A/N: Sorry for making you guys wait. Hope it's worth it. Again, this is not beta-ed. Sorry folks.
~ Best wishes, Hikaru. Love, Umi. ~
Chapter Spoilers: Stargate the Movie, Need, The Tok'ra pt.1, Deadman Switch, The Devil You Know, The Summit, Last Stand, Redemption pt.1, Homecoming
"The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it." – Wendell Berry
The sun had long since set, but the day was far from over.
The death toll was climbing at a slow, but steady rate. Sixty prisoners dead, and the more the Jaffa dug deeper into the collapsed naquadah mine, the more dispirited they became. There were more dead found than the living. Jonas Quinn estimated that the number would rise to more than a third of the prisoners' population. And that was only a conservative estimate.
Were the prisoners in good physical condition, they would've lasted long enough for help to reach them, reducing the number of deaths considerably.
While most were focused on rescuing those still trapped in the mine, a small group of prisoners had started wrapping each corpse on strips of whatever clean cloth they could find. Another group had started building a huge pyre in the middle of the camp, all in preparation for the deceased's journey to the afterlife.
No one grieved openly, but the atmosphere around the mine was thick with death, sadness, and despair.
He sighed heavily. At least, Jonas thought ruefully, their bodies were found to give them all a proper burial.
"We were having some transportation difficulties, and we couldn't leave our equipment behind. The camp was a half day's walk from there. Dr. Quinn said he would go ahead of us on foot and will have someone from camp bring around another vehicle to help us out."
"Some of us wanted to go with him, but he said that it would be much faster if he went alone."
"The day was clear, and our team had been going there for months. Dr. Quinn knew the lay of the land very well, and that pass was pretty straightforward. Even though it was some distance away from us, if something happened, we'd still be able to hear it."
"The last time we saw the doctor he was heading for the pass that cuts right through a jagged ridge. It was the only way out of there."
"We've widened the scope of our search, but there's still no sign of Dr. Quinn anywhere."
"Don't worry, Jonas. Everyone's doing everything they can to find your father. The Kelownan High Minister is monitoring the situation. Everything will be all right, you'll see."
What began, innocently enough, as a half day's trek turned into one boy's living nightmare.
Jonas Quinn tore his eyes away from the night vision goggles to massage the bridge of his nose between thumb and index finger. There was a slight throbbing pain on his right temple that, if remained unchecked, could lead to a full blown headache.
There were four of them up there on the ridge monitoring the goings on below since they reached the mine five hours ago. Before daylight had completely given in to darkness they decided to split themselves into two groups to have a better bird's-eye view of the entire area as they could.
He teamed up with Maj. Paul Davis while Maj. Bennett and Iras were situated somewhere northwest of them. Along with the goggles, Jonas was provided with his own throat mic.
Wide green eyes turned to look at Maj. Paul Davis. Jonas gave the officer a lopsided smile, shaking his head. "No. I just remembered something."
"Good? Bad?" the major's face was illuminated by the faint light coming from the camp below them. He gave the Kelownan a sideways look. "Or should I even ask?"
Jonas shrugged nonchalantly. "Childhood memories."
That earned him a dubious look from the major. "At a time like this?"
Jonas shrugged again, lost for words. He silently watched the other man focus his attention back down the mine again. "Major, I would like to apologize for what happened in the Gate room earlier."
It was Davis' turn to shrug his shoulders. "Yeah. About that. Don't worry about it."
"You could've been seriously hurt."
"But I wasn't."
Jonas chuckled. "You're letting us off the hook too easily. Were I a betting man I'd bet everything I have that you're up to something."
"And if I were to take you up on it, you'd lose," Davis snorted.
Jonas smiled his thanks. If it were someone else, someone he and Daniel didn't know personally, the reaction would definitely be very much different.
"I'm surprised you didn't go down there with them."
"No. I'm good. Besides, Daniel's with them, and we've already inconvenienced Jacob as it is," Jonas answered. "I think the reason they let one of us tag along was because Jacob was afraid that Daniel and I might get this crazy notion to secretly follow them down the camp if they both told us not to."
Davies snickered. "Can't blame him."
And speaking of Jacob… "Did Jacob tell you why?"
The major nodded. "But I'm glad you did," Davis said. There was no hint of sarcasm in his voice. When the Kelownan didn't answer, he looked up to see Jonas staring at him in confusion. "If anything, two additional people on our side radically reduced the odds to 1:6. Guards still trapped in the mine excluded, of course."
Jonas gave a short laugh.
"And, as for me personally, it's a nice break from the monotony for something other than my brain doing all the work."
"Tired of sitting behind a desk pushing papers around all day, huh?" Jonas panned his sights a little to the left.
"Hey, I happen to like what I'm doing, don't get me wrong," Davis smirked. "I'm just saying that a little break from time to time won't hurt."
"Some break this is."
Davis chuckled. "Well, besides the possibility of getting killed out here, it's not that bad. It's been so long since I went on an off world mission that has nothing to do with politics."
"That stressful, huh?" Jonas turned sympathetic eyes towards him. The Kelownan knew very well how that felt like. "Anything you want share?"
Davis thought for a second. "Well, I guess it's okay to tell you. There's a plan of conducting a joint military exercise between Earth and one of our allies in the coming months, first ever. Gen. Hammond and I are currently helping the Pentagon draft out a proposal. Everything's panning out pretty well, well beyond our expectations. An informal meeting will take place in two weeks, and we've still got a long way to go, like choosing who are going to participate in it."
"All branches of the military?"
"Yes. The best of the best, but we're receiving some contentions concerning which F-302 squadron should participate."
The major was looking at him so intently like he was expecting Jonas to answer. He blurted out the first name that came to mind. "Colonel O'Neill?"
Davis nodded. "The Icarus squadron is the most obvious choice, but O'Neill has another squadron in mind. I don't know if you've ever heard about that exercise the colonel participated in three months ago?"
"You mean the one with the Prometheus?" Daniel Jackson had told him about it in passing. "Well, if the colonel thinks that this unit, the Cobra squadron, is the perfect squadron for the job then, why not? I mean, the colonel has been known to have a knack for these kinds of things."
"Agreed. His words certainly hold a lot of weight, especially within the Stargate program. He's also backed up by people like Hammond and Vidrine, so people are definitely going to listen. Hammond has the ear of the President, so I don't think there'll be any opposition coming from the Oval office. The colonel has my support, too, but many in the Pentagon are having misgivings about it."
"Because Icarus squadron is the flagship unit."
"Icarus has a lot more experience flying in zero-g, the most visible 302 fighter squadron in the entire Earth fleet, and yes, they are the flagship unit."
"Point. But my understanding is that they lost to the Cobras. Shouldn't that be a reward for beating the "best" squadron in the fleet? That will certainly help boost the morale of the Earth-based squadrons. Also, shouldn't all of them be given the same exposure? Put them in rotation with the Prometheus so that they could have their fair share of zero-g fly time?"
"That's exactly what the colonel said."
"There they are," Bennett's voice came clear through their in-ear headphones.
Jonas pulled down the goggles and adjusted his field of vision, zooming out to get a better look of the general search area below them until he found what he was looking for: four figures stealthily moving through the shadows.
"Copy that, major," Maj. Davis replied. "Got them on our sights. Switching to vox mode now."
- - - o 0 o - - -
"Took you long enough. We thought you guys lost your way getting down there."
Daniel Jackson smiled, fighting the urge to look up the ridge once he heard the major's voice over his earpiece. Maj. Ferretti grunted nearby.
"Try going silently down a steep slope without disturbing the loose snow around you in the dark," the SG-2 CO replied dryly. "A hundred bucks if you can do it."
Daniel silently agreed with Ferretti. It was a steep downhill journey. Even though ambient light was reflected by the thick blanket of snow from the moonlight above them, they still had to wear night vision goggles to be able to clearly see where they were going.
Snow made the trek more treacherous. They had to be careful with what they brushed up against, where they stepped on, and they had to make as little noise as possible. Snow had an acoustical effect. In the same way that snow reflected light in all directions, it reflected sound in all directions which would then create a dampening effect, particularly if snow was falling and there's no wind. Yet, at the same time, any sound that was made would sound very sharp and clear to the ear. One could hear objects that were usually too far away to hear under normal conditions.
They could hear Davis chuckle over the radio. "What's with guys and wagers today?"
"How's it looking from up there, major?" Jacob inquired.
"All clear," Davis replied, all mirth in his voice gone in a split second. He proceeded to point out all guard positions, even the location of the nearest prisoners. They were all in agreement that no one should learn of their presence until they've found and talked to Malek first.
They were, at the moment, safely hidden behind some strange looking machinery on the outer edges of the camp. Ferretti was acting lookout crouched down a foot away from Daniel. Jacob was right next to him while Edrald was behind them watching their six. Their objective was to get to the overseer's tent as close as possible.
From where they were, all they could see was the top of the dark gray structure. The distance between them was roughly a hundred yards full of tents and crawling with armed Jaffa guards.
"He's been there for hours. What do you think he's doing in there?" Ferretti said.
"Unless that tent has another way out that we can't see, he's still in there. Wish we brought thermals," Davis replied over the radio.
It came as a surprise that the others readily accepted what Jonas said about the whereabouts of the Tok'ra. They could've pressed for more answers, but didn't. A thought came unbidden to Daniel's mind and slipped his tongue. "You think he's…?"
"Well, I don't hear any screaming," Ferretti casually replied, earning him a stare from Daniel. "Usually, that's a good sign on my book."
"Does your book say anything about dead men screaming?" Maj. Bennett asked.
- - - o 0 o - - -
Jonas carefully zoomed out again keeping their men at the center of his green screen alert for any sign of danger. They were still some distance away from the Goa'uld tent, and they had to go around the camp in order to reach it.
The tent, Jonas saw, was closed shut, most likely to prevent the cold from seeping in. The huge Jaffa with the shoulder length, dark copper red hair they'd seen earlier hadn't once moved away from his position by the tent's entrance. The thick muscles in his biceps bunched up as he crossed his arms in front of him; his staff weapon impaled deep into the snow beside him.
The Jaffa was truly imposing, Jonas thought. The man wasn't only huge, but tall, as tall as Teal'c, maybe more. He looked every inch a First Prime, but the tattooed symbol on his forehead told otherwise. "Do you recognize the symbol on that guy's forehead?"
Davis swung his goggles towards the Jaffa in question. It took him a while to answer. "No."
"Me neither," he pressed the throat mic with his thumb and index finger. "Iras, do you recognize the emblem the Jaffa guards have on their foreheads?"
He remembered how Iras first detested the idea of putting the throat mic around his neck back at SGC. His host was once a slave kept as a pet by a Goa'uld System Lord complete with a metal band and chain around the neck. He had lived like that for most of his life until he was fatally injured in a rebel ambush and was left for dead by his master when the Tok'ra found him.
If it weren't for Jacob, one of the very few people the host trusted, Jonas didn't think Iras would be convinced otherwise.
"All of them are wearing the symbol of the Goa'uld Kalki," was Iras' reply a moment later. "But he was killed in a Tok'ra attack led by Selmak a few days prior to Anubis' invasion of Langara, Jonas Quinn. These warriors are now serving a new master."
"That's right. I was there when he died," Jacob said.
The Kelownan frowned. "Any clues as to who it might be?"
"There are several System Lords that have assimilated Kalki's forces after his demise. A huge bulk of them was distributed between the System Lords Yu, and Ba'al. There were also reports of a handful few flocking to Anubis," Iras went on. "However, we find their marks very curious."
Jonas exchanged looks with Davis. "How curious?"
"It's S.O.P. that a Jaffa's new master must remove the mark of the old master to that of his own to complete the assimilation process, so that he can be properly recognized by his peers as one of them," Jacob explained. "Unwilling to do so condemns a Jaffa into slavery. Therefore, he is sent to work in a naquadah mine where there is no hope of escape. Selmak could only think of one reason why these Jaffas are still wearing their old master's mark, if that's what they really are, and that is to conceal whoever it is that's really running the show here."
Jacob Carter had painted a grim picture of what it was like to be a Jaffa, to live constantly under the mercy of their Goa'uld masters. Jonas had read about something like that from one of the SG-1 mission reports.
When Sokar was killed by the Tok'ra, Apophis took the opportunity to seize control over his dominion, his vast fleet of ships, and the almost limitless supply of Jaffa warriors that came along with it becoming, for a time, the most powerful Goa'uld System Lord in the galaxy. When SG-1 encountered Apophis again, there was not a sign of Sokar's mark anywhere. Apparently only the Goa'ulds knew how to remove the tattoos, and they had kept that knowledge from the Jaffa.
"But I doubt that it's any one of them," Jacob added firmly. "None of our agents working for these System Lords have reported about any suspicious military movements these past three months."
"So you think they're fakes?" Jonas frowned.
"Unless we capture one, and get him to confess, we'll never know for sure who these guys are working for," Davis remarked, thinking along the same lines. "Where'd he go?"
Jonas turned his attention back to the tent. The red-haired Jaffa was gone.
- - - o 0 o - - -
He felt the end of the armed staff weapon on his back as it nudged him forward none too gently.
Malek winced as he felt another nudge, harder this time. He took a breath before stepping out into the cold night air, mindful of the weight he puts on his right leg. The Tok'ra looked around cautiously to see if anyone was around. There were a handful of prisoners off to the far left, but they never took notice of the pair.
They continued walking until they were of some considerable distance from the overseer's tent. The pressure on his back had lifted, and he heard the staff weapon being closed shut. Without a word the guard retreated back to his post the heavy footfalls fading behind him. The Tok'ra slightly turned his head to the side just in time to see a flash of dark copper hair at the edge of his vision before it disappeared in the darkness.
Malek winced as he slowly pulled the thick, fur-lined hood up over his head. He was fortunate to have walked away from the ordeal with only minor cuts, a scraped knee, a bruised chest, and sore left shoulder. He allowed himself time to alleviate some of the pain he was feeling enough to help with the rescue.
He started moving so as not to attract unwanted attention, but what he didn't know was that he already had eyes tracking his every move.
- - - o 0 o - - -
Thousands of light years away from al-Kahira, a reddish-green planet revolved around a yellow dwarf and its brown dwarf companion. The planet was teeming with life, a place untouched by Goa'uld oppression, but had been visited many times by the Ancients during their presence in the galaxy.
The inhabitants called the planet Ith. More than eighty percent of the planet was covered by land, and much of it was dominated by the towering ndiehna trees with its red golden heart-shaped leaves. These majestic trees could reach up to six hundred feet in height creating a thick continuous impenetrable canopy that sunlight barely reached the ground. It also effectively discouraged anyone looking down from the air. An occasional clearing appeared here and there some showing small patches of cleared land for agricultural use, a few showed small watering holes, while others simply showed thick undergrowth.
At the edge of one of these small clearings, a well-trodden path could be seen snaking back through the woods. At thirty yards a trail branched off the main path, turning sharply to the right. It further went back another ten yards and around the last bend, a modest looking log cabin stood at the end of the trail.
The log cabin was elevated two feet above the ground on stout wooden legs. The single slope roof had a slight inward bend, like a shallow gutter, that ran halfway across the middle part, and off to one side at a downward forty-five degree angle. What rainwater it had collected would then fall straight to a large circular wooden tub directly below it. Piles of wood were stacked neatly side by side. A short flight of steps led to the front porch where a chair and a small table stood on the right, the front door on the left. A wispy smoke lazily rose from a stubby stone chimney signifying occupancy.
The front door opened quietly, and out emerged a young girl that looked to be about eight years of age. She stepped barefoot out on the porch craning her neck to look down the road.
She pulled the string that held her hair in a pony letting her long, russet brown hair down framing her cherub face. It wasn't straight and shiny as she would have liked; it was curly and unruly, and that it was, as she would so aptly put it, "all over the place."
Dimples appeared on her cheeks when she grinned the minute she saw who it was that appeared around the bend. The child quickly tried to rearrange her dress and almost ran down the stairs when she realized she didn't have her shoes on. She bit her lower lip as she ran back inside to retrieve them. The door burst open a second later, and with a spurt of energy, the small child bounded across the porch jumping over three flights of steps to land on the ground with a dull thud.
"You're here! You're here!" the child cried out happily again and again, running towards the approaching figure.
The man was busily wiping mechanical grease off his face and hands when he heard the child's voice echo in the woods. He wore dirt-stained coveralls with the sleeves rolled up to reveal a pair of muscled forearms. He sported a pair of heavy, thick-soled work boots and a tool belt around his waist. On his left hip dangled a funny-looking visor and a metal canister while a mean-looking bolo machete was strapped securely on his broad back. He stopped dead in his tracks the minute he saw her there, and instead of returning her smile, greeted her with a disapproving frown on his burly face.
"What are you doing here?"
The girl stopped just a foot away from him and looked up. She had to really bend her neck back a bit more in order to do so. She was only three-and-a-half feet tall compared to his bulky, six-foot, four-inch frame.
"I came to see you," she chirped, her bright violet and blue eyes sparkling, unfazed by the sour look on his sunburnt face, "like I always do!"
The bear of a man was totally unimpressed. "You should be playing with other kids, not wandering off into the forest alone where it's dangerous."
"I've already played with them the entire morning," she answered. "And it's not dangerous anymore, not since you scared all the animals that eat people away from the forest so that I can come here and see you."
He rolled his eyes heavenwards. "I didn't do it because of you, Shorty. They kept destroying the traps I was setting."
He began to walk towards the cabin. She followed in a run/walk combination just to keep up. "I've been waiting for you for hours! I'm hungry."
"Then run along home then. I'm sure they've cooked something nice for you."
"But I want to eat ernana stew."
"Then ask someone at your house to cook it for you."
"I like yours bestest," she chattered on, brushing a wayward lock of hair off her face. The word "bestest" was her favorite expression of late, especially when it had everything to do with this man. "I never really liked eating it until I tasted your cooking. Ata's tasted like a stinky animal hide dried out in the sun, left out in the rain overnight, and dried out in the sun again. I like Ata very much, so I'll never tell her what I think of her stew."
Ata was their household cook, an old, kindly woman, and she loved her dearly. There were only a handful of things she really wasn't good at, and one of them was cooking ernana stew.
She followed him inside the house. She took off her shoes and placed them right beside his boots by the entrance. The child then jumped on the thick animal pelt that covered the small cabin's living room. It was soft, warm, and so thick that her feet sunk right in. She giggled because the fur tickled.
He left his tools on the table by the door and proceeded to the stone fireplace where he got a healthy fire going within seconds. There was a small round glass container by the fireplace, half-filled with his favorite concoction.
He always lugged around a cup of the dark brown liquid whenever he was at home or a canister whenever he went out into the woods. Simply put, she never saw him anywhere without it.
She went near the fireplace and sat on the hearth contentedly, resting her chin on her knees, feeling the warmth touching her skin. A delicious smell wafted towards her as the liquid in the glass pot began to heat up. She inhaled deeply.
Although his house was a bit ways away from town, she loved going there, even if it meant going through the forest alone. This was her secret place, and she wasn't going to share it with anyone for as long as she lived.
"Can I have some?" she asked sweetly, staring longingly at the pot by the fire. From the very first day she stepped inside his cabin, her senses were immediately overwhelmed by this wonderful aroma. If the smell was this good then to actually taste it must be better.
Although he was busy in the kitchen area and had his back to her, he knew what she was asking for. "It's not for kids." She groaned. "Aren't you worried you'd get into trouble with your father if he ever finds out that you've been coming here?"
"He's my uncle. And no, I don't. He doesn't care anyway." She crossed her arms, pouting. "And you're changing the subject."
"You know that's not true," he gently admonished. "And no, I am not."
She chose not to answer and continued staring at the fire instead. It was something she didn't want to talk about at the moment and was grateful that her friend hadn't pressed on about it. This was her special place, and unhappy thoughts were not allowed in her special place.
Everyone knew about the lone resident of this log cabin ever since he came to the village a few years ago, but he was still considered as a stranger despite the fact that they traded or bought wares from him. He made really beautiful things, and every household in town had a thing or two he created with his own hands. For her, nothing compared to his creations. His were simply the bestest.
She once tried to put a good word for him, but got reprimanded by Ata instead, saying that she should never mention his name in front of her uncle or anyone else in the village for that matter.
This whole business was admittedly confusing to her. She glanced covertly at him. The adults were wary, and the kids were afraid of him. Who wouldn't be? It was the very first time anyone from their community had encountered someone like him: aside from his huge built, his skin was lighter with a tinge of red, whereas hers and the rest of their community were olive-skinned. He explained it off as someone who lived far up north where it was always winter, and where the suns almost never shone. He said his kind rarely strayed far from their lands, so that was why no one had ever seen them before.
Everyone was dubious of his origins, but they also couldn't disprove his claims for the mere fact that no one living had ever seen his kind before. Although they had heard from nearby villages stories of winter people coming down from time to time to trade, such events were far and few in between.
It didn't help one bit that he always wore a scowl on his face. She kept reminding him that he'd never make any friends if he always looked like he was looking for a fight. He wore his dark brown hair long and had piercing blue eyes. He sported the same color on both eyes, a thing they found odd since everyone that lived there had two, and she was no exception: her left eye was the clearest blue while her right was a riot of violet and green.
Immersed in her own little world, her small fingers started moving across the hearth.
"Shorty," he called out from somewhere behind her. "You should have gone home when you saw that I wasn't here."
"I don't mind waiting," she reassured him, shrugging her small shoulders. Her given name was Orima, but he called her Shorty instead just to annoy her until the name stuck. "I knew you were going to be out in the forest by the time I got here. Maybe if you could tell me where you're going…?"
Orima turned to look up at him expectantly, and there it was, the infamous scowl had made an appearance just as she had expected. It frightened her at first, but she had gotten used to it after her third visit. Nowadays, no matter how much he scowled at her, or ordered her to go home, it was no use. She knew he really didn't mean any of it. In fact, she believed he liked her being there, but was too embarrassed to say it out loud.
"It's dangerous," he growled, giving her a stare that brooked no argument.
She remained silent for a full minute as she stared at him through narrowed eyes. Then with a theatrical sigh, the child returned back to her doodling. "To you, all places are dangerous."
"Shorty, no place is safe. Take my word on it."
"But I feel safe here with you. Are you telling me that I shouldn't trust what I feel?"
"More so with me, kid," he replied cryptically. His face was shuttered, not entirely meeting her eyes. "Never with me." She waited for him to explain. "Where I go everyday is not a place for little kids to play," he scowled again, ending the discussion with a wave of the hand and went back to his cooking.
"Can you at least tell me what you're doing out in the forest all day?"
"Working on what?"
Her friend slowly turned back around to face her, resting huge hands on the edge of the table. "Hasn't anyone at your house ever asked you where you've been going all day?"
"I'm a kid. Kids play all day. As long as I get home before dark there will be no problem." It was her turn to frown. "You're changing the subject again."
He grunted. The smell and sounds of cooking permeated the air. He said something that was too low for her to hear with all the commotion that was happening in the kitchen.
"Without a fire, this place can get pretty cold very quickly," he said out loud a moment later.
"I know how to start a fire."
"What were you doing here all this time?"
"You brought toys with you?"
Orima was so focused with her doodling she never heard his last question, nor did she hear him approach from behind.
"Shorty, I asked…" he began, but the tone of his voice suddenly changed. "What is that?"
She lifted her eyes up to him. He was staring at the drawings she did on the hearth and smiled. "They look pretty, don't they?" But her smile disappeared when she saw the slight frown creasing his forehead.
Suddenly he was kneeling on the floor beside her and gently turned her around to face him. Large calloused hands covered the entire length of her thin upper arms. He was intently searching her face. "Did you make them up?"
The child suddenly sensed something was wrong. She hesitated to answer, afraid that if she gave him the wrong answer he would get mad at her. She bit her lower lip in indecision.
He must've read her mind. "I'm not gonna get mad, Shorty. Just tell me. Did you make those up?" He said it in the softest voice she'd ever heard him use. She slowly shook her head. His frown deepened. "You've seen them?"
She nodded slowly, looking at his blue eyes nervously. Orima now saw genuine alarm in them, something that she'd never seen in those fierce eyes before. It made her worry.
"Where?" he gently prodded, there was urgency in his gruff voice. "Show me where, Orima."
He rarely called her by her given name. Without a word she shrugged free from his grasp and ran at the back of the room, through the door that led to his sleeping quarters with him right behind her. She marched purposefully towards a small wooden chest by the foot of the bed, and sitting at the center of the chest was a small metallic domed-shaped device.
"Don't touch it!"
Orima nearly jumped out of her skin, her hand reflexively recoiled away from the mysterious object. "Relax. Nothing happened when I touched it."
It was black and about the size of her fist. It had strange markings etched around it painted in yellow. These were the symbols she was drawing on the hearth. She looked up at him as he stepped between her and the object. It looked harmless, but why did he look so uneasy?
"You found it here?"
"No. It was on the top of the steps outside when I got here." Orima moved closer beside him staring at the object and question. "What is it?"
But he was already gone before she could finish her sentence. The little kid looked at the object one more time before running after him.
He was standing by the fireplace by the time she got out of the room. He ran a hand along the inner frame of the fireplace. There was a soft click, and a small panel popped open. She watched as he pulled something out of it.
"Did you see who left it?" She shook her head. "Did you notice anything unusual while you were here? Did you see anyone?" Orima shook her head a second time.
There was another soft click, but it was coming from the thing in his hand this time. The thing unfurled like it was alive. It was some kind of weapon she'd never seen before. "What's going on?"
Her friend donned his funny-looking visor, and he stood by the side of the window overlooking the porch. In a gentle, soothing voice he started giving out instructions. "Shorty, I want you to get behind the fireplace, pull that chair and use it for cover. Stay down and don't move from there until I say so, okay? Go!"
Orima did as told and pulled the biggest chair she could muster towards the far side of the stone fireplace away from the windows. It wasn't easy with the animal pelt impeding her efforts, but the frustration she felt made her forget her fears.
Her heart was hammering in her chest, and the pounding in her ears was so loud she could barely hear anything else. Tucked safely between the stone fireplace and the huge chair, Orima dared chance a peek. He stood motionless looking outside the window. He looked totally different with visor on. The air around him was menacing, like he had every intention to kill, and it brought forth a long forgotten memory of what it felt like the first time they met. She shivered at the thought.
He stealthily moved across the room, window after window, and he checked the other rooms, too. Lastly, he went outside, but not before reminding her to remain where she was.
What's taking him so long? She wanted to call out his name, or maybe even run after him if she trusted her knees enough for them not to buckle out from under her. She couldn't see anything from where she was crouched down, so Orima strained her ears for any sound coming from outside the cabin, but apart from the usual woodland noise, there was nothing that stood out at all.
What if he's injured and needs help? Her stomach tightened at the thought.
Fear for her friend propelled her to jump out from her hiding place. She marched purposefully out the door with every intention of helping him anyway she could.
He was walking back to the cabin by the time Orima stepped out on the porch, visor and weapon on one hand while the other ruffled his already unruly hair. He looked up. "I told you to stay put, Shorty!"
"But you were taking so long I decided to come find you," she explained, rather defensively. "Did you find anything?"
He shook his head. "Whoever it was, he's long gone by now."
"What was that all about? What was that thing that he left you? You know what it is, right? What do you think he wants? Could he be from up north, too, like you?"
He seemed distracted as he ushered her back inside. He completely ignored her inquiries and made a beeline for the kitchen. He continued what he was doing, like nothing happened.
Orima angrily flopped back down on the rug by the hearth. The little girl sat there staring angrily at his back, crossing her arms, in a huff, on her chest. As she sat there silently calling him names, her eye caught sight of the symbols she had unconsciously drew on the hearth. She didn't know what they meant. He, on the other hand, certainly did, but chose not to tell her anything.
It wasn't one of the villagers, of that she was certain. They were good people despite their suspicions towards the outsider that was her friend, plus the object was unfamiliar to her, but the polished metal was similar to the things that could only be found inside this house.
Had he just been visited by one of his people? Was he friend or foe? What was that thing that she found sitting on the porch when she arrived? Was it left there as a message or a warning? What kind? Was he still out there in the woods watching them right this very moment?
She looked at him then down at the symbols. She remembered the look in his eyes when he saw them, and a twinge of fear sent chills down her spine. It didn't help any that she was starting to get a bad feeling about this.
She reached out and hastily erased the symbols with her small hand, as if doing so would make all her fears, and all the bad things gone along with it.
- - - o 0 o - - -
The temperature continued to drop as the night progressed, but no one seemed to notice, or that it was at its lowest ever. Every worker was drenched in sweat as they toiled throughout the night, but this time, they were not digging through snow and dirt looking for raw naquadah. They were searching for survivors.
The Tok'ra Malek worked alongside the rest of the prisoners hoping that the next one they pulled out from the rubble was alive.
He decided to pause for a breather when his body began to protest from the abuse. Malek struck the spade down on the ground and leaned his weight against it, favoring his right leg. He carefully pushed the hood back and shook sweat-drenched hair away from his face and eyes, the motion making him dizzy. The icy touch of the freezing cold night air on exposed flesh sent goose bumps along his fevered skin, teeth chattering uncontrollably.
In an effort to quell the sudden trembling of his body, Malek slowly expelled a lungful of air through slightly parted lips, breath vapor rising in the air. His chest stung a bit, and Malek couldn't hide the discomfort he felt rubbing his chest through thick clothing. He could've just gone back to the tent and continued to heal, but the thought of all those lives depending on those at the surface to rescue them kept the Tok'ra from seeking his own comfort.
All able-bodied prisoners were there hard at work trying to save as many lives as they could with time working against them. The naquadah mine was an enormous maze of connecting mine shafts that reached hundreds of feet below. As many as two hundred prisoners and one hundred guards were currently trapped inside them with no way out. And among those trapped was Nee'chos.
Their main concern was to locate the ventilation shafts that ran vertically from the surface all the way down to the bottommost levels of the mine and clear them out. These shafts were responsible for supplying the workers with breathable air. If these airshafts collapsed during the earthquake, the prim'ta, the larval Goa'uld, would be of enormous help. Goa'uld had the ability to keep their host/vessel alive in near vacuum for a period of time, but due to malnourishment and poor health the prim'ta could also be at their limit. If that were to happen…
A flash of red caught his eye. Malek raised one delicate brow as he turned to look, expecting to see a huge Jaffa with long red hair standing there. To his utter relief, it was just a piece of red cloth tied to a staff weapon one of the Jaffa guards was carrying, dancing in what little breeze there was.
The color sparked off a recent memory. Seconds before the ceiling collapsed, he saw a flash of dark red and felt a strong tug as someone grabbed hold of his tunic before he was bodily pulled out of harm's way.
Pulled was putting it mildly. It was more like being thrown violently backwards, released, and without anything to hold on to, rolled a few times before he was grabbed again, pulled up and half-dragged, half-carried away from the mine, tripping on more than one occasion. At that moment, he didn't know what was happening behind him or who had him by the scruff of his collar. All that registered in his mind was that the rumbling noise was getting louder by the second. What happened next was a complete blur.
It was Danem who woke up lying down on a clean cot inside Maya's tent. He was puzzled as to how they came to be there. The last thing he remembered was that Malek was having a conversation with Maya as they were getting back to the mine-
He quickly sat up, and he quickly came to regret it. A sharp stabbing pain in his chest made him stiffen knocking the wind of out him.
"What are you doing?" a female voice demanded.
"We have to go," he gasped, clutching at his chest. "Nee'chos is still inside…"
Maya stood beside the cot, arms akimbo. "And how are you going to do that?" She caught him before he fell headlong to the ground. "Ach. You can barely stand!"
Danem had no strength left to fight her so he let her push him back down to the cot. The movement further aggravated his chest, sucking air through tightly clenched teeth. It was only then he noticed that except for the bandage wrapped firmly around his chest, he had no top on. "How…?"
"Boudin secretly brought you in here while everyone was distracted," Maya explained, nodding her head towards the closed entrance of the tent. "You were fortunate that he was nearby when it happened. You should thank him. He usually doesn't go out of his way saving the enemy."
"The one with the red hair?" he croaked, remembering the vision. Danem felt a sharp sting on his lower lip. Frowning, he reached up to touch it and came away with blood on his fingertips.
So that was the name of the huge Jaffa that faithfully followed her around. He never spoke much, and he rarely left his post outside this tent to mingle with the other Jaffa guards. This Boudin guy must be a Jaffa of high rank. "Why'd he…?"
She handed him a piece of wet cloth. "He does not suspect anything. Boudin thought that you amuse me so he secretly brought you here," Maya looked intently into his eyes. "You are the host, are you not? You do not look, or talk like Malek."
"Were you that greatly indebted to the Tok'ra who saved your life that you're willing to risk this much for us? Helping us send the message to the Tok'ra was enough."
"I said I will help you get out of this place, and I intend to keep it. What good will my help do if you die before your friends arrive?"
Danem sighed. She's got a point. "Malek's currently preoccupied with healing our injuries," he said as he put the compress against his busted lip. She turned back to face him, eyes searching for any visible injuries. "They're not as serious as you might think. He's only taking a little longer to fix us."
"Then rest. You won't be of any help to anyone at the state you two are in." She shook her head as she turned her back to him. "If only Tok'ra uses the sarcophagus it would be-"
"Then Tok'ra would be no different from the Goa'uld."
"Ach. Don't be so overly sensitive, rebel. Would it really kill you if you use it once in a while?"
He shook his head. "It's not that simple."
"So let's say you were mortally wounded, and unconscious, and some ignorant fool, with the goodest of intentions, placed you inside a sarcophagus to heal you, are you going to hold that against them instead of being grateful that you're still alive?"
The host glowered at her. "The consequences of using the sarcophagus are what we're concerned about. It can quickly become very addictive, especially to the host. Tok'ra and host have a symbiotic relationship. Although Malek's the dominant party, our personalities, our thoughts, and beliefs influence one another. To suppress the host's personality is the way of the Goa'uld. If the host is compromised…"
She regarded him quizzically. Danem frowned. She didn't seem to understand what he was trying to say. Then an idea came to him. He peered up at her, searching her face. "Do you have any idea, any idea at all, what continuous exposure to the sarcophagus will do to a host?"
"I told you, I do not concern myself with matters that are of no importance to me."
Maya tried to be nonchalant about it, but there was something in her lavender eyes that told them otherwise. Danem couldn't shake off the feeling that what he said piqued her interest. It was something that they had previously thought to be a well-known fact about the victims taken in as unwilling hosts by the Goa'uld.
Maya didn't want to talk about it any further. She insisted that they rest a little more, heal a little more. The rest helped some: they were able to put some weight on their right leg. Tomorrow his aches and pains would be a thing of the past.
"That is enough, Malek. It is time for you to rest."
The Tok'ra looked up and saw Yarek towering over him. He quickly shook his head, embarrassed at being caught slacking off at work. "Nonsense. I can still do this." He started to lift the spade, but a large hand held it firmly to the ground.
"Your trembling and pallid features say otherwise," the Jaffa said.
Malek was about to protest, but the look on the Jaffa's face was enough to deter him from voice it out loud. "Very well," he sighed. "We will return as soon as we can."
Their tent was located near the back, a ways off from the mine. There weren't much people around, and as Malek treaded the well worn path alone, his mind was off somewhere else.
Yarek was both relieved and bewildered when he found him. He feared the worst seeing the devastation the earthquake left in its wake. He joined the search for other survivors, particularly Nee'chos and Malek, but there was no sign of them anywhere.
Malek tried his best to explain what happened, making sure that he omitted Boudin and Maya's participation in it. When pressed for the identity of his rescuer, Malek feigned not knowing, blaming it to disorientation due to a bump on the head.
Collapsed tents blocked his way, and it was difficult to traverse over them with a banged up knee. There was no other choice but to go around them, and that meant walking through a poorly lit area of the camp with barely any light. He made his way across heavy machinery and crates, distracted by a lot of things weighing heavily on his mind that he didn't notice when something moved in the shadows, silently closing in on him.
A hand clamped firmly on his mouth while another pinned both his arms effectively behind him. Everything happened so fast that he wasn't able to fend off his attacker and was dragged helplessly into the shadows.
Malek tried to struggle free, ignoring the pain in his chest and shoulder. He tried to shout, but the hand covering his mouth effectively prevented him from doing so. He looked wildly about. There were three white figures he could see, plus the one holding him from behind. They weren't Jaffa guards or any of the prisoners. One of them moved closer.
Breathing harshly Malek struggled in earnest, seeing stars around the edges of his vision as the pain worsened, but he wasn't going down without a fight.
"Calm down, Malek. It's me," the figure standing right in front of him whispered urgently, placing one gloved hand lightly on his chest. Except for his eyes, his entire face was covered in white. "It's me! Jacob. It's Jacob, Malek."
It took a moment for the information to register in his brain. As soon as it did Malek stopped struggling and stared incredulously at the familiar looking pair of dark brown eyes looking back at him. That voice.
The man quickly pushed the hood from his head and pulled away the mask covering the rest of his face. "You can let go now," Jacob Carter nodded to the man behind him.
His knees buckled underneath him as soon as they did, but Jacob was quick to catch him mid-fall and they carefully placed him on the ground. Malek gritted his teeth. He was trying hard not to cry out when they touched his bruised chest. He held on to Jacob's arm as he waited for the pain to go away. "It is good to see you, Jacob," he greeted through gritted teeth.
"You, too, my friend," Jacob said, returning his smile.
"We were beginning to think that no one was going to come."
"Yes, that," Jacob looked at the others. "We encountered a, ah, slight problem with the Council. That's why we asked SGC's help in getting you out of here."
There was a rustle of clothes as the others began removing their masks and hoods so that he could clearly see their faces. Malek immediately recognized Maj. Ferretti and Capt. Edrald of SG-2, but the man standing beside Jacob…
"Daniel Jackson," the man introduced himself. He extended out a hand to him, smiling. "It's nice to be able to finally meet you, Malek. Jonas would be very happy to see you."
So this is Dr. Daniel Jackson, the one whose place in SG-1 was filled in by Jonas Quinn. The one who was said to have Ascended, but eventually returned for whatever reason. Jacob had told him a lot about this man. He wasn't what Malek had expected of someone that had caused the Goa'uld great grievance so much that the Goa'uld wanted him dead. He had always imagined Dr. Jackson to be more like Col. O'Neill.
Malek shook the proffered hand, nodding in response. The handshake was a formal Tau'ri greeting between individuals, a ritual he'd learned from Jacob. "Jonas Quinn is here?"
"Can we continue this conversation somewhere else?" Ferretti interrupted softly. "Preferably somewhere that's safe."
"Major Ferretti is right," Malek slowly stood up, assisted by both Daniel and Jacob. "Come. Our tent is empty. You will be safe there."
Daniel hesitated. "What about the Jaffas staying there with you?"
"They know we are Tok'ra. They have been taking care of us since we were imprisoned. Do not worry. They will keep the knowledge of your presence here a secret."
- - - o 0 o - - -
"The Goa'uld overseer?" Daniel uttered in disbelief a moment later.
The group was now inside Malek's tent safely hidden from any prying eyes. Except for Edrald who was sitting by the entrance acting as lookout, everyone else was huddled at the center of the tent. They chose to sit in the dark and simply relied on what little light was coming in from outside.
"In the beginning we could not believe it either," Malek said. "We thought for sure that the Goa'uld was simply setting up a trap since she found out we were Tok'ra."
"She?" blurted Daniel, who quickly apologized, realizing he spoke out a little louder than he would have liked. Everyone turned their heads at Malek in unison.
"So what's her reason for helping you out?" Ferretti asked.
"She claims to owe a debt to a Tok'ra, and she was simply repaying it by helping us escape."
The major shook his head. "I don't like it. It's just too convenient for my taste."
Jacob nodded in agreement. "Malek, have you found out who this Maya is working for?"
"She would not tell us, but base on what we have observed so far, she appears to be someone very high within her Goa'uld master's ranks. The Jaffa with her follows her without question, especially the one named Boudin."
"Boudin?" Jacob was silent for a while. When he noticed everyone looking at him, he shook his head. "The Tok'ra has never heard of her before. If Maya is, as you say, a high ranking member of whomever she's working for, either she's a new player or her Goa'uld master is."
"We also have reason to believe that these men have never been under the service of Kalki. We dropped hints, but none of them seem to react to any of it," Malek said.
Jacob nodded. "We thought so, too. At a glance, it would be easy to guess the motive behind the cover up. However, we've never received any word from any of our agents about anything remotely like this in a while."
"She is neither Goa'uld nor Jaffa," Malek said. "We tried to convince her to come with us, but she turned our offer down. She looked like she wanted to, but something seems to be stopping her from leaving."
"Owing a debt aside, she sounds very much loyal to her boss," Ferretti sneered.
Something seemed to be bugging Daniel. "How did she know that you're Tok'ra?"
Malek looked a tad bit uncomfortable with the question. "Of the enemy, Maya is the only one who knows the truth about us…"
He went on to explain how their identities were revealed, and he even showed them the link Maya lent them. He took it off and let the others inspect the miniature device for as long as they wanted. Maya wouldn't know about it. It was turned off anyway. The one most interested in it was Daniel.
"I've never seen anything like this before," Daniel was staring at the small device in rapt wonder. "This is definitely not Goa'uld. Without any markings it's hard to tell, although I do know that Sam would love to get her hands on this one."
"Aside from our identity, we did not say anything that is relevant to the Tok'ra. However, there were two things she was very keen to know more about: Egeria and SG-1. They are here, are they not?" Malek nodded towards Daniel.
There was an inscrutable look on Jacob's face. "No. They were already gone by the time we got to Stargate Command. As for Daniel, circumstances warrant him to stay behind at SGC for his own safety. Same goes for Jonas." He looked pointedly at the archaeologist who seemed to be looking everywhere in the small tent but him.
"Did he not return to Kelowna after Anubis was successfully repelled from his planet?"
"Jonas returned to SGC as the Langaran ambassador to Earth around the same time we completely lost track of you," answered Jacob.
Daniel was looking intently at Malek. "Was she specifically inquiring after any member of SG-1?"
"Not really. She wanted to know if we knew any of you personally," Malek caught the looks they were giving each other. "Why? What is the matter?"
Ferretti was not one to mince words. "Hunters from all over the galaxy's been in a frenzy ever since Jonas returned to Earth. He and Daniel are now at the top of every headhunter's list, with Jonas currently occupying the number one spot."
"There had been numerous attempts to capture them. Every time they went off-world, a headhunter or two would show up," Jacob added. "The hunters knew exactly where they were, and when to strike; all had been very close calls. Jack finally had them both grounded at SGC for their own safety." Jacob threw another pointed look at Daniel. "Well, that was supposed to be the plan."
"But they are here…"
"Which means that the hunters are more than likely not far behind," Daniel admittedly said.
"What could the Collective want with them this time?"
"No. It's not the Collective, but a System Lord," Jacob replied. "We're not sure yet if the Goa'uld that offered the rewards for the two of them were one and the same, but the notices were posted almost at the same time. It could be a coincidence, I don't know. All we know for sure is that he or she is willing to part with a very large portion of their riches just to capture both of them alive."
"Anubis could be the one behind Daniel's bounty. As for Jonas…"
Jacob nodded his head. Anubis had a bone to pick with Daniel. "We're still trying to find that one out. Unfortunately, there isn't much to go on."
Malek was reading between the lines. "Are you thinking that Maya may know something more than she is leading us to believe?"
Daniel shrugged. "Well, she works for a Goa'uld. She might have heard something."
"We will try, but we cannot guarantee anything."
Daniel cocked his head to one side before looking back at him. "Jonas says it's better than nothing."
"We'll discuss all of this later," Jacob interrupted. "Right now, we have to plan on how to get you all out of here-"
Malek made a slashing motion in the air. "We cannot. Not yet. There are prisoners still trapped inside the mine and we will not leave them behind."
Everyone looked at him in unison. Malek had a look of grim determination on his face as he and Jacob began a staring contest. There was tension in the air as the others looked uncertainly at each other.
Finally with a sigh, Jacob said, "All right. You have until dawn to rescue as many as you can," he held up a hand when Malek was about to protest. "That's all I can give you, Malek. Between the headhunters and Maya's comrades on their way here, we don't have much time."
Malek looked none too pleased about it, but nodded his head in agreement. Daniel looked at him apologetically. Without a word, he slowly stood up. So much for resting.
Ferretti half rose. He was undecided whether to help him up or to pull him back down. "Where are you going?"
"There's someone else whom you need to talk to. He can help us. Stay here. We will back shortly."
- - - o 0 o - - -
He turned his attention to the object that was sitting silently on top of the small squat chest on the foot of his bed.
Shorty had long since gone home. She tried ways of extracting information from him during the remainder of her stay, but they both knew that her tactics were too amateurish for the likes of him, and so the little girl reverted to throwing dagger looks at him from across the table while they ate instead.
He stared at it like it was alive, ready to spring at him at a moment's notice. He knew it would be futile to search for tracks around the cabin's perimeter, so he simply scoured the area to check if their visitor had left any other "presents" behind.
He didn't answer any of the kid's questions. Answering them would lead to more questions, and frankly, he's not in the mood for any of it.
He brought his attention back to the device. He knew what it was, knew what it held, and knew what it meant. The thought that it found its way to him was something he had never expected, not since he literally dropped out of existence when he became a wanted man many years ago. He made sure that before he went underground all traces of his whereabouts were erased that tracking him down would be next to impossible.
He chose this planet because it was isolated. It was not near any known space routes, and where the Goa'uld was practically unheard of, an ideal hideaway. He stumbled upon this backwater planet while pursuing someone whose crippled ship suddenly had a hyperdrive malfunction and suddenly opened a stable wormhole. Needless to say, he followed him through the wormhole, and they found themselves dumped in that part of the galaxy.
Someone had found out where he was hiding, someone from the same line of work to carry a device only people in their profession knew how to use and used exclusively. His little piece of paradise was now compromised.
With great reluctance, he reached out and grabbed hold of it. The device was quite heavy and cool to the touch. It was entirely coated in black with the symbols carved around it covered in gold; the same ones he caught the kid drawing on the hearth. The symbols were Goa'uld, and they represented his name in Goa'uld.
At the very top of the dome-shaped device was a small clear round crystal, it caught the fading sunlight as he mindlessly toyed with it.
No sense prolonging the inevitable, he thought rather annoyingly. He laid the device on the palm of his hand and closed his fist over it. There was soft whirr followed by a brief flash of light. Two soft beeps followed a split second later before it finally quieted down to a low hum.
He opened his hand, and said in a low voice in Goa'uld, "Tel cha arnok im tuk enum."
The symbols glowed, and the crystal at the top of the device began to beam a small holographic projection in the air in front of him.
It was a slowly rotating image of what looked to be a young man with dark brown hair and dark green eyes. He could see no discerning features nor cared to inspect the image more closely. Underneath it, written in Goa'uld, were the words: Elnak na lok'ar (To be captured alive).
What did this guy do to piss the Goa'uld off?
His eyes looked like they were about to pop out of their sockets when he saw the bounty on the man's head. This guy was worth a System Lord's ransom! Last time he checked the four-member team of SG-1 was the highest on the bounty list. Now, this guy was going to be on top of every hunter's to-do list. It would definitely be in his.
He quickly stopped at the initial thought. That was the old him thinking. Before, he'd immediately jump at any opportunity to return to the Goa'uld's good graces so that he could continue to support his insatiable addiction. As long as they had trading value, he'd care less if his quarry was guilty or innocent. As much as he loathed the Goa'uld he was powerless to oppose them. Until the Tau'ri came along.
A recorded message began to play, snapping him back to reality. Because he had no intention of accepting the job, he didn't want to hear what the recording had to say. He stopped the recording, but left the hologram on.
He sighed. Every hunter would be breathing down this poor guy's neck. No place was safe for any man with a bounty that large hanging over his head unless he got his nikta to an Asgard-protected planet, a Tok'ra cell, or the Tau'ri if he knows where to find them. There was simply no way he could escape his fate.
And what about him? Someone had certainly gone out of their way to deliver this message without leaving behind any clue as to the identity or the intentions of the individual that left it. Receiving a hunter job from a Goa'uld meant that he was no longer a wanted man himself, or was it? Was this the real deal or a trap? Relocating might not be the best idea at the moment. He would rather sit and wait how this incident would pan out before deciding on what to do next. It didn't sit well with him, but it would be counterproductive if he just started running around the galaxy every time something like this happened without even knowing who or what was after him and why.
He closed his fist and squeezed the device lightly. The hologram disappeared in an instant. If this was indeed a real hunter job then he didn't want anything to do with it anymore. His hunting days were over, his addiction gone, and he was given his life back. He vowed never to return to that kind of life again.
And what should he tell Shorty? He pondered. The kid would never stop poking around unless she got a straight answer. He ruffled his hair in annoyance. It would've been much better if she wasn't the one who found the recorder. Now he had to think of what to tell her. He winced. He's not really good at explaining things, most especially to kids. Most of all, Shorty had this ability to know when someone was lying, and she always practiced that ability on him, much to his annoyance.
He swore. I'll think of something.
With that in mind, he carelessly tossed the recorder aside and stood up. His body was craving for a hot cup of his favorite drink. Yeah, he'll think of something. He's good at lying through his teeth, and if that didn't work, then he could always just scowl his way out of it. It worked before.
After all, he was Aris Boch, one of the galaxy's greatest hunters. He was both feared and respected. No one in their right mind would even dream of going against him. Dealing with a little brat half his size was nothing compared to the dangers he faced during his headhunter days. This ought to be easy.
- - - o 0 o - - -
It was a tiny old thing from her past, one of only two in her possession that reminded her of who she once was. She was allowed to keep them not because he understood what they meant to her, but because he found such sentiments over a life, long past, amusing. A life she knew she could never return to.
It was a small black stone pendant that had a smooth, matte finish with a piece of coarse string still attached to it. The string had three knots placed at half-an-inch intervals with the middle knot tied around the pendant's suspension loop securing it in place.
Alone in the overseer's tent Maya slumped forward on the small table, resting her head on top of her folded arms staring at the pendant placed on a small soft light blue cloth.
It had the visible signs of wear and tear; the string looked like it was close to crumbling if not handled properly, and there was a single diagonal line that cuts right across the middle of the stone.
She stared at it like it was the first time she had seen it. Her lavender eyes followed every angle, every curve, every line, and every small detail as if she hadn't already memorized them by heart. She knew the number of individual strings that made up the cord that could once be comfortably worn around the neck, and yet counted them again as faithfully as if she was doing a prayer or an incantation.
A pair of smiling, gentle brown eyes surfaced unbidden in her mind's eye. She welcomed it, relishing the memory to its fullest, knowing that she was safe to drown herself in them without the risk of getting caught.
She imagined him sitting right there beside her. He would put his outstretched arms on the table, and then he'd intertwine his beautiful, lean fingers together. He would smile kindly while he watched her, patiently waiting for her to tell him what was bothering her. She tried to shut him out many times, but he knew her too well. He knew that with her kind of personality, she wouldn't stay silent for very long. Sometimes she would begin by reminding him that she was not a child anymore and not to treat her as such. His smile never faltered as he reached out to hold her hand.
[They are here.]
The intruding voice jolted her back to her senses… and she actually caught herself smiling.
She pulled her head back, completely taken by surprise. It had been a while since she caught herself smiling unconsciously. It's not that she was incapable of such an emotion, but there was really no reason to be so.
Remembering that the Tok'ra was on the link Maya mentally shook herself, pushing the image in the farthest recesses of her mind, under lock and key. She quickly, but carefully wrapped the pendant in the cloth. She reached for a tiny stringed pouch, and she puts the pendant and cloth inside it. She grabbed the remaining item on the table, a round golden locket strung on a beaded necklace. It had linear engravings on both the front and the back. It silently popped open at her merest touch.
[Maya, are you there?]
"Yes, sorry," she answered distractedly as she placed the pouch inside it. "You were saying?"
[The Tok'ra. They are here.]
Are you sure?
[Yes. I have just spoken with them. They said they will strike tomorrow at dawn.]
At dawn? Now is as good a time as any.
[I stalled for time. Nee'chos is still trapped inside the naquadah mine.]
She chewed on her lower lip. Understood. How many are they?
[Five, but they have brought along a few of our Tau'ri allies.]
Maya froze when she heard the word Tau'ri. Is it, by chance, SG-1?
She was dismayed by the news. All right. Then I must prepare-
[Yes. We think it is best that you leave this place before dawn.]
[We do not know what will happen tomorrow. It is better-]
Are you worried for my safety, rebel? Maya smirked. She could mentally picture the Tok'ra fidgeting at the question.
[We thought it was only logical to warn you.]
Warning duly noted, Maya sarcastically said. Don't worry. I will not blame you if anything bad happens to me; the probability of that happening is unlikely.
[See? I told you she's not gonna leave,] Danem butted in.
[I was merely making a suggestion since we "owe her one," as the Tau'ri would say,] Malek replied rather defensively.
I am touched that you are concerned for my safety. However, I am a warrior, and I hate walking away from a fight.
[We understand. However, if you ever change your mind-]
There was a short pause. [Then… see you in battle tomorrow.]
Maya sat there and absentmindedly rubbed the golden locket with her right thumb, completely lost in thought.
- - - o 0 o - - -
A small white furry creature scurried across the ancient crater floor. It would stop every now and then, lowering its plump little body closer to the ground as it sniffed the frigid night air apprehensively. It didn't have much in way of defense against its natural predators, but it could run at fast lightning speeds when it found itself in danger.
For a moment, it froze as it stared at a single snowflake that landed on the top of its crooked little snout before it turned its attention skyward.
It began to snow.
It continued on its way, making a beeline for one of the small fissures in the crater wall when it suddenly halted right in front of the inactive al-Kahira Stargate. It turned its head cautiously towards it. The animal stuck his snout high in the air, and it sniffed with trepidation, whiskers twitching. Then without warning, it skittered as fast at its small feet could carry it across the snow-covered ground.
The sound the small animal's feet made as it scampered away from the Stargate faded into silence. The snow continued to fall, landing softly on the ground without the slightest noise. There was no wind, not even a breeze. The silence was deafening.
Then a grating sound began to intrude. It started as a low rumble until it gradually increased as the inner ring of the Stargate began to spin more rapidly. The chevrons on the outer ring began to light up one after the other, accompanied by a dull thudding sound at each lock during its dialing sequence.
There was a mechanical whine, followed by a loud kawoosh, as a burst of unstable energy sprung from the center of the activating Stargate. It quickly retreated as the wormhole stabilized itself revealing a calm watery-like surface, casting an eerie bluish-white light on the crumbling ancient crater walls and floor.