True Foundations - Part 2
An untold tale from the Diary of Doctor Daniel Jackson
All publicly recognisable characters and places are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret Productions. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognised characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Daniel was at Jack's side in an instant. A dark wet patch just below O'Neill's ribcage was beginning to spread across his SGC T-shirt from the right. A quick look beneath the black material revealed a nasty looking stab wound about two inches wide. Shit! The first priority had to be to stop the bleeding, but no-man's land wasn't the place to do that; Shotak could well be rounding up reinforcements, and besides, other than the pressure of his own hands, Daniel had nothing to do it with - which probably meant his best option was to get Jack to safety as quickly as possible. Daniel cursed silently, knowing the past few days had left him too weak to carry Jack.
"Migra!" Daniel's call was either unheard or deliberately ignored. "Migra!" He shouted louder but the man had already turned out of view. Shit! Shit! Okay, he'd just have to do it alone.
"Can you make it back to the shelter?" he asked, moving around to slide under Jack's left shoulder and support his weight.
"Do I have a choice?"
"No." Daniel gasped as Jack's weight was transferred to his shoulders and pain seared down his arm. A quick look at the source of the agony revealed a shallow gash running across his bicep. He bit back a groan, telling himself he'd had worse and, setting a determined look on his face, set off with his wounded team-mate.
Stepping through the 'gate back onto Evesa, Sam Carter tried to suppress the anxiety stealing over her. Dark memories of her previous visit assailed her, prompting her to study the uniformed guards close to the gate with particular attention, afraid she might recognise a face, and worse, that they might recognise her. She knew the latter was unlikely - hair attachments and a bottle of brown dye had transformed her appearance, and the shapeless tunic top and baggy brown trousers she wore bore no resemblance to an SGC uniform. Fortunately what the clothes lacked in style they made up for in utility; they readily hid GDOs, radios and zats. Disguising Teal'c had proven more difficult, but he was doing an admirable job of slouching, taking several inches off his height and giving the impression he was more overweight than muscular. She still wasn't sure about the shoulder-length black wig he had adopted, but the heavy fringe adequately masked the edges of the prosthetic Janet had hastily created to cover his Jaffa tattoo.
Glancing over her shoulder as she moved away from the gate, her paperwork given a cursory glance by an official, she caught a glimpse of Major Coburn emerging from the vortex, followed a few seconds later by a last minute addition to the rescue team, Janet Fraiser. The petite doctor had all but insisted on being included on the team, forcefully arguing that since Sam and Teal'c had required medical attention on their return to the SGC it was almost inevitable the colonel and Daniel would be in less than tip-top condition, even before the impact of a prison confinement was factored in. Sam had decided not to pursue the fleeting notion that Janet was becoming a trifle too protective of a certain archaeologist, knowing Janet would at best deny it and at worst get into a discussion about the pot calling the kettle black. That didn't however alter the fact it was clear to Sam that Janet still felt guilty about signing Daniel over to mental health when he was infected by Marcello's nasty little goa'uld killing device, nor the fact the subsequent mistrust Daniel had displayed for weeks after had upset Janet far more than perhaps was professionally acceptable. What a tangled web of emotions.
So here they were. A six-foot-two Jaffa who had made it clear he would do whatever it took to retrieve his friends. A highly regarded young man who never gave less than 100% to the task in hand, and two professional women who were doing an excellent job of letting their heads rule their hearts - at least on the surface.
As Coburn moved to her side, Sam surveyed the chaotic scene in front of the gate. Traders were yelling and calling to each other - the bartering apparently beginning as soon as they stepped clear of the wormhole. According to Anise the goods would be delivered and sold within two or three hours of fierce haggling, after which the off-world traders, their pockets full of money, would disperse in search of entertainment while their Evesal counterparts took their newly acquired stock home in preparation for the internal market the following day.
Coburn coughed softly as the dusty air caught in his throat. "Dr Fraiser and I will head that way." He nodded towards a pathway leading to a busy intersection choked with the single person vehicles favoured by the Evesals for city transport. "That does lead to the lower market, right?"
Sam nodded. "Anise said it was one of the most popular destinations for the traders. That archway there," she indicated an impressive stone gateway roughly opposite the 'gate, "leads to the upper market."
Silent until now, Fraiser surveyed the surroundings. "We meet back here in twelve hours, right?"
Sam nodded. "Hopefully we'll find what we're looking for sooner than that."
Coburn nodded. "Good luck, major."
"You too." Sam smiled in response to Janet's encouraging pat on the arm as the doctor set off behind Coburn, then turned to Teal'c. "Let's go." Trying to adopt the expression of a trader in search of a good time, she led the way.
"I think it's stopped." Daniel sounds strained as he lifts the blood-soaked cloth from my side. Like he has a whole hell of a lot to be strained about. I'm the one who's hurt here, and trust me, after putting up with Daniel prodding and pressing at the knife wound I am way beyond strained. Wrung out. Mangled.
Not to mention angry. Furious even. Riled. Angry. Did I mention angry? I can't believe I was so stupid as to take a knife in the side. Or dumb enough to walk straight into Shotak's little ambush. What the hell was I thinking?
"Daniel!" I grind out his name as he presses his fingers against my raw flesh again. "I thought you said..."
"Sorry!" He backs off. "I was just checking."
"Well don't!" I tilt my head back and suck air through gritted teeth, trying to push the fire in my side back to bearable levels.
"So..." Daniel is peering round the shelter like he's a new arrival at summer camp. "I'm guessing you don't have a first aid kit hidden away."
"Think I might've mentioned it before now!" I pull in another breath and try to damp my temper along with the pain, reminding myself he's doing his best, that right now he's probably as scared as I am. Thing is, at least he knows just how bad the wound is. He's virtually had his nose on my belly for the past few minutes while I've been stuck here on my back trying not to scream. Not that it seems to have occurred to him that a little doctor-patient repartee might be in order. That I just might like to know whether I've got more than an hour to live.
I shoot him a questioning look, which he ignores. Damn him! Okay so I'm going to have to ask. Typical. We bump into Apophis - in Hell of all places - and Daniel just can't wait to tell him Ammonet is dead. I get stabbed in the side and Daniel decides this is the right moment to act like a Trappist monk.
He blinks at me.
"So... am I in trouble, or what?"
He looks tired. Exhausted even, but right now I'm more concerned with the hole in my side than whether or not he'd rather be counting sheep than talking to me.
"For crying out loud. Just tell me, Daniel!"
He licks his lips and peers at me with that goddamn Bambi look. "The good news is it doesn't look too deep..."
"But..." I make an attempt to sit up, regretting it instantly as fire shoots up my side. A groan escapes my lips. Oops... now Daniel's ticked with me.
"For God's sake, Jack. Lay still! I haven't just spent God knows how long stopping the bleeding for you to open it up again." He places a restraining hand on my chest, forcing me to lie flat again. Like I haven't decided that's a good idea all on my own. "Now don't move."
"There was a but," I remind him tersely.
"Yeah..." Straightening up Daniel licks his lips and folds his arms over his chest. He glances round the shelter again. What the hell is with him? Does he think by some miracle a first aid kit might have materialised since he last looked? He finally meets my gaze. "You run a high risk of infection if I can't find some way to clean the wound."
"Great." Well I guess I didn't really need Daniel to tell me that. Any soldier knows infection is a worse enemy than most of the wounds they may suffer.
Daniel moves to his bed and picks up the thin blanket. "I could use this to make a fire, boil some water. I could at least make some sterile dressings from..." He scrubs a hand over his face, wincing as he raises his arm, before wearily finishing his sentence. "From something." He gives a soft, slightly hysterical, laugh.
He either doesn't hear or ignores me, his fingers pulling at the edges of the blanket. Okay, if this is some ploy to take my mind off the pain in my side, it's working too damn well. Daniel's seriously starting to worry me. After all, it's not like I'm ignorant of what he's been through. Already abused before he arrived, he's stumbled from one nightmare to another. My attack on him. That god-awful argument. Being nearly killed by that beam. A lot of men would've lost it by now, but not Daniel. Daniel has stuffed all the pain away in some deep dark crevice. But I know it's there, waiting to ambush him, and if it doesn't find a way out in sanity, it'll emerge in madness. What am I thinking? That Daniel's losing it? That he's going crazy? No! Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Not to mention the shitload of guilt. I pull in a sharp breath. We are going to make it through this. Both of us. Alive and sane.
"Daniel!" He turns to me, startled. "Hey, you zoned out on me there." I study him closely, dismissing the blood on his hands as being mine. Now though I can see a streak of reddish-brown higher up his arm. "Are you hurt?"
At his puzzled look I nod towards his left arm.
His gaze follows mine and his mouth forms a silent 'oh'. He shakes his head. "It's nothing."
"Really, Jack. It's just a scratch."
He tilts his shoulder forward so I can see the shallow wound across his bicep. It's a bit more than a scratch, but he's right, it isn't life-threatening. I'm not the only one who could use a sterile dressing though.
I suddenly remember something. A snippet of information. "Daniel, you have to go talk to Migra."
"Why?" He pulls a surprised face, eyebrows dancing.
"Because every now and again, basic medical supplies are sent with the food. Migra may..." Daniel's already at the door. I struggle to lift my head, warnings flooding into my mind. "Daniel! Wait!"
Too late, he's gone. I flop back to the pallet with a curse, and offer up a silent, if somewhat irreverent, prayer for his protection and then cross my fingers Migra is in a good mood.
Arriving at Migra's shelter, Daniel was dismayed to find the man was apparently holding court, the rumble of male voices in heated debate spilling out of the doorway. The adrenaline spurt that had carried him across the prison died away, leaving him feeling lightheaded. What was he thinking? He desperately needed sleep... in fact his whole body ached with weariness. He'd head back, grab a quick nap and then return at a more opportune moment, and with a clearer head. A couple of hours couldn't hurt, could they?
Turning back towards his own shelter, he'd barely moved ten steps before he found himself nose to nose with one of Migra's outer circle, a man who, for obvious reasons, was simply known as The Giant.
"Sorry." Daniel did a quick side-step only to have The Giant deliberately block his way.
"Now here's a surprise," The Giant sneered, giving Daniel the benefit of his foul breath. "O'Neill's butt licker has escaped its kennel."
Wearily Daniel ducked his head, the action both one of self-protection and deliberately signalled submission. "I'm not looking for trouble. Let me pass."
"Let you pass? I don't think so." The Giant grabbed Daniel's upper arm and began to steer him back towards Migra's shelter. "Figure Migra's going to want to know you were spying on him."
"I wasn't spying on anyone." Suddenly Daniel was sick to death of running to keep up with circumstances. Angrily he jerked his arm free, turning to face his attacker with defiance. "Leave me the hell alone!"
The Giant's flat face broke into a cruel smile. "So, the puppy has balls of its own."
The surge of anger ebbed as fast as it came. Oh-oh! Daniel instantly regretted his action. Nice one. Pick on the biggest tough guy around, Jackson. He started to back away, raising his hand in supplication. "Look, I wasn't spying, I just wanted to talk to Migra..."
"Oh you're going to talk to Migra alright."
As The Giant lunged for him, Daniel twisted away to his left, evading the large hands as they reached for his arm once again. The Giant's eyes narrowed and he closed in relentlessly, herding Daniel into an angle formed by two adjacent shelters. Daniel's stomach flip-flopped in horror as he felt the cold metal of a wall against his back and he realised he had nowhere left to retreat to.
"Seems O'Neill has been remiss in your lessons," The Giant snarled. "But don't worry, I'm going to teach you what happens when you don't play nice."
Daniel flinched as he saw The Giant draw back his huge right hand, preparing to slap him down, but as the hand flew towards his face, hours of self-defence training with Jack kicked in. He threw his right arm up in a block and heard The Giant howl with rage as their forearms contacted with a nerve-numbing impact. Shit, another bruise for the collection. Almost immediately though he saw the man coil his body like an enormous spring of pent-up rage, and knew with dreadful clarity there was nothing he could do to stop the 200 pounds of muscle and bone about to flatten him against the shelter wall. This was going to hurt.
"Giant! Stop it!" A commanding female voice echoed off the metal wall.
To Daniel's amazement, The Giant somehow managed to hold his forward momentum in check, spinning around to face the interloper. "He was spying!"
Daniel peered around The Giant and found himself looking at a wiry individual of indeterminate age and barely discernible gender. Her face, however, was instantly recognisable as the 'man' who had shown brief concern following the fight with Shotak's mob. Okay, so Daniel had made a majorly wrong assumption about gender, but given her cropped grey hair and muscular body he wasn't about to be too hard on himself. As her gaze flicked over him he found himself instinctively dipping his head in gratitude, both for her presence back then and her extremely timely intervention now. The action elicited a hint of a smile from her.
"Want to tell me the real reason you're skulking around out here?" she asked.
Daniel hesitated a moment before deciding he had nothing to lose. "I wanted to speak with Migra. My... His second has been hurt."
The woman's gaze swung back to The Giant. "Bring him in." She nodded towards Migra's shelter and began to move away, before casually tossing over her shoulder. "Without breaking any of his bones."
Daniel flinched as a heavy hand folded itself into the shoulder of his T-shirt, pulling him roughly away from the wall. Resisting the urge to struggle he allowed himself to be manhandled towards the shelter. Well, it wasn't quite the entrance he had hoped to make, but at least he was getting to speak to Migra with all his teeth and ribs still intact.
Barely managing to stay on his feet as The Giant shoved him hard in the back, Daniel found himself in the centre of Migra's shelter, the focus of four pairs of unwelcoming eyes, in addition to those of The Giant and his rescuer.
Migra was sitting on a pallet, his back cushioned from the metal wall by a folded blanket. The woman leaned over him, whispering something into his ear. He nodded as she backed away and then turned his attention to Daniel, his expression cold. "Jackson. To what do I owe the honour of your presence?"
Daniel licked his lips nervously, instinctively folding his arms across his chest. "I need to talk to you."
Migra smiled predatorily. "I'm listening."
"Okay." Daniel's gaze skittered around his audience, resting momentarily on the woman, before going back to Migra. "Jack's been hurt. I need some medical supplies to treat him. Antiseptic, dressings..."
"And you came to me because?" Migra asked.
"He said you would have some. That they come in with the food deliveries."
"I see." Migra stretched his shoulders languidly.
"Jack was hurt defending you," Daniel blurted out.
"And I suppose you think that means I owe him?"
"He is your second."
"Was," Migra corrected. "Brell is now my second." He nodded towards the woman, who tilted her head in Daniel's direction, acknowledging her position.
"Oh" Daniel didn't know what else to say. He suddenly felt foolish. He should've known Migra wouldn't hesitate to replace Jack in an instant, nor should he have been surprised that somebody would jump into Jack's shoes. The unwelcome thought that he and Jack were probably going to be in very big trouble without Jack's position in the pecking order sneaked into the periphery of his mind, but he quickly pulled his thoughts back into line. Time to worry about that later. Right now he had to get the medical supplies. Only how? Wait! He had an idea.
"I'll trade you."
Migra laughed contemptuously. "And what exactly do you have to offer me?"
"My boots." Daniel lifted one foot off the floor, showing the sturdy SGC issue footwear.
Migra climbed to his feet and moved towards Daniel, deliberately invading Daniel's body space. "And what is to stop me killing you here and now and taking them?"
Daniel swallowed hard, his vulnerability only too plain. "Nothing." As Migra raised his hand, it was all he could do to stop himself flinching.
"Good." Migra's index finger tapped against Daniel's chest in emphasis. "Make sure you don't forget that." He drilled each word home with his finger, then abruptly turned away. "I have no quarrel with O'Neill. He took a knife for me. If I had medical supplies I'd give them to you."
Daniel felt his heart sink. "You don't have any?"
Migra lowered himself back to his pallet. "Fresh supplies were due with the last delivery but, as you are well aware, Kai took more than her share. I suggest you make your representations to her."
Laughter rippled round the shelter along with several lewd suggestions about Daniel's potential for success at that particular task. Daniel ignored it all, his mind still trying to come to terms with the fact he'd failed.
"So you don't have any medical supplies?" he repeated. "Antiseptic? Some rough alcohol would do."
Migra's amusement faded. "Right now, Jackson, I'm concerned with how people are going to eat, given Kai's scum stole most of the supply shipment. It's only out of respect to O'Neill that I'm not offering you back to her, so I suggest you leave now before I change my mind." He nodded towards Brell who instantly moved forward and caught Daniel by the elbow, gentle pressure directing him towards the door.
For an instant Daniel considered arguing, but then common sense kicked in. He had little doubt arguing in this company was a quick way to commit suicide. Biting down on his bottom lip in frustration, he allowed Brell to escort him outside. Once there he leaned back against the shelter wall and slid to a squatting position, his head tilted back, hands covering his face. "God!" Despair crept over him, chilling him to the bone as he wearily attempted to think up some way out of this dead-end.
Daniel jerked his head up, suddenly realising Brell was still there, watching him with the same expression of concern he'd seen earlier.
"Yeah, I'm fine." The reply was automatic. The truth was he was far from fine. Right now he had no idea how he was ever going to get back on his feet and find his way to his own shelter. And once there, he really didn't know how he was going to cope with Jack - an angry, injured Jack. God, he was so tired.
Brell smiled and nodded, apparently waiting for something more.
"Err... thanks." Daniel blinked up her. "For what you did. The Giant..." He tailed off not knowing quite how to express himself. Okay, tired didn't even begin to describe it. Exhausted might come close.
The casual comment hit something deep inside Daniel. He suddenly realised it was the first pleasant thing that had been said to him in days. Oh shit! He felt tears threaten. He bit down hard on his bottom lip, covering his face with his hands. It was just reaction, he told himself severely. It wasn't like he hadn't cried before. Wasn't like he didn't know what it was to live through stressful situations. Or how they caught you out by playing havoc with your emotions at all the wrong moments. It was just a perfectly natural reaction to an unexpected comment. He sucked in a ragged breath, squeezing his eyes tight. Damn it. He was not going to cry here. Not in front of this total stranger.
"You should get back to O'Neill." Brell's voice was full of sympathy. "Get some sleep."
Daniel pressed the palms of his hands to his eyes and, dragging up his last vestige of energy, composed himself before looking up. "I don't understand. How come you don't want to beat the crap out of me like everyone else?"
"Perhaps because O'Neill seems to think you have some redeeming qualities."
"Really?" Daniel couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice, but almost immediately his mind was ticking over the implications. "That still doesn't explain why you..."
"I like O'Neill," Brell confessed with an easy honesty, and then added with a self-deprecating laugh. "Actually, truth is he saved my skin. Wrecked my attempt to become Migra's second and stole the position for himself while he was doing it, the bastard, but under the circumstances I can forgive him that. Figured it made us quits. Which means saving your hide puts me one up."
"Oh." Daniel felt disappointed, cheated even, by the explanation. He kicked himself for even considering she'd rescued him out of the goodness of her heart. Jack was forever telling him never to under-estimate the female of the species. He really ought to learn that one.
Brell leaned forward and cupped his cheek in her hand, whispering seductively, "Or maybe I just liked you."
"Oh!" Daniel's eyes widened. Yep, he definitely needed to learn that lesson. "Oh, boy! Look..."
Abruptly Brell roared with laughter. "God, you really are as innocent as O'Neill said."
Daniel bristled. "Jack doesn't know me as well as he likes to make out."
The acidic comment did nothing to dampen Brell's amusement. She offered her hand, pulling Daniel to his feet with surprising strength as he accepted it. "Come on! I'll walk you home."
Great. Did she think he was five years old? What the hell else had Jack told her. She'd be asking if he had permission to be out on his own next. "That really isn't..."
"Humour me," Brell replied, pointedly taking his arm as a traitorous wave of dizziness made him sway. "Besides, I want to see O'Neill."
It quickly became apparent to Sam they weren't going to make much progress asking questions in the marketplace. The Evesal traders were only interested in selling goods, not chatter, and her attempts to strike up the kind of casual conversation that might lead to a vital nugget of information were universally rebuffed.
It was Teal'c who spotted the sleazy looking drinking hole down one of the narrow dark alleys radiating away from the main market area.
Keeping his voice low he drew her attention to it. "Major Carter, perhaps we will have more success in a place such as that."
Sam turned in the direction Teal'c was indicating and nodded. "Anything has to be better than this."
Better, though, was a relative term, she reminded herself, as they stepped through the narrow doorway into the dingy smoke-filled bar. Hoping she wouldn't be affected by any residual chemicals from whatever drugs the patrons were happily puffing on, she did a quick survey of the room, analysing the group dynamics. It seemed drinking holes across the universe varied little; solitary drinkers were hugging the bar while small knots of two or more sat at tables, the noise levels of the various groups directly comparable to the amount of alcohol and stimulants consumed.
"Err... Teal'c." It suddenly registered she was the only woman present and that more than a few pairs of eyes had turned towards her. Fortunately Teal'c had clearly noted the same fact as he moved protectively in front of her.
"Major Carter, follow my lead," he said quietly, before pointing to an empty table and saying in a loud voice. "Sit there, wife. I will get the drinks."
Wife? Sam barely managed to hide a smile as she obediently took a seat. Colonel O'Neill had recently introduced Teal'c to the joys of Western movies and it seemed the Jaffa was drawing on his new knowledge as he... swaggered - there really wasn't any other word for it, Sam decided - towards the bar. Still, judging the atmosphere in the bar, Teal'c was probably getting it about right.
She watched as he skilfully acted out the role of a trader new to Evesal, accepting the barman's recommendation of a thick dark beer and paying in the currency Anise had arranged for them. As he returned to the table and set her glass before her, she allowed her earlier smile to show. "Thank you. I didn't know you were a closet actor."
"Sergeant Siler enjoys amateur dramatics and I have been assisting him with his lines. He says I would make a good Othello." There was more than a hint of pride in Teal'c's voice.
"Really? Shakespeare? Wow. I'd have thought that was more Daniel's thing." Sam picked up her glass and sipped at the fragrant brew. Strong stuff - she was going to have to watch how much of that she downed in order to keep a clear head.
Meanwhile, Teal'c was warming to the subject of acting. "I think you'll find Daniel Jackson has a misguided fondness for Hamlet..."
Sam's question went unanswered as Teal'c abruptly nodded towards a table in the far corner. "Major Carter, I believe there may be an opportunity to 'work the room'."
Work the room. O'Neill had obviously been teaching Teal'c more than just Western idioms. Sam turned her head and saw that a good-natured arm wrestling match had broken out. Drinkers from an adjacent table were already gathering round to lay bets on the outcome. She turned back to Teal'c. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
Teal'c favoured her with one of his rare smiles. "I believe I will find the experience most enjoyable."
Picking up their glasses they casually joined the small crowd as the first match ended and money exchanged hands, including a cut of the pot to the successful wrestler. A second match was hastily arranged, a new contender sliding into the seat vacated by the loser of the previous round. As betting opened for the third, Teal'c drew out his money and made a wager, which he promptly lost. He faired no better on the fourth, providing the perfect opportunity to propose himself as a candidate. By now most of the drinkers were engaged in the betting, and hoots of laughter followed his suggestion - his attempt to look overweight rather than muscular clearly failing in a crowd as familiar with arm wrestling as this one.
"Let the trader wrestle," a voice from across the crowd called. "I'll pay to see him beat Alca."
"Yes, let him wrestle." The cry was echoed by another person clearly too drunk or too high to care he was throwing his money away.
Within minutes Teal'c had proven he was unbeatable. Gathering up his share of the winnings he headed to the bar, slapped the money down on the rough wooden surface and triumphantly announced. "Drinks for all."
Watching from a safe distance, Sam smiled. They were in. Now it was just a matter of identifying the right people to sit with.
I don't know how long Daniel has been gone, but my nerves are like tensioned wires, vibrating with every passing sound. Now, as I hear two sets of footsteps approaching the shelter, my right hand folds around the hilt of my knife. I've managed to pull myself to a sitting position, but the hole in my side is still too fresh for movement to be anything less than excruciating. I know I'm a sitting duck And chances are by now at least half the prison population knows it too. I desperately want to call Daniel's name, to hear the reassurance of his voice, but if it isn't Daniel out there all I'll be doing is tipping off any potential attacker. Ears straining, I hear a female voice, then a male one, and my fingers tighten on the knife...
"Jack. It's me."
"Daniel! Where the hell have you been?" The angry words escape me before I can stop them. Damn. The implant. I've got to keep my emotions under control. No, not my emotions. Just the anger. That's the one the implant seems to pick up on and enhance.
Daniel steps through the doorway. His gaze moves to the knife in my hand, and he cautiously adds, "We have a visitor. She says you've met." He's wary, both of me and of whoever is with him; his expression telegraphs the fact the visitor probably didn't wait to be asked for an invite. He steps to the side and I catch sight of a familiar face. Brell.
I try to stop a relieved smile making it all the way across my face at the sight of her. That's the funny thing about prison. Relationships tend to form quickly, even with the handicap of the implant. With Brell there had been instant respect and liking, and I'm vain enough to believe it was mutual. She's no beauty, that's undeniable, but she has a sharp humour and a strong, if somewhat unorthodox, sense of morality that still manages to surface above the shit of prison life.
Not that she's any saint. She made no secret of the fact she was here because she'd murdered her emotionally abusive husband after walking in on him in bed with another woman She didn't murder the woman because it was her sister, but told me not to ask what she did instead. Of course I had to ask, but I wished I hadn't. Like I said, not everyone would agree with her moral code. But the fact is there are a lot worse people to have by your side than Brell, not that I'd want to let her know that, which is why I try to bury the smile under a harsh greeting. "Wondered how long it'd be before you came to gloat?"
"Good to see you too, O'Neill." She smiles openly and I know my deception hasn't worked. She tosses her head towards Daniel. "Brought your boy home for you."
I'm surprised when there's no protest at the comment from Daniel, but then I look at him properly. He looks like shit - face too pale despite the newly acquired suntan, dark circles etched beneath his red-rimmed eyes. My mock harshness vanishes. "You okay?"
He turns his head to me wearily. "Yeah. No. I mean... I didn't get any medical supplies."
I flinch inwardly at the sound of defeat in his voice, anger at our circumstances flaring anew. "Migra wouldn't help?"
Brell steps forward. "Migra couldn't help. He doesn't have any."
Daniel nods, one hand tiredly gesturing, emphasising his failure. "Apparently only Kai has medical supplies."
"Oh." Well we can forget that then. No way in hell are we going to get anything from Kai. Daniel looks like he's got the weight of the world sitting on his shoulders and I decide it's time to lift the load a little. It's not like this infection thing is a done deal. Hell, I can do optimism if I try hard enough. "Look, I'm going to be fine. It's just a nick. Nothing serious. I'm sitting up, aren't I?"
Brell is standing right in front of me now, her eyes taking in the bloodstain on my shirt. "Want to let me take a look?"
I raise my eyebrows at the question before snapping, "No."
She gives me an impatient look. "I'm here to help, O'Neill."
"Daniel has already given me more than enough help in that area, thank you. Now want to tell me why you're really here?"
She concedes the point. "Okay. Actually, I want your help. Kai and her people took virtually all of the last shipment. No doubt including your precious medical supplies. Migra is trying to figure out how to get back at her. I thought you might have some suggestions."
"You thought wrong."
"Come on, O'Neill. You're a military man. Throw me a crumb or two."
"Why are you so keen... Oh." My brain is still pretty sluggish from the trauma of the past few hours, but it only takes me a few seconds to figure out what has happened. "Let me guess, you're Migra's new second." I laugh mirthlessly as she nods. "Well you didn't take long to jump in my boots." I can't resist adding, "Shame you can't fill them."
Her glare is hot. "Listen O'Neill, if it weren't for me, Jackson would be smeared like jam all over a shelter wall. And unless I'm very much mistaken, that would not make for you having a good day. So you owe me."
I glance over at Daniel again. "That true?"
He gives me an odd look. "Which? That I nearly got pulped or that it would ruin your day?"
Ouch! I can't believe Daniel just said that. I knew we needed to clear the air between us, but surely he doesn't seriously think... Okay, the minute Brell leaves he and I are going to have a heart to heart. He's staring at me now, arms folded defensively over his chest as though daring me to admit I'd be dancing in the streets at the news of his demise. Well, if he keeps up with this attitude I just might.
I flinch at my own thoughts, struggling once more to control the emotional rollercoaster. I settle for speaking his name in a tone of gentle admonishment. "Daniel?" His body language still closing me out he reluctantly answers the first part of the question, the bit about being pulped - not that his answer makes me feel any better.
Brell cuts into the conversation. "It was Jackson in one corner, the Giant in the other. Go figure."
"Ah." I pull a sympathetic face. Can't say I'd fancy my own chances against a brick shithouse of a man like the Giant. I turn my attention back to Brell's request. "Look, Brell. I'm all for repaying favours, but truth is, if I were Migra I'd be conserving my strength and waiting until the next delivery. Then I'd make sure I was there first - in force. Anything else would just be stupid."
She looks disappointed, and I can't resist a smile, or rubbing her nose in it. "Of course, that's exactly what he is planning, isn't it?" She nods and I push it a bit further. "Wanted to impress him with a better plan, right?"
Another nod. "Seemed like a good way to consolidate my position."
I shake my head. "Rule number one, Brell. Only fight the important battles."
"Yeah. Right." Her eyes survey the shelter, lighting up at the stockpile of food. "So how about you boys shout me dinner. You do still owe me."
"Sounds fair. I've heard the going rate for archaeologists is a day's rations." The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. Shit. I catch Daniel's angry look as he turns away muttering something about it being his turn to cook. "That was a joke, Daniel" His shoulders stiffen, but he doesn't acknowledge the intended apology.
Brell gives me a curious look and then moves to Daniel's side. By now he's picked up the can opener, but I can see from here he's so exhausted he's having trouble figuring out what he's meant to do with it.
"Here. Let me do that." She takes it from his hand and nods towards his pallet. "Why don't you take it easy for a few minutes?"
I know things are bad when he doesn't even attempt to argue. Instead, he simply moves to the bed, strips off his blood-stained T-shirt, and lies down, pulling the thin blanket over his shoulders. By the time Brell has the food divided into bowls, he's asleep, his body in a defensive curl, back towards me.
"This is useless." Sam's frustration, edged with a general feeling of depression induced by the liquor she'd drunk in order to fit in with the crowd, was getting the better of her.
She and Teal'c had spent over four hours in the bar, buying drinks and 'making friends'. Sam was sick and tired of surreptitiously trying to obtain information about the Evesal penal system while fending off the unwanted advances of some of the more inebriated patrons. Fortunately Teal'c's presence, and his repeated references to her as 'wife', had made it unnecessary for her to resort to physical self-defence.
She leaned close to him now. "We might as well go and see if Janet and Coburn have been more successful."
Teal'c nodded his agreement and together they made a polite, yet rapid departure.
Stepping into the early evening warmth, Sam scrubbed a hand through her hair as though trying to shake out the smell of sour alcohol and smoke. "What a waste of time."
"There is another bar further along the street," Teal'c observed. "A second attempt later in the day may be more successful."
Sam nodded, trying to curb the sense of futility nagging at her. A dull throb just above her left eye warned of an impending migraine, no doubt the effect of the strong Evesal beer. She sighed heavily, knowing she hadn't consumed more than two glasses, despite making it appear as though she was matching the men. The thought of a whole evening of similar activity was not appealing.
Turning away from the bar, she was about to head towards the market when one of the bar's patrons, a small man with a shock of greasy black hair, appeared in the doorway. He glanced nervously up and down the alley and then hurried over to Teal'c.
"I must speak with you."
Sam shot Teal'c a surprised look before nodding her agreement. The man tugged at Teal'c's arm, leading him a short distance from the bar to a point in the alley where they were largely secluded from view by a large pile of wooden crates containing purple fruit.
The man scanned Sam's face, even more nervous, then turned back to Teal'c. "Your 'wife' has an unusual interest in our prison." Teal'c said nothing, causing the man to stutter out his next sentence. "I...I...I thought p..p..perhaps... you have someone inside you wish to..."
"Go on," Teal'c commanded as the man stopped and glanced around the alley.
Lowering his voice to little more than a whisper the man went on. "I'm not stupid. I know there were off-worlders imprisoned recently, and you two don't look like traders to me."
"You are mistaken," Teal'c replied automatically. "We are traders."
Sam stepped forward, drawing money from her pocket. "We are traders," she repeated. "But we're more interested in information than minerals." She raised her eyebrows pointedly.
"The location of the prison?"
The man's eyes widened, his voice incredulous, yet tinged with some other emotion, Sam couldn't quite identify. "You're going to try and break them out?"
Sam said nothing, merely adopting what she hoped was a confident look.
The man swore softly, his nervous expression shifting slightly. Hope. That was it. The man had the air of someone who had been thrown a lifeline but didn't believe they could actually be saved. His voice was edgy again. "No one has ever escaped. They say it's impossible."
"All we want is a location," Sam said, virtually holding her breath. She fanned the paper money so he could see exactly how large a sum she was holding. "You could live well on this."
The man gave a short laugh. "Yeah, 'til someone reported my sudden wealth." Another nervous sweep of the alley. "I'm willing to trade, but not money."
"I have a sister. She was imprisoned three years ago. I want your word you'll get her out."
Sam opened her mouth, but Teal'c spoke first, his dark eyes holding hers. "Do not forget Linea."
The man's attention swivelled towards him, his face puzzled. "Linea?"
Sam shook her head. "That's a long story which needn't concern you." She addressed Teal'c. "I don't see we have a choice here." Clearly unconvinced, Teal'c nodded. Sam turned back to the informant. "You have a deal. Tell us your sister's name and the location of the prison. We'll do the rest."
Relief flitted across the man's face followed by just a hint of new-found confidence. "Actually I think you'll find you need more from me than just a location."
A hand shaking his shoulder jerked Daniel awake. Anger and fear wrestled with each other as he came to full consciousness, his right hand sliding beneath his pillow and folding around the handle of his knife.
"Whoa, Jackson." A female voice sounded close to his ear, as he came upright, the knife held defensively in front of his chest. "Take it easy."
Still not fully with it, Daniel found himself focusing on Brell. "Sorry. Weren't you... err... weren't you doing dinner?"
"You mean the dinner I so carefully prepared last night?" She laughed softly at frowned in confused. "You've been asleep hours, Daniel. And you snore worse than my ex-husband." Her gaze went to the knife. "If you put that down, I might be persuaded to do breakfast."
Daniel followed her gaze to the blade in his hand . "Sorry." He lowered the knife somewhat bashfully. "I'm not usually..." He pinched the bridge of his nose, blinked and focused on her again.
"It's the implant." Brell dismissed the incident casually, tossing Daniel his T-shirt as she brazenly studied his naked chest. "Quite a display you've got there."
Daniel peered at her, uncertain whether she was being complimentary about his muscles or his bruises, although the latter had now faded to a dull yellow. Whichever, his mind quickly latched on to her first comment.
"The implant doesn't seem to affect you much, yet it's all Jack and I can do to be civil to one another. I was wondering if maybe it's some kind of... err... hormonal thing?" He glanced up at her as through looking through his lashes.
Brell laughed. "Hormones might have something to do with it. Personally I have another theory."
"Some people are just better at keeping a lid on their emotions than others. Me? I lived with an abusive husband for years before I finally killed the bastard. Got pretty good at not letting anything show on the surface."
"Oh." Daniel nodded. "I'll remember that." He rubbed at his sleep-heavy eyes, pulling a face at the grimy feel of his skin. "So... you been here all night?"
"Figured someone had to keep an eye on the pair of you." Brell nodded towards Jack's sleeping form. "I'm afraid O'Neill's not doing too good though."
Daniel was off his pallet in a moment. Mindful of his own reaction to being woken, he approached Jack warily, his mind already telling him there was something wrong as he did so. Years of black ops had made Jack a light sleeper - the chances of him slumbering through a noisy conversation were remote. Cautiously Daniel placed his hand against Jack's forehead.
"He's hot." He gently shook Jack's shoulder. "Jack. Wake up."
Jack mumbled something inaudible, and tried to curl away from Daniel's hand. The screwed-up expression told Daniel the action had pulled at Jack's side, the resulting pain sufficient to wake the colonel. Unlike Daniel's explosive awakening though, Jack came to groggily.
"Yeah. Brell's here too."
There was a long pause as Jack peered round the shelter, before finally focusing on Daniel's face. "Don't feel so good."
"You're running a fever. I need to take a look at your wound."
Gently pushing Jack's T-shirt up, Daniel received confirmation of what he suspected. The hole in Jack's side was inflamed, angry red skin moist with weeping fluid.
"Not good, huh?"
Daniel tugged the T-shirt back down wordlessly. He laid one hand against Jack's forehead and managed to force a small smile. "You shouldn't dehydrate. I'll get you some water."
Brell had already beaten him to it, and was holding out a filled cup..
"Daniel?" Jack's question was a clear demand for information as he took the cup.
Hesitating, Daniel ran a hand through his hair, irritably scratching his scalp. He'd recently fallen foul of another universal problem in the prison - lice. Like he didn't have enough distractions. He shrugged helplessly as Jack pinned him with his gaze. "All right. No. No, it's not good. Okay?"
Daniel felt anger rise again and pushed it away. The damn implant. Or was it just his own feeling of helplessness? Damn it. He couldn't tell any more. All he knew was that this particular nightmare was spiralling rapidly towards an unacceptable conclusion and there wasn't a damn thing he could do to stop it.
Having rendezvoused with Coburn and Fraiser, Sam and Teal'c were heading out of the city in the company of their new ally, Jeneath. The small vehicle in which they were crammed was clearly not designed for five. Teal'c, in particular, was hunched awkwardly, his head twisted at an uncomfortable angle against the low roof.
"Jeneath, is it much further?" Sam asked, wincing at Teal'c's plight and hoping his wig was going to stay put.
The dark-haired Evesal glanced over his shoulder, even more nervous now than he'd been in the alley. "A few more Kevas." Just as Sam was going to query what a Keva was, he swung the vehicle into the outside lane of traffic. "There's the 'port."
According to Jeneath the prison wasn't on Evesa at all; it was a small space station located on the far side of one of Evesa's three moons. Jeneath had clearly been planning to break his sister out for quite some time. He told them he'd sold virtually everything he owned to purchase both a spaceworthy vehicle and pay for the location information. Then he had waited patiently for the rest of his jigsaw pieces to present themselves. Most of all he needed someone or something capable of dealing with whatever security might be encountered - and now he'd found it.
Sam peered forward, catching sight of a tall tower in the distance. The cramped muscles in her neck and shoulders protested at the movement. "You're sure your ship will hold us all? Didn't you say it was a runabout?"
"My ship will get us to the prison. You just worry about your part." Jeneath nodded vigorously, the action giving Sam a whiff of stale hair oil, a sour spiciness that reminded her of a particularly unappetising salad dressing her dad use to make.
Sam eased herself back into her seat, trying to ignore the fact Coburn's elbow was digging into her ribs and Janet was all but sitting on her lap. She frowned, but not because of the physical discomfort. There was something wrong with his story but she just couldn't put her finger on it. She ran through the facts once more. Jeneath was positive the prison had little in the way of outside security - insisting its location was deterrent enough to prevent anyone trying to break the prisoners out. But if so few Evesals had access to space travel how come Jeneath had managed to get his hands on a ship? Then there was the fact inmates were held incommunicado. According to Jeneath, he had obtained the location from a chance encounter with someone involved in delivering food to the prison. When she'd commented on how convenient that had been, he had simply replied he'd paid a great deal for the information. So was it just that he didn't seem the type to have vast amounts of money to hand that bothered her? Or was it that he had been in the right place at the right time to put the final piece of the jigsaw into place - the SGC team?
She sighed and was treated to a concerned look from Janet.
"We will get them back," Janet whispered.
Sam nodded, desperately wanting to believe it, but unable to quell the doubts fluttering uneasily at the back of her mind. Before she could chew things over any further though, Jeneath was turning into through the gates of the spaceport.
Sam leaned forward again. "Aren't we going to need documentation of some kind to go off-world?"
Jeneath shook his head. "I'll log the flight as a tourist trip. Observational only."
"And no one will query us?"
There was that certainty again, jarring up against his nervousness like oil and water. Sam was reluctant to push the point, but her alarm bells were ringing loud and clear. Too easy! It was all too easy! Before she got a chance to say anything though Jeneath pointed to a ship docked in the distance. "That's my baby."
Sam studied the craft resisting the urge to adapt the old Princess Leia line 'You came here in that?' Teal'c however was less restrained.
He eyed the craft critically. "You are sure this ship is spaceworthy?"
"Absolutely!" Jeneath brought the transport to a halt, and scurried towards the ship. He typed a code into a panel on its side, held his palm to a scanner and then stood back as the door opened, less than smoothly. Catching Teal'c's expression he smiled. "Trust me. She'll do the job."
Once inside he directed Teal'c and Coburn to a tiny cabin to the left of the control console, and Sam and Janet to an even smaller one to the right.
"You'll have to take turns using the bunks," he said without apology.
"Bathroom?" Janet asked, her tone less than optimistic.
Jeneath nodded to the a small closet set to one side. Opening the door, Janet raised her eyebrows at the facilities - little more than a urinal with a faucet, and apparently designed to be used in public. "Well, I would say basic covers it." She turned to Sam. "Think we'll need to work on the privacy thing too."
"We'll manage." Sam replied. "It's not like we're going to be here for long." She turned to Jeneath who was firing up the control panel. "How far is it?"
Jeneath reeled off a large number followed by a unit of measurement Sam didn't recognise.
"Try it in time," Sam suggested, having earlier figured out a rough comparison between earth days and Evesal days.
"Right. Two days," Jeneath said.
"Two days?" Sam stared at him in dismay.
Not meeting her gaze, he continued to run through the pre-flight check on his ship.
Sam shook her head in frustration and pointedly moved herself into Jeneath's line of sight. "Two days?"
He glanced at her, his expression one of mild irritation. "Maybe where you come from ships can planet hop in mere hours. Here - in this ship - it takes days. Trust me - two days is fast. Now if you'll move out of the way. The sooner we leave..."
Sam pulled in a breath, releasing it noisily. "Sorry. It's just..."
Jeneath's annoyance dissipated somewhat at her apology, but his tone was still harsh. "I know. You're worried about your friends. Well my sister has been gone for three years. You get used to it."
Sam shook her head. "I don't intend to get used to it."
Weary to the bone, Daniel called Brell into the shelter as her gravelly voice announced her presence outside.
"How is he?" Brell's gaze went straight to the sleeping form of O'Neill.
Daniel shook his head. "Going downhill fast." He climbed to his feet and shakily poured himself a cup of water. "How long has it been? A day?"
Brell nodded. "I've seen it before. Once infection gets a grip..." She saw Daniel sway slightly, the water in the cup splashing down his T-shirt. "Have you eaten?" At Daniel's blank look, she shook her head in disgust. Moving to the supply of cans, she set about opening the nearest, thrusting a full bowl of greasy-looking food into Daniel's hand.
He looked at it unappreciatively.
"Eat!" she ordered. "You can't help him if you're sick too."
Daniel gave a mirthless laugh. "I can't help him full stop!" With sudden violence, he hurled the bowl at the back wall of the shelter. Globules of pale brown jelly and bits of glistening vegetable splattered the grey paint and slid slowly to the floor.
Wordlessly Brell retrieved the bowl and refilled it from another can. She held it out to Daniel. "Throw this at the wall and I'll break both your legs and force feed you."
For a moment Daniel jutted his jaw out defiantly.
"Don't even think about throwing it at me," Brell added casually.
Defeated, Daniel sank cross-legged to the floor and scooped a spoonful of the slop into his mouth. Chewing as he spoke, he muttered sullenly. "Happy now?"
"Not until the bowl is empty."
To his chagrin she watched him chew and swallow every mouthful.
"You got kids?" Daniel asked as he set the empty bowl down with a clatter.
"Just as well."
Glaring at him, Brell's tone was icy. "That was kind of spiteful, don't you think?"
Shamefaced, Daniel looked at the wall just behind her right ear. "Yeah. Sorry. I..." He climbed to his feet and moved back to Jack who was shifting restlessly on the bed. "I just feel so... so... God." Daniel raked a hand through his hair. "He's started to have delirious spells. And nightmares."
Brell raised an eyebrow in question.
"He shouts things," Daniel explained. "Names mostly. And a few curses." Daniel dropped to his backside on the floor, knees drawn protectively to his chest, arms encircling them.
Brell squeezed Daniel's shoulder sympathetically, then picked up the cloth he'd been using to cool Jack. She dipped into the water bowl and pressed it to the colonel's cheek. "It's not over yet, Daniel. He's not the sort to give up without a fight."
Daniel closed his eyes and nodded, accepting the comfort for what it was - a refusal to accept the inevitable.
'I'd rather die myself than lose Carter.' Rather die. Dying. Am I...
I can see her. Carter. She's dying too - dying inside. I can tell. No. Please don't. Please don't look like that.
The air is thick and heavy. Sweet, cloying. The smell of flowers? White lilies...
She's standing behind Anise, eyes closing as I speak. As I thrust my words into the air, into our lives, into our careers. God damn it, Anise. Why can't you see? If only there had been another choice.
Anise moves forward, blocking Carter from my view. I can't look away; my heart is pounding, my blood racing. Her lips move, the words floating like oil, thick and heavy. "So the choice is made."
"What? What choice? There was no choice here!" She's so close now. I can see the pupils of her eyes, huge, dilated. I swallow nervously, thinking she's going to kiss me. Then suddenly her eyes flash white. Oh my God! It isn't Anise. It's her face - but inside... inside is... I twist and turn... can't get away. Paralysed. My head immobilised by restraints. Fear roots. She's so close I can smell her breath, the sickly sweet aroma of the drugs. Or is it... the smell of lilies. Of death. Dying. Please God, am I...
No! No, they won't work, not this time. Her hand caresses my cheek and she presses her lips to my ear. "We approve of your choice."
She steps away - her red hair and cruel smile moving out of my line of sight...Oh no. Not Daniel. Please no... He's lying on the floor, hands tightly bound behind his back, his naked body covered in ferocious-coloured bruises. Looking... Oh God. Please don't... don't look at me. Not like that. Please...
No! Desperate appeal in his eyes as she closes in on him. I hear him cry out, raw fear in his voice. And then it's there in her hand... a goa'uld larvae. Shrieking in delight. Don't...
Her eyes burn fire as she looks at me triumphantly. "You chose well, O'Neill. He was always my Beloved."
The goa'uld rears up, preparing to strike... No, please. Please.
Carter? 'We have to go, sir! We have to go now!' Tugging at my arm. Pointing at the door. Go?
The goa'uld plunges forward and Daniel is screaming. Writhing on the floor and screaming as the creature burrows into his body. Oh God. He's screaming my name. My name! This isn't how it happened. Stop it! Stop it! This isn't...
"Jack. Jack! Wake up."
No! This isn't how it happened.
My eyes fly open and I find myself sitting upright with Daniel's face inches from my own. The room does a crazy loop behind him, and I blink hard desperately trying to focus. "Daniel?"
"It was a nightmare." Concern has etched a deep worry line between his brows.
I reach out and touch his face, reassuring myself that he's real. "Not a goa'uld?"
He laughs softly, seeming relieved. "No, Jack. I'm not a goa'uld. You were dreaming."
"God!" I fall weakly back on to my pallet, drawing in a ragged breath. Nightmare. Over and over - the same one plagues me like a ghost every time I close my eyes. "God, I hate that woman." I don't realise I've said it aloud until I open my eyes and see Daniel's curious expression. "Hathor. She was going to stick that damn goa'uld in you."
"In me?" He sounds surprised as he turns to dip a cloth in the bowl of water sitting beside my bed.
"She kept saying I'd chosen you."
He presses the cool cloth to my face. "Really? Well, we both know that didn't happen."
I close my eyes, taking what comfort I can from the feel of the cloth against my skin. The nightmare replays in my mind, less frightening now. No, it didn't happen. I remember only too well what did - the feel of the goa'uld as it burrowed into my skin. The pain as it fought for control of my body, my mind, my very soul. No way in hell would I have let that happen to one of my team. 'We have to go, Sir!' My breath catches in my throat at the memory - Carter pulling me away, pulling me away when Daniel needed me. Why would...?
"Jack? Jack, stay with me here."
Daniel moves the cloth away, the furrow between his eyes back again. I must've drifted.
"Daniel..." I try to force my thoughts into coherence. I'm not really into dream analysis, bit too flaky for my liking, but this nightmare... It's gnawing away at me. I need to explain to Daniel. Need to clear things between us, before it's too late.
I don't know where to begin. I hesitate and then blurt out the first thing that comes into my mind, the place the dream always starts. "Daniel, what I said to Anise - about rather dying than losing Carter..."
"Shush." Daniel presses the cloth to my lips. "You need to rest."
I can feel the fever creeping back. I know the infection is stealing my life away - that moments of lucidity are becoming rarer, that soon I might not... No. I've got to concentrate. Got to explain. Put it right. I focus on Daniel again. Hunt for the words. But Daniel pre-empts me, his voice so soft I barely hear him.
"I really don't want to know."
"You have to." The protest is more vehement than I intend, but I have to do this. I have to make him understand. "The confession... it's not what you think. I have to explain. About me. About Carter..."
His tone is warning, but I blunder on. "The confession... you have to believe... I did what I thought was right."
"Jack, don't do this now." His shoulders stiffen.
"I have to. Daniel. You have to know I'd never *never* put more value on one member of my team than another."
He gives me a cold look. "Not even when it's Sam?"
"Especially not Carter!"
"And why is that then, Jack?"
For a moment I want to slap him - hard, but I bite down on the urge. I really don't want an argument. Besides, I'm feeling so weak I doubt if I could lift my arm high enough off the bed. Slapping him isn't an option. I battle on - against the fever, against Daniel's antagonism.
I shake my head, trying to silence the voice in the back of my mind - the one accusing me of denial. What is there to deny? We both know what I said. What does Daniel expect me to be - some kind of saint?
I can't slap him but I can still manage to snap verbally. "So bite me - I'm an ordinary guy with ordinary feelings. And Carter... well she's an attractive woman. I couldn't help but start thinking, wondering..." I drift off, come back defensive. "I didn't go looking for this, Daniel. You know I didn't. In fact you started the whole damn thing. Coming through the gate mouthing off we were engaged in that alternate reality..."
"Oh. So it's all my fault." He throws the cloth into the water bowl, watching as the liquid splashes to the floor, then treats me to a patented Jackson sulky glare - all pouting lips and hurt eyes.
I sigh heavily, trying to make the words come out right and knowing I'm failing miserably. "That's not what I'm saying. Just that... it put the idea in my head. And then there was the other Carter." This is not what I want to say, not what I need to say. With effort, I re-focus. "What I feel for Carter isn't the problem here."
"No?" Daniel's shoulders stiffen even more and his jaw sets at a slightly higher angle - wary, defensive, angry. There was a time when I could reach through his barriers, but now... now he could be a stranger - there's so much anger, so much mistrust...
I press on. "Daniel, what's important is that this... this thing with Carter has come between us. See, that's where all those other realities leave me hanging out to dry. The Jack O'Neills in those realities never had to cope with both a Carter and a Daniel Jackson."
He doesn't say anything, simply looks at me, his normally animated face stony with cold anger, far too reminiscent of the sarcophagus high Daniel I'd once encountered for my liking.
This is so hard. I've never been comfortable with talking about my feelings, that's why I blew it with Sarah after Charlie... We never could talk. Never did grieve together. Not that I haven't had friends - good friends. Kawalsky - it was so easy with him, it was just accepted that we were best mates. We never had to actually say it to make it true. But with Daniel, well with Daniel I've told him to his face how little he means to me - not that it was true - but I said it. Spelt it out in cold, harsh words. And now I need to make it right, out loud, with words.
"Daniel, whatever I feel for Carter, you have to know you're just as important to me. Whatever she may or may not be in the future, I need to know that you and I... that we're... friends."
His face races through a myriad of emotions - anger, fear, sadness, surprise, embarrassment. He looks at the ceiling. Curses loudly. Looks at me again. Bites his bottom lip. And then he gives the tiniest of nods. I need to hear it though. I need him to speak it out loud. To make it real. To undo the damage my words did back in my living room... "Daniel? Please?"
His voice is low, heavy with emotion. "It's okay, Jack. You and me. Solid foundation."
"Thank you." I breathe out the words in true gratitude. I can feel the fever closing in. The thin pillow is damp and hot beneath my head. A mist is filling my brain, stealing away my thoughts. Drifting... drifting... no, wait. There's something else. Before I let go. Something important.
"Daniel..." My voice sounds distant. I'm losing my hold, fingers slipping as though oiled, sliding over the smooth surface of lucidity. I pull in one more breath, determined to get the words out. "Daniel..." I reach for him blindly. Feel his hand in mine. "Tell... Carter..."
Metal crashed against metal as Daniel kicked out at the nearest object, sending an empty can flying against the wall of a shelter. A second can followed and then a third. With each kick he ground out Jack's name accompanied by a curse. Jack goddamn O'Neill. Just who the hell did he think he was? Friends? Goddamn it! After all the shit they'd been through. Of course they were friends. It was just... just...
Daniel gave a cry of outrage and kicked another can. What the hell had that conversation been about? One of Jack's patented non-event apologies? Or a ploy to get him to pass on a final message? 'Tell Carter...' Tell Carter what? Like he needed to guess. Well, it stank.
As a pair of curious eyes appeared in a shelter doorway, Daniel whirled to face their owner, all regard for his own safety lost in the overwhelming rage that was now driving him. "What the hell are you looking at?"
The face disappeared, a metal door quickly being pulled across the shelter's opening.
Daniel was on a roll now. Letting loose all his pent-up emotion, he laid into the shelter wall with his feet, enjoying the sensation of the thin metal buckling beneath the hard leather of his SGC boots and the deep resonance of accompanying sound.
By now a small crowd had gathered at a safe distance to watch the human tornado that was intent on destroying the shelter. As a ferocious kick contacted with a particularly rusty patch of metal causing one of the corners to buckle, Daniel heard the sounds of the barricade being torn away. Suddenly the shelter door flew open and its occupant sprinted away like a scared rabbit.
Daniel spun round, hurling abuse after the man, then strode into the shelter and set about totally demolishing its pathetic contents. A flimsy table. The narrow bed. Both were ripped apart. A cup was pounded into a distorted disc. Spinning round Daniel snatched up a small square of polished tin, and was about to hurl it across the shelter when he suddenly caught sight of his warped reflection. Filthy hair, wild eyes. His face hauntingly thin, dark shadows burning into his skull. The image drew him up short, panting for breath, the adrenaline rush evaporating like water on a hot summer's day.
Oh God! What was he doing?
He folded to the floor like a rag doll, legs crossing beneath him, head tucked under protective hands and arms. What the hell was he becoming? He drew in a shuddery breath. Exhaled slowly. Breathed in again. My name is Daniel Jackson. Doctor Daniel Jackson. Another breath. In. Out. Daniel Jackson. Archaeologist. Member of SG-1.
He peered at his arm, running a finger against the implant. If only he could think straight. This damn thing. Controlling his emotions. Spiking his anger into rage. Breathe, Daniel. How would Teal'c cope? Kel 'Noreem. Was that the answer? A form of meditation. Controlling the emotions instead of being controlled. Brell said she kept it all locked away. Breathe. In. Out. Think Got to think. Calm. Rational. Be like Sam. Scientific. Logical.
'Tell Sam...' What? Tell her what, Jack? That you care about her more than you should? Tell her yourself! Pair of no good...
Daniel flinched at his own thoughts. Damn. Sam didn't deserve his anger. She was a friend... more than that even. Their relationship went beyond friendship yet... Memory flared - 'I don't have a sister, Jack. But if I did I wouldn't let you anywhere near her.' Daniel grimaced. The words had been said in jest when he himself had been dying, trapped in Marcello's body. But was that really how he felt? About Jack? About Sam? He shut down the thought - it was too complicated and he was way too tired. What mattered was that Sam had been there for him then...
Her face floated in his mind, and he realised how much he missed her. Teal'c too. The Jaffa's steady presence had so often been a rock for him. He could imagine Teal'c watching him now - ensuring he came to no harm, yet not afraid to call him out when he started acting like a spoilt brat. Sam, Teal'c - this team, these people - they'd become so important to him. Become family to him. Even Jack. No, especially Jack. For all his faults - and right now Daniel could probably have listed a good few hundred - Jack wasn't just a friend. Jack was family. He'd taken Daniel in when Sha're had been snatched by Apophis and he had no where else to go, he'd defended Daniel's right to be on SG-1, stuck by him during that whole sarcophagus addiction nightmare, followed him half-way across the universe in search of the Harcesis child despite the fact he thought it was more likely the child existed in Daniel's imagination than in reality...
God, Jack. Surely this wasn't the way it's going to end - with our friendship in tatters? The foundation really a lie.
Daniel knew he'd said the words, said what Jack needed to hear, but he knew too his heart hadn't been in it. And now... now he'd probably never get the chance to tell Jack how much he really meant to him. The colonel had drifted into unconsciousness again, and this time Daniel didn't believe there would be a reprieve, unless...
Daniel shook his head, his will finally resolved. The time for words was finished, all that was left was action. Was it important that his actions might never be witnessed by the one person to whom it mattered? Daniel thought not. What counted was reclaiming the foundation.
Slowly he climbed to his feet and staggered out of the shelter, his exhausted muscles protesting at the effort of walking in a straight line. Catching sight of the spectators he tilted his chin and with as much dignity as he could muster headed into the maze of shelters, confident for once he would be able to pass unimpeded. No one would mess with a mad man.
When he finally reached the shelter he was looking for, he walked in unannounced. As Brell looked up at him in astonishment, he spoke, his voice calmer than it had been for days.
"I need your help."
Brell set aside the knife she was attempting to sharpen, and motioned for Daniel to sit beside her on the bed. "O'Neill?"
"Hanging in. Just about." Daniel turned to her, his emotional pain rawly displayed in the brightness of his eyes. "I need you to set something up for me..." He hesitated, not wanting to voice his idea, knowing that doing so would almost inevitably lead to pain, perhaps even his death. He closed his eyes, swallowed and then forced the words out. "With Kai." His eyes shot open, studying Brell's face. "Can you do that?"
"Set what up?"
Daniel shook his head impatiently. "Can you do it?"
Brell nodded, her expression concerned. "Daniel, what are you planning?"
"Kai may have the medication Jack needs. I want you to find out."
"And if she does?"
"Offer her an exchange. The medication... for me."
Brell laughed. "Are you crazy?"
Daniel shook his head. "I'm serious, Brell. It's the only thing I can think of."
"She'll kill you."
"Not maybe, Daniel. Definitely. And trust me, it'll be slow and painful."
"Thanks for the reassurance," Daniel said dryly. "Look, my mind is made up. I came to you because if you arrange it... if you hand me over... you might be able to bargain for more than just the medication. Food, for example. And you want to impress Migra..."
"You've really thought this through, haven't you?"
Daniel nodded. "There's no other choice." He gave a quick smile. "Actually that's not true. The other choice is to let Jack die, but that... well, that just isn't an option."
"Does O'Neill know you're planning this?"
"No. And you're not to tell him."
Brell swore softly. "Funny. I didn't think he meant that much to you."
Daniel looked away. "He's family. I guess I'd forgotten..."
"And that makes his life more valuable than yours?"
Daniel studied the floor. "Maybe he has more to go home to than me."
"You trying to break my heart, Jackson?"
Daniel looked up. "Will you help me or not? If you won't then I'm sure Migra will be only too happy..."
Now it was Brell who looked away, swearing colourfully. "Should've left you to the Giant. Let you get yourself killed while I didn't give a damn."
"Is that a yes or no?"
"It's a yes."
Twenty-four hours in. Another twenty-four to go. Sam had looked at her watch approximately every ten minutes over the past hour, unable to drift back to sleep despite having the bunk She turned her head towards the door as Janet crept into the small room.
"Have you slept at all?" Janet asked, her face concerned.
"A little," Sam replied. She sat up, crossing her legs under her. "I just keep thinking about the way things happened back on Evesa." As Janet tilted her head in question, she went on. "Doesn't it seem odd to you that Jeneath just 'happened' to bump into us."
Janet frowned. "I guess."
"And this ship just happened to be available and ready to fly."
"What are you getting at?"
Sam rubbed her eyes wearily. "I don't believe in co-incidences, Janet. I think we're being manipulated somehow." She lowered her voice. "I don't trust Jeneath. It's as though..." She hesitated. "I just have this feeling I've seen him somewhere before."
Janet nodded. "Well you're not the only one. Teal'c said his face looked familiar. Is it possible you met him on your first visit to Evesa?"
"We met a lot of people. I don't know..." Sam pulled a face, trying to dredge up memory. "Maybe he was just a face in the crowd... Or..." She looked at Janet and shrugged. "It'll come to me if it's important. You look tired. Here..." Light-footed, she dropped off the bunk. "Get some rest. We'll all need to be alert when we get to the prison."
As Janet settled onto the bunk, Sam headed out into the main cabin. Jeneath swung round to face her, removing a pair of ear phones as he did.. "Everything alright?"
Sam nodded, trying to figure out what it was she saw rush across his face as she entered.
"Good." He swivelled back to his control panel, earphones instantly back in place.
Trying to settle her growing unease, Sam settled herself beside Coburn, leaning against the bulkhead, waiting...
As Brell stepped into the shelter early the next morning, her gaze immediately went to the unconscious form of O'Neill. "How's he doing?"
Sitting on the floor at Jack's side, Daniel looked up at her, his expression sombre. "He's no better."
"You look exhausted."
Daniel gave a mirthless laugh. "I spent most of the night trying to keep his temperature down." He climbed to his feet. "You sort things with Kai?"
As Brell nodded, Daniel's gaze drifted back to Jack. "I wish..." He rested a hand lightly on the colonel's forehead and then moved it down to cup Jack's clammy cheek. Daniel sucked in a long breath, unable to find the words to express what he was feeling. He turned back to Brell. "Let's get this over with."
"Are you really sure?" Brell asked.
"Well unless you're about to give me another option..." He shot her a hopeful look. "I didn't think so." He pulled in another deep breath. "Then I'm sure."
Stepping outside he blinked in surprise at the group of men waiting in the uneasy stance of soldiers about to go into battle. "An escort?" As he recognised one of the faces, Daniel's surprise increased. "Migra?"
The sturdy leader stepped forward. "The escort is for Brell. A little insurance to make sure Kai delivers. I'll say this for you, Jackson, you have more balls than I'd imagined."
Daniel bowed his head, accepting the coarse compliment. When he looked up, there was steel in his eyes. "Just make sure Jack gets what he needs."
"You have my word." Migra replied. He stepped aside to let Brell pass, falling into step with Daniel as he began to follow her, adding in a low voice, "And if this works you'll have my thanks."
Daniel shot him a sharp look. "Well that makes me feel so much better," he said sarcastically, before quickening his pace to catch up with Brell.
Kai was already waiting in the no man's land they had earmarked for the trade, a small knot of her people, including Shotak, stood behind her. Her face twisted with a gloating smile at the sight of Daniel, and she said something that produced a ripple of laughter amongst her group.
As Brell, Migra and the rest of the escort drew to a halt, Migra addressed Brell. "This is your show."
In response, Brell stepped in front of Daniel, calling across the 40 yards of open space that divided the two groups. "Where are the goods?"
Kai turned to Shotak, who motioned to two men at his side. A large crate was pulled from the shadows as Shotak called out, "You'll find everything you asked for in here."
Daniel leaned forward, speaking to Brell. "I want to see the medical supplies."
She nodded, calling out his request.
Kai and Shotak briefly exchanged words, then the crate was pushed to mid-point between the groups. "Be our guest."
Brell didn't move. "Lay down your weapons and meet us there."
More inaudible words and then Shotak and another of Kai's group placed their knives on the ground in full view. As Brell mimicked their action, Daniel raised his hands. "I'm unarmed."
Nodding his acceptance, Shotak waved Daniel and Brell forward as he moved to the crate, his companion close behind.
As Daniel reached the crate he could see it was stuffed with cans of food. Most importantly though was the rectangular container sitting right on the top. Snatching it up, he undid the catch and revealed the contents - bandages, antiseptic cream, a supply of hypodermic needles and a handful of tiny bottles containing clear liquid, each one labelled in a language he couldn't immediately read. He passed the container to Brell who quickly checked its contents, fingering one bottle in particular.
"This is what we need," she whispered.
"Satisfied?" Shotak growled.
Brell looked to Daniel who nodded.
"Good! Take the crate." Shotak's eyes glittered as they rested on Daniel. "Turn round, and put your hands behind your back."
Daniel caught a glimpse of a piece of rough twine in Shotak's hands. "That won't be necessary. I said I'd come willing."
"Well, you'll excuse me if I'm not exactly trusting." Shotak reached for Daniel's arm, intent on spinning him around.
To Daniel's right, Brell sounded his name softly, her tone questioning.
"It's okay," Daniel said quickly, allowing himself to be turned. Holding Brell's gaze, he couldn't stop himself wincing as Shotak began to bind his wrists with more force than was necessary. "Take the medicine to Jack. Tell him..."
"Enough!" Shotak spun Daniel back round to face him. "You belong to us now. You will only speak when spoken to. Understand?"
Biting back the kind of smart reply that was likely to earn him a slap, Daniel nodded. Apparently disappointed by Daniel's restraint, Shotak turned his attention to Brell. "You have what you came for. I suggest you take it quickly." He stepped behind Daniel and shoved him hard in the back "Move!"
Resisting the urge to look back, to just be sure that Brell had the precious medicines in her hands, Daniel walked towards his fate.
Kai prowled around Daniel, a satisfied smile on her lean features. She hadn't spoken a word to him during the fast march back to her shelter, but now her eyes, filled with a feral triumph, spoke her thoughts eloquently. Behind her, Shotak had made himself comfortable on a low metal bench covered with one of the ubiquitous prison-issue blankets, open hostility towards Daniel stamped on his face. To his left and right, a handful of men and women either slouched against the shelter wall or sat on the floor, enjoying the spectacle before them.
Kai circled Daniel once more, letting her index finger trail languidly across his shoulders. "You have cost me a great deal, Daniel Jackson." She stopped in front of him, looking up at him with calculating eyes. "Tell me how you intend to repay my generosity."
Daniel held her gaze, trying not to show his fear. "I'll do whatever you want me to." Within reason, he silently added. "That was the deal." He managed to speak without letting his emotions show in his voice - still trying to act as though he had some control over the situation. The truth was, though, Daniel had little doubt he was signing his own death warrant in turning himself over to Kai. He was sure it was just a matter of time before she asked him to do something he wouldn't be able to face and then she'd have him killed. The question was just how much was he prepared to put up with first. And how much would she tolerate from him?
"Whatever I want you to." She spoke the words slowly, savouring them, clearly considering her options. "What I want is to see you kneel before me."
Great! The woman had clearly been taking lesson from the goa'uld. Awkwardly Daniel lowered himself to his knees, conscious of the ropes biting into his wrists.
"I could serve you better unbound," he risked, keeping his eyes lowered, his body language deliberately subservient.
Kai leaned forward and gripped his chin, tilting his face upwards. "You will not speak unless I tell you to."
Daniel bowed his head again as she released her hold on him. Well, he'd really dropped himself in it good this time.
Kai prowled around him again, stopping behind his right shoulder. She draped her arms around his shoulders, leaning against his back, her right hand snaking inside the neck of his T-shirt, caressing his chest. "What do you think, Alten?" she called to one of the watching women. "Should I take one as smooth-skinned as this to my bed?"
"I fear he's too innocent for your tastes, Kai," the woman replied, her gaze raking Daniel hotly. "But I would be happy to train him for you."
Kai laughed and leaned closer to Daniel, her hand sliding down towards his abdomen. Daniel swallowed hard as she turned her head, her lips brushing his ear, her voice low. "Would you like that, my little Shintac? Would you like..."
"Enough!" Shotak was on his feet glowering. "Give him to Alten if you will. But I swear I will kill him before he ever takes my place in your bed."
Daniel's head jerked up. He registered the jealousy in the Shotak's eyes, and quickly looked down again, desperately hoping it might dawn on Shotak that he had no desire to usurp his place with Kai, yet knowing he couldn't voice that particular opinion without risking far worse retribution from Kai herself. Relief shuddered through him as he felt Kai uncurling with deliberate slowness, her hand sliding from his clothing to rest lightly on his shoulder. Continually in contact with him, she continued her circle as Daniel, his eyes still glued to the floor, heard what he hoped was Shotak taking his seat once more.
"So what shall I do with him?" Kai asked, her tone casual, as she finally stood before Daniel once again.
Shotak's voice sounded above the melee of suggestions, his tone contemptuous. "Give him to Bron!"
From the laughter and lewd comments that followed Daniel was left in no doubt about Bron's gender. Oh God! He really, really had dropped himself in this time.
Kai, however, seemed unimpressed. "So little imagination," she said disdainfully. She waited until the hubbub died away before continuing. "Since Shotak serves me in so many ways, perhaps Daniel can care for my... " Her voice, honeyed with lust, was suddenly cruel, "...more domestic needs."
Abruptly a foot appeared in Daniel's line of vision.
"Clean my shoe, Shintac."
"What?" Daniel stared at the filthy black leather footwear.
Kai leaned closer to him, tilted his chin with one finger and smiled, the expression one of pure evil, her voice mockingly sweet. "I want you to clean my shoe."
Clearly the order was meant to make sense, but quite literally for the life of him, Daniel could not think of any way to obey with his hands tied behind his back. As he looked questioningly at Kai, he saw Shotak rise to his feet behind her, the glint of a weapon in his hand. Seconds later a blade was pressed to Daniel's throat.
"I know what she said!" Daniel tried to pull his head away from the knife. "I just don't know how!"
Now it was Shotak who leaned close. "With your tongue, Shintac. While you still have one!"
Sick realisation hit Daniel. "Oh."
He drew in a shaky breath as Shotak withdrew the knife. Kai's boot filled his vision. After all he'd been through - it was almost funny. Apophis. Heru'ur. Hathor. Who else? He couldn't remember. But he'd faced them all and survived. Saved the earth from destruction more than once. God, there had been so many times when he'd faced death and welcomed it, knowing he was dying for a good reason. But this? It was all he could do to hold back the laugh that was bubbling insanely at the back of this throat. Well, somehow he didn't think this would rate as one of those 'good ways to die'. But then again, if he allowed Kai to strip him of all dignity, to humiliate him so totally, so soon... Perhaps his pride was worth dying for. And given his other options...
Raising his head, he looked Kai straight in the eyes. Blue on brown. One steel will colliding with another. He licked his lips.
He saw Shotak move. Heard Kai curse. Then pain speared through his cheek as something slammed into the side of his face, immediately followed by fire in his shoulder as he hit the floor hard and fast. Somewhere above the pain Daniel could hear Shotak was screaming abuse at him, but his mind refused to make any sense of the words.
Something small amd hard impacted with his lower back, dragging an agonised cry from his throat as nerves screamed in protest at the assault. Kai was shouting, shouting at Shotak to... stop? A second blow created a red haze that blanketed his vision, the colour darkening as numbness stole away all coherent thought.
Blackness promised. One last image flashed into his mind. It was Jack turning towards him. Asking a single question. 'Friends?'
Sam Carter moved to the front of the runabout as Jeneath beckoned to her. He pointed to the moon, which increasingly filled the space in front of them as they approached it. Behind her she sensed Coburn also climb to his feet and move forward as Jeneath spoke.
"According to my calculations we should be able to see the prison any time now."
Sam peered at the view, her face screwed up in concentration. Subconsciously she leaned closer, the long brown hair she was sporting brushing against Jeneath's face. She flicked the hair back with a quick apology. "Sorry. There! Is that it?"
Jeneath nodded. "That's it. Home to all of Evesa's most dangerous criminals. Give me a moment and I'll put up a long-range scan." He tapped a couple of keys on the console and moments later an image appeared on the small screen to his right.
Sam studied it intently. The structure was a long thin oblong, little more than two stories high. At one end some sort of protuberance was evident. "What's that?"
"That..." Jeneath said with a theatrical air. "Is how we get in."
"A docking bay?" Coburn asked.
"Of sorts. See there. We can latch the runabout onto the surface above that hatch. It should form an airtight seal."
"Should?" Sam frowned.
"I don't exactly have blueprints," Jeneath protested. "I was told we could latch on there. Then we open the hatch, grab my sister and your two buddies and get out quick."
Sam exchanged a worried look with Coburn. "With all due respect, that sounds like a rather simplistic plan."
Jeneath smiled. "Trust me. I have everything worked out."
"Trust you?" Sam shook her head.
The smile on Jeneath's face merely widened. "Have I let you down so far?"
Sam studied him for a moment. "No, I suppose not." Well as far as having a ship and getting them off planet went, she thought sourly. There was a whole hell of a lot to still be delivered...
Sam nodded and backed away, Coburn at her side. "Why do I not like this?" she whispered.
Coburn sat on the floor, his back once again resting against the ship's bulkhead. He leaned into Sam as she joined him. "If you want my opinion, it's because the guy is a serious dickhead."
Sam almost laughed out loud. "That the technical term, Major?"
Coburn gave her a dry smile. "You got a better one?"
God. I wake up feeling like something has died in my mouth. Something extremely unpleasant. I can hear Daniel moving around to my left, fussing around like an old woman, no doubt. I figure I ought to open my eyes, see what the heck he is doing, but to be honest it's too much effort. Much better to just lie here feeling like... That's weird. Actually I don't feel too bad - relatively speaking that is. I mean, ask me to do a 10 k run and I'd probably not make it much past the first metre or two, but compared to earlier... Must be dreaming. Perhaps this is what dying is like. An intermediate stage between life and death, where the pain has faded to...
Oww! What the hell? My eyelids scrunch tight and then fly up as something jabs into my upper arm, but instead of getting an eyeful of archaeologist I find myself looking into the surprised face of Brell. "What the hell are you doing?"
Her expression shifts to one of contrition and she holds up a hypodermic needle. "Sorry. Thought you were still out of it." Twisting my head, I see a tiny spot of blood where she spiked me. "Don't panic," she reassures. "It's medication. How're you feeling?"
Cranky actually, thanks to having a needle stuck in me. That of course isn't what she wants to hear. I consider for a moment, and decide the feeling of well-being wasn't just part of some dream. I really do feel... not well, exactly, but certainly better. I glance around the shelter, registering an all-too-obvious absence. "Where's Daniel?"
She looks away. Fusses with the cap of the hypodermic.
"He's not here."
An unpleasant feeling creeps into my gut. "I can see that. Where is he?" She's still fiddling with needle, and I catch sight of the med-kit on the table beside her. Where the hell did that come from? The feeling swells into full-blown dread. He wouldn't, would he? My mind supplies the answer all too readily - of course he would. Where most people consider a situation has run its course in terms of viable options, Daniel always manages to find one more. Unfortunately, going the extra mile invariably means he plunges headfirst into some sort of death trap. The sour taste in my mouth has a completely different source now, and I manage to catch and hold Brell's gaze. "Please tell me he's not with Kai."
Not dead? Daniel groaned softly as the left side of his face made it painfully clear that no, he wasn't dead. Almost immediately a dull pain up his side and back joined the welcoming party. Wonderful. For some reason, fate seemed to have decreed that no matter what happened to him, no matter what he did to himself, he was a no-go zone as far as the grim reaper was concerned. Not that he was in any big hurry to meet up with that particular character. It was just that sometimes... well, sometimes life really stank, and right now, the smell was right up there with the sewers of PX2-884.
He tried to pull the blackness back, the way he'd done before. Once before? Twice? He couldn't remember exactly. There were memories though... Waking to the feel of a pallet beneath his back. Soft hands on his skin. A woman's voice - Kai's voice? - telling him... telling him he was a disappointment? Then other memories... people arguing. More hands - rough this time - pulling at him. Cold metal beneath his body. Fire around his wrists. So much easier to return to the darkness.
Only this time... this time the darkness was drifting out his reach. Oh shit! This time he really had to wake up.
He slowly opened his right eye, the swelling of his left cheek making it virtually impossible for him to open the left, and tried to take in his surroundings. Didn't look like Kai's shelter. In fact, he didn't think he was in a shelter at all. He was lying on his side, and from this somewhat skewed angle he figured he was in a small square of space created by a cluster of shelters, it was a bit hard to tell what with everything being blurred. Great. Blurred vision, throbbing headache - he was probably concussed. What he could definitely see - up close and personal - were his hands, and more importantly, the thick rope that not only bound his wrists together but tethered him to a metal ring in the floor. Judging by the length of the rope he might be able to get to his knees, but certainly no higher.
Very carefully he raised his head, wincing at the throbbing pain. Now he could make more sense of things. He was lying of the floor of the prison, outside a shelter. Memories of his run-in with Kai were coming back with a vengeance now, and he figured it wouldn't be unreasonable to put odds on the shelter being hers. At least he hoped it was - the other alternative was for it to be Shotak's; Daniel definitely didn't fancy that option.
Time to put the tether to the test. Arggh! Fresh agony shot through his flank, radiating in spiking fingers to his back and down his hip. As it hit his groin he almost cried out. Biting down on his lip, he dug into his reserves of sheer bloody mindedness and painfully manoeuvred himself to his knees, dizziness competing with nausea to ensure the experience was thoroughly unpleasant. There was nothing quite like the effects of a concussion for ensuring the slightest move was hellish. And there was something seriously wrong inside his...? His what? He couldn't quite pinpoint it. Too low for ribs, too high to be a hip bone. Don't think about it! Just concentrate on the fact that anything is better than lying on the floor. Now if he could just get his legs under him perhaps he could sit...
"So you've decided to rejoin us properly."
A female voice sounded from behind him. Glancing over his shoulder his heart sank as he saw Kai was leaning in the doorway of the shelter, studying him with a predatory gaze. Great. Somebody ring the bell for round two. Determined not to give her the satisfaction of seeing just how wretched he was feeling, he gave the rope a small tug. "You'll excuse me if I don't get up."
She seemed to find the comment amusing. Straightening up, she moved towards him. "You should learn to curb that tongue of yours. Shotak is keen to remove it from you."
"I suppose I have you to thank that he hasn't?"
She didn't answer him. Instead she reached out a hand and gently traced the outline of the bruising on his cheek. "Looks painful."
Despite himself Daniel flinched. "I've had worse."
"Really?" She withdrew her hand, and eyed him curiously. "I can't decide whether you're incredibly brave or incredibly stupid."
Daniel's gaze went pointedly to his bound wrists. "Right now, I think stupid probably has it covered." He looked back up at her, his face questioning. "So... which is it going to be?"
Kai looked confused. "Sorry?"
Daniel pulled in a long breath, glanced around at the press of shelters, and then back at Kai. "I thought we could cut all the chit-chat, interesting though I'm sure it would be, and go straight to the point where I either get beaten up..." He gave a small wince. "...no actually, that's beaten up again, or..." He hesitated, his bravado cracking as Hathor's face floated into his mind. Adopting Jack O'Neill's mouthy way of coping with stressful situations had served him well recently, but joking about rape was a step too far.
"Yes?" Kai asked coolly.
"Or something else entirely different happens," Daniel finished lamely. He felt colour rising up his neck, but fortunately Kai didn't seem to notice.
Kai raised an eyebrow. "I take it that's a long-winded way of asking what I'm going to do with you?"
She leaned closer to him, her voice a malevolent whisper. "I'm going to break your spirit, Shintac. Day by day. Little by little. Until eventually you'll beg to lick my boots. I'm going to own you; mind, body and spirit."
She pulled away again, obviously waiting to see what impact her words would have. Daniel licked his lips. "Oh." He considered a moment. "That's a little... overly-dramatic, don't you think?"
Fresh pain seared up his face as the flat of her hand contacted hard against his tender cheek, jerking his head to the right. He tried to clamp down on the tortured cry that was ripped from his throat, and for one ghastly moment he thought he was going to throw up. He squeezed his eyes shut, desperately struggling to regain control, to push the agony down to bearable levels.
Very slowly Daniel turned his head back to face her, licking the blood from his bitten lower lip. "See, it always ends up..."
Kai grabbed a handful of his hair, yanking his head back so forcefully he saw stars. He really was going to be sick now. He swallowed desperately, attempting to pull in a deep breath.
Her voice hissed in his ear. "Speak again and I'll cut your tongue out... and give it to Shotak as a gift." She released her grip, waiting until he focused on her before speaking again. "You will remain here, tied like a dog outside my shelter, dependent on me for everything you eat and everything you drink. Oh, you'll beg alright. I promise."
Placing her foot in the centre of his chest, she pushed him backwards, smiling with pleasure as he lost his balance and fell awkwardly onto his side. Daniel drew in a shuddery breath as she strode away. Pain flared down his left flank again, bringing tears to his eyes, but also strained laughter. If Kai was going to break his spirit she was going to have to do it quickly because from the way he felt he was beginning to suspect he'd suffered some internal injury during Shotak's attack. Chances were he'd be dead long before she got anywhere near breaking anything.
Brell's words cut me like a knife as she breaks the news; the image of Daniel being treated worse than an animal all too vivid in my mind.
"You're absolutely certain?" I demand.
She nods. "You know what this place is like. Word spread in minutes. People are betting on how long it'll be before he cracks."
"How long has she had him?"
Brell frowned in thought. "Half a day. Plus a night."
"A night? Shit." Sometimes swearing just doesn't cut it, and in this case the worst of curses don't even come close to how I'm feeling right now. I can't decide whether I'm furious with him for pulling such a stupid stunt or livid at Brell for letting him do it. What I do know is that I'm not leaving Daniel in Kai's hands. I've seen what women can do to him. Hathor. Shyla. Sick, manipulative women who got off on dominating him and who didn't care what methods they used to do so. It hadn't taken me more than ten seconds to recognise Kai as belonging to the same breed, which is why I went to so much trouble keeping him out of her hands. So what does he do? Delivers himself gift-wrapped. Jesus Christ, Daniel! Somebody suck your brain out and replace it with oatmeal?
My attention snaps back to Brell. "Daniel won't crack."
"Were you listening to what I just told you? She has him tied up..."
"He won't crack," I repeat with emphasis. "Kai will. And when she does, Daniel is going to end up very, very dead."
I swing my legs over the edge of the bed, testing the tug of the hole in my side. Okay, on a scale of one to ten it scores about twelve, but I've had worse. I flex my bare feet against the cold of the metal floor and push up from the bed. Shit. The shelter does a wild loop, floor tilting crazily and I do a less than graceful tumble onto my backside.
"What the hell are you doing, O'Neill?"
Brell is staring at me like I'm crazy. I guess she has a point, but it's not something I want to debate right now. I hold my hand out to her. "Want to help me up?"
She puts her hands on her hips, taps one foot impatiently. "No."
I glare at her, and struggle awkwardly to find my feet. Apparently I look totally pathetic because she gives in, reaching out a hand to hoist me up by one arm. Did I mention she's a strong woman?
"A few hours back you were nearly dead. Give your two shots of Vyrn and you think you're superman? Are you totally nuts?"
"Vyrn? What the hell's that? Some kind of antibiotic?"
"Anti...bi...what?" Brell shakes her head, the word clearly as alien to her as Vyrn is to me.
"Antibiotic. It's a medicine."
"Oh. Look, I'm not a medic. I just know what to inject and when. It works fast okay, but only if you rest!"
I'm back on the edge of the bed, sweat trickling down my face, breath coming in ragged gasps. "Daniel's with Kai. I've got to..."
"What you've got to do is get back into bed." Brell moves into a matron-mode that makes Janet Fraiser look like Mother Theresa. "Jackson handed himself over to Kai to ensure you survive. I'll be damned if I'll let you go off on some half-baked rescue mission that'll screw that up." She glares at me. "One of you has to come out of this alive!"
She has a point. Unfortunately for her, it's one I don't want to hear. I won't - I can't - let Daniel martyr himself for me. I return her glare with one of my own. "I'm going after Daniel." I make sure my tone brooks no argument. "Now are you going to help me?"
She looks me straight in the eye. "No."
"Fine!" I push myself to my feet, sway dangerously, but manage to stay upright.
"This is suicide, O'Neill. There isn't any more Vyrn. If you don't rest, you won't be able to fight off the infection. You're undoing the very thing Jackson gave himself up for."
"And if I do rest and I get sicker?"
She doesn't have an answer to that. Taking care to avoid a headrush, I bend down and concentrate on pulling on my boots. Finally, knife in hand, I take two unsteady steps towards the door, leaning heavily on the frame as I reach it. Looking outside I have to admit Brell is probably right. I'm really not in a fit state to do this, but I'm not prepared to gamble Daniel's life on the chance that tomorrow I might feel better. I'm not too proud to make one last appeal, though. I look back at Brell. "I could really use your help."
Her face is taut with emotion. She taps the side of her head. "Do you know how many images of death I have in here? I won't add yours to it."
Disappointed, I grit my teeth and head out of the shelter, shutting her out of my thoughts. I'm going to need every bit of concentration, not to mention my black ops skills, to work my way through Kai's territory.
It's actually surprising how many shadows there are, despite the round the clock artificial lighting. The shelters have been arranged in small huddles, and the narrow alleys that run between them provide at least semi-darkness. Then there are the piles of trash - mostly empty food cans. Best of all though are the patches of gloom where the lights have blown. With a bit of skill and a large dollop of luck I'm able to drag my pathetically weak body safely through Migra's part of the complex and well into Kai's without being observed.
Like a climber seeking out footholds in a rock face, I'm constantly scanning ahead, looking for places I can hide, calculating distances and timing from one secluded spot to the next, and always, always moving silently. The minutes turn to hours as I'm forced to rest, battling against the desire of my body to give into the sickness that pervades it. But inch by inch... second by agonising second, I penetrate deeper into enemy territory. And then... finally... I see Daniel.
Relief and horror assail me - relief that I've found him, horror because Brell's description didn't do justice to his plight. He's lying on the ground, curled foetal-like on his side, eyes closed, his breathing hoarse and ragged. From my hiding place I'm probably no more than fifteen feet away from him, and I can see the angry swelling on his face where he's been hit. My stomach lurches as I promise myself Kai is going to pay dearly for that. Of more concern right now though is the rope tethering him to some sort of metal ring in the floor. My mind is calculating how long it will take to cut through it even while I try to get a better look at the knots just in case they provide a viable alternative for releasing him. No, definitely got to cut the rope - that's going to take, what? A minute? Perhaps two?
Then what? Do we run for it? The thought almost makes me laugh. I'm not exactly up to running and by the sound of Daniel's laboured breathing, neither is he. My thoughts cut off as Kai steps out of the shelter, a mug in her hand and two muscle-bound hulks behind her. She moves straight over to Daniel, nudging him none too gently with her foot.
"Are you thirsty, Shintac?"
My gut wrenches as Daniel's eyes flicker open, his gaze focusing on the mug. The longing in his expression is all too clear. Oh yes, he's thirsty. I almost want to applaud as he wrenches his attention away from mug and grinds out, "Go to hell".
A barely imperceptible nod from Kai launches the two goons towards him. Merciless hands close around Daniel's upper arms, pulling him to his knees. I wince as he gives a sharp cry, my mind only too ready to conjure up images of bruises and abrasions beneath his clothes. A hand in his hair yanks his head back.
"You will drink now," Kai says approaching him. She holds the cup to his lips but he clamps them tight. I swear softly, guessing what is going to happen next. Sure enough one of the goons jabs him hard in the back, grabbing hold of Daniel's chin as he opens his mouth to vocalise the pain. With his head pulled back even further, Kai pours water into his mouth and Daniel has no choice but to swallow or choke. Somehow he manages to spit out a curse between bouts of half-drowning, but Kai is definitely the victor in this particular round; Daniel is forced to drink.
I watch in horror the sick game played out in front of me. Daniel is clearly using desperate measures to maintain some level of control over the situation. There is little doubt in my mind that Kai expected to have him begging her for water, instead he's being the obstinate son-of-a-bitch I know so well, refusing to play the game. The frustration on her face is loud and clear, and Daniel, for all he's struggling to breathe, can see it too. Not only can he see it, I know it's giving him fresh resolve, and if there's one thing Daniel doesn't lack it's a suicidal helping of stubborn pigheadness.
The mug is almost empty when the screeching metallic sound that heralds a food delivery starts up. As Kai frowns in surprise, I offer up a prayer of thanks to which ever passing deity decided to toss this into the pot. Turning away from Daniel, Kai yells for Shotak. Almost immediately people start to run from the shelters, heading towards the delivery hall. I spot Shotak as he emerges from a shelter to the right. He looks concerned.
"Another delivery so soon?" he yells above the noise.
Kai shrugs. Glancing back, she beckons the two goons who are holding Daniel with a shake of her head. As they let him go, Daniel folds to the floor with another groan. He curls up in instinctive self-protection, coughing and wheezing, before risking raising his head to see what's going on. There is a brief discussion, then one of the goons returns to Daniel, apparently ordered to stand guard and not at all happy about it, as Kai, with Shotak at her side and the other goon bringing up the rear, heads towards the hall.
As Jeneath's ship connected with the outer hatch of the prison, Sam was waiting in the airlock. Her pulse quickened with anticipation at what she might find.
The soft hiss of a pneumatic motor warned her the airlock door was about to open. She pulled in a deep breath, trying to relax. Seconds later the door slid open.
Jeneath's voice immediately called out to her. "What can you see?"
Sam scanned the walls, seeing nothing. "Err..." A light at her feet caught her attention. Looking closer she saw it was a hatch cover, roughly rectangular. The light, or rather four individual lights, was coming from a smaller panel inset in the large one. "There's something down here on the floor. Some sort of panel with lights."
"Can you open it?" Jeneath was impatient now, pushing into the hatch behind her.
"Give me a moment!" Sam shook her head in exasperation. She glanced back and smiled as a hand appeared on Jeneath's shoulder, instantly followed by Teal'c deep tones.
"You would be wise to remain at the controls."
Jeneath squeaked audibly. "Okay... whatever. Just keep me informed."
Teal'c stepped into the airlock and gave Sam an inscrutable look. She mouthed a thank you to him and turned her attention to the hatch. Running her fingers along its edges, she found a slight groove between the cover and floor Whatever was holding the cover in place wasn't visible. Perhaps a magnetic seal. Or vacuum. Or maybe something much more mundane - a set of automatic bolts on the underside.
Unable to conjecture any further, she turned her attention to the smaller panel The lights were blinking at her from behind transparent square covers, their colours changing in what appeared to be some kind of short repetitive pattern, each light flicking from one colour to another with a timelag of a few seconds. She studied it for several moments until she was certain. Yes, when there was definitely a pattern. She carefully ran her finger over the surface of the nearest light, feeling it depress as she applied light pressure. Frowning, she looked up. "I think these lights are actually keypads. Key in the right combination of colours and, hey presto, the panel opens."
Teal'c frowned. "Do you know the correct combination?"
"Nope." Sam rocked back on her heels. "Jeneath?" she called loudly. "You're little plan doesn't include knowing the code to get in, does it?"
"Code?" Jeneath appeared at the door of the airlock.
Sam indicated the panel. "I think it's a colour combination."
He shrugged. "Can't you just figure it out?"
"It could be anything," Sam protested. "Four lights, six different colours..." She did a quick calculation. "That's over a thousand possible combinations."
"Great!" Jeneath looked disgusted. "The one thing I need you to do..."
"You said you had it all figured out!" Sam retorted.
Teal'c interrupted. "Can we not hotwire it?"
Sam stared up at him. "Hotwire it?" She smiled. "You've got to stop watching TV with the colonel." Turning her attention to Jeneath, her good humour vanished. "I'll need some tools."
Moments later suitably equipped, Sam carefully pried loose the upper most surface of the light panel just enough to be able to see beneath it. Holding it steady with her left hand she used her right to shine a flashlight into the recess below, trying to make sense of the alien technology. "No wires. I'd better be careful how high I lift it. I'm not sure exactly how the connections..." An ear-piercing whistle cut across her words, starling her. The panel slipped from her fingers. Pulling back slightly she stared at the panel in dismay. "Shit!"
The lights had suddenly switched from their leisurely dance to a rapid quickstep.
"Major Carter?" Teal'c shouted above the din. "What did you do?"
Sam swallowed. "I think I've just set off a tamper alert."
As if to show agreement, the whistle abruptly cut off and a male voice began to solemnly intone an alien language.
"Is that a countdown?" Sam demanded. She could her feel her pulse rate quickening and tried to take a couple of deep, calming breaths.
Jeneath nodded, his eyes wide with fear. "Do something?"
"Okay. Okay." Screw the de-stressing. Desperately Sam began to punch combinations. "How long do I have?"
"Not long!" Jeneath yelled.
"You do realise there's over a thousand combinations."
Sam punched more combinations, shaking her head furiously as each new one failed. Suddenly all four lights turned red. "Oh-oh. I don't think that's good."
Teal'c's hand dropped onto her shoulder. "Stand aside!"
Sam sprang out his way like a startled rabbit as he raised a zat gun and fired twice. The lights flashed brighter and then... darkened. Sam held her breath, wincing in fearful anticipation. Nothing happened.
Slowly releasing her breath, Sam's gaze swept back and forth double checking that the airlock really was still intact, eventually resting on Teal'c. A feeling of sheer relief spread through her. "You did it!"
Tilting his head to one side, Teal'c gave his version of a superior smile. "So it would seem."
Jeneath was staring at the zat gun. "Whoa! Neat weapon. What does it do to the human body?"
Teal'c eyed the Evesal coolly. "You would not wish to experience it."
"Right." Jeneath turned his attention to the hatch. "So... can we still open it?"
In response, Teal'c picked up the nearest equivalent to a crowbar, wedged it into the crack between hatch and floor, and applied his weight to one end. With a loud hiss, the panel flew open.
Pressure seal, Sam decided. Moving closer, she peered cautiously down the hole that was now visible "Looks like some kind of slide."
By now Coburn had also pressed into the airlock. He looked at the hole uncertainly. "Are you sure that's the way in?"
"There does not appear to be an alternative," Teal'c commented dryly.
"So you figure if we go down, we'll be able to get up again?" Coburn pulled the zat out his waistband.
"Only one way to find out," Jeneath commented.
Sam turned to Teal'c. "You willing to lead the way?"
"I'll go too," Coburn said. "We don't know what's down there. Teal'c may need back up."
"We will radio you from the bottom," Teal'c said, pulling out his zat and sitting on the lip of the slide.
Sam nodded, and with that Teal'c tilted his weight forward and let gravity do its job.
Standing beside Migra, Brell's sharp hearing picked up the sound of movement in the chute. Something was obviously on its way down, but it clearly wasn't the usual metal-clad delivery crate. A few brief seconds later, a large dark-skinned man flew out of the chute, executing a forward roll that both drained his momentum and brought him elegantly to his feet, some kind of weapon ready in his hand. Brell was impressed despite the fact she was on the wrong end of the weapon. She could sense the shock of the crowd around her at the unexpected arrival. Instinctively her hand moved to her knife, and she saw a flash of light from Migra's blade. She placed a cautioning hand on his arm - not that Migra wouldn't have figured out a blade was no match for the sophisticated looking device facing them.
Dark eyes swept over the crowd and then he spoke, his voice rich and deep. "Remain still and I will not hurt you."
Behind him, a second man arrived, hitting the floor with a soft exhalation. This one was younger than the first, pale skin under short black hair. Almost instantly he joined the other, who spoke to him in a low voice. "Major Coburn, I believe the angle of the chute will allow us to use it as an exit. Inform Major Carter it is safe to proceed. "
As the black haired man produced a communication device, Migra stepped forward. "Who are you?"
Teal'c didn't reply, instead his gaze quickly searched the crowd. "Where are Colonel O'Neill and Daniel Jackson?"
Brell's heart lurched as a ripple of exclamations raced through the gathered inmates. Could it be these were friends of O'Neill and Jackson? Or were they Evesal militia, send here with some official purpose? To release them? O'Neill had told her they were innocent of any crime. No, not military - she dismissed that idea as quickly as it came into her head. So, they were either friends or personal enemies of O'Neill and Jackson. But surely enemies would be perfectly happy to leave them rotting in an alien prison?
Migra considered for a moment, no doubt thinking similar things. "O'Neill and Jackson? What do you want with them?"
The man ignored the question, tipping his weapon to a slightly more aggressive angle. "You will tell me where they are."
Brell felt a ripple go through the crowd, a heady mix of fear and excitement. A quick glance around told her more eyes were now focused on the chute behind their visitors than on the men themselves, the possibility of escape floating almost tangibly into the minds of the crowd.
"Silence!" The man roared the word as a hum of conversation started up.
A soft thud behind him announced the arrival of a slender young woman, moments later followed by a wiry man and another female, this one petite with dark brown hair. The crowd was growing restless, single voices starting to sound over the speculative whispering. Rescue. Escape Exit. Brell could pick out individual words, understood the desperation that was brewing.
The slender woman quickly joined her companions, an identical weapon to theirs in her hand. The leader focused his gaze on Migra. "You will tell me now."
Brell saw Migra's eyes shift to the chute, raw longing in them. "If they leave, we all leave."
"That will not be possible."
Brell knew the man had made a mistake the moment the words left his lips. In an instant the crowd flashed into a mob. Two men lurched past her, their eyes wild as they threw themselves towards the chute. One of the weapons sparked, spitting blue energy across the room. The men hit the floor writhing and screaming. Others surged forward, and more blue light spat out. Brell hit the deck in self-defense, sheltering behind Migra who was twitching as the energy danced across his shoulders. Glancing back, Brell could see the inmates had given in to panic, some now trying to flee the room, adding further chaos.
As the crowd dispersed, the dark-skinned man grabbed the nearest prisoner, hauling the man almost off his feet. "You will tell me the location of Colonel O'Neill and Daniel Jackson now."
"Actually he won't. Drop your weapons. All of you."
The words came from behind the dark man, and Brell watched in fascination as he spun round to find one of his own team, the wiry one with the oily hair, aiming a small sidearm at him. Standing behind him was Kai, who was clearly finding this turn of events highly amusing.
"What is the meaning of this, Jeneath?" The rich bass voice carried a dangerous edge of anger in it.
Jeneath flexed his trigger finger pointedly. "Drop your weapons or I'll start shooting."
Lowering her zat gun, the slender woman spoke quietly. "Do as he says, Teal'c."
Teal'c. Jeneath. Brell was registering names. Trying to remember if O'Neill or Jackson had mentioned any of them.
With a face like thunder, Teal'c dropped his weapon to the floor.
"You too, Coburn. Doctor Fraiser." Jeneath said.
Doctor Fraiser. That one caught Brell's attention. The term 'doctor' wasn't unlike one her own people used to refer to a medic.
As the others dropped their weapons, Kai stepped from behind Jeneath, scooping up two of the guns and kicking the others to Jeneath's feet.
The woman Brell still didn't have a name for, gave Kai a filthy look. "You're his sister, right?"
Kai didn't reply. Instead she moved to Jeneath's side, kissing his cheek, her eyes glowing with pride. "You did it."
Jeneath risked a quick look at her. "I never break a promise." He backed towards the chute. "We'll be leaving now. I strongly advise none of you to follow."
"Wait!" the nameless woman called. "We had a deal. You can't just leave us here."
Jeneath smiled coolly. "You seriously think I'm going to risk taking you back? I'll let you into a little secret, Major, although you'd already started to figure it out judging from your conversation with Doctor Fraiser."
Major? That also sounded more like a form of address than a name.
"You were listening?"
Jeneath smile widened. "Yes. And you were right to be suspicious. I organised it all, Major. See, I'm part of the resistance group that will one day overthrow the Evesal government. And so is Kai." Jeneath shot his sister a quick smile. "She was imprisoned for her so-called crimes against the state. Unfortunately the group was unwilling to use its oh-so-valuable resources to enable her to escape. So I set about doing it myself, scraping together money for the ship, using my contacts to buy or steal the information I needed. When you came through the Great Circle offering technology to the government I saw the opportunity to add the final piece to my plan. The group had already organised the assassinations. It wasn't hard to persuade them to set up O'Neill and Jackson for the fall. In fact they welcomed the chance to upset the talks between you and the government."
The woman shook her head. "I don't understand how framing Colonel O'Neill and Daniel..."
"It was a gamble, Major. I gambled you or your people would attempt a rescue. And that I would be able to team up with you."
"But why not just do it alone? You had a ship. You had the information." The woman's eyes widened as she apparently made some kind of mental connection. She waved an arm around the room at the stricken bodies. "You needed us for this... because your people won't give you the resources... the manpower."
Jeneath nodded. "Very good, Major. I also needed you to hot wire the hatch although if I'd known how effective your weapons were... Well, we live and learn."
He took another step towards the chute. "Give my regards to O'Neill and Jackson." He turned to Kai. "After you."
Kai paused and gave Major a superior look. "Tell Jackson... it was a pleasure knowing him."
Brell felt her temper rise at the look on Kai's face. The bitch. What else had she done to Daniel?
His gun still trained on the team, Jeneath stepped aside to let Kai move into the chute. Abruptly she pulled up. "Did you disable the beam?"
Jeneath looked blank. "What beam?"
Suddenly Brell saw her chance. She did a quick calculation, weighed the odds. It was a risk... 'Tell Jackson... it was a pleasure.' To hell with the risk. If she could get at Kai she would. Tensing, she sprang, covering the distance between herself and Kai with more speed than she imagined herself capable of. Her right leg flew up, executing a perfect snap kick that caught Kai dead centre. With a yelp, Kai stumbled forward into the recess, the beam instantly bathing her with its deadly light.
As Brell hit the wall beside the chute with a heavy thud, she saw the one named Coburn throw himself at Jeneath. A fist caught Kai's brother square on the jaw and he crumpled bonelessly to the floor. Without hesitation Coburn ripped a strip of cloth from the bottom of Jeneath's tunic and set to work tying the man's wrists behind his back.
Climbing to her feet and rubbing at her bruised shoulder, Brell watched in fascinated horror as Kai writhed in the light. For the briefest of moments their eyes met, then the beam snapped off and Kai folded to the floor.
Brell turned away, glancing towards the shocked faces of the other two women. "Believe me, she had it coming" As Doctor Fraiser moved warily to the edge of the recess, Brell found herself being addressed by the other woman.
"Do you know where Colonel O'Neill and Daniel Jackson are?"
Brell considered for a moment, wanting to trust these people, but still uncertain. "First tell me who you are." She waited patiently as the woman gave her an appraising look before speaking.
"We're friends of the colonel and Daniel, if that's what's concerning you. I'm Carter. This is Teal'c. Coburn. Janet Fraiser."
"And I'm Brell."
The introductions were interrupted by the sound of Fraiser pulling Kai clear of the recess. The petite doctor checked for a pulse before straightening up and shaking her head towards Carter. "She's dead."
Carter nodded and then snapped her attention turned back to Brell. "Well?"
Brell nodded. "I can take you to Jackson. I can't promise you he's still alive."
Carter paled then, almost reluctantly, asked her next question. "And the colonel?"
"I don't know. He went to find Daniel, but he was pretty sick. He could be anywhere."
Daniel ducks his head back down as his guard glares at him. Me? I hold my breath, hoping the goon doesn't decide to take out his temper on Daniel before everyone leaves and the coast is clear for me to act. A couple of stragglers appear, calling to the guard as they go. He shouts back, making it perfectly clear what he thinks of Kai's orders - he raises a meaty fist above Daniel's head, but fortunately he's all mouth. The blow is just a feint, but he laughs as Daniel flinches. Bastard. My hand folds around my knife and I slide silently from my hiding place.
As he looks down at Daniel, an ugly smile stretches over his guard's ugly face. Daniel's reaction has clearly given the goon the idea that there is other sport to be had in Kai's absence. The horror on Daniel's face tells me he has recognised the danger too. No sooner has the thought entered my mind than the guard flips Daniel face down to the ground, pinning him with a heavy hand between his shoulder blades. I catch the tail-end of the obscenity the goon is describing to Daniel, the evil anticipation in his voice clearer than his words. Daniel's defiant reply earns him a genuine cuff to the head.
If I was lacking energy before, I'm certainly not now. I forget everything - the pain in my side, the weakness of my fever-racked body, the days of under-nourishment - every ounce of energy, every part of my will focuses on ramming my knife into the base of the bastard's skull.
I reach him just as his free hand drops to the waistband of Daniel's pants. He makes a soft grunt as my knife impacts, his hand flying up to his head. The knife is wrenched from my hand as he turns and for one horrific moment we stand face to face. His eyes are wide, disbelief blazing from them. He opens his mouth as though to speak, but then his knees buckle. Pulling back my right arm, I assist his downward journey with a blow to his throat that spins him back round. He topples across Daniel's legs, his body spasms and the air fills with the obscene sound of death, then there is silence.
Silence... for what seems like an eternity; and then suddenly Daniel is kicking and swearing, pulling his legs free. He swivels round on one hip, so he's lying on one side, his face set in a mask of fear, skin chalky white... and then he sees me. His gaze drift from my face to the dead guard and back again. "Jack?"
I don't know what else to say. From the contorted expressions Daniel is pulling, he's either to burst into hysterical laughter or cry. And I'm pretty sure which ever he settles on, I'll be joining him. Instead though, he looks away, curling up so his face is tucked almost into his armpit and draws in a huge shuddery breath before settling for an obscenity of his own. "Fuck."
The pathetic joke slices into the overwhelming emotion. Daniel is suddenly giggling like a schoolboy and I can't stop myself from laughing, despite the fact it's hell on my gashed side.
"Hold still," I beg between bouts of laughing and groans of pain. I start sawing at the ropes around his wrists. "We've got to get out of here."
The reminder sobers both of us up. Daniel's expression darkens. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Duh! "Think I was going to leave you to the likes of Kai and..." I nod towards the guard with disgust. "The likes of that."
"You shouldn't have come."
"Don't overwhelm me with gratitude."
Daniel shakes his head. "You don't understand." He hisses as the first strand of rope comes free. "I'm hurt, Jack."
I pause, grateful for an excuse to let my own body take a moment of rest. He's still lying on his side, his battered cheek uppermost. Gently I cup his face. "Nothing that can't be fixed there, Daniel. The nurses will soon be swooning over you again."
He pulls away irritably. "Not that. My side. I think... no, I know, I'm hurt bad, Jack. Shotak..."
"We'll deal with it." I attack the remaining strand of rope with new vigour, determined not to hear what he's saying.
The sound of voices approaching makes us both tense. Daniel tries to look over his shoulder, then catches and holds my gaze. "Get out of here, Jack. Go!" Desperation creeps into his voice. "This isn't betrayal. I'm already dead."
"No!" I pull the knife back and forth, cursing loudly.
"No, Daniel! I'm not leaving you." The rope comes free and I glance up just in time to see Shotak step into view. His face lights up with cruel delight as he sees me. Desperately I reach for Daniel's arm, pulling him to his feet. Daniel sucks up a groan, leaning heavily against me.
We swear in stereo. "Oh shit."
Shotak is covering the ground between us at a run. He's screaming something at us, something about being betrayed. About Kai being... dead? I hold my knife up, hoping the sight of the blade might just slow him down, make him think.
Daniel decides this is the ideal time to try and persuade me to go. "You can still get out of here, Jack. Leave me."
Not an option, Danny-boy! I try to ignore him, but he somehow manages to twist out my grasp and collapses to the floor, one hand clutching at his side. He peers up at me. "Go!"
What the hell does it take to convince him I'm not leaving without him? I shake my head and turn just as Shotak pulls to a stop in front of me, his own blade in his hand. He snarls ferally, and I know what he's thinking. He can take us easily. Daniel's already down for the count. As for me? Well, my hand is shaking so badly I can hardly keep a grip on my knife.
I say nothing. If he thinks it's fear making me shake it just might work to my advantage. Mustn't let him know the truth - that actually I'm so exhausted it's taking everything I've got to keep upright.
His eyes rake me from head to foot.
"Back off!" I try to make the warning sound genuine. Try to sound like I really am some kind of threat. It fails miserably. Shotak steps forward. I wait him out. He feints an attack, then another. That's okay. I can play the game. The third attack is real. My left hand flies up, pushing his knife arm away as I simultaneously attempt an attack of my own. My own knife arm is weak, though, my reactions too slow; he effortlessly blocks me, slamming his hand down on my wrist. My knife slides across the floor towards Daniel. For a moment Shotak stares at me, surprise on his face, then the penny drops. I'm unarmed and incapacitated. Drawing back his arm he slaps me hard across the face. Pain explodes across my cheek, shooting into my jaw and upwards into my skull. Red flashes dance before my eyes, and I hit the ground like a rag doll.
Other members of Kai's brigade are arriving now. They hurry over, voices raised and urgent. Clutching my jaw, I roll onto my back, trying to push through the pain, expecting at any moment to feel Shotak's knife between my ribs. Somebody yells something about the food delivery. I manage to see enough through the coloured lights that are still obscuring my vision to know our little drama has drawn attention. Kai's scum are making a bee-line to us like kids in a playground, barely holding short of shouting 'fight, fight!'. Shotak gives me a contemptuous smile, clearly welcoming an audience for his final victory as he plants his feet one either side of my rib cage.
As Shotak stands over me, waiting for his moment of triumph, his gaze flickers to Daniel. I can't be sure but I think Daniel's passed out. He certainly isn't moving. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, right now. Maybe it's best if he doesn't know what's happening. Maybe... Shotak smiles down at me and flicks his thumb against his knife, demonstrating its sharpness. "Time to see some blood flow," he says with relish. "First you. Then him."
I swallow hard, desperately trying to think of a way out. Behind him a flicker of movement catches my eye. I was wrong - Daniel isn't unconscious after all. His right hand snakes forward, and folds round the handle of my knife, and then... God, he must have a will of pure steel... then he starts to haul himself to his feet, grunting with the pain and exertion, his left arm curled around his abdomen.
He sways wildly as he finds his feet, takes a staggering step forward and then miraculously finds his balance. His head jerks towards the gathering mob and then he focuses on Shotak. Licking his lips, the knife shaking in his right hand, he spits out words in a desperate show of bravado. "Nobody... touches... my friend."
His words crash over me and it's all I can do to keep my emotions under control. Daniel, why? Why me? God knows I don't deserve what you're offering. What you've already offered.
Shotak looks at him and then throws back his head and laughs. Stepping away from me, he moves towards Daniel, tossing words back at me. "Change of plan, O'Neill. Gonna do the Shintac first."
As Shotak approaches, Daniel straightens his back and tries to steady his shaky grip on the knife, now holding it with both hands. The effort just emphasises the fact he can barely stand, and Shotak spits contemptuously at his feet before almost casually lashing out with an open right hand. The slap catches Daniel full in the face and he spins sharply round, hitting the floor face down, his breath knocked from him in an audible groan.
"No!" I scream the word as Shotak drops to his knees, straddling Daniel's back. Somehow I find the energy to roll over, to pull my knees under me and, in a pathetic crawl, to move - but it's too slow. I'll never reach Daniel in time.
Behind Shotak the spectators are pressing in, scenting blood and eager to see death. They urge him on, voicing what they want to see, what they want Shotak to do to Daniel, the sickness of the mob mentality all-pervading.
Shotak grabs Daniel by the hair, yanking his head back to reveal the vulnerable jugular veins to either side of his neck. No. No! This is not going to happen.
My knife. Where the hell is my knife? If I could just... there! My eyes focus on the weapon, lying on the floor behind Shotak. I crawl towards it, dredging up reserves of determination, turning my hatred of Shotak into energy... somehow I'm going to stop this.
I inch closer to them, aware that Shotak is speaking, his lips moving in a litany of sick anticipation. Daniel has his eyes squeezed shut, closing out the horror, his face almost... calm... resigned. No, Daniel. Don't... Just a few more feet... almost there...
As though in slow motion, I see Shotak's knife arm curl around Daniel's neck, ready for the kill, the jagged blade catching the light... A howl of denial rips from my throat as, with dreadful certainty, I realise I'm not going to make it.
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