Author's Note: I started this about a year and a half ago, and still haven't finished it. It's about 3/4 of the way done, though, and a good story if I dare say so myself. The first part is about as intense as it'll get, contrasted by the second part of this chapter which is pretty light-hearted. It will hopefully have a good balance of humor and sobriety - and I hope you all enjoy it! Please let me know what you think!
Hoofbeats thundering on the dry, parched plain. Her own breath, coming in gasps. The pounding of her heart drowning out the midnight sounds.
She strained her ears, trying to hear past those noises, to hear if she was still being followed. She urged her horse on faster, felt the warm wind brush past her face while she raced for her life. It was a risk, she knew, but she looked backwards anyway. There they were - the three riders, closing in on her.
She forced her panicked mind to think. This was her grandfather's ranch, her second home. She came there every summer, and knew the terrain, every acre of it. Surely she had a chance! Dread rose in her heart as she heard the other hoofbeats coming closer. She may be on familiar ground, but she needed to get off it. To get to the adjacent ranch, to the ranch house or the barn, where she could shout for help and be heard. Here, on the plains, there was only dried grass, copses of trees, barbed wire fencing and the odd oil jack. The only ones who could help her were helpless themselves. She was riding for their lives as well as her own.
Something whizzed past her side and landed with a sharp smack on her horse's flank. The mare squealed and lept forward in fear. She urged the horse on, her terrorized mind knowing full well what that meant. Ropes! She risked another look back, saw the loop of a lariat forming over one of the rider's heads. They meant to drag her down! She pulled her horse to the left, veering out of their path. If only she could make it to the neighbor's ranch!
She squinted her eyes, trying to make out the rushing shapes ahead of her. Tearing the Stetson off her head, she flung it backwards at her pursuers, hoping it might at least slow one of them down. She could see better now, but her situation had become worse than ever. With a sinking heart, she recognized the tall wire fence in front of her. The neighbors had put it up just a few weeks ago, to replace the sagging little fence that was always getting broken by the bulls. She knew her little mare could never make the jump.
Another rope swung by, and she desperately spurred her horse on. There was no other choice. Better to take the risk than to surrender. With a wild scream she drove the mare forward. The mare leapt, and she rose up and forward in the saddle, trying her best to help. They would never make it. It was too high. God, save us!
The mare's front hooves barely cleared the top strand; then the world jerked and turned as the back hooves caught, sending the young rider flying. She hit the ground rolling, as she'd been trained, but the shock of the impact sent waves of pain down her spine. Her horse had not been so fortunate; she'd heard legs crack when they hit the ground.
Her pursuers were almost upon her now. She stood up and ran, screaming words of defiance at them. "You're wrong! You'll never win! The Ori are not gods, you're selling your souls to the devil!" She felt a rope slide around her body, and gasped as she tumbled toward the ground, caught mid-stride. She struggled to loosen the rope, and screamed in pain and rage as she was dragged back towards the fence. It was over. She had failed.
In desperation, she cried out one last time. "There is only one true God, Jesus Christ!"
She dug her heels into the ground, but then her head hit the fence post and, with a flash of white light, the world exploded into darkness.
A single roll of thunder burst upon the silent plain.
Disturbed, a coyote threw back its head and sent out an eerie wail. A second joined it, sending their mournful harmony rolling across the prairie.
General Landry paused a moment to let the information sink in. It seemed ... almost too good to be true. "You're sure about this?" he asked Colonel Carter.
Sam nodded. "It's the best lead we've had on this case since we started, sir. The details may be a little sketchy, but for all we know this is accurate."
"Agent Barrett's the one heading up the operation?"
"And you trust him." The general had said it as a statement, but there was a hint of a question in his voice.
"We've worked together in the past. He does a good job."
Colonel Mitchell looked up from the folder lying on the briefing room table. "Don't you think its a little fishy, though, Sam? I mean, this place is literally in the middle of nowhere." He read from the folder, "Athens, Texas, population one hundred and twenty-four, main industry, cattle ranching, some oil prospecting. One hour east of San Antonio, two hours northwest of El Paso. Doesn't sound like a place Ba'al would put a cloning laboratory."
"Not lavish enough for his godlike tastes, you mean," added Daniel. "It's a bit of a change from his chalet in the Alps, apartment in Paris, island in the South Pacific, summer home in Virginia, headquarters in Seattle, etc."
"Maybe he chose this location for its obscurity," Sam pointed out. "What better place to hide something then the place no one would think to look?"
"You think there's a good chance of finding something there?" the general asked.
"Yes sir," Sam replied. "Like I said, it's the best lead we've had so far."
The general smiled. "And I suppose you want to check it out. Because SG-1 can do a better job than Barrett's men any day."
"Well... yes sir," Sam said, looking around at her teammates for confirmation..
"Right," Landry replied. "Looks like y'all are headed west!"
"I believe the state of Texas is located to the south and east of Colorado," Teal'c said, as the general left.
"Y'all?" Sam repeated softly as soon as the general was gone. Her face showed puzzled amusement.
"It means, "you all,"" Daniel translated. "Texan is a rather strange dialect of English."
"I suppose you'll fit in just fine down there," Cameron said, "although I have a hard time imagining you in cowboy boots."
"You speak Texan?" Sam asked Daniel.
"Of course I do," the linguist drawled. "After all, I speak about thirty different languages, plus the British, Australian, and Canadian dialects of English. I can blend in on the East coast and on the West coast, so I should be able to pass myself off as a native of the South."
Sam struggled to keep a straight face as he said this in a hideous drawl. Cameron winced. "You know, Jackson, there is a difference between Southern and Texan. I think what you've got is a crazy mixture of both."
Daniel grinned, leaned back, put his feet on the table, and pulled an imaginary blade of grass between his teeth. "Wa-al, at least we've got one feller who can blend in with the country folk," he said in a heavy Southern accent, glancing pointedly at Mitchell.
Sam couldn't hold back her laughter now, and she noticed that even Teal'c had a smile on his face.
Cameron smiled and rose to the unspoken challenge. He let his native accent come out thick. "Don' worry, pardner, by the time we get there we'll have you soundin' like a native... cow."
Daniel chuckled and retorted, "Ain't you done got me tongue-tied."
Sam wiped a tear of laughter from the corner of her eye. Hearing such an affront to the language coming from Daniel's mouth... it was almost too much to bear. Anymore of this and she'd be laughing too hard to breathe.
Teal'c wasn't helping, either. "I believe if the two of you can convince the outlaws that you are local guides and then lead them away from the area, it would give me ample time to infiltrate their stronghold and rescue Colonel Carter."
Sam gave him a look. "Why me?" She didn't mind being rescued by Teal'c - he'd done it often enough - but this sounded just a tad chauvinistic. He must've been watching too much Bonanza lately.
"Is that not a suitable plot for a western style adventure?" Teal'c asked.
"Yeah - but any show concerning us would have to be on the Sci-fi channel," Cameron pointed out.
Daniel chuckled. "Yeah. Right. I can see it now..." He lowered his voice in imitation of a television announcer. "Stargate: SG-1 - now on DVD!"
It sounded so ludicrous Sam couldn't keep from giggling like a schoolgirl. She even heard Teal'c join in the laughter.
This was going to be a fun mission.