The Sun On The Horizon

Book Three, N'has'y

Chapter One

Phoenix Fallen

*****

The gentle, rhythmic motion of the caravan worked in tandem with the soft, scented breezes playing through the open windows, creating an atmosphere that was completely conducive to the inspiration of creativity that was sought by the occupant. Such a shame then that it was inspiring exactly nothing.

Sabire sighed in disgust, and for the tenth time that hour sought to concentrate his wandering mind on the search for those few strains of melody he had awoken with that morning: such sweet, wandering snatches of a tune that held the promise of one of his best pieces of music yet. Alas, as seemed typical of his muse these past few months, the more he tried to hold onto the notes the more they fled, leaving nothing but a mocking echo of lost opportunity. Well, no more. He would sit here, ensconced in huge cushions in his favourite room and capture those notes if he had to reach into his own brain and wring them out himself.

Da dala, da, da da…

Mmm, smells like Mother Jacuna is baking her potted rolls again.

Dee da de, da, da dada…

Dear little Porcephala must be nearly at the end of her time. Hope it's a girl, the Mother know she doesn't need another bratty boy at her feet.

Oh, do be quiet. La lala, de dum do…

Maybe it's time to take another lover. Perhaps the fulfilment of the body's need will revive these ailing brain cells. Hmm, whom should we try? Anala has come of age, and her father is engaged with business in the towns most days.

Dum dum da, de daa, da do……

No, somehow the unbridled passion of youth does not appeal at the moment. Perhaps Kinkala? She is now officially separated from Shanti. She might appreciate some comfort in my arms. So might Shanti. He's a nice boy. Ooh, a gathering of three? I could work to bring them back together. Sabire - Matrimonial Consultant! No price is too great to bring true love to those who need it. And I get a little slice of the action at the same time.

'Gahhh!' Sabire cried out in frustration and flung a cushion across the room. 'It is no use; I will give up pretending to be a musician. I shall go dig in the potted gardens and be a farmer. At least that way I can eat what I create.'

Sabire rose to his feet, fully intending to seek out the farmers' caravans, only to be thrown back to his knees as the 'van shuddered to a sudden halt, the alarm of a young boy's voice ringing out through the communal comm system.

'Gramire, Gransire! Everyone! Look - look at the skies. Something falls, something falls!' The high tenor of the boy's voice was filled with horror and amazement.

Sabire flung himself through the doorway to the little balcony at the rear of his home. Spread out on all sides, the caravans of the Clan were halted in their course; people poured from each one to mingle on the sands and the van rooftops, to gaze and point with bewilderment at the spectacle in the sky. Sabire dropped down to the ground, tracking the pointing fingers around him to fix high in the dark blue sky. There, slightly to the left of their position an object fell towards them: blazing sheets of flame surrounded the front end; a trail of vapour and debris followed in its wake. Horrified questions rose all around him.

'What manner of thing is it?'

'Is it a rock from the Deep, perhaps?'

'No, it seems too smooth-sided to be a rock. It could be a made thing.'

'Oh, dear Mother, it is not an air-transport, is it? The people… the poor people,' one of the women cried out.

As others took up the cry a louder voice rang out, strong with certain knowledge. Binish the Learner stood above them on the roof of his van, telescope pressed to his eye. 'It is not an air-transporter. It is too far up in the atmosphere for one of our 'porters to ever reach such a height. It is a made object though. I would say it is a vehicle of some kind, and it has come from the Deep. It seems large enough to transport people, too.'

An awed hush fell over the community, then the questions began to rise once more.

'Where did it come from?'

'What kind of people do you think are on it?'

'Gramire, Gransire, what can we do?' This last was directed to the matriarch and patriarch of the community who moved among their family, similarly captivated by the disaster unfolding above them.

Gramire patted the child who asked the question. 'I fear there is nothing we can do for them until it hits the ground, little one,' she said sadly.

'Hope it doesn't hit us,' offered old Trettish the Pots.

Talk petered out as those on the ground watched the fall of the vessel. The flare of flame caused by friction with the atmosphere died away as it fell inexorably closer to the surface of the planet. As if in slow motion the vessel seemed to almost be floating in the air, then without warning a piece broke away from the main hull. It seemed to be thrown a short distance away from the larger vessel, and then it too continued to fall at a slightly slower rate than its parent.

Long seconds passed as they strained to track the flight of the two objects. Then with a sudden sideways jerk, a puff of smoke and debris erupted from the larger vessel. The watchers gasped as some of the debris caught the smaller object and spun it around in its course. The two vessels continued to plummet down; a loud groaning whistle filled the air as they fell to their doom.

A quick flurry of movement caught Sabire's eye and he turned to see Haranith the Healer dragging her assistant towards her home, her shouted instructions drowned out by the ever-increasing roar of the vessels' passage through the atmosphere. Debris was now freely pouring from the larger vessel, creating a trail more than three times its length behind it. Many pieces battered the smaller object as it continued towards its fate. Sabire thought he could see faint puffs of white smoke coming from one side of it.

'It should impact over the rise, that way,' bellowed out Binish the Learner, pointing to a group of low hills off to their left.

The announcement galvanised the onlookers into action. Gransire motioned to Chanla who had been in control of the lead van. 'Bring the caravan around, Chanla. Be ready to move the moment the crash has settled,' he yelled. 'All of you with bikes and peds get them out and be ready to go. There may be people who need our help.'

The Clan scattered, eager to do something that may be of use. Before they could get too far though, a cry rang out from those still watching the falling vessels. Sabire turned back and watched open-mouthed.

In the few seconds he had looked away from them, the two vessels had grown significantly in size as they neared the end of their terrifying flight. The large vessel was enormous now - nearly the length of ten vans lined up end to end. The smaller piece that had broken off seemed only big enough to hold a couple of men, yet it appeared more formed and smooth than one would expect a piece of wreckage to be.

With frightening speed the larger vessel was suddenly right here. A thunderous BOOM supplanted the shrieking noise of its passage as it impacted finally with the ground. The watchers cried out in horror, then amazement as the vessel rose from a cloud of dust and sand, bounced off the hard earth to rise high into the air before the nose tilted downwards once more. It thundered into the ground; another massive shower of dust and debris rose, and yet again the vehicle bounced into the air. This time its trajectory was halved in height and it crashed down into the baked earth once more, then continued on to bounce and slide its way across the ground.

Astonished that the vessel remained mostly intact throughout every impact and bounce, Sabire watched its progress. A full minute after the first impact, the piece that had splintered from the main body plunged to the earth, white smoke pouring from the leading end. It seemed almost to be slowing down as it approached. As if imitating the thunderous impact of the main vessel, the little one ploughed into the ground, skidded along and flipped back into the air before slamming down to roll over and over, finally coming to a rest half buried in a slight rise of earth.

Stunned, he stood entranced by the cloud of dust, smoke and debris drifting into the sky. A sudden shout from Gramire galvanised everyone into action and in moments he had leapt onto his 'ped, joining the dozens of riders streaking across the desert. Behind, the caravan turned as one and followed. Sabire gunned the engine, the desire to help, and the hope that someone had survived to need that help, filling his heart.

~*~

Sabire tucked his legs in tighter to the sides of his three-wheeled 'ped and gunned the engine to its limits. The little machine responded with a burst of speed, propelling him over the rocky ground with barely a whisper of sound from its solar-powered engines; the cushion of air under the 'ped made the journey completely smooth. For some reason he headed towards the site where the smaller piece of wreckage had landed. The majority of the Clan were headed for the large vessel, yet there was something about the way the little splinter had vainly seemed to be trying to correct its course and slow the rate of descent that told Sabire it was more than broken hull plating. It could have been an escape pod – and that meant someone may be inside.

The 'ped soared up over the rise and skidded to a stop. Sabire stared in wonder at the broken wreckage: golden in colour, the curved decorative top half buried in a mound of earth. Hissing white steam wreathed the battered shape. One completely missing panel showed a dimly-lit interior. It most definitely was a pod, big enough to carry a person. Gingerly he dismounted and walked over, eyes scanning the scatter of broken parts for any sign of life. He reached the pod and put out a tentative hand, only to snatch it back from the heat radiating off the surface. The interior was empty. Sabire straightened up and looked further afield.

There! Some fifty paces from the pod lay a body. His heart clenched in shock. There really was a person right here in front of him who had come from… where? Another planet? It must surely be. The body in question suddenly gave a shudder and twitched, jolting him out of his reverie. Sabire clambered past the wrecked pod and moved in a staggering run towards the person on the ground.

As he neared he slowed, not wanting to frighten the survivor. The person lay face down, legs twisted under, hands clenched up around the face and making slight scrabbling motions. The slim body was clothed in a style Sabire had never seen before: close-fitting pants and short jacket of a rich purple colour, heavily embroidered even on the back of the jacket and down the legs. A pair of long boots of the same shade encased the feet – one of which was scrabbling futilely at the ground, the other ominously still and even Sabire's limited medical knowledge told him the leg was badly broken. The person's torso was twisted uncomfortably. Sabire knelt gently by their side and placed a hand on a shoulder, hoping to stop the person from causing any further hurt to themselves.

The effect was instant and startling. The body froze, then twisted under his touch to lay face up. Sabire had only a second to take in the fact that the person seemed to be a male, before he registered the hands sweeping up to clench defensively in front of the man's face. Regretting having caused the poor man further fear, Sabire backed up a few inches and held his own hands up to show he meant no harm. The man made no sound. He merely lay there breathing in large panicked huffs, mouth moving in a silent litany.

'Be not afraid, my friend, I wish to help you,' Sabire murmured gently. He lowered his hands but made no further movements towards the man.

Whether his words or his manner made some sense to the man, he seemed to relax somewhat, his eyes darting over Sabire and on to the other members of the community gathering behind him.

'Penard's Drake! Look at that!' the breaking falsetto of one of the young boys squeaked behind Sabire.

'Is it an alien? Does it have horns? Look at the colour of it!' bellowed another.

'Have some sense, all of you and be quiet.' Sabire turned to glare at the gathering of seven teenagers piled up behind him. 'He is a person, not an "it" and he is hurt. Teni, run and fetch Haranith. Quickly now.'

Teni, a smart, quick-thinking girl, nodded and raced away towards the caravan.

Mokla, another of the young boys spoke up. 'Sabire, is he not ill? Look at his skin. I've never seen anyone look like that before.'

'And the eyes, look at the eyes. The colour of the sky, Sabire. That's not natural!' added another frightened voice.

Sabire glared at them and turned back to the man on the ground, this time properly taking in the pale skin on the face and hands. No one had skin this colour, not even those from the far southern cities or the other countries over the seas. Everyone was some varying shade of his own rich black skin colour. And the eyes – a brilliant, piercing blue. Like the man had brought a piece of the sky down with him as he fell. Those eyes were now studying him; intelligence lay behind them even as they squinted and contracted with the pain the man must be feeling.

'Can you understand me?' Sabire asked softly.

The blue eyes followed his lips, the pale mouth moved in a silent mimic of his words, yet no sound issued forth. Sabire wondered if the man had injured his throat. As if reading his mind, the man brought his hands up to his throat and made a waving motion across it, then pointed to his mouth and shook his head. Was he unable to speak? Before Sabire could lean forward to investigate one of the youngsters behind him grabbed his shoulder, a hand snaking past his face to point shakily at the injured man's hands.

'Sabire, Sabire, look at his hands! They are bound. Is he a criminal?' Beni gasped in horror.

There, half hidden under the long sleeves of the man's clothing was the bright metal of bindings around both wrists.

The cry was taken up by all of them, certain they were about to be murdered where they stood by this helpless, hurting man. The man seemed to realise the cause of their distress and lowered his hands to his stomach. Unable to convey his motives or needs properly he lay still, eyes drifting shut as another grimace of pain swept over his face.

Sabire rose and ushered the youngsters away from the man.

'I know you are all a little frightened by what has happened here. However, this man is hurt and in pain. Whatever the reason for him being in chains – he may be a prisoner, a captive, even a criminal - he cannot hurt anyone. Yes, he looks very different from us, but he needs our help. We will find out what has happened and how he came to be here.' Sabire looked around at the trusting faces gazing at him. 'I think he has an honest face and I think we have nothing to fear from this man. Now, let us see if we can make him more comfortable until Haranith comes. Yes?'

The group nodded reluctantly and shuffled back towards the stricken man, making sure to keep well behind the towering bulk of Sabire.

Sabire pulled off the flowing, flowered cloak he wore and draped it over the man's body. Young Mokla offered his shirt as a makeshift pillow and Sabire smiled at him as he accepted the gift. Gently he lifted the man's head and placed the shirt beneath it. The blue eyes fluttered open and a pained smile of gratitude shone up through a face made grimy with dirt, sweat and a small trickle of blood from his temple.

Despite his own misgivings, Sabire gently stroked his fingers along the man's cheek, a small touch of comfort to one who seemed so in need. He wondered about this man who looked so alien to them and yet responded with very human mannerisms. He had a feeling that, for good or ill, this man's arrival on their planet – his deliverance at their very feet – was a sign that all their lives were about to change.

~*~

Haranith arrived soon after. Her characteristic happy disposition was replaced with a grim, efficient manner. Shooing the youngsters away, she dropped to her knees by her patient, hands already pulling instruments from her medical case. One deeply scrutinising look at the hurt man and she drew back in surprise.

'He is different from the others,' she announced.

'Different? How be they different?' butted in one of the teenagers.

Haranith kept her gaze on the pale man before her, but answered the question. 'There were many occupants of the vessel, all male. Their colouring was mixed, yet none like this. All bore a brand on their foreheads. All wore what Gransire called armour. They are also all dead.'

She reached down to gently touch the man's hands. 'This one is so fair, so different.' She peered closely at his body, assessing and gathering information. 'He is unbranded. And those eyes…' She trailed off in wonder, then shook her head and began to examine the man properly.

While her instruments efficiently recorded pulse, temperature and dozens of other life signs beyond Sabire's comprehension, the healer busied herself with a gentle search for injuries over the man's body, all the while calling out comments to the rapt audience behind her.

'His heart and major organs are in the correct positions. Body temperature and pulse indicate he is indeed human. The skin colour seems to be normal for him, there are no signs of fever or illness that would cause such bleaching of the skin. I am assuming he is male…' She broke off as her questing fingers were suddenly batted away by the patient whose cheeks had turned an interesting shade of red. Sabire grimaced in sympathy. 'Yes, he is male. Even if his body mass is significantly less than the average for one of the People.'

A loud beeping erupted from one of the machines and Haranith turned her attention to it. 'The left leg is shattered. This will require much work to heal properly.'

Sabire leant down to speak softly in the healer's ear. 'He must be in great pain, although he has not said a word yet. Can you not give him something to ease his suffering, Haranith?'

'Certainly I shall, but I must know as much about his body as I can before introducing something into it. He may have a deadly reaction to the simplest of pain reducers. This will take time, I fear.'

'Oh. I did not know this could happen,' Sabire replied. The signs of constant torment on the man's face were beginning to wear on his own nerves.

'You say he has not spoken? Has he cried out, moaned, anything?'

'No, Haranith. Not a sound has passed his lips. It is quite unnerving.'

Haranith leaned forward and gently urged her patient to open his mouth. Soft probing fingers and the light from her small hand light revealed no obstructions in his mouth or throat. The pained gusts of air whistling from his lungs indicated his breathing was unimpeded. Frowning, Haranith ran her fingers over his jaw and down his neck. Gently she unfastened the high collar of the man's clothing, fumbling at first with the unfamiliar closings. As the material parted Haranith sank back on her knees in astonishment, staring at the gleaming piece of silver embedded into the skin over the voice box.

Edging forward Sabire peered closely at the object, noting the thin tendrils that ran directly into the skin and the tiny flashing blue lights in the centre. Haranith leaned over her patient. She pointed to the object, then to his mouth and shook her head questioningly.

The blue eyes blinked slowly in silent confirmation. A small tilt of his head indicated Haranith's assumption was correct. The silver device was preventing him from speaking.

'By The Mother, what manner of person would deliberately deny this man his voice? Even a criminal is allowed to speak in his defence. Well, it is coming off… just as soon as I can work out how.'

Haranith squeezed the suffering man's hand, conveying her compassion. With an effort she tore her gaze from the bizarre device and set about testing the man's tolerance to the pain reducer. Swiftly, she made small injections of different drugs into the back of his right hand.

'Sabire, would you send someone to fetch a buggy and trailer, please? We will take him to the caravan as soon as I can relieve his pain.'

Sabire sent a couple of willing volunteers off in search of transport. Turning back to their visitor from the stars, he settled himself on the ground at the man's side and gently took his left hand. Immediately the elegant, pale fingers closed around his own strong, black fingers and convulsively gripped them as another wave of pain swept the man's body.

Silence surrounded the three on the ground, broken by the injured man's gasping breaths as he tried to breathe through the pain sweeping up his nerves from his broken leg. In the distance, shouts and calls drifted on the breeze from the others of the caravan as they clambered in and over the wreckage.

A short time passed. Haranith checked the results of her tests on the patient's hand. Sabire could see none of the patches injected were showing a reaction and the man's life signs had not altered in any appreciable manner; in fact he was managing to control his breathing in measured pants to help with the pain.

Satisfied, Haranith filled an injector with a medium amount of pain-reducer and injected it into the thigh muscles of the broken leg. The doctor kept a close watch on her monitors and within a few minutes was relieved to note indications that the man's pain was lessening and no reaction to the drug was occurring. Haranith smiled down at her patient, brushing the sweat soaked hair back from his forehead. A faint smile graced his lips and his eyes fluttered half-closed with relief.

Ten minutes later, with no small amount of hushed advice from the gathering crowd, the injured man was strapped securely to a carry-bed mounted on one of the buggy trailers, his leg immobilised in a temporary cast. He was still conscious, although seeming to drift off occasionally. Haranith had refused to give him a full dose of pain-reducers without having access to her complete array of equipment. Gently the buggy moved off, proceeding at walking pace towards the caravan, the throng of quietly excited people moving with it as honour guard.

Sabire strode next to the trailer, his hand still gripped tightly by the visitor, both of them seeking and receiving reassurance from the other.

~*~

Daniel found himself fading in and out of awareness, brief snatches coming to him from many people around him: the tall, smiling man constantly at his side; the warm hand holding his own cold, shaking hand; some kind of open vehicle that he had been placed on with gentle care. The doctor's face swam in and out of focus; gentle touches to his face, throat and chest told him she was continuing to monitor him. There were still pulses of pain from his left leg, but they were muted and far less than what he had experienced before. He could handle it for now.

Rolling his head to one side, Daniel focused blearily on the figures around him. They all seemed very tall, even the children, and all their skin tones were varying shades of rich black. That would account for the wide-eyed stares from pretty much everyone. Was it possible people of his skin colouring were rare in this part of the world? Whichever world this happened to be. They were definitely human though, and that suggested Earth ancestry and hopefully a Stargate somewhere.

The clothing was gorgeous too – many different styles; robes, pants, skirts, revealing and covering, brightly coloured patterns, florals, some all in one basic colour. The short glimpse Daniel had managed of the vehicle pulling the platform he lay on was of a sleek, technologically developed machine, something of a cross between Sam's motorcycle and a jet-ski.

A gap in the crowd around him gave Daniel his first look at the crashed Al'kesh. Jumbled, broken pieces lay scattered everywhere; small pockets of smoke rose in places. People were crawling all over the wreckage and Daniel gave silent thanks that the naquada engine system gave off no lethal radiation. To one side he caught sight of a line of bodies, laid out and covered respectfully. With a sudden jolt, Daniel realised he had given no thought to the Jaffa. It seemed from the attitude of the people around him that he was the only one receiving medical treatment. Saddened at yet more senseless deaths, Daniel was still relieved that these good people would be spared the potential violence of the Jaffa.

A sharp, high-pitched voice rose over the general hum of conversation around him. Daniel forced his eyes open once more and saw a short figure in bright red pants, a young boy, running towards them, excitedly waving an object found in the crash. As the child came closer, Daniel saw to his horror that the he was waving a zat gun - a zat that was primed and ready to fire into the child's body from the way it was being held.

Daniel tightened his grip on the tall man's hand, yanking urgently to gain his attention. The man stopped and after one glimpse at the look on Daniel's face, he called for the convoy to halt. Daniel raised his bound hands and gestured towards the child, shaking his head and trying silently to convey the danger the boy was in.

The tall man called the child over and after a confirming glance at Daniel, gently asked the child to hand over the gun. Reluctantly but obediently, he gave up his prize. Daniel winced as the little hands passed over the firing trigger.

Daniel held his hands up, silently asking for the weapon. He was taking a big leap of faith here. These people really seemed willing to help him and he hoped they would not interpret his actions as hostile. None of the people he had seen so far had borne the tattoo of a System Lord. Their curiosity about the fallen vessel and their lack of fear at the sight of a Goa'uld weapon were telling Daniel that perhaps this world had no current contact with the Goa'uld. It was just a guess, based on very little empirical evidence and one, which by extrapolation did not bode well for his hopes of a Stargate. Still, he had to show them the danger of this weapon.

The tall man presented the zat to Daniel. Hushed, the crowd around him shuffled back from the litter where Daniel lay. Shakily, Daniel propped himself up on his left elbow, feeling for the first time a bone deep pain pulsing in his right elbow. The zat wavered in his trembling hands. Daniel gripped it tighter and sighted on a piece of dry branch lying on the ground. He glanced up at the interested faces. Certain he had their attention, Daniel squeezed the trigger once. The familiar whine and blue flash of electricity brought a startled gasp from his audience. Making sure everyone was still standing well clear, he squeezed the trigger once more. The branch burst into flame and the crowd began to mutter amongst themselves. Daniel looked up at the tall man, trying to communicate that there was more to come.

A sharp word from the man stilled the crowd and Daniel pressed the trigger for a third time. The branch sizzled briefly with the charge then fizzled into nothingness, the only remains a drift of smoke curling up from the ground.

A brief moment of shocked silence hung over the crowd, then as Daniel returned the weapon to safe status and slumped back down to the litter, a burst of chatter broke over his head. Daniel found the tall man staring at him, a mix of awe and respect in his eyes. Daniel passed the weapon to him, hoping that the warning would be heeded. The tall man nodded at him, understanding showing clearly on his face. Turning towards the crash site the man called out in a clear strident voice, calling back all those still scrambling amongst the ruin.

Daniel closed his eyes; the stream of chatter flowing above his head merged into a jumbled cacophony that defied understanding. Lethargy crept over his body and the assorted aches and pains warred with each other until his mind was floating far apart from his consciousness. Dimly, he felt the vehicle he was laying on move forward once more and as a soft hand brushed his forehead he gave in to the demands of his stressed body, and sank gently into sleep.

~*~

A sudden jolt brought Daniel awake once more, feeling as if he had only just closed his eyes. Disoriented, faces and bright flashes of colour swooped past him at odd angles. He took a deep breath and focused on the concerned face of the tall man who had been at his side since discovering him by the crashed pod. The litter he lay upon was hoisted up into the air, which explained the odd floating feeling. Daniel caught a brief glimpse of what appeared to be brightly coloured walls before the many hands on his stretcher funnelled him head-first through a doorway and into a dim, pleasant smelling room.

The tall man appeared once more, giving directions to the helpers in quiet tones. Daniel was lowered gently to a wide, soft bed, then raised once more by caring hands as the stretcher was whisked away, before settling finally into the bed's embrace. People shuffled out of the room leaving only the doctor, a young stringy man and the tall man hovering in the background.

The doctor moved to sit beside him on the bed, her hand taking the pulse in his wrist. Satisfied with the result she looked Daniel in the eyes. 'Haranith,' she said, slapping one hand to her breast. 'Haranith.'

Daniel had to smile; some things never changed, including the instinctual methods humans came up with for identifying themselves. At least he presumed it was her name. The doctor confirmed the thought as she turned to the young man at the foot of the bed and announced, 'Pana.' Waving a hand at the tall man standing in the shadows, 'Sabire,' completed the introductions.

Frustrated yet again that he could not give his name in return, Daniel settled for a little wave at his helpers. Haranith grinned at him, then swiftly settled down to work. She and Pana began to unload an array of medical equipment from bags and boxes that had been delivered as Daniel was settled. A quiet word sent the tall man, Sabire, to sit on the other side of the bed next to Daniel where he touched Daniel's bound wrists, silently asking permission to examine them.

Daniel nodded and watched as Sabire looked carefully at the binders from every angle. The gleaming, seamless metal and small, electronic locking mechanism brought a speculative look to the man's eyes. Looking over at Daniel those same eyes crinkled in a grin. Sabire winked at Daniel, then stood up and walked out of the room. Daniel could hear him talking quietly with someone outside.

Daniel Jackson, intergalactic explorer extraordinaire as Jack sometimes called him, ever the one to make quick, instinctive judgements about people he had just met, decided that he liked this tall, unassuming man. Indeed, the few people he had interacted with so far were giving him a good solid feeling of comfort and safety. After so many weeks of living by his wits in the hotbed of intrigue and deception that was Ba'al's palace, Daniel found himself rapidly relaxing. He may not be home, not by a long shot, but for the moment the imminent threat of torture, death or possession was gone. He could live with that.

~*~

Haranith moved back to his side and Daniel forced his attention back to her. She held up what looked like a small television screen. Illuminated on the screen was a representation of the bones in his left leg. He stared at it, appalled. Even without the few compassionate words she used, he could clearly understand the damage himself: down near the ankle his tibia was cracked clean in half, the broken shards pressing dangerously close to the skin; the fibula had suffered two complete breaks and a hairline fracture ran halfway up toward his knee. This would take not just weeks, but months to heal. He glanced up at the doctor. She smiled at him, encouraging and supportive, as if this kind of break happened all the time. He could not shake the dread that was building like lead in his chest. Without modern intensive medical care the leg could easily not heal properly. He could be crippled for the rest of his life.

He slumped back in the pillows, unable to look Haranith in the face as she checked his pulse and temperature. I suppose they'll dump me in a hospital somewhere. If they have hospitals. If they don't…. Blearily, he tried to remember what he'd seen outside. A lot of bare, sandy earth, blue sky, lots of people. No buildings taller than the home he'd been taken to. A small town or village, probably. They clearly didn't know a Zat when they saw one, so the likelihood of the Goa'uld being here is small. They seem quite amazed by me… have they met anyone from another planet before? Oh—crap. They don't even have a Stargate. No, that wasn't a necessary assumption. If someone had crash-landed anywhere remote on Earth, the locals wouldn't have known they could send the survivor home via Stargate. Still, have to find out.

He caught Haranith's wrist and mimed the motion of writing. She blinked at him in surprise, then nodded and rummaged in her bags. Produced a bound book and a thin pencil-like object, made of tightly layered fibres with a core of a hard blue substance. She flipped the book to an empty page and presented them to him. Daniel smiled his thanks. Holding the book up on his chest, he thought rapidly, then drew a rough sketch of a Stargate, embellished with a number of address symbols underneath. Finished, he showed it to her.

Haranith looked carefully at the drawing. Her face showed her interest… and complete lack of recognition. She glanced at him, saw the fervent hope that he couldn't hide, and studied it again. Finally she shook her head. 'Na'nay.'

Na'nay. No. Daniel sank back, trying to stave off disappointment with reason. She's just one person. Others may know of it. Keep trying. Hang on… Na'nay? He blinked. She'd used the same word used by the Abydonians for 'no'. Was it possible? She shook her head, an almost universally used expression of the negative. It couldn't be coincidence, could it?

His speculation was interrupted as Sabire returned with a woman, only a few inches shorter but pleasantly plump and dressed in brilliant green pants and top. Sabire spoke rapidly to Haranith who nodded agreement, then returned to her examination of Daniel's leg. Sabire and the newcomer knelt by the side of the bed, drawing his attention away from the equipment Haranith was laying out.

'Banira,' the new woman said. She smiled and patted her breast. 'Banira.'

Daniel nodded acknowledgement and was rewarded with a fast-paced stream of dialogue, none of which he found familiar. He felt his brows draw together in frustration. Banira cut herself off and instead reached out to his bound hands. She touched the manacles. 'Pashi?'

Pashi…. Perhaps Par shati, to ask permission? A thrill of understanding ran through him. The word was close to the Abydonian version, similar enough if one allowed for the cultural diversity that would naturally occur over thousands of years' separation from their joint roots. He grinned. A flutter of hope took roost in his heart. He nodded and offered up his hands.

Banira produced a case of fine metal tools and set to work on the binders. Daniel watched her, approving of the concentration on her face. It was a welcome distraction from his leg: there was an undercurrent of pain seeping through his bones, bearable but it spoke volumes about the severity of his injury.

There was a sharp click and suddenly his left wrist was free. His arm slid woodenly off his belly and made him wince as the returned movement set off a chain of new aches. Moments later his right wrist was also released. Daniel caught Banira's hand and squeezed it in thanks. She dimpled and smiled bashfully at him, then packed her tools away and made way for Haranith's helper who tended his abraded wrists with a cloth that made his skin sting. After another rapid exchange between Sabire and Haranith, Banira leant over and hesitantly opened Daniel's collar to peer at the silencer. He raised his chin and stared at the ceiling; he found it covered in a delicate metal fretwork behind which moved a pattern of lights undulating through the spectrum. Fascinated, he lost himself in its beauty until a hand on his arm brought him back.

Banira shook her head, face filled with regret. Daniel nodded. As he'd suspected, the electronics of the silencer would be far harder to circumvent than the mechanical binders. He settled back in the pillows, mind buzzing with exhaustion. The pain from his leg settled into a muted but steady pulse through his body. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the quiet discussion of the doctors, the tread of people coming and going, and the more distant sounds of people outside.

Soon he could only hear Haranith and Banira, and felt their gentle, assured touch as they removed his torn clothing to examine the rest of his injuries. Eyes barely slitted open, he let them help him sit up and remove Ba'al's jacket and shirt. He leant against Haranith's solid shoulder while she rubbed something into the bruises he could feel were beginning to bloom over his back, shoulders, arms – everywhere. A pleasant scent reminiscent of lavender and eucalyptus enveloped his senses and helped lull him further toward sleep.

Finished, they laid him back and covered his body with warm blankets. He drifted for a while. His world shank to a cosy cocoon where he felt safe – hidden from the strange, distorted images which lurked at the edge of consciousness: Ba'al's goatee-clad face; Astarte, wild and enticing; stone eyes peering down from Eshmun's statue, his perfect form entwined with stone snakes which dripped with blood that ran unceasing down his legs to mix with the water in the wide, bloody river; Skaara was somewhere – behind him – he could hear him yelling, 'Na'nay, na'nay, Danyel!'

His eyes flinched open. Haranith was leaning over him, concern swiftly melding into a reassuring smile. She brought into his view a model of human leg bones. Unable to even try to decipher her words, Daniel followed her gestures. She indicated where the breaks on his bones were and how, using a kind of semi-flexible patch, she would set the bones. She peered at him intently and he did his best to signal understanding and permission. Satisfied, Haranith brought a glass of water to his lips; he drained the glass in one go and sagged back. She brushed his forehead and returned to the foot of the bed.

Gradually, Daniel felt the pain from his leg subside and as it vanished completely he lost the grip it had given him on consciousness. Ponderously, his eyes closed, but once, twice he dragged them open and tried to concentrate on something, anything to avoid the miasma of dreams he could feel lurking in wait for him.

Sabire returned. Silently he sat at Daniel's side; understanding brown eyes twinkled. He took Daniel's hand. Grateful, even a little desperate for some comfort, Daniel let himself fade away.

~*~

The last fiery rays of daylight glinted off the shattered vessel from the Deep, giving it an even greater alien cast. Sabire stood at the unofficial boundary between the scattered debris and the Clan's evening camp. Behind him their homes were aligned into the usual eight-sided pattern. Meals were being cooked, children bathed: normal evening activities but without the customary sounds of people happy and at peace.

An extraordinary event had happened today. Everyone was talking about the changes that loomed before them now. Nothing would ever be quite the same again, and whether those changes would be ill or fair, trepidation – mixed with a large amount of excitement – filled his heart.

He looked away from the mangled, exotic ship to the line of covered bodies laid respectfully in a group. Although many, Binish the Learner in particular, had wanted to examine the wreck, Gransire and Gramire had declared it off limits after the search for life had concluded. No knowing what harmful gases or substances were leaking inside it.

Seven people had died today. One had survived. Such luck the man must possess, to fall not just from the sky but from the cold darkness of the Deep itself, and live. Sabire smiled. This was a man well blessed and he could only be the harbinger of auspicious times to the Clan, and to the planet of N'Has'y. Of this he was sure.

Somi came to stand at his side. 'An amazing day, Sabire. I don't know what will come of this.'

'Great things, my friend.' Sabire gazed at the sun's final grasp at the sky. It slid below the horizon in a fanfare of brilliant orange streaks. 'Unforseen, perhaps unwanted, but certainly great things.'

'We'll see.' Somi handed him a small drawstring bag. 'I think this belongs to… him. The survivor. They found it near that capsule he was in.'

It was held closed by woven threads of gold fibres, made of the same heavy purple embroidered fabric as the clothes the stranger wore. Sabire opened it and withdrew a delicate construction of metal and glass. Two curved arms opened on tiny hinges either side of the round glass pieces. He turned them in his hands and peered through the glass, squinting as the view turned blurry.

'It is an eye lens, such as Trettish uses.'

'It has no handle.' Somi stared at him from the other side of the glass.

Sabire blinked and found his eyes beginning to ache. 'I believe they hang on the face.' He gingerly slid the arrangement onto his face and with a few fumblings, hooked the curved arms over his ears. Everything beyond went blurry and he staggered, his balance completely thrown out. All he could see of Somi was a bright pink tongue and a white cage of teeth in the indistinctness of his face. His friend laughed and steadied him.

'Our visitor must have unusual eyes.' Among the Clan only the elderly needed an eye lens, and not all even then.

'Perhaps the colour of his eyes caused a weakness in his sight,' Somi suggested, trying the thing on for a brief time. 'Ech, I could not live with that.'

'We shall return it to him.' Sabire tucked it in its dusty bag.

They stood in silence for a time, their faces warmed by the glow of the death-watch fires set around the bodies. Finally, Sabire turned his back on the dead and gazed out at the desert, the hills and gullies of the land highlighted and shadowed by the bright crown of stars which arced from horizon to horizon.

'I thought I knew my place in this world, Somi,' he said quietly. 'We grew up in a good, stable clan. We have our people around us, our friends. We make a betrothal one day, and the cycle repeats itself.'

'I made a betrothal, my friend,' laughed Somi. 'You—you will spread your favours wide and freely.'

'Well… yes. I have my music, my art to occupy my mind and feed my soul. I thought that should be all I desired.'

'But now…?'

'Now? Now there is more. Now there are people who walk among the stars.'

'Not literally. Unless they have no need for breath?'

Sabire snorted. 'You know what I mean. People live on another planet. Maybe many planets. There must be more than one, else why would they have need of a vessel to traverse the Deep?'

'But are they people we want to meet? The dead all wore clothing that would protect them from assault. They carried weapons, Sabire! You saw what that bent thing did – it obliterated the stick.' Somi paced forward, his agitation growing. 'They bound the blue-eyed one, denied him his voice; that can't be the work of people with good intentions.'

'No. But consider the blue-eyed man. His clothes were beautiful, crafted with care. He showed only gratitude to us, warned us of possible danger. I'm sure he recognised one of our words too.'

'How could he know our words?'

'It is a puzzle that I look forward to solving. He is the key, Somi. The first step in our new future—and I want to be a part of it.'

~*~

Few people found the peace of sleep that night. After Somi had departed for his pregnant wife's arms, Sabire paced slowly around the fringe of the camp. Many caravans showed a gleam of light in a window or on a rooftop; subdued murmurings told of those sitting up, held awake by the extraordinary day. He paused near the watch fires once more: now collapsing into coals, their light guiding the souls of the dead to their reward in the Fields.

I hope they find their way. Sabire shivered, imagining lost alien souls haunting N'Has'y for eternity.

A shuttered light burned in the bedroom of his own home. Haranith continued to keep watch over their pale guest. Sabire wandered closer, reluctant to intrude on the injured man's hard-won rest. He climbed the back steps, pulled an old blanket out of a storage box on the rear gallery and wound his way up the narrow spiral staircase to the flat roof. Halfway up, he paused at a window. Inside, the open bedroom door allowed him to view their guest. Now deeply asleep, the man was caught in a dream: his hands twitched and expressions flitted across his face, expressions that spoke of fear, pain and alarm.

Haranith moved across Sabire's line of sight. She bent over her patient; with soothing words and touch she eased his distress. The stranger subsided into stillness. Sabire climbed thoughtfully on up to his rooftop garden. He settled in the squashy, form-fitting seat, wrapped the blanket around his shoulders and waited to see what the morning would bring.

~*~

Cloud covered the dawn sky; it drained the sun of its heat and left the land shrouded in grey half-light. The Clan gathered in a circle surrounding the open graves; a respectful hush stilled their voices. Everyone was present, barring Methny who was confined to Haranith's van while still contagious, and the fallen stranger, asleep in Sabire's bed.

With the care and respect due any member of the Clan, the seven bodies were lowered into the welcoming earth: their strange, tattooed faces and fearsome armour now hidden beneath tightly wrapped shrouds. While the grave was filled in, Lilya raised her face to the skies and sang, a sweet, sombre dirge that bade the departed an unimpeded journey.

The final tones of Lilya's voice echoed bell-like in the crisp air. Sabire nodded appreciatively, and reflected that perhaps his efforts at composing had not entirely been a waste.

People began to drift away back to the caravan, muted conversations rose, breakfasts contemplated, the inquisitive called away from the wreck. A small kerfuffle on the far side of the grave made Sabire turn back. In amongst the stones piled ready to be built into a cairn, something was wriggling.

'Mama, look!' Lilya's seven year-old, Donat was pointing, eyes wide.

'Don't go near it!' His mother slapped his hand and dragged him back.

'Ma… it's only a worm.'

'A very large worm.' Binish the Learner inched closer. 'And not one of this world, I believe.'

Sabire edged closer as the parents dragged their children back. Binish pulled a spare sock from his pocket, reached out and gingerly picked up the creature. It was a dull pink colour, almost opaque in parts, nearly a semi-cubit long with beady black eyes. It struggled feebly, mouth opening to emit a harsh squeak.

'Perhaps some kind of rodent from the ship?' he asked. 'It's probably harmless.' He peered at the tiny fangs. 'Or possibly not. What should we do with it? It doesn't look like it can survive in our desert.'

Gransire stared at it, then said, 'We will show our guest. He may know it.' He led the way back to Sabire's van, where after confirming with Haranith that their guest was awake, he, Binish, Sabire and a number of interested parties trooped inside.

The pale stranger was leaning against a pile of pillows, looking drawn and tired. The curtains had been pulled back and Sabire wondered if he had watched the burial.

The visitors shuffled around the bedside, quietly respectful, some stared at him curiously. Sabire nudged Binish into speaking.

'Uh, how do I ask him what it is if he can't understand me?'

'I think he does know some of our words,' Sabire nodded encouragingly at his guest. 'But you could use signs—or just show him.'

'Oh. Yes. Of course. Here.' He withdrew the creature from his pocket and thrust it toward the man on the bed.

The reaction was nothing they expected. The blue eyes widened in alarm, and he jerked reflexively backward. His hands and one good knee came up, warding, tensing his whole body as if to throw himself off the bed. Pain creased his face as his injured leg rocked in the antigrav cradle. Horrified eyes turned to Sabire and for a moment, Sabire saw uncertainty there, then a hard determination closed it away. He shook his head, mouth clearly forming the word, Na'nay.

Sabire gripped Binish's arm, preventing him from moving any closer. 'He knows this creature.'

'And fears it,' added Gransire.

'What could he fear from a little worm?' Binish asked over the murmuring of the others.

'I don't know, but his fear was for himself: unlike when Shani picked up the weapon. Then, he was concerned only for the child.'

'Binish, remove this from our guest's presence. We will not have him discomforted.' Gransire turned to leave.

Seeing them withdraw and about to take the creature with them, the stranger suddenly leant forward, shaking his head and gesturing at Binish.

'Wait! He wants it.'

'First he's afraid, now he wants it?' Binish halted uncertainly. 'Which is it?'

The stranger reached out, imploring.

'Let him have it,' Gransire said.

Gingerly, their guest took the creature, careful to hold it tightly behind the head. As soon as it changed hands the body of the worm thrashed violently, and it squealed.

Teeth bared in a curious mix of disgust and hate, the stranger looked at it, then gazed up at the people surrounding him. His expression turned apologetic. He grasped the wriggling body in his other hand, and in a spray of bright, alien, blue blood, ripped the creature in two.

~*~

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