First published in Stargate Magazine #8, January/February 2006.
"So. Whatcha doing?" Jack O'Neill asked.
Crouched in the dirt beside a large stone block, surrounded by the tumbled pillars and shattered walls of the centuries-old ruin, Daniel Jackson didn't bother to glance up at him. "Archeology."
"Right." Jack breathed in deep, taking a moment to scan the open field, the grass dry and yellowed under the afternoon sun, the shadowed tree line on the surrounding hills that promised cool shade. Captain Samantha Carter was quartering the other section of ruins not far away, taking energy readings, with Teal'c standing guard on the slight rise that provided a good view of the surrounding area. The stargate stood on a low stone platform a little further down the valley, directly opposite the pile of ruins, framed by two tall conical pillars. It was all very picturesque. "Archeology," he repeated thoughtfully. "Oddly enough, I already picked up on that."
"Sorry." Daniel picked through his tools, chose a brush and used it to remove dirt from the cracks in the stone. The carving that had mostly been obscured was now starting to look sort of like a big angular bird with outstretched wings. "I thought you were being facetious. I didn't realize you were actually asking for information. What did you want to know?"
Jack pushed up the brow of his cap, wiping sweat from his forehead. It was a routine survey, they would probably be done in time to have lunch back at the commissary in Stargate Command, and he was bored out of his mind. The original query had pretty much been facetious, but if Daniel was going to be that way about it, he had to think of a real question. "Isn't this a lot different from what you normally do?"
Daniel sat back, rubbing a sleeve over his face, leaving smears of sweaty dirt. "What do you mean?"
He asked it in a tone which meant he was actually interested in the answer, which meant Jack had won. Only now Jack was actually kind of interested in the answer too. "Normal archeology doesn't involve alien planets." Jack jerked his chin toward the faint outline of the two moons, both half full, sitting low in the summer sky. "And, you know, danger." He shrugged. "I'm just saying."
Daniel poked through his tools, selecting something that looked like a dental pick out of the kit, smiling faintly. "Archeology can be dangerous."
Jack nodded equably. "Snake in the head, getting shot dangerous?"
"No." Daniel made the word about four syllables long. "But still--"
"Ah. Fall in a hole, falling rock dangerous?" Jack allowed graciously, feeling that he was winning the conversation again.
"Well, that," Daniel allowed, leaning down to probe at the hole in the dirt under the stone. "But you can also get a pulmonary infection from fungi in certain types of soil."
"That sounds fun."
"Then I'm describing it wrong. Actually, I thought of that because it tends to happen in the American southwest." Daniel used the pick to point to a series of figures above the bird carving. They were all geometric stick figure people, with weird little triangular bodies and elaborate headdresses made of squares and angles, each figure surrounded by a half-circle border. They had the look of something primitive but also something very complex. Jack wouldn't have been the least surprised to hear that they represented something mathematical or astronomical, though he intended to act surprised by it in order to annoy Daniel. "These symbols I've been uncovering here are oddly similar to Native American artwork from that area."
Jack looked down, his interest sharpening. "Like the Salish? And by like the Salish, I mean are there aliens here who are going to jump out of the bushes and attack us because you're poking around in their ruins?"
Daniel awarded him a mild glare, leaning down to work his hand into the opening he had dug out under the block. "They were from an entirely different area, but we might be looking at a similar case of an Earth culture that was transplanted by the Goa'uld only to encounter a more advanced alien culture. But unlike the Salish, these people seemed to have embraced the advanced culture's technology to some extent." He paused, frowning. "That's odd."
Jack lifted his brows. "By odd you mean...?"
Daniel was still frowning. "Something moved down here. What I thought was a loose block just sunk down out of my hand."
Jack surveyed the area, but nothing had changed. The ruins still looked like innocuous heaps of blocks, the field was still empty. Carter, engrossed in her equipment, hadn't looked up. Teal'c was looking toward them, frowning; he must have seen something in Jack's body language that alerted him to a possible danger. Daniel sat down with a heavy thump and Jack, thinking he had been trying to lift the block, said, "Need help?"
"Jack." Daniel's voice was still perfectly even, which was how Jack knew things had just gone to hell when he said, "I can't get my hand out of here. Something seems to be, uh, holding on to it."
"Teal'c, Carter!" Jack shouted. He crouched down, shifting his P-90 aside, to take a closer look. Daniel was digging at the dirt around his forearm, and Jack could see what had originally looked like just a gap under the stone was actually a smooth round opening in some kind of metallic base. "Give me a hint here, Daniel."
Daniel was gritting his teeth. "Help me dig. If there's a release down here--"
Jack leaned in to scrape at the dirt. "What if we just pull you really hard?"
Daniel grimaced. "Then I suspect my hand might just pop right off."
"Okay. We won't do that." Jack knew he shouldn't feel surprised by this. Daniel had an instinct for dangerous things. No, not an instinct. It was more like a homing beacon. And he wasn't content with just finding dangerous crap, he had to touch it, too. Last month it was a Quantum Mirror, today it was a suggestive hole under a chunk of rock. Really, Jack should have expected it.
Frowning in concentration, Daniel added, "It's not painful, I can still move my fingers. Maybe it's not a trap, maybe I'm just caught in the mechanism."
"It's what the mechanism might be doing that worries me, Daniel. Why would there be a-- Whoa." Jack caught movement in his peripheral vision and sat up on his heels. About twenty feet in front of them, a line was forming in the dirt and dry grass, like a crack from subsidence. Except this crack was ramrod straight, and forming really fast.
"Well, these blocks are at ground level now, but in their original configuration they would have been at about waist height, so--" Daniel looked up, followed Jack's gaze. "Uh oh."
Teal'c reached them, halting at Jack's side, looking in consternation from Daniel to the deepening crack in the field. "O'Neill?"
"He's stuck, and I don't know what the hell that is, but I suspect they're connected," Jack told him.
Carter arrived, climbing over the tumbled remnants of the wall to crouch at Daniel's side. "Sir, I'm getting energy readings all through here now; there weren't any before in this area." She added worriedly to Daniel, "You okay?"
"So far," he admitted grimly, still digging.
Jack saw the crack had stopped at a length of about forty feet, and was now splitting apart, dirt and grass and pebbles sliding into the dark opening now barely visible. Oh yeah, you were bored. "Carter, help him dig." He pushed to his feet, stepping past the blocks to stand next to Teal'c, asking him, "You seen anything like this before?"
"It is too soon to say, O'Neill." Teal'c didn't take his eyes off the widening crack. To almost anyone else, Teal'c's voice would have sounded almost emotionless, but Jack knew him well enough by now to hear the worry. "But I have never seen a Goa'uld device that was hidden underground in this manner."
"That's great. I love the complete unknown." Jack glanced back. "Daniel, any idea what's going to come out of there?"
"Oh, I hope not." Dirt flew as he and Carter kept digging, trying to expose more of the mechanism.
"I don't think it's Goa'uld, sir," Carter put in, her jaw set. "So far, this control device doesn't look like what we've seen of their technology."
"It's probably something left behind by the transplanted civilization who built these ruins," Daniel added. "Considering how near it is to the stargate, it might even be a defense mechanism."
The ground rumbled. "Oh crap," Jack muttered. He wasn't sure what he was expecting. Anything from a giant robot to.... Jack's brain was pretty much stuck on the giant robot.
Dirt spilled away and four lights burst out of the ground. Jack started back, aiming the P-90, and Teal'c lifted his staff weapon as the lights shot into the air like guided missiles. Jack spun, trying to keep them in sight. He couldn't make out much detail, just the light, glowing around a center core. One was dark but the other three were harder to see as they darted around. Their colors were white tinged with blue, a brilliant yellow, and a clear metallic silver. They faded into the hot blue sky, darting upward only to whip around and come out of the sun. They swept across the length of the valley with a rushing sound that rose and fell as they veered around through the air. Teal'c commented warily, "They are moving in formation, O'Neill."
"Yeah." The dark one seemed to be the leader, as far as he could tell, with the others matching its movements exactly. "At least they haven't attacked-- Whoa!"
Jack hit the dirt as the silver and yellow lights went on a strafing run, passing close enough for Jack to feel a hot wash of ozone. A blast rocked the ground and he looked up to see that their MALP, parked to one side of the stargate, had exploded, scattering debris over half the field.
"I do not think we should fire on them, O'Neill," Teal'c put in, climbing to his feet.
Jack pushed himself upright. "I don't think so, either. Hell, if they just leaves us alone, we can...." He trailed off as the lights formed up in a square, about fifty yards up, and began to rain down bursts of energy on the empty field. The blasts left deep steaming craters in their wake, a methodical destruction, the lights moving evenly over the ground as if they were plowing it. "Oh, this isn't good."
"I suspect they are meant to lock onto powered targets such as a Death Glider," Teal'c said, watching the lights in consternation. "That is why they fired on the MALP. Lacking more targets, they are simply destroying everything."
"And they're working their way right toward us. Yeah." A defensive weapon, automated or not, shouldn't fire on its own control mechanism, but this thing was older than dirt and they had no idea what it might do. And Daniel trying to get his hand out of the damn thing might be directing the weapon right back toward the ruin. Jack raised his voice to say, "Sooner rather than later, Carter."
"Jack!" Daniel shouted. "I think I've got something."
Jack stepped back over the loose stones, looking down at the mechanism Daniel and Carter had uncovered. It was tucked under the block, barely visible past Daniel's trapped arm, just a couple of levers of some kind of dark material. "What?"
"I think I know what this is! There's a Navajo story about a lake that becomes angry."
Jack stared at him incredulously. "Daniel, it better not be a long story, because I don't know if you've noticed, but--"
Talking so fast the words slurred together, Daniel explained, "The lake was continually disturbed whenever the people came near it, threatening them and driving them away, until they saw four objects emerge. The objects were black, blue, yellow, and silver."
Carter, taking an energy reading while she cautiously prodded the device, said, "Granted, that's a big coincidence, but even if this planet was settled by transplanted humans who were given advanced technology, why would they use the story in their defense system?"
"So only a member of their culture could operate it," Daniel told her, "and more importantly, turn it off."
"Okay, that makes sense, but--"
"Daniel! Carter!" Jack recalled them to the matter at hand. He could feel waves of heat radiating from the blasts. "How do you turn it off?"
"That's the problem." Daniel looked down at the mechanism, brows knit. "The directions the objects traveled in the story are very specific--"
Jack glared at him. The lights were making faster progress, and were now no more than sixty feet from the first clump of ruins. "And you don't remember them?"
Daniel glared back. "Excuse me, at what point in the mission briefing did it say I should research traditional Navajo grandfather stories?"
"Okay, you have a point," Jack conceded. "But--"
"Besides, I remember what happened, I'm just not certain I remember the turns," Daniel ran his free hand through his hair in frustration. "The objects emerged and the water ran in two consecutive directions, and that stopped the disturbances."
"We need running water?" Jack felt he had missed something somewhere. "Daniel--"
"No, no, it's this control." He looked at Carter for help. "I supposed I could just guess. There's only two turns, out of four possible. That's not...an infinite number of combinations."
Carter winced, looking up at the blasted field. "It's worth a try. It can't get any worse. Or actually I can think of quite a few ways to make it worse, but you know what I mean."
"Right. I'll try west and north." Daniel braced himself and shoved at one of the levers.
Jack turned back in time to see the four lights freeze. "Okay," he said softly. "So far so good." Then they swung around, forming a rough diamond formation with the dark one in front. A white beam glowed down on the already burned ground, churning up rock and dirt. Then all four lights moved straight toward the ruin, the beam burning the ground in its path. "No, no, wrong!" Jack shouted. He opened fire on the off chance he could distract the things, get them pointed in another direction. Teal'c fired his staff weapon but the lights ignored both of them.
The heat was a suffocating wave as the beam drew closer, and Jack kept firing, because it was the only thing he could do. "Carter, get out there! Teal'c, fall back!" He knew they would both ignore him, but he had to try.
Then the lights froze and the beam vanished. From behind him, Jack heard Daniel say quietly, "It was east and north."
Jack swallowed in a dry throat, lowering the P-90. "That's good." Teal'c gave him the look and the eyebrow lift that an outsider would have interpreted as a glare, but which actually meant, "Damn, that was close."
The lights moved together, assuming a tighter formation, them spiraled down, disappearing back into the opening still visible in the ravaged ground. Jack backed away once they were gone, and leaned over the block. Daniel had his hand free and was wiggling his fingers, looking thoughtfully at the opening. Carter looked up at Jack, wiped sweat from her brow, and said, "At least we found something interesting, sir."
"Yeah, I'm thrilled." Jack caught Daniel's eye. "Archeology, huh?"
"Archeology," Daniel agreed, deadpan.
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