“What the hell?!” Jack screamed and rubbed his sore nose. Sam was right by his side, running her hands over the spot where Daniel had disappeared, and even if she was silent the same sentiment was clear on her face.
“What happened, Carter?” Jack demanded.
“I don’t know, sir. The wall is just as solid here as everywhere else. Whatever happened must have been temporary, but I have no idea how it happened or even what it was.”
Teal'c, who had until now dutifully remained as a light fixture, stepped up to the wall as well.
“Perhaps it would be wise to consider the words of DanielJackson before he stepped through the mural.”
“You’re right,” Sam exclaimed and turned to the two men with glittering eyes. “He said we have to stop looking at the forest as a painting and instead see it as a real forest.”
“Really?” Jack replied skeptically “’Cause my nose is pretty sure it’s a wall and not a forest.”
“Yes, I suppose it must somehow require us to believe that the forest is real…” Her voice trailed off as the thought ran away from her and the logic world where she was most comfortable. Faith had always been a subject more in Daniel’s department than hers.
“Alright,” Jack grumbled with a glare at the wall. He lifted his flashlight in the same way as Daniel had done and tried to ‘see the forest’. Trying to ignore the pain from his previous encounter with the wall he strode forward. None to his surprise he hit the wall again, albeit less forcefully than the first time.
“Let me try,” Sam requested and assumed the position they were rapidly beginning to associate with attempting to pass through the wall. She stood still for a moment, looking at the remarkable image before her, but it was harder than she’d thought to not remember the solid wall somewhere behind the illusion of depth. In the end she just stepped forward, and just like Jack before her she hit the wall with a thud.
“Why isn’t it working?” Jack asked irritably.
“I think you have to not be afraid to hit the wall,” Sam sufficed with a groan.
“Well, then we know why it worked for Daniel; he’s not afraid of anything even if it makes sense to be.”
Jack glared at the wall again. He was going to get through. Remembering what Daniel had done right before he passed through, he started to study the painting in detail. The trees were actually quite similar to the large pines around his cabin. Keeping the thought of that familiar forest in his mind he stepped forward and this time the wall, painting and all, evaporated before him.
On the other side was a dark staircase that spiraled downwards. Jack’s momentum brought him right over the edge of the first step and he almost dropped his flashlight as he grabbed for the iron railing to steady himself. Once he’d gotten his footing back he turned around, and wasn’t surprised to find a smoothly plastered wall. Okay, no going back. He turned back to the dark stairs and tried to shine his light around the bend in the wall.
There was no response. Crap! He cast another look at the wall from whence he’d come. With no sounds from the two on the other side he had no way of knowing when or if they’d be following. If Daniel had fallen down the stairs – which is most likely with his luck – he could be seriously hurt. With an exasperated sigh Jack started down the stairs alone.
Meanwhile Sam and Teal'c were simultaneously attempting to pass through the portal, as Sam had dubbed it. Flashlights held high and focusing on not remembering the pain of walking head first into a wall they stepped forward, only to once more bruise their faces on the clay hidden behind the illusion.
“I don’t understand what we’re doing wrong,” Sam sighed while rubbing the latest sore spot.
“We must be failing to achieve sufficient belief,” Teal'c answered in his ever level voice.
“Yeah. I wish we could ask Daniel or the colonel how they did it.”
“I believe DanielJackson simply possesses the required faith.”
“And the colonel?”
“His mind is practical. I believe he must have availed himself of the memory of a real forest.”
“You think so?” Sam brightened at this insight from Teal'c.
“Well, maybe we can do the same thing.”
Teal'c merely bowed his head in the way he usually would to show his agreement.
“So,” Sam continued, in a pep-talky kind of voice, as they both returned to face the wall yet again, “imagine a real forest.”
“I believe we must visualize the depicted forest and the one in our memory to be one and the same.”
“Right...Visualize...The forest is real….”
For what seemed to Sam like a long time they stared at the three dimensional forest before them, each conjuring up from memory a forest they knew well. Teal'c thought of his home-world Chulak and its profuse mix of soft- and hardwood trees. Sam turned her mind to a small wooded area where she had used to go camping with her family while her mother was still alive. In unison that spoke heavily of their experience of working together, they silently stepped forward. A part of Sam still expected to hit her head on the wall, but to that part’s surprise the wall dissolved into darkness – and then only Teal'c’s steady presence next to her kept her from falling head first down the stairs.
Teal'c’s rumbling voice echoed down the staircase, and for an agonizing moment the echoes was the only response. Then a crackling erupted from his radio, followed by Jack’s voice.
“We’re down the stairs. Is Carter with you?”
“Indeed she is.”
“Good. I need her down here to take a look at Daniel. He took a tumble down the stairs and I want to make sure he’s okay before I let him lose on the interiors here.”
Amusement and worry mingled in the pit of Sam’s stomach as she and Teal'c hurried down in turn after turn. They found the other half of their team at the foot of the stairs. Daniel lay on the floor, his feet propped up on the last step. By his side was Jack. Sam wasn’t sure if his hand on the younger mans chest was there to comfort him or to hold him down. Judging from the look on Daniel’s face Sam opted for the later and hurried forth to check him over before he lost patience and hurt himself further by trying to get up.
“You probably have a mild concussion,” she told him after the quick examination, “but let me know if you experience any symptoms like pain, nausea or dizziness that could point to something more serious.” Not that you will.
“Great. Can I get up now?” The impatient question was just as much directed to Jack as Sam, and with a pair of matching smirks they both backed away to let him up.
As soon as Daniel was on his feet he snapped up his penlight from the floor and proceeded to shine its light around the room. It was larger than the room upstairs, and seemed to be carved straight out of the bedrock. The walls were smooth and undecorated. Instead of elaborate murals this room was decorated by an intricate mosaic of multicolored tiles on the floor, pointing whoever entered towards a large circular table at the centre of the room. Along the back wall was a massive glass incased display, filled with curious objects that drew Daniel to them like a magnet. Jack smiled again and turned to Sam.
“Well Carter, while our Danny has a field day at the museum over there maybe you could whip out your little thingy-ma-jig and see if that energy source is really down here.”
Sam nodded and did as he said, pulling her scanner out of her pocket and turning it on for the third time today. The signal represented by a green dot was strong and to her relief it had finally stopped dancing around, now pointing her steadily towards the centre of the room. By twisting a few dials on the scanner she fine-tuned the settings and began to circle the table.
The furniture was made of solid stone, seemingly carved from the very same bedrock as the entire room. There were more than a dozen seats around the table, all identical except one. The chair with its back to the display wall had a higher, elaborately carved backboard and instead of legs it stood on a solid base.
When she held it down by the base of the chair, the scanner beeped like an excited tin dog that had found its stick. Sam slid her fingers around the boxlike construction in search of a removable panel or hatch, and eventually found the release at the back right corner. With a hiss the back panel slid down into the floor, revealing the complicated wiring of some sort of machine.
Behind her Daniel was excitedly studying the artifacts behind the glass, practically bouncing up and down as he rushed from one item to another.
“This is amazing. There are objects here from hundreds of civilizations, ranging from primitive to highly developed. And look, look, this looks like a Tollan device, and that over there looks Asgard, and, and I think that there could have belonged to the Nox. Jack, this is extraordinary!”
“Really?” Jack’s voice held its usual cold disinterest for Daniel’s findings, but his heart warmed at the sound of his friend’s enthusiastic rant. It had been far too long since he heard it last. He even found himself curious about where he might be going with it. Well, what did I expect? That living with him wouldn’t affect me in any way?
“Yes, this is evidence that the people of this planet had contact with a multitude of other civilizations, and since I recognize some of them as peoples we’ve met on other planets, most of them were probably not native to this planet. And what’s even more important, I can see no Goa’uld influence whatsoever here. I think this planet once held a quite sophisticated and independent society, which was allied to most of our foremost allies and friendly to those less developed.”
Sam smiled at her fellow geek’s exhilaration as she unclipped her backpack and pulled out a small laptop. After studying the alien device’s wires for another moment she connected the laptop to it with a few of her own. The display flickered to life and showed a complex diagram of energy and data output. Settling down on the floor she began to sift through the information in search of the purpose of the device and possible applications for it back on Earth.
Simultaneously Daniel was pulling out his premier tool: a digital video camera. The elation still strong in his voice, he began dictating as he took a slow-panning capture of the items behind the glass.