"Let's do this," the colonel said. Sam took a breath and hit the enter key on the keyboard in front of her seat.
"Engaging hyperspace window."
A colorful phenomenon appeared just outside ahead of them and Sam tensed, her heart racing in anticipation. The X-302 surged forward and, in an instant, the quiet of the cockpit was shattered by the raucous sound of alarms and warnings. Just as abruptly, the 302 veered off course, jerking to the right with enough G's to make her feel queasy.
"Abydos One, this is mission command, do you read? We are still receiving your radio signal."
"I don't know, sir," Sam said.
"Mission Command, we missed the window," the colonel said, shrugging slightly.
"Abydos One, please explain."
"The autopilot engaged and we veered off course at the last second, Mission Command. Should we try it again?" Sam said.
"Stand by, Abydos one," Sam heard. She toggled the mic to intercockpit only. "I can write a work around," she said, doing her best to not be distracted by the view out the cockpit window. No matter how many times she'd been in space, nothing quite beat the thrill of Earth orbit.
"It's a safety protocol that we put in place, sir," she explained. "If the hyperspace generator can't reach a ninety-eight percent probability of success, the auto pilot kicks in."
"What percentage did we hit?" he asked.
Sam typed a few commands into the keyboard. "Seventy-eight percent," she answered.
"So what? One in four chance that something is going to go wrong?"
"Or a three in four that it'll go right."
His helmet nodded and he toggled the mic back on. "Mission control, Carter says she can write a way around whatever…glitch tossed us off course."
"We think your best course of action is to come back down," Murphy said.
Sam muted the mic again. "Sir, if we go back down, I don't know what else we'll do."
"We can't shut down the gate. We can't destroy it without blowing up the mountain. Short of the Tok'ra or Asgard dropping by in the next fifty or so hours, I don't know what else we can try."
"Abydos One?" Murphy said, obviously unnerved by their silence.
"Do it," Jack said before toggling the radio on. "We're gonna try overriding that protocol," he said as Sam started to pull up the commands.
"Colonel O'Neill, with all due respect, those protocols were put in place for a reason," Murphy protested.
"So's the 'No Parking' sign in front of Neelan Liquor, but people still park there," he replied. "Besides, we have just over two days and the planet's gonna take on hell of a hit. I think it's not unreasonable to take a few chances."
"Colonel, you can come down and we can get a team to go over the protocol."
"And waste time that we don't have," Jack said. "Anyway, if one in four jumps are a bust, we've already done that. The next three should be fine."
Sam looked up from her typing, ready to correct her CO's mangled math. She should tell him that one in four wasn't cumulative. It started over every jump they took. Then she changed her mind, remembering that he was advocating the same outcome she wanted. She typed a few more lines of code and saved her work. "Ready," she said.
He nodded. "Okay. Here goes nothing."
Over his shoulder, she saw his hand move, adjusting the hyperspace window generator. A shimmering blue light blurred into existence and their ship moved towards it.
With a flash, they were gone.
Jack groaned, slowly opening his eyes. Whatever he'd expected to see, it wasn’t a star field through the canopy. "Deja view all over again," he muttered. "Carter, you still with me?" He scanned the readouts on the controls.
"Yes, sir." Her voice was distracted, like her attention was definitely elsewhere.
"I know we just popped the cherry on this thing, but that wasn't what I was expecting."
"So, add that to the list of things Murphy needs to fix. Along with installing a cup holder. What heading do I take now?" Rationally, he knew that they couldn't exactly pop out of hyperspace in Abydos orbit – but he'd sorta expected to be relatively close to the planet. Something like 'hello, big yellow ball'.
"I'm aah, hang on." He could hear her typing and he just shrugged, turning his attention out the window. "I just hope it's not dinner time. Kasuf will be all offended if we don't stay, but you know, without the hooch to wash it down…" He broke off as something caught his eye. "Carter?"
"Abydos only has one sun," he said, staring at the twin globes of light just off his right wing.
"Where are we?" Jack asked, trying not to let the dread sound too much like panic.
"I don't know."
Sam typed, cursing when her fingers mangled the messages from her brain. "What do you mean?" the colonel asked.
"I don't know where we are," she said. "We should have come out just on the edge of the Abydos system."
"I don't know," Sam repeated. "I can't tell if we undershot or overshot. The only way I can find out where we are is to note the location of the stars and compare them to our maps."
She tried to keep her voice calm and refrain from telling him to shut the hell up and let her work.
"Okay," he said, his voice mercifully calmer. "Take your time and let me know when you have something."
He fell silent and Sam turned her attention back to the computer. She scrolled through the binary systems, desperately hoping to find one that matched the one they were in. All the while, part of her mind pondered the puzzle. How the hell had they gotten off course in the first place?
A long list of binary systems scrolled up the screen and Sam sighed, looking at her watch. "I think we better find a place to set down."
"We are sitting."
"No, sir, I mean a planet. I need to study the stars."
"These aren't enough for you?" he asked, motioning at the view out the canopy.
"Colonel, this may take me a few hours."
"It's not like I have a date or—"
"Sir," Sam interrupted. "The 302 has limited consumables."
"How long?" he asked, abandoning his teasing tone.
"We weren't expecting a long flight."
"Thirty-six hours total flight time," she said.
"The flight to Abydos was to have taken three hours, max. Besides, we only had time to get two of the twelve tanks manufactured. They gave us as much as they could," she explained.
"You can do your calculations from up here?"
"It could take me hours," she said. "Hours of life support we might need if we're too far off course."
"What about the fuel consumption of re-entry and taking off again?"
"We'll be fine," she said.
"Okay." The glider banked and turned towards the planets. There were six in the system. "Any one in particular?"
Sam checked the sensors. "The third, fourth and fifth can all support life," she said. "But the average temp on the third is 108F and the fourth is ninety-five percent jungle."
"What about the fifth?"
"It's cooler, even if the air is a bit thin. We wouldn't want to exert ourselves too much, but it should be okay for the short term."
"Monty, I'll take door number five," he said, maneuvering towards the planet. Sam watched as the green and purple orb grew larger and larger. "Which way is it spinning?" he asked, taking up a geostationary orbit above the terminator.
"Is it dawn or dusk below? If you need to observe the stars, we don't have a few hours to wait while the sun sets."
"Right," she said, kicking herself for not having thought of it. "That's dawn," she said, studying the line of light chasing away the night.
"To the backside it is then." He swooped over the pole and followed the terminator down, searching for a place to land. Sam simply read out speed and altitude, trusting him to do the rest.
Within a few minutes they were on the ground. They quickly completed the post flight check list and the colonel popped the canopy, letting in fresh air.
"Sir?" she asked as he undid his harness.
"I'm gonna go stretch my legs. Do a little recon and grab some firewood," he said as he stood up, favoring his injured knee.
Sam nodded staying seated even as she unbuckled her harness. She would stretch her legs later but right now she had more important work to do.
And the clock was ticking.
Jack glanced at his watch as he aimlessly poked the fire with a stick. Sparks flew up into the sky and his eyes followed them, his gaze staying elevated as the crimson sparks faded and were replaced by stars.
They weren't all white. That was something most people didn't realize. Even from Earth, you could see the range of colors. For example, Betelgeuse, part of the constellation Orion, looked orange to the naked eye. Out here, free from air and light pollution, the colors were even more pronounced.
He heard footsteps and glanced up to see Sam join him. She sat down with a sigh, stretching her legs out. Like him, she had her flight suit partially unzipped, revealing the t-shirt she wore under it. "We're two hundred and twenty-five light years from Earth," she said, taking a careful sip of water. They really didn't have much in the way of supplies. Just whatever odds and ends they each had in their vests, a change of clothes and a couple MRE's along with a couple bottles of water in their flight bags.
Jack had his knife and was pretty sure Sam had hers too. And that was pretty much the extent of their weapons. They didn't even have side arms. "P39235 is the sun in this system."
"I’m waiting for the other shoe," he said after a few seconds of silence.
"Abydos is 156 light years from Earth. Using the Greenwich meridian, it's at 86 degrees. This system is at 117."
Jack thought for a second. "So we're seventy some light years off."
Sam shook her head. "We're almost three hundred. More if you take into account the difference on the equatorial axis."
Jack shrugged. "You know, once you hit three hundred…." He let his voice trail off.
"Yeah," she sighed.
"So?" jack asked after a few more seconds.
"Course is plotted and we can leave right now," she answered. "Even though I still don't know how we got so far off course in the first place."
"As long as we can get back on course, we'll figure the rest out later." It did bug him that they still had no idea what the problem was. But it wasn't like they could do anything about it. They were stuck on a planet with little supplies, a clock ticking on Earth blowing up and their ship, even if its navigation was questionable, was their only hope.
Jack got to his feet and brushed the dirt off his backside. "I'll take care of pre-flight if you put out the fire."
She screwed the cap back onto her water and stood up, stretching slightly. "You need to stretch your legs, don't go far," he warned, aware that after sitting in that cockpit for the past three hours, she probably needed a few minutes privacy behind a bush.
"I didn't scout more than checking out the 'runway'. The last thing we need is to run into any of the local fauna."
"Right, I'll be back in five."
She retreated into the shadows and Jack made his way over to the 302, glancing after her every few seconds. He wasn't trying to invade her privacy, but if something happened, the only defense they had was their knives and themselves.
Just as he was finishing his walk around of the exterior, Sam rejoined him and he climbed up onto the wing, using it to gain access to the cockpit. He ignored the twinges from his knee and the fact that Sam was a lot more nimble as she clambered into the back seat.
It took them just a few moments to finish their pre-flight and for Jack to fire up the engines. "I think we're gonna have to blow the rockets," he said. "We don't exactly have a runway to roll out on."
"Yeah," she answered. "There should be enough thrust to get us up high enough that you can kick in the jets."
Jack maneuvered the 302 across the clearing, hoping like hell that they didn't hit a hole or rock that would damage the landing gear. As soon as he felt that they could, he hit the rockets, pulling the stick back to force the 302 into the sky.
They left the planet's atmosphere and climbed into the blackness of orbit. "Ready?" he asked.
"Course is plotted and ready," she answered.
"Hit it," he ordered.
"Hitting it," she replied.
The inky star field split and spilled forth a pool of shimmering blue. Jack steered the 302 towards it and felt it pull them in. A few dizzying seconds later, the vortex spit them out and Jack's hands tightened on the controls, frantically jerking the 302 to the left as a large red ball filled his vision. "Damn!" he said, fighting against the gravitational pull of the planet they'd nearly jumped into the middle of.
"I don't know," she interrupted. "That's not Abydos."
"Ya think?" Now that burning up in the atmosphere was a bit more unlikely, Jack relaxed a bit.
"Colonel, I have no idea what's going on. I checked the math ten times. We should be half a light year from Abydos. I ran the algorithm twice…"
She continued to talk but Jack tuned her out, studying their surroundings. He wasn't going to understand half of what she said anyway. A light in the distance moved and Jack stared, frowning as it got larger.
"Maybe the database got corrupted somehow when it was transferred to the on board computer?"
The light grew even larger and split into three separate forms and Jack's stomach dropped. "Carter?"
"This can't be another of Apophis' booby traps. We used minimal components from the original death gliders."
"CARTER!" Jack yelled, turning the 302 around and hurrying away from the approaching ship. "We need to jump."
"Colonel, I can't—"
Three more death gliders rose up from the planet's surface and Jack cursed under his breath. "They not only outnumber us, they sure as hell out gun us. We need to jump."
"I can't just plot a course from nowhere. We could end up inside a sun or—"
"We're dead if they catch us. Pick a heading and jump, NOW!"
"Jumping now," she said. The hyperspace window appeared and Jack flew towards it, gratefully leaving his pursuers behind.
This time when they jumped back into normal space, they were mercifully alone, and conveniently not nearly in a planet's atmosphere. "I’m getting too damn old for this," Jack said.
"No sign of pursuit," Sam said.
"And we're still not at Abydos," he said.
"Okay," he said. "I think it's pretty clear that the navigation on this bird is screwed."
"Maybe if I check the code—"
"No," he interrupted. "We got what? A few thousand gates in the universe?"
"Maybe more. Our databanks have about eight thousand accounted for, although we've verified only a fraction of those. And a good chunk of them are on goa'uld occupied worlds."
"And a good chunk aren't. Find out where we are, find a gate and we'll go from there."
"Why the hell couldn't the gate be out in the middle of nowhere?" Jack asked.
"I think the more pertinent question is why do they have to hang around it," Sam said.
Jack glanced at her before sliding down off the dune they were laying on. He rolled over and sat up, noticing that she did the same. "That looks like an active mine," she said.
They were both wearing their fatigues, having abandoned the flight suits along with the 302 a few miles off into the desert.
"Yeah, but small scale," Jack agreed. "Maybe a minor goa'uld. Maybe they don't have enough slaves to keep the mine running at full capacity."
"There's still more than enough between us and the gate. We need a distraction," she said.
"Maybe during meal break."
"We have less than then twenty-four hours," Jack said. It had taken them almost a full day to find a fix on their location and compare that to their list of known gates. This was the only planet with a usable gate that they could reach. "For all we know those people won't take a break until nightfall."
"I didn't pack any C4," she warned.
He shrugged. "We'll just need to do it low tech. Those scaffolding like shelters should go up like matchsticks."
He rolled back onto his stomach and crawled back up onto the dune. Below them the settlement was spread out. A large pyramid dominated far to the right and the gate was almost a mile away to the left.
In between was sprawled a motley collection of open sided shanties, barely sturdy enough to give the inhabitants a break from the unrelenting sun. Tattered bits of cloth fluttered forlornly in the breeze as people walked back and forth, intent on their tasks.
In the distance Jack could see the entrance to the mine. Workers trudged in and out, struggling to push carts loaded with rock.
"We'll need to steal some clothes," she said. "And hope they don't connect the sonic boom we made when we entered the atmosphere with a couple of strangers."
Jack nodded. "The one good thing about desert planets. Robes and hats should help. We'll get some clothes. You hang near the gate, I'll indulge my internal pyromaniac, you dial G'Tau."
"And you run like hell to get to the gate," she said, staring him down. Jack shook his head slightly. "Colonel?"
"I’m not going to be running marathons with this knee." He shifted his weight slightly. In many ways his knee was fine. But in others, it wasn't. Flying the 302, not a problem. But running across a half mile of desert sand?
"Then you dial the gate and I'll—"
"No," he interrupted. "Look all I can tell Thor is that our gate is going to blow up. The two of you might come up with something. I'm not going to just hang back and wait to get captured but…you can't wait for me. In less than twenty-four hours the planet is going to blow up. That's our first priority."
She stared at him for a few seconds and he could tell that she was trying to come up with another solution. Finally, she nodded, agreeing even as Jack knew she didn't want to.
"We'll grab some clothes. You get close to the gate and wait for my signal. I'll try to make it but if I don't or if things get too hairy, you get to G'Tau. I'll either catch up later or fine somewhere to lie low. I can always fall back to the ship and use it to put some distance between me and whomever is running this place."
Following his instructions, they slid down the dune and carefully made their way to the edges of the settlement. Once there, Jack found a few robes hanging just inside one of the structures. He guessed that they were spares for whomever 'lived' there. He handed one to Carter and pulled the other over his head. Carter picked up a version of a hat and used it to disguise her hair.
"Okay," Jack said.
"I'm not going to argue, Major."
"I'm not arguing. We're on P3X396. The next closest gate is on P4Y295."
"You said there was no other gates within range," Jack said.
Carter smiled. "P4Y295 is twelve hours flight away. The 302 has eight hours of air for two…but sixteen with only one crew. If things go nuts here, you can program in P4Y295 and hopefully use that gate to…"
"Get home in time for the big boom?" Jack asked sarcastically.
"Find a non-goa'uld occupied world," she corrected. "Maybe somewhere safer than here."
Jack nodded, acknowledging what she was doing. She was giving him an escape route.
"Wait for my signal," he said. The two of them separated and Jack made his way through the settlement, searching for a good place to set up his distraction while Sam made her way around the outskirts of the settlement, taking the long way to the gate.
He felt bad about destroying one of these shanties. These people not only didn't have much, they really had nothing at all. It almost looked like a stiff breeze would blow the shelters down. Not to mention that he really saw nothing in any of them of a personal nature. It's like they weren't afraid that anything would get stolen because they had nothing to steal.
"We'll come back," he muttered, sighing softly. Surely they had enough favors to call in to come back and roust the goa'uld and give these people a chance for a better life. "Presuming, of course, that I have somewhere to come back from."
Jack picked out a likely target and moved towards it, glancing towards the gate to see if Carter was in position. He knew that he wouldn't have much time to get to the gate, but he had to make sure that Carter was in position or this whole thing would be a waste.
Jack lingered by the shelter, gathering bits to use as kindling as he tried to be discreet as he kept his eyes on the gate. Finally, a familiar figure moved next to the DHD and Jack got ready to make his move. Pulling a book of matches out of his pocket, he knelt down beside the small pile of starter material, and lit a match, cupping the delicate flame with his hand. He lit the kindling, using his hands to protect the fire as he blew on it gently, encouraging it to grow.
A small tendril of smoke curled up and Jack stood back, glancing around as the flames grew, leaping from his kindling to start to work their way up the support poles.
Jack distanced himself further, hoping to work his way towards the gate. If he knew Carter, she was standing close to the DHD, waiting for the inhabitants to notice his fire and try to put it out.
He was maybe fifty yards away when the first cry rang out. People began to run past him and Jack stepped up the pace, jogging towards the DHD. He saw Carter start to dial and Jack actually started to consider that they both might get off this planet.
The gate splashed open and Jack stopped, staring at Carter. She shook her head and moved away from the DHD, signaling that she hadn't opened the gate.
The spectacle of the gate opening hadn't gone unnoticed by the inhabitants and they abandoned the burning structure, now running past Jack and towards the gate. Around him, cries of 'our goddess returns' and 'we must welcome her' filled the air and Jack slowed his pace. If there really was a goa'uld coming, the last thing he needed was to get too close to it. If they were lucky, maybe everyone would retreat to the pyramid and leave him and Carter alone.
A figure stepped through the gate and Jack saw the people fall to their knees, paying the 'proper' respect to their goddess. Glancing around, Carter followed suit, kneeling in the sand just a few yards from the goa'uld. The woman paused, hesitating unexpectedly and Jack froze, hoping that no Jaffa were going to join her.
The gate closed and still the woman stood there. Even from his distance, Jack could see an odd expression on her face. If he had to describe her expression, Jack would call it hesitant, almost afraid.
He saw her look around, her eyes finally setting on Carter. In an instant Jack knew that the crap was about to hit the fan. "Dammit," he muttered, sincerely regretting not having a side arm.
As he watched, the goa'uld raised her voice, shouting something as she pointed towards Carter. Jack saw Sam shake her head, holding a hand out as she struggled to her feet, trying to retreat.
The goa'uld raised her right hand, the sunlight glinting off some sort of weapon. "NO!" Jack yelled, abandoning the need for discretion as he realized that he was about to witness the death of another teammate.
The goa'uld fired her weapon and Carter flew back, crashing into the sand. The inhabitants who at first had moved away from her, now closed in. Helpless, Jack watched in horror as they picked Sam up, dragging her away from the gate and towards the pyramid.
Jack wanted to go after her, he needed to go after her.
Closing his eyes, he balled his fists and tamped down the nausea swirling in his gut.
In less than twenty-four hours the planet is going to blow up. That's our first priority.
His own words damning him to a nightmarish future, Jack forced his eyes open. He watched until the mob entered the pyramid, burning the image into his memory. "I'll be back," he said. "I don't give a damn what it takes, I WILL be back," he promised.
His heart heavy, Jack easily made his way to the abandoned DHD and dialed the address of G'Tau. He climbed the dais and paused, taking one last glance towards the pyramid before he stepped through the gate, fulfilling his duty towards his planet even as he realized the cost may very well be his soul.
The mob dragged Sam towards the pyramid and she didn't fight, instead she concentrated on breathing and not tripping over her purloined robes. Whatever the goa'uld had shot her with wasn't a projectile weapon, but seemed to be sort of like an air rifle. Sam didn't feel that she was bleeding, but did feel like she'd been kicked in the chest.
The crowd was angry but not necessarily violent as they pushed her along. They seemed to just be following the Goa'uld's orders and did so with enthusiasm as more and more abandoned their work to join the mob.
Aware that the colonel was around somewhere, Sam craned her neck, hoping to see a friendly face. She knew that there was nothing he could do, even armed the two of them couldn't take on a mob of this size. But they could plan for later when things calmed down.
In less than twenty-four hours the planet is going to blow up. That's our first priority.
Sam's stomach dropped as she remembered the colonel's words. If he was smart, he was taking advantage of the distraction of her capture and was or had already gated to G'Tau. Because that's what he would have expected her to do.
Acknowledging that her best bet was to act and think as if she was on her own, Sam changed her focus, instead of looking for a rescue, she started planning for an escape.
As they approached the pyramid, the crowd parted, moving to the sides as if they weren't allowed inside. They dragged Sam through the crowd and she did her best to keep her head down and avoid eye contact. The last thing she needed was for someone to feel challenged and to try and attack her. If she was truly on her own, she needed to be as fit and mobile as possible to escape, even if that meant eating a little crow and being a pleasantly amenable prisoner. And she didn't have to be a genius to know this mob could tear her to bits with their bare hands.
Only a few of them actually entered the pyramid and Sam blinked, the sudden change from hot, bright and noisy to dim, cooler and quiet catching her a bit off guard.
Ahead of her, the goa'uld continued on her way as the group holding Sam paused, as if they were unsure what to do.
After a few seconds, one of them pushed forward, hurrying after the goa'uld. Sam watched as he got ahead of her and stopped her progress, throwing himself to his knees directly in her path.
They spoke for a second, then the goa'uld walked around the man. He fumbled to his feet and hurried back to the group. "Azdak?"
"Our queen Qetesh says to put the prisoner into the cell until she has time to interrogate her."
"Then we shall place her there," the man holding Sam's left arm said. She was shuffled down a short hall and into another room. In the middle was a cage of sorts, four stone pillars securing what looked to be iron or steel bars both as walls and as a ceiling. Azdak unlocked the door and opened it, quickly standing out of the way.
Sam was pushed into the room and heard the door clang shut as she turned around to face her captors.
"You will remain here until our queen decides what your fate shall be," Azdak said.
Sam shrugged, acknowledging that she really didn't have much of a choice. "Can I at least have some water?" she asked. Azdak frowned. "It was hot outside, I'm thirsty."
Azdak stared at her for a few seconds, then turn and left the room, giving no indication as to whether he'd be back or not. Sam shook her head and explored her cell, giving each bar a cursory shake and twist. Other than a shelf like bed against one wall, the cell was empty. The bars of the walls were set into holes in the floor just as the horizontal stabilizing bars were set into the stone pillars. Both methods left no obvious seams or rivets to be exploited. Not surprisingly, none of the bars were loose. Figuring that she'd need more mental strength than brute strength to get out of the cell, she sat on the shelf, getting up after a second to pull the robe over her head. She balled it up and used it as a pillow as she laid back, conserving her energy as she waited.
"Do it," General Hammond ordered. Daniel left, Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c following in his wake.
"Who are these other goa'uld?" Sam asked, turning her attention back to the holographic display set up on the briefing room table.
"Most of them are pretty harmless," her father said. "The ones that don't have enough power to be called a system lord usually ally themselves with one. They kiss up and 'help'." He made quote signs with his fingers. "Usually until they have enough power of their own to try and push a system lord out and take over his or her holdings."
"Sounds like DC," Sam said.
Her dad chuckled. "In more ways than one. It can sometimes work in our favor." He pointed at one of the symbols. "This is Qetesh. She's a minor goa'uld who's allied herself to Ba'al."
Jacob waved her off. "One of our operators has spent the last year getting close to Qetesh. The security around a system lord is pretty tight, but not nearly as much around their lieutenants."
"Who happen to be in on all the secrets," Sam said.
"Right. Secrets Qetesh can be persuaded to share."
"What about the host?" Sam asked.
"You're going to remove the goa'uld, right?" she asked. "What are you going to do with the host?"
Her father sighed and looked down, his eyes flaring as he raised his head, signaling that Selmac was in control. "Samantha, many of the hosts have been blended for so long---"
"So you're not even going to try?"
"The physiological changes—"
"I know," she interrupted again.
"Some hosts have been hosts for so long that they cannot live without the symbiote."
"But some might," Sam said.
"Samantha, even if we can overcome the host's physical dependence upon the symbiote, I am sure that I do not need to remind you of the psychological ramifications of a host losing his or her symbiote."
Sam stared, caught off guard by Selmac's low blow. "Would it kill you to try?" she challenged.
"No, it wouldn't," Jacob said, clearly taking control from his symbiote. "Kid, it's nothing personal," he said, reaching out to take her hand. "And if we can, we'll try to save the host. But sometimes, sometimes death is a mercy."
Sam nodded, unable to disagree. Jacob leaned forward and turned off the holo emitter. "Maybe we should go and check on Doctor Jackson," he said.
Her memory giving her a clue as to her host's identity, Sam relaxed, the exhaustion of the past few days catching up with her as she fell into a restless doze.
Qetesh stepped into the room, frowning when her prisoner made no move to acknowledge her. As she got closer she could feel the uneasy tingle of naqahdah shiver down her spine. "I did not imagine it," she whispered, sighing with relief. At least this much of her sanity was intact.
Discerning that the woman was asleep, she moved closer, studying her prisoner. She was slight of build and dressed in the most unflattering clothing. Her light colored hair, while an appealing color, was most atrociously cut and Qetesh wondered if the woman was deliberately trying to make herself unattractive. Qetesh slowly paced around the cage, trying to make some sense of the woman's appearance.
She had naqahdah in her blood, yet had manifested no signs of being a host. Her voice was that of a human – then again, altering ones voice was the most primitive of godly signs. And the prisoner had also exhibited no extra strength during her capture – a time when, if she had strength, you would expect one to use it.
The woman had also not professed to have the identity of a god or goddess…and using ones' earned name and reputation was the most common method of asserting ones presence.
Why? Why was she pretending to be a normal human? Why was she here?
According to Azdak, the woman was a stranger. None of the workers knew of her, yet no one had come through the chappai since Qetesh's own departure years ago.
Was she a goa'uld in hiding? If she was, she had indeed been laid low. Unless she was here at the behest of one of Ba'al's enemies. Perhaps she was here to use Qetesh to infiltrate Ba'al's ranks.
Or was she a Tok'ra?
The very name made Qetesh's stomach turn. Why would they be here? Hadn't the Tok'ra done enough? What more could they want from her?
"My Queen, I am sorry." A figure appeared and knelt at Qetesh's feet.
Shocked from her reverie, Qetesh looked down at the supplicating figure. "Azdak, what are you doing here?" she asked, refraining from acting out and striking the man.
"Forgive me, my Queen, but the prisoner asked for water." He stuttered out the words as if he was afraid to speak. Afraid. That was good. Afraid meant that they would not question. And they could not question, not right now. Not until she had time to come up with some answers.
"She did, did she?" Qetesh noted the cup of water in the man's hand and glanced over at the prisoner. Interrogation. That would serve nicely. It would be a welcome distraction. "I do not recall giving you permission to give the prisoner water."
Azdak glanced up, his eyes wide. "I am most sorry, my Queen. I did not think that you would have issue. Please, I apologize." He prostrated himself on the floor and Qetesh could see his hands shaking.
"Of course, you did not think," Qetesh said, pitching her voice to be calm and reasoning. "It is my fault, I have left you alone too long and you have grown ill used to the proper way to do things. Get up and hand me the water," she said.
Azdak fumbled to his feet, spilling some of the water out of the cup as he held it out to her. Qetesh took it, smiling gently. "You have done well, and your queen bears you no ill will. Please, see to my meal. I will take care of the prisoner."
"Yes, my Queen." He bent from the waist and clumsily backed out of the room. Qetesh waited until he was gone before she turned towards the prisoner, staring at her for a second before she moved her arm, sending the contents of the cup splashing across the woman's sleeping face.
Sam sputtered, raising one hand to swipe the water out of her eyes as she sat up. She looked over at the goa'uld, glaring as the woman smiled. "Azdak said that you wanted water," she said, shrugging, her shoulders left bare by the light colored dress. At least, Sam thought that it was a dress. The top had numerous cutouts, strategically placed to cover all the necessary bits but to also bare more than a little skin. The skirt was more a collection of cloth that hung haphazardly around her legs and revealed knee high, soft leather boots the same dark color of the fingerless gloves that covered the woman's lower arms.
"Water, yes, a shower, no," Sam replied, shaking her hands to dry them.
"One cannot always have everything one desires," the goa'uld said.
"Qetesh, right?" Sam asked, forced to turn as the goa'uld began to slowly pace around the perimeter of the cage.
"Now you have me at a disadvantage," Qetesh said, tossing her long, dark hair.
"Sam." She wasn't going to give her last name, mindful of the fact that – as the colonel liked to say – they were 'famous'.
Qetesh paused, eying Sam up and down. "I knew a Sam once. You look nothing like him."
Sam shrugged. "What can I say, my father wanted a boy."
"Which proves my point about one not always getting what one wants," she said triumphantly. Her smile faded in an instant. "However, what I DO want is to know why you are here."
"Just passing through," Sam said casually.
"And my people tell me that the chappai has not been activated by anyone but them since I left."
"There's a settlement two weeks walk over the mountains--"
"There is no settlement," Qetesh interrupted.
"How do you know? You haven't been here in years," Sam countered.
"Doesn't know everything. No one would even notice if a handful of people just struck out on their own. And even if they did, I doubt they'd spare the manpower to search."
"So you're telling me that you abandoned your duty and have been hiding in the mountains?"
Sam shook her head. "I didn't say that. And speaking of abandoning, who's the queen that hasn't been here in so long she doesn't even know what's going on?"
Qetesh's eyes narrowed. "Do NOT presume to judge your queen!"
"You're not my queen," Sam said, keeping her tone as even as possible. "In fact, I'm wondering just what your game is."
"When a host is injured, the symbiote usually heals it within a day or two. Long before bruises turn yellow." Sam motioned towards a large bruise on the woman's side, just visible through one of the cut outs on her dress.
Qetesh's hand flew to her side and she stared at Sam for a second before her eyes narrowed. She turned on her heel and stalked from the room, her long skirt flying behind her.
"That went well," Sam muttered, staring after the retreating figure for a second before she sat back down on the shelf, careful to keep away from the damp spot. "I shoulda brought a book."
Qetesh stomped into her chamber, ignoring Azdak as she slammed the door in his face.
'Long before bruises turn yellow.'
The prisoner's words echoed in Vala's ears and she raised her hands, attempting to block it out. She closed her eyes and sank to her knees as memories washed over her.
Betrayal as one of her own shot her, kidnapping her from the palace.
Cold and dark tunnels, heavy manacles holding her motionless.
Wave after wave of pain as Qetesh was removed, the symbiote struggling with its last bit of strength to remain.
Hard voices asking question after question, not accepting when she said that she didn't remember.
Sick and cold, fever and chills as her body reeled from the changes and her treatment.
Callous hands that showed little care and no mercy as they took her, discarding her helplessly back amongst those she had once ruled.
Hatred and fear from her former subjects. Jeering voices and cruel words as they abused her, taking out years of hate and resentment in physical abuse and pain.
They kept her for months. Tormenting and taunting. Until one day. One day they got careless. One day they got too close.
It was a day some never lived to regret.
It had taken her weeks to remember this planet. Weeks while she wandered from planet to planet, seeking refuge and finding none.
Weeks of hunger and fear. Weeks of pain and loneliness. Weeks when she'd wished for it all to just end.
"My Queen. My Queen." Frantic hands fumbled at her shoulders and it was all Vala could do to not strike out. "Are you harmed? My Queen, are you in pain? Should I fetch the healer?"
Slowly she shook her head, forcing herself to look at Azdak. "No, I am...there is no need." She could not let a healer near her. The healer would know what she had been, and what she was now. They would hurt her, just like the 'healer' of the Tok'ra had. She would die before she would submit herself to anyone again.
"Is it the prisoner?" he asked. "She...she has harmed you," he said, his earnest eyes going hard. Vala slowly shook her head, unable to verbally deny the man's words.
"You are gracious to show such mercy. Too gracious. I must do my duty and serve my Queen."
He got to his feet and Vala stared after him watching as he fled the room. Serve? She hadn't asked him to do anything. He didn't have any serving to do.
Her instincts screamed at her to follow him and she scrambled to her feet, brushing tears off her cheeks as she left her chambers.
She hurried towards the cell, raised voices confirming her suspicions. Just as she crossed the threshold she heard the whine of her energy pistol, followed too quickly by the cry of pain and the sound of a body hitting the floor.
"Azdak, NO!" she yelled, stopping him as he aimed a second – and possibly fatal – shot at the woman.
"My Queen." He threw himself to his knees, the pistol still grasped in his hand.
Vala bent down and took it from him. "Open the door," she ordered.
"My Queen, the prisoner--"
"Open. The. Door!" she cut him off, turning her attention to the woman lying unconscious in the cell.
Azdak hurried to obey her command, nearly tearing his robe in his effort to retrieve the key. "She hurt you. She cannot be permitted to harm my Queen," he explained, wincing as she tore the key from his hand. She shoved it into the lock and opened the door, still unsure why she felt the prisoner was so important. "Do you not remember, My Queen? When last you were here. You made us all swear that we would protect you." He thrust his arm out. "You even took our blood, making us swear on the blood of our fathers and our children that we would always protect you."
Vala ignored him and felt for the woman's pulse, relieved when she found it regular, if a bit weak. "When last I was here?" She looked up over her shoulder. "Azdak, you must have been a child."
He shook his head. "I was a man."
She stared, thinking back. "I served in Ba'al's court for nearly a decade."
"Perhaps I was young, but I as still a man. In fact, you yourself, chose me to be one of your mates. Sadly, you left before my time came but...I was a man," he said, his voice strong with wounded pride and denied adoration.
She got to her feet. "Azdak, you have done your service faithfully and well, despite my absence. But this prisoner cannot die." She looked back at the woman. "She still has many questions to answer." She looked down. "One of which I can answer myself." She knelt down and rolled the woman onto her front and pulled down her collar exposing the back of her neck. "No entry scar," she whispered as she palpated the area, feeling nothing but bone and muscle. "And where is your symbiote?" she asked, realizing that the woman's continued unconsciousness confirmed her unblended state.
Vala sighed and got back to her feet. "Care for her and make her comfortable," she ordered. "But do not let her leave this cell."
"Yes, My Queen." Azdak bowed and Vala walked past him.
"Her life is mine. And it shall not be ended until I say so," she said, careful to stare at him until he met her gaze.
Azdak bowed low and Vala returned to her chambers. The woman was still a mystery, and there was nothing Vala enjoyed more than solving a mystery.
Sam slowly sat up, her gaze fixated on Azdak, who hovered just outside her cage. She leaned her back against the bars and worked to control her breathing. Her chest ached. It wasn't the sharp stab of broken ribs but just a wide spread ache that alternatively made it hard to breathe and made her stomach turn.
"Do you need a healer?" Azdak asked.
Sam glared. "After you just tried to kill me?"
He looked down. "My Queen has ordered that I should care for you and that I cannot cause you harm," he said. He looked up. "I shall do as my Queen commands."
"Good for you," Sam muttered, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. She could hear him shuffling and shifting his weight from foot to foot and she really didn't care. Maybe he'd get bored and go away and leave her alone.
She finally heard him retreat and she sighed, relaxing slightly. She patted her pocket, smiling at the small, hard form there. She'd just wait a bit before she returned to what she had been doing when Azdak had interrupted her.
While she recovered, she contemplated her host. This Qetesh was no normal goa'uld and Sam knew that she'd struck a nerve. Qetesh was 'faking' it, pretending to still be blended. And Sam had a bad feeling that she'd overplayed her hand by revealing her supposition.
If this host was really on the run and trying to keep a secret, Sam was a threat.
Sam didn't know why she was still alive. Of course, with her luck, it was probably because the goa'uld wanted to torture her before she killed her.
"Azdak said that you were thirsty."
Sam opened her eyes, alarmed to see the goa'uld standing just outside the bars. The woman had a cup in her hand and held it out. Mindful of her last thoughts, Sam refused to take it. "It is not poisoned," Qetesh said. "I give you my word." Sam just stared at her and the woman sighed dramatically. She took an exaggerated sip and stepped forward, setting the cup within Sam's reach. "And since you so astutely determined my current state, if the water is poisoned, it will effect me too."
Sam leaned forward and picked up the cup, taking a drink of the water. She needed the hydration. "Who are you?" Qetesh asked.
"I told you, my name is Sam."
Qetesh shook her head. "The symbiote you carried."
"No one you would know."
"Try me," she insisted.
"Jolinar," Sam finally said.
Qetesh looked at her, then stepped back, her eyes narrowing. "Tok'ra," she bit out.
"May as well have been a goa'uld," Sam said. She looked at Qetesh, staring her in the eyes. "She was running from the Ashrak. She took me without permission and used me to hide. But she didn't do a very good job because the Ashrak found us eventually." Sam stopped, even years later the fear and pain of that attack making stomach turn.
"You should have died," Qetesh said. "If not at the hands of the Ashrak, then at the hands of Jolinar."
"Didn't work that way," Sam said, choosing to let Qetesh make her own interpretation of events.
"Why are you here?" Qetesh's voice was calmer and Sam took that as a good sign.
"My ship crashed about four days walk to the west," Sam answered, deliberately telling Qetesh the wrong distance and direction from where the 302 really was. "I just wanted to get off world." Qetesh frowned. "If you hadn't have noticed me, I'd have been gone hours ago."
"Where would you go?"
Sam shrugged. "There's a few planets out there where a person can seek refuge."
"Such as?" Qetesh fished.
Sam smiled. "The sort of places that aren't very welcoming to those the blab."
"I could make you tell me," Qetesh threatened.
"And I could tell your people that you're no more of a god than I am," Sam countered. Qetesh's mood changed and she frowned. "Of course," Sam said quickly. "If you let me go, I won't be around to tell anyone anything." Sam got to her feet. "You could even escort me to the gate yourself. I'll go and I'll never come back and you can do whatever you want here."
"Or I could lock you up in the deepest dungeon and insure that no one ever speaks to you ever again," she threatened, stepping back. "Do not forget that this is MY planet. MY people and I control what happens here."
Sam stared at Qetesh, aware that the woman could easily make good on her threat.
Azdak burst into the room, throwing himself at Qetesh's feet. "Forgive me, My Queen. There has been a cave-in at the mine. Many of the workers are trapped."
Qetesh stared at the man, as if she was struggling to process his words. "I can help," Sam said, getting to her feet. Her chest was still sore, but it was manageable.
Qetesh glared at her. "I am the queen here. I shall care for my own."
She spun with a flourish, leaving Azdak behind to scramble to his feet and run after his sovereign.
Sam shrugged, making sure they were gone before she dug the tiny bit of metal out of her pocket and returned to what she had been doing when Azdak had shot her. "Fine. About time I got the hell out of here anyway," she ranted as she applied herself to picking the lock.
Azdak hurried before his queen, doing his best to clear a path for her through the crowd. "Make way! Make way!" he shouted, pushing some of the curious aside.
Thick dust hung in the air as they approached the entrance to the mine. People ran back and forth, some assisting the wounded while others carried timbers and ropes into the opening.
"Qetesh! Qetesh. Help us!"
"My son is trapped!"
"My husband is dying!"
"Please help us. Please help us!"
The people clamored for their queen's attention, surging forward, their arms raised high. Azdak stopped and Qetesh came to a halt beside him, seeming overwhelmed by the devastation laid out before them. Bodies were on the ground, some moving but many not.
Sabetha ran from the throng and threw herself to the ground at Qetesh's feet. "Please, my Queen. Please. My son. He will die. Please, can you help him?"
"What happened?" Qetesh asked Sabetha.
"I will tell you what happened!" Vachna said, stalking forward. He was the foreman of the mine and charged with maintaining the quota imposed upon them by Qetesh so many years ago.
Azdak tensed, his temper flaring. He did not quite call Vachna an enemy, but they were not friends. While Azdak had maintained his loyalty to his queen, Vachna had not. In fact, Vachna had spoken against her more than once, insisting that people did not owe any god anything.
"This mine is all but depleted. Every day my workers dig deeper and deeper into the mountain and every day there is less and less. We risk our lives and send ore through the Chappai and then we carry the payments to your empty palace and lock gold into your vault while our families starve!"
Vachna's anger grew as he spoke and he loomed over Qetesh, forcing her to take a step back.
Unable to watch her so abused, Azdak pushed between them, offering his body as a poor shield. "Our Queen only does what she is required to do," he said. "She is our queen. She owns all that is here. She protects us from other gods that would harm us and all she asks for is for us to help her mine the naqahdah."
"Help her?" Vachna yelled. "She has NEVER lifted a pick or spent even one second in the mine."
Around him, the crowd raised their voices, agreeing with his blashphemous words.
"She cared for us!" Azdak insisted. "Kayla, you prayed to her just last month when your child was sick. And she recovered. Mahlon, your wife just gave birth to a healthy son after you prayed to Qetesh—"
"And I buried my son last year," Vachna interrupted. "Where was Qetesh then?"
"Why should she assist those that do not believe in her?" Azdak demanded, sickened by the man's hypocrisy.
"My belief did not heal my arm," Yarma said, holding out a twisted limb.
"Perhaps your belief was not strong enough," Azdak suggested.
"And now you will suggest that the ceiling collapsed because she has been gone," Vachna sneered.
"Perhaps it did," Azdak said, angered by the man's words.
"If her absence caused it, her presence can fix it." Vachna pushed Azdak aside and grabbed Qetesh's arm. He watched in horror as his queen was cruelly dragged forward.
The angry crowd closed around her and argued towards the mine, leaving Azdak kneeling in the dirt.
He stumbled to his feet, desperate to protect his queen. He forced his way through the crowd, desperate to get to her. Why did no others help? Why were none standing up to Vachna? Azdak knew that others loved their queen. He had seen their adoration time and again.
Vachna had Qetesh on her knees, his hand twisted cruelly in her dark hair as he shouted at her, demanding that she use her godly powers to clear the shaft and free the trapped men. "Vachna! Vachna, no!" Azdak shouted, struggling against hands that pulled him back. He needed to help his queen. To care for her and to protect her. "My Queen!"
Suddenly a plot of dirt exploded from the ground and people screamed, fearing some sort of cave in.
Vachna froze, his eyes searching for the source.
"This crap can stop right now!" a familiar voice yelled, a figure melting from the crowd.
Azdak stared in amazement s the prisoner – former prisoner – strode forward. He caught a glimpse of something metallic wrapped around her left wrist.
"Who are you?" Vachna demanded.
"The wizard, who are you?" she shot back.
"His name is Vachna," Azdak yelled. "He is the foreman of the mine." He did not know how the woman escaped, nor what she was doing here. But all he cared about for the moment was that she had stopped the abuse of his queen.
"Foreman, huh? Then why aren't you in there working to free people rather than grandstanding out here?" she asked.
"Is a woman," she interrupted. "Your friends are suffocating in there. Isn't that more important than you putting on a show out here?"
Vachna moved towards the prisoner and she raised her hand, the stone in the middle glowing menacingly. "The last person I used this on, they scraped him up with a spatula. And I was nowhere near as pissed then as I am now. The people that are trapped can't wait. She can."
She motioned towards Qetesh who was still kneeling at his feet. Murmurs rose from the crowd as they echoed the prisoner's sentiment. If they didn't rescue the living soon, there would be none to rescue.
Vachna stared, clearly contemplating challenging her, before he finally broke eye contact, gesturing for the others to follow as he called out orders.
Vala let the confusion wash over her as she kneeled on the ground. She stared ahead, her gaze riveted upon a body lying a short distance away. It was a man, or really a boy, his dark hair dirty and tangled, matted with blood. His chest was crushed, a nauseating mess of mangled flesh and bone.
A woman knelt at his side, sister or wife, Vala didn't know. But she was grieving. Tears streamed down her face as she silently sobbed, the boy's slack hand clasped in hers.
There would be no one to mourn Vala when she died. Just as no one missed her when the Tok'ra took her. Even her people hadn't cared. They hadn't look for her or questioned where she was. They just moved on, like nothing had happened.
"Are you okay?"
A hand pressed down on her shoulder and Vala looked up, frowning. "What?"
"My Queen. My Queen. Have you been harmed?" Azdak fussed over her, his eyes burning with frantic eagerness.
"You should get her back to the palace," Sam said. "If they start pulling bodies out, it won't be pretty."
"My son, please. My son." A woman clutched at Vala's arm and she stared at her helplessly.
"Sabetha, she cannot," Azdak said, pushing the woman aside.
"Then you," she said, turning her attention to Sam. "You can use that magic device. Can you not use the healing stone?"
"How do you know about that?" Sam asked.
"She used it once, many years ago." Sabetha motioned towards Vala.
"You healed many, My Queen," Azdak said.
Sam looked over at her. "I've never been very good with it," she said.
"I can try," Vala said. She honestly didn't know if she could heal the boy, but she had to try. For some reason that she couldn't quite define, she HAD to try.
"Do you know where I got this?" Sam asked, holding up her left arm, adorned by Vala's own ribbon weapon.
"From My Queen's private chambers," Azdak said, his tone indignant.
"Then you know where the healing stone is. Go and get it."
"My Queen," Azdak protested.
"Do it," Vala ordered. Azdak bristled. "Please." He nodded and ran towards the palace. Vala looked towards Sabetha. "I haven't used the device in years."
Sam moved towards Sabetha's son and knelt at his side, examining him. "I'm no doctor, but I think it's internal bleeding." She pointed at his bruised skin and distended abdomen. "The pressure is pushing on his diaphragm and that's inhibiting his breathing."
"And you said you were not a doctor," Vala said.
Sam smiled. "I've had a little experience."
"What if I can't?" Vala asked, keeping her voice low. "I haven't tried since…" She trailed off and gestured towards her neck. When she was hosting Qetesh, she had been very proficient with both the healing stone and the ribbon weapon. But she had not attempted the mastery of either device since the Tok'ra took her.
"It's like riding a bike," Sam said. Vala frowned and shook her head, not understanding the woman's turn of phrase. "You still have the naqahdah in your blood. That's how you sensed me. Jolinar's been gone for years and I can use the device. I just never used it when she was...with me. If you could use it before, you can now."
Vala nodded, not even beginning to question the fact that her former prisoner was now not only free, but giving her advice. Azdak returned, gasping harshly, his face covered with perspiration. "My Queen," he panted, holding out the healing stone in shaking hands.
Vala took it and slid the stone over her right hand. She looked down at the barely conscious boy and felt panic sweep over her. What if she failed? What if Sam was wrong and she could not use the device? What if she did it wrong?
"You know what to do," Sam said. "Just close your eyes, relax, and do it."
Vala took a deep breath and nodded. She closed her eyes, channeling all of her concentration into the device. She felt it activate and a warm sensation filled her palm, almost as if she was bathing it in hot water. The power flowed through her, bubbling up from her chest and down her arm.
She felt it spill from her hand and she could 'see' the boy's injuries begin to heal. Torn blood vessels knitted together and blood melted back into the boy's tissues. She could feel his pain decreasing and his breathing grow easier.
The stone snapped off and Vala opened her eyes, watching as the boy did the same, wonderment and surprise flitting over his face. "Ashran? Ashran?" Sabetha cried out, pulling her son into her arms as she wept with joy.
"Good job," Sam said.
"My father?" another woman said. Vala looked up to see them ringed by onlookers, all staring with fascination.
"My husband," another said. "Please, he is all I have."
"It's up to you," Sam said.
"My Queen, you must not—"
"Stop," Vala interrupted Azdak. "I will help as many as I can."
Sam watched as Qetesh walked among the wounded, using the healing device with an ease that she envied. Maybe if she'd have been better with it Daniel...Sam swallowed and pushed the memory aside. That was in the past and she couldn't get bogged down by the past right now. She needed to deal with the present first. And her situation was still way too tenuous to ignore.
She glanced over her shoulder at the gate, just visible past the collection of shanties. If she'd have followed her orders, she should have been there by now. She should have dialed G'Tau and left this planet – and this ex-goa'uld – to their own devices. "I'm a damn fool to stick my nose in where it doesn't belong," she muttered, glancing down at her left hand and the ribbon weapon.
That had been an impulse, grabbing the weapon from Qetesh's own chambers. It hadn't been her goal once she'd picked the lock on the cage and earned her freedom. In fact, all she'd wanted to do was to make a quick search for some sort of disguise or maybe another one of those damn pistols they kept shooting her with.
Instead, she'd found the ribbon weapon just lying there and – mindful of the time – ended up just grabbing it. It had worked, and had certainly served as a good enough distraction to break up the mob, but now Sam was embroiled in a situation that had no way of resolving itself in the next...she checked her watch, eight hours.
All she could do was hope that the colonel had gotten through. Maybe she should have left. Maybe she should have ignored the mob and the horrific scene that had greeted her when she'd emerged from the pyramid. Maybe she should have just followed her orders and run for the gate. But something had stopped her.
She had no proof, but it certainly seemed like Qetesh's position was partially her fault. And she hadn't been able to just leave and let the woman be killed. She had no doubt that the colonel would succeed in contacting the Asgard. He probably already had and Thor was on his way to beam the gate off the planet or knew how to stop the energy build up before it blew up the whole mountain.
Thunder rumbled in the distance and Sam looked up, eyeing the dark clouds boiling on the horizon. They'd be moving this side show inside soon, that or be getting very wet.
Movement caught her attention and Sam looked towards the mine, frowning as Vachna and his men staggered out, their whole demeanor suggesting defeat. "What's wrong?" she asked, walking towards them.
Vachna shook his head. He was filthy, sweat cutting rivulets through the dirt on his skin. "The passage is blocked by several large boulders. We cannot move them."
Sam nodded. "Is there another way in or a way we can go around the boulders?"
"No," another of the men said. "This tunnel is a new one and a place we have not dug before. We can dig them out, but not before they run out of air."
Sam nodded. "I don't suppose you have any explosives?"
"What do you know of mines?" Vachna said.
Sam chuckled, thinking back to a very, VERY long week on P3R636. "More than I ever wanted to. I'm not saying a large explosion, just something big enough to break up those boulders into something you can remove. We don't even have to have the men dug out right away, we just need to get to them, maybe create a hole that we can get air and water through so that they can hold on until we can dig them out."
Vachna nodded, perhaps understanding her logic. "We do not have explosives. Our queen has never permitted them."
Sam nodded, instinctively raising her hand to her face. As she did so, she was reminded of the weapon wrapped around her wrist. It would blow up rock. She was good at blowing up rock. But could she control it well enough to not bring the whole tunnel down on top of herself?
"Can you?" Vachna asked.
He nodded towards her hand. "Can you use that?"
"I can use it," she said. "I'm just not all that good at controlling it."
"They are dead if you cannot," one of them said. "It will take us days to get to them."
Sam sighed and nodded. "I'll try."
They turned back towards the mind and Sam followed them, instinctively ducking as they entered the main tunnel of the mine. In many ways, this was very similar to the mine back on Shyla's planet. The walls were a combination of rock and dirt, heavily scarred by pick and shovel marks. The floor was hard packed and slick with rocks sticking up out of the dirt at irregular places. Even hours after the cave in, dust hung heavily in the air and Sam could almost taste it as she breathed in.
They led her deeper and deeper into the mine and she fought the urge to hunch down, almost overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the mountain hanging over her. Vachna stopped at the end and Sam saw what the problem was. Two large boulders blocked the passage nesting in such a way that they couldn't be gotten around. Sam studied the ceiling as best she could in the flickering torch light. "They look like they came in from the side," she said, looking at Vachna. "Which means the ceiling should be relatively stable."
"Can you make them smaller?"
"I think so," Sam said. She looked at the group of men. "But you better fall back a bit. If the ceiling caves in, you won't want to be around here."
Vachna nodded and motioned towards his men. They left but he stayed. "You will need someone to direct your blows."
Sam nodded, accepting his help. Despite her time in Shyla's mine, he knew more about this than she ever would. "What do you think?"
"As you said, if we can just get through, perhaps at the top, the men – if they are still alive – can make it out. They need air." He sighed. "And if they are not alive, we do not need to risk our lives opening a shaft."
Sam nodded again, agreeing with his assessment. She raised her left hand and closed her eyes, trying to picture what she wanted to do. Maybe if she thought about what she needed the blast to do, she could better control it.
A force flew down her arm and she heard a loud crack. Despite herself, she jumped, her eyes flying open as Vachna's hand pulled her back. She waited for the dust to clear and moved forward, studying the results. About ten pounds of rock had been blasted loose and lay scattered on the floor. "It's a start," she said, pleased that she hadn't brought the ceiling down on their heads.
"Indeed it is. Now, higher," he said, pointing up.
Sam nodded. "Higher." She moved back into position and readied herself for the next blast.
Unbeknownst to either of them, outside it was pouring.
Azdak followed his queen as she walked amongst the injured, careful to keep himself close enough to render whatever assistance she may need. Looking past her to the horizon where he could see clouds bubbling and billowing. It did not storm often here, but it did storm. And any weather that was strong enough to surpass the protective mountains was not a storm to trifle with.
"Azdak! Azdak!" Stackla yelled to get his attention and Azdak glanced at him before turning his attention back to his Queen and the young man she was healing.
"What?" Azdak demanded, frustrated by the man's persistence.
"The rain," he said, panting as he came to Azdak's side. "Fire will soon rain down, I can hear it even now. Someone must get the survivors to safety."
"Yes, someone must," Azdak said absently, staring in wonder as the healing orange beam illuminated the injured man's leg. Before his wondrous gaze, he watched the torn and battered flesh mend and heal.
"Azdak!" Stackla grabbed at his arm and Azdak pushed him away, glaring at him angrily.
"Why do you bother me with such trivialities?" Azdak demanded.
"Who else am I to bother?" Stackla yelled. "Your precious Queen? She does not need you!"
"How dare you speak to me in such a manner!"
Azdak pulled his hands into fists and raised them...then looked around and saw, really saw what was around him. Survivors and their families were scattered around outside the mine entrance. The people were shocked and startled. Some grieving, others joyfully celebrating survival.
And they all seemed oblivious to the impending threat of the storm.
He turned to his Queen, eager to gain her assistance. But she was gone. Frantic, he searched and discovered her many paces away, kneeling at the side of another worker. The man that she had just healed was being helped to his feet by his family.
He...maybe she did not need him. But her people did. "You are right," he said. "And I apologize. Can you please assist these people to the shelter of the pyramid? Recruit whomever you need."
Stackla nodded and dashed off, yelling instructions as he ran. It seemed obvious to Azdak that he knew precisely what needed to be done, just felt unable to put his plans into action.
Trusting Stackla to carry out his task, Azdak made his way to his queen's side. She was kneeling on the ground, her hands in her lap as she stared at the form lying before her. The man was dead, that much was obvious in the ashen paleness of his skin and the fixed and flat stare of his eyes.
"My Queen, the storm," Azdak said. She didn't respond and Azdak laid his hand on her shoulder. "My Queen." She slowly looked up at him, almost as if she was just realizing that he was there. "A storm is coming. We need to get you to safety." She turned back towards the body, making no move to get up. "My Queen, please."
"I remember when he was born," she said, her hand reaching out to trace a large birthmark on the man's arm. "His mother brought him to me to be blessed."
"Why does he die, and I survive?"
Azdak stared for a few seconds. "You are the queen, he is nothing but a miner."
She got to her feet and look him in the eyes. "Nothing but a miner?" she asked.
"My Queen, you—"
"I what, Azdak?" she demanded, raising her voice. "Is your brain so befuddled that you do not remember my time here?"
"Your reign was a wondrous time."
"It was a reign of terror," she said. "Don't you remember when I beat that man for spilling my soup? Or when I disavowed all the marriages and forced people to marry who I wanted them to. Or maybe the time that I thought someone had betrayed me and I forced everyone in the village to stand out in the hot sun until they revealed the identity of the person to me." Her voice raised with every atrocity she listed and Azdak just stared. "I'm not a queen. I'm not someone that deserves honor and praise. I'm a failure and you're a cursed fool for your blind devotion. Leave me," she ordered, turning her back to him.
"STOP!" She spun back, her hand raised. "Call me your queen again and I shall kill you with my bare hands!" The world flashed white and thunder cracked loudly. The sky opened and a cold rain began to fall in forceful sheets. "Take him to the pyramid so that his family can bury him and leave me alone."
Unable to come up with something to say, Azdak simply walked past her and picked up the man, struggling to get his dead weight over his shoulder. He trudged towards the pyramid, his queen left as a silent sentinel in the pouring rain.
The loud crack of rock breaking tore through the cave and Vachna winced, raising one arm to shield his face as shards of rock flew down the tunnel. He looked over to the woman, Sam she said her name was, and watched as she wiped her face, the sweat turning the dust into a thin layer of mud.
"Damnit," she muttered, waving her hand ineffectually to clear the dust that lingered in the air.
"That kind of rock is the hardest we have ever encountered," he said, offering her support. It was obvious to him that whatever she was doing with Qetesh's weapon, it seemed to take a physical toll. Both of them had been working in the tunnel for at least one mark, chipping away at the boulders that were sealing off the end of the tunnel.
"No kidding," she said. "It must be thicker than we think it is," she said, picking up a torch to more closely examine the boulder. She moved forward and stopped, staring down at her feet. "Vachna?"
"Yes?" He joined her, realizing what her problem was as his boot landed in the dirt with a wet smack.
"I thought this was a dry mine?"
"It is." His stomach dropped as he realized that he had forgotten about the situation outside the tunnels.
"Obviously not. Does this tunnel flood?"
Vachna nodded. "It is possible. Some of the first people thought it was close to a spring or water source."
"We don't have time for finesse," she said. "This water is coming from the other side of the blockage."
"Then the men may be dead."
"Or they may be drowning while we yak." She pulled at his arm and dragged him away from the boulder. Pushing him behind her, she raised her arm and fired off a blast far stronger than one he had ever seen. The boulder cracked and a massive piece of it fell, pushed towards them by a torrent of muddy water. Just barely audible over the sound of the water, Vachna heard screams for help and ghostly looking arms appeared in the opening, clutching at the air.
"They are alive!" he shouted, unable to contain his joy.
"Tell them to stand back!" Sam shouted. The arms disappeared and she stepped closer, struggling against the rising water.
"Let the water drain slowly," he said, recognizing the danger.
"We will drown if we do not."
"They have no chance in there," she said, "It's rising too fast." She looked over at him.
"Get out and get some help. I'm going to blow that boulder. If we can get the water to dissipate, at least they'll have a fighting chance."
He ignored his protests and simply nodded, running towards the higher end of the tunnel. He was barely fifty paces away when a blast and roar filled his ears and he knew his time had run out.
Vala stood in the main entrance of the pyramid, her gaze riveted upon the distant opening of the mine. It was still raining, but more of a light drizzle than the torrential deluge of earlier.
She could just barely make out a group of workers hovering around the mine opening, waiting to offer assistance. She knew that Sam and Vachna were in the mine, presumably using Qetesh's own ribbon weapon to try and free the trapped miners.
"My...Queen." Vala looked and smiled at Azdak. The man was standing near her, a heavy cloak in his hands. "If you are cold."
"I thought I told you not to call me that," she said, not offended by the man's tenacity. He was consistent, and she found the consistency oddly comforting.
"If you are no longer my queen, does that not mean that you no longer have the authority to tell me what to do?" He held the cloak towards her. "You are cold."
"Thank you," Vala said, taking the cloak from him and wrapping it around her shoulders. She was chilled and wet and exhaustion clutched at the back of her neck, begging her to sleep. But it was a demand that she could not follow, not until she knew the fate of the miners.
"You have healed many today," Azdak said. "And saved many lives."
"It does not make amends for all the harm I have done. I should have saved more," Vala said, saddened at the lives that were lost and haunted by the grief of their families.
"You did so much."
Vala looked at him, seeing him for the first time. "Azdak, why do you trust me?" she asked.
"You are my queen."
Vala shook her head. "I am a person that was the host of a creature that pretended to be your queen so that she could plunder your planet," she said. "I was mean to you. I treated you horribly and treated everyone here horribly. You owe me no loyalty."
"You are our queen," Azdak repeated. "You have protected us and cared for--"
"Stop!" Vala said. She put out her hand and laid it on his arm. "Azdak, I am not who you think I am. I am not Qetesh. Qetesh is dead. My name is Vala Mal Doran. Qetesh took me as her host many years ago. Qetesh is who you knew. She is the one that was your Queen. She merely used my body to do so."
"Which means that you are not guilty of the crimes that you so regret," he said.
"Azdak," Vala sighed. "Not that I don't find total adoration intriguing but--"
"My Queen," he interrupted. He pointed towards the mine. She turned her attention that way and saw people spilling forth from the mine. The sheer numbers and the way some were helping others suggested that the trapped miners had been freed.
"GO, help them," she ordered.
Azdak nodded and hurried back into the pyramid, returning in just a few seconds with a large group of men. The men, trailed by the families of the trapped, spilled from the pyramid and out into the rain. Vala followed them, feeling a weight lift from her as she realized that most, if not all, were alive.
"Get them into the pyramid," she said as she walked. "I will help the injured there."
She got closer to the entrance of the mine, searching for Vachna and Sam. There were two of the last out of the mine, both drenched and covered in mud. Vachna was supporting Sam, who was leaning on him and coughing harshly.
She and Vachna sat on the ground and Vala hurried towards them. She pulled off her cloak and settled it around Sam's shoulders. "You succeeded,” she said, glad to see the woman alive.
"Barely," Vachna said. "She should have waited for the water to drain slowly."
"If I'd have waited, they'd be dead," Sam said, looking up at Vala. "The chamber they were trapped in was flooding. We didn't have time to wait."
"No, you did not," Vala said, glaring at Vachna. She studied Sam, putting together the sequence of events. "You destroyed the barrier and released the flood waters into the mine, didn't you?" she asked.
Sam shrugged. "It worked."
"All are alive, no matter how foolhardy the plan may have been," Vachna conceded and Vala thought she picked up a bit of admiration in his voice.
"Sometimes foolhardy is all you have," Sam said, pulling the cloak tight as she began to shiver. Vala studied her closely and could see exhaustion that rivaled Vala's own. Rivulets of dirty water tinged with red ran down her neck.
"You are injured?" Vala asked.
"She was caught up in the torrent," Vachna said. "She, like many of the others, were battered against the mine walls."
"I'm fine," Sam said.
"Vachna, take her to the pyramid with the others." She looked around and found Azdak, motioning at him to come to her. "Azdak, see to the injured, find them dry clothing and fetch the healer. Any that he cannot treat, I shall."
"Yes, My Queen."
As people filed around her, Vala stopped, shocked as her former subjects smiled at her, thanking her and expressing their gratitude for the lives saved in the mine. They refused to allow her to linger behind, insisting that she walk with them, as part of their group. For the first time, in a very, very long time, she didn't feel hated or despised. She felt wanted and – possibly – needed.
It was a feeling that she found she liked.
Rhythmic beeping pulled Sam from her slumber and she rolled over, her arm instinctively reaching out to swat at the alarm. When she encountered only a soft mattress, she opened her eyes, staring at a large expanse of white cotton like material.
Her befuddled mind realizing that she wasn't at home, she sat up, her heart beating quickly as she tried to take stock.
She was lying in a bed in what was probably the most luxurious bedroom she had ever seen. And she was naked.
Grabbing the sheet, she pulled it to her chest before yanking it up to act as a sarong. She clumsily slid off the bed and got to her feet, moaning softly as sore and bruised muscled made themselves known. "There's a reason I never took up surfing."
The beeping persisted and Sam scanned the room, quickly finding her possessions stacked neatly on a table.
She grabbed for her watch, her heart jumping when she realized that the beeping was the alarm. "Damnit!" She frantically looked around, searching for her clothes, not even caring about the colorful tapestries covering the walls or the thick rugs on the marble floor.
All she found was her dog tags and assorted bits and pieces that she knew had been in her pocket. She moved towards the door, stopping when it swung open and Azdak walked in.
"Forgive me, I had hoped to have this before you woke," he said, fumbling with an armful of clothing.
"Before?" Sam asked. "When did I fall asleep? And where the hell are my clothes?"
"You fell into a slumber as My Queen healed your injuries. And your clothing was wet. It would not have been healthy to keep them on." He held out the bundle in his arms. "I brought you this to wear until yours can be cleaned and repaired."
Sam took it, awkwardly, using one hand to keep the sheet in position. "I need the rest of my stuff," she demanded.
"Of course, I shall bring it once it is clean and dry."
"No, now! I need to leave."
"You cannot," Azdak protested. "My Queen—"
"I don't give a damn what your queen wants. I'm leaving and I'm leaving now. Go, bring me my stuff!" Sam ordered.
Azdak scurried from the room and Sam sighed, barely waiting for the door to close before she dropped the sheet, quickly dressing herself in the provided pants and tunic. She hung her dogtags around her neck and held the watch in her hand, staring at the four blinking zeros. They represented the countdown she'd set before they'd left Earth. The time she'd figured was Zero Hour, when the gate's capicators reached maximum capacity and could no longer contain the energy build up.
In other words, her best guess to when the gate blew up – taking Cheyenne Mountain with it.
But she could be wrong. She clung to that idea as she disabled the alarm and strapped the watch to her wrist. She'd been wrong in her math before. Or maybe the colonel had succeeded in his mission. She had no reason to doubt that. He'd work as hard as he could and give it everything he had to succeed.
But her faith in his dedication didn't absolve her from fulfilling her own mission. She'd already pushed the boundaries once by helping with the trapped miners. Impatient with Azdak's delay and ready to walk to the gate barefoot, Sam stalked to the door, pulling it open and hurrying from the room.
She looked around, trying to get her bearings. The corridor was wide and long and she turned to her right after noting that her left ended in a dead end. She wasn't in the best situation to handle any resistance, but she hoped that saving a few lives would get her some latitude.
"Sam!" Sam turned to see Azdak headed towards her, Qetesh in tow. Catching sight of her boots in the man's hand, Sam moved towards him.
"I'm glad that you are awake." Sam ignored Qetesh and took her boots and socks. She leaned against the wall so that she could put them on. She missed the puzzled look exchanged between Azdak and Qetesh. "Did you rest well?" Qetesh asked.
"Are you going to stop me from leaving?" Sam asked bluntly, finishing with her boots and standing up straight.
"Not stop but—"
"No," Azdak interrupted, frowning at Qetesh. "Forgive me, My Queen, but I think that Sam has earned her freedom."
"Azdak, we don't even know—"
"But, My Queen—"
Impatient with their bickering, Sam pushed past them. They could just get over it. She had a schedule to keep and she was behind. A hand grabbed her arm and pulled her back. Sam turned, ready for a fight but Qetesh raised her hands. "Of course you can leave," she said. "But you should at least eat something and refresh yourself first."
Sam smiled slightly and shook her head. "I don't have time," she said, holding up her watch.
"Does that device make a noise when something must be done?" Azdak asked. He turned to Qetesh, "It has been doing that for many marks." He turned back to Sam. "I feared that it would wake you but it did not. I would have silenced it but I feared breaking it."
Sam looked at her watch, staring at it in horror. She focused on the day and the world began to spin when it sank in that she wasn't just a few minutes late, she was nearly a day past the deadline. Hands steadied her and pushed her down the hall, guiding her to a chair.
"I shall bring food," he interrupted as a cup was placed into Sam's hand.
"Drink," Qetesh urged. "You have been asleep for a full day. A meal will bring your strength back and then you are free to go."
Sam nodded, sipping at the water. Losing a day certainly explained the hollow feeling in her head. "You must have missed something important," Qetesh said. Sam snorted at the understatement. "Perhaps they can reschedule."
"Doubtful," Sam said quietly. They fell silent until Azdak returned with a tray of food. He set it down in front of Sam.
"Leave us please," Qetesh requested.
Azdak did as she bade, slipping down the hall. Sam reached for the food, her hunger asserting itself as she ate the simple fare of bread, cheese and meat, washing it down with some sort of fruit juice. "You are welcome to remain here," Qetesh invited, picking at the food. "There is plenty of room and I think we might work well together."
"Qetesh was the goa'uld. I am Vala Mal Doran," the woman made the introduction with a tone that suggested to Sa that the distinction was important.
"Vala," Sam said. "I need to go home. To see if I have a home to go home to."
"And if you do not?" Vala asked.
Sam shrugged. "There may be refugees I can find," she said. "There are some allies and...places I can go."
"Or you could stay here," Vala repeated. "Vachna has been singing your praises and, I believe, would gladly give you the position of foreman of the mine."
"You're going to keep it open?" Sam asked. "After people died."
Vala held up her hands. "What else is there to do?" she asked. "There are almost no natural resources in the vicinity."
"And on the other side of the mountain there's a rich flood plain that would be perfect for farming," Sam said, remembering the terrain they'd flown over. "Not to mention huge herds of animals. It would support these people quite well."
"Farming and hunting? Where is the profit in that?"
"Profit? Vala, you already have enough gold to last someone a lifetime," Sam said, referring to the piles she'd found while searching for a weapon.
"There's no such thing as too much gold," Vala protested.
"I thought Qetesh was gone," Sam shot back, deliberately phrasing her words directly. She sensed that there was a lot more to the woman than met the eye. But she also sensed that some of that was the result of trauma – which made the woman unpredictable and volatile. But she certainly wasn't lacking in some redeeming qualities, such as the ability to at least learn and listen to others. She was a wounded bird, and Sam had always had a soft spot for wounded birds.
"There's nothing wrong with a girl taking care of herself," Vala said with an unapologetic shrug. "I can guarantee you, my dear, that no one else will."
"Maybe you've been hanging with the wrong people," Sam said. She pushed back the tray. "I need to go."
"If you insist," Vala said, getting to her feet. The two of them walked out of the pyramid and started towards the Stargate.
People milled around the, a few talking and pointing and others simply staring. After a minute, one of the miners walked up to them and smiled, handing Sam a small wooden carving as he thanked her. Sam took the token, aware that it was probably all the man had. "They've never given me anything," Vala pouted after the man melted back into the crowd.
"Maybe if you weren't enslaving them, they'd be a bit more charitable," Sam said, ignoring Vala when the woman sighed dramatically.
The rest of the short walk passed uneventually and Sam was quiet as she thought of which planet she should try. She figured G'Tau would be her best bet. Maybe she could find out if the colonel was successful in contacting the Asgard. And, if he had left, find out where to.
"You are welcome to return," Vala said as they reached the DHD.
"I'll keep that—" A loud boom tore through the air and Sam looked up, thinking it was thunder.
"That is never a good sight," Vala said, pointing at the bubbling and boiling clouds.
"That's a ship," Sam said.
"When I left, this was a quiet little planet," Vala complained. Sam stared at the shape dropping down from the clouds. "No one ever came here, it was peaceful and everyone left me alone...This is just totally unacceptable."
Sam ignored the woman's complaints and studied the ship, smiling when she realized that she'd seen it before. "The Carter."
"I know who that is," Sam said, smiling broadly.
"Of course you do."
Sam heard the familiar whine of an Asgard transporter beam and turned towards the sound, not surprised to see Colonel O'Neill standing there. "Carter, everything okay?" he asked cautiously.
"Fine, sir. And I'm guessing things are okay back home too," she said, noting the fact that he was fully armed, something he could only be if he'd been to Earth.
"Pretty much," he said, relaxing his grip but not totally lowering his weapon.
"That is your friend?" Vala asked. "I'd be in a hurry to get back to him too." She smiled saucily and tossed her hair.
Sam rolled her eyes and sighed. "Colonel Jack O'Neill, Vala Mal Doran," Sam introduced, moving between them, then edging towards Jack.
"Colonel? My, that sounds important."
"Oh, you'd be surprised." The colonel looked at her and Sam shrugged. "Carter, Thor's got a bit of a schedule to keep," he said, his fingers drumming impatiently on the stock of his P90.
"Asgard," Sam explained. "They're friends."
Vala stared for a second. "Tau'ri?" she asked as Sam stepped into place at Jack's side. "You're the Tau'ri."
"In the flesh," Jack quipped.
"That is just not fair," Vala complained. "Why didn't you tell me who you were? Do you have any idea how big the bounty on you is worth?"
"Thor, we're ready," the colonel said, not responding to the woman.
"Listen to Azdak," Sam called out. "Do what he says and you'll be the queen here for a very long time."
Sam felt a familiar tingle crawl along her skin as Thor beamed them to the safety of his ship.
"Did you hear that?" Vala said, putting her hands on her hips as she turned to Azdak. "We had SG-1 in our grasp and we just let them go."
"I'm afraid I heard little beyond 'listen to Azdak'," he said, looking her in the eyes.
It was gone, she realized. His blind devotion. His blatant adoration. In its place was quiet confidence and steadfast support.
She quite preferred it.
She knew that it wouldn't be easy. That it would take more than a few healings to earn peoples' trust. But, for the time being at least, she was tired of running. "She did say that, didn't she?"
"That was what I heard, My Queen."
"Do not let it go to your head," she said, swatting him playfully on the arm. "I have quite enough of that for both of us." She spun and started back towards her pyramid.
"You do indeed, My Queen, you do indeed."