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A Star is Born by iiiionly

 

THE BIRTHPLACE OF

 

A STAR IS BORN

 

April 16, 2002 - The O’Neill Home - Rooftop Observatory

From the Personal Diary of Colonel Jack O’Neill
(Which, by the very nature of the beast, is only in his head)

I should have gone with ‘em. 

You don’t turn down the Hubble Space Telescope lightly, but - and there’s always a but - I would have had to listen to Carter and Daniel’s techno babble for hours on end.

It would have taken all the joy out of it. 

So I stayed home.

And now I’m regretting it.

Naturally.

I can hear Daniel’s voice as clearly as if he were sprawled in the deck chair across from me, saying, “Told ya so.”

Teal’c’s probably bored out of his gourd, but at least I know someone is watching their six while they’re watching other galaxies. 

If the kids are right, and they always are, we may have to apply for Universal passports.  Don’t know that our Galaxy ones will let us on and off-world anymore. 

What do ya want to bet I end up heartily regretting I let them make this trip alone?

*           *           *

April 30, Briefing Room – 2300 Hours

“So – what’s so important it couldn’t wait until morning?”   Colonel Jack O’Neill scowled at the glance his question sparked between the science twins.

“Major Carter and Daniel Jackson have made a discovery of significant importance, O’Neill,” Teal’c opined. 

“Significant importance,” Jack parroted in a drawl.  “One small step for man, one giant leap . . .” 

“Nothing like that, sir,” Carter interrupted.

“We don’t know that, Sam,” Dr. Jackson murmured his disagreement.  “This could very well be the next quantum leap.”

Jack pulled out the chair next to Teal’c as the General joined them from his office rubbing his hands anticipatorily.

“So your mission was successful,” General Hammond pronounced jovially, taking his usual place at the head of the table.  “Congratulations, Major, Dr. Jackson.  I assume, since we’re here at this hour of the evening, you’re finally prepared to give a full briefing on this project you’ve been working on?”

“Oh.”  SG-1’s theoretical astrophysicist glanced at her watch and frowned.  “Sorry, sir, we weren’t really thinking.  After all this time, I suppose it could have waited until morning.  But, yes.”  Sam exchanged another glance with her cohort.  “We are.  We could postpone this, sir,” she grimaced.  “We didn’t realize what time it was.  We were . . .” she trailed off.

“Admittedly impatient, sir,” Daniel filled in the gap.

“What?  Postpone?”  O’Neill declaimed in his best Shakespearean accent.  “Never!  We’re here, Carter, let’s get this show on the road.”

“You’re sure, I mean—” Sam wavered.  “It’s not imperative we do this tonight.”

Daniel clasped his hands under the table and kept his mouth shut.  He was too excited to wait.  They’d done it!  He was guardedly optimistic the hours and hours and hours they’d put into this project would shortly come to fruition, though Sam had warned him TPTB might very well nix the idea without giving it a moment’s consideration. 

He understood it was the way the military mindset dictated, but was relatively certain if they could convince Jack, Hammond would follow.  Jack’s special ops experience gave him a unique perspective the General often deferred to, so frequently, it was Jack’s vote that swung the jury.

Daniel had suggested strongly, and been backed up by Teal’c, that Sam make the presentation.  

These days it seemed anything he put forth was quashed immediately and with particular relish by their team leader.  Cloaked as it was in the guise of self-preservation, of which the archeologist ostensibly had none, the deliberate artifice had taken awhile to sink in, but when it finally did, it sank deep and spread its tendrils lethally into the heart of that friendship.

“Dr. Jackson?”

“Sorry.”  Daniel shook off his preoccupation.  “What?”  He did not want to wait, but he would if necessary.

“Earth to Daniel.” Jack leaned an elbow on the arm of his chair and propped his chin in his hand.  “You going to start this briefing anytime in the next century?”

“Oh . . . ahhhh—” He glanced at Sam, then at General Hammond.  “Uhm, Sam’s going to . . . uhhhh . . . do the show and tell.  She’s better at putting the techno babble into layman’s terms than I am.”

“Should we order breakfast or are we going to get started tonight?”

“Colonel.”  The General sighed audibly.  “Major Carter, your initial proposal was intriguing; I assume your time at NASA bore fruit.”

“Yes, sir, our theory was right on target.  With the data we collected I believe we will be able to pinpoint which galaxies have planets with Stargates, sir, and during our down time at NASA, Daniel . . . well, we came up with an idea I think is imminently workable to provide the extra power the gate needs to dial a galaxy beyond our own, cost effectively, sir.  A naquadah-enhanced, solar-powered generator.  And if necessary, I think we could call on the Orbanian’s for assistance if we run into problems along the way.  I’ve already set the computer to work on a cold dialing program for outside our galaxy, sir.  It should be ready to go by the time we have the generator on-line and up to full power.” 

Major Carter picked up the remote on the table in front of her as she pushed back and rose to move to the star map.  It sprang to life as a high resolution video screen with a fantastical, weirdly-colored image.

“The Eagle Nebula,” Jack murmured.  “They call it the star nursery.”

“Due to the fact it is the ideal environment in which to incubate new stars,” Teal’c stated.

“Exactly,” Carter enthused.  “But what we discovered is that especially when two galaxies have a collision—”  She clicked the remote and the picture changed to two masses of spiraling light colliding.  “It leaves a signature of sorts that can tell us a lot about each of the galaxies.  You’ll remember we theorized clear back when Hathor showed up at the Mountain, there was something about the Stargate that drew things to it.  So we kind of turned that theory on its head and wondered if maybe the Gate puts off something that’s measurable.  For the last six months we’ve been bringing back samples of anything we can think of from every place we’ve gone.  I also asked my dad if the Tok’ra would collect samples, particularly during their subspace travels since they do considerably more traveling by ship than we do.  We used a modified flytrap essentially, but it did the job, sir.  We were able to identify trace elements of naquadah that are identifiable if you know what to look for.”

The high-tech screen flashed black for a moment and then a pinprick of light appeared off to the left of the monitor.  Sam tapped the enlarger button several times. 

“This is magnified approximately a billion times so you can see this particular speck, so to speak, has properties that make it identifiable from—” She split the screen and put up a distinctly different magnified particle.  “This one.”  She split the screen again and the first picture was replicated on screen.  “The identical pictures on either side of the middle particle are actually two different pictures, taken from two different galaxies, our own and what they’re calling the Whirlpool galaxy, where they discovered the Eagle Nebula.”

Sam cleared the screen and put the particles up side by side, enlarging them even further so they were distinguishable from each other.

“The clarity suffered when we enlarged these, but we wanted to see the differences as well as the similarities,” she offered, tracing both with her laser pointer.  “These are naquadah particles from different galaxies.”

“The leap you’re making is a sizeable one, Major,” the Colonel observed.  “Seems like a long step off a short pier.”

“Possibly, sir, though we don’t think so.  There’s more in the report I won’t bore you with, but we believe we have a viable means – not only of locating, but transporting us to –  Gates outside our own galaxy.   Isn’t that worth the investment to explore the prospect?”

“What’s the proposed budget for this ‘exploration’?” Jack inquired dryly.

Sam cleared her throat, “We think we can have it up and running on as little as 9.2 billion, sir.  That includes production of the solar-powered naquadah generator and . . .Wait for it, she thought gleefully, pausing significantly before adding, “And we think we can finance that with the useable public domain technology that could spin off of this if we have one of our private-sector sub-contractors do the actual production.”

One eyebrow flew up.  “Now you’re talking my language.”  Jack sat up interestedly.  “I assume you’ve made inquiries, Major?”

“Yes, sir.  I gave the specs to three of our sub-contractors and asked for proposed bids.”  Sam smiled ruefully.  “That’s how we came up with the numbers.”

“Colonel?” the General solicited.

“Sounds like the kids have done their homework, sir.”

General Hammond nodded, a rare full-blown smile creasing the usually austere features.  “I’m impressed, people.  I think you’ve nailed it, I don’t see how the Joint Chiefs could possibly turn down this proposal seeing as you’ve figured out how to finance it already.  I’ll get if off tonight.  Is there anything further, Major?”

“One thing, sir; these were all Daniel’s ideas, I just made the science part of it work for him.”

“Well done, Dr. Jackson,” General Hammond beamed. 

“Well done, indeed, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c added, inclining his head in obeisance.

“Always knew you were one smart cookie; a few chips shy on the common sense end, but hey, we can overlook that when you pull off something this brilliant.”

The Jaffa turned his head to look directly at their C.O.  “Your irreverence under the circumstances is unappreciated, O’Neill.”

Jack returned the stare unfazed.  “Missed you too, Teal’c.”

Daniel laid his pen down on the legal pad on the table in front of him.  He’d won; that was all that mattered.  “If we’re done, sir, I have things I need to do.”  He glanced expectantly at the General.

“It’s nearly midnight, son.  Go home,” the General ordered kindly.  “You’ve outdone yourself here, worry about what’s on your desk tomorrow.”

Daniel sighed inwardly.  An order was an order, no matter how benevolently bestowed; the General likely thought he was doing him a favor.  “Yes, sir.”

General Hammond rose, tapping his knuckles on the table.  “An excellent job as usual, SG-1. Dismissed, Colonel, Major.  Goodnight, Teal’c, Dr. Jackson.  I’ll see you people in the morning.”

Sam tossed the remote down in front of O’Neill as the General disappeared into his office.  “There are lots more pictures, sir.  Have fun.”  She rounded the table, leaning over the arm of the chair to gather up her stuff.  “Meet you at the surface?” she asked the archeologist.

“Thanks, I could use a ride.”  Daniel rose.  “Goodnight, Teal’c, thanks for your help.  ‘night, Jack.”

Colonel O’Neill picked up the remote as Teal’c stood too.  “You’re all deserting me?”

“Tired, sir.  We put in a lot of hours on this project,” Sam said over her shoulder, giving Daniel a gentle shove through the door when he hesitated.  “See you in the morning.”

“It was difficult to achieve a deep state of kel’no’rim in the cramped quarters we were assigned at NASA.  I have need of a long session.  I, too, shall retire.  O’Neill.”  Teal’c’s brief nod bore none of the respect he’d just bestowed on Daniel.

Colonel Jonathan ‘Jack’ O’Neill switched off the high tech screen so it became a star map again, tossed the remote back on the table, and leaned back with a sigh.  He’d known the decision to send them off alone was going to come back to bite him in the ass, he just hadn’t expected it to happen quite this fast.

*           *           *

June 12th - Whirlpool Galaxy – 9:30 Hours (EMT)*
*Earth Mountain Time

Teal’c stepped out of the wormhole into the gold mist as though stepping over a threshold.  Behind him, his companions variously fell, tripped, and stumbled out of the blue light.

“Oh for cryin’ out loud!” O’Neill jolted to his knees swearing a blue streak as fire shot up his thigh.  “I thought we’d fine-tuned the damn thing so this didn’t happen anymore, what the hell is going on?” he demanded through gritted teeth.

Daniel, who’d remained on his feet only because he’d slammed into Teal’c and been caught by the quick reflexive grab of the Jaffa, latched onto the hand fisted in the front of his jacket.  “Down, please.  Gently,” he requested breathlessly.

Sam staggered several steps beyond the event horizon and promptly parted with breakfast.  “Different—” she gasped, gagged, and vomited again.  “Different trajectories.  Just . . . different, sir.  Could be the effect of traveling through those nebulas in this galaxy, I don’t know.  I’ll have to analyze the data when we get back.”  She wiped the back of her sleeve across her mouth and straightened slowly, glancing around with wide eyes.  “We did it,” she whispered.  Then louder, in jubilation, “Daniel!  Teal’c!  We did it!”

The exclusion was nearly as sharp as the pain in his knee.  The Colonel shifted to put his weight on his good leg and shoved up to a standing position, automatically, if somewhat belatedly, raising his weapon.  “Perimeter sweep, Teal’c.”

The Stargate here was partially buried in earth that glittered as though it was made of crushed gold and silver.  A misty glow, apparently radiating from the ground, infused the heavy fog limiting visibility to no more than a few hundred yards.

“Carter, I want an air quality report by the time I get back.”

“Yes, sir.”  Sam was already pulling small hand-held instruments out of various pockets.  “Hey, you okay,” she asked, glancing across at Daniel who was still sitting on the ground where Teal’c had lowered him.

“Will be, give me a minute.”

“Wild ride, huh?”  Sam commiserated, calibrating one of her little gizmos.

“Mmmm,” Daniel agreed.  “But we’re here.”

Sam grinned.  “Thanks to you, Wonder Boy.”

Daniel snorted.  “An unqualified endorsement,” he marveled with saccharin sweetness.

“Sorry,” Sam said unrepentantly.  “Just like the M.A.L.P. reported, breathable atmosphere, slightly different from our own, but nothing harmful present.”

“At least that we can identify.”

“True.  But we knew it was a risk.  Need a hand?” Sam offered.

Daniel took it with gratitude.  The tilted alien world righted itself a bit and slowed its axis spin as he rose.  Opening one eye, he cautiously peered at the instrument in Sam’s hand.  “What does that mean?” he pointed at a redlined number.

“Oh, that’s the ratio of oxygenated air to poisonous gasses.”

“Oh!” Daniel repeated.  “That’s all.”

“I’m going to take some soil samples too.  Give me a hand would you?” Sam said, turning her back to him.  “The sample kit is in the top right corner of my pack.”

Opening both eyes, Daniel obligingly dug for the small kit.  “This one?” he asked.

“That’s the one.  Thanks.”  She immediately knelt and busied herself with a spoon she dug out of yet another pocket.  “I’ll just be a few minutes, okay?  Then we can look for the formation the M.A.L.P. showed.  Don’t wander off into the fog without one of us.”

“Yes, mother.”

Sam looked up at the sour tone.  “I’m not—”

“I know,” Daniel interrupted hastily.  “I’m sorry, I was on automatic.”

“Well, get out of it, you can’t be on automatic in a place like this, you have to be alert and aware constantly.”

“I know, I know. Switching off immediately.  What can I do to help?”

“Hold these.”  Sam shoved her hand toward him so he could remove the multiple test tubes stuck between her fingers.

“What’s the word?” The colonel materialized out of the fog, stopping inside the Gate ring to look up at the inside of the massive stone structure.

“We probably shouldn’t stay more than a few hours this first time out, sir, but everything appears to bear out the initial M.A.L.P. readings.”

“So did we see any honkin’ huge space guns on the aerial survey?”

“The infrared showed an interesting looking formation to the west of the Gate, sir; however, if it is a weapon, it’s been dormant for too long to give off an energy signature.”

“So no big honkin’ space guns,” the Colonel sighed.

“At least not evident with our technology, sir.”

“I’m sure we still have to go look at it though.  Let’s go, Daniel.”

“Sir, I’ll go—”

“It still says Colonel on my uniform, Carter, and I am still nominally in charge of this team.”  Jack palmed his radio, “Teal’c, does this work here?”

“It does, O’Neill.”

“Where are you?  I’m sending Carter to join you.  The two of you can see what’s east of here.”

“I am behind you.”  The Jaffa strode into view as his teammates spun around.  “The foggy ground cover is nearly impenetrable a few hundred yards beyond the Gate.  I believe it would be unwise to separate our forces, O’Neill.  Our GPS locators do not work here.”

“Ya think?” Jack snarked, glancing ostensibly at the sky, though none was visible through the bright misty glow.  “Maybe their satellite system is down.”

“Goa’uld tracking devices do not rely on orbital systems, they are keyed to various technologies such as Stargates,” Teal’c replied.  “I had momentarily forgotten your quaint devices were keyed to your planet, O’Neill.”

Apparently his team had done a lot of bonding without him while they’d been gone. 

Daniel had pointedly ignored Jack’s needling over his undisguised excitement as they’d waited for the Gate to open, keeping his gaze determinedly on the empty round ring. 

He’d shot one triumphant glance at his C.O. as the event horizon flared out and settled back into its designated ring, then headed up the ramp hot on Teal’c’s heels and without a backwards glance.

A step ahead of O’Neill, Carter had turned her head over her shoulder, leveling a stare that should have knocked him on his ass and said quietly, “Teal’c and I aren’t putting up with your shitty behavior toward Daniel anymore.”

“That would be shitty behavior, sir, Carter.”

She’d turned, deliberately noncompliant, and marched into the blue puddle.

Standing on an alien planet, with his entire team radiating insubordination, O’Neill opted to retreat rather than take them all on at once.  He would, however, reestablish order, even if it meant busting Carter back to a private for a few weeks and suspending all civil liberties for the archeologist and the Jaffa.

“Fine, we’ll all go west, young man.”  Orienting off the Stargate, Jack tucked his P-90 into his side and waved his half-gloved hand in the general direction of west.  “Teal’c, take point.”  His reflections as he took up a position several steps to the rear of the ragged column of three, were less than pleasant.  “What’s the ETA on this tourist attraction, Carter?”

“Not more than an hour, sir, at pace.  It’s about ten klicks from the gate.”

The science twins jabbered techno-babble non-stop the entire hour, with Teal’c occasionally interjecting a comment that would send them flying off on some new tangent. 

In the meantime, eyes glazing over with boredom, O’Neill studied what little there was to see of the terrain.

Treeless, in fact no vegetation at all in sight, just a vast unending vista of silvery-golden ground and silvery-golden glow.  It was a touch disconcerting.  The Colonel kept his eyes uncomfortably peeled.  The limited visibility was making him itch.

Putting on some speed, he caught up with Teal’c.  “You see anything in your travels that might indicate any kind of life form?”

“Nothing, O’Neill.  I believe Daniel Jackson is correct in his assessment that the environment does not support habitation.  He suspects the planet has long been uninhabited.”

“And so the first place we find outside our own galaxy is an old abandoned . . . what?  Naquadah dump site?”  Jack kicked up a fine film of the not-soil, the particles of which hung suspended in the air momentarily before floating back to earth.  “Carter?”  He scuffed his boot again when she turned around.  “Why?”

“The gravitational pull is slightly less here than at home.  It’s directly proportional to the weight of the object.  If you weighed what one of those particles weighed, you’d be floating too, sir.  Haven’t you noticed how much easier it is to move?  It’s because we don’t weigh quite as much here either.”

What he’d noticed was that his knee was giving him fits, no matter how much he weighed.  This formation, whatever it turned out to be, better be worth its weight in naquadah, preferably weapons-grade naquadah.

He’d also noticed the archeologist’s chattering had abruptly ceased the moment he’d moved up next to Teal’c.  A part of him wanted the kid to enjoy this new experience, but a larger, more insidious part was unprepared to cut him any slack. 

Over the last several months in particular, O’Neill had become increasingly aware of his lack of control over SG-1, and he placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of their only civilian team member.  Daniel’s continual chafing at the unyielding military rules governing their day-to-day lives had been irritating, but when it began to rub off on both Teal’c and Carter, it had become intolerable.  He could barely issue an order without being second-guessed anymore, and often out-right challenged. 

Daniel, strangely enough, had backed off, but the other two had immediately squared off for the opportunity to fill the gap. 

Indecisiveness was unforgivable, especially in himself, and the conflicting duality of wanting to give and take away at the same time was driving him NUTS.

Jack drifted back, very aware of the immediate reactivation of the talk button on the archeologist.

Some things were going to change after this mission.  SG-1 wasn’t putting a toe through the gate until this issue was resolved to his satisfaction, Jack decided, and if he came off sounding dictatorial - so be it – he was, after all, still the Colonel.

His head swiveled around at the sound of Daniel’s gasp, followed closely by Carter’s equally awed, “Holy Hannah!”

Through the mist the outlines of a vast crystalline structure were beginning to take shape.  It was angled slightly north and south, according to their westward heading, and appeared from a distance, to resemble a vast longboat.  A mass of vapors roiled continuously over the edges in a waterfall of silver and gold mist, shot through with color-saturated ribbons of light far too intense to be called mere turquoise, or purple, or pink.   Even the most vivid Earth colors looked like they’d been mixed with mud in comparison. 

Jack snatched a handful of jacket when Daniel, who’d been momentary mesmerized, started off again.

“Wait,” he commanded.  “Carter.  What is it?”

“Nothing’s changed on my readings, sir.  It doesn’t appear to be comprised of anything harmful to us.”

“How ‘bout we just watch it for a few minutes.”

“Jack!” Daniel practically howled.  “We’ve come all this way and you want to stand and watch it?”

“You can stand still, or I can hold you in place,” O’Neill responded uncompromisingly.  “Teal’c?”

“Do you wish me to reconnoiter, O’Neill?”

“Thank you.” 

As Teal’c closed the half-a-klick distance, the size of the thing began to register.  It appeared to be at least three times the height of the Jaffa and minimally a klick in length, though the swirling mist made a true appraisal of size difficult at a distance.

“Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and caldron bubble,” O’Neill quoted mirthlessly.  “I’m thinking we ought to turn around and go home, kids.  I don’t like the looks of that.”

Daniel bowed his head briefly.  “Sometimes, Jack, you can be such a prick.”

“Excuse me?” Surprised, not only by the language, but the venom in the tone, O’Neill stomped past the archeologist and spun around to face him.  “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Very uncharacteristically, Daniel squared his shoulders; his hands, though he kept them at his sides, clenched.  “What?  You need a definition of the word prick?”  He didn’t wait for a response before adding caustically, “In this case it means an obnoxious person.  We’ve come light years, light years,” he repeated empathically, “across who knows how many galaxies to get here and you want to throw up your hands and go home because something looks – WHAT?  Weird?  Alien?  Suspicious, Jack? You fill in the blank!”   Sucking in a deep breath, Daniel glanced at his companion.  “I’m sorry, Sam.  I tried it your way, but the canonization apparently didn’t stick.”  He turned back to Jack.  “I feel sorry for you, going through life only ever seeing the risk and never the beauty.  I’m going to look at it - if it kills me, so much the better.  At least I die free,” he snarled Teal’c’s customary line.

“Think you made him mad, sir,” Carter observed, and followed the linguist.

Oh yeah – his team had gone to hell in a hand basket. 

Colonel O’Neill briefly considered heading back to the Stargate and reporting them all AWOL.  The fantasy was nice - for about five seconds - before he gave in with a scowlHe re-shouldered his P-90 and headed after his wayward bunch; someone had to keep them out of trouble.

And naturally, the first thing he saw as he strode up was the archeologist snatching back his hand.“Oh for cryin’ out loud!”

Dr. Jackson jerked his head around, swearing incoherently.  Bad enough the damn crystal thingy had stung like an entire nest of bees and his fingers now throbbed deep down in the bone, but to have Jack barreling down on him just iced the cake.

He’d hopped nimbly across the narrow, but deep, moat-like declivity to ascend the shallow steps of the massive silvery-white pedestal into which the crystal basin was sunk.  Having translated the flowing script in the process, he’d reached up over his head to touch the beauty of the carved lettering.  And been zapped for his curiosity. 

“Let me see your hand.”

“I’m fine.”  Maybe several nests of bees combined came closer to the reality of the sting, or an electrical current at full voltage.

“Now,” Jack hissed furiously.  “Carter!  He’d seen the spark - or flare, or arch – whatever the hell it had been.  “Bring the med kit!”

Reluctantly, Daniel lifted his right hand, cradled in his left.

“Carter!” Jack barked again, carefully taking Daniel’s hand between his own, wrapping his long fingers tourniquet fashion around the slender wrist.  The foggy mist seemed to be increasing around the base of the structure; O’Neill was certain visibility was decreasing proportionately and the itch had become a full-fledged scratch. 

“On my way, sir!” a disembodied voice responded. 

”Watch the moat thingy!”

A moment later Carter appeared on the opposite side of the moat, shrugging out of her backpack as she assessed the jump.  “What happened?” 

“Daniel touched something, what else?  Do you have any idea how many missions we’ve had to scrub because you touched something?”  Jack deftly caught the backpack she pitched over, without releasing the archeologist’s wrist.

“I suppose you do?” Daniel returned, glaring at the back of O’Neill’s head.  “Anyway, it’s my job.”

“Yeah, and keeping you safe is my job!  I wish you’d make it less impossible! And it’s seventeen for your information.”  

“Holy Hannah!” Sam exclaimed.  Welting blisters had already begun to form on Daniel’s right hand.  “That’s gotta hurt.” 

“Yeah, kinda sorta,” the archeologist agreed, tugging at his hand with a scowl for his C.O. 

“Hold still,” Jack commanded, relinquishing his hold on the P-90 under his arm as he tightened his grip on the burnt hand.  “Are you feeling this beyond your fingers?” 

“I’m not feeling much of anything beyond my wrist,” Daniel countered impassively.

Jack’s response was to tighten his fingers.  “Look at this,” he snapped at his field medic.  “Tell me that is not spreading.”

“That looks like radiation burns to me, sir, and you shouldn’t be touching him.  If it’s going to spread, nothing you can do will stop it.”

Dr. Jackson wrapped his own fingers around his wrist.  “I’ve got it.”

“Is there a problem?”  Teal’c materialized out of the mist as well.

“Same old, same old,” the Colonel grumbled exasperatedly.  “Get to the gate, Teal’c.  Let them know we’re coming in hot.”

The Jaffa turned immediately, slipping soundlessly back into the bright, foggy mist.

Sam had pulled on gloves and was smearing some kind of ointment on the blisters, which now covered Daniel’s entire palm and were rapidly spreading up the inside of his wrist as well.  “I’m sorry, Daniel, but I need you to take off your jacket.”

“What we need to do is get off this damn planet.  Fraiser can look at it at home.  Let’s go,” O’Neill ordered.

“But—”

”I swear, Daniel, one word about staying and I’m going to personally knock you up side the head with my P-90 and drag your body back to the Gate.”

“I haven’t even – Jack, please!”  Daniel planted both feet as he was snatched by the back of the collar and jerked forward. 

The Colonel’s extra two inches and twenty pounds, in addition to the swift and unexpected action, had the archeologist stumbling forward whether he wanted to or not.

“Dammit, Jack!”  Daniel wrenched free of the hand on his collar.  “What the hell is the matter with you?  Have you completely lost what’s left of your mind?”

“Obviously,” O’Neill snarled.  “Clear back when I first said yes to this little brainchild of yours!”

“Stop it, both of you!” Carter ordered.  “One of these days I’m going to tape the two of you and make you watch yourselves when you go at it like this!  I don’t understand what’s gotten into either of you lately, but I sure wish one of your would figure it out and offer to kiss and make up!”

Two heads swiveled toward her with identical annoyed expressions.

“What?”  O’Neill ground out between clenched teeth.

Sam closed her eyes momentarily, drawing on every bit of military training she possessed to pull herself together.  She had never, in her entire career, lost it like this with a superior officer, but then she’d never before had a superior officer like Jack O’Neill. 

“As field medical officer for this team,” she stated calmly, “this is my jurisdiction.  I would appreciate it if you would let me do my job and remove yourself from the vicinity – sir,” she added, after an appreciable pause and only to make her point.

She was on the receiving end of a long, steady look she returned in spades, but the Colonel ultimately trod down on his boot heel and spun around, muttering maledictions upon his rebellious team as he strode off the dais, took the ditch in one long-legged stride and disappeared into the mist after the Jaffa.

“Sam,” Daniel began.

“Dammit, Daniel, he’s right about this!  It is difficult to keep you safe.”  Major Carter snatched up the hand that had been unceremoniously yanked from her grasp and finished applying ointment to the blistered fingers and palm.  “And it’s not only SOP to go back to base when a team member is this severely compromised, it’s just plain common sense.  Now get out of that jacket and let me see how bad it is already.”

“Let’s just—”

“Now,” she ordered.  “I did everything I could to make this a success for you and what happens this first time out?  You get yourself hurt.  ”

”I’m sorry,” Daniel murmured.  Jack, he fought or ignored by turns; he could do neither with Sam.  Without another word he shrugged out of the jacket and extended his arm for inspection.

His hand was rotated, fingers spread apart and thoroughly scrutinized from both sides before Sam smeared on more salve. The blistering appeared to have stopped just below his elbow and affected only the inside of his arm.  However, beautiful tendrils and curlicues of phosphorescent green were spiraling around his wrist and up his entire arm as if some sinister tattoo artist plied his trade.

“Does it hurt?”

“Not so much anymore.”

Sam raised her head and caught his eye before he could look away.  “Does it hurt,” she repeated, feeling him flinch.

”No more than it did before,” he sighed.

“What kind of pain is it?”

They had lots of experience with these kinds of questions.  Naming it often helped Janet diagnose whatever ailed them.

“Like bee stings,” Daniel replied promptly.  “Thousands of bee stings.  It aches way down deep in the bone.”

“Your whole arm?”  Sam finished by loosely wrapping gauze from the tips of his fingers to his elbow, tucking the tail inside the top edge of the bandage.

”No, just my hand.  Beyond my wrist it doesn’t hurt at all.”

“Not even the blisters?”  She held up his jacket, but he shook his head and slid a finger through the loop the tag made, slinging it over his shoulder.

“Honestly?  The hand hurts bad enough I don’t feel the blisters.”

“Well, it doesn’t appear to be swelling yet.  Thankfully it’s not far back to the Stargate.  Where’s your pack?”

Daniel turned in a circle, searching the ground around where he was standing, but Sam spied it first and scooped it up. 

“Sam,” he began anxiously.  “I—”

“I’ll get what I can, but I’m not risking further wrath by staying any longer than absolutely necessary.”  She found the video camera tucked securely in a corner Daniel’s pack and pulled it out.

“Thank you.”

“Better thanks would be to keep your hands off things until you know what they are.”

“I know what it is.  It’s a source, or a spring.  The inscription reads – The Birth Place of Hope.”

“How appropriate,” Sam deadpanned, as she backed slowly down the steps.  “Who could resist touching the birth place of hope?” 

“Not me,” the archeologist replied softly, following her down.

“What?”  Sam glanced over her shoulder, turned to jump the moat and started down the side of the oval, horse-track-sized basin, switching over to wide angle. 

“Nothing.  Try to get . . .” he trailed off.

“Daniel?”  When he didn’t answer, Sam lowered the camera.  Her first thought, when she saw his transfixed gaze, was, ‘oh, crap, the Colonel’s gonna have my head’.  It was the sound that made her turn her own head and look toward the basin again.

It was like a thousand violins tuning up, like the echo of wind tearing down a canyon beyond the velocity of sound, like the roar of an ocean inside innumerable seashells.  Then again, it was like no earthly sound she’d ever heard.  She could feel the ground humming beneath their feet.  It was awesome and terrifying and beautiful and . . . holy in some unspeakable way.

She would have tackled the archeologist if she hadn’t been rooted to the spot.  Sam strained every molecule of her formidable will against the unseen force holding her prisoner, but not an atom of her body could respond to the frantic messages her brain was sending.  He was going to do it again and there was nothing she could do to stop him.  She had a sudden sense of overwhelming empathy for their C.O.

Daniel took a step forward.

Come to me, the music whispered.  Come to me, the symphony repeated over and over, treble and bass clefs twining the same theme inside and out, around and under, between and over, until his whole being pulsed with the melody. 

Healing waters for your troubled soul.  Take it, beloved . . . Come, let me heal you.”

Jack is so gonna kill me, Daniel thought, desperately trying to resist the sentient call whispering through the music.  He didn’t realize he’d put his hand into the water suddenly sheeting over the side of the crystal basin until Sam’s bandage, saturated and heavy, began to unravel. 

Nothing happened.

The marrow-deep ache in his hand continued to throb, the blisters actually seemed to plump up, though that was perhaps the magnification of the water, and the tracery of green continued to spiral around his upper arm.  The color did seem to bloom brightly as if florescent and exposed to black light, but that might have been attributable to the water as well.

“Daniel!”  Released from her imprisonment, Sam vaulted over the declivity toward the archeologist as he went down with boneless fluidity.  She slammed to her knees, keying her radio.  “Sir,” she panted, fighting the constriction in her chest.  “We need a med team.  Daniel’s—” Her fingers sought frantically for a pulse.  “Unconscious.  He’s just unconscious.” She sagged over the still form in relief.  “He’s just unconscious,” she repeated. 

Snarling inarticulately the Colonel reversed his direction and headed back toward the basin.  “Give us ninety minutes, Teal’c.  If we’re not back, bring reinforcements.”

“Understood.” 

“On second thought, better make it two hours; I’m twenty minutes out from them already.”

“I will wait, O’Neill.”

*           *           *

Same Day - Briefing Room – 14:30 Hours

“It was beautiful beyond description, sir.  This picture hardly does it justice,” Sam was saying as Daniel reached the top of the stairs into the briefing room.

“Dr. Jackson,” General Hammond turned to greet the archeologist, doing his best not to stare at the beautiful green markings decorating the right side of Jackson’s face.  “You’re sure you’re up to this, son?”

“I’m fine, sir.  It wasn’t radiation burns and the blisters are mostly gone already.  Dr. Fraiser released me; she said I had to stay on base though.”

“I believe that would be for the best.”

“You can always say your tattoo artist got a little carried away,” Jack murmured.  “If it doesn’t go away.”

“Sorry it took me so long to get here,” Daniel offered, ignoring the Colonel.  He pulled out a chair next to the man rather than across the table, in the vain hope sitting next to him might hamper the staring.

“Scrubbing didn’t help?” that irrepressible gentlemen inquired under his breath.

“Shut up,” Daniel muttered equally sotto voce.  “My apologies, General Hammond,” he said aloud, “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“Not a problem.  Glad you’re all right and that you could make it to this briefing.  Major Carter was just about to tell us your translation of the writing on the crystal—” the General waved a hand toward the picture on the screen.  “Entity you encountered.  Do you believe it was sentient, Dr. Jackson? And what was the translation?”

“Good question.  No, I don’t believe it’s sentient; however, it spoke to me, sir.”

“Spoke to you?” Jack turned sideways in his chair, not bothering to hide his grin.  “What did it say?”

“The script is very similar to the language we found on that plaque from the Four Alliances, sir, the one we’ve ascribed to the Furlings.  I’ve made a little more progress with it since Jack’s encounter with the alien achieve, but hearing it spoken may be the key to unlocking it.  I think the inscription may have been something along the lines of a descriptive plaque.”

“A descriptive plaque?” General Hammond questioned.

“Like the stuff you get on your teeth?” Jack wanted to know. 

“Like the kind of thing you see on monuments or old buildings.  A descriptor that tells you what you’re looking at.”

When there was no more forth coming explanation, the Colonel steepled his fingers under his chain.  “Stay tuned for previews of tomorrow’s episode, Part II, of – ouch – what was that all about?”  He swiveled his head around toward Teal’c when he was kicked under the table.

“Please allow Daniel Jackson to conclude his remarks without further interruption.”

“The Birth Place of Hope,” Daniel put in quickly, “The inscription reads - The Birth Place of Hope.  It’s not the name of the place; it’s the description of the place.”

“All right,” General Hammond recapped.  “You’re attaching significant importance to this description, then?”

“Yes, sir, that’s exactly what I’m trying to get across.”

“Why?”

“I suspect we may have accidentally stumbled on a grail kind of artifact, sir.”

“Grail?  As in holy grail?” Hammond inquired.

“The word grail is often used as a sort of synonym for a prolonged search or endeavor, sir.  A quest, if you will.  I think this spring, this source - the place from where hope springs eternal - might be a place of pilgrimage.  I remember being with my parents in Lourdes years ago and the imprint of history, of connectedness with all the souls that had come before and would come after me.  I was very young, but it’s always been a very clear memory and it overlaid itself today like a perfect match, sir.  Whatever the place is – it likely has great spiritual significance to the occupants of that galaxy though it may very well have been lost to that culture and become the stuff of myths and legends.  It didn’t appear to be a highly-trafficked place.”  Daniel paused briefly.  “I doubt the rest will agree with me, but it felt . . . holy.”

“Holy crap,” Jack muttered, though his intent was foiled by Teal’c’s sudden clearing of his throat.

“No, I felt it too,” Sam spoke up in agreement.

“You said it spoke to you?”

Part 2

~*~

 

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