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
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
But underneath his newfound stability lurked an unwelcome thought. Twenty
eight hours, and his world had been reduced to the joy of meeting bodily
He would have to do better.
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
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
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
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.
The numbers, the numbers… green lights in front of his
eyes, and they were important. For some very good reason, that he couldn't
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
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…
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…
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
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
Now there's a name he hadn't heard for a while. Hello again. You feel
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
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...
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
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.
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
"I got beer. You want some?"
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
"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."
"Logic me outta here. Come on, Danny, talk me into nothing. You and your
"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?"
"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
"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'?"
"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."
"Katie O'Neill's little boy Jack would be struck down for even thinking
"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,
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."
"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
"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!"
"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."
"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."
"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."
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
In a tiny, cramped space without even a date to claim the moment, Daniel
Jackson grieved alone for the end of his days.
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
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?
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