Author's Note: Thoughts and host/symbiote discussions are in italics.
"All right, here's the deal," O'Neill announced. "The Tok'ra and the members of SG-2 who were guarding the Gate have gone to the Tok'ra base to ask their Council for a cargo ship. We estimate it will get here in two to three days. When it does, it will pick us up first, then transport Daniel and Carter aboard from the roof, using the rings. Any questions?"
There were a few seconds of silence before Aldwin spoke up. "We'll have to leave the cover of the forest in order for the Tel'tak to bring us aboard." He paused, then continued at a nod from O'Neill. "Won't the Tel'tak lose its element of surprise? Saruman will see it as it picks us up, then as we go to rescue Dr. Jackson and Major Carter, if he has any weapons he'll be able to blow us out of the sky."
"We're banking on him not having weapons," Jacob responded. "Seeing as though he doesn't have a mothership and his Jaffa have no staff weapons, we think it's a relatively safe bet that his fortress isn't armed either."
Aldwin tilted his head almost imperceptibly. "I hope you're right."
"In the meantime," O'Neill continued, ignoring the Tok'ra's skepticism, "there's not much we can do, except wait."
"And hope Samantha and Dr. Jackson can hold on that long," Martouf added, finishing the unspoken sentence.
Daniel resisted the urge to fidget uncomfortably. SG-1 had run into their fair share of Goa'uld over the past several years. The race was arrogant, showy, obnoxious, demanding attention. They took delight in explosions, the screams of tortured victims, noise. Daniel couldn't recall a Goa'uld who'd been as unnervingly silent as this one. Saruman was sitting regally in his throne, eyes burning into his captives, as though attempting to make them spill all their secrets without having to say a word.
Then, without warning, Saruman spoke, and all of Daniel's unease fled from his mind.
"Grima brought me your weapons, and they make it clear that you are not of this planet. It has been long since Middle Earth has seen those who travel through the Stargate," the Goa'uld said.
In the back of his mind, Daniel vaguely registered that his mouth was hanging partially open, and he absently let it close. He realized that he was barely aware of what Saruman was saying, so mesmerizing was his voice.
He could hear the distortion, typical of the Goa'uld, but it seemed more subtle, less alien than most. The voice was deep, even without the Goa'uld double-tone, and rich and mellow. Daniel felt an odd sense of entrancement, and a nearly overpowering urge to do or say whatever was necessary to ensure the voice would continue. Sparing a quick glance at Carter, he saw that she seemed similarly enthralled.
His eyes traveled back to Saruman. The Goa'uld had finished speaking and was regarding his prisoners with the barest hint of a smile on his face.
Wondering suddenly if he was waiting for a response, Daniel attempted to pull himself together and ignore the lingering effect of the voice. "Um, yes, that was, ah--we gathered that."
Okay, what was that? he mentally scolded himself. You're a linguist, Daniel, you can be more coherent than that. It's just a voice. Concentrate.
Saruman rose and walked smoothly around Carter and Daniel. "And why have you come here?"
The voice was soft, calmly questioning. It seemed entirely different from the harsh, demanding way the Goa'uld usually spoke. A tiny red flag rose in the back of Daniel's mind, a pinprick of warning. He could hear Sam answering Saruman's question, but didn't make out the words. This wasn't right. Surely a voice alone couldn't cause this sort of euphoric feeling.
It must be some form of Goa'uld mind control. Maybe similar to what Hathor used, his brain whispered. Fight it. You have to fight it.
Martouf craned his neck, stretching out the stiff muscles, then propped his chin in one hand and allowed his eyelids to droop slightly. Two and a half days had passed since Jadek and Reesin, along with two of the Tau'ri, had been sent for the cargo ship. The wait, combined with the forced inactivity and the anxiety of not knowing what was happening to Dr. Jackson and Major Carter, was difficult for everybody.
Although some have been handling it better than others, Lantesh commented wryly.
True, Martouf sent back.
He glanced over at Jacob, who was conversing quietly with Aldwin. Samantha's father was obviously concerned for his daughter's welfare, but was keeping his worries concealed under a mask of stoicism. Martouf supposed that Selmak was also probably doing her best to distract her host. Teal'c had spent much of the past two days in a state of kel-no-reem, and Martouf couldn't help but feel a twinge of envy at the Jaffa's apparent serenity.
And then there was O'Neill, whose restlessness was in sharp contrast to Teal'c's composure. The longer the wait dragged on, the more his sarcastic and rather biting manner intensified, making him "even more insufferable than usual," according to Lantesh.
Martouf, however, thought he could understand O'Neill's behavior, at least to some extent. If there was one thing about the Tau'ri that stood out, it was their loyalty to their colleagues and almost stubborn refusal to give up, even when the situation was bleak. Samantha and Dr. Jackson were part of O'Neill's team, and Martouf knew he would stop at nothing in order to see them back safely.
A sudden noise from Jacob's communication device broke the stillness of the forest and interrupted Martouf's thoughts. He sat up quickly, at once fully alert.
The double-toned voice of a symbiote issued from the communicator. "Selmak, Jacob, please reply."
Jacob grabbed the device and spoke into it. "This is Jacob; go ahead."
"We have just entered the atmosphere of the planet," the Tok'ra pilot reported. "What is your location?"
"Finally," muttered O'Neill, abandoning his position at the edge of the forest and striding briskly into the camp. "All right, people, Tel'tak's almost here! Teal'c? Ferretti?"
Teal'c opened his eyes and rose effortlessly from his cross-legged position, then inclined his head. "I am ready, O'Neill."
Jacob finished his exchange with the Tel'tak and pocketed the communicator, his expression tense. "They're on their way." I sure hope this works.
It will, Selmak responded, even though he hadn't been specifically talking to her. Relax, Jacob. Samantha will be disappointed if she is rescued only to find that you've stressed yourself into a heart attack.
Jacob gave an internal chuckle in spite of himself. Aren't symbiotes supposed to keep their hosts in perfect health?
...Well, yes, Selmak admitted.
A yell from Aldwin broke into the conversation. "Here it comes!"
"Let's move!" O'Neill ordered, then charged out of the woods into the open ground where the Tel'tak hovered. The rest of the group was close on his heels, sprinting underneath the Tel'tak and positioning themselves below the rings.
"Squeeze in tight, everyone!" O'Neill bellowed. "I don't want any extremities left behind!"
"O'Neill!" came Teal'c's voice, almost before the Colonel had finished his sentence. "We have been seen!"
Heads swiveled towards Isengard. A small, black cloud of Uruks was getting bigger at a rapid pace as it moved towards them.
Jacob whipped out his communicator, hoping that everyone was crammed in close enough. "We're in position! Bring us aboard, now!"
The rings activated immediately, descending on the huddled group and whooshing them aboard.
As soon as the rings disappeared into the floor, O'Neill bolted towards the flight deck and gestured in the direction of Orthanc. "Head for that tower!"
Daniel pulled his knees up against his chest and tapped one foot in a random pattern. He had long since explored the entirety of the roof, in hopes that whoever built it might have left some carvings or inscriptions for him to peruse. But of course, he had no such luck.
He glanced over at Carter, who was sitting nearby, leaning against the spike. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing evenly. He wasn't sure if she was actually asleep or just resting, but either way, it didn't look as though she was in a conversational mood.
He'd lost track of exactly how much time had passed since Saruman had questioned them, but figured it was at least a couple of days. After the interrogation they had been returned to the roof, and hadn't seen or heard from anyone except the Uruks who brought their meager meals. The spellbinding effect of Saruman's voice seemed to have worn off once they were no longer in his presence. However, he and Carter had discovered that, to their alarm, they could barely remember the details of the interrogation. The questions Saruman had asked them, and their responses, were shadowy memories at best. Carter had theorized that the difficulty in recollecting was caused by whatever mind control Saruman had used on them, and they both knew that if he questioned them again, they would have to battle the voice with all their willpower. Now that they knew what to expect, they would stand a better chance against it.
But so far, Saruman had not sent for them. Daniel could only guess at the Goa'uld's plans.
Leaning his head back against the spike's cold surface, he let out a heavy sigh, then blinked suddenly. A flash of light had caught his peripheral vision.
Sitting bolt upright, he peered intently into the distance and shook Carter's shoulder. "Sam, did you see what I just saw?"
She opened her eyes and blinked groggily at him. "Hmmm?"
"Look." He pointed. "It's a Tel'tak."
She squinted, her eyes following his finger to where the cargo ship had come to a stop near the forest. "What's it doing?"
Daniel shook his head and crawled closer to the roof's edge. "I can't tell. I wish the Jaffa hadn't taken my binoculars."
Carter followed him gingerly, pulling herself foward as best she could while trying to keep her leg still. "Do you think it's--"
"Jack and Teal'c? I don't know. I hope so."
A sudden burst of noise made them jump, and they turned to see the transport rings activating. After a moment, the rings retracted into the roof, revealing the man Saruman had called Grima. His dark cloak made him appear silhouetted against the sky, but Carter and Daniel could still make out his devious smile.
"Saruman has come to a decision about your fate," he announced without preamble. "You are to be taken to the caverns and given to the Uruk-hai. It has been long since..." He paused a moment, his smile widening and becoming even more wicked. "...since they tasted manflesh."
Carter's eyes widened involuntarily as his words sank in.
The shout from Daniel tore her attention away from Grima's words. Her head whipped around, and she saw the Tel'tak speeding towards them, gaining altitude until it was flying above their heads.
It seemed to slow and descend slightly as it approached, and as it hovered above the roof, part of the lower hull slid away, revealing the transport rings ready to activate.
"It's Jack!" Daniel yelled. "It has to be!"
"We can't know for sure!" Carter returned, shouting over the noise of the ship's engines.
"We have to take the chance! It's either that, or--" he glanced over at Grima, who had backed up nearly against one of the spikes and was staring slack-jawed at the Tel'tak. "Come on!"
Carter hesitated only a split second, then half ran, half dragged herself under the rings. Daniel quickly followed, and instantly the rings lowered from the belly of the ship. Grima took a step forward, then a step back, shielding his eyes from the light of the rings as the prisoners were transported off the roof.
A grin split O'Neill's face as Daniel and Carter appeared in the Tel'tak, and Jacob let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "We've got them!" he yelled to the flight deck. "Get us out of here!"
The ship accelerated in response. Daniel and Jacob helped Carter to a seat against the bulkhead, and O'Neill clapped Daniel on the back.
"Good to see you guys in one piece," he said.
"Thanks, Jack," Daniel said, giving a weary but relieved grin. "You were just in time. They were going to..." He paused. "Well, let's just say your timing was impeccable."
Teal'c, entering just in time to catch the last sentence, quirked an eyebrow and a rare smile crossed his face. "Daniel Jackson, Major Carter. I am glad to see you safe."
Carter waved from where she was propped up against the wall. "Likewise, Teal'c."
O'Neill turned to his second in command and knelt next to her. "How's the leg?"
"I think it'll be okay, sir, but I could use some--" She was cut off midsentence by the unmistakable sound of an impact against the hull. The ship gave a sudden lurch and a bright light flashed from the flight deck.
Daniel blinked. "What was that?"
O'Neill got to his feet and sprinted into the flight deck, followed by Jacob and Teal'c.
"The ship's been hit," the Tok'ra pilot reported tensely, wrestling with the controls. "Engines are damaged. Losing altitude."
"What?" O'Neill looked ready to explode. "For crying out loud! He wasn't supposed to have any weapons!"
As if mocking him, the ship shuddered under the force of another hit and tilted at an odd angle. The ground could be seen growing steadily closer out the front window.
Jacob darted into the copilot's seat and looked over a display, then shook his head, face grim. "We're going down!"
On the roof of Orthanc, Saruman stood under a mass of dark, threatening clouds. A tiny flare of satisfaction showed on his otherwise stony face as he directed another lightning bolt at the fleeing cargo ship. A trail of smoke billowed out from the rear of the Tel'tak as it hurtled towards the terrain.