| Stories by TheOneRing |
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Ethos
TheOneRing

 

"Okay, kids!  We've got 24 hours to explore this planet for something of value."  Colonel Jack O'Neill addressed his team as he strutted down the steps from the Stargate.  Inhaling deeply, he added, "Ah, fresh air and, for once, no aliens!"

"Jack," the team's archeologist called after him hurrying down the steps.  "Aren't you even curious as to why this planet is uninhabited?  I mean, the air is good, the plants are beautiful."  Daniel motioned towards the trees in the distance.  "And there's an abundance of water right here at the gate.  Makes you wonder what happened to the populace, doesn't it?"

"Nope, not at all.  No curiosity here."  Jack stated flippantly.  Turning to Major Sam Carter, he continued, "Carter, this is your show.  Collect your samples and let's go home.  I've got front row tickets to the hockey game tomorrow and I don't plan to miss it!  Take Daniel with you but behave yourselves.  Teal'c and I will be your chaperones."

Jack smiled as his teams' scientists scurried around, unloading sampling equipment from their packs.  For once, SG-1 had drawn the long straw on this mission.  It was a piece of cake and, quite literally, a day at the beach.  The Stargate sat poised next to a crystal clear lake with gray sand.  Uninhabited planet, no alien bad guys, clean air, beautiful plant life, and absolutely nothing to worry about. 

As Jack surveyed the landscape surrounding the gate for potential hazards, he recalled past visits to other beautiful planets.  Rarely, he thought, did outward appearances mean anything, especially in regards to safety.  To the contrary, quite often the most innocuous looking worlds posed the most disastrous situations.

Jack’s smile faded as he realized that this mission might just be an accident waiting to happen.

"Sir, we'll have to go farther from the gate to get most of the samples but I'd like to start at the beach.  The color of the sand itself is intriguing.  I'd like to get a soil composition and..."

"Ah-ah!"  Jack admonished the young major with his index finger.  "Need to know, Carter, need to know."

"Yes, sir."  Major Carter grinned and, taking the cue from her commanding officer, motioned Daniel over to the water’s edge to help her set up the equipment.  The team's two scientists continued speculating on the planet's inhabitants, the reason for the gray colored sand, and the eccentricities of their commanding officer. 

"Hey, I can still hear you!"  O'Neill spoke with authority but his handsome face sported a grin.  His kids were in heaven and that's the way he liked it.  Jack followed Teal'c towards the tree line.

Daniel dropped his pack near a short stele at the base of the gate.  He squatted next to the low column and wiped his hand along its smooth glassy side noting a strange writing across the surface.  He quickly retrieved a brush from his pack and began to remove the dirt from crevices forming the lettering.  The writing was familiar to him…it was Goa’uld.  Daniel looked around rapidly searching for other signs of previous inhabitants and spotted an identical structure at the far corner of the gate. 

As he stood to move towards the other slab, the gate's chevrons activated simultaneously indicating an incoming wormhole.  Daniel checked his position to ensure he was out of the path of the backwash just as it burst forth with a loud swoosh, bathing their surroundings with a rippling blue light.

"What the hell..." Jack saw his 'accident' happen as two Goa'uld death gliders screamed out of the wormhole.

“Find cover!"  Jack shouted at his team.  He quickly performed a risk assessment, noting that his second in command and his team's archeologist were closest to the gate and the most vulnerable.  The land immediately surrounding them was very flat and sandy.  They had to make it to the trees.

"Daniel, leave it!"  Sam grabbed Daniel by the sleeve, admonishing his attempts to retrieve his pack from the ground.  Together they made a dead sprint towards the trees just as the gliders swooped back and began firing. 

Jack fell to the ground and used his weapon to provide cover for his two teammates nearest the gate.  A quick glance towards them confirmed that Carter and Daniel were mobile and scrambling towards him to avoid the blasts.

The sound of a staff charging at his side assured Jack that Teal'c was shooting at the wretched aircraft as well.  From the corner of his eye, he witnessed Carter stumble and he squeezed his gun trigger tighter, lodging a rapid volley of weapon’s fire at the ships armament.  Daniel stopped to pull her to her feet and they continued their forward momentum even as the gliders’ guns created large holes in the earth beside them.  Finally reaching Jack and Teal'c, each scattered to find cover amongst the vegetation.

Several anxious minutes passed until the death gliders finally left the area, strangely unwilling to continue their attack.  Jack appraised the area for any sign of the enemy approaching.  Confident for the moment that the ships were out of range, Jack stepped from his hiding spot anxious to check on Daniel and Carter’s status.

"Carter, Daniel, report!"  One by one the remaining SG-1 members emerged from their positions.

"That was one hell of a welcome wagon.  Everyone all right?"  Jack looked around as Carter and Teal’c appeared.

"Wow, that was unexpected!  What do you think attracted them here?"  Sam queried.

"Hell if I know, Carter, but we're getting out of here now!  I don't want to be around when the ground troops come marching in."  Jack ordered.

"I do not believe there will be ground troops, O'Neill.  The Goa'uld do not send their gliders to 'thread the needle' unless they believe it is unsafe to proceed on foot.  There must be something on this planet that the Goa'uld fear."

"Really?  Didn't think they cared about their Jaffa that much!"

"They do not.  Those pilots will not return home."

"Damn.  All the more reason for us to make our exit.  Daniel?"  Jack realized he hadn't heard from the fourth member of the team yet.  In fact, he hadn't even seen the fourth member since they all hit the dirt.  He thumbed on his radio, "Daniel, you okay?"

After several silent moments, Jack turned to Sam. "Carter?"

"I don't know, sir.  He was right behind me!"

"I know.  I saw him dive for cover.  He should be right there."  Jack kicked at a clump of leaves in front of him.  “Carter, Teal’c…sweep that side,” he said.  “I’ll search this area.”

 

After scouring the immediate area thoroughly, Colonel O'Neill had run out of options.  He motioned his team to stop their search and they gathered amidst a grove of trees next to the colonel.  "Where the hell can he be?  Carter?"

"No idea, sir.  He couldn't have just disappeared...could he?" 

"Even as good at disappearing as Daniel is, I don't think he can just disappear into thin air.  Did anyone notice a light...transporter rings...something?"

"There was nothing, O'Neill.  Daniel Jackson did indeed 'disappear into thin air', as you say."  Teal'c's grave tone expressed his concern over their friend's continued absence. 

"Sir, have you noticed the grass?  I mean, it feels almost sticky...it's difficult to walk in."

"Yeah, I noticed that."  Jack raised his leg to look at the sole of his left boot.  "Ah, Carter, what's this?"

Sam moved towards the colonel looking down at his foot.  "Wow, look's like you need a new pair of boots.  The soles look worn."

"These *are* new boots, Carter."  Jack paused contemplatively.  "I don't like this.  Let's head back to the gate and get a message to General Hammond."

"We can't just leave Daniel here, sir."

"I have no intention of doing that, Carter, but right now I'm out of options," O'Neill used his best command voice.  "Grab a couple of quick samples of the vegetation but don't touch anything.  Whatever can eat through leather won't have any problems with human flesh."  As Jack absorbed his own words his worry mounted at the thought of what might have happened to Daniel.  

"Yes, sir."  Carter removed two sample jars from her pack along with gloves and her tools.  Unfortunately, Daniel's pack had the tweezers she needed but his pack was still beside the water.  She knelt down to collect a sample, extremely cautious to not touch the shrubbery.  She looked up briefly from her task and noticed the plants around her appeared to be withering.  The tree trunks oozed a sap-like substance the color of blood.

"Sir, the plant life looks like it's dying.  It wasn't like this before the Goa'uld attack," Carter pointed towards a particularly wilted plant stalk.  "The damage didn't come directly from their weapons either."

"Well, maybe the vegetation is sensitive to disturbances.  You know, kind of like my Ficus tree.  If you just look at it wrong, it drops its leaves.  I swear it's in a constant state of PMS."  Jack bantered in a humorous tone but his body language told his true concerns.

"So, your Ficus is female?"  Carter said in a half hearted attempt to rise to the bait.  "Perhaps you should try talking to it...sir."  She rose to walk a few steps to finish gathering her specimens.

"Maybe I'll ask it out, Carter.  Bring it some flowers and chocolate..."  Jack agreed absently, squinting into the distance searching for movement or a hint of BDU green. 

As Carter squatted to hurriedly collect her next sample of grass, a low rumble began in the distance. The low level booms were followed by a percussive screech of machinery shooting past overhead. The gliders returned to continue their assault of the wooded area where SG-1 had hidden.

"Goddammit!"  The colonel grabbed Carter's arm, pulling her to a standing position, as the air around them heated from the nearby blasts.  A ball of fire whizzed past Jack as he made his decision.  "Back to the gate. 

"But, sir, what about Daniel?"  Sam's responded almost frantically.  "We can't leave him here!"

"We don't have a choice Carter!  Let's go!"  Colonel O'Neill's face reddened as he yelled the order.  He had no intention of leaving the planet without his team's archeologist but now the safety of the rest of his team was paramount.  He planned to return with a search and rescue team and a whole lot of big honking guns.

Jack fired his P-90 as the gliders whizzed past, hanging back until both Carter and Teal’c were in front of him.  They ducked low and ran through the bushes towards the Stargate, stopping only at the edge of the trees to regroup before racing the final yards in open terrain.  At Jack’s order, he and Teal’c again discharged their weapons as they continued their forward momentum, giving Carter a chance to reach the DHD.

Nervously, Jack watched as the gliders boxed them in. She’d never dial the address in time.  One ship hovered directly above them; the other lowered to hover between them and the gate.  Four sets of gun barrels aimed directly at them. They'd never make it. The Colonel raised his hands above his head in the universal gesture of surrender.

As the glider in front of them energized its weapons, Jack eyed his remaining team with regret.  He knew their days were numbered, had been since they joined together as SG-1, but he couldn’t accept the futility of their deaths at this front. At least Daniel wasn’t facing this particular threat.  There was still a chance that he might get away.

Looking past Carter, Jack saw motion behind her.  Shaking his head in disbelief, Jack watched as a "tree" ebbed and flowed in a strange movement towards them, its edges flickering as it undulated forward.  It grew larger and larger until it finally loomed over them.

Sam turned to follow his stunned gaze just as they were all engulfed in the tree's trunk.

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Jack awoke first in the brightly lit, sterile enclosure.  Looking around he spotted both Carter and Teal'c lying on the ground nearby.  Good.  Another glance confirmed his suspicions that they were not alone as three small beings emerged from the walls.  Jack lay still and watched as the beings took their form first from the wall, then morphed into more human-like figures. 

Pretending to be unconscious a bit longer, he assessed his captors...or were they his saviors?  They had rescued them from certain death by those gliders, hadn't they?  He watched the surreal creatures undulate towards him.  They were transparent beings with almost ghost-like qualities.  They had long sinewy appendages similar to arms and legs that Jack suspected were actually neither since the creatures' ‘legs’ never touched the floor as they moved.  They grew more solid and ‘human’ in appearance as they stood beside him.

Jack supposed they emulated their 'guests' hopefully in order to better communicate with them and not for any of the other far more unpleasant reasons he could think of.  He watched them and would swear the beings were even attempting to resemble the members of SG-1.  The nearest one was tall with dark colored eyes.  The second being had a more feminine appearance if you could count the slight bulges on its chest as breasts.  This slightly smaller creature had large blue eyes.  The one farthest from him was much darker than the others and sported an emblem on its forehead.  Yep, definitely looked a bit like them.

"You are the leader, Colonel Jack O'Neill?" the tall alien, who was starting to look uncomfortably Jack-like, asked in a very mechanical tone.

Rising to his feet, Jack reluctantly replied, "I am."

"You are peaceful explorers.  You mean us no harm," the other slightly smaller alien stated...it wasn't a question.

"Yes...yes, we are."  Jack spoke slowly, eyes darting suspiciously from one being to the other.  "How did you know that?"

"Ethos has informed us of this fact," the dark toned alien spoke as he shifted closer to Jack.  Jack looked back at Major Carter and mouthed 'Ethos' with a questioning expression, eyebrows furrowed.  Carter simply shrugged her shoulders.

"And who is this 'Ethos'?"  Jack punctuated the name a bit harshly, immediately regretting it.

"Ethos is we, Ethos is life, Ethos is the wind, the rain..." the beings looked admirably around, spreading their appendages outward with palms up, "Ethos is everything."

"Yeah, well this Ethos sounds pretty great.  Can we meet him, uh, her…it?  Where is Ethos?"  Jack attempted to persuade the aliens to 'take me to your leader' without actually uttering the clichéd words.

"Ethos is here, Ethos is everywhere..." the first alien started.

"Yeah, I got that.  But you see, one of my teammates is missing and I was thinking that if this Ethos guy is everywhere maybe he knows where the other member of my team is."

Sam decided to try her hand at communicating, "We were separated from our friend during the glider attack.  His name is Daniel Jackson.  Do you have any information that might help us find him?"

"We know of your friend's disappearance.  He is unharmed..." the dark-eyed one began.

"Finally!  Now we're getting somewhere!" 

"...but we cannot help you locate him," one of the others finished.

“You cannot or will not?” Teal’c stood at the colonel’s side.

“We…” the Carter-like specter seemed uncertain as to how to answer Teal’c’s question, pausing as if gathering input from the others.  After a moment, it replied carefully, “We will not.”

“See, now I don’t get that…you know where he is?  Why can’t you tell us?” Jack began to lose patience in this game.

“We will not allow him to leave this place.”

"Daniel Jackson is not of your world.  For what purpose do you detain him?” Teal’c continued to negotiate with these beings, but he too grew tired of this charade.

"'Daniel Jackson' as you know him is providing a great service to our planet," the blue-eyed alien spoke.  "He completes the matrix, providing nourishment, maintaining our life force."

"We are greatly indebted to you for bringing one such as him to our world.  We have long awaited the arrival of such a being, one whose mental capacity is sufficient to sustain our planet for many moons.  He must remain," the dark toned alien contributed.

"Now, wait just a minute!"  Jack’s temper flared as the aliens described the usefulness of the team's archeologist.  He also noted the finality in their description which conveyed the impression that Daniel had already begun 'serving' them.  "Daniel is essential to us too. He is *not* staying!  Tell us where we can find him!"

"We are sorry, but we will not..." they spoke in unison, as if of one mind.

“What the hell do you mean, ‘you will not’?  Listen, you know where he is so why don’t you tell us where we can find him and we’ll leave your planet. We won't be any more trouble we'll just go.”  He gestured at them and then towards the door. ‘Us. Go.’ He mouthed.

“No.  He is necessary.” They responded concisely leaving no room for interpretation.

Jack’s glanced over at his teammates, his expression exuding frustration.

"What about this 'Ethos'?"  Teal'c asked, his face tight with tension.  He had failed to protect Daniel and for this he blamed himself.  He was the nearest one to the younger man when he disappeared and believed he could have prevented the loss of Daniel Jackson had he been more vigilant.  He recalled another time when his failure to protect the archeologist from the ‘touched’ in the Land of Light almost cost his friend his life. He would not allow him to face such dangers alone again.

Jack nodded towards the Jaffa as he spoke, "Yes, we would like to speak with 'Ethos'."

"You are free to leave.  Perhaps you shall meet Ethos in your journey."

"Now wait just a minute.  So...just like that?  We can leave?"  Jack had a strange feeling about these aliens. 

"Yes, just like that...unless you'd like to explore our planet more," one being nodded to the others as if speaking a silent language amongst themselves.  “You are welcome to visit our world for as long as you wish.”

Jack paused briefly, a bit confused by these aliens.  What happened to the 'run from the bad guys, get caught and beat up by the bad guys, escape the bad guys by virtue of their team leader's intelligence and ingenuity'?  Well, maybe he was overdoing it a little...they didn't always get beat up.  But they almost never were captured and allowed to leave whenever they were ready...that is, if they really were captured.  And was Daniel actually being held prisoner, or had the man agreed to help these 'people' without consulting his commanding officer for the umpteenth time?

"Sir, we could still use some…er... samples, try to locate Daniel..."  Major Carter began.

"Carter, did you forget about those Goa'uld death gliders?" 

"No, sir, but..." Sam started.

"The Goa'uld flying machines are no longer a concern.  Ethos has eliminated them," the taller being slowly blinked his brown eyes as he spoke.  "You are free to leave." 

With a wave of the alien's hand the walls surrounding them flickered then disappeared along with the creatures.

"Whoa!"  Jack exclaimed, taken aback by the dizzying change in his surroundings.  Where they just stood entrapped between the walls of an enclosure suddenly they found themselves amidst an outcropping of trees and colorful flowers. 

"That's incredible!  The walls just...just evaporated."  Major Carter spun around in awe. She had been closest to one of the walls when it disappeared and its sudden absence was startling.

"That's not possible..." Jack expression was that of pure confusion.  "Is it?"

"Well, we've never seen anything quite like that before but I guess it could be explained by molecular decomposition at an atomic level or some type of visible energy shield that..."

"Carter..." Jack began.  "You have no idea, do you?"

"Uh, well, not really, sir.  I've never seen anything like it."

"Nor have I," Teal'c added.

"Okay, let's assess our situation here.  We have disappearing barriers and ghost-like creatures on an ‘uninhabited’ planet,” Jack used his fingers in the air to draw the quotes.  

Finding Daniel on this world would be like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack or worse and Jack kicked the ground, royally pissed off at the aliens for not staying around long enough for him to question further or just plain yell at.  He clung to the words they used like a lifeline…Daniel wasn’t dead; he was providing a service to this world.

"And we need to find Daniel," Sam said as worry lines crossed her forehead.

"Yes we do…” Jack thought for a moment before making his decision.  “Okay, so, Carter you wanted to explore?  Let's explore.  See if we can find Daniel."  Jack motioned forward with his outstretched hand.  "Ladies first, then Jaffa ."  And then, crotchety old colonels he thought, realizing if Daniel had been with them those words would have been muttered out loud by the archeologist.   They needed to find Daniel and get the hell off this bizarre planet. 

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Daniel awoke to pitch darkness unable to see his surroundings.  Uncertain if anyone could hear him he began delivering his typical, off-world, 'make nice with the natives' greeting, "We are peaceful explorers.  We mean you no harm."  

Unflummoxed by the lack of response, Daniel spoke to whoever might hear, "Jack, Sam, Teal'c...are you here?"  Images of his friends appeared in his mind as he paused briefly for an answer.  Receiving only silence he continued, "Please, if anyone can hear me, where am I?  Where are my friends?"

His only answer was a faint humming sound.  Daniel relaxed a bit for the moment to assess his situation.  He felt strangely warm yet not unpleasantly so.  His body's autonomic systems seemed oddly pronounced.  He heard his heart beating; a strong, pounding sound deep within his chest that seemed to reverberate through his body and beyond.  He felt his blood pumping through his arteries full of oxygen-rich corpuscles, racing outwards from his extremities as though flowing outside the confines of his body.  He also sensed its return, depleted, exhausted of nutrients and oxygen.  He recognized the seemingly immense volume of air entering his lungs, directing the oxygen back into his blood even as he exhaled.  All his senses seemed amplified exponentially. 

As he became more absorbed into these feelings he realized his vision was no longer dark; he could see the planet as if he was soaring overhead looking down upon the beautiful vegetation and plant life.

Yet he also knew he was held firmly in his stationary location.  Even though he could feel his internal body working he realized that he was no longer physically able to move.  In fact, he couldn't actually feel his legs or arms.  Daniel's spirits darkened as he recognized he was a prisoner; his depressed mood exacerbated further by the thought that he was totally alone.

Deciding to ascertain whatever facts he could about his incarceration, Daniel opened his mind, surprised to find he could see and hear his friends walking along the planet's surface.  He knew they were a few miles from the Stargate...how did he know that?  And they were looking for him. 

Struggling to move he willed his body to respond to his mind yet nothing happened.  He fought for his voice, tried to call out to his team, but no sound emerged.  Frantically, he focused everything within him on the task of moving, speaking, anything, but the intense mental effort he exerted only forced his mind and body to seize painfully for several moments throwing him once again into total darkness.

After some time of only pain and shadows, Daniel’s body and spirit eventually recovered the strength he needed to view the world outside his enclosure.

'Please, please find me soon', Daniel silently begged as a wave of hopelessness washed over him.

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“Okay, we’ll head for the gate.  See if we can find any sign of Daniel on the way,” Jack ordered. 

SG-1 traced their path back to the gate in an uncomfortable silence, each lost in their thoughts about their missing teammate.

About half an hour into their journey, Jack decided to voice one of his many concerns about this place.  "Carter, you notice that those...aliens...they looked a bit like us?"

"Yes sir, they did.  And the words they used sounded as though they came directly from Daniel.  That 'peaceful explorer' bit; no one could possibly get that one if they hadn't heard it before."

"Yeah, that's what I'm thinking." Jack kept a careful vigil on his surroundings as he stepped in front of Teal'c to assume center position in their formation.  As he passed him, Jack noticed a quiet determination in the Jaffa 's features.  One which no doubt if he'd looked into a mirror would echo his own. The Jaffa obviously had no intention of leaving the planet without Daniel Jackson and bless the poor soul that got in his way.

Like a whisper in the wind, Jack thought he felt Daniel's presence, heard his voice speaking, 'Please, please find me soon.'  A shudder ran through his body even as his dark eyes shifted looking for the source of the voice.  Somehow he knew his friend didn’t have much time and he felt totally inept in his ability to find him.

Jack stopped and the rest of the group followed suit, moving closer to their commander. 

"Look, I’m not comfortable about leaving Daniel but he could be anywhere and there is no way to conduct a search and rescue with just the three of us.  The planet’s deserted except for Moe, Larry, and Curly so we can’t just ask around if anyone has seen Daniel.  And the three stooges aren’t talking.  We need to go back, launch a UAV, and increase the number of eyes looking for him,” Jack spoke with conviction of mind but not of heart. 

“I agree,” Carter supported the colonel’s judgment though she regretted leaving Daniel behind even to gather reinforcements.  She recognized his order as a sound military assessment, logically processed and delivered from the head and not the heart; the kind of decision that separated the great leaders from the rest, often silently breaking the hearts of those who made them. 

She knew how much such a statement would cost Colonel O’Neill.  He cared for his team way more than he should and yet he had to make tough decisions in the absence of emotional bias.  That, she reasoned, was what made her commander one of the best.  It also made him one of the most vulnerable, though, and she wondered how many times his heart could break before his spirit faltered.

"Do you believe that they are holding Daniel Jackson prisoner?"  Teal'c's stoic voice was as strong as ever but his eyes spoke volumes regarding his concern for their teammate.

"Yeah, I do.  I have no idea how to fight a specter either...and these...," he circled his hand in the air, "these beings...seem to appear and disappear at will along with everything else on this planet."

"I believe you are correct, O'Neill.  We will need significant resources if we are to locate Daniel Jackson."

“That’s what I'm saying.  I think we need a whole helluva lot of backup with some grade-A weapons behind them. I don't trust these aliens," He looked at Carter for her affirmation and she returned a slight nod.

"Okay, we should make it back to the gate in less than an hour from our current position.  Keep your eyes and ears open."  Jack fell back in their formation.  "Teal'c, take point."

With a barely perceptible nod of his head the Jaffa quickened his pace as he led the small group towards home.

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He couldn't believe it!  They were giving up, just like that?  'I would have kept looking for you,' the archeologist's words went unspoken. 

As a wave of sorrow washed over Daniel's subconscious he tried to pinpoint the reason for his intense feelings.  Yes, emotionally he didn't want to see his friends abandon him but logically he knew they'd be back.  No one gets left behind. 

He slowly came to realize that this flood of emotions sweeping through him was not entirely his own.  He could hear the vegetation surrounding him; he could feel their pain, their deep sorrow, and he found it increasingly difficult to separate their feelings from his own.  Although he didn't think he was capable of shedding physical tears, the tears in his mind flowed freely.

Relaxing for a moment to push the tension and anxiety away, Daniel tried to 'listen' to the planet.  His mind became one with that of his captor as he sought to comprehend these feelings, trying to distinguish between his memories and those of the indigenous life forms. 

But the planet’s sentience became too difficult for him to separate from his own.  He gasped mentally like a drowning man struggling to reach the water’s surface for the third and final time only to find himself pulled back under, succumbing to the collective memories rather than his own.

He felt as though he'd been here for millennia, endured innumerable attacks at the hands of the Goa'ulds and other outsiders.  He remembered fierce battles and the acquisition of prisoners in much the same way as his own capture.  And he recalled the tears… countless tears shed as flowers faded, trees fell, shrubbery withered, and grass bled. 

This was the way it had always been.  The planet needed sentience to experience sensations and feelings, reluctantly behaving much like the Goa’uld by imprisoning humans as their ‘Ethos’.  Daniel could detect the minds of thousands who came before him fulfilling their role in the planet’s evolution while their minds were retained in its collective consciousness. 

As he searched these memories, Daniel suddenly realized with horror that at least one of these minds had been Goa’uld.

The Goa’uld knew the knowledge of this world was formidable, something they desired for themselves.   With it they could conquer worlds, destroying those that would oppose them and using their captives as hosts or slaves.  They came through the gate on foot intending to steal its powers and eventually become one with the universe, become Ethos.  As a result, the planet’s inhabitants suffered dire consequences from melding with the minds of these parasites.  Their moral values became twisted into a web of deceit and malassimilation between the minds of the original dwellers and the parasitic ones.

Eventually forced to take a desperate course of action, the inhabitants overthrew the Goa’uld in order to save themselves.  They launched counter attacks against the enemy, fighting against the demons to finally regain control of their Ethos.  Once free of the evil ones and desperate to avoid further acquisition by the snakes, this world became the protectionist by immediately destroying all Goa’uld and their servants as they stepped on its soil.

So the Goa'uld no longer came on foot; no longer fought a fair war.  They assaulted this planet utilizing kamikaze missions by air, pelting the living with weapons blasts and forcing their untimely deaths.  This world could no longer retaliate against these aerial invaders and without its Ethos, it was dying.

Through the darkness lurking in their collective consciousness left by their previous Ethos, however, the planet had become almost as evil as the vile Goa’uld, shamelessly resorting to capturing and enslaving those humanoids that visited through the gate as they unknowingly stepping onto the ground.  Without the Goa’uld to serve as Ethos, the planet desperately sought any life forms they could assimilate within them.  Any beings touching the ground became fair game.

Today, a different breed of humans from another planet stepped through the gate onto this world.  Immediately following these humans, the Goa'uld flying machines arrived, reaping destruction, but this time their world would survive.  This time they had the humans; this time they had their new Ethos.

Daniel began to slip below the surface of his consciousness, slowly becoming one with the planet; slowly becoming Ethos.

And Ethos' physical tears flowed freely.

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They were about two miles from the gate when the winds increased, the skies blackened, and a torrential downpour began.  The remaining SG-1 team members continued trudging towards the gate, raindrops pummeling them sideways, as the lightening struck closer and closer. Blinding rain stung their faces and strong winds whipped their pants' legs against them.

As a sudden gust of wind shoved Carter to the ground, Jack uttered an 'Aw, crap!', grabbing her arm.

"We can't travel in this!"  Jack yelled, the others barely able to hear him over the thunder and the howling winds.  "Let's look for shelter!"

Almost as if on cue he spotted a pyramid-shaped structure to their left in the distance.  He turned towards it motioning his team to follow.  Once inside, exhausted from the elements, they sat in miserable silence.

After several minutes Carter finally spoke, "Colonel?  Where did this building come from?  I mean, I know it wasn't here...we walked this way before and it wasn't..." She shook her head in disbelief.

"Yeah, I realize that Carter.  It was hard to tell with the hurricane outside but I think it just appeared."  Jack squinted and raised his eyebrows, obviously puzzled that he even thought a structure like this could materialize out of thin air. 

"Just...appeared...?"  Carter began to question her commanding officer's sanity.

"I know, I know.  It sounds...crazy," Jack shrugged his shoulders.

"I believe that things are not as they seem on this planet, O'Neill," Teal'c confirmed Jack's thoughts.  "I have a strong sense of Daniel Jackson's presence here.  I even believe that I heard his voice in the wind."

"You, too?"  Jack felt somewhat relieved.  If he was going insane, at least he'd have company.

"Me, too.  I thought I heard him say he'd keep looking for us?"  Sam didn't know what else to say as Jack slowly nodded his head.  They sat quietly for several minutes lost in their own thoughts.

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Daniel witnessed the incredible turn of events for his friends, initiated at the same time his personal thoughts turned dark.  He hoped his friends would find shelter from the raging storm.  The vision of them struggling against the strong winds and pounding rain brought memories reminiscent of the violent Abydonian sandstorms.  Sandstorms that could rip the flesh off a man caught in the midst of the maelstrom. 

He remembered a time not too long ago when he and Jack had been caught in just such a sandstorm on Abydos .

He had buried his wife, his Sha’re.  His team and close friends from the SGC had joined him for her funeral on Abydos to show their support.  But even with their presence he’d never felt so lonely, so alone.  He’d congratulated himself on his ability to remain strong throughout the ceremony, to fool everyone into believing he was coping well with his loss.  At one point during the weighing of the heart ritual when he feared he would lose his composure, a quick glance at his friends…at Jack…helped him contain the tears that threatened to fall. 

He knew he could never shed the tears; those tears that would have brought peace to his soul.  Those healing tears would only do so if shared with someone and he had no one.  At least, not anymore.

As a child he built a room within his mind, locking away all the hurt and sadness from his life.  Memories of his parents’ death, unhappy foster homes, school yard bullies, and the pain of being unwanted; he threw everything in that place.  After aiding the SGC in exposing the secrets of gate travel, finding happiness and peace with a new life on Abydos , Daniel finally threw away the key that kept those memories so tightly guarded.

Barely a year later, he suffered incredible grief again when the Goa’uld forcibly took his wife and implanted her with a vile creature, a snake named Ammaunet.  He immersed himself in finding his beloved and the key to his room of tears remained unnecessary; his relentless search and ever present hope of locating her consumed his thoughts and actions. 

But during that dreaded ceremony on Abydos as his emotions welled within him for the first time in many years, he grasped the key and hurriedly reopened the door, tossing his unshed tears through before slamming the door behind them.

Intending to keep those tears locked up forever he knew what he had to do.  He requested leave to remain on Abydos under the guise of comforting Sha’re’s family…his family.  He realized he was only hiding from his sorrow but that would do.  He could never return to the planet of his birth and overwhelming loneliness again. 

Somehow, Jack knew it too as if he could read his friend’s mind.  As if he could see that room full of tears hiding in the dark recesses.  He was deeply concerned, knowing those tears had to come to bring healing.  Holding them inside would only lead to more pain and destruction, something Jack knew well.  He had traveled the same path after his son’s untimely death, going to Abydos with the same conviction he saw now in Daniel’s eyes.  He had also never intended to return to Earth.

After the funeral, Daniel escorted his friends back to the gate saying his goodbyes to each of them with finality.  As he reached Jack, Daniel saw that haunted look in his eyes…the same look he had seen from his commander on their very first excursion to Abydos .  Jack knew what he intended to do.  He knew Daniel planned to end his life here on Abydos

Jack tried to reason with his friend to encourage his return through the gate but the more he pushed his friend, the more Daniel retreated into himself.  Concerned for his best friend yet recognizing he was driving the grieving man away from his friends…from him…Jack reluctantly left him to allow Daniel time to mourn alone.  He went through the gate with Daniel’s resignation letter in his pocket vowing to return, despite the archeologist’s verbal protests, and bring him back to Earth before he was consumed by this overwhelming sorrow. 

Stepping through the gate onto Abydos a few days later, Jack was surprised to find Daniel inside the pyramid lost in his thoughts with his gun held tightly in his hand.  As Jack pleaded with his friend, begging him to retreat through the gate to his friends, all Daniel could see was Sha’re beckoning him to follow her. 

Daniel knew the sandstorm was rapidly approaching.  He could hear the wind roaring outside the pyramid and he waited until the intensity reached its peak.  Suddenly he slipped away from Jack’s grip running headlong outside and into the storm, ready to die.  He was quickly overcome by the sand; deep gashes on his uncovered face, sandy grit stinging his eyes.  He couldn’t breathe.  He saw his beloved Sha’re in his mind’s eye as he reached out for her…

On the brink of consciousness, Sha’re’s vision faded and Daniel felt a tugging on his legs.  Jack had joined him in the maelstrom and was dragging him back into the pyramid.  Once inside both men, battered and bruised, held tightly to each other seeking solace, seeking peace.  They shared the stories of the darkest hours in their lives and Jack began to chip away at the lock on Daniel’s room, bit by bit throughout the evening and night, until the door finally opened and both men shed those healing tears together.

Daniel snapped back to reality, as he saw that same pyramid appear near his team and they scurried into the structure for shelter.  He concentrated all his thoughts on the building, fortifying it for his friends and praying it was not just an illusion.  He hoped it would provide adequate cover for them until he could regain control of his thoughts.

He fought to bring his mind above the quagmire of emotions he felt within his entire essence.  But the planet was in too much pain, hurt, and distress and he felt himself sinking once again.  He focused his mind towards healing the wounds of this world, somehow realizing he could make a difference. 

The planet's life force grew stronger as the repairs to its injuries from the flying machines were almost complete but Daniel felt his body growing steadily weaker.  Looking outward through his mind, he noticed the vegetation seemed plusher, more vital, more...alive.  He forged through his diminishing strength continuing to bring health and vitality back to this terrain.

Once the damage was remedied, Daniel focused his attention on reversing his depression and filling his consciousness with the memories of his friends, the love they had for each other, and the subtle ways they expressed their feelings.  Each shared their lives with him in a uniquely special way and he was grateful for them. 

As he remembered his friends he began to notice how much his thoughts somehow affected the planet.  He began to feel warmer and artificial sunlight filtered into his environment.  They would rescue him...he knew they'd never stop trying.  The rain outside finally ceased and a rainbow appeared.

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The howling wind and rain had finally quieted outside their little refuge as Jack’s memories of his all too recent foray in a sandstorm on Abydos faded.  Jack counted his blessings that he had been there with his best friend to drag him back from the brink of darkness he himself knew too well.  He prayed this time he would be able to bring Daniel back from whatever abyss he currently found him in, alive and healthy.

Turning towards his water logged companions inside the shelter, he noted with grim humor that his team looked a bit like drowned rats.  They had been unprepared for the violent storm and their clothing was now completely drenched.

“All right, kids!”  Jack began using humor to diffuse his true concern.  Taking a soggy boot off, the colonel held it high and turned it upside down.  A slight chuckle issued from Carter as the rainwater poured from her commander’s shoe.

“Let’s dry out a bit before we make our way back to the gate.  Carter, how far?”

“Less than two miles now, Sir.  We should be able to get there in about 30 minutes from our current position.”

“Good.  We leave here in five.  Get to the gate, get help, get Daniel.”

“Sounds good, Sir,” Carter replied as she began wringing out her clothing as best she could while still wearing them.  She emptied her own boots, noticing Teal’c doing the same nearby.  She spotted her commander moving towards the back wall of the pyramid.

“Hey, T, what do you make of this?”  Jack motioned the Jaffa towards the back of the room and pointed at figures etched in the wall.

“They appear to be hieroglyphs, O’Neill.  Perhaps this structure has been here for some time after all.”  Teal’c reached to touch the markings tentatively.

Carter walked over to investigate the writings.  “But that doesn’t make sense, Teal’c.  There’s no one here to draw them.”

“Maybe there were?  What about the three stooges?”  Jack looked at Carter sideways, his questioning eyebrows raised.

“I don’t think that’s possible, Sir,” Carter shook her head.  “For one thing, this…this structure wasn’t here before…I’m sure of that.”

“Well, can you explain these figures?”  Jack motioned once again at the scratchings on the wall.

“No…what are they doing anyway?” Carter questioned as she stepped closer to the wall.

“They appear to be playing a game.”  Teal’c continued to trace the carvings lightly with his fingertips.

“Yeah, I see that.”  Jack cocked his head at a funny angle; eyes squinted just inches from the glyphs.  “Two stick figure thingies with a table between them.”

“It is called Hounds and Jackals, an ancient Egyptian board game discovered buried with the dead in their tombs.  They supposedly carried them to the after life for entertainment.  Daniel Jackson taught me how to play this game.”  Teal’c spoke contemplatively.

Teal’c’s thoughts drifted to the first time he and Daniel Jackson played the game of Senet, also known as Hounds and Jackals.  It was shortly after he murdered the man’s wife.

Teal’c desperately sought forgiveness from Daniel Jackson after destroying all his friend held dear.  For he alone killed the evil that threatened to end his teammate’s life; he alone killed his beloved Sha’re.  But the utter despair emanating from those crystal blue eyes told him that absolution would never come.  He saw the unadulterated hatred towards himself radiating from Daniel Jackson whenever their eyes met and it cut him to the marrow.  Yet he blamed only himself for the misery he caused his friend now and countless others during his service to Apophis.

He never regretted firing the staff blast that eliminated the threat to Daniel Jackson; never lamented destroying the evil one so his friend would live.  It had been the correct decision, of this he was certain.  But the mind and the heart could be bitter adversaries in matters such as these.

At the personal request of the archeologist, Teal’c did not attend the funeral on Abydos ; he knew the raw wounds he created within his comrade were still too close to the surface.  He only wished that time would cauterize those lesions and their friendship could eventually be repaired.  He expected it to be a slow process of healing and prepared himself to return to Chulak in disgrace if the injury to his friend’s spirit proved too grave.

Several days after the archeologist’s reluctant return to Earth following the interment, Daniel Jackson surprised him as he tentatively entered the warrior’s quarters.  Teal’c noted the emotional intensity within his friend’s soul had abated as the man moved to join him in meditation.  They sat in silence for hours surrounded by intensely burning candles, neither man wanting to interrupt the solitude.  After a time, Daniel Jackson spoke of forgiveness to him, revealing a lifetime of apologies with just five small words.  ‘You did the right thing.’ 

As the warrior bowed his head in acknowledgement of the younger man’s admission of faith, Daniel Jackson rose from his position opposite Teal’c on the floor to place a warm hand on his shoulder.  The Jaffa covered his friend’s hand with his own in acceptance of his exoneration.

Afterwards, Daniel Jackson suggested they continue rebuilding their friendship.  He produced a small board game that he called ‘Hounds and Jackals’.

Teal’c’s thoughts returned to the present at the sound of his team leader’s voice.

“Okay, sooo…the significance?”  Jack shook his hands indicating his impatience.

“I do not know.”

“Perhaps it’s a sign from Daniel?” Sam added.

“Indeed.”

 “Oka-ay.  So…what?  He wants to play dogs and jack…asses?”  Jack spoke flippantly.

Teal’c suddenly scanned the room seeing something nearby, “Is someone present?” he asked.

“Teal’c…you okay?”  Jack suspected that something or someone on this planet was affecting their minds.  He held his weapon ready to fire if necessary.

Jack and Sam watched intently as Teal’c walked to a spot across the room and stopped with his eyes fixated on the floor.  “Do you not see him, O’Neill?”

“See who, Teal’c?” Jack replied tentatively.  He stepped over to the Jaffa , lightly touching his shoulder.

“It is Daniel Jackson.  He wants to…to play…Hounds and Jackals…”

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‘Yes, he can see me!’ Daniel decided that if he could project an image of something like a pyramid then perhaps he could create his own likeness as well.  He hadn’t been as successful as he would have liked, though.  Apparently, not all of SG-1 could see him.  It was almost as if he affected their thoughts and with his currently weakened state he could only muster the strength to ‘appear’ to one person at a time.

At least it was something, he mused.  If he could just help his friends…give them clues… maybe, just maybe, he could aid in his own rescue.  Unfortunately, he had no idea where he was…exactly…but he’d cross that bridge when he got there.  At the moment, he just wanted them to realize that he was present, somewhere, on this planet. 

Now though, he grew concerned.  Jack and Sam seemed to think Teal’c was hallucinating.  He intentionally chose Teal’c for the vision knowing the Jaffa rarely had the same reactions to situations that humans did.  Frustrated, Daniel realized they were questioning the man’s mental status.

‘Jack, don’t be an ass…’

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“Hey!  Who said that?”  Jack spun around, rapidly assessing the room.  Carter poised her weapon.

“I heard nothing, O’Neill.”

“Yeah, but you’re the one *seeing* things.”  Jack’s waved his hand towards Teal’c who squatted down in the center of the room.  Moving behind the man, Jack peered over the large man’s shoulder at the floor.

A game piece representing a jackal lay on the ground.  Teal’c placed the small figure in his pocket.

“Hmph,” Jack sighed heavily.  He recognized the unmistakable imagery signifying Daniel’s presence on the planet but he didn’t know if that was good news or bad news.

As he contemplated searching for Daniel within the pyramid itself, the decision was made for him.  The walls surrounding them dissolved into nothingness.

“Geez!  I really *hate* it when that happens!”  Jack jumped at the sudden disappearance of the structure around them, anxiously pacing past Carter.

“Sir, do you think that Daniel’s trying to contact us?”  Carter tentatively reached out towards the missing wall of the pyramid halfway expecting a force shield and sighed as her hand moved unabated through the air.

“Hell, I don’t know what to think at this point!  Nothing makes sense here!”  Hesitating briefly, Jack waved his team forward towards the gate.  The trio trudged onward for several minutes in silence while considering their situation; Carter leading the way with Teal’c bringing up the rear.

The landscape surrounding them seemed different somehow compared to its sparse presence before the violent rains fell.  The striking change became apparent from the moment the pyramid dissolved into nothingness.  Increasingly dense and tall vegetation appeared and trekking through the arid grasses was difficult.  Jack wondered if they should bushwhack them but the memory of the sticky substance emitted by the grasses earlier abruptly ended that train of thought. 

Sam glanced at the pretty flowers littered profusely on their path; beautiful in color and fragrance.   She recognized these flowers as the same kind her late mother loved so dearly and was surprised that such delicate flowers could exist in this world.  Dendrobium orchids seemed quite out of place here yet they were growing in stark contrast to the other flowers of this place. 

Her thoughts strayed as the flowers brought happy reminders of a time long since past. 

Her mother always had orchids in their home and the sight and scent of their bouquet here flooded her mind with memories of her mother’s smile and her father’s off-key hum as he returned home from some classified mission.  These were the loving remembrances of her childhood and she treasured them dearly.

She shared these precious experiences with Daniel after Sha’re died hoping to ease his own personal pain and grief at the loss of his beloved wife.  The two spent one very long evening together after his hesitant return from Abydos revealing poignant memories of their pasts and holding each other while the tears overflowed. 

Once the torrent finally subsided, they gave each other a special gift; a single cherished remembrance of their loved one as a secret bond between them.  Each entrusted their precious memory unto the other for safe keeping, holding it in their hearts to reveal whenever necessary to keep those memories fresh and alive. 

Sam recalled Daniel’s fondest time had been when Sha’re made sand cookies for him with such loving care.  Sweets were a delicacy on Abydos but Sha’re knew Daniel had a penchant for them.  She surprised him with the treats late one evening soon after they’d married.  She had spent most of the day finding and milling the ingredients needed to make the dessert, her love for him clearly stated in that one caring act. 

He recounted the sweet flavor and texture to Sam as similar to chocolate walnut cookies on Earth.

And, of course, Sam’s treasured memory that she had entrusted only to Daniel was her mother’s love of Dendrobium orchids.

Sam’s reverie dissolved as the terrain changed from forests to beaches.  She saw more trees in the immediate area surrounding the gate than previously existed and even the gray sand beach near the gate had changed reflecting a nice shade of pink with a velvety soft feel beneath her boots.

Finally reaching the gate, Sam returned to reality with a shocked gasp.

“Carter?”

“It’s the gate, sir!”  She exclaimed with her mouth opened in awe.

The three stopped at the base, gazing upward, unable to believe their eyes.  The gate was entirely overgrown with vines and shrubbery creating a barrier within its interior much like the iris on Earth.

“Oh, my god, Colonel,“ Carter started, “the plants have engulfed the gate.”

“I see that Carter…and your point is?”

“Well, nothing I guess, as long as it won’t impact our ability to go through.”  Carter walked to the DHD while Teal’c and Jack moved to check out the gate.

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‘Good’, Daniel thought, ‘at least I can reach them through my mind’.  Displaying the orchids to Sam comforted him, anchoring him from slipping deeper into the matrix, and he hoped she recognized their significance. 

But maintaining his uniqueness against so many minds compelled him to devote more mental effort into his fight to remain ‘Daniel’.  He had to fight harder and harder to keep that part of his individualism alive and he felt his strength wane the longer he fought against his absorption into the collective.

Testing the tenuous link between who he knew as ‘Daniel’ and who he would become as Ethos, he allowed his mind to slip into the maelstrom of thoughts just beneath the surface of consciousness.  But the tug was strong, pulling him downward into the mire which threatened to devour his soul.

Desperately, he battled the surge of panic within him.  Like a drowning man, he flailed frantically against sinking into that horrifying bog for what seemed like an eternity until at last he resurfaced just above that fragile border, finding himself…finding ‘Daniel’ yet again.

As he mentally stood on that thin line, Daniel suddenly had an epiphany.  He didn’t know the location of his physical body, but ‘Ethos’ did.  As ironic as it sounded, he knew he needed to return to those dismal depths of chaos, losing himself in that labyrinth once again, in order to find himself.  And that thought absolutely terrified him.

Extremely mindful of the risk of sacrificing himself to become Ethos he also knew that he would only find the answers he sought there.  He feared for ‘Daniel’ if he partook in this latest scheme but he knew that it was his only way to help his teammates. 

He calmed himself with thoughts of his friends and their continued efforts to rescue him.  If he could communicate with them even just in the abstract, maybe he would be able to impart small clues to them that could lead them to him.  He had to try anyway.  For their benefit as well as his own. 

He mentally plucked an orchid in the hopes of being able to use the image as his life line back to reality…back to Daniel.

Relinquishing his tentative grasp on his individuality once again, he plunged beneath the surface of his subconscious and was immediately swept into the undercurrent of the planet’s collective minds.  That which was Daniel disappeared as Ethos emerged, revealing an intense and poignant history. 

Millennia ago Ethos flourished. 

The sentient population on the planet included both animal and plant life living together in a symbiotic relationship, sharing a harmonic environment.  A complex grid of roots linked Ethos to the universal matrix.

Their collective intelligence was outstanding, powered through the synaptic impulses generated by Ethos.  Ethos served as the mental command center for the planet, a vital link in the chain.

Flowers, plants, and people prospered and thrived, woven together as one entity within the grid.  Outwardly they had the appearance of life forms in any other world; their children played and laughed, vegetation grew and blossomed.  And Ethos was the ring that bound them all together.  By managing the electrical signals of every living being, Ethos could provide for their needs through his mind.  The rain fell, the sun shined, and the flowers grew because of Ethos.  As long as the environmental forces were maintained in equilibrium, Ethos too lived a long and prosperous life amidst the tangle of underground roots.

This role was highly coveted for its omnipotence and the inhabitants revered their Ethos almost as a god.  The selection process was critical to the planet’s success.  Only mentally strong individuals were selected as the force to bind them together; those with lesser brain synaptic relays burned out too quickly.  But these beings were not immortal and required replacements over time. 

High standards of both intelligence and character were essential to the planet’s design.  There were no exceptions, could be no exceptions, lest the world literally destroy itself.  The power that Ethos wielded was incredible and the consciousness of the individual mind was assimilated into the matrix along with any knowledge and moral standards defining that person.

Through these joined minds, the planet became an all powerful force providing the key to its longevity and the knowledge necessary to protect the planet from those that would know its secrets.  In this way, the inhabitants lived in peaceful co-existence for many millennia. 

Then one day visitors came through the gate.  At first the inhabitants welcomed them all, sharing their knowledge freely and accepting the information and supposed alliances offered from the visitors.  This world relished the open communion with other life forces, cherished the new experiences and learnings…until the day the Goa’uld found them.

The Goa’uld was an insidious race, possessing a parasitic rather than a symbiotic nature.  They took what they wanted without concern for anyone but themselves; and they wanted the knowledge and power of this planet to proliferate their egotistical and nefarious deeds throughout the universe.

To this end, the Goa’uld trapped and enslaved the humanoid population, abolishing them from this world.  Without the planet’s symbiotic bond with its native inhabitants the world would suffocate and die.  Now, it had no choice but to allow the evil aliens to blend into the matrix and these parasites eagerly offered themselves to gain control of the collective mind. 

Many centuries passed and the planet fought against the malicious nature of their new Ethos.  Their secrets were divulged to unworthy adversaries and the Goa’uld became all powerful as a result.  But eventually the planet succumbed to the enemy and their own despised alien Ethos, becoming the very entity that it hated, enslaving and torturing any aliens that were unfortunate enough to step through the gate.

They eventually rebelled against the Goa’uld by sacrificing their value systems to mount an insurgence.  The ensuing mental battle for control left its remaining life forms weakened.  Finally overthrowing the enemy and abolishing them from the matrix, the planet sought other sentient life as their Ethos.  As much as it loathed the Goa’uld, it was now forced to become the parasite itself, capturing and enslaving often unwilling beings to provide for their needs.

It could no longer be selective in the process of finding a worthy Ethos either.  The planet took what was offered through the gate; any sentient humanoid would suffice…as long as they weren’t Goa’uld.  These unwilling participants often died much faster than the planet’s original inhabitants after being absorbed into the matrix.  They simply didn't have enough defining intelligence and consequently suffered shortened life spans.

To the dismay of the Goa’uld, the planet had learned much about their enemy during their reign.  The knowledge shared through the matrix went both directions.  Unwilling to allow their advanced technology and weaponry designs to foster this world, they fought to destroy the planet.  The foliage could easily eliminate any foe that set foot on it so its enemy launched deadly air attacks, tearing this world apart and bringing rapid destruction to each new Ethos.

Now their new Ethos, ‘Daniel’, possessed the moral conduct and defining intelligence they had missed for centuries.  He would survive longer than many of the previous ones as long as the enemy attacks decreased.  And they couldn’t allow him to leave.

Daniel gasped at the realization of the planet’s unfortunate history.  Knowing this perspective gave him terrific insight into this world and the functionality of Ethos.  As he forcibly separated his mind from the others, he began to feel his individuality return to him, slowly learning to isolate his thoughts from those of the collective.  But the planet wouldn’t let him return; it needed his mind to sustain its life. 

Suddenly afraid that he would forever be lost in the matrix, Daniel desperately sought to find a negotiating point.  He knew that he had something to offer this world for his release; he could find the original inhabitants that the Goa’ulds had banished to another world. 

He had seen the gate address in his mind and felt remorse for this planet since, without people or a mentally strong Ethos, it could never dial the planet to retrieve them.  And being detached from the collective mind, the humanoids on the other world would not know the address for their home. 

He began inward discussions with the planet to negotiate his release in return for finding their humanoids.  He began bargaining for Daniel’s very life.

But Daniel was losing the war as thousands of minds tugged him under.  Reaching upward with his entire essence he grabbed the orchid still waiting for him just above the surface and, amidst a sea of vibrant colors, thoughts, and emotions he desperately fought to pull himself back…back to Daniel.

As his individualism slowly returned he could see his own physical location relative to his team.  They had arrived at the Stargate but this world had no intentions of allowing them to leave; its illusion seemingly blocked their egress.

‘No!’ he cried if only in his mind.  ‘Please, let them go!’

Daniel was suddenly thrust back into the quagmire as he sensed a shift in the planet’s equilibrium.  Without knowing or understanding why he felt excruciating pain, like fire burning from within him.  He screamed or at least he thought he did; blood curdling howls of tormented pain, unable to grasp the reason for his new torture...


“Well, Carter?”  Jack turned to face Sam waiting for her advice on how to proceed.

Carter shrugged sheepishly, “I think we should try to create an outgoing wormhole.  Hopefully the backwash from the establishing event horizon will simply eliminate the problem.”

Jack motioned to the DHD.  “Let’s try it then; would sure save us a lot of work trying to cut it down.”

“Yes, sir.  What I can’t understand, though,” Carter continued as she entered the first coordinate into the DHD, “is how this vegetation all grew so rapidly?  I can’t help thinking that it must have something to do with Daniel being missing but it just goes beyond all the laws of nature.”  She activated the next three coordinates in succession.  “It makes no sense that a world this lush,” she hit the fifth coordinate then waved her hand in the air to indicate the vegetation, “would have no humanoid life forms.  I mean, it’s a symbiotic relationship anyway…humans need trees to produce oxygen, trees need humans to produce carbon dioxide.” 

“Carter!  Breathe!”  Jack stared at his 2IC, amazed at her ability to philosophize and hit the correct chevrons simultaneously.

“Yes, sir,” she stated absent-mindedly as she pressed the next symbol, continuing with her rhetoric despite her commander's frown.  “Do you think this may all be just some sort of illusion?”  Her hand came down on the final symbol, the point of origin.

Finally stopping her soliloquy, Carter looked at Jack as if waiting for an answer.  Jack stood slightly perplexed, wondering if she honestly expected him to respond. 

“Uh…what?”

Carter gave a slight smile, unsurprised by the typical O’Neill pretense, as she pressed the center of the device.

They heard the familiar “kawoosh” as the wormhole engaged; any elation from that act negated by the realization that the plant life remained undamaged like a solid wall against the event horizon.

“Well now, that’s just great!  Nothing is ever easy, is it?  Carter, shut it down.  Teal’c, get the machete and see if you can chop it away.  I’ll get the lighter and see if it’ll just burn down.”  He looked at Carter for confirmation.

“It should, sir.  But the wormhole backwash should have taken care of it as well.”  She sounded perplexed as she deactivated the wormhole and began searching for a lighter in her pack.

Waving Teal’c back from his task, Sam squirted lighter fluid at the base of the gate.  Using Jack’s lighter to turn a long tree limb into a torch she stood at arm’s length and touched the branch to the vines.  The shrubbery began to burn well.  After several moments Sam stood back, content with the progress.

“Looks like that’ll do it!  We should be ready to leave shortly.”  Sam commented.  Staring into the flames she suddenly had an intense flashback to a time when they each witnessed Daniel’s horrible yet surreal death by burning on Oannes, Nem’s planet.

“Oh, God!” she cried as she covered her eyes against the sight.

“Carter!  What’s wrong?”  Jack grabbed her hands, pulling them away from her face to see if she was injured.

“Sir!  It’s Daniel!  I see his face in the flames just like on P3X-866!”  She looked at Jack with tears in her eyes.

O’Neill turned towards the burning ring and noticed Teal’c frantically trying to extinguish the flames.  Then he too saw the image of Daniel surrounded by fire and heard his desperate plea, “Help me, Jack!”

“Aw shit!”  Jack exclaimed at the site of his teammate and friend on fire.  His body shaking from the raw memory, he soon found himself helping Teal’c to douse the burning vegetation in his own frenzied haste to remove that horrible flashback. 

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‘This can’t be the end…’ Daniel’s thoughts clouded in pain.  His mind couldn’t be burning out already, could it?  He knew that he was no match for the brain capacity of the previous Ethos but he honestly believed he’d have more time than this. 

As his torment peaked, Daniel opened his mind to determine what was happening.  The gate was on fire?  ‘No,’ Daniel thought, ‘not the gate…the plants.’  So the pain was not Daniel’s but rather that of these inhabitants.  All the same, though, since Ethos was required to make the repairs.  In an attempt to stop his friends, he projected the vision of his burning on Oannes…although only an illusion back then, now the burning took on new meaning for him.  He knew this projection was cruel…his friends suffered enough nightmares from their first experience with Daniel burning but he needed quick action.

 

The pain finally receded and he saw the frenetic attempt to extinguish the fire engulfing the gate.  ‘Good,’ he mused.  ‘Maybe that’ll get Jack’s attention!’

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Once they quenched the fire, O’Neill breathed a heavy sigh of relief.  He now recognized beyond a shadow of a doubt that Daniel was somehow part of everything that was happening here. 

“So…that was unpleasant.” Jack spoke without humor to Sam and Teal’c.

“Indeed, O’Neill.”  Teal’c’s raised eyebrow and hollow look in his eyes provided evidence of his concern.

“Sir, I’ve got a theory about this,” Sam began, uncertain if the Colonel would accept her wild idea or brush her off.

“I’m waiting…” Jack responded.

“Well, it’s kind of ‘out there’, sir.”

“You know, Major, I’ll take just about anything at this point.  I do *not* want to go through that again!”  Jack chided as he indicated the burned area around the gate.  “I didn’t like those visions the first time and I *damned* sure don’t like them now!”

“Yes, sir,” Sam paused, obviously stumbling for a way to make her next statement sound somewhat rational.  “I think Daniel is in some way linked into this planet.”  She looked directly into the Colonel’s eyes wondering how he would accept this.

“Go on, I’m listening.”  Jack sighed tiredly as he rubbed his hands across his face.

“Okay, what if Daniel is Ethos?” she paused dramatically before continuing.  “The word ‘ethos’ means the fundamental values of a specific people or culture.  Sort of like the way a race, such as this one…whatever it is exactly…lives.  A value system if you will.  I think that Daniel is somehow providing this planet's value system.  Perhaps he’s actually caught up in their thought processes.  You know, kind of like when we were entrapped on the Gamekeeper’s planet to provide entertainment for them.  Only *here*, Daniel must be responsible for the planet’s functioning.”

“And how do you figure that?”  Jack actually believed Carter but his job was to push his people to think logically…to challenge their reasoning thereby driving them to better defined solutions.  He played devil’s advocate well…and he enjoyed it thoroughly.

“Well, it was something those…uh, those beings,” Carter began.

“The three stooges?” Jack offered.

“Uh, yeah,” Carter almost choked on the comical names that Jack had selected for the earlier captors.  “They said that Daniel is providing a great service to their planet by completing the matrix.  They also seemed quite aware of his intelligence, claiming that he could sustain their world for some time.”

She paused at that point to look at both Colonel O’Neill and Teal’c.

“And we’ve already had a few signs that could have only come from Daniel…the Hounds and Jackals game, the pyramid shelter, and the Dendrobium orchids.”

“The Denny-whats?”  Jack asked confused.

“Dendrobium orchids, sir.  They seemed very out of place here amongst these flowers but they serve as kind of a secret sign between Daniel and me.”  Sam blushed a little at her revelation.

Jack responded with an eyebrow raise.  “Secret sign, Major?”

“They remind me of my mother…Daniel knows they’re comforting to me.”

“So you’re saying Daniel *grew* the…orchids?”  A bit of skepticism crept back into Jack’s voice.

“I think so, yes sir.  And you can’t deny the visions of Daniel burning that we all experienced moments ago.”

“Okay Major, I’ll bite.  Why?”  Jack questioned in a sing-song voice.

“I can’t be certain but I think he’s trying to contact us and this may be the only way he can.  Maybe he can give us clues to his location.  We just need to open our minds to this possibility.”  Sam tried to drive her point home.  “We can’t go home now anyway…unless you want to try to burn the vegetation down again.”

“Uh, no.  Think I’ll pass on that for now.”  Jack didn’t need more nightmares to haunt his sleep.  He shuttered as he looked back at the gate.  Although the cost had been high, it did look as though the foliage covering the gate had diminished significantly but he had no idea whether this change was due to the flames or Daniel’s intervention.  “So, what do we do?”

“I suggest we take a break here.  Relax and open our minds.  Maybe we can reach him through our thoughts.”

“Okay, let’s ‘Zen’,” Jack waved off the poor attempt at a joke as mental and physical exhaustion threatened to consume him.  “Go to ground, boots on.  I’ll take watch while you two ‘open your minds to the possibilities’.”

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Daniel drifted, his mind drained and his body weakened. 

He made the repairs to the matrix caused during the fire, realizing almost too late that he needed some time of his own to revitalize his spirit.  He allowed himself a brief respite as he became peripherally aware that Sam had convinced Jack that he was attempting to contact them.  He knew he shouldn’t give up trying to communicate with them and he wasn’t.  But for now, he had to rest…

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Okay, he’d give Daniel thirty minutes.  He could wait that long…and his team needed the rest after all they’d been through on this godforsaken planet.  Hell, *he* could use the rest as well.  Jack became increasingly apprehensive about their ability to find Daniel.  He wanted to believe Carter’s theory but even if she was right what would it solve?  It only seemed to make their search for the team’s archeologist that much more futile.

And what had the three stooges said; that ‘Ethos’ is everywhere? 

Checking his watch once again, Jack noted the allotted thirty minutes had passed.  He contemplated the team’s next move, increasingly fearful they might not find Daniel in time.

Suddenly he saw a bright flash of white light and his world began spinning.  Sitting down beside the nearest tree before he fell down, Jack became aware of someone else with him.  Looking towards Carter and Teal’c, both seemingly oblivious to his visions, Jack realized that only he was experiencing this out of body phenomenon.  He turned his head slightly and silently gasped as he recognized the person seated next to him.

“Daniel?” He questioned cautiously.

“Jack…” came the well practiced reply.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Well, I’m waiting actually.  It’s your turn.”  Daniel motioned towards a card table situated between the two of them, the chess pieces scattered across the surface as though the game had started some time ago.

“I don’t know what to do, Daniel…” Jack began hesitantly, realizing this entire conversation was taking place in his mind; hopefully due to Daniel’s influence and not because Jack O’Neill was finally losing it.

 “Jack, I don’t have much time left,” Daniel stated matter-of-factly glancing at the watch on his arm.

“I know that.”  Jack commented.  He did know that actually; he wasn’t sure why but he knew that time was running out for Daniel.

“Then move Jack.  Look at the pieces…your king’s in check.”

“Oh!”  Jack exclaimed.  Perhaps this was what Carter meant by allowing Daniel to reach out for them.  He reached to move his king out of check seriously hoping to avoid a checkmate situation.

“Good move, Jack!”  Daniel looked stunned.  “That’s really good.  Now, I’ll have to castle to protect my king.”  Daniel grasped the two chess pieces required to execute a king side castle, moving the king into the knight’s spot and his rook to the bishop’s place.  “Best way to protect the king, Jack.  You know that, right?”

“Yeah,” Jack still looked perplexed.  “Building sandcastles, eh Daniel?”  Jack delivered his standard reply; the one he had used countless times when playing chess with Daniel.  The one he used to try to distract Daniel as he realized he was close to losing the game. 

What was the point of all this?  Why didn’t Daniel just come out and tell him where to find him?

As if reading his friend’s mind, Daniel replied cautiously, “The planet won’t allow me to leave.”  Daniel released his pieces and for the first time since this little farce ensued looked directly at Jack with weary blue eyes.  “You’ll have to put the pieces together,” he waved haphazardly into the air.  “The planet doesn’t know how to play chess.  At least, not yet.”

Daniel stood up as if to leave the game setting.  Jack touched his arm briefly and was surprised to find it felt solid. 

“So, are you okay Daniel?”  Jack queried.

Daniel looked at his watch once more, tapping the face insistently, “Good, it’s still ticking.  Gotta go.”  His figure faded as he turned his back to Jack and walked out of his mind. 

“Oh, Jack.”  Daniel glanced back over his shoulder to catch his commander’s eye.  With a nod from Jack, he continued, “Just don’t build anymore bonfires, okay?”  Then as suddenly as he had appeared, Daniel’s form evaporated.

“Hey!  Can you do something about that overgrown nursery at the gate?”  Jack yelled after Daniel’s dissipating form uncertain if his friend even heard his words.

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“Whoa!”  Jack exclaimed loudly, startling his two companions, as his world spun once again and he opened his eyes.

“Sir, are you okay?”  Sam jumped to her feet instantly, rapidly closing the gap between them.

“Yeah, I think so,” Jack stated as he dusted himself off.  A long pause ensued as he thought carefully about his next words.  Both Carter and Teal’c peered anxiously at their commander.

Jack spoke quietly, “I saw Daniel.”  Tentatively, he looked first at Teal’c then at Carter, trying to read their expressions.

“What did he reveal to you, O’Neill?”

“I’m not really sure.  He appeared distressed but that could just be because he was a figment of my imagination…”  Jack still found it difficult to accept the possibility of a mental link to his friend.

“Or because he actually is in trouble.  What happened, sir?”

“We played chess.  He said something about the planet not knowing how to play.  I think he’s afraid it will prevent him from escaping and so he’s leaving clues to his whereabouts.”  Jack pondered his experience with his eyebrows furrowed in concentration.  “He mentioned that we shouldn’t have anymore bonfires.”

Each stood lost in his or her own personal reverie.  Carter finally broke the silence, “Okay, so we have to decipher the signs then.  What has he told us so far?”

“I have a jackal game piece.”  Teal’c stated matter-of-factly.

“And that materialized within the pyramid.  Very Daniel.  Teal’c, is there anything special that happens when you and Daniel play Hounds and Jackals?  Do you talk about anything in particular, play the game in some familiar place?  Does anything occur when you play that might provide a clue?”  Sam drifted into scientist mode, defining the problem in order to develop a solution.  Very Sam.

“Not that I am aware.  We generally make light conversation while playing in my quarters.”

“That’s ‘small talk’, Teal’c,” Jack corrected as he shook his head.

“Okay, so maybe the jackal itself is the clue.”  Sam continued.

“Indeed.  The jackal represents Anubis.”  Teal’c added.

“Yeah and in Egyptian mythology they believed Anubis guided the dead to those who judged their souls.  He also represented the underworld.”  Jack contributed his knowledge to the discussion.

Sam and Teal’c both turned to look quizzically at their commander astonished that he actually knew Egyptian mythology.

“Hey!  I listen!”  Jack stated defensively.

“Oka-ay,” Sam recovered rapidly.  “So, what?  The underworld?  Underground perhaps?”

“It’s as good as anything else we’ve got,” Jack agreed.

“So, if Daniel’s underground somewhere,” Sam wringed her hands as she paced in a small circle.  “We have to figure out where.  Sir, what about the chess game?  Anything common to games you’ve played on earth?”

Jack stood pensively watching his 2IC pacing around him.  “Yeah, something I guess.  He castled on the King’s side.  I responded with my typical witty remark that Daniel was building sandcastles again.”

“And that’s something you say often when Daniel castles?”

“Yeah, I do.  So, you’re thinking what?”  Jack waved his hands towards the nearby beach and the sand surrounding the base of the gate.  “Sandcastles?”

Sam nodded her head, “Maybe so, yeah.  But where? I don’t think we have enough information yet.”

“So what do you suggest, Major?”

“We wait for Daniel to give us something more.  Maybe he can’t appear very long without recharging.  We’ll have to wait it out I’m afraid.”

“He did mention that he didn’t have much time left…” Jack commented anxiously.  “We’ll need to be ready to move as soon as we figure this out…for Daniel’s sake.  Check your packs.  If we have to dig or repel to get to him I want to know what equipment we have that can help.  Or what we can MacGyver together.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Indeed.”  As soon as the Jaffa spoke the words he suddenly turned around.  Jack noticed the movement but watched with a careful eye not wanting to interrupt the scene.  Somehow he knew Daniel was the reason for Teal’c’s rapid change in composure.  The Jaffa stood ramrod straight with eyes seeing a vision that Jack couldn’t.

Several long moments passed as Teal’c stared forward, eyes glazed, seeing yet unseeing.  Jack’s concern for his friend briefly ebbed as he hoped he would gather the information they needed to find Daniel.  Releasing the breath he didn’t realize he was holding when Teal’c returned to them, Jack moved to touch the Jaffa ’s shoulder and silently waited for his report.

“I have once again spoken with Daniel Jackson, O’Neill.”

“Yeah, and…?”

Teal’c spoke grimly, “He is not well, O’Neill.”

“Did you find out anything more about his location?” Jack questioned, attempting to deflect his concern for Daniel and failing miserably.

“I believe so.”

Jack watched as Teal’c moved towards the base of the steps leading to the Stargate.  He and Sam followed closely behind, intrigued with his activities.  Teal’c stooped to the ground, brushing away tall grass and sand along a path equidistance from the gate and radiating outwards parallel to the plane of the steps.  Stopping as his hand struck a hard object, Teal’c looked up into his commander’s anxious eyes.

“I believe this is what Daniel Jackson attempted to reveal to me.  I will uncover this slab.  There should be another identical one approximately twenty feet in a direct line from this location,” he said while indicating the direction with his outstretched hand.

Jack nodded and motioned Carter to follow him.  He shuffled his foot against the ground until it contacted a circular object about three feet in diameter with about six inches of its surface exposed above ground level.

“Found it!”  Jack pulled the vegetation away from the stone, carefully avoiding any damage to the plants.  Sam knelt beside the object to gain better access to its surface.

“Teal’c,” Sam called, “it has some writing on it.  Looks like Goa’uld.”

“This one does as well.  It is Goa’uld.  I will translate.”  Teal’c scraped the surface in order to view the lettering.  “It states ‘This path leads to the underworld, domain of Anubis, guardian of the necropolis, opener of the way, overseer of the mysteries.’”

Waiting through the pregnant pause for Teal’c to continue, Jack’s impatience finally got the better of him and he prodded for a translation.  “And that means…?” his worried dark eyes seeking an answer.  As Teal’c opened his mouth to continue, Jack felt an overwhelming need to clarify, “In plain English…what does it *mean*?”

Teal’c bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement before proceeding, “Ancient Egyptians believed that Anubis protected the dead in their journey through the underworld, hence, the ‘opener of the way’.  The term ‘guardian of the necropolis’ indicates that this is a cemetery or resting place.”

“And the last part, Teal’c?  What does the ‘overseer of the mysteries’ represent?”  Anxiously, Sam engaged in the conversation, her eyes revealing the uneasiness she felt.

“I believe the ‘mysteries’ refers to the embalming processes and mummification of the souls.  Anubis allegedly performed this function as well.” 

“Whoa,” Jack pursed his lips and closed his eyes as he spoke the solitary word.  “So, this is a cemetery which is or has been guarded by Anubis?  What do you think is inside?  Mummies?”

“Uh, sir.  I think it’s Daniel?” Sam apprehensively voiced the concern that each member of the team held within them.

“Indeed.”  The Jaffa acknowledged her comment with downcast eyes.

“So, you think he’s dead?”  Daniel’s best friend slowly spoke the devastating words aloud, clearing his throat mid-sentence to cover the catch in his voice.

”No, I think this is where we’ll find ‘Ethos”…whatever that means…” suddenly enlightened, Sam continued, “Sir, I think maybe this is a passageway to where Daniel is being held.  Teal’c, does it open like a manhole?”

“It does not,” he replied stoically.

“Okay…well, let’s finish uncovering the other stone.  Maybe it tells us how to get in.”  Sam and Jack continued uncovering the other stele as quickly as possible.  As the lettering became visible, they both moved away to allow the Jaffa to read and translate it.

Teal’c knelt beside them using his fingers to dig sand and debris from the stone’s surface while struggling to see the words encircling the edges.  Digging gently into the soft sand at its base he viewed more symbols just beneath the ground level.

“I believe these structures once protruded farther above the sand layer.”

“I think you’re right, Teal’c,” Sam added as she cupped and removed sand from the sides, revealing what appeared to be a keyhole of some sort.  “What do you think this is?” she questioned, looking up.

“I am not certain.  Perhaps if I translate these words it will become clearer.”

Jack stood anxiously nearby and watched his team decipher the information as they uncovered it.  He had already assessed the dangers they might encounter once they were able to open these access portals, if that was what they actually were. 

He knew they would need to move unencumbered to retrieve Daniel in whatever condition he happened to be.  That meant carrying a minimal amount of supplies and weapons with them.  He rummaged through their packs and selected only what he deemed critical to take; weapons and extra clips, some MRE’s, first aid kit, rope, and an assortment of other survival items.  Gathering everything together, he emptied his own pack and replaced its contents with only the necessities. 

Having completed his task, Jack listened to his team as they tried to solve the mystery before them.  He noticed they seemed silent for the moment and stepped over to join them.

“So, what’s it say?”  Jack directed his query towards Teal’c.

“It appears to be a continuation from the previous stone.  It states ‘He who enters here must remain throughout eternity.  His body has been prepared to become…’”  Touching the next symbols Teal’c added, “I do not understand these symbols.  It may represent a name.  The next translates as ‘Only the Jackal may open these gates to perform the ‘opening of the mouth’ ceremony.  All others beware.’”

“Okay,” Jack moved his hands in supplication, “so, what does it *mean*?”

“We’re not really sure sir but Teal’c says the ‘opening of the mouth’ ceremony was typically performed by Anubis or his priests to restore the senses of the deceased.  I’m just guessing here but those letters,” Sam pointed towards the writing that Teal’c didn’t recognize, “probably mean Ethos.”

“Makes sense…I guess.  How do we get in?”  Jack looked earnestly into Sam’s blue eyes, trusting her judgment of the situation.  As he watched he realized that those eyes had suddenly glazed over, seeing yet unseeing.  It was the same expression that he’d observed earlier from Teal’c as Daniel touched his mind.

Knowing Carter would gather information from her encounter with Daniel, they just had to wait until she returned to them in conscious thought.  Turning towards Teal’c, Jack asked his question again.  “Okay, Carter has a busy signal so…do you know how we get in?”

“I believe so.”  Teal’c pointed to the keyhole Carter uncovered earlier.

“But we still need a key…right?”

“We already have one,” Teal’c pulled a playing piece from his pocket, the jackal from the game he found in the pyramid.

“Sweet!  Now, we just need Carter to return…” Jack stopped abruptly as Carter shook her head beside him; her first movement in over five minutes.

“Oh…” she looked dazed as reality came back to her. 

Jack touched her sleeve lightly, “Carter, you all right?”

“Uh, yes sir.  But we’ve got a bit of a problem.”  Sam spoke softly as her eyes glistened with unshed tears.

“And that would be…?”  Jack spoke a little too harshly and instantly regretted it but he didn’t have time for patience and understanding…or rather Daniel didn’t.

“Well, Daniel apparently can see us…he can see everything that happens on this world actually.”  She hesitated, trying to find the words she needed.  “But he can’t see himself, his immediate surroundings, his condition.  He wanted me to view his body so maybe we could figure out how to free him.”  She stopped as emotion overtook her normally composed features.

Jack knew it couldn’t be good.  Anything he had loaded into that backpack intending to use to retrieve their archeologist would probably be woefully inadequate.  “Carter!  Major!”  He snapped at her even as he gently turned her face towards his.

“All right, yeah…well, he is apparently underneath us here,” she stood as she spoke, her haunted stare revealing much about her short visit to Daniel’s ‘prison’, “but his body is entwined in the root system of these plants.  And he appears to be connected somehow with the Stargate itself or maybe just the DHD.  I don’t know, sir, but *it* seems to be what’s powering his life support system.”

“Can we get him out of there…alive?”

“I’m not sure we can.”  Sam voice had an edge of worry intermingled with fear.  “And even if we can we won’t be able to get home.”  She paused dramatically waiting for her words to be interpreted by her commanding officer.

“So, what you’re telling me is that somehow…Daniel…controls the Stargate here?”

“Yes, sir, in a manner of speaking.  Daniel…or rather, Ethos…provides the energy, the sustenance, for this world.  He’s somehow supplying the life forms here with what they need to survive.  And I believe Daniel…er, Ethos…gets his power through the Stargate…so,” Sam looked pleadingly at the colonel begging him to understand.

“So, if we unplug Ethos, Daniel dies, the planet dies, the Stargate dies….”

“And we die…sir,” Sam finished.

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Something was wrong, he could sense it.  His visit with Sam confirmed his suspicions regarding his physical self.  She hadn’t said anything to him directly but she didn’t have to; he could feel her apprehension. 

In a matter of a few minutes he swung from excitement that his friends finally understood where his body was located to overwhelming anxiety for his teammates.  He knew they wouldn’t give up trying to retrieve his physical body but he feared that in doing so they would end up destroying their only means home.  His earlier elation rapidly gave way to worried solicitude for his friends’ safety.

The negotiations with the planet had been difficult but rewarding.  Struggling to retain his individuality had, quite probably, added to his current misery.  He was tired, extremely so, and even though the planet was currently in prime operating condition, Daniel was not.  Maintaining his persona within the matrix in order to have his thoughts heard above all the others had provided efficacious communication of his knowledge regarding the planet’s original inhabitants.  It had not, however, given him an opportunity to replenish his own body’s energy level.  Ironically, in buying his freedom, Daniel mused, he may have given up his own life.

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“Let’s get down there a take a look at the situation.”  Jack nodded to Teal’c who slipped the jackal playing piece into the slot at the base of the slab.  As he turned the jackal clockwise the large stone cover began to move.  With a mechanical grinding sound the cover rotated 180 degrees providing unhindered access to the passageway. 

Without a word the trio worked together as a well-oiled machine.  Luckily, the tube had rungs down the inside to use as a ladder.  Taking a flashlight from Carter, Jack began the long descent first.  Their weapons were of little use during the climb downward so Jack secured his P-90 to his side to prevent banging it against the walls.  He also ensured it would be easily accessible once he completed the journey in case they encountered any hostiles.

About halfway down, Jack looked up and motioned for Carter to relay the backpack down to him.  As soon as he was able to grasp it, Carter swung her right leg into the opening to follow it.  Teal’c scouted for any sign of threat at the ground level, giving Carter time to clear the halfway mark before he, too, disappeared into the abyss.

Jack calculated the depth to the underground cave to be about thirty feet.  Not particularly deep, but still foreboding if they needed to transport an injured person to the surface.  Reaching the end of the crawl space, the colonel assessed the area at the base of the ladder.  The rungs stopped about six feet above the floor.  Releasing his grasp he contacted the cave floor, dropped the pack to the ground, and retrieved his weapon from his side.  His eyes swept the room for any hostiles.

Carter paused awaiting an ‘all clear’ from the colonel before she also let go of the ladder to allow her feet to touch the ground.  She moved swiftly out of Teal’c’s way and into the shadows, allowing the Jaffa to join them as well.

The first thing Jack noticed was the dim lighting illuminating the small chamber.  The second thing he observed was the raised platform in the center of the room.  Waiting until the rest of his team descended the chute, he made his way cautiously to the platform, his heart filled with dread hoping he wouldn’t find what his mind told him was inevitable…Daniel.

The sight of his friend lying on that bed was almost his undoing.  Daniel looked dead; hell, Daniel felt dead…cold to the touch, eyes closed, skin pale.  Jack hurriedly searched for a pulse, relaxing once he found one.  It was slow, very slow and weak, but at least it was there.

“Oh, my god,” Carter spoke the words quietly as she surveyed the restraint system, the tubing, and the electrical circuitry attached to Daniel.  Overwhelmed by the sight, she made a soft anguished sound as she placed one hand over her eyes, searching for a brief respite from the scene in front of her.  Teal’c placed a strong hand on her shoulder to comfort her.

“Carter,” Jack began softly, “start figuring out what this stuff does and how we can disconnect it.”  He touched her arm lightly and she looked up at him.

“Yes, sir,” Carter stated simply, glad to have something to distract her from the vision of her comatose friend, even if that distraction was to try to find a way to extract him.  She began tracing the lines and tubing that snaked through the small room while disassociating herself from the vision of Daniel’s lifeless form.  She noted as best she could their functions and possible scenarios that could occur should they be removed.

Jack caught Teal’c’s eye briefly seeing the man’s intense concern for Daniel cross the normally stoic features before he consciously capped those emotions.  Nodding briefly at O’Neill, he resumed his typical stance as guardian. 

Jack stepped around to the front of the ‘cage’ holding Daniel’s body grasping a lax hand firmly in his own.  “We’ll get you out of here, Daniel.”  It infuriated Jack that his teammate and friend had been here all along, stripped naked and hooked up to some organic machine, while the three stooges had taken them on a wild goose chase to find Ethos.

Without releasing his clasp, Jack looked at the structure holding Daniel securely.  It appeared that once the planet captured someone they were immediately brought to this location, possibly drugged, and encaged in this contraption.  It reminded Jack of the mechanism from the Gamekeeper’s world which trapped SG-1 in a never ending repetition of the worst events of their lives.  But this cage was different in many ways.  The ‘bars’ that wrapped around his friend resembled tree roots, long and sinewy, not only functioning as a restraint system but also contacting his body in several specific areas.  In fact, it seemed that Daniel’s body was being absorbed by the roots as if they were feeding from him.  The thinner ones had even punctured his flesh at major vein sites; his neck, the inside of his elbows, the juncture of his hip and body.  A glowing carpet of organic matter lay across his friend’s chest emitting a vibrant green color with each breath taken.  At his head, Jack noticed several tiny punctures where hair-like fibers entered his skull, possibly his brain.  These fibers joined with all the others at a large organic structure just behind Daniel’s head. 

It was this same junction on which Carter focused her efforts to understand exactly what was being done to their friend.  Jack watched as she traced the living connections into and out of the device, noting her hesitancy at moving beyond to where Daniel lay to avoid viewing her friend in his current state.

“Hi, Jack,” a quiet voice spoke from behind him.  Without relinquishing his grip on Daniel’s hand, the colonel turned to face the familiar voice.

“Daniel…” As Jack spoke the name he realized that they could all see him this time when Carter released a small gasp from beside him.  “What’s going on?  I didn’t think you could see inside this…place.”

“Well, I couldn’t.  I think I can only see things through your eyes…so since you hadn’t been here before, then…” Daniel’s non-corporeal self raised his eyebrows.

“…you couldn’t see it.”  Jack suddenly wished Daniel couldn’t see his body in this place or the stark reality of his situation.  It was very surreal to be speaking with a vision of Daniel while he held his body’s hand.

“No.  Ethos could but I couldn’t.  That’s why Sam was able to glimpse a little of it earlier.”

“So how are you doing?”  Jack asked cautiously, concerned that the planet was using an image of Daniel to catch them off guard.

“Well, I’ve been better, Jack, but I think I’ve negotiated my release.”  Daniel gave a half smile with just the edges of his mouth turned upward.

“Oh, that’s good.  Ready to go?” Jack replied sarcastically as he addressed his question to the body on the platform.

“It’s not that easy, Jack.  This planet is alive.  It needs me, or rather Ethos, to keep living and functioning.”

“Well, it can’t *have* you.  *We* need you.  So tell it to let you go!” Jack rolled his eyes around the small chamber as though he was addressing the planet itself.

“As Sam told you, it can’t do that without a replacement for Ethos.  Jack, this planet originally had humanoid life forms that co-existed with the sentient vegetation on this world.”  Daniel’s face displayed awe; his azure eyes alight as he recounted this world’s history.  “Those humanoid’s provided the Ethos for this world willingly until the Goa’uld came and either relocated or killed the indigenous population.”

“Oh, see this just gets *better* and *better*, doesn’t it?!”

“Well, actually,” Daniel said with a wry grin, “I know where they are and, if we can get them back, the planet will have its replacements for Ethos and let me leave.”

“Okay…” Jack reviewed this information in his mind.  “What if they don’t want to come back?”

“Well, they should.  You’ll just have to convince them.  They have genetic memory so they should remember Ethos.  They considered it a great honor to fill this role.”

“Daniel, you *do* realize that your *body* doesn’t look too good here?” Jack’s eyes swept over the still form of Daniel as his hand grasped the limp one tighter.

“Yeah…the exchange will have to take place soon or…or…well, there won’t be anything left of me to take home.”

“Okay.  Let’s do this ASAP.  What is the gate address of their new world?”

Suddenly, a loud rumbling sound echoed through the chamber.  The already dim lighting flashed off and on as explosions were heard directly above them.  The integrity of the chamber seemed good even though bits of dirt from the ceiling showered them.  Jack laid his upper body over Daniel’s unconscious one, protecting his friend from the fragments.

Jack turned his head to glimpse the non-corporeal Daniel and felt his heart sink as he watched his friend’s image clutch at his head and fall to his knees obviously in pain, perhaps not only physical but mental agony as well.  The lifeless hand in his grasp began to quiver as the body convulsed, gripped in a seizure.

“Daniel!  What’s going on?” Jack yelled even as the image of Daniel began to fade away.

“Gliders…attacking…can’t…I can’t…”  Daniel never finished the sentence as his mental projection etherealized.

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After several tense moments everything went dark.  Not even daylight from the manhole above them shone into the room, further confirming that this world appeared dead or dying.  The silence in the room and all around was almost deafening.  Only the soft sounds of breathing remained.  Sam and Teal’c moved closer to the platform where their friend lay after witnessing the horrible seizure that overtook his body.  Now that body lay still under Jack’s tender ministrations.

“He’s still alive, sir.”  Sam felt for a pulse and respirations while Teal’c held the flashlight.

As the shock of their situation gradually faded, Jack raised his eyes to meet Carter’s, not yet ready to release his clutch on Daniel’s hand.  “What do we do next?” he asked quietly.

“I don’t know, sir.  It’s unlikely that the Stargate will function.”

“Can we move him?”  Anxious brown eyes met worried blue ones.

“I don’t see how.  I mean, these things…” the major’s voice caught in her throat, “these lines attached to him are woven into his nervous system and blood vessels…his brain…” she stopped abruptly, unable to continue with her assessment of her friend’s state.

“Okay then…what do we have and what do we need?”  Jack imagined Daniel’s sarcastic wit in his mind at such a stupid question.  ‘Well, we could use a naquada generator, Jack!’  He shook his head quickly to quell the emotions welling up inside him.  They didn’t have time for that…Daniel didn’t have time for that.  ‘Hell’, he amended his thoughts, ‘they might actually have all the time in the world…’

“We have nothing.  We need everything.”  Teal’c responded.

“Gee thanks, Teal’c.  That’s so helpful.”  Jack couldn’t help his caustic remark.  As Teal’c gave a slight nod, he realized the Jaffa purposely attempted to goad him out of his dark state of mind.

“Actually, Teal’c…thanks.”  He softened his response to acknowledge the Jaffa ’s true intent.

“You are welcome, O’Neill.” The Jaffa responded in kind.  “I believe you should attempt to contact the original inhabitants of this planet as Daniel Jackson suggested.”

“You do, huh.  And how do you propose I do that?”  Just as Jack completed the question the dim lighting returned around them, flickering a little before finally remaining steady. 

The trio heard a sound directly above them; the familiar whoosh of an outgoing wormhole forming.  Knowing what he had to do, Jack quickly searched the eyes of his team looking for their confirmation.

“The Stargate activated.  Maybe…”

“Perhaps a wormhole exists to the planet of which Daniel Jackson spoke.”

Apparently receiving the confirmation he needed from both his conscious teammates, Jack squeezed the hand he still held briefly before releasing it. 

“I’ll be back.  You two stay with Daniel,” he commanded as he bolted from Daniel’s prison to climb the rungs to the surface.  He noticed the planet was pitch-black except for the shimmering blue water forming the wormhole.  Without a second thought, Jack leaped headlong through the gate seconds before it disengaged.

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Jack emerged to a tranquil setting, replete with blue skies and two suns hanging low on the horizon signaling impending nightfall.  He took a risk in assuming that Daniel had established the wormhole to this world, to the land of those beings that could save his friend’s life.  It was a great risk indeed for if he presupposed incorrectly, he condemned his team to remain in forever darkness on a dying planet.

Assessing his surroundings, Jack’s concern grew as he realized he heard no sounds whatsoever.  No birds, no voices, not even the rustle of leaves.  As hopelessness and utter defeat encircled him, he pondered the reasons the Stargate had activated on the other world. 

Perhaps Daniel intended for SG-1 to evacuate through it as their only means of escape, their way home. Perhaps Daniel knew his situation was hopeless and had opened a way home, thereby sacrificing himself for his companions.

Perhaps Jack had made the worst command decision of his life by retreating through the gate alone without Carter and Teal’c.  If he assumed incorrectly that this planet on which he now stood held the key to Daniel’s release, then he’d sentenced his entire team to death.

Or perhaps he’d made the best one.  He would never leave Daniel behind alone on that world no matter what his condition.  If he failed to find what he was looking for here, Jack would return to spend whatever time they had left together. 

With a heavy heart, the colonel walked away from the gate in search of something, anything, that would prove his latest macabre thoughts wrong.

He was both surprised and relieved to find children playing outside in a small village just over the nearest rise.  These people appeared quite human in every way and, for a moment, a cold chill ran down his spine at his sudden anxiety that perhaps these aliens had always lived on this world, never transplanted by the Goa’uld.  

As he headed directly to the town planning to question the people, he gradually became aware something wasn’t quite right about this place; everything appeared normal in all regards except for the overwhelming silence.  The children playing contentedly around him, toting great smiles and happy faces, made absolutely no noise.  They didn’t speak but they seemed to understand each other perfectly as they ran and jumped and laughed; silent laughter that lit up their small faces and communicated volumes regarding their perceived security.  They hadn’t even seemed concerned at his presence.

Suddenly, Jack knew these were in fact the people he was searching for and the realization that they couldn’t speak to him hit him like a ton of bricks.  How could he possibly communicate with them?  He needed Daniel and his unique linguistic skills, knowing only his best friend would be able to find a wordless way to convey thoughts to these non-verbal aliens. 

Struck by an overpowering oppression that his friends would be forever lost to an alien world, he trudged along towards the simple dwellings, knowing there was no other acceptable scenario.  He had to find a way to make himself understood.

A tall, thin alien was the first to approach him, smiling sadly as he noticed the anxious countenance in Jack’s own half-hearted smile.  Trying to think like Daniel, he did his best to present a pleasant and non-threatening demeanor in return.  He fought for the words to express his need to this being, realizing the futility in the effort.

The man facing him grinned as several other aliens joined him, standing all around their visitor.  They began touching Jack everywhere, his head, his back, even his face; the actions of the villagers leaving the leader of SG-1 very disconcerted.

“All right,” Jack started as he tried to step away from the crowd, uncomfortable with this attention.  “This is getting a bit personal.”

The aliens appeared startled at the words but never stopped the touching.  After a moment, Jack began to relax at the strange behavior of the slowly growing mob as a feeling of contentment swept across him.  He felt a continuous flow of thoughts surrounding him that he assumed to be some sort of telepathy generated by these people.

He quickly grew frustrated with his ability, or lack thereof, to express his thoughts concisely enough to be understood.  The swaying movement of the beings around him and the mental onslaught of thoughts and emotions made him dizzy and he slowly fell to the ground, closing his eyes against the visual images.

Perceiving his distress, the tall alien paused as if signaling the others to be cautious.  One by one, the villagers moved away from Jack, giving him space both physically and mentally.  The onrush of chaos in his mind faded leaving only a solitary voice to fill his senses.

‘What is it you seek?’ the being stated in Jack’s mind, obviously communicating by telepathy as no words were actually spoken.

“I am seeking those beings who served as Ethos in another place and time,” Jack spoke aloud and the alien cringed away from him, apparently unable to tolerate auditory sounds in much the same way as he was unable to tolerate intense projections of thoughts into his own mind.

‘Please, focus your thoughts here,’ the other man conveyed his desire to communicate with Jack in non-verbal ways by touching him lightly on his forehead.

Jack followed the alien’s wishes by channeling his words within his head, ‘Okay, can you understand me?’

‘Yes.  You are looking for Ethos?’

‘I am.  I believe you to be the descendants of the beings from another world; a world where everything is linked to a central point.  Ethos.’

The alien once again became introspective, summoning the collective memory of his people.  After several excruciatingly long minutes he responded to Jack’s query, ‘The memories of such a world remain within our consciousness but it has been many, many years since we inhabited that place.’

‘Yes, it has.  That planet has been in turmoil ever since the Goa’uld relocated your ancestors here.  It wishes for you to return to become part of its matrix again.’ 

Jack didn’t know whether these people would even want to return to that planet.  From his brief, albeit harrowing, encounter with these people, he realized that they had adapted to this new existence well.  They no longer needed an Ethos to corral their feelings and give them life.  They had evolved into a much stronger culture where mental telepathy now provided the link they needed.  Jack feared that these people wouldn’t want to return. 

Again Jack waited as the being conferred with the other villagers, his apprehension growing for his friends trapped in another place.  If these people learned to function well here they’d have no reason to want to go back through the Stargate.  No reason to be enslaved, much as Daniel was currently, in an underground grid to sustain a world they had never seen, never experienced first-hand. 

Jack’s thoughts wandered to his best friend.  If Daniel was part of a collective consciousness similar to the one he experienced earlier, Jack feared his mind might be lost to them forever anyway.  Even his brief encounter left him mentally exhausted.  He couldn’t believe an individual mind could be subjected to that level of mental intimacy with thousands and still remain intact.

Finally, after an agonizingly long pause, the alien transferred his thoughts to Jack.

‘We remember that world and we miss it very dearly.  Here we share our minds with each other, but there…’ his thoughts clouded briefly and Jack fought to bring them into focus.  ‘…there we shared our souls.’

Jack felt the intensity of emotions welling from these people as they recalled their history, the genetic memory clear and vividly real within them.

‘There,’ the being continued, ‘we linked with all the sentient life forms, not only animal but plant life as well.  Do you know how we can return to that sanctuary?’

‘I do.  But first…do you remember your people served that world by providing yourselves to complete their matrix…filling the role of Ethos?’

‘We do remember this.  It was a great honor to be chosen as Ethos.’

‘Well, I need to be honest with you here.  My teammate…my best friend…is currently serving as Ethos and he’s dying.  He didn’t choose to be there and he isn’t strong enough to continue sustaining the planet.  If he isn’t replaced very soon both that world and…’ Jack paused to collect himself before proceeding.  ‘…both that world and my friend Daniel will soon have irreparable damage.  Daniel will die along with a world he was never meant to serve.’  His eyes were bright with emotion as he finished his thoughts.

‘We already knew this when you entered this place.  We know your thoughts, your desires, and your heart is good.  You care deeply for your friends yet you also have immense concern for the welfare of that world.  Your heart is also very heavy because by telling us your true intention for coming here was to save your friends, you fear we may not choose to accompany you back there.  Through your thoughts alone you are unwittingly expressing deep admiration for our people and our previous world.’

‘So…you’ll return with me through the Stargate?’

‘I will return to replace your friend Daniel as Ethos before it is too late.  The others will wait until that world is once again inhabitable, then they will join me on the other side.’

‘That’s great, but your people don’t really need the matrix anymore.  You have an incredible mental link with each other now.’

‘Oh, but that is where you are wrong.  We do have a great connection together in this place, but in the other world we had much more.  We were joined together there with the universe, omnipotent beings with great compassion and incredible intelligence, something we can only experience through Ethos by his linkage to the ‘Stargate’.  This is why the Goa’uld invaded our world millennia ago hoping to gain all the wisdom of the universe.’

‘And did they?’ Jack asked worriedly.

‘No, they did not.  Once our ancestors defeated the Goa’uld they erased all genetic memory of our existence from their minds.  We must also do this with your friend because we cannot allow such unbridled power to exist in beings too young to control it.  Your people are not yet ready to accept this knowledge responsibly.’

‘Will this damage my friend?’

‘It will not.  He will be returned to you in the same mental condition as before becoming Ethos.’

Jack nodded his understanding.  ‘Just out of curiosity, what are your people called?’

‘On this world we have no name as we are incomplete.  But on our home world together with all sentient life forms there we are known as the Furlings.’

“Oh!”  Jack spoke aloud, unable to control his excitement.  Seeing the others’ pained looks, he quickly silenced his voice and focused his mind.  ‘I wondered what had happened to you guys!’

He smiled at the puzzled looks from those around him as he and the alien soon to be known as Ethos headed back to the Stargate.

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Jack and his new companion stepped through the gate into a hazy twilight, a light purple sky greeting them.  He assumed that was a good sign; at least the darkness enveloping this world earlier had lifted. 

The alien knew his way around and immediately entered the shaft leading to Daniel’s underground room.  Following him down the chute, Jack expected to see his team in better spirits but his throat knotted at the sight before him in the dank, dark cell.

Teal’c was meditating at the foot of Daniel’s root bed while Carter grasped his best friend’s hand as she silently wept.  Jack bolted towards them, reaching to feel for a pulse on Daniel’s neck.  Unable to find that comforting rhythm he looked to Carter for confirmation.

“He died a few moments ago, sir,” she spoke as unabashed tears spilled from her eyes. 

“But he couldn’t have…the planet has light…” Jack began, shaking his head in disbelief.  He managed to find these aliens only to lose his best friend anyway.  Life was just so damned unfair.

“After you left, everything was dark for a while.  I assumed Daniel was recharging himself after opening the wormhole.  Light began to return after a bit but…your return through the gate may have been too much for him.”  Carter swiped her eyes with the back of one hand, the other still clutching Daniel’s.  Her mascara created soft black trails down her cheeks.

Jack turned towards the Furling wondering how the transfer of Ethos would happen.  He was surprised to see the alien already standing at the head of Daniel’s bed touching the organic device where the tubes and roots leaving the archeologist’s body entered before retreating through the walls. 

Perhaps this represented the ‘opener of the mouth’ ceremony performed to restore the senses of the deceased, Jack mused.  He knew Daniel would appreciate being the recipient of such a ritual and Jack silently prayed that he’d be able to relay this experience to a mentally and physically healthy Daniel Jackson upon their return to Earth.

The lanky alien placed one hand on Daniel’s forehead and the other hand on the living junction box.  Carter looked at the colonel in amazement as the lines flowing into Daniel’s body began retreating, leaving small spots of blood in their wake.  Teal’c stood up and moved closer to his friends.  He grasped the archeologist’s free hand in his own as Jack placed his own hand on Daniel’s chest.  A physical connection was established between everyone present including the Furling as SG-1 looked awestruck at the movement of the roots. 

For the first time since they’d found him here, Daniel opened his eyes slightly and moaned softly, looking for all intents and purposes like someone awakening from a deep sleep.  As his eyes opened fully, he fought to focus on his team leader.

Jack smiled tentatively at him but never moved his hand.  When the last physical connection finally exited his body, the Furling spoke clearly into each of their minds, ‘He will recover but he is very weak.  He no longer possesses the memory of this place.  Please help him off the platform for he will not be well enough to stand on his own for several days.  I must take his place here soon to bring our world back to life.’

SG-1 helped Daniel as he rose to a sitting position.  Jack wrapped his arms around his friend and helped him off the bed by lowering him slowly to the floor. Teal’c had already removed his outer jacket and handed it to Jack who wrapped it around his lean, naked hips while Sam continued to hold Daniel’s hand.  Jack’s own hands trembled slightly but continued to connect with his injured teammate.

The alien moved to take his place and immediately the lines reconnected to him.  Lights began to flicker briefly until finally remaining firmly lit.

The new Ethos spoke to their minds, ‘Thank you for bringing our people home.  The others will return when it is time.  I will open the Stargate for them.’  The alien turned his head slightly to catch Daniel’s eyes and continued, ‘Thank you for your service as Ethos.  You have performed admirably and we are forever grateful to you for bringing us home.’

“Jack…?”  Daniel questioned softly.

“Later, Daniel.  I’ll explain everything to you later.”  Jack promised as he looked deeply into his friend’s eyes.  He shifted his weight as Daniel slumped against him steadying the younger man’s head against his shoulder.

The being closed his eyes and after a few moments SG-1 heard the familiar sound of a wormhole establishing above them.

‘Please return to your world.  I have opened the passageway for you.’

‘Thanks.’ Jack responded to the alien’s thoughts. 

“Carter, get the rope harness from my pack.” Jack ordered, glad that he had taken the time topside to make preparations for belaying Daniel up the shaft.

She returned shortly with the equipment and together they helped Daniel to his feet so they could secure the harness around him.

Teal’c and Jack supported Daniel’s weight between them as they walked in silence towards the opening.  First, the Jaffa ascended the chute carrying the extra rope attached to their injured friend.  After securing the line at the surface he called for Sam to bring Daniel up.  She took Daniel from Jack and started up the ladder with him, side by side, very slowly, while Teal’c bore much of the weight of their weakened teammate from above.

As Jack started to leave he turned to view the being on the platform.  ‘Will we ever see you or your people again?’

A wave of emotions flooded his mind briefly before the alien responded, ‘Your race has great potential.  We hope to allow you to visit our world in the future but we must repair the damage here first.  We will contact you when it is time.’

‘Just when do you think that might be…I’ll pencil you in my calendar.’

‘In several hundred years we will reopen our world to outsiders.  You will be among the first ones we invite to visit us.’

‘Oh, okay.  So, I’ll still be able to make that hockey game next week then…’ Jack quipped.

‘So it would seem.’  The Furling finished his thought with a mental smile.

‘Okay then.  Well, good luck, best wishes, hasta la vista…’ Jack smiled as he headed up the ladder, content with the knowledge that they had found the long lost Furlings even if they would continue to remain ‘lost’ for several more centuries.

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Reaching the surface, he slipped his arm around a wavering Daniel, replacing Sam’s.  As they began their slow walk towards the gate, Daniel faltered and for a moment Jack thought he would fall.  But instead, he shakily stooped down and plucked an orchid in his path.  It appeared to be the only thing to survive the recent trauma of this world.

“Did you miss the hockey game, Jack?” Daniel’s voice trembled from exhaustion as he rose.

“Yeah, but there’s another one next week.”  Jack maintained a steady, strong grasp on his best friend to help him stand again.  Sam grasped Daniel’s free hand, needing the touch more than he did for her own comfort.  Teal’c’s strong arm reached around Sam’s back, resting firmly on the archeologist’s shoulder.

“Sorry ‘bout that, Jack.”

“Hey, no problem.  Tell you what we’re going to do!  As soon as Doc Fraiser gives you a clean bill of health we’ll all go to a hockey game!  It’ll be a team night…my treat!”

“Oh, sir…”

“I think I have plans that night, Jack.”

“I do not understand the fascination with this game.”

Each spoke almost simultaneously as they eyed each other in apprehension.  None of them seemed particularly interested in hockey.

“Yep, it’s a date then!  All set!  Won’t take no as an answer!  No need to thank me…”

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Four figures stepped up to the wormhole as a single entity, still supporting one another.  They each needed that comforting touch to heal their souls, their thoughts drifting in the comfortable silence.

Sam and Teal’c wondered just how long they could persuade Janet to keep Daniel in the infirmary hoping to avoid the dreaded hockey season altogether.

Jack donned a huge smile, happy in the knowledge that his team, his friends, would recover.  They’d be at that game next week, all of them, even if he had to make it an order.  After all, he had already purchased their tickets.

And Daniel remembered his lifeline, his friends, inhaling deeply as he brought the orchid to his face.

Together they disappeared into the wormhole’s shimmering light.

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The End



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