Chapter 1: Space Invader
Dr. Daniel Jackson frowned at the tomb-like silence that had descended on the SGC locker room after Captain Jones departed. Until that point the room had been filled with the young captain's raucous jokes and laughter; even Teal'c had grinned at his boisterous enthusiasm. The new members of SG4 had returned to base riding high on the success of their first mission; Daniel had noticed that morning that Jones had found a million excuses to be in the gate room, impatient to leave for his first assignment, and he'd also noticed the young man's confident swagger when SG4 had joined him in the locker room late this evening. A small, wistful smile broke across Daniel's face. He remembered well his own eagerness, and overconfidence, when he'd gone out on his first official mission with SG1. Some things would never change.
No, that wasn't completely true, Daniel thought, glancing over his shoulder at Colonel Jack O'Neill. Jack had changed. Since returning from Edora a week ago, the SG1 commander had withdrawn completely from those closest to him. Totally uncommunicative, when Jack had broken his silence, he'd been crisp, direct, and strictly professional, his characteristic humor and snarkiness having vanished right along with his patented smirk. Jack hadn't even cracked a single smug joke at Daniel's expense since he'd been back, although Daniel had intentionally given him plenty of opportunity to do so, and that had Daniel worried. Jack never missed a chance to rib him. Not ever.
Daniel had tried to get him to talk about what had happened while he was trapped on Edora, but Jack wouldn't share any details. After three years of constant contact with the intense Air Force officer, Daniel still couldn't shake the feeling that he'd just barely scratched Jack's surface. While Jack was never shy about voicing his opinions, there'd been times when conversations would swerve just a little too close to his past personal or current romantic lives and Jack would suddenly clam up and withdraw into a tight hard shell, full of glares and pointed cynical comments designed to keep him at arm's length. He'd thought his relationship with Jack had progressed to the point where Jack could share things like that with him, but, like it or not, Jack still had moments of standoffishness and Daniel had finally had to accept it as one of his eccentricities that probably would never change.
But again, change Jack had - and this absolute silence, even from someone like Jack, just wasn't right. What exactly had happened during those three months? Was it something with his personal life? Something else? He realized that being stranded off-world for so long with no hope of rescue would have had some affect on Jack, but he really was surprised that Jack's reaction had been this profound because he knew the hardened military man had been through way worse than being stuck on a rustic, backwater planet for a few months. That was why, although he hadn't expected Jack to return home spouting non-stop anecdotes and stories about the Edoran locals, he had expected something from him - some comment, some quip, some complaint - something, especially a complaint!
It irked Daniel, because living amongst what had remained of the Edoran population, Jack had had the opportunity of a lifetime that Daniel could only dream about. He was starved for even the smallest of tidbits about their habits and culture and Jack hadn't fed him one damn crumb. Sure, Daniel had met with the Edoran refugees that had chosen to take shelter on Earth, but that wasn't the same as seeing them in their native habitat. His mouth drooped into a puckered frown as a wave of guilt struck him. He knew he should be more concerned for his friend and less focused on what Jack could give him, but it was hard because he knew Jack had to have gathered a plethora of firsthand information from actually living on Edora.
It had surprised him that Hammond had cleared Jack almost immediately to rejoin the team. He thought Hammond should have ordered Jack to take some time off to readjust to his old life. Members of any of the SG teams would have needed some time to get things back in order after being gone for that long. And seeing how this Jack, deadly serious and only going through the motions of living and working, was getting uncomfortably close to the Jack he'd first met on the Abydos mission - Daniel doubly felt Hammond should have interceded. Daniel shook away the thought of how close Jack had been to bringing about his own demise before and during the Abydos mission. This recent transformation, with shades of Abydos Jack, really had Daniel worried and he wasn't sure what he could do for Jack if he wouldn't let him help him.
Well, there's always humor, Daniel thought, as an irrepressible urge to lighten the solemn mood struck him. He tried suppressing the impulse by thinking of the sour expression he knew Jack would flash at him, but he couldn't control it. Smiling, he turned around and asked, "So Jack, still keeping a woman on every planet?"
Daniel watched as Jack paused mid-rub, his hair mashed down under a towel. He turned around to aim a brief glare at him. "You're not funny," Jack commented dryly.
Swallowing hard, Daniel realized he'd managed to stick his foot in his mouth again. He hadn't meant to do that. "Sorry Jack. I only meant…"
"I know what you meant," Jack said, dropping his towel to the floor and shrugging his shirt on.
"No, Jack," Daniel said, shaking his head. "I don't think you do. I really am sorry. I was only trying to make a joke," he explained, "…with my usual success." Damn. He shut his eyes and cursed at himself, wondering once again if his doctoral thesis had actually been in stupid remarks. He cleared his throat and tried again to make conversation now that he had Jack's attention. "It must have surprised you, hearing the radio transmitting and finding Teal'c."
"It was," Jack said quietly, bending his head down as he finished buttoning his shirt.
Knowing Jack hadn't appreciated his attempt at humor and not wanting to contribute any more to Jack's sullen mood, Daniel stopped. But on second thought - an angry Jack might show some kind of reaction or emotion - maybe even throw a pointed barb at him or tell him to leave him the hell alone. Something. Anything. All Daniel knew was that he didn't like this new Jack. Old Jack would have already made some snarky comment and moved on. Where was the old Jack O'Neill he thought knew?
Then he considered the question he'd posed to Jack. Damn. He now realized he'd made it sound like Jack spent off-world missions picking up local women. Jack hadn't; he was one of the most scrupulous soldiers Daniel had ever met. He could only remember one other time that Jack had been with a local woman during a mission and Daniel had only become aware of it because SG1 had been stuck waiting for Jack in an outdoor courtyard while an Argosian woman had had her way with him. But that still hadn't been Jack - Kynthia's seduction had been the courtesy of the aphrodisiac-laced wedding cake that Jack had unwittingly eaten. He grinned as he remembered how adamant Jack had been in swearing off local food and drink for months after that mission, insisting he'd stick strictly to their MRE's, thank you very much. But Daniel doubted that either food or drink had anything to do with how Jack was acting right now. No, something else was bothering him.
"Jack, I didn't mean to infer you and Laira were intim..." Daniel started.
"Daniel!" Jack interrupted, turning to face him. "Stop apologizing. I did what I had to do." He slipped on a brown leather jacket. "Either I settled or I kept on digging more of those miserable holes, thinking every damn day I was going to find the Gate." Jack shrugged and walked to the locker room door, stopping to give Daniel a pained look. "Holes and wishful thinking weren't going to keep me company in the long run, okay?"
Daniel stared at the empty doorway long after Jack left the room. He was amazed Jack had actually said something more than three words long. He wondered if Laira was the only reason for Jack's behavior. He'd gotten the impression when they'd returned to Edora to escort Jack back that he'd developed a serious relationship with her. The Edoran woman had seemed very possessive of Jack and he'd only had eyes for her, to the point of brushing off his team's attempts to welcome him and to share with him all that had happened on their side of the gate while he was gone. However, the more he thought about it, the more he had to admit that he empathized with Jack, much more than he thought he would. He wasn't sure, if he'd been the one stuck off-world on a low-tech planet, gate destroyed, and no real possibility of rescue, that he would have done anything any differently.
He'd reached a similar point in the not-so-distant past himself. A point at which he'd been forced to make a decision about whether he was going to stay cocooned deep within his memories of his dead wife, Sha're, or to move on as best he could, to find a new focus and, yes, new romantic relationships. Every cell in his body had balked and refused to comply, but still he had chosen to move on. Unfortunately that decision hadn't kept Sha're from haunting his dreams, so real he could feel her soft skin against his, hear her tenderly whispering his name, and smell her earthy scent… He felt like his heart was being ripped out of him each morning when he awakened, reaching out to where she should have been next to him, only to have his hand fall through the void her death had left and realizing she was gone forever. Closing his eyes, he pursed his lips into a frown. You wouldn't believe it Jack, but I think I know some of what you're probably going through.
General George Hammond leaned forward in his chair, pressing his elbow deep into the armrest. "You understand the danger involved with this mission, Colonel?" he asked.
"Yes sir," Jack answered. "I understand completely."
Hammond leaned back and pursed his lips together. "I still have concerns about SG1," he said, squinting at Jack. "You and your team have developed some pretty strong bonds these past few years. You do realize what you will have to do?"
Jack lifted his chin up, his eyes roving around Hammond's ceiling. "I do, General," he answered. "And I'm prepared to do whatever is necessary to complete this mission."
Hammond looked closely at Jack. "You're sure about that Jack?" he asked. "You've only been back from Edora for a few days," he pointed out. "I cleared you for active duty, but I'm not so sure that you are ready yet. I could push it off for a few more days." He gave Jack a hard stare. "Are you really sure about this?"
Jack looked down at his fatigues and flicked at an imaginary speck of dust on his thigh. He inhaled deeply. He knew full well that this assignment was going to be one of the most treacherous of his SGC career and that his life, if he survived, might not be the same afterwards. "Yes," he replied, slowly releasing his breath and frowning. "But it has to be done and the sooner we get it over with the better."
Chapter 2: Defining Boundaries
"Daniel?" Jack asked, sliding his sunglasses on as he sauntered away from the gate.
"Yes?" Daniel asked. He yanked on the brim of his hat and adjusted his glasses to better watch as Jack surveyed their surroundings. Turning to take in the sights himself, he noticed that this particular gate had been erected in the middle of a bustling market on the edge of what appeared to be a moderately-sized village. Swathes of brightly-colored material draped over the tops and sides of several stalls nearby. It struck Daniel as very similar to medieval Britain, possibly late 13th century, but not quite the same. They'd come across a handful of civilizations like this one and Daniel was always amazed at the variances between cultures that were brought on by geography and, many times, by the whims of the Goa'uld in control. He slowly took in the details, trying to absorb everything for future reference. He noticed that for the most part the villagers were ignoring SG1, only slowly acknowledging their presence with short glances and low whispers.
"Thoughts? Analysis?" Jack asked, tapping his fingers against his gun.
Daniel sighed; leave it to Jack to bring his focus back to their military objective. He slowly stepped down the gate steps behind Jack, scanning the surrounding structures and eyeing the villager's clothes. "Well…" he said, "the architecture is pretty similar to that of medieval Britain and their dress would seem about the right period, give or take a century or two."
He stepped toward a nearby group of villagers and smiled. "Hello, I'm Daniel Jackson," he greeted them. He motioned to his teammates scattered around the market. "These are my friends, Colonel Jack O'Neill, Major Samantha Carter, and Teal'c." His smile broadened as he looked at each of the villagers in turn. "We are peaceful travelers and…"
The group quickly scattered as he stepped closer and Daniel heard Jack snort behind him. Daniel sighed. He didn't always have that effect on locals. He noticed that one woman had remained inside her stall, facing him and offering him a warm smile.
"Good morn, Daniel Jackson," she greeted him with a slight downward turn of her head.
Taking off his hat, Daniel grinned back at her. "Good morn… you are?"
She smiled. "Marica of Valonia Viridis."
Daniel's grin widened into a full-blown smile. Marica of the small green valley; she was named after a nymph who was the consort of Faunus, a woodland deity. He wondered when this group had been transplanted here from Earth. A million questions began to formulate in his head and it was only with great effort that he pushed them aside after he heard Jack clear his throat in warning. He glanced around the stall. It was full of intricately carved and engraved wooden objects. Fingering the ridges and valleys of an engraved plaque close by, he asked, "You made this?"
Marica nodded. "Yes. Sylvancraft is my calling." She picked up the plaque Daniel was examining. "You are interested in trade?" she asked.
Daniel nodded. "Yes, we are." He glanced around for his teammates. Teal'c had remained on the top step of the gate platform, his eyes slowly scanning the market. Gun still held at the ready, Sam had stopped a few stalls away to examine a delicately woven wrap. Jack stood at attention between Daniel and the gate, fingering his trigger and scowling at him. Most of the villagers had begun to resume their earlier activities and to talk amongst themselves.
Daniel looked back at Marica. "Do you get many traders?"
She shook her head as she placed the plaque back on the table. "We have not, not for a long time, not for several cycles." Before turning back to Daniel she glanced at the northern edge of the market where several villagers had gathered, chattering loudly about the newcomers. "You are interested in sylvancraft?" she asked.
"We are interested in many different types of trade," he explained. He looked at Jack who arched an eyebrow and mouthed to him to "get on with it." Daniel turned back to Marica and smiled. "Do you have a leader?" he asked. "Someone we could enter into negotiations with?"
Marica didn't answer him; instead she looked back at the main entrance again. The villagers gathered there had become even more animated and loud. "There is one," she responded after a bit.
Daniel noticed the hesitancy on her part and wondered why it was there. He decided to ignore it and plunge ahead with his questions before Jack decided to take over the diplomatic part of the mission. "Do you think we could meet with this leader to discuss trade between us?" he asked.
"It may not be wise to meet with him at this time," she responded.
"Why?" Daniel asked.
Marica looked at Daniel impassively. "The time is not right. There are… problems."
Daniel looked quizzically at Marica. "Is it something we could help you with?"
Marica shook her head. "Your offer is appreciated, but I do not think it wise for you to do so."
"But what if we wanted to do so?" he asked. Daniel wanted to move her beyond these cryptic, formal answers. SG1 could decide whether or not their assistance was warranted. "It is my people's wish not only to trade, but also to help others who are in need," he explained.
Marica gave Daniel a quick smile before turning quickly away to look at the villagers who had been raising the commotion at the market's edge. Daniel followed her gaze and watched as the villagers began to scurry away. His eyes widened as a Jaffa patrol turned the corner. Okay - now it was making more sense why she hadn't been very forthcoming.
"Jack!" he cried out, pointing to the approaching Jaffa. Jack turned to see what Daniel was pointing at and lifted his gun up. Teal'c had already caught sight of the patrol and had activated his staff weapon.
"Carter!" Jack yelled, bending down to take cover as the Jaffa aimed their staff weapons at Teal'c and began to fire.
Daniel watched, his mouth agape, as Jack and Sam dropped to the ground to take defensive positions and he reached out helplessly as Teal'c jumped off the gate platform to take cover. Energy bursts from staff weapons and zats shot through the market. The remaining villagers screamed and ran for cover as shots began to volley more heavily between the Jaffa patrol and the newcomers.
Marica grabbed Daniel and pulled him down to the ground inside her stall as an energy beam slammed into the front corner post. "We must leave now!" she said, pulling Daniel underneath the stall tables. She motioned toward a slit in the draped fabric at the back of the stall and crawled toward it.
"But my friends!" Daniel said, shaking his head.
Marica pulled harder on Daniel's arm from outside the stall and he reluctantly crawled out to join her. Handing him a length of unbleached woven cloth, she motioned for him to wrap himself in it. He opened his mouth to protest, holding the cloth in front of him.
She glanced into a nearby alleyway and back at Daniel. "You have no weapon. How will you be of help to them?" she asked.
"I don't know," Daniel said miserably. Moral support? He shook his head and followed Marica as she sprinted for the exit.
As Teal'c ducked for cover after firing upon the closest Jaffa, he glimpsed Daniel Jackson wrapping himself in a swathe of cloth and disappearing into a nearby alley with the local merchant woman he had been conversing with. It struck him as odd that the archeologist would not stay closer to the team. Teal'c arched back against the platform as another volley of energy blasts tore past his head and reconsidered his last thought. Perhaps it was wiser for his friend to seek shelter; he had not yet proven even minimal abilities with either Taur'i or Goa'uld weapons. Lifting his head slightly to mark the position of the closest Jaffa, Teal'c aimed his staff weapon and fired.
Crouching back down, Teal'c assessed that the cover afforded by the stone platform supporting the stargate was minimal at best. He eyed Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter. Both had surfaced in nearby stalls and were alternately firing at the Jaffa patrol and trying to secure a better offensive position. He surmised in this particular situation he would better serve the team by taking position elsewhere, in a place more defensible than this open air market. The main entrance into the market had been blocked by the Jaffa. He glanced around the perimeter for other exits as another heavy volley seared past him.
Teal'c observed this Jaffa presence was to have been expected, for where there was a gate, there normally were Jaffa, enduring tortuous lives of unwanted servitude to the Goa'uld. However, he was not happy with his actions today; instead of passive observation from the top of the gate platform, he should have immediately secured the perimeter. They would have had sufficient time to dial back out if he had been more thorough in his actions. He glanced over at O'Neill who was on his knees, mercilessly firing at a Jaffa who had made the mistake of allowing his back to be temporarily unprotected while he directed newly arriving warriors into position. The Jaffa cried out as the volley hit him between the shoulders and he tumbled to the ground.
"Teal'c!" Jack called out.
"O'Neill!" Teal'c responded, craning his head around to determine Major Carter's location. He noted she was slowly backing up to O'Neill's position, her gun scope arcing back and forth as she cleared the area.
"Now!" Jack ordered, waving Teal'c toward a side alley in the direction opposite of the one Daniel Jackson had taken.
Teal'c watched long enough to see O'Neill signal to Major Carter to follow Teal'c out of the market before O'Neill rose to a standing crouch and began to discharge his weapon. Pushing off from the stone platform and swinging his body around to fire in the direction of the remaining Jaffa, Teal'c sprinted for the alley. He heard Major Carter grunting loudly as she plunged into the firefight behind him. Turning to fire another shot, he watched as she sniped a careless Jaffa in the neck while dodging the energy bolts as best she could.
Teal'c took up position at the corner wall of the market enclosure and aimed his staff at the remaining Jaffa scurrying to take up new offensive positions near the gate. He caught the warrior closest to the Colonel squarely in the chest, allowing O'Neill to charge through the market center past the gate, Teal'c lobbing blasts as fast as his staff weapon would allow him to do so. Major Carter hit the wall opposite him and immediately began to pop off quick bursts at the Jaffa. Together they forced the enemy contingent to temporarily take cover, giving O'Neill the seconds he needed to push his way across the open space.
Plunging past the team into the alley, O'Neill rolled onto the wall next to Teal'c. "Thanks," he said, nodding to Teal'c and to Sam. Teal'c dipped his head in response.
Sam gave Jack a quick nod and turned her attention back to the open market. The Jaffa had maneuvered around the stalls, heading toward their position. She glanced at Jack for guidance. An energy blast ripped past her and she opened fire in response, sending the Jaffa ducking for cover.
"Sir?" she asked.
"I'm thinking, I'm thinking," Jack responded.
Sam shot him a 'we don't have time for this' look and pulled off a few more rounds at the approaching Jaffa. Frowning as she targeted another warrior, she mused on how it never failed that missions like this one, supposedly the easiest of meets and greets, were always the ones that went awry. She just wished it hadn't been this particular one. She was still exhausted, not having had enough time yet to recover mentally and physically from the past three sleepless months. And she didn't even want to begin to think about the numerous projects that she needed to get back on track again after having pushed them onto the backburner during her quest to build the particle beam generator. Why couldn't this have been a peaceful first contact? Why? We do occasionally get them you know, she wryly observed.
She glanced back at Jack. "Daniel?" she asked, before punching another clip into her gun.
"Daniel Jackson would appear to be safe," Teal'c shouted to her over the roar of firepower. "He appeared to have taken shelter with the merchant woman with whom he had been negotiating."
Jack slid closer to Teal'c and leaned out to recon the market. Another volley of blasts shot past his head and he ducked back in. "You sure he's okay?" Jack asked.
"I only know what I have observed O'Neill," Teal'c explained.
Sam guessed Daniel would be fine if he was with a group of friendly locals. At least he stood less chance of getting caught by the Jaffa. They could always search for him later once they got themselves out of the line of fire.
Sam watched as Jack nodded at her. She raised her eyebrows, questioning what he wanted her to do. He nodded again and glanced down the alleyway opposite the direction of the approaching Jaffa. Nodding in response, she quickly moved along the wall away from the marketplace, her gun held securely in both hands and aimed ahead of her.
She hoped they were heading in the right direction since the alley seemed only to be getting narrower and darker. She heard the heavy breathing of Teal'c and Jack behind her as they popped off a few more shots toward the disappearing opening to the market. After several energy bolts blasted by her head, she whipped around to face her teammates who nearly tripped over her as they stumbled to a halt. She let loose several shots of her own toward the enemy warriors who were charging down the alley, catching them by surprise.
"C'mon," Jack directed, racing past Sam. She pulled off a few more shots and jogged down the alley to catch up with him. Sam noticed more light was streaming in ahead of them. She ducked to take cover from another torrent of Jaffa weapons discharge in a doorway near where the covered portion of the alley ended. Thankfully the buildings weren't as tightly spaced here and there were more recessed doorways to tuck themselves into.
As they broke into the sunlight, the alley became a larger, open lane. Sam noticed a few trees pushing past the tops of the taller courtyard walls. As she swung back around to become point person, she noticed an entranceway opening into a stone-paved courtyard. Peering over the low wall, it looked to her like a service entry to the large multi-story villa it adjoined. She wondered why it was deserted; maybe the locals had abandoned it after hearing the approaching gunfire and staff blasts?
"Sir," she said, nodding toward the courtyard.
Jack turned to view what Sam was gesturing at. He looked up to see the largest building they'd come across so far in the village. Either a wealthy local lived here or… Jack didn't even want to think about the odds that a Goa'uld lived here. He could hear additional Jaffa approaching from the opposite direction and realized they wouldn't be leaving by the same route they came. He nodded for Teal'c and Sam to enter the courtyard.
They darted together across the stone pavers, each aiming their weapon in a different direction to cover the other, coming to a stop near a large open door. The first open doorway they'd come across, Jack observed with a frown. He cocked his head to the side as he heard the Jaffa shouting at each other.
"Teal'c?" he asked, jutting his chin forward.
Furrowing his brow, Teal'c listened for a few moments, his eyes roving the courtyard. "It appears that our original pursuers are warning others about the intruders who may have entered this house." He looked down at the ground for a few moments. "They are relaying that the intruders have taken refuge in the House of the Lord Ma'atifemkhet."
"No we haven't," Jack said. "Lord Ma'atifemkhet?" he asked, grimacing. "That's quite a mouthful."
"Most likely a Goa'uld," Teal'c answered. "Ma'atifemkhet - He Whose Two Eyes Are As Fire. A judge at the Hall of Two Truths. The Hall of Two Truths is where…" Teal'c stopped, catching sight of Jack's face. "But I am no Daniel Jackson," he said, dipping his head.
Jack winced. Fiery eyes. Of course, that would explain those weird symbols he'd seen on the enemy Jaffa's foreheads and, of course, their heavy presence in the village. Damn it. "Don't Jaffa ever leave home without those damn snakes?" he asked.
Teal'c frowned in response.
"Rhetorical question," Jack explained to him. Oh for cryin' out loud, Jack thought bitterly, couldn't they just once deal with locals without Goa'uld interference? Because if there was the slightest scent of Jaffa in the air, then there was always some self-important, overly self-righteous snake hiding nearby, and it usually wasn't of the Tok'ra variety. He had another more critical mission assignment to get off the ground and the mess he was starting to smell on this planet wasn't the kind of muck that he needed to get stuck in right about now.
He heard the footsteps of the Jaffa clank onto the stone pavers and, not having many options beyond blasting their way through a wall of Jaffa, he waved Teal'c and Sam into the building as the warriors turned the corner into the courtyard. The team quickly slid through the large kitchen area and up a small stairwell into a larger entranceway. Jack eyed the cavernous space. Light and airy. Now that was a switch for a snake.
"Sir?" Sam asked, moving her shoulder in the direction of two Jaffa who had entered from the other side of the hall. The Jaffa lifted their staff weapons and started firing at them.
Jack heaved a big sigh and gave the signal for the others to head up the main staircase. "May as well see how the other half lives," he said, yanking his zat out of its holster and shooting at the guards as he provided coverage for his team. Dodging incoming blasts as he covered Teal'c and Sam's six as they zigzagged up the staircase, Jack jumped the final steps to take cover with Sam behind a statue filling a large alcove. Teal'c stood across the large rectangular hall, similarly concealed.
Jack shut his eyes for a moment. Where to now? The firefight had stopped, but he knew it was only because the lone warrior who'd survived to pursue him up the stairs was waiting for the backup that Jack was certain was coming. He poked his head out and scanned the hall. There were several smaller arched doorways scattered through this upper hall, but he knew without a doubt that they'd find something of the Goa'uld variety in the large entranceway with the jeweled fabric draped around it. Jack snorted, the whole interior of this place smacked of a spare-no-expense-for-himself kind of snake. He quickly yanked his head back as a blaze of energy from a zat blasted by his head.
Leaning out from opposite of sides of the statue, Jack and Sam let loose on the approaching unit of Jaffa. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack saw Teal'c step out from behind his statue to shoot at the lead warrior. Before Teal'c could return to his alcove, a blast hit him in the shoulder, blue bolts of energy arcing all over his body. Teal'c shook as the energy tendrils snaked around him and he fell to the floor.
"Teal'c!" Sam cried as Teal'c fell. Jack watched as Sam gave an angry look at the warriors and peppered them with a steady stream of bullets. When she glanced back at him, Jack nodded in the direction of the large entranceway.
Sam gave him an 'are you sure?' look before turning back to unleash another barrage at the Jaffa.
Jack fired his zat down the hall before leaning out to assess the number of Jaffa left. "You got any better ideas?" he yelled.
Sam shook her head and suddenly turned on her heels, diving away from Jack in the direction of the entranceway. As she rolled toward the door, Jack stepped out to fire on the warriors who'd surged forward to shoot at Sam, grimly pounding away on his trigger. He managed to take out a handful before he heard the click of a zat opening and felt a sharp jab in his back.
"Drop your weapon!" ordered a gruff voice.
"Carter!" Jack shouted, watching as some of the Jaffa ran past him.
"Drop your weapon!" the voice demanded.
Frowning, Jack clicked his zat to the off position and carefully set it on the floor. Removing his finger from the trigger, he thumbed the snap releasing his gun from his harness and laid it next to the zat, slowly twisting around as he did to see what had happened to Sam. She was unconscious, sprawled out on her back near the entranceway he'd directed her to. Damn it. He slowly rose to his feet, arms in the air.
The guard behind him pushed him forward. "Where'd you come from?" Jack asked him.
"Move!" the guard grunted.
"No, seriously, where were you hiding?" Jack asked, turning to get a better glimpse of the guard who'd managed to best him. Jack's head whipped around as the guard hit him full force with the business end of his staff weapon. Jack bent over and felt his face. No broken nose or other bones, but damn it, did Mr. Jaffa have to do that over a simple question? The guard motioned with the zat in his other hand for Jack to move toward the entranceway.
Jack slowly complied, watching as the other Jaffa began to drag Teal'c and Sam through the same entrance. Jack heaved a sigh. This hadn't been his plan at all.
Near the edge of the village Daniel stopped, ripping the cloth off his shoulders and grabbing Marica's arm. "I won't go any further," he said. "I have to go back."
Marica shook her head and gently removed Daniel's hand from her arm. "You cannot."
"But I have to! It's what we do!" he explained. "I have to go back there and help them!"
"It would appear you seek an invitation to the afterlife," Marica observed. "Ma'atifemkhet would be most happy to accommodate you, especially as you continue to desire to fight with no weaponry of your own."
"Don't you have weapons?" Daniel asked.
"They are not permitted," Marica explained.
"Bows? Arrows? Spears? You work with wood! You can't tell me you have nothing to fight with!" Daniel pushed his glasses up and peered closely at Marica. "Nothing?"
Marica shook her head. "Besides the knives used for food preparation and those I use in my craft, no." She looked thoughtfully at Daniel. "There are cultivation tools used by those who work the soil near the village gates, but Ma'atifemkhet's warriors…"
"The Jaffa," Daniel interrupted.
"These warriors, the Jaffa as you call them," Marica continued with a nod, "…there are large groups of them who have camped upon those farming grounds, practicing their craft and resting until it is their time to go to battle Anant."
"Battle who?" Daniel asked.
"Anant," Marica repeated.
Daniel thought those Egyptian names sounded very out of place in this apparently Latin-derived, Western European-based culture. A judge from the Hall of Two Truths fighting a goddess who was known as 'Anant the Destroyer?' He frowned. What had they walked into?
Marica appraised Daniel. "Surely you do not want to hear about our history and the troubles we have brought upon ourselves, do you?"
Daniel smiled. "But I do. I love learning about new cultures. It's fascinating. If I had the time, I'd love to…" He stopped. "But I won't have the time if something happens to my friends." He looked at Marica. "I really need to help them. The longer I wait…" He looked away and shook his head.
"Then you must come with me. Please." Marica beckoned him to follow her.
Daniel opened his mouth and shut it, pulling the cloth back around him. "Fine then."
Jack blinked as his eyes adjusted to the lower lighting of the room he'd been forced to enter. Why did these guys always go in for the mood lighting? The room was more opulent and modern than anything Jack would have imagined there being in a village that looked like it was straight out of the Middle Ages. Scanning the room for exits, he determined there were none, not unless the pissy-looking guy posing up there on the dais had one hidden behind that stage of his.
Jack studied the man. If this guy was the Mattyfemininehat snakeboy that Teal'c had mentioned outside, and if he was Goa'uld, he surely fit the part. He'd posed himself just so on a gold throne, his legs carefully crossed and his ring-clad hands clasped on one knee. Jack shook his head. Were snakes like this the universe over?
Jack gave a kick to the bottom of the marble stairs leading up to the dais. Solid, not tiled. How many lives did it take for the floor alone? He watched as the guards dragging Teal'c and Sam shook them back into consciousness.
Ma'atifemkhet frowned at Jack. "And you are?" he asked.
"None of your damn business," Jack answered, trying to shake off the Jaffa tightly gripping his biceps.
Ma'atifemkhet raised an eyebrow. "But would you not say it is my business, when you intrude upon my home?"
"This isn't your home," Jack retorted. "You know damn well this isn't…" Jack stopped, biting his tongue and falling forward as another guard came up behind him and rammed the length of his staff weapon down onto his shoulders.
Ma'atifemkhet turned his attention the rest of SG1, tracing his bottom lip with his index finger as he surveyed his prisoners. "Interesting specimens Anant has sent us," he remarked.
Ignoring the pain in his mouth and shoulder, Jack asked, "Who's this Anant?"
"I believe you have not answered my question yet," Ma'atifemkhet said.
Jack glared at the Goa'uld. "Colonel Jack O'Neill, U.S. Air Force."
Ma'atifemkhet nodded. "Colonel Jack O'Neill… an interesting designation. Do you profess not to know the name of your leader?" he scoffed.
Jack shook his head. "I don't know any Anant. I'm the leader of this team."
"Yes, this U.S. Air Force as you call yourselves. An intriguing name for Anant to fashion for a group of warriors." He eyed Jack. "Although I must give her credit, she has produced quite an unusual-looking group this time." He leaned back in his chair and carefully appraised Jack. "However, what leader of warriors would lead them directly into the hands of the enemy?"
Jack rolled his eyes. Okay, snake scores one.
Ma'atifemkhet continued to watch Jack. "Very well. Allow me to demonstrate how I lead. Observe."
He stood up, giving a slight nod to the guards restraining Teal'c, and descended the steps. After pulling Teal'c up straighter, the guards thrust him forward toward their liege. Ma'atifemkhet tilted his head, considering the golden symbol on Teal'c's forehead. "You are Jaffa," he observed, slowly circling around Teal'c. "A First Prime no less."
He stopped within a hair's breadth of Teal'c's face. "To whom do you owe your allegiance?" he asked.
"I serve no one," Teal'c answered.
"You speak an untruth," Ma'atifemkhet remarked distastefully, his eyes glowing. "Do not lie to us."
"I do not," Teal'c said proudly.
"This," Ma'atifemkhet said in a low voice, "is how we lead the misled back to reason…" He gestured to his guards with a flick of his hand and turned to walk up the steps. A few more of his contingent stepped forward to restrain Teal'c. Teal'c struggled to break free of their grip as another Jaffa stepped forward to punch him in the stomach. Teal'c groaned as the guard connected with his abdominal pouch.
Jack had never been really thrilled by Junior's existence, but he couldn't stand to watch both Teal'c and Junior get walloped like this. Powerless to stop the guards, he joined Sam in looking away. The Jaffa restraining him wrenched his head back in Teal'c's direction. Jack squeezed his eyes shut instead. It was enough to hear Teal'c's groans as he tried to withstand the physical abuse they were dealing him.
"You will not tell me who you serve?" Ma'atifemkhet asked.
Teal'c gasped for breath. "I serve NO ONE!"
The guard closest to Teal'c arced his staff weapon hard, slamming its blunt end full force across Teal'c's face, knocking him out. The guards allowed Teal'c to drop unceremoniously to the floor, the guard who knocked him out carefully poking at him with the end of his staff.
"Oh for cryin' out loud!" Jack bellowed. "Stop this! My team follows my direction! Nothing more. They know nothing. Hell, even I know nothing!"
Ma'atifemkhet ignored Jack, the edge of his lips curling up as he considered Sam. "Do you also know nothing?" he asked her.
Sam glanced back at Jack. He lifted his eyebrows in response. What could he say to her? Don't say anything? He was getting the feeling that they were damned either way, no matter what they said.
"I know that we are human explorers from Earth. The Tau'ri," Sam answered.
Ma'atifemkhet walked carefully back down the steps. "Tsk, tsk," he rebuked Sam. "You did not answer the question and then you call yourself Tau'ri." He shook his head and considered Sam for a moment. "We cannot understand this reluctance to admit for whom you serve."
Sam shook her head. "I swear to you, we've never heard of Anant."
Ma'atifemkhet smiled at Sam. "I must admit this refusal is most stimulating." He nodded at the knot of guards huddled nearby. Sam fell to her knees as one of the guards rammed his staff weapon into the bend of her leg.
Ma'atifemkhet approached her once she was secure again. "Share with me why you are so insistent that you do not know Anant," he prodded her. He bent down close to Sam and slowly examined her from her face down to her heaving chest. "I sense the presence of a symbiote in you." He moved in even closer. "You could be Anant."
Sam lifted her head and shook it. "I don't think so," she told Ma'atifemkhet.
Ma'atifemkhet's lips parted into a sneer. "We shall see about that."
The guard holding her one arm kicked her in the gut and the other guard struck her in the back. Sam grunted as the wind was knocked out her and she tried to lift her arms to ward off the punches and weapon hits that were slamming into her. Two other guards came up to restrain her. Jack surged forward, but the guard behind him tightened his grip so hard Jack thought his arms were going to snap in two.
"Anant?" Ma'atifemkhet asked.
Sam tried to speak, but no noise would come out. She shook her head in response.
Ma'atifemkhet shook his head and lifted his hand up. Jack caught sight of a hand device. "No!" Jack yelled. What had happened to the days of ask more questions first, torture later?
Ma'atifemkhet ignored Jack, bringing his hand down close to Sam's forehead. "Anant, stop these petty games," he said.
"I. Am. NOT. Anant!" Sam said through gritted teeth, her eyes squeezed shut as Ma'atifemkhet continued to force the energy of the hand device into her head.
"Stop damn it!" Jack was furious. "Play with someone your own size!"
Ma'atifemkhet closed his hand, halting the energy penetration. Sam slumped down to the floor, gripping her temples and moaning faintly. "True, Colonel Jack O'Neill, we do tire of these warriors who do not seem to demonstrate the spirit that you have," Ma'atifemkhet said.
Ma'atifemkhet nodded at his guards who immediately whacked Jack hard across the back of his legs. Jack groaned as his knees hit the floor with a loud crack. He'd never get back up now. Damn this snake.
Jack watched as Ma'atifemkhet nodded curtly at another group of loitering guards. Although he wasn't marked with a golden tattoo yet, the guard Jack assumed was the Goa'uld's First Prime stepped forward and bowed his head.
"To the holding cell?" the First Prime asked.
Ma'atifemkhet considered the question for a minute and shook his head. "For him, outside."
Jack watched as they pulled Teal'c out of the room by his feet, his arms dragging behind him. Teal'c was still out cold. The other guards yanked Sam up by her armpits, but by the way her head lolled forward, Jack could tell she was barely conscious. She was fighting to stay alert and was making some effort to get to her feet, but the guards ignored her, yanking her around quickly to drag her toward the exit to the outer hall.
Ma'atifemkhet turned back to face Jack, a sinister smile playing across his lips. "You have my full, undivided attention now, human."
"Jack." Jack grimaced at Ma'atifemkhet.
Ma'atifemkhet frowned at him. "Human."
Jack smiled feebly at him. "Jack."
"HUMAN!" Ma'atifemkhet growled at him, unfurling his hand and aiming the hand device at Jack's forehead. "Silence!"
Jack screwed his eyes shut and groaned in compliance.
As Marica finished her brief history of Valonia Viridis, she motioned Daniel toward a small cottage set near the edge of the forest.
"But that's so wrong!" Daniel sputtered.
Marica looked at him quizzically.
"Why would your people kill their own?" Daniel was aghast. "I know how evil and unreasonable the Goa'uld can be, but death isn't the way out and certainly isn't the way to defeat them!"
Marica stopped in front of her door and cast a doubtful glance at Daniel. "So my friend, how would you suggest that my people do battle? We have no effective weapons. Our numbers are dwindling. With each new cycle, my people lose more hope of change. The freedoms we once had have become nothing more than myth to the few children who are born." She shook her head. "What friend Daniel, would you have us do that we have not already tried?"
Daniel looked away, embarrassed by Marica's tone. He empathized completely with her and knew she'd probably done everything within her power against the Goa'uld, but he still felt frustrated. Frustrated by the history he'd learned. Frustrated by the fact he was split off from the rest of his team. Frustrated by the knowledge that without her help and the help of anyone else he could find, none of them probably would live long enough to be able to get off this damn planet, let alone help his new friend.
"That's why I want us to be friends," Daniel told her. "My people can help yours. We can trade and supply you with the weapons and the tools you need to fight the Goa'uld."
"But of what use are weapons if no one is left to use them? If there is no one left to fight for?" she asked, pushing the heavy wooden door open.
"I'm certain our leaders could arrange for support," he countered. He grimaced. "But none of this will happen if I don't get back to the team. If we don't get home through the gate."
"So you have a plan to find your friends? To return to your home?" she asked, standing in her doorway, hands on hips.
Daniel blinked and adjusted his glasses, shifting uncomfortably. "No."
"I see. How then do you expect to accomplish these things?" she pressed him.
"I don't know," Daniel said defensively. "That's why I need to go see what's happened to them so that I can figure something out."
"Then I must say again that you must trust me, friend Daniel. My husband will be home soon. We both may be of assistance to you," she said, motioning to the door. "Now please, enter."
Deep in the bowels of the Goa'uld villa, Jack hadn't found much that was noteworthy in the dimly lit holding cell that he and Sam had been thrown into. He'd assessed the cell the moment he'd regained consciousness and the only words he could find to describe the stone walls and long ledge butting out from the foundation were damp and slimy and the air - chilly, putrid and stale. A beautiful vacation spot, he thought, snorting softly.
Two Jaffa had been posted to guard them, but they'd disappeared quickly. He didn't blame them for not wanting to spend much time down here and he liked not having their every move and word observed. Jack eyed the thick stone walls again. The stones looked too tightly-fitted to be dug out to use as weapons, if he'd even had anything to dig them out with - their jackets, belts, and everything else sharp-edged had been taken away. He felt along the top of his fatigues again; they had left them their zippers and buttons, nice little snakecubators that they were. He'd been musing for a while about the mess they'd gotten into when Sam broke the silence.
"Edora seemed like a nice planet sir," she remarked.
Jack sat with his back against the damp wall, a leg pulled up onto the ledge. He was still trying to assess what had happened here and determine what their options were. So Sam just wanted to shoot the breeze about Edora? Draping his arm across his knee, he shut his eyes and bent his head back to touch the wall. He tried to ignore her comment and to resume his train of thought. It didn't work; his focus had been broken.
"It was," he answered a few minutes later.
Sam sat quietly on the edge of the ledge. "The people seemed very nice too," she observed.
"They were," Jack agreed, remaining motionless. Where was his 2IC heading with this? Get to the point Sam. He heard her take a deep breath.
"Laira seemed very nice too," she said.
Jack opened his eyes. "She was," he replied, looking directly into Sam's curious eyes. He watched as she quickly looked away.
Sam took another deep breath before turning back to him. "She seemed very… close to you."
Jack chose not to reply, instead continuing to watch Sam closely. Why was she so curious about this? He held her gaze for a minute. "She was," he agreed, watching as Sam winced at his open admission.
What was that all about? Was she judging him? He pulled up off the cold wall and shook his head. "Carter, look - I didn't think I was going to be rescued. All I knew was that the gate had been destroyed. It would have taken years for someone to get there by ship." Jack grunted. "If I weren't permanently written off as MIA."
Sam was silent for a moment. "We would never give up on you, sir," she said quietly.
"Oh, I beg to differ Carter," Jack snorted. "I've given them enough reason to not want to see my smiling face around. Way too many reasons." He looked down. "And there's a point at which you have to stop and accept what you're given."
Sam shook her head. "We weren't going to give up."
"We?" Jack raised an eyebrow. "Or you?"
Sam shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the bench in response to the intense look Jack had given her. "Uh…" she said, looking away, a light flush staining her cheeks. "We wouldn't have."
Jack wondered why she was blushing. He remembered that Daniel had tried to tell him several times about how single-minded Sam had been in her pursuit of a rescue plan. He gave Sam an appraising look. Maybe she wasn't being judgmental at all. She hadn't talked about personal things much in the past, so maybe she was just embarrassed about bringing up something that personal with him. He looked more closely at Sam. Or was there something more to it?
Sam shivered and rubbed her arms. "I guess I might have done the same if I had been in your place," she said, shrugging.
"Oh, I don't know about that," Jack chuckled. "You probably would have had the Edorans halfway done building a new gate by that point."
Daniel stretched his fingertips out and felt along the delicate carvings embedded in the long tabletop. He wished he could make a study of this planet and its culture in depth before the Goa'uld wiped it completely out. He rarely got the opportunity to do that these days as SG1 jumped increasingly quicker from one planet to the next on progressively more risky missions. For a while he'd been toying with the idea of compiling a compendium and history of the Goa'uld conquest and he'd filled countless journals with his notes in preparation for that. He frowned. He wouldn't be able to publish it until the gate was finally made public and that wouldn't be any time soon. At this point it wasn't about making a name for himself in the archeological community, not after dropping out of it three years ago. Instead it was about sharing his love and knowledge of this bigger picture of human civilization that had emerged in his adventures with SG1. He sighed, knowing already that a culture study wouldn't happen on this mission.
SG1 seemed to have landed knee-deep in a battle between two Goa'uld underlings on a quest to prove their dominance over the other. He didn't like what he'd heard of the Ma'at character whose domain they'd gated into, but he was very intrigued by Marica's description of Anant. Marica had shared with him how legends had described Anant as an extremely beautiful woman with quite a lusty passion for sex that was equaled only by her thirst for bloodshed and making war. Local lore had it that she and Ma'atifemkhet had come to Valonia Viridis together, establishing their powerbase by violently subduing the locals and killing dissenters and ruling in partnership for quite a while.
According to Marica a serious disagreement had taken place between the two a generation ago. Anant had stormed out of the village taking half the local population with her in a forced march farther inland. Since that time she had attacked Ma'atifemkhet mercilessly. Marica said she and her husband lived here near the village in relative safety, under the unpredictable protection of the Goa'uld because of her status as an extremely skilled artisan, but the fighting, especially lately, had been getting closer. And it had taken its toll on her people. She'd shared with him her worries that they wouldn't be able to sustain for much longer the level of conflict that Ma'atifemkhet wanted. Daniel wasn't so sure they'd be able to continue it either.
He peered down the length of the table. "The mix of symbols - Goa'uld, Egyptian, and from what I assuming is your written language…. it's fascinating," he commented.
Marica smiled. "It is, isn't it?" she agreed. She fingered the carved wooden disc hanging from her neck. "My family has shown talent in making beautiful objects for many cycles. It is something I hope to pass on one day." She patted her stomach.
"Cycles?" Daniel asked, puzzled. He looked at Marica. "I've heard you use that term several times. What does it mean?"
"My mother and father and their mothers and fathers…" she explained.
"Ah…" Daniel smiled in recognition. "My people use the word 'generations.'"
Marica nodded, refilling Daniel's cup with ale. "So friend Daniel, what of your family? What talents do they possess?" she asked.
Daniel pursed his lips and smiled wryly. "My family is gone. My parents died when I was a child. We didn't… I don't have the artistic talents that you have. But our family shared a thirst for knowledge and a love and appreciation for other cultures, especially ancient cultures…"
"I see." Marica smiled warmly at Daniel.
"So what is your husband's talent?" Daniel asked.
Marica grinned. "Oh, Augustin - he certainly has his talents," she laughed. She sat down across from Daniel, smiling as he pushed another forkful of food into his mouth.
"I'm sorry," Daniel said, looking down at his plate. "Aren't you going to eat?" he asked.
"You are most sweet to ask, but no, I will wait until Augustin returns home. I rise with him, normally before newmorn, and we share the newmorn and evenclose meals together," she explained.
"Oh." Daniel glanced uncomfortably around the room. He saw Marica glancing at his plate and back up at him and nodding, and he resumed eating. "You were saying that Augustin isn't an artisan. What does he do?"
"Do?" Marica asked.
"Uh, a job, a skill…" Daniel wiped his mouth. "What does he fill his time with?"
"Oh," Marica said, smiling at Daniel. "He is primarily a hunter. He is also a man of many other talents. He gathers the wood and other materials that I need for my work. He helps me when it is time to stain and polish the wood. He also makes himself available to the villagers who are in need of assistance." She ran her hand across the tabletop and smiled thoughtfully. "I will teach him to work with wood yet. He secretly carves and thinks I do not know. But he is very good." She paused and giggled. "For a beginner."
Daniel sipped on the ale Marica had given him. "He sounds like a real renaissance man."
Marica tilted her head. "I do not know what this means. It is a compliment, yes?"
"Yes," Daniel agreed. "It means he is a man of many talents, like you said."
Marica nodded and offered him more ale. Daniel shook his head as he finished his meal. "Thank you Marica. You treat me too well."
Marica smiled and tilted her head down again. "I am glad you find our house welcoming and our meal adequate."
Daniel shook his head. "More than adequate. I can't remember when I've had such a wonderful meal." He looked around the room. "Do you think I could look around the village now?" he asked.
Marica looked at him. "You are still concerned about your friends?" she asked.
"Wouldn't you be?" Daniel asked. "I'm feeling guilty - I'm sitting here being fed wonderful food by a wonderful new friend and for all I know they could be dead or… I really need to find them to see if they are okay before it gets dark outside. I know they're in trouble and I need to help them. Helping each other - it's what we do."
"Soon my friend, soon," Marica said as she cleared off the table. "First, however, we must find you suitable clothes." She nodded at his tee-shirt and fatigues. "You would not do well to wear those." She cast an appraising eye down the length of Daniel's body. "You are about Augustin's height and build. I believe I have something suitable for you."
Daniel touched Marica's arm as she walked past him. "Thank you," Daniel said.
"Thank you for what my friend?" Marica asked.
"For helping me. For bringing me here. For putting you and your family at risk," Daniel explained.
"Don't speak of it," she responded.
"But if the Goa'uld…" Daniel started to protest.
Marica looked Daniel straight in the eye. "Friend, please… care and compassion for all which is living is something my family has believed in and practiced for cyc… for generations." Her voice lowered. "Our oppressors have not destroyed that yet and we will never allow it to happen." She became somber-faced. "Now if you will excuse me..."
Teal'c had awakened to find that he had been secured in stockades in front of the villa. He squinted into the setting sun and observed a few villagers peering timidly at him as they passed in the lane, however they did not offer assistance to him nor did they make direct eye contact with him. He surmised he was on his own as the Colonel and the Major did not appear to be restrained in the courtyard with him.
Grunting, he pulled his metal-bound fists toward the wooden stockade that separated his extremities from his body, testing its strength. The wood was strong, much stronger than he was; he believed this particular structure had served to imprison other Jaffa in the past. He considered the hard metal girding. Perhaps he could grind the metal cuffs into the wood. It was an option he would give consideration to.
He heard footsteps behind him and identified the sound of Jaffa armor and tried to turn his head toward the guard.
"Traitor," he heard, before a blow to the back of his head ended his consciousness again.
Jack glanced at Sam. She had fallen asleep after eating what passed for a meal here and he didn't have any plans to disturb her. She'd need that energy if he could devise a plan to get them out of this place. He watched as her head slowly tilted forward to her chest and grinned. He wished he had the ability to sleep like that. Sleep had started to come easier to him on Edora, especially those last weeks. Exhausted each evening, he'd fallen into deep sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, but sleep hadn't come so easy since he'd been back.
He just couldn't keep Edora and Laira out of his mind. He wondered how long it would take for those thoughts to go away. One hundred days? He recalled Laira's face; her sweet smile and gentle humor. Jack felt another twinge of guilt about leaving her.
Damn it, why had he committed to her so quickly? Another day and Teal'c would have found him and he wouldn't be dealing with all these feelings that were miring his thoughts. Jack still remembered the sharp stabs of the hangover headache that had kept him from sleeping that last evening when he'd finally slept with Laira. He'd imagined that he was home and able to pop a pill to take the pain away, but Laira's soft snores had reminded him of where he was and the commitment that he'd made to her and the Edoran lifestyle only hours earlier. Commitment. I'm not giving up my old life, he had resolved - I'm only making the best of the circumstances of the new one.
He knew it was likely he was going to be stuck in this new life for quite a while. If the SGC raised any kind of rescue effort, he knew it would be a long time before they came for him, just how long he didn't know. Jack smiled wryly. Was he worth their rescue efforts? He didn't think so, but deep in his gut he knew his friends would attempt to rescue him. But with all the stunts he'd pulled, he wouldn't blame the powers that were for declaring his butt MIA and leaving it at that.
Feeling Laira twine his chest hairs gently in her fingers, he bent his head down to look at her.
"You find something humorous about me?" Laira asked, giving him a sleepy smile.
Jack shook his head. "No. Just thinking about things."
"You will share your thoughts?" she asked.
Jack shook his head. "No."
Laira looked questioningly at Jack.
He reached over to smooth her furrowed brow and moved forward to kiss her forehead. "It's nothing Laira."
Giving Jack a knowing look and a sleepy shake of her head, she had turned away from him, leaving him alone to deal with his thoughts. He'd turned in the opposite direction to spend what had remained of the night massaging his temples and mulling the matter over some more. Jack recalled that none of it had helped ease his headache one bit.
Although he'd made the commitment to Laira and Edora, it had still surprised him when Laira had gathered up his belongings the next morning, absolutely intent on throwing them away and severing him from his physical reminders of home. In retrospect he realized she'd waited almost exactly one hundred days before she'd started pursuing a relationship with him in earnest. Her words still repeated his in mind - "One hundred days Jack and you'll get over it."
Laira had even told him, somewhat jokingly, that she had been interested in his physical presence more than in any other part of their relationship. The purely physical wasn't such a bad thing he'd thought and he would have appreciated it for a time. He grinned - maybe even a long time, but he wondered how quickly it would have taken for the physical high to have worn off and how empty he would have felt afterward. He knew his nature and in such a small village he hadn't been sure that Laira or the villagers would have known what to do with him.
Not since Charlie's birth had he ever been so torn between two lifestyles. There was the simpler life, the one he'd always told himself he wanted - one of solitude and simplicity - which Edora had offered him. But he'd found out that it had been just that - simple and honest, not to mention excruciatingly backbreaking and tiresome at the same time. And then there was his 'old' life - that more complex, more exciting one commanding an SG team - the allure of it had pulled equally hard at him.
After returning to Earth after three months on Edora, he'd realized that neither a solitary life nor a completely labor-intensive one was what he really wanted. He liked and needed his respites at the cabin, even weeks-long respites, but after three months straight of living the life he'd only dreamed about, he now knew that he didn't want to live it 24/7/365 and that he would always need some other outlet for his restlessness. He smiled; saving the planet and off-world adventures had kept him busy for many years.
Regardless, he just hadn't been completely ready to separate himself from his past as quickly as Laira had wanted. He'd assumed he would make the break with his past life gradually, in small steps, and he'd only grudgingly agreed for her to throw his things out. He'd believed her heart was in the right place, trying to help him accept his fate on Edora, but that hadn't meant he'd been ready for her to throw everything out of his life so fast. He hated to think what would have happened to Teal'c if she'd disposed of his belongings even a few hours earlier.
Had his friend died and he found out about it later, Jack knew he would never have forgiven himself. That was why when he realized Teal'c was on-planet and risking his own life to rescue him, Jack had started to dig like a crazed man to get to his friend. He remembered the sorrowful look Laira had given him as he'd punctured the cavity with his shovel and it had struck Jack that maybe, just maybe, he shouldn't have been so eager. Unfortunately for her that thought had lasted no longer than it had taken him to throw the shovel to the ground and to fall to his knees to scrabble through the last bits of stone so he could see the face of his friend.
Jack frowned. He wasn't going to blame his eagerness to rescue Teal'c solely on his goal to save his friend's life. It also had been borne out of his overpowering desire to reclaim that old life once he realized it was within his reach again. No matter how much his affection for Laira and the Edoran people had tugged at his conscience, he just hadn't been gone long enough to give it up completely. Jack remembered that he had given Laira fair warning, explaining to her that a part of him would never let go of what he'd left behind. At the time he had been thinking about his role at the SGC, his spirit of adventure, and his friends. He glanced at Sam, who slept at the end of the slab, snoring gently.
When his team had come back through the Gate to return the Edoran refugees, that was the point at which he'd felt the most torn over the choice he had to make between Edora and Earth. They had come back for him at just the time when he'd started to feel a genuine affection for Laira. But then he'd come to Edora at the point where three years of intensely forged bonds with his team had made them seem more like family to him than just teammates. He knew there were no limits on what they would do to protect and support one another and he had a genuine affection for each of them in their own way. He'd been very grateful for the uniqueness of his team's mission and of the SGC's - he knew this particular team would have been broken up and reassigned long ago if they'd been stationed anywhere else or had been under anyone else's command other than General Hammond's. He'd appreciated the second chance to have close family-like relationships with a team and the three months with Laira would never change that.
He continued to watch Sam while she slept, then turned away after a while. He wondered why Sam had made it a point to question him about Laira. Had it been only to make conversation? Why would she care if he had relationship with Laira? But her reaction made him wonder about Sam's feelings for him - was she hiding something? He didn't even want to think about his own feelings for her; it could cause too much trouble for both of them. He was her CO. Her CO damn it.
Did he really think about Sam in that way? Romantically? He turned his head to look at her again. He'd had too much time on Edora to question too many things after the repetition of the manual labor had cleared his mind. Sam had been one of those things he'd reconsidered. He'd finally recognized that he did have a deeper emotional bond with her than he'd thought and now that he was back near her, he was finding it harder to pretend that bond didn't exist.
He couldn't deny that he had been physically attracted to Sam from the moment he'd met her when she'd challenged him in the briefing room with those amazing blue eyes. He visualized the impish grin she'd given him and his own mouth turned up into a sly grin. He considered how beautiful she'd looked in the Shavadaian's blue dress that she'd hated so damn much. He remembered when that alternate universe twin of hers had kissed him. That visit had happened only a few months before he'd been stranded on Edora and it had given him a hell of a lot to think about concerning Sam while he was off-planet. And as long as he lived he would never forget the demanding, passionate Sam that had accosted him in the locker room. He struggled to suppress the beginnings of arousal. No. This was so not the time to be thinking about Sam in that way.
He shook his head; it was hard not to. As a red-blooded American male he couldn't and wouldn't deny that Sam was a beautiful woman. He snorted - even green-blooded aliens fell for her - she was hot. No wayy would he deny his physical attraction to her. But beyond that wonderful and sexy exterior that Sam seemed oblivious to, Jack couldn't deny the beauty of her soul either.
For all the military bravado she'd shown, she still couldn't hide the compassion and gentleness at her core. And that was why he couldn't see himself acting on his impulses. Mix in their ranks and the regs, and he probably never would, at least not for a very, very long time. To put her in that kind of position would disrespect and dishonor everything Sam was about, everything he was about. And living with that kind of dishonor would be far worse than death for him.
Sam was still young and being so damn good at nearly everything she set her mind on, she had a long career ahead of her regardless of which path she chose; research or command. Jack had long ago recognized that she was one of the most integral parts of the team's and, really, of the whole program's mission. Most importantly - she loved all of this. He loved watching her get excited by some theory or idea, her whole being vibrating with possibility and anticipation. He would never ever take that away from her.
Sure he gave her grief when she launched into yet another long-winded explanation, trying to get her to cut to the heart of the matter, but still, he would never stop her from doing it. Countless were the times that he'd found himself truly in awe of her talent and ability. And equally as many times he'd thanked his lucky stars that she was on their side.
Jack admitted he'd be damn surprised if Sam's conversation had anything to do with a romantic interest in him. Sure, they'd both always joked and flirted with each other. He was a natural flirt and once he'd gotten to know Sam better, he'd discovered she was just as big a flirt as he was with her own brand of snarky, pointed humor. He smirked. Okay - she wasn't as snarky as he was, but she was darn close when she chose to be. But was there any more than that?
And if Sam did see something in him - what the hell was it? He'd wondered the same thing about Sarah. He couldn't particularly stand himself half the time. How had Sarah? How could Sam?
He couldn't let go of the concern he had that if Sam did have feelings for him, it might only be the result of the intense bonding that nearly always occurred in special operations like the ones they participated in as part of their SG assignments. He hoped she wasn't confusing those bonding feelings with anything romantic. He hadn't really had a lot of experience with mixed sex teams himself until SG1. Most branches of the military had been slow to fully integrate women and he remembered that the Academy hadn't started admitting women until 1980. Jack had learned from reading Sam's file that she had been there during the mid- to late-eighties. He knew she'd probably dealt with a lot of resistance from many of the men there and those she'd come across later in her career. That would certainly explain how she acted when they'd first met.
He hadn't known how to act either when he had his first real chance to talk with her and the team on the outskirts of the village, given the conflicting feelings he'd felt about their return. Sam, who'd done nothing but give him shy grins up to that point, had launched into one of her predictable blow-by-blow explanations about everything they'd done to recover him. Savoring being physically near the team for the first time in months, he'd stood there patiently listening for once, allowing Sam to get it all out of her system.
But when he'd caught sight of Laira forlornly watching him, he'd realized he needed to be with her too and had pushed roughly past Sam to reach Laira. He'd made just enough sense out of the thoughts and emotions battling in his mind to admit to Laira that while he had to go home, he wasn't happy to be leaving her. He'd asked her to come back with him, knowing full well that she wouldn't because of the sense of duty she had to her people, but he had asked her nonetheless. Laira had refused and Jack had known he couldn't stay. He heaved a big sigh. He believed he'd made the right choice. But if he had, then why the hell was he still feeling so unsure about it all?
He glanced back at Sam. And what the hell was really going on in that mind of hers?
Ma'atifemkhet frowned into his dressing room mirror as he smoothed his hair back. That was the problem with hosts these days. It was getting harder and harder to find the select ones. He'd quickly used up the limited pool of handsome young men by moving on to a new host whenever the old one showed the slightest indication of poor physical traits. He tilted his head. Of course a number had been casualties in his fight against his nemesis, Anant. He patted his current host's stomach. This one was certainly getting paunchy no matter what he did to try to make it keep its youthful shape; even additional time in the sarcophagus hadn't helped.
It was nearing time to take a new host. He paused, stroking his chin as he considered the thought. Did it really matter? Although his vanity was being sorely offended, to inflict pain and misery on others it didn't matter what his host looked like. Although, he acknowledged with a twisted smile, he truly enjoyed the looks and sounds of surprise when his unsuspecting victims, especially the females, realized what lurked beneath his human shell.
Bah! Humans… these worthless weak shells he and his kin were forced to survive in. He smoothed out his long jacket. Certainly there were other species well able to handle symbiotic relations, but he unfortunately had to acknowledge that it worked best with human hosts. Millennia of trial and error had borne that fact out, as evidenced by the genetic knowledge he'd been born with.
While these humans had a few strong points, their weaknesses irritated him greatly. This stubbornness they demonstrated for example. He simply could not understand why these new prisoners refused to tell him anything about Anant. They insisted that they were from Earth. Taur'i. He shook his head. That same genetic memory gave him some knowledge of the Taur'i from whom most of their hosts had originally been seeded from. The Taur'i had been primitive. Backward. Not much better than the inconsequential vermin of this planet that he and Anant had been banished to. He refused to believe the lies of this latest faction that Anant had sent into his presence.
Although this particular group was certainly the most unusual collection of humans Anant had sent. He wondered what kind of control she wielded over these pitiful warriors that they'd risk certain death to infiltrate his villa. For what reason did she send them other than to spy on him and report back to her?
Unless they were telling the truth. He shook off that thought. Never. Only the Goa'uld overlords came through the Chapp'ai. And not very often, and usually only to rub his nose in the fact that they weren't yet prepared to bring him back into their number until he had groveled and sworn his allegiance to them sufficiently.
He smirked. Not one of those pitiful specimens of Goa'uld power and strength would ever gain his true allegiance - he refused to give them that pleasure. He would just bide his time on this backward planet until the right opportunity presented itself. He glanced out the window. It was a near moonbreak. He needed to go to ensure his preparations for the upcoming monthly exchange of tribute with the overlords were running smoothly. With a last glance in the mirror and a smug smile, he turned on his heel to leave.
Chapter 3: Breaching the Perimeter
The first thing Jack noticed the next morning was that no food had been brought to them. He figured that Matty-boy didn't want them to have anything on their stomachs to bring up. He frowned at that thought; that would imply torture and that the snake didn't want to dirty his floors. Whatever - torture still wasn't going to get the Goa'uld the intel that he wanted. Jack had enough faith in Teal'c and Sam and the experiences they'd been through to know they wouldn't give snakeboy anything useful. He'd been through enough himself to know that any effort to wrench the information out of any of them would be a lost cause. But you couldn't tell the snakes that; no, they always had to find things out for themselves the hard way.
He'd tried to ignore Sam's glance back at him as she was taken from the cell earlier. It had been full of determination, but he'd recognized the trepidation there as well. He knew she accepted that the potential for torture came with the territory, just like he did, but it didn't mean either of them had to like it when it did happen. And this damn Goa'uld… Jack shivered. This snake seemed to have a real attachment to his toys.
Jack sighed and slid off the stone slab. Sam would make it through whatever that jerk dished out. He had faith in her. Now he just had to prove to her that her faith in him wasn't misplaced and figure out a way to get them all the hell out of here. He glanced around the stone walls of the damp cell. Pulling himself up he found that he could reach within a few feet of the ceiling, and he was determined to find some stone the least bit loose to start wiggling; it would be better than no weapon at all.
He knew he had to do something to keep his mind off his anger at the mess they'd found themselves in. He'd expected a full day's recon of the place and then a quick hand off to the follow-up SG team. Not this, not now. Damn it. He wanted to get his next mission over and done with. It was too soon after Edora. Too soon after three months of the most thinking and introspection he'd done since, well, since Charlie's death.
He'd had way too much time during his backbreaking labor on Edora to carefully turn things over and over in his mind; to figure out what made him tick these days. That old meaning of life stuff. He grinned. Even Carter would be impressed by all of the synapses that had fired while he'd been gone. He accepted that the darkness he had within him would always linger deep down in the core of his soul, but it had taken each and every day of those three months to get to the point he could admit that he was more at peace with himself now that he'd been prior to joining the Stargate program three years ago.
And damn if he wanted to mess with this newfound and hard-won peace by being forced into old habits again. He understood the seriousness and importance of his solo mission; he only wished it had come at a much later time, a time when he wasn't fresh from a soul-searching event like Edora.
But there was no perfect time, was there? The need of the many always would outweigh the needs of the few, including his own. He sighed and tried to block out the thoughts of the warm dry bed that awaited him at home.
Standing at attention, Sam yanked her head away as Ma'atifemkhet leaned uncomfortably close to her face.
"Why must you insist on speaking untruths Samantha?" he asked.
Sam shuddered. She detested the way he hissed and rolled her name off his tongue, holding the s out for several beats. It repulsed her, making her feel about as slimy as Ma'atifemkhet really was inside his host. Feeling his hot breath on the back of her neck, she cringed involuntarily.
"Why do you make it so hard on yourself?" Ma'atifemkhet asked, running a metal-tipped finger up the back of Sam's neck, chuckling softly as Sam shivered again.
Sam didn't like being reminded that he was wearing a hand device. He'd used it on her yesterday in his quest to obtain information on Anant. She noticed his First Prime approaching, holding a pain stick tight in his grasp. Sam really didn't like that. She had the feeling that this Goa'uld was never going to be convinced that she wasn't Anant's minion and she wasn't looking forward to trying to fight her way out of this at all. Glancing away from Ma'atifemkhet, who had circled around to her side to trace her cheekbone with the same metal-tipped finger, Sam scanned the room for escape opportunities.
She didn't see any. Two Jaffa guards, taller and bulkier than she was, stood behind her gripping her biceps tightly. They both held zat guns at the ready. Two equally large guards stood at attention at the entrance to the throne room, staff weapons resting gingerly on the floor, both eyeing her warily. Sam was experienced at hand-to-hand combat, but this time the odds were too great that she'd get zatted after her first offensive move and she didn't want to be knocked unconscious. Not if she had any choice in the matter.
And certainly not given the increasing interest in her that this Goa'uld was showing. Ma'atifemkhet stood in front of Sam, slowly appraising her from head to toe. She glared at him as he slowly stroked his chin. She yanked her shoulders forward, away from the Jaffa who tightened their grip in response. Sam winced, knowing that if she didn't lose circulation there first, she was going to have a big beaut of a bruise on each arm for sure.
"Anant chooses spirited warriors," Ma'atifemkhet commented. "I appreciate that." Holding his hands behind his back, he turned and began to step away. Sam relaxed her tensed muscles slightly, hopeful it would only be a verbal interrogation.
Ma'atifemkhet whipped around to face Sam again, his eyes glowing. "Spirited, but stupid," he said, raising his hand to aim the hand-device at her forehead. Sam winced as the blast of energy slammed into her. She tried to raise her arms to fight it, but found she couldn't move them, despite the guards having released their grip.
"Strong-willed, but stupid," Ma'atifemkhet said, shaking his head.
Sam groaned as the pain became more intense. It felt as if her head was going to explode. Her mouth sagged open against her efforts to keep it shut as she struggled to keep from showing any reaction.
Ma'atifemkhet stroked Sam's chin with his free hand. "Sensuous, but stupid," he murmured into her ear. He smirked at Sam's wide-open eyes and stepped back. Keeping the device aimed at her forehead, he nodded to his First Prime who stepped forward with the pain stick.
Oh God, please no, Sam thought, squeezing her eyes shut at the sight of the approaching stick. She sagged forward as the hum of the hand-device stopped, only to be replaced by the sizzling of the power transfer from the pain stick. Sam arched backward and sunk to her knees as a bolt of bright white, hot energy seared through her.
Ma'atifemkhet bent down close to her. "Samantha. Deliver yourself from our ministrations. Simply share with us all which you know about Anant." He smirked at Sam. "Consider entering service to honor us," he said. "We know you have hosted before." He ran the tip of his index finger across her shoulder. "You would be a valuable addition to our ranks."
"No! Never!" Sam gasped, trying to catch her breath. "For the hundredth time, I don't know anything about this Anant!"
"You speak untruths," Ma'atifemkhet hissed at her.
"No, I don't. I have no reason to! Believe me!"
Ma'atifemkhet frowned at Sam. "We don't have the time for this type of trivial deception." He stepped up to the dais and carefully positioned himself on his throne. He nodded at his First Prime who administered the pain stick again. And again.
Sam gritted her teeth and tried not to cry out in pain. And screamed. Again. And again.
She began to lose track of the number of times the pain stick had been administered. Ma'atifemkhet wouldn't stop his First Prime; he seemed to want even more with each delivery. However Sam wasn't sure her body could put up with much more. She felt like her nerve endings were frying and shriveling away; like millions of ants were swarming over her, biting her non-stop. Then another bolt of searing energy would race down her back, making her gasp and hold her breath. She felt her muscles involuntarily contract so tightly she thought she would snap into a thousand pieces. She jerked again and her eyes widened as she felt her heart skip a beat. Would this never end? Ma'atifemkhet wasn't going to get what he wanted out of her.
Just leave me alone! She screwed her eyes shut and tried to disappear into the darkness. In her mind's eye she saw Jack appear, reaching out a hand to pull her into a dark corner and she reached out to him with both hands to hold onto him tightly. Jack. Oh God, Jack, can't you make it stop?
Jack shook his head, released her, and slowly walked away. Stop! Sam yelled as another round of searing pain swept over her. She felt a dull ache as the pain ebbed. He couldn't just walk away and leave her here alone. Not again.
Until last week when she'd actually seen him with her own two eyes, Sam hadn't been completely sure that she would ever see Jack again. She'd had faith that she would, more faith than the others, for when General Hammond had declared Jack MIA Sam had refused to accept it. Nor would she accept the fact that the Tollan were the only allies close enough to get to Edora and that it would be a year before they could get there. Janet had tried to get her to accept it, but she couldn't.
She'd barely slept at all during the three months that followed Hammond's acceptance of her plan for a particle beam generator, absolutely obsessed with the problem of how to get Jack back and to get the machine built and working. The idea that Jack may have died and the slowness of both solutions weren't acceptable to her. Months weren't acceptable. Hell, even weeks weren't acceptable. She couldn't see any of her teammates being stuck alone on another planet for that long. She figured she'd go crazy if it had been her. She just couldn't imagine it.
As it was she felt like she was going crazy just thinking about the possibility of SG1 going on without Jack because she knew the team couldn't be on stand down status indefinitely. Hammond would accommodate her for as long as he could if she could show that she was making some kind of progress, but she knew if their only option was to wait for the Tollan to get to Edora, then SG1 would be going back out on missions, Jack or no Jack. That meant a new CO and less time for her to work on rescuing Jack. She knew her plan would work. She just needed more time. More time… Her head nodded forward and she jerked herself back up into an upright position, rubbing at the pain in her neck. More time. She blinked her eyes wide open and rubbed her cheeks, gulping down the coffee Janet had brought her. Just a few more hours to work on this last capacitor and she'd take a quick nap.
Earlier Janet had delicately broached the subject of Sam's feelings for Jack. "You miss him," she'd commented softly to Sam.
"Yeah," she admitted to Janet.
Janet had then questioned her if it was a problem. Would her feelings affect her performance or that of the team? Sam had quickly answered her, "No, of course not." It couldn't and she wouldn't allow it to. But a small part of her mind, not focused on getting the generator built, had challenged her about why she insisted working on it day and night.
What was it all for? She realized with Janet's question that maybe she was crossing that line between just doing her job and being obsessed with this project. Had it really affected her performance or judgment? 'But he's my friend,' she justified. 'I'd do no less for anyone else.' 'But would you?' her conscience threw back at her. 'If it were Teal'c or Daniel, would you be holed up in your lab operating on two hours of sleep each night?'
No, she wouldn't have. Sam closed her eyes. There, she'd admitted it. No matter how much she loved Teal'c and Daniel as friends and brothers of a sort, she wasn't sure that she would have been this obsessed. There was a different kind of feeling where Jack was involved; something more than just a friends-type of affection. Jack was in the prime of his life and she would have to be blind and daft not to have noticed the easy confidence and comfortable sensuality that oozed out of Jack whether he intended it to or not. She was certainly attracted to him, but was that love?
Her eyes flew open. What the hell did I just think? What was that?
Oh God no. She was not in love with Jack O'Neill. He was her CO for cryin' out loud. She squeezed her eyes shut and moaned, burying her face in her hands. Now she was talking like him. No! She was not going to admit to this. It couldn't happen. It so could not happen. The regs. He was her superior officer. The threat of court-martial. The loss of a career. He was older. She'd already done the older military man thing with Jonas. But Jack wasn't Jonas. After three years of intense contact and interaction with Jack, she knew that much. Jack had proven to be everything Jonas hadn't been.
She wondered if Jack even saw her in that way, let alone have feelings for her. Sure, they were team buddies and usually had an easy give-and-take, but the entire team had clicked that way early on. Sure, she and Jack flirted every now and then and on a couple of occasions she'd caught some pretty intense looks from him. But it had never gone beyond that, and never out in public, only in private or within the trusted circle of the team. She bent her head down, eyes focused on her lap; they'd both become fairly comfortable in each other's private spaces and comfort zones. But even with that comfort level, she didn't think she could bring any of this up to Jack. What if she was wrong and this was how he was with all women? What would happen then? Things could become damn uncomfortable for both of them. But what about those looks?
Sam knew that everything was open to interpretation. Any coming back against orders to rescue a teammate, any look… all of that could be interpreted as duty, friendship, loyalty. But how did that explain a touch that lasted a few seconds too long? A look that asked how are you really - it's me Jack and cut the bullshit out? Or the electricity that cackled in the air between them when one of them let their guard completely down? She couldn't explain away what she thought was going on just like that with a quick wave of her hand and say 'oh we're just good friends.' She didn't think Jack was that kind of man either, at least from what she'd observed of him on the job and off. He didn't play games or take actions that he didn't intend to finish following through on.
And how could you explain what it was that had them attracting like magnets in so many other realities? Two years ago Daniel had discovered an alternate universe where she and Jack had been engaged, then a few months ago she'd found out she'd been married to Jack after she'd met her counterpart from an alternate reality different than the one Daniel had visited. She hadn't dwelt much on her relationship with Jack after Daniel's encounter, but her mind had kicked into overdrive after her own experience of watching Jack slowly kiss Dr. Carter. During the time that Jack had been trapped on Edora she'd speculated non-stop about the causes and probabilities that would have brought and kept them together in so many different realities.
But she still couldn't shake the feeling that all this could be a residual effect from the joining with Jolinar. Jolinar had had some very powerful feelings for Martouf and for a long time Sam had found it very hard to separate her emotions from those of Jolinar. Could Jolinar's emotions still be surfacing? She shook her head. She didn't think so - it had been over a year since her blending. But to be safe she had distanced herself from Narim and Martouf when she'd recently encountered them because she hadn't wanted to make a commitment that wasn't really her own. But it was impossible to distance herself from Jack.
In the past three years she'd come to appreciate Jack, but what did she really know about him? About his personal life? About his goals, his values, his desires? The bigger things she'd learned quickly within the first few months of working with him - that he was divorced, that his young son had accidentally killed himself with Jack's own gun, and that he carried a lot of emotional baggage with him. And that information had put into perspective for her his gruffness and directness and the reputation he had for bucking up against authority. As they spent more time together on and off-duty she was slowly piecing things together and getting to know him, but she wasn't sure she really knew him. 'Does he even know me?' she wondered. She snorted; she didn't think there was a heck of a lot to know. Damn those regs that kept them from approaching the other to hash out where things stood between them, she thought angrily.
Oh, stop this daydreaming Sam, she'd chided herself. You've got to get this damn machine finished ASAP. She had finished the last of her coffee and shelved her thoughts to delve back into the mechanics of the particle beam accelerator.
After all those weeks of juggling her feelings of loss with her newly-named feelings, she'd finally accepted that what she felt for Jack was more than just professional respect and friendship. If it was love, well then, so be it, love wasn't always logical and couldn't always be described in strictly scientific terms. It also explained why she'd been so euphoric when her machine had finally worked and they were able to gate to Edora again. With her mind swimming in those unnamed feelings, Sam had watched Jack closely as they'd all met up with him on the edge of the village. She'd been on an excited ramble and it had struck her as strange that he was just standing there listening to her instead of cutting her off like he normally would have done. She later realized he'd only been half-listening to all of them, but at the time she'd continued ramble on, sharing their efforts with him, until he'd abruptly pushed past her, brushing her off to be with Laira.
It had hurt her to have him act like that, especially after everything she had gone through all those months to bring him back and especially now that she knew exactly what it was that she felt for him. It hurt even though she knew analytically and logically that she had no claim to Jack, and that each of the team may have done the same in his place - to form some attachment with a local. But it had still surprised her to see that he had formed that close of an attachment to Laira. She had hated to think about the pain Jack would feel about leaving Laira, but deep down, guilty though it made her feel, she admitted she was happy that Jack would be coming back home with them.
But things hadn't been the same since he'd returned…
Sam's head snapped around as the Jaffa guard slapped her. "Walk," he ordered.
Sam opened her eyes wide as her mental fog cleared to find she was being held up by the two Jaffa who'd been stationed near the entrance and that she wasn't in the throne room anymore. Nor was she anywhere near the pain stick. She wondered when that had stopped. She winced in the bright sunlight filling the outer hall. For just how long had she disconnected herself? She grimaced as the signals from her fried nerve endings began to surge back to her brain and the burning sensations came roaring back. Well, at least she hadn't blacked out or died.
"Walk!" the guard barked.
Sam managed a small nod and slowly started to shuffle down the hall.
Daniel watched as Marica scoffed at his suggestion that Ma'atifemkhet and Anant were gods. "My family has never believed in gods," she explained. "Ma'atifemkhet and Anant are powerful and possess weapons far beyond what we had before they came to us," she conceded, "but gods?" She shook her head. "No. I do not believe so."
Daniel glanced around the room to assure himself that they were alone. "Wouldn't that be considered heresy here?"
Marica nodded. "Amongst those who do not feel as I do, yes." She gave Daniel a long, appraising look. "However, given you and your friends' actions against Ma'atifemkhet's warriors, I believe you are in agreement with me."
Daniel nodded. "The Goa'uld are enemies of my people too. They would like nothing more than to conquer us and to enslave us to be their hosts," he explained.
"Hosts?" Marica asked.
Daniel cleared his throat. "Ummm… You do know about the symbiote inside Ma'atifemkhet?"
Marica shook her head. "These Goa'uld seem to have more strength than my people have and many of us have been witness to the unique glow their eyes seem to possess, but I do not know what you mean by symbiote or host."
Daniel took a deep breath. "Well, there is a snake-like creature…"
"A serpent," Daniel explained wiggling his hand around to imitate a slithering snake. He watched as Marica nodded her understanding. "This serpent-like creature will enter a human and attach itself to the brain. The human it is living inside of is called a host. The serpent or symbiote totally controls the human. It's like having two people living inside the same body." Daniel stopped as memories of Sha're filled his head. He looked away, a pained expression on his face.
"You have experienced this?" Marica asked, a concerned tone creeping into her voice.
Daniel shook his head. "No. But they did take my wife against her will to be a host." He glanced back at Marica. "Sam, my friend, was also a host, although not by choice."
"She is a Goa'uld?" Marica asked, raising her eyebrows.
"No," Daniel answered. "The symbiote she hosted died saving her life and her body later absorbed the symbiote."
"It saved her? These Goa'uld, they are not compassionate beings from my experience," Marica said, crossing her arms.
"Sam's was different," Daniel explained. "There are some symbiotes that don't take hosts against their will and live in harmony with the humans who agree to host them. Even Teal'c carries a young symbiote inside his body." Daniel noticed that Marica looked confused. He smiled. "This is a lot to absorb all at once, isn't it?" he asked.
"There is much to think about," Marica agreed. "But it is fascinating to learn of all of these other beings." She tilted her head to the side and looked thoughtfully at Daniel. "What of your friend Teal'c? He is Goa'uld also?"
Daniel shook his head. "No. The Goa'uld's warriors like Teal'c, called Jaffa, carry the baby symbiotes in a sort of stomach pouch until they are ready to be implanted into a human host."
"Why would Teal'c not be Goa'uld if he has a serpent?" Marica asked.
"The Jaffa are special and the symbiotes are too young to take control of them," Daniel explained.
Marica was quiet for a while. "This makes your friend a threat to Ma'atifemkhet, yes?"
Daniel nodded. "There are many Goa'uld who would love to see him die a painful death. Teal'c has given inspiration to many Jaffa who want to rebel against their Goa'uld masters."
Marica lifted a basket from a wall hook. "Augustin should be returning soon from his hunt." She smiled. "There will be a market later today. Perhaps we will find out something about your friends."
"We've lost visual contact sir," Sergeant Walter Harriman explained to General Hammond. "Perhaps a malfunction with the MALP?"
Hammond turned to a technician nearby, "Find out why. Audio?" Hammond leaned down to look at Walter's monitor.
"Still no response from SG1, sir."
Hammond straightened up and looked down into the gateroom. "Is SG13 ready?"
"Send them through," Hammond ordered.
He impatiently waited during the long seconds it took for SG13 to be transported through the wormhole. He didn't like sending them through without a visual, but the data didn't indicate that there were immediate threats around the gate. Something else must have happened to SG1 away from the gate and he wanted SG13 to find out exactly what that something was.
"Sir, audio coming through," Walter announced.
"Speakers," Hammond directed. He heard the static of long distance communications and watched as Walter worked his keyboard trying to enhance the signal. Static, nothing but static. He was about to ask if there was anything else Walter could do when a voice came through.
"…ambush General!" Hammond recognized Captain Shaw's voice. "Colonel Martinez and Captain Johnson are down sir!"
Hammond could hear the rapid fire of guns and the distinctive sound of a staff weapon. That meant Jaffa were present and that the planet was likely Goa'uld occupied. He didn't like the sound of this.
"Attempting to make it to the DH…"
Hammond closed his eyes as Captain Shaw's voice cut off and the wormhole in gateroom disappeared. His shoulders sagged. What was he going to do now? One team was now gone in what had turned out to be a suicide mission and his first contact team was still unaccounted for. He considered sending small batch of explosives through the gate, large enough to rid the area of the surrounding Jaffa.
But to do it properly would mean sending another team back through. Could he risk losing another team so fast? And what of the potential risk to local civilians? He looked at Walter who was watching him expectantly. "Please monitor the situation," he said. "Dial back and continue to try to make contact. I'll be in my office."
Walter nodded and began to punch in P4C-182's coordinates.
After the Jaffa released her at the cell door, Sam stumbled forward, sinking to the floor as her legs gave out. She barely registered Jack's hands supporting her as he caught her before she reached the ground. As he gently eased her body up onto the hard rock slab, she groaned. Her body burned like it was on fire and she shut her eyes as white noise continued to vibrate in her mind. Reaching out, she pulled her knees up to her chest and leaned her head back against the wall. With her eyes partially closed, she let her gaze wander around the stone ceiling, trying to put her jumbled thoughts back in some sort of order. It was hard to do as bursts of white hot light continued to flash in front of her open eyes.
"Carter, what happened?" Jack asked.
Sam watched as Jack bent down near her, his eyes searching her face. She squeezed her eyes shut so she wouldn't have to see his concerned expression. "Oh nothing. It wasn't that bad," she whispered, giving her head a slight shake. The reality was that her body ached and hurt so much that she wanted to cry to try to release some of the agonizing pain, but she wasn't going to do it or to admit how bad she felt in front of Jack. If only her head would stop hurting and the flashing lights would go away, then she'd feel so much better. She smiled weakly at Jack, wincing with the effort, and shivered as she began to feel the chill of the cell again.
"Like hell it wasn't," she heard Jack say. She felt him move away.
"Was it more than just the hand device?" Jack asked. She felt him sit down next to her, as close as he could without touching her, and she welcomed the warmth radiating from him. His body heat soothed her jangled and fried nerve endings. She had a fairly good idea now of what it felt like to be electrocuted over and over and over again... She shivered again, as much from the damp cold as from the mental picture of a sneering Ma'atifemkhet that came to mind. Sam didn't answer Jack, trying to clear her mind and direct her focus to the body heat he was sharing with her.
"Carter, I'm your CO," he reminded her. He reached out to softly touch her arm. "And your friend."
"I know," Sam said, wincing at his touch and pushing his hand away. Any touch hurt too much right now. She opened her eyes and leveled a defiant look at him. "And I know I still don't have to answer that." She ignored his surprised look and turned her body away from him.
Jack leaned his head back against the wall and shook it in frustration. What had happened up there damn it! He uneasily considered the atrocities he'd seen and helped deliver in black ops. Some had been darker than he'd admitted to anyone other than his CO and those who'd debriefed him afterwards. He'd done things for his country and to just straight out survive that he'd rather not remember. Killing the innocent. Doing things to the living that were…
Jack squeezed his eyes shut to try to staunch a flood of particularly gruesome images that he'd thought he'd blocked from his memory. He rubbed his temples with his fingertips. Those memories still haunted his dreams and that's where they belonged, not here in his conscious mind.
He knew the kinds of things he was capable of doing and he didn't want Sam to know those things about him. He was certain being military she had some idea of what he may have done in his pre-SGC life, but he doubted she'd want to have anything to do with him if she knew it all. Hell, after that part of his life even he didn't want to have anything to do with himself. The only way he'd made it through that period was to shut down his emotions, something he'd learned to do early in his training, to turn off that switch, to turn off the moral part of him that cringed with each innocent child shot, with each terrorized woman screaming for mercy as he… Jack squeezed his eyes shut tighter.
I'm not him anymore damn it! Jack thought angrily.
Or was he? After he'd been assigned his upcoming mission he'd been surprised to find out how easy it was for him to fall back into the old patterns of behavior. Too damn easy. And this time there'd be no Sarah to try to help him heal the emotional wounds he knew he'd get. Who would help him recover this time?
He shook his head. That assumed he, Sam, and the rest of the team survived this mission.
He turned his head to look at Sam. A tight grimace still masked her face and he could tell she was shivering. He moved closer to her, trying not to make contact with her sensitive skin to share more of his body heat. So help him, if Ma'atifemkhet touched her again, he'd… Jack turned his head away to glare at the cell bars as he considered what he would do to Ma'atifemkhet if he had the chance.
Teal'c blocked out all stray thoughts as he focused on channeling the electrical charge from the pain stick out of his body. He felt his symbiote writhe in pain each time another jolt seared through him.
Ma'atifemkhet stood near his opulently carved chair watching Teal'c. "I will teach you your place Jaffa," Ma'atifemkhet sneered, descending the steps.
Teal'c refused to flinch and stared straight ahead. He had not allowed a Goa'uld to best him yet nor would he allow this immature one do so either. His body jerked uncontrollably as Ma'atifemkhet's First Prime bombarded him again with electrical current.
"Jaffa, why will you not tell me for whom you were First Prime?" Ma'atifemkhet asked, squeezing Teal'c's cheeks together as he lifted Teal'c's chin to force him to look into his eyes.
Teal'c wondered why this Goa'uld did not know who he was. From what queen had this one been born of that he did not have ancestral knowledge of SG1? Most Goa'uld that SG1 came into contact with knew of this team of Tau'ri and of him. Why did not Ma'atifemkhet and why was he so insistent that SG1 was from this planet? Did he not use the gate? Perhaps this was part of his interrogation tactics. Teal'c solemnly stared straight ahead.
"I serve no one," he declared. "I proudly fight with the Tau'ri."
Ma'atifemkhet's scowl deepened. "Untruths!"
Teal'c said nothing, his cheek muscles flickering as he faced Ma'atifemkhet.
"Why do you refuse to acknowledge Anant?" Ma'atifemkhet asked, squeezing Teal'c's jaw tighter. He flung Teal'c's face away from him. "You will tell us the truth yet… You shall see Jaffa." He turned to ascend the first step to his dais then turned back to look at Teal'c, a faint, twisted grin playing on his lips. "Kneel before us Jaffa. Swear your allegiance to us and…" his grin turned up slightly in the corners, "we shall reconsider your usefulness to us."
"I shall not," Teal'c declared, "I serve no false god…" The hum of the hand device cut short Teal'c's proclamation and a small grunt escaped Teal'c's lips.
Ma'atifemkhet's eyes glowed white and his grin grew more sinister. "But you shall…" he replied, stepping back down to the floor to aim the hand device lower on Teal'c's forehead. The Jaffa guards nearby kicked Teal'c in the back of his knees and he involuntarily fell forward. Ma'atifemkhet snickered at Teal'c's painful grimace. "See my wayward Jaffa, see how easy it becomes to show the proper tribute to one's liege, once you have been shown the error of your ways," he said, continuing to discharge the device on his captive.
"There has been no error!" Teal'c groaned as he lapsed into unconsciousness.
Ma'atifemkhet looked disdainfully down at Teal'c's body as it sagged in the hands of his Jaffa guards. He stepped back down the steps to spit upon Teal'c's head. "This Jaffa is not a true warrior. A true warrior could withstand a thousand times worse without demonstrating this weakness," he proclaimed, stepping around Teal'c.
"Shall we use the sarcophagus my lord?" the First Prime asked.
"No." Ma'atifemkhet shook his head as he walked out of the room. "Place him back outside."
Chapter 4: Tearing the Wall Down
Ma'atifemkhet snorted as his guards led the Taur'i male, O'Neill, out of the throne room. So Anant was trying this kind of subterfuge? What kind of ignorant Goa'uld did she take him for? He had nothing but contempt for her. Anant was nothing. She would always be nothing and he would finally drive this point home with her by playing with these pitiful minions of hers that she had ordered into his presence and by letting it be known this was what he planned to do to her and her supporters once captured.
He remembered how, after they had first been banished here, Anant had enjoyed the terrorizing games he'd played with her on the local populace as well as on her own hosts. Some of their games had led to several new hosts for her, as well as for him, but when she had found her last host, a woman of astounding beauty, she'd started to refuse him his play. She had also accused him of unfair practices because he'd stopped playing by the rules they had shaped when they'd initially been placed here. He frowned. When had he ever played by the rules? That was one of the reasons the system lords had banished him here.
He found Anant's actions distasteful to him, so very distasteful.
His First Prime had informed him early this morning that warriors on the front line had seen a male leading in battle where Anant normally had led. Ma'atifemkhet mulled this carefully and a half-grin spread upon his face. That would indicate success in his latest insurgency against the stronghold she held farther inland. He mulled this a bit more. This meant his warriors had killed her female host. No. This would not do. He had desired her capture, not the death of her female host. His grin twisted downward. It was his right as a god to pass judgment and to inflict death and pain as he saw fit, not his warriors'. He thought he had made that clear to them. His First Prime had sworn that his men had not touched her, that they had come upon her warm body still covered in blood from a staff wound. He grunted. He was tired of suffering this planet full of incompetents. Why must he do everything himself?
It reminded him of the woman with this latest group of Anant's and the unique challenge she had presented him. This warrior, Samantha as she called herself, refused to acknowledge any of the pain he had delivered during his sessions with her, even as tears had streamed down her face. He'd expected her to break and beg his mercy, but all he'd gotten were the tears, the groans, and the usual expected screams when her body could take no more. He'd been angry when she threatened to slump into lifelessness as each session wore on longer than the previous one. He acknowledged he had been bringing her back more often than any other prisoner he'd had, but he couldn't help himself, she was fast becoming his favorite female specimen; there would be time later to toy with the weak males who'd accompanied her.
He tapped his cheek. Yes, she would make a worthy replacement for her liege. He'd had so few challenges lately except for the garden variety, that odd wayward villager or the occasional Jaffa prisoner from Anant's camp, that the very thought of this Samantha and the opportunities she posed aroused more than just his mind. He felt the adrenaline begin to surge through his host's body and grinned at the excitement he felt growing.
"Bring me the woman!" he barked at his First Prime.
"Carter! For crying out loud!" Jack shouted in frustration. Ma'atifemkhet had barely spent five minutes with him early that morning. He had given Jack the same song and dance as before, demanding that Jack tell him more about Anant and about why he persisted in telling lies about not being a spy for her. And then the Goa'uld had suddenly stopped, nodding to his guard to remove Jack. He hadn't been back in the cell for very long when the guards had returned to yank Sam out and he realized the snake had only been toying with him, like an appetizer before the main meal. And Ma'atifemkhet had been on that main meal for a long time.
Jack clamped his mouth shut and bit his tongue before he said anything else to Sam. He wasn't going to be able to say the things that he really wanted to say - that he felt so damn powerless to stop whatever was happening to her. And that he cared for her enough that he really didn't want to know that she'd been hurt so badly that she felt she couldn't share it with him. They'd managed to get themselves into and out of so many life and death situations that they never knew which one would be that last one. It was crazy for him to keep assuming their luck would hold and to ignore how high the odds had gotten stacked up against them. Look how many good men and women had already been lost in the short time the SGC program had been up and running. Their turn was coming, he knew it; it was just a matter of time.
However, he knew without medical attention Sam probably wasn't going to make it through these interrogations if Ma'atifemkhet kept his obsessive focus on her like this. Jack would never forgive himself if something happened to Sam while she was under his command. He thought he was a damned good team commander, but that was nothing compared to what Sam carried around in that head of hers. Her brain was worth its weight in gold - or was that platinum? Trinium? Naquadah? Whatever. Regardless, she was much more important to the SGC and the planet than he was.
The Jaffa on duty came to the cell door and slid their meal in. Jack grunted; some meal. He slid off the stone bench and picked up the plate full of gruel and rock-hard bread. He sniffed at the rotten egg smell of the water in the bucket on the floor. Full of sulfur, but safe to drink, he'd discovered. He took the plate over to Sam whose eyes remained shut.
"You first," he said. "I insist."
Sam shivered again and gripped her knees even more tightly. "No thanks. I'm not very hungry."
"It's still warm," he said. Bending down next to her, he gently touched her leg. "Sam, c'mon, you have to eat something."
"No, I don't."
Jack stood up and pursed his lips, at a loss at how to get her to eat something. "I'll order you to do it."
Sam shook her head and shut her eyes tighter. "And I'll just puke it back up," she answered matter-of-factly.
Jack sighed in resignation and sat down on the edge of the stone and started to eat, using the bread as a spoon of sorts. He set two pieces of bread next to Sam in case she felt like eating later. "Don't know what you're missing," he commented.
Sam grunted in reply behind him.
Murmuring voices intruded upon Teal'c's meditation. As the voices had approached and become louder, he had found it increasingly harder to concentrate. He slowly opened his eyes, unable to maintain his focus. He observed the Jaffa guards leaning on a nearby wall. They glanced at the approaching villagers and turned away in disdain.
He heard the guards resume their conversation regarding the latest skirmishes against the forces of Anant. He had been listening to their conversation as he had brought himself out of kel'no'reem. He believed that these two guards had been particularly lax in their duties. No proper Jaffa would share battle information in front of a prisoner, not unless they wished to mislead the enemy. He frowned, his jaw muscles twitching. How would the Jaffa movement ever achieve the strength it needed to obtain all Jaffa's freedom if their ranks were full of warriors like these two?
Teal'c considered the idea. Perhaps that was their tactic he mused. He arched an eyebrow as he heard the guards guffaw at a crude joke. No, he did not believe their actions were meant to deceive. However their actions were incomprehensible to him. Clearly these Jaffa would not last long in battle as they seemed to lack the true spirits and skills of warriors. They would have benefited greatly from the teachings of Master Bra'tac, if only to learn discipline.
He had been most concerned when their conversation had turned to how they soon would be able to kill their prisoners as Ma'atifemkhet had a lengthy history of tiring of his captives after a few days. But Teal'c had been doubly concerned by how intrigued they had been by Ma'atifemkhet's near constant torture of the female captive. Teal'c frowned sternly. The only person they could be referring to was Samantha Carter. This did not bode well for her or the team. He had had higher hopes that they were faring better than he.
He wondered if O'Neill had devised a Plan B yet. It would not surprise him if he had. O'Neill was a fine warrior and quick-witted in battle situations. Teal'c greatly respected the physical prowess O'Neill had shown at his age without the benefit of a symbiote. He fully expected to hear from O'Neill soon.
He assessed his own situation. Although the guards were lax, the stockades they had him in were strong. Besides the wooden restraints holding his hands and his feet in front of him there were also heavy metal shackles binding each of his hands on a short lead to the foot opposite it. The wood end posts had been sunk deep into the ground he surmised, as his best efforts to dislodge them had not moved them in the least. And his attempts to grind the shackles into the wood had only succeeded in peeling the skin off of his wrists. His only hope would be to take immediate advantage of the next time the guards removed his restraints in order to take him back into the presence of Ma'atifemkhet.
He directed his gaze to the murmuring villagers who had now formed a tight semi-circle in front of him. He slowly examined their faces as they continued to speak quietly amongst themselves, committing each of their faces to his memory. He recognized the auburn-haired woman carrying the produce-filled basket as the woman from the market who had helped Daniel Jackson. He noted the inquisitive look in her eyes. Teal'c surmised that she bore no hatred for him, only concern. He made a mental note to revisit this later as he considered additional ways to escape. He moved his eyes to the taller, hooded male on her right.
Ahhh… Teal'c thought as the man lifted his head to meet his gaze. Daniel Jackson. He was very pleased to see his friend and to see that he appeared uninjured. His teammate was dressed in the local fashion and was not wearing his glasses. Teal'c gave Daniel a barely imperceptible tilt of the head. His friend was slowly learning the stealthy ways of warriors. One day, with much more training and practice, perhaps he would make a fine and honorable warrior.
He moved his gaze to the man behind Daniel. Beneath an outfit similar to Daniel Jackson's, Teal'c detected the build of a fighter and the stance of a warrior, alert and observant of his surroundings. Teal'c again filed this information away to analyze later. He wondered who these new friends of his teammate were; he was detecting naquadah traces from all of them. Were they all Goa'uld? No. Daniel Jackson would have been imprisoned already. He tilted his head. Had this been a planet of free Jaffa? He wasn't certain and planned to investigate this further when they were able to remove themselves from this Goa'uld's clutches. Teal'c allowed a small smile to appear. A planet of free Jaffa indeed.
"Look at the despicable one," spat the market woman.
"So ugly," mumbled another of the villagers nearby.
"Aye. Such a hideous face," the fighter friend muttered in agreement.
"I have never seen such grotesqueness," Daniel said, shaking his head, his eyes wide.
Teal'c tilted his head slightly and shifted his un focused gaze straight ahead. He wondered what his friend wished to achieve through insulting him. It was not like Daniel Jackson would meet the Jaffa ideals of handsomeness either.
"If I were Ma'atifemhket, I would have more guards than this, for you never know what kind of treachery this evil one may still inflict on us," said a man at back of the group.
"Aye, a few more, one would think," said the market woman.
Daniel sneered, emphasizing his words. "There must be several more guards in the villa."
The fighter looked Teal'c in the eye. "Aye, at least a dozen, more alert than these two." Teal'c watched as he glared at the Jaffa guards who continued to ignore the grumbling villagers.
"If I were them, I would keep my home heavily fortified against repulsive beasts such as this," the market woman said, intently scanning the outside of the villa.
"But it must be impossible to do so," said the fighter, "when so many guards and villagers are needed in the battle against Anant."
The woman nodded. "Then perhaps our liege would allow us to volunteer to guard this evil one?"
"We are not worthy enough," another villager said.
Teal'c watched as Daniel gave him an intense glare. "The ugly beast must not sleep until morning. We must make sure he does not receive any respite," Daniel said, once again emphasizing his words.
"Ugly Beast," the fighter agreed.
"Evil Beast," said a man at the back.
Teal'c heard the murmurs of assent from those standing nearby. He considered what they had said. He understood they were trying to communicate with him while not raising the attention of the Jaffa lounging nearby. Teal'c had to admit that it was an interesting tactic. He truly would have to reevaluate the skills of his friend once they returned back to Earth. But he was not sure he completely understood their messages. Why did Daniel Jackson speak of morning? It was not morning.
The larger guard walked past Teal'c and approached the group of villagers. He angled his staff weapon forward and lifted his head high. "Do you wish to join him?" he asked.
"No," was the collective answer mumbled back, as the villagers lowered their heads. Daniel lowered his head more slowly, giving Teal'c one last, long intense glance. Teal'c looked at Daniel and gave him a very slight nod of understanding before Daniel's face was hidden by his hood.
"Move on then," ordered the Jaffa, nodding his head to the side, taking up a defensive position in front of Teal'c.
Hearing the distinctive clinking of Jaffa armor, Jack jerked his head up. "It's about time you all…" He bit off the end of his sentence as he caught sight of Sam, her limp body draped over the arms of the beefy Jaffa guard. The guard very carefully held Sam in front of him as he waited for the second guard to unlock the door. Jack sprang to his feet and bounded over to the entrance.
"What's wrong with her?" Jack demanded. "What happened!"
Jack had become very concerned about Sam's condition. He understood that she wouldn't have a stomach for food after what he guessed that she had been through that morning, but she'd concerned him when she'd completely shut down, virtually motionless while he'd eaten. His attempts at conversation with her had been ignored. She hadn't even told him to leave her alone like she had before.
He had been aghast when the same Jaffa guard came back barely an hour after she'd returned to take her away again. Angry, he'd pushed past Sam to get in the guard's face, demanding to be taken in her place and twice he had been pushed deep back into the cell and told he wasn't needed. It had been hours since she had been taken away. Five, maybe six hours? Twice as long as her morning session had been with Ma'atifemkhet, Jack had mused as he'd restlessly paced the cell in between working on a stone that he managed to find that hadn't been properly set.
The larger guard motioned for the other to open the door. Jack stood his ground, angrily watching the guard enter with Sam. He moved forward and reached out for her. As the Jaffa gently placed Sam in Jack's outstretched arms, her head lolled lifelessly onto Jack's chest. Cradling her in his arms, he searched her pale, blood-smeared face for any sign of life and shot an angry look at the guard.
"What the HELL did he do to her!" Jack yelled at the guard who flinched at Jack's fury.
The Jaffa holding the cell door open glared at Jack. "Silence human!" he ordered.
The guard who had carried Sam turned to look at his fellow guard. He shook his head at him and turned back to Jack. Jack shot angry glances at him while giving furtive looks at Sam's expressionless face and pale lips.
"Well?" Jack asked, frustrated.
The Jaffa looked at Sam's face with a mixture of reverence and pity. "She was brought back to life in the sarcophagus," he explained.
"She died!" Jack asked incredulously.
"She is a very strong warrior," the Jaffa said as he bowed his head at Sam. He walked out of the cell and nodded to the other Jaffa who slammed the door shut and locked it behind him.
Jack carried Sam's limp body over to the stone ledge and very gently laid her down. He quickly began to check her body for injuries. He felt a weak pulse in her neck; it barely registered in her wrist. He spread his fingers out and searched through her scalp for wet wounds and soft spots. None. He felt around to the back of her neck; no entry wound from a Goa'uld. He was thankful for that.
He lifted her eyelids. She wasn't in shock, but she wasn't conscious either. The blood on her face seemed to mainly be from her nose and mouth. He looked in her mouth; her teeth were all there, but there was jagged gash on her tongue. Whether she'd bitten it or not, he wasn't sure. He felt along her neck and down along her chest. Nothing felt broken. He hesitated as he pulled her shirt up. C'mon O'Neill, no time for modesty. You're assessing a situation here.
He looked and winced. Layers of multi-colored bruises told the story of repeated sessions with Ma'atifemkhet. He noticed blood had liberally covered her lower stomach and by the amount, still appeared to be oozing from somewhere. He unbuttoned her fatigues and stopped. Was he going too far here? But damn it, how else was he going to find out what he needed to do to help her? He didn't have x-ray vision, for cryin' out loud.
He continued on, unzipping her fatigues. He grimaced as a large raw abrasion and puncture wound on her abdomen greeted him. Looking at his own fatigues, he reached down and carefully ripped off two side pockets. He gently wiped at the wound with the first pocket. Thankfully it didn't seem to be more than a long surface wound that kept breaking open in the deeper gouges when she moved.
What had they done to her? He gingerly pulled her fatigues down her legs. Her legs looked terrible; even more abrasions and bruises. He noted that the blood he could see apparently had only oozed down from her abdominal wound - he couldn't see any signs of forced entry and he wasn't going to look anywhere else. He really didn't want to know if she had been raped and there wasn't much he could do at this point if she had, except to literally strangle Ma'atifemkhet the next chance he had. He carefully slid her fatigues back up. He folded the other pocket into a small square and laid it on the wound, carefully pulling the top of her fatigues together, buttoning and zipping them to hold the folded pocket in place.
He shook his head in disbelief. Questions swirled through his mind as he ripped off another pocket and began to wipe away some of the blood from her face. What exactly had Ma'atifemkhet done to kill her? Why had he put her in the sarcophagus? And why only long enough to bring her back to life and not to heal her wounds? Why? Why? WHY?
How the hell could he distance himself from Sam right now? He knew he could, he knew he had to for the sake of his upcoming solo mission, but damn it, right now he didn't want to. He knew he hadn't thought seriously about his relationship with Sam before Edora but a few times. He'd just enjoyed the experience of being with Sam; it was something he knew he liked and assumed that would always be there. But having been separated from her all that time he'd had plenty of time to consider how much he'd missed her and how he felt about her. And he realized he had very strong feelings for her.
He reached out and caressed her blood-streaked face. Yes, Samantha Carter, I do care for you, more than you'll probably ever get to know and so much more than I can show you right now. He dabbed at the blood that welled up from a gash on her cheek. He'd just never given much thought to how impermanent his relationship with her was until now.
Sam moaned. Jack moved close to her face and watched her. "Sam, you will make it through this," he whispered through gritted teeth. "Just rest right now. Just rest." He'd never let any of his team go that easy, and especially not Sam.
Chapter 5: Back at Arm's Length
After a night filled with Sam's moans and her frantic whispers that begged an unseen entity to stop, Jack felt his raw emotions for Sam hovering very close to the surface. He hadn't felt this unguarded and vulnerable in a long time and he wasn't sure how to handle it. His strategy for dealing with relationships always had been to erect a steel wall around those feelings and keep them locked down deep in the recesses of his mind. It was no different than how he'd managed to get through the more gruesome and immoral things he'd done in black ops.
As he'd been told repeatedly by the docs and Sarah, it wasn't healthy for him to lock his feelings up like that, especially considering how he'd nearly ended his life after he'd found that he couldn't deal with the guilt from Charlie's death. But damn it, it was the only way he knew how to deal with his chosen life. He'd believed those missions had been too important and he hadn't had the time or inclination back then to worry about things that he thought he couldn't control in his personal life.
But he'd been all too good about crawling too deep inside and shutting everyone else out. He'd done that with Sarah. He felt bad about how things turned out, but he just hadn't been able to open the door to let her in. He'd tried, but couldn't. He'd really hurt Sarah and he was sorry he'd done that now, but he just hadn't been able to share with her what he'd gone through. He'd disappeared deep into himself and finally when he dug himself out, he realized it was too late and that he couldn't - or wouldn't - go back to her to try again. It hadn't helped that by that point he'd gotten deeply involved in the Stargate program and that his new focus kept his mind and time occupied, meaning he'd pushed Sarah out again. He'd cared and loved her, but he just couldn't go back to her.
Sam moaned next to him.
Jack didn't want to wall out those he cared about ever again. Sam had managed to penetrate that wall. Not many women except Sarah had managed to do that. But while Sam had managed to get through, he didn't think she'd captured his heart. Or had she? Damn this mission. Damn his next mission. Damn those who made that next mission imperative and unavoidable.
Sam writhed again and moaned. Jack held her bandaged abdomen. "Shhhhhh…" he said, hoping to calm her again. She hadn't fully awakened since she'd been brought back, sliding instead from one nightmare to the next. He'd tried to wake her after some of the more intense ones, but she wouldn't come to.
So he'd resigned himself to sitting up all night. He'd tried sitting near her on the floor, but the dirt was even more damp and cold than the rock slab. He'd tried to sit on the slab for a while, but that hadn't worked either. Finally he'd carefully slid Sam closer to the wall and had stretched out on his side beside her, offering his body heat to her. When she'd thrashed around from yet another intense nightmare, Jack had leaned up on his elbow and reached over to stroke her forehead and her arm. "Shhhhh Sam. Everything's okay," he'd murmured.
After one particularly violent episode Jack had rolled partially onto her in an effort to keep her from moving around so much. He'd held his hand firmly over her abdominal wound, rolling back off when her jerking and twisting finally stopped. After that he'd kept hold of her hand, massaging it tenderly whenever he felt her beginning to shake again. She'd finally drifted into a more peaceful sleep a few hours later.
He estimated it was nearly daybreak. This far underground it was hard to tell and their watches had gone right along with the rest of their equipment that first day, so he'd based his time estimates on food delivery and glimpses out windows when he'd been taken upstairs. The torch on the wall had nearly burnt out the last time he'd opened his eyes, so he guessed it was close to morning around the time when the Jaffa had been bringing in the new day's torch.
Sam stirred again, a small moaning sigh escaping her lips. Jack's eyes shot open and his grip tightened on her hand.
"Sam?" he asked. "Are you awake?"
Sam grunted and tried to stretch. Jack heard and felt her sharp intake of air. He groaned as he sat up on the edge of the slab to give Sam more room. He had managed to get an hour or two of light sleep at the end, but he still felt exhausted and his muscles ached. "How do you feel?" he asked.
"Bad. Really bad," Sam answered. She shook her head, her eyes still shut. "I feel like I should be dead."
"You were," Jack said softly.
Sam squinted at Jack in the dim torchlight. He couldn't tell if Sam was grimacing in pain or confusion. He bent down closer to see her better.
"What happened?" Sam whispered, groaning again as she tried to move her arms and legs.
Jack touched her abdomen. "Careful," he warned. "Minor puncture wound. Still oozing." He paused. "I don't know much," he admitted, "but the Jaffa guard who brought you back said you'd spent some time in the sarcophagus. You don't remember any of it?"
Sam shook her head. "It's all still a blur…"
Jack jumped as Sam blinked her eyes wide open and squeezed them shut again. "What's wrong?" he asked, concerned she might be going into cardiac arrest.
Sam shook her head again. "Bright flashing lights, like before," she explained. "Ma'atifemkhet standing over me, threatening me, torturing…" She shivered.
Jack bristled at Ma'atifemkhet's name. "So help me," Jack hissed, "if I get the chance that damn symbiote'll be roadkill."
Teal'c had meditated after the Jaffa guards had disappeared to eat their evening meal. He had not been completely certain whether Daniel Jackson had meant that he and the others would be back late at night or early the next morning. As the sky began to lighten as sunrise approached, he determined his teammate must have meant the morning.
He eyed the darkening horizon warily. He had heard the rumbles of thunder earlier, but being unfamiliar with the weather patterns of this planet, had been unsure if the storm would approach the village. Although he accepted it as part of the hazards of being a warrior, he did not particularly relish the thought of being exposed outside like this to a thunderstorm. On the other hand, it was no different than being on a battlefield full of Jaffa firing staff weapons and zats at one another where one was not afforded shelter nor did one expect any.
He girded himself for the onslaught of rain that he saw approaching and focused on relaxing as the first droplets spattered on his face.
Daniel cringed as another bolt of lightning hit nearby. He desperately wished he was elsewhere. He knew he couldn't choose the weather but this was ridiculous. He didn't want to be electrocuted, especially not like this!
Augustin looked over at him. "Friend Daniel, it does provide good cover and opportunity for us," he explained. "I have observed these guards before," Augustin added. "At the first sign of foul weather they disappear inside."
Daniel feebly smiled back at him. Yeah, right. Tell me that again after I get electrocuted why don't you? He pulled his cloak hood forward as the rain drove into him. "And they're still inside," he mumbled.
"Pardon?" Augustin asked.
Daniel shook his head. "Nothing." He stomped miserably through the mud beside Marica, following Augustin's lead as the others trailed a distance behind them.
Jack heaved his stone at the lock, only to have it glance off again. Twice already he'd smashed his pinkie between the rock and the cell lock and he was becoming frustrated.
"You want me to try?" Sam asked from the rock ledge.
"No. You just sit there and rest," Jack answered.
"I'm not an invalid," she insisted, slowly standing up.
"Sit back down!" Jack shook the rock at her.
Sam returned his glare. "Come over here and make me." She broke into a big grin at Jack's expression. "…Sir."
The rain was pelting them so hard that Daniel didn't see Augustin pull out a zat. He jumped back as he heard the familiar sizzling of the zat's energy blast and watched as Teal'c turned his head away. Daniel stood dumbfounded as Augustin carefully blasted the locks away. What happened to Marica's line about not having weapons at their disposal, Daniel wondered. When Augustin was done, Daniel rushed to unhook his friend from the stocks.
As Daniel and Augustin lifted Teal'c to his feet, the rain began to lighten. Teal'c gripped them tightly as he regained his bearings. Daniel watched Teal'c arch an eyebrow at him, then nod at Augustin when he pulled out another zat, offering it to him. Teal'c accepted the zat with a deeper nod.
"Until we can regain your staff weapon," Augustin said, nodding back.
"We must hurry," Marica reminded them. "The storm moves swiftly away. The guards will return."
Jack approached Sam, rock still in hand. He looked furious. She wondered if he really did plan to make her sit back down. He brushed past her and dropped to the slab, slamming the stone down onto the seat. "Here. If you really want to try, be my guest."
Sam walked over to pick up the rock, carefully holding her abdomen as she bent over. After her tenth try to break the lock she gave up. She lifted the lock and peered down into the locking mechanism. If only she had some of her tools with her she could pick the damn thing.
She sighed and joined Jack on the slab. "No luck," she reported.
Jack grimaced and gave her an 'Oh really?' expression.
Sam gave him a wide-eyed look back. So Jack, what'd you expect? I'm not going to sit here and do nothing, she thought, shaking her head.
Jack looked away. "I know," he said.
"What about Plan B?" Sam asked.
"Plan B?" Jack repeated.
"Overpower the guards next time they come to take us and put your stone to better use," Sam explained.
Jack turned to grin at Sam. "Good plan Carter."
Daniel struggled to keep up with Teal'c and Augustin as they disappeared into the side courtyard entrance. Walking on the stone pavers was an improvement over the muddy village lanes, but he felt like a sopping mess. He felt major shrinkage and he was caked from head to toe with mud, the result of slipping back down the courtyard wall when he tried to jump the wall with the others. Marica turned back to him as she disappeared into the kitchen, waving at him to follow.
Daniel whipped off the sopping cloak and threw it into a nearby puddle. Enough of that. He looked at Marica through his rain-spattered glasses. She was watching him anxiously as she backed up deeper into the kitchen. "I'm coming!" he said.
Sam sat on the edge of the ledge waiting for something to happen. She wondered how long it would be before Ma'atifemkhet started his daily torture routine. There hadn't been any food brought to them yet and she recalled Jack being taken up earlier than this for his sessions. At least it had felt like it was earlier. Something just wasn't right.
"Something's different about today," Jack commented.
"I know. I don't know what, but I feel it too," Sam said.
Jack turned to Sam. "Whatever it is Sam, this time we go out of here together. You're not leaving here alone."
Sam smiled at him. "Thank you sir."
Teal'c found it hard to keep up with Augustin. This friend of Daniel Jackson's seemed to know the villa intimately and was racing along back passageways with great speed and so far had managed to elude the Jaffa. Teal'c wondered how he had acquired such knowledge.
He waited as Augustin peered around a corner ahead of them. Augustin looked back at the three assembled behind him. "The steps to the holding cells are down the corridor and to the left. Hurry - the guards are preparing to make a return watch soon."
Teal'c nodded and waited for Augustin to disappear down the hall. Teal'c waved to Marica who quickly ran past him. He waved to Daniel Jackson who was distractedly pulling at his wet shirt.
"Daniel Jackson!" Teal'c hissed.
Daniel looked up. "Oh yeah, right," Daniel said as he slid out into the hall after Marica.
Teal'c frowned and entered the hall himself, scanning the hall end to end for approaching Jaffa. After giving the hall a last look, he turned and descended the dark stairwell.
Sam broke off her long gaze at Jack after she picked up on the sound of approaching footsteps. She carefully got to her feet. "Sir!"
Jack was up beside her, the stone gripped firmly in hand. "I know," he said. He looked around the cell and back at the rock in his hand. "Here, get in front of me," he directed, positioning her in front of him and moving close to her.
She could feel the sharp hardness of the rock in her back. She hoped it worked. They'd have to have perfect timing when they launched their attack. There wouldn't be any second chances. She dropped her hands down to her sides into a ready position. She felt the fingers of Jack's free hand touch her side.
"Ready?" Jack whispered as the footsteps came closer.
She nodded. It sounded as if more than two guards were coming for them this time. It might not be so easy. She inhaled deeply as she felt Jack tense behind her. Here they come…
"Jack! Sam!" She heard Daniel yell.
"Daniel?" she asked as Jack moved away.
"How are you?" Daniel asked as Teal'c and Augustin blasted the lock in unison.
"Fine, fine," Sam said, shielding her eyes. "What about you?"
"Yes, Daniel, what about you?" Jack snarked.
"I have friends," Daniel explained, waving at Augustin and Marica who were standing back to allow Teal'c open the door. "I mean we have friends here and they hate the Goa'uld and they're willing to fight, and there was this storm and we had to…"
"Y'coulda come a bit sooner," Jack said, cutting him off.
Daniel smiled at Jack. "I did the best I could!"
Jack turned to Teal'c. "Hey big guy," Jack said, punching him lightly on the shoulder and accepting the zat that Teal'c offered him.
Teal'c nodded. "O'Neill."
Marica turned away. "We must hurry," she reminded them. "The storm has passed and they will be preparing to receive the monthly shipments and send our tribute." She started for the stairs, Teal'c and Jack following her.
"Move out," Jack ordered over his shoulder.
"Sam, this is Augustin," Daniel introduced.
Sam recoiled as her hand brushed Augustin's as he reached out to hand her a zat gun. The burst of naquadah she felt emanating from him surprised her. She'd felt a low-grade buzz the entire time they'd been on the planet. Had it concentrated so heavily in the natives that it gave her the same feeling that she felt in the presence of a Goa'uld or had her near constant torture twisted her receptors to the point she'd identify anyone as a Goa'uld? But what if he was a Goa'uld?
"Daniel!" Sam hissed. "He's…"
Daniel looked back and forth from Sam to Augustin. "No," Daniel said, shaking his head. "He's not an enemy. He's a friend and he's helped me."
Sam stepped back and assumed a defensive posture. She loved Daniel to death, but he'd been so damn open and trusting in the past that he'd often put them in more danger than they'd already been in. If this was an enemy, she did not want to visit Ma'atifemkhet one more time. She gave Daniel a hard look. "I know what I sense and I don't think I'm wrong," she said.
Jack reappeared back in the cell and took the zat from Augustin. "C'mon guys, I said move out. Let's move out, shall we?"
Daniel and Augustin slid past Jack and disappeared around the end of the corridor. Jack looked at Sam who hadn't budged an inch. "No time for second thoughts Carter. Now!" he ordered.
Sam opened her mouth to protest and slammed it shut as Jack grabbed her shoulder and pushed her out the cell doorway.
"Floor by floor sweep," he said as he ran past her.
Sam opened her mouth again. "But..." She sighed as Jack rounded the end of the corridor. She clicked the zat into its open position and, pressing her other hand firmly on Jack's pocket bandage on her abdomen, she hurried to catch up with him.
Sam rushed up behind Daniel. "Miss anything?" she asked, catching her breath and holding her sore abdomen tightly.
He shook his head and peered out around the corner only to have a staff blast zip past his head. He jerked back. "Just a bunch of Jaffa," he observed.
Sam shook her head and pulled Daniel back behind her. Slowly she leaned out, firing the zat into the main hall. She nodded at Teal'c who was approaching them.
"All clear," Teal'c announced, taking over the corner position from Sam.
"Where's Jack?" Daniel asked.
"Your friend Augustin took him up some back passageway," Sam said. She still didn't like the feeling she had about Augustin, but he had helped Daniel. At least that was what she kept telling herself. She hoped he was right about his 'friend.'
She looked at Teal'c. "Now," she ordered, springing into the hall and blasting at the guards who were milling around the other corner. Teal'c jumped out behind her, covering her back as she took off up the stairs. Daniel rushed to keep up the rear.
Sam pumped her legs up the stairs as fast as her sore body would allow and rolled onto the floor at the top, gripping her abdomen with one hand and firing with her other hand at a Jaffa who reached out to grab her. Teal'c shot a second guard who popped out of the alcove he'd used himself a few days ago. Sam continued to roll over to the opposite wall. The entrance to the Ma'atifemkhet's throne room was only a few feet away. She nodded at Daniel as Teal'c continued to fire on the Jaffa who were sliding up the steps.
Daniel shook his head. "Wait for Jack," he mouthed.
Sam shook her head. "No! Now!" she mouthed back at him, making a fist for emphasis.
"Wait for Teal'c," Daniel tried.
Sam rolled her eyes in frustration and turned away. It was now or never and she knew what Jack had ordered her to do, no matter whether Daniel liked it or not. She glanced over her shoulder at Teal'c and began to slide along the wall towards the entrance. Teal'c ran up behind her, firing at a Jaffa hidden in an alcove on the opposite side of the staircase.
Together they rushed into the throne room, zats extended in front of them. They took cover behind opposite pillars as Ma'atifemkhet's First Prime fired his staff weapon at them from the dais.
Sam looked over her shoulder as she heard Daniel clear his throat. He waved his hand at her and offered an embarrassed grin. "Hi," he said, as the Jaffa who'd been pursing Teal'c gave Daniel a hard push into the throne room.
Sam continued holding her zat aimed at the First Prime, but she closed her eyes in frustration. Why wouldn't he listen? Why wouldn't he take more training? Why?
Ma'atifemkhet snickered from behind his First Prime. "Further proof of your human weakness," he sneered.
Teal'c also continued to hold his aim at Ma'atifemkhet and stepped forward.
"Ah-ah," Ma'atifemkhet admonished him. "We wouldn't do that if we were you."
"But we would," Augustin announced, popping up behind Ma'atifemkhet's throne and shooting him in the back with the zat. Ma'atifemkhet cursed as he fell to the floor.
"Yes, we surely would," Jack added, appearing from behind Augustin and zatting the guards who held Daniel. Sam zatted the First Prime as Teal'c arced his zat around at the remaining Jaffa.
"Thanks," Daniel said, stepping away from the guards and rubbing his arms where some of the zat energy had transferred. He walked over to where Augustin was standing near Ma'atifemkhet's body.
"This is Augustin," Daniel said, officially introducing him to his teammates.
Sam came out from behind the pillar, holding her zat up towards the entrance to the room. She felt the spike of naquadah surge again.
"Uh, Colonel," she said, looking at Jack.
"Not now, Carter," Jack said, walking toward the entranceway. "Teal'c, how many Jaffa are there out there?" he asked, glancing both ways into the hall.
Teal'c dipped his head. "There are many. But there are also many villagers who are waiting to gain entrance to the villa."
Sam paused as a large boom sounded outside. "That sounds like it came from the gate," she said
Jack nodded. "Go," he ordered Teal'c, motioning his head toward the stairwell. "Round up those guards, then head out to the gate to get reinforcements. Marica should be moving the villagers into position at the gate. Daniel, you're with him."
Daniel nodded at Jack and at Augustin who returned his nod.
Sam watched as Augustin bent down to check Ma'atifemkhet's vitals. "Sir…" Sam started, "I think you should know…"
"What Carter?" Jack asked, looking distractedly out the doorway.
"I think Daniel's friend is a Goa'uld," she answered quietly.
"Yes. I know what I feel." She turned to face the entrance with Jack. "Goa'uld," she whispered. "That's what I was trying to tell you earlier."
Jack turned his head back to see Augustin bent over Ma'atifemkhet and squinted. He turned away. "So why didn't Teal'c say something Carter?" He looked at Sam. "I don't know. He didn't kill us - he helped us. What makes you so sure?"
Augustin yelled in pain. Jack and Sam whipped around to find him pulled flat against Ma'atifemkhet's chest, the Goa'uld's mouth pulled up into a saccharine smile as Augustin's mouth dropped open.
Sam shot Ma'atifemkhet once and Jack blasted him twice as they ran towards the pair. Augustin hit the floor as Ma'atifemkhet dissolved and disappeared. Jack reached Augustinfirst and carefully flipped him onto his back. Augustin's hands surrounded a dagger buried deep into his chest.
"Who are you?" Jack demanded, eyeing the dagger.
"Augustin," he responded.
"You're Goa'uld," Sam insisted.
Augustin shook his head and shut his eyes.
"Awww, cut the crap," Jack said, rolling his head, grimacing, and pointing at Sam. "She can tell."
Augustin was pale and gasping for air as he opened his eyes. He slumped forward a bit and lifted his head back up. A pair of glowing eyes met Jack's surprised ones. "I am S'kellesh of Maltar. I am Tok'ra."
"TOK'RA!" Jack asked incredulously. "Right." He shook his head in disbelief.
Sam shot Jack an 'it could be true' glance. They had met other undercover Tok'ra on occasion. And even her father, who was now carrying a Tok'ra symbiote, had gone undercover for them several times.
"Why were you here?" Sam asked, gingerly pulling fabric away from Augustin's wound to assess it. She pulled back. It was too deep and it angled sharply up into his chest. She guessed the dagger had punctured a lung and possibly more organs. She knew there was nothing they could do to help him. She gently placed the fabric back and gave Jack a grim look.
"The Tok'ra have many operatives in observation," Augustin said, breathing heavily.
"Observation!" Jack snorted. "Don't call us, we'll call you." He looked at Augustin's ashen face. "You knew we were going to be killed soon," Jack said. "Why didn't you help us before?"
"Orders…" Augustin wheezed.
"Why the change of heart today?" Jack asked.
"Friends…" Augustin gasped as his head slumped down to the floor.
Sam immediately checked Augustin's neck for a pulse. "He's gone sir," she said, looking over at Jack. Jack was staring at Augustin, his eyes wide and unfocused. Sam couldn't tell if he was in a rage or in shock. "Sir?" she asked.
Jack continued to stare at Augustin.
"Sir?" Sam asked again, craning her neck and raising her eyebrows at Jack.
Jack stood up and frowned down at Augustin. "Bastards!" he commented and walked away.
Sam furrowed her forehead. But Augustin had helped them in the end, against his own orders that were likely directly from the Tok'ra High Council. What more did Jack want? She reached over to close Augustin's eyes and slowly stood up. She pressed on her abdomen as she felt a wave of nausea sweep over her. The past three days hadn't been too kind to her and she needed food, a long warm bath and sleep, oh did she need sleep. She headed for the door.
"No Jack!" Daniel protested, holding his hands down on the sarcophagus in Ma'atifemkhet's bedchamber.
"Sorry, Daniel, but you've already been here and done that," Jack explained, waving him away from it.
Daniel pouted. "But Jack! We finally have a working sarc that we can take back for further study." He watched as Jack took the staff weapon Teal'c offered him. "Damn it Jack! We can't destroy every sarcophagus we come across!"
"Oh yes we can," Jack told him, aiming the staff weapon at the sarcophagus. The weapon crackled as it powered up. Jack pressed the firing button and turned his head to the side, squinting as the sarcophagus glowed yellow and blue before the sizzling stopped.
Daniel could only stand there and shake his head.
Jack stood away from the group, watching as Marica finished presenting gifts to Daniel and Sam. Marica seemed to be holding herself together better than Jack expected. He recognized in her some of the emotional steel that Laira had had. They were women who would mourn, but privately and in time and in their own way.
Daniel held a wooden plaque tightly to his chest. "I still can't believe Augustin managed to stay undercover here for seven years for the Tok'ra," Daniel said.
"He was my husband for five of those years," Marica wistfully reminded him, her eyes shiny with unshed tears.
"And you didn't notice anything different about him?" Sam asked, carefully folding the delicately woven wrap that Marica had given her.
She shook her head, wiping the edge of her eyes. "Due to my craft, I did not keep a regular schedule myself, so his trips and various callings did not seem so strange," she explained. "What was important was that he loved me unconditionally," she said. "And my people."
She looked around at SG1. "When I first spoke to him about helping Daniel reunite with his friends, he was very unsure about it." She had a faraway look in her eyes. "He went away that evening and for most of the next day, to where I do not know, but when he came back, he was quite resolute that he would help Daniel and his friends."
Jack kept quiet as Marica further explained about what little she knew of Augustin's life. He seemed to have led a dual life pretty damn well Jack thought bitterly. All Jack knew was that the more he heard, the more he seethed with anger that there had been an ally on this planet and only after days of torture did the little Tok'ra come forward to help them. He frowned. Now that they were relatively safe, he had to get back into character for his solo mission. He made a complaint about feeling left out of the gift giving process and ordered Sam to dial home.
Marica apologized profusely and Jack heard Daniel mumble something about Jack's hormone levels. Whatever, Jack thought. At least Daniel was beginning to buy this act. Although as angry as he really was, it wouldn't be very hard to get into character. He scowled at Marica who was commenting about the fight they still had to face against Anant.
"We will be on our own?" she asked, giving each of the team a worried look.
Jack shook his head. "I'll talk to Hammond about assistance against their attacks until we can get your people trained to use the Goa'uld weapons. As well as any weapons we can 'lend' you in the spirit of trade."
He nodded toward the shimmering gate. "Time to head home," he said walking up the gate steps.
Chapter 6: Shutting the Door Again
"Those damn Tok'ra!" Jack sniped, looking angrily at his teammates across the briefing room table.
"But Augustin helped Daniel," Sam offered, turning her head to look at Jack who was sprawled out in the chair next to her. "He went against his orders and helped save all of us."
"So?" Jack asked, tilting his chair around to glare at Sam. "What about the rest of us? It wasn't some kind of picnic for us and you, of all people, should know that!"
Sam turned her head away to look down at the legal pad in front of her and fiddled with the pen in her hand.
Daniel looked at Sam, then Jack, and cleared his throat. "Jack, I think what Sam meant was…"
"I know what she meant!" Jack glared across the table at Daniel and slammed his palm down onto its hard surface. "Those smug, superior assholes. Every damn time the Tok'ra are in a position to do something for us they don't. They're just as sneaky as the damn Goa'uld!"
Hammond eyed Jack. "The Tok'ra have assured us that their operative took every action possible."
Jack puckered his lips as if he eaten something sour. "Right, General," he grunted. "Now if it had been another Tok'ra in danger…" Jack shook his head and waved his hand up in the air. "I put them right up there with the Tollan and the Nox. Why do we put up with them?"
Hammond pushed away from the end of the table, leaning back deeper into his chair, and crossed his arms. "They are our allies. I may disagree with some of their tactics too, Colonel, but what he did is no different than our covert operations."
"That's a bunch of shit and you know it General," Jack said, leaning back in his chair to cross his arms.
"Colonel!" Hammond sat upright in his chair.
"What General?" Jack asked, lifting his chin up and squinting at Hammond. "Don't get on my back if none of you feel that way. That's just how I feel about it. That's how we should all feel about these so-called allies of ours who use us when it's convenient, but never want to lift a damn finger to help us out when we need it. Bastards!"
"Colonel!" Hammond cautioned Jack. "You're getting out of line."
"Sure I am," Jack snorted.
Hammond stood up and leaned forward, balancing on the tips of his fingers which touched the edge of the table. "Jack, I understand all the stress you've been under lately and will consider it a momentary lapse in your judgment. Before I'm forced to reprimand you or relieve you of duty, I'm going to give you the opportunity to stop."
"I'm fine General. I've been through no more than anyone else here has." Jack stood to face Hammond and waved an arm around the room. "Although I think I understand now we've turned into a bunch of wusses…"
"Colonel!" Hammond's face had turned pink and he stood ramrod straight. "You're dismissed!"
"Don't worry, I'm gone." Jack turned heel and quickly strode out of the briefing room.
Teal'c raised an eyebrow at Daniel. "What is a wuss?" he asked.
"You don't want to know," Sam said, watching the doorway Jack had just exited through.
Brow furrowed, Daniel frowned at Teal'c. "What's up with Jack?"
Everyone quietly looked down at the table.
"Perhaps it is necessary for Colonel O'Neill to go to fishing?" Teal'c asked, arching an eyebrow at his teammates.
Daniel shrugged. "Maybe he needs to go back to finish his business on Edora?" he speculated.
Sam quickly glanced at Daniel and to Hammond at the front of the table. "General, with your permission, if we're done…" Sam said.
Hammond nodded. "Dismissed."
Jack's face was an angry mask as he waited for the elevator. As the doors opened, he heard running footsteps behind him. He identified Sam's fast jogging gait and ignored her, walking directly into the elevator. He punched the button for Level 25, watching as Sam barely squeezed in before the door clamped shut. He squinted at her as she moved to lean against the wall opposite him in the elevator.
"Colonel?" Sam asked. "Is everything okay?"
"What the hell do you think?" Jack asked her, crossing his arms and leaning back against the wall.
Sam shrugged and opened her eyes wide. "I don't know what to think."
Jack snorted. "That's amazing."
Sam's mouth opened, then shut, and she bit her lower lip. "I'm concerned about you."
"I don't know what the hell for," he said angrily, giving her a hard glance. The elevator doors opened and they stepped out. "You don't have any damned reason to be so concerned Carter." Jack turned away from her quickly after he watched her mouth drop open and saw the unexpected pain in her eyes at his harsh tone and sharp words. He walked away from her as fast as he could toward the locker room.
'Damn Sam, I'm sorry,' Jack thought as his face pulled into a tight grimace. 'I know I'm hurting you. I'm so friggin' sorry.'
He didn't allow his expression to soften until he reached the locker room. He glanced around the room to make sure it was empty then let his shoulders sag as he inhaled deeply. He exhaled as slowly as possible and rubbed his face, trying to relieve some of the tension. He just hoped all this subterfuge was worth the emotional crap he was putting himself and the others through. Things would only be getting worse between all of them as he continued to set the stage for his next mission. He didn't want the peace of mind and soul that he'd regained to be taken away like this. He yanked off his shirt. Those damn Tollan and the Asgard better appreciate what he was sacrificing.
The only saving grace about this whole thing was that he was being encouraged, hell, even required, to be insubordinate now. He smiled as he let his fatigues drop to the floor. That George was a pretty damn good actor. Maybe he could start a second career if he ever retired. Jack's head dropped again and his smile disappeared. He just hoped he didn't do irreparable damage to his friends' trust. The sooner this damn mission was over, the better. He released another deep breath and headed off to the showers. I'm just doing my duty. Just doing my duty.