Out of the Torrent
"Don't let go, Carter! Hang on—" O'Neill gritted his teeth and tried to get a better grip on her arm. "Don't swing so much—get a foothold!"
"I'm trying sir!" She had a tight grip on his forearm, one handed, her other arm struggling for balance in the onslaught of rushing water. She scrambled in the water for traction, but the smooth mud in the ravine just slid out from under her boots. The water soaking into her BDUs and pack only intensified the weight hanging off the Colonel's arm.
Jack lay face down on the bridge, his upper torso hanging off it. His left arm curled hard around a decorative post, his right arm wrenched downwards, his fingers digging into the forearm of his second in command. Her fingers were currently leaving bruises in his wrists. Not that he could feel it—his arm had long ago lost feeling in the cold rushing water. Only determination kept his grip.
His entire body was submerged, his shoulders providing an infrequent break for Carter; the only opportunity she had to breathe came when the deluge surged around him like a river around a rock and provided her with a pocket of air.
Her nostrils flared as she reached deep down for more strength. Her eyes wild, she searched his face for help—for salvation. She swung with her full weight off him, with no other support, and he could tell that she was tiring. He gripped her arm harder. "Hang on!"
She did—then tried to bring her other hand up to grasp his arm. She screamed—gutteral, intense—as she raised her other arm, fighting against wave after wave of water and pain. A branch skittered off his shoulder and she dodged to miss it—shifting her balance and sending her hand sliding further down his wrist.
She was slipping—slipping down this ravine—down with the flow of this water, and he couldn't do anything to stop it. He fought harder against the flood, scraping his boots on the smooth stone of the bridge, digging his inner toes into the rock. His knee popped, and he knew he'd torn something inside. He fought the urge to scream in pain, fought the urge to curse in frustration. He couldn't afford to expend the energy.
Frantic, he searched for help—any way to counteract the weight and brute force of the water—saw the pack on her back, knew she carried the generator in it, and a decent amount of naquadah.
"Lose the pack!" He had to shout to be heard above the torrent around him. He intensified his hold on her wrist as she tried to obey, struggling for the clasps that held the pack on her shoulders. She fought the closures, tried with fumbling, numb fingers to squeeze the release. She cried out in frustration, inhaling a mouthful of mud, then choked and coughed and vomited the water out, the silt trailing down her chin, only to be whisked away by another wave of water.
"Teal'c!" Jack screamed over his shoulder, "Teal'c! Daniel!" But he knew he wouldn't be heard. He could barely hear himself in the roar of the flow. He couldn't see the others anymore, either, only water and debris driving around him, gushing downwards into the ravine that had, just an hour before, been completely dry and safe.
"Sir!" Carter shifted, losing some traction on his arm. She'd given up on the closure and was trying for her knife, but he knew that she wouldn't be able to get it—her legs had long ago been swallowed by the river around them—he doubted it was still even strapped to her thigh. "I can't—I can't hold on!"
"Dammit, Carter! You don't let go!"
She sobbed and looked down at the flooded ravine. When she raised her eyes again, he knew she was losing hope.
"Carter! That's an order! Keep hold!" He tightened more—impossibly—could feel her bones beneath her sleeve.
Pain radiated through him as something hit him from behind. The force of the blow propelled him further over the edge, the arm wrapped around the post now free—he struggled to regain some stability, dug his fingers into the solid stone. He felt his fingernails bend backwards, knew that he'd lost a few. He was hit two, three more times by debris, saw lights flash when something hard smashed into the back of his head.
"Sir!" She tried again for the clasp of the pack, tried to shrug out of it without undoing the buckle, but only succeeded in sending it sliding down her body, catching at her hips, upsetting their already precarious center of balance. She screamed when another branch whipped by her, the jagged end catching on her head, tearing into her scalp. When she turned her head back, he saw blood in her sodden hair, welling up out of the wound. "Sir." Another sob. She was breaking.
He watched her face give—knew that she was nearly out of strength. And his soul went cold—colder than the water swirling around him, colder than the stone he'd dug into. He couldn't pull her up without her working, too. Couldn't do it at all if she lost the will to survive and let go.
How long had it been—three—four minutes, since the water had burgeoned up out of nowhere and flooded this ravine? They'd been only part way across the stone bridge, Teal'c and Daniel had already passed the pillars at the far end and were on the upper part of the path back down the mountain. The trail dipped down to the bridge over the sharply angled canyon, then aimed back upwards, following the natural curve and rise congruent with volcanic mountains. Carter had been in front of him, and had been the first to hear the rumble above them. She had stopped, turned, and urged him to hurry.
If she'd just gotten herself off the bridge, as he'd ordered, she would be safe already.
Instead, she'd reached for him when the first of the water had reached him, shouting something about his bad knee, and how quickly the water could destroy his footing.
He'd grabbed her arm just as a large boulder had pushed her own legs out from under her—they'd landed hard on the bridge, her half-off it—he'd just had enough time to grasp the pillar before the harsh trickle had become a full-blown flood.
They'd stepped through the 'Gate the previous day. A MALP had originally been dispatched to P7L-626 to make first contact some weeks before, and it had sent back images of paradise. The 'Gate sat high on a cliff overlooking a vast expanse of blue, clear ocean. The MALP arm had panned right and captured pictures of high, rugged volcanic mountains behind it. It hadn't caught images of people, just the clear outline of a building on the top of one of those mountains. A building that looked a whole lot like one of the buildings on Ernest's planet.
Daniel had been impossible.
"Jack—we have to go!" He'd gestured with both hands, sitting all the way forward on his seat, both elbows braced as if for war on the conference table. "General Hammond—there could be information there that would help us to understand other races like the Asgard, and the Nox. We might find another repository of knowledge there. That information could be invaluable to us—it's too important for us to just leave there."
"There's no easy way to get to it. We'd have to hike up those mountains." Major Carter had leaned forward, studying the slightly grainy images.
"If it's there, it's important. Vital information." Daniel had been emphatic.
Jack remembered turning and looking at the General. "He's got a point, sir. We do need to gather all the intel that we can."
"We've been working on technology that will allow us to download alien technology into our own computers." Carter had spoken from O'Neill's right. "Sirs, if this building does indeed contain a cache of knowledge like we found on Heliopolis, it could be invaluable. It would be a shame to leave it there to be discovered by someone else." Her implication had been clear. They couldn't leave it for the Goa'uld.
"Colonel O'Neill, do you believe this mission to be worth whatever risks might arise? It looks like a long way up and back." Hammond had been frankly skeptical.
Jack had turned towards the screen. He'd spent some time at Hickam AFB in Hawaii. He and some of the other guys had hiked many times up into mountains just like those—the Ko'olau range on the island of O'ahu had some of the most stunning views he'd ever seen. And just off the Nu'uanu Pali had been an old highway that he and some buddies had ventured down once, to see the crash site of a World War II fighter. He knew mountains like those on the screen.
He'd taken a deep breath and surveyed the rest of his team, then returned his gaze to the vision of paradise projected before them. "If we get information that will help us fight the Goa'uld, then yeah. It'd be worth it." He'd shifted in his seat. "Otherwise, it'll be a long, hard hike for nothing."
Hammond had only deliberated a few moments before consenting with a harsh nod. "Then you have a go. SG-1, you'll depart at 800 hours tomorrow."
They'd estimated two days up, two days down. Full gear, full packs, they'd 'Gated through weighed down with more than just hope for a good outcome. They rarely took so much with them off-world anymore—rarely needed anything other than the basics and extra clips and rounds. Carter had carried the naquadah generator in her pack, along with a computer and some memory storage doohickeys she'd been working on. The remainder of the supplies had been parceled out amongst the rest of them.
The weather had favored them—sunny—balmy—perfect. By the end of the first day they had reached far beyond the midway point and had camped in a high clearing. By the time the sun had reached its zenith the following day, they'd already explored the building and found it to be filled with exactly nothing. A wall with some writings had also been marred by a large blast impact. Someone had found this place before them, and someone had destroyed whatever had been here. The mission had been a bust.
But Jack had been right—the views were truly stunning. The 'Gate was on an island—slightly smaller than Kaua'i, he estimated—a single mountain in the center, scooping down to wet green lowlands and white sandy beaches—and nothing else but water for as far as they could see. The mountains were definitely volcanic, cragged and sharp, densely covered with trees and undergrowth. What had made the hike easier had been the trail carved into the side of the rock, and the stone bridges spanning the ravines.
When they'd started their descent, the sun had been bright over them. As they'd traversed the mountain, they'd assumed that the growing darkness they'd noticed was due to the overgrown forests above them, blocking out the sun. The sudden deluge of rain had taken them by surprise.
The Colonel had cursed—he knew better. He hurried the pace, pushing his team into a near-run to get down the mountain as soon as possible. The rain had settled hard—driving down relentlessly. He'd started to worry when the tiny falls hidden in the deepest crevices of the ravines had started flowing more freely. They'd crossed two of the four bridges he'd mapped during the trip up, and he and Carter had been halfway across the third, and longest, of the bridges, when the wall of water had enveloped them.
Her hand slid a fraction more. She stared up at him with wide, clear eyes. Terrified eyes.
"Don't let go." He knew she couldn't hear him. "Carter—Sam—don't let go."
Another forceful wave hit, shoving him even further towards the edge. He saw her calculate, saw her plan.
"No!" He was screaming now, hysterical, he knew. "Don't! Dammit, Sam! Listen to me!"
She dangled for a second more, her eyes framed now, by pink rivulets—the blood seeping from the wound in her scalp now tempered by the water. He was pushed a bit more by the river, and he rammed his already damaged knee into the stone to try to stop the slide—but his chest now hanged suspended completely over the edge—his belt buckle scraped the nose of the stone.
With a slow shake of her head, she let out another sob. He saw the change in her eyes. It was deliberate, the final slide of her hand down his wrist.
And he knew that for the rest of his life, he'd be able to feel her fingers.
Grasping at his hand one more time before sliding off and following her into the void.