A Simple Belief
Three weary soldiers trudged through the alien wasteland in silence. The intense heat sapped their strength and they needed to preserve what little energy they had.
Unrelenting, the sun bore down and baked the land. Stuck in its interminable cycle of drought, the planet's terrain was arid and hostile. The only things thriving were stinging gnats, and thorny, hissing lizards.
The bleached bones of creatures lay scattered at the bases of the dead or dying trees. Shuddering at the reminder of their own mortality, a feeling of despondency crept into the soldiers' eyes. The planet and its sorry inhabitants waited to die and their time seemed very near. A thriving planet thousands of years ago, the climate had changed, leaving it a graveyard.
Backs saturated with sweat, the three soldiers rolled their shoulders and tugged at their shirts, desperate to shift the clinging material and create some moving air. Over-heated and dehydrated, they marched on.
The three were an unlikely combination. The leader was an older man, lean and wiry. To his left marched a towering dark-skinned soldier. Powerful and wary, his eyes never stopped hunting. The last was a young woman. Fair-haired and beautiful, she looked oddly out of place.
The sand invaded every inch of the lean soldier's clothing, insinuating itself into his eyes and mouth. The ground beneath his feet was scorched and rock-hard, causing his heavy boots to rub and blister his heels. Water supplies were low and carefully rationed, and despite the coarse sand grinding into his eyes, the soldier knew he couldn't spare any to relieve his discomfort.
Running her tongue over her cracked and swollen lips, the female soldier hoisted her weapon higher up her ribcage, and on point, constantly scanned the dunes. Her watchful eyes darted back and forth, but the heat sapped her strength. Blinking and trying to focus, she listened to the sound of her blood pounding a steady beat in her ears. The sun reflected off the harsh white sand, and with stars bouncing in front of her eyes, she felt both nauseous and dizzy. Dry swallowing her remaining Tylenol, she gagged and threw it back up. Furious with herself, she cursed the waste of her precious fluids.
The heat bore down on the dark-skinned soldier's bared head, and he forced himself to swallow bitter bile rising in his throat. The ground beneath him was cracked, hard, and uneven, and he felt constantly wrong-footed. Sprawling thorny bushes covered the ground, adding to the planet's savage terrain. The needle-like thorns caught at his legs and scratched him, and upon imbedding themselves in his clothes, were impossible to find and remove. Placing a boonie on his head, he winced as sweat trickled down his face and into his mouth.
There was no need for small talk; the bonds forged long ago were unbreakable. The stony-faced leader couldn't allow his heart to rule his mind. The relentless searching ate at his soul, but as the commander, he didn't have the luxury of falling apart. Planet after planet the trio searched, and returned through the Stargate, deflated and desperate.
"He's out there, Teal'c. Why can't we find him?"
"Patience, O'Neill, we will locate him."
"Sir, I know we will find him. We just have to keep looking."
The team of friends made their oath, and fighting off exhaustion, continued their search of the galaxy.
The SGC had been patient with its second - in command, and the soldier appreciated the latitude. However, one day his superiors patted his back, and shaking their heads with sorrow, ordered the soldier to stop searching. Desperate, he stormed out, and played his final card.
Favor begged for and reluctantly granted the commander knew the dead planet was his last hope. Something scraped at the corner of his mind, and with a heavy heart, understood the desert would prove to be either his salvation or his surrender.
Shading his eyes with his hand, the lean soldier flinched as small rocks dislodged and tumbled carelessly to the ground. Falling to his knees, he bunched his fist and waved for his teammates to fan out and take cover. Disappearing into the dunes, they blended perfectly, and cocking their weapons, took careful aim. Tracking the movement through the sight of her weapon, the young female caressed the trigger and felt a tiny surge of adrenaline.
The dark-skinned soldier blinked slowly in the sun, and shifting his frame slightly, wondered what kind of monsters he would need to fight on this ugly planet.
Stumbling over the dunes, an apparition appeared and the soldiers caught their breaths in unison. For the first time in months, they allowed the smallest spark of hope to ignite. Lowering their weapons simultaneously, the woman and her companions waited, and brimming with hope, watched the drama unfold.
A toddler, thin to the point of emaciation, stood half-naked and in full view of them. Whimpering and clutching a raggedy doll, the little boy stared fearfully. Even in his heartbreaking state, it was clear he was fair-haired and blue-eyed. Filthy torn rags clung to his skinny ribs, and as the soldier raked his eyes over him, he couldn't stop the growl escaping his throat at the child's deplorable condition.
His tiny feet cut and bleeding, the child hobbled painfully forward, his rough, ill-fitting sandals hampering him. Crashing to the ground, he scrambled for his doll, crooning very softly.
Tears spilled down his little face leaving grimy tracks, and waving his stinging hands in the air, struggled painfully to his feet. His bare limbs bore signs of livid bruising, and his bottom lip was split and swollen. The rag doll he clutched close to his chest was in a similar sorry state. The left leg was missing, and one of its bright-buttoned eyes had fallen off long ago. Only a few strands of indescribably colored wool covered its head, and its mouth--ripped in a jagged line--made its smile appear almost ghoulish.
Lowering his weapon and handing it to his friend, the grey-haired soldier stood slowly, and with his heart beating far too fast, he walked towards the trembling child. Kneeling down in front of him, he smiled gently and offered his hand. Eyeing the bruises covering his tiny frame, he brushed the boy's swollen lip and felt a stab of blind rage course through him.
"Hey, looks like you may have lost the fight." Tugging the remaining leg on the doll, the soldier said kindly, "Looks like your little friend might need the doc's help. How about you come home with me and we'll fix that lip at the same time?"
Encouraged by the child's slight nod, the soldier inched forward and took the little boy's arm, drawing him into his protective embrace. Leaning close and whispering that he was safe now, the soldier wrapped his strong arms around the trembling body, and rocked back and forth.
Reluctant to release his hold on the traumatized boy, the grey-haired soldier scooped him up and cradled him tightly to his chest. Looking with great sadness at the boy's emaciated, grimy face, he couldn't stop the disobedient tear that rolled down his cheek.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to find you, Danny. I kept looking in the wrong places."
The small boy sighed softly. "S'kay, she said you'd come, Jack."