Bad Trip

Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate or any of its characters. This story is for entertainment purposes only, not for profit.

Chapter 1

“This is odd,” Daniel murmured, staring at the fresco-like paintings on the wall.

Jack straightened out from his slouch against the far wall of the “party room,” as he had come to think of this particular section of the ruins they were in, rubbing the back of his neck to get the kinks out, and wandered over to where Daniel was working. It had been a long morning of doing nothing but watching Daniel work, wandering out of whatever room they were in into the flower-filled fields and staring across to where Carter collected samples of this and that while Teal'c watched her, and wandering back in to watch Daniel work. Thankfully this was a dawn to dusk mission and not an overnighter. He was pretty sure he'd go mad with boredom if they had to stay another day.

“What's odd?” he asked, leaning over Daniel's shoulder.

Daniel looked up and blinked at Jack as if surprised he was there.

“What?” Daniel asked.

“What's odd?” Jack asked with exaggerated patience. “You said something was odd.”

“Oh, well look at this,” Daniel said gesturing to the wall with his pen.

Jack looked at the paintings and saw more depictions of men and women, well, having fun, for lack of a better description. The ruins were part of some large residence or even a palace, according to Daniel. There wasn't much left. The planet had obviously been deserted for hundreds if not a thousand years. There were a few semi-intact rooms, half buried, some free-standing walls and the rounded tops of wells; the unnatural rise and fall of the earth nearby promised the followup research team a “treasure” of artifacts, as Daniel somewhat wistfully put it. It was unlikely that SG-1 would return.

Daniel had found some “snippets” of Goa'uld writings, which he said were nothing more than supply manifests, but there was no Goa'uld technology apparent and, Daniel said, no evidence that the Goa'uld had had much influence on the society after they had brought the people here in the first place. Daniel had been given the day to study the ruins and, if possible in that short time, try to determine why the Goa'uld had left. Carter's assignment was to search farther afield—so to speak—for any evidence of Goa'uld technology and to try to determine if the naquadah readings the MALP had sent back merited sending a mining team.

When Jack and Daniel had come over a particularly large mound of earth and had seen these two high walls with the faded and cracked but mostly intact frescoes, Daniel's face had lit up as if he'd just spied the woman of his dreams. Jack almost said something to that effect but stopped himself in time as the image of Sha're as Amonet flashed before his eyes. For once, he thought, his brain was faster than his mouth, and he kept quiet.

In the meantime, Daniel had started going on about how the influence of the paintings was clearly Roman, with a bit of Greek, “of course,” and even Jack was reminded of the frescoes he'd seen at Pompeii. Like those, the ones here provided an eyeful, with men and women in various states of dress and undress, eating, drinking and being generally merry.

Still, after about twenty minutes, even those had lost their allure, and here they were some three hours later.

Jack stifled a yawn. “These don't seem much odder than the rest to me . . .well, except. . . .”

Jack paused and looked more closely. “Well, except for those flying people . . . and animals . . . and the kinda, um, psychedelic. . . .” His voice drifted off, and he stared at the slightly warped images of people, and the giant moon, oversized flowers and cowlike things floating through what looked like falling snow.

“O.K.,” he said. “Clearly these folks were smoking the good stuff.”

Daniel smiled in response and said, “Maybe so, which is a little strange in itself. I mean, there's no doubt that hallucinatory drugs were used in ancient Rome and Greece, although I'm sure your high school Latin text wouldn't tell you that, but I don't know of any actual depictions of people using drugs and certainly none showing the hallucinatory effects of the drugs. The other sections of the frescoes here are in keeping with what we've seen on Earth of some ancient Roman art: lots of depictions of phallic symbols, for example, which incidentally, are not “pornographic” but rather symbolic of health, and. . . .”

“Daniel,” Jack interrupted.

“What?” Daniel paused in his lecture to look at Jack. “Oh, sorry. . . . Anyway, it's not so much that the frescoes here clearly show the use of hallucinatory drugs. I mean it's possible that whatever hallucinogens are available on this planet became a more important factor in the culture, or maybe they were just more readily available. The size of the flower pictured here indicates to me that possibly these flowers—I mean they are all around here, right?—that these flowers are the source of the drug, so. . . .”

“Daniel.”

Daniel paused again and let out a slow breath. “Jack?”

“The odd part? I mean, other than that they're stoned.”

Daniel put his hand up to his head and rubbed his eyes. “Right. The odd part. Sorry.” He turned back toward the fresco and pointed to a figure in the “sky.”

“Look at this guy.”

Jack looked and saw a floating head with large, exaggerated red eyes and a horrible grimace. Blood seemed to be dripping from its mouth.

Jack let out a whistle. “That's one mean-looking dude.”

Daniel nodded and said, “And look again at the expressions on the other faces.”

Jack focused on the images of lounging and floating people and gave a small shiver in the balmy air. They all wore identical expressions of terror.

“Whoa,” he said. “Bad trip.”

“Right,” Daniel agreed. “I'd say we definitely don't want to smoke whatever they were smoking.”

“So, stay away from the poppies, huh?” Jack cracked.

“Definitely stay away from the poppies.” Daniel grinned back.

Jack smiled for another moment and then frowned. He stepped over the low wall at the other side of the room and looked across at Teal'c and Carter digging in the dirt. He keyed his radio.

“Major?”

He saw Carter straighten out and look in their direction. “Yes, Colonel. I read you,” he heard her respond.

“Carter. Daniel found some evidence here that those flowers you're wading in might be hallucinogenic, so you might want to exercise some caution.”

“Does Daniel know how the hallucinogen is transmitted?”

Jack looked at Daniel, who shrugged. “Typically something like that would have to be ingested or smoked, often after some kind of processing,” he said, “but these are alien plants on an alien planet, so. . . .”

Jack gave Daniel a look and reported, “Unknown, Major.”

“Yes, sir, Colonel. Understood.”

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Sam let go of her radio and said, “A little late for exercising caution.”

“Major Carter?” Teal'c asked.

“Oh, sorry, Teal'c. I was just thinking that if there's some property in these flowers that makes them dangerous to the touch, then I'm not sure whatever we do now will help.”

“Indeed.”

“On the other hand, if the flowers can transmit some hallucinogen through touch, it's possible that there's no effect unless the skin is broken, so let's try and sanitize our hands and put on gloves to be on the safe side,” she said.

“My symbiote should protect me from any ill effects, so I do not believe such caution is necessary in my case,” Teal'c responded benignly. “However if you think it would be wise. . . .”

Sam smiled. “Just humor me, Teal'c, O.K.? With the naquadah readings we're getting here, it's pretty unusual that we haven't found any evidence of the Goa'uld ever having mined this planet, right? Maybe there's a reason they've stayed away. In fact, I'd better bag a few samples to take back to the SGC for analysis as well.”

Teal'c nodded his head once in agreement. The Goa'uld had apparently abandoned the planet centuries before the human population died out, if Daniel Jackson's conclusions were correct. Yet they had found nothing on this planet that would cause the Goa'uld to leave behind a large slave population or what may be large amounts of naquadah. It was indeed a mystery, one that had caused Teal'c to be more than usually vigilant for signs of trouble.

Teal'c bent to retrieve the needed supplies from his pack. “As you would say, Major Carter, Better secure than apologetic.”

Sam smiled again, and let it go.

 

Chapter 2

Daniel felt a slight breeze come up and realized that it had grown a little cooler while he worked. He looked up at the sky to see that it had turned a deeper shade of blue-green (he'd have to ask Sam what gave it that greenish hue) and that the sun was heading toward the other horizon. He had reluctantly left the frescoes behind sometime around midday to search for any writings or indications of what had happened to the city they walked above. After a few hours of searching, while he dutifully bypassed fascinating hints of the settlement's day-to-day life, he finally hit what

Jack sarcastically called “pay dirt.” (“Wow, a temple? Really? Oh, joy!”)

Almost a kilometer from what seemed to be the city limits, far closer to the dense woods at the end of the fields, he found the remains of a fairly large structure, with its long large room and the broken remains of four columns peeking through the grass. The entrance faced the Stargate, maybe four kilometers away, the top of the great circle just visible from where they stood.
If this building hadn't been a temple, it had been a meeting place of some importance. Daniel knew that with time and excavation, a world of information about the society and, quite possibly, the reason for the lack of a lasting Goa'uld presence would be found there, but for now he could do no more than search for clues as to the best place for the archaeological team to begin.

So it was with some surprise that, after painstakingly going over the crumbling walls for well over an hour (as Jack eyed the woods suspiciously, checked in periodically with Sam and Teal'c and, eventually, started entertaining himself by hitting rocks with a stick), Daniel made his way to the back of the structure and found that one of the larger sections of standing wall was covered with engravings. He'd never seen anything quite like it on the outside of a temple, never mind the back, and stranger still, the writing was in both Latin and Goa'uld.

The Latin had evolved differently from that used in ancient Rome, but it didn't take long for Daniel to get the gist of it. It spoke of religious rites and the gods of the forests, the proper way to appease the angry gods and honor the benevolent ones. The gods written of had no obvious relationship to Jupiter, Juno and the other deities of ancient Rome, except, perhaps, in their pettiness, but Daniel assumed that with time he would find the connections. It was unlikely, after all, that the religion had strayed completely from the one observed by Romans on Earth, given the similarity in architecture and art.

Daniel, mindful of the sun's position in the sky—he knew they'd have to start back fairly soon to reach the Stargate before dark—turned to the Goa'uld writing and was surprised to find that it contained much of the same subject matter as the Latin. Did the Goa'uld here pose as one of these forest gods? That would be out of character for a Goa'uld, certainly, choosing to be one of many rather than the . . . top dog, head honcho . . . whatever. Daniel shook his head. He must be more tired than he realized if he was thinking in “Jack.”

Another breeze came up, and Daniel started sneezing repeatedly. Damn, he knew it was too good to be true that he could be on a flower-filled planet and be unaffected, even with his antihistamine shots. Jack apparently thought so too, calling out, “Allergies finally acting up, are they, Danny boy?”

Daniel ignored Jack and rubbed a sleeve over his suddenly watering eyes. He focused again on the Goa'uld words. Goa'uld was an efficient language and took up less room than the Latin it mirrored, so more of the text was exposed. He read quickly until he came to new text. “Beware the forest gods,” Daniel murmured to himself. “Beware the hungry spirit that arises in the dark. . .

.” Daniel thought briefly of the nightmare figure from the fresco and read on “. . . at the time of the ripest . . .” No that can't be right, Daniel thought. “At the time of the something season. Depart nigh. . . .”

Daniel groaned in frustration. That's all there was before the ground swallowed the writing. He needed to see more to understand why this was here at all. The Goa'uld wouldn't have taught the people here their language, so why repeat this in Goa'uld? Was it more than myth? Was it a real warning?”

“Jack?” he called out. “I think I might have found something.”

Jack ambled over in what Daniel had learned was a pretense of laxness—there was always a part of the Air Force colonel that was ready for action when they were off-world. “Yes, Daniel? Found the Holy Grail?” he asked.

In response, Daniel burst into another impressive bout of serial sneezing.

Jack narrowed his eyes as he watched his teammate. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and held it out. Daniel took it gratefully and blew his nose.

“Thanks,” he coughed.

“So, did you really find something, or did you just need something to blow your nose on?”

“Ha,” Daniel responded. “No, there's a warning here, in Goa'uld.”

“Really? That sounds promising. What is it warning against?”

“Well, that's not exactly clear. It says, 'Beware the forest gods. . . ,' which sounds like superstition, but the Goa'uld aren't exactly a superstitious bunch. It would make sense that it was meant to frighten the people here, maybe keep them away from the forest for some reason, but then, it wouldn't have been written in Goa'uld, right? The 'slaves' wouldn't have been taught to speak or read Goa'uld. So, it must have been a warning to other Goa'uld, or to Jaffa. Maybe there really is something here that's a threat to them.”

“Or maybe its some kind of twisted Goa'uld joke, or maybe an attempt to keep the Jaffa in line?” Jack countered.

Daniel sighed. “Maybe. Most of the writing is buried anyway. All I've got here that seems relevant is,” Daniel paused to look at his notes and cleared his throat. “Beware the forest gods. Beware the hungry spirit that arises in the dark at the time of the, uh . . . oh. . . .” Daniel stopped and looked from his notes to the wall and back. “I think that word is. . . .”

Daniel pulled out his radio. “Teal'c?”

“I am here, Daniel Jackson.”

“Teal'c, how do you translate halokarem shal'opra?

The time of the flowering,” Teal'c responded, succinctly as always. “Have you discovered something, Daniel Jackson?”

“Maybe, Teal'c. I'll let you know.”

Daniel put back his radio and read the Goa'uld words again. “Beware the hungry spirit that arises in the dark . . . in the time of the flowering.”

Daniel and Jack looked around at the thousands of flowers that stretched in a multicolored blanket from the front of the temple and off into the distance. Daniel looked back toward the dense woods then up at the sun, which was much lower in the sky. “Uh, Jack,” Daniel said hesitantly, “I know this seems silly, but maybe we should. . . .”

Jack, who'd taken off his sunglasses to look at the engravings on the walls, put them back on despite the waning light and straightened up. If whatever came out of those woods at night was enough to scare away the Goa'uld, he didn't think he wanted to meet it, at least not without lots of backup.

“I'm with you, Daniel. We can come back or send another team back in daylight. Let's get out of here.” He went to grab his pack, and Daniel started gathering his supplies. “Carter?” Jack radioed. “We're moving out. Meet us at the Stargate.”

“Sir?” Sam queried. “By my calculations we have more than an hour of sunlight left. If we could. . . .”

“That's an order, Major. Pack up your gear and head for the Gate. We should be fifteen, twenty minutes behind you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Daniel?” Jack called behind him as he shouldered his pack. “You ready?”

Daniel didn't respond, and it occurred to Jack that everything had become eerily still. Only the light breeze blowing the flowers disturbed the silence.

Jack turned. “Daniel?” he called again. But Daniel was nowhere to be seen.

---------------------------------------------

Sam took one more reading for any sign of radiation or other energy, secured her last sample in her pack and rose to go.

“I wonder what Daniel found?” she asked Teal'c. “It must have been something important to send us out of here early.”

“I do not know,” said Teal'c. “O'Neill seemed most anxious that we leave at once, however.”

Sam nodded, and they both started walking at a rapid pace toward the Stargate.

“Maybe it has something to do with these flowers again,” Sam mused. “What was it Daniel wanted you to translate?”

Halokarem shal'opra,” Teal'c repeated the phrase. “The time of the flowering.”

Sam looked at the vast expanse of flowers. They had taken her breath away with their beauty when they had first stepped through the Stargate. The images from the MALP had not done them justice.

“Have you ever heard of some kind of weapon derived from flowers?” she asked Teal'c. “Maybe a poison?”

“I have not.”

They walked in silence for a few minutes, until they were interrupted by the sudden static from their radios.

“Carter? What's your position?” Jack voice crackled. Even through the static, Sam and Teal'c could hear the tension.

“About one klick from the Gate, sir.”

“Daniel has disappeared. Carter, I want you to head back to the SGC and report. Request another two teams back here, stat. Tell them to be prepared for a night search. Teal'c, I need you. . . .”

Before Jack could finish, another breeze blew up, and the sky was suddenly filled with thousands of tiny particles. They reminded Carter of dandelion seeds blown by a child's breath.

“Crap!” Apparently the colonel was seeing the same thing. “Carter,” he started again. “Have the teams in full Hazmat gear and try not to breath this stuff in. I don't like what I'm seeing. And Teal'c, I need you here. You'll see the ruins with broken columns outside the city, near the woods. Carter, our people can pick up our trail there.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Understood, O'Neill.”

Sam reached into her pack and pulled out a bandanna and tied it around her mouth and nose. She looked at Teal'c, and he could see the worry in her eyes. He knew she did not wish to leave the team, but they both knew it was necessary. O'Neill was not the type of man to panic. “I shall bring them back, Major Carter.”

“Watch yourself too, Teal'c,” Sam said, before she turned toward the Gate. And then they were both running, the spores falling about them like snow.

 

Chapter 3

When Jack turned and saw that Daniel was gone, he figured the man had found something else to pique his curiosity, or maybe had stepped into the woods to relieve himself. He called Daniel's name, then wandered up to the edge of the woods and called his name again. He took off his sunglasses. With the sun getting so low, it was as if night had already fallen beyond the trees, and Jack couldn't see more than a few feet in. He keyed his radio. “Daniel? Where the hell are you?” When there was still no answer, Jack didn't know whether to be aggravated or worried, although he was leaning toward worried. Daniel had seemed just as anxious to leave this place as he was.

He went back to the temple wall and looked at Daniel's pack. Daniel had put his tools away, but the pack was still open, and the video camera and Daniel's notebook still lay in the open. Jack looked more closely at the ground, where they had trampled the grass and flowers, and swore: There were two even indentations running like a track into the woods. Jack was no Teal'c, but it looked very much to him as if those marks were made by the heels of Daniel's boots as he was dragged off.

No. This could not be happening. How could someone have jumped Daniel and taken him without Jack hearing a sound? How could it happen so fast? His first instinct was to run into the woods in pursuit, before Daniel and whoever or whatever took him got too far, but he knew that would be a mistake. Night was fast approaching, and there was no way he could track Daniel with just a flashlight. And what if whatever grabbed Daniel got him too? How would that help Daniel? And what about the rest of the team? No, dammit, he'd have to wait for backup, at least in the form of Teal'c, who could track almost anything, anytime.

Jack flashed on the blood-dripping monster from the fresco and heard Daniel's voice translating, “Beware the hungry spirit that arises in the dark.” He swore again. “Please let it be nothing more than a fairy tale to scare Jaffa children,” he thought as he reached for his radio.

“Carter? What's your position?”

As Jack filled Carter and Teal'c in on the situation, another strong breeze came up, and this time, strangely, the air was suddenly filled with thousands of tiny floating things, so many that it looked like. . . . Oh, shit! The freak-out fresco of the stoned Romans. That wasn't snow in the picture; it was this stuff from the flowers!

“Crap!” he yelled into the radio, trying to cover his mouth with his sleeve. He'd bet anything that this was the stuff that made everyone high. Daniel did not need his teammates “tripping” right now. How could this get any worse?

He told Carter and Teal'c to try not to breath the stuff in and ordered Carter to get the search teams back in full Hazmat. Then he pulled his spare shirt out of his pack and tied it around his face, hoping it would be enough. He bent to retrieve his and Daniel's flashlights, then stood and looked helplessly around the field and toward the trees. He spoke into his radio. “Daniel? Daniel, respond please.” Nothing.

“Daniel!” he called, using just his voice. “Daniel!” But as before, there was nothing but silence.

Daniel either couldn't answer or was already too far away to hear him. And all Jack could do was wait.

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Daniel wondered at his own nervousness as he packed his gear. It was, after all, likely that the warning was a thousand years old and whatever “hungry spirits” resided here were, if not myth, beings that had long since departed. Still, something about the wording, and the vision of the terrified faces from the fresco, raised all kinds of alarms. It was like the feeling he'd get at a dig on Earth, when he would know the ground was unstable before he took a step. He didn't know how he knew; he just knew.

He was bending to get his camera when the attack came. A heavy, foul-smelling material went over his mouth and nose, cutting off most of his air and with it any attempt to scream for help, and then his vision was blotted out with the same material over his head. He was grabbed under his arms and jerked backwards, and he felt himself being dragged toward the woods. Before he could even try to fight back, the ground changed under his feet, and he was banging and scraping against the trees. He tried to pull back, but he was being dragged too fast to get any purchase with his feet, and the struggle to breath through the pungent, scratchy cloth became paramount. The rags smelled of dead things, and Daniel, his heart pounding wildly in his chest, started to gag. Oh, god, he was going to choke on his own vomit! He started to retch but somehow managed to swallow the bile. His hip crashed hard against a tree. He gasped and tried to draw in a breath but could only get a tiny amount of air around the gag. His head started to spin from the lack of oxygen, nausea and pain.

“Jack?” he pleaded silently just before he passed out. “Now would be good.”

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Sam heard the colonel calling Daniel over the radio and pushed herself to run faster. She had her orders to go back through to the SGC, but she wondered if she could get the same results from explaining the situation to General Hammond through the MALP and then returning to help Teal'c and the colonel search. But she already knew she wasn't going to disobey orders. The colonel knew the MALP was there. If he wanted her to head back and return with the search teams, he had his reasons.

And then there were the spores. They were already everywhere, in her hair, stuck to her skin and clothes, insinuating themselves into the bandanna, and she had to admit, although it might be her imagination, that she was already feeling a little funny, a little disoriented, as if she had to concentrate to keep her feet falling in the right places. If these plants were affecting her already, then she really needed to go back in a Hazmat suit, didn't she?

Sam reached the Stargate only minutes after she'd started running. She went to reach for the DHD, and misjudged the distance, missing it completely with her hand. She blinked and shook her head to clear it. Oh, this was bad. She really needed to pull herself together. She moved forward with one hand held out until she touched the DHD. “Yes!” she thought. “Did it!” She felt inordinately pleased with herself for accomplishing her goal, and then wondered for a moment what exactly was her goal. Right. Daniel was in trouble. She had to get help. She looked around at the peaceful planet and the deep green sky with stars starting to blink on and the lovely floating dandelion seeds. It really was very beautiful here. What was she doing again?

Sam slid to the ground with her back to the DHD and decided it would be O.K. to relax for a little bit and enjoy the sunset. And then she'd figure out why she had just run back to the Gate. She untied the bandanna from around her face and breathed deeply of the sweet, flower-scented air.

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Teal'c ran toward the trees still some distance away, intent only on the goal of arriving at O'Neill's position. Letting himself succumb to worry about his young friend or to indulge in idle questions about what could have caused such a sudden occurrence would serve no purpose. Still, he had felt there was something wrong on this planet almost from the beginning. Perhaps he should have shared his concerns with his teammates.

O'Neill, in one of his rare serious moments, had once suggested in just such a situation that a “hunch” coming from an experienced soldier should never be ignored, since it was likely based on real factors that the “subconscious” had not yet processed. And he had seen how O'Neill himself had often seemed to react to events unseen by others, saving many lives in the process. Yet Teal'c had remained unconvinced. The speed of a Jaffa's reactions, and the excellence of the training, should be enough to allow him to react well before his enemies, without relying on intangibles. And most often this was the case.

Yet as he ran, he wondered if that was another rule he lived by because of the oppression of the false gods. A Jaffa, even a First Prime, who dared to suggest to his “god” that actions should be taken based on a nothing more than a feeling would be punished severely if not killed outright. Teal'c felt a surge of anger, perhaps as strong as any he had ever felt, at the injustices he and his brethren had lived under for so long, but pushed it back. Anger would serve no purpose here.
Teal'c had passed the outskirts of the ruined city and thought he could see the walls of the structure of which O'Neill spoke. The floating spores were a nuisance, getting in his mouth and eyes as he ran, and he thought now that he should have covered his face just to avoid the discomfort, but he did not wish to stop even for the short time it would take to find something that would suffice. Daniel Jackson's life might be in jeopardy.

He felt another surge of anger, this time at O'Neill. Was it not the man's responsibility to watch Daniel Jackson? His failure had put them all in danger. And Daniel Jackson? If he were a warrior, perhaps he would have been vigilant enough to avoid whatever had befallen him. Teal'c's anger grew, and this time, instead of ignoring the rage, he let it carry him over the fields to the ruins of the temple, where O'Neill was waiting.

 

Chapter 4

Jack sighed with relief when he saw Teal'c coming toward him out of the near darkness. He knew the big man was fast and would have wasted no time getting to Jack's position, but the wait had still seemed interminable. Worry for Daniel gnawed at him. At first he'd spent his time holding his P-90 at the ready, watching the woods and the fields around him and listening for any hint of trouble. After a few minutes, though, despite his makeshift mask, he knew the spores were beginning to affect him. If he stared too long at one spot, the image shifted, grew and shrank, and he kept having to fight a lethargy that was doing battle with his readiness. Reluctantly, he had moved back under the trees, where the hallucinogenic blizzard was merely a flurry. He disliked the reduced visibility, and the shadows shifted menacingly, but he couldn't allow himself to be affected any more than he already had been. He hoped it wasn't already too late.

Now, as Teal'c approached, Jack stepped out of the woods, holding his hand up in front of him to slow the big guy down. He noticed that Teal'c had made no attempt to cover his face but decided it wasn't worth mentioning. He just hoped Junior was doing his job. “Teal'c,” he said, his voice muffled a little by the shirt still over his mouth and nose. “I'll show you what I found before we lose all the light, then we better move into the woods to get away from this stuff.” He waved his hand through the air.

Teal'c ran forward a few more steps and came to a sudden halt, breathing heavily. Jack could have sworn Teal'c looked angry, but he thought it must be the bad light or the drug messing with Jack's mind, since Teal'c rarely outwardly expressed any emotion. Jack shook his head to clear it and walked over to where he'd last seen Daniel, pulling out one of the flashlights. “Here are the tracks. Can you see anything else? Any idea what could have taken him?”

When Teal'c didn't respond, Jack turned toward him. The big man hadn't moved an inch, just stood there staring toward him. “Teal'c, buddy” Jack said with some impatience. “We really don't have time to stand around here.”

At Jack's words Teal'c began moving toward him in long strides. Jack nodded and turned to play the beam of the flashlight on the disturbed ground. “I can see . . . ,” was all he had time to say before he felt Teal'c's hands wrap around his throat and he was slammed up against the wall of the temple.

“Teal'c?” Jack croaked. “What are you. . . ?”

Teal'c slammed Jack against the wall again, tightening his hands around his throat. His face was stretched in fury, and for a moment Jack thought he saw red eyes staring back at him. He dropped the flashlight still in his hand and reached up to grab Teal'c's arms to try to loosen the grip.

“Tee-k,” he said again, fighting to breathe.

“Do not speak my name, Tau'ri dog!” Teal'c growled. He began to tighten his grip even more, then flung Jack away in seeming disgust. Jack fell in a heap on the ground and lay there gasping. What the hell was going on?

Teal'c bent forward slightly, looked at the ground with its evidence of Daniel's kidnapping, then stalked purposefully off into the woods, disappearing from sight.

Jack remained on his side where he had fallen. “God, what was that?” he thought. He reached both hands to his throat as he tried to breathe but let go again as the bruises made themselves known. Had that really been Teal'c? Was it some hallucination? And the red eyes? Were those real? Was that what happens to Jaffa when they're stoned? He had no doubt that, if that was really Teal'c, he was being affected by the spores. Damn stubborn Jaffa pride that kept him from covering his face!

The shirt wrapped around Jack's own face, pressing down on his mouth and nose as he struggled to get his breath back, was becoming unbearable, but he was afraid to take it off while he was lying in the open among all those flowers. He rolled over, groaning at his aching back, and tried to push himself up. A wave of vertigo knocked him back down. “Damn it,” he thought, as the world spun sickeningly around him. He rolled onto his stomach again and started to drag himself toward the woods. Shadows jumped out at him and headless bodies floated above him, but he ignored the visions and kept going. About 20 feet into the pitch-black woods, he pulled the shirt from his face and collapsed. His harsh breathing was the only sound.

The world still spun, and he felt his hallucinations watching him from nearby. If everything hadn't hurt so much, he would have laughed. Something brushed against his back, and he jerked and let a scream out of his already raw throat. Then he felt hands grabbing him, and he started to struggle. “No!” he gasped, and the hands disappeared as suddenly as they had come. Oh, God. He rolled up in a ball, trying to keep from shaking. “It's the damn drug,” he told himself, then said it again out loud. “It's just the damn drug.” He thought of Daniel and Teal'c in the woods somewhere, both in trouble, and groaned in frustration. He knew he had go after them, but his mind was a whirl of confusion and the ground still moved slowly up and down like the deck of a ship.

“Come on, O'Neill,” he shouted hoarsely to himself. “You have to go!” He pushed himself to his knees and then grabbed a branch and hauled himself to his feet. He took several wobbly steps in the direction he thought Teal'c had taken, then stumbled and fell again. Ghostly hands reached out to grab him, and he pressed his face into the dirt, drew his knees up to his chest and covered his head. “It's the damn drug, it's the damn drug,” he chanted, starting to shake again. He closed his eyes and continued his chant even as the hands lifted him and began to carry him into the darkness.

--------------------------

Sam watched the sun set and the colors turn to grays and realized she was becoming bored.

Even the pretty Dandelion seeds had almost disappeared. “Huh,” she thought, and then laughed. Having never experimented with drugs, she'd been hoping for something . . . more. Maybe she needed a good psychedelic physics problem, or at least another light show. The colonel would never let her hear the end of it. She suspected only she could have a boring high.

There must be something else to do here, she mused. She looked around at the Stargate and had a flash of brilliance. She could just go somewhere else! There was that planet with that abandoned lab, what was it, PX. . . ? The experiments there didn't seem to have any useful military application, but there was one attempt at a perpetual motion machine that had been fascinating. She'd always wanted to go back. Sam rose and steadied herself against the DHD. Whoa, what was making the ground move like that? She turned with exaggerated care toward the symbols and hit the first one, and the Gate started to move. Sam looked at her hand and back at the Gate in shock. How did she do that?

She watched with interest as the Stargate dialed itself. How did the Gate know where she wanted to go? She was pretty sure that had never happened before. Finally the blue whoosh of the event horizon appeared. Sam started walking forward, weaving a little as she went, when a voice boomed out. “SG-1. This is Hammond. Report, please. Colonel O'Neill?”

Sam stopped abruptly, almost falling down, and looked around her in confusion. “General Hammond? she asked. “What are you doing on PX . . . on the lab planet?”

“Colonel O'Neill? Major Carter? Report please.”

Sam laughed and hit herself in the head with her hand. The voice was coming from the MALP! How silly of her. She went over and knelt down before the camera lens and pressed the transmit button. “Yes, sir,” she managed to get out with some sense of military decorum. “I'm here. What can I do for you?”

“Major Carter?” General Hammond's voice asked. “SG-1 was due back two hours ago. What's the delay?”

Sam scrunched her face up in concentration. “Delay, sir?”

“Major Carter? Are you all right? Where's the rest of your team?”

“The team, sir? Oh, they're . . . Daniel and Colonel O'Neill are. . . .” Sam stopped again in confusion. Where was her team? Were they here?

She had a moment of clarity. “General Hammond. I'm sorry, sir. The colonel sent me to get backup. I think . . . I think Daniel is missing, and, uh, the colonel and Teal'c went to look for him?” Sam drifted off again and stared vacantly at the camera.

“Major Carter? Dr. Jackson is missing?” Hammond's voice came back, sounding slightly alarmed. “How long ago did this happen?”

Sam didn't answer and continued to stare ahead. She was remembering something else, but she was pretty sure it wasn't her memory. Jolinar? Something about this planet and how Jaffa and Goa'uld have to stay away, and even the Tok'ra have to be wary of the effects of the shaloshna—the flower drug.

“Major Carter? Are you ill?”

“Uh, no, sir. Uh, yes, sir. Not ill but, um, high? There's something on this planet that affects. . . .” Sam was distracted by a shooting star, trailing gold and green stardust. She smiled. There was her light show.

“Major Carter. I want you to listen to me. You are to stay where you are, by the Gate. Do not leave that position, is that understood?” Hammond ordered.

Sam tilted her head quizzically. “Sir?” she asked.

“Major Carter,” Hammond's voice boomed, “we are sending two search and rescue teams and a medical team through to you. You are not to move from that spot. Is that understood?”
Sam straightened out and looked into the camera. “Yes, sir, understood, sir.” Something about rescue teams jogged her memory further. “Oh, and sir? I think I'm supposed to ask for Hazmat suits?”

“We're way ahead of you, Major. The teams will be there in full Hazmat gear in 30 minutes. Just hold your position, Major.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good. Hammond out,” Hammond signed off, and a moment later the event horizon blinked out.

 

Chapter 5

Daniel lay listening to the guttural sounds of the conversation around him. He guessed three men and a woman. He could only guess, because when he'd regained consciousness a few minutes before, he still had the foul-smelling hood over his head. At least the gag was gone. Unfortunately, when whoever these people were—and there was no doubt in his mind that these were people and not some mythical forest gods—had removed the gag, they'd also bound his hands and feet with what felt like thick, coarse rope. Already his shoulders ached from the strain of having his hands pulled behind him, joining the rest of his body in a symphony of pain, and his mouth was so dry his tongue kept sticking to the roof of his mouth. His head, predictably, was pounding.

Keeping still to avoid letting his “hosts” know he was awake and keeping his breathing as shallow as he could to avoid making himself sick again, he listened. He needed to find out what was going on and where Jack was. Had they taken him too? Was he hurt? And how about the rest of the team?

Daniel forced himself to remain calm. He'd listen and figure out the language, and then he'd find out why he'd been taken and what they'd done with Jack. He'd find a way out of this, and he'd find the team, safe and sound. After all, where there was language, there was communication and where there was communication, there was hope, at least that's what he'd always believed.
Haska're'am tet pordant a dei de silbay karesh,” one of the voices was saying, or that was as close as Daniel could come.

Karosh'ne kek, morta cruor!” another voice responded angrily.

Daniel attributed it to his exhaustion and headache, and the changes any language goes through over hundreds of years, that it had taken him even a few minutes to start hearing the individual words. These people were speaking a mix of Goa'uld and Latin. He couldn't even fathom how that could have happened, but there was no doubt. He wasn't able to make out sentences yet, but what he did understand was disturbing. Lots of talk of death and blood, using both Goa'uld and Latin roots, and the dei de silbansilvae—were the forest gods again.

Daniel closed his eyes and kept listening, his nervousness, or if he had to admit it, dread, growing as he picked out the words and phrases. It seemed that the gods of the forest were angry and demanded a sacrifice, and he had an uncomfortable feeling that he now knew why he was trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Maybe it was time to start communicating. Daniel shifted a little, and the sudden pain in his hip and back made him cry out. Hands roughly pulled him up, causing him to gasp again, and he thought wryly, “Oh, great start, Dr. Jackson. Excellent communication skills!”

The hood was pulled from his head and he was dragged upright by the back of his shirt, the collar almost choking him as he tried to balance on his bound feet. He was then tossed away like so much trash, and he landed hard in the dirt, again crying out involuntarily as the rough treatment awakened other injuries he hadn't even known he'd suffered.

The conversation seemed to pick up again as if he'd never moved. Daniel squinted in the dim light, letting his eyes get used to seeing after the pitch-blackness of the hood. They were in a small wooden structure, primitive in design. The walls were made from branches tied together with the same rope he assumed he was tied with. In the center of the dirt floor was a deep pit with a fire, which gave the room its only light. In the flickering of the flames, he could barely make out the faces of his captors as they talked. All four were dressed in animal skins made into tunics and short skirts. And all four were . . . very, very large. Any one of them would have been a match for Teal'c, which explained why they were able to carry him off with such ease.

Daniel watched as one drank something from a wooden bowl and passed it to the woman next to him. He licked his dry lips, looking longingly toward the liquid, and decided to try again. He cleared his throat and said in a whisper, “Aqua?” No one looked at him, so he forced a louder voice past his dry throat: “Aqua, placeo si libet?”

All four turned to stare at him, and for a moment, no one spoke or moved.

Aqua?” Daniel repeated, then tried again in Goa'uld.

One of the men rose up suddenly and came toward him. Daniel noticed with shock that the man had a tattoo painted on his forehead. He pulled Daniel up by the shirt and backhanded him across the face.

Another man spoke to the first, “Haloran, kree!” and the giant—Haloran, was that his name?—spat something in disgust and dropped Daniel back into the dirt. Daniel watched, his head still ringing from the punch, as the woman then picked up another bowl and came over. She too had a tattoo on her forehead, one he'd never seen. As she came closer, he saw that the tattoo had been drawn on, with a not too steady hand. She held the bowl to Daniel's lips, one newly bloody, and it was all he could do not to stick his entire face in the bowl as he drank. Oh, my God, never had warm, stale water tasted so good!

Gratias! Gratias tibo ago!” Daniel gasped.

Whether she understood his words, Daniel didn't know, but she nodded as she took the empty bowl away, so he took another chance. “Meus amicus?” he asked about Jack. “Meus amicus de campus?” And again in Goa'uld: “Mel tek ma tek?”

The four looked at him for another brief moment, then all turned away. As they did, the third man grumbled something in the strange Goa'uld-Latin hybrid that took a moment for Daniel to translate.

“It matters not that he speaks our tongue,” the man said. “The gods will still rip him asunder before the night is gone.”

“Oh,” Daniel thought. “Oh, that so does not sound good.” He started twisting his wrists, working at the ropes.

It never hurt to have a Plan B.

--------------------------------------

Teal'c strode through the forest, cursing the trees and darkness as he went. Even his superior vision was no match for the almost total blackness around him. Again and again he was forced to stop and kneel in the dirt in search of signs. Those he pursued had moved quickly and without hesitation. There were the tracks of two men, large in weight and stature and, early on, signs of Daniel Jackson's boot heels being dragged. Just inside the tree line he'd seen evidence that the Tau'ri scientist had struggled, but he'd seen no such evidence since. He growled in anger that he should be wasting his time searching for such a weak being. He who was meant for greatness. He considered turning around and leaving the Tau'ri fools on their own, but pride forced him forward: Of them all, only he could accomplish this task.

But, and Teal'c's pace slowed almost imperceptibly, there was something else, was there not? Were not these people his . . . friends? Teal'c stopped dead in his tracks and a wave of dizziness almost overcame him. His symbiote seemed to contort in protest, and for a moment he could hear the infant Goa'uld's thoughts. “Move on, idiot slave!” he heard it scream. “We could never be friends with such creatures!”

“No, no, this is not possible,” Teal'c thought. He tried to fight the voice in his head, but it was too strong. “No,” he thought a last time, before rage again overtook him. He studied the ground for a moment and then moved forward swiftly, ready to destroy Daniel Jackson and the dogs who took him.

------------------------------------

Jack awoke briefly with no awareness of where he was or even . . . who he was. He felt a presence nearby and thought he should be fearful, but whatever it was touched him gently on his forehead and he felt comforted. He turned his head to look, but the touch came again and he drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep.

 

Chapter 6

Another meteorite blazed through the night sky, this time trailing pink and purple stripes, and Sam hummed happily. She wondered idly if it was the effects of the spores that made her see the spectacular colors or if there was something in the makeup of the atmosphere that caused it, maybe the same thing that made the sky that lovely green-blue. Then she decided she really didn't care. The colonel was right. Maybe she did analyze everything too much. Why not just sit back and enjoy?

She frowned a little at the thought of the colonel. Where had he gone off to? And Daniel and Teal'c? She hoped they weren't missing the show. Maybe she should go find them? But, no. General Hammond had ordered her to stay by the Stargate, hadn't he? Sam scrunched her forehead in concentration. Yes, right, definitely he had ordered her to stay put.

“I can do that,” she said, and leaned back against the MALP. She closed her eyes but opened them quickly again, startled by the vision that had just appeared in her mind. “Whoa, what was that?”

She closed her eyes again to let the vision come back, and sure enough, there it was: A crazed looking figure—a Jaffa, if the tattoo were any indication—with red-rimmed, insanity-filled eyes. “Whoa,” she said again, out loud. “I liked the shooting stars a whole lot better.” She started to laugh, wondering where the heck that picture had sprung from, but then sat up straight. That was no hallucination, she realized. It was another memory. Another Jolinar memory. And suddenly there was more, as if a window had opened in her mind: The spores caused a chemical imbalance in the symbiote, driving Goa'uld mad. That Jaffa she'd seen. . . . That was the effect of the drug on Jaffa, for it not only drove the infant Goa'uld they carried insane, it seemed to open up a conduit between the symbiote and the Jaffa, flooding the Jaffa with the same madness. She suddenly saw horrible pictures in her head of troops of Jaffa raping men and women, murdering children. . . .

Sam retched. Oh my God, oh my God, make it stop. She clutched her head as if she could force the memories back into her subconscious. Sam got up on her knees and looked wildly around her. That happened here? On this planet? The spores made Jaffa. . . .
She reached for her radio and fumbled with the button. Dammit! She needed to warn Teal'c! If something like that happened to him. . . .

“Teal'c, Teal'c? Please. . . .” Sam's hand slipped from the radio, and she dropped it to the ground, and when she reached for it, she lost her balance, almost falling over. She felt tears sting her eyes. No, she told herself. She was stronger than this. She would not let this drug keep her from warning her teammates. She picked up the radio.

“Teal'c? Please respond. Teal'c? Colonel? Daniel?” Nothing. “Listen, if any of you are out there, I just had a memory, one of Jolinar's. Teal'c, you have to get away from this planet. The drug from the spores, it's dangerous. It lets your symbiote control your feelings, it. . . . Just please come back, O.K.? Teal'c? Colonel? Dan. . . .”

Sam gasped as she remembered why they were still on the planet. Daniel was in trouble. She'd been watching the night sky while her teammates were. . . . Oh, no.

She pushed herself off the ground and stood facing the direction of the ruined city, swaying slightly. She had to go to them. She looked around for her P-90 and found it where she'd dropped it carelessly to the ground near the DHD. As she went to pick it up, the Gate started spinning. Sam stayed where she was, dancing from foot to foot, impatiently watching as each chevron lit up. Backup was here, but she was deathly afraid they were all already too late.

-----------------------------------

Teal'c heard his radio as he made his way through the dense trees. He heard Major Carter calling to him and telling him to leave the planet. What was she saying? More Tau'ri tricks! His symbiote was but an infant. Why did they waste his time with such nonsense! He grabbed the radio and flung it with all his might against a tree. The radio continued to squawk. “Foolish woman. Be silent!” he shouted, and stomped his heel on the offensive instrument, smashing it. He stared at the broken radio in satisfaction, relieved at the sudden quiet. “We will take care of her when we are finished with the others,” a voice seemed to speak in his ear. Teal'c smiled at the thought and nodded. Yes, that would be a great pleasure.

He squatted down close to the ground to find the trail again. First he needed to continue the hunt. He felt his prey was near, and his hands itched in anticipation of the kill.

-----------------------------------------

Jack thought he heard Sam's voice. Carter? He opened his eyes to almost complete darkness. “Carter?” he said. No one answered. He squinted, trying to see, and thought he could make out the dim outline of trees above him, blocking out most of the night sky. He felt the ground around him, finding nothing but dirt, sticks and leaves, although he was pretty sure something had just crawled over his leg. His hands went to his chest, where he felt the familiar weight of his P-90. O.K., definitely off-world. In the woods, off-world. By himself?

“Carter?” he asked again. “Teal'c? Daniel?” Where the hell was his team? He moved to sit up, and he was almost surprised that he could. O.K. Off-world, alone in the woods, and not tied up or injured. Not even a headache. His head felt a little fuzzy, but other than that, he was fine. Well, except that he didn't know where the hell he was, how he'd gotten there and what had happened.
He got up into a squat and, eyeing the surrounding trees warily, reached for his radio. “Carter? Carter, report.”

“Colonel? Colonel, is that really you? Where are you? Are you all right? Did you find Daniel? Where's Teal'c? He's dangerous I think, sir. I'm really sorry, sir. . . .”

Jack frowned as he listened to Sam, waiting for her to let him respond. This wasn't normal technobabble; this was just . . . babble. And what did she mean, had he found Daniel? And what was that about Teal'c? Did she mean Teal'c was dangerous?

“. . . teams are coming through the Gate now, sir. We'll get to you as fast as we can,” Sam ended, apparently finally running out of breath.

Jack waited another beat before he responded. “You finished, Major?”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir”

“Now, what do you mean, Daniel's missing?” he asked.

“Sir?” Carter asked. “You mean you didn't tell me Daniel was missing? I'm pretty sure you did, sir. . . .”

Jack heard someone swear in the background and say something about Air Force Looney Tunes, and the radio went silent for a second. Then another voice came through.

“Colonel O'Neill. This is Makepeace. What's your 20? Over.”

Jack looked around him at the closely packed trees and then up at the barely visible sky. He sighed, really not wanting to admit what he was about to admit.

“I'm in some woods, and . . . and beyond that, I really haven't a clue.”

“Can you tell me where the rest of your team is, O'Neill?” Makepeace's voice came back .

“Negative, Makepeace. I just woke up a few minutes ago, and I don't remember a damn thing.” Jack responded. This was not a good feeling.

There were a few moments of static on the radio before Makepeace's voice returned. “Stay where you are, O'Neill. Give us 15 minutes to get to the woods, then hit your transmit button every few minutes.” And then in an almost mumbled voice, as if he'd forgotten the radio was on, “The Marines will find your sorry butt.”

Jack started to protest, but couldn't really think of anything to say. The Marines probably would have to find his sorry butt. He didn't know where he was or how he'd gotten there, and he couldn't even remember what planet he was on.

“Roger that, Makepeace, but keep me updated on Daniel and Teal'c.” Jack paused a beat and then mumbled into his own radio, making sure he was still transmitting, “Or I'll kick your sorry butt.”

Jack let go of the radio and shifted backwards till his back was against a tree. He had never felt more useless. Daniel and Teal'c were apparently out there somewhere in trouble, and he was like a little kid, lost in the woods. As he lifted his P-90 slightly to have it at the ready, he felt something pull against his waistband. He reached down and found his flashlight.

Huh. He must have at least known he'd be somewhere dark, if he had the flashlight out. He turned it on and looked around. Trees and more trees, of course. And some creepy shadows. He aimed the beam at the ground to see if there were any clues as to which way he'd come from or how he'd gotten there, but he couldn't see anything at all, except the indentation where he'd lain and his own footprints from where he'd been squatting for the last few minutes. It was as if he'd been dropped from the sky.

At that thought Jack suddenly remembered floating, or being carried off through the air. Hands . . . what had felt like hands had carried him deep into the woods. Was that a dream. A nightmare?

He remembered the spores, and with a start he remembered Teal'c's hands around his throat. Jack reached up to feel the bruises, but his neck felt fine. How could that be? Was the drug so powerful that he could have hallucinated that? And Daniel. Had he imagined that Daniel had disappeared? No, Daniel had been dragged off before the sky was filled with that damn snow.

Dammit!

Jack jumped up and looked around, breathing heavily, feeling panic starting to grip him. How long? How long had it been since Daniel had been kidnapped?

Jack keyed his radio. “Makepeace?”

“Yeah, O'Neill. I read you. Call again in another ten. We're not even at the ruins yet.”

“Never mind that, Makepeace,” Jack ordered. “Don't come after me. I'm fine. Find Daniel and Teal'c. I remember what happened, and they're in trouble. Start with the ruins of the temple past the main city close to the woods and track them there.”

“Colonel, you saw Teal'c?” another voice popped in. Fraiser? “Sam . . . Major Carter says he might be having a negative—a violent—reaction to the substance these flowers release. General Hammond is checking with the Tok'ra to see what they know.”

“Yeah, Doc,” Jack replied. “That part's still a little fuzzy, but I think Teal'c attacked me. Makepeace, you getting all this?”

“Yeah, O'Neill, I read you.”

“He's a member of the SGC, my teammate and my friend, Makepeace. So if it comes to it, zats only, you hear me?”

“I'll give the order, O'Neill, but my men have to defend themselves.”

“Zats, Makepeace!”

“I hear you, O'Neill. You know we'll avoid lethal force at all costs. We don't kill our own. Out.”

“O'Neill out,” Jack almost growled. He looked around at the thick growth, as effective a prison as iron bars, and suddenly he didn't care how lost he got or what might be out there. He needed to move. He needed to find Daniel and Teal'c. He looked around for a likely place to start and for a second imagined that he saw a shimmering light in one direction. The light disappeared as he stared, and he wondered if the drug was still messing with his head.

“No matter,” he thought, as he started to walk. “This is as good a direction as any.”

--------------------------------------------

Finally, there was some give in the ropes around his wrists, and Daniel allowed himself an iota of hope. If he could slide his hands out, he might be able to work on the rope around his ankles. He glanced up from his side at his captors. They had pretty much avoided looking at him since one of the men had proclaimed that he would be dead before sunrise. Daniel guessed they thought there was no point in trying to communicate with a dead man, even one who, from time to time, tried to communicate with them. In his last attempt to talk to them, he'd tried to find out why the “gods” were angry. Maybe, if he knew what they believed, he could offer them an alternative to human sacrifice, which is what he now knew was their intention. But they had not even paused in their own conversation as he spoke.

He'd silently listened for a while to their talk while he'd worked on the ropes, still hoping to discover something, anything that would allow him to connect with them. He started to put together the pieces of their lives, learning that they all had families living somewhere deeper in the woods, that there was, in fact, a whole community living and working there. Maybe there was an opportunity there? After all, if they had laws, perhaps he could. . . .

His thoughts were interrupted as he became aware that the woman was talking about him now, although still studiously avoiding looking in his direction. “At least because of the stranger, the children will be spared, for this day,” she said, and the others nodded solemnly. Daniel knew then that nothing he could say would change what they were about to do. They believed his death would save the lives of their children.

So he'd silently twisted and pulled at his wrists, ignoring the pain and ignoring the blood he could feel dripping down over his hands and onto the floor. Finally, though, he was close to freeing himself. Daniel started to slip his right hand slowly from the rope, keeping his face from grimacing at the chafing on his raw skin, in case one of the four should turn in his direction. He pulled the rope off his other hand and allowed his shoulders to relax slightly. Ahh, that hurt! If it hurt that much to move, how was he supposed to untie his legs?

Still, he had to try. His eyes glued to the foursome as they sat around the fire, Daniel took a deep breath and moved his arms forward slowly from behind his back. It felt as if his muscles were tearing, and had to bite his lip to keep from calling out. He drew shallow quick breaths, waiting until he could move again. “You can do this, Jackson,” he told himself. “You're going to be 'ripped asunder,' remember?” He started to pull his knees up to his chest so he could reach his ankles. The conversation stopped briefly, and he froze, holding his breath, willing his captors to go back about their business and continue to ignore him. “Not now,” he thought. “Not now.” One of the men lit a sort of a pipe, and the talk started up again, about mundane things, hunting and someone's prowess with a weapon.

Daniel let loose a shuddering breath and reached for the knot in the rope. His shoulders again cried in protest, and then his bruised hip joined the chorus. His fingers, numb and slick with blood, fumbled uselessly at the rough cord. Again keeping his face as expressionless as he could, he screamed internally in frustration. “Come on!” He closed his eyes and concentrated. He visualized his fingers on the rope, and slowly, to his amazement, he got his fingers into the knot and started pulling it loose. When he could move his legs enough to slip free, he felt such immense relief that he thought for a moment he was going to pass out.

“Oh, thank God,” he thought, readying himself to jump up and run out the door, only a few feet away, locked muscles and pain be damned.

Daniel tensed his legs, put one arm down to push himself up and opened his eyes.

Four sets of eyes stared back at him. One of the men rose slowly from his seat.
“It is time,” he said.

 

Chapter 7

Daniel froze for a fraction of a second when he saw his four captors looking at him, then pushed himself up, spun and stumbled out the door into the dark. His numb legs refused to hold him up, and he fell forward onto his knees, then pushed himself up again, ignoring the pain shooting through the rest of his body. He limped and shuffled forward toward the trees, already knowing it was hopeless as he heard the heavy footsteps behind him. A huge hand grabbed his arm, and another his other shoulder, and he yelped as he came to an abrupt halt. His legs started to give out again, but he was firmly pulled upright.

“Please,” he gasped, “you don't have to do this. Placebo, kree! Tek necesse non via kho'rem. There must be another way!” He was sure his syntax was wrong, but he thought they should understand him.

The woman looked down at him sadly.“Me paenitiet,” she said, shaking her head. “Non via kho'rem tek.

The two other men came out of the shack into the small clearing. One carried a torch, the other more rope and a large, ancient sword.

“Mainz gladius,” Daniel thought inanely, automatically categorizing the sword. He wondered what it would feel like to be run through by an authentic 3000 year old weapon. Probably not so good. And was the tearing asunder part before or after the running through part?

Daniel started to struggle fiercely, but the two holding him outweighed him by 300 pounds, and they barely shifted in reaction to his efforts. The man—Haloran, he thought—grabbed him at the waist and threw him over his shoulder like a sack of grain and started to move forward. From his upside-down vantage point, Daniel saw the other men follow. The woman stepped back and said,

“I will summon the others,” and disappeared into the trees in the opposite direction.

Daniel bounced uncomfortably against the huge man's back. Each jolt pulled on his injured hip and strained shoulders, and the nerve endings in his numb legs were sending out unhappy signals that they were no longer asleep. He tried to pay attention to his surroundings, in case he could find a way to escape, but beyond the small circle of light cast by the torch, he could make out only the vague shapes of more trees. The bouncing motion and the smell of sweat and smoke emanating from the man's tunic started to make him ill, and he closed his eyes.

He had no idea how much farther they had gone when his “escort” stopped abruptly. Daniel heard the sound of murmuring voices gradually quieting, and then silence. He opened his eyes and saw that they were in another clearing, this one larger than the one that had held the shack. They were in the middle of a large circle of low stones, and outside the circle stood maybe another dozen oversized men and women, all with fake tattoos of varying design on their foreheads. There were a few more swords, these much more primitive than the first, and some heavy clubs. Some of the men wore only long open tunics and loin cloths, and he could finally answer the question of whether these people were Jaffa. As he'd suspected, there were no pouches, no symbiotes. Human then.

His viewpoint suddenly shifted, and he was upright again. He had a moment of vertigo, and a man he'd never seen before grabbed him to keep him from falling. When his vision cleared, he saw that he stood before a tall wooden post in the middle of the circle, with hooks on either side at the top. Haloran, if that was his name, had taken the rope they'd brought and draped it over the hooks. He and the other man brought Daniel to the post and turned him so it was against his back. The “stranger” lifted him up, and Haloran pulled Daniel's arms over his head to secure them to the post, causing Daniel to shout in pain. Haloran seemed to hesitate briefly but then quickly tied Daniel's wrists with the rope. Daniel gasped again as the rope scraped and pulled at his bloody skin, then shouted once more as the man holding him released him, causing him to drop suddenly.

“Ah, shit, shit,” Daniel thought. He hung helplessly, his feet dangling above the ground, and tried to keep from sobbing from the pain in his shoulders and shredded wrists. “Please,” he whispered in English, then in Arabic, before remembering where he was. “Placeo!” At the Latin word, the man who had dropped Daniel turned to Haloran and spoke rapidly. Haloran simply shrugged and shook his head. To Daniel he said sharply, “Ha're kree!” and raised his hand threateningly.
Daniel shut up, taking short, shallow breaths to try to control the pain. He looked around for a sympathetic face, maybe the woman from the shack. There had to be a way to reach these people. He was not ready to die here. He squinted through his glasses, now covered with grime and dirt, held to his head by the elastic band he for once had had the foresight to attach. In the dim light from the torches he could barely make out the features, but he saw that several men and women looked away from his gaze, as if ashamed. Maybe. . . .

He started talking rapidly, mangling the language he was sure, but desperate to make contact. “Please,” he said loudly, “Please don't do this. I am a peaceful explorer in your land. I will help you find another way. My friends and I can help you protect yourselves from your gods; we can take you from this land to a place. . . .”

Daniel was concentrating so hard on getting through to them that he didn't see it coming. Haloran's fist crashed into his face, knocking him to the other side of the post. His cheek exploded in pain and blood filled his mouth, and his body swung from the impact. He tried to stop his movement with his feet on the post, but it was no good. Whatever was wrong with his hip kept him from pulling his legs up, and so he swung. The ropes bit into his wrists and yanked at his shoulders, and he wished he could pass out.

At Haloran's violent act, shouting broke out. He was chastised for the punch, and the newcomers around the circle began to shout questions. The others wanted to know how Daniel could speak to them if he came through the great circle, and one man wondered out loud if this was a sign from the forest spirits that he should not be sacrificed. A woman shouted him down, asking if he'd like to trade places with “the little man,” or if his daughter should be next. She was shouted down in turn. And then the woman who had given him water in the shack stepped forward, and the rest quieted.

“The angry gods of the forest require a sacrifice,” she said. “We have lost many through the seasons, and I believe this man was sent to us to save our children from such horror, at least for this day. If that is not so, then the spirits will leave him untouched. Let the gods decide! It is the way.”

An elderly man, dressed better than the others in a long garment tied at the waist, stepped forward. “Are we in agreement?”

A few looked away, but most nodded.

“Then we prepare this body for its sacrifice,” he said.

Daniel dangled from the post, still blinking tears of pain from his eyes, and watched as several men stepped forward into the circle of stones, carrying the heavy wooden clubs and blunt swords. The old man took the ancient sword Daniel had admired and turned toward him.

Oh, God. Daniel looked wildly toward the woods. Isn't it about now that the team is supposed to swoop in and rescue him? He looked back at the men and the people standing outside the circle and saw their faces grim with purpose. Daniel's breathing quickened till he was almost gasping, and his bound hands started to tremble

No, he thought. No. If he was going to die here, it wasn't going to be like this. He heard Jack's voice in his head saying, “Never let them see the fear, Danny boy. Never let them see the fear.” Daniel deliberately slowed his breathing. He couldn't stop the shaking that seemed to be spreading through his body, but he clenched his fists to still his hands and looked directly into the old man's eyes.

The man looked back at Daniel and said, quietly, “We thank you for this service to our people.” And with strength that belied his age, he raised the glittering blade above his head.

 

Chapter 8

The old man swung the sword diagonally downward, slashing through the skin on Daniel's chest. Daniel let out a strangled yell, then looked down to see a shallow cut the width of his body spreading a bloody stain through his BDUs. The elder stepped aside, and three more men carrying swords stepped forward.

Daniel braced himself, determined not to cry out, wondering if one of these men would strike the final blow. The first man, stocky and well-muscled, with a long blond beard, swung his sword one-handed across Daniel's abdomen, opening another long, shallow cut. Daniel grunted in pain, and before he could catch his breath, the third sword and then the fourth cut ugly swaths across his body. The men looked down or past him as they struck. Only the elder had looked Daniel in the eyes.

“Again!” the old man ordered.

“No,” Daniel gasped again, his determination flagging. Was this how they were going to kill him? Death by a thousand cuts? His mind flashed on the horrific descriptions he had heard of the ancient Chinese torture. Was this their version? Was this how they killed their children? That wasn't possible, was it?

“Again!” the old man repeated.

“Wait!” Daniel said, in spite of himself. “Kree!”

But the men stepped forward in turn again, each adding another shallow, bleeding gash to Daniel's chest and stomach.

Then the elder intoned something else, of which Daniel caught only the words, “Suscipio pulsus.” The beating? Begin the beating? He watched as four men stepped forward with the heavy clubs.

“Oh, no,” he thought. They were going to beat him to death? Was that supposed to be better than slicing him to death? “Maybe, yes,” he tried to comfort himself as the first man raised his club. The giant brought it down with all his might, slamming Daniel in the side so that his body twisted almost all the way around. Daniel yelled as he felt and heard a rib crack. “Or not,” he gasped out loud.

Another of the men stepped forward, this one bigger than the others, and Daniel closed his eyes. He wanted to find a way to deal with this; he wanted to be brave, to find his “inner Jack,” to say something irreverent in the face of torture and death, but he couldn't. This was just a very, very bad way to die, and he wanted it to be over.

But before the second blow could fall, there was a sudden loud roar, and a large figure burst from the woods. The men lowered their clubs and turned as a voice boomed in Goa'uld, “Leave him! He is mine!”

“Teal'c?” Daniel whispered, opening his eyes.

For a moment no one moved or spoke as the figure strode forward, and then there was pandemonium.

“The demons return!” someone screamed, and several of the men and women who had been watching Daniel's ordeal broke from the circle and ran into the woods in obvious panic. Two of the men with swords remained, as well as the men with clubs, but they looked ready to flee at any second.

“Warn the village!” the elder shouted to one of the unarmed men. “The rest, defend your circle and your sacrifice!” And with that he raised the ancient weapon he still held and ran straight toward the approaching “demon.”

--------------------------------------------------

Teal'c grinned in anticipation as he saw the old man running toward him. He had hours before discarded his staff weapon as an unnecessary hindrance, and he was pleased to have another opportunity to destroy one of these false Jaffa with his bare hands.

The first had been at the wooden structure in the clearing to which he had tracked Daniel Jackson's kidnappers. He had seen a woman come out, large in stature and with a mark on her forehead, but he sensed immediately, of course, that she was no Jaffa. He was enraged that anyone would dare to pretend to be Jaffa, and he had shouted to the woman to stop. She had turned toward him, squinting in the dark, apparently unintimidated by his voice. But when he came within the light of her torch, she had covered her mouth, opened her eyes wide in horror and backed away. She said something in a language he did not understand, except for a word that sounded like the Goa'uld word for “returned,” and then had turned to run.

Her fear had aroused him, and he stepped forward and grabbed her, ripping her tunic from her body. She'd fought back, and her strength surprised and impressed Teal'c as she broke away. He laughed and ran after her, catching her easily. She screamed and clawed at him, drawing blood, and his pleasure turned to outrage, and with hardly a thought, he'd brought his hands up to either side of her head and twisted it sharply. He'd dropped her to the ground and turned back to pick up the trail.

Thinking of this as he watched the foolish ancient coming toward him, he shivered in pleasure. He stopped and waited, eyeing the ornate sword in the man's hands. It would be child's play to disarm him. Perhaps he would kill the man with his own weapon. Teal'c smiled. He saw that others were armed but failing to attack, and he knew that they too would die for their cowardice. And there behind them, like a pig awaiting slaughter, hung Daniel Jackson. An appropriate Tau'ri expression in this case, he thought.

Distracted by his vision of what he would do to the useless human, Teal'c drew his attention back to the old man almost too late. He saw the sword coming down on him, but sidestepped it gracefully, sticking out his leg and using the man's own forward momentum to knock him to the ground. He then reached down and grabbed the sword from the man's hands and brought the blade down on the back of the man's head. Child's play, he thought.

The remaining natives screamed and cried out. Two more ran off into the woods, leaving only a half dozen men and women. A young man with a club ran forward with a battle cry, and one of the women, too, ran toward him, although unarmed. Seeing that, another man armed with a sword rushed forward as well. Teal'c noticed with some amusement that the remaining three men closed ranks in front of Daniel Jackson, clubs and sword raised.

The woman and the man with the club reached Teal'c. The man knocked the sword from Teal'c's hands at the same time as the woman leaped upon his back, but Teal'c was ready. As the young man brought the club down again, Teal'c grabbed his arm and twisted. The man struggled but dropped the club. Teal'c shrugged the woman off, and she fell to the ground, and he turned and kicked her hard, then reached behind him and grabbed the man he knew would be there, flipping him on top of the woman. He picked up the bloody sword from the ground and turned just as the third man, the one with the other sword, reached him, and he ran him through in a smooth motion. As the look in the man's eyes faded from shock and pain to nothingness, Teal'c felt a surge of joy and laughed loudly before he turned toward the others at his feet.

The man and the woman had rolled away from him and were rising, but to his surprise, they were looking not at him but toward the sky. At the same moment, he felt a chill and a sense of evil filled the air. He looked up and saw what he first mistook for dark-colored birds soaring down from the gradually lightening sky but then saw that they were shapeless, almost phantomlike. He felt an unfamiliar, craven fear at the realization that these were beings more powerful and dangerous than he, and he was certain he heard his symbiote scream in terror.

The man and woman and the others guarding the bound human backed away and dropped to their knees, beginning a rapid, low chanting. Teal'c too dropped to his knees, sensing that running would be useless. To his relief, he saw that the creatures headed not for him, but straight for Daniel Jackson.

-------------------------------------------

Daniel's relief at seeing Teal'c quickly turned to shock and confusion as he watched his friend kill the old man so brutally. He'd shouted out to stop him, but his hoarse cry was drowned out by the screams of the others. Daniel watched helplessly then as the woman who had been in the shack and the others converged upon Teal'c in revenge and anger; he wondered if even Teal'c could defeat three such large opponents, and he feared for his teammate. Where were Jack and Sam? Why was Teal'c alone?

Yet Teal'c handled the first two easily, their bulk and anger no match for his years of training. Daniel winced as he saw Teal'c kill again—Teal'c could have easily disabled the man without killing him, Daniel knew—but he understood that Teal'c was defending himself and facing long odds to try and rescue him. At least that's what he thought, until Teal'c's laugh rang out. It was a laugh Daniel had never heard from his stoic friend, and it was sadistic in its obvious enjoyment of the violence. He sounded like . . . like a Goa'uld. Daniel wondered if the pain and shock were making him hallucinate.

He watched Teal'c turn toward the other two, sword in hand, and realized that Teal'c was going to kill them too. It was too much. Daniel wanted to live, wanted to be saved, wanted to be happily drugged in the infirmary and forget everything that had happened here, but he didn't want to see all these people die.

“Teal'c, no!” he started to shout again, when he saw everyone turn to look at the sky. The three men in front of him stepped quickly away and dropped to their knees and began a chant. Daniel looked stupidly at them, his exhausted, pain-filled mind not understanding what was happening. It was then that he felt it, like ice gripping his insides, and he looked to the sky, which was turning from black to gray in the hours before dawn.

Dozens of shadows were flying through the sky, swirling downward, and they seemed to be aiming for him. Daniel looked back at the chanting figures and up again at the sky. “Angry forest gods,” he had time to think before the shadows were upon him. They enveloped him and then seemed to sink into his skin and further into his body. Daniel felt nothing for a moment except the icy cold and then suddenly his body erupted in pain as if he were being ripped apart from the inside.

He screamed, and kept screaming.

 

Chapter 9

Jack trekked through the dark woods, pushing branches and vines out of his way, slapping at the occasional hungry insect and ignoring the rational voice in his head that told him he was just getting himself hopelessly—more hopelessly—lost. He was fairly certain he had imagined the shimmering light, since he hadn't seen anything since, but he kept going. Something elemental, something more than instinct, was leading him onward.

And at this point, what else could he do?

The flashlight started to flicker and he stopped walking and switched it off. He listened to his own breathing in the night air and to the sounds of the forest around him. The buzzing of insects, the occasional scurrying of small animals. The trickle of water from a small stream somewhere.
He still couldn't see very far, even if there had been anything to see but more trees, but he thought he could see a little better than before. Either it was finally beginning to get light, or his eyes were adjusting to what had before seemed like total darkness. He looked up but the sky was hidden by the thick canopy.

He was about to move forward again when he heard it. It was distant, but he was sure that was the sound of shouting. He waited for more, but there was nothing. Damn, which direction had that come from? There again, another shout, multiple voices. Jack started forward, moving as quickly as possible through the brush and listening.

There was a sudden loud squawk nearby, and several birds, or at least flying things, burst from a tree in front of him and flew off. Jack started, raised his P-90 and did a quick 360 looking for whatever had scared the creatures. He heard it before he saw it, the sound of feet pounding through the woods, crashing through the trees, coming fast. He moved to the side, rapidly ducking behind a tree, just before two large figures appeared from the darkness. They rushed past him without pausing, merely feet away, a man and a woman, and Jack got a look at one of their faces, eyes stretched wide and mouth open in terror.

Jack, heart pounding, stayed where he was, waiting, letting a full minute tick by, making sure that whatever had sent those people running wasn't coming up right behind them. He got up slowly, scanning the trees in front of him. Nothing. The forest had grown quiet again, swallowing up the panicked couple as if they'd never been there.

Jack started to move in the direction they had come from—in the direction he had already been going. He knew. He knew, because he knew Daniel and because he knew SG-1's damn rotten track record for trouble, that whatever terrifying thing was going down, that Daniel, if Daniel was even still alive, was right in the middle of it. He pictured the look on the woman's face as she'd run past, and he was again seized by a terrible fear for his teammates.

It was all he could do to keep from breaking into a dead run, but he made himself move with caution. He wasn't going to help anyone by fracturing a leg in the dark or rushing into an unknown situation. Find the enemy, analyze the options, plan the attack. Anything else would likely get him and his teammates killed.

He reached for his radio. Maybe the rescue teams were closer; maybe they'd heard the shouting. At any rate, he should tell them what he'd seen and heard.

“Makepeace? Come in,” he said quietly into the radio.

“I read you, O'Neill.”

“I was just passed by two people running for their lives, and I heard shouting in the distance. Are you close enough to have heard anything? Any sign of Daniel and Teal'c?”

“Negative on the shouting, O'Neill. But we've found a body.”

Jack's heart clenched. “A body?”

“A woman. Must be a native of the planet. Her neck was broken.”

“Teal'c and Daniel?”

“We've got tracks, and we've found blood in a shack, not too much. And it looks as if . . . it looks like there was a struggle between Teal'c and the woman. We think he. . . .” Makepeace didn't finish, but his meaning was clear.

Crap, Jack thought. Teal'c, what have you done? “Anything else?” he asked abruptly when Makepeace stopped, not sure he wanted to know.

“We found a radio, smashed, a little way back. Probably Teal'c's from the tracks around it. We're following his trail now, from the shack.”

“All right, Makepeace. I'm heading in the direction of the noise I heard earlier. Keep on your trail. I'm guessing we'll end up at the same place. Is Carter with you?”

“Negative, O'Neill. We sent her back through the Gate to get checked out. We're. . . .”

A sudden scream split the air, muffled by distance but continuing into a rising shriek. Jack heard it somewhere ahead of him and, more dimly, through his radio.

“You hear that, O'Neill?”

“Shit, yes, Makepeace. That's Daniel. I'm going.”

“Not without backup, O'Neill! We'll be there as fast as we can!”

Jack let go of the radio, ignoring Makepeace's shouted warning, and started to run, the agonized cries in the distance spurring him on. Branches slapped into his face and body, and tree roots threatened to send him flying, but he didn't slow down. Caution and military training be damned, he had to get to Daniel.

“O'Neill! . . . Damn it, Jack, respond!” Makepeace's voice yelled over the radio.

But Jack kept running.

---------------------------------------

Makepeace swore and put away his radio. Dr. Fraiser, standing next to him in her orange suit, gave him a look through her mask, and he scowled. They both knew nothing would stop Jack O'Neill if one of his teammates was in trouble. The distant screaming wasn't stopping, and Makepiece didn't want to know what was causing the man to yell that way. It was all he could do to keep from running madly through the woods himself.

Fraiser moved off impatiently, looking in the direction of the screams, which abruptly stopped for a moment, and then continued. He saw her give a small shudder before she started ordering her people to look sharp. His own men looked at him, obviously unnerved.

“Listen up, people,” he said, and all eyes snapped to him, at least as far as he could tell through the masks of the damn Hazmat suits. He considered telling them to lose the suits, which would slow them down and were like bull's-eyes for anyone who wanted to take target practice, but he'd seen how Carter had been acting and knew he couldn't risk it. “One of our people is in trouble,” he went on. “The best way to help him is to stay alert and focus on the mission. Understood?” A few nodded at the rhetorical question. Lieutenant Spinner kept looking behind him toward the horrifying sounds. “Lieutenant, you with me?” he snapped.

“Yes, sir!” the young officer said, turning his attention back to his team leader.

“Major Everham, have your people fan out on either side of us. Fong, you have point. Jorgenson, take our six. Dr. Fraiser, keep your team between me and Spinner. We're going to be moving fast, but I want everyone to keep up your intervals, got that? And remember, we have three friendlies out there, one probably compromised, and indigenous people who may or may not be hostile, so look before you shoot, understood?”

He watched with some professional pride as everyone started moving. “Don't worry, people, we'll get to him. O.K., move out!”

And the rescue party headed forward in the gray dawn, tracking the tortured screams of one of their own.

 

Chapter 10

Daniel's scream turned to a horrible keening and then was replaced by something even more terrible to Jack's ears: silence. Sudden, absolute silence. Oh, crap, crap, crap. He couldn't be too late! He pushed himself to run faster even as his chest was heaving from the effort. His knee sent shooting pains up his leg and he stumbled, but he righted himself and kept going.
In the early dawn light he could see that the trees were starting to thin, and he realized he was coming to a clearing. He slowed himself down and dropped behind some low brush at the edge, still gasping from his rush through the trees. He heard what sounded like chanting and raised his head to look cautiously through the leaves. Blood from a gash in his forehead dripped into his eye, and he wiped it away with his sleeve. He saw several very large people kneeling inside what looked like a circle of stones, and he realized with a shock that one of them was Teal'c, who seemed almost hunched over as if in pain. Shifting to get a better view, he saw other figures lying on the ground nearby; he couldn't tell if they were alive or dead. Just inside his view, he saw three men several yards away from Teal'c, also kneeling. But no Daniel. He raised his weapon slightly and risked sticking his head out farther to see what the chanters were staring at.

Oh, sweet Jesus. Daniel!

Daniel hung, feet dangling, from a post in the middle of the circle. His head jerked back and forth and the rest of his body jumped and danced as if at the end of a marionette's strings. Even in the dim light, Jack saw that his uniform was covered in blood.

Jack's body thrummed with the urge to go to his friend. And to kill the bastards responsible. He looked again at the gathered men and women. The three closest to Daniel had what looked like a sword and some kind of clubs. Even if Jack went in shooting, if one of them went after Teal'c or Daniel, he might not be fast enough to stop them. And who knew how many more people there might be hidden from view in the woods? Jack looked back at Teal'c, hoping for some sign that his friend was himself again, but no. He knew there was no way the Jaffa warrior would stand by and watch Daniel's torment if he were himself. The Teal'c he knew would rather die.

He was on his own.

“Makepeace?” he whispered into his radio.

“O'Neill? What's your situation?”

“I've found them. I've got to get to Daniel. I see five locals and Teal'c. I don't know if they'll try to stop me. I need your 20.”

“Roger that, O'Neill. I can't be sure, but from the sound. . . . From the sound before it stopped, I estimate that we're fifteen, twenty minutes out, maybe less. Wait for us.”

Jack looked toward Daniel and saw his head jerk up and twist back again to the side. His eyes were empty and his bloodied mouth was open in a soundless scream. Fifteen minutes? “Negative, Robert. I'm going in. Tell Fraiser to be ready. Out.”

Jack crouched down, cursing his bum knee, and worked his way quickly through the woods until he was as close to Daniel as he could get, maybe fifteen yards away, then stood up, weapon at the ready, and stepped out into the clearing.

He walked steadily toward Daniel from the side, ready to fire at the first hostile move, but no one even looked in his direction. Jack's hands shook with the urge to shoot anyway. The bastards were just kneeling there watching, watching. . . . Jack clenched his jaw and kept walking. God, what was making him jerk like that? What had they done to him?

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Teal'c straighten up and look at him. His eyes were cold and red-rimmed. His mouth turned down with a sneer, but he didn't move in Jack's direction, so Jack kept walking. He hoped to God that Teal'c didn't try to stop him.

Almost there. He could hear Daniel now. Not silent, as Jack had thought, but making hoarse, whimpering sounds as his body continued its macabre dance. There was blood everywhere, down the front of his ripped and soiled uniform, dripping from his mouth and nose and his bruised cheek, turning the rope around his wrists red.

One of the men with the clubs started to get up, as did the woman behind Teal'c, but in each case a hand of a comrade halted their progress. The two knelt again, and the chanting grew louder. Teal'c remained silent, but with a look that chilled Jack to the bone. “Please, Teal'c,” he thought.

“Don't try to stop me.”

He reached Daniel's side. He didn't know how to help him without hurting him, but he had to get him down. Jack let his weapon hang, keeping a wary eye on the chanters, and reached for his pocket knife. When he opened the blade, the woman shouted out something that sounded like no and then, “Kree!” and more that he couldn't understand. At the “Kree” he looked again and noticed the tattoos for the first time. “Crap,” he muttered. Was there a Goa'uld here after all?

He had to stretch to get to the ropes holding Daniel to the post. He reached up with one hand and tried to hold onto Daniel with the other to support him, but it was no good. He let go of Daniel and grabbed the rope and sawed through it. Daniel's arm dropped and he was hanging from one bloody wrist, and he gave a short high-pitched cry, but his body kept jerking and the pain of whatever was causing it consumed him again. Jack reached for the other arm, and he heard the woman yell something again. He looked, ready to go for his weapon, but neither she not the others rose to stop him. There eyes, however, were now filled with fear, and one of the men shuffled back as if ready to run.

Jack saw him and remembered the looks on the faces of the ones he'd seen fleeing through the woods. He wondered what horror they thought he was about to unleash but forced the thought down and focused on Daniel. This time he pushed his own body against Daniel's to try to keep him up as he cut through the second rope, and when the rope gave way he caught his friend and in a controlled fall they both hit the ground.

The chanting stopped abruptly, and Jack quickly disentangled himself from Daniel and raised his P-90, but the four men and the woman seemed frozen in place, and even Teal'c had a look of fear in his eyes. If Teal'c was afraid. . . .

Jack turned back to Daniel, whose eyes looked unseeingly upward as he continued to convulse. Jack put his arms around his friend and as gently as he could turned him on his side to keep him from choking. More blood trickled from Daniel's mouth, and Jack hoped that didn't mean what he thought it did. He didn't know where to begin. It seemed that there was no part of Daniel's body that wasn't bruised, swollen and bloody, and the infernal jerking was getting worse.

Where the hell were Makepeace and Fraiser? Jack reached for his radio, but just then Daniel's body arched upward and a hoarse scream was wrenched from his throat. Dammit! Jack went to grab Daniel, to hold him, not knowing what else to do, when he felt something icy flow into his hands.

Shit, shit, what was that? Something gray and ghostlike was rising from Daniel's body and sending tendrils toward Jack, and he scrambled backwards. The shadow pulled out of Daniel, bringing another agonized scream with it and letting the battered body crash limply to the ground. “Daniel!” Jack cried. He started to move back toward his teammate, but the shadow split into dozens of smaller vibrating shapes that spun around the Air Force colonel in closer and closer circles. Already he could feel them eating at him, tearing at his insides, and he let out a yell and closed his eyes.

Then, just as suddenly, he felt something else, something . . . good, and the ice in his heart weakened and the shadows withdrew, releasing him. He heard someone shouting, something that sounded like the Church Latin from his childhood, “Dei boni de silban!” and he wondered briefly if he was dead. He opened his eyes and saw that pulsing lights had replaced the shadows, and he remembered the light in the forest that had led him here and the comforting touch before he awoke in the woods.

He sat up carefully, and the lights moved back and rose to the treetops. He blinked and shook his head. What the hell? What just happened? He felt dazed, as if he were trying to think through thick gauze.

A strangled, rattling sound brought him back to the present, and he looked down to see Daniel, still battered and bloody, with a look of panic in his eyes, trying to breath. Shit! Whatever it was had saved him but left Daniel? Jack jumped forward and leaned over his friend.

Daniel looked at Jack, pleading. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Jack watched in horror as his friend, still curled up on his side, lost his struggle to breathe.

-----------------------------------------

Teal'c felt his power return as he saw the dark shadows flee, taking their evil with them. He smiled, pleased with himself for his tactic of waiting and dismissing the fear that had so recently paralyzed him. Now the two Tau'ri lay before him, like sacrificial lambs.

He watched as O'Neill leaped up and bent over Daniel Jackson, then turned the limp body and began to try to breathe life into it. Teal'c frowned. It would be a pity if he were robbed of this chance to continue the torture of the weak Tau'ri scholar, and indeed, it did seem as if O'Neill's efforts would be in vain. He heard the gray-haired man pleading desperately as he performed CPR. “C'mon, Daniel, dammit. C'mon!” And then he would lean back in and start again. Tears welled in the man's eyes, and Teal'c was filled with disgust that he had ever followed this man, that these two and the female scientist had ever dared to consider themselves his equal. Teal'c let out a growl and started to rise. The man and woman, still behind him, tensed, but he ignored them. He might have been denied one victim, but he would take great pleasure in sending O'Neill to his death.

Before Teal'c could stand, however, O'Neill himself stood and looked toward the treetops, where the lights still hovered.

“Help him!” he shouted, tears streaming down his face. “You can help him! Please, you helped me, now help him!”

The voice echoed in Teal'c's head, and he remembered another time, another shouted plea. “I can save these people! Help me! Help me,” O'Neill had proclaimed once. Teal'c felt a moment of confusion as strange thoughts and emotions churned in his mind and gut. Hadn't he believed the man that time? Hadn't he believed in him?

Teal'c shook his head, angry at himself for even entertaining such notions. He watched O'Neill standing there, looking up into the trees, and laughed harshly at the foolishness of the man to think that he could influence the actions of spirits such as those. O'Neill turned to look at him, his brown eyes filled with anger, and turned away again. Teal'c noticed, though, that he clutched his Earth weapon more tightly, and he laughed loudly again. The hasshak was right to fear him. “You will die now at my hand, O'Neill!” he yelled.

As O'Neill turned slowly toward him, Teal'c heard a gasp behind him, and another of the false Jaffa in before him cried out, but neither was in reaction to Teal'c's vow. They were looking up toward the lights. Teal'c reluctantly tore his eyes from his prey and looked upward as well. The lights were returning!

O'Neill must have seen something change in Teal'c's face, for he looked up also, then stepped back as if to give the strange spirits room. They swept down and surrounded Daniel Jackson, some seeming to sink into his skin, some remaining above him. Teal'c watched with fascination as Daniel Jackson took a sudden shuddering breath, then nothing, then one more breath, then nothing, then another until soon there was an even rise and fall of his chest. The man so recently dead let out a piteous moan and opened his eyes. “Jack?” he whispered.

 

Chapter 11

“Jack?” Daniel whispered. He remembered being caught in a hellish world of pain and terror, with something cold eating and ripping at him from the inside. He remembered screaming as something passed through his skin, and he remembered not being able to breath. He remembered Jack staring at him with panic in his eyes. He remembered . . . dying.

He moaned. Maybe dying was better. His lungs felt as if he'd breathed in fire, his guts as if he'd been repeatedly stabbed and then someone had twisted the knife. His arms and legs and even his fingers ached as if they'd been snapped above and below the joints. And there was something else, a tingling throughout his body, humming weirdly through the pain.

He blinked his eyes and thought he saw lights, like bundles of fluorescent green fireflies, swarming around him, on him . . . in him.

“Jack?” he whispered again, afraid. “S'happening?”.

Jack's face appeared above him. “Easy, Daniel,” he said. “Let them help you.”

“Hurts.”

A look of uncertainty flashed across Jack's face and then disappeared, replaced by a strained smile. “No, Daniel, they're trying to fix you, I think.” His face faltered again, the concern showing through. “It's helping, right?”

Daniel let himself concentrate on the tingling and thought maybe Jack was right. He took a deeper breath, and the pain brought tears to his eyes, but maybe, just maybe, it was a little better? Maybe those things, those lights, were helping.

“Daniel?” Jack asked again, his face flickering in the pulsating lights.

“Yes . . . helping,” Daniel said, although he wasn't sure it was true. Whatever was happening was speeding up, and it felt both sickening and wonderful. The warmth of the lights . . . beings? . . . had banished the cold. He could sense their need to help, as the pain ebbed and flowed, sometimes spiking and then settling to something almost bearable. But the feeling of his insides moving, knitting together, was nauseating and, if he let himself think about it, terrifying. Was this what happened in a sarcophagus? The tingling had become more intense, and it felt as if small insects crawled over his insides, stretching, pulling, sealing.

Then abruptly, it stopped. He had just noticed the warmth of sunlight on his face when the tingling ceased and he felt their presence leave him. “No!” he thought. “Not yet!” but the lights swirled around for a moment then flew off into the trees and disappeared. Daniel was left, still filled with pain, but otherwise strangely empty.

Part 2

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