Title: Hell, Rewritten
Author: ShooteM
Email: ag4bk@juno.com
Status: Complete
Category: Action/Adventure
Sequel: Follows Hell, Revisited
Pairings: S/J
Spoilers: Few
Rating: PG
Content Warnings: None
Disclaimer: Stargate/SG-1 and the characters thereof are the property of MGM/UA, Gekko, and Double Secret Productions. This was written for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands.
Archive: SamandJack, yes, Jackfic, yes, Helio and FanFiction yes

Hell, Rewritten
Maj. S. Carter
E-journal
02.28.03

I guess Colonel O'Neill and I didn't get out of the country fast enough. All transfer orders have been suspended until things get settled down here so we're stuck. In a sick kind of way it's been a nice few weeks. I've been working with the guys down at the computer center. It's a real change from Naquadah research but I like it. My main duty station has been changed to Al-Jaber which is a lot further from the front lines and closer the field Hospital so I get to stop in and see the Colonel at least once a day. He's definitely feeling better, the nurses are avoiding him.

I really thought they'd have shipped him home, being injured, but I guess Dad did too good a job and he told me he'd be released to active duty tomorrow. Tonight if the nurses have anything to say about it. I don't think I'll be seeing much of him after that. He's still based out of Al-Salem. Maybe I'll sneak a pizza into his room tonight, can't get beer though.
Capt. Brad Tucker
Journal
03.01.03

I got the news yesterday Colonel O'Neill will be returning today. I can't believe the guy is gonna stay after all he went through. He could get a stateside assignment just for the asking, I'm sure. He's requested to keep the team together, Corbin, Lambert, Tolbert, Mitchell, and me. We're a good group, that weird mission proved it to us all. But I must say I've got a new respect for science fiction after that.
Col. J. O'Neill
Field Journal
03.01.03

I can't believe I'm back here again. They would've let me go back to Cheyenne if I griped hard enough but when I look around here at the young kids who are expected to fight a war, I can't bring myself to go. There won't be anything happening back home for a while anyway, George called and told me they've even suspended the diplomatic and scientific expeditions for now. The President wants all our attention focused where it should be- on matters here at home.

I was expecting the declaration of war even before I shipped over. Sometimes it really makes me angry we get so tangled up in politics. The human race needs to get a grip and look at the big picture.

Gen. Pike okayed my request to keep the team together thankfully. I know I can count on them but I'd like to see how they deal with the knowledge that's been entrusted to them. It's one thing to have reality hit you in the face and another to be able to move on.

We've got a short mission coming up already but I suspect Pike is holding out something a lot bigger. Maybe he's deciding if I'm recovered enough to handle it. He made me talk to some Mackenzie wanna-be who backed off the first time I glared at him, so much for therapy.
Maj. T. Corbin
03.02.03

Went on my second mission under Col. O'Neill. I can't say how much respect I have for a guy who can bounce back like that. Gen. P. called me in for an assessment of how I think O'Neill is doing. Nice to know the Gen. is listening. I told him the truth, the guy is an irreverent smart-ass, and I don't know how he's stayed in the USAF so long, and I'd be honored to serve with him any day of the week. If for no other reason than I know he'd make sure I got my butt back home. Pretty much he's just like he was before the first mission.
Maj. S. Carter
E-journal
03.04.03

Over the past week Col. O'Neill called me four times, just to talk. Today he wanted to make sure I was free for dinner- a la Mess Hall. Like I'd be doing anything else out here in the middle of nowhere. We ate and then just talked. He couldn't stay long, but we really had a nice chat. I think he misses being able to drop by my lab and harass me. I miss him too; wonder when I'll see him again.

Since part of my job is now gathering and interpreting Intel, I have been able to keep up on the Colonel's missions. His team is up for another run behind the border, verifying targets and collecting Intel.
Corey Tolbert
Letter home
03.06.03

Dearest Julia;

Honey, I miss you and the kids so much I can't possibly tell you. We just got word an hour ago they'd pick up mail to go out and one of the guys had some spare letter writing stuff so I though t I'd write a quick note. I gotta tell you about my new CO. The guy is the most unconventional commander I've ever heard of. We went on this really far out mission a few weeks ago (you know I can't tell you stuff about it) and he went MIA. We put together a search and rescue and got him back of course.

I figured he'd ship out after that mission, but not only did he stay, he requested the same team, including me. We've been on a couple short missions already and they guy is phenomenal. I've seen the man put together a mission when the Intel we've got is nothing but a pile of Post-It notes on his desk. He doesn't talk about it but I think he's been through all this stuff before, must have been in the Gulf War in '91.

Anyway I don't know when I'll get any mail from you or when I'll be able to write again, so keep safe and hug the kids for me. Hey, you ever thought about moving to Colorado?

Lotsa Love,
C.
Maj. S. Carter
E-journal
03.06.03

I got as nice surprise today, Col. O'Neill showed up at the computer center with Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, of course. How does he do that? And I've been bribing the guys at the commissary just to get blue Jell-O. He looked really tired and I have a feeling he was on a mission already. He didn't comment, but he did want to know why he's been getting Intel on Post-It notes when we have a state-of-the-art high tech computer center. I told him I'd look into secure e-mail and he made *that* face.

After I was through for the day he showed up with a Jeep and took me out to the end of the runway. We just sat there and looked at the stars for awhile. I could tell he's got a lot on his mind; he hardly said a word. When we said goodnight, he told me he was going on a mission tomorrow. I could tell by his voice it was going to be dangerous and in his own way I think he was saying goodbye just in case. I could have sworn he wanted to say something else, but he didn't. Maybe I should have.
Col. J. O'Neill
Field Journal
03.07.03

We're on our way to a drop point XXX, Baghdad. I know I should have gotten some sleep earlier but instead I went to Al-Jaber and spent some time with Carter. I didn't tell her what I'm doing but I'm sure she figured it out. She's smart you know. I really wanted to talk with her about, stuff, but I couldn't get my mind off the mission. Just as well, I need to stay focused for what's ahead.
Maj. T. Corbin
Journal
03.07.03

This will be my last entry for a while. The Colonel anticipates we'll be on maneuvers for at least two weeks, possibly more. My 'talents' as O'Neill refers to them will be put to good use. Wish we had some of that NaqXXX stuff right now, it would make this a lot easier. Scratch that, I wish we had General Carter's ship! It's turning out to be hard to go back to the *usual* way of doing things after that mission to get the Colonel out. It's like I've seen the future of warfare and the Air Force in particular. I just hope I live to see it happen.
Capt. B. Tucker
Journal
03.10.03

The mission is going as planned. Our contacts on the inside have proven themselves quite to O'Neill's satisfaction. We've got a few more days to gather specific Intel and send messages home before moving on. Mitch and I have been digging through stacks of old fashioned paper Intel on biologicals. It's up to us to protect the rest of the team. The Colonel is being amazingly supportive considering when I try to explain something to him, I'm sure he doesn't know what I'm talking about. I don't get the feeling he's patronizing me or humoring me, it's more like he just trusts me to handle it. You know he treated that Major Carter the same way. I guess I should consider myself becoming part of an elite group- 'people O'Neill trusts.' Believe me, there is no higher honor.
Col. J. O'Neill
Field Journal
03.14.03

We're moving on from our first point of contact today. Up 'till now our mission focus has been gathering Intel. From here on, we will be preparing to take a more active role. It will be dangerous to move during the daylight hours but it's a necessity. I suggested we dress in Birkas but the team did not seem to appreciate my idea. Was that Yak butter they stuffed down my pants? Who said Americans don't know anything about biological warfare? I hope we get to our next contact soon, and I hope they've got showers.
Maj. S. Carter
E-journal
03.15.03

I've been in Kuwait just over a month, and what a month it's been! The Colonel went on a mission a week ago. I really shouldn't be worried, he warned me it would be awhile, after all. He's got a good team and I'm sure they'll be okay. Who am I kidding? The only thing that would stop my worrying is if I'd gone along, or maybe Teal'c. That brings up another matter. I really should contact the SGC and let Hammond know what is happening. He knows why the Colonel and I haven't returned but I'm sure he'd appreciate hearing from me. Maybe if I let them know, I'll feel better, you know 'misery loves company.'
Teal'c
Chronicle
03.15.03

Received word from Major Carter today that O'Neill has embarked on another mission. If I understand her demeanor correctly, she is concerned for his welfare. I returned the communiqué with reassurances that O'Neill is a capable warrior and will indeed be victorious. Major Carter knows this but I have observed frequently humans must be reminded of that which is common knowledge.

In my meditations today I also noted concern for O'Neill within myself. This is surprising, and I will endeavor to 'remind' myself of that which I already know.
Col. J. O'Neill
Field Journal
03.17.03

We've arrived at our second contact, and for the record, yes, *I* wore the Birka. Thanks to the lard I was smeared with, no one came near enough to recognize who I was. They don't have showers here, or baths, or running water of any kind. They do have a well and buckets. I guess I'll just to have to make do. Tolbert is insisting on it.

Our present host will provide shelter for a few days while we finalize our plans. It's amazing how many people here are not loyal to Hussein. The people seem to be divided down sharp lines, some loyal and some not, the loyal ones far outnumbering those who might help us. But things are changing, more people cross over every day. The ones that are sympathetic are truly glad to see us and we've been treated quite well. I was thinking of how I might get a message back to Gen. P. Our host heard me mention it and showed me his computer with a satellite internet connection of all things! Gotta love technology. Maybe I should e-mail Carter? I found myself actually considering taking him up on it, despite the fact even with internet security it could put our host in danger, as Tuck not so quietly reminded me.

We heard about the 48-hour deadline President Bush has given Hussein, looks like things are right on schedule.
Maj. S. Carter
E-journal
03.19.03
President Bush declared war on Iraq today. I think Colonel O'Neill knew it was coming and intended to be behind enemy lines when it happened. It's been twelve days and finally a bit of Intel came across my desk that could be linked to O'Neill's team. Someone reported a small group of American-looking men at a town just west of Baghdad. A regiment of the Republican Guard was sent to intercept them, but no trace was found. Hussein made a public statement regarding American criminals in his cities and his intent to punish them. In the video clip an entire square filled with hundreds of people vowed to exterminate the Americans. I can only hope the Colonel and his team are safe.
Maj. S. Carter
E-journal
03.20.03

I'm becoming obsessed with Intel out of Baghdad. I've stayed late every night for a week going over every report I can lay my hands on. I feel like something will be missed unless I read the reports personally. Damn, I've got to learn to read Arabic.
Maj. S. Carter
E-journal
03.21.03

Today marks two weeks with no official contact from Colonel O'Neill, however a pint of Ben and Jerry's showed up on my desk, still frozen solid, packed in dry ice. The name? Would you believe it, 'Makin' Whoopie Pie.' No, really. Of course it's chocolate. Did the folks back in Vermont create this flavor just for him? It looks authentic, but I'm tempted to have the lab guy's look at the carton, after I'm done with it that is. I really want to know how he does this stuff. I feel like I've been the target of a special op. I have no reason to, but I feel a little better.
2nd Lieutenant M. O'Connor
Biological warfare Specialist
Notes
03.22.03 0115

We are prepped to go in at 0200. I have explained the risks to my CO, Colonel O'Neill, and his response has been a bit cavalier. I have come to expect this. Capt. Tucker says it's his way of letting me know he trusts my judgment. In reality its gonna take every one of us and a huge amount of luck to pull this off.
Maj. S. Carter
E-journal
03.22.03 0400

The war has been escalating as expected. Bombing runs are being made any time of the day, but more often at night. Tonight we were called in to receive high priority feeds from our AWACs flights. At precisely 0340 a large chemical plant west of Baghdad went up in a ball of fire. We reviewed the footage and are confident this was O'Neill's team at work, as we had no bombings scheduled in that area.
Col. J. O'Neill
Field Journal
03.22.03 0630

Our mission was successful. Scratch one XXX factory. Now comes the hard part. It's just before dawn and we are holed up in the basement of some burned out building. We didn't make the escape window in time. I hope our contact got away okay; he's a good man. We've got our packs with MRE's, water and ammunition, and lots of time on our hands. We can't risk moving until dark so I've ordered everyone to rest. We'll have two men on watch at a time, I don't want a dog to scratch in our vicinity and not know about it.

This would be a good time for Thor to need me for something. Of course the explanations would take longer than this mission, but what the hell.
Jahmed Abu Jabal
Message
03.23.03

Friends did not return. Suspect route unfavorable. Possible capture or elimination. Advise.
JAJ
Return home. S&R not viable option at this time. Casualties expected.
Al-Salem
That was it, the proverbial straw breaking the camel's back. The consummate professional Major Samantha Carter ripped the paper out of the printer so fast the ink smeared at the bottom and stalked into her CO's office. "Colonel!" She forced herself to come to attention. "Colonel O'Neill's team has been compromised and just what is the meaning of this?" She threw the paper on his desk. "No rescue? Who sent this message?"

Colonel Wilkes liked the young Major but bristled at her insinuation, "That is none of your business, Major. You do not determine the course of this conflict nor do you assign missions. It has been determined that some losses are acceptable."

She couldn't believe her ears. They were planning on leaving O'Neill behind enemy lines to fend for himself and his team. Her shoulders slumped visibly. Wilkes rose and walked around his desk. "Major, I'm sure a rescue mission is still being considered, in fact they've run a few in the last couple days. If it's possible they will go. Just not right now, there are too many bombing runs going on. If O'Neill can just lay low for a few days our forces will be within shouting range of Baghdad, they'll get him out."

She turned away hastily and straightened her shoulders. After composing herself she turned back to him. "Sir, There must be something we can do."

"Our job here is Intel. If you can figure out something within these confines that could help O'Neill, be my guest." He made a sweeping gesture with his hand as he spoke.

She smiled just a little for the first time in several days; in effect her CO had just given her permission to free-lance her abilities. Little did he know she intended to make full use of the opportunity.
She went to her office and closed the door, eyeing the mountain of paper that was her desk. She would have gladly converted it all to files on her laptop but it just took too much time, time that could be spent analyzing. She sat and stared at the blank computer screen. There had to be some way to use all this information to help O'Neill. The problem was if she could get information about the team's whereabouts, then most likely Saddam could too. What she needed was to intercept information before it got to Baghdad, get what she needed out of it and send on tainted reports to Saddam. At the same time she needed to get word to O'Neill and set up an extraction. That would mean possibly sending false orders to a Search and Rescue squadron.

She knew she could originate just about any kind of information she wanted to send out, even Sat. photos and orders, but it might be suspicious. She had to stay low. A better option would be to get to the reports first and rewrite the information already there. She was going to need an accomplice.

Just at that moment there was a knock at her door and her aide, Lieutenant Beck poked his head in. He was a young Californian, who here in the desert still thought it was worthwhile to work on his tan, but she had to admit the kid was a genius. Or he could be if he applied himself.

"Major?"

"Come on in, Lieutenant." She answered with a tired voice.

"I know you just came back from Wilkes office and I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry about your old CO. Sometimes I wonder if the Air Force cars about anybody. He really got a raw deal after all he went through."

She eyed him thoughtfully. He sounded like he knew a lot more than what he should have been able to pick up about the recent missions. "Ian, what do you know about Colonel O'Neill?"

He flushed obviously. "Only what's in the reports Ma'am."

She knew he was lying. "Close the door and have a seat, Lieutenant." Her eyes followed his movements to the chair beside her desk. "All right, spill it. What do you know?"

He fidgeted in his chair before answering, "I, uh, noticed the attention you have given to following his whereabouts and I just wanted to know why."

She leaned forward, "And."

Under her scrutiny his only option was to come clean. "I know he's been in Iraq before, as a prisoner of war and I know you served together at Cheyenne Mountain. The reason you were both transferred out here was some super highly classified operation. I don't know what it was but you were both hand-picked by the Joint Chiefs for the mission."

"Anything else?"

He looked her in the eye, "I know how he was rescued."

Her jaw wanted to drop but she held it in place, they had been so careful to hide her father's ship. She decided to bluff. "We used a Helicopter and mounted a rescue mission."

"No, Ma'am. Those explosions a couple weeks ago, they're being attributed to internal causes because no aircraft was ever found on Iraqi radar or by us. Not a peep from satellite or AWACs. There were sporadic reports of something on fire hitting the targets. They're actually saying they were meteors. Kind of convenient that a meteor just happens to hit a previously designated target, don't you think? There was something in that hangar out at Al-Salem but it wasn't any conventional aircraft. And it was not just good luck that no one saw it. It was some kind of stealth technology and both you and Colonel O'Neill are acquainted with it. I don't see why the General doesn't use it again to go back and get them out."

Carter looked down at her hands. That same idea had occurred to her as well, but things were different. They were at war now; it was no longer an option.

He picked up on her body language, "Maybe he can't. Maybe it's not here anymore."

"That will be all, Lieutenant, dismissed."

He rose from the chair and turned to leave, "You know he's not dead. He's just pinned down west of the target site waiting for an opportunity to get out."

Her head bobbed up, "How do you know that?" What had he seen that she missed?

He smiled and his youthful cockiness came out, "I can read between the lines. There's been an increase in activity in that area. There are no installations out that way and no other targets we might hit. I think Hussein is looking for something."

The honesty of the airman made her look more deeply at him. "We might be able to help the Colonel and his team." She paused to decide how much she could tell him. "It would have to be outside ordinary channels and involve manipulating data."

His hand moved away from the doorknob. "Ours or theirs?"

"Both."

His smile widened and he turned fully back toward her. "You know how I got into the Air Force?"

She shook her head. "I got in trouble hacking government sites. They offered me a deal. I could spend time in prison, or use my talents to the benefit of my country. My old man was Air Force, so here I am." He walked back and stood by the chair grasping the back of it with both hands and leaning forward. "I'm already in Saddam's network. I can intercept or send anything you want."

She couldn't stop the smile from spreading across her face. "Lieutenant, sit down, we've got work to do."

Several hours of brainstorming later, Carter and her new accomplice had come up with a plan. They needed to intercept reports of the Republican Guard and rewrite them so Saddam would believe the Americans had either died in the explosion or already escaped. Then they needed to get a message to O'Neill to hold his position if possible and keep him apprised of how close Coalition Forces were getting.
O'Neill and his team were definitely pinned down. They could hear troop movements all around them and it had to be sheer luck none of them made a sweep of the building. For fear of attracting attention, O'Neill had ordered no fire, which meant unfortunately, no hot water for coffee or to prepare the MRE's. They'd be drinking plain water and eating only energy bars for now. It was hard, but they all understood his prudence, the smell of coffee and food could easily give away their position.

He'd intended to move to a better location and hopefully somewhere in the direction of their contact but the whole first night the Iraqis troop movements kept them in their original hiding place. If they didn't move by the end of the second day water and rations were going to be an issue.

The light was finally fading and O'Neill got up and stretched his legs a bit, then took a seat beside his 2IC. Two days of inactivity was making them all stiff and irritable.

"Sir? Are we going?"

"Yeah, soon, give it another 30 minutes." His eyes scanned the room ascertaining the level of light. He dug out a crinkled and dirty piece of paper that served as their map and laid it out on the ground.

"I want you to take point with Tolbert, cut through here and make your way along this wall." The Major watched as his finger traced a line on the paper.

"That takes us back into Baghdad."

"It does." After a brief pause and noting the concern on Corbin's face he continued, "Our contact is back that way. I don't think we have much of a choice. Coalition forces should be on their way by now, but we can't risk heading south or west, the possibility of resistance is too high."

Corbin sighed, he knew the Colonel was right, at least they knew what to expect if they went back the way they'd come and there was a chance, however slight, they'd meet up with Americans.

Their conversation was cut short when an air raid siren was heard in the distance. Tolbert was standing just inside an open doorway facing east to Baghdad and a flash of light momentarily lit his face. The young man didn't even flinch as the bomb hit, the sights and sounds of war were already second nature to him. Captain Tucker rose and joined him watching the display.

Corbin shuffled with his back against the wall, "You know if we go out there, we'll be walking right into the line of Coalition fire."

"Yeah." O'Neill answered quietly with his eyes downcast. A few minutes later he rose to his feet, "Time to go."
Ian Beck had no problem hacking into the Iraqi database, and much to Carter's delight, was able to divert field reports in their direction. It was evident the American infiltrators had not been found and though efforts were still being made to locate them, the onslaught of war was taking it's toll. Iraqi forces in that area had been cut back and ordered to return to Baghdad to aid in the fighting there.

Beck loaded up a Republican Guard field report and began hacking away at it. He removed the current location of the unit and changed it to a position several miles to the southwest, to an area he knew was not far beyond where the Coalition Forces were making their march. The report was made to imply the Americans were spotted making a run to meet up with the advancing Coalition, but were yet some distance from their goal. He ended by requesting additional units be sent to close in on them before they could escape.

Carter looked over his shoulder cocked her head to one side, "Okay, you're drawing them away from the Colonel's most likely position but why are you giving them orders to move out?"

"No harm in spreading them a little thinner, is there?"

She smiled and shook her head, "You're a dangerous man, Lieutenant."
The sun was past setting and only a half moon lit the night sky. Corbin motioned for Tolbert to hold position while he leaned around a corner and took a quick look at their intended route. The way was reasonably well cleared of people having been bombed the night before, their walking would be hard though, there were pieces of equipment and abandoned vehicles everywhere in addition to the debris from fallen buildings.

O'Neill caught up with Tolbert and crouched beside him to wait for Corbin to return. They hadn't even gone two miles yet and had to change their course twice due to roving patrols or the route being blocked. The air raid sirens had almost become background noise to them; it was so constant now.

Despite the noise Lambert used the stop as an opportunity to try to contact Command. Their Satellite uplink phone had been damaged but he was convinced he could still get it to work.

The Major finally returned to report. He knelt and leaned up close to O'Neill to make his voice heard, "No patrols up ahead, Sir. The streets are in bad shape but I think if we circle to the north and cut through those abandoned buildings we can get through."

O'Neill nodded and motioned to the three men behind him to move up and follow the Major. He held back until they were all close to the building before moving ahead himself, constantly scanning the area with the nose of his MP-5 following his eye movements.

A nearby siren began to wail and to the south he could see anti-aircraft fire. The bombs hit less than a mile away with a fierce explosion and a shockwave rattling any windows that were still unbroken. His team was too far ahead to warn effectively so he just dove for cover and waited for the ground to stop rumbling. He figured they were dropping J-Dams, as long as they didn't get any closer than a block or two they'd be all right.

When he night quieted once again he made a quick dash to the doorway and inside. Luckily everyone was okay, a little dirtier from the dust and dirt that was stirred up from the shock but uninjured. Just as he reached them the sky was lit by another explosion, this one much closer.

"Shit!" O'Neill pointed to a doorway with steps leading downward, "In there. Now!"

Tucker was the closest and immediately headed down the steps using the light on his weapon to see into the darkness. He was followed by two of the Lieutenants and then the Major. They were almost out of time when O'Neill shoved Tolbert down the steps and followed. It was too late to be concerned about running into hostile forces right now, so they plowed into the cellar and hugged close to the walls for some protection from the falling debris.

The chamber was inhabited, but not by soldiers, there were four women and three small children huddled in the corners. A small lantern made their forms just visible through the dust. At the sudden entrance of unknown soldiers, they covered up and shrank back and hid their faces. Corbin, being the most fluent in Arabic, quietly told them they would not be harmed.

O'Neill wasn't in the room a minute when the bomb hit. It felt like the whole building was coming down around them, an earthquake wouldn't have been much worse.

Bits of plaster and glass were flying everywhere and when a beam crashed down the stairway a great cloud of debris came with it. One of the women was hit by something and fell to the ground unconscious. In two long strides O'Neill was at her side crouching, using his body as at least a partial shield against further harm until the debris stopped falling. He snatched up the child she was holding with one hand and with the other reached to touch her neck. "Lambert! Get that Med kit over here!"

The young soldier has a hard time getting his feet to work with the ground still shaking but managed to half crawl over to the woman and started to check her injuries.

As soon as the shaking stopped O'Neill started shouting orders. "Everyone Okay?" He didn't wait for verbal responses but eyed each of his men and continued, "Mitch, Tuck, check on the other women. Corbin, you and Tolbert see if there's another way out of here."

They did as they were asked and when Corbin returned to inform the Colonel of his findings, he had to stop in his tracks at what he saw. O'Neill hadn't moved, he was still on one knee, beside the unconscious woman, scanning the room and watching out for the group. He seemed totally oblivious to the comfort and support he was giving the child he still cradled in his arms. The boy was probably not yet two years of age and had a death grip on O'Neill's vest with one hand. His face was partially hidden but Corbin could see his eyes were closed and he was sucking on his thumb, completely content.

The sight was not missed by the three other women who were still seated and murmuring quietly to each other. One of them rose and approached. Instead of reaching out for the child, she knelt and assisted the Lieutenant to clean and dress the wounds of her friend, often sneaking a look at O'Neill and the child.

Corbin's reverie was broken by the Colonel's irate voice. "Tom! What the hell are you looking at? Is there a way out of here or not?"

He stumbled at first but was finally able to spit out, "No, Sir, just the stairway. It's not too bad though, I think we can get it cleared."

O'Neill nodded his consent and rose to his feet. He moved to the two women still at the far wall and crouched in front of them, speaking to them softly in broken Arabic. It took some doing but the boy relinquished his grip and was handed off to one of the women. The Colonel patted the boy's head and ruffled his hair before rising to rejoin the team.

In a short while they were able to open up the passageway enough to get through. O'Neill took a look around above and decided to move out. It was almost daylight now and a suitable hiding place would have to be found. If the cellar had been in a little better shape they could have just stayed there.

The injured woman was awake and able to move so O'Neill had each of the women helped by one of his men up to the main floor. He intended to take their leave at that point, but the eldest grasped his arm and pulled him aside. She spoke hurriedly and gestured with her hands in earnest.

Tuck tried to follow but barely understood a word. "What is it, Colonel?"

"It would seem we've made some friends. She wants us to follow her."

Corbin shook his head and said, "You're not really considering that are you? You know one of the latest strategies they've been using is to play nice and then shoot you in the back."

"I don't think so. This woman is saying her son was beaten for just asking to be relieved of duty when his son was ill. She hasn't seen him now in over six months." His eyebrows rose, "She says Hussein is a very bad man."

The Major flailed his arms in the air, "Well, we can't argue with that, now can we?"

"Major." O'Neill felt his ire coming up. "We don't have a lot of options here. We are out in the open and we are out of time. If we don't find somewhere to be a little less conspicuous we're going to be in serious trouble." He sighed at the downcast look Corbin was giving him and reached out to touch his shoulder. "I know, it's dangerous, but we have to take the chance. Let's go."

O'Neill waved his hand to the door and the women headed out single file. The eldest was last and as she left the building she instructed O'Neill to stay put. She crossed the street and sent the other women on ahead before motioning for the Americans to follow.

She weaved her way through several ruined buildings and finally out through a courtyard area and into a small shop. At the rear was a stairway down to a small musty cellar. It would suffice as their home for the day. After they settled themselves as best they could in the tight quarters, a young woman brought them a few hard-crusted loaves of bread and a jug of water.

The day was spent either sleeping or talking quietly. Only one of them at a time ventured to the surface to use the facilities or stretch a little, with one of the women constantly present as an escort. O'Neill agreed with the suggestion of the old woman and insisted they stay covered up with thick robes whenever out of the cellar, despite the heat.

In the late afternoon the older woman came to the top of the stairway and called to O'Neill. She led them out to the front of the building where a canvas-covered truck was waiting with the engine running. The women and children who they'd met the night before were already waiting in the cramped space. They were urged to get in and she lowered a cover over the back. The driver was only a boy and drove the vehicle far too fast for the road conditions, giving them a bumpy ride, but he did avoid all of the patrols and most of the debris. After what seemed like hours he pulled up to a narrow alley and the woman stepped out from the front seat. She motioned for them to come along. With a growing sense that he'd made the wrong decision, O'Neill followed with his team close behind.

Just before the end of the alley she turned into a low doorway. Even though the sun was full up, the room was dark and she moved a drape back just a little to let a ray of light into the room. Once they were all inside she led them through another doorway and up a flight of steps. The room they entered was large and open but bereft of any furniture except one chair, a desk and three cots. At the foot of one of them was a large empty basin and a stack of towels. The draperies were already open here and she drew a filmy gauze fabric across as a screen.

She already knew O'Neill could understand her and spoke directly to him. "You will stay here. Please rest. I will see you have water and bread."

O'Neill nodded his thanks as she left. "Well boys, this is our new hideout for the day. Mama says she'll see if she can round up some food and water for us." The smell of food cooking in the various homes nearby was already wafting on the air and they all realized just how hungry they were.

Everyone settled in as best they could, and O'Neill allowed Mitchell to light up some sterno. In a few minutes he had heated the last of the water from his canteen and made enough coffee for all to have some.

Tuck sat on the floor and went through his pack, trying to find something palatable to eat, and tossed a few MRE's aside with disgust. "What I wouldn't give for a ham sandwich right now!"

Almost on cue the elder woman's daughter appeared at the doorway with a covered tray. She lowered her eyes to not look at any of them and demurely set it on the table. O'Neill had been sitting in the chair and rose to help her. She showed obvious surprise when he thanked her in her native language, and shyly smiled at him.

A young boy now approached, lugging two large plastic containers of water. He stopped dead in the doorway when he saw the men. "Azir, come, bring the water." The young woman waved her hand to call him into the room.

He didn't move and Corbin took a turn with his language skills, "Azir, is it? Come here, I'll trade you." He picked up one of Tucks discarded MRE's and tore open the outer package. It was supposed to be a balanced meal; complete with dessert, and after a moment he produced something that at least approximated an oatmeal cookie and another that might have been a graham cracker. He waved them out to the boy, "For the water."

Waiting for a nod from his mother the boy took a deep breath and waddled over to Corbin, letting the jugs smack against his legs as he went. He set both jugs down with a plop and looked back at his mother who was now hiding a giggle with her hand. She turned to O'Neill and said, "He really isn't like this. He usually cannot shut his mouth!"

Corbin got the boy's attention back by waving the treats and then tossing them to him. He grabbed them in mid air and ran to his mother, clutching her skirt. The comical sight brought a round of chuckles from the group and an immediate release of tension.

O'Neill decided to see what gift the young woman had brought them and lifted the cover from the tray. The contents before him were nothing short of a feast. The tray was packed full with an assortment of roasted meat, goat cheese and hard crusted dark breads sprinkled with sesame seeds. There were several fruits too, small grapes, dates and some kind of citrus that was cousin to an orange. He tossed one of the seeded rolls at Tuck and grinned, "It's not ham but it'll make a hell of a sandwich."

Any suspicions the group may still have had was banished when Azir snatched a date off the tray and popped it into his mouth. The young woman made a face and playfully slapped his hand, "Come now, son. We must leave these men to rest." She turned back to O'Neill before starting down the steps. "If your men need to-" She cut her words short and blushed. "Call Azir if you need anything, he will show you where to go." O'Neill smiled and touched two fingers to his forehead in a salute which only made her blush more and she quickly escaped down the steps.

Alone again and as safe as they could be, O'Neill grabbed a couple dates and sat on one of the cots. He ate the fruit though he was definitely more tired than hungry and a lot more than he wanted to admit. The stress of the last few days was catching up with him. Despite their present safety he found himself wondering if they'd be able to make it out alive. Their best chance would be to sit tight and wait until Saddam was defeated, but wars like this had a nasty way of dragging on and on. If they left it would be a risk no matter which direction they went from here, the woman had brought them straight into Baghdad after all.
Carter was working furiously at her laptop and didn't notice when Ian stepped into the room. He managed to get all the way in unobserved. "So, you figured out how to get a message to O'Neill yet, given we still have no idea where they are?"

She nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of his voice so close behind her and frowned at him, "Actually, no." She admitted. With the bombing of the Iraqi telecommunications center and most of the electricity being down throughout Baghdad and the surrounding areas the options had become quite limited. "We could broadcast a general message and encode it, but who knows if they'd receive it? If they had a Sat Phone they'd have already checked in. We have to assume their communications are down. It would be a complete stroke of luck to contact them." She leaned back in the chair; of all the things Major Samantha Carter did well, admitting defeat was not one of them. "Maybe we should just concentrate on finding them."

"Well, I've got something for you there. We've gotten a sporadic signal from somewhere southwest of Baghdad. Charlie upstairs says it's a ghost or an echo, but it's just off frequency for our Sat Phones. How much do you believe in coincidence?"

"Not at all." She closed her laptop and stood up, "Okay, lets go see Charlie and see if he can pinpoint his 'ghost' for us."
Charlie was a middle aged Captain with thick glasses and thin gray hair. He reminded Carter a little of General Hammond, he was a bit on the stout side and his uniform was just barely one size too small. It fit but with no room to spare. His love of flying was evident by the numerous photos and models of planes surrounding his cluttered desk, obviously Intel and surveillance wasn't his first choice of an Air Force career. Ian swore the man had a gift for it though.

After the introduction, Charlie removed a stack of papers from a stool next to his desk and motioned for the Major to sit, leaving Ian to scrounge a chair from an adjacent office. Charlie was far from convinced that his 'ghost' was in fact a lost Special Forces team, especially so deep in Iraqi territory but he humored them. It helped that Carter was such a 'pretty little thing' and despite their ranks and the impropriety of it, he told her so.

He brought up his logs of incoming transmissions and singled out the unknowns. Of that list he deleted several, griping all the while that his computer would log in garage door opener transmissions if he didn't filter them out. He didn't miss Carter's grin even though she tried to hide it. She wondered if he ever picked up one of their 'GDO' transmissions- probably not, but the thought was funny.

Eventually he narrowed the list down to a dozen viable options and tied in the GPS system. In a matter of minutes he had four possible locations identified. One was southeast of Baghdad, near Basra so he scratched that as coming from the advancing Coalition Forces, just off channel. Another was removed due to having only one transmission setting the location; the error curve was just too high. That left two. One was west-southwest of Baghdad and the other was much closer, almost within the city limits. He was about to write that one off too when Ian stopped him.

"What if they moved?"

Carter's ears perked up and Ian continued. "They could have moved. I mean if the first location wasn't secure, or if they decided to try to get back to their point of contact for evac. These frequencies are the same. Remember what you said about coincidence?"

She nodded but pointed to the screen. "Still, these coordinates are way too far in, if they went there, they would have gone right past the contact point."

Charlie frowned and scrutinized the screen. "The area between was bombed out pretty bad the past few days, I don't think anyone would go through there. If your group wanted to get to that site they'd have had to circle around, either north or south."

Ian's eyebrows rose, "Or maybe their contact was taken out. Is there any other reason they would have gone into Baghdad?"

Carter shook her head, she couldn't even think of one.

Charlie started working his magic on his computer again, this time with a program that would monitor the selected frequency and others nearby. He saved his work to a disk and ejected it. "This will monitor our friends. If they transmit again, it will zero in on their signal and respond automatically. If they can receive at all, we'll get them. We just need a little cooperation from the guys at Communications Central Command."
O'Neill had stretched out on the slightly too short cot and managed to get some sleep. The others were either sharing a cot or sprawled out on the floor on unrolled sleeping bags. Azir had returned and gotten over his shyness and now sat cross-legged on the floor facing Corbin. He'd taught the boy a simple card game and they were engrossed in it.

As the afternoon wore on the room became a little warm and O'Neill took a trip down to the main floor where Azir's mother and grandmother were busy preparing an evening meal. He was surprised to see no men around. In the front room several children playing and recognized the women they'd helped in the cellar the previous night.

The younger woman noticed him leaning against the wall at the base of the stairway and motioned for him to come forward and sit at the table. She poured a cup of water and set it before him. She was still surprised at how well he spoke Arabic and struck up a conversation with him.

He learned her name was Ramah, and all of the men from their little community had been either enlisted to fight in Saddam's army or imprisoned. A small group of the women decided it would be safer to band together, and they had converged on 'Mama's' home. She was the eldest and most respected among them and their unofficial leader.

O'Neill chuckled, "Oldest and wisest among us?" He earned a scowl from the elder woman for that barb even though it was essentially correct and held his hands up in mock surrender, "I swear, Mama, it's just an expression." She snorted and turned back to chopping vegetables, now with fervor.

He young woman who had been injured before was part of the group and entered the room. She was balancing a large basket of bread on one hip and her baby on the other. She didn't recognize O'Neill and eyed him warily but the child knew him immediately and started to squirm. Ramah just managed to catch the basket before it toppled to the floor. The woman held the child in both arms and was shocked to see him reaching out for the American. Ramah assured her it was okay and lifted the child into her arms and carried him over to O'Neill.

"This is Terrin. I believe you've met."

O'Neill had almost forgotten holding the child though it was less than a day ago. He grinned and settled the child in his lap. "Well, you're a lot more clean than the last time I saw you." It wasn't a moment later that Lieutenant O'Connor came tripping down the steps. "Colonel! Lambert got a contact! He made contact!"