Waiting for the Night

Stepping off the Stargate platform, my unease grows. No tangible reason feeds my concern, just a feeling of foreboding hanging heavily over my head. There is something not right about this planet. It is an inclination I began feeling during the mission briefing, while watching the MALP transmissions of PX9 763. The playback looked benign, but underlying the picturesque landscape, beneath the pleasantness of outward appearances, I could not help but feel an invasive dread creeping over me.
I do not believe I was alone in my hesitancy. Major Carter appeared quite ill at ease and alarmingly pale, both items I dismissed as results from her all too recent possession by the computer entity. O'Neill also looked unwell, as though he had not slept in quite some nights. I know O'Neill cannot overcome the memory of shooting and killing Major Carter. Only Daniel Jackson expressed true enthusiasm, expounding on the mysteries of the Minoan civilization obviously present on the planet - the building styles are clearly representative of the lost culture here on Earth.
Even Daniel Jackson, behind his excitement, was not wholly devoted to the mission at hand, though I am not certain why. He was disturbingly calm as Major Carter lay brain-dead before us, though I know them to be good friends. Daniel Jackson has a tendency to suppress the strongest of emotions, to bury himself in rationality and logic, just as he demonstrated during this mission briefing. Because I could attribute my friends' less than eager behavior to outside, very real factors, I withheld my unexplainable apprehension.
I should have spoken.
Major Carter moves cautiously next to me, bringing my attention fully to the present. While it is true that my trepidation increases the longer we are here, it provides me with motivation to assist the rest of SG1 complete this mission and return home as quickly as possible. Major Carter removes her pack and starts removing sample vials and I move to stand next to her. It has become somewhat of a custom that I give my aid in gathering samples, one I am pleased to partake in. My admiration for her has grown significantly over the past five years, much in part to our personable conversation during these excavations.
From early on in our acquaintance, I have respected Major Carter. She portrays both military strictness and feminine softness, a duality which is not often deemed a favorable quality. I believe it to be a strength in her relationships within SG1, as any who may benefit from her friendship.
I have noticed her unusual silence these past several weeks. Many times, I have witnessed her looking at O'Neill, Daniel Jackson and myself as if seeking confirmation of her own existence. I cannot imagine what she suffered when the entity placed her mental consciousness into the SGC's computer network, but I do know how terrified she was after she was returned to her body. It is because of her newly formed uncertainty that I consider my assistance to her even more vital. I supply assurance to her in the only way I am able that she is here. And that I know it.
"Hey, Daniel," O'Neill calls from a short distance away, "What's with the naked pregnant woman statue?"
Glancing up from my task, I see Daniel Jackson give O'Neill an exasperated glare. This return to normalcy mildly eases my concerns. O'Neill frequently uses sarcasm to lift the spirits of those around him. Even when he himself does not feel the humor, he sees the need for it and is always quick to provide. Daniel Jackson is quite often annoyed by O'Neill's commentary, but I know in truth he appreciates every opportunity to verbally spar with our team leader.
"Jack, had you been listening to me during the briefing," Daniel Jackson retorts, "you'd know that throughout Minoan culture, the worship of the Mother Goddess remained a constant."
"What's that got to do with the naked pregnant lady here?"
"I'm not even going to dignify that with a response."
"It was just a question."
"Jack, you know the Mother Goddess symbolizes fertility. I've explained this about a million times."
"And? So?"
"Augh. Just go away, Jack. Let me do my job."
Their argument is rapid-fire and familiar. O'Neill waves his arm at Daniel Jackson and looks for a suitable place to recline. O'Neill is bored and he does not disguise it well. I watch him for a few moments, noting his expression goes from self-satisfied mirth to bone weariness, born of guilt and regret. He does not know I can see him, I realize, and feel suddenly as though I am eavesdropping. He deserves privacy for these emotions.
I return my attention to Major Carter, who has stopped collecting the soil samples in favor of watching the argument between our teammates. A shy smile looks like it wants to break, but she does not allow it to solidify. I see a modicum of melancholy in the depths of her eyes. Perhaps she feels as I do - a small bit on the outside. O'Neill and Daniel Jackson have a level of rapport I have never been able to match. I suspect Major Carter has always felt this way as well, and must feel it even more so now.
"Major Carter, are we finished?" I gently ask and kneel next to her on the ground.
She visibly jerks at my words, turning to me with startled eyes. "Oh, Teal'c. Forgot you were there for a second. I'm almost done, actually. Want to hand me that container?"
I do so without hesitation, subconsciously keeping an eye on O'Neill and Daniel Jackson. I cannot suppress my feeling of alarm. Major Carter gives me a half smile, scooping a bit of the soil into the container. She moves toward Daniel Jackson's location, her task apparently complete. I am a slightly troubled at her wordless departure, but move to O'Neill's side without comment.
"Daniel, how much longer?" Major Carter tiredly asks.
"Sam! This is so fascinating. I really wish we could stay longer. There's so much we could learn-" Daniel Jackson spurts.
"We will learn, Daniel. But you know we're a first contact team. We do the quick down and dirty and let some other team do the really hard work," O'Neill calls out. "Now hurry up so we can go say 'hi' to the natives and get off this rock. I have a serious case of the heebie jeebies."
"Is that a technical term, Jack?" Daniel Jackson sighs. "And you know it's not that simple. We've got a full forty eight hours, which I'm sure won't be nearly enough."
"You know we can't be stuck on one planet for extended periods of time," O'Neill continues. "Two days is plenty of time. More than enough, I'd say."
"Well, I'll try to make it quick for you, Jack. I'm not even sure I'll be able to understand them, to tell you the truth. You might get lucky and get your wish," Daniel resignedly states.
Despite Daniel Jackson's plea to learn more about this transplanted Earth culture, his face does not reflect his customary intensity. The fact that he has given in so easily to O'Neill provokes my eyebrow to rise in surprise. I noticed O'Neill's mention of 'heebie jeebies' sparked a barely discernable reaction of unease to appear on his and Major Carter's faces. I am now certain the rest of my team feels as I do about this place, however concrete definition of the disquiet continues to elude me.
O'Neill quirks his eyebrows at me, looking stunned at his effortless victory. It is clear he, too, expected Daniel Jackson to protest much more vehemently. I give him a bow to demonstrate my understanding and concurrence. He shakes his head, studying the ground.
"Uh, Daniel? What does this say, anyway?" Major Carter asks, lightly fingering the engraved inscription below the large Mother Goddess statue.
"Actually, I'm having a little difficulty deciphering it. I think this says 'vitality', but I'm not certain," Daniel Jackson frowns and steps closer to the monument. "The language seems to be a hybridization of Linear B and Goa'uld...I think. There are definitely variations to all the information on Minoan culture we've been able to gather from The Land of Light."
"You think? Goa'uld?" O'Neill snaps, head whipping up to scan the perimeter, "I'd say it's rather important to know if there's a Goa'uld here, Daniel."
"Well, if there was a Goa'uld, it would likely have been Hathor or possibly Isis, though I wonder if either might have taken on the Greek persona of Aphrodite here. And since both are dead-"
"That's a pretty big assumption. How many other mother goddesses could there be? Don't answer that," O'Neill counters, deliberating for a moment before announcing, "Carter, you got your samples? Good. Pack it up kids, we're out of here."
"Jack!" Daniel Jackson shouts.
I know O'Neill is using the potential of a Goa'uld presence as an excuse - we have journeyed to Goa'uld inhabited worlds before without automatic retreat. Under normal circumstances, I would not approve of such a subjective decision, however I cannot help but feel relief at the order. Major Carter looks hopefully to the Dial Home Device and I can see she also wishes to leave. Her expression abruptly changes from wistfulness to caution. She pats Daniel Jackson's arm to get his attention and I follow her eyes. Emerging from the grove of trees circling the Stargate are roughly twenty people. All are men, and they are scantily clad, but I can denote nothing else at this distance.
"Colonel," Major Carter whispers.
O'Neill breaks his gaze from Daniel Jackson and swings his body toward our visitors. He swears under his breath at the approach of the natives. It is now too late to make an unobserved withdrawal.
"I see 'em, Carter," O'Neill hisses. "Daniel, I guess you're on."
The men advance with little care, broad smiles lighting their faces. They appear to be friendly and I infinitesimally relax. The closer they come, the more information I am able to gather on their appearance. Their skin is a light brown, eyes dark and observant and hair curly, long and black. Coming to a halt when they reach a distance of three feet, I can see the men are all shorter than either myself, O'Neill or Daniel Jackson. They measure the approximate height of Major Carter.
All eyes are drawn in her direction and one of the men steps toward her with a hand outstretched. Instantly O'Neill and I insert our bodies in his path and she takes a step backward. Daniel Jackson sidesteps next to her, placing his left hand upon her forearm. They exchange glances, hers faintly distressed, his calming. Keeping my attention divided between the inhabitants of this world and my companions, I am pleased to see the men do not attempt to come any closer. Their eyes, however, are still trained upon Major Carter.
"Do not be alarmed, we intend no harm," the man who had reached for Major Carter warmly opens the dialogue. I sense a semblance of wild fascination radiating from his eyes. "We are merely intrigued by the beautiful color of the woman's hair and eyes. Never before have we seen such a fair complexion."
O'Neill loosens his stance a fraction, but I become more troubled at the man's words. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Daniel Jackson squeeze Major Carter's arm once as he moves past my and O'Neill's barrier. His hands are raised in a customary, non-threatening manner and the man eases his rigid back.
"We also mean no harm," Daniel Jackson appeases, looking relieved at their use of English. He waves his hand toward the Stargate, continuing, "We're peaceful explorers and we came through the Stargate from a different planet. Your culture is very interesting to us and we wish to learn more about it."
"Through the Elysian Circle? You wish to learn of us? We consider the quest for knowledge as important as food gathering, and would be more than pleased to share all we know," the man smiles pleasantly. "My name is Alekos, and I speak for my people."
"I'm Daniel Jackson. This is Jack O'Neill, Teal'c and Major Carter," Daniel Jackson indicates each of us as he calls off our names. O'Neill grimaces slightly at the proceedings, clearly still uncomfortable.
I am in agreement with his feelings. There is something about the men surrounding us that disturbs me, though I cannot pinpoint it. My hackles are raised, but I will remain silent until I can definitively back up my emotional response. Daniel Jackson does not appear to be bothered, and Major Carter's face has lost some of its apprehensiveness.
"I am pleased to make your acquaintances," Alekos agreeably replies. "Welcome to Cretine."
Alekos ushers Daniel Jackson to join him. They begin walking away together, followed by the band of other men. O'Neill stares after them for a moment, turning to Major Carter and I with a quizzically irritated look. I notice he keeps returning his attention to the departing group, and I follow suit to see what is bothering him. Every couple of steps, the men turn their heads back to gaze at Major Carter. I cannot help but bristle.
"Well, I hope at least this isn't one of those 'women can only be housewives, nurses or teachers' worlds," Major Carter grumbles.
"I wouldn't count on that, Major," O'Neill comments. "What do you think?"
"They aren't Goa'uld, which I suppose is a good thing," she answers, narrowed eyes following Daniel Jackson's retreating figure. "Daniel seems pretty comfortable."
Soft voices float back toward us. I am unable to discern the words, but hear Daniel Jackson's careful enthusiasm. He and Alekos are exchanging questions at a brisk pace and I can see his face becoming engrossed with interest. Perhaps my 'gut feeling' is incorrect. They have given me no reason to believe their interest is malevolent.
"Indeed," I agree with her assessment. "However, I believe we should not allow Daniel Jackson to be separated from us for a great length of time."
"Right. I'll hang out with Daniel. Carter, you and Teal'c explore what you can of the village and see what you can learn about their technological level. If they have any," O'Neill orders, taking my subtle hint. He jogs for Daniel Jackson with a shout, "Hey, Daniel! Wait up, time for my history lesson."
Major Carter and I fall into an easy pace, trailing after the entourage. The Cretinians seem to be intimidated by my size, a fact O'Neill must also have realized. I will make certain she is not accosted by any of the men still gaping at her.
The village is a mere half a kilometer from the Stargate. We say nothing as we walk, for nothing needs to be said. Major Carter continually swings her head back toward the Stargate, reminding me of a child being guided away from a particular amusement. She yet longs to return to the SGC. I manage to refrain from mirroring her actions.
As we enter the village, we are greeted warmly and casually, though there are few who approach us. O'Neill and Daniel Jackson are immediately ushered away from us. I watch them for a moment, the glimmer of uncertainty rising again. Of the residents, all I have witnessed have been male. Major Carter notices as well, becoming more uncomfortable next to me. Turning to offer her assurance, I see her shoulders slacken and I look forward.
There are three women gathered around a stone circle in the center of the community. Drawing closer, I see it is a well and they are drawing water in heavy pails. The women look up at our approach, astonishment flickering as they take in Major Carter's fair hair and eyes and my height. They immediately avert their eyes and begin to depart.
"Wait! We'd just like to speak with you," Major Carter calls, raising a hand in supplication. "Please."
One of the women stops and nods to her companions to continue their departure. Once they have gone, she rotates to face us with a bow. She scans me with intelligent, dark eyes, her focus catching on my golden tattoo. Something akin to awe colors her words, "You are Jaffa."
"I am," I reply guardedly. "You have heard of the Jaffa."
"Yes. Myths tell of them...of you. The Jaffa are said to be the servants of the Mother, though until now I was uncertain of their reality. Do you serve the Mother?" the woman confirms.
"I do not," I refute. I do not think it would be wise to reveal their god to be a false one just yet and say nothing further.
"The Mother? Does she have another name?" Major Carter asks before the woman can question my revelation. She stops for a second, an embarrassed look flitting across her eyes. "Oh! I'm sorry. My name is Major Samantha Carter, and this is Teal'c."
"I am Jacinta," the woman reveals. "It is good to meet you. The Mother does not have a name."
"Has anyone ever seen her?" Major Carter prompts.
"The Scrolls describe her as slender and pale, with fiery hair and clear eyes," Jacinta explains.
The description is all too familiar and Major Carter jerks her head to me in reaction. I nod to her and we both turn back to Jacinta. The sheer notion of Hathor alerts my senses. Though I know her to be dead and unable to influence these people in thousands of years, she is not someone to be taken lightly, even posthumously. The memories of her nearly successful infiltration of Earth and destruction of SG1 still plague my meditation at times.
"You said the Scrolls tell you what she looks like?" Major Carter repeats. "But has anyone actually seen her?"
"No, not as a physical being. The Mother is always here, guiding and protecting us. We do not need to see her to know she is here," Jacinta calmly answers.
"Of course," Major Carter consents, not wishing to upset the smaller woman. "We'd really like to have a look around your village. Can we do that?"
"I will guide you, if you desire," Jacinta offers.
"Uh, I think we need to find our friends first," Major Carter hedges. "You haven't seen a couple of tall guys with a man by the name of Alekos, have you?"
"I have not. Come, follow me. We will search for them as I show you my home," Jacinta beckons for us to come with her.

The tour of the village takes us several hours, with no sign of O'Neill or Daniel Jackson. The community is not noteworthy. Homes are of solid construction, all plastered a deep, rich red. Technology is virtually non-existent, consisting mainly of roughly hewn tools. I have not seen any weapons, for which I am grateful. Jacinta has informed us the male population slightly outweighs the female, with some men having up to four wives. This seemed to offend Major Carter. I did not tell her many of the cultures I have come into contact with have similar practices.
There does not seem to be an explanation for the disparity, and Jacinta assured us to be a woman on Cretine is considered a blessing. I do not believe Major Carter was convinced. I confess to moving closer to her person during our wanderings, noting the men have been very open in their appraisal. She is perfectly capable of defending herself, but I am comforted knowing I can assist.
Our tour ends as the sun is setting. Jacinta brings us to a large building, where I see a majority of the villagers gathering. She mentioned an annual ceremony, a celebration of life and energy, to be held tonight. The festivities will last well into the night. Major Carter looks hesitant to participate and anxious to see O'Neill and Daniel Jackson.
"Hey, Carter, Teal'c!" O'Neill greet us from our right, seeming to answer Major Carter's unspoken inquiry. He, Daniel Jackson and Alekos approach. He appears to still be bored, Daniel Jackson disappointed. "What's going on?"
"You will join us inside?" Alekos asks before either Major Carter or I can answer O'Neill. Daniel Jackson dips his head to the Cretinian. Alekos smiles and enters the building, leaving SG1 alone together.
O'Neill watches him go for a moment, then transfers his eyes to us. "So. Learn anything exciting?"
"Not really, sir. They're far behind us technologically," Major Carter discloses. "Though they have a fairly advance aqueduct system for their farming, they continue to rely on a well for daily water. I'm not exactly certain why. Jacinta, maybe you could..."
Our guide has left us. Major Carter becomes flustered, so I smoothly take a step forward and add my commentary, "We did learn the false deity the Cretinians refer to as the Mother was in fact Hathor."
Daniel Jackson and O'Neill do not appear surprised by my announcement. Rather, O'Neill rejoins, "Yeah, we got that too. Didn't we, Daniel?"
"Yes, Jack," Daniel Jackson scowls.
"Sir?" Major Carter asks with a frown, apparently as puzzled as I by Daniel Jackson's irritable mood.
"Daniel's upset because there's no temple here. Less toys for him to play with or something," O'Neill clarifies.
Daniel Jackson protests, waving his hands in the air, "No, that's not it. I just...I don't know. I don't know. After tonight's celebration, Alekos is going to take me around the island to show me their ships and fishing methods. It shouldn't take more than half the day tomorrow and then we can get going. I've already videotaped the texts for study back at the SGC. All in all, this society fits what archaeologist's have speculated about on Earth. I think they haven't advanced further because of the lack of contact with other cultures. The Minoans on Earth were at the crux of three different continents and basked in the diversity of each. These people have been isolated for thousands of years."
"So that's good news, right? Going home early without being chased is good, right?" O'Neill chimes in. "And you skipped the best part!"
"The best part?"
"You know, the whole we're now honorary members of their community thing," O'Neill chuckles.
"Oh, yes, that's right! Apparently, we'll actually be able to participate in the ceremonies tonight. At least Jack will," Daniel Jackson announces. He looks consternated at not being automatically included. "Alekos wouldn't divulge the specifics, but I think we can safely say it won't be Hathor influenced. She actually seemed to have left these people alone, even before her incarceration on Earth. The Mother is a benevolent goddess, who bestows only goodness. Though I wonder why their belief in her hasn't faltered, as they seem to have fewer women than men. It's fairly surprising they haven't died out yet, to be honest."
"I was thinking about that, too," Major Carter inserts. "Do you think Hathor might have used or still uses nanocytes somehow, like on Argos? Doesn't really fit her method of operation, but I just can't see how the ratio of men to women doesn't seem to fluctuate at all. The population should be far less than it is."
"Well, since we can't really count on the Goa'uld to fit into any type of determinable mold, I think we shouldn't discount the idea of nanocytes or some other technology," Daniel Jackson muses. "I'm sure SG12 will figure it out eventually. Since whatever the phenomenon is, assuming there is a phenomenon, isn't harming anyone, I don't think we really need to be concerned about it."
I lose track of their conversation, latching instead on Daniel Jackson's mention of involvement in the ceremonies. A cold, feather thin sliver of apprehension runs through me, persistently stabbing at my subconscious. For the first time, I give voice to my fears, "Do you believe it is wise to join in this evening's rituals?"
All three of my teammates start at my voice, staring at me for immeasurable seconds. Daniel Jackson regains his composure first, "I don't think it'll do any harm. I'm not even sure if we'll all get to do anything as it is. Definitely not Sam - Alekos said women are somewhat revered here. From what I could gather, the ceremony is actually for the women. So far, Jack's the only one officially invited to take part."
"Probably because I'm the fearless leader," O'Neill offers with a smirk that doesn't reach his eyes. "Relax, Teal'c. We'll go have some dinner, I'll play for a bit and then we'll get out. Simple."
"Fearless leader? I'm sure that's it," Daniel Jackson jokes, rolling his eyes.
Alekos calls from the building, leaving my concern unanswered, "Come, friends!"
Daniel Jackson walks directly toward the building, from which loud laughter is now emanating. Major Carter trails behind only a few steps. O'Neill stands by me, silently evaluating. He gives me a short nod, then shakes his head. Clapping me on the shoulder, O'Neill saunters to Alekos. I remain alone, watching as Alekos and another man gesticulate to my friends' weapons. O'Neill argues, but is calmed by Daniel Jackson's hand on his arm. O'Neill glares, but says nothing more. I do not think we should relinquish our weapons.
"Please, you must. You may leave them by the door, where you will be able to reach them if you feel it necessary. Have we shown you anything but kindness?" Alekos admonishes while I draw near. O'Neill does not move and the younger man devotes his attention to Major Carter. "Please, tell them to disarm themselves."
Major Carter appears baffled at his request, blushing a deep crimson when she realizes Alekos has taken her to be the wife, O'Neill, Daniel Jackson and myself her husbands. She defers to O'Neill with a miserable frown. He sighs and lifts the strap of his P90 from around his neck, resigned. I raise my eyebrow in unspoken remonstration. It is noted if nothing else.
We summarily hand over all of our equipment, including daypacks. Alekos piles them near the door as he promised and we are conducted into the center of the room. The room is intimately set up, one woman seated at each low table. Pillows serve as chairs and each woman has three or four men alternating between sitting next to her and serving her. Alekos motions to a larger empty table, able to seat eight. Already seated, I see Jacinta and what must be her husbands.
"Normally, I would sit with my wife, Dannae," Alekos explains, sinking to the ground at the head of the big table, "But because of your unexpected presence, I must fulfill my duties as oldest male to preside over the meal. I will also be the first to perform The Rite of Vigor."
"Is that the thing I get to do?" O'Neill curiously asks.
"Yes, but let us not dwell on that at this moment. Rather, let us enjoy the bounty of our fields!" Alekos smiles, breathing deeply as platters of food are set before us by adolescent boys.
Mounds of steaming, freshly cooked and colorful vegetables give off pleasant scents. As the smell floats into my olfactory senses, my stomach reminds me it has been too long since I last ate. O'Neill must also be undernourished, as he looks longingly at the food but waits for Alekos to begin.
Alekos picks up the first platter, fills Major Carter's plate and hands it to O'Neill in deference, pausing to allow him to start serving himself before handing the next plate to Daniel Jackson. Soon, we have full plates. Major Carter sits next to me in stillness, thoughtful eyes perusing the room. The Cretinians are a jovial people, laughing and joking as they eat. Some of the women actually are quite bawdy.
I delve into the food provided, sparing no time for conversation. I keep my ears focused on Alekos as he jokes with O'Neill and Daniel Jackson. Beginning to feel better about the situation and the planet in general, I unwind my muscles. I emulate Major Carter, observing the assembly of people and notice there are more women in the village than we first estimated. They vary in age from very young to very old. I turn my appraisal to the men. Aside from the children, the men's standard age cannot be more than twenty-five.
Something Alekos mentions suddenly rings in my head. He referred to himself as the oldest man. Oldest? Alarm courses again and I notice Major Carter jerks upright next to me, her gaze whipping rapidly around the room. I turn to her to meet with widened eyes. I believe I know what has been disconcerting my sensibilities. I lean closer to O'Neill to reveal my suspicions.
As I open my mouth to speak, I hear Alekos ask a question of Daniel Jackson which substantiates my fears, "Daniel, what is your age?"
"Uh...I'm, uh thirty-five. Why do you ask?" Daniel Jackson tentatively asks, a deep crease forming between his eyebrows.
"I was uncertain if the manner in which you calculate age is the same as ours. What about...?" Alekos swipes a hand my direction.
"Teal'c?" O'Neill cuts in, back straightened with concern. "How old are you, Teal'c?"
"I am one hundred and two years of age, O'Neill," I answer and turn to our host. "Please explain the reason you wish this information."
"Hmmm, you must be very worthy, or you should not have reached such monumental ages. I look forward to your performances," Alekos speaks as though to himself. "Of course, the men will be greatly disappointed if you are successful. Major Carter is exquisitely beautiful and quite exotic by comparison to our women."
"Hey, she's also sitting right here! Stop talking about her like she's not even in the room," O'Neill angrily shouts, he himself referring to Major Carter as if she was not present. "And I really don't think we need to prove our worth to anyone."
"They're not," Major Carter begins to explain, thankfully halting when I place a warning hand on her forearm. It is better they believe she is wedded to us; a small degree of protection is better than none at all. She doesn't pause for more than a millisecond, "residents of Cretine, shouldn't they be exempt?"
"You are all members of this community now. The Mother dictates everyone must obey the laws. There can be no exceptions," Alekos calmly states.
"Wait. Wait a minute," Daniel Jackson interrupts, index finger slashing through the air. "Alekos, what is exactly entailed in this Rite of Vigor? I mean, what is its purpose?"
"It is simple," Jacinta answers from the end of the table. All eyes move to her. "The Mother asks only one thing of us: that the men of Cretine remain youthful and full of life so as to better serve the women."
The woman smiles benignly at us, and at her husbands. I am only now noticing the disparity of their ages. While Jacinta appears roughly the age of Major Carter, the men surrounding her look to be barely twenty. How could we have not seen this before? I instantaneously justify the oversight. Even if we had noticed the difference, there would have been no automatic conclusion to which we could have leapt.
"Okay, well that doesn't totally answer my question and I don't think we've been introduced," Daniel Jackson responds sharply.
"I am Jacinta, and I speak for the women. I apologize we have not been formally introduced. I spent the afternoon with Samantha and Teal'c," Jacinta's face reflects both vague annoyance and undisguised interest. "In order to maintain proper balance in the world, every man must prove their worth. When they reach the age of twenty, each must endure the Rite of Vigor. Alekos has been successful six times. I think a demonstration of the Rite would be better than verbal explanation. We shall retire to the bull yard."
"Bull yard?" O'Neill repeats. "Oh, I don't like the sound of that."
Nor do I. I automatically verify our weaponry is still easily accessible, not taken aback when I see it missing. We have been deceived by pleasantries. "O'Neill, our weapons have been removed."
"What?" O'Neill fires back, rising to tower over Alekos. "All right. I have no idea what this Rite of Vigor is, but I'm damn sure you have no right to force us to stay and take part. I think you'll be giving our stuff back and we'll be on our way."
"That is not the way it works, O'Neill," Alekos says again. "You are more than guests here. The Mother would not be pleased if you do not participate."
"Jack, maybe we should just see what it's all about," Daniel Jackson whispers. "It might not be a big deal."
"Daniel, were you even listening? He said 'if you are successful' and she said 'bull yard'. That doesn't add up to something I want anything to do with!" O'Neill waves his arms in frustration.
"I agree with O'Neill. We should take our leave immediately," I add, moving to exit. My path is blocked by a multitude of young men. I see past them to the door and see men and women alike fortify it. I have no desire to harm these people, but if injury should befall my friends as a result of my inaction, I will not be able to forgive myself. I lift my right arm. None flinch.
"That will not be possible, Teal'c," Jacinta refutes in a soothing tone. "You must come with us now."
Further objections are swallowed as we are easily shepherded by the throng of Cretinians through the doorway and down the street. The light is nearly gone from the sky, shading the world in a dark blue haze. I can see my friends struggle against the tide. The Cretinians have remained passive, but now they are beginning to contain O'Neill, Daniel Jackson and I with strong arms. Major Carter is left untouched, but is nonetheless driven along with us.
The darkness fades a bit as we approach a large, highly fenced corral. Upon closer inspection, I see it is actually more similar to an arena. Daniel Jackson mutters quietly, thinking out loud. Based on the fragments I am able to decipher and the expression on his face, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt we are in trouble. Major Carter must have heard more.
"No. No! I don't wish this. The Mother should respect my desires," Major Carter pleads, using the only means she has available for her argument. "I like my husbands as they are. Please!"
We reach the gates of the arena. The young men move to seats lining one side of the high barrier, the women to the other. Major Carter is swept with the other females, but fights her way back to our sides. All men over age twenty are gathered together near the swinging gate leading onto the field. I cannot see into the open area, narrow slats at eye level are the only means by which to witness activity inside the circle.
Alekos gives Major Carter a smile as she continues arguing. He evenly states, "It matters not if you like your husbands as they are. The Mother ultimately decides. Because you are new to our community, we will permit you to stay at their sides during the Rite, and hopefully after."
"Hopefully? What the hell?" O'Neill questions, eyes furtively looking for an escape route.
The Cretinians have us effectively locked in the stadium, doors shut tightly and guarded. I do not have any doubt they will stop at nothing to keep us within these walls. Their devotion to the Mother is unshakable, illogical. Major Carter appears ill, inspecting O'Neill, Daniel Jackson and I as if we may disappear before her eyes. Leaving her alone when she is yet uncertain of her existence. This must not happen.
"Jack, we have to...in order to prove..." Daniel Jackson stumbles clumsily on the words. Jacinta chuckles at his discomfiture.
"Bring the beast!" she calls, moving to take her seat on a raised platform, to preside over the event. "Alekos, you will go first. Teal'c will follow, then O'Neill."
"Beast?" O'Neill stammers. I guide him to one of the windows as Alekos slips through the barely opened gate into the arena. He brims with confidence.
O'Neill and I share a slat. Major Carter and Daniel Jackson step up along side us, but neither peers through the narrow opening. Daniel Jackson has his head turned away, eyes screwed shut. Alekos walks to the center of the ring and stands with his arms akimbo, waiting.
A loud, scraping noise fills the air and I see a gate similar to the one we are standing at open on the opposite end of the arena. From the dark, a large animal emerges, a bull. It is immense, nearly a foot taller than any of the Cretinians and almost as wide. I can see several men holding thick rope interspersed along the stadium seats, on both the men's and the women's sides. O'Neill swears under his breath, understanding finally registering.
The bull is still, a bit confused, as it stupidly stares at the young Cretinian standing before it. Without hesitation, Alekos runs straight at the bull at full speed. He launches himself into the air as he approaches it. The bull bucks as he flies over its head, places his hands on the expansive back and flips back to land on his feet on the other side of the animal. Alekos runs at once for the wall nearest him and is lifted into the stands by several villagers. The men with the ropes, which I now see have large hooks attached on the end, snare the angered bull and hang on tightly.
Cheering roars from the stands, but surrounding me I hear only silence. I spare a glance at O'Neill. His face is drawn in a tight mask as he watches the bull settle down from Alekos' successful leap. The first to perform the ritual is fortunate; the rest of us will not be so lucky to have an unsuspecting animal to vault.
"No. No way are we doing that!" O'Neill hisses. "These people have probably been practicing for this. No."
"Do we have a choice, Jack?" Daniel Jackson mutters back, sounding resigned. And frightened. "There's no way out of here."
"We'll...shit. Shit!" O'Neill violently curses.
"Sir, maybe I should go try and talk with Jacinta and Alekos again. They gave on letting me stay here, maybe I can convince them to let you guys out of this," Major Carter offers, though she does not sound convinced.
I bestow her with a small upturn of my lips, hoping she knows I have all confidence she will do her best. An answering squeeze on my forearm tells me what I need to know. It is, however, too late for her to prevent my own leap. The crowd has quieted, as has the bull. Indication that I am to proceed comes in the form of the gate opening. Anxious hands prod me forward into the ring before I can assure my friends I will be all right. I believe I can be successful in this endeavor. It is O'Neill and Daniel Jackson's lives for which I am ambivalent.
"Teal'c! God, this is so messed up," O'Neill murmurs through the door. "Teal'c, we'll be right here."
Turning to face the intense brown and desperate blue eyes staring at me through the scant openings, I bow. Major Carter has already made her way to Jacinta and I see her fervently waving her hands to our location. Jacinta will not sway. There is nothing for me to do but tackle my fate. I will succeed. I must.
"Be safe, Teal'c," Daniel Jackson whispers as I walk toward the bull.
A hush has fallen, the Cretinians anticipatory to see a real Jaffa give honor to their Mother. Part of me wishes I could fail, to teach them Jaffa are not impervious. If they question my race, they might begin to question the false deity ruling their lives. The other part of me understands it is impossible to fail. I do not know why, but I feel that if I die here, my friends will also die. If I live, they will live. It is irrational. Emotion and nothing more.
If I have learned anything on this mission...in the past five years...it is that emotion should not be ignored.
The bull is released from the ropes. It stares at me suspiciously and starts trotting at me. To survive, I must gauge its approach in conjunction with my own speed. I run at it, tuning out the cheers that have started up around me and the worried cries of my friends. When I get two feet from the beast, I launch myself up as I witnessed Alekos do.
A strange, burning sensation tears through my midsection, but I feel no real pain. My hands brace for a brief flash on the bull's shoulders and then I'm on my knees behind it. Snorting, the creature starts bucking angrily. My stomach twinges again as I scramble to my feet and stumble toward the waving arms of several Cretinian men. I reach the wall, running into it. Surprisingly strong arms whisk me up and over the barrier. I sprawl on the ground, breathless, but alive.
Alekos' smiling face pushes its way inches from me. He's shouting, "You are victorious!"
The world continues to reel. Static is boiling in my ears, dousing all sound. I feel the same way I felt after O'Neill once took me to an amusement park. The rides upset my symbiote and it swished around for hours afterward. It roils similarly now, but from something else. I have not been one hundred percent successful.
"O'Neill!" Alekos' cheer breaks through my troubled thoughts.
I struggle to my feet in time to see O'Neill step into the arena. Fear becomes all-consuming. I have confidence in O'Neill's athleticism. He is very fit, but being healthy will not aid him here. Nothing but luck will, as luck allowed me to prevail.
"Teal'c! Teal'c!" Major Carter's voice floats to me. I turn to see her pushing through the men. Her face is a mixture of relief and regret. She clutches at my arm when she makes it to my side, as if seeking verification I yet live. "You did it! Are you okay?"
"I am well, Major Carter," I assure her. "Do not concern yourself over me."
"Oh, God. The colonel," she gasps, spinning to watch our friend's attempt.
The crowd is again silent. Major Carter and I move to the wall, pressing our bodies close as we peer through the narrow windows. They do not provide sufficient viewing, so I growl at the men occupying a raised platform. It is the platform on which they stand to lift those who survive the ritual, I realize. Two of them scuttle off, making enough room for us. By the time we are situated, it is too late. The Cretinians give a collective gasp and I see O'Neill limply flying through the air. He lands in a heap on the ground and does not move.
"Colonel!" Major Carter screams. "Colonel!"
Two men jump the wall after the bull has been restrained once again. Major Carter and I are not five seconds after them, grunting as we hit the ground hard and run to O'Neill's side. There is much blood, sickening in its stench. O'Neill makes no sound as I ease him onto his back. His abdomen is a mess of blood and it pools around him. Too much. Major Carter is swearing and pulling off her jacket. I do the same, pressing it into O'Neill's wound, though I know the effort to be futile. He will not live long.
The Cretinians grab O'Neill's arms and legs, roughly dragging him from us. Major Carter seeks my eyes. She knows. Knowledge haunts her large eyes and she raises bloody hands to her face. We follow the men back to the gate, which opens somberly to reveal the men yet to perform the Rite of Vigor. Their pale faces are ghosts. Daniel Jackson stands among them, staring at O'Neill's unconscious form. He lurches to us as the gate closes. The Cretinians carry O'Neill to a secluded corner of the enclave and drop him.
"Hey!" Daniel Jackson objects, falling to his knees at O'Neill's side. He strips of his jacket and adds it to ours on the gaping hole. He sees as quickly as Major Carter and I O'Neill has only hours to live, if that. He chokes out, "Jack."
O'Neill stirs, groaning. His eyes open, but I do not know if he truly sees. His pupils are dilated and he is shivering. I position myself behind him, lifting him into my embrace. If there is any chance at all to save his life, I know we must guard against shock and stem the blood flow. Major Carter and Daniel Jackson look on mutely. Their faces tell me what I do not want to know. Do not want to believe.
Soon, Daniel Jackson will be called to face the bull. Face his death as O'Neill does now. I do not understand how the situation became so unmanageable in such a brief period of time. As I have heard O'Neill say on many occasions, this was supposed to be a routine mission. Now, as I cradle this still form...my friend...in my arms, I realize my imprudent reticence will be the cause of death for two of my teammates. My friends. There is nothing I can do to prevent it. I can only sit in the dusk, wait for the night to fall and relive the events again and again in penance.
A penance which will end too quickly. My symbiote no longer moves within me and I am certain it was severely injured. It is dying. I will not live much longer than O'Neill. I look to Major Carter's pallid face and issue a silent apology. I hope she can forgive me, forgive us, for leaving her alone.
I close my eyes and see the thin thread of hope snap in my mind's eye.
The End

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  Hawk50 Nancy Bailey Carrie AnnO  
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Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a parody for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted anywhere without the consent of the author.