After the two geeks had been at it for a good while the muscle-part of the team were beginning to get bored. Not that anyone except his teammates would have been able to distinguish that – or any emotion – from Teal'c’s statuesque stance. Jack on the other hand had gone through the steps of actually curiously checking out the room, via playing with everything he could get his hands on, to nodding off in a chair at the table. Rolling his shoulders to counteract the building stiffness, he sauntered over to Sam and peered over her shoulder onto the incomprehensible figures on the laptop.
“Got anything interesting there Carter?” he drawled in his best bored-kid tone of voice. She ignored his childishness and answered the little portion of him she knew was her CO actually asking for a status report.
“Well, this device is so much more than I first imagined. It is definitely what's powering the forest illusion upstairs, but it also holds a very large quantity of information.”
“Sweet! What does it say? Anything useful?”
“I'm not sure. Most of it is protected by some kind of firewall prohibiting me from actually accessing the information. Some kind of message keeps popping up on my screen though, but I need Daniel to take a look at it and translate.”
“Hey, Danny-boy!” Jack’s shout cut straight into Daniel's videotaping, eliciting an annoyed response from the archaeologist.
“Come take a look at this.”
“What is it?!”
“The device keeps sending me this series of symbols,” Sam answered, quickly diffusing the building tension between her two friends. “I think it might be some sort of message. Can you read it?" She showed Daniel the message on her laptop screen.
Ѩ꞉꞉† ͻ • ͼ ͻ ͽ † ₪ Ξ Ϫ ٿ ٮ
Ѩ꞉꞉† ͼ ͻ • ͽ † ∏ ҈
“It's instructions,” he said after a moment’s pondering.
“Instructions for what?” Jack inquired.
“Well, the message is not text but pictograms. This here…” Daniel pointed at the first of the symbols. “…seems to indicate a chair, a specific one judging by the overlapping lambda-sign.” He jumped up to take a closer look at the chair that the laptop was attached to. The sign that looked like a Greek lambda was at the centre of the carved backboard, confirming his guess that it was the chair referred to in the message.
“What does the next one mean?” Sam urged him on.
“I think the four dots symbolize some kind of panel of buttons.” He sat down in the chair. From this new perspective he expeditiously found the aforementioned buttons on the edge of the table right in front of him. He let his hand slide over the four round buttons.
“Daniel…” Jack’s weary warning was as usual both too late and unheeded, as Daniel tapped in a combination.
“It’s just a code Jack,” Daniel explained amusedly. Before Jack could ask what the code was for a section of the table rose and revealed a row of what looked like small blue circuit cards or data chips.
This time it was Sam who jumped up to take a closer look, albeit a little more hesitant in her movements than Daniel as he carefully picked one of the chips out of its slot. It came loose with a small click, and for a moment the team held their breaths in anticipation of a booby trap. Nothing happened however and they all started to relax, when a loud hissing erupted from the display wall. Jack and Teal'c both leveled their weapons on the offending noise while Sam dove for cover behind the nearest chair. The only one who seemed unsurprised was Daniel.
“Calm down, guys,” he said while walking up to the display wall where a small glass tray had been extended.
“What is it? And how do you know it’s not dangerous?” Jack asked suspiciously. In his experience that was the wisest attitude towards alien devices, especially those offering information seemingly free of charge. Like a certain Ancient repository. He shuddered, but Daniel just waved off his fretfulness with an indulgent gesture.
“It’s a gift, for us. It was in the instructions. See…” He picked up the item from the tray and showed it to the rest of them. “…it looks just like the one that’s like the triangle with bunny ears.”
Jack was not entirely convinced either of the items they’d received was harmless, but in lack of a clear threat he lowered his weapon anyway.
“What is it?” he curiously asked Daniel, who was carefully examining the item in his hand.
“I don’t know, but I think it represents the people who built this place. We should leave something for them in return, something that represents us.”
“Why? They’re all gone, there’s no one here to receive it.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that. This place is too clean to be completely abandoned.”
“He’s right, sir,” Sam interjected, making Jack throw up his arms in a dramatic gesture of defeat.
“Okay, okay. What should we give them then?”
“Hm…” Daniel considered the items at their disposal. There wasn’t much that truly represented Earth, or that they didn’t need themselves for that matter. They always tried to travel lightly when they had to move on foot. “I know! I have another tape for my camera. Give me a second…there.” Daniel exchanged the tape in his video camera, tucking away the precious recording of the display wall in a vest pocket. He handed the camera to Sam, and gestured at her to start recording.
“Hi!” he beamed and waved at the red blinking light when she pointed it in his direction. “I’m not sure if you can understand me…my name is Daniel Jackson, and I and my team are peaceful explorers from a planet called Earth. We come in search of friendship and knowledge. Ehm…thank you for your gifts. I hope you have some means of sending us a message if you are interested in being our friends. Je m’appelle Daniel Jackson. Mon équipe et moi sommes des explorateurs pacifiques, d'une planète appelée la Terre. Nous venons en quête de l'amitié et de la connaissance. Merci pour vos dons. J'espère que vous avez des moyens de nous envoyer un message si vous êtes intéressé à être nos amis. Mein Name ist Daniel Jackson …”
Daniel proceeded to translate his message into every human and alien language he knew, finishing off with a rough version in Unas. Ought to be one of them they recognize. Then he took the camera from Sam and panned over her, Jack and Teal'c as they more or less enthusiastically waved to the unknown recipients of the recording. Finally he turned the lens toward a notepad he fished out of his pocket and wrote the ‘gate-address to Earth. He filmed the symbols on the paper for a few seconds before turning the camera off and placing it in the glass tray protruding from the display wall. With the same hissing noise with which it had appeared it slid seamlessly back into the glass, and the camera disappeared in a puff of blue smoke.
“Where’d it go?” Sam exclaimed and rushed forward to peer through the glass.
“Hopefully to the people who built this place,” Daniel replied. “Maybe later they’ll place it in the display with the items other peoples left.”
“Cool! We’ll be in the hall of fame.” Jack declared with his trademark levity. “What now? We done here?”
“Yes, sir. I think we’ve got what we came for.” Sam confirmed, while Daniel reluctantly nodded his agreement. As always, he would have liked to spend ten times the time he was allowed exploring the site, but he would have to make do with his recording to study back on-base. And if I’m lucky Hammond will agree to send a follow-up team to investigate further, and I can review their findings as well.
“So, how do we get out of here?” was Jack’s next question directed to his trusted geniuses. Silence fell for long seconds as they looked to each other for the answer none of them had. In the end Jack, as the team leader, took charge and ordered:
“Teal'c, check if we can get out the way we came in. The rest of us will take another look around down here.”
Teal'c inclined his head and ascended the stairs to investigate for a way out. He knocked on the wall where they had entered, but could not hear the distinct hollow echo that would have told him that there was a space on the other side. The wall seemed just as solid as when they had entered, and unaware of its thickness Teal'c was reluctant to try shooting a hole in it unless it was absolutely necessary.
Meanwhile the rest of the team were thoroughly searching the underground room for a different way out. Their only find was a squared arch mounted right into the stone wall on the right hand of the display. It looked just like a door-frame but the whole thing, the arch and the space inside of it, seemed carved out of the rock that was the wall. When Teal'c rejoined the three humans they were all scouring the arch with eager fingers to find a release that might open a hidden passage.
“No cigar, sir.” Sam sighed and sat back on her haunches when her third going over yielded no result.
Jack kicked the solid wall were the nonexistent exit should to have been.
Daniel also halted his probing around the edge of the arch. He got to his feet, and his friends immediately identified the ‘I might have an idea’-look on his face. They watched him as he strode over to Sam’s laptop, which was still plugged in and displaying the pictogram message from the alien device.
“Jack, I think I know how to get us out.”
“You do?” I figured as much.
“Yeah, there’s another part to the instructions, the second line. I understand it now that we found that door-frame. See, it looks just like this symbol here.” He pointed at the screen for the others to see. “So, if I do this…”
Daniel checked the combination of symbols and pushed the corresponding buttons on the table panel. All of a sudden the wall inside the arch came alive, with the shimmering event horizon of an open Stargate. The sight sent a shudder through Daniel, as he was struck by a memory from years ago, when Ma’chello’s Goa’uld killing gadget had made him see a similar display of a puddle without its ‘gate. That time it had been contained within his file cabinet, and he’d been the only one who could see it. Some things I really wish I didn’t remember.
Sam pointed her flashlight at the image and just like the forest image earlier, its three dimensional effect deepened when hit by the light. It even seemed to move and ripple like a real event horizon. She testingly stretched out her hand and felt the smooth rock wall behind the illusion.
“It’s like the portal we came through before,” she affirmed. “It must be some sort of advanced transportation device that the people of this planet used to protect this place. From what we experienced with the forest mural, I’ve concluded that it most likely detects brainwaves and that it somehow reacts to the section of the brain associated with belief, thus opening the portal.”
“Marvelous. We have to do more of that ‘faith makes the magic work’-stuff? My head is still sore after the last one.”
“Afraid so, sir,” Sam answered in a consoling voice, but she didn’t even try to hide the smirk breaking across her face like a wave on the shore at Jack’s whiny comment. Teal'c however opted for an actually helpful reply.
“Perhaps DanielJackson can be of assistance, and guide the remainder of us through this time.”
“Good thinking Teal’c. Daniel, how’d you get through that forest-portal-thingy on first attempt?”
Jack’s query brought Daniel out of his memories and back to the present. He forced away the fear-filled déjà-vu invoked by the portal and approached it, trying to remember it was their only way out.
“Well, it is like Sam says, it sort of runs on belief. If you really believe the image is real, you can pass through it. The effect with the light just makes it easier to believe it is real.”
“Okay,” Jack acquiesced. “We’ll do it the opposite order this time, since you’ve got it figured out, Daniel. Carter, you’re first.”
Sam hurriedly gathered up her things and closed the hatch in the base of the chair, before she stepped up to the portal with her flashlight held up high.
“Think of home,” Daniel shouted just as she stepped forward towards the shimmering image. His words awoke the image of the gate-room in the SGC from her memory, before she even realized what he had said, and in the very moment she turned her head to ask him she stepped into the image and disappeared.
“You’re next, big guy,” Jack prompted with a pleased grin and a tap on Teal'c’s shoulder. The Jaffa grabbed his staff weapon tighter and followed in Sam’s track, conjuring up the emotion of stepping through the real ‘gate from his mind as he approached the portal. This time he too managed to pass through on his first attempt. Without another word Jack grabbed Daniel’s arm and gently shoved him towards the event horizon image.
“You sure?” Daniel asked. “I could go last if you want. You did say opposite order.”
“Just go, Daniel. I’ll be right behind you.”
Daniel nodded and stepped through the illusion, leaving Jack alone in the underground room. He delayed for a moment, revolving slowly in one spot to check that they hadn’t left anything behind. Then he turned to the fake puddle in the wall and pointed his flashlight at it. He brought Daniel’s advice to mind and thought of Earth. There’s no place like home. To his relief his first try was a success, and in a flash of an instant he found himself standing in the desert blinking in the bright late afternoon sun.
A few feet ahead was Daniel, knelt down to investigate a small raised stone sticking out of the sand. His eyes ached from the piercing sunlight so Jack dug in his vest pocket for his cap.
“We’re not far from the canyon,” Sam imparted to him as he tugged it on. “There’s maybe an hour or two left until dark, so we might make it home without staying another night.”
“Sweet!” Jack exclaimed and readjusted his backpack. In an onset of generosity he turned to Daniel and asked, “Ready to go, Danny?” Even if he didn’t seem to, he knew very well that he far too often pulled the younger man away from his archeological finds. To Jack’s surprise Daniel got to his feet at once and brushed the sand off his knees.
“Yup,” he said, and continued as they set out in their habitual duck-line manner, “There’s not much here anyway, the circle of stones was probably just placed there to mark the spot for arrival though the portal” Jack looked back and affirmed that the little upraised stone was in fact one in a circle, at which centre the team had appeared. Makes sense. Wouldn’t want to go through the portal and end up right on top of an unsuspecting someone.
“I wonder why they picked that specific spot though, and not one closer to the Stargate. After all, the portal did seem to indicate that it would send us to the ‘gate. Perhaps…” Daniel continued his thought process out loud, and as they walked towards the setting sun his friends listened to his ideas about the planet, the people who had lived there and their strange faith-driven transport portals.
When darkness fell Jack was disappointedly forced to declare it too risky to continue. The canyon couldn’t be more than a few hundred meters ahead, but in the gloom that made details indiscernible they could easily step off the edge and get hurt. He wasn’t about to jeopardize the rare occurrence of a mission where no one got hurt just to make it home a few hours early.
“We’ll just get home tomorrow like planned,” he said while they set up camp in the light of night vision goggles, in equal parts to cheer himself up as the other three.