Creation Myth

by Corby

Chapter One: Cell


Part One

Dr Daniel Evans Jackson, PhD, had never been quite so purely angry as he was at that moment.

It was a sort of hot-headed fury that transcended anger into something incandescent. There was no way he could contain the savagery within his own body - and with another roar he banged against the door that had defined his world for the last seven hours.

"You have no right! You can't DO this!"

Once again the door mutely accepted his blows in light of the brutal truth that - yes, they could.

"Let me out! Open this door!"

A tired refrain that had drawn no response from beyond the cold steel under his fists. The door would remain closed.

"Talk to me! Get someone here to talk to me!"

Here? Where was here? How could he summon a communicator to a place he couldn't locate, even in his mind?

"Aaagh!" Another blow to the door, then a kick for good measure. The pain that doubled back through his toes brought a kind of release. "You - you arrogant, presumptuous, treacherous..."

Invective and energy failed at almost precisely the same moment, and with a final full-arm jolt against the indifferent steel, Daniel swung away once more into the utter blackness of his cell.

It was the kind of dark he'd only experienced a few times before in his life, whilst deep underground. It was a mirk that would never yield to optic persistence. No matter how long one stared, how intense one's gaze, nothing would ever be granted by the darkness all around him. Touch was the only sense that mattered here, because the darkness swallowed any sensation less tangible - the cell was as silent and sterile as it was blind.

"God!" The single, angry word seemed to swell in the eternal night, and for a moment Daniel was reminded of the Christian Bible. In the beginning was the word and the word was God. Alone in a void without sound or light. Of all people, Daniel could understand the worship of a word, and here, in this space of confinement and nothingness, the great god Logos reigned supreme without a challenge to its deity. All Daniel had were words to shape the darkness. But then again - words were all he'd ever had, anyway.

There was one source of light, however feeble, and Daniel glanced at it again with a look becoming slightly more desperate with each passing hour. The watch on his wrist glowed greenly and told him without words that he'd been held prisoner here for almost eight hours. Eight hours of his life had been snatched by these Tezhka barbarians (who dressed better than his team did, who had weapons and technology and a smug sense of security in the face of Gou'ald threats that they as petitioners craved). Eight hours - and where the hell were the rest of SG-1? Prisoners, too? Maybe bare feet away, shouting in a hopeless chorus with each other that only their gaolers would hear?

Why had the negotiations borne such bitter fruit? Everything had been going so well. Daniel was as sure of it as he could be. He had even made the prime Tezhkan negotiator, Vakozh, laugh once or twice, and bend towards him with an air of near affection. Jack O'Neill had palled up with a weapons expert who seemed expansive in the role of master to a Tauri apprentice, while Teal'c had been shown the respect his gravitas always demanded. And Sam had been welcomed most of all as she quickly dazzled the Tezhka with her acute understanding of their proffered knowledge.

So why had this happened? What had gone wrong?

A groan, and Daniel lowered himself to the floor and began, for the twentieth time, to dissect the corpse of this first contact - with the trepidation that comes when the coroner is also the one suspected of being the cause of death.

His translations - quickfire, scattered, from scientific to cultural to military and back again, as he roamed between his companions and their excited conversations - were they what prompted his own sudden removal and incarceration? The abduction had been performed so smoothly, as if a surgeon had neatly excised a blemish. As he turned from Jack's eager discussion to Teal'c's polite foray into cultural comparisons, the prime negotiator's assistant had tugged at his sleeve. "Please for you to come this way," Daniel heard, and, equally politely, he acquiesced. Mildly amused, openly curious. Five steps into a small alcove, and then pain obliterated him so swiftly there was no time for a single word.

Nothing left to show of his anguish, not even a slight bump. He had sometimes allowed himself to wonder what it would have been like to perish on Klorel's ship when it exploded in a massive fireball. The result of his thinking was always the same; he could imagine a brief, overwhelming agony as fire stripped his bones, then nothing. It would have been terrible and quick. Much as his annihilation in the Tezhka council chamber had been. There had been a moment or two when Daniel wondered if, in fact, he had been killed, but two factors worked to diminish the fear. One - he doubted if the Almighty would need to lock his soul inside a cell with a very clearly delineated steel door, and two - he doubted, with equal surety, that green glowing digital watches formed any part of any afterlife as he understood the term. He was quite willing to concede that this might constitute unforgivable hubris on his part, but unless and until some bible somewhere offered the thoughts of Saint Seiko of the Blessed Fluorescence - well, he'd back his own judgement.

So - once again, he would have to wait, until the energy and the anger built up inside him once more and he would pound upon the door to release his frustration. Here he was, Doctor of Linguistics and Archaeology; friend, widower, foot-soldier; seeker of knowledge, of truth, and good coffee; stuck for god knows how long in some ridiculously gothic cell; with no light, no communication, no opportunity to rattle a can against a bar or two. It was enough to leave one Piqued, Peeved, and Pissed Off.

There was really no point in considering SG-1 as prisoners, because then there would be no hope. The Tezhka were simply too strong to be attacked as part of a rescue bid, and in any event they could easily deny Stargate Command any kind of access to their home-world. No, Jack and Sam and Teal'c were still out there, probably treading on toes, demanding answers and making nuisances of themselves. Maybe ferrying messages to and fro between General Hammond and the Tezhkan council as they worked out his own release. He was a bargaining chip, a pawn, someone the Tezhka had plucked aside and secreted away in order to gain what they wanted from the importunate Tauri. Maybe - maybe they wanted something as simple as plant samples. Maybe they were testing Earth's fortitude, strength of will.

Maybe, they were testing him.

Well, fine. He could do this. He could out-wait and outwit gaolers whose notion of sophisticated imprisonment consisted of bare walls, floor and an area of confinement no larger than three cubic metres. Jack would be depending on him to stay calm and in control, and that little song of terror that echoed through the cavern of his body - ringing up through his gut and spine, clear and almost alluring in its exquisite sharpness - would not be heard. It would die in the dark before it escaped him and became undeniable. Word made flesh. Flesh-made fear.

Everything would be fine. It would just take a little time, that was all. And he, Dr Daniel Evans Jackson, would simply learn a little more about the strength they called patience.



Part 2

Oubliette.

From the French 'oublier', to forget.

Dr Daniel Jackson touched the opposite wall and turned, his actions unthinking, the response automatic. One - two - three - hit the wall, turn.

Oubliette. A place where prisoners were dropped into oblivion and simply - forgotten. When nineteen years of age and studying for his second master's degree he had crouched in one, deep within the crumbling bowels of a crusader's fort at Acre. Even with the upper levels of the building almost non-existent, it was possible to stretch out his body along its narrow confines, close his eyes and imagine the horror that would have claimed the man incarcerated in such a fashion. To be left in darkness, swallowed whole by the massive masonry above him; to lie there and hear, from somewhere above, the sounds of life as you began to rot, unnoticed, unmourned… Daniel remembered how his limbs had chilled even in the harsh afternoon heat. Wasn't hard to find pity for the long gone Muslims and Christians who had taken their turns to perish there, as their respective campaigns delivered them victory and defeat in bewildering succession.

And now here he was, equally bewildered, equally forgotten.

At least, he reflected, those long dead soldiers had the comfort of conviction as they succumbed to slow starvation. Each one probably tried to summon God to hear their suffering, and he had no doubt many of them would have succeeded. But for him such solace had long been ameliorated with study. It was hard to find faith when everything he read was concerned with the forgotten gods of once-certain peoples.

One - two - three- hit the wall, turn.

And harder still, he thought, when one factored in an irrefutably false god at the beginning of civilisation. If all the others who followed were patterned on Ra then humankind had been sold the worst kind of pup. Daniel had played his part in killing that particular deity, and he soon found that obliterating a god or two was not conducive to striking up a relationship with another.

So, when he spoke the words aloud - "Oh, God, I'm so thirsty!" - the name was simply that. He couldn't fool himself into companionship. Way too smart for that. Way too alone.

It was twenty-eight hours, and no-one had come for him. There had been no food, no water. Nothing at all. Abuse would have given him focus, another wall to hit. Interrogation would have told him he was noticed, important - needed, for whatever nefarious purpose. Both would hold their terrors, but both would also confirm his existence in a more tangible way than merely striking a wall.

... and turn. His feet were dragging, and this endless pacing was probably evidence of the kind of stupidity that regularly had Jack O'Neill tearing at his hair. It was pointless to measure the cell in this way, and was no doubt burning up energy that he could no longer afford. But he had sat until the darkness seemed to press him to the ground, and his mind had journeyed into horrifying projections of desertion and death. He had always thought of Jack as the one for whom action was imperative - but in truth, he had been equally dependent upon the distraction and demands of the tasks before him. The illusion of stillness had been engendered by the fact that those tasks often required the kind of pursuit Jack would characterise as 'sedentary'. That Daniel chased truths through ancient tomes in a way fundamentally similar to Jack's pursuit of foes through battle had simply never occurred to either of them. But now he needed to move, to gull his mind from the truths he usually sought so avidly.

"Oubliette," he said suddenly, towards the door, as if that inanimate slab was some kind of personal enemy. His voice echoed loudly in the tiny space. "From the French 'oublier'. To forget." He spat the last word, in a mouth too dry to achieve the real thing; another verbal kick at its obdurate silence. "Forget," he continued, raising his voice. "Verb. To fail to remember. To stop thinking about. To lose the remembrance of. To cease to have in mind. To neglect. From the Anglo-Saxon 'forgitan'. 'For' being 'not' or the negative, and 'gitan', to get. As in 'not get'. As in 'I do not get this. Period!'"

Bad idea. His throat was hoarse almost at once, but there was a dizzy sense of comfort as he stopped. His words had filled the emptiness, and he liked the sense of company they gave him, even without answers. Once he drew moisture from somewhere inside his desert-dry mouth, he'd yell some more. Surely that was the O'Neill family motto - When in doubt, yell. How would that look in Latin?

"Tutene? Atque cuius exercitus?"

No, that would be 'You and whose army?' - which, as a possible contender for the O'Neill crest, had definite possibilities. Daniel gave the ghost of a chuckle. He would have to tell Jack that one when -

A scraping at the door.

There was a scraping at the door.

Someone had come.

"Oh, God!" Daniel blundered forward, to smack his upheld arms against the invisible barrier. "I'm here! Hello? Jack? Sam? I'm here! In here!"

Something nudged against his foot, and he stepped sideways, still pawing at the smooth surface of the door. "Can anyone - who's out there? Who is it? Vakozh? Is that you? Please, please - just answer me!"

The thing on the floor gave a harsh metallic screech as it slid inwards. There was no other sound, and no light from the corridor outside. Daniel dropped to his knees and felt at the base of the door. A single flap was being carefully slid back into place, and he shoved his hand through it to grasp wildly in mid air.

"Hey! I need to talk to someone. Please! I need - I need to talk to the prime negotiator. There's been a mistake. I might have said something, or - or, there might have been a misundersta - "

The flap slammed shut, onto his hand. He gave a cry, and pulled his arm back against his chest. A second slam, and he was locked in tight, once again.

Daniel sat back hard against the far wall, nursing his throbbing hand and trying to quell the panic that began to rise from where it had crouched in readiness from the moment he opened his eyes in this dark. This wasn't a bad thing, he told himself. They'd come, they'd checked up on him. Hadn't forgotten him after all. Had even slid something inside. Maybe food? Or water! Please, God, water!

He rocked forward and supported himself carefully on one hand before journeying it out into the black to where he thought the thing had stopped. There. The edge of a container, perhaps. He grasped it and pulled it back towards himself, as if doing so would assert some sort of authority over any possible menace. It was thin at one end, bulbous at another. Smooth, hard, cool to the touch. Ten inches wide by eighteen inches long. Deliverance or destruction? Life or death?

There was no way of telling, short of peeling back the lid, and Daniel still had courage enough for that. If the lack of light from the corridor had unnerved him, summoning an image of being lost under a mountain of darkness, he could yet find the strength to defy the night terrors and prise open the lid. All it took was a deep breath and a mental picture of Jack O'Neill to usurp the other; a scowl, a shaking of the head, and a groaned, "For crying out loud! You getting paid by the minute? Just open the goddamned thing!"

Right, Jack. Open it.

His fingertips worked beneath the edge, and suddenly a pungent scent assailed him. It was strong enough to make his eyes sting, but he recognised it at once. This was one of the foods they'd offered, and the only one which he'd declined, in the meeting hall. Was that it? Was this some kind of punishment for perceived discourtesy? Surely not. But Daniel was too good an anthropologist to dismiss the possibility. Was he being watched, even now, to see whether he'd eat the noisome mess this time around?

Okay. If that were what they wanted, Daniel would eat buckets of the stuff.

He placed a grateful smile on his face and dipped a finger into the soggy contents of the container. The mess slid off as he lifted it, and his empty stomach gave an involuntary turn. No problem, no problem at all. He'd just have to lift the tray higher and - scoop it in. But that particular plan of attack brought the stuff closer to his nose, and for several unpleasant seconds Daniel thought he was going to dry heave at the smell. If he followed the trail of associations he would end up in El Uqsor, staring at a pile of dead animals rotting in the sun, and he hastily shovelled several fingers' worth of mess into his mouth before those pictures could take hold.

Oh, dear God. The taste was worse than the stench. No way he could swallow this. Already, his stomach was convulsing. The food was dribbling out through his clenched lips, and he couldn't bring himself to stop it. Well, he'd have to. If this was part of their testing, it may determine the fate of the rest of SG-1, and he couldn't let a little nausea prolong their imprisonment. After all, this was part of what he did, wasn't it? Meeting new cultures, studying their lifestyles, sharing their - food…

With a sudden gulp, the mouthful was gone.

Don't you dare, he warned his trembling stomach, don't you dare. That was - wonderful. Steak and mushroom. Potatoes lyonnaise. Butter beans and bacon. He sent another satisfied smile into the dark and defiantly scooped a second handful.

Easy. Hell, the SGC cafeteria had worse on Thursdays. What did they call it? Chicken Supreme? He had long suspected those particular chickens suffered from furballs and mated on the back fence by his apartment. Another mouthful gone and Daniel brandished his messy fingers in triumph.

"It's great. Really tasty," he assured the nothing all around him. "Thank you."

As if in response, the door-flap scraped open again and a second container came through. Daniel felt for it, grasped it, and immediately knew what lay within as the contents surged against the side. Water! The food tray was dropped as he scrambled to steady the new cylinder, to lift it up to his mouth and sip oh so carefully at the glory within. Visions of pouring it recklessly down his parched throat were firmly pushed aside - but it took every ounce of concentration he had to simply continue the gentle sip - swirl on the tongue - swallow that prudence and experience demanded.

As he finished it he gave a soft laugh. Water, and Daniel Jackson had found hope again. His captors had acknowledged him, and tended to his needs. Soon, they would be coming to release him. Sam, Jack and Teal'c were alive and well and busting heads out there, and they'd all be celebrating at O'Malley's in a day or two while he told them stories of how close he came to losing it, alone in the dark. They'd laugh at him, maybe hug a little, and buy him another beer - which he'd drink out of politeness - before burying himself in the biggest, juiciest steak they could find.

It was a stirring tableau, one he'd not allowed himself before. Daniel chuckled wryly. And all because of one decent drink of water. Who needed wine?

But underneath his newfound stability lurked an unwelcome thought. Twenty eight hours, and his world had been reduced to the joy of meeting bodily needs.

He would have to do better.



Part 3

Let's see.

Black Holes I Have Known. A short dissertation by D. Jackson (Dr) (Retired. As of - a quick glance at the watch there - March the fourteenth).

Black Hole of Calcutta. Now, when was that?
He was an archaeologist, not an historian, despite the widespread misapprehension that the terms were interchangeable. Still, he thought he could summon a few facts, garnered during his first trip to India as an undergraduate. Sometime in 1756, wasn't it? Siraj-ud-Dawlah, and a hundred or so locked up overnight in a hole 18 feet long and fourteen feet wide. That must have been a fun trip. Twenty-three survived. But didn't someone dispute the accuracy of the story? There's one in every crowd, Daniel told himself, and gave a crooked grin.

And then there was the blackness of the so-called Queen's Chamber in Khufu's pyramid. Well, the pyramid that those ignorant reactionaries still believed was built in a single generation by a people barely advanced beyond bush huts to house a body never found. Daniel snorted, and the sound seemed unnaturally loud. Instinctively, he pulled his feet back in to his body, hunched up against the side of the wall that was Home. The Queen's Chamber - that had been an unforgettable night, when his mother had taken his father and himself down into the deepest recesses of the enormous creation. In those days security at the pyramids was lax; archaeologists, students, souvenir hunters were allowed to scramble wherever they wished, subject to a local permit and a juicy bribe. Daniel's mother had taken her family into the Queen's Chamber (named as such, she explained to her eager son, for no good reason that she could understand) and switched off their torches. The three of them had stood close together, listening first to their breaths and then to each one's heartbeats in the utter silence and blackness that entombed them. Until six year old Daniel could swear he heard the very stones breathing along with him, expanding and contracting the stellar air; until he thought he had become part of that air, far out inside the constellations that beaded the sky, lost and free and loved by the heavens themselves.

His body began to shake again. It had done that on and off for the last five days - sudden tremors that seemed triggered by nothing but memory. He wrapped his arms tightly about his knees, wishing that this chamber held the sort of metaphysical wonders the Great Pyramid's had; and, selfishly, wishing Jack were here with him.

Or Sam. But then again - no, not Sam. Not Sam. The thought of that sweet and fervent fire trapped in this nothing brought a sudden lump to his throat, and an instant, burning wish. Stay away from here, Sam. Stay away.

They had made love the day they met, but their bodies had never touched. He had seen the intellect shining in her eyes, blazing through the bars erected by a lifetime of military thinking. Something in him had risen up to meet it and their coupling had been quick and passionate and oh! so rewarding. With none of that sticky post-coital embarrassment that had so plagued his younger forays into carnal embrace. No, this brought all the exhilaration of a lover's abandon and none of the true intimacy that only the meeting of mind and flesh could achieve. A perfect union for someone like him.

He shifted where he sat, easing the pressure on his buttocks. It felt safer to sit like this, all wrapped up in as small a space as he could manage, but it was hard on his bones sometimes.

He would hate Sam to be in here, because despite the fact she was more of a soldier than he ever would or could be - braver and stronger and altogether more purely capable - there was a part of him that would mourn the trapping of a spirit such as hers in a place such as this. And he doubted if he could bear that grief alongside his own.

Teal'c - well, Teal'c would be the source of strength he had always been for Daniel. But Teal'c could establish the distance of light years in the space between one cafeteria seat and another. It was a fancy of his own, nothing more, but Daniel knew that their journey to first meet Teal'c on Chulak had somehow imprinted in his mind an association between the vastness of the galaxy and the Jaffa's endless reserve. There were times when Daniel took comfort and friendship in the stars' familiar patterns - and times when they seemed as remote and untouchable as reality made them.

But Jack - oh, he would hate the fact Jack was suffering too. Yet somehow Daniel knew that Jack's presence would change this into something quite different. It would still be an ordeal, he knew, but one within the context of a thing called 'adventure'. There would be a point and a purpose - a beginning, middle and end. Whether that end was glorious through triumph or death didn't really matter. Jack would be with him, all the way, and pain would become as bearable as all the other demands they placed upon each other in the name of friendship.

It was almost time for the Chicken Supreme to make its appearance through the door-flap. Every twenty-eight hours, just double the time that would have kept him comfortable. Hunger was a constant now, a part of his existence as unquestioned as breathing. He had discovered that hunger could be negotiated with, bought off, ignored. Virtual reality meals could be summoned, each course vividly created in his mind before being lovingly consumed, bite by bite. The remains could be licked from the plates before the process started all over again - choosing the menu, buying the produce, carefully cooking and preparing each dish. Some days, hours could pass in this way. Creating banquets took a lot of time.

It was thirst that tormented him until he groaned in the eternal night. Imagining water - rivers of it, lakes of it, deluges of rain cleaning the filth from his body; puddles and pools and pourings from above - gave him no respite. He could almost fill his belly with the makings of his mind, but his throat remained parched, his tongue swollen. Forget the steak, Jack, he thought. Just drop me in the biggest vat of clean water you can find and let me drink my way out.

What would Jack be saying now? Well, Daniel grinned, if he'd heard the fanciful reflections about Daniel's first meeting with Carter, the comments would be scathing.

"A mind fuck? You and Carter had a mind fuck? That's not the way we do 'em in the airforce, Daniel."

And don't forget, ribald.

"For crying out loud, Daniel! Mentally undressing a woman is one thing - but getting naked and rubbing ideas together? You really need to get out a whole lot more."

Daniel closed his eyes, enjoying the conversation already.

"And how would you propose I do that, Jack?"

"Use that mega-mind of yours for something other than getting down and dirty inside Carter's cranium. Come on, Daniel, think us out of here."

But you've got weapons I don't possess, Jack. You've got a kind of fearlessness of which I can only dream, and you've got a hardness in you that keeps you upright when I'm a quivering mess on the floor. I can't think my way to anything but memories and madness. Wish you were here.

Sound from the door-flap. Water. Food.

Instantly, Daniel released his limbs from their crouch and began to scramble to the exact place where the tray would have come to rest. After fifteen days, as conscientiously measured by Saint Seiko, Daniel knew to the quarter inch where the invisible hand deposited his salvation. He moved forward with confidence - only to feel the back of his hand connect sideways with the water jug, feel the precious container tilt and waver then crash to its side with a sound more terrible than Daniel could ever remember hearing before. He cried out, unthinking, terrified. Sounds of jug hitting floor, of lid breaking loose, of water spilling and spilling and spilling, an ocean running back beneath the door…

He sobbed, scrabbling to lift it, to recall the water that was gone from him forever. Some of it was still there, treacherously soaking into his BDUs. He bent to the floor, licking it up, sucking it back from the stone. No words for this, just need and terror and animal noises in his own swollen throat.

He manouevred as close as he could to the door, licking until his tongue began to stick to the cold stone, then worked inwards, trying to salvage as much moisture as he could. This was gold, this was life. And he had lost it, again, through his clumsiness, his eagerness, his immature impatience. Dammit to hell! When would he learn? Stupid, stupid, stupid…

The last of it that could be reclaimed, was, and he sat back, suddenly as tired as if he'd just hiked twenty miles in the dark.

Please, he said, but the sound couldn't escape past a mouth dry with failure, cracked with humiliation. Please.

What will you find when you come visiting, Jack? When you finally drive through that door, slap me on the back, what will be left to welcome you?

Nothing but sand and sorrow,
he answered, and began rocking for comfort as his own arms held him close.




Part 4

The numbers, the numbers… green lights in front of his eyes, and they were important. For some very good reason, that he couldn't quite… recall…

They were - dates. Dates. He was good with dates. Ask him anything. Any time at all. When did the 19th Dynasty begin? According to Budge, that stuffed up old fraud. When did Khafre begin work on the second pyramid at Giza? Not that he really ever did, but that's not relevant. When did the T'ang Dynasty fall into a deep, black, nasty hole? When did Ronald Reagan blow up the world for a joke? Whoof - all gone. When did that little foster-brat get the shit uncontestably, unquestionably, unconditionally beaten the hell out of him in Junior High? Trick question - when didn't he?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Dates, dates, dates. Fresh and succulent from Sha're's hands, rolled in cinnamon and placed gently between his teeth so he could tear their dusky flesh into the sweetest wounds. Dangled into her mouth in return, one half still clenched between his teeth, feeling her lips meet his as the red and purple and wet and brown mingled into the richest of breaths…

Dates. Awkward silences, eyes not meeting, feet not hitting the floor from the stools at LeRoy's. Stuttering words that fell crippled to the shiny linoleum as she said, inevitably, "Well, I better go. It was really… um…"

That was why the numbers were important. They were dates, and they told the when of him. It was forty-three days since ground zero. The where of him was The Cell - which, coincidentally and really quite interestingly, just happened to be the whole universe. Some people could make the mistake of thinking The Cell was quite small upon first acquaintance - but really, if you took the time and effort (and so few did these days, more's the pity) to get to know the place, to really study it, get a feel for the enormity and gravity, to really, really…

Really.

He stood up, and suddenly felt quite uncertain as to whether that was what he'd done. How did he really know which way was up? What if he'd been actually sitting on the ceiling without realising it? The thought gave him a vertiginous moment, when he swayed and felt backwards for the solidity that should be behind him. Gone. Fingers reaching into darkness, and The Cell was skipping out on him again.

Dammit! Not good enough, you. Whoever you are. What - you want The Cell to start breathing again? That awful swelling in and out, closer and closer, so that you could hear its heartbeat pounding in your ears, trumping your own?

Measures had to be taken. Stern measures. And he was just the man to do it.

Measures. He'd begin once he captured a wall. Round here somewhere. Left it just a moment ago. There! One wall, as requested. So - now, he needed to get onto his knees, and begin the measures.

The crook of his thumb equalled 3.2 centimetres. He remembered that from when he had to measure that tiny niche on the dig at Silwa Bahari. Angle was too savage to allow the insertion of a ruler, so he'd bent his arm in and down and measured it with his thumb. He'd done a good job there. Found all sorts of fascinating things. They'd all been very pleased with -

Daniel Jackson.

Now there's a name he hadn't heard for a while. Hello again. You feel - different.

But you're all that's here, so Daniel Jackson is going to tame this niche just as comprehensively.

Let's see… 88, 89, 90 thumb widths, and that's one part under control. Under my thumb,
and he giggled. Daniel Jackson giggling here, Colonel. Jack. Colonel Jack.

"Daniel Jackson giggling here." That was a shock. Funny kind of voice, weak and scratchy. A radio frequency not quite tuned correctly. Fading in the wash, into the dark fuzziness that lay between the Right Numbers. "Daniel Jackson, measuring up."

Measuring up the wall. Ninety-five thumb widths this time. That was good, that was doing the job nicely. Two lots of numbers, width and height, utterly in hand, and now just the length remained.

And, of course, he should have admitted this straight away, but there was a bit of a problem with that direction.

He'd been hearing the scratches and scuttlings for a long time now. Several years, he reckoned. Way, way back, to when he'd run and hide in -

In the spare room, where the junk gathered in gangs at each corner and leaned towards him, considering. Christina had gone to her calligraphy class, and now there was Dave, of the quiet anger, the tense hands that gripped your shoulders so tightly when you went out together. Dave, who gave you such neat, round bruises from where his fingers had pressed to bring you to silence, to hand, to heel.

And he wanted so badly to get out of the spare room. It smelt of mothballs and old sweat and mice droppings, because if Dave had said it "once, I've said it a thousand times - you have to make an effort to clean, Christina, the Lord wants only cleanliness on His Earth."

And Dave had butterflies, all dead, all skewered, and Mrs Barrett The Caseworker said, "That's nice, you're interested in science too, Danny." He had glared at her, and she called him sweet, even as he heard the dead butterflies railing against their fate, fluttering against their pins.

He could hear them now, in the corner. He needed to get out of the spare room. No place for him, in the dark; there were too many shapes and shiverings caught inside the boxes and bundles about the walls. Shadows and scratchings, and he gripped tightly on the door handle and wished, wished, wished for deliverance. But Dave said he'd stay there, even when he called out, even when he told Dave about the creatures coming up through the waste hole in the far corner of The Cell.

He didn't want to go there, because the sounds were coming closer and he had no room to move.

A pre-emptive strike, and his hand swept across the floor, hitting something small and wriggling. A sensation of sharpness, and then -

Oh, God! Pain, pain, he'd lanced his hand against a sharpness that burned up his entire arm. Oh, God! Oh, please! A terrible fire, consuming his fingers, his palm, razing the flesh on his forearm. This couldn't happen! This - agony. Here, in his universe. Couldn't be, couldn't be, couldn't Be.

He nursed his arm, weeping. Too dry for tears. Sand spilling from his eyes, falling into the fire that was taking away Daniel Jackson's arm. Why did you come back? Why didn't you stay there, stay between the Right Numbers, lost in the static? Now you're hurt, and now it's going to be so much harder because we're not alone any more.

The butterflies have teeth. They have the Far Wall. And they're coming for you, one at a time.


His hand was swelling, growing into a monstrous Thing at the end of his arm. Couldn't sit, because the creatures had the floor. Couldn't hide, because the darkness was so bright there were no shadows.

And in his head he could hear a tentative voice, apologising even as it sought to flee his presence, and he knew if he ever claimed that voice he would know too much to survive.

Well, I better go. It was really... um...



Part 5

A savage jerk, and the button came free in his hand.

For a moment, a sense of control permeated his body, and he felt he was once again a man who could call upon destiny and offer it terms. He had thought a thing, and achieved it; immeasurable strides from where he'd been in the long days past.

He closed his eyes, though there was no physical need for it. The difference in the level of darkness was non-existent. But it was a part of the ritual, and he acceded to its demands - if this was going to work, he would have to do everything exactly by the book. No compromises. No cheating. Closed eyes were essential.

Three deep breaths for the first round, he decided. Then, varying amounts of breaths according to the last digit in alternating years of equinoctial precession as written in the Sothic calendar. That would work. Pleased, he drew in the first three, and then flicked the button into the nothing that enveloped him.

A clatter, muted; then the sharper tics of the firebugs, as the missile landed amongst them and sent them panicking across the floor and walls. He shifted backwards, with equal sharpness, pushing himself hard against the wall he called his own space in defiance of the firebugs' demands. He hadn't foreseen the movement of the bugs, and it alarmed him. Perhaps this was a bad idea? Perhaps it was ill-omened, to destroy an aspect of his uniform? It was a clearly recognisable fact that the khaki fatigues were, in direct contradiction of the usual laws of anatomy and biology, the only things holding his body together. He knew how quickly his limbs would unravel if the grimy fabric were removed from him; how his skin would peel away, his intestines spill in grotesque tessellation onto the black floor. Dreams had shown him the fragility, and the darkness had reinforced their truth. Tampering with his uniform was toying with disintegration, and he began to shiver as the full weight of awareness settled upon him.

Where had he thrown the button? Today was a large day. The cell stretched to infinity, just beyond his fingertips, and the button could have flown - yards. How would he ever find it again? That had been the challenge, of course, when he first summoned this plan. But now there was a note of panic in his reasoning. What if the button had rolled so far he could never claim it again? What if his uniform followed it, strand by strand, fraying an inch a day until there was nothing to hold him in, to keep him upright? What if -

Enough. There was no time to speculate. Even now the button could be rolling onwards, away from the possibility of recapture. He shivered again, and scrambled onto all fours. Time to search for it. Proactive, he muttered silently, his lips ghosting the words, proactive. That's what I am. That's who I am. Not a victim to sit here, whining in the dark. And if I land on one of those goddamned firebugs, I'll squash it. No arguments. Proactive. End of story.

Feeling better with his own words trumpeting his courage, he groped forward, fingers scurrying across the cold floor. He was reluctant to slow their movement for fear of the firebugs' sting, so they played across the hardness as if upon an invisible piano as he shuffled on. Six feet and he hit the far wall, shocked at its proximity. The sudden, fearful roiling in his gut could be labelled relief, he supposed, and he let out a phew! that echoed its inanity straight back to him. No way that button was getting away from him now! He turned and continued playing his ghostly tune, across the floor and into the crevice that marked the join with the opposite wall.

Victory! Fingertips closed on a piece of round plastic as he reached the Russian thirty-one in his head. Yesss! For a moment he raised his hands, fisted about his prize, into the air. Proactive to the max! Set a challenge - conquer a challenge. He was better than coping - he was excelling in here. No way was The Cell going to beat him now. He'd shown it. And he could do it again.

Excitedly, he rubbed the button between his palms and grinned in anticipation towards the place he called Home. Perhaps he didn't need to go back there yet. Perhaps a flick in the direction of the Endless Other - as he called the back wall - was warranted. Why not? Nothing he couldn't do. Look at me, Jack! Sixty-three days and I'm okay!

Flick! And it was gone. But this time, there was no sound of plastic striking stone, no scratchings of firebugs. The darkness had swallowed it up, silently, wholly, and the doubts seized him again, more virulent than ever. He knew he had to move straight away or be crippled by the doubting, but somehow the impetus to rock into that maw was gone.

The Cell was winning - oh God!

The Cell had won.

No! Dammit, no! Whisperings, whisperings, the sounds of a man in terrible pain, but he had no time for them. They were pouring from his mouth, but he didn't have to own them if he didn't want to. He was in control. He would not lose this battle. He just had to - regroup. That's it! That's what Jack called it. You never run away in the military, he'd explained to him one day. You just withdraw and regroup.

We're regrouping, troops, he called silently, and felt the firebugs scuttering across his feet as he reclaimed Home. The occasion demanded a greater effort, so he cleared his cracked throat and used up two of the day's ten allotted Out Loud Words. "We're regrouping."

"So I see, Daniel," said The Voice.



Part 6

Daniel. That was familiar. Someone he used to know very well, but lately kept misplacing in the most ridiculous fashion.

And who the hell was this, coming into The Cell? Without warning, or permission. No beg pardons. No introductions. Didn't that person know that this was quite a place apart? The rules here belonged to him, not to some Voice in the dark, and the sooner this interloper realised it, the better.

He moved carefully back to Home, and glared into the blackness. He was quite indignant, and decided not to waste Words on whatever it was that presumed to share the universe with him.

"Hey, Daniel? Why'd'ja throw your button away?"

Wouldn't you like to know! he thought smugly. The glare deepened to a scowl.

"Ah, come on, Danny. No fun if you won't talk too. How about I pull up a chair over here and we have a chat?"

He was outraged. How dare this - this - thing make itself at home? This was Daniel's home, and the name slid inside him with a faint shock, like a long forgotten taste bursting on his tongue. "Daniel." Merely a whisper, but it triggered a crouching in him, as if the sound was a challenge and he unsure of his challenger.

An easy chuckle greeted the name. "No, that's you. This is Jack. Don't you remember, Danny? I used to drive you nuts on purpose. Kinda hobby thing. You know - some guys collect stamps, some guys build planes, I bug the hell out of archaeologists."

Obviously, this Jack person expected a dialogue. Daniel began to rock intently, gripping Saint Seiko in front of his knees so that the green lit up his face.

"Soooo - love what you've done with the place. This is - what? Nouveau Neolithic? You maxed out the card in Stones R Us, right?"

Daniel rocked faster, feeling the anger melt into uncertainty. He didn't like this. His place. His Cell. His rules. This stranger wasn't playing fair.

"I got beer. You want some?"

"Hate beer."

Where did that come from? Daniel blinked hard. His throat ached a little. He'd said that, hadn't he? Okay. Didn't matter. Just because he chose to say something, didn't mean this Jack person was winning.

"No, you don't. You just say that to annoy me."

"I - " No, it had been too long since he'd said that Word and understood any kind of truth to it. He shook his head, and tried again. "Hate beer. Drank it because you wanted me to."

"Really? Hell." There was a pause, and Daniel could almost see the other mirroring him, shaking his own head. "What a waste of good beer."

"You're not real. Go away." The Words scraped flesh it seemed as they rose out of him, and he found himself straining to see the lumps as they fell from his lips. Saint Seiko revealed nothing, but he felt better anyway. Strong Words. Strong mind.

"Oh, now, Daniel, you don't really want me to go, do you?"

"Yes." He lifted his head to face the invisible adversary in the far corner. "You don't belong here. This is my place."

"Don't you want to come home, Daniel?" He could hear the speaker moving about, kicking through the firebugs, over by the waste hole. "Don't you want to go back to your own apartment? Sleep in a real bed for a change?"

"I've got a bed!" Daniel hissed fiercely. "What do you think I'm sitting on?"

"Huh." The voice - the Jack person - was very unimpressed. "Looks like a rock floor to me."

This was so obviously wrong (and - no, no, not frighteningly possible, no) that Daniel didn't deign to answer.

"Hell, forget the bed. How about I just run a big honkin' hose in here and give this baby a washdown? You have no idea what you smell like right now." The Voice was grinning, merciless. "I mean, it's psychedelic what you've got coming off you. Remember those mastadges on Abydos? Middle of the day with that stinkin' desert heat hitting down, and those boys would let rip and we'd all just about faint in self-defence? Way worse, Danny boy, and you know that's saying something."

Daniel heard a noise that sounded suspiciously like a strangled sob. He knew how badly scoured the flesh of his buttocks and thighs was; how the filth that clung to him brought such misery each time he had to journey to the waste hole. To think back on the hours spent crouched over it was to remember a sense of mortification so strong it scorched his mind even as the remains of the Tezhka food burned his body. He didn't need Jack coming here, gloating, pointing out his shame.

"You're not real," he repeated in a whisper, hitching back another cry.

"But I'm your friend," Jack replied, so sure in the night. "You know I only tell you what you need to know."

The anger buzzed inside him again, and Daniel's voice rose. "I don't need you to tell me I stink! And why the hell should I listen to a phantom, a - a military wet dream? That's all you are, and you know it."

Another chuckle from the Far Corner, and Jack's tone grew warm with interest. "Okay. You say I don't exist? Prove it."

"What?"

"Logic me outta here. Come on, Danny, talk me into nothing. You and your words..."

"Fine. Simple."

"Be like proving the non-existence of God, and you do that every day, don't you, Dr Jackson?"

"Oh, right. S-so now you're comparing yourself to God? That's taking megalomania to new heights, O'Neill. Can we say 'narcissistic'?"

"Sure," Jack drawled. "Can we say 'solipsistic'?"

Daniel grew silent, and heard Jack laugh. Annoyance flared anew.

"Don't say it if you can't spell it, Jack." He held a finger in the air, and the action brought another tingle of recognition. He did that. Often. Once upon a time. "Oh, but of course. You're a figment of my imagination, so you can spell it."

There was no answer. As the silence continued Daniel felt a flicker of regret. He had almost begun to enjoy the exchange, infuriating as it was. Probably for the best, he reflected. He'd just got things as he liked them, and he did not need a cynical Colonel picking holes in his universe out of a bored sense of mischief. Already, he knew his awareness of the burning in his thighs had grown again. It had taken so much effort to learn that his body didn't really feel pain - and now, here he was, with Want as his master. Dammit!

"You still haven't unproved me."

It made him jump, and Daniel cursed aloud. Jack laughed.

"Come on, Danny. You know you want to. Argue me into the wild blue yonder. Not that you've got blue in here. Really went for that monochromatic look, didn't you? Back in black."

"Okay. Fine. You don't exist because I make the rules here. And I say that in order for my world to have temporal and physical consistency, you cannot be."

"Did a lousy job, didn't he?"

"What?"

"God. Really screwed the pooch."

"What are you talking about?"

"After all, Danny, human faeces is made of up eighty-five percent pure bacteria. Now, if God knew we had so much bacteria inside us, and our shit would be so full of it, why did He make bacteria smell so bad?"

"Wait a minute!" Another finger held up, this time in triumph. "There's no way you'd know that, Jack!"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean - if you're going to do this, if you're going to - to be here, then you're going to have to be logically consistent with who you really are."

"Okay, I'll buy that. Then how would I say it?"

"You'd say - you'd say, "So how come the Big Cheese made sure we stunk out the place every time we pinched a loaf'?"

"I would?"

"Well, you wouldn't be discussing the percentage of bacteria and chyme in the lower intestine."

"Hey! I never mentioned chyme."

"Well, who did?"

"You did! And I'd never call God Big Cheese either. I'm a Catholic boy, through and through. Never use Jesus and cheeses in the same sentence."

"You might."

"Katie O'Neill's little boy Jack would be struck down for even thinking it."

"Katie? That your mother's name?"

"No, but that's not the point."

"What is the point?"

"That God's master plan should've taken smelly socks and pits into the equation somewhere down the line. I mean, you really hustle right now, Danny Boy."

Daniel's lips tightened. "You mentioned that. Sue me. I haven't had a wash in - in ..." he glanced at the green glow, but the numbers were dancing to the beat of the pain in his hand. He squinted, but they wouldn't slow down, and he glared angrily towards Jack. "Hey! Where's the date gone?"

"It's on your wrist, same as ever."

"No, it's not. It's not!" Anger was cooling into something icy in his empty belly, and he began rocking again. "What have you done with it?"

"Hey, calm down." Jack was bored. "It's probably - they probably came in and took it while you were asleep."

"They did?" Daniel's voice grew hushed. "You saw them?"

"Oh, yeah. I saw 'em."

"What - what did they look like?"

"Ohhh, nasty. Nasty things."

"What kind of nasty things?"

"You remember Professor Kovitz at UCLA? The one with the joined up eyebrows and the adenoid problem? Guy who drew a line through your research funding to the third generation 'cos you pissed him off so good and pro- "

"Yes! Yes! God!" In his agitation, Daniel got shakily to his feet. "I know who you mean!"

"My, my. Who got out of the wrong side of the sarcophagus this morning?"

"Look, I know Professor Kovitz. I mean, the guy basically hounded me out of academia. I think I'd remember him, Jack."

"Soooo…"

"So?"

"So, it's him."

"It's him who?"

"It's him who stole the dates."

"What?" Daniel waved an arm in the darkness. "Are you - are you insane?"

"Not last time I looked."

"So - what. You're telling me that a professor from UCLA - who, I might add, was suffering from emphysema last I saw him - somehow this professor managed to spirit himself through the Stargate, thousands of light years, break into a prison, open my cell door while I'm sleeping all to steal the days off my watch? You're crazy!"

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Am not."

"Jack, there is no - temporal, psychological, criminal, medical… God, logical way you could possibly be right. No way."

There was a pause, and Daniel could hear a shuffling from the Far Corner. He had him on the run, now, and the intellectual hunting of his prey brought a fierce brightness into his mind.

"I saw him, " and Daniel rejoiced at the sullen tone in Jack's voice. "He was eating a pastrami sandwich."

"A ha!"

"'A ha'?"

"Damn right, 'a ha'! The last time I saw Professor Kovitz was in his office as he told me my grants were consigned to the ninth circle of hell. And he was eating a pastrami sandwich at the time. This proves it."

"This proves what?"

"This proves you are simply raiding my subconscious memory for material. And I win."

"And that's important to you, is it?"

Daniel snorted. "Don't tell me it's not important to you, either. There's only room for one of us, and I got here first!"

There was a long sigh, and Daniel felt the blood surging in his body. His heart was hammering quite loudly from the stress, and he realised he hadn't been this worked up in all the years he'd owned this place.

No, not years. It hasn't been years.

How can you tell without the dates?


Blinking hard, Daniel screwed up his eyes to make sense of the blur in front of him. Another sigh sounded in his ear, and he turned as the voice sounded close to his side.

"But you're almost finished, Daniel. You're on your last legs here. I'm strong, and I'm sane. It would really make a whole lot of sense if you left it all to me."

"No!"

"Daniel," and the name was drawled, just like it used to be, when he was real, "you know you're going crazy in here. You couldn't even remember your name until I told you."

There was no arguing that, and Daniel began to shiver.

"I've done this before, Danny. I know what to do," the voice continued, honeyed and frightening as it trickled into his ear. "When I was in prison in Iraq, I made myself a big box. Great, big strong box. And I put all my sanity inside it, sealed it off tight, so when I got out it was all fresh and clean, just waiting for me."

Daniel nodded. Made sense.

"Now, you don't know how to make a box, do you? No practical skills at all. We didn't carry your butt each and every day, you would've fallen into a big black hole - well, whaddya know?" A crooning, as if to seduce the dead, and Daniel shrank from it, back down to the ground that no longer played at being his bed. "Looks like we let you fall after all. Looked away once and - whoops! Gone forever. No skills, Danny. No skills at all."

"I've got skills," Daniel whispered. "I made it this far, didn't I?"

"Sure," the voice agreed. "But this is the end. Isn't it? Nothing left of you, and this is the way you're going to announce it to the world. Daniel Jackson has left the building, folks."

"No..."

But he knew the truth was building, banking like storm-clouds in the roiling black. The dates were gone. He'd lost his button. Soon he would unravel across the world, and the stone would allow him to soak into its bleak coldness so that nothing remained of the pitiful figure that once strode the universe like a conqueror.

Not a universe. A prison. A place where people were left behind to rot. It was three cubic metres in size, it had a steel door, it had a hole in the corner for waste, it had small creatures that bit and brought pain and inflammation. There was no gaoler, no warden, no counsellor, no speech. No hope. There was no hope.

A wail of grief possessed him, and he let it free. It hurt as it tore from him, but he screamed again and again, letting the sound echo back inside him and journey out once more until all that was left was a banshee howl.

In a tiny, cramped space without even a date to claim the moment, Daniel Jackson grieved alone for the end of his days.



Part 7

There were words and a boy, and they lived together deep in the darkest stone, where no-one and nothing could find them. The boy took the words and he built a box - a strong and sturdy box, deep and dark of itself. It was made of all the woods in all the worlds. There was sandalwood, and pine; oak, cherry, balsa, blackwood; boxwood, walnut, jarrah, beech; there was eucalypt, cedar, willow and birch. Through every slat he laid a bone, and round every bone he wrapped a word; until the box was as intricate and strong as a stare's nest in a sill, safe before the winter winds.

Then the boy took his fingers and carved the letters onto the box's sides. Many letters, from many lands, and each one sung a little as he placed it carefully beside its brother. The box was so beautiful the boy began to cry, and where his tears fell nails drove in deep to the heart of the wood, anchoring it to its task.

At last the boy and his words were done. Sighing, he opened the box, and inside it smelt of all good things - of wind, of waves, of greenness and sunlight. It spoke of gulls and hawks, deer and dogs, and the boy laughed out loud to feel the heady breezes that blew as the bones eased their sides.

But the boy knew that the box had a purpose, and couldn't be delayed. So he reached to the back of his neck and pulled out his soul, which glowed softly in the dark as a sign of its woe. Gently he placed his soul into the box, and closed the lid tight. The wood and bones clicked into place, and they hummed with the merriment of blood in its course; and the boy hummed too, as he sat in the dark, and he hugged the box with its wonderful burden tight to his chest in his arms. If he listened hard and ignored the words he could hear the song of the bone-bound wood, and the sharper tunes of the nails as they gripped hard in the heart of their master.

The boy and the box sat closely alone, as the days and the dates danced by. And in the night, that never dawned, they whispered their secrets one to the other, and laughed to think of a world outside that knew nothing of dark, nothing of night.

Until at last the boy's hands grew weary, and his arms grew long. There was no strength left to hold the box, and he watched it sadly as it slid away, into the Endless Other on the far side of the world. It took with him all he knew of himself save darkness; and all he knew of the world, save pain. It was a grievous loss, and he mourned in full.

So when the door opened and a light burned his skin, it was no surprise he cried out in his grief. For what did light know of him and his? What could light bring him, now that the box was lost?

 

Go on to Chapter Two




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Within the context and limitations of the site Disclaimer, Any and All original characters, situations, story line, dialogue and narrative © April 8th, 2001, the author