt him then that was her fault. Right?
Jack spread the jacket out on the ground and tossed the notepad, pencil, and screwdriver on top of it.
He drew his Beretta next—automatically releasing the clip and confirming it was full. He slammed the clip back into place and placed the weapon on the jacket.
A standard-issue knife followed.
His BDU pants pockets revealed a veritable treasure trove considering just how little he actually had with him. His Zippo lighter, Swiss Army knife, a Powerbar—chocolate crisp, and the crackers from the MRE he’d eaten before his attempted trip to the little Ancient’s room.
Jack stared at the items laid out on the jacket. It was a pitifully small pile and his search of the immediate area had turned up nothing useful.
The small building that housed the transporter was the only structure although he’d found evidence of a larger foundation. It was the way the trees and bushes in the area around him had grown. It was a regular pattern—too exact to be natural—of old growth and new growth that suggested a larger building had once occupied the space.
For some reason the structure hadn’t been constructed of the same materials as the city. Whatever it had been constructed with, it had been gone for a long time. Looking around, Jack made the assumption that it had probably been wooden.
In his mind he’d been going over the UAV photos that they’d taken and nothing they’d seen so far had revealed anything like the forest he’d found himself in the middle of now. So wherever he was at it was pretty much guaranteed that he wasn’t anywhere near the city.
He needed to get his bearings and try to get some idea of where he’d ended up.
Because he had a pretty good guess that the transporter that had brought him here was literally ancient history.
And there was no handy Carter around that he could order to fix it.
He stared off to his right at a gap or pathway through the big trees—meaning the trees along the gap only reached 75 to 100 feet or so. Maybe it had once led to something?
At any rate, he needed to find a water source eventually. He might as well take a better look around while he searched.
After all, it wasn’t like he had anything else to do.
Jack gathered up his things and quickly stowed them away.
He braced a hand against the wall of the teleporter building and levered himself up.
Slipping his jacket back on, he set out at a brisk but sensible pace and made for the apparent gap in the tree line. The going actually got easier once he passed the clearing’s edge since the canopy blocked much of the sunlight and there was very little undergrowth.
It was just a matter of winding his way around the trees although he was afraid he might develop a permanent crick in his neck from constantly looking upwards. Too bad he didn’t have climbing gear. One sure way to get a look at the landscape would have been to shimmy up one of those suckers.
Twenty years ago he might have tried it but he wasn’t about to take the risk now.
Despite his situation, Jack felt himself relax somewhat as he walked. It was enjoyable to hear only the sounds of the forest. Like his earlier walk in the park with Teal’c, it was almost soothing to disconnect from things man-made or rather Ancient-made in this case.
This feeling was why he kept his cabin in Minnesota. It was good to get away sometimes.
He didn’t get the opportunity much these days. It had been almost a year since his last fishing trip and it had been cut short by a phone call from the SGC.
The irony of his current predicament didn’t escape him. There would be no phone calls here.
The ground had been rising steadily and Jack was relieved to see a much sharper rise ahead. He headed for it realized the path that he’d been following skirted the edge of a low ridge that rose higher as it angled off to his left.
Up was good. It was easy to top the ridge at its lowest point. Abandoning his previous path, he turned left and followed the ridge line.
A short time later he was rewarded with a final scramble up an easily climbable rock face and the ridge flattened out at the top. Although the ridge didn’t clear all of the treetops, it gave him a much wider view. It was enough of a view to see the mountain range to his east—if he measured east by the position of the sun.
He let out a long breath. He’d seen that mountain range from the city and on the UAV photos.
There was just one problem.
He was seeing it in reverse.
The transporter had dropped him on the opposite side of the chain of mountains. He was hundreds of miles from the city.
Scrubbing a hand across his face, Gary Reynolds sighed deeply as he climbed back to his feet. He was sore, tired, grimy, and frustrated.
It had taken Carter three hours and the help of Jackson and Raines to get the power back up and another three to get the internal sensors in the building up and running—although Felger and Carter had argued at length about their reliability.
Apparently, it wasn't picking everyone up. Either that or the majority of the personnel on the planet really didn't exist.
It seemed like the sensors were automatically set to detect Ancients, not those lowly humans without the ATA gene. But that was a minor glitch at this point since they were looking for the man with the strongest ATA gene on the planet.
And from the sensors—and the weary search teams—it was quite evident that General O'Neill was nowhere in the building.
They had wasted nearly six hours searching for nothing. He wanted to bang his head against the nearest wall or drop into an exhausted sleep and pretend like this was a bad dream. Why did all this crap always happen to him?
Shuffling over toward where Carter was working, Reynolds spotted Teal'c and Daniel sitting hunched in a corner, talking quietly. Thankfully, as soon as the power came up they'd managed to get one of the three elevators up and running. It saved their knees from the hundreds of stairs they'd have to climb otherwise.
Most of the science teams had gone back to work, while the military contingent ran regular patrols, searching some of the nearby buildings just in case the General might have made a wrong turn or something.
"So, Carter," he began as he got close enough, his voice pitched low so it wouldn't carry. "How are we doing?"
She glanced up quickly, a scowl on her face. "We? I'm trying to put together a system that I can only guess at half of the components. Why don't you try it sometime?"
He figured she was a little high-strung, but her hissing answer gave it away. "Can I help you with anything?"
"Yes." She paused, looking up again. Other words were on her lips, but she took a breath before continuing, her voice purposely calm. "No. No, not really."
"Sam, you have some of the greatest minds of the SGC here on this planet. Get them to help you. You know, you don't have to solve this by yourself. You've been working at this now for what, six hours, if not more. Take a break. Get some air and a little perspective. And get someone to help you."
An argument was on the tip of her tongue, but he shook his head, not allowing her to spit it out.
"No. That's not a suggestion. It's an order."
If her eyes could kill, he'd be a dead man, but she finally relented after a fierce staring match, carefully putting her tablet PC on the edge of the console and running her fingers through her hair, pieces of it standing on end.
"If you ask, I’m sure Bosco can bring you some real food. He was cooking last I heard."
"You want me to eat?" The disbelief was thick in her voice.
"Yes, ideally. Feed the body, feed the mind. Isn't that how it works?" he asked, walking with her as she slowly made her way to her teammates. They watched them approach, identical looks of concern etched on their faces.
She paused, looking at him as if he'd grown a second head or something similar. "Is this how you treat your team?"
He shrugged. "No, I'm usually a much worse mother hen, or so I'm told. Right now, I need my best people working at top form and you dropping because of exhaustion is not in my—or the General's—best interest."
She muttered something under her breath that sounded similar to 'he's just like the rest of them', but he couldn't be sure. If he was being compared to the General and the rest of SG-1, he'd take it. If not, he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
"Sam," Daniel said as they stepped close, his voice as welcoming as his expression. "Do you want something to drink? We have water or soda. Bosco said he'd bring you something hot to eat as soon as you got five minutes. You have time now?"
"Traitor," she replied instead, shooting Reynolds an annoyed expression before dropping down beside Jackson. "Yes, I have five minutes. Ten even. Colonel Reynolds insisted I take a break."
"You did appear to be in combat, Colonel Carter. Perhaps this will give you the opportunity to find a crack in its defenses. You can resume your struggle anew once you are refreshed." God, you had to love Teal'c. Eloquent and yet intimidating as hell.
Reynolds smiled, giving them a parting nod as he moved off knowing she was in good hands. He'd give them about fifteen minutes before she was back on her feet again working, but it would be time well spent. They were all running on fumes and he was about ready to send some of them to bed. No one would be any good if they didn't get any sleep. And exhausted people make mistakes.
They couldn't afford any of those.
Clicking on his radio, he spoke quietly. "Peterson, you there?"
"Here boss," came the reply a moment later. "What did you need?"
"How are the scientists doing?"
"Most of them are grumpy and living on coffee. I tried cutting them off and I nearly lost the family jewels. I won't try that again."
Reynolds chuckled. "You're braver than I thought. You're supposed to switch them to decaf first."
"I forgot," Peterson replied, a smile in his voice. "It's too late anyway. They have someone guarding the pot now."
"Okay. We need to start shifts and get some of them to bed. Take a walk around and give me a count. I need to know how everyone's doing before I start ordering people to go to sleep."
"Will do. Give me about ten minutes. They know we're plotting something, so I've started getting the evil eye."
"You should know how to deal with them, Peterson. You're one of them for crying out loud."
"So, is that why I get to baby-sit? I'll remember that the next time you need someone to watch your six. We'll see who ends up with an arrow in his ass."
"That wasn't my fault," Reynolds protested.
"I know. You were distracted by the chieftain's daughter conveniently losing her top. A likely story since I never saw her." Peterson paused for a beat before his voice got serious. "Let me call you back in ten. We need to get these people to bed sooner rather than later."
"Give me ten and you'll have your count. I might need Teal'c though."
"Roger. Let me know. Reynolds out."
The opening of the elevator doors drew his attention and Bosco walked out, holding a covered plate in his hand. He spotted Carter against the far wall and moved carefully toward her. He stopped, dropping he plate in her hands and handing her utensils before placing two bottles of water at her side.
One astrophysicist fed. He could check that off his list.
A minute later, Bosco bent down, seating himself in front of the small group, twisting off the top of his own water bottle. They were all chatting amicably as Carter ate. Bosco dragged something else out of a pocket, offering it to the other men who nodded and reached for the bag he held.
Watching as the other scientists milled around the room, oblivious to everything except their small laptop screens, Reynolds moved toward the small group, thinking about snagging his own piece of chocolate. Somehow Bosco knew where they kept the good stuff.
"…still can't believe we're here," Bosco was saying as he got closer. "I mean, I used to watch Star Trek as a kid and now it's like I'm living it myself. I swear I pinch myself some days just to make sure I'm not dreaming."
"What does that accomplish?"
"What? The pinch?"
"Teal'c," Daniel replied, shifting slightly to face the Jaffa. "It's an Earth custom…saying. Basically, when things seem too good you must be dreaming, so you'd pinch yourself to wake up from the dream."
"What does pinching yourself in your dream accomplish? If it is a dream isn't it merely in your mind?"
"So you watched Star Trek, Bosco?" Sam said, interrupting before Daniel and Teal'c could continue. She shoveled in another forkful and Reynolds noticed the plate was nearly empty.
"All the time. My dad was a huge fan so we ended up watching it as kids," Bosco said as Reynolds leaned down, snagging the bag from his hands. The other man ignored him, continuing his conversation instead, his hand still outstretched waiting for the return of the plastic bag—as usual. "We used to play in the backyard pretending we were fighting aliens. Who knew that I'd grow up and do it for real."
A far away look suddenly appeared in Carter's eyes.
"Sam?" Reynolds asked, drawing everyone's attention to her.
She glanced up, meeting his eyes. "In Atlantis, didn't I read something about the elevators there?"
"We've been getting data bursts from them every week for nearly a year now. Things are starting to blur together," he replied honestly. "We've had enough to worry about in this galaxy let alone another one."
"Wait. I think I remember," Daniel said, waving his fingers toward Sam. "When they finally got around to exploring everything didn't someone figure out that the elevators also acted like transporters? That Athosian boy…Jinto was it? He accidentally activated it."
"Yes!" she exclaimed, her plate getting dropped to the floor beside her as she scrambled to her feet.
Reynolds moved out of her way as she darted for her computer, her fingers flying over the touchscreen. They'd all followed her over to the console, waiting patiently as she muttered to herself, the others in the room watching her carefully. Just from the feel of the air, you could tell something was going to happen.
"There it is," she said, turning the screen to Daniel. "What's this say?"
He squinted at it for a moment before replying, a smile growing on his face. "That's the transporter system."
"I thought so but my Ancient isn't as good as yours," she said, pulling it back as she jabbed at the screen again. "That's part of the primary power systems which is why we haven't come across it before. But that power surge, it was as if the main power system tried to come online."
"Jack did that?" Reynolds knew the man had a strong ATA gene, but to turn on the entire city…that was a stretch.
"I don't think on purpose. I think it was a short enough burst that only affected that transporter," she replied, pointing to the doors that had been shoved open. "Maybe it's a failsafe that someone can use it in an emergency. But with the city powered down for so long, maybe it was too much for the circuits to handle."
"So, where did Jack go?" Daniel asked, his eyes wide, his glasses hanging from the collar of his shirt.
"I need to widen the sensors to search—"
Bosco perked up. "Don't we have long-range exterior sensors?"
Reynolds shot him a look and the other man merely shrugged. "I watched way too much Star Trek as a kid."
"That would be a different system," Carter muttered to herself, her fingers tapping the screen, going through various menus and screens all in Ancient text. A few minutes later, she looked up, meeting Reynolds' eyes. "Colonel, I think I have it, but I need you to activate another console."
"Whatever you need," he replied, following her as she unhooked her computer and then re-attached it to a neighboring console.
"I need you to turn this on. It should be for external sensors and some other systems, but I think it's normally powered by the main power units."
"Wait a minute, Sam. Isn't that what got us in this situation in the first place?"
She turned toward Daniel. "Yes, but since I'm only going to use the one system I re-routed some of the circuits so we should have enough with the secondary power system."
"Are you ready, Carter?" Reynolds asked, positioning his hand above the panel. She nodded once, firmly, and his hand came down. Thinking about what he was doing, he located the system she wanted and slowly brought it up. When he opened his eyes and lifted his hand she was smiling and already working away at her computer. A moment later she politely shoved him out of the way and started touching the keys on the console.
They all watched her, going between the Ancient device and her laptop, her fingers flying faster, the screen above flashing through the various menus as she cycled through them.
Finally, a map appeared and one flashing dot.
"He's there," Sam said, finally looking up, triumph on her face.
Squinting, Reynolds leaned forward, his eyes trying to make sense of what he saw. If the city was over here…
"How'd he get all the way out there?" Bosco asked, his eyes wider than Reynolds had ever seen them.
He shook his head, trying not to sigh. Only Jack.
Jack twisted his body to lie on his other side. The glow from the fire barely penetrated the interior of the transporter where he’d decided to bed down for the night. It was covered—and defensible if necessary.
And if the floor wasn’t exactly a Serta pillow top then what of it? He’d slept in worst places—much worse. He’d just been relieved there was room to stretch out full length even if it meant sleeping at an angle from front to back.
He’d dozed off and on. His internal clock awakened him from time to time and he’d poke his head out the door and take a quick look around. He’d heard animal sounds now and then—rustlings in the foliage—and once what had sounded like a cat fight although the cats back home had probably never made noises like that.
The fire continued to burn steadily so he wasn’t too concerned about having unexpected company. Finding wood hadn’t been a problem Jack had kicked up the turf immediately outside the door and stacked wood so it would burn down in itself without needing his constant attention and the heat was enough to ward off some of the chill of the night.
He closed his eyes again determined to get at least a few more hours of sleep.
Tomorrow he had a decision to make.
Stepping out of the elevator after helping Peterson herd a third of their scientists to bed, Gary Reynolds was very close to committing murder. Why did scientists in particular have to be so damn stubborn?
The situation in the control room, however, didn't look any better than it had several floors down. Sam Carter was standing off with Teal'c while Daniel was off to the side, jumping into the argument from time to time.
When he'd left they were all playing nice in the Ancient version of a sand box. Who'd smashed whose sand castle?
"…going to take too long," Carter said, her hands on her hips. "It's not like he has a lot of time."
"How do you intend to remedy the situation with the transporters? You have said that it will take much time to locate and turn on the main power for the city."
"But not as long as it'll take for you to convince the Jaffa to let you borrow a ship to come to a planet you can't tell them about to rescue someone they're not exactly fond of."
Ah. Reynolds shook his head. So, that's what this was all about. He'd heard the beginnings of it an hour ago. Apparently, they hadn't gotten very far.
"You both have workable solutions, but we don't have any idea which one will work. Sam, might be able to get the power up and running faster than it would take for you to gate to Dakara, but what if they say no? Then we're back at square one," Daniel commented, seemingly the voice of reason, although his tone was weary.
"I will not return without a ship," Teal'c replied, his back straightening even more than it already was.
"Excuse me," Reynolds said, breaking in before Carter could start again. "What seems to be the problem?"
Teal'c turned his head, his jaw set solidly. Carter, likewise, didn't answer. Gary turned to Jackson. "Well?"
Daniel sighed, his hands gesturing as he spoke. "Sam wants to fix the transporters. She thinks it's the easiest and best way to get to the General. However, Teal'c feels that there are too many uncontrollable variables. He feels that borrowing a ship from Bra'tac would be a much better idea."
He shrugged. "There are problems with both ideas. What if the Jaffa say no? What if there's no transporter location close to where Jack is hiking? We all know he won't stay still. If we get the ship, what if there's nowhere for it to land? What if the transporters blow out the power systems again and end up stranding more people several hundred miles from the gate?" Daniel sighed again.
"What's wrong with us doing both?" Reynolds glanced between them all. "If Teal'c can get the ship, we'll use it, but in the meantime, Carter can try and get those systems up and running. We need the main power online anyway, so it's not like it's a waste of time and resources."
Seeing that there were no immediate arguments or complaints, he continued a few beats later. "Then it's decided. Carter, get to work on bringing the main power online. About a third of the science staff is in bed, so check with Peterson as to who's available. He has the lists. Teal'c, if you don't mind company, I'd like to walk you to the gate. Unfortunately, I have to call home and let them know that we seemed to have…misplaced our fearless leader."
Jack stomped out the last of the embers and used the heel of his boot to kick dirt over the remains of his fire.
Satisfied that he wasn’t going to be burning the place down he stepped back and reached in his pocket for the notepad.
If there was even the slightest chance Carter was able to figure out where he’d ended up he wanted to let them know his plans.
He paused and thought for a moment before scribbling:
Nice day for a walk!
Physically A1. Heading for the mountains.
Follow my marks. ?
Jack ripped the page out of the pad and knelt in the doorway of the transporter. He folded the paper once and tucked it under a large piece of wood just inside the building. He then used more wood to form an arrow that pointed towards the gap he’d followed the previous day.
Giving his handiwork one last look, he nodded.
It would have to do.
Now it was time to do something about breakfast. Powerbar and crackers aside, he needed more snacks. It was going to be a long walk back. More importantly, he needed water.
He headed in the direction of last night’s “cat” fight, carefully scanning the ground as he walked.
It didn’t take him long to find a torn up patch of dirt and grass where the altercation had taken place. A few feet out and he was able to make out the tracks they’d left. Whatever it was, it had claws.
As he followed the trail, he wondered idly if it would make good eating. Then again, considering the noises the things had made as they’d fought it might be prudent to find some other type of game.
The tracks he was following led him slightly astray from yesterday’s path but were headed in the same general direction. Not long after he entered the tree line more tracks from a different animal could be seen—overlaying those that he was following.
Satisfied his hunch had been right; he continued to follow the game trail. Less than twenty minutes later he found what he was looking for—a depression in the ground where a small pool of water had collected. It may have been some time since he’d had to call on his wilderness training but the knowledge was still there.
It looked clear enough although that hardly meant it was safe. He’d prefer running water to standing any day but wasn’t really in a position to be too choosy. With a mental sigh at the thought of his canteen and purification tablets neatly stowed in his pack, he knelt at the edge of the water and dipped his hand.
He took a careful sip and swished it around in his mouth. It tasted…woody. Not really having another choice, he swallowed it and dipped his hand again.
Jack drank for a few minutes. He had no way to carry it with him so he had to make the most of it while he could. Food could wait for now. He’d skipped more than one or two meals in his time. He wouldn’t starve on the first day out.
He stood and glanced around to orient himself. He picked a path that he guessed would take him back to the ridge he’d climbed yesterday and set out. It wasn’t long before he was once again in the area he’d previously explored—the “gap” in the forest.
He pulled his knife and paused to mark one of the massive tree trunks. If they were able to figure out where he was…they should have no trouble following.
At the ridgeline, Jack once again climbed to the top and studied his surroundings. He could clearly see the gap he’d followed to this point continue towards the mountains. At least it was clear for some distance—it looked like it vanished somewhere ahead.
While he couldn’t be a hundred percent certain the swath of smaller trees wasn’t due to some natural occurrence and he was no archeologist, common sense told him it was the closest thing to a road he was going to find and since it was going in his direction it was better than nothing.
Too bad the Ancients hadn’t preferred asphalt.
“I am sorry, Master Teal’c,” the young warrior said, stepping forward to block his path. “Master Bra’tac should not be disturbed. It is very late.”
Teal’c stopped and fixed the younger man with a stare. “I am aware of the hour. This matter is of great importance and very urgent. I will pass.” He stepped to one side in order to pass.
The guard moved to block him—raising his hand and placing it on Teal’c’s chest. “Master Teal’c—”
“Remove your hand,” Teal’c ordered.
The young man paled and dropped his hand but he did not move. He bowed his head in a gesture of respect. “I… I am sorry, Master but I have very explicit orders.”
“I assure you that you will come to no harm if you allow me to pass.”
The guard looked slightly ill as the double meaning of Teal’c’s words registered. “Master Bra’tac was not expecting you!”
“Nor was I expecting to be here. Neither expectation changes the circumstances,” Teal’c explained. “I must speak with Bra’tac immediately.”
“Could this not wait until—”
“Stand aside,” Teal’c interrupted. The guard glanced over his shoulder at Bra’tac’s door and then back to Teal’c.
“Stand aside,” Teal’c repeated. Again the guard’s gaze flitted towards the door. “I do not wish to make such a request again,” Teal’c added.
The guard’s shoulders slumped. “Yes, Master Teal’c,” he said, stepping out of Teal’c’s path.
Teal’c brushed past him and in just a few long strides was in front of the door. He raised his fist and knocked loudly several times. When there was no immediate response, he repeated the process—only much louder and longer.
From within he heard a muffled-sounding curse and a moment later the sound of the bolt being drawn back. The door opened slightly and Bra’tac—a very annoyed looking Bra’tac—peered out. Annoyance turned to surprise as he recognized his visitor.
“I apologize for the lateness of the hour, old friend, but I must speak with you now.”
“What has happened?” Bra’tac asked, stepping back and opening the door further.
“May we speak inside?”
Bra’tac hesitated slightly before nodding. “Of course,” he replied, stepping back and gesturing for Teal’c to enter.
Teal’c inclined his head and followed him into the room, closing the door behind him.
“It must be grave news indeed to have brought you so far,” Bra’tac observed as he tied the belt of his robe. “Please sit,” he gestured towards a low couch and few chairs that were arranged in front of the fireplace where only embers still glowed. “Wine?” he asked, pouring a glass from a decanter on the table.
Teal’c shook his head. “I require your assistance,” he began.
“Bra’tac?” a soft feminine voice called from the adjacent room.
Teal’c’s eyes widened and he turned to Bra’tac—the unspoken question written all over his face.
“Your timing could have been better, my friend,” Bra’tac said with a smile. “Please excuse me for one moment.”
Unable to trust his voice at the moment, Teal’c simply nodded. Wineglass in hand, Bra’tac slipped through the doorway into the other room and Teal’c could hear the low murmur of a conversation.
Deciding that wine would be welcome after all, he rose and poured a small amount into a glass. Bra’tac returned—empty handed, and closed the door behind him, as Teal’c returned to his seat.
“My apologies for intruding,” Teal’c said as Bra’tac eased himself into the opposite chair.
Bra’tac waved a hand dismissively. “Do not trouble yourself. You would not have done so without need. Please, tell me of the reason for your…untimely interruption.”
“It is O’Neill,” Teal’c said. “He has been stranded—”
“Again?” Bra’tac asked, a slight note of disbelief in his tone.
“There was…an accident,” Teal’c explained. “He is stranded in a forest a great distance from any assistance.”
Bra’tac suddenly rose to his feet and moved to the table where he snatched up the decanter. He poured another glass of wine, muttering something in Goa’uld under his breath which—if Teal’c had caught it correctly—was loosely translated as “That man needs a leash!”
“As that may be,” Teal’c said, “it does not alter his current situation. He is without supplies and we have no way of reaching him quickly.”
“You require a ship,” Bra’tac said.
“Would not one of the Tau’ri vessels serve you better?”
“The Daedalus is enroute to Atlantis and the Prometheus is currently at the Asgard homeworld. We wish to resolve this quickly.
“Yes, of course,” Bra’tac agreed. “Teal’c, I should tell you that I doubt the Council will agree to allow one of our better ships to be diverted for O’Neill’s rescue. However, I am sure that I can arrange something. What is his location?”
Teal’c hesitated, taking a sip of wine as he considered his response. O’Neill had been most emphatic in his desire to keep P3X-841 “under wraps” until it had been determined useful for their plans. It would not serve anyone’s purpose if the Alliance was torn apart completely by the very thing that was meant to heal it.
“You do not answer, old friend,” Bra’tac observed.
“At this time,” Teal’c answered, “I can not.”
Bra’tac regarded him silently for a long moment before slowly shaking his head. “You have a strange way of asking for my help,” he observed, moving to stand facing the dying fire, his back to Teal’c.
Bra’tac cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Cease!” Bra’tac snapped. He turned and sat down again in his chair.
“You made your choice clear when you left Dakara to return to the Tau’ri,” Bra’tac said. “Whatever my feelings on the matter, I could not truly find fault with you for your decision—it was based on the belief that you could best serve the interests of your brethren by remaining on Earth.”
“I am still guided by that belief,” Teal’c said. “The work O’Neill is doing is for the benefit of us all. If he is lost I fear that it will end with him and we will have missed our greatest opportunity for the future security of the Jaffa Nation.”
“Would that you were prone to exaggeration, Teal’c,” Bra’tac said. “To your credit, however, it was never one of your faults.”
“And distrust of a friend was never one of yours,” Teal’c replied.
“No, indeed. Rather it is that I find myself unable to do so. A fault you seem to share. Teal’c, like you, I do not doubt O’Neill’s sincerity, yet he is only one Tau’ri among many and outside of your… SGC there are many who may not hold the view that a strong Jaffa Nation is in the best interest of Earth.”
“You are correct,” Teal’c agreed. “Indeed, it is all the more reason for us to see that O’Neill is brought to safety as soon as possible.”
Bra’tac laughed. “Hold! The match is yours,” he said. “Very well, you wish to mount a rescue yet you can not tell me where he is located or what he was doing there. It is obvious that if you can not reveal such details to me that you must also desire that the Council not be informed.”
“So, it is simply a matter of locating a suitable vessel and setting it to its task without the Council’s knowledge.”
“It is the task of locating a suitable vessel which I fear will be the most difficult,” Teal’c admitted. “If time were not a factor, we would simply recall the Daedalus.”
“Teal’c, surely you know that any ship we have capable of matching the speed of the Daedalus would require Council approval?”
“Yes,” Teal’c acknowledged.
“Then I fail to see how you hoped to gain anything by coming here.”
“Old man, your memory is failing you,” Teal’c told him with a smile. “I wish to… thread the needle once again.”
Bra’tac sat back in his chair. “Of course,” he said.
“It is the quickest way,” Teal’c continued.
“Assuredly, it would be,” Bra’tac agreed, “if we had one in our possession.”
O’Neill ignored the protest his knee was making and resisted the urge to flex his leg. Getting old was hell, he decided. There’d been times in his life when he’d waited immobile for hours in a blind and hadn’t felt so much as a twinge and now here he was for less than an hour and it felt like someone was driving a spike through his kneecap.
Perhaps it was more than his cartilage that was failing him. Memory had a funny way of twisting the past and it was likely that laying flat on your belly for hours at a time while men with guns were busy hunting for you—or you for them—only seemed easy in retrospect.
A breeze stirred the leafy fronds of the giant fern he was tucked under and Jack ducked his head slightly to keep the spiny berry bush he was watching in his view. A small bird flitted down and darted between the needle-like thorns. It snatched its prize and raced away.
Jack let it go.
He was after slightly bigger quarry. If only the damned thing would just cooperate and show itself again.
It would be just his luck if dinner had decided to head for parts unknown.
Of course, there was always the berries themselves. Hopefully, the local animals had the right idea and they wouldn’t give him the mother of all belly-aches—or worse.
A movement caught his eye and he saw it. Its mottled-brown fur was nearly the same color as the trunk of one of the smaller species of tree it was crawling down. It hesitated at the base and Jack hoped he was far enough upwind. Suddenly, it was moving again. It scurried quickly across the ground, an undulating wave of motion—like a furry slinky, a foot or so in length and as thick as his arm.
Jack watched as it reached the thorn bush and flattened its body in order to squeeze between the sharp spines. It reminded him of the ferret one of Charlie’s friends had brought to a sleepover one time.
Charlie had been fascinated with the inquisitive little animal and had begged for one of his own but Sarah had been reluctant saying the stink of it would drive her out of the house. Although disappointed at first, within a few weeks something else had caught his son’s fancy and he had quit pestering them about it.
Jack watched the creature rise up on his hind legs to delicately pluck a berry from the bush with its teeth.
He squeezed the Beretta’s trigger and the bullet impacted the creature’s spine just below the head. The crack of the gun echoed weirdly in the forest, setting birds aloft with raucous cries of outrage.
Jack crawled out of his hiding place and stood—flexing his abused knee with a grateful sigh of relief.
He crossed the small glade and carefully pulled the carcass out of the thorn bush. It was heavier than it looked—and muscular. Its short legs seeming more reptilian than mammalian and the nasty looking claws were obviously nature’s design for scaling trees as well as for defense.
Jack decided not to waste the opportunity the berry bush presented and plucked a few handfuls of berries. It was tougher than it looked; the thorns provided a natural barrier. Realizing it was probably a primary food source for the furry slinky, Jack left plenty of the berries intact.
He slipped all but one of the berries he gathered in his pockets. The last one he examined closely. It was purplish and about the size of a grape. A sniff revealed nothing so he licked his lips and touched the fruit briefly to them. There was no sensation that he could feel—no numbing or stinging. Feeling encouraged he placed it on his tongue. He tasted a slight sweetness.
Jack glanced at the carcass that was lying at his feet. “I hope you have a sweet tooth,” he mumbled. To hell with it, he decided and bit down. It was sweet and pulpy and quite enjoyable and after a full day schlepping his way through the forest he instantly wanted more.
Instead he checked his watch. If in a few hours he wasn’t writhing around in pain he could treat himself to desert.
For now, there was dinner to be skinned and gutted, wood to gather, and a camp—such as it was—to be made.
Fiercely rubbing a hand across her face, her palms pressing into her gritty and irritated eyes, Sam Carter wanted to stand and scream at the top of her lungs in utter and complete frustration.
This should be working.
Everything she did, every test she ran, said that it should be working.
But, it wasn't.
Teal'c had been gone a little more than three hours already, but she wasn't sure if that was good or bad. Honestly, getting a ship was not a bad idea, but she was doubtful he'd be able to wrestle one out of the Free Jaffa's hands. They had no good reason to help—especially if we weren't going to be very forthcoming about the hows and the whys.
If the weekly contact with Atlantis hadn't just passed, she would have considered asking to borrow a puddle jumper. It would fit through the gate and would have plenty of room for passengers. And, there were a few pilots now that had the gene. She would have returned it on the next Daedalus run.
But contact with Atlantis was five days away. They didn't have that kind of time.
It was more frustrating for her now though. She could see him on the screens, monitor her position, but there was no way to let him know this, let him know that they were coming to help him, that he needed to hang on.
She hated this—the waiting, the worrying, the wondering. In a small way, she was getting a little taste of what the General went through each and every time another team left the SGC.
It still didn't make it fair.
Glancing around the room, she watched two of the scientists bent over their computers, their fingers flying over the screen as they searched and re-routed circuits. Daniel had decided to get some rest. He was dead on his feet after running around the city at top speed like a six year old at a carnival and then having the rug yanked out from under him.
Reynolds was checking on the teams downstairs. He'd called in once he returned to 841, after briefing Ferretti. She could only imagine how that conversation had gone. The eye rolls, the long-suffering sighs, the 'I can't believe you lost him again' expression.
That was until Ferretti had to tell General Hammond. While, O'Neill did want to give Ferretti a little more practice at running a day shift, she didn't think this was what he had in mind.
Glancing back down to the laptop screen, she sighed, rubbing the back of her neck as her eyes skimmed over the data scrolling past. If she could get the main power systems up they'd be able to just transport over to where he was, but for some reason nothing she did was initializing the main systems. There was something she was missing.
If only she knew what it was.
The smell of freshy-brewed coffee threatened to pull Daniel Jackson from his deep sleep. The lull of slumber was strong, but the smell of java was stronger.
Blinking slowly, his eyes took their time in focusing on the unfamiliar ceiling. Where was he? He'd been up in the control room with Sam and Teal'c, he thought, scrunching his forehead as he tried to put the jumbled events in order.
The memories surfaced reluctantly as he lay there limply, the bed completely conforming to his tired body. He'd crashed at the house Peterson had pointed out, the one where his team had bunked in.
Flicking his hooded gaze to the windows, he noted that the sun was up and relatively high in the sky. Dragging his arm upward, he squinted at his watch.
Part of his mind was outraged. He'd asked for a wake-up call at 0600 and apparently Peterson had just said yes to convince him to go to sleep in the first place. There was a conversation coming for that man.
The other part of his mind was content. All it needed was a cup of that fantastic smelling coffee in bed.
Grumbling, he shoved himself upward, the blanket covering him dropping to lie in a pile in his lap. Absently scratching an itch on his chest through the cotton t-shirt, he swing his legs over the edge of the bed and yawned. He was too old for this.
In sock-clad feet, he maneuvered himself down the stairs, the smell of coffee growing stronger with every step. When he finally reached the kitchen he found Bosco puttering about, some kind of silver material wrapped around his mid-section in a pseudo apron.
"Coffee?" he asked, his voice gravely from disuse.
The other man glanced over his shoulder and offered a wide smile as he pointed to the coffee pot sitting on the far counter. "Help yourself."
Daniel tilted his head as he looked hard at the appliance. "When did we—"
"Reynolds brought it back. I think he stole it from your office."
Bosco shrugged, juggling a pan, a spatula, and a carton of eggs. "Breakfast?"
"Wait a minute. Am I dreaming?" Daniel glanced around, looking for something weirder than the man before him. "Are you cooking me breakfast?"
"Why not? You have to eat. I like to cook. Reynolds always puts me on KP duty when we're offworld. Otherwise, I just end up complaining. Easier this way." He turned back to what was apparently the Ancient version of a stove. "So, what'll it be? Eggs, eggs, or eggs? We haven't figured out where to toaster is yet."
"Eggs are fine," he finally replied absently, moving over to the coffee pot where several mugs were stacked alongside. He picked one off the top of the pile, and poured his coffee, hovering over the dark liquid, taking in deep breaths. Huddling around his cup, he took a tentative first sip. It was hot, but it was marvelous.
"So," he finally said a few minutes later over the sizzle of the pan, "no one thought to wake me when I asked?"
"You wanted to get up?" Bosco glanced over his shoulder before turning back to the stove. "No one mentioned anything. Carter's sleeping upstairs, been there a few hours now."
"She when to bed voluntarily?"
"Not really, as far as I can tell." He paused, apparently weighing his comments. "She was exhausted and wasn't getting anywhere so Reynolds sent her to get some shut-eye. After much…discussion, she finally agreed."
Daniel snorted into his half-empty cup. "I'm glad someone strong-armed her. She needs to recharge. She can get so…"
"Focused." Daniel nodded. "It's like she can't see anything except the problem." Looking around the room, he noticed several piles of clothing in what they were using as a common room and a staff weapon leaning up against the far wall. "Is Teal'c back?"
When the other man didn't answer immediately, Daniel shifted, turning so he could see him. "Well?"
"About two hours ago."
Bosco shook his head. "No ship."
"I know." Bosco thumped the plate of eggs on the counter next to Daniel, pulling utensils from a pile of metal.
"We need to get Sam up."
"Let her sleep. She's going to need it. A few hours won't kill him and she'll be in much better shape to figure out what's wrong."
"I hope so."
When he first spotted the tracks, Jack got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
They were big—too big—and much too close to last night’s camp for comfort. The thing had come damned close in fact. He was barely out of sight of the spot where he’d bedded down last night.
Whatever it was, its hind feet were much bigger than the front and it had a long stride. It was heavy too—the impressions it left were deep and it obviously had never seen a set of toenail clippers.
Hopefully, it was nocturnal.
The tracks angled away leading into the denser part of the forest.
“That’s right my friend, you go your way and I’ll go mine,” Jack mumbled.
It was only some ten or fifteen minutes later that he spotted the birds through the trees off to his left. They were big and nasty looking and he had a pretty good idea of what they were fighting over. Nature always needed its garbage men and a buzzard was a buzzard even if it was on another planet and its feathers were a sort of greenish yellow.
Something had died—or been killed.
It wasn’t just morbid curiosity that made him change directions to check it out. It was best to know what he might be dealing with out here.
He yelled and waved his arms as he approached, chasing the birds away. He wasn’t surprised to see more of the same tracks. Apparently, he hadn’t been the only one doing some hunting.
Jack sighed as he knelt down and got a closer look at the bloody remains on the ground in front of him. He’d known it was too much to ask that the furry slinkies would turn out to be at the top of the food chain.
His large-footed friend’s tastes seemed to run a little bigger.
Jack slipped his knife out and poked at what was left of the carcass. There wasn’t much—bones and bits of bloody fur, scraps of flesh that the birds hadn’t picked away yet.
Feet that looked like they’d once been attached to something more than capable of defending itself from a predator.
A flapping of wings overheard drew Jack’s attention. The bird landed about fifteen feet away and sidled awkwardly with a sort of half-hopping half-flapping movement. The bird’s beak and talons were sharp and curved and its wingspan was easily four feet from tip to tip.
It tilted his head and eyed him as if to size him up.
Jack stood and the bird hopped backwards a few times and stopped. It squawked loudly.
“Back at’cha,” Jack said. A second bird swooped in and landed.
“I’ll leave you to your breakfast,” Jack said, backing away from the remains. “Before you decide you want something fresher.”
He kept an eye on the birds until they moved in on the dead animal again and it was obvious that they weren’t interested in going after livelier prey.
Jack’s mind went on autopilot as he resumed his trek toward the mountains. While keeping a perfectly straight course was impossible, he was generally able to keep himself pointed in the right direction—or at least his best guess as to the right direction. At least the land was rising steadily so as best guesses went he couldn’t be doing too badly.
What he really needed was to get out of these trees.
As far as plans went, that was it. Get into the mountains. Take the path of least resistance. Head up and get a bearing on the city.
He couldn’t help but wonder what was happening at their end. He had no doubt that Carter and the scientists would piece together what had happened. They would come looking for him—eventually.
Every so often he’d stop and mark his direction on the chance that a search and rescue team was somehow following him. It was probably pointless. He was a very small needle in a very big haystack.
"Well that was a grand waste of time," Sam Carter said, grumbling around a mouthful of eggs. She felt more than saw Daniel's disapproving glare, but ignored it.
"Bra'tac would have provided an old death glider had one been available. He cannot give that which he does not have," Teal'c replied, his tone unperturbed, his expression unreadable. Sometimes that whole stoic nature made her angrier. It was the General they were talking about and they were sitting here eating breakfast while he was in the middle of the forest without a pack, without anything. He could be injured. What if the transporter didn't work right?
Sighing to herself, she took a sip of her coffee, trying to stop her mind from running in circles. In that case, though, caffeine was the last thing she needed.
"No chance of borrowing a jumper from Atlantis then?" Captain Bosco asked, drying his hands on the cloth ticked into one of his belt loops. Colonel Reynolds stood nearby, his hip leaning against what passed as the kitchen cabinets, a plate in his hands.
"No," Sam replied. "We have no way to contact them except through the Daedalus and they're not in range."
"So, we don't have a ship, but we know the transporters can get us there," Daniel said, rising from his seat in the makeshift living room as he headed to the coffee pot. He'd been drinking the stuff since she got up and looked like he'd started hours earlier. That didn't bode well for the late-afternoon crash.
"If there was power, they should work," Sam replied, nodding once. "But that's the problem. We can't figure out how to turn it on."
"And that's driving you crazy, isn't it?" Daniel commented, a hint of laughter in his voice.
Sam scowled at him as he re-took his seat, steam rising from the mug cupped between his hands. "Yes, that is bothering me."
"There has to be a simple solution," Reynolds said, handing his plate to the Captain as he moved to one of the empty chairs, dropping into it. "The Ancients wouldn't have made it hard to turn the power on when they got back. That doesn't make sense."
"Well, they were the ones who turned it off. Of course they know how to turn it back on," she snapped before she could censor her reply. She ducked her head a little. "Sorry, frustration talking."
"But Gary's right, Sam," Daniel said, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. "It can't be that complicated. Maybe you're…thinking too much."
She shot him an "I think you need to shut up now" look, but he ignored her—as usual. "I'm serious. What if we're looking in the wrong place?"
"It's the control room, Daniel. You have to be able to control everything from up there."
"Control it, yes. But what if the generators are operated from another location in the city? A safe place. Protected. Shielded even. The Ancients would make sure their power source could never be compromised, right?"
She nodded, her mind already turning over possibilities.
"You did get the sensors up, right?" Reynolds asked. "Can you scan the city for shielded locations?"
"No," she said, her eyes focused somewhere over Teal'c's shoulder. "We need the main power online to do that, but I don't think we're going to need the sensors. The information should be in the mainframe. I was just looking for the wrong thing."
She leapt to her feet, her plate clattering to the floor, the utensils banging off the Ancient's version of a coffee table. "Damn," she said, lunging down to grab it, only to be stopped by Teal'c's voice.
"Go. I shall take care of this."
Flashing him a thankful smile, she jumped over the mess and was out the door a minute later.
We're coming, General. We're coming, she thought as her hurried strides took her back to the control room and her answer.
The trees were finally starting to thin out a bit. Although the growth was still fairly dense in places, there were fewer of the real giants he’d seen when he’d first been stranded.
Jack had taken it as a positive sign at first. A couple of times he’d hit a clear spot and gotten a view of the mountains ahead—much closer than he’d hoped. He’d reached the foothills.
But fewer trees meant more sunlight and Jack was sweating. He was also tired.
Jack sighed as his stomach twitched again—his body’s way of protesting a sudden cutback to a single meal a day. If you could call alien jerky and wild berries a meal. Although hardly starving, the dull ache of hunger had been a constant companion throughout the day and his pace had started to lag.
You’re getting soft, O’Neill, he thought. Skipping a few meals shouldn’t be so damned difficult. Yet here he was feeling punked out like some still wet behind the ears recruit after the first week of basic.
It was embarrassing to be feeling so run down when he wasn’t really exerting himself too much. Sure, he’d kept up a pretty brisk pace whenever possible but it certainly hadn’t been strenuous.
At first, he’d chalked it up to the changes in the terrain. Gentle upwards slopes were increasingly becoming climbs and in some places he’d had to edge around steep ridges or find alternate routes.
He took off his cap and slicked back his sweat-soaked hair with a swipe of his hand. With no way to hydrate, sweating was bad.
The dull ache in his gut suddenly intensified. The jarring spasm of pain stopped him in his tracks. He winced, placing a hand on his belly. That was no normal hunger pang.
Although his macho side protested, Jack decided it was break time. He settled himself on the ground and leaned back against a tree. His gut rewarded him with another sharp pain.
There were a few possible explanations but he had a pretty good idea of the source of his illness. Drinking standing water without any sort of purification—not even boiling—was usually a risk. He doubted it had anything to do with eating the meat or berries because he’d probably have been sick from either of those before now.
But some sort of parasite in the water? The symptoms were showing up pretty fast but who knew what sort of bugs might be hanging out in other galaxies. You didn’t have to be a doctor to put two and two together.
The real problem was in not knowing just how debilitating the illness would become.
"Are you sure you're looking in the right place?"
Sam Carter's pointed question made Gary Reynolds glance up, throwing an irritated glance toward where she was working a few consoles over, her tablet PC hooked into the interface.
He straightened up, groaning as his the muscles in his back protested. "If you'd like to try it, you're more than welcome. But we know how well you were doing with that before, don't we?"
Scowling, Sam turned back to her computer. For some reason, this particular console was refusing to allow anyone except someone with the gene to access the information in it. After nearly an hour with Sam hovering over his shoulder, pointing and commenting, he'd told her to go away and get something else done.
He sighed. Some days he knew he shouldn't ever get out of bed. This was looking more like one of those days than ever. "Look, as soon as I find something close to what we're looking for I'll let you know."
"It's just frustrating," she said, glancing up sharply, her face a wash of emotions. "I should be the one going through that information."
She looked surprised by the question, but when she answered her voice was firm. "Honestly, I'm the one that's best qualified to find what we're looking for, no disrespect intended."
"None taken," he replied, leaning a hip against the console. "Is it because it's the General?"
"That you feel so…obligated…to figure this out."
"I'd do this for anyone," she replied, heat in her voice.
"I know and I'm not saying you wouldn't," Gary said, raising his hands to ward off any further argument. He sighed. Yes, staying in bed would have been a much wiser choice this morning. "We're all worried, Carter, but you also have to remember that this is not just on your shoulders. You have some of the best scientific minds on the planet here with you, right now. Use them. They want to find the General nearly as much as you do. We all have a stake in this."
Her eyes softened a little and she turned her head away. "I know." She released a long breath. "Do you know what bothers me the most?"
"I wish McKay was here."
"McKay? Rodney McKay?"
Reynolds raised an eyebrow. He knew their history, so this was a surprise. "Why?"
His confusion just rose another notch, his forehead furrowing.
"Not only does he know everything about Ancient technology—which he tells me every chance he gets—but he also has the gene. He'd be able to get this done."
"Get back to work."
Jack stretched his arm to reach the next handhold, scratching his fingers over the rock face searching for something solid that didn’t crumble or shift.
Climbing the cliff face had seemed like a reasonable idea while standing at the bottom and looking up but in these last twenty feet or so his opinion had started to change. Would it really have been so bad to detour for miles around?
There. Rough stone provided the leverage he needed and he pulled himself up another foot.
He lifted his head, chin brushing the rock face in front of him, and was heartened to see the lip of the ridge just a few more feet away.
Sweat dripped down his forehead and into his eyes and he tried to blink it away—unwilling to relinquish his grip.
His left calf muscle twinged and Jack jammed his boot tip deeper into the loose rocky soil, mentally willing his body to comply—demanding aching muscles to cooperate just a few minutes longer.
With a grunt of effort he straightened his right leg, inching upward and shifting his weight from his left. He loosed his left hand and fumbled for a new grip—knocking free loose dirt and rocks in the process. Jack clenched his eyes shut and turned his head away as the debris rained down on him. It slowed and finally stopped and he found his grip.
He pulled himself up and sucked in a deep breath.
Why was it always the last few feet that were the hardest anyway? Next time, he swore, he was going around instead of up.
His world narrowed—the next outcropping, the next crevice, the sting of sweat in his eyes and the burn of muscles pushed to the limit. When at last his questing fingers encountered only air he was so surprised he nearly lost his hold completely.
He had reached the top.
As he finally hauled his body over the edge he rolled over on his back. It was a moment or two before he realized the harsh raspy noise he was hearing was the sound of his own breathing. His chest was tight and he forced himself to relax and concentrate on the rhythm of his breathing—to draw a full and complete breath and slow the hammering of his heart.
As if it were trying to punish him for abusing his body in such a fashion, his stomach cramped painfully. He gritted his teeth and waited for it to pass.
The pain sharpened and Jack rolled over onto his hands and knees. He crawled away from the edge of the cliff. The pain receded only slightly and Jack groaned. His stomach lurched and a tickle in his throat was his only warning before he was suddenly gagging.
The acrid sourness filled his throat and mouth and he vomited. He continued retching for several minutes—long past the time when he’d expelled the meager amount of food he’d eaten earlier. As the waves of nausea ended, he spat to clear the taste out his mouth.
Water. He needed water and soon.
Dehydration would kill him as sure as a fall would have. It would be slower but he’d be just as dead.
"Are you sure this is where we're supposed to be?" Daniel Jackson asked, turning around to offer Captain Peterson a scowl. They'd been walking for miles to the edge of the city furthest from the Stargate.
"That's what Reynolds said," he replied, offering an apologetic shrug, his fingers tapping against the P90 strapped to his vest. "We need to start looking for a specific entrance. Do you have the information?"
Daniel pulled out a smudged sheet of paper, Ancient writing scribbled on its surface. "You mean this? Yeah, although it shouldn’t be too hard to remember two words."
"And that says what, exactly?" Peterson asked, squinting at the paper and then looking at some of the walls and plaques around them. They were in a different section of the city, less residential, more business-like, industrial even.
"There's really no direct Ancient to English translation," he said, turning to glance down the other side of the street.
"So, you don't know."
"I know what it says."
"So, what is it?"
Daniel hesitated before replying. "Power conversion station number three."
Peterson turned quickly, his eyes wide. "You're kidding?"
He shook his head slowly. "No, sadly I'm not."
"Well," Peterson said after a few beats, "it makes sense."
"Yes, the ever logical Ancients hiding things in plain sight. I thought Sam was going to have a fit when Reynolds found it."
"So, if this is number three…"
"Then there are two others somewhere else at the very least."
"So we're going to be trekking through the city for days aren't we?"
Daniel shrugged. "Hopefully not. We don't have days."
"Sir," Peterson said, his voice tighter than it was a few moments before. "I think this might be it."
Daniel moved quickly to his side, glancing between the page in his hands and the marker on the wall. Sure enough, it matched. "You have a good eye, Peterson."
"Thanks," he replied, already a few steps away, his weapon raised as he waved his hand over the panel beside the door, which opened immediately, the lights within brightening. A quick glance over his shoulder toward Daniel and he was inside, examining the room. A few moments later, he called Daniel inside.
"It looks like this was the reception area," Peterson said, his eyes still scanning the area. "What are we looking for again?"
"Gary didn't say exactly," Daniel said, walking behind the soldier. "Said we'd know it when we saw it."
"And he didn't send a scientist with us, why?"
Daniel shrugged, attempting to walk past the other man, but Peterson held him back. "Something about them in the middle of something else."
"Meaning none of them wanted to trek this far out."
"Yeah, probably," Daniel replied with a smile. "You know," he added a moment later, "we aren't going to get very far if you don't let me look around. I promise not to touch anything."
Peterson snorted. "As if that could ever happen." He nodded once after a long pause. "Just be careful."
They spread out, looking everywhere, but after several minutes of searching—including going through the desk drawers out of curiosity—they came up empty.
"So?" Peterson asked, his eyes narrowed at the archeologist.
"I'm not sure. Where would you hide your main power source if you were an Ancient?"
Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, the soldier cocked his head, his forehead furrowing slightly. "Defensible. Hidden. This," he said, gesturing with his left hand, "is too open, too accessible. I'd go down."
Daniel nodded. "So…any signs of an elevator?"
"There was something over here," Peterson answered, moving quickly toward the back of the main room. A wave of his hand revealed a small compartment, exactly like the ones in the main control tower.
He turned to Daniel, offering a smile. "One elevator at your command."
Chuckling and shaking his head, Daniel followed the other man into the elevator and Peterson touched the lowest part of the screen. "Let's see what the basement's like. We can always work up from there."
Silence fell over the two men as they waited for the doors to re-open, Peterson standing just inside the doors, his weapon pointed outward. After what seemed like an appropriate amount of time, Daniel cleared his throat. "Shouldn't we be there already?"
"How far down are we going?"
Peterson shrugged. "Down. Didn't specify the actual distance."
"That doesn't make me feel better you know."
Before he could reply, the doors opened and the lights slowly brightened, illuminating another room and a long hallway. Peterson stepped out, sweeping his weapon around. A few seconds later he nodded, allowing Daniel to move forward.
"You know," Daniel said, "there hasn't been anyone in this city for hundreds and thousands of years."
Peterson glanced over his shoulder, an expression of surprise on his face. "And what would General O'Neill do if I let his scientist die in some terrible way?"
Daniel refused to comment, instead following Peterson as he stepped deeper into the room, heading for the hallway and the only visible exit.
They walked, moving through a series of several scanners—or what looked like highly sophisticated airport scanners—before they reached the end of the hall and a huge device in the middle of the room.
"I think we might be in the right place," Daniel commented, his hands on his hips as he stared.
Holy hell it was big.
Jack stretched out on his belly and cupped his hands in the shallow water of the stream. It wasn’t wide or deep but it ran clear and as he sucked in huge mouthfuls Jack decided he’d probably never taste anything so good for the rest of his life.
He drank for several minutes before splashing his face and neck and thoroughly drenching his hair. It felt good to cool off after the exertion of the climb. The fever wasn’t helping either.
He was tired—a bone deep tired that made him actually consider the possibility of never moving from this particular spot again. Sure, considering the circumstances, he’d come a long way over the last few days but the reality of his situation had come crashing in over the past several hours.
Now that he was in the mountains, it wasn’t going to get any easier. He had a long way to go—even assuming he was going to be able to get his bearings and head for the city.
And the prospect of crossing a mountain range while puking his guts out was a less than pleasurable idea at best.
Jack sat up and grabbed his cap up from the ground where he’d tossed it. He plunged it in the water, sloshing it around until it was soaked and plonked it—dripping—back on his head.
Yep, the next few days were probably not going to go down in his scrapbook as particularly fun ones but there wasn’t a wide range of alternative options open at the moment.
He had to keep moving.
Tomorrow. He’d keep moving tomorrow.
For now, it was getting late in the day and this was as good a place as any to make camp. In a drastic contrast to the forest below, the only trees around here were thin, scrawny things that provided little in the way of cover. Still, he seen some dead falls as he’d hunted for water and now that he took the time to look around he could see a grassy area off to his left that looked like it would be a bit more comfortable than the rocky soil he was parked on right now.
He needed to gather wood and build a fire.
The mind was willing but the body was less than enthused. He needed real food and rest.
Perhaps it was time to give in to one small weakness.
Sighing, Jack snatched open the Velcro tab on the pocket of his jacket and slid out the Powerbar he’d been hoarding since he’d been dumped in the middle of nowhere. He’d been keeping it for a real emergency—the day when there would be no berries or campfire roasted furry slinkies.
Just the thought of it caused his stomach to rumble—a nice normal hunger pang that wasn’t accompanied by knife sharp pain or the desire to spew his innards all over his boots.
Half. He’d only eat half of it. Half was good.
The wrapper was open before he quite realized what he was doing and as he lifted the snack to his mouth and the sweet smell of chocolate and oats reached his nostrils he decided he was never leaving the base again without stuffing his pockets with an assortment of treats.
As he took the first bite and concentrated on chewing slowly he mentally kicked himself.
Forget stuffing your pockets with Powerbars, O’Neill. Why don’t you try not getting yourself into these situations in the first place?
Sam Carter glanced around the room, her eyes meeting Colonel Reynolds'. It was time, the moment of truth—at least when it came to power requirements of an Ancient city.
Daniel and Peterson had found the first one—exactly where Reynolds said it would be—thanks to the information stored in the database. A second team was sent to the second conversion station and after a little incident, they'd been able to access the generator at that location as well.
It seemed that the Ancients built special protection into the power conversion stations. The scanners that Daniel'd described apparently had the ability to scan a person as they passed through and if no one in the party had the ATA gene force fields would trap them inside—somewhere between the two scan units—until someone with the gene came to release them.
Felger and Teal'c hadn't been amused, however.
After they were released, Carter had made sure that every team had one of the gene carriers with them at all times. Everyone was thankful that the trap was non-lethal.
But now, a few minutes after midnight, all four stations were manned, the teams awaiting her order. If this worked, the city would come to life. If not, they'd wasted an entire day trying to get this to work.
"You ready?" Reynolds asked, a tight smile on his face.
Sam nodded once. They all knew what to do. She'd gone through it with all of them, explaining the importance of getting it right. Why the Ancients insisted on a simultaneous initial power-up, she didn't know, but she wasn't going to second-guess them.
She clicked her radio on, transmitting on all the commonly used frequencies. "This is Carter, we have a go. Are you ready? Please report in."
"Team one is ready," came back Bosco's quick reply. Felger's quickly followed.
"We're ready here," Daniel answered a few beats later.
After a pause, team four reported in, Teal'c's calming tones giving her the final confidence she needed.
"As we discussed," Sam said, her eyes on the PC tablet in her hands. "On the count of three you need to activate the system in order—just like we practiced."
Affirmative responses echoed over the radio and she took a deep breath.
She glanced up, her eyes holding Reynolds'.
He nodded once, confidence on his face.
And in the four corners of the Ancient city, four men of the Tau'ri, brought the city back to life—and she sang for them.
The first light splatters that hit his face startled him into wakefulness. Jack checked his watch. 0100. He’d slept off and on for several hours—rising to check on the fire or to quickly scan the perimeter of his “camp” when the noise of some unseen animal seemed just a little too close for comfort.
More droplets fell and he realized the rain clouds that had rolled in at dusk were about to make good on the promise of rain.
Jack scrambled toward his fire pit and grabbed up the stick he’d been using as poker. He stoked the coals and added more wood. Hopefully, the shower would move through quickly enough not to douse it completely. He watched the new wood catch easily and some of his worry eased as the flames flared brighter and higher.
The good feeling was short lived as it started to rain harder.
All too soon his cheery roaring campfire was reduced to a mere shadow of its former self. A few flames struggled valiantly and he did his best to keep the wood burning but the battle was already lost. Jack swore as the pitiful fire gave up its fight against the rain. The last tendril of flame sputtered and died, the few remaining coals sizzling and steaming as the rain began to fall harder.
Unable to help himself, Jack watched as the even the glow of coals first dimmed and then died completely. In the darkness, Jack hunched over, pulling his collar up around his neck in a doomed attempt to keep the water from rolling down the back of his neck.
As if the universe was laughing at him, it started raining harder. Mother Nature…Oma…or the spirits of whatever Ancients had inhabited this place so many centuries before had a cruel sense of humor considering how he’d been scrambling to find water—any water—over the past few days.
Jack wasn’t laughing.
Within minutes he was soaked through to the skin and he was facing a new problem.
Although temperatures had been fairly mild, he’d been glad to have fires during the nights and as he’d expected, the temperatures had dropped considerably as he’d gained elevation.
Now he had no fire and he was wet—and getting wetter by the minute. His body reacted the only way it could. He started shivering.
Jack curled himself into a tight ball and tried to ignore the sound of his teeth knocking together.
The rain slowed and finally stopped but the damage was done. There was no way the wood he’d gathered would burn now and without it and soaking wet… sleep would be impossible and probably wasn’t the best idea in any case.
Hypothermia wasn’t impossible—even without extreme temperatures. He needed to keep moving but in the dark with clouds obscuring moonlight and starlight he’d most likely walk off the edge of a cliff and give the green vultures an easy morning meal.
Jack scrambled to his feet and wrapped his arms around his chest. Teeth chattering, he stomped his feet and began pacing back and forth.
It was going to be a long cold night.
Captain Chad Peterson walked over to the side of the room where they'd set up a coffee pot. God only knows how the scientists had managed to interface the appliance with the city's systems, but it had been percolating all night, supplying pot after pot of the beverage to the sleep-deprived science team members—and the military lucky enough to be assigned as watchdogs.
Snagging himself a cup, he let his gaze wander around the room and the early morning light beginning to brighten the skies outside. With the windows on all sides, the view was absolutely stunning—especially with all of the lights of the city spread out below them.
When the power had gone on a few hours ago, it was as if the city had come to life. Some systems were still off-limits to those without the gene, but the interface programs were quickly being created so that anyone could use the consoles. Would that remain that way was anyone's guess, but right now they needed everyone working on the systems.
Reynolds, Jackson, and Carter were down own level, catching a few needed hours of sleep. He had orders to wake them in about an hour and he would, or else face the wrath of Reynolds. That man played dirty.
Jay Felger was hunched over one of the consoles—the main sensors they thought—his tablet cradled in the crook of his arm, his right hand moving between the large crystal keys and the touch screen, recording data, testing circuits. He raised his head briefly, catching Peterson's gaze.
"How's it coming?" Peterson asked, moving slowly to the scientist.
"Good," he said, turning in his chair to face him. "I think I’m about ready to turn it on. Looks like everything is running correctly. Was just a matter of making sense of the data, which," he said, picking up the tablet PC, "I've done."
"Are you sure?" Peterson leaned against a nearby console, resting his hip against the side as he sipped his mug of coffee. It was bitter, but at least it was keeping him awake.
"What do you mean 'are you sure'? You act as if I don't know what I'm doing, but let me tell you, I know these systems inside and out."
"Uh huh," Peterson said noncommittally, turning to glance outside. "So, are we ready to power them up?"
"In a few minutes. The controls for the transporter system are here too, so I've been working on them as well. Might as well bring everything up at once."
"Are you sure that's a good idea? I thought Carter was going to work on that when she got up."
Felger raised an eyebrow, shooting him a heated look. "The last time I looked you weren't a scientist. I know what I’m doing." He turned back to the console, and roughly tapped several keys. His eyes slid to the PC in his hands and he nodded. "See," he said turning it around to Peterson could look at the screen. "Everything's in the green. Nothing's wrong, now all I have to do is this."
His hand paused momentarily above a key before descending. As soon as his fingers hit, the screen hanging above lit up, Ancient symbols scrolling across it. A minute passed before Peterson could turn to the now-smug scientist.
God damn. It was working and nothing had blown up.
But of course, no one was going to mention the puddle of coffee at his feet or the fact that his heart was pounding in his chest. The problem was, with his background in science, he knew exactly what could go wrong —which made his job a whole lot scarier.
Some days, he hated scientists.
Jack sat with his back to a tree with his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them. He’d stayed on his feet for a few hours but exhaustion had finally gotten the better of him and he’d hunkered down to try and rest as best as he could. He’d dozed fitfully, jerking awake at the slightest noises. He’d stopped shivering—mostly--but it was still too damned cold and even the occasional gentle gusts of wind were enough to set the shakes off again.
At least the sky was starting to clear enough that a few stars were making an appearance—not many but enough to give Jack the certainty that the rain was over for the night.
As soon as it was light enough, he planned to get moving again and push on for as long as he could. A few hours of hiking…a chance to dry out…then he could take a break and catch a few hours of real sleep.
There was a sharp cracking sound of a branch snapping somewhere across the stream and to Jack’s left. Jack snapped his head up and stared into the darkness, listening carefully.
All he could hear were the sounds that had become familiar over the past few sleepless hours—the low gurgle of the stream, the steady drip drip of rainwater from off the leaves of the trees and bushes, the buzz of insects—nothing more.
Just as he was starting to think he’d imagined it—there was a splashing sound downstream. Jack turned his head…tracking it by ear. He heard a scrabbling sort of sound and the clatter of loose rocks. Whatever the thing was it was moving in a long wide loop to his left.
There was a low chuffing sort of growl and Jack reached for the Beretta and wished yet again that the rain hadn’t doused his fire.
A breeze blew from the direction of his unseen visitor and Jack wrinkled his nose. The odor was sharp and musky and extremely pungent. The rainstorm hadn’t done the creature any favors in the BO department—it was a wet dog smell magnified about 100 times and complimented with a dash of rotting meat for good measure.
At least it won’t be sneaking up on me, Jack thought. He’d smell it long before it would get close enough to cause problems. Although it was too close for comfort right now.
It was moving behind him now—maybe forty or fifty yards away.
For a split second, Jack wondered how fast it could move but in almost the same instant he realized he had nowhere to run anyway. There wasn’t a lot of cover and he didn’t think he could shimmy up a tree fast enough. Besides, somehow the image of being treed by a smelly—and probably big and hungry…something…was enough to kill the thought almost before it formed.
It had stopped moving. At least, Jack could no longer hear it moving. Of the two possibilities, Jack preferred the first. He’d rather know where the hell it was than sit here wondering if it was just out there…waiting.
Another snuffling growl sounded behind him but farther to his right. It had almost circled around him but it was getting closer—its path spiraling in on Jack’s location.
Jack thumbed the safety off on the Beretta.
Instinct told him the thing was trying to figure out if he was a threat—or was edible. Jack figured he had one chance to convince stinky that there were easier meals to be had.
Slowly, he stood up and listened again for the sound of movement in the darkness.
Jack turned and squeezed the trigger.
Daniel Jackson hovered behind the group clustered around the screen displaying a topical map of the planet with one solitary red dot glowing somewhere in the middle of the mountains.
It seemed the transporters were back online as well, but their first test had gone badly. Either the problem was with the transporter here in the control tower or at the other end. The inanimate object they tried to send to the same place Jack had gone never left—no matter what they tried.
Which left them trying to find another location to send the rescue teams.
They'd been tracking Jack for the past few hours and he hadn't moved much and trying to figure which way he would go based on the little movement he had made was difficult at best.
Daniel was not liking what he was seeing at all. Jack was normally much more active, able to hike for long distances without problems. He should have gotten farther than he had. And to make things worse, there wasn't anything close—in terms of transporters. There were two, but both of them were nowhere near Jack's current location and would require a very long hike to get close.
If they picked the wrong one…
He didn't even want to consider that.
"We should make sure they're working before making a decision either way," said Reynolds, raising his voice to be heard over their heated conversation. "Why argue if they're not going to work in the first place."
"Fine," Sam said tightly, grabbing a half-filled coffee cup and trotting over to the transporter. Placing it on the floor of the small compartment, she stepped back, nodding her readiness. "Try the one by the lake first."
Peterson nodded and a few button presses later the door of the transporter closed and a brief hum was heard. After a moment, Sam waved her hand in from of the door panel to reveal an empty compartment.
"Well, it went somewhere," Daniel commented.
Sam threw him a scowl. "We need something else to try." She waved her hand toward Daniel's own mug. "Give me that."
"You're going to use my coffee?" he asked, moving forward and handing her the requested item.
"If this works and we use this location, you can get it back," she said, repeating the procedure. "Ready for location number two."
A few moments later, she opened the door once again to find the transporter empty.
Reynolds looked a little pale, but his words were firm. "Well, the next step is for one of us to go, but before that, we need to pick a location. I'm not sending anyone in that unless it's for a rescue. Once the science department checks out the entire system, then we can have fun, but right now, I don't want to take any more chances. Understood?"
Several silent nods answered his question. Daniel, though, moved forward, pointing to the second location. "I think we should start here," he said. "Jack would try and make it back to the city if he could—"
"If he knew which way to go," commented Peterson.
"Look at his path so far," countered Daniel, gesturing to the original transporter location. "He's been heading toward the city since he started moving, so he had to know which way to go. Maybe he climbed a tree. I don't know, but he's not likely to turn around and head in a different direction. This location is slightly ahead of him and to the side, but it looks like it's relatively even ground. If we use the transporter near the lake we'll have a much harder climb."
"And you want your coffee back," Sam said, moving beside him, a slight smile on her face as she nodded. "I agree. The other one might be closer, but it's much more difficult and will probably take longer. I don't think we have much of a choice, honestly."
Reynolds nodded slowly, his eyes flickering over everyone standing there. "Okay. Sam, I want you to stay here and monitor everything. Teal'c, Peterson, and Daniel, you're with me. We need to move fast and Daniel you know how Jack thinks. I'll head out first and let you know if the transporter actually works."
"I disagree, Colonel Reynolds," Teal'c said, stepping forward. "I shall be the one to test the transporters. If we fail to rescue O'Neill you shall be next in line of command at the SGC. We cannot risk you as well."
Scowling at the Jaffa, he slowly nodded. "Fine." He turned toward Sam, fixing her with his gaze. "I need you to monitor everything—power, sensors, everything. If something looks wrong, I need to know ASAP."
"I understand," she replied instantly, her body tense. Daniel knew she wanted to be out there, but Reynolds was right; they needed her here. His eyes though, were drawn back to the sensor data up on the screen.
"Sam," he asked as everyone moved off to gather their packs. "I thought there were fifty of us on this planet."
"There are, why?"
"Then why does the screen only show fifteen people?"
Sam looked surprised for a moment, before she turned back to the console, punching several buttons, her frown deepening. "This isn't right," she said under her breath. "We should be getting reading for everything on the planet—animals and humans, but its only showing ATA gene carriers."
"Will that be a problem?"
"I don't think so, but I'll work on it while you're gone." Her tone was already distracted, her mind working through the problem.
Daniel moved off, shrugging on his pack, fastening the strap for his sidearm around his thigh with ease. His forehead creased when his gaze caught Reynolds and Peterson standing in a corner, speaking about something. It didn't look like Gary was happy whatever it was.
Tugging everything into place, he moved toward them, but they stopped arguing before he got much closer as Reynolds tucked something into his vest.
"Everyone ready?" he asked, his eyes scanning the room as he moved toward the transporter.
"I am prepared," Teal'c replied, hefting his staff weapon.
Reynolds nodded and gestured for him to take his position. "You know what to do?"
"Yes," he replied, pausing just before he stepped over the threshold. "Colonel Carter instructed me as to where I should press on the screen. I shall radio as soon as I arrive."
"Okay," he said, clapping his hands together. "Let's get this show on the road. The General's waiting."
Teal'c stepped in and the door closed behind him.
A minute passed. Then two.
"Teal'c, come in." Reynolds' voice was tense. He waved his arm toward Carter. "Boost the signal."
"It's already as high as it'll go. I thought with the height we had here we'd be able to get through."
Another moment passed. Daniel swore that everyone was holding their breath. He knew he was and there wasn't any other sound in the room.
"I have arrived safely, Colonel Reynolds, however, I must inform Daniel Jackson that his coffee did not survive."
Relieved laughter echoed throughout the room.
Reynolds offered a smile as he stepped forward. "Let's go find the General."
It was time to get moving again but Jack was reluctant to move off the sun-warmed rock. He was just starting to feel reasonably warm and dry again—the only reminder of last night’s drenching a slight dampness around the waistband of his BDUs and the lingering squishiness in his boots.
What he really wanted to do was lay here on this hard yet somehow still oddly comfortable rock and sleep for a few more hours. That was assuming, of course, that his early siesta wouldn’t be interrupted yet again by his stinky visitor.
He wasn’t going to count on a gunshot and a lot of yelling to scare the thing away again if it decided to drop for another visit. Particularly, since the tracks he’d found as soon as there’d been light enough to see were the same as the ones he’d spotted in the forest below.
Sure, it could have been a different animal of the same species but he had a feeling it was the same one and when he got feelings like this they were usually right.
He’d attracted the thing’s attention and it was following him.
Following. The word implied intelligence beyond that of an ordinary animal although who knew what passed for ordinary on this planet. Still, there wasn’t really any other explanation. If at first it had simply been a matter of crowding the thing’s territory, Jack had long since moved out of the area where he’d first encountered it.
Animals, even highly territorial and aggressive ones, just didn’t track prey for days on end over such long distances. Hopefully, it wasn’t used to its quarry being so loud and it had decided to stalk something else by now.
Whether it was long gone or simply biding its time either way Jack knew his best bet was to get his butt in gear again and put some distance between the two of them while it was still daylight. So far, at least, it appeared to be nocturnal.
Groaning, Jack stood up and stretched to work loose the kinks. There wasn’t any point in delaying the inevitable any longer. He actually felt better anyway. The cramping in his stomach was nearly gone and the nausea was fading as well and being tired and hungry weren’t good enough excuses for him to slack off now.
He moved to the edge of the rock and jumped the few feet down to the ground. The stream he’d decided to follow farther up into the mountains was a little wider here but it still ran clear and he knelt on the shallow bank and cupped his hand for a drink before resuming his journey upwards.
With Reynolds and the rescue team double-timing it through the woods in search of General O'Neill, Sam Carter got to sit in the control tower and wait.
She hated waiting.
The General was moving again, headed toward the city and, remarkably, toward the rescue party—if he stayed on course that is. That was anyone's guess.
It was frustrating to be able to track him but not let him know that help was coming. He'd been on his own for too long, but he had to know that they'd never lave him behind. He'd taught them too well over the years.
But as she kept her eyes on the screen, watching the little red dot move—two more converging from the other side, it flickered. Once. Twice.
And it went blank, the console's light slowly fading.
She rose to her feet, approaching the now dead device, her laptop sitting serenely on top, still plugged in and running.
Picking it up, she ran a quick diagnostic, checking the readings the computer had last recorded, noting the fluctuations. Something was very wrong.
Dropping to her knees, she pulled the front panel off, already digging into the innards of the device, immediately noticing that some of the crystal configurations were different than when she was last working on it. Very different.
That meant only one thing.
Sitting back on her heels, he slapped her hand to her radio. "Felger!"
"Carter?" came his prompt reply. "From the sound of your melodious tones, you wanted something?
She took a breath, forcing words though her gritted teeth. "What did you do to the sensor console?"
"Nothing," he replied, but the tone of his voice was a dead giveaway. He was lying.
"The sensors just went offline and you were the last one screwing around with this panel. I need to know what you did."
A choked off reply was her initial answer before he stuttered a reply, walking her through all of his changes. It took about fifteen minutes until she replaced the last crystal. "And you know if this doesn't work, I’m going to send General O'Neill to talk with you once he gets back."
An audible gulp filled the air before a tiny voice spoke into her ear. "It'll work."
Pushing the front panel back into place, she climbed to her feet and gestured to one of the hovering scientist that happened to have the ATA gene. This whole non-gene thing sucked.
"Can you turn this console back on for me?"
"Certainly, ma'am," came the quick reply as the other man stepped over, placing his hand against the top of the console. It immediately responded, lighting up the keys and turning the screen on.
They were in business, but the display was strange.
She looked closer, trying to make heads or tails of what she saw. Instead of the fifteen dots in the city, there were triple the amount. The whole expedition was showing up on the scanners now.
But in the woods, where three dots were before, six appeared where there should only be five.
She reached for her radio, trembling hands clicking it on. "Colonel Reynolds," she said, her voice steady. "We have a problem."
Jack eyed the rock wall that rose above him and shook his head quickly deciding there was no way he was going to attempt that one. He’d taken it as slow and easy as he dared throughout the day but he was still feeling far from his best.
He thought about stopping right here for the night. After all, it was getting to be late in the day and he wanted to make sure he had time to scrounge for firewood. But it wouldn’t be dark for a few hours yet and Jack was fairly certain that he was almost at the top of this mountain and that was a destination he was eager to reach.
Since straight up wasn’t an option, he had to decide which way to go. Fortunately, the cliff didn’t seem too wide. He could probably detour around it and find another easier path up without losing too much daylight.
Left didn’t look to promising—lots of boulders and loose shale. From the looks of things, the cliff above had collapsed at some point. Right seemed to be the lesser of two evils. It actually seemed to slope upwards as it followed the base of the cliff.
Decision made, Jack turned right. Within minutes, thankfully, it seemed he’d caught a break and made the correct choice. The ground was fairly even and rose steadily. It wasn’t long before he reached the end of the ridge and was able to continue upwards in his original direction.
When it finally happened, actually reaching the summit was a bit of a surprise and almost a let down after pushing so hard. He’d expected…more. Instead, there was a scattering of trees and scraggly underbrush and simply no more…up. The peak stretched out ahead of him for maybe a quarter of a mile and was maybe twice that lengthwise. He’d crested the top on the far right.
From his vantage point, the view wasn’t encouraging. More mountains—many a lot higher than the one he was on—stretched out to the right. He guessed it would be the same at the other end. Hoping he hadn’t misjudged his position too badly, Jack headed for the far side of the plateau.
As he neared the edge, he was relieved to see no more major mountains out in front of him. Heading down the other side of the range wouldn’t be exactly easy but it was doable. He was already mentally choosing the most likely path—something that was a lot easier when you could actually see where you were headed. His gaze followed the various slopes downwards as he assessed the possibilities.
Turning slightly to the left, he had to shade his eyes against the glare of the sun. As he lifted his hand, he saw a flash in the distance. His heartbeat sped up and he froze—trying to get a better look.
It wasn’t close but that was no mountain.
It was the Ancient city.
A hiss of static broke through their headlong march through the forest. Without slowing down his pace, Gary Reynolds pressed his radio's transmission button.
"This is Reynolds."
"Colonel….eaking up…news for you." It sounded like Carter, but it was hard to be sure. "Hold up," he ordered, gesturing to his headset as he pulled up next to a tree, leaning on the tree with his other hand. "Incoming call."
Teal'c nodded, not even winded, as he started walking around the perimeter, his eyes never leaving the forest. Peterson and Jackson stood close, but they were watchful, facing out toward danger just like they'd been taught.
"Carter? That you? You're breaking up."
"Colonel?" she said, this time coming through clearly. "Can you read me now?"
"Loud and clear. What did you do?"
"I found the Ancient's communication system and plugged in our network. It boosted the signal."
"Great. You wanted something? We're wasting daylight here." Reynolds gestured for the team to move out again, their pace slower than before so he could concentrate on Carter's voice in his ear as well as on where he was putting his feet. They didn't need any injuries.
"It seems like the sensors are finally working correctly and discovered that you might have a problem. I'm reading six life-signs out there."
"Six? There's only four of us and the General. Where do you get six?" Jackson threw a concerned glance over his shoulder at Reynolds' comment and was saved from a nasty fall by Peterson who was actually paying attention.
Scowling at the archeologist, he tuned back into Carter's answer. "…the problem. We have an extra life-sign and we don't know who it is. Someone's out there."
"Where is it?"
"Near the General's signal—or what I think is his signal."
"Where is he now?"
"He's on the move again, headed toward the city still. He's up on the ridge right now. I can try and direct you once you get closer." She sounded apologetic.
"I think we have it covered," Reynolds said reaching into his vest. "Peterson found something that he thought was a handheld scanner."
"Like the ones they mentioned in the Atlantis reports?"
"I think so. Haven't tried it out yet," he said, thinking 'on' as he held the device in his hand. It flashed on quickly before settling in on a map of the area, four dots on the screen. "Well, I can see us," he said with a chuckle, "not that it helps much."
"Can you expand the search area?" Carter was asking in his ear, but he ignored her.
"Hang on," he said, concentrating again, trying to get it to widen out. He needed a better view. A few beats passed—along with a few stumbling steps which didn't end in a undignified tumble thanks to Peterson's quick reflexes—and the screen changed.
"Carter, you said O'Neill's on the ridge?"
"You can see him?"
"Yes, and that other dot is a little closer than I'd like and we're still more than an hour away." He glanced up at his team. "Let's move, now."
Jack tossed a few more pieces of wood on the fire. So what if it was a little big? After last night’s escapades, he wasn’t sure he’d care if he set the whole mountaintop aflame. As dusk had arrived, he’d gathered almost every scrap of burnable wood in the area. It was piled neatly next to the fire pit he dug out with the heel of his boot.
The sun was setting and it would be fully dark soon. The first stars of the evening were already dotting the dusky purplish sky even as the last of rays of the sun lingered far across the valley below.
It would take him a day or so to reach the valley floor. After that, Jack guessed—hoped—that he’d be able to make better time. He was three…maybe four days out. It could be longer depending on available food and water. His best bet would be to take some time for hunting again tomorrow.
In the distance, a light flashed. Almost before his mind registered it there was another one…then dozens more. Moments later, another sequence of flashes began. The pattern of lights was unmistakable and Jack realized he was seeing the Ancient city. Entire sections of the city flared brightly and soon the entire west end of the valley as it lit up like a beacon.
It looked like Carter and the others had been busy during his absence and they had learned a few tricks. One thing was certain; it was better than a candle in a window.
It was comforting—a tangible reminder that he wasn’t completely alone. He wondered what they were doing down there.
Reynolds probably had his hands full keeping everyone in line. Jack was positive his disappearance had stirred up a whopper of a hornet’s nest. When Generals went missing...people noticed.
Carter would be snapping at anyone who came within ten feet of her and most likely she’d had less sleep than even he’d had over the past few days.
Daniel would have staked out a claim on the nearest coffee pot and would be translating Ancient like a native.
And Teal’c? Chances were good he’d tried the whole intimidation thing on Reynolds to get him to mount a search and rescue of some sort.
Jack was confident Reynolds could handle them, though. Gary wouldn’t let them risk themselves unnecessarily—not even for him. He’d play it as safe as he could and let the scientists do their work before attempting anything.
If the light below were any indication, they were making progress. They’d probably learned more about the city over the past few days then they had in all the weeks prior.
A familiar and very unwelcome odor tickled his nose. Taking it for the warning it was, Jack reached for the Beretta and turned just in time catch a glimpse of movement on the far outer edge of the circle of light from the fire.
Even as his brain was screaming about the impossibility of the thing having tracked him all the way up the mountain, Jack was firing a shot into the air and yelling.
It didn’t bolt.
Two thoughts occurred to Jack almost simultaneously. First, he shouldn’t have counted on the fire to keep it away and second, he had nowhere to run.
It edged closer—stepping into the light and Jack got his first glimpse of the creature.
It was big.
It was covered in long matted brownish fur. It rocked back and forth on all fours although its front legs seemed somehow longer—almost as if it was sitting on its haunches. It moved forward—swinging its front arms out and then pushing off with its back legs—similar to the way a gorilla would move.
It growled and suddenly rose up on his hind legs.
It was really big.
It had to be at least eight feet tall. Jack had a clear view of the thing’s claws at this angle as well—nasty looking things that looked like they were able to take his head off at the shoulders with one good swipe.
It moved toward him—surprisingly fast on two legs.
Jack aimed for the massive head and squeezed the trigger but almost in the same instant the creature dropped back down to all fours and the shot missed.
It growled again and shook tossed its head and then it was charging at him like a linebacker.
Jack fired another shot and was sure he saw this one hit the shoulder but the thing barely slowed down. It roared its disapproval and kept coming. Jack fired again but it was on top of him, plowing him into the ground and sending the shot wide. Jack felt the impact in every bone in his body. As he slammed into the ground—pinned beneath the creature—the breath was knocked out of him. Gasping for breath, he tried to bring his weapon up but the creature rolled him and he lost his grip.
Beretta lost…he did his best to pull himself into a ball, tucking his head down and wrapping his arms around it to try and protect his neck. Jack could feel the thing’s warm breath as it lowered its head and shoved him with its muzzle—rolling him over like a rag doll.
It snorted and butted him again and then almost as an afterthought it swiped at him with a claw, laying open a shallow welt along his left forearm.
Again, it lowered his head and shoved him.
Great, Jack thought. Stinky’s mama never taught him not to play with his food.
The sound of several shots from a Beretta had Reynolds ordering them to run—as if they weren't doing that already.
Ever since night had fallen completely, they'd been reducing to jogging through the forest, their flashlights lighting the way, Reynolds keeping an eye on the small device in his hand, the glow illuminating his face. When the two dots on top of the ridge began getting closer and closer together, they'd picked up the pace.
They were so close and Daniel had a bad feeling about this.
When the dots combined and the gunshots began, they were nearly there, but not close enough.
Daniel prayed that they weren't too late.
Stumbling over roots and rocks, he tired to keep up, but the soldiers and Teal'c quickly out-paced him as they mounted the last few yards to the top of the ridge. He could hear Carter in his ear asking for an update, her sensor data telling her the same thing theirs was.
Huffing as he climbed, the air thinner than he liked, he heard gunfire and tried to push his body to move faster. A few steps later and the trees became sparse giving him a clear view of the ridge.
Bright pinpoints of light spewed from Reynolds' and Peterson's P-90s, while Teal'c's staff weapon threw fire above the heads of the two figures at the far side of the ridge.
They were close, but still to far away.
The light from the small fire gave barely enough to light to illuminate the clearing. Enough for Daniel to make out two figures: one on the ground, the other standing over. A brief wind gusted, sending sparks into the air and Daniel's nose twitched briefly, an odor flowing over him but was gone as quickly as it came.
The figures shifted as the rescue party drew closer, warning shots still firing above their heads.
And then it moved, growing huge against the fire in the background, taller than any normal man, or being that they'd since encountered.
Reynolds shouted, trying to distract it, call attention to anyone except the still figure under the creature's girth.
"Daniel, answer me! What's happening?" Carter's loud voice cut through, and he triggered his radio, hissing his reply.
"Not now, Sam."
A flick of his finger and he cut the connection entirely.
An inhuman howl erupted from the creature towering over Jack, triggering an instinctive response and nearly sending Daniel to his knees. Stumbling, he continued to push forward, absently realizing that his throat was sore and strained from his yells at his team to kill it before it killed Jack.
He saw it flinch, its hairy torso twisting as one of Reynolds' single shots connected, another scream—in pain and surprise this time—did the job the first one could not, the entire rescue team stumbling, their knees hitting the dirt as their hands instantly stopped them from dropping any further.
In the time it took for his eyes to shift to the ground beneath his hands and back to the fire, the creature, that thing, was gone.
"Damn it! Where did it go?" Peterson's shout only proved that Daniel wasn't imagining anything.
"It's not on the scanner," Reynolds replied as he climbed to his feet, his eyes fixed on the device in his hands as Daniel and Peterson hurried to O'Neill's side. Teal'c had already vanished into the thin brush of the ridge, trying to follow the obviously injured creature.
"Jack, Jack," Daniel said, sliding to his friend's side, noting the blood and the pale, drawn face. Dark eyes met his as soon as his hand brushed against O'Neill's shoulder. Peterson was on the other side, already pulling out his emergency kit.
""bout time you got here," came the choked-off reply, a cough stopping him from commenting further.
"We knew you wanted to spend some time on your own. Didn't want to crowd you," Daniel replied, trying to keep his voice calm as he held onto the other man, easing him down to the ground once the coughing fit was done.
"Area's clear for now," Reynolds said, standing guard over them as Peterson worked quickly, cleaning and bandaging the cuts on Jack's arms.
"Teal'c?" Daniel asked.
"Tracking. I'll call him back in a minute. We need to get off this ridge."
"So, Reynolds," Jack said, shoving himself to a seated position, his good arm clutched around his middle. "What have you been doing to my city?"
Jack set his coffee cup on his desk blotter and eased into his chair—mindful of the array of still healing bruises adorning his back. Glancing around his office, he had to give Ferretti credit—or more likely Walter.
It was clean.
He’d expected reports and memos and stacks of authorizations that needed his immediate signature—in triplicate.
Truthfully, he didn’t know whether he should be happy or disappointed. If things could run that smoothly—
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts and he raised his head to see Carter hovering in the doorway, clutching several file folders in her other hand.
“Hey, Carter. Come on in.”
“Doctor Brightman said I’d probably find you in here,” Carter said as she moved away from the door. “How are you feeling?”
“Sore,” Jack replied, gesturing for her to sit. “But not tired or hungry,” he added. “And Brightman says the parasites I picked up are responding to the treatment and should be gone in a few days.”
“You’re lucky it wasn’t worse,” Carter said. “You had us worried.”
“Hey, it’s not like it was my first hike in the woods you know,” Jack protested. “I don’t think I did too badly.”
“Oh sure, no gear, no food or water, no radio—totally on your own and days from any help…”
“Exactly my point,” Jack replied, grinning at her.
Carter shook her head. “I don’t know, sir. If the rescue team hadn’t found you when they did it definitely would have been a whole lot worse.”
“Maybe,” Jack agreed.
“What maybe?” Carter asked. “Daniel said that thing was about to make a meal out of you.”
Jack shrugged. “This may sound a bit nuts but I’ve been thinking about it over the past few days. I’m not so sure it was going to hurt me—at least not intentionally.”
“You’re right, it does sound a bit nuts,” Carter told him. “What was it trying to do? Introduce itself?”
Jack shot her a “work with me here” look and held up his hand to cut her off. “Let me try to explain,” he said. “First, I think it was curious. When it first started tracking me it kept its distance and believe me after seeing it I have no illusions about whether or not it could have taken me out at any time if it had gotten the urge.”
“O…kay,” Carter said, a dubious expression on her face. “You think it was intelligent?”
“I don’t know,” Jack replied. “It was certainly smarter than the average bear,” he joked. Carter just stared at him and he mentally sighed. SG1 had lost all sense of humor without him around. “Second,” he continued, purposely holding up three fingers which earned him an eye roll from Carter, “after it had me on the ground it didn’t kill me.”
“That’s it?” Carter demanded. “That’s your logic? It didn’t immediately rip your throat out so it didn’t mean you any harm? What makes you think it wouldn’t have if the team hadn’t arrived just in time?”
“Because they didn’t.”
“Carter, the team didn’t arrive in time,” Jack told her.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “Of course they did.”
“No, they didn’t,” Jack insisted. “By the time Reynolds and the others arrived, I’d been down a couple of minutes at least. When it first charged me, I was positive I was a dead man and that it would be extremely painful but quick. But for some reason, once it had me down it didn’t go for the kill.”
Carter looked pointedly at his bandaged arm. “Then what was that?”
“I know, I know,” Jack said. “It did that almost as soon as it knocked me over but that was the only blood it drew the whole time. It batted me around a bit—kinda rolled me over and then it sort of…smelled me.”
“It smelled you?”
Jack nodded. “Yeah, that’s what it was doing when the team arrived.”
“How in the hell should I know?” Jack countered. “I’m no xenobiologist.”
“Well, maybe we should start looking for one because we have no idea what it was or why it disappeared from the sensors the way it did.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the problem with running a top secret government organization that routinely deals with alien species when 99.9% of the humans on the planet think they’re nothing more than fictional characters in the latest summer blockbuster. Last time I checked, none of the decent colleges or universities offer xenobiology as a degree program. Looks like we’ll have to grow our own expert.” He paused. “Maybe I should give Thor a call,” he mused.
“You want to start a zoo?” Carter joked.
“Not exactly,” Jack said. “We have enough problems with the mechanical stuff. You know, I get nervous every time I step into an elevator these days?”
Carter laughed. “I am sorry, sir. We had no idea—although given the information we’ve had from Atlantis we really should have been more careful. We know a lot more now than we did before but there’s still a lot we have to figure out.”
“Are those the reports?” he asked, indicating the folders.
“Yes, sir. I wasn’t sure if I should bring them now or not. I figured you’d be swamped.”
“Me too,” Jack said. “But it seems we were both wrong. Go ahead and give me a run down, would ya’? What the hell happened?”
“Well, I’m pretty sure I know but I do plan to send McKay the data with the next run to Atlantis. He’ll be able to confirm it for us and maybe answer a few other questions we have as well.”
“McKay?” Jack asked, lifting an eyebrow in surprise.
“Yes, McKay,” Carter snapped back. “He does have more experience with the technology,” she added defensively.
“And?” Jack prompted, keeping his expression neutral.
“And…it seems that some of the work the scientists were doing managed to cross some of the primary and secondary circuits, so when you touched the panel, it reacted like a primary circuit.”
“Sending me on my merry way?”
Carter shrugged, glancing down at her hands that were clutched around the folders. “More or less.”
“Were you able to track down the scientist responsible for that little mis-wiring incident?”
“Actually, I was. It was in the logs.” Carter flipped open a report and glanced at the contents. “Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. We ran across something that might interest you—the city is called Tartessos. Daniel says it makes sense—something about the Greeks and it being connected with the myth of Atlantis. He’s digging up the background information now, I think.”
“That’s peachy, Carter but aren’t you forgetting something?”
Carter flipped a page in the report and shook her head. “Well, there’s not much. Supposedly the Tartessans were immensely wealthy and Daniel said something about precious metals—”
“Uh uh, Carter. The name. Which of your pet eggheads was responsible?”
“You're not going to like it.”
“Carter,” he growled, his eyes narrowing.
“Jay Felger, sir.”
“Yes, sir. He’s really sorry—”
“Is he on base?”
“Sir, he had no way to know it would—”
Reluctantly, she nodded.
“You’re dismissed,” Jack said.
“Yes, sir.” She stood up and moved toward the door, still clutching the reports.
“Leave those,” Jack ordered.
“Sorry, sir.” She handed him the folders and beat a hasty retreat.
Jack picked up his coffee took a long sip before setting it back down again.
“Walter!” he bellowed.
A moment later, Walter appeared in the doorway, glasses pushed up on top of his head.
“Find Jay Felger for me and get him down here now,” Jack ordered. Walter hesitated, a pained expression on his face.
“Uh.. actually, General…”
“What? Don’t tell me he got off the base already.”
“No, sir. I’m fairly certain he hasn’t left.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Jack asked.
“Well, it’s just—” Walter turned to look over his shoulder and Ferretti came into view.
“Jack, you can scare the geek later,” Ferretti said cheerily. “Right now there’s some left over paperwork that needs your attention.”
“And here I thought you got along just fine without me,” Jack said.
“Truth be told, things went well…at this end,” Ferretti explained. “I can’t help it if the brass in D.C. will only accept your John J. O’Neill on the really important red tape.”
Jack sighed. Looked like his little stint as accidental interstellar tourist was definitely over.
Some days he hated his job.
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