magibrain: The gateway to the stars stands waiting. (Stargate)
[personal profile] magibrain
Title: Z is for Zenith
Summary: The sun also rises, and shines into the dark places on alien worlds, and delivers life-threatening amounts of thermal and ionizing radiation and maybe a minor revelation every once in a while.
Word count: ~1500
Characters: Daniel, Jack, Sam, Teal'c, an unnamed alien sun
Era: Early season 7
Categories: Vague angst? Character study?
Author's notes: I had a whole backstory for this involving ribbon worlds and the effects on global weather of same. All that backstory is basically Sir Not Appearing In This Film.

Excerpt: Somewhere in the darkness of an imperfect and incomplete recall was an understanding of this universe – his understanding; the sum of the things that he'd seen and he'd learned, and all the memories of all the different worlds he'd set foot upon. Every day a bit more of it rose to his conscious grasp, but it didn't come complete, and it didn't come easy.

It was still dark, though perhaps imperceptibly lighter, when Daniel turned and sat on one of the gnarled root outcroppings with his back to the twisting root wall. When the rest of SG-1 turned to look at him, all of them animated by a kind of habit that he still hadn't felt his way into, he stretched out a hand to the catacomb and said, "How many places have we found like this?"

Two beams of light pinioned him, and a moment's silence passed as though his teammates were individually updating their opinion of him. His memory, his fitness, his need for help or guidance. Then Jack said, "Like this? Not many. Usually we're among the trees, not in a tree."

Sam said, "What do you mean, 'like this'?"

The question arrested him for a moment, as it did, these days.

Somewhere in the darkness of an imperfect and incomplete recall was an understanding of this universe – his understanding; the sum of the things that he'd seen and he'd learned, and all the memories of all the different worlds he'd set foot upon. Every day a bit more of it rose to his conscious grasp, but it didn't come complete, and it didn't come easy.

Instead, he still had bits and pieces scattered here and there, like a broken mosaic. Half of a mission here on the dais and the rest of the mission kicked outside, an argument from that mission picked up and thrown against a wall, the departure for and homecoming from it packaged up in some looter's bag and carried away to parts unknown. He wanted a coherent picture, and it didn't seem like he was going to get it.

And what was left – here and now, in this enclosure walled by twisted roots and crowned with a pale circle of sky – was the inescapable sense that while the universe had once been filled with life, now it rang hollow, and its bones were picked by scavengers.

But that feeling skirted around the edges of his consciousness like something watching him from the dark; it never quite felt like the feeling was his.

"Dead," he settled on, eventually. "Abandoned."

That seemed to dispel Jack's wisecracking, at least. He gave a thin, sidelong smile – the kind Daniel was beginning to realize (again) meant that the answer wasn't actually funny.

"More than you'd think," he said. "That's why it was handy having an archaeologist on the team."

Specialist in the dead, Daniel thought. There was a certain synchronicity, or maybe irony, in that.

From further toward the center of the catacomb, Teal'c's headlamp turned toward them. "I believe it is getting warmer, Major Carter," he said. "The light of the sun is entering onto the walls."

Sam turned away, and her own light cut through the gloom, passing over all the inscriptions Daniel had already recorded, the nearby doors that had steadfastly refused to yield to them. She pulled one of her devices from her belt – a brick-like ruggedized remote for the UAV that had been buffeted into the catacomb walls far overhead. The wind, to hear its sensors tell it, was brutal; this cavernous space was just deep enough that they were insulated from it.

Daniel just turned, looking to the mouth of the cavern: high above, it pursed them in like the neck of a vase. One edge of the aperture was limned in white flame.

"It looks like the sun will pass directly overhead," Sam said. "So long as the sunlight is coming in at an angle, it's diffused by the walls until we don't really feel it. But as that angle decreases, the temperature will rise."

"How about the UAV?" Jack asked.

Sam shrugged. "It's still within its operating temperature range now, but there's no guarantee it'll stay that way," she said. "It's only been in direct sunlight for a few minutes, and it's already reading over two hundred degrees."

"We should prepare to leave this place," Teal'c said.

Daniel picked himself up from the roots. With the beams of their headlamps, most of the catacomb was in darkness, no matter which way they turned; it was tempting to believe that in that patch of darkness or this bit of shade there would be something to find; something to justify their mission here. Something to tease a story out of.

But for the past several hours, everywhere they'd turned it had been roots and tangles, isolated lines of some forgotten language, and the doors that held their secrets close.

"Daniel?" Jack asked, and Daniel gave the nod. If there had ever been a reason to stay here, it was long gone now.

"I don't think there's anything more we can do here," he said. "Unless you want to try blowing one of the doors open."

Jack nodded, but on a three-second delay, like Daniel had given the wrong answer there and Jack was waiting to see if he'd come up with the right one. He didn't give out the right one himself, though, so Daniel did his best to ignore that.

"All right. Pack it up," Jack said, and made a sweeping gesture toward the gate.

Not that there was much to pack, all told. Daniel slipped his journal into his pack and hefted it, then walked to join Teal'c beneath the slowly-brightening sky. It did feel warmer.

"How hot is it going to get?" Daniel asked.

He could see Sam's light sway through the catacomb gloom as she shook her head. "I've got no way of knowing," she said. "We can leave the MALP here to observe, but–"

"Yeah, with no technology and no tactical value to this place, that'll be a hard sell," Jack said. "We ready?"

Up above, the light was crawling down the walls. Daniel had to squint; he could see the roots tangled in their impenetrable wall, catch hints of green, hyper-saturated, and the light itself seemed like the most alien thing in this darkness. No simple assault on the eyes but something that eyes, in this place, were never meant to see.

"Ready," Sam said, and walked to the DHD.

Something caught the light, high up on the wall.

"Wait," Daniel said, and pulled his camcorder out from his BDU pocket. There, where the traversing sun was beginning to chase back the shadows of the high walls, a line of light was beginning to wend down the root structure like a cord or a serpent.

He raised the camera. Far more important than the low-light settings, it had a zoom: he could try to catch what was going on.

"I'm reading increased energy signals in the surrounding area," Sam said, coming closer. Jack trailed after her, like he wasn't convinced that going to stand right under the opening was a good idea, but did want to be close enough to keep an eye on everyone who did.

"What kind of energy?" Jack asked, and something flared to life above them.

It was difficult to hear from the ground, but it was sound, and more than sound, melody; something distant and lilting, growing stronger as another node in the wall above caught the light and roared to life. Sam stared at her remote for a moment longer, then looked up.

"I don't know," she said. "It's either activated or powered by the sunlight, but–"

Another light. Another thread of melody, and another line of illumination traveling down a channel toward the catacomb floor. The sun was continuing its march across the aperture, wide as the limited sky. And the air, even as deep down below as they were, was warming.

"We can't stay here," Sam said. She glanced down, away from the searing light, back to the remote. "Two hundred twelve degrees; still rising."

"How long do we have?" Daniel asked.

Sam frowned at the readings. "Five minutes, maybe six," she said. "We're not prepared for direct sunlight from a star like this."

Voices, now – or Daniel thought he could hear voices; unfamiliar cadences but cadences nonetheless, and this sort of mind in this flesh-and-blood body had evolved to find meaning in them. This place, powered by that searing sun, might still have been designed with something for human voices to hear.

Jack turned to Teal'c. "Let's get the gate open," he said. "Let Hammond know what's going on." Then, to Daniel, "We can leave it to the last moment."

Before we have to go. Daniel nodded. "Leave the MALP," he suggested.

"Yeah," Jack agreed, and stepped off, hand already on his radio.

Daniel adjusted the zoom on the camera and fixed it on the light above. And then he waited and listened, as the sun crept toward its zenith, as the voices and temperature rose around him.
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