Written: December 11th, 2004 – December 30th, 2004
Takes Place: Late season 4 or early season 5, somewhere after "Entity".
Summary: SG-1 gates to a planet long since deserted by the civilization that once existed there…but they find themselves not quite alone when Colonel O'Neill is placed in harm's way by an abandoned, automated defense system. Working against the clock, Major Carter may be the only key to freeing him and the result of her actions may change things between them forever.
Rating: PG-13 for minor language and for mild sexual content.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but a bunch of tuition bills and a 94 Eagle Vision that's coming up on 150,000 miles. This fic was written purely in my spare time, for my own amusement, and I'm making no money from it. More's the pity.
Author's Note: This is my first SG-1 attempt…just a short 'lil fic. Lemme know what you think; I've got plenty more ideas where this one came from, and – God help me – they're all longer and they all revolve around Jack and Sam.
Major Samantha Carter heard the rip of Velcro behind her and glanced back to see Daniel rifling through his field vest pockets. "I wonder if it would zap an MRE?" he wondered aloud. His search yielded a foil-wrapped ration bar and he studied it intently, as if the answer to his question might be listed alongside the nutritional content information.
"It seems certain that it would, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c replied. "There is no evidence to support speculation that the force field would make any distinction between lethal and non-lethal objects."
Daniel frowned at the MRE, his eyebrows drawing together thoughtfully. "Still…couldn't hurt to try."
Since she agreed with both of her teammates, Carter said nothing and merely watched as Daniel turned and faced the force field. "Ready, Jack?"
Out of her line of sight, Carter heard Colonel O'Neill's hollow voice resound slightly in the larger, empty cavern adjacent to theirs. "Teal'c's right, Daniel. It's not gonna work."
Undaunted, Daniel drew back his arm for a soft, underhanded pitch and gently tossed the MRE through the opening between the two caverns. The instant crackle and hiss of discharged electricity told Carter that the ration bar had fared no better than the nine millimeter they'd tried first, hours ago.
After the dire nature of the situation had become clear, they'd quickly run the gauntlet of items to try throwing through the force field, hoping that at least one of them would survive to land on the other side, where O'Neill could make use of it. But the handgun had merely been the first in a succession of failed attempts. Carter's knife, Daniel's zat gun and even an energy blast from Teal'c's staff weapon had all suffered the same fate. Everything they'd tried to pass through so far had been obliterated as thoroughly as a mosquito in a bug zapper.
Carter hadn't really expected the MRE to make it, but like Daniel had said, it was worth a shot.
She turned back to the exposed panel of crystals she'd been working on, trying to make sense of their function. From the next cavern, O'Neill's disembodied voice echoed out to them. "Mmmm. Yum."
Daniel's own voice was a mixture of apology and the vaguely chiding tone he always adopted in defense of O'Neill's sarcasm. "Sorry, Jack."
"Hey, don't worry about it. I've been meaning to shed a pound or two, anyway."
From the panel, Carter snorted. Having just entered the second half of his fourth decade, her commanding officer was in better physical condition than most men she knew that were currently in what society would generally consider their 'prime'. He may not have had the body of a twenty five-year old, any longer, but there wasn't any aspect of his physique that wasn't toned and ready for combat. Not that Carter had looked, or anything. Not on purpose, anyway. Well…not for very long, in any case. Getting caught ogling her CO wouldn't exactly help her maintain the level of professionalism it had been necessary for them to assume, given their working relationship.
"But don't let that stop you," O'Neill added after a moment. "Eat. That's an order."
Carter heard the sounds of Daniel and Teal'c moving to obey behind her, but didn't budge from her own position at the panel. If she could just figure out what the blinking orange crystal signified…
It took less than ten seconds for the expected admonishment; a light tone with a hint of command to show he was serious. "Major…"
Carter sighed and yanked open one of the flaps on her field vest, a mumbled "Yessir," her only acknowledgement of his uncanny perception that she'd been the one who hadn't immediately complied.
She maliciously bit into the cardboard texture of the ration bar, aggravated by the situation. A few paces took her back to the further-most corner of the north wall again, where she once more began to examine its craggy surface for any sign that another panel might exist. It had taken her an hour to locate the first one, but the discovery had thus far not proven useful. As far as she was able to determine from the alien technology, the panel she had access to controlled the initiation of the force field. She was beginning to suspect that a similar panel – designed to shut the force field down – had to be in the other underground chamber.
The two caverns were actually one giant cavity in the earth, separated by a rocky partition that contained a gap in the middle measuring approximately a foot and a half across at chest-height, then widening to nearly five feet at the floor. The barrier causing them all the trouble, however, was a golden wall filling the gap from one side to the other, shimmering and translucent. The last time she'd checked on him, Colonel O'Neill was visible on the other side sitting in an uncomfortable position on the floor against the north wall, in roughly the same spot that Carter was now occupying on the other side of the divide.
Earlier, on Carter's directions, he'd tried to maneuver himself into a standing position in order to seek out the panel that might be there. Unfortunately, the nature of the confinement around his ankles didn't provide him with enough range to turn around or allow for anything more than a cursory scan of the wall behind him.
When they'd first entered the cavern Daniel had consulted his directions and headed straight for the opening, spurring O'Neill to shoot an arm out in restraint. "Hold on, there, cowboy. Let me check it out first."
"Jack, there's no danger. No one's set foot in these chambers for at least two millennia. The inscription this translation refers to hasn't been seen by anyone since before the birth of Christ, back on Earth."
"Then it can wait another two minutes before you get your beady eyes all over it. Look, I just don't want you tripping in the dark and breaking your eager little neck, all right?"
Brandishing a flashlight and several flares, Colonel O'Neill had gone through the gap alone after shedding his vest so that he could squeeze through the narrow pass. The way Carter figured it, there must have been some sort of sensor concealed in either the wall or the floor that detected his presence, because the barrier had flared into existence as soon as he reached the north wall where the inscription was purported to be.
The generation of the force field also caused a low emission of sound…a sort of hum. Upon hearing it, O'Neill had turned around and taken a step back the way he'd come. But that was as far as he got.
At first Carter had thought his boot was simply caught in a crevice. But when no amount of tugging freed him he knelt to undo the laces...and that was when she realized he was in serious trouble. The stone oozed up around O'Neill's ankle, rising above the top of his boot and causing him to snatch his hands back with a startled "Whoa!"
Teal'c had started forward then in automatic reflex, the business end of his staff weapon already lowering as he prepared to fire.
"Don't move!" O'Neill had commanded. "Don't try to come through."
Teal'c had hesitated, giving Carter the opportunity to interject herself between him and the barrier. On the other side she'd seen O'Neill kneeling down, trying to release his foot. "Sir? Are you all right?""Oh yeah, peachy…except for the part where the ground just tried to eat my leg! Nice planet you've got here, Daniel."
"Are…ah…are you in any pain?" Daniel had wanted to know. The expression on his face was his patented 'concerned but fascinated' look.
"Nope. Just stuck."
"Can you slide your foot out of the shoe?"
"I don't know what kind of shoes you've been wearing for the past five years, Daniel, but I've got combat boots. And you don't just 'slide' your foot out of a combat boot."
"It was just a suggestion."
"Well, suggest me something useful."
"Sir, do you have a weapon? Can you cut through the rock somehow, or bust it up?"
"Negative. My gear's on your side, because according to a certain archaeologist I know, this was supposed to be a non-hostile environment."
"This material looks pretty resistant; toss me my nine mil."
And that was how it had begun. They couldn't get a weapon or tool through to O'Neill, and he couldn't get back to them. Worse yet, the foundation had been creeping slowly but steadily up O'Neill's legs. Both were encased nearly up to the knee, now, causing him no small amount of discomfort since he couldn't sit down properly or move at all. With no other options apparent, the remaining members of SG-1 had set about trying to figure out how to kill the force field.
They'd been trying to find a way to shut it down for nearly three hours, now, with no success, and the clock was ticking.
Forced into inactivity for the moment, Carter left the wall to hover over Daniel. "How's that translation coming?"
The archaeologist popped the last absurdly large piece of a ration bar into his mouth in order to free both hands. Chewing laboriously, he pulled his papers and text over to rest on his lap as he settled more comfortably, crossing his legs.
Carter waited, but Daniel was still chewing. The moment stretched out; as the pause grew noticeably lengthy, Carter raised her eyebrows. "Daniel?"
He held up a finger, silently asking for another moment as he masticated furiously. Carter repressed a smile. She respected her teammates immensely, but each of them was capable of such childish behavior sometimes, it was impossible not to think they were cute.
Finally, he swallowed. "Ah…sorry," he said, looking a little sheepish. "When I'm excited I tend to get a little ahead of myself sometimes."
This time the smile was too difficult to contain, and Carter's lips curved. "Tell me something I don't know."
Daniel took her words at face value, opening the book and angling it so that she could see the symbols…as if they'd make any sense to her. "Well, from the briefing you already know that the people who used to live here called themselves 'Vak'Umcuu', and that they left behind substantial literary works. It seems that their entire culture revolved around emotion and we've found great, epic poems devoted to just about every one imaginable. Love, hate, joy, emotional suffering, you name it."
"Are there any 'hurry up and get to the point' poems?" O'Neill called out from the other cavern.
"Uh…" Daniel blinked rapidly, disconcerted as he always was when his concentration was abruptly broken. Once he reclaimed the thread he turned his head back to her as if the interruption had never taken place. "And you know that many of the texts contained references to an inscription down here about a technology we've never heard of before."
"That is the reason General Hammond ordered us to investigate these caverns," Teal'c said.
"Yeah, see, some of us have more pressing concerns than what some vacuum cleaner thought about feelings."
Daniel had to know that O'Neill was deliberately goading him, but seemed helpless to resist rising to the bait. "Vak'Umcuu," he enunciated doggedly.
Carter took a deep breath, held it. "So…the inscription on the wall?"
"Well, I can't make it all out from this angle, and Jack's sort of blocking the very bottom…but I think I've managed to translate everything I can see."
Daniel spotted something in the translation that made his brow furrow and he paused long enough to rapidly flip through several pages in the book he held. Apparently finding what he was looking for, he used his pen to note a slight adjustment on the finished copy. "Yeah," he continued, "like I was saying, their whole culture had its roots in emotion. It seems that even their technology was based on it. According to the inscription, this force field was originally developed as some sort of test."
Carter frowned. "A test of what?"
"Of…of intentions, in a way. See here," he said, pointing to a specific patch of text, "it talks about how only the 'pure of heart' can pass through the barrier. Now apparently it can be tweaked to ascertain friend from foe, someone with good intentions or bad intentions…obviously there are potential applications for us."
"Well yeah," Carter said, the gears in her mind already churning. "If we could figure out how it works, we could create more and place them at strategically vital locations. I mean, imagine if we'd had something like that when the Tok'ra representatives came to meet with the president. Instead of that whole zay'tarc fiasco we could have just set up a barrier like this one around the meeting and protected everyone. This could save lives."
Her blue eyes clouded. "We maybe could have found another way to stop Martouf."
Next to her, Teal'c shifted his stance and Daniel's gaze flickered up to meet hers sympathetically. Both men were fully aware of the convoluted feelings she had wrapped up in the Tok'ra who had been mate to Carter's short-lived symbiote, Jolinar. Martouf's death had only added another level of confusion to her already troubled mind.
Carter closed her eyes and shook her head. This wasn't the time. Fighting to reclaim her balance, something else occurred to her. "Wait a minute, you said no one's been down here for a couple thousand years…where's this force field getting its power?
Daniel willingly turned back to the translation. "Well that's the fascinating thing, and the key to how the barrier works. It's actually engineered to be sustained by low-level electrical impulses."
"What kind of electrical impulses?"
Daniel looked at her significantly. "Like the kind you'd find on an EEG."
Teal'c looked down at Daniel, one eyebrow raised in an expression that Carter knew was about as close as the Jaffa normally got to surprise. "You believe the energy field is being generated by O'Neill himself?"
Daniel scratched the back of his neck. "Well, by his brain, yeah. That's why the field didn't pop up until he entered the other chamber."
"But how does it…" Carter started, then shook her head again. "Never mind, we can worry about that later. Does it say how to shut it down?"
"Yeah and, uh…preferably without having to turn off my brain." O'Neill added.
"According to this there's nothing he can do to free himself," Daniel started.
"That is not acceptable," Teal'c stated.
"Aww, thanks, buddy," O'Neill called out.
Daniel glanced up at the Jaffa. "Well, I didn't say it was hopeless, just that Jack can't break himself out, but we already knew that. He can't move, after all. Help's going to have to come from our side."
"But how?" Carter asked, feeling frustrated. "The force field fries everything we try to send through."
"Every thing," Daniel emphasized, "but maybe not every one."
"Please explain, Daniel Jackson."
The archaeologist once more referred to his translation. "Like I said, the original purpose of this force field was a sort of test of intentions."
Suddenly, Carter got it. "Only those pure of heart," she remembered.
"Exactly. Now, the way I figure it, the Vak'Umcuu just wanted to make sure the technology they left behind didn't fall into the wrong hands. That is to say, people who would use the technology for evil purposes. They wanted only good people to have it."
Carter followed the logic. "And only people who genuinely cared enough to risk going through the barrier to save the victim would be able to survive the experience."
"Hey, guys, can we maybe not refer to me as the 'victim'? Whaddya say?"
"So that's all we have to do?" Carter asked, ignoring O'Neill's not-so-helpful interjections. "Just have good intentions and go through the force field?"
"Well, uh…" Suddenly Daniel seemed unable to meet her eyes. His own shifted down to his translation, then flitted up to Teal'c, over to the force field, and then finally his gaze came to rest somewhere slightly above and to the left of Carter's head. "It's…um…just a little bit more complicated than that."
"How so?" asked Teal'c.
"Well if you remember, I said the field can be adjusted to filter out those who mean harm, et cetera, but that the original purpose was a sort of test."
"Of intentions," Carter indicated that she was following.
Here Daniel looked even more uncomfortable. "And, you'll probably also remember me saying that the entire culture was based on emotion."
"Of course we remember, Daniel," Jack put in from the next room. "It was like, five minutes ago. Even my attention span's not that short."
She would normally have smiled at the joke, but something about the way Daniel was acting set warning bells off in her head. "So…our intention to rescue him isn't enough to get us safely through the force field?"
"Ah…no. According to this," he said, gesturing toward the damnable translation, "the Vak'Umcuu decided that there was one emotion in particular that the sort of people they didn't want to get the technology wouldn't possess."
Carter looked at him suspiciously, feeling something heavy and leaden forming in her stomach. "Which emotion?"
Daniel finally met her gaze, apology written all over his face. "Love."
"I…see," Carter said, aware of how quiet it had abruptly gotten. Teal'c was still standing stoically in place, but had lifted his head so that he was face-forward again. Daniel was pursing his lips and looking down at his lap. And there was a great, weighty silence emanating from O'Neill's cavern.
She swallowed. "Could uh…could you guys give me a minute?"
"Sure," Daniel said, fairly leaping to his feet. "No problem. We'll just…uh…" He gathered his texts and made to follow Teal'c, who was already heading toward the opposite side of the chamber. He paused just before catching up, however, and glanced back at her.
"Sam…one more thing. The rock around his legs is going to keep growing. If we can't, ah, get to him in time…"
Carter nodded, and he turned around again and walked over to join Teal'c. She looked at the barrier, absently noticing that it was actually quite pretty, despite its lethality. It almost looked like dust motes floating through a ray of sunshine.
Trying to gather her thoughts, Carter slowly walked over to it and halted a foot away. She realized that she was biting her bottom lip and forced herself to stop before raising her eyes.
Colonel O'Neill was no longer sitting against the wall, and Carter immediately realized why. Since the last time she'd looked in on him the rock had crept even further up his body; his lower half was now completely encased
Gripped at once by an intense dread, Carter forgot for a moment what she'd come over to say. "Oh my God. Sir, at this rate we haven't got very long."
O'Neill's expression was dry. "Ya think?" Like Daniel and Teal'c, he was managing to look everywhere but at her.
Carter closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Did you hear everything Daniel said?"
"Yeah," he answered. "Man, these people needed a hobby."
Carter was unwilling to let her attention be diverted. She spared a glance over her shoulder at Daniel and Teal'c on the other side of the chamber, and stepped as close as she dared to the barrier. Angling her body in an effort to gain them a little more privacy, she looked at him meaningfully and kept her voice low. "Sir…if what the inscription says is true, I could-"
"No," O'Neill interrupted. Firmly.
"Not a chance, Carter. You saw what it did to that MRE and the weapons. That is one hell of a thing to risk. And that's even assuming the people who left the inscription weren't pathological liars. It all sounds like a load of bunk to me. How could a beam of energy tell something like that, anyway?"
"Well, I suppose it is possible. If it's being generated by the electrical impulses in your brain, I assume it must have some way of scanning the impulses of whoever else comes through, overlapping both readings to determine…"
Carter stopped, belatedly realizing that he'd tricked her into analyzing the scientific plausibility of the barrier in order to distract her from any more talk of trying to go through it herself. She wasn't surprised, really. They'd never done anything but dance around this thing between them, never getting too close to how they truly felt. "Colonel, I believe the zay'tarc machine proved that this sort of technology is possible."
"But the zay'tarc machine didn't zap you out of existence if you weren't completely sincere. It just…turned red and swirled differently."
If she wasn't completely sincere? What was that supposed to mean? Did he think her feelings weren't genuine, somehow? He knew how she felt about him…didn't he?
She didn't have the chance to ask, because he was going on. "And we can't just assume that this thing's going to work the way the inscription says it does. It could turn you into a newt, for all we know."
"But what other choice do we have?" Carter wanted to know. "The only access on this side are the controls for initiating the force field. The controls to shut it down have to be on your side."
Finally, he looked right at her. "Then find another way."