Meaning Of Life Stuff

Written by ETS
Comments? Write to us at SpeedNN@aol.com

No prize is worth attaining if you can never share it.

The memory of Earnest Littlefield’s pleading words taunted him, tumbling around his consciousness, an annoying distraction.  Unable to concentrate, Daniel sighed deeply, surrendering his efforts of unlocking the secrets of the universe.  He removed his glasses, carelessly tossing them onto his paper littered desk.   His eyes, stinging and tearing from over-exertion, welcomed the brief respite his massaging fingers induced.   Resting his left elbow on the desk, Daniel leaned his forehead into his hand. 

What time was it he wondered, his mind active while his body sat motionless.   He’d been pouring over Ernest’s journal, deciphering the man’s tiny script for hours since their failed attempt to reestablish a wormhole with PB2-908.  He still referred to it as Ernest’s Planet, or Heliopolis.   Actually, Daniel preferred Doctor Littlefield’s Heliopolis designation to a numerical identification number.   The man had been stranded there for fifty years.  To Daniel’s way of thinking, Ernest earned the right to call the planet whatever he wanted to.   Daniel recalled that had been his last thought as he dutifully escorted Catherine and Ernest to the entrance of Cheyenne Mountain where an Air Force car and driver waited to chauffer the reunited lovers home.  Then he’d come straight to his lab and begun working.  Never satiated when it came to pursing and obtaining knowledge, Daniel had begun his research into the four alien languages and the “Meaning of Life Stuff” book as he had christened it, unwilling to wait the few days Sam said would be required to get her computer program operational.  

Daniel resumed rubbing his irritated, tired eyes.  The eyestrain was worsening and he still had so much to do.  Past experience had taught if he didn’t quit and rest his eyes now, he’d pay for it later with headaches and sore, stinging eyes.   But the Siren call lure of obtaining knowledge from four alien races, probably enemies of the Goa’uld, lying enticingly at his fingertips, obsessing him.  If only he could unlock the meaning of the scripted languages.   If only….

No prize is worth obtaining if you can never share it.

Shaking his head to chase away Ernest’s annoying truth, Daniel ceased rubbing his eyes.   Avoiding a direct gaze into the light emitted by the desk lamp, he stared at the fuzzy pages of the gathered papers.  So much knowledge, possibly holding secrets to the universe.  The prize had been within his grasp.  Now it was lost, buried for an eternity in the ocean depths of a planet very few knew existed.  Daniel arrogantly believed, where Ernest had labored for fifty years and failed, he would have succeeded in translating the alien symbols in a relatively short span of time.   If only, Jack had acceded to his demand and allowed him to stay on PB2-908, er, no, Heliopolis.   He’d been willing to take the risk.   Jack, however, had not.  Why couldn’t the colonel have understood that?  

No prize is worth attaining if you can never share it.

Ernest’s admonition again circled in Daniel’s consciousness.  He lifted his head from his hand.  His blurred vision wandered, probing the cavernous room of his lab until his weary eyes caught sight of the single photograph gracing his work area.

Sha’re.

Like sunlight clearing through fog, Daniel’s thoughts scattered and his attention focused, guided by a horrifying realization.  He lifted the small wooden frame closer to allow his eyes to see the only representation of his beloved wife.  The secrets of the universe had been at his fingertips, and he had been willing to sacrifice everything — even her rescue from a living hell — to attempt to unlock the knowledge, to succeed where Ernest Littlefield had failed for fifty fruitless years.  What had he been thinking?

Suddenly, overwhelmed by shame and guilt, Daniel set the photo down and quickly stood.   He swiped up his glasses and hurried from the lab.

****

The first pink fingers of dawn began creeping across the sky, the slate gray eastern Colorado horizon lightening with each passing second.  Daniel shivered and held his fingers to his mouth, blowing the moist warmth on the frozen digits.  As it had during the long hours of the passing night, the act offered temporary comfort.  Several times Daniel had thought of re-entering the mountain complex to retrieve a pair of gloves and a thicker jacket but had decided the act would negate the reason he was here.  How could he punish himself if he made concessions to his physical discomfort?  After all, this act of self-flagellation was the only form of restitution Daniel could conjure to offer his absent wife and brother-in-law.  

During the night now ending, Daniel’s mind had been a whirlwind of unpleasant thoughts and deep introspection.  His only companion had been the cold reality of the universe overhead, as the hours ticked by minute by minute. 

Moisture once again welling in his eyes, Daniel removed his glasses and squeezed his eyelids shut, trapping the tears, save one.  It trickled down his left cheek.  The wetness evaporated, cooling his skin, as Daniel habitually pinched his nose, regaining his composure.  He had sat motionless through the chilled night, his rear end numb with cold plastered against the boulder.  He had sought revelations, but the unforgiving universe had jealously guarded its secrets and offered no solutions:  no insights into finding and freeing Sha’re and Skaara, no answers to solve the riddle of the meaning of life.  The one truth he had gained continued to be Ernest’s Littlefield’s admonition to him:   No prize is worth attaining if you can never share it.

The unexpected sound of frost-coated grass and pine needles crunching under the weight of someone approaching drew Daniel from his malaise.  He straightened and reset his glasses on his face before crossing his arms tightly around his midsection seeking warmth.   He guessed his unwanted visitor to be one of the gate sentries finally coming to see if he was all right after passing most of the cold night shivering in the late fall crispness.

“Hey.”

“Hey,” Daniel automatically replied to the familiar greeting. 

So, not one of the sentries but Jack.  Trying not to let the older man see his shivers, Daniel slid his eyes to his left to watch Jack arrive.  Uninvited, the colonel sat on the flat area of the granite boulder, sharing Daniel’s makeshift chair.   He swore softly when he came into contact with the frigid rock.  Despite his personal misery, both physical and emotional, Daniel quirked a grin at Jack’s antics.  The grin faded even as he realized Jack would stubbornly refuse to relinquish the uncomfortable seat until he accomplished why he had come.  Quieting, Jack held his right hand towards Daniel.  

“I brought you some coffee.”

“Thanks.”   Daniel gratefully accepted the large Styrofoam cup, pleased he had kept the tremors from his voice, if not from his body, as frozen fingers immediately registered and sought the warmth radiating from the container.  Clumsily removing the plastic lid, he deeply inhaled the aromatic steam wisping upward.   “Mmmmm,” Daniel hummed after taking the first sip and feeling the liquid warmth slide down his throat into his stomach.  Several more sips allowed him to savor the rich flavor of the drink.  This was the gourmet Starbuck’s brand.  Guess Jack was still really pissed with him.   And for good reason, Daniel admitted to himself.   Time for the other shoe to drop.   Or, in this case, the military boot, probably applied firmly to his backside.  A punishment Daniel admitted he deserved for his rash behavior on Heliopolis.

“And a jacket.”   The proffered garment dangled before Daniel’s face. 

Temporarily relinquishing possession of the coffee, Daniel gratefully took the jacket and slipped it over partially frozen arms and clumsily zipped it closed before retrieving the Styrofoam cup sitting at his feet.

“Yeah,” Jack drawled, looking toward the lightening horizon, “You may think blue skin matches your eyes, but trust me, it’s not your color.”  Gruff comment ended, Jack busied himself drinking his own coffee.

For a few minutes, the two men sat side by side on the boulder, sipping their coffee watching as dawn arrived.

Unable to bear the silence any longer, Daniel finally spoke.  “Is this an approved military tactic?”

“What?” Jack countered, watching the top of the sun’s orb peeking above the horizon.

“Distracting me with coffee before you, um, yell at me, or reprimand me or whatever commanding officers do when their team members screw up on a mission.”

“Why would I yell?”

“Aren’t you angry with me, for you, know,” Daniel’s voice faded as his hand waved in the air relaying the unspoken portion of his question.

“Damn right I am,” Jack confirmed with a huff before sipping more coffee.   “And I’m glad you recognize I am.   There’s this small matter of disobeying a direct order from your CO when circumstances didn’t exactly give us the luxury of arguing about it.  But, I thought I’d give you a day or so to think about things before delivering the lecture.”  

Jack paused, and Daniel saw the older man glance at his shivering profile. 

“Mind you, I’m not clear how sitting out here half the night without a jacket, freezing your butt off helps you to think.”  For the first time since his arrival, Jack turned to look directly at Daniel.   “So, you okay?” he asked all traces of irritation gone

“I’m fine.”

“Yeah?   So why the polar bear routine?” The irritated gruffness returned to Jack’s tone.  “I come to work this morning prepared to give you the mother of all lectures, expecting to find you holed up in your lab pulling yet another all nighter when strategically your defenses are down and I can chew you a new one, and before I get past the gate, the sentries tell me you’ve been sitting out here most of the night.  So, what’s going on?”

“Like you said.   I was…thinking.”

“May I ask what about?”

“Why I’m an arrogant fool.”

“Ahh.   Well, you may be a dweeb and a geek, but I’m not sure where arrogant fool comes in.”

Daniel slid his gaze to give Jack a narrow-eyed glance.  “That’s not what you were thinking when the planet was disintegrating all around us.”

“Nope,” Jack agreed.   “More like stupid, pigheaded bastard.”

“Oh.”  

It hadn’t taken long in their renewed acquaintance for Daniel to realize Jack spoke exactly what he thought about anything, or anyone, whether you wanted to hear it or not.   No sugar coating with Jack O’Neill.   For some reason, Daniel found comfort in that.  Jack’s bluntness would never hide the truth, no matter how unpleasant.

“You wanna know why I’m really pissed with you?” Jack resumed, the hard edge returning to his voice. 

Here it comes, Daniel thought.  He opened his mouth to agree, but Jack continued with his lecture.

“I’ll tell you.   Even with that building crumbing all around you, you had every intention of staying on the planet, didn’t you?” Jack’s tone made the question more of an accusation.

“Yes.”  

“So what changed your mind?”

“Beside you, physically dragging me out by the collar of my jacket?”

“Yeah.”

“Have you ever had an epiphany?”

“Huh?”   Jack tuned to Daniel   “What?”

“A moment of clarity.”

Jack favored him with his patented little bewildered shake of the head accompanied with a questioning eyebrow arch.  Nope, no short cuts would be allowed in this confession, Daniel realized.  He would have to bare his soul.

“When I realized you weren’t leaving without me.  That if I was staying, you were staying.”

“I don’t leave my people behind,” Jack recited his mantra.  He’d been pounding it into Daniel’s head ever since they began this journey.   “You’re a member of SG-1 now.   My team.  My responsibility.”

“And a team works together, I know,” Daniel finished the litany.

“Damn right,” Jack huffed.

“I mean,” Daniel continued, “I really understand that now.” He nodded his head at this realization.   He did understand.   “You’ve read my file, right?   I’ve been alone most of my life.   I never had to consider the effect my actions would have on others.  Until Sha’re…” Daniel choked back his sorrow.  The emotions swirling around his abducted wife were still too raw, and he struggled to keep them under control. 

A soothing hand touched his upper back gently rubbing, offering comfort.  Daniel exhaled and straightened, once more in control, and the hand slipped away.

“But the real motivation,” he continued in a shaky voice, “was I knew I couldn’t stay on Heliopolis translating the languages on the walls and deciphering the Meaning of Life Stuff book with you glaring at me the whole time.”

“Glaring?” Jack asked.

Daniel was grateful the colonel had correctly read his non-verbal desire not to pursue this discussion into the matter of his missing wife. 

“Yeah.   Not yelling, you wouldn’t yell.   You’d just… glare.    It was very, umm, intimidating.”  

“Intimidating?’

“You have no idea.”

“And you realized all of this in the clichéd blink of an eye?”

“Something like that, yes.  Epiphany.”

“Huh.   I don’t glare,” Jack declared.

Daniel’s upraised finger appeared between then.  “Ahh, yes, you do,” he contradicted. 

The glare.   It hadn’t taken long for Daniel to realize the effectiveness of “the glare” and know he didn’t want to be the recipient of one, if he could avoid it.  However, on Ernest’s planet, Jack’s mother of all glares materialized, very effectively telegraphing Jack’s ire, boring into Daniel’s back as the palatial building crumbled around the two of them. 

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Don’t.”

“Do.   Jack….stop trying to distract me from punishing myself, okay?”  Daniel implored.  But privately, he was relieved.  Their little verbal sparing was a positive sign.  Jack was conceding he understood Daniel finally “got it.”  The lecture was probably over.

“You know, I’ve been where you are,” Jack declared, the sad truth in his voice.   “It took a long time and a very wise person to show me punishing myself isn’t such a great thing.”

Daniel spared a moment to congratulate himself on being right.  Lecture over.  He heard the wisdom in Jack’s been there, done that confession but was unwilling to forgive himself. “Jack, I was willing to sacrifice Sha’re and Skaara and even you so I could succeed where Ernest failed.  My ego put my needs before the people I care about.   Ernest warned me about that, too, but I didn’t want to hear.”  Daniel paused in listing his transgressions, sipping at the lukewarm liquid.   Jack remained silent, encouraging Daniel to continue at his own pace.  “Catherine did too.   When I went to see her.   She told me Ernest chose going through the gate, chose his ideas, his work, over having a future with her.”

“Ahhh,” Jack said.   “Hit a little close to home did it?”

“I was doing exactly the same thing, again.  Repeating the mistake I made on Abydos.  A mistake Sha’re and Skaara are paying for.  The same mistake you almost paid for.  I’m such a failure.”  As soon as they passed his lips, Daniel wanted those last words back. 

“What do you mean?” Jack encouraged.

Well, may as well finish it  Daniel thought.  “What if I stayed and failed on Heliopolis?  What if I became just like Ernest, a lonely old man who sacrificed everyone he cared for questing after something he could never obtain?”

There, he’d said it all.  Every cold, hard truth he had discovered during his night vigil.  He had lied to himself earlier, Daniel realized.  He had found answers, only not the ones he wanted to find.

Jack blew out a white breath, which quickly dissipated in the bright, warming light of morning.   “You aren’t a failure, Daniel.   What happened to Sha’re and Skaara is not your fault.” 

That was nice of Jack to say, Daniel thought.  But he was to blame, and he would never relinquish that guilt.

Jack resumed speaking, drawing Daniel’s attention to him.  “If there had been any way, you know I’d let you go back to play with your new toy.  Because you’re right.   The Goa’uld haven’t been there.   That was information and technology they didn’t know about and could be beneficial to us, not to mention providing a means to rescue Sha’re and Skaara.  I know you feel bad about a missed opportunity.  But it’s not a total loss.  You have Ernest’s notebook, you have your video of the writing on the four walls.  We know the Assgard exist.   So somewhere out there,” Jack waved at the glowing dawn sky, “the other three alien races probably exist, too.   Like Ernest said, you can ask them for a translation when you find them, if you haven’t already figured it out.   But it wasn’t worth sacrificing your life for.   I don’t want you to lose your enthusiasm for looking for meaning of life stuff as much as it irritates me sometimes.   Just think before you act.   For those times, when you forget, I’ll be there to remind you.”

Daniel ducked his head, looking away from the compassion and friendship Jack offered.   He was still learning how to cope with being a team player and taking tentative steps into this friendship thing he and Jack were developing.  But it felt good.   He had learned a lesson on this last mission, and he was resolved to succeed where Ernest could not but not at the expense of his teammates or his wife.  The shy grin appeared as he looked at Jack.  

“Thank you.”

Jack’s right hand, warmed from holding the now empty coffee cup, cupped the back of Daniel’s neck and squeezed it once affectionately.  He stood, stretching making unhappy noises and muttering about stiff joints, muscles, cold ass and being too old.

“Okay.   After we get your butt dethawed from this rock,” Jack paused in his declaration, head titled, eyeing the chunk of pink orange granite flecked with black and white.

“It’s a rock, Jack, not an artifact,” Daniel confirmed slowly standing, feeling the complaint of his own stiffened joints, muscles and cold flesh. 

Noting Jack’s sly grin, Daniel guessed, now that the lecture was over all that remained was the consequences of his foolhardy actions on Heliopolis.

“And confirming you haven’t given yourself pneumonia, we still have two days of medical tests Doc Fraiser insists we complete.  Then I do have an appropriate reprimand in mind.”

“Oh…what… a hundred push-ups,” Daniel quipped.  “Or, um, peeling endless tubs of potatoes in the kitchen.   Or, um, scrubbing down the locker room with a toothbrush.”

“Oh, Danny, that’s so clichéd.” 

Cliché or not, when Jack didn’t confirm or deny, Daniel became leery.

“I’m not telling,” Jack announced, arching his eyebrows.  “Good to keep you guessing.  It’s not nice to piss off your CO.  So maybe the next time you think about pulling a stunt like this, you’ll remember the consequences of this one.”

Daniel opened his mouth to retort he wasn’t military so why did Jack think he could treat him like a soldier but snapped it shut.  What had they just discussed?  Hadn’t he learned anything from Heliopolis?  Yes, he had.  The single most important mission in his life was to find Sha’re.  That was the prize worth obtaining.  But he had to be alive and traveling through the Stargate to do that.   When he screwed up, he had to accept the consequences.

“You’re right, “ Daniel conceded.  “I deserve to be punished.”

“I didn’t say punished,” Jack corrected.  “But it will be a team effort.  We’ll either succeed together, or we’ll fail together.”

“Now, Jack, its not fair to punish Teal’c and Sam, too.”

“What did I just say about it being a team effort?” Jack snapped.

“Ahhh, right.   Team,” Daniel obediently repeated.   “Got it.”

“That will be the day.   But I want you to remember you’re not alone, and there could be consequences to others because of your actions. Sounds like you’ve pretty much figured that out on your own.”

Jack reached out a helping hand as Daniel stumbled, his partially numbed legs still unsteady.   Together they walked stiffly toward the base entrance.

Glancing at the man at his side, Daniel realized there was something else of value he’d learned on Heliopolis.  He had been alone most of his life searching for answers in the history of Earth’s past.   But now, he had Jack, Sam, and even Teal’c, willing to help him search for both Sha’re and for answers out there.   Team and friendship were concepts foreign to him most of his life.  He was still getting used to the idea.  Maybe he hadn’t failed.  Maybe he had found meaning of life stuff after all.  And it was a prize worth sharing.

The End



This was first published in Foundations 3

March 28, 2004 The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.


Back