THE TASTE OF HONEY, THE HUM OF BEES
I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk. . . . I sleep, but my heart waketh. (Song of Solomon 5.1-2)
Nothing to show, but inside enough heat / to light the tallow candles. . . (Lorna Crozier, "Fire Breather")
"It's an Aeolian harp," Daniel explained, touching the strings with an outstretched finger. When the humming chords degenerated into a buzz, he released the strings and the music resolved, thrumming a little before progressing up the scale and down again, swirling and rising on the breeze. He looked over his shoulder at them. "A wind harp. It works on a principle of moderation. Too strong a wind and you get dissonance. Although this is way more sophisticated than the ones I've seen on Earth."
The harp was three feet long, its strings stretched across the box of the wooden sounding board whose ends were shaped so that the instrument could fit perfectly at an angle within the stone window frame. The air that flowed in from the mountains outside was crisp, feeling almost as blue as the sky, both gentle and sharp. Turning back to the harp, he bowed his head, listening. The music trickled down the scale again. Sam shivered, and she noticed that Daniel did, too.
"Oka-ay. Musical instruments. Good." O'Neill muttered, clearly unimpressed. "Well, if the Goa'uld send any savage beasts our way, we'll be set."
"Breasts," Daniel corrected.
Daniel raised his head and closed his eyes for a moment before looking over his shoulder again at O'Neill. "Music," he said slowly in a tone dangerously close to that of a kindergarten teacher addressing the slow of wit, "soothes the savage breast."
"Savage breasts?" O'Neill's eyebrows quirked up.
"Never mind," Daniel muttered, but there was a smile teasing his lips.
Leaning closer to Teal'c, O'Neill waggled his eyebrows. "You know, Raquel Welch and the fur bikini."
Teal'c inclined his head and said, "Indeed."
"Y'know, this harp is in remarkable condition, given that it's sitting here exposed to the elements like this. It's obviously not been here very long," Daniel was saying, having mentally dismissed O'Neill and Raquel Welch. He was kneeling now on the floor in front of the window, peering at the delicate inlay on the wooden sounding box with his glasses perched on top of his head.
"Indeed. Indeedy-do," O'Neill sing-songed to himself. "So, maybe somebody's home. Savage harpists." The thought seemed to prod his languishing wariness to attention, and his eyes narrowed as he gripped his P90 more firmly. "Okay Daniel, you can play with your toys later. Many chambers, many wonders to see. Maybe a bathroom."
As O'Neill headed for the antechamber door, Sam watched Daniel at the window. The late afternoon--or maybe early morning--sun was lost behind the mountains, but enough light lingered to cast his shadow across the massive and intricately-carved stones of the floor. Seen in profile, his face was lit up and his glasses, still perched precariously on his head, were blank mirrors catching the orange glow. Sam knew his eyes would be doing the same, the blue always seeming to reflect the world back on itself. Her own eyes did this, too. Teal'c's and the colonel's deep brown eyes seemed to absorb the world, rather than deflect it. She wondered if there was something telling in that, but didn't pursue the question, preferring simply to trace Daniel's outline, for the moment substituting sight for the reassurance of touch.
He had nodded vaguely at the colonel's order, but hadn't made any move to stand up, instead carefully brushing the dust from the sounding box as his fingers traced the gold inlay on the harp. Daniel was Daniel these days, only more so, as though his time away had distilled him, broken him down to his elemental qualities and put him back together again. Sometimes, Sam felt, he was a bit like a golem, a Daniel remade out of composite parts, too perfect too perfectly Daniel to be real. The craftsmanship showed.
Shifting her shoulders uncomfortably under the familiar pull of the P90 around her neck, she shook her head, a small gesture of denial, resenting the way her mind tended to let Daniel slip away from her into that kind of alienness. Almost involuntarily she reached out a hand and touched the back of his neck, feeling the warmth there in his skin. Daniel was Daniel. When he started at her touch, his gaze sharply focused as he looked up at her, she felt a brief pang of contrition. He was easy to startle these days. She wondered if he was easy to scare. Somehow she doubted it.
She smiled down at him. "Let's go," she said softly and smiled wider as he nodded and pulled himself to his feet with a firm hand on the windowsill. Layered, like everything, with fine yellow dust, the smooth stone seemed to have been worn by the touch of many hands, dipping slightly, even, in the centre exactly where Daniel had braced himself as he got up, as though countless others had used it the same way. He noticed this, too, pausing to pass his hand across the stone, and his lips almost turned up in a grin as he met her eyes. The harp trilled and went suddenly silent as they turned and followed O'Neill and Teal'c out of the chamber.
Beyond the doorway with its peaked arch was another hallway. It had once been brightly lit by sconces and chandeliers that were now only glinting suggestions in the gloom of the windowless passage, leaping into reality when the beams of the team's flashlights swept over them. The four of them paced as silently as possible along the walls, feeling the occasional arras shift and give beneath their shoulders as they slid by, O'Neill with Teal'c on the right, Sam and Daniel on the left. As was usual lately, Sam kept Daniel close enough to feel him taking up space. O'Neill seemed to understand this and most of the time managed not to fall back on his reflex command, "Daniel, with me," when he split the team up. Her hands were steady on the P90. She was alert, but not uneasy, even though she couldn't shake that feeling she'd had since they'd arrived, that sense that they were being watched. But the palace--cathedral, whatever it was--was ringing with silence and emptiness.
Where the hallway turned a corner, they paused while Sam poked first the muzzle of the gun and then her head around the wall. Catching her CO's eye, she nodded the all-clear and they moved toward the light that marked the cracks around a set of broad double doors at the end of the corridor. Pushing one of these doors open slightly, they repeated their routine and then slipped in one by one.
They all stopped inside the door, except Daniel who pushed his way between Sam and Teal'c to take a few steps into the room, his head tilted back, mouth gaping.
"Wow," O'Neill mouthed.
"Yes sir," Sam had to agree, settling on "cathedral."
The room was massive, big enough almost to have its own weather, and wraiths of mist curled along the floor and hovered in a shifting, translucent bank halfway up to a ceiling that was lost in shadows far above their heads. Sam could just make out the curving shapes of flying buttresses that arched up like bones, dividing the roof into three sections, each one easily the size of a football field. It was hard to be sure, but she thought she could see a hint of colour there, maybe gold leaf or glass reflecting the diffuse light. In the centre of the outside wall was a window with a pointed arch, flanked by two smaller ones forming a triptych thirty feet at its highest point and together filling a third of the length of the room. The glass in each was, remarkably, a single, clear pane, and through it they could see the crenellated ridge of mountains, snow and sheer faces purpled with shadow and back-lit by the sun. It was a rising sun, Sam concluded as she watched it swell, shimmering and red as it broke free of the landscape like a bead of molten copper and drifted into the liquid blue sky.
Suddenly, their shadows shifted, doubled, and they all turned to look at the inside wall where a round mirror flooded with light like an open, limpid eye, reflecting the sun and casting it back into the room. The glow warmed their skin with a palpable force almost like a wind, and began to disperse the mist. As the sun rose another fraction, the mirror's light focused, the angled planes of glass refracting it and slicing it in two. One of these beams shot to the left, and, passing through the mist, seemed almost a solid shaft of orange. The other went right, over their heads. Both beams connected with more mirrors and the resulting beams with others, and on and on until the entire room became an intricate, three dimensional lacework of light, the crossing shafts converging at the centre in a white blaze like a second sun.
Their shadows were gone and Sam felt an instant of vertigo, as though the floor had dissolved and she was afloat, free falling. Groping in the air beside her, her hand closing on Teal'c's arm, she curled her fingers into the fabric of his jacket. Briefly, she felt the warmth of his large hand over hers and felt grounded again. She let him go. In the space of a few breaths, the sun climbed a degree higher and the fantastic architecture of light winked away, leaving behind only the brightness of dawn and its watercolour wash blushing the walls and the floor. Sam shivered. She wanted to sit down. Behind her, she could hear the thin, wavering song of the wind harp, a tremulous voice mourning the passing of a wonder.
Teal'c's shoulder brushed hers, and she leaned slightly into him for a moment. His face was burnished copper, dark kohl over his eyes a contrasting black, his broad mouth turned up in a close-lipped smile. He looked serene as only he could, but lit up, somehow, from inside. In front of her, Daniel turned on his heel, his arms coming up at his sides like he was trying to embrace the whole of the room, his fingers spread wide and grasping at the ineffable. Insufficient, the gesture collapsed as he faced them. His mouth still hung open, his brows raised and furrowed, eyes wide. Sam's throat tightened, her heart jumping and loud in her chest because he could still be moved like this, and she looked away, at O'Neill, whose mouth was closing around another "wow."
As the light resolved into whiteness, Daniel's hands became his own again, familiar. Daniel was Daniel.
"Yeah," O'Neill said for all of them.
Later, they followed Daniel around the entire circumference of the cathedral, listening to him record his notes into his tape recorder. He'd touched the painted walls, traced the involuted symbols of inlaid gold, his lips whispering words in a language they'd never heard him speak, but he knew so many and they'd never felt the need to keep track before. They listened and sometimes he explained what he saw. Teal'c hoisted Sam onto his shoulders so that she could examine the mirrors, craning her neck this way and that, but careful not to touch them or to disturb their alignment. O'Neill stood near Daniel, hands looped over his gun, and watched them.
Night fell and they retreated to the harp chamber, a place of a more comfortable scale, and ate rations, sitting on their bedrolls in the moonlight, listening to the intermittent music as the harp hummed itself to sleep. The wind died finally and the cathedral was poised at the edge of silence, only the wandering echoes of their voices keeping it from disappearing altogether.
Sam felt O'Neill settle down beside her where she rested against the wall, her eyes closed. She heard his knee crack and he grunted a soft curse. She smiled and opened her eyes. Leaning back beside her, he drew his legs up, his gloved hands clasped across his knees. He was watching Daniel and Teal'c, who stood at the window, leaning out over the silent harp, looking down. Seemingly carved out of the stone of the mountain, the cathedral was too huge to see from one vantage point, and they had only explored one floor.
"Maybe tomorrow we find the bathroom," he said, "or a broom closet." He clapped dust off of his gloves and coughed pointedly.
"Yes sir. That would be nice."
"Quite a light show this morning."
"Good thing Daniel pushed so hard to get this one on the roster, for today, I mean."
"Yes sir, a good thing."
Stretching out his legs with another low curse, he folded his hands on his stomach. "Okay, I'm no genius," he began and it was "once upon a time" for Sam, a merely conventional opening to something that was probably going to remind her again not to underestimate him. "So correct me if I'm wrong here, but what are the odds, really? Slim, right?"
She nodded. She'd measured the mirrors. The primary one was only seven feet across, the secondary ones slightly less than three. The ones higher up seemed even smaller than that, but it was hard to tell. She'd counted over sixty of them, all told, each one aimed precisely. Slim indeed. "The timing has to be perfect; that is, the angle of the sun would have to be exact. Even a slight variance would mean, well," she wiggled her fingers in a "poof" motion, "no dice. Today was the day. The only day."
Blowing air through pursed lips, O'Neill continued to watch Daniel and Teal'c. They'd given up hanging out the window and were sitting below it, sharing a chocolate bar. "So, you're saying this light show is a twenty-second-long, once-in-a-year kinda thing."
"Yes sir." Sam followed his gaze, but in her mind's eye she was seeing Daniel kneeling at the window in the predawn light, delaying. Waiting. Timing was everything. As if he felt her eyes on him, Daniel looked up, his expression hidden by shadows, but she knew that he was smiling.
"Well I'll be a monkey's uncle."
Daniel was Daniel. Only more so.
Not knowing you change me forever you say / once everybody could fly (Carolyn Smart "Flying")
Sam woke to the hiss of the camp stove and, yawning, rolled over to find Daniel, barefaced and looking younger without his glasses, pouring hot water through a filter cone balanced on a cup on the floor between his knees. She waited until he'd replaced the pot on the burner before speaking.
He glanced up to grin briefly at her before lifting the cone to check the coffee level in the cup, swearing softly to find it too full. Transferring the cone to a second cup, he handed her the full one.
"Sorry," he apologized as he scooped grounds into a second paper filter, "not much room there for milk." Shrugging, he turned up the bright side. "Of course, we don't have any milk, so I guess it all works out okay."
Sam could detect just a hint of mischievous self-satisfaction in the way the smile surfaced and disappeared on his face. The old Daniel had been happy to apply his puritan, if not outright draconian, coffee standards to himself. New Daniel had embraced evangelism and felt that it was his duty to exorcise Sam of the unforgivable sin of corrupting her coffee with milk. The omission of the powdered kind from his pack was deliberate. She didn't have the heart to pull out her own stash. She didn't even have the heart to tell him that she didn't really drink coffee anymore. After he'd left them the last time she hadn't been able to stand the smell of it. Sorting through his office after had been hard enough, but she'd felt something in her crack when she'd found his mug, left carelessly on a shelf as he'd rushed out the door that day to meet Jonas and tour the Kelownan research station. There was still one swallow's worth of coffee in the bottom of the cup. He'd really been in a hurry. She'd held onto the cup, staring into it so long that Colonel O'Neill had finally come and taken it from her, emptied it into the sink, rinsed it, toweled it dry, and placed it in its spot on the shelf above the coffee pot. It was still there the day Daniel returned from the City of the Lost, Jonas's stainless steel travel mug beside it.
Now, she blew on the coffee and braced herself for the Daniel-strength caffeine hammer to the brain. After two sips she could feel her heart racing.
"Where're Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill?" she asked, wrapping her hands around the warm enameled mug. The harp chamber had gotten cold overnight, and a heavy dew had fallen, leaving the carved stones clammy. Unzipping her sleeping bag enough so she could sit up cross-legged inside it, she gathered it close to her chest.
Daniel slid back so he could lean against the wall, drew his knees up and rested his cup on one. "Gone to the gate to report in," he answered. "Any chance, d'you think, that Hammond will go for it?"
"I don't see why not. Unless something's come up since we left, our roster is pretty clear, for the near future, anyway. Although, I suppose anything can happen--"
"and usually does," they finished together.
Craning his neck so that he could look up at the harp in the window above his head, he reached up and ran his fingers across the delicate inlay. The instrument thrummed, almost as if in response to his touch.
"Good," he said distantly. "Whoever built this place. . . ." His voice trailed away and his hand dropped to his lap, his eyes clouded and thoughtful.
"What is it?"
He shook his head, but his smile was uncertain, the old Daniel smile that meant discomfort.
"I don't know."
"You've been here before."
"I don't know. Maybe."
They sat in silence while the strangeness seeped into the air between them. Daniel's eyes narrowed as he groped for impossibilities and fragments, his fingers slipping through the tattered gossamer of incomplete memories. Sam shifted uncomfortably, watching him, and wondered, not for the first time, if it was really a question of forgetting. Daniel was Daniel, but he hadn't been for a long time.
"Y'know, maybe the memories are there, but they're just--"
"Too alien for me to process. Yeah, I thought of that." He shook his head, once, in frustration and stared into his cup. "Not like I needed a reminder."
"That I wasn't human." He shivered and took a sip of his coffee, avoiding her eyes. Then, he looked up and smiled crookedly, almost reassuringly, mostly ironically. "But I'm human now. Got the myopia to prove it." His fingers came up and touched the glasses hanging from his shirt collar. "Near sighted," he finished softly as his eyes grew vague again and for a moment he looked like he had in the City of the Lost, a stranger looking on strangers with incurious blankness.
In these moments when he was struggling to see into the darkness, Daniel seemed to slip between two worlds, not quite in Sam's, never quite close enough to that other existence he couldn't fully claim as his own. And in those moments he was almost no-one, a cipher without a past, his grasp on the present tenuous, like that of a man leaning far out over a chasm, fingers knotted in a fraying rope. Sam wanted him to risk it because it was important to him, to all of them, but she was afraid nonetheless that in the remembering he would become someone else. Someone who was Daniel, but who wasn't. Someone who would have to learn all over again that he loved her.
Climbing out of the sleeping bag, she tip-toed bare-foot across the stones and slid down the wall next to him until she was crouching on the balls of her feet. The stones were cold and slick, but she didn't care. She left the coffee behind.
"It'll come," she reassured him, and he glanced sideways at her, the grin returning, this time without irony. He squeezed her hand. His fingers were warm from his cup.
They were still sitting like this when their radios rattled, O'Neill's voice crackling through, mid-sentence, "gotta see this. Holy H-E-double hockey sticks!"
Daniel fumbled around beside him and managed to find his radio in the folds of his sleeping bag. "Say again, Jack? You okay?"
"You and Carter get your asses down here. We're on the gate level."
"Are you alright?" "Daniel repeated, already clambering to his feet.
"Yeah. Well. . . pretty much, I think, cept Teal'c's flyin'."
"Did you say flying'?" Daniel asked, exchanging puzzled glances with Sam.
"That's my word." There was another rattle of static and then, "ly shit!" Sam, who had already stuffed her feet into her boots, paused with one arm in her jacket as he finished, "I'm flyin' too!"
So Teal'c did it first. O'Neill right after him, confirming Janet's diagnosis, pronounced on Sam's back porch one hot night in July:
"Peter Pan Syndrome. Classic case," she'd declared, pointing a well-manicured finger in O'Neill's direction, the other fingers wrapped around the stem of an overfull marguerita glass.
"Leave the psych stuff to Mac, Doc," the colonel had warned, twisting the cap off of another beer and snapping it expertly into the cooler on the other side of the deck. "You're in way over your head when it comes to mine." He held up one hand at chest level and the other, with the bottle, at the top of his head. "In fact, you don't even make it to neck level."
"I'm just sayin'," Janet had rebutted, doing a pretty good impression of her superior officer.
Now, here they were, the Lost Boys, flying. Sam, however, just couldn't seem to get it. She was Nana, earthbound at the window, left behind. And she tried really hard. Frankly, it pissed her off.
She and Daniel raced through the Gateroom and down one of the secondary hallways, following the sound of O'Neill's voice as he whooped and hollered. It wasn't immediately clear whether his shouts were those of pleasure or pain. Somehow, though, she wasn't as apprehensive as she should have been in such a situation. She still had that feeling of being watched, and although her instincts and her training sharpened her attention, she found the feeling, not quite comforting, but not quite creepy, either. Still, though, she pulled her Beretta from the holster she'd slung over her shoulder as she ran, and slipped the safety.
They barreled through a set of double doors into a windowless room the size of a basketball court, and there, floating at its dead centre ten feet off the floor, was Teal'c, "sitting" cross-legged, hands palms-up on his knees, looking for all the world like an anti-gravity Buddha. Above him, Colonel O'Neill was clinging to one of the stone rafters, his face awash in the amber glow that seemed to emanate from the walls, his legs slowly gyrating like he was treading water. When he saw them, he let go of the stone and pushed away from the ceiling, descending until his feet were just inches away from the top of Teal'c's head.
"Look, ma! No hands!" To prove it, he waved them around a bit and then stuck them smugly in his pockets.
Without hesitating Daniel stepped further into the room, craning his neck to look up at Teal'c, who looked back with his usual unflappability.
"You okay?" Daniel asked him, his hand stretched out toward him even though Teal'c was out of reach.
"I am experiencing no ill-effects," Teal'c reported. "Although this is an unusual sensation." Uncrossing his legs, he straightened up, bumping the colonel, who bobbed a little off to one side. Standing on thin air, he continued, "It is not unlike the experience of kel-no-reem. A kind of peacefulness."
"Can you get down?" Sam asked, following O'Neill as he "swam" over toward the wall again.
"Uh, I think so," he said, and closed his eyes for a second. Nothing happened. "Okay, that would be a no." But a moment later he started to sink toward the floor and in a few seconds was standing in front of her.
"How did this happen?" she demanded, turning him around and looking him up and down as though she expected to find wires and a harness.
"I was standing in the centre of the room," Teal'c answered, also now on his feet and walking toward her, "and suddenly I felt myself grow lighter. My feet left the floor and soon I was floating as you saw me here."
Sam turned to O'Neill, who was nodding. "Yep. I was watching him hanging there in the air and then I was floating, too." There was a light in the colonel's eyes, the flyboy light, emphasis on the "boy." "Damnedest thing." His grin was wide as he scrubbed at the back of his head.
"Uh, guys?" Daniel's voice was a bit too tightly pitched and they all spun around to see him lying flat on his back against the ceiling. His glasses slipped off the end of his nose and fell, his grasping hand too slow to catch them. They tumbled downward and stopped six inches above the floor then settled slowly to the stones.
So the three of them did it, effortlessly. Sam stood in the middle of the room and waited. And she waited. And still she had feet of clay. Above her, Teal'c, the colonel and Daniel. . . cavorted. There was no other word for it. They chased each other. They did "the whip," spinning arm in arm until one of them let go and was launched off toward the wall where he fetched up light as feather. O'Neill shouted tips down to her, like, "Try getting a run at it," and "Think happy thoughts," none of which helped. She tried to organize her team mates enough to do some marginally controlled experiments, but it was useless. Even Teal'c, usually sober and accommodating, was easily distracted. Finally, she settled for searching the room for the secret of their flight.
She was crawling along, feeling the seams of the floor stones for some kind of latch or secret compartment, when the colonel decided to do his F16 impression, starting up at the ceiling and buzzing her, saving his shouted "BOOM" for the exact moment when he was closest to her ear. The supersonic effect was somewhat spoiled by the fact that he couldn't get up more than a brisk walking pace in terms of speed, even in the steepest dive, but it didn't make the whole exercise any less fun for him or annoying for her. On his third run, she waited until she felt the displaced air against the back of her neck and then whipped around and tweaked his pant leg as he blew by her, sending him caroming away in a tangle of wildly waving arms and legs. Coming to rest upside down in the corner between a pillar and the wall, he glared at her. She returned the look with an expression of blank innocence.
"No fair, Carter," he pouted, still head down. "I outrank you."
"I'm sorry, sir. I guess the control interface you're working with is a little sensitive. That's good to know. I'll make a note." She made a show of making a note while he tucked his legs under him and pushed himself off again.
Meeting Teal'c and Daniel in the centre of the room, he wafted down with the two of them to stand near her. Even Teal'c looked smug.
Leaning closer to the Jaffa, O'Neill whispered loudly, "She's just pissed because she can't do it."
"I'm just sayin', Carter. Maybe you just have to lighten up!" He bounced a little on the balls of his feet, a habitual action that now made him lift off gently from the floor. Teal'c reached up and pulled him down by the waistband of his jacket.
"I doubt it's that simple, sir." Their air of superiority was like sand in her combat boots. She distinctly heard Sarah Becksmith's twelve-year-old voice in her head saying, "Think you're so great," sneering with a level of disdain that could only be achieved by the petulant adolescent. She'd hated Sarah Becksmith. Now she was Sarah Becksmith. How far I've come, she thought, feeling a lot less rueful about it than she'd expected to. Sam folded her arms and addressed her team. "Okay, who among you has ever flown without an aircraft before we found this room?"
Daniel put his hand up.
Sam amended, "Who among you has ever flown without an aircraft and while not Ascended?"
Daniel put his hand down.
"That's what I thought." Take that, smug bastards. "And have any of you been able to fly beyond this room? Or outside?"
"Ooh, outside would be bad," the colonel scowled. "What if you just. . ." he pointed skyward, "kept going?" Sam's face was appropriately benign and patient, but there was a tightness around her mouth that reminded him to be thankful for the chain of command. "No ma'am," he mumbled. Daniel smirked.
"Alright, then it stands to reason that, if we can only fly in this room--"
"We?" O'Neill mouthed silently.
"If you can only fly in this room, then there must be something in this room that's enabling you to fly."
"Like what?" Daniel asked.
"Any number of things would do it. Inertial-dampening or anti-grav technology like the gliders use, gyroscopic or magnetic fields, force fields. . . ." The colonel was wearing that exaggeratedly attentive expression that meant he was no longer listening. "And since you're able to fly at will--" Daniel started to float upwards and Teal'c hooked a thumb through his belt loop and pulled him down. "--more or less, there must be some kind of neural interface. You should probably limit your exposure until we determine what the side effects of this might be."
"You mean like fun?" the colonel offered helpfully.
"Yes. Euphoria could be the result of an imbalance in your brain chemistry."
"Or," he corrected, "it could be the result of fun."
"Sir, I don't want to be the one to rain on your parade, but it's a question of safety. And I don't have to tell you how important a technology like this could be for us."
His face becoming serious, he nodded. "Alright," he relented. "What do you want us to do?"
"Well, you could help me look for some clue as to how this works."
"Right. Teal'c." With a jerk of his head, he bent his knees a little and took off, heading for the far side of the room, the Jaffa in tow. "We'll start with the perimeter, up here."
Sam couldn't help thinking she'd been played, but the colonel and Teal'c did seem to be willing to do some searching, as long as they could do it flying. She didn't even bother to point out that it was unlikely that the On/Off switch would be up near the ceiling, unless the Builders were so tall that they could reach it from the floor.
As she was returning to her inspection of the floor stones, Daniel crouched down beside her.
"Y'know," he suggested tentatively, "Jack may be right."
Sitting back on her heels, she looked accusingly at him. "So, what? I'm supposed to lighten up?"
He raised his finger to his lips. "No. No, that's not it." He blinked. "Exactly." With an exasperated sigh, she continued to feel along the floor, but he touched her shoulder and she sat back again. "You said it yourself. There must be some kind of neural interface. So that means. . . ."
"It means that there's something different about me, my brain chemistry or something. Yeah, I thought of that."
"Of course Jolinar. The protein marker, maybe even the residual memories." There was the barest trace of bitterness in her voice. Sighing again, she watched O'Neill and Teal'c moving methodically along the wall about fifteen feet up, feeling the smooth stones with their outstretched hands.
"This wouldn't be the first race we've encountered who've tried to exclude the goa'uld by technological means," Daniel said.
"Yeah. And who can blame them? But, God, Daniel. To be the different' one in this gang? And Colonel O'Neill had a symbiote. Why isn't he affected the same way?" They watched O'Neill for a few seconds before Sam answered her own question. "Of course, he doesn't have a protein marker, or residual memories."
Daniel was still following O'Neill's progress, a small smile tugging at his lips. "Peter Pan," he answered finally, turning back to her. "Maybe it really does have something to do with your mental state."
She ran a thumb along the seam between two stones and bent to blow away the dust. Finally, she sat up again and looked at him. "I'm not really so stiff. Am I?"
His face did a few acrobatics in an attempt to avoid saying "yes," and he settled for a sympathetic smile. "Not stiff.' Okay, maybe a little, um, focused. Directed. Driven?"
"What about him?" She pointed at Teal'c. "How can I be more stiff than him?"
"Teal'c's not stiff. He's--"
"Serene," they finished together. "And as for exclusion," Sam continued, "if even traces of an absent goa'uld are enough to block me, why doesn't the same exclusion apply to Teal'c? Even without a symbiote, he's still Jaffa."
"Is he?" Daniel turned and looked over his shoulder again, his brow furrowed. "Even Teal'c's not so sure about that these days."
She didn't get a chance to answer this as the Jaffa in question had come in for a landing, O'Neill right behind him.
"Major Carter, we require you to stand," Teal'c ordered politely as he loomed over her. "And to place your foot here." He pointed to his boot.
"C'mon, Carter," the colonel said from the other side of her, proffering his own foot. "Didn't you ever waltz with the old man when you were a kid?" When she didn't leap into action, he added, "Call it an experiment in load bearing, then."
With a skeptical glance over her shoulder at Daniel, Sam stood and put a foot on each of their boots and an arm around each of their waists.
Bending his knees, O'Neill called, "Alley-oop!" and they pushed off. Nothing happened. "What exactly do you weigh, there, Major?" he asked with a critical frown.
"You have that information in my fitness reports, sir, hopefully in a locked drawer in your office."
He grinned a little bit wolfishly and jerked his head in Daniel's direction. "Daniel, get in here," he ordered, and Sam felt Daniel step up behind her and wrap his arms around her middle just below her breasts. She could feel him breathing against her neck. She was starting to feel more than a little self-conscious.
This time, they all pushed off together and it worked. At first, Sam felt nothing different, noticing only that her perspective on the room was changing slowly as she rose up from the floor. Then, she felt the weight of her body dragging against Daniel's arms, forcing his wrist bones up into her ribs. She squirmed and he shifted his hold on her. She could feel her feet bearing down on the top of O'Neill's and Teal'c's boots, her hands pulling downward on the fabric of their jackets. Looking from side to side, she scrutinized their faces. They looked only like they were concentrating on something inside themselves, as though they were trying to remember something important. But once they were fully airborne, their attention turned outward again and they started to smile, even Teal'c's eyes dancing, almost gleeful. A warm wave of affection passed through her and she smiled back. She felt good.
And then she felt different. At first it was just a tingling, as though her feet were falling asleep, and it crept upward through her body. She could see it in her mind's eye, a kind of electric sparkle filling up her outline from feet to waist and then upward into her chest. So vivid was the image that, as the light swarmed into her head, she expected her view of the room to be wiped away in a blizzard of pixilated whiteness and she squeezed her eyes shut, for a second verging on panic.
"Easy," O'Neill murmured reassuringly, his mouth near her ear. "Easy."
Nodding, she peeked out again and took a few deep breaths. They were almost at the ceiling now, the floor far below them. From up here she could see the pattern in the carved stones, the same intricate filigree that decorated the wind harp and the walls of the light chamber. Strangely, for just an instant, the scrolling, winding lines resolved into meaning, some kind of prayer. . . . But then it was gone as the tingling intensified, her fingers hot where she anchored herself to the backs of the men's jackets, her face flushed. And there, just. . . just there, but hidden somehow still, she could feel that watchful presence coming closer, a warm caress against her skin, her mind . . . and the lingering image of herself, a transparent vessel full of light, was displaced suddenly by another: a swing set, a boy squealing with delight as the swing arced higher and higher. She felt the fabric of the boy's shirt under her hands as she caught him on the back-swing and pushed with all her might, sending him away, shouting after him, "Alley-oop!" As he slid back toward her, he dissolved into a shower of laughter-coloured light and her grasping hands were empty. She felt full, overflowing, and she gasped, turning to O'Neill, an uncharacteristic giggle spilling out of her mouth.
"Did you feel that?" she asked, nonsensically, as though it were possible that he could. "That. . . someone. Some. . . thing. I saw a boy. . . ."
"Major, just shut up and fly." He pointed with his chin at their feet and she realized that she was no longer standing on their boots.
"Colonel!" she shouted, and clutched at the front of his jacket, groping for and catching Teal'c's collar.
"It's okay, Carter." Extricating himself from her grasp, O'Neill slowly backed away from her until he was holding her by the wrist at arm's length. On the other side, Teal'c did the same.
Still, the tingling increased, reminding her of soda fizz overflowing a glass, prickling and cool and sweet on her tongue, and the presence was just on the periphery of her senses, just beyond the tips of her outstretched fingers. "Euphoria," she thought, and "imbalanced brain chemistry," but these concerns were meaningless to her now, lost in the effervescence that tickled along every nerve, lost in the thrill of the swing carrying her up toward the sun and back again, the touch of firm hands on the small of her back, pushing her higher, O'Neill's voice exclaiming, "Alley-oop!" as he propelled her upward and away, the sky close enough to touch.
Around her waist, Daniel's arms were no longer pressed into her, no longer supporting her weight. He too pushed away until his hands rested gently on her hips. She was tethered to them, but no longer carried by them. She was flying and the froth of euphoria filled her.
She threw her head back and laughed.
a heron mimics shadows / / while desire moves just below the surface. / In spite of pain (Lorna Crozier "Tautologies of Summer")
Sam woke to the sound of whispered voices. Lying curled in the warm cocoon of her sleeping bag, she drifted on the sounds, her eyes closed. It was still deep in the heart of night, she knew, because her alarm hadn't yet vibrated against her wrist to wake her for last watch.
"Not like piloting an F16, I guess," Daniel was saying.
The colonel snorted softly. "More like Dorothy in the eye of the tornado. Only without the tornado." Pause. "And that creepy schoolteacher lady flying by on her bicycle."
Sam opened her eyes. Teal'c lay at attention beside her, hands at his sides, his chest rising and falling rhythmically. Smiling, she wondered if he had as hard a time getting used to sleeping as she had seeing him do it. By the time she rose for her watch, she knew, he'd have given up trying to do it prone and would be back in his habitual sitting position, finding some rest in an attenuated form of kel-no-reem.
Beyond him, Daniel and the colonel were leaning, one on either side of the window frame, their elbows on the window sill. A three-quarter moon hung against the black sky in the pointed arch of the window, washing the mountains and the wind harp and the men's faces in a soft, silver light.
"That part scared the crap outta Charlie," O'Neill went on after a moment. "Wanted to sleep in the basement for a week after watching Auntie Em's house get ripped off the foundations."
"And did he?"
Shifting to lean his back on the window frame, the colonel folded his arms across his chest and crossed his ankles, looking at his boots, his face in shadow. "Yeah, one night we all did." Another long pause. "But the basement was scarier than the idea of a tornado."
Daniel made an abortive movement, as though he wanted to squeeze the colonel's shoulder but thought better of it. He let his hand fall. The colonel acknowledged the intention, though, with a slight tilt of his head and, looking at the two of them leaning close together in the silence and stillness, Sam was reminded suddenly of shadow puppets, the dance of darkness, meaningful gestures against a backdrop of light. A breath of wind sifted across the floor, ruffling her hair and bringing with it the faint scent of clover. She breathed deeply and closed her eyes.
"Freaked me out, too," Daniel offered after a while, drawing her back from the swaying comfort of a dream: clover, a distant humming, a raft. . . .
"That bit in the tornado."
O'Neill shrugged. "Kids."
"I was eighteen when I saw it the first time."
Sam couldn't see it, but she knew O'Neill's eyebrow was quirked up quizzically.
"And, um, kinda high. Very high, actually."
The colonel straightened and turned to face him. "Dr. Jackson, I'm shocked."
"What? That I got high in grad school? Everybody gets high in grad school. It's practically expected."
Waving a hand, O'Neill said, "No, that you never saw that movie as a kid."
"I didn't exactly have a normal childhood."
"This explains a lot." Pause. "High, huh?" There was just a tinge of new admiration in the colonel's voice.
Daniel chuckled, a low, warm sound. "Did you think you were the only one of us to experience the 70s?"
"The only one to do it as an adult."
"Naw, he was an adult in the 70s, but I seriously doubt he experienced them."
"Well, I just did my 70s in the 80s, that's all. Better music."
"I beg to differ."
As if to settle the matter, the wind harp sent out a ripple of sound, and both men reached out to still the strings, the colonel's hand coming down on top of Daniel's. The drifting breeze was thick with the scent of clover, and, her eyes still open and watchful, Sam began to sink again into the dream, the gentle caress of air, the rocking of the raft, the scratching of a pen across paper. Far, far away, thunder rumbled, a gentle sound like the purring of a cat. . . .
"There's more than one way to Ascend," O'Neill said thoughtfully, his hand still resting there over Daniel's on the silent harp. After a moment, he put his hand in his pocket.
"Yeah," Daniel agreed. "More than one way to fly."
* * *
"Allie lei ai, allie lei ayah," Sam hummed to herself as she crammed her sleeping bag into its stuffsack and leaned all her weight on it to force the air out of the down. A small cloud of dust puffed up out of the sack and she sneezed. "Allie lei ai, allie lei ayah. Winnow my body, wind, hot wind, winnow my soul." She wasn't really paying attention to the words, instead, letting the simple melody carry whatever passed through her mind as she put the stuffsack into her pack and started to rearrange her stores on top of it. They were moving digs today to the next level up, another room, a bigger one dominated by what Daniel insisted was some kind of sculpture. She was going to miss this wind harp, though. Right now it was doing a good job of helping her out, carrying the tune better than Sam was able to do, at any rate. She wondered absently if this was what it meant to be "in tune with nature." "Allie lei ai. Carry my voice, wind, hot wind, carry my voice to the sky."
It wasn't until Daniel came back from the stream outside, his hair still wet, his face red from the icy water, that she realized she hadn't been singing in English.
"How do you know that song?" he demanded, standing over her with a strange, almost accusing expression on his face, his damp towel dangling forgotten from his hand.
She looked up at him, both arms still deep inside her pack, and shrugged, embarrassed to be caught singing in the first place. "I dunno. I think I'm just making it up as I go."
"What are you talking about?" It was awkward sitting this way, but he was crouching down beside her now, pinning her with his intense gaze, and she couldn't move.
"That song. It's an Abydonian folk song. Sha're used to sing it."
She returned to her packing, bowing her head to peer into the pack and reorienting the camp stove and the extra canister of fuel so they wouldn't be poking her in the kidneys. "I must've heard you singing it, then."
"Yeah. Cause I sing aloud so often."
"I was going to say something. . . ." She tried to smile, but he didn't take her up on the joke.
Daniel's face was thoughtful, his eyes looking through her, at another place, another time.
"She used to sing it when she was grinding flour." His hands came up to make the circling, downward stroking motion of a stone mortar in the broad, shallow pestle of the flour bowl, the familiar song emerging softly and brokenly from him as he picked up the tune under his breath. "Allie lei ai. Soft, this voice, wind hot wind. . . ." His hands moved fluidly, picking up the rhythm of the song, and Sam watched him, too mesmerized by the spectacle of Daniel singing to note how odd it was that she could actually understand the words.
"Allie lei ai, allie lei ayah," Sha're sang, her voice husky and textured like the woven cloth that hung around her shoulders, over her breasts, and warm like the wind that drifted into this corner where two sandstone buildings came together. The wind brought the life of the desert with it, grainy, the smell of dung fires and sweating Hau'ri beasts, the sharp fragrance of ong berries being crushed into dye, bread baking. The late afternoon sun reflected off of the ochre stones and the corner was warm as an oven. Beads of perspiration clung to Sha're's upper lip, but the dry air drank them as soon as they formed.
Sam's skin was prickling in the heat. She wiped her brow and then her cheek, startled to feel the rasp of a new beard against the back of her hand.
"Allie lei ai, allie lei ayah," Sha're sang. The mortar hissed against the grains in the bowl.
Sam looked down. The hand wasn't hers, but it was familiar: long fingers, skin tanned by the sun, sand worked into the creases of the broad palm where the lifeline branched. Daniel.
"Whisper here, wind hot wind. Allie lei ai."
Sha're ground the grain with the mortar, pushing down and away and then back toward herself in a circular motion, catching the wave of tiny yellow seeds before it could spill over the edge of the bowl. Down, away, back. Down, away, back.
"Allie lei ai."
Sections of her hair, heavy, black, were bound in the front in two twisted ribbons, one at each temple, and these tails swayed to her motion, forward and back. The ribbons were indigo. A gift from Daniel.
"Bring us mist. Bring us rain. Allie lei ai."
Down, away, back. Down, away, back. "Allie lei ayah." Her hands were one with the mortar, stroking the grains as they became finer and finer and she rocked over the bowl in the heat of an orange sun, her shadow fluttering on the wall. Down, away, back. Down, away, back. A smooth rhythm, the rhythm of song, the rhythm of sex.
"Allie lei ai. Bring my love, wind, hot wind, a mouth like water, lips like rain."
And Sam was holding Sha're, looking down at her as they rocked together, Daniel moving inside his wife in a slow, smooth stroking, down, away, back, down, away, back. "Allie lei ai, allie lei ayah." Sha're's hands splayed across the small of Daniel's back, and her dark eyes slid closed, her lips parting as she rose up to meet him, her throat and breasts glistening. Daniel lowered his mouth to the hollow above her collar bone. Sam tasted the salt of sweat on her tongue.
"Allie lei ai, allie lei ayah."
Sha're's arms moved in a circular motion, grinding the grain with an unbroken rhythm as the song went on and the wind died and the flour hung in the air like mist, clung to her dark lashes and brows, to the soft down of hair on her arms, and gloved her hands in a dusting of gold. Daniel reached out and caught her gilded wrist and Sam could feel on his fingers the gritty texture of the flour warmed by the motion of Sha're's body.
"Husband," Sha're admonished, her voice liquid with laughter, "No flour, no bread for your morning meal."
"But I'm hungry now," Sam heard herself say in Daniel's voice, and lifted Sha're's hand to her lips, traced the calluses there with Daniel's tongue, tasting the promise of bread.
"Allie lei ai, allie lei ayah."
Sha're's palm smelled of tallow and herbs, something like coriander with a hint of pepper, but mostly of flour, an earthy, warm fragrance, heady, familiar, like -
"Hops," the colonel said.
Daniel was crouched in front of her, hands suspended in the air, his eyes wide and shining. The wind harp finished out the verse and ended on a long, bright, but somehow mournful note that shimmered in the air around them. Sam thought of sun showers.
Ducking his head, Daniel pulled off his glasses and wiped his eyes on his sleeve.
Sam looked over his shoulder at O'Neill standing in the doorway.
"What was that, sir?" she asked as Daniel replaced his glasses and busied himself with his own pack.
"Hops," the colonel repeated. "I smell hops."
"Me too," she said. Daniel raised his head and met her eyes.
"Makes me want a beer," O'Neill observed. "Of course, Hammond didn't send any, as you might have guessed. He did send a whole F.R.E.D-load of science do-hickeys for you, though. Teal'c's unloading them now."
"I'll go give him a hand." She squeezed Daniel's shoulder as she stepped around him, throwing her pack across her back. His face was sorrowful, but his eyes were smiling.
"You do that. Get the show on the road, Daniel. We're movin' on up."
As she stepped out into the corridor, she heard Daniel say, "It's not hops. It's yefetteh."
Sam made her way along the winding corridors toward the Gateroom, but the rhythm of the song, the fluid, three-part motion of it, still echoed in her muscles and her bones, breaking her stride, making her movements jerky and uncertain. Licking her lips, she tasted the ghost of salt from Sha're's skin.
"Allie lei ai."
"Husband," Sha're breathed against Sam's neck, "My Dani'el," and the love and loss that welled up inside her, so sweet and so painful, were literally staggering. Slumping against the wall, she bent low, hands on her knees, and gulped air, her eyes stinging with tears. Oh, Daniel, she thought. Oh my God.
And that watchful presence was all around her now, yearning toward her. Angrily, she pushed it away, squaring her shoulders and heading off again toward Teal'c and her equipment. She would test. She would measure. She would put things in their proper places.
"Come, wind, hot wind, allie lei ai," she sang and stifled her voice with a hand over her mouth.
Teal'c had maneuvered F.R.E.D out of the Gateroom to the base of the narrow, curving staircase that led up to the upper levels of the cathedral, past the floor with the harp chamber and the hall of mirrors. The transport was half-empty, the largest of the cases already waiting for her in the Gallery. Hoisting two of the smaller cases down and tucking a third under her arm, she climbed the stairs, careful not to scrape the boxes against the walls in the narrow space. Whoever the Builders were, they certainly couldn't have been very big. She could hear voices below, the clatter of storage caches being opened and emptied, and then the dull echoes of boots on the steps behind her as Daniel and O'Neill followed her up. She didn't wait for them, needing some space to think, to collect herself before she could make any kind of coherent report to her CO. From the sounds of it, Daniel wasn't going to be doing it for her. He was talking about hockey, of all things.
At the top of the stairs, Teal'c was just picking up another case from the stack he'd made there, and she fell silently into step beside him as they returned down the long hallway toward the Gallery. The hall was wide, hung with tapestries covered with the same scrolling writing, and dimly lit by tall, narrow windows that looked out over the mountains. On the tapestries, there were no images of people, no representations at all that could help her picture who had lived here. If she could see them, see what kind of physiology they had, she might have a better chance of figuring out their technology, of knowing where to look for the elusive control mechanisms. It was a good bet that, whoever they were, the Builders were humanoid. At least, they had to have feet to climb stairs, and eyes to see the tapestries and the light show, ears to hear the harp. And they probably didn't have wings, or what would they need the flight room for? If she could just put some kind of face to them, she thought, maybe she would even know how to deal with this presence that even now hovered around her. Or, she corrected wryly, she could discover once and for all that there was no presence and she was just crazy. Best to keep an open mind, here, to consider all the options, test her hypotheses fully.
"Are you not well?" Teal'c asked suddenly, drawing her out of her thoughts. He was still pacing along beside her, but was looking at her with concern.
She drew herself up and tried to smile. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. It's just. . . ." She couldn't put it into words, or, at least, not any words that sounded reasonable.
"I, too, have experienced a strange discomfort in this place," he offered, helpfully reading her mind.
"Really?" She stopped and after a couple of steps he turned to face her.
"Indeed." His brow furrowed. "Perhaps discomfort' is not the correct word." He thought for a moment and then shook his head slightly. "I do not know the word for it."
"Do you feel threatened?"
"I do not."
"Do you feel like someone--"
"--is watching us, yes."
Cocking his head in the Teal'c version of a shrug, he qualified, "I sense a presence that I cannot explain. At times it is stronger than others. It does not seem to be. . . ."
"What?" He didn't go on so she prompted him, "It does not seem to be. . . really here?"
"Indeed." So this was the source of Teal'c's discomfort: a presence that was both palpable and at the same time seemed like a mirage, a potential threat that couldn't be verified. But they'd both felt it. She was willing to bet that Daniel had, too.
"Did you smell hops, earlier?" There was a connection somewhere. She was groping.
"I did not."
"I smelled yefetteh. The odour is very similar."
They walked in silence as far as the room they were calling the Gallery. In the centre of the room was the "sculpture," or, at least that was what they'd decided to call it, since it didn't seem to have any apparent purpose beyond looking nice. Or sort of nice. If you liked that kind of thing. Standing about ten feet high, it was made of some kind of metal, silvery like the shiny side of tin foil, its faint iridescence dulled by a layer of the ubiquitous yellow dust, the suggestion of rainbows chasing each other across its surface as the observer moved around it. If it was meant to be representational, its original was too far from Sam's conceptual experience for her to make any sense out of it. To her, it looked a little like the Washington Monument, only rounder. Actually though, now that she looked at it again, it seemed less streamlined than she remembered, more angular, the point at the top sharper. Other than this one piece, the room was empty, not even a viewing bench to sit on. And she really could use a bench right now, she realized.
Like the flight room and the Gateroom, this one was illuminated by an amber glow that seemed to have no real source, almost as though the stone walls themselves were radiating light. If it followed the pattern of the other rooms, the light would fade as the sun set, returning again at dawn. Right now, it was gentle, relaxing, and Sam immediately began to feel her muscles loosen their knots. The agitation that made her throat scratchy and her hands itch began to fade, leaving behind only a more attenuated version of the tingling she'd felt in the flight room. Now, instead of the ecstatic thrill, the wash of light in her body and on her skin brought a calm inner weightlessness, as though she were floating in warm water. She sighed deeply as she put down her cases inside the door and rolled her shoulders, letting the light wash the tension out of her. The presence was nearby, but was now only a quiet lapping at the edges of her senses.
She glanced at Teal'c to see if he felt it, too, but he was busy unpacking a crate, his head bowed, and she couldn't see his face. Sitting down on the small stack of cases she'd just made, she watched him, his large hands prising her radiation meters and her motion sensors out of the protective foam inserts in the crate and placing them in a neat row on the floor beside him. She smiled to note that he arranged them in order from largest to smallest. Methodical.
Rolling her head from side to side, feeling her muscles creak, she pictured Teal'c's quarters at the base, their ascetic bareness. Besides the growing collection candles and their holders, there were few personal objects in the room, and these were mostly gifts from his friends. Teal'c's personality was expressed not so much by the objects themselves as by his placement of them. They stood on the shelf above his desk, arranged in order from largest to smallest: a ceramic Buddha with a clock in its stomach from O'Neill (if there was in in-joke there, Sam didn't want to know it); a funerary statue from Daniel; a pocket album of photographs from Cassie and Janet, open to a picture of Cassie's thirteenth birthday party (Teal'c in a red paper crown, Cassie doubled over with laughter beside him); from Sam, a pair of silver-plated wings from the USAF gift shop in the mountain's visitors' centre, because he deserved them, alien or no. While it might seem to sacrifice imagination and aesthetic sensibility in favour of some arbitrary system of rank, in Sam's eyes Teal'c's arrangement was almost reverential. Teal'c handled these artifacts of his relationships as he would relics or icons, concrete signs of ineffable things, realities that replaced the lies of false gods, friendship and family taking up the spaces left empty by betrayal and slavery.
Why didn't Teal'c want an apartment in town? she wondered. A window? Shaking herself, she prodded her mind back to the question at hand. He'd smelled yefetteh, so either somebody was really grinding flour in here somewhere, or he was keyed in to Daniel's memory on some level, too. She sighed again, suddenly feeling very sleepy, her limbs heavy. The amber light flowed around her and she thought of the candlelight in Teal'c's room, just like this light, meditative, warm. Her eyes slipped shut.
"That's. . . different."
Daniel's voice shook her from her doze and her head jerked up, her eyelids fluttering. Across from her, Teal'c had finished with the crate and had moved on to the next one. How long had she been asleep? Daniel was standing in front of the sculpture. O'Neill was noisily dropping his pack onto the floor and then himself after it.
"I think the polite term is interesting,'" he said, leaning back against the pack and crossing his legs at the ankles.
"What?" Daniel looked briefly over his shoulder at him, and then nodded to show he got the joke, forgetting to smile. "No," he went on, turning back to the sculpture, "I mean it's different. The sculpture is a different shape than it was when we were in here this morning."
Leaning her head to one side, Sam squinted through the soft light at the sculpture. It did look different. It looked different than it had a few minutes ago, in fact. Instead of standing at attention, its point sharply aimed at the ceiling, the sculpture had sagged, the edges softened and blurred, the surface wavy. Overall, it looked a little like a melting candle.
"Did you guys see this happen?" Daniel asked as he circled the sculpture, his hand running along its flank. Sam could have sworn she saw the surface bend and flow under his touch. But, she rationalized, this was probably an illusion created by the iridescence of the surface and the unsure light in the room.
"No, sorry Daniel. I was. . . wasn't paying attention."
"I did not," Teal'c answered, rising to join him in his inspection.
Sam knew she should be getting up to investigate this, but her arms and legs felt like they were full of sand, the presence rocking around her like slow swells on a sea. Her eyes started to slip shut again.
"This is incredible," Daniel was saying, his voice cutting through the haze. "Can you feel that, Teal'c? Slippery, like static electricity on the surface of a balloon."
"It's moving. Look at this!"
"It appears to be responding to your presence, DanielJackson."
At that, Sam forced her eyes open again. Daniel drew his hands across the surface of the sculpture in a broad, sweeping motion, and the sculpture responded, fluidly changing shape to conform to his gestures, spreading out into a horizontal plane at waist level and then rising up in front of him, the top curling over his head like the crest of a wave. Reaching up, Daniel pushed this crest away and it curled in the opposite direction, rolling tighter and then collapsing downward as the wave broke, the quicksilver substance flowing outward in an undulating fan across the floor on the other side before collecting itself back in again, the whole structure coming to attention, erect and pointed as it had been when they'd first seen it.
Some kind of flexible alloy that could be configured according to the whim of the observer. That was something to write home about. Only Sam didn't feel like writing home about it. As her eyelids grew heavier, the sculpture seemed to slump again, flowing, liquid. . . . "Poppies," she thought languidly. "Poppies. . . ."
This was ridiculous. Shaking her head vigorously, she forced herself to stand up and bend over the colonel, who was now lying with his arm thrown over his eyes.
"Sir," she said, shaking his shoulder a little.
"Ungfth," he said back.
"Sir, I think we may be being adversely affected by this place. Maybe some kind of energy discharge. . . radiation."
"Side-effects, Carter?" he mumbled, his voice muffled by his arm. He flapped a hand listlessly in a go-away motion. "We're doing art appreciation right now, Major. Science class is after lunch."
"Sir, I don't think we're alone here."
That got his attention. Sitting up, he scrubbed at his hair with both hands. "What do you mean, not alone? You've seen someone?"
She exchanged a glance with Teal'c. Daniel had also come to stand over O'Neill, but wouldn't meet her eye. "Not exactly, sir, but I've felt something, some kind of, I dunno, presence."
"Presence?" He looked skeptical. And sleepy.
"Yes sir. Teal'c's felt it too. And," she hesitated, "and there have been some strange phenomena. Memories."
"Memories?" He craned his neck to look at Daniel and Teal'c and, getting no help from them, turned back to Sam. "Carter, what the heck are you talking about?"
Settling down on her haunches, she explained, "Earlier, I swear I shared one of Daniel's memories, something I couldn't possibly have known. And I felt it. It was like I was there." Beside her, Daniel shifted but was silent. "And yesterday in the flight room, I'm pretty sure I shared one of yours."
"I saw a boy, sir."
"A boy." The colonel's face went from confused to cold, a hardness creeping into his eyes that startled Sam enough to make her lean back a little. In her head, the gentle lapping that had been so lulling a few minutes ago started to feel hot and cloying.
"If we are potentially under the influence of an alien presence, would it not be prudent to evacuate?" Teal'c asked, managing to make it sound like a suggestion without making it sound like a suggestion.
"What?" Daniel's voice was strident. "You've got to be kidding! We've barely scratched the surface and Hammond's given us three more days."
O'Neill held up a hand. "Just keep your knickers on, Daniel, for cryin' out loud." Rolling to his feet, O'Neill stared hard at Sam, who stood up and met his eye. A frown creased his brow as he turned to Daniel. "You've felt this, whaddayacallit, this presence'?"
Shrugging, Daniel equivocated, "I don't know. Maybe. But that doesn't mean that it's something we have to run away from."
Behind him, the sculpture was all angles and sharp edges.
The colonel stared over Daniel's shoulder at the sculpture, thinking. Finally, his pressed his mouth into a thin line and bent to shoulder his pack. "Gear up," he ordered. "We're leaving."
"Jack! We can't go yet. The flight room alone--"
"Flying's one thing, Daniel. Leaky memory is another. Or have you forgotten that we are a top secret military unit? We can't have someone or something poking around in our classified heads."
"It's benign," Daniel insisted, moving around to step in front of him, blocking his path.
"You don't know that."
"I don't know. I just do."
Stepping around him, O'Neill shook his head as he walked away, "Not good enough."
Rubbing her forehead with the heel of her hand, Sam heaved another sigh and bent to repack her equipment.
"He's wrong," Daniel asserted behind her. "This place has so much to offer and you know it."
"He's my CO, and he's given me an order," she answered, not turning to look at him. "What I think is irrelevant."
She felt his hand on her shoulder, squeezing and kneading her taught muscles. How could she be so tense and so stupifyingly relaxed at the same time? After a moment he withdrew. "It's going to be okay, Sam," he assured her.
When she turned around, he was gone.
A few minutes later, Sam's radio crackled. "Carter, you and Teal'c get down here, now," O'Neill commanded, his voice hard.
Leaving the equipment, Sam and Teal'c ran down the stairs to the Gateroom. O'Neill was waiting in the hallway outside. The fingers curled around his P90 were white-knuckled, but his face was calm.
"What is it?" Sam asked as she skidded to a stop in front of him.
"See for yourself," the colonel said, grandly waving them into the room ahead of him.
The gate was gone. So was the DHD. Daniel was standing in the middle of the room slowly turning on his heel. When he'd completed two full circles he finally met Sam's eye and raised his hands in a "don't look at me" shrug.
Walking up the steps to the gate platform, Sam waved her hands through the air where the stone circle should have been. "This is impossible," she asserted. "It was just here half an hour ago. It didn't just roll away."
"Well apparently it did. Or somebody took it, or hid it or we're all asleep and dreaming." The colonel's tone was acid with irritation. "And don't you look so smug," he snapped at Daniel.
"What? What did I do? I didn't do anything."
"You just love to get your way, don't you?"
"That's sort of on the irrelevant side of things right now, I think," Daniel returned, his mild tone a passive-aggressive pointy stick prodding the ribs of an already testy bear. Sam shook her head and wondered for the millionth time if Daniel had really shaken that death-wish problem of his.
Demonstrating his superhuman self-control, O'Neill turned his back on him and came to the bottom of the steps. "So, what do you think?"
Sam shook her head again and raised her empty hands. "I have no idea, sir. I'd like to get some of my gear down here and do some scans, have something for you in a couple of hours."
"Do it. Teal'c, help her with the equipment. Daniel, you're with me." He was heading for the door.
"Where are we going?"
"You are going to read the walls and see if you can figure out what the fuck is up with this place," he growled over his shoulder as he turned the corner into the hallway.
"Of course. What a brilliant idea. I wish I'd thought of it." Daniel scooped up his pack from the floor and followed the colonel out the door.
Two hours later Sam was standing in the same spot on the platform, waving her hands through the air, first at waist level, then above her head. Air, air and more air. No solid, quartzite ring mechanism. No DHD. Nothing. Nada. Squat. Crap, as the colonel would say.
"So, where's the gate?" Speak of the devil.
Gathering up her equipment, Sam came down the steps to meet O'Neill. Daniel wasn't with him. Teal'c arrived from the Gallery at that moment and handed her a meter.
"Your hypothesis was correct, Major," he told her. "The readings are the same."
Sam nodded her thanks and turned to the colonel. "Well, sir. The gate's here."
"Um," he made a show of looking over her shoulder. "That would be here' where, exactly?"
"Right here." She waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the platform. "At least according to my equipment. There's a strong naqadah reading, and traces of the same energy that's in the flight room and upstairs in the Gallery. It's barely detectable, but it's there. I'm guessing that this energy is involved somehow."
"Right. So where's the gate?" He met her sheepish half-smile with a grim one of his own. "If we can't see it, we can't use it, right?"
He took off his hat, scrubbed at his hair and put the hat back on again, an attempt to use up energy that had no place to go.
"What did Daniel find?" she asked, cravenly hoping to divert in a safer direction the colonel's barely latent need to strangle something.
"Ah, he's on some tear about that harp thingy." Bending double, he yawned mightily and stood up again with his fists in his eyes. "Crap, I'm tired."
Sam knew the feeling. "Me too, sir. I think that's linked to this energy signature somehow, as well."
"Lulling us into a false sense of security, is it?" His tone was light, but his meaning was deadly serious.
"You?" O'Neill asked, turning to fix Teal'c's upright and alert-looking self with an appraising eye.
"I appear to be unaffected."
This was why she'd sent Teal'c to take readings for her in the Gallery. He seemed impervious to the soporific effects of the room, and the sculpture was unresponsive to all of his attempts to influence it as Daniel had. It remained at attention. He'd speculated that it had something to do with his species. Sam pointed out that he hadn't been barred from flying, so the species argument didn't quite hold water. When she'd suggested that maybe it was because he was just a little stiff, that he should, you know, loosen up, he'd said "Indeed," and gone to take his readings without further speculation.
She hadn't tried to work the sculpture herself yet. It seemed safer to stay out of the Gallery entirely. But, even here, the presence was still palpable, as heavy on her as a wet wool blanket. And still, in spite of its dampening effect on her spirits, it didn't feel malevolent. That bothered her, too, because she should be more upset about all of this than she was. It was as though she'd drifted away from herself somehow, like an unmoored boat.
They heard Daniel coming a long time before he actually appeared, his echoing footsteps on the stairs accompanied by the occasional grunt and sharp, breathy curse. After a few more four-letter words, he finally arrived, carrying the wind harp from their sleeping chamber upstairs.
"What are you doing?" Sam asked him, stifling a yawn.
"I'm setting your mind at ease," he answered cryptically.
"I think my mind is plenty at ease," she responded.
Bending awkwardly, he laid the harp on the floor and then lifted one end and leaned it against the wall, dragging over a small equipment case to wedge against the foot to keep the harp from sliding.
"Uh, Daniel, isn't this a wind harp?" O'Neill asked, waving his hand to indicate the important lack of windows.
"Does a wind harp not require wind, DanielJackson?" Teal'c asked.
"Aha, but what kind of wind?"
Sam rolled her head again and rubbed her eyes. "Daniel, could you please just get to the point?" Suddenly she had an idea of how the colonel felt most of the time and silently vowed to be more succinct in her reports from now on.
"Just listen," he repeated and then stepped up close to her, peering intently into her eyes. "Think about what we talked about before, what we. . . felt."
"Daniel, I don't want to go there." That kind of intimacy, what she'd felt, it was too much like an invasion of privacy, and the poignancy of Daniel's loss was too great to bear, especially now, when she was so tired.
"It's okay," he encouraged her, his hand on her arm. "It's alright. Really, Sam."
Obediently closing her eyes, she thought of Sha're's arms, the long tails of her braids swinging back and forth over the flour bowl. She tried hard to keep her mind on a narrow track; there were places in this memory she didn't have the right to go.
Almost immediately, the harp began hum out the melody of Sha're's song, only now in a minor key, a morose sound. Sam's eyes snapped open.
Daniel's eyes were bright with triumph. "It's like the sculpture. Like the flight room. Everything in this place. It's designed to respond to us, our feelings. I think it's designed to bring us together, here," he touched her chest over her heart. "To help us to share things."
Sam stepped back, away from his hand. "Why?"
"For what purpose?"
Daniel turned to Teal'c. "So that we can understand one another. Y'know, walk a mile in someone's moccasins. This place is. . . I don't know exactly. . . a kind of retreat or something, a place of communion. Maybe it's religious. Maybe, I dunno, political, even. The point is, this place responds to us. What we're thinking. What we want."
"Allie lei ai," the harp sang and Sha're's voice was in Sam's head again. She resisted the urge to put her hands over her ears.
"Okay, that's just whacked," the colonel declared, his own hand coming up hesitantly to tug at his earlobe.
"What?" Daniel put a hand on the harp strings, which had begun to buzz dissonantly, then pulled his boonie from around his neck and stuffed it into the hole in the sounding board. Sam was relieved.
"Boxes. One person to a box. That's how it's supposed to be." The colonel was backing away from the harp, shaking his head.
"Nobody lives in a box, Jack," Daniel told him reasonably, following him.
"Yeah, well, more's the pity."
"Jack, I saw my wife, that's all." Daniel's hands were open, beseeching. "It's doesn't have to be something we're afraid of. We could learn something here. I could learn something about what happened to me."
"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to take candy from strangers?" O'Neill demanded.
Daniel gaped, then crumpled his face into a disgusted frown. "That's a perverse comparison."
"Is it? You got your happy lolly-pop moment and in the meantime the gate goes AWOL. That smells like a trap to me."
"I told you it's benign. I know it, somehow."
"And I told you that's not good enough." They squared off for a moment, pinning each other with identical, stubborn, narrow-eyed gazes. "If you know so much," O'Neill said finally, breaking the stalemate, "Then how bout you tell us what happened to the gate?"
"I don't know!" Daniel's exasperation broke out in a shout.
"Well, that's awfully convenient, isn't it?"
Daniel looked to Sam for back-up and, getting none, turned back to O'Neill, suddenly shifting the ground of his attack. "You're just afraid of what's in your head."
Sam winced inwardly at the unfairness of this tactic, and wished Daniel would take it back. But it was too late; the colonel was already drawing himself up and stepping closer until they were chest to chest. The damped harp strings buzzed against the fabric of Daniel's boonie, a small, grating noise. In some corner of her mind she heard water pattering, but the incongruous sound was drowned out by the sizzle of tension between the two men. O'Neill's face was close enough to Daniel's to kiss, and Sam found herself wishing crazily that Daniel would do it. She could clearly imagine the sharp snap of light when their respective charges grounded in each other. The image was so vivid she swore she could smell ozone.
"Maybe I got nothin' but shit for brains," the colonel snarled, "But it's mine. Got it? And you--" he looked over Daniel's shoulder and aimed a finger at Sam, "just find the gate."
The water pattered again as O'Neill turned and stalked away. Daniel started to follow him.
"You should probably let it go," Sam warned him as she sat down on the steps and put her head in her hands. She imagined her hair crackling with static electricity as she ran her fingers through it.
"Yeah," Daniel agreed as he walked toward the door. "Probably."
He caught up with the colonel in the hallway. Sam heard O'Neill's aggravated, "Damnit, Daniel," and Daniel's voice, reasoning, placating, debating and finally rising, equally aggravated. The colonel's shout cut Daniel off in mid-sentence: "You are not entitled!" Sam could picture his finger drilling the air in front of Daniel's face. Then there was silence.
A moment later, Daniel came back, slumped down on the step with his journal, and uncapped his pen. A muscle was knotted in his jaw. "Don't say I told you so," he grumbled at her as he bent his head over his translations.
"There is much in my own mind that I would not wish others to share," Teal'c interjected evenly from his place over by the door, his face averted, his back straight and tense. "Much that would be painful to others forced to witness it. For this reason, I hope that my training will allow me to avoid this communion you spoke of." He turned to regard them, then. "O'Neill may not be so lucky."
Daniel sighed wearily and put down his pen, rubbing his eyes behind his glasses with a finger and thumb. "No-one can blame you for what you remember, Teal'c," he told him gently.
"Perhaps not," Teal'c said, turning away again. "But they can blame me for what I have done. As I do myself. However, that is not the issue."
"For such sharing truly to be communion, it must be given freely, without fear. Otherwise, it is only invasion, a forced intimacy." Closing the subject, he crouched down and began to arrange the camp stove and rations. "It is late. We should eat."
For he on honey-dew hath fed, / And drunk the milk of Paradise. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Kubla Khan")
Sam lay still on her back and listened to the water. It wasn't running water, like a stream, but the same brief pattern of sound repeated over and over like a sound bite on a loop. She'd been listening for a long time and the longer she listened the thirstier she got. Rolling over, she searched for the colonel, who lay not far away on his thermarest, his sleeping bag open and thrown back, his arm over his eyes. In the light from Daniel's flash, Sam could see O'Neill's hands twitching, and each time he moaned softly the sound of water got a little louder in her head.
She rolled onto her back again and sighed heavily. How could she be so tired and not be able to sleep? Resigned, she threw back her own covers and sat to pull on her boots. Even though she couldn't hear him, she knew that just beyond the doorway, Teal'c paced across the stone floor, silent and alert. Over by the harp, Daniel sat up on his sleeping bag, his journal open on his lap, his face lit up from below by the flashlight propped in the spine of the book. He was watching her.
"Can't sleep?" he whispered as she crept over and slid down the wall beside him.
She yawned wide and shook her head. "I keep hearing--"
"Me too. It must be Jack," he conjectured. "He's dreaming. His guard's down, I guess." He rubbed the end of his pen across his lip as he watched the colonel's dim form. "I wonder what he's dreaming about."
"He doesn't seem to be enjoying it. Maybe it's better not to know."
"Yeah, but it's making me thirsty."
"Not really," Sam corrected him, rolling her shoulders and trying to get comfortable against the wall. "It's in our heads. It has something to do with the neural interface, I'm sure."
"Not all in my head. It's also making me have to pee."
When she laughed, she felt her cracked lip split open. Daniel's tongue darted out across his own.
"Blood?" he asked.
She sucked her lip for a second, nodding. When she touched it with a finger, though, it wasn't cracked or bleeding at all. Reaching out, she traced her thumb across Daniel's lower lip. "You?" He nodded against her hand. "Wow."
"All in our heads."
"Yeah," she let her hand fall.
"Well, that's. . . comforting."
She yawned again and leaned her head on the cool stones.
Capping his pen, he said, "Hang on just a second," closed the journal and stuffed it into his pack. Then, after turning off the light, he raised his arm so that she could nestle in under it. When she was settled, her head against his chest, her arm around his waist, he repeated, "That's comforting, really. Right?"
"Um-hum," she murmured, and tried to find that sweet, safe place again, the raft. . . . Daniel put his hand over her ear, and she let the sound of his heart drown out the patter of water.
When she woke, the room was dimly lit, a dull amber glow. Teal'c was in O'Neill's place, upright and peaceful in kel-no-reem, O'Neill having relieved him for last watch. Daniel was gone, his balled-up jacket under her head. Stretching her stiff muscles, she sat up and looked for him, finding him up on the gate platform, facing away from her. There was something about the tilt of his head that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.
"Daniel?" She could feel something, a kind of tingling along her nerves, across her skin, like the beginnings of a fever. And there was a sound, familiar, but too faint to identify, a soft, repetitive pinging. As she crossed the floor, Teal'c's eyes opened, but he didn't get up, only tilting his head to watch her as she passed. "Daniel? Are you alright?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. It's okay." His voice was distant, but his hand fluttered a bit at his side, a vague gesture of reassurance.
The sound was clearer now, and Sam felt her gut twist as she recognized it. Slowly, she climbed up the steps and stood behind him. "What are you doing?" Her voice shook as she asked the question.
"But why? Why this?" The tingling was more pronounced now, a kind of heatless searing. She rubbed her bare arms with cold hands. The presence was close now, too, hovering, a gentle wash of attentiveness. "Daniel. Why do you want to remember this?"
A small half-laugh escaped him. "I don't, actually. But I have to go through it to get to what's beyond it." Turning his head a little, he waved his hand again in that same, half-dismissive, half-reassuring gesture. "It's okay. It's all in our heads. Remember?"
The monitor pinged softly in time with Daniel's heart, the beat becoming more and more arhythmical. The goa'uld healing device droned, its energy sleeting through him, putting him back together almost as fast as he was falling apart.
"Daniel, please. Don't."
Spiders. She could feel them seething through his body, in his head, bloated, white, each movement of each hair-fine leg dislodging some of his flesh, tiny erosions multiplied by millions. This new, obscene agony was the gift of the morphine that had blunted the sharpest of the physical pain but had left him with this imaginary invasion, and once the thought had occurred to him he couldn't make it go away. He considered screaming, but every part of him had been screaming for hours now and he was tired. Besides, his lungs were sloughing away like the rest of him and drawing the necessary breath would only rip him open like a rotten fruit. So the spiders seethed and he didn't scream.
"The truth is," Daniel whispered.
"I think my whole life has been a failure," Sam finished in his voice, and bowed her head, her eyes full of tears. "Just so you know," she told him, "Jonas stole some naqadria for us. He took a big risk. He said it was because of what you did."
The truth is.
Sam squeezed Daniel's bandaged shoulder, and the spiders scurried outward from her touch, thousands of them crawling across his skin. Under the bandages that swaddled his face, his mouth opened in a silent scream of horror. She tasted blood.
"I don't know why we wait to tell people how we really feel."
"Naïve," Daniel moaned.
"I guess I hoped you always knew."
The truth is.
"You cannot achieve enlightenment if you do not believe you are worthy," Oma said, her soft voice consigning Daniel to death.
"Then I think we may have a problem."
Sam covered her face with her hand and sobbed as the loneliness opened up all around him, vast, echoing and cold. God, so alone. But it was the resignation, the resignation that made a hole in her, that hollowed her out. Oh my God, Daniel. When he'd been dying she'd cried because she was losing him. Now she cried because she knew that she'd lost him long before, and because she'd never realized how far he'd gone, how alone he'd been, how undeserving he'd felt. What she'd hoped he'd always known, he'd already discounted as an impossibility. The knowledge tore away her heart.
The warm light rose up around her and she yearned toward the comforting oblivion it offered her, falling away from this ache, this moaning, echoing emptiness, so easy to just let go of the fraying rope, so easy to want it. The presence wrapped itself around her, a sweet, comforting cocoon. Its voice whispered to her: Let go, let go, let go.
The pinging sound stuttered and settled into an endless note, a diminutive wail. She felt the last breath sighing out of him.
"No, Daniel. Don't go."
The presence was so near to the centre of her now. She could feel its warmth stealing into her limbs, into the corners of her mind. Let go, let go, let go, it whispered in a voice like waves across a graveled shoal. Each wave that climbed the beach advanced a little further than the one before. Each wave that retreated seemed to take with it some of her pain. She felt the quiet, steady erosion pulling the shore away under her feet, grain by grain. Let go, let go, let go. And with each slow cycle of advance and retreat, there was less of her. She couldn't tell if it was Daniel's memory of dying she was feeling or something else, something new. But its seductive sweetness was everything, everything. . . .
It wasn't technology. There was no technology. Only this, this presence, this being, calling her, calling Daniel away.
"Daniel, please. Don't." Reaching out, she grasped his hand and pulled herself up the last step, turning him around to face her.
His face was slack, expressionless. A thin trail of blood spilled from his nose as his arms came up at his sides, hands stiff, spread wide.
"I can see it," he gasped, "I can see all of it. I was here."
For a second she thought she could see it, too, the being, reflected in the glassy blue of his irises, but then, with a sickening twist of realization, she knew she wasn't looking at a refection at all, that the thing was looking back at her through Daniel's eyes, from inside of him. Then the wave of light crashed over her head, the thing filled her up and, even as it looked at her through Daniel's eyes, it was looking back at him and at itself through hers.
The mise en abym made the floor wash out from under her and she clung to Daniel with both hands. She opened her mouth to scream but words flew out, her lips and tongue forming fluid, inhuman sounds of their own volition.
The being was there, looming above her. She could feel it like the blast from a furnace. "What are you?" Sam shouted upward. "What do you want?" Although the words were formed clearly in her head, what came out of her mouth was only "Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!" Her legs gave out and she slid to the floor at Daniel's feet.
I am one.
And she felt suddenly weightless, cold, the emptiness of interstellar space expanding around her, the low humming of stars flowing through her. "Rejoice, rejoice," she chanted jaggedly. Somewhere, maybe close by, she could hear voices, Daniel's, O'Neill's, and others, so many others.
There was song.
And the cathedral, the Gallery, the harp chamber, the flight room, the whole sprawling structure, was full of people, small, almost hidden in their flowing robes, their large, obsidian eyes depthless, their six-fingered hands clasped reverently in prayer. And the morning sun floated away from the mountains and the mirrors caught the light and the room became a maze of crossing beams and each mirror sent up a tone heard only by these alien ears, perfect harmonies, like the songs of stars, and the congregation felt the music thrumming through their bones and they opened their throats to sing.
"Come, soul weaver. We speak with one voice, we sing with one voice, we pray with one voice. Come!"
Sam sang in Daniel's voice. She sang in O'Neill's voice. One of thousands, singing.
"Rejoice! Rejoice!" she sang.
In the flight room, the Builders danced in the air, agile and fleet as a school of fish, turning and weaving and diving together, their movements perfectly synchronized, perfectly timed to the rhythm of the song.
In the harp chamber, the harp trilled.
In the Gallery, the sculpture surged and danced, too, under the command of jubilant hands.
"Rejoice! Rejoice!" they sang, the thousands, in one voice.
They sang. I came
And the cold of space gave way to warmth, absence to presence, darkness to light.
I was one, alone. They called. So beautiful. I sang.
"Rapture," Daniel thought in Sam's head.
The Builders raised their hands.
The Builders raised their voices.
The Builders' fine-boned bodies rang with the song of the stars and the song filled them until they could take no more and their the opalescent skin leaked light, their delicate flesh dissolving in ecstasy, splintering into a million slivers of joy and agony, exploding into a shower of yellow dust.
And the singing swelled in Sam's body and mind, an expanding corona of gold and red, warm, delicate, nuanced, but so powerful, and she felt the laughter rising in her, spilling out of her, her arms outstretched, her head thrown back, her throat open, her mouth wide, and still there was more and more and more and the laughter rose in pitch until it became a shriek of pain, a long, black scrawl across the golden sky and the small vessel that was her body began to crack, a cup unable to run over, and inside her O'Neill and Daniel screamed.
Silence. For a moment Sam thought she'd gone deaf. On hands and knees, she groped with her eyes shut for Daniel and found him, crumpled on the floor, his knees drawn up to his chest. He was trembling violently. Then her hand stumbled on something else, someone else. The colonel. She heard the patter of water. The patter of water. Water.
The memory flashed into her mind with such clarity that she threw her arm across her eyes.
"We could help each other, O'Neill," the voice growled through her head.
"Bite me," the colonel responded, and smiled grimly, his parched lip splitting, blood seeping out. He touched it with his tongue, reveling in the delicious wetness of it.
The soldier laughed, a short, harsh bark. "I think you already get enough of that from your cell mates." Turning, he said the joke again in Arabic, the men in the shadows joining in the laughter.
Sam shuddered as the ghost of hands fumbled across O'Neill's body, a knee in the small of his back, pinning him to the floor. But O'Neill pushed the intruding memory away and thought instead of how it felt to break a man's neck, that moment of resistance and then the sharp, satisfying crunch and pop, the weight of the dead sagging in his arms. He smiled again.
"Too bad," the soldier said, his voice syrupy with false concern. "I thought you were thirsty."
Sam watched as the bucket was tipped, slowly, and a silver ribbon unfurled from its lip, the patter of water on concrete the most obscene sound she had ever heard. Then O'Neill was crawling -- awkwardly, because three fingers were broken on his right hand -- chasing the water as it coursed away from him toward the drain in the middle of the floor. The taste of the filthy concrete made Sam want to puke.
And there, shimmering in the puddle that formed behind the inadequate dam of the colonel's hand, she saw the gate, just one chevron, glowing redly. She was so intent on it that she didn't notice the soldier's boot until the heel came down on the colonel's broken fingers.
His roar of rage tore from her throat as she bolted upright. Teal'c caught her before she fell again.
Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro' the lawn, / The moan of doves in immemorial elms, / And murmuring of innumerable bees. (Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The Princess")
Instead of a square of harsh, white desert light, there was only the soft glow of candles. The air was warm with the scent of wax.
"Are you injured, Major Carter?" Teal'c asked, his large hands on her shoulders, his deep eyes fixed on hers.
Sam was afraid to open her mouth in case those alien words forced themselves out of her again. She was tired, sickly, deadly tired of being a puppet. It was too much like being a host. Immediately she regretted the thought as the memory began to uncoil slowly inside here. She shook her head hard. "No. No, no, God."
Teal'c's hands on either side of her face stilled her. "You do not need to see it," he said softly, and the calmness in his eyes seemed to flow into her, and her mind stilled too. "Are you injured?" he repeated.
"No." Crazy, maybe, she thought, but she decided to keep that one to herself for now. "Where's Daniel? The colonel?"
"They are here as well." Stepping back, he turned her so that she could see.
They were in Teal'c's quarters at the SGC. O'Neill was on the floor, amid the candles, his legs splayed, Daniel's head in his lap. He was carefully wiping blood from Daniel's face with the sleeve of his jacket.
"We're not really. . . here. . . are we?" she asked.
"I have used the. . . leaky memory' phenomenon to bring you all into my kel-no-reem. It seemed possible that your interface with the alien being was causing you injury."
"Wow," she said softly, bending down to lay a hand on Daniel's forehead. The colonel continued his ministrations without looking at her. "Is it still here? The being, I mean," she asked Teal'c over her shoulder.
"It is, but it appears to have retreated somewhat."
Bending her head, she caught O'Neill's eye. "Sir, I saw the gate."
"Yeah, me too, right before that sadistic, goat-humping, son-of-a-three-toed-whore stomped my goddamn, fucking fractured fingers." He seemed at least as cheered by the invective as by the prospect of finding the gate.
"Very colourful, Jack," Daniel mumbled, sitting up, holding his head in his hands.
Releasing his head tentatively, Daniel seemed to be waiting to see if it would roll off. When it didn't, he let Teal'c help him to his feet. He gripped Teal'c's arms to steady himself, then said, "You have to let me go."
"That would not be prudent."
"I don't care. You have to let me go back there and finish it."
"The hell he does!" O'Neill was on his feet. His eyes had a strange, watery wildness to them. Sam wondered if her own looked the same.
"Jack, I was this close." Daniel held up his finger and thumb, no space at all between them. "I was this close to knowing everything. All of it. Everything that happened to me when I was gone."
"You were this close to exploding! Literally. Exploding." When Daniel opened his mouth to protest, O'Neill turned to Sam. "Am I the only one who saw a whole castle's worth of little men explode?"
Daniel squeezed his eyes shut, visibly counting to ten. "They didn't explode. They Ascended." Before O'Neill could rebut, he forged on, "You said it yourself: There's more than one way to Ascend."
"That's not what I was talking about."
"Yeah, yeah, I know that but--"
Stepping closer, O'Neill wagged a finger at him. "You already did the Ascension thing. You sucked at it. And, more than that, you chose us. You don't get to back out."
"It wasn't going to go that far."
"How can you be certain of this?" Teal'c asked.
"I don't know. I just am."
O'Neill wheeled toward Sam, his P90 at the ready. "If he says that one more time, I mean it, I'll shoot him."
"Thanks for your support, Jack," Daniel muttered bitterly. His eyes darted around the room for a moment before he turned and walked around to look at O'Neill, his face both puzzled and challenging. "And what the hell was that stuff, anyway? The prison. That was Iraq, wasn't it?"
O'Neill's face went hard. "You wanted to know what was in my head. Don't say I didn't warn you."
Daniel laughed, a harsh, ironic sound. "So that's what we get from you. I'm a hair's breadth away from unlocking the secrets of the higher plane and you drag us back to that? What is it? Some kind of . . . punishment for . . . for defying you? Is that it?"
"Shut up, Daniel." The colonel's voice was quiet.
Sam stepped between them. Again, she could feel the crackle of static in her hair. "It's not about punishment. It's about--"
"Resistance," Teal'c finished. "O'Neill's resistance may have saved your lives."
"That's where we saw the gate. It's right here. But you have to want to see it." She knew, suddenly, that this was the truth. They had to want to see it. Daniel had to.
"Sam, this - what I could learn -- it's important." Daniel's voice was beginning to shake.
Sam put her hand on his arm. "It's information. That's all."
"Aw, fer cryin' out loud," O'Neill groaned. "How many times do you have to kill yourself to make your point?" He waved his hand in an expansive gesture that included Sam and Teal'c. "How many times do we have to watch?"
She hated it. She hated the way that the truth of that question drew up the lines, the three survivors on one side, Daniel on the other, separated by their incommensurate experiences of loss. Looking at Daniel, alone across the divide, she felt that hollowness yawning open within him, that resigned acceptance of aloneness.
"Don't," she said softly, almost too softly for any of them to hear. "Please don't."
The colonel heard, though. And it seemed that he felt it, too, that hole in Daniel. He looked at Sam for a long moment, his eyes thoughtful. Then he winced, wrinkling his nose. "Aw, crap," he spat. "Fine," he said to Daniel, then tilted his head and shouted upward, "Fine! We'll do it your way!" Shaking his head, he settled down on the floor and scrubbed at his face with his hands. When Sam crouched down beside him, he shot her a humourless grin. "I hate this. I really, really hate this stuff."
She squeezed his arm. "I know, sir."
"Shut up, Daniel. Pay attention." Sucking in a breath, he blew it out slowly between pursed lips. "Teal'c, hang on to us," he said. After Teal'c nodded, the colonel closed his eyes.
Daniel stood in front of them, his head tilted, his lip caught between his teeth, unsure what to do, where he was to fit. After a moment, he crouched down, too, searching Jack's face, his own brows deeply furrowed with concern.
Sam smelled honey. As the being came closer, its gentle breath dispersing the mists that separated them from each other, she tried not to stiffen against it. But she was afraid; the memory of that final loss of self, the ecstatic release of identity into the singing totality, was still so real in her mind, and so seductive. Reaching out a hand, she brushed against Teal'c's leg and he bent to close her fingers in his. She felt his steadying control, anchored herself to him, and then closed her eyes, too.
It was different this time, no sudden, painful flash of images to sear her mind. She listened to the soft whisper, a shushing of grass as O'Neill walked through it, feeling it brush against her now, thigh high, a warm, dragging caress. But it wasn't grass, after all, was it? Trailing her fingers, she caught the cool tufts of blossoms, tightly-packed petals, and, with each touch there rose up the heady, sweet scent of clover. Pink clover. Fields of it.
"I know this," she said, perhaps out loud. This was before, when Daniel was only human, when his past was his own. "I know this place," she repeated, with Daniel and Teal'c this time, their voices murmuring together, the words thrumming with another faint sound, more a pressure on the ears and the skin than a noise: the low, humming drone of bees.
Striding with high, long steps though the clover, the colonel licked his lips and Sam tasted the delicate sweetness of honey. His jaw was slightly stiff with a gentle ache from chewing the comb, the warmth of his mouth softening the wax, releasing the honey to his tongue. He'd washed his hands, but they were still a little sticky between the fingers and he absently rubbed at his skin with his thumbs as he walked. Beside him, Teal'c kept pace in silence, his shadow and the colonel's, stretched long by the late-day sun, undulating on the green in front of them. Ahead, lighting flashed silently in a low band of dark clouds, but the storm was far off still and here the sky was a pale, clear blue.
"I know this place," Sam said again. Letting her mind drift away from the colonel, she sank back into her own memory. She was just over the next rise, on the lake.
The sample vials were in their case. They were only a pretense, really, an excuse to step onto the raft, play out the ropes and push off through the reeds into the clear water. The tall water grasses parted like a crowd of onlookers bowing out of the progress of royalty, brushing the sides of the raft with a sibilance that was nothing less than a sigh of reverence. Out on the open water, the sun gazed down at its perfect, round reflection, and Sam's face was lit from below as she bent over the end of the raft to fill her vials. Where her hand dipped into the water, tiny fish, barely as long as her fingernail, gathered and nipped with toothless mouths at her skin. When she lifted the vial, trailing golden droplets, the fish darted away in a scatter of silver scales, leaving only a chain of widening circles catching the light. Kneeling, she looked into the depths, but could only see a foot or so down through the silt and the algae. Around her shadow, the light shimmered in a crown of rays.
"Ebullience," Daniel said from behind her.
"What's that, Daniel?" she asked, turning to look at him over her shoulder, but his head was bowed, his fingers already writing the word in his close, looping script, his lips opening slightly and then closing around the thought as he captured it in his book.
"Ebullience," Sam repeated silently as she pushed the vials into their foam nests in the case.
The wooden planks of the raft were grey and smooth with age, the whole day's absorbed heat releasing itself into her as she knelt, her hands open and still in her lap, the lightning licking the sky behind her, the blue sky in front of her empty except for the round disc of the sun and, there, near the horizon, the pale white ghost of a moon. Just over the rise, the colonel and Teal'c were coming, the taste of honey on their tongues, and around them, the bees nuzzled the drooping, swaying blossoms, humming.
Closing her eyes, she listened to the irregular scratch of Daniel's pen across the paper, letting herself slip into him, feeling the pressure of the pen against his knuckle, the side of his middle finger where a callus had grown thick over the years, his body adapting slowly to the demands of words.
"These people are ebullient," he wrote. The words formed in his mind like quicksilver, transformed into the motion of his body, and then repeated themselves in his head when he read each one as it flowed slowly in ink across the page. It was a fugue of thought and script, motion and meaning, the echo of echoes that was writing. "They thought they were alone, with their bees and their flocks of geese, their thatch houses and clay bowls. But we came and we're part of that universe out there, that cold, dangerous universe. And still they aren't afraid. How can they not be afraid?"
A thin, cold needle of loneliness lanced through him, and Sam gasped silently as though it had pierced her skin, leaving behind it an exquisite ache, a singing nerve.
"How can they not be afraid?" he wrote again, the pen gripped tightly in his fingers, letters lacerating the page. "We can't protect them. We can't protect anybody."
The needle stabbed at her again and suddenly her hands resting relaxed in her lap seemed, instead, helpless, useless. Curling them into fists, she recoiled from this feeling and groped for the colonel, for Teal'c. She was in the clover again, climbing the rise above the little circle of the lake and coming down the other side, feet turned sideways for purchase in the soft earth, hands held wide for balance.
Below them, the lake was a dark mirror, surrounded by a three-quarter circle of forest, thin, white-barked trees. Their small, dark leaves barely fluttered in the breeze that fumbled its way down from the clover fields, drunk like bees on the nectar of an endless summer day. In the middle of the lake, the raft was a grey square yearning at the end of its tethers. Daniel sat cross-legged at one end, partly facing the clouds, his head bowed over his journal, his jacket and pack a disorderly crumple of shadow at his side. Sam saw herself kneeling on the other side toward the shore, her hands balled into loose fists on her thighs. She turned her head and squinted into the sun, slowly lifted a hand to shade her eyes. Behind them, the thunderheads were mounting, higher and darker, the lightning that played inside them making them more beautiful and more ominous. But the raft was floating in a pool of light, of heat and stillness, suspended at the edge of the storm.
Suddenly, the breeze gathered itself from behind O'Neill and Teal'c and ran a circuit of the lake, high in the trees, slipping under the green leaves and turning them over so that their waxy, white undersides caught the sun. More leaves turned and more and more as the wind raced along the shore, until the forest became a blaze, a golden orange flag unfurling with a rustle against the blue-green storm clouds. Daniel's head came up and he let out a wordless shout, pointing with his pen as he rose clumsily to his feet, his journal open and fluttering in his hand.
Startled from its hidden sleep, a bird clapped out of the reeds with a chattering cry, its narrow, pointed wings slicing the air with a whistle. As it dipped low to the water, its long, scarlet tail flicked the wobbling sun and shattered it into a thousand gleaming pieces, each one carried outward on the crest of a wave. The whole lake was a scintillation of gold under the weight of the clouds, Sam and Daniel haloed silhouettes in the middle of it all, still and solid and real in the dance of light.
And Sam felt something fierce and hot flare up inside the colonel then, tightening his chest and making his hands tingle. She turned her face to it and let it melt the icicle of sadness that held her pinned to the planks. Then, she reached up and took Daniel's hand, not to steady her as she clambered to her feet, but to draw him into that protective warmth as she fell into the colonel again, his memory folding over them both. She watched herself lean into Daniel for a moment as the raft bobbed with her movement and felt the humming inside the colonel as the world glittered before his eyes. He blinked rapidly behind his dark glasses and swallowed hard, then slapped Teal'c on the shoulder, nodding at the ropes wound around the stumps on the shore. Together they dragged the raft toward them, through the reeds, away from the storm, pulling hand over hand, coiling the ropes at their feet. Sam felt their muscles tense and release, the air moving through them, their easy strength, their need to put feeling into action. Above them, the bird with its extravagant tail wheeled higher, caught an updraft and sailed up and up until it was only a fleck on the wind.
When the raft bumped the shore, Teal'c took Sam's sample case, then reached out a hand to pull her up the incline onto solid ground. O'Neill did the same for Daniel, gripping his forearm. Daniel heaved himself up and they stood chest to chest, eye to eye. Reflecting the ruddy light of the setting sun, Daniel's eyes were twin flames, and behind him, the overburdened clouds broke open with a rumble and a sigh and rain fell like a veil across the horizon. The flare leapt up again in the colonel's chest, so bright and so full that it was almost pain, the lightning only its pale echo, the sky too small to hold it.
"Storm's coming," he said hoarsely. "Let's go home."
And the storm faded, the thunder rumbling away, chasing its echoes down the winding hallways of the cathedral until it was lost in the maze. Still, the fragrance of clover lingered, heady and sweet.
They were standing in a circle in the Gateroom, Daniel's arm still firmly clasped in the colonel's hand, and the gate loomed over them, silently waiting.
"Okay," Daniel whispered with a small nod of his head. "Okay."
Ten minutes later they were ready to go, the presence hovering watchfully around them, but making no attempt to stop them. It seemed they were as free to go as they'd been all along. When the gate opened, billowing out and then settling back into its watery play of light, Daniel stepped in front of the colonel, stopping him with an upraised hand.
"Daniel," O'Neill sighed, the old frustration giving it a sharper edge.
"No, no that's not it." Daniel put his hands in his pockets, then took them out again. They fluttered uncertainly at his sides for a moment until he put them back in his pockets again. "I didn't know," he began. "I mean, I knew--" His eyes darted from O'Neill to Sam to Teal'c and back to O'Neill. "But I didn't know know. . . y'know?"
The colonel shifted his weight and cocked his head. "That's because you're an idiot," he answered matter-of-factly, his face giving nothing away until, finally, the corner of his mouth twitched up.
The nervous tension that had stiffened Daniel's shoulders bled away as he stepped out of O'Neill's way, casting a quick grin in Sam's direction.
"Well, an idiot savant, maybe," he conceded as he walked beside O'Neill up the steps. At the event horizon, he turned to step in front of him again. "An idiot savant is someone who--"
"I know what it means," O'Neill interrupted testily and nudged him backward through the gate with a stiff index finger.
Before he fell into the ripple of impossibility, Daniel darted out a hand, snatched the front of the colonel's jacket, and pulled him in after him.
Grinning, Sam met Teal'c's eyes and the thoughtful lambency there brightened as his lips curled in a knowing smile.
Daniel was Daniel, only more so.
They took the steps two at a time and jumped into the puddle, chasing the taste of honey and the hum of bees.
Notes: I wrote this for Aces, who writes gentle, wonderful stories, and for Martha who writes the prose of golden afternoons. I only wish I could do more to thank them. Much thanks to Destina for beta, encouragement and excellent advice.
Feedback welcomed at email@example.com.
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