Chapter Eight

Amelia hesitated, wondering if he was alone and if she could…or should…take him down. Finally, she lay the knife on the floor and stood with her arms out to her sides. If push came to shove, she still had the Glock and there was no way this guy was taking that off her without a fight.

"Turn slowly," the voice said. Amelia obeyed. She wasn't sure what she had expected but the man stood before her certainly wasn't it. He was tall, she guessed about six three, young and dressed in what appeared to some sort of uniform. Both the trousers and the tunic were darkish grey in colour, almost camouflaging him against the surrounds. His white blonde hair was cut very short and his eyes were the palest blue she had ever seen. He reminded her of a book she'd read when she was at school. She struggled to recall the name of it though.

"Who are you?" A second man had appeared, his features startlingly similar to the first man but his voice was softer though, less hostile.

"I am Doctor Amelia Hendrik. We mean no harm or disrespect," she replied. The two men looked at each other for a moment.

"We?" the first man asked.

"I came with others. Searching for missing friends."

"There are more of you?" the second man asked, a hint of alarm in his voice.

His colleague turned to him and spoke in a language that Amelia could not understand but she gathered enough to know that they were having a rather heated disagreement.

The second man stepped forward and said, "Forgive us. We do not often receive visitors and to have received so many in so short a time makes us nervous. I am Marlag. This is my brother, Afran."

Amelia smiled. "Could I…lower my arms?" she asked.

"Of course," Marlag replied.

"The others, the people who came through before me…two have not returned."

Again, there was a furtive glance between the two men.

Afran placed his hand against the panel and the stone wall, that had appeared to solidly block their way, vanished as if it had never existed. Beyond, the scene could not have been more different. The walls were white, the floor a bright metal. The lighting was vastly brighter. People were coming and going, crossing the main corridor and entering the numerous rooms that led off it. They paid no attention to Amelia and her escorts.

"You will come with us," he said, pointing his weapon directly at her chest and indicating for her to move ahead.

Marlag cast his brother a censorious frown. "Please, come with us and we shall see that you are given something to drink and eat. I am sure that our Commander will wish to meet you. He is a scientist also," Marlag corrected but Amelia noticed that, despite his warm words, he still had his weapon in his hand and pointed at her.

"I don't wish to inconvenience anyone. It has been lovely to meet you, but I really think I should…" She didn't finish her sentence.

"Hendrik, exactly what part of 'don't wander off' did you struggle with?" Mitchell's voice echoed down the corridor. Marlag and Afran turned towards the newcomers and straight into Mitchell's P90. "Put the weapons down and back away from her."

"What are you doing, Colonel?" Amelia asked, glaring at Mitchell.

"Saving your sorry ass," he replied, making no attempt to disguise his irritation. "We've been here for five minutes and you manage to get yourself into trouble."

"My 'sorry ass' as you so eloquently put it, does not need saving. Afran and Marlag were about to introduce me to their Commander who may be able to help us," she replied, fury sparking in her eyes.

"They do have you at gunpoint," Carter said in support of her colleague.

Marlag lowered his weapon. "A sign of good faith," he said. Afran reluctantly followed suit.

"Colonel?" Amelia stared at him, unblinking, until he did the same.

The stand-off finally at an end, Amelia breathed a sigh of relief.

"Follow me," Afran barked, leading the way into the clinical surroundings.

.

The office of the Commander was large. Floor to ceiling windows flooded the room with light and through them, rather than the desert scene they had left, parkland stretched out to the edge of a forest in the distance. Children played happily, and adults walked, enjoying the sunshine. The man sat at the desk was also a surprise. He was younger than Amelia had expected. He looked up as they entered, and a warm, welcoming smile spread across his sun-kissed face. His eyes were the same pale blue as Marlag and Afran, but his hair was a darker, sandy blonde and worn slightly longer and swept back. He stood, pulling himself to his full six feet and extended a hand in greeting.

"Welcome, welcome," he said as Mitchell stepped forward and shook the hand he offered. "I am Commander Yellan."

"Colonel Mitchell," he replied, unable to match the warmth of his host. "This is Colonel Carter, Doctor Jackson, Vala Mal Doran and Doctor Hendrik."

"You are all very welcome to Zertan. It is so nice to receive visitors."

"Thanks," Mitchell replied.

"You came through the portal…from Earth?" Yellan asked.

"We did," Mitchell said. "I'm trying to find a couple of guys who came through before us. Couple of days ago with two other officers."

Yellan's expression clouded and a frown furrowed his brow. "Yes, we found one of your men. We brought him to our facility and our medics are doing what they can but…I'm afraid he is very sick."

"Is? So, he's alive?" Carter asked.

"Yes."

"And the other?" Mitchell asked.

Yellan shook his head. "There was only one. If your other man was left outside the facility, then…it is unlikely he survived."

"What do you mean?" Mitchell asked.

"Well, if we have not seen them then they must still be out there…in the desert. The temperatures are extreme," Marlag replied.

"But he could have been taken in by one of the villagers?" Vala said, stepping forward.

"Unlikely, but not impossible," Yellan conceded.

"We noticed technology out there that seemed a little more your thing than theirs. Cameras. Any chance they might have recorded what happened?" Mitchell asked.

Amelia noticed the slight widening of Yellan's eyes, but his smile quickly returned to his lips. He looked at Marlag.

"Review the recordings," he instructed. Marlag saluted and left. "As you are here, perhaps I could give you a tour of our facility. After I have taken you to your comrade, of course."

"Just one more thing. The travellers who did return to us are critically ill. If you have been able to assist one of the others perhaps you could share your methods and I can apply them back on Earth.

Yellan stared at her for a moment, his eyes narrowed, suspicious. He appeared to run the sentence through his mind before nodding. "I will arrange for you to speak with Surusu. He is our senior clinician. There is no-one better. Your friend is in good hands."

"Thank you," Amelia smiled.

"Follow me," he said and led the way from the room.

.

Amelia pulled on the mask she had been given and a pair of blue surgical gloves and followed the senior clinician into the small white room.

"He was very sick when he was brought here," Surusu said with a slight tutting sound and a shake of the head.

"Major North," Amelia whispered to herself. Despite his appearance, she knew him immediately from the photograph in his file. His skin appeared grey, his eyes were closed, and machines surrounded him, pumping oxygen, providing fluids and apparently circulating his blood.

"Can you explain…what happened and what you're doing to help him," she asked Surusu.

"We have to...clean...his blood. The environment is hostile. Not just the heat but the inhabitants. They are accustomed to the plague they carry but others are not. We are not. That is why we have the generated atmosphere. It keeps us safe. When you entered our facility, you went through a series of decontamination points. You would not notice them and that is the point. To become as sick as your friend…it must have entered his body. If we can clean his blood and remove the contaminants, then he may have a chance of survival."

"So, there's no way we can take him home?"

The man laughed. "Not at the moment. Perhaps in a day or two."

"Is it airborne?"

"Not that we have found."

"But you still seal yourself in this artificial environment?"

Surusu nodded. "The outsiders are carriers. If we come into contact with them, there is a danger the disease could be transmitted. Their skin is broken and raw. Cross-contamination is a permanent danger. We do what we can to help them. We give them food and ensure their water is clean. We cannot cure them though. We must do everything we can to protect ourselves. Besides, we are not native to this world. We cannot tolerate the environment."

Amelia nodded but thought back to the sample she had taken. Not what she would have described as clean water but perhaps that was not their sole supply. "I'd like to examine him if I could," she said. "Perhaps take blood samples. I might be able to use it to find a cure, or at least something that will buy us some time."

"Buy some time? Forgive me. I do not understand."

"I have two patients on Earth, potentially suffering from this virus. If I could take a sample of his blood I might be able to come up with an anti-toxin or some medicine that will allow them to survive long enough that I can cure them. With your help…"

"Absolutely impossible."

Amelia stared at him for a moment. "Why?"

"I cannot allow you to take his blood. Just the smallest contaminated amount could cause a pandemic. There is no vaccine. It could kill us all."

"I understand," she replied. She didn't, and she wasn't about to settle for 'no'. "May I examine him?"

Surusu paused for a moment and then smiled and nodded. "I am sure that can do no harm."

"And his medical records? I'd like to see what you've been doing. I might be able to take away something from the work you've done with this patient." she asked. She had spotted the computer console on the desk in the far corner of the room. No windows and the screen pointed in the wrong direction to catch her reflection.

"Anything I can do to assist." He did exactly as she had expected, moving to the console and turning his back. She quickly stuffed her hand into her pocket, pulling out a small syringe and jabbing it into the patient's vein. The liquid that was drawn was far from a normal human colour, but she didn't have time to worry about it. She slipped the cap back on and quickly hid it again.

.

The village was still deserted as they passed through the square on their way back to the Stargate and home. The recorded footage had turned up nothing and the team were subdued. Mitchell felt it was a failed mission. Even the promise of future trade and the offer of assistance to help the sick airmen seemed a hollow victory. Only one airman recovered, and he was still leaving him behind. Amelia had tried to tell him it was okay. That he shouldn't worry, and that the airman was in good hands, but it had seemed to be little consolation to Mitchell. Perhaps because her assurances lacked conviction. Unsurprising as Amelia didn't believe it herself. Vala and Jackson were walking slightly ahead, Jackson keen to get away from the searing heat of the desert environment as soon as he could. Vala was tagging along to annoy him – her current favourite pastime. Colonel Carter's eyes darted from side to side as they walked, the watchful locals making her nervous. Mitchell, on the other hand, was distracted. He watched Amelia from the corner of his eye. She had a hardness about her that he hadn't seen before. They'd been close – more than close - for over a year, or he thought they had, but she was almost a stranger to him now. He wondered if Carter had been mistaken when she had told him about the weapon she had seen concealed in Amelia's jacket. She had professed to hate weapons of any kind after having to put so many men and women back together again following gunshot and shrapnel wounds. It seemed incredible to him that she would have one now.

The villager yelled as he emerged from a property on the edge of the village and barrelled towards them, screaming something incomprehensible. He was a tall, thin man with wild eyes and a Zat in his hand. As he ran he pressed the button and unfolded it. He fired. A direct shot at Jackson who didn't have time to react. He hit the ground hard, moaning in agony. Vala dropped to her knees beside him. Amelia spun, withdrew her Glock and fired. The bullet struck the villager in the forehead and he crumpled to the ground, the sand absorbing his blood. Carter stared, wide-eyed, agape.

"What the hell?" Mitchell cried. "You killed him!"

Amelia made her way over to the body, nudging him slightly with her booted foot and looking down into his lifeless eyes.

"Yes, I did," she replied. Her voice was like ice through the desert heat. Emotionless, she bent, picked up the Zat. "Perhaps I wouldn't have needed to if you'd have given me one of these." She slipped it into the pocket of her combat jacket but Mitchell grasped her wrist before she withdrew her hand again.

"I'll take that," Mitchell said. Amelia reluctantly handed it over. "And that one," he continued, pointing to the Glock.

"Over my dead body," she smiled back at him.

He curled his fingers around the top of her arm and leaned towards her. "What the hell happened to you, Amelia? I thought you doctors had some sort of oath," he said in a low, brusque voice.

"We doctors also have a keen sense of our own mortality. Would you rather I let Doctor Jackson die? Now, might I suggest we move on. The natives are getting restless," she replied, looking over his shoulder.

Mitchell let go and turned, the active Zat in his hand. The small throng of people was moving closer, but their attention appeared to be fixed on the body of their fallen friend.

"Move out!" Mitchell called. Vala had helped Jackson to his feet and despite the slight shaking and tingling in his body, he had his Zat in his hand. Amelia had not re-holstered her weapon and had it pointed at the crowd. Mitchell shook his head. They were now surrounding the body. A woman was on her knees, sobbing loudly. Several of the men furtively glanced over their shoulders at the retreating visitors, rage in their faces. The team picked up their pace, Jackson and Vala running ahead to open the gate. The gate turned and finally, the wormhole formed. Jackson sent the IDC and impatiently waited for confirmation. As he received clearance, Mitchell and Carter reached him. Mitchell paused, looking over his shoulder for Amelia. She was running up behind and had several angry villagers on her tail.

"Hendrik!" Mitchell cried out. She stopped and turned. Carefully she aimed and pulled the trigger. Two shots rang out and two of the men dropped, screaming in pain, their ankles shattered. It was enough to stop the others in their tracks.

"Go!" she yelled to the team as she ran towards them. Only when she was mounting the steps did the team walk through the Stargate. Amelia hesitated on the platform for a moment. She caught her breath and surveyed the area surrounding the gate. There was a figure, some way off, struggling to run through the sand, his hands aloft in surrender. She holstered her weapon and made her way back down the steps never considering she could be stranding herself with the enraged villagers.

He was an elderly man, his thin, wispy white hair worn long. His skin was dark and leather-like. A side effect of his desert home, she assumed.

"Please…do not...harm." He held out his hand. She could see a collection of shining objects sat in the centre of his palm. "Yours."

Amelia approached him, watching him carefully. His English was limited, but it suddenly made her wonder how these people and Zertanian's came to have any knowledge of English at all. "Throw it," she demanded. He did as she asked, and she snatched it from the air. She turned it over in her hand. "Oh God!" she whispered to herself. The man stood before her, sheltering his eyes from the growing wind, whipping up the sand. "Where did you get this?"

He stared blankly at her for a moment.

"Found. Where?" she repeated.

"Your friend. Gave him to the sand," the old man said sadly.

"Gave him to the sand? What does that mean, exactly?" she barked at him.

"Spirit..." The old man looked to the sky as he spoke.

"He's dead?"

"Not dead. Evil dies. They will die." He waved his hand towards the village. "Friend will live." Again, he pointed to the sky.

Amelia shook her head. Religion had never been high on her agenda and it was even less important now. She had to get back and inform General Landry that Marsh wasn't coming back. Worse still, someone would have to explain it to his wife.

She jogged back up the stairs and stepped through the gate. She didn't hear the crackle of electricity echo through the desert or see the old man drop to his knees, blood pouring from the hole in his chest. He fell forward into the sand, his singed flesh smoking.

The men approached the body and Marlag stared down at it for a moment before spitting viciously. "Traitor!" he barked, then turned to the two troopers at his side. "Collect his corpse. Take it to the village and make sure the others see what happens to those who betray us."

He removed a long, thin black cylinder from the pocket of his combat jacket and made his way up the steps of the Stargate. He fixed it carefully to the side of the gate. He looked at a monitor in his hand, adjusted the angle of the camera again and, once satisfied, he turned, watching his men dragging the body of the old man away. He walked out into the desert, kicked sand over the bloody evidence left behind and returned to the village.

.

Mitchell stood, arms folded, at the bottom of the ramp. On each side of the room, SGC security officers pointed their weapons at Amelia as she appeared through the event horizon. Overhead, in the operations room, she could see General Landry watching her through the window.

"Welcome back Doctor Hendrik. What kept you?" Mitchell said as Amelia started to make her way slowly down the ramp. He held out his hand. "You maybe want to reconsider parting with your weapon?"

She looked around the room, weighing up her options. There were none. The iris closed behind her. She reached into her jacket.

"Whoa! Hold it there. Hands away from your body," Mitchell said.

She rolled her eyes but obeyed. "You afraid that I might be able to take you out before these guys can even aim?" she whispered as he came closer.

"No," he replied.

"You should be!" she smiled, raising an eyebrow.

He slipped his hand inside her jacket and placed his hand on the weapon. She could feel his breath on her cheek and the warmth of his hand through her thin black t-shirt as he slipped the Glock from the concealed holster. She turned away, afraid to meet his eye.

"How did you get this onto the base?" Mitchell whispered, stood only a couple of inches from her.

Her pulse throbbed wildly in her neck. "Can I put my arms down now, please?"

"Why can't you just follow orders?"

Amelia said nothing. Mitchell sighed. "General Landry wants to talk to you."

He waited for her to pass and then followed her up the stairs to the briefing room, trying not to notice how well the desert BDU's fit her. When they reached the top Mitchell passed the Glock to Landry and stood back. Landry looked the pistol over and then released the magazine before placing both the weapon and the ammunition onto the table.

"Well, I know this wasn't issued to you by us," Landry said, looking up from the table and directly at Amelia, his eyes narrowed.

"I started carrying one when I returned to the US. It isn't normally loaded. Since giving up competitive shooting I don't really care too much for weapons," Amelia replied. "That said, it's a good job that I did have it today or Doctor Jackson could be dead."

Landry looked at Mitchell who shrugged his reluctant agreement.

"Could've just winged him though," Mitchell suggested. Amelia shot him a withering look.

"And risk him taking a second shot at Doctor Jackson?"

"I can't let you have this back until I've had it checked out. I assume that it is registered to you?" Landry interrupted.

Amelia nodded, relieved that it was the Glock she'd chosen to bring with her. The results of the checks on her other weapons wouldn't have been as straight forward.

"Then I shall overlook this significant breach of regulations. And I'll have the security looked into. You shouldn't have been able to get this through the checkpoints. If I think you're going to need a weapon, it will be issued to you by this base. You will, under no circumstances, bring anything onto base like this again. Do you understand?"

"I do, General Landry," she replied. "And I apologise. There's something you need to see though."

She reached into her pocket and pulled out the collection of metal the elderly man had given to her. She placed them into Mitchell's hand. He turned over the ID tags then looked at her, bewildered.

"They were given to me at the gate. He was an old man and he seemed sincere," she said sadly. "He told me that Marsh was dead and the he had 'given him to the sand'. I'm sorry."

Landry sighed and shook his head. "I'll have to go and see his wife," he said. "Doctor Hendrik, my office." He took the ID tags from Mitchell and returned to his office without another word.

Amelia muttered under her breath and turned to leave.

Mitchell picked up the pistol. "Interesting choice of weapon. Favoured by NID agents."

"Whoever the hell they are," she replied over her shoulder.

Mitchell said nothing.

She stopped and turned. "It's a good weapon."

"You were lucky," Mitchell said.

Walking back to Mitchell, she leaned towards him. Her lips were just an inch from his ear. "Lucky would have been you not acting like a child and telling your boss. Lucky would have been you keeping your mouth shut!"