Chapter 7 - The Quick or The Dead

After two days, Jack was ready. His injuries were slowly healing, and still needed a lot more time, but he hadn't the patience for that. Although the pain hadn't gone yet, and he didn't admit it, he was prepared for a long road ahead. He knew if he wasn't quick enough, the guards would catch up to him. Knew that if he took just one minute too long, it could be his death. Knew that if General Hammond didn't open the Iris for him, he could very easily die trying to get home. The thought alone was terrifying, but it was surely better than dying on a planet from torture. Anything was better than that.

Azyalae had spent the two days trying to talk Jack out of going so soon. She knew he wasn't in good health, and certainly not good enough to be trekking off on an hour-long journey, while trying to avoid being caught by guards. It was dangerous, to say the least, and she didn't feel confident for him. She wished that she did, but there was little to feel positive about. Jack had barely any factors on his side. The guards knew he'd tried to escape once before and probably had the Stargate guarded now. They'd tortured him seriously after finding him the first time, and would surely go one better for a second time. He was still injured and had a definite deficiency in strength. He didn't have a GDO, and couldn't be sure the SGC would open the Iris for him, in having no idea that it was in fact him and not a threat. All odds were stacked against him and the worst part was; he knew it.

"You will not reconsider?" Azyalae asked for the third time.

"I have to go," Jack repeated, also for the third time.

"You understand that this could be - "

"Azyalae," O'Neill interrupted, "I know." He wasn't rude about it, just matter-of-fact. "This could be bad. I could die. I know all that, you've told me a million times. Anyone would think you were my mother."

"Perhaps it is good that I am here to remind you then," Azyalae mumbled, almost to herself. "Perhaps if I were not here to remind you of the risks you would not be adequately prepared."

Jack watched Azyalae pacing back and forth, her head down. Standing in her way, she stopped and looked up at him. The expression on Jack's face told Azyalae he was going to be fine. That she should stop worrying about him, but she couldn't help shaking her head in dispute.

"I cannot help being concerned," she divulged. "You are such a stubborn man, Jack. It is very easy to be concerned for your safety when you are not."

"I don't have time for that," Jack smiled, trying to lighten the mood.

Azyalae remained intense, but sad. "You must be careful, Jack," she said seriously. He nodded. "I will."

"My thoughts will be with you."

"Thanks. For everything."

"You are most welcome."

Azyalae found it hard to believe she had become so emotional, but four months around one person for her was both uncommon and pleasant. She had begun to feel attached to Jack in some strange way. She had always known he wanted to go home, and that he eventually would go, but now the time had come, with all the circumstances, it was harder to say goodbye than she'd thought it would be. She was both worried for him, and glad. Worried he would not make it to the Gate for his health, or that perhaps the guards would see him and kill him. Also she was glad. Glad that now he was going home, where he wanted to be. Without a thought, Azyalae hugged Jack. She really would miss him; he was a good person.

"Now go, before I make a fool of myself and cry," the doctor said, smiling and rubbing her eyes before she started to cry.

Jack nodded and smiled. She really did care. That was nice.

Without any further words, Jack left quietly through the village and made his way along the shortcut Sam had used over four months before. Taking the path at a paced jog, Jack continuously looked over his shoulder for a sign of anyone tailing him. So far, so good, he thought. The path itself was well worn. Partially covered over by leaves and branches. If not for knowing it was there, Jack may have looked past it. Anyone would. That was perhaps the only reason the guards hadn't noticed it yet - because of its discretion. Jack continued along the trail, feeling the minutes drop by. They each seemed to last an hour. The trek itself felt as though it were never going to end.

Unfortunately, it was going to end, but not in the best of ways.

A little over three-quarters of the way along the trail, a Staff Weapon blast signalled the attack. Jack whizzed around and could just see the approaching guards in the distance, running full pelt and shoving branches out of their way quickly. Veering off of the path, Jack stepped up the pace. He could hear the guards shouting to each other as he began to break away from them, but he couldn't keep a fast enough pace. Not like he normally could have. His body couldn't keep up with what he wanted to do, and his pace slowed. His vision began to blur and his legs became weaker than they already were. The pain was becoming blinding, but not white. Hazy. So hazy that nothing looked normal anymore. Everything was just one big smudge. Jack ignored it and kept running. Keep going, he thought strongly, don't stop until you get to the Stargate. You have to keep going. Just keep going. The guards' voices echoed behind him. They were unclear too. Yelling out for him to stop, as though he were going to. Ignore them. Ignore the pain. Just get to the Gate. You have to get to the Gate. More Staff blasts zoomed past Jack, trying to hit him. Chasing after him and trying to stop him from reaching his destination. Jack's heart thumped hard inside his chest, and his head washed with blurry images. His legs kept on moving, but when he looked down briefly at his feet stomping on the ground; it felt as though he were running on the spot. He didn't feel as though he was getting anywhere. But as the precarious minutes between life and death for Jack ticked by, he slowly got nearer to his ride home.

After what felt like a lifetime, Jack could just make out the circular object ahead. The Gate! Is it the Gate? He still couldn't see properly, the haziness of his vision made it difficult to define anything, but he was almost positive it was the Stargate. And there was the DHD in front of it. Yes, it was definitely the Gate. It couldn't be anything else. The voices kept on shouting behind him, and more Staff blasts flew past him as he ran, but Jack ignored it all. His thoughts were focussed even although pain reigned everywhere else. Get to the Stargate. You have to get to the Stargate, then give up. Get to the Stargate first. Blood rushed through Jack's head and began to run slowly down his left arm as a tree root caught his foot and tripped him. He landed awkwardly but scrambled back to his feet as quickly as he could and tried to forget the ripping pain in his chest; a reminder that his injuries still hadn't healed. Jack stole a glance behind him as he reached the DHD. The guards were gaining on him fast.

The only problem now was that he couldn't distinguish any of the symbols on the DHD.

@

Sam crept into the Control Room as though she were an agent on a top- secret mission. She was in black gear, beanie and all. She darted her eyes about the darkened room, just to be sure no one was there. It was late enough for the Control Room to be empty. She'd planned it perfectly. Knew exactly when everyone was leaving for their breaks and when they'd all be back. She didn't have long. Sam sat down at a computer and flicked on her flashlight. She knew it would be daylight on P4C 237, but it was a safety precaution as well. She'd been around Jack too long. Suddenly she heard a footstep behind her and swivelled her chair around fast. A tall dark figure approached her, but she knew who it was before she put the flashlights' glow upon them. "Teal'c," Sam hissed. "What are you doing here?"

"I have come to offer my assistance, Major Carter," the Jaffa responded, taking the chair beside her and sitting on it.

"How did you know I'd be here now?" Sam asked, quite surprised that her comrade would know she was here now. She hadn't told anyone when she was going to do this.

"I have been observing your behaviour for the past few days," Teal'c explained logically, as though it was logical he'd do that. "I also tracked your movements here."

"You followed me?!" Sam snapped quietly.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "I was merely concerned for your safety."

Sam rolled her eyes, but she wasn't angry. "Thanks, Teal'c," she said and smiled. The Jaffa bowed his head obligingly. "You are welcome," he said.

Sam turned back to the computer screen and fished through the data for the glyphs to P4C 237. The computer systems had all been altered as a result of the take-over. No one knew about that either, just Sam and whoever else General Hammond had told. His cover-up for the new system was that the SGC was a suspected target for the Goa'uld and they thought someone may have leaked their codes. A viable excuse, granted, but a weak and transparent one.

"The crew will be back soon," Sam said as she continued her search. All the addresses to planets were now coded, almost encrypted, for the easy access of the President and joint chiefs. For Sam, it wasn't too difficult; but for others it would have proven unbreakable. "We have to be quick."

"You are correct," Teal'c agreed, keeping his voice low.

As Sam scanned through the data, she found what she was looking for. "Uh huh," she said triumphantly.

Not a moment later, the alarms were bursting into action. Sam and Teal'c both stood up quickly and spun around for the source of the alarms. "What happened?" Sam asked no one in particular, even although Teal'c was the only one in the room with her.

"I am uncertain," Teal'c admitted. "Perhaps we have been discovered."

"Damn!" Sam cursed angrily. "No, they're not going to stuff this up. We have to go now, Teal'c. I'll go down to the Gate Room. Once I'm down there, start the dial-up program and come down. Shut the blast doors too. Be quick."

With a quick nod each, Carter jogged to the stairs and made her way down to the Gate Room. Before Sam was even halfway there, General Hammond, followed closely by Sergeant Davis, stormed into the Control Room. "Teal'c!" the General shouted, without seeing the Major yet. "What are you doing? Major Carter! What is going on here?!"

"Teal'c, now!" Sam called as she reached the Gate Room and looked up, but what she saw was not pleasing.

General Hammond's angry round face glared down at her. She cowered slightly and bit her lip.

"My office, Major," Hammond snapped.

"Ah, Sir," Davis interrupted quietly. "General, there's an incoming wormhole."

"You've got some explaining to do," the General continued, not even registering Davis' voice.

"General, Sir," the Sergeant continued, although gaining no response. "The Iris, Sir?"

"You too, Teal'c. You were in on this."

"Ah, General!" Davis raised his voice several decibels.

"What is it, Sergeant?" Hammond asked sharply.

"There's an incoming wormhole, Sir," Sergeant Davis answered, pointing to the Stargate just as it activated.

Sam ducked at the sudden burst of life in the Stargate, and then stared into its shimmering matter.

"Well?" the General demanded, his temper short. "Who is it?"

"I'm not receiving any signal, Sir," Davis replied.

"Colonel O'Neill, General," Sam offered again, enthusiasm evident in her voice. "You've tried that one before, Major," Hammond stated, through the microphone.

"General, please," Carter begged, "just once more. If it's not him this time.just give him one more chance, General. Please."

"I'm not so sure that's a good idea, Major."

A staring contest began between Major and General. They both eyed each other, waiting for one to relent.

Sam was standing her ground strong, while the Iris sat open behind her. After a moment or so, the unforgettable sound of a body emerging from the Event Horizon and hitting the ramp could be heard.

Sam turned around. "Colonel!"

"Close the Iris, Sergeant," General Hammond ordered at seeing his 2IC. Starting for the stairs, Hammond added: "And get Dr. Fraiser and a medical team to the Gate Room immediately!"

"Yes, Sir," Davis replied as he watched Hammond and Teal'c leave for the Gate Room.

"Colonel," Sam repeated, falling by her Colonel's side on the ramp.

He was on his knees, frozen still. Blood dribbled down his arm still and his face from cuts he'd gained on his chaotic journey to the Stargate. "Colonel?"

"Is he al - "

"I'm fine," Jack interrupted the General as he and Teal'c walked up the ramp. "I'm fine."

"Sergeant, where is Doctor - "

"It's ok," Dr. Fraiser called as she entered the Gate Room with her medical team. "I'm here. Hello, Colonel, it's good to see you. How are you feeling?" Janet asked as she knelt by the injured Colonel and took his pulse.

Jack's eyes were blank, staring straight ahead. He'd promised himself he'd make it to the Stargate and then it would be ok. As long as he made it. He promised he'd make it, and it'd be ok after that. He'd made it.

"Colonel?" Sam said worriedly. "Janet, what's wrong?"

"I'm not sure," the doctor admitted. "Colonel, can you tell me how you're feeling? Can you look at me, Sir?"

"I'm fine," Jack repeated, but his voice was dead. Flat and empty. "I'm fine."

.TO BE CONTINUED.