A field somewhere in Wiltshire, England
'You would hardly know it's there.' The thought fills the abstract space in Rob's head and focuses his attention back to the metal detector. He tended to zone out when working a field and this one, stretching out over the floor of a valley nestling in the shadow of the Wiltshire Plains, was a featureless, treeless expanse of ploughed chalky flint and scree. What had caught his eye while his mind was elsewhere? Rob backtracks a few paces and then sees it. A shallow depression in the ground, barely visible. Too small to be a dry dew pond. An old well maybe? Rob runs the metal detector head slowly over the shallow depression not expecting to get anything and so when the the low beep of the detector changes to a high whine he is taken aback. The hairs on the back of his neck rise, not just with the thought of a find but as though he is being watched. He stops and looks round half expecting to see someone but he is alone in the field under a grey sky. He marks the spot with a small red flag on a tent peg and then rummages through his backpack for the trowel he carries at all times.
Dropping to his knees, Rob starts to slowly clear away the soil around the red flag and, after a minute or two the first coin appears. Within an hour Robert 'Rob' Bowden has uncovered over a thousand silver and gold coins and there seems to be more and more, the deeper he digs. After another hour, the largest hoard of Iron Age coins ever found lies in the folds of his parka coat and, with numb fingers in the chill, darkening air, Rob carries on digging, uncovering more coins here and there until the dull scrape of metal stops him. In the failing light of dusk he can just make out a small metal box, lead maybe, and then the soil gives way to the solid chalk bedrock running under the field and up onto the plains. He carefully loosens the box from the chalk and tries to open it but it holds fast. Rob glances around him, night is falling, only a thin rim of light remains on the western horizon and he glances at his watch, 4.20pm. Time to call it a day. He makes a note of the GPS position on his phone and, carefully folding in the edges of his parka he tries to pick it up but the find is far too heavy for one person and the coat edges pull apart, spilling the coins out across the ploughed ground. Rob swears softly to himself. The light is gone and he can't walk out with the coins on his own, he has no option but to call it in. It means he will have to declare the find. More than likely it will be classed as treasure and end up in the hands of a museum, he'll be lucky if he sees half the proceeds from the land owner. He shakes his head and sighs, then, without knowing why, pockets the small lead box and dials the emergency find number for a local metal detector group.
February 2015 Department of Coins & Medals, The British Museum.
Agnes Dale pauses for a second, glancing down the long illuminated table in the middle of room at the hoard of coins, each one in its own small glass case. Over two hundred gold coins, nine hundred silver and copper alloy coins and several hundred unclassified coins, either too damaged to identify easily or simply of unknown origin. All of them Celtic Iron Age dating from between 400BC and 100BC. A hoard of coins this large and of this period in time is an unprecedented find. It had become a media sensation, not least of all because the hoard very nearly could have disappeared into the black market. It was simply the size and scale of the find meant a local detectorist group became involved and they had the sense to contact the local coroner to register it. The young man who found the hoard is now nowhere to be found, perhaps scared off by the media interest or the legal process, so for now, her job is too assess the coins and issue PAS numbers and index and catalogue them. An independent committee will establish their likely worth and then the museum can buy them from the landowner. Why the young man hasn't stepped forward to claim the find rights is surprising but if he was working unregistered and alone maybe he feared prosecution for trespass or worse. Agnes' attention is drawn back to the table and its glittering treasure. She pulls on a pair of gloves and smiles, her eyes drawn to the section of damaged and unknown coins.
Inside the University Office of Dr. Daniel Jackson, America.
'Oh, Professor Jackson, before you go, there's another email. What should I do?'
'Email?...from who?' Daniel pauses at the door of his office and distractedly runs a hand over his thinning hair.
'The British Museum woman.' Louise, his secretary, taps her screen in front of her. 'Agnes Dale.'
'Yes, again, what do you want me to do, she keeps emailing these pictures of coins.'
'Yes,... coins.' Louise smiles and shrugs her shoulders.
'But I know nothing about coins, I'm a language specialist, can't you put her off?'
'Yes, again and I'm going to be very late for my lecture, again, if I don't go now and you know how much trouble it causes with the Principle. Have you seen my glasses?'
'In your top pocket, oh, and Professor..'
'Your lecture notes are still on your desk.'
'Louise you are a lifesaver!' Dr. Jackson races back in to his office and snatches the notes from his desk just as the Principle of the University arrives. 'Jackson? Jackson? Ah, there you are, I've come to make sure you actually get to your lecture on time this time, you know, fee paying students don't like to be kept waiting...'
'I was just on my way, Principle..I forgot these.'
'We do have the latest multimedia technology, paper notes, so old fashioned, we are a University for the new digital age...'
Louise chuckles to herself as the professor and the Principle make their way down the corridor. Dr. Jackson is the original forgetful professor. She scrolls through the email on the screen in front of her and is about to hit reply when one of the images of a coin catches her eye. It is of a stylised horse. Instead of replying she hits print and, then, seeing the time, closes down her computer and grabs her coat and bag. Wednesday is a half day and she's not paid beyond midday.
On her way out she picks up the print and stares at it. On second thoughts maybe it wasn't a horse, maybe a wolf and she shakes her head and leaves it on the printer tray. Her daughter only collects pictures of horses.
The principle slows his pace as they reach the lecture hall. 'You see, the problem is, Daniel, you add too much other information. Irrelevance is an anathema in the pursuit of academic excellence here. To put it bluntly, your students need to ace their midterms in order for your performance review to be adequate for you to continue here.'
Daniel's jaw drops as he realises what the Principle is saying. 'You mean my job is at risk if my students don't pass?'
'Your job is at risk, period. If your students do badly you're fired. Now, I'm sure they will be fine. But less of the astronomy and... and, space travel and more of the syntax, grammar and verb conjunctions... and no more... as one student so eloquently put it... sci-fi babble. They are not inventing a new language, just trying to get to grips with the roots of this one. Ah, good,' The Principle glances at his watch. 'You are right on time for your lecture today. Make it relevant Dr. Jackson. Make it count!'
Daniel watches him leave and then dejectedly enters the lecture hall, less than half of his students are there and the mid-terms are a week away. Somehow, his return to the academic life is not at all how he imagined it going. He thought it would be easy, retiring from SGC, taking a slower pace of life. Time to reflect and maybe to write. But the rent doesn't pay itself and what can he write about when his time at SGC is bound by military secrecy. So he had taken a well-paid post as a lecturer at the University but, despite his knowledge and language skills, his teaching methods seem to leave a lot to be desired. Giving lectures was never his strong point. He stares at the title on his lecture notes, 'Syllabaries and Logograms of the World, Understanding the Proto-Alphabet of Old English Through the Futhorc Rune Glyphs.' But it neither inspires him with the thought of being fired hanging over his head, or his students, the few there are already either busy texting or half asleep. Perhaps it is time for him to look for a new job.
Later that afternoon, back in his office the phone rings and Daniel calls through to Louise to answer it then, remembering it's her afternoon off, steps through to her desk to intercept the call. The voice at the other end is unfamiliar, with a British accent and at first Daniel wonders if it is a disgruntled parent of one of the students.
'Hello, Dr. Jackson?'
'Uh, um, no... sorry. Dr. Jackson is giving a lecture at the moment. This is his assistant, can I take a message?'
'Oh, I'm sorry, I thought Louise was his secretary...'
'She is, I'm...his research assistant, Dan...David.'
'Oh! I see. Is it possible to speak to Louise?'
'She's not in the office at the moment. Can I take a message?'
'Well, I'm calling from London, it is rather urgent. About some images of coins I've emailed...'
The coin lady! Daniel sighs in relief that he had lied about who he was.
'… I really would love some input on the Celtic glyphs on them from the Professor. Perhaps you could look at them for me, if you are his assistant, David? What is your area of research?'
'I'm afraid I have to go, Mam. There is an important call on the other line. I shall pass on your message to the Professor though.' Daniel can sense his lie is beginning to get legs and does not want to have to explain to a disapproving Louise in the morning about an imaginary assistant called David he invented in order to avoid a phone call. He hangs up abruptly and leans against the wall of Louise's cubicle, spying as he does so, the printout of the coin on the printer tray nearby. It is not the strange horse/wolf image that catches his attention but the line of faint glyphs around the edge of the coin. He grabs the page and peers closely at them. The coin woman is totally wrong, they are not Celtic glyphs at all. In fact, Daniel is pretty certain he's never seen anything like them before anywhere at all, not on Earth nor any other planet he has visited. They are a totally novel set of glyphs. A new language! Or, in this case, a very old new language.
Department of Coins & Medals, The British Museum.
Agnes throws her phone onto the table and paces up and down in anger. She is sure that the 'assistant' is actually the Professor himself, she's seen a video clip of him on the University website and the voice was a match. How infuriating! She glances at her watch, nearly midnight. Far too late to catch the Tube home now, she would work throughout the night and leave early, before the Museum opens. Out of the hundreds damaged and unknown coins she has extracted a set of twelve that do not fit any known language or coin system from the iron age. It is this set she had emailed to the professor for advice about the strange glyphs, neither Celtic nor Gaulish nor, indeed any other early language from over two thousand years ago.
On Whitehorse Hill, Berkshire, England.
Robert 'Rob' Bowden stands on the brow of the Whitehorse Hill, just above the famous white horse carved onto its side. All around the wild winter wind rushes and the glow of the chalk carving below is eerily picked out by the starlight. He is freezing and hungry, living rough ever since he found the box. All recollection of the hoard of coins is wiped from his mind, only the small lead box is important. He has walked to this point, guided by some strange inner voice calling him to it. Calling him to the white horse. But the word is not 'horse' in his mind. He reaches for a definition, more like... and then he feels it, senses the word fully in his mind. Seeing it take shape, a writhing beast of fire and starlight. A Dragon. The Dragon is calling to him. Commanding him to this very spot under the stars. He opens his mouth and screams the word into the night but the wind whips away his voice before the sound can form around him and the word is lost to the world once more. In his hands the box starts to glow with a glyph of the word he had just screamed and the lid finally loosens in his grip. Rob opens it and lifts out a heavy gold signet ring, stamped with the glyph of the Dragon and places it on his forefinger. Below him the carved outline of the white horse on the hill convulses and the ground beneath his feet starts to shake and without a doubt in his mind Rob knows he is now and for all eternity in the command of this fabulous creature awakening at his feet.