AUTHOR: Rebecca Ratliffrmratliff@adelphia.net
DATE: January 2003
ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask. (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)
CATEGORY: Action/adventure, angst, hurt/comfort. Crossover (West Wing)
RATING: PG-13, language, violence
SPOILERS: Season 6, Paradise Lost, Metamorphosis
SEASON/SEQUEL INFO: Season 6, between Metamorphosis and Disclosure. Series sequence: Abyss Novelization, Sirikat, Fields of Gold, A Nice Quiet Week in the Country, Brothers in Arms, Shadows on the Moon. Read Sirikat first, or this won't make much sense.
SUMMARY: Sirikat strives to live up to her destiny as she comes of age.
DISCLAIMER: All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate SG-1 Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc., Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. Anybody that you don't recognize is probably mine, so if you borrow them please send me an email to let me know where they are and have them home by midnight. :)
FEEDBACK: Much appreciated.
Sirikat sat on the high rock overlooking her village. Wood smoke mingled with the scent of autumn leaves and pine. The young woman's troubled thoughts were not on her surroundings, but on the strange directions her short life had taken. In the weeks since her homecoming, everything had changed yet again. No longer a fugitive, now she was priestess and queen, symbol of a revolution and hope of a people that she hadn't known existed until a few weeks ago.
She didn't feel any differently for being Someone Important. She wasn't suddenly all grown up, and she knew that for all she had learned there was so much more that she didn't understand.
That she was called to this path had become terrifyingly clear to her as the scattered tribes of Daltregon had united and rallied to her cause, live free or die. Who was she to carry the hope of her people and the Free Jaffa as well?
The first moon of her thirteenth year was the hunter's moon. She watched it rise over the valley, waiting for some sign. "O Goddess, reveal my path to me. Who am I to lead my people unless You lead me?"
The clouds formed patterns, but it didn't completely make sense.
"See anything, Punkin?"
She jumped up with a grin. "Jack! I didn't think you could come!" She hugged him.
"They didn't want to scare you, but we ran into some trouble and got held over a few days. Made it, though."
"Remember Thoran told you about Nirrti?"
"One of the lesser system lords. We know her here on Daltregon. She steals little children."
"Not any more she doesn't," O'Neill told her.
"That is good news!"
"Thoran and Bra'tac came with us," he told her.
"Then I suppose I ought to get back down there."
"What are you doing up here in the cold?"
"I-who-was-Kat am thirteen this moon. It's custom to watch for a sign."
"So do you see anything?"
"Shadows on the moon," the girl replied.
"What does that mean?" O'Neill asked.
"I'm not sure. Three things. I think someone doesn't like it that I've been stirring up trouble. I don't know who yet," Sirikat said. "And I'm going to have to go through the Stargate again soon. Someone wants to meet me. And then...there's a joining of paths."
O'Neill gave her a long hard look. "Second one's true. That's really why I'm here."
Sirikat asked, "Who is it?"
Her eyes went wide. "Of your country?" She squeaked. "And he wants to talk to me?"
Jack reached out to touch the necklace of clan and tribal totems that she wore, symbol that she spoke with authority for the people of Daltregon. "He needs to talk to the person wearing this. He's being asked to send your people weapons and equipment to fight the Goa'uld, and to order American soldiers to come here and teach you how to use them. Before he does that he wants to know who you are and that you are worth it."
"I hope he thinks so."
Jack said, "President Bartlet is a good man, Sirikat. You're lucky to get the chance to sit down and talk about this with him personally. Most of the time you'd both send diplomats to do the talking."
Sirikat nodded. Once again she was frightened by the enormity of her responsibilities. "People my age are still children on your world. He's just going to see a little kid."
"I'm lookin' at the little kid who killed Garan, and healed one of my team. You make him see that little kid. You make him see Daltregon," O'Neill replied.
The longhouse was brightly lit by lanterns hanging everywhere. It reminded O'Neill of nothing so much as Cimmeria, their halls were a lot like Daltregonian longhouses. Families cooked their meals at the two huge central fire pits then returned to their own apartments to eat, sitting on the floor around a brazier. These apartments were walled off on two sides, but open across the front, where a generous walkway connected the apartments to stairs at either end. At night, colorfully woven hangings curtained off the fourth wall, but now nearly all of them were rolled up. Three floors of such apartments rose to the roof beams. Three huge columns on each side supported the structure's massive weight. Smoke exited the structure through a hole in the center of the roof. Over the generations, the roof beams had turned a deep velvety black.
It was a crowded, happy place that rang with the noisy play of children and the laughter and gossip of their elders.
At the far end of the structure from the double doors was a raised platform where the village queens held court. Sirikat paused to hug her human mother on her way up there.
Old Karumai sat with a brightly woven blanket over her head and shoulders like a robe. When she stood, a cascade of white hair fell to mid-calf. Time had burned away everything non-essential, leaving muscle and sinew like corded cable under pale ivory skin. A big floor pillow cushioned her old bones from the cold planks. Her sharp green eyes still didn't miss anything. She was ancient even by blended pair standards, five hundred years in a society where there were no sarcophagi and symbiotes nearly always died with their first host.
Sirikat's queen Vanira was the leader in respects that this community of equals had a leader. As practical as her venerable queen was spiritual, she concerned herself with the daily business of keeping her people safe, warm, dry and fed. She met threats to her little domain with a no-nonsense attitude and a yard of cold steel, which now lay at her side with the belt wrapped around the scabbard. She was sitting with Bra'tac, Thoran and the rest of SG-1. Her two consorts, Daitar and Merroll, sat to one side engaging in the lastest round of a decades-old amiable argument about fishing lures. O'Neill wished he could understand their language, while Vanira looked like she was valiantly resisting the temptation to knock their heads together.
Jonas asked, "Did the Lady send you a vision?"
Sirikat told them about the cloud signs. Jonas translated her English answer for Vanira and Karumai.
Bra'tac said, "We knew that there was a risk in taking an active course with the tribes, but things have passed beyond deciding whether or not to take action. Now we stand to be counted."
Thoran nodded. "It only remains to be seen where the hammer will fall."
Karumai fingered her dagger, its bone handle weathered a deep yellow ochre and worn as smooth as glass over the years. "If that would be Daltregon, then I have one more fight left in me. But that isn't what I have seen in the firelight. Darkness comes upon a place of light, somewhere far from here. I have seen the return of a warrior."
"And the joined paths, Grandmother?"
Karumai speared a choice bit of venison and gnawed it off the tip of her knife. "Oh, that's you two," she said, waving her other hand at Jack and Sirikat. "Try to get it right this time!"
They looked at each other, then back at the old woman. Jack asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"
After Jonas translated, she took great amusement in staring at them until they were both as nervous as a couple of new recruits facing the world's toughest drill sergeant for the first time. "It's right in front of your silly faces!" Karumai laughed. "You'll figure it out soon enough."
Vanira said, "Stop teasing, Mother. Jack isn't of our people. He doesn't know what you're on about, and for that matter, neither do I!"
Karumai's expression softened. "I see no more than the firelight has shown me. The rest is in your hands."
Jack woke up from a horrible nightmare of getting back to Nirrti's dungeon too late to help Sam. He was drenched in a cold sweat and he was shaking worse than a wino with the DTs.
Sam and Jonas were both sound asleep, and he hadn't disturbed Teal'c's kel-no-reem. At least he hadn't awakened the whole place yelling his head off. He pulled on his T-shirt and walked out barefoot.
It was about 0200 and the village was quiet. The full moon illuminated everything like midday. It was getting cold out. He visited the midden, an outhouse like arrangement out back of the longhouse and downstream of everything else. It was pitch black, a vile-smelling icy draft came up through the seat, and somewhere below he heard running water. He could imagine the tall tales the older kids told to scare the little ones.
Staying there no longer than absolutely necessary, he walked around for a while, letting the cold clear his head before he tried going back to sleep again. He commonly had nightmares and usually could put them behind him as soon as he woke up. This time, though, the image of Sam dying in such a way as that refused to go away. It had been close. Way too close.
A series of boardwalks connected the buildings of the village, various workshops and storehouses and barns surrounding the main longhouse. Without even thinking about it, he stayed near the edge to keep his steps from echoing loudly on the rough-hewn planks. A flock of chickens roosting in a henhouse attached to one of the larger barns cackled softly as he passed by. A big old dog sleeping by the henhouse door showed her fangs as she growled at him. He gave her a wide berth and continued to the end of the street.
Jack stopped at a railing overlooking the lake. On the other side, terraced steps went down to the water. He knew better than get too close to the edge, and the thought of accidentally doing so was nauseating. The lake was full of symbiote larvae.
He wasn't surprised to see Vanira down at the water's edge, trailing her hand in. Unlike the Goa'uld, who seemed to care nothing about their individual offspring until they matured enough to take a host, the queens of Daltregon took care of their young from spawning until maturity. Still they were at the mercy of the elements. He wondered what would happen when the lake froze over. He suspected that the larvae would bury into the lake bottom and hibernate until spring.
Vanira looked up at him and joined him at the railing. Jack had picked up a few words of the local language, but beyond that they were at a loss.
She hunted in her pockets for a couple of crystals. Holding them together she said something over them, and they started to glow faintly. She gave him one of the crystals.
"I hope that worked. Can you understand me now?"
"Yeah. Nice trick."
"I need to remember to teach this spell to Sirikat. Does she have to go through that thing again? Can't I go in her place?"
"She needs to be there, but she'll be as safe there as anywhere else."
Vanira said, "My daughter's destiny takes her away from me too young. Take care of her out there, please."
"I will," he promised.
Vanira wasn't quite sure what to make of a grown man without a symbiote. He had to feel the chill of Grandmother Winter's icy breath off the water like a child. "Aren't you freezing? What are you doing out here in the middle of the night anyway?"
"Just couldn't sleep."
"I haven't slept a single night through since Sirikat was kidnapped," Vanira said. "That's my excuse, what's yours?"
He watched the crystal sparkle in the lantern light as he turned it in his fingers. "Things happen out there. Sometimes it stays with you for a while."
"All I know is, whatever put that look in a warrior's eyes, I don't want it anywhere near my child. But who asked me? I'm only one of her mothers!"
O'Neill shook his head. "SG-1 is a first contact team. When we find a new planet, we're the first ones through the gate to check it out. Walking into bad situations sometimes is just part of the job description. But I promise you, Sirikat isn't taking any chances like that on my watch."
Vanira said, "No one has united the tribes of Daltregon in three thousand years. Yet they swear themselves to my little Sirikat. This is meant to be. She has a destiny to fulfill. I'd lay down my life for her. She's my baby. But she's out of my hands now. Every time she leaves, I'm afraid I'll never see her again. How is your path tangled up with hers?"
"You tell me and we'll both know. All I can tell you is, whenever she's with me, trouble will have to go through me to get to her."
Vanira nodded. "I'm trusting my child to you on the strength of that promise, Jack."
Vanira gave the low-hanging moon a long look. "Fool to think I ever had a choice. I'm going back to bed."
Security was even tighter than usual around the SGC. They stepped through the gate to find secret service agents everywhere. Sirikat had a small retinue. Bra'tac and three other Jaffa were her personal guard. Her queen's consort Daitar was her advisor on customs surrounding treaties. Finally a girl a year her senior named Rialla was her lady-in-waiting. Councilor Thoran walked with Bra'tac, but he was there to represent the Tok'ra.
O'Neill heard Sirikat whisper something in Daltregon that got a snicker from Jonas, who translated almost silently, "Oh, Goddess, please don't let me screw up!"
O'Neill stifled a laugh.
Sirikat descended the ramp, every inch a queen, pretending that the rifles the SFs held did not exist. Jack made introductions and Sirikat extended her hand to the General.
"Welcome to Earth, Lady Sirikat."
"Thank you, General Hammond."
An airman took her to quarters where she could freshen up and change clothes. She wore a dark blue gown embroidered around the hems in silver. A silver net cap sparked with sapphires and the heavy totem necklace were her only jewelry.
Rialla laced her into her knee-high boots, their intricate leatherwork visible through the side slits of her skirt.
"Rialla, how do I look? Is my hair sticking out in back? It always frizzes and sticks out."
"Your hair looks fine. You look fine. Let me put a little kohl on your eyes."
"The fighting women here don't paint themselves."
"Just a little?"
Sirikat relented, "Just a little. And maybe a little red on my lips so I don't look so washed out. Oh, Rialla, I'm nervous!"
"You'll do just fine!" Rialla assured her. "Hasn't the Goddess brought you this far? She will show you what you need to do. When you need to be, you will be Daltregon."
Ren'auc changed into her best robe and laced her sandals. She had lived in BDUs since coming here, especially since she had been assigned to SG-16 two weeks ago. She wanted nothing more than to fit in with her new team. But with the president coming, civilian finery was in order. She had braided beads into her short hair, and now they were a distraction.
A glance in her mirror showed a grown woman looking back at her.
She hurried to SG-16's ready room.
She looked around to see JonasQuinn standing in the break room doorway, his usual cup of coffee in his hand. He was wearing a suit and tie, his hair neatly combed for once instead of standing up in cute spikes. "Wow, yourself."
Her teammate LieutenantReed turned the corner, also on her way to the ready room. She was wearing her dress uniform and Ren'auc saw Jonas checking her out. He said, "President Bartlet should visit more often. It really does improve the scenery around here."
Reed teased, "You don't clean up too bad yourself, Quinn. Lucky for you, Nirrti didn't see you lookin' that fine, or we never would've got you back."
Jonas groaned, "That had to get out! I'll never live it down, will I?"
"Oh, just till the next time something embarrassing happens to someone else. Fair's fair, you laughed at all the Gilligan's Island jokes about Col. O'Neill."
"I did not. Not where he could hear me, anyway," Jonas replied.
Ren'auc said, "I do not think he would mind. I heard him joking about it himself in the commissary a few days ago, but I did not understand the joke. Who is Ginger and why does Harry Maybourne make a poor one?"
Reed burst out laughing and explained the reference. "Girlfriend, we need to watch some TV Land and get you up to speed on all those old shows. Right now, we need to get to the ready room. Major Bowen wants everyone there in five minutes."
Jaffa and Tau'ri went off together, their friendly rivalry over Jonas forgotten in the excitement of the moment. He put his coffee cup in the trash and hurried to meet his own team.
There was an assembly and a speech in the gateroom. General Hammond had come to know President Bartlet fairly well during the last six years. The New England economics professor had quickly earned the Texas airman's respect as an individual as well as his commander-in-chief. It helped that Hammond had served with Bartlet's chief of staff, Leo McGarry, for two out of their respective three tours of duty in Viet Nam. Bartlet was the only Democrat that Hammond had ever voted for. In a couple of years, it looked like Hoynes was shaping up to be the second.
A teacher to the core, Bartlet was at his best making a speech to a group of enthusiastic young people. These kids loved him, they'd follow him into hell, and he loved them for it. He knew a lot about the program, and kept up on all the mission reports as soon as they were relayed to him. He knew nearly all the senior staff personally, especially the team commanders. So when he made a Gilligan's Island wisecrack at O'Neill's expense, nobody laughed more than O'Neill did. Neither Hammond nor O'Neill ordinarily had a lot of respect for politicians, especially the ones who had never been in the military, but Bartlet was exceptional in a lot of ways. Those kids weren't the only ones who would follow him into hell. The difference was that the older folks knew where they were headed and had their eyes wide open.
Once the speech was over and the troops had been dismissed back to their regular duties, the dignitaries moved upstairs to the briefing room. Sirikat was wearing her sword, as always, but she had noticed that weapons were conspicuously absent. Before approaching the council table, she unbuckled her sword belt and wrapped the belt around the scabbard, and handed it to Bra'tac, who accepted it just as solemnly before handing it to one of the Jaffa--her Jaffa--for safekeeping. The other three would wait outside with the majority of the secret service people, but as leader of the Free Jaffa Bra'tac had a place here.
Bartlet smiled at Sirikat. "It's rather nice not to be the shortest person in the room any more," he teased.
Immediately she smiled. They were going to get along just fine. "I've been told that good things come in small packages, Mr. President."
"Welcome to Earth, Lady Sirikat."
She inclined her head politely. "Thank you, Mr. President." She had brought a gift, a pottery bowl. "On my planet, when two tribes come together to make peace, the tribal elders all drink from such a bowl as this to signify that we all drink from the same waters of life. On behalf of Daltregon, it is my great honor to present it to you as a symbol of our peoples' common love of freedom and all the other ties that I hope will soon bless us all."
Bartlet accepted the gift just as graciously and handed it off to Leo McGarry.
Once they settled down to business, most of it was simply formalizing all the things that had already been handled in diplomatic channels. That seemed to take a long time and Sirikat's collar started to itch.
Bartlet asked, "Sirikat, why you, and why Daltregon? There are hundreds of worlds enslaved to the Goa'uld."
She went cold as she realized the whole meeting led up to her answer to that question. "Why any of us, at such a time as this, Mr. President? What destiny brought Daltregon together with the Tok'ra and the Free Jaffa now? And who am I to carry that destiny to the galaxy? All I know is this. I and my people will not be slaves at the mercy of the Goa'uld any longer. We will make our stand, and we will fight. If the Goa'uld come by space rather than through the stargate, Daltregon will die free. With the weapons you can give us, we can go through the gate and take the fight to them, and not Daltregon alone. The Tok'ra have been fighting this war for so long that I wonder if they remember a time of peace. The Free Jaffa--I have no words to honor the courage of those who have cast off their chains and chosen to fight at our sides. But if you want to see courage and honor, sir, you need look no further than your own Tau'ri warriors, whose blood has bought us nearly every victory in this war since your people discovered the stargate. Together, we would take the fight to the Goa'uld and let the devastation of war fall upon those who started it all. If we stand together, many of us will still die, but for the only cause worth our lives. Daltregon and all our home worlds will live free forever. I know that none of us can stand alone against the Goa'uld Empire. They think that we will never step past our differences to fight together against the darkness. They think that they are mopping up the scattered and beaten remnants of a lost cause. They are wrong. Together, we are stronger than they will ever know. To live free, Mr. President, that is why. Here on Earth, in my land, and in every place where people now live in fear of the Goa'uld. To live free."
Bartlet nodded once. "You'll have your guns and advisors, Lady Sirikat."
"Thank you, Mr. President."
The meeting broke up shortly before the President was expected up in the NORAD complex. McGarry and Hammond stepped into the general's office for a short chat.
Thoran said, "I believe that we may have just seen the tide turn in this war, Bra'tac. Do you know what the Tau'ri have that the Goa'uld can't match?"
Thoran nodded. "Exactly. There are millions of Tau'ri, going about their lives in blissful ignorance like worker bees. So many millions of them. All it will take is one slip on the part of the Goa'uld, one mistake that lets their existence become generally known to these people. The Goa'uld should be thanking the Asgard for their treaty, because they have no idea what they are up against. The Tau'ri will come boiling out of the gate like an angry swarm. I only hope that we aren't swept aside when that happens."
"There will be a place in a free galaxy for the Tok'ra and the Free Jaffa," Bra'tac said firmly.
Sirikat put one hand on each of their arms. "There will. I swear it."
Bra'tac said, "Well done, Lady Sirikat."
"You do me too much honor, Master," she said. "That speech must have come from the Goddess, because I surely didn't know what I was going to say."
"You spoke the truth from your heart," he told her. "If your goddess showed you how to put that truth into words, then thank her for it, but the truth was yours already."
Several hours later, Sirikat and Rialla tired of sitting in their quarters. Sirikat had changed out of her finery and they were both wearing the unmarked coveralls that were issued to all civilians. Rialla mused, "I wonder what they eat here."
"I don't know but if it's like their traveling rations, I don't want any," Sirikat said. "They gave me a sort of bread thing with eggs and sausage on it. It was so dry I thought I was going to choke on it! Thank the gods I had some dried fish! But they did have good food at their camp."
"We can ask, can't we?"
Sirikat shrugged. "Let's. It's better than sitting here anyway." She went to the door and asked the airman, "May we get something to eat?"
"I'll be glad to have something sent up, ma'am."
"We'd really like to get out of this room for a while."
"I'll find out right away."
Sirikat sat on her bed.
Rialla fumed, "They don't have any business locking us up!"
Sirikat replied, "They pretend there's no such thing as aliens, remember?"
"I'll bet I could get out of here if I really wanted to," Rialla said.
"If I really wanted to, so could I, but I don't want to cause trouble. We need the Tau'ri desperately, Rialla. We can't go up against zats and staff weapons with bows and swords."
"You killed Garan with a sword."
"That's only because three people with guns and a Jaffa with a staff weapon had already killed the rest of them, Rialla! And I still got shot with a zat. If Garan had just one more Jaffa armed with a zat, or if I'd missed, I wouldn't be here now to argue with you. I didn't win that fight because I'm the greatest swordfighter who ever lived or anything like that! I won it because the Goddess blessed me that day."
There was a knock at the door. "Sirikat?"
"Come in, Jack."
He opened the door. "The airman said you guys were going stir crazy in here. I can't show you the whole place, but we can get something to eat and take the nickel tour."
"I didn't mean to bother you. I thought they'd just send one of the SFs to make sure we don't wander anywhere we shouldn't be."
"No problem, I'm off duty. Come on."
Jack didn't have to tell them twice. "You did a lot of good this afternoon, Sirikat."
"There are too many people depending on me," Sirikat replied. "I try to say the right things, but I'm so scared I won't."
"Punkin, you were right. This can't keep up forever, sneaking around through the gates and blowing up a ha'tak here and an arms factory there. We've got to find a way to take this to them, and fast, before Anubis has a chance to consolidate his forces. You know that. Hell, even the Tok'ra know that."
Sirikat said, "We're still limited to however many warriors can get through the stargate. We were watching the television news about your armies preparing to go to the middle East. Without ships, we can't field an army like that, even if we had one. Even I know that. Anubis has to."
"What if you had ships?"
"The first thing we would have to do would be to break Anubis' fleet before he could use it against any of us. If he goes down, that would throw the Empire into disarray. After that--I don't know. Do you think the System Lords would ever sue for peace? Can this end or will we keep fighting this same war for another three or four thousand years?" Sirikat asked.
"I think they'll deal before they'll fight to the last man, but you can never trust them. They'll break any deal you make with them sooner or later."
"But that would give us a chance to get more innocent people out of the way before things got really bad, wouldn't it?"
"Got it in one, Punkin."
Rialla spoke up. "But we don't have ships and they do. As long as that's true we're going to be hiding like rabbits from hawks. They can always swoop down on us from space if we stand still long enough."
Jack was a little surprised that the dark-haired girl spoke English. He was glad to see that Sirikat had a friend and confidante her own age, not just a servant to fix her hair and help with her wardrobe. "It's called air-space superiority, and you're right, Rialla. Until we can put a fleet in space that can go up against the Goa'uld armada, we're limited to fighting a guerilla war. But we're very good at that. Along with the Tok'ra, we've destroyed quite a few of their capital ships and taken out some of their best generals while we were at it. Anubis is next. You can bet he knows that too, and if he's any kind of a strategist at all, he's lying awake nights thinking about it."
Sirikat said, "Then he won't wait too much longer to move. He needs to own his own longhouse to be sure a raiding party can't get in to kill him in his sleeping furs."
By then they had reached the commissary. He warned the girls, "Stay away from the meatloaf."
Rialla said, "Tell me what things are. I can't read English." They made their way through the chow line. Rialla drank her soup and ate with her knife, but Sirikat had learned to use a fork and spoon.
O'Neill heard familiar laughter and looked up to see Jonas hanging out with a group of kids his age, including the newest young member of the Russian team, Elena what's-her-name. There were also a couple of Marines, Reed and Ren'auc, and the new doctor, a 2nd LT named Diego Vallejo, and a nurse named Rush. Someone spotted him and Jonas headed over. "Pardon the interruption, Colonel, ladies. May I leave the base?"
"Sure, but be in the gateroom at 0600 sharp. I want us past the cliffs before we make camp tomorrow night."
"Where are you going?"
"The mall," Jonas said.
"OK. If you go anywhere else, it better not be off limits," O'Neill warned.
"Yes, sir." Jonas had resented O'Neill's paternal attitude for a long while, until he had learned a few lessons the hard way about the realities of life on the other side of the gate. Most recently, a few days ago they had watched the Russian team's CO, Colonel Evanov, die in a particularly horrible way as a result of one of Nirrti's experiments. Not fifteen minutes later O'Neill had tried to walk into that same hell in his place. Jonas didn't know how to begin to thank someone for that, but he knew one thing. He wouldn't be arguing about the alien rules or anything else for a good long while.
Rialla asked, "What is a mall?"
O'Neill explained, "It's a noisy, crowded place where people go to spend all their money and hang out with their friends."
Sirikat asked, "Something like a fair?"
"Sort of, I guess. Kids, sorry, but I can't take you off base this trip. We'll just have to see what we can get into here," he told them. "What do you want to bet Carter's still in her lab instead of home watching TV or something?"
As Jack expected, the door was open and the light was on. He cautioned the girls, "Don't touch anything in here unless Carter says it's OK."
Carter had her head inside a project box, and they heard the occasional hiss and crackle of melting solder. "What'cha doin'?"
She looked up and smiled. "Colonel! I thought you'd left already."
"Got a couple of bored kids here. I thought I'd spring 'em out of their quarters before they thought of some new way to pester the SFs."
Carter laughed, grinning at the girls. "We can't have that, sir!"
Sirikat turned around twice staring at the lab. "What is all this stuff?"
Carter explained, "The project that I'm working on right now is an interface--that is, a connection--so that we can download the memory of a Goa'uld computer and bring it back here to study. I need to jam as much hard drive space into this box as I can, but still keep it from overheating."
"Well, wouldn't you like to know what's in a Goa'uld computer?"
Jack looked at the crystals set in a slide tray, lying next to the project box. "Yeah, do you think they play video games?"
Sirikat said, "Nice crystals, but if you're trying to do a communication spell, you have to have the two quartz together. I've watched my queen do it. But what do the amethyst and what's-this-green-one do?"
Sam replied, "This is the crystal array from a Goa'uld computer, Sirikat. I need to interface my computer with this piece of equipment."
"She's right about the quartz crystals, Carter. Vanira did her crystal thing so we could talk, I was looking right at her."
"It's worth a try." Carter switched one of the quartz crystals with the amethyst and powered up the computer that she was building. It booted right up and connected with the crystal array.
Rialla asked, "So, the Goa'uld do magic the same way we do?"
Sam said, "It isn't magic, it's science. They don't cast spells or anything like that."
"Well, they may not know what they're doing but I'll bet..." Sirikat chose three certain crystals from containers sitting on the work bench, the smallest examples that she could find, and carefully bound them to a pencil with a few deft wraps of twine. "...I'll bet you've seen something similar to this before."
Sam took it. "I sure have. Colonel, this is the exact same arrangement of crystals as inside a staff weapon."
Rialla asked, "Will it really go off?"
"Yes, if I power it. But not in here!"
Sam said, "A staff weapon has a power crystal."
Sirikat said, "It's almost like they know if you arrange crystals in certain ways that things will happen. But they don't really understand why it works so they just keep doing it that one way whether it makes sense or not."
Sam told her, "The Goa'uld use technology that they find, but most of them aren't very good at innovation."
O'Neill asked, "Do you know how your people got to Daltregon?"
"The first queen, Danire, crossed the sky fleeing from the giants. She hid in a waterfall and found refuge there. After a time, though, she grew sorrowful, for her children only had half their souls, and Danire could not comfort them. The Goddess took pity on their tears and sent our human mothers and fathers to Danire. And so we became the People of all the tribes, and all was good. Until the demons came, but that is another story."
Rialla said, "So...there really could have been an actual person named Danire? I thought those were just stories."
Sam said, "Sure, there could be a true story behind the legend. A queen on the run from the Goa'uld could have hidden on Daltregon. Maybe she brought humans there with her, or maybe they wandered through the gate on their own. Anyway, we know that the two species got along somehow and formed a common civilization."
Jack asked, "Did this Danire know all this stuff about the crystals or was that somebody else?"
The young queen said, "There are two legends about that. One is that she did bring the knowledge of magic with her. But the southern tribes say that the spirits of the earth kidnapped her consort and took him to their longhouse in a cavern deep under the roots of the mountains. Danire searched for him and had many adventures in the land under the rock. She finally found him and fought a duel with Kangorred, the lord of the earth spirits. He bought his life by teaching Danire the ways of magic."
Rialla said, "I think that is just a story. People have been looking for thousands of years, because Kangorred's caverns are supposed to be full of treasure, but no one has ever found anything. We say 'looking for Kangorred's caverns' when someone is looking for something that doesn't exist."
"Could this Kangorred also have been a Goa'uld?"
Sirikat said, "Not if he had a human host because Kangorred was a monster made of stone but they don't always take humans for hosts, do they?"
"No, they don't," Sam said. "The first Goa'uld came from the Unas home world and took Unas as hosts. Then there's Anubis."
Jack said, "If that's really what he looks like."
"I guess it's possible," Sirikat said.
They kept the girls occupied all evening, talking about the things in Carter's lab and getting them to tell more of their legends. By the time Jack took them back to their quarters they were ready to go to bed for the night.
The early morning mists had yet to rise from the meadow when SG-1 stepped through the stargate. They cleared the meadow and back into the trees before they radioed Bra'tac to bring the rest on through. Sirikat didn't argue with the precautions. It wasn't far from here that she had been captured and her consorts murdered. She was perfectly happy with the quick pace the adults set.
They followed game trails through the forest most of that day, until they reached the river that flowed from the lake where Sirikat's village was located. There was a distinct trail here where people came to fish. They built wooden weirs across shallow places and fished with spears and hand nets, tearing down the weirs at the end of the day. The trail started to climb steeply as the river cut its way through the hills in a series of cataracts. Often the trail narrowed and followed a ledge halfway up a steep cliff, and it was this area that O'Neill had wanted to get past while they still had plenty of daylight.
All of them were on the lookout for a possible ambush, because this would be a great place for one. It wasn't an enemy attack that caused the trouble, though.
The first warning was a few pebbles sifting down from far above them. Then a big rock let go and tumbled between Jonas and Bra'tac. "Rockslide!"
They ran for it, praying not to fall or get squashed by rocks the size of small cars. Sirikat screamed as a rock hit her, knocking her over the side. Jack grabbed for her only to be dragged over with her.
He landed hard and somehow held onto Sirikat's jacket. He was on a very narrow ledge and there were still rocks cascading all around them. He looked around wildly for some shelter, anything. An opening in the rocks, little more than a crack, was hope for survival. A sharp pain in his side told him he had broken a rib again, but right now that barely registered as they scrambled into the crevice. Rocks continued to bounce into the opening behind them with plenty of force to knock someone's head in. They got their feet under them and ran deeper into what proved to be a cave.
Jack switched on his light. "Sirikat, are you okay?"
"I think I broke my ankle," she moaned.
"Let's get your boot off and take a look."
He couldn't tell if it was broken or very badly sprained, but Sirikat could tell it was broken. She went through the collection of crystals in her belt pouch and extracted a red one. She cast the same healing spell that he had seen her use on Jonas before, but now using the crystal as a focus.
Jack felt along the broken rib, hissing as he found the break. It felt like a clean break, the kind that would heal on its own.
Sirikat fell back against him, worn out with the effort of healing her ankle. Jack shifted her weight to a more comfortable position and rested while she did. He kept waiting for sounds of digging, but there were none. Nobody could have seen the narrow crevice from the trail. They would have thought the two of them went in the river, so they would be searching downstream. It would be up to the two of them to get themselves out of here. Jack put the light out, they would need it later. At least, he hoped, there was no Stonesinger or any of its relatives down here to cause trouble.
Sirikat woke up an hour later, confused and crying out in incoherent Daltregonian. Jack said, "Shhh, it's okay, it's Jack, we're safe now."
"What happened, where are we?"
"Do you remember, a rockslide knocked us off the path and we fell? We found this cave. You broke your ankle."
"Eee. Yes, I remember now." She still had her crystal in her hand. She replaced it in her pouch and fished for a certain shaped quartz one, which she made light up. "We can't get out, the rocks closed off the tunnel!!!"
"Can you use your crystals to blast them out of the way?"
She shook her head. "You have to be more advanced to learn that spell."
"But you knew the crystals to make a staff weapon."
"Well, I'm not really supposed to know that. I sneaked a look in Vanira's book once. But that won't do us any good either, because I don't have the right crystals."
"A Goa'uld ribbon device only has the one big yellow one," he reminded her. "They can do a hell of a blast with that."
"I saw the one Sam has, but I've never seen a stone like that before. I don't think we have them around here." She got up carefully, putting her weight on her ankle very gingerly before taking a few experimental steps. "I don't think I fixed it all the way, but I can walk on it now. It will heal up the rest of the way overnight."
"OK, take it easy for a few minutes. I'm gonna take a better look at the rockslide and see if we can move enough rocks to get ourselves out of here." That, he soon realized, was a lost cause. They were damned lucky just to be alive.
He had a block of C4, and considered blasting the opening, but nothing down here looked really stable. It was more likely he'd just bring more rock down.
Sirikat was taking inventory of what she had in her pack and pockets. They had food enough for three days, more if they rationed it out. Water would be the problem, they had two full canteens. With her crystal, they wouldn't have to worry about using up the flashlight batteries.
"Sirikat, can you do anything if we run out of water?"
She said, "There's a spell I think I know it." She opened her mess kit to get a cup and tried a spell, but it backfired and the water she called appeared over her head. She shrieked and spluttered. Jack grabbed at his injured side. Laughing out loud was so not a good idea.
"What's the matter?"
"A rock hit me, it's nothing."
She took him at his word without a fuss. She lived in a rough and tumble world where minor injuries were no cause for alarm.
Sirikat wrung as much water from her hair as she could. "Well, I thought I knew that spell, anyway!"
"Do you know what you did wrong?"
"Probably. Next time I'll try to soak you if I miss!"
"Ever heard of water balloons?" Jack asked, with a devilish grin.
"What do you do for fun around here?"
"We know lots of games. Wolves and Rabbit. The rabbit hides and the wolves try to find him. If they can't, one of them has to be the rabbit."
"That's something like hide and seek back home."
"There are lots of others. Then there are every day things that are just fun. I help my girlfriends take care of their babies, and work in the garden, and hunt and fish. I study with Grandmother Karumai--learning magic is hard but I enjoy it too. Right now I'm learning all the plants and how to make potions and medicines. And that's when I'm not raising an army to go kill the demons, Goddess help me!"
Jack picked up a rock and marked an arrow and the date and time on the cave wall. "We'd might as well look around, since we're stuck in here."
Sirikat leaned on the wall and kept as much weight off her sore ankle as she could. "There has to be another way out of here."
They explored for a while, and finally found a bat colony. Sirikat said, "Hey, when it gets dark we'll just follow the bats out."
Jack checked his watch. "Couple of hours till it gets dark. You'd better rest your ankle."
She settled gratefully on a rock and propped up her sore leg and took a couple of swallows from her canteen. "My mothers are going to kill me."
"You! I'm the one who promised Vanira I'd look out for you."
"You did! I'd have been at the bottom of the river if it weren't for you," Sirikat said. "Thank you, by the way. I owe you my life again."
"Who's keeping score? Take a nap while you can. We don't know how far we'll have to follow those bats to get out of here."
They found flat spots to unroll their sleeping bags, but Jack sat up. They'd have to be ready to move to follow the bats. It wouldn't take them long to clear out of the cave when they decided to fly. He woke Sirikat when the colony started to stir around, and tied his extra t-shirt around his mouth and nose. Bat colonies were filthy places and it was a real bad idea to breathe the dust that would get stirred up. Siri would protect Kat but he was on his own.
They stayed near the cave wall and followed the bats some distance. Sirikat's ankle slowed her. "Go on, don't lose them! I'll sit down and wait for you if the tunnel goes more than one way!"
"Are you sure?"
She pressed the light crystal in his hand. "Hurry, we're losing them."
O'Neill kept after the swarm of bats for several hundred yards up the tunnel, until he came out in a high round chamber. The bats exited the cave through a crack near the top, but he couldn't see any possible way to climb up there, and it was too small for either of them even if they could get to it. "Oh, for cryin' out loud !" He reached for his radio. "Sierra Gulf One Two, this is Sierra Gulf One Niner, do you read?" Two failed attempts later, he left off. The radio wasn't going to work down here.
"Up here. Don't bother; we can't follow the bats out."
She stopped at the opening, staring up at the crack in the wall. "If you fire your rifle, do you think someone might hear it?"
"Not down here, Sirikat, who knows how far the bats follow that crack to get outside."
She sat down. "Well, I'm out of ideas."
Jack studied the hole in the wall for a few more minutes. "Me too. Let's make camp here for the night, and we'll think of something in the morning."
As darkness closed in, Carter reluctantly halted the search until morning. Down along the river, it was pitch dark and they didn't need to lose anyone else to the treacherous whitewater. She had sent two of the Jaffa as runners, one to the gate and the other to the village. They should have help with the search the next day. Every hour that passed made it more likely that they were conducting a recovery instead of a rescue. Carter simply refused to believe that. They had beaten the odds too many times for her to lose hope now.
She heard Rialla crying and went to the girl. "We'll find them tomorrow, hon. You just have to keep the faith."
"It all happened so fast. I reached for her but she was just gone."
"I know. We did the best we could."
"Sam, that water is--could anyone swim in that?"
Sam said, "I won't lie to you, the white water is bad and the water is very cold. But Colonel O'Neill is a really strong swimmer. If anyone could get them out of that river, he'd do it."
"Then why haven't we found them?"
"They could have come out on the other bank. As soon as we get to the shallows where we can cross, we'll have people beating the bushes on both sides of the river. Get some rest. We're going to start looking again as soon as it gets light."
O'Neill and Sirikat were awakened at dawn by the return of the bat colony. Millions of wings sailing just inches away from them was a hell of an alarm clock. Sirikat ducked into her sleeping bag like a turtle until they went by, and it was a few minutes after everything went quiet before she got up the nerve to stick her head out.
She saw O'Neill's hand over his side again as he got up. Worried, she said, "You should let me look at that."
"OK, but you're not taping it," he told her. "I might need to be able to move even if it is broken."
She said, "There's no if about it. This one's broken and I think this one might be cracked." She got her crystal and worked on it for a few minutes. Relief from the pain was immediate, but he knew from watching her work on her ankle that it would take her a while to do any real healing. Warmth that quickly became unpleasantly hot let him know the spell was working. About ten minutes later she sat back on her heels.
"That's all I can do for right now. Be careful, the one that was broken is still cracked pretty badly. I'll do the spell again later."
"OK, no problem if you don't. If you've got it patched together right, it should heal up on its own in a few weeks." At least he could take a deep breath without feeling like someone kicked him in the side.
That wasn't getting them out of here. "I was watching the damn bats. Did you notice any other tunnels or anything?"
"There was a small one about a hundred yards from the bat house," she said. "It was kind of behind a rock."
"OK, let's go check it out."
"Wait a minute, let's see if I can call more water without soaking myself again."
This time the water went in the cup. She poured it carefully into his canteen, and then tried again. The spell fizzled once, then the next time she got more, which topped her canteen off. "OK," she said, relieved. "We won't have to worry about water, thank the gods."
Well, that bought them more time to find a way out, Jack thought. The rule of thumb was three days without water, three weeks without food. He'd gone a week without water after the time his parachute hadn't opened, but he wasn't in any hurry to repeat that performance--ever.
Sirikat was still limping and hanging onto the wall to keep from putting weight on her ankle. O'Neill let her set the pace. He wasn't surprised he had missed the small opening. It was behind a curtain formation that made it nearly invisible.
The tunnel went back in maybe twenty feet, then opened into an obviously manmade square tunnel. It wasn't the ornately decorative style of the Goa'uld. The floor, walls and ceiling were lined with rusty metal plates, held together by rivets that were about an inch in diameter.
Jack teased, "What do you know, we found Kangaroo's caverns."
She laughed, "Kangorred...it couldn't be...but I'm sure I don't know what it is!"
"I don't think anyone has been in here for a long time," Jack said.
They came to a big metal hatch that was locked from the inside. O'Neill sent Sirikat back up the tunnel while he set up to blow the lock. He still had most of the C4, but only three more detonators. It made a hell of a noise that echoed through the tunnels like the world's biggest gong.
Belatedly he hoped there wasn't anyone hostile down here, but it wasn't like they had a choice about getting that door open.
Inside, there were light crystals on the walls, and enough of them were still glowing to dimly light the place. Sirikat asked, "What is this place?"
"You got me, I've never seen anything like it." They rounded a corner and came to doors on either side. These gave way to a good swift kick. Inside were rows of bunk beds, their springs rusted through and the mattresses long since rotted away. Obviously a barracks.
Jack checked out a door that went to the shower room. Water leaked from holes in rusty pipes to flow into a central drain.
Sirikat found a footlocker and twisted the lock off. Beneath a few scraps of fabric that might once have been a shirt, she found a big heavy coin and polished it on her pants leg.
"Jack, I think I found something!"
He took the coin and switched on the bright light on his P-90. "This sure looks like Goa'uld writing, but it isn't like the money they use now."
The front of the coin showed a big sledgehammer. It wasn't a mark that he had seen before. He gave the coin back to Sirikat.
O'Neill kicked in a few more doors. Someone had once garrisoned about thirty men here, but Jack was fairly sure nobody had been in here in a hundred years or more. Probably longer than that, much longer, unless they had completely avoided detection by Sirikat's people. Anything within 500 years was in Karumai's living memory.
Sirikat wasn't about to kick any doors with her injured ankle. She found a piece of metal and pried a door open. "Oh, thank you, Lord and Lady! Jack, this goes up!"
He joined her at the bottom of a narrow round shaft with a series of metal rings set into the wall that served as a ladder. The first one came loose when he stepped on it. "No use, Punkin, it's too old."
"Maybe not. I'm a lot smaller than you. It might hold my weight."
"It might. I'm guessing you can do some kinda flying spell if it doesn't?" He asked sarcastically.
"Umm, well, not exactly...."
"Look, Sirikat, we know where it is. We'll finish searching the place, and if we don't find a better way, we'll come back. If nothing else, once we get healed up we can chimney climb it. We're outta here, it's just a question of when."
"You're right. I just really don't like being cooped up in here," Sirikat admitted.
"Me either, but it's gonna be OK." Jack hugged her. "Let's finish exploring this place and get the hell out of here."
"There's more stuff that way but it goes down."
"We'll take a look anyhow."
A stairway went down, but Jack didn't particularly trust it, as rusty as everything else was in here. He stayed close to the wall, testing each step before putting all his weight on it.
"OK, Sirikat, come on down, but stay close to the wall."
She came down to join him. "I need to rest my ankle. I think I screwed up fixing it and left a loose piece of bone floating around in there."
"What do you need to do about it?"
"Figure out where it should have gone and put it back...but I think you'll have to pop it loose where I did it wrong before."
"Hey, wait a minute, we'd better get you home before you mess around with that."
"No, it'll be all healed wrong by then and Mother will have to hit it really hard."
"Are you sure you can fix it this time?"
She nodded. "I'm sure."
"OK, let's find a good place to camp for tonight and then we'll look at it."
"There's more light down here, and things aren't as rusty."
Jack realized she was right. This level was in better repair than the barracks upstairs. It was entirely possible that the barracks was the only area that was abandoned. "Stay behind me and keep quiet until I'm sure we're the only ones in here."
Sirikat made sure her zat was in easy reach. She wasn't fond of the Goa'uld weapon, but she could still shoot straight even if she did have a bad leg.
There were several common rooms down here, and they were in good repair, although a thick coat of dust indicated that it had been a while since anyone had been here. There was another way out, another passage blocked by a metal hatch, which was easily opened from the inside. The area beyond was a natural cave.
Jack locked the hatch back and secured it by dropping a thick metal bar in place. Anyone who wanted in would have to resort to explosives. The noise would give them plenty of warning that someone was coming.
They holed up in a lounge or a break room of some sort. Jack searched the cabinets and found typical Goa'uld provisions in stasis boxes. "This is recent."
Sirikat said, "It's a hunting lodge, it has to be. When they come here to hunt my people, this is where they hide."
He nodded. That made an unsettling kind of sense.
Sirikat unrolled her sleeping bag and sat down to take her boot off. She felt around the break. Several times she winced and had to stop briefly. She took her crystal and tried to move the stray bone fragment back where it belonged, but just as she had feared, it was too nearly healed.
"OK, I found it."
"What do you need me to do?"
She put his finger on the badly set bone. "That's wrong. It shouldn't be too hard to pop it apart. I guess I should just do it myself...but I'd rather not."
He hit a nerve center first, that made her whole foot go numb. Then he quickly snapped the half-healed break. She was right, it gave with a sharp little pop. She couldn't get the crystal on it fast enough, but this time she got the job done right.
O'Neill held her tight. "That took guts, Punkin."
"I got good at fixing broken bones, even without a crystal. Garan really kicked the crap out of me a couple of times."
"It was pretty awful, wasn't it?"
"He wanted to sleep with me, and when I wouldn't, that was when he beat me."
"You survived, and you killed the son of a bitch. He'll never hurt you or anybody else again," O'Neill said quietly, clamping down on a sudden fury that didn't have a living target. "Rest and get your ankle healed up. Tomorrow we're getting out of here."
Another dawn. Carter had been up and down both sides of the river bank twice. Now they were using a UAV to look for signs that bodies might be hung up underwater. That was just absolutely not what had happened. Carter worked her way along the opposite bank from where the rock slide had taken out the trail. She studied the path of the slide. If they hadn't gone into the water at all, where else could they be?
A loud metallic scrape sent O'Neill grabbing for his P-90. Sirikat was out of her sleeping bag and had her zat in hand as if she'd teleported. Both of them froze, listening. Everything was dead silence for a good five minutes, then they heard the noise again, coming from somewhere below them.
Sirikat asked, "Did you see any way down to a lower level of this?"
"Not from here. Doesn't mean there isn't one, the Goa'uld hide doors all the time."
They got their gear together. Sirikat asked, "Which way?"
Jack had been deliberating on that. He could send Sirikat up that ladder, and if it would hold her much lighter weight, she'd be out. She'd also be alone until she hooked up with the others--who were probably scattered out all along the river looking for them by now. It was a long way up and if she fell from near the top the fall could very well be deadly.
"Somebody's using this place and they're getting in from somewhere in those caves. We're better off looking for another way out."
"Right behind you. Now, please. I'm getting a very bad feeling about this place."
O'Neill had about enough of it himself, but he wasn't going to go running without thinking and jump out of the frying pan into the fire. He cleared every corner they came to and listened at the main hatch before opening it carefully. They hurried through, as there was no way to avoid being silhouetted by the light behind them as they got out. Jack pulled the hatch closed behind them.
Sirikat activated her light crystal and knelt. This level of the cave was wet, and there was dirt over the rocks which had been deposited by high water. She knelt to look at tracks. Most were Jaffa boot prints, but there were also larger ones made by bare feet with clawed toes. "Your Unas?" she asked.
He nodded. "How old do you figure?"
"Down here? I don't know. I guess this season, or the water would have come up over. But everything in there has been sitting for a while. Maybe when they caught me before. But Garan's host was human."
"It may not be connected. Let's move."
Following the trail, they traveled at least a couple of miles through a cavern that continually sloped downhill. When there were no signs of pursuit and they heard no one else moving around in the caverns all that time, they relaxed a little, but Sirikat was still sure the place had turned very dangerous. Jack couldn't completely reassure her because he shared her sense of unease. Something had made that noise. "How's your ankle doing?"
"I think it healed up overnight this time. It doesn't hurt any more."
They came to a narrow metal stairway clinging to the side of the cavern, and the tracks ended there. At least the trail seemed to be going up again.
"Stay here while I check it out."
"Umm--it's safer here than up there?"
He reconsidered. "OK, but hang back. I'll let you know when it's clear."
Sirikat nodded and gave him the light crystal. He wrapped it in a sock, allowing only a fraction of its light to escape.
There was a wide landing at the top of the stairs, with another of the large hatches as well as a smaller door.
The hatch started to open. O'Neill covered the glowing crystal and retreated down the stairs, flattening himself against the wall. Jaffa boots clanked around on the metal landing for several minutes.
O'Neill didn't have to speak Goa'uld to know what was going on. Kan'en had left even less naquada in his body than the Daltregonians carried, but it was enough to sense from five feet away. Gripping the P-90, he waited as a light beam swept the stairs. He heard the unmistakable tones of a Goa'uld voice.
He started shooting as soon as he was spotlighted. The Jaffa went down before he could bring his staff weapon to bear, and all hell broke loose.
O'Neill took off down the stairs and took cover underneath them. Flashlight beams crisscrossed the cavern. He didn't know where Sirikat had gone.
When he heard boots on the stairs, he ducked out and fired a burst that accounted for another of the Jaffa, then got back under the stairs and moved. Two staff blasts hit where he had just been.
There were still five or six Jaffa; it was hard to tell in the darting flashlight beams. The Goa'uld was a hatchet-faced woman, easily visible with the aura of her personal shield surrounding her.
He could take out two or three of them, but without more cover the best he could hope for was to go down fighting. Unless they took Sirikat prisoner, he had no intention of being taken alive. He wouldn't risk being forced to betray her. If he fought to the death, there were good odds that they would think he was alone and never even realize the little queen was down here.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Sorry, Sam.
He hadn't counted on Sirikat. As soon as he broke cover and started firing, the Goa'uld grew an arrow in her throat and dropped like a stone. A staff blast caught O'Neill low in the side and he collapsed to his knees, but kept his grip on his rifle and kept firing.
Jaffa were no cowards and they wouldn't have backed down from a shootout. But silent death out of the darkness was something else again. One Jaffa fell with an arrow in his eye. Sirikat shot the next one through the throat. He clawed desperately at the arrow before joining his companions in death, as O'Neill killed one more before all his strength left him. The last one retreated back up the stairs.
Sirikat fell beside him. "Jack!"
He grabbed her wrist as she reached for her healing crystal. "Get the hell out of here!"
"Unless you want me to go up there and kill every one of those demon bastards or die trying, you live, damn you!" That was all Siri, startling him enough that she got her hand loose and palmed her healing crystal. The pain in his side exploded, tearing a harsh cry out of him. She hadn't dared waste the time or energy to numb it first. He clenched his jaw and rode it out.
She stopped short of passing out. O'Neill got his feet under him and they fled into the caverns. There was no question of either of them dragging the other. Wherever one of them couldn't go any further, that was where they would make their stand.
That turned out to be a large cavern with several passages opening on the far side of a shallow lake. O'Neill directed their trail into the icy water, but instead of fleeing deeper into the cavern system, he indicated a small opening about ten feet up. Climbing up there was all O'Neill could manage. Sirikat checked to be sure he wasn't bleeding, then laid her bow across her lap, her quiver within easy reach. Her hand sought his and he closed his fingers over hers. "Punkin, if I don't make it, don't do anything stupid. Get home alive. Promise me."
"I promise," she said. "You aren't going to die." She used the crystal to block the pain. "Rest. Give the healing a chance to work."
The next thing he knew, the cavern outside was echoing with Jaffa voices. A lot of people were splashing around in the pond. Occasional flashes of light reflected off wet stone lit their bolt hole like daylight to eyes accustomed to complete darkness. Sirikat knelt at the opening with her bow at the ready. He clenched his jaw and crawled up to join her.
She said in a bare whisper, "They think we're circling around ahead of them and leading them through the tunnels."
"Good. They didn't happen to mention a way out of here, did they?"
"Not yet," she grinned.
A few minutes later, the Jaffa trooped down a different passage, hunting them. Sirikat worked on his wound again, but he made her stop when he saw the exhaustion in her eyes.
"We've got to get out of here, Punkin. Sooner later they're going to figure out we didn't leave this cave, and I don't want to be here when they do."
She nodded and put the crystal away, slung her bow and quiver to climb down and make sure he got down without falling. They headed back the way they had come.
When they approached the stairs, this time they went up together, expecting sentries. There was just one, and O'Neill cut his throat before he could raise the alarm.
O'Neill tried the smaller of the two doors, and found it locked. They were going to have to blow it. He used as little explosive as possible and prayed the thick hatch would muffle the sound.
Inside was a much-worn stairway going up.
They cleared each flight as they went, and had to stop to rest twice. The stairway came out at a cleverly hidden door in the rocks at the top of a hill.
"Any idea where we are?" O'Neill asked.
"I don't know exactly, but the stargate is that way, so we must be east of the river. If we go due west we should find the trail again."
O'Neill keyed his radio. "Sierra Gulf One Two, this is Sierra Gulf One Niner, do you copy?"
"Copy, One Niner!" Carter all but yelled. The loud whoop he heard must have been Jonas. "What's your situation?"
"We're both okay. Meet you back at town. Call off the search and get organized, we found a nest of Jaffa in a cave system on the east side of the river."
"Roger that, 1-9. How many of them?"
"Estimate twenty left. 1-9 out."
Carter signed off and took the time for a heartfelt prayer of thanks to whoever happened to be listening before getting everyone together.
O'Neill and Sirikat were met by a raiding party from the village, led by Daitar, who were ready to go down in that cave and kill anything that moved, until they saw that O'Neill was injured.
By the time they made it back to the village, SG-1 and SG-3 were there. Carter had sent SG-5 back to secure the stargate when she found out there were Goa'uld onworld.
Vanira took them into her room and threw everyone but Sirikat and Carter out, taking over a little too much like Fraiser to suit O'Neill. The only reason Carter got to stay was that O'Neill was reporting what they'd seen down in the cavern. They helped him strip to the waist and Vanira worked over him for a few minutes. When she had finished, the wound was gone except for some light scarring.
When they went back, it was in a force large enough to handle the opposition they faced. They found no sign of the Unas, and everyone was sure the structures in the cavern hadn't been originally built by the Goa'uld. Who, then, was a mystery.
Word of the discovery spread swiftly to the other tribes scattered across Daltregon.
O'Neill walked around the village for a while. Sam came over. "Is something wrong, sir?"
"Just got a decision to make. Let's say you'd figured out something important about someone. Something they might not be happy to know about, but probably should know, would you tell them?"
Carter thought about it. "I'd tell them if there was good in it. Not just for-their-own-good type good, but something that would make their life better."
He found Sirikat in the temple. "Charlie."
Sirikat dropped the candle she was holding and spun around, eyes wide. "How long have you known?"
"Just now," he admitted. "I guessed. All that about paths crossing, and your grandmother laughing at us because we were too dumb to see what was right in front of us. A friend of mine told me that you and I were going to run into each other again. He thought it was going to be on Earth and that threw me off for a while. But it was Siri-you who wouldn't leave me, and you're the right age."
Kat said, "I wouldn't have left you either."
They sat on the floor while Sirikat cleaned up the spilled wax, collecting herself.
"How long have *you* known?" He finally asked.
"When you were shot, I remembered everything."
"I think your Goddess is up there somewhere laughing at us," O'Neill said.
"I'll understand if you never forgive me."
"What? It was my fault."
"You were unintentionally careless, but I was intentionally stupid. I wasn't trying to kill myself, you have to understand that--"
"I know that."
"But I was determined to get my hands on that gun. And it would have been a different one if I hadn't had the chance to get that one. I was SO STUPID. I ruined your life. My mother-then has never forgiven me, has she?"
"She never forgave me, and I can't ask her to."
"It would be bad to tell her this. I don't think she could ever accept me as a blended pair. I'm surprised that you do."
"You're not Goa'uld or even Tok'ra. None of that has anything to do with you. I understand that now...maybe a little while ago I wouldn't have."
Sirikat broke down and sobbed, "I'm so sorry. I hurt you so much. If I could just take it all back--If I had just listened--I never meant--I swear I never meant--"
He held her. "I know, Sirikat, I know. You were just a little kid. You made a mistake and, God, you paid for it. I never should have given you the chance to make that mistake, and that is my responsibility."
"I guess we both just have to accept the karma for that day," she said through her tears. "But it can be past now. Another life."
"Yeah. That sure was another life." Everything pre-SGC was a whole other lifetime.
Vanira came in and Sirikat explained.
"Good Lord and Lady, but this has been a day with a whole week crammed into it. Jack, do Tau'ri remember your past lives? I know so little about your people's religion."
O'Neill said, "I don't remember mine and I'm not sure if I'd want to. Some people have always said they do. I guess I'm a believer now--at least the part about past lives. I've seen too many so-called gods and goddesses to put much stock in that."
"I understand. I know, this is a lot to take in...I went through something like this when I first started pathworking. Van-I and Nira-I are true twin souls. That is, we were one human being in our last life. You would have shot the person I was then, and I would have deserved it. Our karmic debts always give us a chance to make amends to the people we harmed, but I'm not that evil person anymore. I owe the debt, but I don't have to accept the guilt. Neither do you, Sirikat. Learn the lesson from it, but live this life."
O'Neill suddenly realized that if he had surrendered to the temptation to kill himself after Charlie died, today never would have happened. If there was a God or a Goddess, or one of each, they must have been looking out for him then. Sirikat asked, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, just thinking about how things work out."
Vanira said, "We're going to be eating soon."
"Give us a few minutes, would you?"
"Not too long, or I'll eat your share," she threatened with a loving smile. Then she left them to get themselves sorted before they joined the crowd.
The Goa'uld presence on Daltregon changed things as far as Vanira was concerned. She had thought her daughter was safest at home, but now she was no longer sure of her ability to keep Sirikat out of enemy hands. The last remaining prophecy still hung over their heads, and Vanira took that extremely seriously. She and General Hammond decided it would be best for Sirikat to stay with Jack for a while.
Karumai kissed her granddaughter's forehead. "Learning about who you were is good. Learning about who you are is better."
Vanira gave her a traveling bag containing a full set of crystals. "It's time you had these. Learn whatever Major Carter and the Tok'ra can teach you about them."
Her human mother Shaneska settled a hand-woven shawl around her shoulders and fastened it with a silver brooch. Its intricate knot work spoke of many blessings, to one who knew how to read it. This was a traditional gift for a girl entering the circle of adult women. "Wear it with honor, my daughter."
"Yes, Mother. I'll be home when the tribes gather to train with the Tau'ri weapons."
The three watched them out of sight before Shaneska and Vanira started crying. Vanira said, "She isn't ours any more. She belongs to Daltregon now."
Karumai said, "She belongs to a universe wider and more wonderful than we could ever have imagined. She's going to be just fine."
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