Title: Making Sense of Symbols
Notes: Written for Lady Korana as a belated birthday present in 2018
Making Sense of Symbols
There was a red blur glowing in the darkness when Daniel’s hand came out from under the covers and attacked the surface of his nightstand by force. It knocked the half-full bottle of water to the floor. It toppled two bottles of pills. It disturbed the neatly built pyramid of balled-up tissues. And it sent the pen resting on top of the notebook rolling underneath the bed to a spot where he wouldn’t find it again for three and a half months.
Finally, his fingers closed around his phone, and he retracted his arm, holding I tight. “’Lo?” he croaked groggily, rubbing his knuckles under his somewhat streaming nose with his free hand. Then, shivering, he pulled himself entirely beneath the covers, phone and all. He closed his eyes as he listened for a response, almost ready to fall back to blessed sleep where he didn’t feel so very sick.
“Sorry to bother you right now, Daniel. But we need your help.” Sam sounded genuinely sorry, but her words were fast-paced with urgency, and Daniel could hear the base’s alarm going off in the background. It was an alert alarm, not a full lockdown.
“Sab?” He wriggled back out from under the covers, and the cool air against his nose made it tickle. “h’ptshooo! Heptshhoo! Snff!” He blinked and rubbed his nose. “Excuse be. Sniff! What’s wrodg?”
“Do you remember that artifact we saw on the video—the one that looked like a big cabinet?”
“The ode you guys agreed dot to touch udtil I got over this cold add could tradslate the sybols?” He already knew what had happened. “Jack touched it, didn’t he?”
“Yes. And now he’s been sucked inside. We can hear him knocking, but we can’t hear his voice, so we’re not sure he can hear ours and he isn't responding when we knock. We’re worried about his access to Oxygen and water…” Sam took a deep breath. “I really didn’t want to bother you, but the markings on the cabinet aren’t anything we can make sense of.”
Though he had a vague idea about a few of the markings, most of them weren’t anything Daniel could read either—not yet, at least.
Daniel pushed himself up to a sitting position, switched his phone to his other hand, and reached back to his nightstand for his glasses. When he got them on, the red blur of his digital alarm clock clarified into distinct numbers reading 4:53. He groaned inwardly. “I’ll be right there.”
On a normal day, the Stargate jackets were plenty warm. Daniel had braved plenty of planets with snow up to his thighs in his. But today he felt chilly even after he put his on. He crossed his arms over his chest, both to try to keep himself warmer and to keep from touching the large artifact in front of him. There wasn't much of a risk of the latter, however, as there were three men standing guard in the room, and one of them was Teal'c.
“It is good to see you, Daniel Jackson,” Teal'c said.
“Is it?” Daniel checked his watch. It wasn't even six in the morning yet. Daniel wished he could be back in bed still. But, more than anything, he wished he could read the damn symbols on the side of this massive artifact.
“Indeed. You are Colonel Jack O’Neill’s best hope of survival.”
Internally Daniel groaned. Externally he sneezed. “heht-chshhhhh!” He rubbed his hand against his leg, sniffling. Jack was clearly going to die at this rate. “Sniff! These markings don't look at all familiar to you?”
Teal'c shook his head. “I have never seen it before. I never traveled to that planet under Apophis' service. I am afraid I will not be much help to you.”
“So that's why you're here?”
“I thought it best to stand guard. We do not want anyone else touching this and getting pulled in. It happened so quickly.”
Daniel's heartbeat sped up. “Wait, were you here when it happened?”
“No. I watched the recording.”
Why hadn’t anyone mentioned there was a recording?
Daniel was fairly certain Walter never slept. It seemed like he was always in Stargate Command’s Control Room. Daniel sat snuffling into a tissue as he watched the video Walter cued up for him.
“All right. Here we go. Are you... ready, Dr. Jackson?”
Daniel started to nod then shook his head. His breath caught and body tensed up. “hahh-Tihshh! Hahh-hah-HIHSchhhh!” He tossed his tissue into a trashcan under the work station and pulled a new tissue out of his pocket. “Now I'm ready. Go ahead.”
Daniel couldn’t guess what Jack was doing up at midnight, but that’s what the timestamp showed. On the monitor, Jack approached the artifact that had been brought back from P-T89X7. He walked around it, studying it. Then Jack placed a hand on a plain portion of the wood. A bright light filled the room, blinding Daniel for a split second. When his eyes adjusted again, Jack was gone.
With a sigh, Daniel shook his head. He hadn't been able to read most of the symbols on the artifact, but there was one that looked like a human hand. Knowing what he did about things they'd found on other planets so far, that could either be a direction for use or a warning of what not to do. The teams recovering the artifacts to bring them back to Earth had been careful not to touch anything directly. So what had Jack been thinking? He was usually better at following Daniel's advice. In fact, he was generally the only person Jack did listen to when it came to these things.
Daniel could only guess as to what had gone wrong this time. But he knew for sure he wouldn't be able to fix things unless he made sense of the markings on the artifact.
Daniel had stacks and stacks of photos spread across his desk. He had gone through several hundred on the computer, but there was something about being able to spread some out and look at them all at the same time that seemed to help his thought processes. Figuring this out was going to depend on recognition, context, understanding, logic, deduction, and a little bit of luck.
He looked up from blowing his nose to see Sam standing in the doorway to his office. She looked worried, and his mind began to race. “Is it Jack? Did sobethig habbed?” He started to get up.
“No,” Sam motioned for him to sit back down. “No change. I just wanted to check on you. Is there anything I can do to help?”
He looked over the notes and photos. He had little idea of where to go next and even less of an idea of how to communicate it to Sam. Daniel shook his head. Then he grabbed for a tissue. It wasn't unusual for him to be sneezing in front of his teammates, but for some reason he felt more self-conscious than usual doing it in front of Sam now. Maybe it was just because this cold was especially bad and he felt especially sneezy just now.
“hah... hah-KIHTchhh Tshhhh!” He pulled another tissue from the box, adding it to the one cupped at his face and blowing fully into both.
When he was done, he looked up apologetically at Sam. “Excuse be... this cold...”
She shook her head like it didn't matter. “How about tissues? I could get you more of those.”
Daniel brightened. Oh, that was the kind of help he could get behind. Though he felt guilty about it, like asking her to bring him things was so far beneath her, he really did need tissues. “Yes blease. Add... sub coffee? I'b so tired.”
“You've got it.” She brought him tissues—lots of tissues. And a whole thermos of coffee. And a bottle of cold pills from Janet.
Daniel woke with a start, his side in pain where the arm of his chair had dug, his cheek stuck to the glossy photo at the top of a pile on his desk, his glasses had unhooked from one ear and now assisted one eye and one cheek, his neck and back protesting at the awkward position he'd slipped into while asleep at his desk. Before even peeling the photo off, Daniel reached for a tissue form one of the boxes. “hehhh-Hnnngh! Hnnnn!” The sneeze wanted desperately to come, but he absolutely refused to sneeze on any of the photos. Knowing his luck, he'd sneeze on the wrong one and never figure out how to get Jack out. “Nnnghh!” Urgently, he cupped the tissue to his face. “HuhhhTshhhhhhh!”
With his head so stuffed from cold, the release felt good, but he kept it controlled and contained in tissues. He wasn't about to get the whole base sick. He didn't want to think about the expression on Dr. Fraiser's face if she discovered he'd done that. Plus, he would just feel awful if someone caught his cold.
A quick check of his watch—once he'd fixed his glasses—showed that he had only nodded off for about twenty minutes. That was still twenty minutes wasted that he could have been helping Jack. Maybe that was the twenty minutes when he might have made a breakthrough.
He had a good guess about a few of the symbols on the cabinet by now, but without knowing the cabinet's overall purpose, it was hard knowing if he was on target or far from it. One of the symbols looked like it might represent youth. Another seemed like it might represent silence. And one more might either mean community or lack of community. Or family. Or a town's government. He wasn't very sure at all any more, actually. They could mean ice cream and monster trucks for all he knew.
Daniel took his glasses off, setting them down on the desk, and rubbed his tired eyes with thumb and forefinger. His eyes would feel so much better if he could close them for a minute. Just for a minute. Just to rest them.
Sitting bolt upright, he realized he'd nodded off again. This time he'd inexplicably been asleep for eight minutes. He rubbed his eyes harder and considered going to get more coffee. He had already had more than usual, but he could barely stay awake. What was wrong with him?
“Huhhh-IHTchhhhh!” Apart from the obvious, of course.
He grabbed the bottle of pills he'd been given and squinted at the fine print on the bottle. It took him a good minute before he realized his glasses were still off.
He reached for them, but his hand made a detour for the tissues. “Hih hihhh-IHTChhhhh! IHTchoo! HIHTchhhh!” It was a good two minutes of snuffling and nose blowing before he got his glasses on and remembered that it was the prescription bottle that he needed to read. “Ah!” he exclaimed not much later upon finding 'drowsiness' on the list of side effects. Why would Dr. Fraiser purposefully give him something that would cause drowsiness?
Maybe she hoped it wouldn't hit him as hard as it was? Maybe she trusted Daniel to power through? Maybe she gave him the wrong bottle? Or maybe... maybe she hadn't read the side effects. The print was insanely small, after all, just like... just like the symbols at the bottom of the artifact.
Daniel's eyes went wide. Could it really be so obvious?
“hihhh!” He grabbed for another tissue. “hahh... hahh-IHTCHHHHH!” Wiping his nose with tissues clutched in one hand, he rounded up papers with his other hand. Everything was starting to fit together and click into place in his brain now.
Daniel smothered a yawn into his shoulder. He just had to stay awake long enough to tell someone what all this meant.
Daniel slammed the pill bottle down on the shiny surface of the conference room table, where it slid an inch then fell over on its side. It rolled halfway along the table until Teal'c put out his hand and stopped it.
Everyone stared at him, confused. “Side effects,” he explained. “Usage wardigs.” He sniffed and rubbed a knuckle at his nose. They all still looked confused. “That's what's writted od the bottob of the artifact. Abbaredtly, id rare cases, usidg the artifact cad cause you to lose track of tibe. It's dot recobbeded for adults with heart codditiods or exbectig bothers or—“
“Using the artifact for what, Dr. Jackson?” General Hammond interrupted.
“It's a... “ Oh, of course his nose would choose now to tickle. “huhh!” Luckily, he had tucked some tissues into his pockets before leaving his office. Unluckily, he couldn't quite dig one out now when he needed one. They were all in a bunch and wouldn't be quickly separated. So he pressed the whole wad of tissues to his face and turned away from the others. “huhh-IHTchhh! HIHSHhhhh! HIHTChhh! Hihshhhhh!” He blew his nose lightly, trying to get as much use out of all the tissues as he could before he tossed them into the trash; he couldn't very well stuff them back into his pocket.
“Excuse be.” He'd sneezed plenty in front of the team before, but it felt different now. Maybe it was because of the dire circumstances of the situation. Or because Jack wasn't there to reassure him it was okay. Or maybe it was because he was sick and probably still contagious. “Sniff! Sorry. Where was I?”
“The function of the artifact,” Sam helped out.
Daniel nodded. “Right. It's a, well, it's a budishbedt box.”
Daniel looked imploringly at Sam. If General Hammond couldn't understand him with his horribly stuffed up nose, Teal'c didn't stand a chance. It was all up to Sam now. Did she get it? Daniel tried to send the word to her psychically. Punishment. Punishment. PUNISHMENT!
Thoughtful expression on her face, Sam cocked her head. “Daniel... are you trying to tell us it's a box for punishing people?”
Teal'c, already sitting straight in his seat straightened more at the sound of that. “We must get him out!”
“It's dot as bad as it souds,” Daniel said quickly. “It's for childred. Like a tibe out corder.”
Teal'c wasn't put at ease. “But how do we release him?”
“Well, it's beadt to be for a child, so it's set ub so that the child cad't get out udtil the baredt obeds it.”
General Hammond leaned forward with concern. “Are you saying we have to track down Colonel Jack O’Neill’s parents?”
But Daniel shook his head. “It seebs to be brograbbed to recogdize ady bersod id charge of disciblidig the idividual idside. That way it could be used by teachers or other relatives.”
Sam leaned forward, looking down the table at General Hammond. “Sir, I think I understand what Daniel’s saying.”
“Well, that makes one of us. Explain.”
She did. “The person who can open the box needs to have the ability to discipline Jack. That person would be you, General Hammond.”
Daniel nodded and managed with a little effort to dig a single tissue out of his pocket. He held it up to his twitching nose as he turned his back on the table, hunching over. “hahh-IHtchhh! HIHtchhhh!” He wiped his nose dry and balled the tissue into his fist. “Excuse be.” Then he nodded again. “Sab's got it. Jack would recogdize you, Gederal, as beidg id charge of hib. So the box should, too.”
“Well then, what are we sitting around here for?” His chair rolled back, and everyone got up at once.
Daniel felt winded during the brisk walk down to the room where they were keeping the artifact, but he tried not to sound it as he leaned against a wall for support. There was a stretcher on wheels in one corner, ready to take Jack straight to the infirmary once he was out. “It should obed right ub for you whed you touch it.”
General Hammond marched bravely over to the artifact and had his hand just an inch away before he hesitated. “Um... you're sure that I'm not going to get sucked into this thing as well, right?”
All of a sudden, Daniel wasn't so sure. His head was swimmy, the fatigue threatening to take over and the congestion overpowering his brain. Back in his office, the logic had seemed sound and the translation had seemed clear. But now that General Hammond was about to touch the thing, he wasn't feeling so confident. No one wanted to see those doubts now, especially not General Hammond. So he took a deep breath and nodded confidently. “You'll be okay.” He hoped he was right. And he hoped this worked.
General Hammond took his own deep breath and pressed his hand upon the artifact.
Absolutely nothing happened.
Well, Daniel sneezed, but nothing happened to the artifact or to General Hammond. He turned, confused. “Dr. Jackson?”
Daniel shook his head. “I dod't udderstad. That should have worked. I... excuse... hahh-IHTchhhhh!” Daniel dug another one of the tissues out of his pocket and wiped his nose. “Excuse be.” He cleared his throat. “That should have worked. He follows your orders. If you're dot Jack's authority figure, I dod't dow who would be.”
Daniel turned. Sam's eyes were wide. “Sniff! What?”
Sam gestured toward the artifact. “Daniel, you're the one who told Colonel O'Neill not to touch this thing, and he touched it. He went against your order.”
Daniel's first reaction was to object to this line of reasoning. Jack never listened to him, never took his advice. But he knew that wasn't entirely true. That was the reason Daniel was on the team.
He pushed off from the wall and headed straight for the artifact. Without hesitation, Daniel placed his palm flat against a side. At first, nothing happened, and panic threatened to overwhelm Daniel.
But then there was a soft click and one whole side of the artifact swung open. Jack stumbled out, squinting as his eyes adjusted to the light. His gaze fell on Daniel. In that second, Daniel was certain of how this was going to go. Jack was going to thank Daniel for his freedom and say he was sorry he ever went anywhere near this artifact. He might even open his arms and sweep Daniel into a hug to show his gratitude. The first words out of his mouth were surely going to be 'thank you.'
But as Jack stared at him, as the seconds ticked by, Daniel realized something was wrong. Jack didn't say thank you. Jack didn't say anything. His eyes unfocused. His eyelids dropped. And his head snapped forward. “AhhCHEHShhuu!” Tiredly, his hand came up, wrist rubbing at his nose.
“Oh.” As realization set in, Daniel fished around in his pocket again, coming up with an unused though crumpled tissue. He held it out to Jack, arm extended as if he were scared of getting too close to Jack now.
Snuffling, Jack snatched the tissue right up. He blew his nose heartily. Then he looked back at Daniel again. “Thag you.”
Daniel wasn't entirely sure which part of all this Jack was thanking him for, but it surely wasn't a thank you for giving Jack his head cold. “You're welcobe,” Daniel replied. They sounded like quite the pair, stuffed up to this extent. Daniel gestured toward the stretcher. “I thidk we deed to get you to the idfirbary.”
“I'll walk.” He reached down and rubbed a hand up and down his thigh. It had been hours since he'd used those muscles; it probably felt good to stretch them now. Jack took a few unsteady but determined steps forward. He passed by Daniel, who resisted the urge to reach out to steady Jack.
As Daniel watched, he felt an intense wave of fatigue and sickness wash over him. Now that Jack was safe, the adrenaline was wearing off. He felt as sick as he had when he'd been sent home at the end of the mission to P-T89X7, maybe even more-so. His head throbbed and throat burned and nose tickled. “hehhh... EHTCHhhhh!”
Jack turned back to look at him. After a few seconds of watching Daniel blowing his nose into a tissue, Jack asked, “You cobig? You look as bad as I feel.”
Daniel smiled sheepishly and nodded. He could ask about non-drowsy cold medicine... just in case someone else decided to touch an artifact without permission.