Apollo stood and stretched cramped muscles. The cell was too small to be comfortable for two men. Neither of them could even lay down fully, taking turns to sleep curled into balls or leaning against the wall, and pacing the few steps from one corner to another. They might as well be living in a closet.
Daniel had done his best over the last few hours to describe the typical layout of a Goa'uld palace – actually, he'd lectured at great length about typical Goa'uld palace and temple architecture, and Apollo had done his best to keep up – but all the ones he had explored were comparatively recent structures, and even in these there were small changes in lay-out and fashion over time. From what he had said about Osiris' imprisonment, this one had to be many thousands of yahrens old, and Daniel admitted that any number of changes could have been made to the basic structure in that time. From a practical standpoint, that meant that once they were out of this cell, almost any turn they made could result in a nasty surprise.
Daniel himself was another concern. In the centauri since the Tok'ra agents had left them, his condition had steadily improved. His fever had disappeared, and the general debility in which Apollo had found him was largely gone. The young man seemed to be thinking more clearly than he had since their first day together. Apollo wondered how long the effects would last.
Taking Daniel's word for the use of the sarcophagus was one thing; it had been difficult to reconcile what he had always thought of as a glorified coffin with the original purpose Daniel had described, but he'd seen stranger things in his own travels. However, if one Goa'uld healing device had backfired so terribly, what was to say the other wouldn't as well?
Adding to the warrior's sense of unease was the fact that even Daniel didn't seem to entirely trust their Tok'ra allies.
Even in the worst situations, Apollo had always known basically what he had to do and how to go about it – until now. He hated having to feel his way. He was starting to feel trapped.
Croft would be pleased.
His cell- mate's smile startled Daniel. Apollo had been getting more and more morose in the hours since Jacob's visit, more silent and aloof, not that he could blame him. The change in the warrior's demeanor brought his pacing to a stop.
He slid down the nearest wall and waited. It was several seconds before Apollo noticed.
Daniel shrugged. "Penny for your thoughts," he suggested.
Apollo frowned at the unfamiliar word, but dismissed it quickly. "I was just remembering something someone said to me once. Nothing important, really."
"Ah. It's odd the things that go running through your head, isn't it?"
The sound of marching boots echoed in the corridor. Apollo quickly checked his chronometer.
Beside him, Daniel clambered slowly to his feet, whispering, "They're early."
There was no game this time, no ritual phrase. The door to the cell was thrown open so hard it slammed against the wall, and two Jaffa armed with zats charged into the tiny room while Dren'ac hung back at the door. The Jaffa shoved both men roughly against the rear wall, one of them turning his head to bark a short phrase to his commander.
Dren'ac entered the room and inspected the chains on the wall, then almost casually delivered Daniel a back- handed blow that split his lower lip and set his ears ringing.
The guard holding Daniel twisted his arm sharply at the shoulder to keep him upright, and the pain shook him out of his stunned haze. He aimed a stream of guttural invective at Dren'ac, who turned away as if he had heard nothing and exited. The other Jaffa shoved the prisoners through the door before them.
Apollo swerved as one of the Jaffa propelled him around a corner, jostling Daniel.
"Daniel, what's going on?"
"I don't know. They haven't said anything about where we're going, but it's too soon. Osiris can't have made up his mind already!"
Two more turns, and the corridor widened into a chamber. The guards pulled them to a rough stop in the center of what looked to Apollo to be a decorative inlay, but Daniel obviously recognized it as something else, and didn't like it.
"Transport rings!" he hissed. "Damn it. They could take us almost anywhere from here. The others won't be able to find us."
Apollo looked grim. "I think that's the idea."
One of the guards cuffed the back of his head roughly as the naquada rings rose around them.
"I hate to say this, Daniel, but I think we're on our own."
For an instant, all was still. No- one moved or spoke. The only movement in the clearing was in the face of the event horizon itself. A small metal ball emerged from the 'Gate, landed lightly on the dais and rolled forward about a metron.
Starbuck barely had time to register O'Neill's warning before the larger man threw them both to the ground. A micron later the clearing exploded, and before the flying dust had settled enough to see, the warrior felt rather than heard the enemy's arrival.
Jaffa poured from the Stargate into the chaos of the clearing already firing, the first of the armored men dropping to their knees before the dais to provide cover for the ones that followed. The next arrivals split into two groups, each fanning out to either side of the Stargate and beginning to move methodically around and forward, stepping over the bodies of the wounded, trying to force the small party of warriors into the center of the clearing.
O'Neill and the man he had introduced as Jacob were already firing into the attackers as Starbuck swung his own weapon around just in time to see one of the armored warriors deal a coup de grace shot to the scientist Torrin. That Jaffa was the next to fall.
O'Neill caught his attention with a shout. "Lieutenant! Pincer movement! Fall back! Don't let them get behind us!"
"I see it!" he shouted back, already reaching for the commlink hanging at his side. "Jolly, tell everybody to fall back! And spread out, don't give them any large targets! As soon as you're clear, contact Boomer's patrol and get some air support in here."
"I hear you, Starbuck," the large man answered. Starbuck saw him dive and roll away from a blast from one of the energy staves, then come up shooting with more speed than he would have thought possible. "Someone needs to get to Dr. Pallas and her people. They're cut off over there."
Starbuck craned his neck to look towards the line of bushes to which the scientists had retreated then pulled back as another staff- weapon blast threw up the dust in front of him. Sure enough, the small group was separated from the rest by a line of Jaffa, with several of the heavily armed troops breaking off from the larger force to round them up. Only Captain Bryant was near enough to offer some resistance; Ensign Myris from Silver Spar squadron lay unmoving at the edge of the brush line.
He reached out and caught Jacob's sleeve, motioning towards the huddled group of civilians. When the older man nodded, Starbuck began to back away and search for a way to maneuver around the clearing without attracting attention. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Major Carter following him as Jacob rose slightly to give cover fire.
Crawling through the low bushes, Carter and Starbuck positioned themselves behind the row of Jaffa directly across from where they had last seen Captain Bryant. Carter held up three fingers and Starbuck nodded his understanding. She made another hand sign, then began to count—one—two—three. They rose from behind their cover and began firing into the enemy's line. Two, then three Jaffa fell, and Bryant, cradling his right arm awkwardly to his chest, began to herd the scientists toward the opening.
A sharp movement, then nothing.
Nothing at all.
The gentle movement, the soft throbbing sounds that had accompanied her for as long as she could remember ceased abruptly. The fluid in which she lived . . . lost. . . something, began to feel oddly flat. Uncomfortable. She was getting . . . cold.
No! He couldn't! How could that miserable slave of a Jaffa presume to die! Shol'va!
A host! Memories dredged from her subconscious, culled from the experiences of thousands of generations of her forebears, gave her the answer. She needed a host.
Panic welled up as she groped and thrashed in the dead womb. The prim' ta waved blindly above the cooling body of the Jaffa, scenting the air, scanning about for the warmth of a living body, listening with an intensity born of desperation for --- There!
The woman gasped, crying out softly, too softly to be heard in the surrounding din, before falling to her knees. She remained where she had fallen for several minutes, then reached out and collected the zatnikatel from the corpse's belt.
Three flashes of light lit the air briefly.
Starbuck flinched back as a lucky shot from one of the armored warriors came entirely too close to the side of his head. Turning to one side he could see Captain Bryant urging the scientists into the tree line only a few metrons away.
Someone was missing.
"Doctor Pallas!" he called out, trying to make himself heard over the sound of the firefight. "Have any of you seen Pallas?!"
"Right here, Lieutenant." Starbuck spun in place at the sound of the calm voice. "I was held up for a moment."
He glanced over at Carter, who was absorbed in the battle, then back to the small woman at his side and nodded brusquely.
"OK. Go with the others. We'll get everyone back to the shuttles and out of here."
She actually smiled. "Of course," she replied in that same calm, smooth voice, then left to join the others.
The warrior shook his head. Probably just shock.
//Blue Flight 3, this is Jolley. Are you reading me?. . . C'mon, Boomer!//
Boomer frowned at the anxiety in his friend's voice. In the background he could hear what sounded like muffled explosions and shouting.
Turning his viper back towards the coordinates of the landing party's camp, he took a moment to open a channel to transmit the conversation directly to the Galactica. Sheba's viper slid into formation next to him.
"Jolley? What's going on down there?"
//We're under heavy attack ---// A louder explosion rumbled through the transmitter with an accompanying burst of static. //Frack! That was close! Barton, be careful over there --- we've got to find better cover!//
Boomer switched on the targeting computer and scanned the area.
"Jolley, I'm not picking up any targets out here."
//Land attack, Boomer! They're coming out of that gate!//
"They're --- Galactica, did you get that?"
//Affirmative, Lieutenant. Can your patrol assist until reinforcements arrive?//
"On our way." Both ships banked toward the planet's surface, thrusters firing.
O'Neill hissed with relief when the 'Gate finally hissed shut. With any luck, it would stay that way. The odds were uneven enough.
Pausing to load another clip, he shouted to Jacob over the sound of the battle. "Where's your teltac?"
Jacob shook his head. "No good, Jack. It's on the other side of the 'Gate, cloaked. We're lucky it hasn't been hit by a stray shot already."
Carter slid to a stop next to them. "Starbuck says his people have a couple of shuttles in another clearing about three klicks southwest of here," she gasped, out of breath. "He and Bryant are escorting the civilians back to them. Once they're safely aboard he'll signal his men to make for the trees. Bryant took a staff blast to the shoulder, but he's doing fine for now."
Jacob motioned for silence. "What's that sound?"
A whistling sound filled the air, followed by a rumbling like thunder, distant and growing steadily nearer.
The blond warrior dropped to the ground between O'Neill and the elder Carter, grinning cheekily. "That, gentlemen, is the sound of a cap-stone trump." He almost laughed at the Colonel's confusion.
The distant thunder grew to a screaming roar as two sleek delta- winged craft swept out of the ether, banked sharply and dove for a strafing run over the startled Jaffa.