"One more time, O'Neill," the lanky Air Force colonel mumbled, picking up the thick report that he had tossed onto his desk earlier in the day. Normally Colonel Jack O'Neill never gave a second glance to the massive behemoths that the science team generated, but something in this particular one had hooked him, and before he met with the Stargate Command base commander in an hour, he was determined to have an ironclad argument ready to land this particular mission for his field unit.
He swept his index finger down through the long report summary, smirking as he re-read how one of the techs had accidentally maneuvered the unmanned aerial vehicle just a little too close to the lava flow and how the flow's 2,100-degree heat had fried the small plane and all of its electronics. One of the scientists jokingly described the island that this stargate was located on as a colossal lava-spewer, and except for some steaming holes inland, it sure sounded like it. Because of the UAV's destruction and the absence of hard data, the science team could only guess at a ninety percent chance that sentients lived somewhere on the planet given its similarities to Earth.
Jack snorted; he'd finally learned not to say "humans," having met enough non-humans during his missions the past three years to grudgingly accept that something didn't have to have flesh and bones to be considered alive. In fact, "sentient" had become his new buzzword that past week as his second-in-command had found out each time she'd tried to hold a conversation with him. He snickered softly as he recalled her frustration with him.
Reaching the end of the summary, Jack noted again that the island had been given an overall minimal risk rating, and his mood lifted. He was certain that last detail would be the deciding factor in convincing his commander to see things his way - that this mission, even with the incomplete reconnaissance data, was perfect for his team.
He rubbed thoughtfully at the developing stubble on his chin as several possible MO's took shape in his mind. Once they secured the gate perimeter, he envisioned them completing a standard recon to the closest beach to see if the island really was inhabited. Then they'd check out some of the other beaches, the ones the UAV had given them only the most fleeting and tantalizing of glimpses. If he played his cards right, maybe he could turn the mission into an overnighter to do an in-depth study of the best beach - all in the name of science and research, of course… if he could get it past the General. Jack's grin grew wider. It wasn't every day that they found undisturbed tropical paradises like this one on the other side of the gate. So who would be better to verify the accuracy of this report's data regarding island conditions and its strategic value to the SGC, as a back-up base or for training exercises, than SG-1?
He'd even quizzed Anderssohn, Stargate Command's newest geologist, after catching him alone in the science lab while everyone else had been at lunch. After skimming the report, the young man had agreed with Jack that the risks to SG-1 would be minimal to non-existent, and his only advice was to steer clear of the caldera and, most importantly, the bench regions that surrounded the coastline lava flows. Not a problem, Jack had assured him. He planned to head in the opposite direction.
His mind made up, Jack started compiling a mental checklist of items he wanted on his team's equipment list and, tucking the report under his arm, he sauntered off to find his commander to deliver his best sales pitch for PX4-150 to be moved onto SG-1's mission roster. As he punched the elevator button, he twisted his face into a scowl, fully intending to keep his commander from guessing how much he really wanted his next mission to be to the vacation destination of the month.
SGC Base Commander General George Hammond cast a doubtful look at the leader of his preeminent first contact team and tried his best to ignore Jack's constant fidgeting. When Jack started tapping his fingers in time to the banging of his knee on the front of Hammond's desk, Hammond decided that it was finally time to cut to the chase.
"Now Colonel," Hammond asked, his Texas drawl dragging Jack's military rank slowly out, "wouldn't this type of mission be handled best by one of the other teams? I'm sure SG-10 would be better suited to-"
"No, Sir," Jack interrupted, shaking his head emphatically. "I don't believe it would."
Hammond slowly leaned back in his chair, stern-faced and quiet, as he waited for Jack to finish explaining his reasons for wanting this particular mission so much.
Jack cleared his throat after a long moment of silence. "With all due respect, Sir, I've already put the data past Anderssohn. You know - the new guy? Turns out he specializes in all things spewing lava. And he says it's just an average volcano." Jack shrugged. "You know - seen one, you've seen 'em all."
The beginnings of a smile edged Hammond's mouth. He had to give Jack high marks for initiative and creativity this time. But he wasn't giving in just yet. "Given the urgency of our situation with the Goa'uld, wouldn't the program be better served if SG-1 took one of the other first contact missions from this week's list, like P9X-650?" Hammond asked.
Jack mimicked Hammond's wry smile as he deflected the question back to his superior. "Ah, yes, General, but wouldn't SG-1 be served better with this one?" he asked. Jack paused, the wry grin fading and his brows swiftly hooding over his darkened eyes.
"These last few missions haven't exactly been a piece of cake, Sir," Jack said quietly, the expression in his eyes daring Hammond to disagree with him.
Hammond looked away from Jack's dark stare, inhaling deeply as he considered Jack's final argument. The man did have a point. Only mere months had passed since Teal'c had killed Dr. Jackson's wife and the Goa'uld symbiote that she'd hosted. Several of their missions the past few weeks had been on the dicey side, and no one at the SGC would argue that what SG-1 had just suffered at the hands of Apophis on Netu had literally been hell.
"You want cake, Colonel?" he asked, turning back to and squinting at Jack.
"Don't mind if I do, thank you, Sir," Jack answered, jumping up and bounding toward the door in one swift move. He skidded to a halt just before the door, turning heel to look back at Hammond with a slightly guilty look. "I was to assume that was an affirmative response, Sir?"
Hammond tilted his head, sizing up the presumptive colonel. He held his tongue for a few seconds longer than necessary, enjoying the chance to watch Jack squirm under his scrutiny. "You have a go," he said finally.
Jack clenched his fists. "Yes!" he hissed under his breath.
Hammond cleared his throat and shot a warning glance at Jack, mustering up as much gravity as he could. "Just a standard recon, Jack. This is not a paid vacation. Understood?" he asked pointedly. He watched as Jack struggled to hide a growing smirk.
"Understood, Sir. Thank you, Sir," Jack said, allowing the smirk to turn into a full-blown grin.
Hammond could only shake his head as his elated subordinate bounced out of his office, and he chuckled softly as he heard Jack begin to whistle his way down the corridor. In all honesty, he wouldn't have minded pulling duty on this mission either.
"Teal'c," Jack said, handing the last of the photocopied equipment lists to the Jaffa warrior standing next to him. The tall and muscular man accepted the still-warm paper with a deferential nod.
Jack slid down into Hammond's chair at the end of the briefing room table, watching the three members of SG-1 closely as they read through the list. Dr. Daniel Jackson, the skilled archeologist and linguist that he'd gotten to know during the program's first mission to the planet Abydos, was slouched down in a chair nearby, rubbing hard at the furrow that was deepening above his metal-rimmed eyeglasses. Leaning her forearms on the back of the empty chair between him and Daniel was Air Force Major Samantha Carter, the scientific wunderkind with a doctorate in astrophysics who'd been his second-in-command for nearly as many years as he'd known Daniel.
Sam raised an eyebrow as she stared at the paper Jack had handed her. "Twenty bottles of sunscreen, Sir? SPF50?"
"Jumbo beach towels?" Daniel asked, his thick eyebrows arching well above the rim of his glasses.
"Black bikini?" Sam asked, frowning as she scanned further down the list.
"Flip-flops?" Daniel asked incredulously, pushing his chair away from the table and swiveling it around to give Jack a confused glance.
"What is a Speedo?" Teal'c questioned, holding the paper out in front of him and pointing to the word.
"A pair of really, really, really small men's swimming trunks," Daniel explained.
"Like thong underwear and about the size of a Band-Aid," Sam clarified, using her thumb and index finger to indicate the small size.
Teal'c arched an eyebrow at Jack, his cheek muscles working overtime. Jack noted the former First Prime of Apophis did not seem very amused.
For several long moments his team stared at him, their eyebrows arched skeptically. "Sheesh, people," Jack groaned, rolling his eyes. "Those things were meant as a joke."
"Yeah, true, Sir, I only need four bottles of sunscreen," Sam muttered, folding the paper into halves and tucking it into the front pocket of her overshirt as she pushed herself up off of the chair back. She crossed her arms and stared down at Jack.
Jack sighed and leaned Hammond's chair back a little bit. "Oh, c'mon guys - I'm just trying to lighten the mood a little. Since we got back from Netu, you've all been too damned serious."
He looked around the table. Teal'c's jaw still undulated with unspoken opinions. Daniel looked even more confused as he read Jack's list again. Sam had moved her gaze to the stairwell that led down to the control room. "What's with you all?" Jack asked.
Sam turned back toward him.
"Not enough sleep?" Jack asked her.
Jack glanced at Daniel. "Decaf experiment failed?"
He turned to Teal'c, arching a brow at his friend very much in the same manner the Jaffa often did at him. "Kel'noreem not doin' it for ya?"
He watched as they continued to stare back at him, refusing to speak or to react to his baiting of them.
"Okay, you win," he acquiesced. Standing up, he reached over to pick up another sheaf of folders that he'd set on top of the audio-visual cart behind him. "If you want business as usual, then you got it."
He handed out thin report folders to each member of his team. "First one is the summary of the UAV environmental report for PX4-150. Second is the MALP report. PX4-150 is a minimal risk mission and Hammond's already given us a go. Standard first contact if the planet is inhabited. Standard recon if not. That's the mission," he said crisply. "Leaving in two hours," he said, glancing around at the group once more, "unless that's a problem for any of you."
His team still unresponsive, he handed out a final sheet of paper.
"The real equipment list," Jack explained. "And, yes, Carter, I made it four bottles of sunscreen, just for you." Jack then turned heel and strode through the briefing room and out the corridor door, refusing to let the team's mood dampen the anticipation of what he was hoping they would find once planet-side.
Sam watched Jack's grin grow wider and wider as he slowly spun around, taking in the vista of the grassy plateau they'd just stepped down onto from the gate steps. He stopped and heaved in several great breaths, turning to give her a full-blown smile. Sam gave him a concerned look in response. He was just a little too happy; he'd never smiled at her quite like this before, and especially not immediately after arriving on an unexplored planet.
Daniel had crouched down next to a pile of stones nearby, gently touching and examining them, oblivious to Jack's jubilant mood. Teal'c had immediately moved out in the opposite direction to secure the periphery and had halted near a break in the line of glossy green bushes that marked the edge of the tropical plateau.
"Major Carter - come. This may be of interest to you," Teal'c said, bending over the bare spot.
Sam joined him and was surprised to be looking down a crumbling cliff wall into the pit of a large caldera. She assumed it was part of the volcano mentioned in the reports, although searching her memory, she couldn't recall either report advising that the gate was located this close to the caldera. "This wasn't the best place to locate a gate - right next to an active caldera," she observed.
Jack came up to stand between Teal'c and Sam. Leaning gingerly between them and peering over the cliff's edge, he scanned the area below. "I don't know, Carter. Doesn't look active to me," he said as Daniel straggled up beside them to peer over the edge.
Sam pointed to the steam rising from several vents on the caldera floor below. "Probably sulfuric acid," she said. "The lava flow that fried the UAV starts here, beneath the surface, and flows out there," she added, pointing away from the rim they were standing on and off towards the opposite end of the caldera and then out beyond where they could see.
"You're sure about that?" Daniel asked, quickly stepping back from the cliff edge.
"No," Sam admitted. "But then I'm no vulcanologist."
Jack smiled again and made the Vulcan "V" sign with his hand. "May you live long and prosper," he quipped, turning his hand back and forth to admire the deep "V" he was able to achieve between his middle and ring fingers. He stopped after a minute and turned to walk back to the bottom gate step where they'd piled their backpacks.
"I do not understand that gesture," Teal'c said, tilting his head and glancing between Sam and Jack for clarification.
"Spock," Jack explained without looking over his shoulder.
"Benjamin Spock? The esteemed child psychologist and pediatrician?" Teal'c asked, sounding both slightly confused and slightly impressed at the same time.
"No, no, no," Jack said, turning around and wincing. "You know – Spock Spock. Mr. Spock from Star Trek, the TV show." He noticed that Teal'c still looked confused. "Star Trek, the movies?" Jack asked hopefully. Teal'c looked no more enlightened than before. Jack looked at Daniel and Sam for help.
She and Daniel quickly looked away from him.
"Star Trek… you know - science fiction?" Jack asked after a few second's pause.
"I do not watch science fiction," Teal'c informed him.
"Obviously!" Daniel said, chuckling. "Especially if you've been busy reading Dr. Spock."
Teal'c turned and considered his teammate's response for a moment. "I thought it wise to explore the various methods used by the Tau'ri in parenting," Teal'c said. "Is that an unwise action?"
Daniel smiled. "No, Teal'c. It's a good one, and it really is okay if you don't get the reference."
Teal'c nodded, looking relieved.
"So - where to, Sir?" Sam asked as she returned to the gate steps, surveying the bushes and trees at the edge of the plateau with a critical eye. She assumed this mission would turn out to be a quick one since she doubted the vegetation was any less thick down at the rainforest's end. Probably weren't any sentients here either. She frowned as she recalled how Jack had worked that word in no less than fifty times in a five-minute period during his last conversation with her.
Jack walked past her to the DHD, pointing toward where the edge of the plateau appeared to descend into the treetops. "Where no man has gone before," he said, smirking.
Sam shook her head at the Star Trek reference and reached down to pick up her and Teal'c's backpacks.
"You hope no man has," Daniel said, taking his rolled-up hat out of his pocket and popping it open.
"You hope no man has," Jack mimicked, punching the large red keys on the top of the DHD as Sam and Daniel moved quickly away from the gate.
"Sir?" Sam asked, handing Teal'c his pack as the event horizon snapped into place. "We just got here.…"
Jack shook his head. "I'm letting Hammond know we'll check in this time tomorrow after we do a…," Jack said, pausing for effect after clearing his throat loudly, "leisurely recon of the area."
"Tomorrow?" Daniel asked. "But I thought this was only-"
"Yes, Daniel," Jack said, heading for the MALP. "Tomorrow. The planet's obviously uninhabited. We can afford to be a little leisurely for once. Besides, what could go wrong?"
Sam opened her mouth to respond, but then thought better of it after she saw Daniel shaking his head at her from behind Jack. She walked over to join Daniel as Jack bent down in front of the MALP, an ear-to-ear grin filling Jack's face as he animatedly talked to the small video camera mounted on it.
"Worried?" Daniel asked.
Sam shook her head. No. Worried wasn't how she felt. Strongly concerned was a better description. She shrugged. "It's just that I'd rather err on the side of cautiousness," she explained quietly, "and stick to normal protocols. Even here."
"I agree with you, Sam. Based on their configuration, I'm pretty sure this island was inhabited at some point. Maybe even right now - who knows?" Daniel asked, nodding toward the pile of rocks he'd initially examined. He turned to face Jack. "But you'll never be able to convince him otherwise now," Daniel said as Jack animatedly gestured into the small camera.
Sam eyed her commanding officer. "I know," she said, resigned to the fact that Jack was totally like a kid in a candy store at this point.
Jack flipped the video unit off and rejoined his team. "Ready to go?" he asked, hitching his backpack up over his shoulders.
"General Hammond has agreed to your plan?" Teal'c asked.
Jack nodded. "And just to make it clear - once I'm down on that beach, I'm not coming back up here until I absolutely have to," he said.
Sam shot him a concerned look. Protocol demanded that they….
"No, Carter. Nothing's going to go wrong," Jack said, shaking his head at his second-in-command. "It's a deserted island, for crying out loud!"
"But Jack - why would there be a gate on it then?" Daniel asked, nodding his head at the now inactive gate.
"How should I know?" Jack asked, an exasperated tone creeping into his voice. "The high cost of Goa'uld gas? Remind me next time we happen on one of our snakey friends to ask them just that question."
Teal'c raised a doubtful brow.
"Ah-ah-ah," Jack said, shaking his head again and adjusting the weight of his backpack. "Not you, too," he said in a warning tone of voice.
"It is a subject worth considering," Teal'c said, dipping his head in acknowledgement toward Daniel.
"Then you all consider it all you all want," Jack said. "All I'm going to consider is the amount of time that we've wasted up here talking when we could've been halfway down to the beach by now." He turned away, walking to the edge of the plateau, and disappeared into a thick stand of bushes without a look back.
Sam shot Daniel another worried look. Couldn't he do something to bring Jack to his senses?
Daniel only shrugged.
True, Sam thought, really what could Daniel do? He wasn't military and Jack wouldn't listen to reason or common sense now. Standing straighter, she lifted her P90 and walked into the bushes, following Jack's lead.
"Carter?" Jack barked as he came to a halt at the vegetation's edge.
Jack's child-like pace down the steep incline had kept the team at a run down for most of the way down. Daniel had struggled to keep pace with Jack's lead, batting at the limbs and large leaves that ricocheted back into his face as Jack bulldozed through them. Sam had kept a safe distance behind Daniel and the ricocheting limbs with Teal'c following behind her, covering their sixes.
"Yes, Sir?" Sam responded, coming up beside him.
Adjusting her cap, Sam surveyed the pristine white sand beach that stretched out in both directions as far as she could see. Besides the footprints of the native seabirds and the organic debris that marked the high-tide level, she couldn't detect any signs of life from their current position. In fact it reminded her of the private beach on Kauai that her father had taken the family to just before her mother died, except that this beach was three times the size of that one. Watching the waves break on the far end, she was reminded of her parents' amusement at her and her brother's first attempts at bodysurfing. The corners of her mouth curled up in a bemused grin at the memory.
Jack cleared his throat, knocking her out of her reverie. "Remind me again - what's this planet's designation?" he asked, squinting into the bright sunlight and down at the waves breaking at the base of the beach.
"Sir?" Sam asked, blinking to re-focus her thoughts on her team commander.
Jack removed his cap and wiped the sheen of sweat from his forehead, running his hand over the back of his head before replacing the cap. He stepped out into the sand and rotated around, taking in the tropical vista surrounding him, and then he turned back to Sam with a huge grin. "Forget retirement to Edora," he told her. He smiled and took a deep breath. "This is where I want to retire. Paradise."
Sam bent her head down to hide her grin beneath the brim of her cap. "PX4-150, Sir," she answered, chuckling softly.
"Okay, PX4-150 it is. But I still think we should call it Paradise, cliché or not." He aimed a bemused look at Sam. "Care to join me here in Paradise, Carter?"
"Thanks for the offer, Sir, but I think you'll be retiring long before I do," Sam answered as she quickly moved out onto the beach beyond Jack.
"Yes, a long, long, long time before Sam does," Daniel echoed with a smile as he slowly walked past Jack to join Sam.
"Oh, for cryin' out loud, I am not that old!" Jack griped.
"Perhaps not in Jaffa years," Teal'c said, aiming a smug sideways glance at Jack as he walked past him to join his teammates in the sand.
Daniel watched Jack scoop sand out of an oval indentation at the base of a large palm tree. "Uh, Jack - I thought you said we were going to do a recon of the island now," Daniel said.
Jack shook his head and continued to mound the sand up against the tree's base. "Too big."
"Sir?" Sam asked.
Daniel caught the end of the grimace Jack shot at Sam. "The UAV didn't report any signs of human life," Jack explained, patting the sand firmly down around the edges of the hole.
"But the UAV report was incomplete," Sam pointed out. "And like you've been telling me all week, sentient life can take forms other than…."
Jack shook his head and put a finger to his lips. "Carter, don't kill it, okay? For once, just don't kill it. Be grateful for small blessings." Frowning, Jack gave each member of his team a hard look, his final gaze lingering on Daniel's face.
Daniel opened his mouth to take the opportunity to explain why he agreed with Sam, but Jack's razor-sharp squint stopped him.
"After everything we've been through the past few weeks - hell - the past few months," he said, nearly spitting the words out, "why can't you all be grateful for a gift like this?"
Daniel tilted his head back and sighed. He didn't disagree with Jack, but he didn't agree with him either. Teal'c didn't respond to Jack, looking carefully at nothing as his cheek muscles twitched back and forth. Sam looked down at the ground and quietly fingered her weapon.
"You all are crazy," Jack declared, reaching down to mount his backpack on top of the newly-formed sand mound. He dropped down into the indentation and leaned back onto the tree, glaring at his team from its dappled shade.
"I think this island was inhabited at some point, Jack," Daniel said quietly.
"Was," Jack echoed.
"Still could be right now," Daniel said. "I honestly don't know. Look at that path we found. And those stones up at the gate were laid out in a pattern. While they weren't inscribed or marked, some of them had been chipped into geometric shapes."
"So? None of it looked recent to me."
Daniel pursed his lips. "True, Jack. That's why I said I honestly don't know."
"You do not wish to investigate whether or not you have potential allies or enemies existing on this planet?" Teal'c asked, moving forward to block Jack's view of the breaking waves.
Jack craned his neck around Teal'c, moving his head slowly from side to side as Teal'c subtly moved in each new direction that Jack's gaze took. "Killjoys," Jack muttered, standing back up. "Yes, Teal'c, I do. It's my mission - it's our mission. But first," he wheedled, waving his hand around at the beach, "first, for five little minutes can't we just enjoy all this wonderful peace and quiet?"
"Your five minutes would appear to have expired approximately five minutes ago," Teal'c noted.
"You're not helping me any," Jack told Teal'c, a warning seething in his voice.
Teal'c lifted his chin, looking up with extreme interest at the waving palm fronds in a palm tree near Sam.
"Carter?" Jack barked.
"Sir?" Sam responded, stepping up next to Teal'c.
"Thoughts?" Jack asked.
"Well, we shouldn't assume that the island is uninhabited, Sir. Nor should we assume that we can safely shelter here on the beach overnight. For all we know any sentients that may live here could be nocturnal as well as hostile."
Daniel's eye's widened. "Nocturnal?" he asked, the crease above his nose deepening after Sam and Teal'c nodded at him solemnly. "Jack?" Daniel asked, more than a little concern creeping into his voice.
Jack shot Daniel a look of exasperation, and then, grunting and grumbling, Jack pulled himself up ramrod-straight. He heaved his sand-flecked backpack up onto his shoulders and shook his head in disbelief at Daniel and the rest of the team. "Recon this shore northward and then back to make camp for the evening. At oh-five hundred - do the same heading toward the south shore, and then back up to the gate to see about the east side of the island."
Jack gave them one final glare and then made a quick about-face, leaving the team standing in the sand as he trudged angrily away from them.
Squinting in the pre-dawn darkness, Sam stretched her arms out over her head and tightened her shoulder and arm muscles and then relaxed them. She could feel where sweat had plastered her hair to the sides of her head during the little bit of sleep that she had managed to get during the night. Ruffling it a bit, she felt it sticking even farther out than Jack's spiked hair usually did. Thank goodness for their caps, she thought as she slipped hers back on. She stood and lifted the ends of her sleeping bag up and shook the sand and soil from it, and then started rolling it up.
"Sleep well?" Jack asked her from nearby.
Sam grunted in response.
Daniel cleared his throat from the other side of the small clearing they'd secured for the night. "No," Daniel responded. "Thanks to you all, every time I heard a noise, I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep, thinking it was one of those nocturnal creatures you said lived here."
Sam heard Daniel snort. "But it was just you, Jack," Daniel muttered.
"Keeping watch over your sleepy sixes," Jack said, matter-of-factly.
"Could've at least had a fire," Daniel grumbled, half-shivering and half-stretching as he stood up.
"The light of which would have drawn attention to our location," Teal'c observed from his kel'noreem position against a nearby tree.
"Yeah, but…," Daniel said, stopping short as the mountain behind them emitted a deep, muffled rumble.
The ground quaked and shimmied for a minute beneath Sam's feet. She immediately reached for her P90 and her backpack.
"Uh… what was that?" Daniel asked.
"Yeah, what was that?" Jack echoed.
"Seismic activity?" Sam wondered aloud. "It is a volcanic island." Whatever it was, she didn't like the implications of the large jolt.
"But the UAV and MALP…," Jack said, starting a thought.
"Weren't on the island long enough to establish what normal seismic activity is here," Sam finished, squinting at Jack's silhouette. "I think we should check it out, Sir," she said.
Jack turned his head in the direction of the mountaintop and was quiet for a moment. "Okay, Carter, you and me up to the gate. Daniel, Teal'c - stay and try to do some housekeeping around here, will you?" Jack asked. "South shore recon when we return."
Tired, hot, and sweaty from the long hike up the mountainside, Sam surveyed the plateau that they had gated onto only the day before. She noted unhappily that the gate and platform had disappeared and along with them, the DHD. Instead a thin ribbon of red-hot lava now spilled out of a newly-formed crevasse at the bottom of the caldera into which the seemingly solid ground had disintegrated. The gate had been too close, just as she'd tried to tell Jack. Unsure of the stability of the little remaining plateau, Sam moved back to where he stood near the treeline.
Jack winced as she stopped beside him. "Don't say it, Carter. Just don't say it," he warned.
"I'm warning you, don't say it!"
"Okay, I won't." She wouldn't tell him that she'd told him so. Rubbing it in wouldn't help solve their new problem. "So what's the plan to get us home now, Sir?"
Jack frowned and looked around, scrutinizing the area. "Think there's another gate on this island?"
Sam gave him a doubtful look and started to open her mouth.
Jack shook his head. "That was a yes-no question, not a 'maybe and let me tell you why' one, so you just keep those concerns to yourself, Major," Jack said. "If there's no gate, then once we don't check in on time, Hammond'll see about getting one of those Tok'ra ships over here to pick us up." He rolled his eyes at Sam's wide-eyed look. "I know, Carter! It will take while for them to get here."
Sam continued to stare at him.
Jack sighed and shut his eyes for a moment. "No, I did not plan this." He started to look defensive as Sam's look turned to one of suspicion. "Okay, I admit it. Yes, I did want to come here for some rest and relaxation, but you really think I could have pulled all this off?" he asked, waving his hand at the caldera.
"Where there's a will, there's always a way… Sir," Sam answered.
"I'm good, Carter, but not that good," Jack muttered.
"It what?" Daniel asked, his face draining of all color as Jack finished sharing his and Sam's findings with the rest of the team. Jack had to be joking with him. Yeah, he always was cracking jokes at his expense. It was just one big, nasty joke.
"That is, as you say, not a good thing," Teal'c commented.
Jack looked back at Daniel, no hint of a smirk on his face at all. "It really is gone, Daniel. That rumble we heard was part of the plateau collapsing into the caldera."
"The DHD?" Daniel asked somewhat hopefully. Please let that be left. Something. Anything.
"Everything, Daniel," Sam said, shaking her head. "Gate, platform, steps, DHD, MALP, even those rocks you were looking at."
Daniel's brows knitted together as he finally understood the extent of their loss. "So what next?" he asked after a minute.
"We finish doing a recon of the island," Jack said, standing straighter. "Make a more permanent shelter. Locate a potable water source. Find some food." He looked more closely at Daniel. "Stop worrying, Daniel. Hammond will send out the troops and you'll be back home in a few days."
Daniel looked around at his teammates and caught the cynical arch of Teal'c's brow.
"Or longer," Jack admitted. "Okay. Yes, it might take more than a few days."
Sam cleared her throat loudly.
"What?" Jack asked.
"It may be a bit longer than that, Sir," Sam said. "If I remember correctly, there aren't many gate addresses out in this quadrant. It also stands to reason that there probably aren't very many Tok'ra ships out this way either."
"Okay," Jack said, "so it may be a lot more than a few. But what better place to be stuck than Paradise?"
"How long, Jack?" Daniel asked, frowning. He didn't like Jack's tone. The man sounded like he actually liked the idea of getting stuck here, the longer the better.
"Maybe a week? Longer?" Jack responded, shrugging.
Daniel opened his mouth to protest, and then thought better of it, shaking his head.
"You would appear to have gotten your wish, O'Neill," Teal'c said, looking out at the breaking waves. "You have found Paradise and you will be able to enjoy it at your leisure."
"Yeah," Jack said, a frown developing at the edges of his mouth.
"Anyone else have the feeling that we're being watched?" Sam asked, looking around at the undergrowth that had started to thicken a quarter-mile into their inland recon.
"Yeah," Daniel agreed, moving closer to Sam's back. The undergrowth was too thick for his tastes.
As they moved into a small clearing, Sam snapped her hand up to alert him and Teal'c to stop. Halting and listening to the myriad of bird calls all around them, he could just make out the whispering rustle of leaves ahead of them. He stepped back as his teammates instinctively pulled close together, their backs to one another and their weapons held at the ready. Jack took a step toward the rustling undergrowth, and Teal'c moved closer to Daniel and Sam to cover Jack's gap.
Jack stealthily approached the noise, motioning for the others to hold their positions. They obeyed, motionless until they all lifted their weapons as one when several human forms suddenly appeared from the undergrowth. The humans were unclothed males, the smallest of them standing taller than Teal'c, and each covered by intricate tattoos that swirled over and around their bodies. Their long, razor-sharp spears glinted in the sunshine that streamed down from a break in the tree canopy. SG-1 immediately assumed a tighter defensive stance, raising their weapons up to sight-level, ready to take out the encroaching warriors if necessary.
"Whoa!" Jack said. Daniel stole a quick glance at Jack and caught Jack flinching and taking a step backwards. Jack had the warrior who'd made the noise staring him down at point blank range through his gun sight.
The two groups stared hard at each other for several minutes, their weapons trained unwaveringly on each other.
"Daniel?" Jack asked over his shoulder, his eyes never leaving the face of the warrior in front of him.
"Jack?" Daniel responded, his P90 trained on one of the warriors who stood a few feet in front of him.
"Who are they?" Jack asked.
"I don't know," Daniel responded. "I've never met them before."
"I know that!" Jack spat out. "Who do you think they are?"
Daniel squinted at the warrior closest to him. "Polynesian? Not sure of the time period when the Goa'uld may have brought them here. But their tattoos do seem…a bit familiar," Daniel mused as he sorted through the dozens of visual images in his mental catalogue of cultures. "Samoan maybe? Hawai`ian?"
The two groups continued to warily watch one another, frozen in time and place, only the sound of their breathing breaking the silence.
Jack turned his head to give Daniel a quick glance. "I enjoy staring contests as much as the next guy, but think you could try some verbal communication, Daniel?"
"Aloha," Daniel said in greeting to the warrior across from him, and he smiled widely.
The warrior only squinted harder at Daniel in response. "O wai kou inoa?" the warrior asked, after eyeing Daniel from head to toe.
"O Daniel ko'u inoa," Daniel said. "My name is Daniel. Hoaloha ko'u… My friends," Daniel said, nodding at his teammates, "Jack. Teal'c. Sam."
The eyes of the warriors followed Daniel's nods.
"Malahini o ka hoku-puka," Daniel continued. "We are strangers from the Stargate."
Daniel's warrior turned to the warrior beside him, the largest of the group who had been staring down Teal'c. "Ka hoku-puka?" the smaller warrior asked, seeking guidance. "Kane `a'ole. Na ke akua, `ae!"
"Daniel?" Jack asked, sounding worried.
"Uhm…," Daniel said, squinching his eyes shut as he ran a quick translation through his mind. "Uh… it translates loosely to… uh… The stargate? Men - no. The gods - yes."
"Just great," Jack muttered under his breath, shaking his head.
The group of warriors looked between SG-1 and the largest warrior, waiting for his direction. Daniel surmised he must be their leader. The lead warrior continued to eye Teal'c and Jack with a look of open distrust. "Hele aku!" he said suddenly, waving all but three warriors away. The dismissed warriors slid too easily back into the undergrowth, Daniel unhappily observed.
The lead warrior took a step forward, lowering his spear. He raised a fist to his chest. "Kekoa Po."
"Night Warrior," Daniel translated. "That's his name."
Kekoa Po nodded at Daniel. "`Ae."
Jack looked at Daniel.
Daniel raised his eyebrows in response. "It means yes," he said in a tone that inferred Jack should have been able to guess that one.
"Ahhh…," Jack said, lifting his chin, and nodding at Kekoa Po. "Colonel Jack O'Neill."
"Teal'c," Teal'c said, dropping his chin respectfully down an inch.
"Doctor Daniel Jackson," Daniel said, raising a fist to his chest.
"Major Samantha Carter," Sam said with a nod.
"You will come with me," Kekoa Po announced, stepping back and indicating the thick bushes into which the other warriors had disappeared.
"Uh, where will we come?" Daniel asked.
"You will come," Kekoa Po insisted, brushing the leaves aside and nodding toward a barely discernable path.
"But where?" Daniel asked again.
"Daniel, I think that's an order and not an invitation," Sam said softly.
"So we're just blindly going to go where he tells us to?" Daniel asked. "That's not a good plan."
"You got other plans for the next week or two, Daniel?" Jack asked, slowly lowering his gun as the remaining warriors lowered their spears.
"Uh, no," Daniel answered, dropping his weapon to waist-level.
"Well, then," Jack said, "we're about to see how the other half lives."
Daniel grimaced at Jack. Yeah, the other half as prisoners of the locals, he thought.
"Look, Daniel," Jack said gruffly, "we'd've already been dead if they were that hostile, understand? Besides, I thought you enjoyed all this archeological mumbo jumbo."
"Anthropological," Daniel corrected him. "And I do," he admitted quietly.
"Well, you've been complaining you never have time to do an in-depth study. Here's your chance," Jack said. Jack turned back to Kekoa Po. "Lead the way," he said to the tall warrior.
The group had spent a good amount of time trekking up the mountainside and had hiked along a sunny ridge out to what Sam surmised to be the southernmost tip of the island from the magnetic pole readings she'd taken in the morning. The trail precariously snaked along the ridgetops with sheer drop-offs falling several thousand feet down on either side. Sam looked around at the magnificent view. She could understand now why Jack had fallen immediately in love with the gorgeous island. The planet's ocean dipped out of sight in the far horizon, a magnificent deep blue that lightened considerably before it lapped in frothy layers against the shorelines far beneath them.
Kekoa Po halted, and then started down a near-vertical drop off. Jack followed him, disappearing over the side without a look back. He was followed by Teal'c and another warrior. Daniel hesitated in front of Sam, peering down over the side of the cliff at the steep steps carved into the cliff. He shook his head.
Sam peered over the side. "Come on, Daniel," she said. "We've been through worse."
Daniel shook his head.
Sam grunted. "Your choice," she said as she squeezed past him. She started to carefully pick her way down the stairs. "It was either going to be me behind you or them behind you," she said, looking up at him.
Daniel looked at the two remaining warriors. They were patiently waiting for Daniel to descend. Eyeing their bulk, Daniel knew he wasn't going to be able to convince them to take him back out along the ridge and bring him in by some other route to wherever they were taking SG-1. He gave a resigned sigh.
"Okay, okay," he said, slowly picking his way down the steps and gripping tightly to the few handholds he found.
Sam kept pace with the warriors as they descended steep highland slopes past several large man-made water collection ponds and even more long terraces filled with taro-like plants, finally reaching open grasslands. The slope leveled out for a few minutes, then took a sharp drop down to the outskirts of what appeared to be a large shore-based community. A few houses had dotted the small knolls back up near the terraces, but most of the community seemed to be spread out along the arc of a huge bay, nearly all of the wooden structures closer to the water built up on stilts.
Sam had shed her outer jacket, but not her vest, shortly after they'd descended the cliff, rolling it up and looping it through one of the straps of her backpack. The exertion of the hike, combined with the humidity and the strong midday sun, had left her hot and sweaty. With the back of her hand, she wiped the newest beads of sweat from her brow, grinning as several of the children they'd passed earlier near the taro terraces raced past SG-1 and down to the village proper, gleefully shouting and pointing to announce the visitor's arrival to the villagers.
Although Sam prided herself on being prepared for anything, she was surprised to see that the villagers were no more clothed than the warriors were. A few had wrapped small rectangles of cloth snugly around their hips and a couple of elderly villagers had loosely cloaked themselves with the same cloth rectangles, but she had yet to observe anyone fully-dressed as she would define it. She halted behind Jack as their warrior escort stopped in front of one of the largest of the village structures. Sam noticed that it was slightly more ornate than the smaller ones they'd passed and that instead of the open stilts that supported most of the other structures, this one had a stone foundation. Framed by stands of fragrant flowers was an arched doorway and the young man guarding the door proudly held a huge feather standard.
After the young guard nodded at him, Kekoa Po stood silently before the steps. "Hale ali`i," Kekoa Po whispered reverently as he bent respectfully down toward an unseen entity inside.
"House of the King," Daniel whispered from behind Sam.
While Kekoa Po prostrated himself across the steps leading up into the structure, Sam followed Jack's lead and set her backpack down on the ground in front of her and eased off her heavy vest, carefully folding it to not damage the various pieces of equipment hidden in its many pockets and then draping it over her pack. As she straightened back up she removed her cap to ruffle her sweat-dampened hair. What she wouldn't give for a shower right about now.
A low murmur ran through the crowd of children and adults that had formed a loose semi-circle around SG-1. Sam turned around find a number of villagers staring and pointing at her. A few older villagers had prostrated themselves before her as Kekoa Po was doing toward the empty doorway. Sam's cheeks burned; she was well aware of how her sweaty t-shirt was clinging to her curves and could feel where her pants were wedged up into places where she'd have preferred they hadn't. She tried plucking discretely at her t-shirt and pants, but her actions only increased the villager's murmuring.
Sam cleared her throat uncomfortably. She wasn't used to this kind of scrutiny from a local population. Usually the transplanted human populations they encountered were so worried about repercussions from their Goa'uld overlords that they cowered and hid from SG-1, avoiding all contact with the team unless absolutely necessary. Or, on the opposite end, they tried to quickly contain SG-1 so that the remaining population wouldn't find out that there was life on other planets.
As Kekoa Po finally rose to ascend the stone boulders, Sam caught Daniel's eye.
"Daniel!" she whispered. "What does "kekoa ke akua kula" mean?"
Daniel was quiet for a moment. "The golden warrior god, pretty much," Daniel answered. "Why?"
"That's what they keep whispering while they're pointing at me," Sam nervously whispered. "Some of them are bowing to me."
Daniel looked at Sam's hair and then back at the villagers. "Well, the warriors thought we were all gods when they met us earlier. I wouldn't worry about it much, Sam. After we speak to their leader things should be fine."
Jack snorted and waved at the team to follow him into the structure as Kekoa Po reappeared in the doorway and nodded to SG-1.
It took a few minutes for Sam's eyes to adjust completely to the dark interior of the structure. A profusion of flowers adorned the walls, but Sam barely noticed their cloying scent as she tried to burn the room's layout into her memory for future tactical use. A simple, but sturdy throne dominated one corner of the large central room that SG-1 was standing in and two large windows flanked the throne, providing the only light in the room. The right side had been partitioned into a series of smaller rooms. Sam's eyes were drawn to a screen of flowers and palm fronds that had started to waver and shake to her left. From behind the screen, a woman appeared.
"Well, maybe that meant House of the Queen," Daniel remarked softly from behind Sam.
Tall and solidly built, the woman turned toward them, her cheeks deeply marked with laugh lines, her eyes alert and carefully assessing the team. Sam observed the long length of material wrapped loosely around the woman's body, the upper side tucked up under her uncovered breasts. In comparison to the nearly naked villagers outside, the woman almost seemed overly-clothed.
The woman slowly walked over to the flower-strewn throne and sat down, her head held high and her focus never leaving SG-1. Sam couldn't feel any Goa'uld vibes emanating from the woman and that made her feel a bit better. If they were going to be stuck for a while on this island, it certainly didn't need to be with a Goa'uld.
Ignoring SG-1's inquisitive expressions, the woman slowly examined each team member in turn. "Komo mai a Kumukahi," she said to SG-1 when she had finished looking them over. "Welcome to the Land of the Sunrise." She allowed a small smile to spread across her face. "Kekoa Po has said you are ke akua from the hoku-puka."
Jack stepped forward. "Well, I don't know about any hocus-pocus, but we're SG-1, travelers who came through the Stargate," he said, emphasizing hocus-pocus to the point that Sam had to bite her upper lip to keep from laughing.
"Ke akua traveling through the hoku-puka," the woman repeated, holding Jack's gaze for a moment.
"No, we're not gods," Daniel quickly interjected, stepping up beside Sam.
"That's right," Jack said, squinting at Daniel before turning back to the woman on the throne. "We're not gods. My name is Colonel Jack O'Neill and I lead SG-1." He raised his eyebrows and cocked his head sideways at the woman. "And we have the pleasure of meeting with…?"
"I am called Iolana. I lead the Kumukahi."
Jack nodded. "Iolana, it's-"
"Queen Iolana," Daniel interjected. "She's the ali`i, Jack."
"I see-ee, Daniel," Jack hissed out of the side of his mouth. "You can interpret all this for me later, okay?" Jack fingered the cap in his hand and took a step toward Queen Iolana. "We come to the Karma Kameleon people…," Jack said, ignoring Daniel's groan as he mispronounced the name of Iolana's people, "as friends from through the Stargate from Earth."
"The hoku-puka," Iolana offered, nodding her understanding.
"Yeah, the hocus-po…ooka," Jack echoed, as Daniel hissed at him. Jack crossed his arms. "Which by the way - that hoku-puka - the big round thing that we call the Stargate - it's gone."
Iolana's brows knitted together and she squinted at Jack. "I do not understand," she said.
Jack nodded toward the jagged mountain range that they had descended. Sam visualized the volcano's caldera post-eruption, continuing to eat away the plateau. Surely Iolana and the villagers had felt the same tremendous shaking that SG-1 had? Or were seismic quakes a normal part of their daily routine?
"That big noise before sunrise," Jack explained, "that was the volcano burping. The ga…hoku-puka - it's gone. Down the big hole and into the lava."
"The caldera," Sam offered quietly.
"Yes. That," Jack said.
Iolana's gaze bored through Jack, right through Sam, seeking something far beyond them. "You saw this with your own eyes?" she asked.
Jack nodded and pointed at Sam. "Carter and I personally investigated it this morning. Nothing's left."
"Carter?" Iolana asked, her attention refocusing on Sam.
"Major Samantha Carter," Sam explained, smiling at the queen. Ignoring Jack's squints, Sam introduced the rest of the team to Iolana. Sam noticed Iolana gave only cursory glances to the rest of the team, including Jack, during the introductions, her gaze never straying far from Sam's face. Sam felt a light blush creeping up her neck. It was as if Iolana knew something about Sam that she didn't even know about herself. Sam wondered what it was.
"Major Samantha Carter," Iolana said, slowly repeating Sam's pronunciation. Iolana lowered her eyes for a moment. "I am honored to be in the presence of ke akua kekoa kula."
Ke akua kekoa kula? Sam turned to Daniel, her eyebrows raised in question.
"Daniel?" Jack hissed.
Daniel harrumphed and fiddled with the corner of his eyeglasses. "Ke akua kekoa kula - the Golden-haired Warrior Goddess," Daniel translated. "Loosely. Could mean Queen, too. Depends on how you interpr-"
Jack shook his head hard and stopped Daniel with a wave of his hand. "I don't think so. Carter's not the Queen of the damned Earth or Samantha, Warrior Goddess!"
Sam heard Daniel stifle a laugh with a hard cough.
The queen's attention was suddenly drawn to the doorway behind Sam. The team turned in unison to see what had captured Iolana's attention. Peering around Daniel, Sam caught sight of a young woman prostrated across the steps, waiting for Iolana's recognition.
"Noelani, komo mai," Iolana announced.
The team turned back to Daniel.
Daniel rolled his eyes at them. "Literally translated - "Heavenly Mist, welcome." Or enter. Or come on in…," Daniel said, continuing to offer possible translations until Jack made a cutting sign across his throat.
The younger woman slowly approached the throne, kneeling before Iolana's feet as Iolana bent forward to smile warmly at the young woman and to kiss her forehead gently. She motioned for her to rise. Sam noticed the fabric the young woman had wrapped around her lower body was of the same color and quality as Iolana's. Not a common villager, Sam guessed.
"Noelani," Iolana said, gesturing to the other woman. "The daughter of my long-deceased brother."
Noelani bent her head low in deference to the queen, and then looked back up at SG-1, sharing the smallest of smiles with each of them. Sam heard Daniel's sharp intake of air as he finally noticed the strong resemblance that Sam had already determined that Noelani bore to Daniel's recently-deceased wife.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," Daniel said, a slightly incredulous tone to his voice.
Noelani's smile widened.
Jack cleared his throat and took a step toward Iolana. "Yeah, very nice to meet you both," he said. "Now, if it's not a bother I'd like to talk about our status here. Lodging, freedom of movement, you know…."
"Jack!" Daniel hissed, turning to frown at him. "Not now."
Jack's mouth snapped shut. "Yes, I think now, Daniel." Jack turned back to the women on the throne. "We come in peace. We really want to have a long, friendly talk, but it's been a really long day," Jack said, taking another step closer to the women.
Iolana watched Jack, and ignoring his explanations, she raised a hand. "Nahele," she said.
"No hell a…," Jack repeated. "Excuse me?"
A slim man approached the throne from one of the small side rooms and bent his head down near Iolana's. After a few moments, he straightened up and walked over to Sam.
"I am Nahele. Please, if you will follow me," he said to Sam.
Sam's eyes widened and she looked at Jack for guidance. "Where to?" she asked Nahele.
Iolana stood. "There will be time for talk and the sharing of stories later. The gods must be tired and hungry after their long trip. Nahele will assist the gods while they prepare for the celebration in their hale noho," she said before turning and disappearing into one of the side rooms.
Nahele lifted his head back up. "Please. Come."
Kekoa Po rose from the steps and motioned for SG-1 to leave the room.
"Sir?" Sam asked Jack.
Jack shrugged. "To the hale noho we go. The gods don't seem to have a choice in this one."
"Hocus pocus?" Daniel asked in an exasperated whisper as they followed Nahele through the village. "I don't think smartass diplomacy is what General Hammond was thinking of when-"
Jack shot a look at Nahele's back and glared at Daniel. "Good thing you're not military and I can't discipline you, Daniel," Jack hissed, a hard edge to his voice.
"Seriously though, Jack - that was pretty bad even by your standards," Daniel continued in a heated whisper.
"So, Mr. Diplomat," Jack whispered back, "think you could do better?"
"Yeah," Daniel said matter-of-factly. "I do."
"Okay then, why didn't you?" Jack asked, stopping and dropping the whisper.
"Did you give any of us a chance to?" Daniel asked loudly.
Sam shook her head in warning at the two men and nodded her head toward Nahele's back.
Jack shrugged. "Doesn't matter anyway. The woman's probably just a figurehead anyway."
"I have to disagree," Daniel said.
"And why, Daniel?" Jack asked.
"For one, her name translates to Royal Soaring Hawk. Quite a powerful name and one that wouldn't be given lightly in cultures like this one."
"So?" Jack asked belligerently.
"So…you aren't just given that name. You earn that one by being a strong leader, not by being a pretender," Daniel said.
"She did look like a very formidable woman," Sam said.
Jack shrugged. "We'll see…."
From his honorary position seated amongst the Kumukahian warriors, Teal'c covertly observed his teammates through half-lidded eyes. He noted with amusement that Colonel O'Neill had discarded his shoes and rolled his pant legs up to his calves, his jacket and backpack long since stowed away in a corner of the small hut the team had been escorted to earlier.
Sitting cross-legged on the woven mats that had been arranged in a wide arc around a sandy circle, O'Neill was examining with considerable interest the bare-chested women that were approaching them with handfuls of flowers. Teal'c contemplated the tall women. Fine warrior women they were, reminding him very much of the women of Chulak and of the mother of his own son.
Teal'c arched the edge of his eyebrow in acknowledgement of the look of open interest the tallest of the women had given him. She gently placed a circlet of perfumed flowers on his head. Teal'c allowed the hint of a smile to flicker across his lips as he nodded his thanks back to her. Perhaps he might find something of interest on the island after all, he thought as he watched her move on to Kekoa Po beside him.
As the men seated around him began a slow hushed chant, the women slowly returned to the middle of the flat, sandy circle, assembling themselves in two loose rows. In time to the warrior's chant they slowly swayed their shoulders back and forth, and gracefully lifted their palms up in front of them, rolling them languidly back and forth.
The ocean, Teal'c realized. A gentle ocean, hypnotic in its repetition. Nothing like the angry ocean beneath Heliopolis from where they had rescued the Tau'ri explorer, Ernest Littlefield. That heaving, storm-lashed ocean had pounded the cliffs and had devoured the entire fortress in a single day. He had no wish to visit any oceans such as that in the future, not unless it was absolutely required of SG-1.
His eyes slowly moved away from O'Neill, his attention attracted to Major Carter who was sitting slightly behind and to the right of O'Neill. He ascertained that she was equally drawn to the caressing moves of the dancers and the lulling chant of the warriors as he was, but he detected uneasiness in his teammate's expression as her gaze wandered beyond the dancers, out toward the shoreline and the dark horizon that the sun had recently set upon. He shared the concern that he knew she had about the villagers potentially exposing SG-1 to unknown enemies, however at this moment, it did not appear that the villagers had anyone or anything to fear, for as they had walked together to the celebration, Daniel Jackson had shared with much exuberance the brief history of the island people that he had learned thus far from Nahele. It appeared to be a peaceful culture with the Kumukahian warriors training just as the Tau'ri did during their period of relative peace.
Noticing the attention of the tallest dancer focused on him again, he carefully placed all thoughts to the side and focused on the dancers. For now, he would relax.
Enthralled, Daniel watched the dancers ebb and flow apart only to recombine over and over again. The warriors that Teal'c had been seated with near Iolana had quickened the pace of their chant, their mood becoming more upbeat. The women dancing in the light of the torches and bonfires responded in kind, trailing their arms along the shoulders and biceps of their sister dancers as they drifted apart and raising their arms in delight when the groups converged again. Then the dancers broke permanently into two groups.
"What is it that they're reenacting?" Daniel asked Nahele, who he'd made sure he was seated next to.
"A past time," Nahele responded quietly. "A time when all the people of the Lands of Sunrise lived under one rule as one large ohana or family."
"So something happened?" Daniel asked, glancing quickly at Nahele.
Nahele looked at the dancers in the smaller of the breakaway groups, slowly twirling around and dipping low, ebbing like the tide at the fringe of the known land, and he nodded toward them. "After the Great Mother was taken to her place in the sky to tend to the needs of the gods, her family here in the Lands began to lose the old ways and customs."
Daniel leaned forward, intrigued. "Really? How?"
Nahele shook his head slowly and smiled. "'Ime'ike - seeker of knowledge - you have certainly been named well by our queen. Daniel - 'Ime'ike - let us not worry about the past this evening." Nahele turned back to face the dancers and drummers who had slowed down to a mournful beat as the twirling dancers on the fringe of the sandy stage disappeared into the darkness outside the circle of bonfire and torch light.
"How long ago?" Daniel asked, persistent as the drumming softened down to the shush-shush sound of falling rain. The remaining dancers gently swayed back and forth, a great sadness filling their faces, and they slowly shut their eyes and held their hands to their hearts.
"Not within the span of my memory," was the curt answer Nahele gave him as the drums ceased.
Daniel flinched as a loud "boom-boom" suddenly reverberated through the air. The dancers turned their heads away from the audience, burying their faces in the crooks of their upraised arms. He looked back and forth between the dancers and Nahele as the drummers beat out two more quick boom-booms. "Their grief seems so fresh," Daniel observed, making a final attempt to get information out of the man.
Nahele stared straight ahead. "Enjoy the telling," he said, shooting a quick sideways glance at Daniel. "You ask many questions, honored guest. Tonight, however, is a night to relax and enjoy the mastery of our dancers and musicians." Nahele turned back to the stage as the drummers burst into a rapid rhythm and the faces of the dancers lit up as they joyfully lifted their arms to the heavens, their hands shaking as if to sprinkle sparkling sunlight upon their own heads and those of their audience.
Daniel felt their elation as they gave whooping praise to the sun god and he smiled. Nahele was right; these artists were masters of the oral and dance traditions. He was being silly, letting other's concern fuel his own when there didn't seem to be any reason for it now that they'd met the "natives." He smiled and let his head drop back onto his shoulders, lifting his shut eyes to the dark sky and allowing the staccato beats to wash his doubts away.
Jack snuck a glance at Teal'c's face. He had become very familiar with that look the past three years - the half-asleep, contented-cat look that Teal'c had just before he shut his eyes for kel'noreem. Jack decided the big guy must be enjoying the festivities.
Jack switched his focus back on the well-endowed and scantily-clad performers. He knew he certainly was enjoying all this. A small smirk cracked the edge of his mouth. Only in the Stargate program could they find themselves at the end of their first full day off-planet as guests of a group of friendly off-worlders and being treated to their own personal luau.
Life couldn't get much better than that.
He saw Sam shift in his peripheral vision and internally he shook his head as he heard her voice in the back of his mind, warning him of danger. Usually he appreciated her soldiering instincts because she was normally right on target about things, but this time he didn't want anything to dampen the flame of his growing joy at their good luck.
He turned to his left to watch their host. Queen Iolana seemed as engrossed in the entertainment as Teal'c was, the lines of worry that had traced their insidious roots across her forehead having softened as she watched the dancers move. The dancers smiled at one another, making small, patting claps and laughing, while others stooped down to imitate the gathering of bountiful harvests. One dancer stood ramrod straight off to the side, doing her best to act the part of a benevolent leader. Jack realized that the dancer was mimicking Queen Iolana's proud stance.
He wondered what Iolana had done to command this show of respect and love. Sure, dictators would expect and demand this kind of adulation, but he knew from having dealt with a lifetime of brownnosers and jerks that what he was seeing here was genuine because these people honestly liked their leader. He thought about Colonel Samuels who continued to lurk the halls of the Pentagon, spreading negativity and pessimism about the Stargate program to anyone who'd listen and trying to get an "in" with whomever was in power at the moment. Suck-up Number One, Jack thought bitterly, remembering how Samuels had kissed Kinsey's ass - so hard he'd probably left a permanent hickey on it.
Jack noticed the young man sitting to the queen's left. He remembered being introduced to the young man earlier, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember the kid's name. Was he her nephew? Her son? He squinted and noticed the young man shared Iolana's same long, broad nose and high forehead, and overall facial shape, but with a more masculine bent. Son. Had to be.
Jack watched as the young man pushed another large platter of raw and roasted vegetables in front of his mother and she absentmindedly waved it away with one hand like she was brushing aside an offending gnat. The young man frowned at the platter and then at his mother, and he withdrew from her side, slowly easing back into the second row of courtiers. The young man's sullen look deepened.
Spoiled brat, Jack decided. Not that he was going to make a final judgment without finding out some more facts, but the kid had to be one at his age, especially if his mother had been reigning for a lifetime. Kind of like old Elizabeth the second of England not allowing her oldest son to spread his wings and fly. There were only so many things a young man could do in a situation like that and, now that he thought about it, in a confined space like this island. He watched as the young man slowly turned and disappeared into the throng of villagers that had filled in the empty spaces around and behind them. So much for the spoiled brat then.
The drums beat double-time again and the dancers stooped low and then released joyful shouts, falling into a loose, undulating group in front of Queen Iolana and the young woman that Jack remembered was her niece. The dancers bowed low to the queen, and then turned to bow equally low to the niece who returned their happy smiles with a short dipping bow of her own. Jack wondered why the spoiled brat had cut out, especially knowing that he was going to miss out on this guaranteed adulation in front of the villagers. Maybe he had a liaison with a lover planned while everyone else was here at the celebration? As he picked up the stone carafe full of the homebrew he'd dubbed Kumukahian Kick, Jack made a mental note to ask Daniel about the son in the morning.
Wiping his mouth off on the back of his hand, Jack eyed Daniel. Wide-eyed and his face filled with an ear-to-ear grin, the young archeologist reminded him of a little kid, sitting in a toy box and surrounded by so many shiny new toys he didn't know which to play with first. He noted that Daniel had tied one of the villager's loose hip wraps around his BDU's. Jack wasn't so sure he himself would be willing to try that wrap-thing anytime soon. It looked just a bit too…airy if he were to wear it like the natives did. He eyed the Kumukahian homebrew again after receiving a suggestive look from the most well-endowed of the dancers who had been watching him all evening. Well, okay then, maybe it might not take all that much to persuade him to at least try one time to do what the Romans were doing since it did look like he was going to be in Rome for quite a while.
Daniel held the ends of a long rectangle of cloth out in front of him. "Like this one, Sam?" he asked.
Sam eyed the material. Of all of the pieces of cloth that had been brought to their hut by Nahele that morning, she liked the one he was holding the best, preferring its deep indigo blue over the forest green and blood red choices he'd shown her earlier.
She nodded. "Mmhmm."
Daniel reached down and began to unzip his pants and Sam quickly found a loose shoestring on her boot to retie. Bending down onto her knee to focus on her boot, she acknowledged that although she and Daniel weren't all that modest considering some of the unusual circumstances they'd found themselves in so far, she still wasn't comfortable enough to the point that she was just going to stand there and ogle him as he stripped down.
She heard him kick his pants across the floor and looked up at him, assuming he was finished.
Oops. Commando. Nope, not quite the time to look up just yet.
She examined her other boot. Yep. It definitely could do with a retie, too, and especially if she was going to be heading out to do a morning recon in the hillsides beyond the terraces of taro-like plants. Jack and Teal'c had already left in search of breakfast in the village, Jack having point blank refused to put on one the wraps Daniel had begged him to try on, and Teal'c eyeing the multi-colored pile like it contained Apophis's kilt and he'd been ordered to wear it. She should've just joined them when they left instead of investigating the pile of wraps with Daniel.
"Whatcha think?" Daniel asked.
Sam stood up and brushed the dirt off her knees, her gaze traveling up from his feet to his head as he turned slowly around with his arms held out like a model's. She arched a brow. She'd figured on him wearing the skirt. She hadn't figured on him going commando or now, it seemed, shirtless. He was going to burn and quick.
She pulled her mouth to the side in a thoughtful expression. It didn't - correction - he didn't look half-bad in a skirt. "Mmmm… something's wrong with your skirt," she answered.
Daniel looked down. "Malo, Sam. It's called a malo." He tugged at the material and started to unwind it to take it off to fix it.
Before he could finish taking it off, Sam waved a hand at him. "Stop."
He looked at her questioningly.
"Now turn around," she directed him.
Daniel did a one-eighty, the fabric nearly unwound.
"No," Sam said.
Daniel turned back around, reaching down to release the short piece that was just barely wrapped around him.
"Noooo," Sam said, shaking her head. "Here, let me do it." She took the free part and worked it back around his waist, looping it around to make a tight knot where his bellybutton would be.
"There," she said, patting the knot and smiling broadly at her teammate.
"Sam, I'll never get it off," Daniel said, shifting uncomfortably and trying to push his thumb down behind the knot. "Don't you think it's a bit…tight? How am I going to walk in this?" He tried bending his knees. "Or sit, for that matter?"
Sam grinned wickedly at him. "Oh, it's not that bad, Daniel. Women deal with that kind of thing every day."
"Maybe Nahele or one of the men in the village can help you while we're gone," Sam said, the grin still plastered over her face as she reached down for her P90 and cap.
Daniel shot her a look filled with frustration and touch of pain. "Gee, thanks," he said.
She touched the edge of her cap as she exited the hut. "Anytime," she said.
Eyes half-shut, Teal'c watched with interest as the young man Teal'c understood was Iolana's son and the older man, Nahele, stopped in front of the grove of palms that Teal'c had been meditating in. After looking around the area to see who was in the vicinity, and missing Teal'c who was hidden by the leaves of a flowering bush, the younger man started to admonish the older man heartily.
Teal'c frowned. He assumed tutoring the son was amongst the many duties that Nahele performed for his queen. Much in the way the head administrator had served Apophis when Teal'c had been his head warrior. Teal'c fondly recalled his own teacher. He would never have disrespected Master Bra'tac in such a way.
The side of his mouth twitched in a semblance of a smile. Of course his master would have "beaten the stuffing" out of him, as O'Neill would say, for even having had thoughts of taking such a disrespectful action.
"I insist you do as I say!" the young man said adamantly, shaking a fist at the older man.
Nahele stood his ground. "What you ask of me is not a wise course of action, Nohea."
"But it is what I want. You know your place! You must serve me."
The older man dipped his head. "I serve your mother."
"And through her, me!"
The older man looked at Nohea with what Teal'c perceived to be a time-tested weariness and patience. "That is true," the man agreed. He heaved a great sigh and motioned the young man down toward the surf. "Come, Nohea," Nahele said. "Let us discuss this in greater detail if we must."
As the two walked farther and farther away, Teal'c allowed a deep sigh of his own to flow out of his chest and mouth as the sound of their voices were replaced by that of the waves breaking on the beach and the breeze whispering through the palm leaves. The edges of his mouth curved upward. Now he would finish his meditation.
Sam shut her eyes for a brief moment, enjoying the feeling of the midday sun beating down on her face, thankful she'd put the sunscreen in her pack instead of leaving it with the other supplies they'd bungeed to the now-melted MALP. She could hear the lapping of the waves on the sand nearby, the laughter of the village children out in the surf, and Daniel's soft, but slightly congested, breathing beside her. Hearing two tiny clinks she opened her eyes to find Daniel clicking two seashells together in time to the song "La Cucaracha." She smiled at him.
"Sam - you know what?" Daniel asked, returning her smile and picking up another seashell to examine in the bright sunlight.
"No, what?" Sam responded.
"The Kumukahi still really believe you're a goddess," Daniel said, turning to give her an amused look.
Sam frowned. "Sam Carter - Warrior Goddess. Right."
"Something like that," Daniel said, closing his hand over the small shell and offering it to Sam. "Actually I learned that they call you "Makanui." Translates to big eyes. Also means she who's greatly loved."
Sam shook her head and snorted as she accepted the seashell with her free hand. "But I haven't done anything to give them that idea, Daniel. You know the rules - the least interaction on the most levels, the better, so as to not contaminate anything."
Daniel laughed. "We're not talking timelines, Sam."
"But, Daniel, even you've always been pretty determined to not spread western Earth culture to the planets we've visited, right?" Sam asked.
"But just by being here, by coming through the gate, we spread it, Sam," Daniel responded. "We don't even have to open our mouths."
They both heard Jack laughing and turned in unison to look out toward the surf where Jack was fishing with a group of young boys and then they turned back around to look at each other.
Daniel raised his eyebrows as if to make the point that Jack's actions were a prime example of what he'd just said. He cleared his throat and looked at Sam's other hand that rested gingerly on the butt of her P90. "As I was saying - it's been a long time since the Goa'uld came here last - you remember the dancers at the luau? That dance was the story of their people. The Goa'uld for some reason decided they didn't like it here, picked up and left, and haven't been back since."
Daniel adjusted the malo that he'd finally learned to wrap securely around his hips on his own which had caused a good deal of amusement among some of the younger Kumukahian men who couldn't understand why he didn't want to use the loincloth style that they favored. Sam had discreetly listened as Daniel had tried to explain the loincloth's negative connotations in the Earth culture that he'd grown up in, but the men hadn't believed him.
"So when we came through the gate, they assumed that we were the gods returning," Daniel continued to explain. "Or at least that you were."
Sam squinted out beyond Jack toward the puffy cumulus clouds floating off the tall promontory on the north side of the bay. "Why just me?" she asked. "Why not you? Or the Colonel?"
Daniel fidgeted with the wrap again, still seemingly uncomfortable with the place at his waistline that he'd tucked the cloth's end. "The Kumukahi have a matriarchal society, Sam. Unlike many of the Polynesian societies of Earth, it's the women here who have the power and authority." He shrugged as he tugged on the waistline of the cloth to make certain it wasn't going to pull away and expose him.
"So," he said, "when they realized you were female after you took off your vest in the village, they just assumed you were a goddess." He looked at her hair and squinted. "And your blonde hair didn't help matters either."
Sam snorted, thinking of how the Goa'uld defined goddesses and her own experience of being blended with the Tok'ra symbiote, Jolinar. "Right," she said derisively.
"Could be worse," Daniel said. "A lot worse. And look at it this way - you have more status than any of the rest of us do in their eyes." Daniel stopped, grinning broadly at Sam. "Although… I'm one up the status ladder from Jack and Teal'c."
"Okay," Sam said, giving him a long look, "if I'm the goddess, then you are…?"
Daniel chuckled. "They think I'm your consort Sam. 'Imi`ike - Seeker of Knowledge. And here to serve his goddess in all the ways she requires." He waggled his brows at her.
"Consort?" Sam asked, an eyebrow shooting up.
Daniel continued to softly laugh. "Yeah," he said. "And you don't want to know who they thought Jack was."
Sam lifted her other eyebrow. "Who?"
"Your father, Ka'iupono - leader of the righteous," Daniel said, falling back onto the sand in a fit of laughter.
"That's not funny," Sam said. "He's not that old!"
Daniel stopped laughing after a moment and reached up to touch his forehead. "Maybe it's his hair."
"And Teal'c?" Sam asked.
"Teal'c's your bodyguard, Kanunu - there to protect the goddess Makanui from the wrath of her angry father who accompanied her here to keep her from fully enjoying 'Imi'ike's lustful advances," Daniel explained, trying to keep from laughing again.
"That's not funny," Sam repeated, this time half-heartedly as a smile slowly spread across her face.
"I think it is," Daniel said, snickering. He rolled onto his stomach toward Sam and took her free hand in his in a gently deferential manner, removing the small shell from her hand. "My fair goddess, Makanui of the SGC, does not agree with me?" He lifted her hand to his mouth and planted a soft kiss on the tips of her fingers.
Sam finally laughed and yanked her hand away from Daniel's, giving his hair a good-natured tousle. "You're something else, Daniel Jackson," she laughed.
Daniel rolled onto his back again, shutting his eyes to block the glaring midday sun, a smug smiled plastered on his face. "Yes. I am," he quipped.
Sam laughed again and adjusted the visor on her cap. "So what're your plans for today?" she asked.
Daniel shrugged. "More of the same, I guess. Speak with the elders. Learn more of their customs and language. Compare it to Earth's Polynesian cultures. I hope to speak with Queen Iolana at some point soon," he said, lifting a hand to shield his eyes. "But she's a very busy woman," he said, looking up at Sam.
"Running all this probably eats up her entire day," Sam offered, sweeping her hand across the vista in front of them.
"Probably," Daniel allowed. He gave Sam a long look. "So what does the Golden-haired Goddess have planned for the rest of her day?"
Sam smiled at him. "More of the same," she said, repeating his answer.
"Which is?" he asked, hitching himself up on one elbow to look out beyond the seafoam green of the bay to the cooler dark blue of the ocean beyond.
A lazy breeze wafted up from the gentle waves breaking on the beach and fluttered the longish hair poking out from under Sam's cap. She looked at Daniel's bare shoulders and chest, wondering how much of her stash of sunscreen he'd slathered on himself. She'd need to hide her last bottle or Daniel would use it all up before their enforced R&R even got started.
"One of the women is taking me on a tour of their planting terraces and she wants to show me their irrigation system that keeps the plants watered and drains the waste out from down here," Sam said, nodding at the village.
"Sounds like fun," Daniel said without much conviction.
"Yeah, maybe," Sam said, shrugging. "But better than figuring out island politics," she added.
"Hey, politics can be enlightening," Daniel protested, sitting up and readjusting his malo again as the slit opened, threatening to expose more than just the side of his thigh.
Sam smirked at his concern for his clothing. "So…enlighten me," she said.
Daniel scooted back in the sand so that he was now sitting upright next to Sam. "So what would you like to know?" he asked.
Sam looked around at the numerous huts that circled the wide arc of the beach. She spied the queen's large hut. "Okay. How many kids does their queen have?"
"One," Daniel answered. "Nohea. His name translates to handsome."
"Just one child?" she asked.
Daniel nodded. "Apparently while she's had many consorts over the years, she only produced one child, a son."
"So Nohea'll be king soon?"
Daniel shook his head. "Nope. Remember this is a matrilineal society."
"No king then," Sam said. "So who will take over after she's…gone?"
Daniel shrugged. "Not sure yet. That's exactly what Jack asked me when I told him," Daniel said. "Maybe I'll have some more information this afternoon if I get my audience with Iolana." He smiled. "Besides, she probably will live a long life," Daniel said. "Her mother was ruler here for over fifty years before dying when Iolana was a young woman."
Sam tried to imagine fifty years of leading the same people and dealing with the same disagreements and fights that were bound to come up. It was a long time, but entirely possible as Queens Elizabeth and Victoria of England had proven. Just a different setting, Sam observed as she looked around the tropical paradise surrounding them. "Hard work if you can get it," she mused.
Daniel laughed and stood up. "Yeah, well, time to get back to work," he said, offering his hand to help Sam stand up.
She shook her head. "Thanks, but I'm staying here until Lae'ula comes for me."
"Jack needs guarding?" Daniel asked, reaching down to pick up his notepad and pen that he'd left on the sand.
Sam watched as Jack abandoned his makeshift fishing pole to dive into the deeper water after one of the laughing children. "Yeah, something like that."
Daniel nodded his understanding and walked up the incline toward the first cluster of huts.
Sam turned back to watch as Jack burst back up through the water, hawing and crowing with the kids and appearing to be in a state of total relaxation. Someone needed to guard something, she thought, as her fingers found their resting place in front of the P90's trigger.
"C'mon, Carter," Jack said, standing in the midday sun and looking down at Sam who sat protected from the sun by the fronds of an overhanging palm tree, cleaning sand from her gun for the umpteenth time. "Relax," he admonished her. "Loosen up."
Sam glared at him for a moment before returning her gaze back down to her weapon.
Jack frowned. "We've been here five days. Nothing's happened. Nothing's going to happen. Fine people, fine food…," he said, looking around, and he waved at the village just above them, "…a very fine atmosphere. Just loosen up. It's okay, Carter."
Sam laid the gun down. "So, Sir - you honestly think that we shouldn't be prepared?"
"Prepared for what?"
"Here?" Jack asked, the line between his brows deepening.
"Yes, here," Sam said, standing up to face him.
Jack stood nearly nose-to-nose with his second-in-command, her glare equaling his own in its directness. "Carter, I really think you need to take some time off," Jack said in a serious tone. "We're not going anywhere anytime soon, maybe even for weeks, worst case. And since you can't seem to read between my lines, I'll make it crystal clear - consider this a formal order for you to take that time off now."
Sam continued to glare at him, her mouth tucked into a firm line as she fought to keep from venting her disagreement about his leadership to his face.
Jack stood his ground, not blinking as he continued to meet her gaze. "That is an order," he said firmly, and he turned and walked away, his bare feet leaving deep imprints in the sand as he hiked back up to the village proper.
Sam only shook her head and, reattaching her gun back to her vest, started down the beach in the opposite direction to do a recon.
At the end of the recon, Sam had started hiking up the hilly area toward the warrior's compound. She'd heard hooting and shouting from near the compound earlier and wondered what the commotion was about. She knew Teal'c had been spending most of his days with the warriors and she found him standing at the edge of a loose circle of Kumukahian warriors, hands folded behind his back as he watched the warriors fighting in the center of the circle.
She cleared her throat as she entered the clearing and Teal'c turned and nodded to her. "Major Carter," he said with a small smile as she approached him. She stood next to him for a few minutes watching the two warriors in the center sparring with each other with short pointed sticks. Sam frowned and looked away, unable to put her finger on what was making her feel like she should be back down at the beach being the lookout if no one else were going to do it.
Teal'c turned his head slightly toward Sam and arched a brow. "You are uncomfortable with the warriors' nakedness?" he asked, glancing around at the men standing in a loose circle around them.
Sam shook her head. "No," she answered. By the end of the second day on the island she'd gotten over the initial culture shock since it wasn't only the warriors who wandered around in various states of nakedness. Most of the villagers she'd met to date seemed unconcerned about clothing or modesty.
"What matter is it then that has you so concerned?" Teal'c asked.
Sam noticed that sweat gleamed on his bare chest from what she assumed must have been a recent turn in the sparring ring against one of the warriors. She looked down, thankful that although Teal'c had shed his shirt and shoes, he was still wearing his SGC-issued fatigues and had not adopted the Kumukahian warrior's preferred commando dress code. She noted with a small smile however, that he did have a pair of fine-looking feet. She'd not had much opportunity to notice them before now. She stopped, pulling herself back from the distraction.
She rested her hand on the butt of her weapon, and looking back up at the two warriors in the middle of the circle. "Teal'c," she said, finally turning back to face and to answer him, "while we're stuck here, don't you think we should be prepared for the worst?"
Teal'c dipped his head in a small nod. "Indeed. That is why I have been coming here to practice with the Kumukahi warriors. Both to keep my physical conditioning optimal and to assess the readiness of these new allies to withstand a Goa'uld attack."
Sam raised a brow. "So you think something's going to happen?" she asked.
Teal'c shook his head. "No, I do not. At this time I must defer to O'Neill's assessment of the situation - a "peaceable kingdom" is how I believe he last phrased it."
Sam sighed, placing her hands on her hips.
"You do not agree?" he asked.
Sam shrugged. "On the surface of things, yes." And then she frowned. "But I just can't shake this feeling that something…," she said, her voice trailing off.
Teal'c turned back to face the warriors. "It is hard for you to relax?" he asked, more of a statement than a question.
"Ye…No. It's just…," Sam said hesitantly. "No matter how beautiful, how peaceful this all is, we're still on a mission, Teal'c. We shouldn't let our guard down until we're home."
Their match having ended, the warriors in the center ring bowed to one another. Teal'c turned back to Sam. "Perhaps you need to relax as the Kumukahian warriors relax," Teal'c suggested.
Sam raised a questioning brow at Teal'c's appraising look.
Teal'c nodded at the ring. "You have continued in the hand-to-hand combat series training?"
Sam nodded. "Certified to the next level now."
Teal'c eyed her. "Perhaps you would like to show Tau'ri combat techniques to our new allies?"
Sam took a deep breath and twitched her shoulders in a quick, indifferent motion. "I don't know, Teal'c. I don't want to be the cause of any kind of interplanetary incident if I accidentally hurt one of them," she said, looking around at the now-curious warriors.
Teal'c gave her the smallest of smug smiles. "I was not speaking of them," he said.
"Who then?" Sam asked. Then she spied his facial expression. "You?"
"Indeed," Teal'c said, unable to keep a bemused tone from shading his voice.
"But, Teal'c!" Sam protested. "We could do a demo for them any time."
"I did not say it would be a demonstration," he told her matter-of-factly.
Sam raised a brow. "But it would be like that – you'd make it too easy for me."
Teal'c's smile became a smirk. "I did not say I would be easy on you."
Sam felt twinges of adrenaline course through her at Teal'c's subtle challenge. She would be way outmatched against him. She had practiced some of the hand-to-hand combat skills modules with him in the past, but the two of them, no-holds-barred, in a real match? That'd be different.
She took a deep breath. "Okay, Teal'c, you're on," she said, unbuttoning her gun from her vest and easing the vest off.
"You must remove your shoes," Teal'c stated.
Sam nodded. "That's all I'm removing," she warned, "besides my weapons." She pulled out two knives and grenade from her fatigues. She pulled her boots and socks off, carefully arranging them in a pile away from the group of warriors, but still within her line of sight.
When she was sure her weapons were secure, she followed Teal'c into the ring, ignoring the open amusement of the warriors around them.
Teal'c was careful to bow deeply before her in a sign of utmost respect. Sam responded back in kind.
Teal'c watched Major Carter sling her boots over her shoulder and use the back of her hand to lift the damp hair that was clinging to her forehead as she descended the path ahead of him, and he allowed himself a small smile. She had proven herself a formidable warrior yet again. She would never have the advantage that his larger size and musculature gave him or the advantage of a symbiote such as he had, but she was an accomplished strategist and he appreciated that greatly.
Taking in her bare feet and rolled-up BDU pant legs and the looseness he now detected in her gait and composure, he allowed his smile to morph into a smug expression. He had achieved what O'Neill had not – giving Major Carter the physical release she needed to briefly relax.
"You let me win!" she complained, turning around to allow him to catch up to her.
"Did I not state clearly enough that it was by Level Two rules?" Teal'c asked, deadpan, as she gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder.
"You will join me at the same time tomorrow?" Teal'c asked innocently, slightly raising a brow.
Sam looked at him with an expression of momentary surprise, and then laughed. "Sure, if you insist."
"I do," he said, returning her smile.
Teal'c slowly lowered himself down onto the mat next to Colonel O'Neill's for the communal evening meal.
"What – we're not good enough for Carter anymore?" O'Neill asked him. Teal'c had been covertly observing Major Carter sitting in the midst of Kekoa Po's finest warriors, carefully trying the delicacies that were reserved only for the warriors that were deferentially being offered to her.
Teal'c lifted his chin. "She has proven herself to them," he stated simply, taking the bowl that was offered to him.
The colonel chewed quietly on his own food for a moment. "Care to share exactly how she did that?" he finally asked.
"Perhaps," Teal'c said, putting a handful of cooked roots into his mouth, "… or perhaps not."
"I'm working on it, I'm working on it," Daniel said, frustration creeping into his voice. "I know a lot of languages Jack, but derivatives of Austronesian languages aren't among them. I'm picking their dialect up as fast as I can; at least a thousand or more new words and their written language in the six days we've been here." He looked at Jack. "And what did you say you've been doing again?"
Jack stopped and swallowed hard. Yes. What am I doing, he wondered.
"Devising a Plan B in case we need one," he answered quickly, glaring at Daniel and daring him to contradict him.
"Aia no ia 'oe," Daniel muttered under his breath.
"Excuse me?" Jack asked, raising his eyebrows.
Daniel gave Jack a blank look before slamming his notebook shut and turning to walk away. "Loosely translated, Jack - whatever you say, yeah right, yeah sure you betcha…," he called over his shoulder.
Jack grimaced. "But I am!" he bellowed at Daniel's back.
Teal'c eyed O'Neill. O'Neill did not sound sincere to him.
"I swear, Daniel. I am," O'Neill insisted.
Daniel Jackson pursed his lips in a puckered frown and gave O'Neill a look full of doubt.
O'Neill rolled his eyes. "Okay, Daniel. I apologize, really. I appreciate everything you've been doing this past week with the translations and writing everything down about the culture. I'm sure the social workers back at the-"
Daniel Jackson winced. "Sociologists," he said.
"Yeah, them. I'm sure they'll just love everything you're doing here," O'Neill said, trying to smile. "I know I do."
Teal'c heard Major Carter muffle a cough.
"But I just need some confirmation about what's going on here. None of these island-types seem to be very talkative."
"I have not found that to be so," Teal'c said from his seated position, leaning against the sleeping hut wall.
O'Neill aimed a dark look in his direction to which Teal'c responded with the slightest arch of his brow. "Perhaps it is your approach?" Teal'c asked.
O'Neill sighed. "Anyway," he said. "What's up with the Queen's son, Nokia? He's been kind of scarce since that luau."
"Nohea," Daniel Jackson said, correcting O'Neill. "I've seen him with Nahele. I think he's being tutored."
Teal'c recalled the conversation between Nahele and Nohea that he'd overheard a few days earlier. He nodded his confirmation.
"Isn't he a bit old for school?" O'Neill asked.
"Maybe," Daniel Jackson answered. "Or maybe not. Could be that they're getting him ready for his new role as consort."
"Yeah. I hear he's been betrothed to some neighboring island's princess," Daniel said.
O'Neill was quiet for a minute. "You mean he can't marry that niece of Iolana's?"
"Don't think so, Jack," Daniel Jackson answered. "And politically it's more advantageous to marry him off to the powers that be on a rival island."
"Rival island?" Major Carter asked Daniel Jackson.
Daniel shook his head. "I don't know much about them - I just used that as a figure of speech."
"And so now he'll be king?" O'Neill asked.
"Something like that," Daniel Jackson responded.
"Oh. Colonel?" Major Carter said, apparently remembering something.
"Oh, Major?" Jack mimicked.
"Noelani, the Queen's niece, asked me if I wanted to participate in some rite of theirs."
"Oh, really?" O'Neill responded.
Major Carter nodded. "Something about a woman's coming of age, initiation-rite, or something or other."
"Oh, really?" O'Neill repeated, sounding a great deal more interested than he had before. "What all does this involve?" he asked.
Major Carter shrugged her shoulders. "Don't know. She told me she'd tell me more in the morning, once she ran it past her aunt and once I cleared it with you."
"Sounds interesting," Daniel Jackson said. "Do you want to do it?"
Major Carter tilted her head to the side and lifted a shoulder slightly. "It sounds like it could be interesting."
"And a great way to learn more about their coming of age rites," Daniel Jackson told her. "I'm actually jealous," he said.
"They do not have the same rites for men?" Teal'c asked.
"Not from what I've learned so far," Daniel Jackson said. "Only the male warriors have anything close to an initiation rite."
Teal'c nodded his head in understanding. Kekoa Po had exempted him from the warrior's rite after he had bested him in the sparring circle the first day they had been there, but the man had spent a considerable amount of time explaining the rite and significance of its steps to Teal'c.
"So…go forth and initiate," O'Neill told her. He sniffed the air. "I smell dinner," he said. "So briefing's adjourned. Same time tomorrow, unless one of you has something going on."
The group shook their heads "No" in unison and followed the colonel out of SG-1's sleeping hut.
Jack dug his big toe down into the wet sand - pushing, pushing, pushing - until the weight of the beach pushed back, denying him any more forward movement. He studied his quivering toe. Tough work, this was. As if to prove him wrong, the beach released his toe and it sprung to the surface, flinging a loose blob of sand high into the air before gravity pulled it back down, splattering it with a slurpy plop nearby.
Jack started to chuckle.
Beach Life 101, now enrolling at a tropical island university near you.
He craned his head back to look at the thatch of palms that he'd claimed as his own by stringing a hammock between them, a worn one that he had bartered one of the older villagers his last MRE for. After the leisurely recon down the beach and back that he'd just completed, just a short one to prove to Teal'c and Sam that he was doing something constructive, a nap right about now would sure hit the spot.
Jack hesitated. There was something about that hammock's gentle swaying lately that seemed to attract Daniel like a magnet, because every time he settled in, there was Daniel, appearing out of nowhere full of ideas and newly-translated phrases and speaking so rapidly that Jack could barely understand what it was Daniel was so earnestly trying to share.
Jack had finally had to tell Daniel, a little too snippily he now realized, to just stop it. Stop coming to him every time a brilliant idea hit him. Every time he found something new. Just stop it.
"Go find Carter and share it with her," Jack had grumbled, crossing his arms and aiming a hard squint at Daniel from the cocoon of his hammock.
"I did already," Daniel responded. "She told me yesterday it was better if I reported anything of significance directly to you."
"Oh, she did, did she?" Jack asked, his squint tightening as he imagined his second-in-command happily redirecting Daniel.
"Then go find Teal'c. Go find somebody. Just not me, okay?" Jack shut his eyes. "I don't wanna hear another word out of you until this evening when we do debriefing."
"No, Daniel. Go, Daniel." Jack cocked an eye open. "Now, Daniel."
Daniel heaved a loud sigh and threw his hands up, walking back up to the village proper, mumbling hotly under his breath.
Jack realized belatedly that Teal'c wasn't available to silently bear the brunt of Daniel's enthusiastic rambling. With Jack's permission, given that they'd had an uneventful week on the planet already, Teal'c had left in the wee hours of that morning to join the warriors in their equivalent of a weekend field exercise.
So there was still Sam. No, wait. There wasn't. She'd left the afternoon before on that women's initiation rite-thing that both he and Teal'c had been critical in private about, but that Daniel had insisted couldn't be that bad in comparison to other culture's rites. Jack couldn't wait to read her report on that part of their mission. He tucked his hands behind his head and let a smug smile to play over his lips as he allowed himself to imagine the kinds of things that might be involved in this rite of theirs….
Teal'c had listened carefully to the initiation rite stories that the group of warriors he'd been chosen to accompany had shared with him as they trudged deeper into the island. None of them, not even Kekoa Po had actually witnessed the female coming of age ceremony, although Kekoa Po had admitted after the other warriors had moved ahead of them that it would be Noelani who would personally oversee Major Carter's rite of passage. Sensing Teal'c's concern, he had given Teal'c a general idea of where to find the two women. Teal'c had thanked him and had quickly and silently parted from the group.
After an hour of hard walking up amongst the rockier peaks on this side of the island, he had discovered a small promontory that clung to the edge of one of the ridgetops. From that vantage point he had discovered the high, small clearing that the two women had sequestered themselves in. After Noelani anointed Major Carter with what he assumed were special ceremonial oils, he very slowly slid back away from the flat rocks that he had prostrated himself on for hours, silently watching as Noelani had tested Major Carter's hand-to-hand and spear-fighting skills. He doubted neither Noelani nor Major Carter had suspected his presence. He meant no disrespect to Kumukahi, but none of the warriors, even Kekoa Po, had but a fraction of his life experience in stealthily tracking prey.
Crawling backwards and watching for warriors in all directions, Teal'c reflected that he was pleased with what he had seen. Noelani had earned his respect by fighting as well as she had against Major Carter. But Major Carter – Samantha – she would always hold a special place in his heart and mind. He had observed that her skills had grown even in the few days that they had been here since she had joined him in the warrior's circle; Noelani was no match for his honored teammate. He had especially appreciated seeing that Major Carter had allowed Noelani to gracefully take an honorable defeat when it became apparent that the younger woman could not win the match.
He slid down the final crevasse and back onto his feet, returning across the ridge to head down to the valley where he'd last left the Kumukahian warriors several hours ago. He would make sure that the men in the group that he was a part of would head in the opposite direction. He did not want them stumbling upon the women's secret place or interrupting the rite of passage process for his teammate.
As he picked up speed after finding more level ground, Teal'c allowed a small, closed-mouth grin to spread across his face. He was proud of Samantha Carter and that she was his colleague. He was even more proud to call her friend.
Daniel smiled. If he couldn't have an audience with Iolana, then her niece, Noelani, was the next best thing. Although he'd been granted free access to everyone in the village, Iolana's son had been particularly standoffish. But Daniel had ignored that since the other villagers had remained friendly and equally as inquisitive about Daniel and his people as he was about them and theirs, at least once they had been mostly convinced that the members of SG-1 were definitely not gods.
Daniel was grateful to God, the gods, to Fate, to the quirks of tectonic plate movement that they had gotten stuck on this wonderful island for a while. Too often he just skimmed the surface of the cultures SG-1 encountered, never being able to do the in-depth studies that he was just itching to do. Instead he always had to pass off the fun stuff to the newer SG teams that were being created just for that purpose. Sure, he got to read their volumes of detailed reports and examine some of the artifacts they brought back, but that was just it – it was like he was constantly cramming for a final exam that he never got to take.
As he stood out in front of Noelani's hut, waiting for the appointed time, he watched as Jack quietly skirted the edge of the village, makeshift fishing rod in hand, cap rolled up in his back pocket, fatigues rolled up to his knees, and whistling as he made his way down to the surf.
Daniel smiled. Jack was enjoying this mission as much as he was. Daniel had nearly figured out what Jack's new routine would be by the end of the first full day they'd been there. Get up late, eat, nap in the hammock, eat, fish, nap, wander around the village in a half-hearted attempt at a recon in order to appease Sam, nap, eat, then an early evening de-briefing, if you wanted to call it that, and then repeat. But he didn't begrudge Jack a bit of it. The man had been to hell and back, and if he'd found a little bit of paradise to enjoy, far be it for him to screw things up for the man.
Then he remembered Jack telling him point blank to leave him alone the day before. He'd make an attempt to keep his discoveries to himself until Jack was open to hearing them, even if it killed him to do it.
Daniel turned to see Noelani standing beside him, his breath taken away by the bright smile and intricately-patterned pa'u that had been wound several times around her body. Noelani's smile widened further as she watched Daniel examining her bare chest and shoulders. "Your people do not wear the pa'u as we do?" she asked, touching the edge of the thin fabric that had been tucked under her breasts.
Daniel was unable to look away. Up this close, with the parts of her that were uncovered, she reminded him too much of Sha're his deceased wife. "Uh, no," he said, distractedly.
Daniel squinched his eyes shut. He'd already committed an ambassadorial faux pas by greeting her incorrectly and now here he was openly staring at the woman's breasts. His cheeks reddened. "Uh, no. I mean, yes…," he said, opening his eyes and looking up into the sky above them. The clouds were thickening above the mountaintops and were slowly heading their way. He sighed. "Let me start over. Thank you, your highness for taking the time to spend with me this afternoon. I apologize for interrupting your busy schedule."
Noelani laughed and Daniel swallowed hard at yet another of the similarities she had to Sha're. "No, it is my apologies that you should accept. I fear I have kept you waiting too long," she apologized, bending her head.
Daniel shook his head. "No, it's okay. Really. I hadn't noticed if you had. I appreciate it, I really do."
Noelani laughed again and motioned Daniel toward the less populated end of the beach. "So, Daniel of Earth, you have not answered my question about the pa'u."
Daniel cleared his throat and looked at Noelani and then back at the waves breaking on the sand. "Uh, yes, there are cultures - peoples - that do. Earth is a big planet with many types of weather, from cold weather where people must wrap up in many layers to even survive to, uh, tropical climates identical to yours. Many peoples in the warmer climates wear the pa'u and the malo."
Noelani checked out the malo Daniel had hitched up to his chest. "Perhaps your first lesson concerning our customs should be about how to properly wear the malo." She touched his hips. "Non-royals wear them much lower on their bodies in fitting with their status."
Daniel reddened again and started pulling at the edges of the malo, trying to discreetly push the top edge of the fabric down.
Noelani touched his arm. "It is fine," she said, laughing softly. "Most of the Kumukahi believe you are the consort to the goddess, so believe me when I tell you that it truly is fine."
Daniel winced. "Still? I thought we cleared that up - we're no more gods than anyone else here."
Noelani smiled. "You say that you and your friends are travelers, Daniel. Then you understand first impressions last forever, no?"
Daniel sighed. "Yeah, I guess they do."
They were both quiet as Noelani led him to a quiet spot on the outer shore. A palm had bent out over the water before angling back up toward the sky. She beckoned Daniel to follow her out as she straddled the trunk and then carefully balanced herself as she walked out several feet. She sat down and patted the trunk beside her, dangling her feet in the surf below. "Come, Daniel," she said.
Daniel skeptically considered the palm trunk. He wasn't so sure it would hold the both of them.
"It is fine, Daniel. It has weathered many fierce storms in its life. I know. I have watched it."
Daniel hitched up the bottom of his malo and mounted the tree, slowly making his way to Noelani on his hands and knees.
Noelani watched him, amused. "It is much easier if you walk it."
Daniel grunted as he carefully maneuvered his body and the now-twisted malo into a sitting position and he felt the tree trunk lower slightly. "Yeah, I'm sure it is."
Noelani looked back over the bay at the huts making up the village, at the planting beds above it, and then up at the rugged spires of the closet range of mountains. "So 'Imi'ike, what is it that I can answer for you that you have not already discovered about our land and our people?"
Daniel looked at the woman who reminded him so much of his recently-deceased wife. "Well, first, your highness, please call me friend. I'd really like to think our peoples are friends already that share common ancestors and that through our interactions we will only become better friends."
Noelani nodded. "I agree. And please call me Noelani. While class and title has its place in our culture, between friends such as we are, it does not. Noelani. Please."
"Agreed." Daniel smiled at her and then back at the village. "Okay, Noelani, first question - and this is for Jack - what really happens in the female initiation rite that Sam's going through?"
"That I cannot tell you," Noelani said, amused. "That is one sacred rite I would not be permitted to share with you. I am sorry."
Not as much as Jack was going to be, Daniel thought, equally amused. "Oh, I understand," he said. "Nothing beats an ask, as we like to say where I'm from. Although, can you tell us where Sam's at?" Daniel asked, making one more attempt for Jack.
"She is here on the island," Noelani said. "As part of the ritual I met with her, and you can be secure in the knowledge she is doing well."
"Good," Daniel said. "Okay, now for my questions. Is Kumukahi what you call everyone in the area or just on this island? Exactly how many islands are there? Do you get along with the people who live on the others? How far away from here are they? Is there trade? Are there other stargates - hoku-puka's - around here that you know of? How long has there been peace on Kumukahi?"
Noelani's eyes widened at the rapidity of the questions. "Is that all of your questions?"
"Oh no, I have more," Daniel said, eagerly waiting for the answers.
Noelani laughed. "My aunt certainly named you well, 'Imi'ike," she said, and she began to answer his questions slowly and carefully.
Sam decided there was no sense in doing anything now that the rain had started to come down even harder. It wasn't worth getting soaked on the way back down. Plus the Kumukahi female initiation rite required that she not return to the village before dusk.
Plenty of time.
She sighed contentedly, allowing the tenseness of the past week to finally slide off her shoulders. Maybe the guys were right. She did need to loosen up, just as Jack had insisted. And what could go wrong here before they were picked up from the planet, as Daniel had asked her. Even Teal'c, during one of their exercises with the warriors, had given her one of his subtle, squinty smirks when she had protested strongly that she was relaxing, that he just couldn't see it. She felt the tenseness finally sink down through her back and she released it, visualizing it dissipating out through the mat she was sitting on and being wicked away by the ground beneath her. Another week and they'd be back home and all this peaceful beauty, all of this - it would be nothing but a fading memory.
A soft smile gently curled the edges of her mouth. Relaxing. It really was doable. Maybe she'd take a quick nap and then she'd pick her way down the slick mountainside, pacing herself to arrive in time for the celebratory feast that Daniel had warned her usually accompanied the successful completion of the rite. Or maybe not. Just having these options, with no one around to order her which choice to make - that was a delicious feeling.
She leaned her head back against the wall of the hut, her ears seeking out patterns in the pelting downpour as her mind floated along with the storm's rhythms. Her eyes slowly closing, she lost herself for a time; electrical impulses racing along her synaptic pathways on all levels. She was soaring up through the clouds above her. She was skimming along the tops of the mountain ridges that anchored the island. She was calculating the production specs for the new spectrometers they were planning to retrofit on the MALPs. She was mentally cataloguing the plants she had seen the Kumukahi use so that she could return to base to share the information with Janet. She was imagining how it would feel to sunbathe nude on the beach below.
She opened her eyes and smirked. There wasn't enough sunscreen or privacy here for that last one.
She noticed the rain had changed rhythm, sputtering and tapping its way to a slow patter. She stretched and crawled over to the open doorway, too lazy to expend the effort to stand. The hut that Noelani had left her earlier in the day had been positioned to capture the best view of the sheltered bay that the Kumukahi had centered their lives around. Although the bright sun of this system wasn't visible through the now-thick, low-hanging clouds, there was a small break in the clouds directly over the bay.
Sam watched in awe as the shafts of light danced over the aquamarine and turquoise water of the bay and marveled at the golden tan of the sandbar, shot through with white where the shafts of light bisected the long low sandbar, exposed now at low tide at the ocean's edge of the bay. She tried to drink in as much of the view as she could, knowing that she was glimpsing a view of the beauty of the island that no outsider had ever been treated to. And she refused to give in to the analytical part of her mind that was begging her to contemplate how the bending of light waves was the real reason for the magical splendor she was seeing.
Suddenly a veil of heavy rain obscured her view and she heard the thick pounding on the hut's roof again. She realized she was holding her breath and expelled it with a joyful laugh. Everything really was all right with universe.
Sam turned her head, blinking to readjust her eyes to the dimness of the hut, and she crawled back to the mat, easing down onto her back and leaning her head back onto her crossed arms. She had to grudgingly agree with Jack. They couldn't have picked a better island to have lost a gate on - quiet, uneventful, and a feast for the eyes. She allowed the contented smile to fill her face again and shut her eyes.
Relax, she would.
Sam frowned at the long, rectangular piece of material that Malina, Noelani's personal servant, held up in front of her like a banner. Like hell if she was going to do a Daniel and go totally native and drape that rectangle loosely around her hips like many of the young women on the island did.
Tugging gently at Sam's bra straps, Malina smiled and motioned for Sam to remove it.
No way. Sam vigorously shook her head. "No, no thank you."
The edges of Malina's eyes creased, and the servant spoke carefully. "But you must. It is your womanhood celebration, Makanui. It is custom."
Sam took a deep breath. "Not where I'm from."
Malina hunched down in front of Sam, shifting her weight back onto her heels, and held the length of indigo blue fabric up higher, nearly touching the waistband of Sam's underwear. In response, Sam backed up a step, nearly crushing the shells and iridescent feathers that accented the beaded necklace that Noelani had also sent over with Malina. Sam jumped a step in the other direction, kicking her BDU's out of the way as she landed.
"The cloth was specially chosen for you, Makanui," Malina explained, regaining her balance and standing up. "It is an honor."
Nope. Uh-uh. Honor or not. She'd rather do a coconut shell bra and a grass skirt for the coverage those would provide her before she'd hitch a piece of fabric over her hips and let a bunch of small shells and feathers dangle over her bare boobs. Sam shut her eyes, wincing as she imagined the expressions that would be plastered over her teammate's faces if they saw her with a minuscule swatch of fabric and a couple of shells covering her nakedness. Daniel in a skirt with a bare, sunburned back just wasn't the same as her parading around at her own party with next nothing on, not that she was a prude, but they were still on a mission, for crying out loud!
Oh God, Sam thought, catching sight of her stomach and thighs. I'm paler than a ghost – I'd scare the crap out of everyone even if I did do it.
Malina continued to wait patiently as Sam, hands on hips, analyzed the situation. This outfit was like the antithesis of the Shavadian's blue dress. Good thing that culture had been in a cold climate – she hated to think of the get-up she'd have been forced to wear if that group had lived in a desert or coastal area.
Sam heard the rumble of drums from the outskirts of the village. She looked at Malina.
Malina glanced at the doorway and back at Sam. "You must hurry, Makanui. The celebration will start soon." She lifted the fabric higher, obscuring her own body.
Thumbing the bottom band of her bra, Sam's expression turned thoughtful. Maybe there was another way….
Having been drawn like a magnet all evening to the sight of his second-in-command dressed like a Kumukahian, Jack watched Sam rise from her mat next to Noelani and thank the young royal for the honor of the celebration. Standing just outside the small group that remained from the long luau that had celebrated Sam's initiation into Kumukahian womanhood, Jack scanned the remaining celebrants. Iolana had apparently cut out earlier, leaving her niece to cover for her. He didn't see her son, Nohea, either. Come to think of it, that Nohea had been pretty scarce for a few days….
Sam bid Noelani good night, to which the young royal made a comment that Jack couldn't hear, and Sam laughed in response, promptly making Jack forget about Nohea. The ear-to-ear grin that filled Sam's face brought him to attention, and he felt parts of his body rising to the occasion that shouldn't have been, especially not for his second-in-command. Shifting further back out of the reach of the diminishing firelight, he stretched his legs, shaking them out at his knees. He'd be in serious trouble right now if he'd have given in to Daniel's begging him earlier to wear one of those hip wraps to Sam's celebration.
Trouble was what that wrap was. He remember Daniel waking up that morning, sprawled out near him, the wrap twisted tightly around his torso and bulging where Daniel had had a… uh, well, he'd best not think about it, he had developing issues of his own right now, and he tried focusing on what a cold shower could do for him.
After holding and releasing Noelani's hands and making a cursory nod at Daniel who'd moved closer to sit next to Noelani, Sam stood up, carefully plucking at the top of the wrap-thing she'd twisted around to make a strapless bikini-like top. Jack's eyes hungrily and appreciatively slid over Sam's body. That strapless thing and the hip wrap only served to accentuate all those parts of Sam that he never much got the chance to see. Though thin, she was fit as a thoroughbred, those long legs just going on forever and ever, even in the long wrap….
Jack swallowed. Not a train of thought that he needed to ride, he chided himself. Situations like this had to be the most evil part of a mission on an island like this. But unable to control his wandering eyes, they traveled lazily back up her body until he realized with a jolt that Sam was watching him with a smug grin on her face. He blinked.
She arched her brow suggestively at him.
Jack made a tight, hard fist as if it would keep one part of his body from tightening up any farther in response. He raised his eyebrows and shrugged, his eyes not leaving hers as she approached him, her steps careful along the top of the cool sand.
"Care to join me for a walk on the beach, Carter?" he asked when she stopped in front of him.
Sam's grin became one of knowing.
"Just a recon, Carter," he told her.
Sam responded with an exaggerated pout that only served to make the tightening in his lower gut more intense. Oh Sam, he thought, please don't do that….
"And here I was, really looking forward to just a walk," Sam said.
"Really?" Jack asked, momentarily defenseless.
Sam then gave him the first genuine smile that he'd had from her the entire time they'd been planet-side. He felt those conflicted feelings he'd been having lately for her pushing at the gates again. Second-in-command, O'Neill. She's your second-in-command.
"Really," she said suggestively.
Jack was temporarily paralyzed. He couldn't. He shouldn't. He wouldn't.
Sam watched him, her look of sexy suggestiveness morphing slowly into a low giggle of affectionate amusement. "Really," she said, flashing a killer smile at him.
Oh, screw it, Jack decided. At the rate things were going, it was going to be weeks before anyone came to pick them up. If anything did happen, they'd just have to figure something out. He looked past Sam to see Noelani smiling and bending her head over to listen to something Daniel was saying. It looked like Daniel had found something to occupy his time. Jack didn't plan to let the good doctor be the only one who experienced island hospitality at its finest, not when he had the finest of the fine standing right in front of him.
He stood straighter, turning to toward the surf, and crooked his arm for Sam. "Well, Carter," he said quietly, "since you put it that way…."
He felt Sam's hand and forearm slide through his and her other hand gently touch the same elbow. As they walked down the incline toward the surf, he whooped the biggest "YES!" in his mind that he ever had.
They'd slowly and wordlessly walked along the shoreline to the far end of the bay, the end that had the funny palm tree hanging out over the surf that Daniel had suddenly claimed as his own. Jack was enjoying the feel of the waves gently swirling at his feet and the contented-sounding sighs that escaped Sam every so often.
They'd stopped for a while, leaning against the trunk of Daniel's funny palm and looking back at the twinkling dots of torchlight scattered across the village. The bonfires built for Sam's celebration were still burning, but only at a quarter of the size they'd been before. It was easy to see what was making Sam happy tonight – it was making him feel damn good too – all of this was way better than some big-ass commercialized Polynesian resort at home.
Jack inhaled deeply, tasting the salty air in the back of his throat. God bless Hammond for approving their mission. He'd have to make it up to the man somehow when he got back.
He turned to look at Sam's profile. She was still watching the flickering lights of the village through half-closed eyes, the ocean breeze playfully ruffling the longer pieces of hair that she'd tucked behind her ears. Oh yeah, it was so worth it – every last bit of pain and hell he'd been through the past few weeks, just to be here on this magnificent island, escorting this amazing woman along the beach. He allowed a small smile to fill his face. If she wanted to walk out here all night, he wasn't going to argue the point with her.
As if knowing he was smiling at her, Sam turned to him, and, seeing his smile, responded with a grin.
"Time to go home?" she asked softly.
"Not yet," he answered. "Don't expect the Tok'ra to be here for a while yet."
Sam's grin widened. "You know what I meant, Sir."
The word "Sir" jolted Jack back to reality. "Oh. You meant the village?" he asked. Screw the damn village. He frowned. "Do we have to?"
Sam pulled forward off the palm, pulling Jack's arm with her. "Yes. People are probably wondering where we're at."
Jack allowed her to pull him into an upright position. "Uh, no," he said, shaking his head, "I don't think so. Daniel seemed, you know…busy. Teal'c's probably off somewhere talking shop. And I honestly don't think the villagers who're still up at this hour care where the two of us are." After a few more insistent pulls, Jack gave in, and followed her back down into the surf, taking care to gently cover the hand she'd put in the crook of his arm with his own.
They dropped down into the deeper surf, equally as quiet as when they'd walked out to the far end of the beach, but moving much more slowly. A rogue breeze ruffled Sam's wrap, slapping its damp hem against Jack's bare calves, its unexpected sting forcing him out of what he considered one of his better daydreams about the woman holding his arm.
Sam suddenly stiffened as a taller wave broke around their knees.
"It's okay, Carter, it's just a wave…," Jack said, his voice trailing off as he realized it wasn't the wave that had stopped Sam. The last remnants of his daydream slid quickly away as Sam dropped her hand away from his and reached down for her P90 that wasn't there. Tonight she'd finally taken his advice to leave everything in their hut and had no weapons on her. But then neither did he. Sam looked down in surprise and then at Jack before looking back at the bay.
Jack squinted in the direction she'd been looking. He could just make out a long, dark form slicing through the silver-blue moonlit water.
"What is it?" he asked, watching as several smaller forms jumped from what seemed to be a long boat before it even hit the beach. Their dark shapes flew up the beach at a dead run. That struck him as odd. The islanders had been respectful sailors from what he'd observed, carefully pulling their boats, no matter what their size, up onto the sand above the high-tide line and spending much time carefully unloading them, cleaning them, and repairing them as needed.
"Something's not right," Sam mused quietly as the shadowy forms shot towards the hut that Jack knew that Iolana slept in.
"What makes you think that?" he asked.
Sam turned to face Jack as another large wave crested at their knees. "Well, my understanding is that their traditions don't include night boating, even when there's a full moon." She paused, squinting at the boat that was now a dark sliver puncturing the blue-grey moonlit sand. "The Kumukahi have a long and revered water tradition – and I haven't seen them abandon a boat like that since we've been here."
"Anything else?" Jack asked.
Sam nodded. "Why would they be running to Iolana's hut at this time of night?"
Jack suppressed his grin at his second-in-command having come to the same conclusion that he had. "Care to do a little late night snooping around?" he asked, nodding toward the village.
Sam nodded, moving away to the higher and drier sand, and she started walking as briskly as she could given the material wrapped around her hips.
Still standing in the deeper water, Jack cleared his throat loudly to capture her attention and wriggled his arm at her in invitation. "Not in any rush are you, Carter?"
She eyed his arm and Jack saw a more guarded expression in them now. "No, Sir," she answered.
Jack felt his hopeful feelings get sucked out with the tide. So he was still just "Sir." Damn. He lifted his chin toward the village where he could see torches moving quickly between Iolana's big hut and the enclave where he knew the unmarried warriors bunked.
"Lead on," he said, his arm dropping down to his side.
When they reached the outskirts of the village he nodded in the direction of Noelani's hut. "Go find Daniel," he directed.
"Sir?" Sam asked.
"I'm going to talk to Iolana and then go find Teal'c."
"Why would Daniel be at Noe-"
"Just go!" Jack ordered, jogging away from her towards Kekoa Po who he could see was backing out of Iolana's sleeping hut in the distance.
Jack grimaced as he surveyed the members of SG-1 that were scattered around the last fire pit that remained burning from the celebration. Jack refused to look at his watch, but he estimated it was probably well past two in the morning. After getting the brush-off from Iolana who was deep in conversation with Nahele, Jack had located Teal'c and had had a long conversation with Kekoa Po regarding the sudden influx of warriors into the village proper.
Jack had finished his part of the first briefing he'd had in days with his team and was listening as Daniel, still slightly red-faced from having been found by Sam in Noelani's sleeping hut, finished sharing with all of them the information that Jack had refused to hear the past couple of days. The last bits of Daniel's report he was especially unhappy about. He could kick himself for having blown Daniel off.
"Poison darts and staff weapons of the non-Jaffa kind weren't in the travel brochure I read," Jack commented grimly to no one in particular, his frown deepening. He didn't like finding out that there was an equally strong rival island out there who was apparently on their way to seek and destroy the Kumukahi for some reason. And he didn't like finding out that even this paradise had been too good to be true.
Sam smirked at his comment and shook her head. "Well, the rest of it was good while it lasted," she offered, stretching her legs out and smoothing out the folds in her long wrap skirt.
Jack eyed Sam again, his eyes traveling from her now-apologetic expression, down to her chest and then on to her bare midriff. His expression softened. Too bad for all of them, and for her, that she had finally surrendered to relaxation just in time for the same old shit to start happening again. He gave her the barest hint of a smile, and then turned back to Daniel, the smile gone. "Anything else we should know about these Laywhozits?" he asked Daniel.
"Lehuans, Jack. Noelani said that the Lehua live on the next island, about a day or so away by boat," Daniel explained. "For years the Lehua have been at war with all of the islands in the region. It was only through trade and intermarriage that the Kumukahi were able to keep things mostly peaceful with the Lehuans."
"Mostly peaceful. So why now?" Jack asked, throwing a small stick into the glowing embers and watching as yellow-gold sparks flew up into the air.
"Word of gods coming through the stargate – the hoku-puka as they have designated it - most certainly drew their interest," Teal'c observed. "Perhaps they feel it is time to show the visiting gods the dominance they have achieved? Or perhaps they wish to take advantage of the Kumukahi because they are temporarily distracted by caring for the needs of the gods?"
"No gods here. And no gate now," Jack muttered. He dug his heels into the sand. "Teal'c's warrior buddy, Kekoa Po, says they're less than a day out," Jack shared. "Even though we're not armed the way I'd have like to have been, I don't think there'll be a problem. All we have to do is-"
"Jack?" Daniel interrupted, clearing his throat.
"Daniel?" Jack asked, turning to face him in the firelight.
"Remember our non-interference policy," Daniel said, apologetically shrugging his shoulders.
"Yes, well, remember my no death policy?" Jack asked sharply, scowling.
He softened somewhat after detecting Daniel's hurt expression in the dying firelight. "Look, Daniel, I hear you, but I'm not going to sit around and get myself killed, and I'm sure as hell not going to allow any of you to be killed, just because of that policy. This is self-defense, plain and simple."
"You don't think that the Kumukahi are capable of defending their own island?" Daniel asked.
Jack was quiet for a moment. "In theory, yes, they probably are."
"And in reality, Sir?" Sam asked as she dug her toes into the sand and pulled them slowly back out.
"I'd prefer to create my own reality," Jack answered gruffly.
"What about you, Teal'c?" Daniel asked. "Don't you think we should stay out of this?"
Except for his speculation regarding Lehuan motives, Teal'c had sat back, quietly listening to the conversation. He slowly opened his eyes and surveyed the speculative expressions of his teammates the flickering firelight had illuminated. "I believe we should make defensive preparations as a preventative measure and take offensive actions only if they are needed," he said, pausing and looking over at Jack, "however I will defer to the leadership of the Colonel," he added.
Daniel smugly looked at Jack. "See - even Teal'c agrees with me."
"I did not state that I agreed with you," Teal'c explained.
"Yes, you did," Daniel responded.
Teal'c shook his head. "No, I do not believe so."
"Yes, you did!" Daniel said.
Jack gave a big shake of his head akin to a dog shaking off water. "Daniel! Teal'c! Stop!" He turned and looked at Sam who had been watching her teammates with amusement. "What about you, Carter? Do you have any thoughts you'd like to share?"
She shook her head. "No, Sir. So what's the plan?"
Jack heaved a big sigh and launched into an explanation of his new Plan A.
Jack had been worried when Kekoa Po had motioned him and SG-1 away from Daniel's funny palm and the taro terraces. Those would have been the areas to secure and defend. But secure in the knowledge SG-1 had superior firepower, he'd deferred to Kekoa Po's knowledge of his enemy and his own island and had followed his direction.
As Jack led his team into the hilly area, he'd noticed several warriors with unfamiliar markings appear and disappear in the bushes well ahead of them, and he decided the lead warrior knew what he was talking about. Apparently the Lazysusans or whatever their name was again had sent three contingents. Kekoa Po and his gang were taking care of the two that were attacking the village directly. SG-1 would be dealing with the third group that apparently had thought they'd sneak in from the backside.
Jack shook his head and unlatched the safety on his P90. Stupid Lazysusans, stupid, stupid.
He nodded silently at the team and slid quietly into the bushes, hoping to surprise the enemy warriors on their right flank and to try to take advantage of what Jack hoped was their lack of knowledge of Kumukahi's topography.
Sam whipped her head around.
"I said retreat, Carter," Jack told her, an insistent look on his face.
She opened her mouth to protest. Just a few more minutes, she thought as she watched Teal'c obey Jack's directive by disappearing through thick undergrowth. Just a few more minutes and they would break out of this stinking trap they'd walked into and could move up to the higher ridges and get rid of the last of the Lehuan invaders.
Jack shook his head. "Now, Carter!" he said, pointing in the direction that Teal'c had disappeared.
Sam frowned at him and peppered the next incline with her P90 again. She heard Daniel, who'd outright refused Jack's direction to leave, yelp, and she turned around in time to see him slip down through the thick foliage, his hands grasping unsuccessfully at the leaves and flimsy trunks that he slid past.
"Aww, damn it, Daniel!" Jack yelled as Sam ran over to where Daniel had disappeared.
"Daniel?!" Sam yelled down the embankment, searching frantically for any sign of where he'd ended up. She started down the path Daniel had made in the thick undergrowth. He couldn't have fallen too far, and she fully intended to bring him back.
Jack gripped her arm and yanked her back. "No!" he yelled at her, ducking down as another round of darts and thin arrows pelted their small clearing. "Come on, Carter!"
Sam turned back to face the hillside, pumping off another round in the general direction the darts had come from. She heard a grunt as one of the Lehuans was hit. She smiled grimly. One down and how many more to go?
"Teal'c!" Jack yelled into his radio, turning and retreating slowly in the direction that Teal'c had disappeared. He motioned for Sam to follow his lead and started to push through the thick leaves.
Sam couldn't believe he was really going to leave Daniel behind. "Colonel!" she yelled. "No!"
As he turned back around to look at Sam, a dart landed squarely in her neck. She yowled and yanked it out, looking closely at the blood-stained tip before throwing it down and yanking her P90 back up into firing position. As she lifted her weapon up, she was surprised by how heavy it felt, and she turned back to look at Jack.
Jack shot a worried look at her and then back in the direction that Teal'c had gone. "Carter!" he yelled.
Sam pulled on the P90's trigger, but for some reason her finger felt big and ungainly, and it seemed like she just couldn't make the trigger move. Sam looked at the fuzzy-looking weapon in wonderment and examined the trigger again and then pulled on it. Several bullets shot out around the clearing before the heavy gun pointed back at the ground. Sam blinked down at the gun. It felt like a hundred-pound lead weight. That wasn't right.
She squinted over at Jack through the thick fog that had suddenly enveloped the jungle-like setting. Jack was crouched on his knees down on the ground, his hands covering his head. Why was he doing that, she wondered.
Her brow furrowed as she wondered why his voice seemed so muffled. Another part of her mind wondered why he was yelling at her at all as he disappeared from her view. Where did he go? Colonel? Jack? She could tell he was exasperated with her. Why was everything slowing down? She continued to wonder about the reasons why as her world slowly turned dark.
When the bullets from Sam's P90 stopped, Jack looked up to see her tipping over sideways into the same bushes that Daniel had fallen through. "Carter!" he yelled. "No!"
He pushed back up onto his feet to chase after her, sliding to halt and diving back into the bushes he'd just come from as another wave of poison-tipped darts drove into the clearing.
"O'Neill? Do you require my assistance?" Teal'c's voice inquired from the pocket of his vest. "The path is still safe. We must hurry."
Jack lifted his P90 back up through the leaves and pulled off a round in the general direction of the Lehuans. He was torn. He couldn't just leave Sam or Daniel for dead. Even worse, to become prisoners of war. He just couldn't. He began to crawl toward the hole they'd fallen through.
Suddenly he was being pulled by his feet straight back into the bushes that he'd started out in. Once back in the bushes out of dart range, he twisted around, whipping the gun up, intending to let a round rip into his captor.
A strong hand gripped the gun, pointing it down toward the ground. "O'Neill. You did not respond to my inquiry," Teal'c chided him.
"Daniel," Jack said as Teal'c helped him to his feet. "And Sam…."
Teal'c nodded his acknowledgement and gripped Jack's bicep as Jack tried to push back through the bushes. "O'Neill, we cannot help them now, not without more reinforcements from the Kumukahi."
"But Teal'c!" Jack was desperate. Two of his team were dead, were captured, were something-ed – and all because of his stupid desire for a working vacation. He twisted one more time, trying to wrench himself away from the former First Prime's firm grip. "I can't let them…."
"O'Neill. You must. You will," Teal'c ordered, starting down the hill and pulling Jack with him as several darts made it through the thick undergrowth. Teal'c aimed his staff weapon at a point behind Jack and shot twice through the leaves. He then turned and started to run in the opposite direction, stopping only for a moment to give Jack a stern look. "To save them you must save yourself!"
His face contorted in pain, full of the knowledge of what probably awaited his team if they had survived their fall down the hillside, Jack followed Teal'c, picking up speed as the Jaffa ahead of him plowed swiftly through the undergrowth. Don't worry guys, Jack thought, I'll be back. Soon. Real soon.
Sam awakened to find her hands lashed together and the bindings secured to the trunk of a palm tree. Using her elbow, she pushed up into a sitting position. She wasn't sure how long she had been unconscious, but it was now dusk. The beach she was on and the crumbling, treeless promontory nearby that snaked out into the ocean didn't look familiar. Less than twenty feet away a small bonfire burned and several figures were hunched down beside it.
She grunted as she tried to yank her hands out of the bindings and at her noise several heads slowly turned toward her. A naked male, covered in blood-red and charcoal-black symbols intertwined and winding over his entire body, obscuring everything but the whites of his eyes, pulled himself up to a standing position from his crouch near the fire. Sam immediately dubbed him Tattoo Man. She watched as he pulled a large piece of metal from the fire, the metal glowing white-yellow in the twilight as he swirled the wooden tongs around and around, intently examining it.
Her eyes widening as he approached her, she straightened her back against the palm tree, pulling her hands against the fibrous binding as discreetly and as hard as she could. She didn't like this. What the hell was the man going to do? Her feet were lashed together, so she couldn't kick the metal out of his hand. She tensed and tested her muscles. She could try to lift both legs out to kick him in the groin and temporarily disable him, but to what end?
It wouldn't stop him. Or the others, she thought uncomfortably, as she noted their growing interest in her and Tattoo Man. The man stopped a few feet away from her, nodding to two large warriors still squatting near the fire, and then he looked back at Sam. The warriors lifted their massive bulk away from the fire, leaving only a small figure remaining huddled by the crackling flames. She felt the wrist bindings dig into her skin as she yanked on them again.
The warriors approached, gazing at Sam with a solemn seriousness. One reached down and grabbed her legs, pulling her towards him with ease, the lashings yanking her arms up over her head. He flipped her face-first into the sand and tightly gripped her ankles, immobilizing her. The other took position on his knees by her side, roughly pushing her shoulders into the sand.
Sam spat out a mouthful of sand. Why the restraint? What the hell were they going to do? Images of cattle being branded shot through her head as she heard the sizzling of the metal that Tattoo Man wielded. She heard him spit on the metal again and the hiss and sizzle competed with the pop and crackle of the bonfire behind her.
Oh crap, Sam thought. She started to struggle to break away. The beefy warriors pushed her down more firmly into the sand.
She heard Tattoo Man bark an incomprehensible order at the warriors. Immediately Sam felt the back of her t-shirt being pushed up and her fatigues and underwear being roughly pulled down. She could feel the sharp, yet soft sand yielding and molding to her contours as the warriors held her down even more firmly.
Visions of a million things that they could do to her while she was in this position shot through Sam's mind at the speed of light, and she yanked hard on the hand restraints. But the warriors didn't move; only the sound of the sizzling metal steadily moved closer. Oh shit, I'm going to be branded! Sam thought incredulously.
She heard a muffled sizzling and smelled something burning, but she didn't feel anything for a second except a strong pressure on her left buttock. Then a searing pain hit her, its intensity wreaking havoc on her self-control. She struggled again against the bindings on her hands, nearly inhaling another mouthful of sand. Tattoo Man removed the metal after a few seconds, but the warriors continued to firmly hold her down. What now? She gagged as she swallowed a cry of pain as Tattoo Man repeated the branding on her other side.
Nerve endings released cascades of pain and hurt throughout her body, and Sam barely noticed that the small figure near the fire had finally unfolded itself, approaching her slowly and carrying two wooden bowls. Squinting at the figure, Sam determined that the person was an older woman, very short-statured and severely hunched over. The small woman crouched beside the warrior holding Sam's shoulders and offered Sam one of the bowls, motioning for her to drink from it. Sam refused, turning her head away from her.
The warrior at Sam's shoulder roughly turned her head back around and the small woman offered the bowl again, more insistent in her motions this time, and Sam refused her again. The woman nodded at the warrior, and he grunted and lifted Sam's torso, turning her chin up and forcing her mouth open as the woman poured the liquid into her mouth. Sam sputtered and coughed as the thick, bitter substance clogged her throat.
She barely had the bitter sludge cleared from her throat when a cry involuntarily ripped through her, choking her, as the older woman began applying the contents of the other bowl to Sam's burnt skin. The salve's coolness seared though her body nearly as sharply as the scorching heat had. If her hands were free and she didn't have the two Teal'c-sized warriors literally sitting on top of her, she'd have killed the old woman for even touching her.
Sam felt her body temperature rise. Was it a reaction to the branding, she wondered, or to the bitter substance? She could tell her mental processes had started to slow down. A few of her synapses speculated on the chemical properties of the plants these people had mastered. First the fast-acting poison darts and now this concoction. She tried to hold onto those thoughts as everything else started to become unfocused. She resisted the feeling of warmth and calm that was slowly spreading throughout her body. If she was with those few people that she trusted, she wouldn't mind so much that feeling, the loss of control, but she wasn't, and she didn't.
Finally, she couldn't resist any longer and gave in to the veil of warmth.
A searing pain in her side awakened Sam. She quickly flipped over to find the other side hurt equally as bad. Her hand immediately shot down to discover burned and inflamed areas on her butt, and she sat straight up, moaning as her head swam and throbbed as she struggled to remember who she was, where she was, and what had happened.
A rough woven mat beneath her scraped over her bare flesh and brought home the fact her clothes were no longer on her. She squinted in the dim pre-dawn light to see if any of them had been left within reach, blinking to try to bring the place she was in back into focus.
She was able to make out a central structural support of bamboo-like canes that divided what seemed like a small hut in half. Creeping on her hands and knees across the sandy floor toward the divider, she tried to shake off her grogginess to be alert for signs of life and the missing clothes. Heavy blinking didn't help; she stopped and lifted one hand up to her eyes to try to rub the focus back into them.
Slowly she moved around the divider, trying to ignore her increasing nausea and to maintain her mental focus. On the other side she discovered a man sprawled face down across a mat similar to hers. She moved closer to his back, her eyes drawn to the large triangular marks that blazed blistering red against the creamy white skin of his upper buttocks.
The memory of the branding incident came rushing back to her and her nausea increased tenfold. Still on all fours, she crept even closer to the man, and, as she came within a foot of his body, she observed he had clenched one of the bamboo supports in a death grip. She shut her eyes briefly. It didn't bode well for her if she'd been thrown into a room with a dead man. Balancing herself, she reached her hand out to gingerly touch the brand.
She'd barely made contact with the raw skin when the man suddenly groaned and released the support. He flipped over to face her, his eyes popping open and his face tightening in pain. A rush of relief filled Sam as she pulled her hand back; it was Daniel and he was alive.
"Sam?!" he whispered, squinting at her. His eyes slowly traveled the length of her body, and he squeezed his eyes tightly shut. "Sam."
Remembering again that she was as naked as he was, Sam turned away from Daniel and slowly crawled back to her mat. Her head was pounding so hard that it was impossible to think straight, and she felt the bile churning up her esophagus. She heaved into the dirt beyond the mat.
"Sam? Are you okay?" Daniel asked weakly.
Sam wiped her mouth off with the back of her hand and finished crawling over to the mat. Gripping her knees to keep from toppling over, she lifted her head and answered, "I'm okay, just a little dizzy and nauseous."
She heard Daniel groan again and heard his body hit the mat. She knew he felt about as well as she did.
Sam ignored the growling of her stomach that grew louder and louder as the sun slowly ascended the sky throughout the morning. They weren't going to be fed apparently, so it would just have to keep on growling. Scoping out the small clearing that the hut they were imprisoned in was located in, she'd determined that they weren't near the beach. Given the slope of the land and the two jagged peaks behind them that reached at least another thousand feet above them, she guessed they'd been taken up in the hills, but she wasn't certain how far up.
She stretched her legs out. She couldn't sit still any longer, not since the morning nausea and final aftereffects of the organic sedative the old woman had given them had worn off, and she stood up, cautiously avoiding looking at Daniel just as he had been avoiding directly looking at her all morning. Although she didn't need to go, she decided it was time for one more bathroom break while the midday sun was still over the treetops. She swiped at the dirt that had stuck to her bare legs and buttocks, careful to avoid the tender, broken skin around the brands.
"Ready?" she asked Daniel.
"For what?" he responded, turning slightly towards her.
Daniel fully twisted his torso around to look up at Sam. "Where?" he asked.
"Away from here," Sam answered.
Daniel watched her for a moment, and she could see him carefully calculating the risks. After another long moment he nodded.
"Okay," he said.
Moving to the doorway, Sam scanned the clearing again – there were only three guards on duty at the moment, two of whom were hunched over at the edge of the clearing, deep in conversation and solely focused on a map that they had drawn in the dirt with sticks.
The third warrior, the one with the severely broken and pockmarked nose that Sam had nicknamed "Gnarled Nose," stood about forty feet away from their hut, looking straight at her, but not seeing her. Sam allowed herself some smugness that Gnarled Nose apparently had no idea what she and Daniel were capable of, or he'd have never just stood there. Sam knew directly behind Gnarled Nose was the ravine that he'd escorted her to earlier in the day so she could use "the facilities."
She moved slightly outside of the doorway. Gnarled Nose still hadn't seen her. Let him stay lost in thought, Sam prayed. Now she could drop the bathroom ploy and move on to Plan B.
She motioned to Daniel, who had been breathing hotly down her bare back while he waited for her cue, to follow her and to be quiet, and then she sprung out of the doorway toward Gnarled Nose.
It was all or nothing.
She took off at a dead run for Gnarled Nose. She focused on his eyes, peripherally watching his hands as he registered surprise that the tall woman was outside of the hut and that she was actually charging him. Immobile, he watched her approach.
Good, Sam thought as she rammed the flat of her hand across his windpipe and gave his genitals a kick would've knocked the balls off the man if they'd been any less firmly attached.
Regaining her balance, she started running again, turning slightly to find that Daniel had stopped a few feet out from the hut. "Run!" she hissed at him as Gnarled Nose crumpled into a noiseless, writhing heap on the ground.
She turned back to the ravine and kept running, ignoring the pain in her feet as she sped over jagged stones and as razor-sharp leaves slapped hard against her bare skin after she hit the edge of the clearing. She prayed Daniel was behind her this time; she couldn't afford the precious milliseconds it would take to look back for him.
She flew over the side of the sandy ravine before she realized she'd reached it. She tucked herself into as much of a ball as she could as she rolled down toward the stream at the bottom. Coming to a stop on her back, she saw Daniel fly into the ravine, all flailing arms and legs as he came down a few feet away. So much for an easy entrance.
She immediately rolled over into a crouch and took off again, following the downward flow of the water. She assumed the stream would eventually lead them to the ocean. Sprinting through the deep and narrow ravine, she trained her ear behind her. She could hear splashing and loud, open-mouthed gasps as Daniel struggled to keep up with her.
"Hurry!" she yelled as the ravine made a sharp drop downward. She shot her arms out to brace herself against the ravine's walls as she slid down the three-foot drop; the mix of water and mud made it hard to maintain her balance.
"Oomphf!" she heard from behind her.
At the loud splash and a pain-filled groan, she allowed herself the briefest of glances over her shoulder. Daniel had fallen through the drop face-first, unable to keep the pain from showing on his face as he groped along the slippery walls, trying to push his body back upright.
Sam turned away and started to pick up speed again. What she'd give for a pair of boots right now! They wouldn't be ecologically-friendly to a virgin streambed, but she yearned for the traction and protection the boots would give her feet. As she flew out ahead of Daniel, she noticed that the tree canopy overhead was thinning out and that the ravine walls were slowly lowering toward head-level. The hint of a beach was just ahead.
Soon. Soon they'd be out of the forest. But still in enemy territory. She shook off the thought and pumped her legs as hard as she could. They would make it. She would find a place for the two of them to take cover and regroup. She would fashion some kind of weapons for them. She would make a plan. They would make it. She just needed to buy them some time.
She shut her mind down and focused on nothing else except speed. Forward speed. And for the sounds of Daniel behind her.
She noticed a copse of palms and a tangle of tall, scrubby brush just beyond where the ravine ended and the stream flattened out to cut large shallow streaks into the sand. She planned to make a hard right into the bushes where they could take a breather while she assessed their situation.
As she got closer and closer to her planned shelter, she felt the adrenaline that had kept her going starting to wane, but she ignored it. She gave the hand signal for a hard right several times for Daniel's benefit and burst through the brush, coming to a sliding halt in the slick undergrowth.
"Oh crap!" she said as Daniel burst through the bushes behind her, sending her nose first into the chest of the warrior she'd nicknamed "Tattoo Man."
Tattoo Man grabbed her tightly as she hit his chest. Cursing at the position she found herself in, she tried wrenching her body away from him by using several of the maneuvers that Teal'c had taught her, but her captor was larger than she was and much more muscular than Teal'c, and he quickly twisted her around so that her back was against his chest. She reached up, trying to pull his arm away, as he gripped her in a chokehold. In response he reached his free arm around to twist one of her arms behind her back. Sam grunted and coughed as he tightened both of his holds on her.
Daniel moved toward Sam and her captor, his mouth wide-open with words that she knew he wanted to say, but just couldn't get out.
"No," Tattoo Man hissed. "Come any closer and I will rip her head from her body." He pulled his arm even tighter across her neck and she felt her throat closing off.
Daniel saw her eyes grow wider as she strained to breathe and he lifted his hands up in the air. "Okay, okay."
Tattoo Man pointed to where the stream was and he motioned for Daniel to walk back out to it.
Daniel looked at Sam for confirmation, and she gave him as much of a nod as she was able to give under the circumstances. Daniel didn't look very happy about it, but he turned and disappeared through the bushes, leaving her alone with Tattoo Man.
Bending his mouth close to her ear and letting go of the hand he held behind her back, Tattoo Man grabbed her stomach and pulled her tightly against his body, half-growling, half-whispering in her ear, "Do not try to escape me, for I will show you how even a goddess can be made to suffer."
Still holding her by the neck and the stomach, Tattoo Man pushed Sam out into the clearing where Daniel was waiting at the edge of the stream.
"Move!" Tattoo Man ordered Daniel.
Daniel stood his ground, his face twisted into an angry mask and his hands tightened into fists. Sam was grateful to Daniel for looking like he could kill Tattoo Man with his bare hands at that moment, but she implored him with her eyes to move on because she was nearly asphyxiated from Tattoo Man's arm across her throat. With a final pained look at her, Daniel turned away.
Her captor pushed her forward again, but his closeness and the awkward way in which he was holding her made it nearly impossible for her to walk. Step by painful step, the three began slowly retracing their steps back up the streambed.
When they reached the three-foot drop, they were met by several warriors splashing down the stream in their direction, including Gnarled Nose. The group of warriors slid to a halt at the sight of Daniel, his shoulders sagging, who was walking out ahead of Tattoo Man.
Tattoo Man stopped and hurled a stream of obscenities at the surprised warriors. Sam gained little comfort in the worried looks the men shot at one another as Tattoo Man unleashed his fury on them regarding their loss of his prized prisoners. The group jumped down the drop and two warriors grabbed Daniel by the arms and pushed him up the small falls. Gnarled Nose shot Sam a contemptuous look as he approached her and Tattoo Man. Gnarled Nose reached out to backhand Sam's face.
"You've done enough!" Tattoo Man bellowed at him, twisting Sam's body away from the surprised warrior. "Go ahead of us and do what is necessary so that this time they do not escape."
"No. Leave! Now!" he bellowed.
Gnarled Nose turned quickly away, his face pinched with anger as he crawled up the falls and pushed the waiting Daniel out ahead of him. "Go!" Gnarled Nose ordered Daniel.
With a worried look over his shoulder at Sam, Daniel slowly complied. The two men who'd pulled him up the falls closed in behind him.
One of the younger warriors waited for Tattoo Man at the bottom of the drop, gripping Sam's arms while his leader vaulted up to the level above them. Tattoo Man reached down and lifted the struggling Sam out of the younger man's arms and up onto the higher level beside him while the younger man clamped her ankles together. As the younger man jumped the drop, Tattoo Man held Sam out in front of him, his eyes mere slits in his face. "I tell you again, do not try to escape. Not if you want to see the pale-skinned one again," he said, nodding upstream where Daniel and the others had disappeared, "…alive."
He laughed menacingly and slowly slid one of his hands up her arm, across her shoulder and to her neck where he grasped her windpipe gently in his hand. "And not unless you have a wish to experience a very slow and a very painful death." He turned to the young warrior and nodded, and the young man took her other arm in a tight grip while Tattoo Man's hand slid around to the back of her neck.
He pushed her forward and they began retracing the steps of Sam's journey again.
As each heavy lash rasped and scraped across her back, Sam felt even more empathy for each and every subjugated person SG-1 had come across in their travels to date. She was powerless to stop the man she understood was the younger warriors' leader - Kana'i, the man who would forever be Tattoo Man in her mind. As much as she wanted to kill him with her bare hands and to make him suffer, it was all she could do to keep from crying out the deeper the lashes cut. She tried to disassociate herself from the pain that seared up and down her spine with each contact, but she couldn't; each lash wrenched her back to reality.
Finally Kana'i, frustrated that he'd gotten no reaction out of Sam after hours of trying to break her, threw down the bloody stick he'd been using and barked a command at the men who'd been holding the ends of the ropes that had bound her hands and feet. The smaller of the two, the young man who'd helped Kana'i lift the struggling Sam up the falls, approached Sam and kicked at the ropes at her feet, loosening them slightly.
Before Sam could even try to kick him, the young warrior slapped her across her lower back and she had to grit her teeth from crying out. It felt like someone had just shot a rocket launcher across the muscles of her bare back. As the young man pushed her toward the smaller and darker hut that Daniel had been unceremoniously dumped into earlier, she turned her head to locate the larger hut they'd been in that morning. To emphasize his direction, the warrior gave her another forceful slap on the back, but much harder and open-handed on the oozing wounds.
Sam stumbled forward in pain, groaning, and she shuffled toward the small hut as quickly as her bound feet would allow. In her peripheral vision, she had caught sight of a man peering out of the largest hut. It had looked like Nohea. Had things in the village gone terribly wrong and Nohea had been caught by Kana'i and his warriors too? She heard a swish and she staggered forward to avoid the hand that she knew was going to connect with her back. She didn't want the young warrior touching her again, not after Kana'i had spent the entire afternoon touching it.
Denied his earlier slap, the young warrior shoved both of his hands hard on the middle of her lacerated back and she fell forward, moaning, into the dark hut. A pair of cool hands caught her firmly and gently at the hips and the hands moved to her waist to support her as her knees buckled. Daniel.
As her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness and Daniel, kneeling in front of her, continued to hold her steady, she could see him squinting in the dim light and taking in the trails of blood and dark bruises that traversed her arms and chest. She didn't move away, partly due to exhaustion and partly because she didn't care about hiding her nakedness from him now; they'd given up any pretense of modesty after their mad dash down the streambed. She watched him wince as he caught sight of the weals at the top of her shoulders.
Still supporting her shaking body, Daniel carefully turned her around to examine her back, his hand lightly brushing the open weals that crisscrossed even her sides. Sam flinched at his touch, even as gentle as it had been.
"Oh God, Sam…."
She heard him suck in a sharp breath and he quickly released her. As she regained her balance and turned back to face him, she could see his pained expression and the tears that shined in his eyes. "Sam…," he said, his voice catching with a strong empathy that she wished wasn't there. She realized then that he probably had watched the entire time she'd been out there. Daniel sniffed hard and cleared his throat, reaching out to grip her hands tightly and tenderly. "Sam. You need medical treatment. Right now," he said softly.
Sam shrugged. She squeezed his hands in return and jutted her chin towards Daniel's back. "Like you don't?"
Daniel's mouth twitched and he shook his head, twisting his torso sideways and glancing over his shoulder. "That's nothing. Just a few scrapes is all."
Sam leaned forward, shivering as the motion cracked open more thin spots on her back, and she winced at the sight of the long thin streaks that crisscrossed down to his lower back. In comparison to what she knew her back must look like, he was speaking the truth. Kana'i and his warriors hadn't spent very long at all with Daniel out in front of the main hut. Apparently Kana'i hadn't been happy that she'd led the escape and thought he could teach her a lesson by trying to beat the will out of her.
Like that was ever going to happen, Sam thought, moving away from Daniel and trying several positions until she finally found one where, lying flat on her stomach, her body didn't hurt as bad. Resting her cheek on the back of her hand, she looked over at Daniel who'd joined her on the ground. He was on his stomach, too, his chin resting on the balls of his fists and his eyes staring out into the early evening light at the shelter's opening without seeing. She hated that he'd been subjected to all of this. She was military. She accepted and knew what could happen when missions got crazy, and had been trained to deal with it. He wasn't and she didn't think that a year on Abydos had prepared him for the worst of what SG-1 had endured.
"Think they're going to come after us?" Daniel asked through clenched teeth. He didn't look so sure himself.
"Yes," Sam said softly. "We never leave anyone behind, remember?"
"Yeah, but we're not in the usual circumstances," Daniel said, still staring out the hut's doorway.
Sam snorted softly. "When are we ever?"
Daniel's head dipped a bit in deference to Sam's point. "True."
As he helped lift the long boat out of the bushes it had been hidden in, Teal'c stole a look at Nohea who they had discovered cowering in the largest hut in the prisoner's compound that Daniel Jackson and Major Carter had been taken to. Nohea had traveled down the hillside with them as if he had not been injured in the slightest and he still wore the malo and cloak that denoted him as a member of Queen Iolana's royal household; his clothing was unsoiled - no trace of struggle or fight was apparent. Teal'c's jaw twitched as he turned back to the task of heaving the boat down to the edge of the water. Perhaps the rules of war on this planet were different than those of his own, where every prisoner of war was fair game for mistreatment, regardless of rank or any deal-making formalities.
In any event, there was something about the young man's bearing that reminded him of Apophis. Nohea was not Goa'uld, that fact Teal'c knew with certainty. However, the arrogance and impetuousness that had defined Apophis was there for all to see now in Nohea as he stood away from the rescue party, looking back up the island's steep hills while he waited for the boats to be settled for him and for one the rescuers to carry him onto the boat. Watching Daniel Jackson and Major Carter shuffle out into the surf, gasping and groaning as the salt water spray splashed onto their injured backs, Teal'c masked his displeasure with the pampered royal son with a stony look.
He would gladly carry one of his own teammates before he would ever carry the young man. He had nearly done just that when they had located their missing teammates in a small compound hidden in a sheltered valley. O'Neill had taken a single swift glance at Daniel Jackson and Major Carter, finally registering their complete nakedness as they were pulled out of the hut they had been imprisoned in, and he had turned quickly away, quietly motioning the small band of warriors back down to the shore line where the boats had been hidden. Teal'c had taken up the rear, covering their sixes as O'Neill always called their buttocks for some reason, and he had intently scanned the area around them as they burst through denser thickets of damp green foliage. They met no other Lehuans other than several young warriors who had been easily overcome, but those that they had left unconscious would soon rouse, he knew.
A few feet ahead of him Major Carter stumbled over a thick root and Teal'c reached out to grab her arm to steady her. She turned her head to give him a grateful look, nodding her thanks, and then she immediately turned back to focus on keeping up with the others.
Teal'c's own outward focus was momentarily broken by the close-up view of Major Carter's profoundly-lacerated back. He now understood his teammate's reluctance to take the shirt he had offered her to cover her nakedness, and why she had instead motioned for him to not waste time and to get out of there once she realized the guards had been subdued. He marveled at her strength and composure, but indeed, he expected no less from her.
As she again picked up speed in front of him, his own back ached at the memories he had of being beaten as she obviously had been. He frowned at the fact that they had left the Lehuans alive after the pain they had caused his friend. Major Carter did not have the benefit of a symbiote to heal herself completely as he did. Should he meet with those same warriors again, he would not be so generous with their lives.
Not even if SG-1's own lives depended on it.
While they were stealthily pushing out the three long boats into the water, it finally hit Jack just how buck-naked half his team was. And that neither Daniel nor Sam seemed to care about it. Not that they were extremely modest people – field missions and a mixed-sex team had seen to that, but Sam had always been more modest than most of the situations they found themselves in had called for and Daniel hadn't exactly been some kind of exhibitionist.
Jack looked back up at the two teammates who were standing side-by-side at the high tide line as the boats slid into the water. Trying not to gawk, he attempted to burn the image of the two into his memory. It wasn't just because he knew he was being treated to the raw physical beauty of the two most unaffected people he knew, but because these moments of vulnerability, when walls had been torn totally down, souls bare for everyone else to see like this, were rare, even with all the crap SG-1 had been through together. For reasons he didn't completely trust, he itched to pull their battered bodies into a tight bear hug and to tell them both that they were safe now.
But he didn't have to - they knew it. He knew it by the grateful look in Sam's tired eyes when Teal'c had hunched down inside the dark shelter beside her prone body and had gently touched her elbow to wake her up, her elbow the only part of her that hadn't seemed lacerated or bruised. He'd seen the relief in Daniel's expression when he recognized Jack bursting inside the shelter after Teal'c, and the small group of warriors that Iolana and Kekoa Po had allowed to accompany them on the search and rescue mission, who stood outside the hut peering inside at them all.
Jack grunted and held the canoe steady as Sam and Daniel climbed into it, tears in both of their eyes from the pain of the salt water licking their wounds and Sam moaning as her lacerations reopened with her extreme movements. Jack looked away, afraid of what they would see in his own eyes.
As they paddled out past the breaking waves, Jack eyed the brands on Daniel's upper buttocks and the bright red streaks that shot out in all directions from the center of his back and Jack winced for the twentieth time. It looked damned painful. Daniel refused to talk about their ordeal, insisting that Jack look after Sam first.
Sam sat squeezed onto the small seat next to Daniel, leaning against him in the slouched position of exhausted pain that Jack knew well. She'd accepted Jack's t-shirt when he'd offered it after he'd gotten in the boat behind them, but she'd loosely held it to her chest, not letting anything, including his own fingers that wanted to soothingly heal her back, get anywhere near her back. She had brands to match Daniel's on her bottom, but her back, from her shoulders down to the brands, was an angry mess of oozing red lines and blistered flesh. Jack shut his eyes as he realized how deeply the worst of the open cuts were. He wondered what had triggered someone to have given her such an intense whipping. Janet would kill him for bringing the team back like this.
Pushing away the feelings of empathy that were swelling through him, Jack attacked the ocean waters harder with the paddle he'd been given. He doubted there would be anything that Janet could do to remove the amount of scarring that Sam was going to have. Then he remembered that Hammond had casually mentioned before they'd left that Jacob Carter was due in soon – he had to convince Jacob to use the healing device on these two. Jack refused to entertain any thoughts of either of them bearing the physical scars of this particular mission forever.
It was supposed to have been fun. Relaxing. A little getaway.
Jack jumped out of the boat as soon as the bow hit the lower surf and he waded up the beach as fast as he could push his feet against the shifting sand. The Kumukahi village looked like a ghost town. Usually there was a pack of young boys who accompanied him out to fish in the bay waiting to greet him at the shoreline, but there were no young boys today. There was nobody.
He spotted Kekoa Po exiting Iolana's sleeping hut in the distance. "Hey! Kekoa! Kekoa Po!" Jack shouted, waving his arm at the man to capture his attention.
Kekoa Po barely gave Jack a glance as he hurried in the opposite direction toward the warrior's compound.
What the hell…? "Nice seeing you, too," Jack grumbled.
He glanced over his shoulder. Teal'c was carefully carrying Sam up to the dry sand, her protests to put her down not deterring the big guy who seemed damned determined to do this act for her. Behind them Daniel was slowly sloshing his way through the surf, one of the warriors who'd accompanied them steadying him as he stumbled up the incline. Nohea had already been lifted out of the boat and had disappeared at a run into the village.
Sam cried out in pain as Teal'c accidentally brushed against her back as he set her down on her feet. Teal'c's eyes shot wide open and he apologized profusely to her. Both hands clenched into fists, Sam started walking toward Jack, an intense look in her eyes. She had nearly made it to him when her knees buckled and she tripped.
Jack shot forward, catching her under her arms and pulling her back up before her knees hit the sand. He looked only at her eyes, not allowing them to wander elsewhere over her. "Carter? Are you okay?" he asked.
Even with all of the sun she'd gotten since they'd been there and the bloody streaks smeared across all parts of her body, Sam now was paler than he'd ever seen her, and she looked ready to puke on him. She shook her head slowly. "Have had better days," she rasped. She swallowed hard. "Water? Food?"
Jack looked around them. The warriors who'd volunteered for his search and rescue party were pulling the boats up to the hut where the boats were stored and Teal'c was shadowing the slowly-approaching Daniel. "Daniel?" Jack asked. "You think you can watch over Sam for a minute?"
Jack looked at Sam. "I'll see if I can find any food or water," he told her. "And don't worry, we'll find someone to look at that back of yours."
Sam's expression turned to one of concern. "It'll be okay, they know how to deal with this, I promise," Jack said.
He nodded at Teal'c, and they each maneuvered one of their shoulders beneath Sam's arms and quickly carried her to the hut closest to them so that its bulk would provide her protection from the late afternoon sun.
"Just give me a minute to find Teal'c's warrior buddies and Iolana," Jack said, turning around and seeking out Daniel. "Daniel?" Jack asked.
"Jack?" Daniel answered, slowly trudging toward Sam.
Jack wasn't too happy with how Daniel looked, but he didn't have any other options at the moment. Sam needed help, and Jack needed answers. "Watch her," he ordered the exhausted-looking archaeologist. "We'll be back in a few."
Daniel nodded at Jack, and Jack took off at jog toward Iolana's sleeping hut.
"Inland?" Jack asked, unable to hide the hint of incredulousness in his voice. "How far inland?"
He glared at Iolana and then at Kekoa Po who had returned to Iolana's hut not long after Teal'c had taken Noelani to Daniel and Sam. The Kumukahian queen had just informed him that the village healer had gone inland as had most of the village's food and potable water. How the hell would he get help for his team now? "How far?" he repeated.
"That I cannot tell you," Iolana answered.
"Why?" Jack asked angrily. "Don't trust us? What if we really were those hocus-pocus gods you all thought we were? Would you trust us then?"
Iolana shook her head in response. "The gods were never trustworthy," she said.
She gave Kekoa Po a long look before turning back to Jack. "But truly, I do not know where they have been sheltered. I have entrusted their well-being to Kekoa Po. It is better this way, so that if should I be…," her voice faded. Jack watched as a thousand emotions filtered across her face.
She squinted at Jack. "Surely you must understand?"
Unfortunately he did and he knew that he'd probably do the same in similar circumstances. Being a prisoner of war was bad enough, but torture was a bitch, and he'd been through it enough times to know even his endurance had its limits. He sighed and nodded. "I do. But you have to understand my position, too. Two of my team, people whose lives I'm responsible for, they really need medical treatment – Carter especially. And I know they haven't had food or water in days."
"I do understand," Iolana said. "Noelani will see that they are cared for."
"Excuse me," Jack said, a sharp snark to his voice, "but what would your niece know about healing? Carter's back is pretty cut up."
Iolana's lips tightened into a line as firm as Jack's. "It might surprise you, Colonel O'Neill."
Jack bit back the angry response he'd been about to make. Now wasn't the time for it. He turned as a large warrior burst through the door. Jack recognized him as Kekoa Po's second-in-command. The man nodded at Kekoa Po and turned heel, leaving the hut as quickly as he'd entered.
"They are ready," Kekoa Po announced, bowing his head deferentially toward Iolana.
Jack looked back and forth between the two. "Who's ready? For what?"
Iolana and Kekoa Po moved together towards the door, leaving Jack standing alone in the middle of the large sleeping hut. "Come," Iolana directed Jack as she halted for a moment in the doorway, "you will find out soon enough."
Jack watched as they both quickly moved away. Apparently he had no choice in the matter. Go and be a part of whatever it was or head back to his ailing team and watch everything happen around them. He shook his head and snorted, jogging out the door to catch up with the pair.
Jack trailed behind the Kumukahian queen and her massive lead warrior, hesitating only for a moment behind them before he entered the depths of the warrior's compound. A young warrior stepped forward to stop him; although he'd tried to convince the Kumukahian warriors of his status as SG-1's lead warrior, Jack hadn't been invited to enter the warrior enclave as Teal'c and Sam had. Iolana turned back and waved her assent at the young man who slid into step behind Jack.
After a few more sharp turns that led deeper into a maze of poles and screens, Jack entered a large, circular area. Scanning the room, he estimated that a contingent of slightly more than one-half of Iolana's best warriors had remained. Jack assumed the other warriors had gone with the villagers, providing protection as they sheltered away from the worst of the fighting. He noted that Nohea wasn't in the enclave. Not that it surprised him much since the young man had all the markings of a whining wimp to Jack, but he'd thought he'd at least be here of all places, if only to show face. Jack scanned the room again - and for that matter, where was that Nahele guy who'd been attached at the hip to Iolana for most of their stay? Jack didn't like this at all.
Jack walked around the edges of the shifting groups of warriors, looking for Iolana, looking for his team, and looking for answers. He finally caught sight of Noelani, on her knees near Sam who had one of the Kumukahi wraps draped over her lap, but who was otherwise still naked. Sam was sitting up and sipping from a bowl filled with what looked like water. Daniel, sitting next to Sam, held a fistful of the villager's dry flat bread. Noelani shifted closer to Sam to adjust her grip on the bowl and her free hand trailed too close the worst of the open weals and Jack winced as Sam flinched, spitting out the mouthful of water she'd just taken all over Daniel. Sam looked like she was ready to spit up whatever else she'd been able to get down.
Daniel looked a little queasy now, too, and he dropped the flat bread onto the hip wrap he'd managed to put on.
Kekoa Po cleared his throat loudly from the center of the restless group of warriors. "Warriors of the Kumukahi – heed my call!"
All of the edgy, buzzing activity around Jack came to a halt.
"Heed the words of your mighty queen, Iolana." Kekoa Po stepped aside to reveal Iolana standing behind him, an ornate headdress crowning her head and a feathered cape draped over her shoulders. She'd put on warpaint, Jack observed, and she had a look of measured fury that she hadn't had earlier in her sleeping hut. The assembled warriors dropped down onto one knee and bowed their heads.
From the back of the group, Jack kept a watchful eye on Sam as Iolana spoke passionately about the history of the Lehuans and the dishonor the Lehuan people had brought onto themselves by kidnapping and injuring the Kumukahi's honored guests, 'Imi'ike and Makanui. At the mention of their Kumukahian names, the group of warriors turned to look at Sam and Daniel. Jack frowned - Makanui/Sam had given up on her water while 'Imi'ike/Daniel had started to chow down on the flatbread like there was no tomorrow. Jack shook his head. Daniel would regret it later if he didn't slow it down.
"We will quash the Lehuan's lifeblood and destroy them and their desire to take our beautiful land and the end the Kumukahi way of life," Iolana announced, beaming an angry smugness around at the assembled group and taking Jack's focus away from his team.
Iolana took another step deeper into the circle of warriors. "Noelani, child of my favored and long-deceased brother, rise."
Noelani set the bowl of water she'd been helping Sam to drink down onto the ground and stood as she had been directed, moving forward as Iolana beckoned her with her hands.
"In time, before six new moons passed, I had planned to pass the mantle of leadership to you, my favored niece, in accordance with the traditions of our people. I had looked forward to it and the joy and honor that have always accompanied our celebrations of such times." Iolana cast a dark look around at the warriors kneeling closest to her. "But these are not peaceful times, nor joyful ones."
She laid her hands on the shoulders of her niece who stood before her, head bowed. "Noelani, Heavenly Mist, only daughter of my brother, Kaimana, it is time. My only wish was that your father's spirit be present at this ceremony, but our circumstances do not allow us the time to call his spirit back at present." She smiled at the young woman and stroked her head. "He would be proud."
Noelani continued to stand, her head bent nearly down to her chest. Iolana reached up behind her own neck and undid the clasp that held the gold necklace that she had continuously worn since SG-1 arrived. Daniel had told Jack early on that it was of early Goa'uld design, but that it didn't hold any special powers, that the gold and the deep blue-green stone set in its middle were purely decorative.
"Noelani, child of Kaimana, now child of Iolana, now leader of the Kumukahi - accept these tokens of our leadership," she said, slipping the necklace off her neck and onto Noelani's.
Noelani lifted her head, standing straighter as she did so. Her expression was solemn as Iolana settled the ornate headdress carefully onto Noelani's head. Noelani turned to face the warriors as Iolana slid the feathered cape from her own shoulders and onto her niece's.
"Hail Noelani, Queen of the Kumukahi!" Iolana announced, slowly bending down onto one knee in front of her niece as the warriors around her had been doing to her only moments before. "Long may she lead the Kumukahi. Hail, Iolana!"
"Hail, Noelani Iolana," the kneeling Kumukahian warriors echoed.
Jack watched as Noelani moved amongst the warriors, nodding her head and speaking each of their names. Kekoa Po moved behind her quietly giving each man his mission orders. Jack nodded at Teal'c who had been standing off to the side and they moved toward Iolana who was temporarily alone at the edge of the crowd.
He stood next to Iolana for a moment, joining Iolana in watching Noelani make her rounds. "Wouldn't this be the time these men would want to see you, the only queen they've known, lead them into battle?" Jack asked quietly.
Iolana shook her head. "They know Noelani. They know her strengths and abilities. They will follow her now."
Jack snorted. He wasn't sold on the idea.
Teal'c dipped his head in deference to the former queen. "What will become of you, Queen Iolana?" he asked, his head still dipped.
"Alaula," she said with a firm smile. "I am only Alaula. It means Light of Dawn. Iolana was the all'i name of my foremother and her foremother."
"Alaula," Teal'c responded, nodding.
Iolana nodded back to him and smiled. "Now," she said, watching as Noelani stood at the entranceway as teams of warriors departed the compound, "my succession is complete. Now I will put the fear of Alaula in the warriors of Lehua."
Teal'c nodded again, his brows rising slightly.
"Come," she said, walking toward Kekoa Po and Noelani.
Jack stood nearby as Sam carefully tied a wrap around her waist, wincing as the action reopened some of her lower wounds. As blood began oozing slowly onto the wrap, Sam gave him a numb and nauseous look as she tucked her P90 temporarily into a fold in the wrap. She seemed to have given up on hiding her nakedness from them, but it hardly mattered at this point as she started smearing dark brown war paint thickly across her breasts and cheeks just as Noelani was doing.
Janet really was going to kill him was all he could think as he turned to walk out the door.
He snuck a last glance at Sam; she'd endured a lot on this mission and so far had shown only courage and grace under pressure, and hadn't budged an inch when her concerns had been spot on, even when he'd basically told her off. He allowed a small smile to flit across his face as he tightened his grip on his P90. If his second-in-command kept this up, then she'd probably be leading a field unit sooner rather than later and he wanted to be around to congratulate her when it happened.
Teal'c passed the binoculars back to Jack and nodded. "That is one of the men from Lehua," he confirmed.
From their vantage point up near the taro ponds, Jack thought he had recognized the man with the mangled nose as one of the men who had been guarding Sam and Daniel's hut when they'd stormed the Lehuan compound. Jack winced as what he identified as the warrior's enclave went up in flames in the pre-dawn twilight. The Lehuans seemed bound and determined to destroy everything now that they had found the village abandoned.
Jack noticed a figure standing outside of the village, observing all of the commotion. He trained his binoculars on the figure. Several warriors ran up to the man, bowed, and after a moment's discussion ran back away from him. He figured this man he'd never seen before was their leader, a man decked out in what appeared in the dim light to be tats from head to toe. A light went off in his head. Tattoo Man - that was the guy who Sam had referred to as the one who'd beaten her and Daniel. Kana'i, Iolana had called him.
Jack turned in the opposite direction to where Sam, her eyes half-shut, was leaning up against Daniel, who was definitely sleeping sitting up if his snores were any indication. Jack wasn't sure if Sam was dozing or if it was a reaction to the pain he knew she was in.
"Carter? Jackson?" he hissed.
Sam's eyes shot open and Daniel's head jerked up.
"Yes, Sir?" Sam responded in a still-raspy voice.
"Time to move out like we planned."
Jack had to turn away as Sam's expression turned to one of anguish as Daniel helped her stand up. But she'd wanted to be here. Insisted on it, damn it. And he knew he couldn't stop her.
As he watched more of the village burst into flames, his anger started to flare. Damn those Lehuans. He heard Sam cry out in pain.
"Sam! I'm sorry!" Jack heard Daniel apologize. "I didn't mean to touch-"
"I know! Just hurry!"
After a few more moments he turned to make sure that Daniel and Sam had made it past the taro ponds and into the brush beyond, and he nodded at Teal'c. Standing up, Jack let loose a few rounds back in the direction of the village. Jack saw Kana'i turn to face their location and wave the warriors closest to him in SG-1's direction. He didn't stay to see if they followed, taking off at a run behind Teal'c toward the ponds.
As he hit the deeper foliage, he noticed movements in his peripheral vision and he identified some of Kekoa Po's best warriors who shadowing them. Good. The warrior had lived up to his word, not leaving SG-1 to be bait all by their lonesome. It made him feel a hell of a lot better since they were down to their last few rounds of ammo that he'd split between himself and Sam who had their only other remaining P90 with her. Lesson learned - next time, get the MALP the hell away from even the most dead-looking of calderas.
Jack pumped the trigger. Click, click, click. Crap. He'd only mowed down the first group of Lehuans and now he was out of ammo. And he'd already sent Sam and Daniel ahead on the path with Iolana who had hung back to escort them to where Noelani planned to do battle with the Lehuans.
"Teal'c!" he shouted across the clearing where Teal'c was using his staff weapon as a battering ram against several spear-wielding warriors, one of them a survivor of Jack's last ammo round who was ignoring his gaping leg wounds to rush at Teal'c. Teal'c gave Jack a quick glance and acknowledged Jack's motion of shaking his weapon to indicate an empty cartridge.
Jack stepped closer to the Lehuans who had surrounded Teal'c, and, picking up a dropped spear, he whistled at the warriors. They turned, surprised to see Jack standing there behind them without the foreign weapon that had decimated so many of their brothers, and they left Teal'c to rush Jack.
Teal'c turned to blast the back of the warrior who was closest to him when another, older, warrior burst through the bushes behind Teal'c, surprising him. As Jack swung his P90 at the head of the warrior closest to him and his spear at the belly of another one behind him, he watched as the older warrior knocked Teal'c's staff weapon out of his hand and into the ravine that Teal'c had been luring the warriors toward.
Jack whipped his spear wildly out in front of him, gaining a few moments as the warriors surrounding him flinched back in surprise.
The older warrior, the mangled nose one that Jack now recognized, had grabbed Teal'c in a stranglehold. Crap. Jack made his decision and charged the smallest of the warriors that was in his direct path to Teal'c. The surprised warrior threw his spear at Jack, missing him by only inches, and Jack slashed at him with his spear as he barreled toward him, hoping the others were following him.
Jack's actions giving him the diversion he needed, Teal'c twisted the older man's grip around so that it was he who now had the other man in a stranglehold and Teal'c twisted the man's head quickly around with what seemed to Jack, judging by Teal'c's smug expression, to be a satisfying crunch. Looking up to see Jack running toward him with the three warriors only an arm's length behind him, Teal'c picked up the dead man's short spear and lunged at Jack's pursuers.
In one swift and practiced motion Teal'c had sliced through the guts of the younger men, quickly finishing each off with small, quick lifts of the spear to their throats as the men gripped their exposed entrails.
"Nice," Jack said, regaining his breath and peering down at Teal'c's lost staff weapon in the ravine beside him, as Teal'c came to stand next to him.
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. He lifted his head, tilting it to the side. "More warriors approach," he said, handing Jack a spear.
"Your staff weapon-"
"Can be retrieved later." Teal'c shook his head. "We must hurry."
Heaving one last deep breath, Jack sprinted up the next incline after Teal'c, leaving Teal'c's staff weapon hidden deep down in the ravine.
They caught up with Sam and Daniel after a hard climb, and several of the Kumukahi warriors had come down from the hillside to join Jack and Teal'c.
"No more running," Jack said, completely out of breath. "Make stand. Here."
The warriors looked at Jack, who was bent over with his hands on his knees, and then at Teal'c. Teal'c nodded at them. "As Colonel O'Neill commands, I shall obey."
The smallest of the Kumukahian warriors turned and made a bird call that startled Jack in its realism. After he was finished and the trail ahead became rife with answering calls, the warrior turned back to the group. "The rest – they are ahead. Come. We are nearly there." He pointed to the pass ahead. "We will go down through there – it is best."
Jack looked at him doubtfully.
The warrior looked at Teal'c who nodded his agreement.
"O'Neill, he speaks the truth. This area is of strategic importance and is sacred to the Kumukahi."
Jack rubbed his stomach as his breathing returned back to normal. "You know this how?"
Teal'c lifted his shoulder in a barely perceptible shrug. "Come, O'Neill," he said, walking past Jack to join the warriors who had already entered the narrow pass behind Sam and Daniel.
His mouth set in a grim line, Jack shook his head at Teal'c' as the group descended deeper into the pass. "I smell ambush."
"No, O'Neill," Teal'c said, turning his head to look at Jack. "Where we are going there is only one way in. The Lehuans are behind us."
"Yeah, that's what I mean. And we're still heading into it."
"It is we who shall lie in wait for them," Teal'c said, as the pass ended and opened up into a small, contained valley. In a break in the trees, Jack looked up to see cliff walls rising straight up to the ridgetop. He hoped Teal'c was right. He didn't like being backed into a corner.
They had descended down to the bottom of the valley floor, the undergrowth having grown thick and twisted over and around large boulders that had fallen from the cliff walls above them. The Kumukahian warriors had spread out at key points in the valley and Teal'c knew that many others were hidden along the route they had taken here in an effort to flush the Lehuans and their leader into this valley of no return. He felt secure in the fact that his teammates were safely hidden around him.
Except for O'Neill, who had become increasingly impatient with the waiting and who had walked out to the middle of the only clearing on the valley floor to scan the cliffs for signs of the Lehuans. He suddenly started to yell Tau'ri obscenities up into the sky.
Teal'c frowned. While O'Neill had agreed to act as bait for the Kumukahi, there was such a thing as overkill.
"Maybe you should try something else, Jack," Daniel Jackson's voice floated down from the opposite side of the clearing.
"Hey you big fat Tat! Get your ass down here," the Colonel called out.
Teal'c tilted his head. Tat? To what was O'Neill referring?
"Hey Tattoo Man, you chicken?" O'Neill bellowed up toward the pass, starting to make unusual, high-pitched clucking noises that Teal'c couldn't place.
O'Neill stopped after a few moments and looked into the bushes where Daniel Jackson was crouched. "Guess he might not get that reference, huh?" O'Neill stopped and rubbed his chin in thought.
In the ensuing quietness, Teal'c heard the sounds of stones crunching and falling up in the pass they'd come down barely ten minutes earlier. The bird calls from that side of the valley suddenly increased. "O'Neill," Teal'c whispered. "They approach."
O'Neill turned back to face the direction of the pass. "Here doggy, doggy, doggy," he shouted, letting loose a loud whistle. "Come and get it!"
He heard Major Carter groan nearby, however Teal'c was unsure if she was in bodily pain or if O'Neill's actions were giving her pain.
The sound of leaves being brushed brusquely aside got closer and as did the Kumukahian bird calls, and Teal'c tightened his grip on the spear that Kekoa Po had given him.
"Lucy! I'm home!" O'Neill yelled, a smug look on his face. Teal'c did in fact recognize that reference, having faithfully watched an "I Love Lucy" marathon recently.
"Kana'i, you lousy excuse for a Lehuan!" O'Neill shouted through cupped hands. "For crying out loud, get your ugly tattooed ass down here before I-"
"Before you what?" a voice asked, and Kana'i strolled into the clearing a few feet away from where O'Neill stood.
Teal'c could tell the man had been running hard, but he was controlling his breathing carefully so as to impress on O'Neill that it was not so.
Several warriors burst through the bushes behind their Lehuan leader, brandishing their burnished spears at O'Neill, and Teal'c moved imperceptibly forward. He then thought better of that action as O'Neill unflinchingly stood his ground, and Teal'c instead started moving quietly in the opposite direction.
Kana'i held his hand up to keep the warriors who accompanied him from moving, and he grinned at the unarmed man who stood before him with his arms crossed and an expression unknown to Kana'i on his face. "You do not answer me, pale one. Before you what? Fight? So you wish to fight me…alone and unarmed?" he asked, a calculated smile filling his face.
"Yeah," O'Neill said slowly. "Whatcha gonna do about it?"
Kana'i laughed. "Fight you? You, who came here to protect the precious Makanui?" Kana'i spat out Major Carter's Kumukahi-given name as he slowly approached O'Neill. "She who was so easily stripped of her godhood." He thumped his chest. "She who cowered in front of me like a worthless Kumukahian whore." The Lehuan leader glared at O'Neill. "A now dead goddess."
Teal'c heard a rustling nearby and he knew that Major Carter was having a hard time controlling her anger towards this man. He understood her feelings, although he was beginning to wonder how the Lehuan leader knew these things about O'Neill and SG-1 if this was the first time he had been to Kumukahi since SG-1 had arrived.
"You think Makanui's dead?" O'Neill asked, daring to laugh in the taller, more muscular man's face. O'Neill still had not moved, even with the Lehuan only a matter of inches away from his face and with his calculated taunts. Teal'c was impressed with O'Neill's self-control.
"If she is not, then I will hunt her down and ensure that she is once I am done with you," Kana'i said.
"I dare you," O'Neill taunted him, "you worthless piece of shit."
The Lehuan threw down his spear and reached out to grab O'Neill's throat at the same time O'Neill lunged forward to do the same to the taller man. The Lehuan warriors leaned forward, but did not move to assist their liege.
As the two men grunted and grappled and swung several times around the clearing, Teal'c slid past Major Carter's hiding place until he was at the edge of the clearing. O'Neill had managed to become turned around with his back to the warrior and was now using both hands to try to pull Kana'i's hands off his throat. O'Neill's face had turned a deeper shade of red than Teal'c had ever seen it turn before.
As the men twisted around again, Teal'c stepped out of the bushes and whipped his arm around Kana'i's tattooed neck.
The Lehuan warriors jumped forward at the unexpected sight of Teal'c, but stopped as Teal'c twisted their leader around so they could see his face. Iolana and Noelani burst out of the bushes behind the Lehuan warriors. One of the warriors turned to the women, his spear upraised, and Iolana quickly gutted him with her own spear. The other men stepped backwards into the clearing, dropping their weapons to the ground. Noelani and the other warriors surrounded them, touching the points of their spears to the men's bodies to ensure they knew of the consequences of any further movement.
O'Neill had stumbled over to the opposite edge of the clearing, rubbing his throat and coughing hard. He leaned a hand on a boulder, his back to Teal'c, and his breathing still little more than wheezing gasps. Teal'c's grip tightened around the Lehuan leader's neck. First he had beaten Major Carter and Daniel Jackson. Now he was trying to kill O'Neill….
"O'Neill?" Teal'c asked as Kana'i tried pulling Teal'c's muscular arms away from his throat, but even Kana'i's strong grip was unable budge the furious former First Prime's arm. Teal'c plucked one of the man's arms back and twisted it around to his back, eliciting a deep muffled grunt from Kana'i.
Teal'c could feel the pressure building in the taller man's neck and he knew it wouldn't take much to snap the man's spinal column and he surely wanted to snap it in two for how good it would make him feel. Then Teal'c thought better of it.
No, the wrenching of this man's neck would not be good enough. He must be made to suffer slowly as he made Teal'c's friends suffer, particularly Samantha Carter. Then Teal'c remembered the bloody red of her back and he squeezed the man's neck even harder.
Teal'c watched as O'Neill slowly approached him, a hand held out in front of him. "Teal'c," he wheezed, drawing Teal'c's name out very slowly.
Teal'c said nothing, but pulled the Lehuan's neck back farther into an unnatural arch, forcing a strangled noise from his throat.
"Teal'c," O'Neill repeated, cautiously inching closer to the Jaffa. "I know what you want to do to the jerk, but let the Kumukahi de-"
"No, O'Neill, you do not," Teal'c said, twisting Kana'i's arm to within a muscle fiber's width of a thoroughly unnatural position. Kana'i had stopped struggling, instead arching his body back against Teal'c's trying to get whatever air he could into his lungs.
O'Neill continued to approach as the others silently watched. "Oh, I think I do," he said, stopping within an arm's length of Teal'c.
Teal'c looked up at the summit, recognizing the sudden bird calls of more Kumukahians in the distance. Kana'i took the millisecond loosening of Teal'c's grip and wriggled away, reaching out to grab O'Neill's throat with one hand as he moved out of Teal'c's space. Kana'i turned back to defiantly face Teal'c as he held O'Neill out at arm's length while the angry colonel swung at him with one hand and pulled on the warrior's hand that encircled his throat with the other.
Kana'i laughed. "You are no warrior," he hissed at Teal'c.
"But I am," Samantha Carter said, suddenly appearing from the bushes behind him.
Kana'i whipped around to face her, flinging O'Neill to the ground in front of Teal'c.
"You!" Kana'i spat as he recognized who it was beneath the Kumukahi warpaint.
"Yeah, me - that worthless cowering whore," she said, lifting her P90 up into position and nodding for Teal'c to move out of the way.
In the second that it took Teal'c to move out of the way, Kana'i took the opportunity burst into a windmill kick that knocked the weapon out of Samantha Carter's hands. Everyone in the clearing dove for cover as a spray of bullets whizzed through the air.
Kana'i regained his footing just before Sam, and they both spied Kana'i's spear lying on the ground nearby where he'd thrown it earlier. They both lunged for it from opposite ends. Sam's hands grabbed hold of the middle of the pole just before Kana'i did and she took advantage of her forward momentum to thrust the razor sharp blade up through his stomach and deep into his chest, yanking it back towards her as quickly as she'd rammed it in.
Kana'i held onto the end of the spear, a look of fury mixed with incredulousness filling his face as blood began to flow from the wound in his abdomen. As he tried to whip the pole out of her hands, Sam gathered all of her remaining strength and plunged the blade back up through his heart and lungs. She released the spear this time when Kana'i pulled on it, stumbling back a few steps.
His eyes widened as he coughed out a spray of blood and Kana'i yanked the weapon down and out, and then looked down at the gaping wound Sam had inflicted. Sam could only stand there, breathing hard and trying to ignore the new pain and bleeding she'd created by moving like she had.
A small group of Lehuan warriors came racing into the clearing, stumbling to a halt when they saw Kana'i falling face-forward into the dirt, their war cries trailing off into a stunned silence. Sam's face showed no emotion as she stared at the dead man's body. Her eyes followed the intricate patterns that had been tattooed across his shoulders and lower back. Beneath the tattoos were old, healed weals. He'd been as marked as he'd left her marked. She blinked. Her eyes continued to follow the geometric shapes as they flowed down his buttocks and thighs where long streaks of the brightest red terminated the patterns. She shut here eyes, trying to block the image of the pooling blood out of her head.
Kekoa Po, who had appeared with a group of his warriors from behind the last of the Lehuans, broke the long silence. "Warriors of the Lehua! Bow and honor the new Queen, Noelani Iolana. Long may she lead the Kumukahi. Hail, Iolana!"
"Hail, Iolana," the Kumukahian warriors echoed, moving forward to bend down at Noelani's feet. After a momentary pause, the defeated Lehuans dropped to their knees and bowed their heads in deference the young woman.
Moving in front of Sam, Noelani stepped gingerly over Kana'i's outstretched arms and lifted the bloody spear up over her head, ignoring the blood that dripped down onto her head and shoulders. "Hail to the Kumukahi and all who honor and join them," she said. "Long may they be strong and long may be the peace and prosperity of this great and powerful people."
As several of Kekoa Po's warriors herded the surrendered Lehuans through the pass ahead of the main group, Jack rubbed his throat again and focused a steely glare on Iolana. "Pardon my French, but where the hell is that son of yours?" Jack was getting pissed that he and his team – his family – had put their lives on the line while Iolana's own son was off hiding somewhere.
Iolana winced, but remained quiet as they started climbing up the last rise behind Noelani and the group of Kumukahian warriors surrounding her. Teal'c was behind him, keeping pace with the much slower Sam and Daniel.
"Iolana. Allah-hula – whoever you are today – where the hell is Nohea?" Jack punched at an overhanging bush that swung back and hit him. "Why isn't he here along with the rest of us?" Jack demanded.
"He is not of us any longer," she said simply.
She shook her head. "He is no longer my son. It has been discovered that he was in collusion with Kana'i. By doing so he has descended to the depths that our former gods now occupy."
"Traitor," Jack said.
As he pieced together the things they'd learned during their stay, it began to make sense to Jack. The arranged marriage to one of Kana'i's daughters. Noelani being next in the Kumukahian succession. The gods showing up unannounced at the wrong time and throwing a monkey wrench into everyone's plans. Sour grapes aplenty.
"A traitor in the place where you come from, perhaps. But it no longer matters that he was of my womb - Noelani has succeeded me. However we must keep him from dishonoring the Kumukahi any further." She looked at the warriors who had stopped and turned around to hear her conversation. "You have heard me well. This man, Nohea, he must be killed. Our way of life will not be safe until such time as we are rid of this evil spirit."
Noelani, having also stopped alongside Kekoa Po to listen to Iolana, nodded. "So be it," she decreed.
Jack swallowed hard as Iolana moved ahead to speak to her niece and her former second-in-command. That was harsh; disowning and then agreeing to having your own son killed. But given what he now understood Nohea had been clandestinely devising, he could understand her reasons. He looked back at SG-1, supporting Sam who still looked shaken about what she'd done to Kana'i.
Jack turned back to the island leaders who were huddled together ahead of them. He walked briskly back to them, intending to make SG-1's voice heard regarding the capture of the errant son.
Sam blinked hard, trying to rid herself of the tears that were burning her eyes. It wasn't that she was crying – she just hurt that damn bad that she was unable to control the tears of pain that were creeping out of the corners of her eyes. She tripped over an exposed tree root, and regaining her balance, she swiped the top of her wrist across her eyes.
Temporarily she found relief and could see fairly clearly. She heard Noelani's quiet voice break the silence. "It is done," Noelani said.
Sam felt a brain fog worse than the haze of Janet's best narcotic cocktail wisping around her mind. What was done? What?
"Good," Iolana said from a place several feet away from Sam.
Sam focused on the end of her P90, blinking furiously to keep the burning and tearing at bay. She felt the earth shudder. Another earthquake? She looked at her teammates. They seemed unconcerned. It was her. She shut her eyes for a minute. Oh Lord, please let me finish this…
As the shouts of a small band of Lehuans and a wild-sounding Nohea came closer, she heard Jack call out her name. "Carter, you okay?" he whispered.
Sam didn't turn toward him. If she did, she knew he'd order her to stop and seek shelter while they carried on and she was damned if she was going to sit this final part out when they were so close, she thought angrily, adrenaline briefly clearing a bit more of the brain fog away.
Several of the youngest and swiftest of Kekoa Po's handpicked group had been sent out to bait Nohea from his hiding place and they burst through the bushes full-speed, and Sam suddenly remembered what the plan was. She tightened her grip on her gun and tensed her muscles, ready for the incoming Lehuans.
Noelani had taken the group to the ancient lava tube that she'd shown Sam only days ago during the initiation rite. Jack had returned from the tube's only entrance, damp from the wet foliage that hid the tube's entrance and a little lighter by the approximately two packs of C4 that he'd secured in the cave. He'd motioned for Sam to take up position next to Teal'c, back in the denser foliage farther up the incline from the tube. The burning feeling in her eyes returning, she'd nodded at Jack and had slid back into the bushes as gracefully as she could, biting her tongue to keep from crying out as leaves scraped along her open wounds.
As Sam kept watch on the bushes in front of her, she hoped this plan would work – only a handful of bullets remained, and she'd prefer to not rely on the spears of the Kumukahi for this part. Finally the sound of footfalls and the slapping of wet foliage against skin got louder and more immediate.
Nohea burst into the small clearing, his head whipping around as he looked for the warriors who'd been taunting him. Jack waited until several of the Lehuan warriors with Nohea had joined him in the clearing before nodding at Sam. Sam crouched up as far as she could and let loose with several shots with her P90, aiming for the ground behind the Lehuans and allowing the last of her ammo to rip into the air away from the Kumukahians surrounding them. It had the intended affect – the Lehuans who hadn't seen SG-1's weaponry in action before today frantically pushed Nohea out ahead of them and into the hidden entrance to the tube, several of them following him into what they thought was a downward continuation of the tropical path.
Almost immediately afterward the noise of a muffled implosion rocked the area, and dirt, smoke, and shards of lava rock came whistling past Sam. She bent quickly over, her balance off-kilter, nearly falling as Teal'c suddenly appeared at her side.
"You are in need of my assistance?" he asked quietly, bending his head down to make eye contact with her.
Her hands out on the ground to stabilize her, she shook her head.
"I will remain here in the event I am needed," he said, moving slightly away from her.
After making sure the newly-destroyed entrance to the lava tube was secured to his own liking, Jack had raced to join back up with main group that was departing the area. His thought was that no one could have survived that blast, however Kekoa Po left behind a few of his trusted warriors to wait, just in case Nohea had survived….
Daniel had joined Noelani at the front as they crossed the last ridge, talking animatedly to her. Teal'c was walking directly behind Noelani, carrying Sam in the place of honor as she'd been the one who'd killed Kana'i. Sam had tried walking on her own and then agreed to use Teal'c's arm for support, but it hadn't taken long for her to admit she wasn't going able to walk back on her own. Jack knew the feeling - once that adrenaline rush that got you through the thick of things bottomed out, you crashed big time. And of course Teal'c wasn't about to let Sam behind. Not that he would either….
Jack watched Iolana supervising the captured Lehuans who were carrying their dead leader back to the remains of the burnt village. Iolana had explained to him that Kana'i was still entitled a proper burial in accordance with his people's customs and she wouldn't allow his body to rot back to dust on her island's shores. Jack assumed she wanted the Lehuans to see up close and personal that the infamous "Tattoo Man" was dead. He'd wager a bet that Iolana would also see to it that the Lehuan's noses were rubbed deep in the fact that the fair-headed goddess was the one who had smited Kana'i for not following the island people's long-established ways.
He looked back over at the fair-headed goddess and saw Sam's head loll back, her eyes finally shut after struggling to stay awake for most of the trek back to the Kumukahian village. The corners of his mouth lifted. He wondered what his second-in-command would think about having become part of this culture's mythology. She probably wouldn't like it. And he was certain Daniel would pick the most inopportune time to bring it up to her.
"You are happy with the results of this battle, Colonel O'Neill?" Kekoa Po asked.
Jack wiped all expression from his face. "I'm happy for you and your people," Jack responded. "Not so happy about the costs to my people," he added, pointing a finger at Sam and Daniel. He turned to look at the tall warrior. "What about you? Happy?"
The warrior's normally solemn expression turned thoughtful for a moment. "I am happy that there will be peace again for the Kumukahi," he said. "I am unhappy of the cost to all."
"Meaning?" Jack asked in a prodding tone.
"The great loss to both the Lehuans and the Kumukahians."
Jack snorted softly. "I wouldn't call Kana'i's death a great loss. Or Nohea's."
Kekoa Po shook his head. "For us it is. We honor all lives, even if they burden us with destruction and pain. The Lehuans have lost a fierce leader. Iolana – Alaula – has lost her only child. These deaths will not be easy for many to accept."
"Still you're a warrior. Doesn't that make it easier for you?" Jack asked.
Kekoa Po answered with a slight shrug. "Did not Nahele explain the familial ties that bound Nohea, Iolana, and Kana'i?"
Jack's head jerked back around. "Family ties? How?"
"Kana'i was Nohea's uncle. Kana'i's brother was Iolana's long-deceased consort," Kekoa Po explained.
"Carter killed Iolana's brother-in-law?" Jack exclaimed, loudly enough for Daniel and Noelani to stop and to turn around to see what was exciting him. Jack shook his head and waved them back to the trail. "But seriously, why weren't we told-"
"As I said, it will not be easy for many to accept that Kana'i - "the conqueror" - has been killed in such a way."
Jack was quiet. He was having problem enough accepting the dirty work he realized SG-1 had helped the Kumukahi do. His mind darted back and forth between Nohea's traitorous ways, the fact he'd been about to marry his own uncle's daughter, Iolana's shouldering the blame, Noelani laying the blame at Sam-the-goddess's feet, the ensuing confusion as island succession politics raged…and all while SG-1 was still stuck there in the middle of it all.
"But why this?" Jack asked, trying to push the tangled web of relationships and actions and reactions and counter-reactions out of his head.
"I do not know what was in Nohea's mind," the warrior answered. "Nohea's father died not more than four full moons after Iolana bore him. At the time Nohea's father died, Kana'i was head warrior for the Lehua just as I am for the Kumukahi. Kana'i had been recently taken as consort by Kanani, the ruler of Lehua at the time." Kekoa Po smiled. "Kanani was the most beautiful of all of the all'i," Kekoa Po said softly. "I saw her once, as a young man. Kana'i was a very lucky man."
"But if the women rule around here, then how did Tat…Kana'i become king?" Jack asked.
Kekoa Po's face became solemn again. "He was a very formidable warrior. When Kanani died in an unfortunate accident, Kana'i had built the necessary solidarity amongst the Lehuan warriors to declare himself all'i in her place."
The warrior frowned. "There were no witnesses and Kana'i mourned her death for twice the customary period. But rumors still circulate concerning the circumstances of her death." Kekoa Po shook his head. "Nohea idolized his uncle and thrived on his uncle's support when Nohea became old enough to understand that his cousin, Noelani, would become all'i because of our customs." Kekoa Po looked at Noelani's back. "He was an unhappy youth. There was considerable jealousy on Nohea's part when both Nohea and Noelani came of age."
"So why didn't Nohea try something on Noelani before now?"
"He did. Many times since they came of age. But Noelani is very skilled and a formidable warrior," Kekoa Po said. A grin spread over his face. "I trained her myself."
"I am glad the visiting gods were well-trained warriors," Kekoa Po said, his grin widening as he changed the subject. "Unlike the gods of old who used Kumukahian warriors to do their battle, you required little assistance."
"We're not gods!" Jack protested.
Kekoa Po's grin widened into a smile. "Perhaps not, but certainly you will be now."
"Yeah, well…glad we could help then," Jack said, grimacing.
Sam moaned in her sleep as Teal'c shifted her weight around, touching parts of her back. Jack turned back to Kekoa Po. "Your healer…?"
The large warrior nodded. "I have already dispatched my fastest warrior to the sacred place where our people have sheltered. The healer will arrive soon."
Jack nodded. He certainly hoped so for Sam's sake.
Sam lifted her head off of what smelled to her to be Jack's jacket. She sniffed again. Yep. That was definitely his aftershave on the collar. She turned her nose up. Right now though, it just plain stunk.
Vague shapes floated in front of her and she blinked hard and squinted, trying to bring it all into focus. But she was unable to, her head feeling like a huge, pressured-filled vacuum that her thoughts were being sucked out of. She felt as though if she pressed her hands to her head and squeezed, she'd feel better. She tried to do it and found she couldn't move her hands up to her head for some reason.
Heat like from an open oven door enveloped her, and she bent her head down to rub her damp forehead on Jack's jacket. Why wasn't the damn air conditioning on in the infirmary? Was it broke? Call Siler, for crying out loud!
She rested her forehead for a moment on Jack's jacket. And what was Jack's jacket doing here in the infirmary bed? She wanted a nice, clean, crisp, bleach-scented pillowcase, thank you very much.
The vise around her head felt like it was tightening and that her brains were going to burst out, and her breasts were hurting like hell – and why was Janet making her stay on her stomach anyway? It'd feel so good to be on her back for a bit. Sam tried rolling over and found that she couldn't. What had she injured this time? She tried to remember which mission she'd returned from. She wondered if Janet given her some funky muscle relaxants, because she couldn't remember a thing. Slowly, and with great effort, she managed to move one hand over to chest-level, and she let it rest there for a moment, exhausted with the effort it had taken.
"Janet?" she croaked in a parched whisper.
Okay, so maybe she went to get a bite to eat, Sam mused. No problem. She could do this herself. She pulled her hand over close to her body and pushed. No movement. She shut her eyes and focused her entire being on her hand and the laws of physics. Push. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction… Push a little more. Push… She felt her body move finally and as she turned onto to her left side, she smiled. There. That felt so much better already.
Okay, just one more push and she'd be on her back and wouldn't have to worry about bothering Janet or one of the nurses… Pushing… She pushed herself totally over.
And gagged as a scream got stuck halfway up her throat.
Oh my God!
Her eyes widened to their limits. I'm on fire! Somebody put the flames out! She squished her eyes shut, but was still blinded by white-hot light of pain. Oh my… She could barely breathe, even the smallest of movements of her chest sending more crescendos of pain like little daggers blasting through her body. What the hell was wrong? She tried to turn back over onto her stomach.
And again gagged on a scream as her back felt like it was exploding.
She wiggled once more, trying to get turned back over, and was unable to move. It felt like her back was being ripped open with the tines of a fork. Unimaginable pain. The physical equivalent of the damn pain stick that had fried her nerve endings on Netu, but worse, oh so much worse.
Was she still on Netu? Oh hell no! Please no! She started writhing, half in pain and half to turn over, nearly becoming numb to the radiating pain's increasing ache. No pain stick! Please!
Then one clear memory flashed through her mind. A stick, not a pain stick, but instead a long stick; a thick, stiff sapling, full of little gnarls and thorny points, whipping through the air and landing squarely on her back and ripping through her unprotected skin. Sam heard a distinctive laugh and realized it was Kana'i's.
No! Had an entire day of off and on beating not been enough? Stop! Sam desperately tried to move and couldn't. "No!" She put all of her focus into moving and not on the pain that had built into a thick wall of darkness swirling around the painful light at hurricane-force. "No!"
She felt Kana'i touch her, pushing her down onto her chest, and the dark wall of emptiness fell on her, engulfing her in its cold and equally painful grip. Nooo….
Jack looked down at Daniel who hadn't left Sam's side in two days, ever since the fever had set in that had left her incoherent and mumbling unintelligibly. He knew what Daniel was going to ask him and he didn't have the answer that both of them wanted to hear.
"I don't know!" Jack told him for the hundredth time, storming out of the remaining shell of Iolana's sleeping hut. Or Alaula, or whatever the hell she called herself now.
Jack headed angrily for the shoreline, wanting to kick the hell out of the surf, but instead made a hard right into the grove of palms where his hammock was still strung. He passed the hammock and made for the last palm, slamming his fist into the side of the tree.
Who the hell did Daniel think he was? He was a soldier, a colonel in the damn Air Force, not a doctor, or some damn miracle worker. He couldn't bring Sam's fever down. Hell, he'd been up nearly as long as Daniel had been the past two days, wiping her head with the damp rag that never seemed cool enough once it touched her forehead, and none of it had helped her one damn bit.
He pounded his fist on the tree several more times. I. Can't. Do. Anything. About. It. Damn. It!
Yeah, the damn Tok'ra should've already been by to pick them up. Yeah, Noelani should've drugged Sam's water and kept her from going out there with them. Yeah, that damn village healer should have had more skill, better drugs, more….
Aw hell… Jack shook his head, bowing his head. C'mon Lord, he said in a quick prayer, don't let me lose Sam to some damn infection. Not this way. If she dies like this, they won't forgive me. And I won't forgive myself.
He tried to turn back to the hammock, but the exhaustion of the past week hit him and he sagged against the palm, giving into the pull of gravity. Immediate threats now gone, he was faced with something much worse - losing Sam. The thought drained him, and he lost himself for a time in the mindless crashing of the waves on the beach.
Jack jumped. "Teal'c?" he said, aiming a glance over his shoulder.
Teal'c came up alongside him, standing just off from his left shoulder. "You required a break?" Teal'c asked.
"No, well, yeah. I guess so." He sucked in a huge breath. "Just a little breather."
Teal'c processed the colloquialism and nodded his understanding.
"She any better?" Jack asked.
Teal'c's face dropped. "No, her condition has not improved," Teal'c said. "I am beginning to fear for her life."
Jack could only nod his head. He'd feared for her life ever since pulling her out of the Lehuan hut, when he'd caught sight of her deeply-lacerated back.
"Do you believe the Tok'ra to be on their way?" Teal'c asked. "Are we of such importance to them?" he wondered out loud.
Jack again couldn't open his mouth to answer. No, in all honesty, SG-1 wasn't that important to the Tok'ra, but Sam was. Their trump card was Sam's father, Jacob. Even without knowing what all had happened here during the past two weeks, Jacob would make sure the team's rescue became the Tok'ra's number one priority because it involved Sam. The fact they'd just saved Jacob's life and that of Martouf, the toothy Tok'ra who'd taken a liking to Sam, would only sweeten the pot.
But it wouldn't matter if they didn't get here in time. He looked back out at the high tide crashing in the sand. By next high tide if they didn't arrive, then….
"Soon, Teal'c. Soon," Jack said gruffly, more to reassure himself than to explain things to Teal'c.
Teal'c nodded his head respectfully to Jack and walked away to leave the man with his thoughts.
The sun had nearly set and Jack was still leaning against the palm when he heard the familiar whine of a Tok'ra tel'tak. He felt a jolt of adrenaline shoot through his body and he jumped out into the sand, waving his arms.
"Hey! Here! Over here!" he shouted, unable to keep the relief and joy from his voice.
Sam felt the heat of fire and threw her head from side to side. No! It blew up into a burning white-hot pain, repeatedly touching her. Repeatedly searing through her tender skin. Pain sticks. Prodding her. Wooden sticks. Poking her. Sticks she couldn't even identify.
"Uhnh!" she said, blinking her eyes wide open several times.
"Sam? Sam honey, everything's okay."
As the mental fog dissipated, Sam felt a warm hand grip hers and she looked to her right. "Dad?"
She was in the SGC's infirmary and Jacob Carter was sitting in a stiff-backed chair near her bed, his Tok'ra clothes rumpled and a few days-old growth of whiskers roughening his face. He leaned forward with a concerned look. Sam opened her mouth to ask him how long, but he beat her to it.
"A while, Sam. You were scarred up pretty badly," he said, wincing at the memory. "Doc Fraiser thought it'd be best if you were sedated while I worked on your injuries."
Sam leaned forward with a start, remembering how painful her lacerated back had been, remembering that some of the deepest of the wounds had become infected no matter what her teammates and the Kumukahi medicine women had done for her. She wiggled her shoulders and tentatively leaned back on the bed. Feeling no pain, she settled her full weight back on the bed.
"Thanks, Dad," she said, smiling at him.
Jacob squeezed his daughter's hand and stood up, leaning forward to kiss her forehead. "You're welcome."
Sam watched her father as he sat down on the edge of her bed, not letting go of her hand. "You look like you haven't slept in days," she told him.
Jacob chuckled. "It's okay, Sam. I don't need much sleep these days with Sel'mak around. Besides how else am I going to be able to spend any quality time with my daughter?" he asked.
Sam snorted. "Dad!" she said more softly.
"Knock, knock, anybody home?"
Sam peered around her father at the door. In civvies with a sly grin plastered over his face, Jack looked more like an errant boy playing hooky from school than a decorated Air Force colonel.
"So how's Sleeping Beauty?" Jack asked, approaching the two.
"Doing much better," Jacob answered. He stood and bent back down to give Sam a kiss on the cheek that she returned back to him. "I need to see George and take care of some business," he said. "I'll see you before I go," he promised her.
Sam nodded and watched her father leave. Who would have ever thought that it would take the SGC program and an implanted alien to bring her and her father back together after all that time? Not that she was complaining. It wasn't quite the way she'd imagined a closer relationship with him would be, not with Sel'mak always there in between them, but she still wouldn't trade it for anything.
"So, Sleeping Beauty?" Jack asked, taking Jacob's place on the edge of her bed.
"Feeling much better, Sir," Sam answered.
"Glad to hear it," Jack said.
She checked out his pale yellow shirt. "Weekend? Downtime?" She grinned. "I don't even know what day of the week it is."
Jack smiled. "Weekend. You've been in here a few days."
Sam looked around the infirmary. "Where's Daniel?" she asked.
Jack waved a hand nonchalantly toward the infirmary door leading out to the rest of the base. "The village healer was able keep his wounds from getting infected and he came back gripping an armful of plastic bags full of her plants for Fraiser who kicked him out of here a few hours after Jacob did a touch-up job with the healing device," Jack answered. "I think he's off somewhere writing his report." Jack grimaced. "And you know when Daniel goes into hiding - it's going to be one of those "War and Peace" dissertations again."
"What about you, Carter?" Jack asked. "Going to put anything long and juicy into yours when you get around to writing it?"
Sam considered the question. "No, Sir. Why? Should I be?"
Jack looked up at the ceiling and shrugged. "Oh, I don't know. No tidbits about the Kumukahi women's initiation rites or anything?" he cast out hopefully.
Sam looked confused, and then her eyes lit up in recognition. She lifted her head up off the pillow and gave him a long look like she was going to spill her guts right then and there. Jack leaned forward in eager anticipation.
She leaned her head back against the pillow and batted her eyelashes at him. "Nope."
Jack winced, snapping his fingers. "Damn. But you can't blame a guy for trying, right?"
Sam laughed. "No, Sir. No, you can't."