Into the Breach
by Pink Rabbit Productions
Disclaimer: This includes all female type prurient
(yes, that means sex) stuff, and should not be read by those of a
youthful (I.E. underage) nature, those who might find themselves in jail
for the perusal of the contents (my weekends are already booked visiting
family, thank you very much--and, yes, that *is* a joke), or who
consider Jerry Fallwell to be anything but a great big doofus (I mean,
come on Tinky Winky doesn't even *have* any sexual parts)
Luckily, the members of SG-1 heard the oncoming
army headed their way long before even their outriders would have been a
danger to the team. Even as O'Neill ordered the team to ground, it
occurred to Carter that the soldiers were making no effort to be quiet;
anyone for miles around could have heard the rhythmic thud of marching
feet, the sound of men's voices giving orders ringing across the air,
and the steady creak of wagon wheels deepening the ruts in the road.
They were moving like men with nothing to fear from their surroundings.
That meant they weren't expecting any trouble, so they probably wouldn't
be watching for it. Palms sweating where she gripped her MP5, she
pressed deeper into the thick overgrowth, heart roaring in her chest as
they waited. She glanced sideways, just barely able to make out O'Neill
where he was hidden a short distance away, while Teal'c and Daniel were
completely out of her view. Like her, the colonel was watching
carefully, hunting for any details that might aid them in their hunt to
retrieve their colleague.
The first thing they saw was a pair of outriders,
riding mounts similar to horses, their leather armor and bright crimson
chitons looking like something straight out of a 1950's widescreen epic,
except Charlton Heston's version of Ben Hur hadn't carried a blunderbuss
or ball and powder pistol. It was definitely a Roman style culture, but
with more modern weapons � just as Boone had described. She did a
rough count as the brigade continued on past their hiding place, coming
up with a guesstimate of five to six hundred men, then her hands
tightened on the stock of her weapon as the tail end of the line came
into sight. A pair of heavy wagons pulled by soft footed draft animals
of some kind rolled slowly down the road, the first loaded with what
looked to the be supplies, the second weighted down with human
prisoners; women in rough woven clothes, their wrists and ankles
chained, while half naked men, their bodies hard and brown from the sun
were chained to some kind of yoke dragging along behind the wagon. Sam
had to fight an instinctive desire to lunge forward and do something
even as she searched their faces desperately. Logically, she knew there
was no way that Janet could be among the prisoners since the army they
were looking at had come from the direction of the gate and the evidence
indicated that Janet's kidnappers were ahead of them, not behind, but
that didn't stop her from hunting for familiar features, while she
gripped her weapon so tightly her knuckles were stark white with stress.
She flicked a gaze sideways, catching a glimpse of O'Neill where he
crouched at the edge of her vision, his own eyes searching the passing
prisoners, hands tight on his weapon. His determination was a curious
comfort, reminding her that she wasn't the only one who cared. Her
teammates would also do anything in their power to bring Janet back,
just as she would.
Several minutes passed while SG-1 waited until the
alien military party had moved on past, then another few while they made
sure that any outriders had also passed them by, until finally, O'Neill
pushed to his feet, waving his team out of hiding. He glanced at Teal'c
noting the Jaffa's grim expression. "Recognize 'em?" he
questioned. Having served as the First Prime of Apophis, Teal'c often
had inside knowledge of the worlds they visited.
The Jaffa shook his head. "This is not a
world I have ever been to before," he murmured, still staring in
the direction the militia had been headed, "but I do remember
hearing of a world where some Goa'uld went that matched this one in many
"You think this is it?" Sam questioned,
desperate for any kind of information.
A massive shoulder dipped in a hint of a shrug.
"There are many similarities to what was described to me. It was
where some went for ... entertainment."
"What kind of entertainment?" Sam
demanded instantly, her voice raw with dread. In her experience, the
Goa'uld version of entertainment was never a good thing. Their idea of
fun usually included blood, brutality, and ugliest aspects of life.
Teal'c glanced back then, a flicker of a worried
frown creasing his forehead. "Games," he said very softly, his
low voice rumbling gently, far from eager to say what little he knew.
The knowledge could only cause pain for his teammate, and he still held
out some hope he was wrong.
"I'm betting you don't mean killer rounds of
tiddly winks," O'Neill growled.
Teal'c looked blank, but didn't pursue his lack of
knowledge, merely stored it away for later as he quietly explained,
"Combat games ... to the death ... they supposedly capture men and
women from local tribes for this purpose."
Sam swallowed hard, hands fisting helplessly at
her sides, but didn't speak. In truth, she didn't trust herself to
maintain even the illusion of calm at that point and she was painfully
aware of how carefully O'Neill was tracking her reactions.
Daniel's lips pursed. "Like the Roman
games." He sighed softly. "That would explain the
"And it would mean they'd be likely to keep
her alive," Jack pointed out as he felt frustration and fear
settling over his team. "In my book, that's good news. Now, we just
have to get her out of there as fast as we can." He didn't mention
the size of the army they'd have to retrieve her from. They already knew
that. He resettled his backpack. "So, let's get moving. We aren't
doing anybody any good standing here."
No one had anything further to say and within
moments, the small team was moving again, their strides long as they
silently pursued their prey, each one lost in their own thoughts and
* * * * * * *
Janet Fraiser cursed under her breath as she was
manhandled over rough ground, the hands on her body so harsh that she
barely managed to stay on her feet as the world spun dizzily around her.
Two of Imperator Severidus' personal guardsmen dragged her along by her
arms, while another two went ahead, forging a path through the thick
forest. Their superior had ridden ahead, the clumping rhythm of his
mount's strides lost now, but she had no doubt he would be waiting
whenever they got where they were going. She stumbled on the unfamiliar
ground, but a hand dug into her upper arm, hauling her upright and
drawing a pained grunt. She instinctively tried again to pull free, but
never had a chance and her efforts only made them that much rougher as
they hauled her along, the heavy chains from the wrist cuffs clattering
against each other. Thankfully, the chain was long enough to give her
reasonable freedom of movement, while the loose manacle still appeared
to be locked in place though she'd managed to remove the hinge pin
before they'd grabbed her. That and the small knife still tucked in her
pocket were the only minor surprises she might be able to take advantage
of if she had an opportunity.
She lost track of how far they went or what
direction they took as she stumbled along, her eyes locked on her feet
in an effort to avoid falling on the unfamiliar ground. As a result, she
didn't realize they'd entered the small clearing until she was pulled up
short. Her head came up sharply, eyes locking with the gaze of the man
standing a short distance away, his expression glinting with a cruel
kind of joy. A wicked smile curved his perfect mouth.
"I tolerate defiance from no man," the
imperator snarled, gesturing sharply for his men to bring her forward,
"much less a woman." He reached out when she was standing in
front of him, running his thumb along the curve of the jaw and refusing
to pull back when she would have twitched away from his touch.
His soft laughter ringing in her ears, Janet
couldn't hold back a small cry as her head was yanked back by a rough
grip on her hair. She had embarrassed him when she was captured and he
fully intended to make her pay for that sin.
The imperator leaned close, his hot breath playing
over her face. "Under that grime, you're actually quite comely ...
for the moment." He twisted his hand tighter in her hair, smiling
as the pain drew unwilling tears. "Perhaps this won't be such a
chore after all."
Fraiser glared up at her captor, unwilling to let
him see her break, her teeth clenched against the agony he took pleasure
"Beg," he hissed the single word, eyes
glinting with barely controlled rage.
Janet could see from the look in his eyes that
begging wouldn't save her. She shook her head and instinctively tried to
twist and claw her way free, but with two men holding her, there was no
way she could get the kind of leverage needed. "Go to hell,"
she snarled furiously. She was well past any normal kind of fear, pushed
to the limit and well aware that she was probably going to die soon.
Her hair was suddenly released from the punishing
grip, but she didn't have time to enjoy the relief as he backhanded her
with his other hand, the force behind the blow rocking her head to the
side and splitting her mouth open against the sharp edge of her own
teeth. Janet heard her own dull cry as if from a distance and she was
suddenly hanging from the hands gripping her arms on either side as her
knees buckled. Tasting blood, she staggered to take her own weight and
brought her head back up.
The imperator backed up a step, his head canting
to one side while he took a moment to study her. "And still you
fight," he growled. "I wonder if you'll be so defiant when
every man in this camp has had his chance."
Dark eyes locked on him with cold-blooded rage.
"You're a fool," she breathed, and had the pleasure of seeing
him flush angrily. Janet laughed very softly. "My people will be
coming for me. You only saw what the lightest of their weapons can do
... they will destroy you."
He shook his head, but she caught a glimpse of
uncertainty in his eyes. "No army would fight for a woman."
Her answering smile had the kind of triumph
available only to someone with nothing left to lose. "Trust me, my
people would ... they don't take losing anyone lightly. Let me go and
they might let you live ... go ahead with your plans and you'll
die." For a moment, she almost had him as fear glinted in his eyes.
Then he shook it off, backing up a step, grabbing for an innate
arrogance and well-trained overconfidence that came from a lifetime of
having anything he wanted.
"No woman is worth any man's life."
No talking him out of anything now ... which left
her only one option. "And yet you're afraid of me ... quaking in
your boots in front of a woman--" Her lip curled with disdain as
she spat the words at him.
He fell back another half step, perfect features
made ugly by hate. "I fear no one ... man or woman--"
"Then why do you need four soldiers to
protect you?" Janet challenged, and felt the slight shift of the
men holding her as they looked to their superior, clearly wondering
about that as well.
"I'll let every man who passes by have his
fill of you. With every one you'll die inside ... and then you'll die
for real," he shot back, trying to inflict the same kind of terror
he'd made others feel in the past. His tone made it clear she wasn't the
first captive he'd treated that way.
Janet couldn't contain the smallest of laughs as
she saw the panic in him. "And you'll still be a coward," she
taunted. She saw his fist lift to strike and her lips turned up, dark
eyes mocking him. "Big man ... imagine how many men you'd need if I
wasn't already chained and bloodied."
The blow never fell. "Release her,"
Severidus gritted tightly, without looking at his men.
"My Lord Imperator--" one of the
soldiers began uncertainly, only to be cut off by a sharp command from
"I said, release her!" The imperator
turned a hard glare on the man. "Or do you think I can't handle one
Janet felt a tremor move through the man who'd
spoken and flashed a sideways glance at him, easily seeing the fear
etched into his profile.
"Of course not, my lord. I only meant
"Release the stupid bitch," Severidus
snarled, waving his men aside, his entire focus on his prisoner. He
would show her she was nothing, break her, then watch every man who
wanted to have a turn, and leave the remains for the saraqs to feed on.
Janet caught the worried look the two men holding
her traded between them, but nonetheless found her arms freed. She
twisted her left hand, feeling the loosened cuff start to shift, the
only thing keeping it in place the stiffness of the hinge.
gestured for them to back off, while Janet concentrated on staying on
her feet, though she made no effort to hide her weakness.
think she was no threat.
The small serrated, folding knife from her
survival kit was a light, but distinctive lump in her pocket, and she
barely resisted the urge to grab for it as the imperator stalked
forward, his gold armor glittering brightly in the same moonlight that
cut Machiavellian shadows across his too perfect features. She needed to
wait until he was close enough that he wouldn't see the gesture. In
close, guided by a hand that knew where and how to slice into human
flesh, she knew she could do a lot of damage in the second or two she
was likely to have.
Severidus paused for a long moment, studying her
from where he stood, his eyes running disdainfully over her battered
His lip curled and for a moment, she thought he was going to turn
away and leave her to his men. Since any chance for freedom, or if it
came to it, a quick death, lay in doing her best to take him down, she
needed him in close proximity. She sharpened her glare, putting every
bit of challenge she could muster into the look she flashed his way.
"Afraid, Lord Imperator?" she questioned acidly and was
relieved when he took a step toward her.
He was close to a head taller
than she was, but not a big man by any means, the impression of heavy
muscles created more by the facsimile of sinew molded into his armor
than the actual shape of his body, she realized as he drew near. They
were standing almost toe to toe when she finally risked reaching for the
knife, camouflaging the move as she turned away from him in genuine
He grabbed for her hair, yanking hard enough to
draw a dull cry of pain as he hauled her close, her body molded against
the artificial muscles of his cuirass, while the sharp edged bronze
greaves that protected his knees and lower legs threatened to slice
through the rough canvas of her pants.
She gasped, gagging in disgust as
his mouth came down on hers, but didn't panic, getting her fingers on
the knife and flicking it open as she reached for the bottom edge of his
armor with her left hand. Finding the chestplate loose at the waist to
allow for a degree of mobility, she pulled the molded metal back and
slashed with the serrated edge of the blade. From that moment, it seemed
like a hundred different things happened at once; the knife bit deep,
guided by unerring knowledge and experience of the amount of force
needed, tearing through abdominal muscles with surprising ferocity for
something so small.
Startled and confused by the sudden blaze of agony
through his midsection, Severidus let out a cry of startled agony.
Knowing she had to do as much damage as quickly as possible, Janet bit
down hard on his tongue, punishing him for the brutal rape of her mouth
and drove her knee hard into his groin, pain making him rock forward and
drive the knife deeper into his abdomen.
She left the short blade and part of the handle
embedded in her attacker's midsection as she stumbled back a pace,
wrenching the loose metal manacle off of her left wrist and gripping it
tightly in her right hand to use it like an impromptu brass knuckle. She
crashed her fist into the side of Severidus' face, toppling him into his
men, the sharp edged metal tearing flesh and drawing a scream of agony
and rage. Shaking free of their momentary paralysis, the four soldiers
suddenly started forward, only to stumble over the writhing figure of
their superior as though temporarily taken over by the spirit of the
Grateful for the slim chance, time seeming to slow
with every passing heartbeat, Janet spun and broke into a run with no
real plan in mind; she hadn't expected to escape or survive this long.
Surrounded by black trees, on unfamiliar ground, with no sense of time
or direction, it was like trying to make a mad dash through cold tar.
Like some kind of bad dream, it left Janet with the sense that she was
running but not moving anywhere. At the same time, the only thought in
her head was to keep moving. If she could just get far enough away ...
lose herself in the thick forest--
And then a hand clamped down on the back of her
collar, yanking so hard she gagged as she was thrown against the front
of her uniform, momentarily strangling on the fabric at her throat. She
scrambled quickly and somehow managed not to go down, instead getting
her feet back under her and twisting like a cat with its scruff clamped
in a dog's teeth, striking out blindly at her attacker, once again using
the manacle like brass knuckle.
He grunted in pain, but didn't go down
the way his commander had -- she could still hear him roaring for her
head somewhere in the distance -- though he did lose his grip on her
collar. He made up for the momentary slip with a hard cuff that knocked
Janet off her feet and back several paces.
She tumbled and rolled down a
short incline, her body surprisingly padded against more damage by the
thick layer of damp leaves coating the forest floor. As she skidded to a
halt, she scrambled for her feet, desperation adding strength and speed
to her movements, but her boots slipped in the leaves and she went down
again, momentarily losing all sense of up and down. She heard the
soldier who'd been chasing her call to someone, terror bolting through
her at the thought that more men would know which direction she'd gone.
Desperate for her freedom, she would have leapt at the soldier in an
attempt to silence him and escape, but a hard voice cut through the
night to the rhythmic accompaniment of the heavy clumping of a draft
Janet's attacker froze and even fell back a pace,
while the doctor did likewise, her gaze swinging around as the centurion
who'd captured her rode onto the scene, controlling his mount with a
tight hand when the animal got dancy.
"Centurion," the soldier exhaled
uneasily, while the officer glared down at him.
"I was just informed that you were a part of
removing a female prisoner from the wagons," Paulus accused the
With the two men focused on each other, Janet had
some small hope that maybe she could slip away unnoticed and she started
to edge back to her feet, only to be speared in place by a sharp gaze as
the centurion's gaze swung her way. "Move another step, and I'll
let him have you," he barked.
She froze, a part of her almost desperate enough
to make a run for it anyway.
Paulus saw the temptation in her eyes and shook
his head. "You wouldn't make it more than a few steps ... and those
few seconds of freedom wouldn't be worth what it cost you." His
tone made it clear that he would turn her over to Severidus if she
defied his will.
Sinking back down to one knee, Fraiser barely
resisted the urge to scream in frustration.
Paulus' attention returned to the soldier. "I
asked you a question."
"We removed the woman on orders of Imperator
Severidus," the other man stammered uncertainly.
"You're aware of the emperor's edict
regarding prisoners?" Paulus bit out.
The soldier didn't have a chance to answer before
the imperator's shrill voice echoed close by. "By the gods, Refus,
where are you? Where is that bitch? I want her head!"
Paulus brought his mount around, holding a hand
out to Janet as his foot cleared the stirrup on her side. "You want
to live?" he said simply, making the choice clear. She could trust
him or deal with Imperator Severidus and his men.
It wasn't much of a choice. Janet pushed to her
feet and reached back. His large hand wrapped around hers, lifting her
even as she scrambled to get her foot into the stirrup. A moment later,
she was on the nervous animal behind the armored centurion, her cheek
pressed against his heavy cloak. She'd just barely gotten settled when
Severidus broke through the trees, staggering badly, his gashed cheek
running with blood, his armor loose and hanging on one side, one hand
thrust underneath and clutching his midsection where she'd sliced him.
He was wheezing badly and nearly doubled over. Probably operating mostly
on anger and adrenaline, she diagnosed, knowing how much damage she'd
done in those few seconds. Considering the likely level of local medical
care, he could well die of blood loss or infection. She was a little
surprised by how little the idea bothered her.
"Paulus," the imperator growled, his
eyes widening in surprise as they fell on the slender figure seated
behind the other man. His lip curled with dislike. "I see you
caught the little whore," he said in a mockery of comradeship. The
other three guardsmen stumbled onto the scene only a beat behind their
"I recaptured the emperor's property that you
allowed to escape, yes," Paulus allowed, his eyes raking over his
superior with a look of disdain.
Severidus pulled up short, hearing the note of
disapproval in the other man's voice. "Hand her over," he
growled, challenging Paulus to defy his will.
"All things considered, I'm surprised you're
in such a hurry to deal with the female," the centurion shot back.
"However, in light of the emperor's edicts regarding the
distribution of his property ... including female prisoners, I think
"You dare!" the imperator hissed.
"Need I remind you that I am emperor's cousin--"
"But not a favored one," Paulus pointed
out practically. "And one who already cost too much in slave
profits when you had oversight of the Tuscan maniple. I was warned that
such behavior was not to be allowed again--"
"You defy my orders for one stupid whore....
Giving up those dreams of joining the Praetorian guard, are you--"
Janet felt her latest captor stiffen, his hands
tightening on the reins as his tension was communicated to his mount.
"If I'm denied a position on my emperor's
guards, no one will be able to claim it was for disobeying his commands."
His hand dropped to the pommel of his sword as he saw Severidus
contemplate taking action against him in his desperate quest for revenge
against the woman.
Janet found herself wondering if her rescuer of
sorts was up to fighting off four men; would he even bother to try in
defense of a female prisoner? She was under no illusions that this was
about her in any way. It was about a power battle between these two men
and she was simply the bone they were fighting over. She'd chosen the
way she had simply because it bought her a little more time, and Paulus
seemed disinclined to cruelty for its own sake. She didn't fool herself
that he was on her side though.
"You think the emperor will trust a man who
threatens his superior over a woman?" Severidus sneered, though
Janet noticed he was starting to stagger badly, blood loss and pain
weakening him drastically.
"I think my emperor will sooner trust a man
who follows his laws than one who doesn't."
The imperator flinched as though struck, his
expression twisting with barely controlled fury. "The bitch cut
"Please do tell the emperor that,"
Paulus taunted. "I'm sure he'll be most eager to hand more power
over to a man," he put extra emphasis on the last word,
"who can't even control one small, chained and beaten female."
"Get the woman, Refus," Severidus
ordered abruptly, his tone making it clear that he didn't care how the
young guardsman did it.
The man who'd caught up with Janet glanced back at
his superior, his expression uncertain, while the other three guardsmen
all stood staring from one to the other. Where they'd seemed hopelessly
large when she'd been facing them alone, they suddenly seemed quite
young and rather scrawny compared to the man facing them down.
"My Lord?" Refus croaked, clearly caught
between a rock and a hard place.
"Try it and you're committing treason,
boy," Paulus said softly, though Janet felt him start to draw his
"You're the traitor ... defying an order from
a superior," Severidus accused, but it was obvious from his tone
that he knew he was on shaky ground.
"Be a smart boy," Paulus advised Refus
quietly, "and get your master," his lip curled with disdain,
"to a healer before he bleeds to death on you."
The young soldier glanced back at the imperator,
who had slipped to one knee and was pressing his hand ever more tightly
against the wound in his belly. "Don't listen to him."
"Hey, Paulus, you about done catching that
runaway?" a voice called, the tone light and accompanied by the
sudden heavy tromping of men's boots nearby. Janet glanced back, ears
pricking as she picked out several figures coming their way. She
frowned, judging that they were making the noise intentionally, since
she hadn't heard them coming until they were so close. She doubted
Severidus or his men were in any condition to notice that fact though.
"Just about," the centurion called back,
then added more quietly. "You're outnumbered here ... we both know
my men can take your guard if they have to and I promise you, no one
will ever find the bodies ... not that they'll look very hard." He
looked back down at Refus. "Now, take you master to the
healer," he commanded quietly.
The young guardsman apparently decided that
discretion was the better part of valor because he pulled his hand away
from his sword and strode back to the failing figure of the imperator,
signaling for another man to help him as they lifted their superior's
arms over their shoulders and hauled him off, groaning and spitting
epithets all the way.
It wasn't until after the five men had disappeared
into the night that a broad figure melted from the cover of a nearby
tree, leaving Janet fairly certain he'd been there during most, if not
all of the confrontation. "You've made an enemy," he said
"It was unavoidable," Paulus said with a
faint dip of one broad shoulder.
Several more men melded from the darkness, dark
cloaks and leather armor blending with the surrounding forest far more
effectively than she would have guessed possible.
"Doesn't look like any of them are trying to
double back," someone commented from the darkness, his voice
pitched low so as not to carry.
Paulus nodded, his mouth twisting in a wry smile.
"I think they'll be busy listening to Severidus scream like a babe
in arms for the rest of the night. It looked like she cut him pretty
Janet felt the men's gazes turn her way.
"She seems to have a knack for beating the
imperator," the man who'd appeared first murmured dryly.
"Maybe we should put her in command and sell him at
the slave markets."
"He's probably prettier," another man
added in a tone of disgust, the insult clearly aimed at the imperator,
"And better trained for it," another
added with a sneering laugh.
"What now?" the soldier who'd first
Paulus considered a moment, then quietly ordered,
"Levarin, see to the pickets and double the guard ... particularly
on the women. He's been beaten tonight and if he tries anything, he's
most likely to take it out on them." He snorted softly, the sound
grim and humorless. "And I'll not see our shares cut because he
can't control himself."
"Understood. I'll see to it. On your camp
The centurion paused for a long moment, then
nodded. "Aye. No sense tempting fate." Then he looked down at
the man who'd been hiding in the shadows -- Levarin apparently, Janet
realized. "Walk the borders and check the pickets six times
"Sir?" Levarin sounded startled, making
it obvious that wasn't the normal procedure. "Considering that our
men have control of the valley, is that really necessary?"
Janet tensed, listening carefully as she struggled
to understand this new world. Unlike Severidus, these men acted like
professional soldiers, which meant they most likely had a set of normal
protocols. Instinct told her that the better she understood, the better
her chance of surviving and escaping.
"Maybe, maybe not," Paulus answered
without explaining his reasoning. "And take Amovar with you. No
single man pickets or guard positions."
"Is there a specific reason, sir?"
"Just call it a hunch," Paulus
responded, again without further explanation.
"Yes, sir," the other man said quietly.
Moments later, the small group of soldiers melted back into the cover of
the forest, while Paulus turned his mount, reigning the animal in firmly
to keep it from trotting over the uneven ground, while Janet was left
clinging to his heavy cloak and tightening her knees in hopes of gaining
some measure of stability.
As they rode, he unfrogged the chin strap on his
plumed helmet and pried it off, hooking it over the saddlehorn as he
glanced back at his prisoner. "How badly did you cut Severidus?"
Janet blinked free of a loose plan she'd been
formulating for heaving him out of the saddle and escaping on his mount
once they were far enough from his men to offer a decent chance at
As if sensing the thought, Paulus shook his head.
"You'd never make it. Delphus is trained only to my hand. Even if
you could get me off, he'd throw before he went a step ... most likely
hard enough to break your neck." He smiled, showing white teeth in
the darkness. "He has a foul temper and would have been put down
had I not tamed him. He still doesn't tolerate any hand but my own on
the reins." His gaze sharpened and Janet resisted the urge to
curse. "Now, how badly did you cut him?"
She considered giving an answer so technically
complex that he'd never understand it, then decided against such blatant
defiance when it wouldn't buy her anything. Better to bide her time and
take this man's measure; save her efforts for where they might gain
something. "Badly," she said softly. "I cut muscle ...
maybe even did some internal damage," she added, thinking of that
last moment when the blade was embedded deep.
"Enough to possibly kill him?"
She shrugged. "Depending on the treatment ...
and how deep the final thrust went ... yes." If she'd managed to
nick an intestine, peritonitis wasn't out of the question. "Unless
the care is particularly poor, he won't bleed to death ... but he could
die from infection."
Paulus absorbed the quietly offered answer without
comment and they rode on in silence. Exhausted and hurting, Janet leaned
her forehead against her captor's broad back, the rough fabric of his
cloak scratchy against her skin, accepting that she'd lost for the
moment and knowing she needed to conserve any remaining strength. She
was half asleep when she felt the animal pull to a halt, and Paulus
swung a leg over his mount's broad neck before dropping to the ground,
tossing his helmet onto a nearby pile of gear before reaching back up to
clamp hard hands on her waist and lift her down with ease.
The world spun dizzily and Janet would have gone
down had he not kept an arm around her waist. Realizing how bad off she
was he shook his head. "Severidus is lucky you're so badly
injured," he observed dryly. "Imagine what you could have done
if you were healthy."
Janet noted they were in a small clearing and that
her gear as well as what must be his were stacked against a nearby tree.
"I got lucky," she muttered, letting her voice trail off. This
man wouldn't be cowed into releasing her or making mistakes. Better he
underestimate her mental abilities, since she doubted that
underestimating her physical ones was even possible at that moment.
"I doubt that," he disagreed. "Severidus
is a fool, but he has a brutal streak. He would have killed you if he
could ... and caused as much pain as possible in the doing."
Janet shrugged. That was pretty much her take on
the situation. "What I don't understand is why you care."
Without the adrenaline rush to run on, she sank down into a sitting
position the moment he released his hold on her waist, leaning against a
convenient tree as she let her head rock forward into one hand, suddenly
aware of every ache and pain throbbing through her body.
"He was attempting to break the law. You're
the property of my emperor ... and as such, your fate is his to
decide." Oddly, he reminded her of Teal'c at that point, calm and
cold-blooded about a matter of life and death in a way she'd never quite
been able to understand. Except with Teal'c, that total objectivity was
tempered by a morality that she could relate to. Though, she reminded
herself, he'd spent years doing Apophis dirty work and had probably
contained prisoners in even more dire straights than she, simply doing
his duty until one day he'd had enough. She wondered if this man had any
of that morality hidden under his absolute adherence to his emperor's
laws. Was there anything that would draw him out the way Jack O'Neill
had managed to do with Teal'c.
She peered up at the tall soldier, her neck
protesting the angle. "You said that before. What does it
mean?" she asked without thinking.
His eyes narrowed, a frown drawing his brows
together. "You're here to answer questions, not ask them," he
Unable to contain a dark laugh, Janet shook her
head slowly. "I'd think you wouldn't care what answers a woman
"I'm not Severidus," he informed her.
"Nor am I so blind as to assume you have no knowledge or value
because of your sex." He knelt down, reaching for the loose manacle
and chain hanging from the cuff still latched around her wrist.
"How did this come loose?"
She shrugged, lying surprisingly easily
considering she could barely think straight. "I don't know. It
happened during the struggle." She looked up under the cover of her
hand, watching him study the hinge, but the cut hinge pin had fallen
away so there was nothing to prove it hadn't snapped due to age or
He didn't argue, but she sensed his doubt as he
perused her carefully. "Did you drink the water I left for
Remembering the smell rising from the animal skin
of water, and probable bacteria swarming inside, she shook her head.
"As much fun as I'm sure the trip would be, I opted to avoid the
His head canted to one side and he mouth the word,
"Dysentery," soundlessly. "Without water, you'll only
grow weaker," he pointed out logically.
"And if I drink the local water, it's likely
to make sick ... or rather sicker." She massaged her temple, every
movement making her battered muscles protest. Having been reminded that
she'd neither drunk nor eaten in hours, she was both starving and
desperately thirsty. Her eyes fell on her pack where it was leaned
against a nearby tree with other gear. She gestured loosely in that
direction. "Look, there's water in my pack ... also food and
medicine that I could use."
He studied her for a moment, then nodded though he
drew the ball and powder pistol from his belt and checked it. "Go
on," he allowed and hooked a hand in the metal frame of the
backpack, slinging it over to her. "But if you make any attempt to
escape, I will shoot you dead."
Janet nodded her understanding, not that she had
much left for offering any resistance, even if there'd been anything in
her pack that might have offered a chance at taking him down. She
quickly began digging out what she needed, taking a long drink from the
water bottle inside before she set to work, injecting one of the premade
syringes. Hopefully, the antibiotic would help stave off any serious
infection from the myriad of small injuries she sported. It wouldn't
work any miracles, but might help a little. She considered a painkiller,
but opted not to go that route. She needed to be as clear-headed as
possible to have any chance of survival. She took another long swallow
of water, noting the container of water purification tablets in the
pack. They'd do the job once the bottle was empty. The water might not
taste or smell any better, but it wouldn't kill her. Chewing on an
energy bar, she dug out more supplies and began the slow process of
cleaning and treating her cuts and bruises. She glanced up at the noise
of leather creaking in time to see the centurion loosen the buckles on
his armor and peel it off one handed.
Janet froze, muscles pulling taut as she wondered
if she'd merely traded one rapist for another.
But Paulus only tossed his cloak onto the ground,
using it like a blanket before sitting down on it, his movements
surprisingly graceful for such a large man. "You're a healer,"
he observed and made no further movement toward her, though he watched
with sharp eyes.
"I'm a doctor, yes," Janet murmured,
concentrating on looking as calm as possible as she went back to
cleaning her cuts and bruises, noting that he again mouthed the
apparently unfamiliar word.
"Tell me about your people. Are they a threat
to the empire? The gods have warned us about men who might use their
roads to try and conquer our world."
"We didn't come here to attack ... only
explore and make contact. If your people hadn't fired on us--"
He frowned grimly. "You trespassed in the
temples and were using the roads of the gods. What else could we do?
They've warned us of the destruction they'll wreak if we fail to protect
Janet's mouth twisted in a smirk. Trust the
Goa'uld to scare the locals into guarding their backs. She made a small
disgusted sound in the back of her throat. "They're not gods, you
know," she muttered, wincing as she washed the gash at her
hairline. It had bled heavily, but wasn't actually very large.
"Just living creatures with superior technology and a knack for
He shrugged, his tone practical. "Whether or
not they're gods, their punishments are real enough. Had we ignored you
and they discovered it, they'd have rained fire down on our heads."
Janet looked up from what she was doing.
"Have they done that before?"
He nodded. "During my grandfather's time. To
this day, nothing grows on the ground where the city Coruscanin once sat
... and any man or woman who goes there soon sickens and dies."
Full lips pursed with unconcealed anger. They'd
probably seeded the ground with something viral or radioactive. The
local populace was lucky the aliens had only left a little object
lesson, considering what they'd done to her adopted daughter's world.
She supposed she couldn't blame the locals for doing whatever the
"Besides, we owe the gods our loyalty--"
That caught Janet by surprise. "After they
destroyed one of your cities?" she demanded, her tone thick with
He shrugged again, clearly not all that upset by
the past actions. "Men live and men die. Had they dealt honestly
with the gods, it wouldn't have happened. We venerate them and treat
them as they wish and in return, receive their gifts ... knowledge and
Janet snorted softly, wondering what the man in
front of her would think if he learned that the gods he worshiped had
offered nothing but the lowest form of technology, that they were
probably doing nothing on this world but causing trouble, like a small
child stirring an anthill simply for the joy of watching the resulting
fight. Obviously, they'd made this place in their image; brutal, harsh,
and uncaring -- life and death as cheap as copper pennies.
Tell me how your weapons work," he
interrupted her grim line of thought, apparently not caring for that
line of discussion. He retrieved her equipment belt, drawing her sidearm
from its holster. Obviously, they'd found it after she was unconscious.
"Where does the flint go and how do you load the ball and
"Tell me where we're going and what to
expect," she countered.
"You're in no position to bargain," he
pointed out, clearly startled by her audacity.
Janet shrugged. "I don't really have much
left to lose ... I'd say that gives me quite a bit to bargain
with." She nodded toward the gun, calculating how best to offer up
a bunch of technical B.S. that would have absolutely no meaning to him.
"Since you want knowledge ... like how that gun works." She'd
heard the exchange over his joining the guard. "Or perhaps you're
not interested in impressing your emperor in order to enter the ranks of
his personal guard?"
He nodded ever so slightly, correctly reading the
offer to trade information. "It's possible I am," he allowed.
A beat passed while they stared at each other, each one trying to take
the measure of the other. Finally Paulus nodded in silent acceptance of
their unspoken pact. "You'll be taken to the emperor's court at
Helios ... he'll decide your ultimate fate."
"Most likely result?" she demanded,
making it clear that wasn't enough to earn any answers.
"You're too old for his tastes, so you won't
be kept in the harems ... and he'll never give you any standing as a
prisoner the way he might if you were a man taken under similar
circumstances. Under the law, you're chattel ... that means no ransom or
He had the grace to look uncomfortable.
"You'll be treated like any other female prisoner taken in the
outlands...." He seemed unhappy with that idea though she was
certain it had more to do with his apparent belief that she had valuable
knowledge than with any sense that what was happening to her was wrong.
He peered at her closely, taking in her features and body. "You're
pretty enough and still young enough to give a man children ... he won't
sell you at the slave markets ... they're top heavy with young savages
right now -- they're an effort to tame, but many rich men like that --
so you probably wouldn't fetch much of a price."
Janet shivered in revulsion at his matter of fact
analysis of her value.
"Most likely he'll offer you as a prize to a
freeman at the games ... ticket sales are always better when the prize
is a pretty woman ... and your hair color is unusual enough to make them
"Don't you have games?" he questioned,
surprised by her ignorance.
"None where human beings are the prize."
"Combat ... the savages go as gladiators --
slaves -- but a freeman can also enter ... win land ... a woman ... even
a military commission. It's a way out of the slums for those born
"Wonderful," she groaned in disbelief.
"The NBA Meets Gladiator ... where's Michael Jordan when you need
him?" Janet shook her head slowly, wondering if she'd stepped
through the looking glass while she wasn't looking. She half expected a
white rabbit wearing a waistcoat to run by at any moment.
He held up the pistol. "Now explain how your
Janet sighed softly, struggling to clear her head
to come up with a clever and confusing enough lie. Could be fun,
considering her knowledge was generally limited to load a clip, pull the
slide, safety off, and pull the trigger. "The first thing you need
to understand is caliber and how many grains go into the
* * * * * * * * * *
Sam Carter reached up to adjust the position of
her backpack strap where it was starting to bite into her left shoulder,
trying not to think about anything beyond the steady plod of her own
boots as she followed behind Jack O'Neill. They were hiking as quickly
as possible on uneven ground full of rocks and chuckholes, and the last
thing she could afford was a twisted ankle or a bad fall. They could
have covered more ground on the main road, but a small group of mounted
soldiers had nearly surprised them roughly an hour before, and O'Neill
had deemed the more hidden path a necessity for their safety, even if it
did slow their progress. For her part, she was trying desperately not to
let her mind drift to anything beyond the need to keep moving. If she
thought about things too much, she was going to lose it. Her lover was
somewhere in this dark, cruel world, suffering god only knew what
torments, and she was helpless to do anything but hope they could find
her in time. If Janet went through this much agony every time SG-1 was
in danger or went missing, it was a wonder she hadn't run screaming from
the relationship a week into things. Sam didn't think she could have
"Colonel O'Neill," Teal'c's voice, low
with an unusual note of something akin to urgency, broke in on her dark
"Yeah, Teal'c?" O'Neill responded
instantly, his own voice tense. Hardly surprising, considering the
numbers of armed men they'd seen already. Their weapons had been
primitive, but not so much so that they couldn't overcome the small team
if they attacked en masse. Superior weaponry could only do so much
against vastly superior numbers. And in any event, it was a conflict
that would most likely end any hope of retrieving their colleague.
"I believe we are being followed. I thought I
heard something some minutes ago, but decided it was likely an animal of
some kind. However, I have now heard it again ... several times ... and
the timing was too regular for a wild creature."
Knowing it might give away their suspicions, Sam
resisted the urge to crane her neck in search of any signs of pursuit,
and subtly readjusted her MP5 so it was more easily accessible.
"Which direction?" the colonel
questioned, keeping his voice low so it wouldn't carry beyond their
"Directly behind and to the left ... perhaps
twenty yards back."
"Our friends from the road?"
Sam risked a glance at her teammate in time to see
him shake his head, his broad frame little more than a massive shadow.
Branches overhead blocked what little light rained down from the stars
and half moon far overhead. Reminded of their vulnerability, a shiver of
apprehensions slid down her spine. The thick forest was an inky back
shadow beyond a few feet and it suddenly threatened to collapse inward
on the small band of soldiers, a leafy black hole from which they might
never escape. She shook her head sharply to throw off the dark musings,
instead concentrating on Teal'c's answer.
"Unlikely, but possible. They are moving
quietly ... like scouts or hunters. I believe they are trailing
Sharp ears pricked for even the tiniest crack of a
twig or rustle of leaf beyond the muted rhythm of the team's movements.
Nothing, not even a trace of sound, leaving Sam to wonder what Teal'c
had heard that the rest of them had missed.
"Any idea how long?" O'Neill sounded as
uneasy as she felt and she could sense his barely restrained desire to
"I am uncertain. Several minutes at least,
but possibly longer." It was one of the few times she'd ever heard
the Jaffa so uncertain about anything. If they were being followed,
their pursuers knew what they were doing. Which begged the question, why
hadn't they attacked? According to Boone, the army that had attacked
them had done so with little or no provocation and had wasted no time on
planning, simply opened fire, counting on superior numbers to overwhelm
the Stargate team. Though it was doubtful they'd had any idea of the
disparity in their weapons when they did so. It seemed unlikely that the
soldiers they'd seen would have the skills to track the team without
being quickly spotted. On the other hand--
"It occurs to me that we've seen a lot of
prisoners ... they had to come from somewhere...." Daniel suggested
quietly, voicing the same thought running through Sam's brain.
"And maybe we're not the only one's trying to
get someone back," Sam finished the thought, surprised by the odd
burst of hope that flowered in her chest at the thought. Maybe they
weren't as alone as she felt at that moment. They'd seen hundreds of
men, poorly armed by Air Force standards it was true, but still too many
to make retrieving a prisoner by brute force a consideration. If they
couldn't find a way to either negotiate for Janet's freedom or steal her
back, they would need reinforcements or allies of some kind, and Sam
feared that Hammond would be very hesitant to send any more troops after
one person. "Which means they might be open to--"
O'Neill shook his head. "We can't take the
chance," he vetoed the idea before it even had a chance to fully
"I concur," Teal'c's voice rumbled ever
"Jack, if I could talk to them ... we could
use the allies," Daniel hissed.
"Negative," O'Neill bit out. "It's
"But if we attack, we're guaranteed an enemy
... whether or not they started out that way," Daniel pointed out,
clearly disagreeing with Jack's strategy.
"He has a point, sir," Sam added her
voice to her teammate's argument. The last thing they needed was more
"It's a chance we'll have to take," Jack
dismissed before continuing, "I'm not suggesting we just open fire,
but we're not staying out here like sitting ducks either. Carter,
there's a drop off ahead, you and Teal'c fan left. Daniel and I'll take
the right.... Time to find out what we're dealing with."
Even knowing he was probably right, Sam had to
tamp down on her own impulse to try and find common ground. "Yes,
sir," she signaled her understanding. Experience had taught her
that even if their pursuers had similar interests, there was no
guarantee they could work together.
A few more strides and the game trail they were on
cut down a sharp embankment. Sam felt her boots hit thick dirt, the
momentary slide of loose sand giving way as she automatically rebalanced
herself, then she dropped the short distance to the bottom of a sandy,
dry stream bottom, landing in a half crouch. She heard the soft thud a
beat later as Teal'c hit the ground behind her, his landing every bit as
light as her own despite the fact that he weighed at least half again as
much. No longer desperate to hide their awareness from watching eyes,
she scanned the surrounding forest on all side, hunting for any sign of
movement that might signal an enemy's position.
O'Neill hit the bottom of the arroyo a beat or two
after Teal'c, his landing slightly noisier, but still controlled. She
had taken another few steps before it occurred to her that she never
heard the fourth landing and she twisted, eyes going wide at the same
moment she heard Jack curse, the sound undoubtedly louder than the
Not only had Daniel not climbed down into the
arroyo, he'd turned back the way they'd come, throwing his arms wide as
he called out, repeating a simple welcome that basically amounted to,
"We come in peace," in several languages, some of which she
vaguely recognized from past missions while others sounded totally alien
to her ears. She was already lifting the MP5 to her shoulder and taking
a shooter's stance against the edge of the embankment in order to cover
her teammate when she heard O'Neill's hissed order. Next to her, Teal'c
lifted his staff over the edge of the embankment, hands braced to fire
if anything or anyone threatened the Egyptologist.
"Dammit, Daniel, get back here," the
colonel ordered sharply, his own weapon up and ready, his fear expressed
He flashed a glance over his shoulder. "I
know what I'm doing, Jack," he lied none too believably. If he
lived through this little stunt, Sam suspected Jack might just kill him.
Considering the way her own pulse was hammering in her chest, she might
"Daniel, getting yourself killed isn't going
to help anyone," she reminded him as she hunted for any sign of
movement in the darkness beyond the edges of her vision. As desperate as
she was to return her lover, sacrificing a friend wasn't part of the
Ignoring his teammates, he called out again,
trying a new combination of languages in hopes of making some kind of
contact. He even got a short burst of English in there somewhere before
moving on to something else, the syllables sounding rough and guttural
to her ears until they ended in an almost girlish shriek. It took Carter
a moment to spot the single arrow where it was dug into the dirt between
Daniel's feet. She led the barrel of her weapon in a wide arc, hunting
for the shooter, while she heard Jack angrily order their colleague,
"Dammit, get down."
Daniel only shook his head and shouted out
something else, albeit less confidently this time.
A moment passed, and then another and, finally, a
lean figure stepped from the cover of the forest, a longbow easily six
feet in length clutched in powerful hands, an arrow with a wicked
looking double curved metal arrowhead nocked and pulled, perfectly
arrayed feathers resting near his cheek. The arrow was clearly pointed
at Daniel Jackson.
"Hold your fire," the Egyptologist
snapped at his teammates, praying as he did so that the fact that he was
still alive was a good sign.
The others could only pray he was right as they
waited, muscles taut, their weapons tightly gripped, needing nothing
more than the tiniest increase in pressure to open fire. Daniel Jackson
couldn't help but wonder at his own sanity as it occurred to him that
almost the exact opposite was true of the alien aiming at him. Even a
moment's relaxation could send that arrow into flight ... and right
through his chest. He swallowed hard, knowing that his teammates were
aware of exactly the same problem. They couldn't really cover him
because if they fired, he was very likely dead. Swallowing hard and
trying hard not to think about his own very real hatred of pain he spoke
quietly, hoping to draw out some kind of response that might give him a
clue as to the best way to communicate. In the meantime, he kept his
palms out and his arms well away from his body. He didn't want anyone to
think he was making an aggressive motion.
A moment passed while they all stood poised to
move but perfectly still, the feral instinct to assess a new threat in
full command of their senses. Finally, the newcomer edged forward,
moonlight illuminating a sinewy frame criss-crossed in painted or
tattooed designs of some kind. He wore high leather boots and a long
breechclout as well as a loose sleeveless shirt belted at the waist. The
arrow still trained on Daniel, he spoke quickly, his voice low, the
words simple. It took the Egyptologist a moment to decode the unfamiliar
accent and find meaning in the language, but after a beat, he managed a
roughly worded reply, struggling to explain who they were to the other
man in terms he thought might make some sense.
Sam shared a look with O'Neill, shaking her head
to signal she had no idea what they were saying. Exposure and a quick
mind had allowed her to pick up a few words of things here and there,
but she didn't recognize the language in use this time.
Daniel finally fell silent and a moment passed
while they all stood frozen and assessing once again.
"Help us here, Daniel," O'Neill called
out at last, wanting to know whether they should be shooting, running,
or offering to shake hands. "What's up?"
The Egyptologist made a small shushing gesture
with one hand as the newcomer began speaking again, his tone more
conciliatory this time, though the arrow remained pulled to its full
length. In another time, the English longbow, a weapon of a similar size
and draw, had been capable of putting an arrow through armor. Daniel
didn't want to think of what the local equivalent could probably do to
human flesh. "His name's Ergan ... he's speaking what sounds like a
very ancient version of Celtic and says he's from the Western Icenei ...
the Icenei were a Celtic tribe before the Romans arrived--"
"That's nice. What's he want?" Jack
demanded, cutting straight to the chase.
"I think he's some kind of tribal chieftain
... he's says the Romani -- that's the army we've been seeing --
apparently they hit a caravan ... took his wife and a number of other
people. He saw Teal'c's staff weapon and thinks we're demons ... I think
he's talking about the Goa'uld."
Sam cursed under her breath. The last damn thing
she needed to hear was that they might have not one but two enemies to
contend with, whether they wanted them or not. "Tell him we're
not," she called up, desperation tinging her voice. "Tell him
one of our people was taken and we're just trying to get her back ...
that Teal'c no longer serves the Goa'uld ... the demons--"
"I'm trying," Daniel insisted between
comments to the Icenei leader in his language. "But I don't think
he believes me ... I think he's hoping that he can trade us for his
Sam distantly registered O'Neill's angrily
muttered, "Oh, that's just great," and the sound of his fist
hitting the dirt. She knew he was furious at Daniel and probably none
too thrilled with her for speaking out of turn at that point.
Unfortunately, his day was about to get even worse. The situation
couldn't continue as it was and if they found themselves at war with
these people too, the delay could cost her everything. On the other
hand, it was obvious they were superb trackers and desperate for the
return of their own people. Daniel had made the choice for all of them,
and having done so, it was unacceptable for that plan to fail. The
alternative was too dangerous to contemplate.
Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Sam
tossed her own weapon aside and vaulted up the edge of the embankment,
scrambling for purchase in the loose, loamy earth as she held her hands
out to show she was unarmed.
The archer tensed, swinging the point of his
weapon back and forth between the two people, but didn't fire.
"Dammit, Carter...." the colonel snarled
behind her, but her entire concentration was on Ergan, praying that he
could see the sincerity in Daniel's words.
"Tell them we're just as desperate as he
is," she half commanded, half pleaded. "That someone we all
care for very much has been taken ... and we just want to get her
back." Her voice threatened to crack, but she kept moving, willing
the Icenei leader to see the truth. "Please," she added on
begging note as his shadowed gaze swung her way and a hint of a frown
creased his brow.
Fumbling with the right words, Daniel did his best
to translate, while Sam stood behind him, every muscle tense, her
desperation plainly visible to anyone who cared to look. A moment passed
after he'd finished, then Ergan spoke softly, the expression in his eyes
a mirror of her own. He paused after a moment, apparently understanding
that she needed Daniel to translate. "He asked if it was your mate
who was taken," Daniel said at last.
Sam nodded, sharing a look with the man standing a
few short feet away that none of the others could understand, no matter
how much they cared. "Tell him yes," she instructed quietly,
waiting while Daniel answered.
A moment passed while Ergan spoke, and then Daniel
translated, his voice soft and a little uncertain. "He asked what
you'd do to get her back?"
Sam swallowed her, forcing the words past the
tightness in her throat. "Anything," she breathed, her tone
and expression pleading for understanding.
Ergan was already releasing the tension on the bow
and replacing the arrow in the quiver at his hip when Daniel spoke,
sounding profoundly relieved, "I think that means he believes
"He believes me," Sam confirmed without
having to understand the exact words. She stepped past her teammate,
holding out a hand in greeting to the Icenei tribesman. The man and
woman caught each other's forearms in a firm grip, their mutual pain a
deep tie between them. He said something softly and Sam simply nodded in
"Oh joy, a bonding moment," O'Neill
muttered and staggered to his feet, still gripping his weapon tightly in
case something went wrong as he peered over the edge of the embankment,
ready to dive for cover. He signaled for Teal'c to stay where he was,
wanting the jaffa where he could back them up if necessary. He was never
going to understand Jackson and Carter's tendency to make friends with
every passing alien they came across. Not that he hadn't learned that
maybe shoot first and ask questions later wasn't necessarily always the
best response, but then again singing the Barney song and making pals
didn't seem quite right either.
Ergan waved a hand, whistling like some kind of
nightbird and a moment later five men and three women, all lean and
hard, their hair long, their bodies painted like their leader, melted
out of the trees. Two of the men and two of the women carried long bows
as well as short swords strapped across their backs. The remaining
Icenei had long swords similar to a Scottish claymore strapped across
their backs, and one of the men as well as the remaining woman carried
some kind of double bladed ax. He said something to his people, who
appeared to accept his words with stoic blandness.
"Looks like they were expecting a
fight," O'Neill murmured under his breath as he watched events
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. "Clearly,
they intended to retrieve their people--"
"Or die trying," O'Neill exhaled
heavily. Now, there was an option he preferred to avoid.
Jack sighed softly and flashed a glance at Teal'c
as the Jaffa rose gracefully, his staff tipped up, signaling that he'd
concluded they had nothing to fear from the newcomers. Apparently, he'd
been outvoted -- and exactly when did SG-1 turn into a democracy,
he wondered as he climbed back up the steep bank behind Teal'c.
The Icenei leader was just trailing to a halt as
O'Neill joined the small knot of people. The tribesman looked to Daniel,
waiting for him to translate.
Daniel glanced back, frowning as he explained to
his teammates, "He says there are two scouts behind us ... that
they'll send up a warning if any more soldiers are seen....." He
paused momentarily, visibly working to dissect what he'd been told.
"But he doesn't think there's much chance of it ... apparently the
... the Romani don't move at night--"
"That's good," Sam said instantly.
"Means we have a chance of catching up to them." The news
offered a grain of hope and she grabbed for it with both hands,
desperate for any chance to return her lover as quickly as possible.
Ergan glanced at her, apparently recognizing her
desperation for what it was. He spoke quietly, repeating part of what
he'd said when Daniel asked an uncertain question.
"He says they always camp once it's dark ...
any armies in the area coming together ... and that now that we're in
their territory, they're likely to be careless. They've apparently
rescued people that way before. It won't be easy--"
"Is it ever?" Jack murmured wryly.
"But he thinks it can be done if we move fast
... find them before they get into more populated areas--"
"Then we'd better move," Sam exhaled,
her gaze swinging around in the direction they were headed. Instinct
told her that everything depended on speed. If they missed their window
of opportunity, it might be impossible to even find her lover, since
large armies seldom came from small societies. Once lost in a large
population, she could disappear forever.
"Now, just hold on a minute," Jack
interrupted sharply as his team began readjusting their packs to
continue the trek. "Nothing against these guys. They're probably
very good ... uh ...tribesmen or whatever, but I'm not sure throwing in
with them is the answer--"
"They know the lay of the land and they want
to get their people back--" Daniel pointed out.
"Yeah, and according to you they wanted to
trade us for 'em," Jack pointed out, sarcasm edging his words.
"I'm not sure about that ... some of what he
said was a little confusing. It's just a possibility--"
"Kind of a dangerous one, don't you
"But he wants to work with us now that they
know we're on the same side."
The alien tribesmen were already starting to melt
back into the forest, their attitude making it plain that SG-1 could
join them or not but they weren't going to slow their pursuit any
It was Sam who interrupted, too tired and stressed
to listen to the two men argue their respective ideological positions.
She'd heard it all before and sometimes thought they argued simply for
the sake of arguing. "They're going ... and if they get there ahead
of us and all hell breaks loose, the situation's going to be even
worse." She had a nightmare vision of stumbling into a burned out
camp, her lover's body lying amid the corpses. She couldn't let that
happen. Sam resettled her backpack with grim determination. "You
two can fight about it now or you can fight about it later, but I'm
going with them." She glanced at Teal'c where he stood silently to
one side. "Teal'c?"
He inclined his head ever so slightly. "As am
I, Major Carter."
Without waiting for Jack or Daniel to respond, the
two turned and hurried after the swiftly moving Icenei leader.
"Me too," Daniel informed Jack and
trotted after them, effectively ending the argument.
"Dammit," O'Neill hissed, thoroughly
uncomfortable with the idea of working with anyone, especially a local
culture that they knew almost nothing about. Carter's sympathies aside,
the whole idea was far too risky for his tastes. He shook his head as he
glared after his teammates. Unfortunately, they'd left him little choice
in the matter. Grumbling under his breath, Jack hurried to catch up with
them. Daniel was already doing his best to quiz the Icenei leader,
though the other man signaled for quiet every time his voice rose above
a low whisper. Should make for an interesting hike if nothing else,
O'Neill concluded with grim humor.
* * * * * *
Janet Fraiser groaned low in her throat as a wave
of dizziness left her on the verge of toppling to the dirt. Kidnaped,
exhausted, beat to hell, and now she was stuck trying to come up with a
line of reasonable sounding silliness to explain how a modern, automatic
pistol worked to a man looking for where to put the flint. Even without
a concussion, she'd have been sporting a headache. She risked a glance
at Paulus, who was sitting cross legged on the other side of the small
fire he'd built, both for warmth and to ward off some of the darkness.
He'd eaten what looked to be the local equivalent of hard tack and beef
jerky while she spoke, taking long drafts from a water skin between
bites and quizzing her about the weapon. Occasionally, he'd picked up
the stolen nine millimeter, turning it over in heavy hands as though
trying to assess the truth or falsity of her explanations. She suspected
that if he'd had any idea exactly how little truth there was in her
words, he'd probably have picked up his own weapon and shot her right
then and there. Her explanation of blowback alone had created an all new
definition for the word fictional. The only reason she could see that he
hadn't called her on her story was pure masculine pride and refusal to
admit that he had no idea what she was talking about. He'd just nodded
and told her to go on every time she'd asked if he understood.
At least he hadn't done anything to prevent her
from eating and drinking from the food and water in her own backpack.
That and a handful of Ibuprofen, on top of treating her injuries had
left her feeling more human at least. She sighed softly, leaning into
the support of the tree at her back as she tried to coil into a more
comfortable position, only to have the manacle still wrapped around her
wrist pull her up short. He'd wrapped the other end of the chain around
a heavy branch before fastening the manacle around the chain ...
replacing the missing hinge pin with something from his saddlebag. Janet
had watched for a chance to see if she could loosen the replacement pin
somehow, but he'd been watching her every since.
Paulus' gaze sharpened as he heard the soft clank
of metal links and his eyes flicked over to check that the chain was
still securely fastened. "Continue," he commanded without
She couldn't do it; couldn't come up with another
warped explanation of real physics and weaponry. "That's all I
know. Weapons aren't really my specialty." She closed her eyes,
sinking even deeper into the protection of the tree, the bark rough
against her uniform, but warmer than the cold ground where she sat. She
folded her hands under her armpits, warming them against her body as
best she could.
A long moment of silence passed before he mused
out loud, "I wonder if you've told me even one word of truth."
"I told you everything I could think
of." Literally. She'd told him about a cross section of more or
less unrelated weapons from an M16 to a Stinger, as well as the outdated
card punch machine that had been part of her first computer experience
in high school, cold fusion, superconductors, and possibly warp drive.
If there was anything she'd left out, it was purely an oversight. Of
course, none of it was likely to help him figure out how to build a
working automatic, but that really wasn't her problem. "But if you
need me to go through it again because you didn't understand...."
His brows drew together in a frown and she
wondered if she'd pushed the manipulation too far, but he simply nodded.
"Sleep then ... tomorrow will be a long day." Then he leaned
back on his cloak, folding the heavy fabric around his body as he folded
an arm under his head.
Apparently dismissed for the moment, Janet let out
a low, relieved sigh and drew her legs up, curling into a ball in an
effort to conserve body heat. The temperature was dropping and she was
feeling the cold. As weak as she was, hypothermia could be a real threat
if she wasn't careful. She glanced at the branch where the other end of
the manacle was attached, then over at the centurion, watching closely
under the cover of thick lashes. Once he was asleep, maybe--
"Sleep," he interrupted the thought, his
tone ironic. "Even if you could get the chain free, you'd never get
past the guards."
Resisting the urge to curse, Janet slid a hand up,
tucking it inside her uniform to press it against the delicate relief of
Sam's ring where it was nestled against her chest. That small bit of
contact with her home and love offering much needed comfort, she closed
her eyes, determined to make him think she was sleeping until she could
come up with some means of escape. In moments, her breathing was slow
and even, her body limp in slumber.
* * * * * *
Sam Carter was breathing hard, sweat soaking into
her uniform, her muscles aching with the effort required to keep up with
the Icenei tribepeople. She was in good shape and used to lugging a
heavy pack long distances, often at pressing speeds, but the half jog
they effected had her struggling. She glanced back at her teammates,
noting that they were working just as hard as she was. Even Teal'c
appeared more winded than she could recall seeing him before, while
Daniel had long since given up any efforts to interrogate the Icenei
leader, instead concentrating on not stumbling over his own feet in the
They were moving single file on an even narrower
game trail than the one they'd been using before, following Ergan, who
somehow kept the same pace whether heading uphill or down. The rest of
the Icenei were somewhere off in the thicker parts of the forest, fanned
out and moving impossibly easily through the thick growth. Sam had
glanced around occasionally, hunting for some indication of where they
might be, but there was no sign, neither sound nor movement, though she
had no doubt they were there somewhere.
In the far distance, something that sounded
vaguely like a coyote howl echoed across the night, but Sam paid little
attention. She'd already heard dozens of distant growls, howls, shrieks
and other sounds from the local wildlife and discarded them as
unimportant, convinced that if there was anything out there determined
to eat them, the locals would be aware of it. She was still moving at
that punishing pace, her concentration reserved primarily for the ground
immediately beneath her boots, when Ergan suddenly pulled up short,
nearly going down when she didn't manage to stop in time and ploughed
into his shoulder. He muttered something Sam had no way of
comprehending, but didn't turn back, just stood perfectly still, his
muscles taut as though carved from granite.
An apology on the tip of her tongue, she looked
past his shoulder and saw what had brought him up to such a sudden halt.
"Oh god," Sam breathed, the sound little more than the
faintest of exhalations.
They were standing on a low ridge that hung over a
narrow valley, the india ink blackness of the expanse broken by the
glittering lights of several hundred campfires. She didn't event want to
think about how many men and arms that might represent. The Icenei
leader mumbled something very softly, his breath so low she wasn't
entirely certain whether he actually formed words or simply let out a
small, feral sound of. Someone spoke, the language sounding harsh and
alien to her ears. It took her a moment to realize that it was Jack.
Daniel caught up with them and started to speak
only to have the words die unspoken as he saw what they did. He stared
at the valley far below, mouth hanging agape and shook his head slowly.
How the hell were they supposed to find anyone in the middle of that?
Teal'c's expression was unreadable as he brought
up the rear, coming to a halt beside them with controlled grace. If any
emotion escaped the tight rein he routinely kept on his feelings, it was
nothing more than a subtle flicker of sadness in his eyes.
Ergan waved a hand and a woman slipped out of the
shadows. Roughly Sam's height, her long dark hair caught back in a braid
that hung down her back, a longbow gripped in one hand, she moved so
silently it was as though she'd simply ghosted into existence. Her
leader spoke softly as she joined him, her gaze sweeping across the
vista before them all with a horrified look of realization. He spoke
again and she nodded, then disappeared back into the darkness, moving
down the steep ridge and angling away from them.
"Colonel?" Sam's voice held a note of
dread that didn't even come close to expressing what she was feeling.
He shook his head, his voice a tight rasp when he
answered. "I don't know."
"Maybe we can negotiate with them,"
Daniel offered the only thread of hope he could see in the face of what
lay before them.
Jack shook his head again. "They opened fire
on Boone's team with no warning. Outnumbered like that we'd be sitting
ducks with no leverage for negotiation." He glanced at Carter, his
expression apologetic, knowing how the news had to hurt. "Chances
are we'd all wind up prisoners or dead."
"I know, sir," she admitted, her mind
spinning as she hunted for an answer to their problem. "We've got
to figure out a way to find her ... assuming she's down there." She
gnawed on her lower lip, searching the darkness as though she could
somehow see her lover if she just stared hard enough. Her head snapped
up, eyes wide as she suddenly heard another coyote-like howl, but far
closer than the previous ones, and ending in a series of yips before it
finally trailed off. Sam was about to say something to O'Neill when a
second howl echoed through the night, further away this time, but
definitely on the same hillside where they stood.
Ergan tensed and hissed something under his
breath, then suddenly tipped back his head and nearly sent the entire SG
team scrambling as he let out an eerie, ululating howl that ended in a
series of sharp barks.
The more distant howl sounded again, this time
ending in similar yips.
"The sound is a signal," Teal'c observed
"Yeah, I got that," O'Neill agreed
tersely while he scanned the surrounding forest for any kind of threat,
terrified they'd been led into some kind of trap. "Daniel, ask him
what's going on," he ordered the younger man.
Daniel stepped forward and began speaking to Ergan,
who ignored him in favor of staring out at the valley below.
Carter checked her MP5 without O'Neill having to
say a word, while Teal'c shifted his staff to a two handed grip, ready
for combat. They both dropped back a half step, glancing around and
spotting cover they could use if needed.
"Daniel," Jack prompted again.
Before he could say anymore, Ergan spoke sharply
without looking over, his full attention focused on whatever he was
Even knowing she should stay back, Sam couldn't
resist the urge to edge forward, searching the darkness for some sign of
what had the alien leader so tense, but as far as she could see, there
was nothing moving nearby. Of course, the forest below them was so thick
that someone would have to either be very close or very noisy to be
"Wha'd he say?" the colonel demanded of
Daniel shook his head uncertainly, struggling to
untangle the short answer. Despite knowing the ancient form of Celtic
the Icenei were speaking, the language had evolved hundreds of years
past where his knowledge stopped, making translation slow at times,
though he was learning quickly. Given another day or two, he'd probably
be relatively fluent in the language. "Someone's coming."
"Great," O'Neill exhaled darkly. If
someone had gotten free, they probably had the enemy on their tail and
might be leading them right to the company on the hill. They were likely
to wind up in a fight whether they wanted it or not. "So, what
Ergan spoke before Daniel had a chance to ask the
question, his comments quick and clearly to the point, leaving the
Egyptologist to explain as he went back to staring at the hillside
"I think it's one of their people ... but I'm
Sam tracked their conversation with one ear and
their surroundings with the other, wishing she had a pair of night
vision goggles as she hunted for some sign of movement. Then suddenly,
she spotted something, no more than a fluttery few leaves, but
definitely something. "Sir," she called out softly to let him
know, and nodded toward the faint movement.
"Yeah, I see," O'Neill shot back,
regripping his rifle, while Teal'c took up a position behind a nearby
tree, covering them from the more protected position. "Daniel,
Carter, pull back."
Knowing he'd be little if any use in a direct
conflict, Daniel fell back a short distance, while Sam simply found
cover behind a nearby tree. The concept of time quickly became skewed as
they waited; measured in breaths, heartbeats, and stress induced fears
instead of hours, minutes, and seconds. Then something broke cover a
short distance below them. Sam braced the stock of her weapon against
her shoulder, finger resting on the trigger preparatory to firing. Heart
in her throat, her breathing perfectly controlled, she stared down at
the figure advancing their way, silently willing it to be someone or
something that might give them a much needed way of finding her lover.
And then suddenly, Ergan was moving, easily
bounding down the steep incline, the only clue to his reasons, a single,
softly uttered word. "Calloran."
A man broke from cover then, managing a stumbling
run, muscles working hard on the steep incline. He threw his arms around
Ergan as the two men met a few yards below O'Neill's position on the
bluff. As they pulled apart, the words flowed fast and furious between
them, voices breathless, speaking far too quickly for Daniel to have any
hope of translating, even though he hurried closer to their position in
hopes of hearing better.
"Well, at least it doesn't seem to be the
enemy ... yet," O'Neill said, his voice pitched low.
Sam only nodded, still watching the scene closely.
Her hands tightened on the stock of her rifle a beat later as the
newcomer suddenly caught sight of Daniel. He pulled away from Ergan,
darting past the taller man and lunging toward the Egyptologist. Sam and
Jack both reacted instantly, sighting their weapons on the man, but in
the dark, at a steep angle, couldn't fire without risking hitting their
colleague. Sam was closer to their position and reacted first, swinging
her weapon back as she bounded down the steep incline, hand darting for
her sidearm as she moved. She got a hand between them, braced on the
newcomer's upper chest to give him a solid shove back from Daniel even
as she drew the Zat. She heard the sound of boots skidding on thick dirt
as Jack hurried down on the Egyptologist's other side.
"Sam, no," Daniel's voice held a note of
panic, visions of getting caught in the middle of a fight dancing in his
head. "He's not threatening me."
It took Carter a moment to realize that the man
wasn't holding onto Daniel per se, but clutching his sleeve and staring
at the fabric. She dropped the zat to her side, but didn't holster it.
The newcomer looked at her then, eyes skating from the top of her head,
down to the tip of her boots, then up again before whispering something
under his breath. His head swung around and he spoke to Ergan quickly,
his questioning tone receiving a nod and a single word in reply. He was
gripping Daniel's sleeve with one hand, but the other was free and, as
his head came back around, the young man lifted it, thrusting it at Sam.
It took her a moment to realize that he was trying to give her something
small and white that fluttered between his fingers.
"Carter?" O'Neill sounded very
uncertain, and she suspected that if she looked his way, she'd find he
had his weapon up and ready to use.
Sam ignored him in favor of accepting the alien's
offering, frowning as she realized it was a small sheet of paper. Then
she saw the rows of small handwriting, shakier than normal but still
distinctive enough to make her breath catch.
"Carter, what is it?" Jack's voice
again, but she paid him scant mind as she stared at the paper with a
kind of desperation and relief that she couldn't even begin to explain.
"Janet's," Sam finally got out past the
tightness in her throat. "The handwriting, it's Janet's." She
turned the paper over, studying it more closely in the thin moonlight.
"It's the graph paper from her survival kit ... and there are notes
... guesstimates on travel times, distances, directions." She
grabbed Daniel's other sleeve, eyes alight with desperation. "Ask
him what he knows about the woman who wrote this, where she is, is she
The Egyptologist nodded and started to launch into
the questions, struggling for vocabulary as he spoke, but the newcomer
seemed to understand what they wanted to know and began speaking,
slowing deliberately after Ergan inserted a comment.
Sam's fingers curled tightly into the rough fabric
of Daniel's sleeve, time stretching to painful lengths as she waited for
her teammate to come up with some kind of translation. She felt her
muscles threaten to cramp as his expression darkened.
The words had barely escaped the Egyptologist's
lips when Sam demanded, "What? What is it?"
Daniel swallowed hard, pale with stress as he
turned to face Carter. "She was a prisoner ... taken about a half a
day after Calloran and his people. He said they heard a battle, and she
was brought back unconscious, but she woke up later." He paused to
take a breath and gather himself together. "Apparently, Ergan's
wife was also one of the prisoners. She and Doctor Fraiser spoke, and
Janet was using what must have been the saw in her survival kit to free
"Then she's down there," Sam exhaled,
her voice raw with equal measures of hope and desperation. "We just
have to get her back--"
"Sam, it's not that simple." He curved a
supportive hand to her forearm, his grip tight. "He saw her taken
away by soldiers commanded by one of the Romani leaders. She was scared
and the Romani was angry--"
"No," Sam whispered, eyes sliding closed
as though she could stop him from speaking the words she knew were
"He thinks she's dead--"
"No," Carter said again. She swallowed
hard, fingers clenching so tightly on her teammate's arm that there
would be bruises later, and struggled to fight off a whirling kind of
dizziness. It wasn't real. It couldn't be real. "Did he see her
die?" she demanded after a beat.
Sam look up, eyes blazing. "Then he doesn't
know." It was all she had and she held on to that small bit of hope
fiercely. "We can't give up now. Not when we're this close."
Daniel looked back at O'Neill where the colonel
was standing a couple of feet away. "Carter's right," the
older man said after a beat, his expression giving no cues to his
thoughts. "Fraiser's smart. Nobody's counting her out until we know
something for certain." The look Carter flashed him was painfully
grateful, reminding him for a brief moment of the thoughts and fantasies
he'd once entertained. It was never going to happen, but that didn't
change his emotions. The only thing he could do for her now was
everything in his ability to bring back the woman she loved. He waved
Teal'c forward with a sharp gesture. "We're gonna go down there and
"Agreed," Teal'c said, his low voice
broadcasting a comforting level of determination to Sam. He checked his
grip on his staff as he strode forward, clearly ready for a fight.
All eyes swung back to Daniel who sighed softly
and nodded. "Agreed." They'd all faced odds just as bad. It
wouldn't be right to give up on the doctor when they didn't know
anything for sure.
"All right," Jack said quickly, his tone
all business now. He nodded to Daniel. "Find out what you can about
where she might be down there ... and the best path to get there without
being seen." The decision made, he was already focused on finding
the best plan.
While Daniel focused on getting as much
information as possible from the aliens, Jack nodded to Teal'c and Sam,
as he stripped off his pack. They quickly did likewise, removing
anything in the way of necessary materiel and attaching it to their
vests as they could, but dumping the weight of the backpack. They were
probably walking into a combat situation and any additional weight that
might slow them down was a luxury they couldn't afford. Jack looked over
as the conversation between Daniel and the two alien men became more
intense. The colonel rose easily. "Daniel?" He spoke sharply,
the question implicit in his tone.
"In a minute," the younger man clipped
without looking back, his total attention focused on the conversation at
hand, far too unfamiliar with the language to spare any concentration on
anything else if he was to have a hope of doing what he needed to.
Finished retrieving what she needed from her pack,
Sam rose, her attention bouncing from speaker to speaker, trying to
decode the meaning behind their expressions and tonal shifts. All three
men were tense, but not angry ... at least she didn't think any of them
were angry, though there was an edge of frustration to Daniel's tone and
expression and Calloran kept shaking his head, his look bordering on
desperate. Finally, Ergan raised one hand in a pointed gesture, his tone
sharp in a take-it-or-leave-it kind of way as he spoke, his gaze diamond
hard where it was locked on Daniel.
The Egyptologist nodded and spoke briefly, then
turned to face his teammates.
O'Neill's expression was hard and expectant.
"All right," he clipped impatiently, "would you care to
tell us what the hell you just agreed to?" since it was apparent to
everyone watching that there'd been some kind of quid pro quo.
Daniel had the good graces to flinch. Making a
deal without Jack's approval wasn't exactly his proscribed protocol, but
he'd seen no other choice in the matter. He took a deep breath before
continuing. "Calloran will show us the camp where Janet was
taken," he nodded toward the young man who'd come staggering up the
hill. "He's sure we can get there without being discovered."
He gestured to the myriad of fires glittering in the valley below.
"Apparently a lot of the campfires are either untended or only have
one soldier at them. They're trying to fool any pursuers into believing
they have a larger force than they do. He knows how to get down without
being spotted, and knows where the camp we need is."
Jack's eyes narrowed, tension rippling through his
muscles. "And the price of his ... help?"
Sam's eyes swung back to Daniel, taking in his
uneasiness with a frown. O'Neill was right. He'd made some kind of deal.
"We rescue their people as well. He heard the
battle when Janet was taken and knows we have superior weapons to the
Jack hissed through tightly clenched teeth.
"I see ... meanwhile, they sit up here safely and watch from a
distance?" he demanded, his tone icy.
Blue eyes swung to touch on Ergan where he stood
stiffly, his expression unreadable. Sam shook her head imperceptibly.
No, that didn't sound right. He didn't look like a man who wanted to be
on the sidelines. Her gaze flicked back to Daniel as he began to answer,
his head shaking back and forth in emphatic disagreement.
"No," Daniel insisted, while Jack's
brows rose in silent demand for an explanation. "They'll be down
there too ... to create a diversion and draw any pursuit off of us if
Looking out at the fires below, Sam's brow creased
in a frown. No matter how many of them were unattended, there were more
than enough men down below to slaughter the small group of natives and
still have more than enough left over to deal with SG-1 as well.
Jack glanced at the valley, pointing at the
profusion of flickering lights with a loose gesture. "If that army
finds out we're down there, there isn't a diversion in existence that's
going to keep them off of us before we can escape. It's too far to get
Daniel shook his head. "Except we won't have
to get away." At his teammate's frowns, he explained quickly.
"According to both men, there are underground caverns under the
entire valley. Ergan knows how to get into them without being seen; once
we're there all we have to do is sit tight. If we're spotted before
that, the Icenei will create a diversion and that will give us time get
in and hidden."
Pressing her own turbulent emotions back down --
she couldn't think about what Daniel had said, or she was going to lose
it -- Sam considered the plan. If the Icenei were right, it might work.
At least it was more hope than she'd had only moments before. Her hands
tightened on her weapon, her expression frozen as she struggled against
the instinctive desire to just go.
Jack glanced at her, his expression indicating he
understood something of her desperation before he schooled it into a
look of professional detachment. "And how will they know soon
enough to do any good?" he demanded. No matter how much he
sympathized with his teammate, he couldn't just blindly agree to a plan
that might well leave all of them prisoners instead of just the doctor.
"They'll go as far as the unattended fires
... and Calloran and Ergan will go all of the way with us ... to show us
where the camp is and how to get into the caves ... and to draw the
soldiers off of us if necessary." As he spoke, Daniel slung his
pack off, following his teammates' example as he quickly began
retrieving what he might need.
"That would be suicide," Sam whispered,
realizing as she spoke what the three men had most likely been arguing
over. She looked at the Icenei man again, seeing his determination with
a degree of understanding. He'd concluded SG-1 was more able to get his
wife and the others to safety than he was and was willing to sacrifice
his own life to see it happen.
Jack considered the plan for a moment. "Is
there way into those caverns from here?"
The Egyptologist shook his head. "I asked and
they say no."
Jack's eyes slid from one member of his team to
another, easily reading Sam's desperate hope and Daniel's nervousness
before finally winding up on Teal'c.
"If they are correct about the caves, then
the plan is sound," the Jaffa said simply, his expression
determined. One of their own had been taken. He would never support
leaving her behind. He was aware of Carter's grateful look, but it had
little effect on his decision one way or the other. Fraiser had earned
his respect on her own. Her tie to his teammate only firmed his resolve.
Jack sighed softly, pointing out practically,
"And if they aren't, we won't know until it's too late."
Another mild nod from the Jaffa.
Sam took a deep breath, putting her personal
feelings under tight lock and key in the effort to look at the situation
as logically as possible. "I realize I'm not the most objective
person here, sir, but everything else aside, Janet's still a member of
the SGC. We can't leave her behind anymore than we would anyone
"They say it's worked before," Daniel
added as he finished with his backpack and straightened, "that
they've rescued others."
A beat passed, then finally Jack nodded, not
exactly satisfied, but certain they were both right. He'd expressed his
concerns, but in the end, there was really only one decision he could
make. "Okay. Let's do this thing ... before I regain my sanity and
change my mind."
* * * * * *
Sudden awareness came as the world spun end over
end, brief glimpses of a dark forest nearly as disorienting as the
sensation of being airborne that ended with a hard collision with
something rough and solid. Janet let out a dull cry as the fist curled
into the front of her uniform impacted with her sternum driving the air
from her lungs. She instinctively kicked her feet in search of a
purchase, but they only scrabbled against rough bark, knocking it away
in huge chunks without gaining any real leverage.
"How did you do it?" The voice deep and
angry came at her with a hot blast of bad breath in the face.
Instinct still driving her more than conscious
thought, she struck out at her attacker, shoving hard with her free
hand, her other one trapped uselessly at her side by the manacle, only
to find herself slammed backwards again, the fist curled into her
shirtfront hammering the air from her lungs a second time as it collided
with her chest.
"How?!" The angry growl sent a bolt of
terror through her.
"What?" She barely got the single word
out before she was thrust back against the tree and shaken, though not
so brutally as the first time.
Paulus leaned down into her line of sight, the
fingers of his other hand wrapping around her throat, their blunt
strength pressing against the underside of her jaw and threatening to
compress on her larynx. "The savage ... how did you free him?"
Janet frowned in genuine confusion, forgetting
everything but the immediate threat in that moment. "Savage?"
She glanced around herself, seeing the unfamiliar territory, her vision
slightly blurred by the concussion. It wasn't a nightmare. Oh god, it
was all real. The man gripping her shirt tightened his hold on her
throat, his fingers threatening to clamp down hard enough to cut off her
air. She was still half panicked, everything but the immediate threat
forgotten. "I haven't freed anyone."
He shook her again, his eyes blazing. "Don't
lie? We found his chains, the hinge pins missing on the manacles ...
just like yours." Another rough shake, like a hunting dog with a
rabbit, the rough handling making the world spin dizzily around Fraiser.
She would have gone down if not for his tight hold pinning her against
the tree and well off her feet. "Now, how did you do it?"
She shook her head as much as she could within the
confines of his tight grasp, her mind fighting to work. The wire-saw
from her emergency kit; Leilla or one of her people must have used it to
escape, she realized in a blink. "Sounds like you got a defective
batch of manacles." She knew the sarcasm was a bad idea even as the
words left her mouth, but she'd always had a bad tendency toward dark
humor whenever she was overstressed. And this definitely qualified as
A muscle pulsed in his jaw and for a moment she
fully expected to feel the full weight of his displeasure as his thumb
and fingers pressed harder into her throat, but he seemed to get
marginal control over his temper in time, relaxing the punishing
pressure just enough to let her breathe unrestricted. He leaned even
closer, his breath hot on her face, her reflection visible in the
firelight flicker of his eyes. "That savage was worth at least 50
gold lira ... far more than you could ever hope to bring, so make no
mistake that if you do anything like that again, I will slit your throat
and leave your body for the saraqs." He shook her to punctuate the
point. "Do you understand?"
She had no doubt the threat was real enough.
"Yes," she said through tightly gritted teeth.
"There may be value in your knowledge,"
he growled angrily, "though I have my doubts you'd ever share it,
but I will not allow you to threaten our profits." He increased the
pressure on her larynx, the unspoken threat obvious.
Janet swallowed hard, far past any desire to give
a flip answer, well aware that she had one foot in the grave and the
other on an icy patch. One bad move and she was dead. She simply nodded,
her gaze sliding away from her captor in hopes he wouldn't see the rage
and calculation in her eyes.
He did anyway, or maybe he sensed it. In any
event, his voice was raw as he hissed, "By law, I can do with you
as I wish if your actions cut into the Empire's profits." The
message was clear and obvious. He'd stopped Severidus from killing her
because it was against the law and financially advantageous, but he'd do
the job himself if she cost him more than he thought she was worth.
A muscle pulsed in her jaw, but she didn't answer,
only kept her face averted. A beat passed before she realized her captor
wasn't paying attention to her any longer. She turned her head back,
staring up at the big soldier.
He was tense, his head swinging back and forth,
full attention focused on the surrounding landscape, searching for
Arched brows drew together in a frown as Janet
hunted for some sign of what he was seeing or hearing, finally plucking
a sound out of the faint cocktail-party-style chatter of the surrounding
encampments; a distant animal howl reminiscent of a coyote. She knew she
was right when she felt Paulus' grip on her shirtfront tighten
perceptibly and saw the way his expression shifted from tension to
something that bordered on fear. He breathed a word that she was certain
was either a curse or some kind of plea to the gods, then looked back
down at her with an assessing kind of malevolence.
Before the centurion could say anything, Levarin,
the older corpsman who'd backed him up earlier hurried into the
clearing, his boots rattling grass and brush as he moved, his breathing
rough as though he'd run. "Porthos informed me when I returned from
the outer pickets that we had an escape?"
Paulus nodded, releasing his punishing hold on
Janet's throat as he pivoted toward his second in command. His eyes
searched the inky silhouettes of the surrounding mountains. "And
the savages ... they're calling to each other in the mountains. They
must have a hunting party up there. He'll lead them straight to us if he
Levarin looked up, listening for what his superior
had heard, but there was nothing now. That didn't stop the shiver of
unease coursing down his spine. "If they're out there, the pickets
won't keep them back ... goddamned ghosts--"
"They're not ghosts," Paulus insisted,
though there a whistling in the graveyard quality to the denial.
"Just men ... which means they can be killed like any other
"If you can find them or see them ...
maybe." Levarin drew his cloak more tightly about his body as if to
ward off the chill. "But they say they have a salve that allows
them to appear and disappear like smoke."
"Those are campfire tales to scare men."
Paulus gritted his teeth, fighting an instinctive level of terror, but
he kept his tone businesslike. "But I want to move out as soon as
possible with the full company and prisoners."
"Several of the men who weren't on watch left
earlier ... probably drinking and dicing. They won't be in fighting
shape and we'll be more vulnerable on the road."
"Fear should sober them up." Paulus
shrugged. "And we're only vulnerable if they know where we are.
Now, go. Get things ready and send runners for the men. We need to be on
the road as quickly as quickly as possible."
"Aye, sir," Levarin said tersely, his
tone making it clear he disagreed with the decision, then turned, his
footsteps quieter as he hurried away, conscious now of the fact they
might have hunters closing in on them.
After he had gone, Paulus turned back to face
Janet again, his temper cooler now, though only slightly less dangerous.
"If you made a deal or you think they'll save you, don't count on
it." He released the front of her shirt, watching dispassionately
as she stumbled and fell back, remaining upright only thanks to the tree
at her back. "They'll just drag you back to some savage's
kraal." The hand at her chest lifted, fingers lightly brushing the
underside of her chin even as she yanked her head back. "Where
you'll bear his brats and live like a gardeth in the mud and filth. At
least with us, you'll belong to a Romani freeman and your children will
Janet cocked an eyebrow as she stared up at the
big man, trying to decide if he was taunting her or sincere. Finally,
she shook her head, unable to hold back the quiet question,
"Assuming you're right on all counts, why would you think one is
better than the other? A rapist is a rapist. I doubt one is all that
preferable to another for the victim."
He flushed, facial muscles tightening and yanked
his hand back. "Repack your gear. We'll be leaving soon. Try to
slow us down and you won't survive the experience." And then he was
moving away from her grabbing for his discarded armor.
Her knees trembling, Janet slid down the tree
trunk into a crouch, her eyes still on her captor as she reached for her
* * * * * *
Her heart hammering in her chest with such
ferocity she was half afraid it might be heard by the enemy, senses
alert to every tiny sound or movement, Sam Carter stalked perfectly
silently through the shadows between bright, flaring bonfires, the stock
of her MP5 braced against her shoulder, well aware that the slightest
misstep could cost them all everything. She glanced over and saw O'Neill
signal her along. A quick nod of confirmation and she was moving forward
again. So far, things had gone smoothly, the bonfires they'd passed
every bit as unattended as Calloran had claimed. The archers had seen
the lone man who'd apparently been tending the fires, their arrows
taking him out before he even looked up. He'd died so quickly, he'd
remained slumped against a log, looking like he was simply napping to
anyone who might chance a glance from the distance. Calloran and Ergan
were fanned out and moving easily through the night well ahead of
O'Neill, while Daniel was behind her and Teal'c had the rear. She could
hear the sounds of men in the distance, their voices loud and raucous
with drink and overconfidence. And stirred into that, an occasional
voice that was distinctly female, usually crying out and thick with
fear. She couldn't afford to consider the cause of those frightened
voices and maintain her sanity, just like she couldn't afford to
consider Calloran's beliefs about what had happened to Janet. She had to
be alive, because Sam didn't know what she'd do if she wasn't. She
forced that thought down, not letting herself think that way. It was too
They skirted several more fires, slipping deeper
into the enemy's camp, drawing closer to the sounds with every step.
Ergan suddenly signaled for them to halt,
disappearing into the darkness for several long moments before
returning, the blade of his knife running with blood. Moments later,
they passed a body splayed out in the grass, the gash across his throat
so deep he'd nearly been decapitated. Jack glanced back, his eyes
meeting Carter's and they shared a worried look that lasted only beat.
No time for doubts now.
Crouched low, the small group bypassed several
sprawling camps where the men were obviously well into their cups and
far too involved in gambling and taunting the prisoners to notice the
silent shadows that slipped past just out of range of the light from
their fires. The hardest part for the members of SG-1 was resisting the
temptation to try and rescue every prisoner they saw. Leaving people
behind went against the grain. Unfortunately, they had no other choice.
They couldn't fight an entire army.
Twice more Ergan signaled for them to halt and
disappeared ahead with Calloran in tow. The first time, the group passed
a single guard, dead in the bushes when they started moving again, the
second, there were two; all had had their throats slashed quickly and
efficiently before they could raise an alarm.
They'd gone only a short distance farther when
Calloran signaled a turn and led them into a thicker section of forest.
Sam frowned slightly, peering through the deeply shadowed darkness,
careful about where she placed her feet in the thickening vegetation
lest she make some unwanted sound. She saw Calloran point sharply as
they broke through a fresh layer of trees. Whoever had chosen this site
had done so with more consideration for either privacy or security than
the other camps they'd seen, protected as it was by thick stands of
Suddenly, Calloran moved ahead quickly, moving
more upright to gain speed, while Ergan frowned in confusion and broke
into a jog after the other man.
O'Neill gestured sharply to his people, silently
signaling them to spread out and be ready for anything.
Sam pointed at her own chest, then after the two
Icenei and started to follow them, ignoring her superior's sharp head
shake denying permission. She heard his sharp hiss as she took off after
the two men, but was past caring. Instinct told her their target was
close. Like the men, she moved faster now, adrenaline flooding her veins
and adding speed and certainty to every movement. She bounded over a
downed tree, ducking a low branch as she landed, then came up short.
Crouched at the edge of a clearing she hadn't been aware of until that
moment, she saw the two Icenei men ahead of her, bodies low to the earth
as they gestured to one another. Beyond the men was a small clearing
dominated by a single wagon guarded by a pair of lackluster looking
Romani soldiers. A small fire burned near the center of the area, half
shielded by large rocks and some kind of cooking pot. The wagon was
rough hewn, with thick side rails. She could see chains bolted to the
wagon and several figures inside, though it was impossible to make out
any details about the prisoners. As she watched, she realized a second
set of guards stood on the opposite side of the clearing, both carrying
long barreled, ball and powder rifles. Sam was surprised by how
half-hearted they looked about their task. She would have expected them
to be alert after losing a prisoner earlier.
She caught a glimpse of Ergan as he crouched low
and moved closer to the wagon, then heard a soft bird call and realized
he was signaling his people. He twisted back, signaling to O'Neill, then
pointing at two soldiers across from the wagon. Obviously, that was
their job. Ergan pointed at himself and Calloran and indicated the men
nearest the wagon, making the split in tasks obvious.
O'Neill nodded, then gestured to Teal'c as he drew
his knife. Pointing to Sam, he mouthed, "Cover us." Though it
would have been easier to open fire, there was too much chance of being
seen or heard. He glanced down at the weapon in his hand and forced down
an instinctive dislike. He had the training and had done the job before
but it never got any easier. He would have preferred another strategy,
but it was obvious the Icenei had chosen their course, leaving him with
little choice in the matter.
Carter nodded, checking her grip on her weapon and
tracking the two men as they edged around the perimeter of the camp,
closing in on their prey.
Unaware of the figures silently stalking them, one
of the two guards opposite the wagon scratched himself lazily, then
reached up to adjust his loosely frogged helmet. "You really think
the savages are stupid enough to try something in a camp this
size?" he questioned the man standing nearest as he turned to peer
at the prisoners, a frown etching a deep line between his brows.
His partner drew his cloak more tightly around
himself and shrugged. "They did it just one cycle back ... I
wouldn't want to make any bets. We already had one escape tonight. He
could bring more back...."
The first shook his head then. "No, he ran
out on the others ... didn't even try to free them. He's probably
halfway home by now," he said firmly, buoying himself up with false
confidence. "Paulus is just being paranoid--"
"Maybe," his partner cut him off,
"but if I were you, I wouldn't let him hear me say that."
None of the guards noticed the danger until it was
too late. The Icenei leapt first, falling on their victims with silent
ferocity, every move perfectly calculated to end life. O'Neill and
Teal'c moved only a heartbeat later, all of their skill and training
going to the task of ending things quickly.
It was over in a matter of moments with no
unneeded sound and no alarms raised.
Jack dragged the dead soldier's body back into the
bushes, dumping it out of sight, comforting himself with a silent
reminder of the prisoners these men had taken with no care, then waved
to Teal'c and moved outward from the camp to make sure there was no one
else close who might send up an alarm.
Sam stayed where she was long enough to be certain
her people were in control of situation, the leapt forward, hurrying to
the wagon where Calloran was working at freeing their own people,
fumbling with a ring of keys stolen from one of the dead guards, while
Ergan was in the wagon, his expression intent as he spoke with a young
girl who looked no older than Cassie. Ignoring the men, she hopped into
the back of the wagon, searching through the half a dozen girls chained
there. Nothing. Uttering a low curse, she turned to climb back down,
only to have her shirt sleeve grabbed. The major spun back around,
bringing her MP5 to bear before she realized it was one of the
prisoners, a pretty young blond who looked to be a year or two older
The Icenei woman flinched at the raw aggression
momentarily directed her way by the major, but held her ground, speaking
quickly in her own language.
Drawn by the desperate intensity of her tone, Sam
stared at the girl helplessly, suddenly wishing she had Daniel's
facility for language.
"She asks if you're from the circle with
water," Ergan said suddenly, translating, his voice low and
Sam twisted to stare that Icenei leader with wide
eyes. "Y-you speak our--"
He ignored her startled whisper, instead speaking
to the girl in his own language. She answered quickly and he looked back
up at Sam even as the blonde plucked a familiar name from the alien
language. "She asks if you seek Janet Fraiser," he translated,
his voice rough with emotion.
"Yes ... to both questions," Sam said
instantly, no longer caring about Ergan's sudden facility for English,
"does she know where she is?"
Ergan quickly translated, his tone brusque, and a
frown creased the young woman's brow and Sam had to fight the urge to
shake her as she stammered through an answer, clearly intimidated by the
two adults waiting impatiently.
"She says the imperator took her when they
first arrived." A muscle pulsed in his jaw while pure, frustrated
rage glittered in his eyes. He seemed to catch himself. "But the
Centurion ... Paulus ... brought her back. ... then took her to his
Sam reached out, her desperation clear in her eyes
and the way she gripped the woman's arm tightly. "Does she know
She pointed opposite the direction the rescuers
had come from, not needing a translation for Sam's question this time,
Ergan relayed the message in harsh tones.
"She says they could hear them talking ... shouting.... She doesn't
think it's far."
Sam caught the woman's hand in her own, squeezing
hard. "Thank you," she croaked, her voice rough with emotion.
She looked at Ergan. "Why now?" she demanded and they both
knew what she was asking. Why hide that he could speak their language?
And why admit it now?
"Because there were two wagons. The other
one's already left with the soldiers who were in camp and more valuable
cargo ... our men ... and my wife. She made Rialla memorize everything
so she could tell anyone who came for them." He nodded toward the
other girls where Calloran was gently helping them out of the wagon one
by one. "The centurion ... and your woman ... will meet up with
them, if they aren't there already. I have to take these children back,
so I have to hope you're who you say you are ... and that you'll bring
them both back."
Sam suddenly understood what he was saying. What
he was asking of her. She nodded. "If at all possible," she
"Now, go," he hissed.
She didn't need to be told a second time. Sam
spun, easily vaulting the rails that ran around all four sides of the
wagon. She landed lightly, breaking into a run, her every thought for
her lover now.
"Carter," O'Neill snapped when he saw
her take off. He thumbed his two way radio on, knowing hers was set to
receive and snapped, "Carter, get your
ass back here. I don't want anyone out there alone."
"Sorry, sir. No can do. I've got a line on
where Janet is," Carter responded. "And you oughta know that
our host speaks pretty good English. Be careful."
Then he heard the dead air as she flipped her
"Teal'c," Jack O'Neill snapped, pivoting
to spot his teammate as she ran into the forest at top speed, "Go
The Jaffa nodded and retrieved his staff before
hurrying after Carter.
Sam ducked and dodged between heavy trees and
brambly undergrowth, moving amazingly quietly considering her speed,
operating more on some instinctive sense of her lover's nearness than
any physical or visual cues.
The ground inclined beneath her feet, and she had
to scramble, boots digging deeply into the loamy earth as she gained the
top of the low rise. Eyes adjusted to near total darkness easily found
the dull glow of a burned down fire a short distance down the other side
of the hillock, nearly hidden by a thick stand of trees. Carter didn't
slow her pace, instead pushing herself even harder. As she drew to
within ten yards of the trees, she heard a man's voice.
"...no more delays ... and don't think you
can escape once we're moving either."
"I'm chained to you. How far do you think I
Janet's voice. Sam lunged forward, hope surging in
her breast as she heard absolute confirmation that her lover was still
alive. She hit the edge of the clearing and had one brief moment to
assess the situation.
A big man, armored, a heavy, dark cloak over his
shoulders, sat astride one of the animals they'd seen pulling the
wagons, one arm wrapped around the slender figure seated in front of
him, the other clutching the reins. Sam experienced a momentary head
rush as she laid eyes on her lover once again, relief surging through
her, though her expression remained frozen in a battle-hardened mask.
The soldier -- Centurion Paulus she presumed --
tightened his grasp on his prisoner and Carter realized that what looked
like a gauntlet on his wrist was actually a manacle, the chain dangling
from it attached to its mate where it was wrapped around Janet's wrist.
Then she saw him grip the reins more tightly, his knees flexing on his
mount's flanks. He was about to leave and, if got the animal to a gallop
before she could stop them, Sam would never be able to keep up. Shooting
the centurion was out of the question -- too much risk of hitting Janet
-- and shooting the animal was too likely to bring it down on her lover.
She considered the zat, but was afraid that it would end up with her
lover unconscious and trampled under the feet of the centurion's mount.
No, her best chance was to intimidate the Romani into giving Janet up,
and the MP5 -- the closest thing to a weapon he was capable of
understanding -- seemed the best chance for that.
"Don't move!" Sam didn't shout, but her
tone was sharp, her voice hard as she stepped into the clearing, the MP5
braced against her shoulder and cleanly sighted on the centurion.
The centurion twisted toward her, wheeling his
mount around. Glimpsing the weapon in Carter's hand while the animal was
still turning, he grabbed for the primitive rifle tucked into the saddle
Sam's finger tightened on the trigger, but she
didn't fire. "Do and I'll shoot," she snapped before the
weapon cleared the boot.
He froze, then slowly released his grip on the
rifle, though he retained a hard hold on his prisoner. He recognized her
mode of dress as identical to the men they'd battled at the stargate,
and was wise enough to realize her weapon was doubtless far more
powerful than his own.
Janet's eyes locked on the blond, relief flooding
her veins. "Sam," she exhaled in a voice full of love and
Sam met her lover's gaze for the briefest of
moments, offering as much reassurance as she could, then returned her
gaze to the centurion, her expression hardening. "Let the woman
go," she commanded, her tone brooking no argument.
Paulus frowned, but didn't move. "As a
servant of the emperor, I have no right to surrender his
property." He spared a glance at the surrounding forest.
"Besides, if you shoot, you'll have an entire army on top of you in
If she could have been certain of not hitting
Janet, Sam would have shot him for his arrogance. Instead, she offered a
tight smile. "But you'll be too dead to care," she snarled.
"Now, let her go or I'll blow your head off." She was
absolutely serious. Killing wasn't something that appealed to her at any
level, but she had done so before when the situation demanded it. If
that was what it took, she was willing.
He shook his head, calling her bluff. "If
that was your plan, you'd already have done so."
Raw determination made Sam's eyes flinty. She
could feel the hunger for freedom in Janet's every heartbeat, but she
had to ignore the temptation to look away from her adversary. Right now,
it was more a battle of wills than weapons, but that could change at any
moment. "Understand something ... I'm not leaving without her.
Whether you're dead or alive when I do so is your choice."
He shook his head, still studying her carefully.
"You're no killer--"
"Anyone's a killer with the right
motivation," Sam disagreed, wanting him to understand it was no
idle threat. "Threaten what they love and you learn that the hard
way." He stiffened suddenly, and Sam thought he whispered
something, but she couldn't hear what. "You've only seen what the
weakest of our weapons can do. If you force us, we'll annihilate your
entire army." It was a baseless threat, but he had no way of
His lip curled into a look of disgust that hadn't
been there before. "Then we'll deserve our fate."
And then, as if summoned to end the stalemate, the
faint sounds of gunfire and men's shouts echoed in the distance. Clearly
the attack on the camp had been discovered. Sam could only hope the
Icenei plan was working for her teammates because she was out of time.
Her finger tightened fractionally on the trigger, but she still couldn't
get a clear shot, and the centurion yanked on the reins with the hand
still latched around Janet's waist, backing the dancy animal several
paces and making any kind of shot even chancier.
Janet had remained silent during the
confrontation, afraid of distracting Sam at an inopportune moment, but
when she felt the animal dance and Paulus' free hand grab for the pistol
tucked in his belt, she shouted, "Sam, look out!" She latched
onto his wrist as he brought the weapon up, fighting his aim even as she
heard the percussive blast of the weapon firing.
Carter saw the weapon and dove behind a nearby
tree, narrowly avoiding taking the bullet, then stumbled momentarily as
she hit a patch of damp leaves and her feet skidded out from under her.
She scrambled and found her feet again, her efforts spurred by the sound
the centurion made as he spurred his mount. He was moving before she
even got clear of the tree.
"No," Sam gasped, catching a glimpse of
the man bent low over the saddle, his hands rough on the woman
struggling in his arms. And then Sam Carter ran, pouring on the speed
with raw desperation, racing between the trees and running parallel to
the centurion. At some point, she saw Teal'c in the distance, caught in
a fight with several men, but didn't have the time to worry about it.
Sounds of combat and confusion came at her from all sides now; men's
shouts, the sound of panicked animals, women's screams, an explosion of
some kind, and round upon round of gunfire. Still running parallel, her
breath coming in harsh gasps, muscles burning with the effort required,
she found a low rise and realized that she was pulling slightly ahead of
the centurion, her way far more open than his. If she could just get a
little ahead and above, she might have a chance to either get a clear
shot or, if he was close enough to her position, take both riders off
the animal in one mad leap. Neither choice was appealing, but she was
out of options.
* * * * * *
Janet fought furiously with her captor, trying to
slow his mount or get them both thrown off, no longer caring if they
crashed into one of the trees passing by at a dizzying rate. Sam was
down, maybe hurt, maybe dead. Past reason, Janet smashed her manacled
wrist into Paulus' face, drawing blood and a grunt of pain, clawed at
his forearms, then left teeth marks when he shifted his arm so it was
braced across her shoulders. Still guiding the galloping animal between
the closely spaced trees, he yanked hard on her chest, driving the air
from her lungs, then knocked his forearm into the side of her head.
Dazed, she half fell across the animal's broad neck only to feel her
hair suddenly grabbed and her head hauled up with brutal strength as
they cleared the trees. Brown eyes rose and she experienced a burst of
raw relief as she saw her lover a short distance away, whole and
uninjured. She was standing on an outcropping of rock, positioned
slightly above the riders, MP5 braced against her shoulder. She saw
Sam's eyes go wide, her expression a mask of horror. With Janet as an
impromptu shield, she didn't dare fire, and she was too far away to do
anything else. Then Janet realized that Paulus had released the reins
and they were dangling loose around his mount's neck. His rifle cleared
the boot, and she felt the flex of muscle as he brought it to bear,
angling it across the animal's shoulders.
"SAM, GET DOWN!!" The warning came too
late, and Janet's voice merged with the sound of gunfire only to be
muted by the resulting cloud of smoke. "NO!!" In the haze and
darkness, she caught a last glimpse of Sam -- one arm flung wide before
she toppled out of view -- and went wild in Paulus' hold, kicking,
hitting, scratching and biting. Anything that might gain her freedom. He
yanked hard on her midsection, driving the air from her lungs, then
grabbed her by the hair, using his full weight and strength to shove her
face down into his mount's neck, his efforts controlling most of her
* * * * * * *
Sam twisted violently, kicking at the body that
had crashed into hers from the side, tackling her down the shallow slope
on the other side of the vantage point where she'd stood poised. She
lost her grip on the MP5, but the shoulder strap kept it anchored to her
body as they tumbled together. As they hit bottom, Sam got a foot
between them and shoved hard, thigh muscles compressing tightly with the
effort required to throw her compactly muscled attacker off. Leather
armor protected him from the worst of the impact as he landed, and he
moved incredibly quickly, rolling with the force of the blow and
bounding to a half crouch. In such close quarters, Sam didn't have time
to shift her grip on her MP5 as she came up gripping the stock well
below the trigger guard. Grabbing the barrel, she swung the weapon
around into her attacker's face, using it as an impromptu club. His head
rocked back, jaw split open by the sharp edge of the stock, and he went
over backward. He got a hand behind himself and would have tried to push
upright, but Sam clubbed him again before he had a chance. This time,
the soldier went down and stayed that way. She didn't spare him a second
glance, just dug her boots in and ran, climbing back up the short rise
with long strides.
"No," Sam hissed as she hit the vantage
point and saw no sign of centurion or Janet. She toggled her two way on.
"Colonel, I saw her. She's alive, but I lost her again."
Breathless from exertion, her voice came out rough and gasping and she
wondered if he'd heard her for a moment when the only response was
Finally, O'Neill's voice sounded in her ear,
sounding almost as out of breath as she was. "All hell's
breaking out here, Carter." As if to punctuate the statement,
she heard his rough grunt, then a rapid pulse of gunfire that echoed
within and without the tiny speaker in her ear. "We're
going to have to go to ground soon or die tryin'."
Sam fought the urge to scream, already moving
again, trailing the track she was certain her quarry had taken. Thick
smoke threaded through the trees and she caught glimpses of small fires
burning just past the thickest part of the forest that she was certain
hadn't been there before. "She was with a rider ... big man in a
cloak and plumed helmet ... headed roughly 30 degrees west of true
north." She broke from the cover of the trees, saw a half a dozen
or so soldiers to her right and heard one of them shout a warning to the
others. She raised the MP5 and fired three, three-shot bursts that took
them all down before they even had a chance to prime their weapons. Sam
never even looked back.
O'Neill again, gasping, his voice ragged and scared -- not the thick
cloying fear of a coward, but the realistic fear of a man who knows a
situation is rapidly turning against him. "Get
your ass back here. Now! We can't do her any good if we're dead!"
A soldier lunged out of the smoke and Sam spun,
firing even as she dodged to avoid a wild swing from his short sword.
The weapon just grazed her arm, slicing through her uniform and leaving
a shallow cut before he tumbled on past, hitting the dirt in a sprawl,
groaning softly, too badly wounded to offer any further threat. She did
a slow turn back, staring out at the surrounding countryside in an
effort to see something that might tell her which way to go, but there
was a steadily thickening haze hanging low over the valley, that made it
hard to see more than vague shadows moving in the distance. A flaming
dart of an arrow arced neatly through the air, fired from a vantage
point somewhere past the edge of the last encampment. It hit somewhere
in the distance, the impact setting off a small crack before more smoke
poured forth, filling the air with acrid fumes. In the confusion, the
Romani soldiers were scrambling to cover their own camps and prisoners,
firing randomly in the dark and smoke, caring only for their own
interests and nothing for the neighboring troops. Hearing gunfire all
around and knowing how few of her own people there were, she was certain
most of the enemy casualties were being inflicted by their own side.
"Colonel O'Neil, I have lost all sight of
Major Carter and am uncertain which direction she went."
Even Teal'c was breathing hard as he came online, and she could hear the
erratic sounds of gunfire countered by louder explosions from the
Jaffa's staff weapon.
"Get back here, Teal'c. You too, Carter,
that's an order." Then O'Neill
sounded distracted, his attention elsewhere as he demanded, "Dammit,
Daniel, where'd they go?"
"Took off a couple of minutes ago, I
think." Daniel Jackson panted,
sounding like he'd pay big money to be anywhere else. Combat was not his
fort�. He'd learned to deal with it, but he was never going to like it.
"I'm not really sure."
"Get down with the women, Daniel."
O'Neill's order was brisk and borderline angry, not at the Egyptologist,
but at a situation which was rapidly sliding out of all control.
"I know, now go! D'ya hear that, Carter?
You've got to get back here and under cover."
He was borderline to pleading now. "Getting
yourself killed isn't going to do her any good."
Sam was only distantly listening, her attention
focused instead on the surrounding landscape as she started moving
again, cutting across the rise, moving parallel to the thick forest. The
trees disappeared abruptly, the high ground turning into a gravelly
ridge that stood above a steep incline. The smoke was all around her
now, in thick, lung-choking clouds to the point where Sam wasn't sure
she could have made her way back to the colonel's position if she wanted
to. Everything was starting to meld into the smoke, the landscape
changing like quicksilver depending on her viewpoint, her sense of
direction and distance no longer reliable.
Then she heard a familiar voice -- the centurion
who'd kidnapped Janet. "Helion!! Soldiers of Helion!!" Her
head swung around and she tracked it until she saw a rider through the
haze, the plume on his helm fluttering in the breeze, one hand pinning
the slender figure in front of him face down, the other gripping the
reins tightly as he wheeled his mount around, clearly trying to get his
bearings in the confusion.
"Sorry, sir," Sam apologized and broke
into a run. "Get to cover. I'll follow if and when I can."
She toggled the radio off, knowing that his voice
in her ear would only be a distraction she could ill afford.
"Maniple Helion to me!!" the centurion
bellowed, powerful voice echoing through the trees.
Sam found her footing and reached a position less
than ten yards away without being seen and rocked the MP5 to her
shoulder, sighting it carefully before pulling the trigger. A single
shot exploded from the chamber, and she saw the centurion's body jerk as
it found a target, while blood flowered down his left arm. He let out a
dull roar of rage and wheeled his mount around, yanking Janet back up as
a shield before Sam could fire a second time. "You." His voice
came out as little more than a low growl of disbelief.
Sam didn't bother with any kind of acknowledgment,
simply snarled, "Let her go now!"
He shook his head. "Come take her," he
challenged bitterly. It had gone well past his sense of duty to his
emperor and become personal. He might have more respect for women than
his men, but he had no intention of being beaten by one, particularly
not one who was clearly a practitioner of savage perversion. He twisted
Janet's hair hard, forcing her head up to bait the trap and saw the
flicker of desperation in the blond's eyes.
"Sam ... don't," Janet gasped in
warning, uncertain what the centurion intended, but knowing
instinctively he had something planned.
"She can't resist," Paulus taunted, his
lips curling with distaste. He nuzzled her cheek, his fingers still
tight in her hair. "Come for me ... or I promise, I'll see every
man in my command use her before she's sold at slave auction!"
Sam's finger tightened fractionally on the
trigger, and she blinked to clear the sweat from her eyes as she tried
to draw a bead for a head shot, but there was no way. Too much chance of
hitting the doctor. "Why don't you come get me!" she shouted
back at the enemy soldier. "Or maybe you're afraid of a
woman!" She saw the tension ripple through him as well as the hate
glittering in his eyes.
The centurion's hand tightened on the reins,
knuckles whitening as he sawed the bit in his mount's mouth. The animal
danced nervously, and Paulus shook his head. "I never fear the
dead!" he snarled even as more soldiers began emerging from the
floating smoke, their advance muffled until they began breaking from the
thick mist. His men, coming from both sides of the man, and hopelessly
outnumbering her. Their weapons were primitive, but if they began firing
from that many different angles, superior weaponry wouldn't buy her
enough time. She saw her lover glance sideways and realize the problem.
"Sam! Go!" Janet shouted. There was no
purpose to her staying and dying when there was nothing she could do.
Her weapons so outclassed the soldiers' that she could still escape. She
just couldn't escape and save Janet too; not without a lot more
firepower than an MP5 offered. She had to leave.
But Sam couldn't move, not when it meant leaving
Janet behind, so she stood frozen, finger tight on the trigger, just
barely holding off firing, hunting desperately for some means of saving
the woman she loved without getting both of them killed.
The centurion's mouth twisted in a triumphant
smile. "You cannot win," he taunted as men continued to gather
on either side of him.
They were all caught by surprise by the sudden
explosion of smoke and fire that erupted from a narrow crevasse in the
space between Sam's position and the centurion's, the force of it nearly
toppling the captain off her feet. She heard Janet's startled scream but
could no longer see her lover for the thick haze billowing up from the
crack in the earth. Sam started to lunge forward, but something suddenly
tangled her feet and she toppled hard, swinging her weapon around even
as she moved. Hands grabbed for her, dragging her downward, the body
that wrapped around her own far larger and heavier than she was. She
tried to shout, but a hand flattened over her mouth, and she was
tumbled. A moment's freefall and then the air was knocked from her lungs
as they hit a rock surface hard. She had a brief impression of a ceiling
overhead, then her view was obscured by a muscular arm.
Dear God, she was still up there ... on her own.
The centurion's threats.... He intended to.... Thoughts ran fractured
and panicked through her brain, driving her to struggle with wild
strength until she was slammed hard into the rocks, a heavy body pinning
her into place.
"They'll kill you, and you'll gain
nothing." Ergan's voice she realized, and twisted violently in an
effort to throw a punch, not caring who it was that was stopping her
from helping her lover. The blow glanced off his shoulder and probably
hurt by the way he grunted. "He won't hurt her--"
"Lying bastard," Sam hissed and fought
to drive a knee into his groin. She knew she got in at least a glancing
blow by the way he groaned and his grip momentarily weakened. She
started to surge up, but his grip tightened and he hammered her back
into the ground.
"He will not do what he threatens," the
Icenei leader hissed and twisted, purposely hauling Sam back from the
hidden crack in the rocks that he'd used to pull her underground.
"She's worth nothing to him if he does that."
Smoke had already filled the small space, making
Sam's eyes water and souring the air in her lungs, but she ignored the
burn as she slung another punch at Ergan. He grunted as he absorbed the
blow, then twisted, wrapping his arms around her from behind, and
pinning her solidly against his chest.
"You must let her go for now," the
Icenei hissed in her ear as he flattened a hand across her mouth and
yanked his other arm hard into her midsection, driving the air from her
lungs. "You can do her no good if you're dead."
Sam bit his hand hard enough to draw blood and
drove her elbow back into his ribs, every instinct screaming to get free
and get to her lover. She became aware of a second figure as she clawed
and fought to regain her freedom without success. Calloran, she realized
as he reached up, shoving something into place, and cutting off the
faint hint of light that had fluttered in through the smoke. A tiny,
feral cry escaped her lips and set off another round of struggles as
their surroundings ceded into darkness and an eerie kind of quiet, the
rock blocking out most of the sounds of battle on the earth above.
"He will not do it," Ergan hissed over
and over, sorely pressed to keep her contained, letting the fury burn
itself out. "She's valuable ... but not if she's been
brutalized." His voice was ragged, thick with the same terrors she
felt. "His only care is the money she'll bring ... anything else
was to get his hands on you."
Minutes passed as he hissed those faint
reassurances over and over, offering what little comfort he could.
Above them, the sounds died away, leaving nothing
but dead silence in their place. Even the sounds of battle were better
than the awful quiet, Sam thought as she fought the urge to dissolve
into tears. She'd been so goddamned close. If she could have just--
"She still lives ... and he will keep her
that way," Ergan hissed as though he sensed the direction of her
"Damn you," Sam hissed, her anger so
intense it bordered on hate.
"Perhaps I am damned," he allowed
without relaxing his hold, "but that changes nothing. Had you
stayed above, you would have died ... and there would have been no one
to bring her back."
A muscle pulsed in Sam's jaw. Even knowing he was
right, she hated his guts. "I might have been able to--"
"To die. That is all you could have done ...
die," the Icenei cut her off harshly, his mastery of the language
perversely formal under the circumstances. "Your weapons are
impressive, but they would not have been sufficient to free her. At best
you would have both died."
Managing to yank an arm free, Sam slammed a fist
into the floor, using the pain to clear her head as best possible,
wiping her cheek on her inner arm to rid herself of the sting of sweat
and tears. "If he hurts her..." she said very softly, too
ripped up to even finish the threat. She slung her arm and shoulder
back, trying to throw Ergan off without success.
A moment passed before the Icenei chieftain
responded, his tone that of a man struggling to maintain his own calm,
"He will not. He does this for the money ... and she's worth
nothing if he does as he threatened. He's already lost too much profit
tonight. He cannot afford to risk more."
Sam forced down the turmoil, struggling to drag a
professional wall into place to cut off the dangerous flow of dark
emotions. She didn't have time to give way to the crushing sense of
loss. She flicked a gaze upward, though their hiding place with
absolutely pitch black, so she couldn't see a thing. Several minutes had
passed; enough time that the Romani centurion had probably taken his men
and moved on since they clearly hadn't found this hiding place. If they
were looking, they weren't doing a very good job. "Get off
me," she snarled at last.
He didn't move. "You must not try to go back
Sam bit back on an agonized cry. "Damn
you," she whispered.
"They do not know about these caves,"
Ergan said urgently. "If they discover them, we are all lost ...
and future efforts to rescue our people could be doomed."
Tears of frustrated anger leaking from her tightly
closed eyes, Sam didn't move. "Damn you," she said again, her
voice a tortured rasp. "How can you ask..." She didn't finish
the question, the words as much an accusation as a question. He knew
what she was going through.
"Because I know the price if they discover
this place. We already too large a risk to save you ... and we're out of
smoke bombs to hide our actions. Were it my own wife, it is a risk I
would not take."
"Bastard," she hissed.
"More than you know," he said very
quietly and was silent for a long moment. "I tell you again, he
will not harm her. I know this centurion, and I know what he threatened,
but he won't do it. It's not his way for pleasure ... and it would
damage his profits."
"You didn't see how much he hated," Sam
whispered, unable to get that look out of her mind. "He realized
what she was to me ... and...." Her voice choked off and she
A moment passed, then he pulled back faintly,
shifting his weight from her, then reaching back and resting a hand
lightly on her shoulder. "They consider your love a perversion of
the worst kind," he admitted, sounding shaken to her ears.
A moment of silence followed. "What, no more
assurances that he won't hurt her?" she demanded bitterly.
"It makes it less certain," Ergan
admitted, "but far from hopeless." He sighed softly, sounding
as tired, scared, and depressed as Sam felt if such a thing was
possible. "Your woman ... according to Rialla, she is very
beautiful," he said, making the words halfway between a statement
and a question.
"Yes," Sam rasped.
"Then, he can ill afford to lose the profits
she'll bring. You must believe that." He sounded far less certain
than she would have liked, but not so bad as he had in those first
moments. "She's not young enough for the slave markets, but still
worth a fair price as a prize in the arena ... and smart enough to have
already survived this far." He squeezed Sam's shoulder
sympathetically. "You must have faith ... she will continue to do
With a measure of physical freedom, Sam pushed to
a crouch, automatically stripping the clip from her MP5 and replacing it
with a fresh one from the drop down strapped to her left thigh.
"Can we get to the rest of my team from here?" she demanded
without acknowledging his comments.
"Then let's get the hell out of here."
As much as a part of her was screaming to go back up and chase after her
lover, she couldn't risk all of their lives in what was probably a vain
attempt to follow. It wasn't giving up, she told herself over and over.
She was going to find her.
Ergan spoke softly to Calloran in his own
language, and the other man responded with a single word. Sam had
actually forgotten he was there while he'd sat silent, waiting for his
leader's orders. "Come," the Icenei said a moment later, using
his grip on Sam's shoulder to guide.
"Don't we need some kind of light?"
"No ... and there's less chance of being
caught without one." He spoke in his own language and Calloran
slipped into position in from of Sam. "Keep your hand on his
shoulder, and I'll keep mine on yours. Don't worry, we know these
Sam just wanted to be moving because if she stayed
where she was, she wasn't sure she could resist the drive to go back up
and hunt for her lover. "Just go."
* * * * * *
Janet hit the floor of the slave wagon and
tumbled, her landing knocking the air from her lungs and sending tremors
of sharp pain through already bruised flesh. She rolled onto her back
quickly, elbows braced on the floor of the cart ... and froze.
Paulus towered above the wagon on his mount, his
right arm outstretched, pistol pointed straight at her head. She was an
inch from dying. She could see it by the fury in his eyes. After Sam
disappeared, he'd checked the area briefly while his men muttered about
ghosts and an eerie sort of calm descended on the battlefield save for
the occasional bits of gunfire receding
into the distance, and lacking the rapid fire stutter of SG-1's weapons.
Most likely, it was the Romani scaring themselves and firing on each
other in the darkness. He'd demanded to know where they'd gone, but she
had no more idea than anyone else, and finally he'd ordered his men back
to the wagons, unlatching the manacle wrapped around his wrist and
binding her to him as they found it. Then he'd hurled her in with Leilla
and a couple of other female prisoners.
"Latch the manacle to the railing," he
said at last, visibly fighting the desire to just shoot her.
Moving stiffy, Janet did as ordered, keeping her
eyes down and offering no defiance. Now wasn't the time to argue. She
clicked the manacle into place on the rail, a muscle pulsing in her jaw
as it locked.
"The bitch will never find you," he
hissed, guiding his mount closer to the slow moving wagon and glaring at
her as he easily kept pace. "You'll belong to a Romani man ... and
if she hunts for you, she'll wind up dead or the same."
Janet didn't say a word, sensing that he was right
at the edge of violence.
The moment stretched out while she waited to see
if she lived or died.
Finally, he tipped the weapon up, slowly lowering
the hammer. "One day, you'll be grateful to me for saving
you," he said at last, shoving the weapon into his belt.
"Grateful that we brought you the life you'll have." He
wheeled his mount around before she had a chance to process the words.
Janet stared after him, no longer shielding her
hate now that he was gone. "Fuck you," she said very softly.
* * * * * *
O'Neill ran his mini-mag over the returning Icenei,
his hand loosening where it was braced on the grip of his MP5 when he
recognized the two men and saw his missing officer between them.
"Carter," he said simply, his tone grim. Seeing the look on
her face, he held back the lashing she fully deserved. She'd disobeyed
orders and under different circumstances, he had no problem with the
idea of slamming an officer who'd stepped that thoroughly out of line
right back in ... but not this time. Not when he'd have done exactly the
same damn thing in her position.
The small group was pressed into a long, narrow
chamber in the rocks, well below the hidden entrance Ergan and Calloran
had shown them. One of the girls had led the way through the complex
rabbit warren of natural caves, following a series of marks on the walls
painted in some kind of substance that glowed in the dark.
Now it was just a waiting game.
He flicked the gaze to touch on Ergan's face,
noting the way the warpaint had smeared, casting his face in demonic
shadows. "Thanks for finding her," he said simply, grateful to
the other man for doing what he couldn't have on such unfamiliar ground.
The Icenei leader nodded, waiting until Sam
settled in next to O'Neill, then crouching down himself. "Calloran
and I will go above to check the area shortly before dawn. Until
then...." he trailed off into a shrug.
"We wait," Sam said in a dead voice.
O'Neill flicked off his light, settling in, well
aware of Carter's body heat on his left side. "She's smart,"
he offered almost inaudibly. "She'll be okay."
"I saw her," Sam rasped, and he thought
he heard tears in her voice, "but I couldn't get her back."
She sniffed softly and exhaled a heavy gasp. Definitely tears. "And
I may have made things worse for her."
Jack felt her pain more acutely than he would have
thought possible. "God, Carter ... I'm sorry." He considered
sliding an arm across her shoulders, then decided against it. Things
were already confused enough in his head. Using Fraiser's possible loss
as a means of pulling Carter closer at any level was just a bad idea for
"I just want her back," Sam said in a
very small, very lost voice. He heard her shift and felt the hint of
movement as she wrapped her arms tightly around her upthrust knees and
drew into herself.
"This isn't the time to give up," Jack
exhaled very softly. "We'll find her."
"If she's alive," Sam breathed, then
added too softly for anyone else to hear, "Please God, let her be
* * * * * *