Dr. Daniel Jackson felt distinctly claustrophobic. The rock walls reared toward a starless corridor of olive drab sky, and the uneven ground wasn’t designed to enhance physical or spiritual balance.
Send them… home.
As he walked—alright, tottered—Daniel mulled the three words over, the linguist in him fascinated by that beat before home. Somehow the pause suggested that there was no place like… home. It could be interpreted in all sorts of ways, none likely to coincide with his preferred definition. For instance, the—
He stumbled, felt a hot bolt of pain rattle through his head, heard the snigger of the goon behind him, and swore under his breath. You’d think that, if people insisted on converting your face to raw hamburger, they’d at least have the decency to order a sedan chair for you afterwards.
“You okay?” whispered Jack.
“Shut up!” barked Mr. Poletti, the echo of his voice bouncing through the canyon.
“Fine,” Daniel said quickly, careful to keep Jack on his right, in order
to hide the left side of his face. The goons—dead ringers for a mob of
Either way, it livened up the hike. One of the rarely considered benefits of stereoscopic vision was the fact that it allowed for depth perception. He’d found out the hard way while running around in that stupid eye patch—one of the reasons why he’d discarded it three days earlier than prescribed by Doc Fraiser. His shins had been unable to stand the strain.
Right now, his shins didn’t worry him. What did worry him was being funneled through the canyon that led to the ‘gate. That meaningful pause seemed to preclude the literal meaning of home, which left a euphemism popular among romantic novelists—along with eternal rest. Odds were that he and Jack would be lined up against the cliff for a quaint old execution by firing squad—blindfold unnecessary in Dr. Jackson’s case—with subsequent disposal of their remains through the Stargate.
What do you mean, General Hammond? They gated back three days ago.
The thought that this might be precisely what had happened to Sam and Teal’c and Janet made him sick. Only sheer, undiluted fury at the prospect of never finding out why kept the churning in his gut at bay. It wasn’t just scientific curiosity. Daniel wanted to know whom to haunt.
The goons prodded them around a narrow bend, and suddenly the rock walls parted and opened out into the crater.
“Keep going,” advised Mr. Poletti.
More prodding, but strangely enough not toward the cliff but toward the ‘gate. One of the Marines broke into a trot, overtook, and headed for the DHD. He made no attempt to conceal the address he was dialing. He didn’t need to. Daniel himself had dialed it countless times over the years.
He heard Jack’s sigh of disbelief, seconded the motion, and wondered how General Hammond would respond to having them returned in this not quite factory-sealed condition. With a decidedly undiplomatic note of protest, Daniel assumed. The thought was cut off by the whoosh of the event horizon, and then the wormhole established, drilling a clear blue circle into murky air.
“In your own time, gentlemen,” said Poletti.
“You’ll have to uncuff me,” Jack muttered. “I need to enter the IDC.”
“I’ll do the honors.” Poletti smirked and started punching numbers into the transmitter on his wrist.
So this was how it’d go. No blindfolds and last cigarettes. Just bugs on the windshield, and next time Sergeant Siler cleaned the iris, he’d wipe off some familiar-looking subatomic particles. Daniel never for a moment believed that Poletti had entered a valid code.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that five of the goons had formed a semi-circle behind him and Jack, discouraging any foolhardy notions such as running. Out front, Poletti had climbed the dais.
“Bon voyage, gentlemen,” he brayed.
Jack started walking. Evidently he wasn’t immune to niceties of phrasing either. If he thought they were going home, he’d leave last, after seeing his one-man-team safely through the wormhole. Daniel caught up with him in front of the event horizon.
“Stop jostling for pole position,” he hissed.
“They say it hardly hurts at all,” Jack hissed back.
“The particles.” And then Jack was gone.
Two seconds later Daniel concluded that the particles were lying through their teeth. But conscious thought and sensation folded into merciful black, until he shot from the far end of the wormhole, screaming and in free fall. Images took on a snapshot quality; an oppressive flood of green, age-old masonry, the still figure sprawled between ferns below. He hit the ground hard, though moss and mud cushioned most of the impact.
The Hereafter didn’t exactly live up to the advertising. Then again, there always was the possibility that he wasn’t quite dead yet.
Groaning, he rolled over and struggled to his knees. The gymnastics shook loose an avalanche of throbs that felt like it wanted to exit his head through his left eye. He ignored it and shuffled over to Jack who seemed to be coming round, his face bone-white under a mudpack.
“Love what they’ve done with the ‘gate room.” Jack blinked up at the canopy. “Where the hell are we? Mato Grosso?”
“Doesn’t look like
“You know. The Khmer temples in
“Didn’t know they kept a Stargate there.”
“Uh, they don’t, I guess. If they did, somebody’d have found it by now.” Glancing at fuzzy walls and reliefs again, Daniel said, “This is amazing. We definitely need to check out this place. It could—”
“We don’t know where we are, we’re hogtied, we’ve got no weapons or supplies, and we— Holy buckets!” Jack had finally turned his head to get a spectacular view of Daniel’s face. “You know, you’re… Nah, I won’t say it.”
“Won’t say what?”
“I’m not gonna say you’re a sight for sore eyes.”
“That’s why I didn’t say it.” He winced. “Can you see anything at all?”
“Not out of the left eye.”
Accompanied by a lurid selection of curses, Jack maneuvered himself onto his side, facing away from Daniel. Who was watching the performance, knowing that it had to hurt like merry hell and wishing he could make himself useful.
“You need a doctor,” he offered lamely.
“I’ll consult the first medicine man who’s got his shingle out.” Jack wiggled his fingers. “Chew through the flex.”
Sighing, Daniel dropped into a patch of mud and scooted down until his teeth were at a level with Jack’s wrists. “Fart and I’ll kill you!”
There was no reply, and Daniel resigned himself. Bits of his face that desperately wanted to be left alone were chafing against Jack’s arms, and the plastic was no real winner for taste and stuck between his teeth. Jack kept quiet. He’d either passed out again or he was brooding.
Daniel stopped and sat up, trying to relax his shoulders. The sun had crept over the treetops and onto their little patch of forest floor. It occurred to him that they’d been cheated out of a night and some much-needed sleep.
“I didn’t fart!” So Jack had been brooding. “Keep going!”
“How about you entertain me by telling me why you retired?”
“You know why. You were there.”
If there’d ever been a moment when Daniel wanted to cross his arms this was it. “Don’t bullshit me. You quit—which isn’t exactly a specialty of yours. So what’s going on?”
“Spill it, Jack. I mean it.”
Jack shifted over a little further, staring at a lump of moss. “This last year—”
“You mean the one when you were too busy being the alpha male to see daylight?” And Daniel had risen to the bait every damn time, until their usual banter deteriorated into personal insults. “Sorry. Just gag me.”
“Can’t. I need you.”
“Oh right. The flex.”
“What else?” O’Neillese for the friendship’s still there. Twisted and battered and bent out of shape, but still a friendship. Solid foundations.
“What about this last year?” Daniel prodded.
“You mean apart from the fact that I was prepared to blow up a spaceship with you in it? Or that I shot to kill when I shot Carter? Or that I left Teal’c to get his matrix stored in the ‘gate? Notice a pattern? Too many bad calls, Daniel. The only reason why any of you’s still around is that I got lucky each time. I can’t afford to rely on that. You can’t. The exercise sent up a red flag. That’s what happens when luck runs out, Daniel.” His fingers balled into tight fists. “The other day, when I shot that robot—”
“She was sentient, Jack.”
“When I shot Reese? I shot her because I couldn’t gamble. I was scared stiff of luck running out. I’ve lost too many people already, and so help me, I’m not going to lose any more.”
You stupid son of a bitch!
Daniel grimaced. “Look,” he said at last, “for what it’s worth, I’ve always been convinced—still am—that, if I buy it out here, it won’t be because you’re there but because you’re not. You’ve pulled our asses out of the fire more times than I care to remember and long may you continue to do so. Because I have every intention of living to a ripe old age, and I’m counting on you to keep that little fancy of mine viable.”
“Gee! Thanks, Daniel.” Jack sounded raw, but the attitude was encouraging. “Anything else I can do for you?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.” Daniel grinned. “Try stretching the flex. It might pop.”
“You sneaky, underhand, devious little… You mean there was no reason for me to—”
“I didn’t say that. I said it might pop. So it might still need some nibbling.”
“And you might just stay cuffed!” growled Jack and did as he was told.
The flex popped. Ten minutes later, Daniel’s hands were free, too. Rubbing his wrists, he looked for a doorway that would lead to the interior of the ruins, but all he could see was the gaping mouth of the stone face that held the Stargate. Not likely, despite the stone tongue that lolled out into the clearing like an entrance ramp. Besides, the maw stank of feces and God knew what else, and even Daniel’s investigative fervor had limits. He began trailing the wall into the forest, noticing for the first time that the noises you’d expect in a jungle were absent. Except for an unnerving, insistent buzz. Following the sound, he rounded a huge tree and froze, bile rising in his throat. So much for peace and quiet.
From somewhere behind him drifted shouts. “Daniel! Wait up! I can’t find the”—Jack came trotting around the bole and ground to a dead halt—“DHD…”
Clouds of flies dancing around it, the body hung suspended from a protrusion in the temple wall.