To be in hell is to drift;
to be in heaven is to steer.
–George Bernard Shaw
TIME: UNKNOWN… UNKNOWN… UNKNOWN…
He stumbled across darkness, through a rippling pool, and out onto…
Where the hell was he?
Blazing white sunlight forced his eyes shut. That begged a larger question.
Oh, for crying out loud. Who the hell was he?
For the life of him, he couldn’t remember his name.
He felt warmth. Clean air. Complete stillness. No sounds of animals or civilization, just lapping water right behind him. He opened his eyes. Took note of the grayish stone platform beneath his feet. He turned around, coming face-to-face with a vertical stone ring at least three times his height. The ring loomed over him, its center filled with a bluish watery puddle.
He found the massive thing familiar. Almost comforting in an odd sort of way.
As if he and the ring were old friends.
How he’d managed to go through it without getting wet didn’t bother him, not as much as the not knowing… anything.
A ring filled with water?
That made no sense. None. Zip.
If this stone monstrosity was his pal, then why all the red V-shaped lights around its outer edge? He counted seven but, for all he knew, there might be more underneath the platform. Were the lights the ring’s way of saying hello?
Chevrons. Okay, sure. Now he’d figured that out, what about the rest? Something niggled at him. Something about survival tactics. Learn as much about the environment before deciding on a course of action. It was the right thing to do, though he’d no clue how he’d learned that little chestnut.
He took a good, hard look around. Fern-covered hills stretched out in every direction. No buildings, no people, no nothing. The platform was on top of a hill with a widening set of eight steps leading down to the ground. A few feet beyond stood a pedestal with a canted circular top.
That pedestal… Was that his ticket home?
Edging closer to the wall of water, he considered returning the way he came. Maybe, the answers were back there. Wherever ‘there’ was. He took a step, raised an arm to go through.
A blast of heat pushed him away from the ring. When he stopped, the wind subsided. He tried again, only to be blocked by yet another warm gust.
He stepped back, and the air stilled once more.
Okay, something wanted him to stay put. He could do that. Squinting up at the bright blue sky, he briefly wished for a pair of sunglasses.
Sunglasses. There was something familiar about wearing sunglasses. Going through the ring and seeing…
“Nope. I got nothing.” With a sigh, he sank down on the top step, his back to the shimmering water ring. If he could only remember.
A wisp of air ruffled against his neck. More a breeze than an outright gust. With it came memories of sounds. Gun shots. Screams. Then, flashes of sensation. Stepping through another wall of water as the ground rumbled. Lost friends.
He ransacked his memories, determined to match sounds to feelings. A single gunshot. A woman’s cry. A child’s blood. Guilt so thick that his throat swelled shut.
He swallowed hard, pushing away shades of things he couldn’t remember.
Wasn’t sure he wanted to remember.
The breeze returned. This time cooler, almost comforting. His mind settled, allowing a memory to surface. No, not a memory. More like an urge, a pressing need. There was something important he needed to do. Somewhere important he needed to be. Important people he was supposed to…
He shook his head–pretty sure that wasn’t the case. Sweat dripped down his back. The frustration, the sun, the heat, it was all getting to him. Maybe he couldn’t remember who he was, but he could certainly get more comfortable. Take off a few layers before he boiled to death.
He reached up to unzip his vest and jacket. He stopped. Not because he recalled wearing a vest and jacket at some point, but because now… Now he wore a fleece pullover. That was wrong, this much he knew.
Putting a hand to his head, he discovered a wool watch cap. He tore it off. Standard black-issue, no insignia. He glanced down at his get-up: a black tee, green fleece pullover, black fleece trousers. Heavy black boots, but with thicker, more rubbery soles than normal. Whatever ‘normal’ meant.
“In this heat?” He peered upwards. A sun far whiter and much larger than Earth’s peered back.
Sunlight. Warmth. Earth…
Earth. He needed to protect Earth.
No. He’d done that already. At least a half dozen times, but from whom?
He clenched his fists, frustrated at the games his mind played. He should be able to remember. He should know.
The breeze blew across his neck again. Cooler this time. Soothing.
Like a long-lost friend.
Something shifted. A small weight appeared in his left fist. He unfurled his fingers, revealing a rectangular block of dull metal in his palm. A hinge along one side allowed the top to open and shut. He pried it open, the recognizable clink stirring yet another memory just out of reach. He spun the wheel inside the block. A flame ignited.
A smile tugged at his mouth. There were good memories tied to this… This Zippo. Really good memories, but he couldn’t reach them. Instead, he felt the heavy weight of expectation.
With plenty of self-doubt to go with it.
He snapped the lighter shut and glanced over at the pedestal again. This was ridiculous. Why couldn’t he remember the way home? The pedestal was the key, but as much as he tried to squeeze the answer from his muddled mind, it wouldn’t come.
And that royally pissed him off.
Behind him, a familiar thwap hit the vertical puddle, and then a whoosh. Boots scuffled on stone.
He clenched the Zippo in his fist and turned around. A familiar face peered at him from behind a pair of glasses.
“Sir, are you all right?” Another person. A blonde woman. He recognized her. Knew her. Wished he could say her name–
“O’Neill!” A third person. Tall. Dark. Someone whose strength he’d valued. Hell, admired was more like it.
A moment’s dizziness overcame him and then…
The fog lifted.
He knew the people before him as well as he knew the back of his own hand. Daniel Jackson, Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter, and Teal’c stood beneath the shadow of the now dormant Stargate. Each of them gazed at him expectantly. All three wore the same green fleece pullovers, black pants, watch cap, and thick boots.
General Jack O’Neill remembered everything. Everything except how he’d ended up god knows where, unarmed, and with Skaara’s lighter. He knew he’d stuffed it inside his locker back at the SGC.
The damn planet was driving him nuts.
With a curt nod to his second-in-command, he stormed toward the DHD. It was time to get the hell off this rock.
“Dial us home, Carter. Now.”