First daughter Nera waved a hand towards the trail before them. "We've reached the sea. Can you hear it?" The teenager was trying to be adult, but she kept looking over her shoulder to give Daniel admiring glances whenever she thought he wasn't looking.
Jack cocked his head, listening for the sound of pounding waves over the thud of their footsteps. All he could her was the chirping of birds and the drone of insects inside the overgrown forest. After a moment, he finally heard the whoosh of a wave breaking on shore.
"We are only a few minutes from the village of Virn," Second son Joru stated from behind Jack. His excitement was evident in his voice. That he was relishing being guide and aide to SG-1's trade mission was apparent. The younger teenager was almost tripping over his feet as he tried to walk and talk at the same time. "There you'll see the fever plants they grow and trade. And they have berries that when brewed into a tea, will ease pain, although those aren't as effective as the leaves of the chorco tree that we harvest in Ser. But both the stinna berries and the chorco leaves are well in demand."
"How often do people come through the Chaapa'ai to trade?"
"Every few months," Tara, Nera and Joru's mother and tradeswoman for the village of Ser, answered Carter. "Sometimes more often. But you are the first new traders who have come since my father's time."
"Your elder stated that your god, Ra, has not visited this world in many years." Teal'c, walking directly behind Fraiser, raised his voice to be heard. "Did Ra allow you to barter even then?"
Tara laughed, her voice startling the birds into silence for a moment. "There are many stories of how brave my ancestors were, stealing to the Chaapa'ai to meet merchants under Ra's very nose. But I suspect many of these tales are embellished, and the trade was done during the times Ra was not in residence. His great ships, I remember, used to envelop the top of the old mountain. As a child, I climbed the mountain with my second brother, hoping to catch a glimpse of the wonder of our god as he came down from the heavens. We also explored the underground chambers that fill the mountain, until a child fell through a hole in the caverns and drowned in the ocean. Then all children were banished from the area."
They broke through the forest, following the path that led them along the shoreline. The sky was a deep blue and cloudless, and a refreshing breeze blew in from the sea. Jack could smell rotting seaweed and salt water on the wind. He wrinkled his nose and adjusted his cap. Then the wind died down for a moment and he got a whiff of a scent that didn't belong. Immediately he put his hand up to stop the party from moving forward. Carter, Nera and Joru were ahead of him, however, and continued walking.
"Colonel, do you smell that?" Carter stopped before Jack could call out to her and stared towards the woods, the direction from which the smell was coming from.
"Wha—" Daniel began.
"Fire." Teal'c turned his head towards the smoke, his body tense and alert. There was something else on top of the scent of burning wood; something that Jack didn't think was meant to be their supper cooking on a BBQ. He ran down the beach, towards the water, in order to get a wider view. There he saw several columns of dark smoke rising into the sky.
"Smoke. The village is burning."
Immediately everyone began running, his team quickly outdistancing their three guides. The smell of smoke and charred flesh grew stronger, and as they burst into a clearing, Jack immediately realized this was more than a burning building and quickly slowed in order to proceed with caution. Seeing him, his team followed his lead.
But the villagers didn't stop, they kept running, forcing Jack and Teal'c to chase after them and grab both Tara and Joru before they ran into whatever had caused the destruction. Nera slowed when she realized the others had stopped. She looked at them, indecision apparent on her face.
"Stay here," Jack said softly. Nera hurried back, silently clutching her mother's arm. Jack ordered Teal'c to the right, Carter and Daniel to the left, and for Fraiser to follow him.
They entered into the village slowly, weapons ready, but all they saw were bodies. Women, children, men, most of them cut down in the street. Several houses were burning and the fire was threatening to spread. There didn't appear to be any survivors, or if there were, they'd run from whoever had done this.
Jack quickly turned to look where Teal'c was kneeling beside the body of a man. The wound was gruesome, but no worse than he'd seen on the battlefield. And, it was very familiar.
"This man was killed by a staff weapon."
"So was this woman, Colonel." Fraiser was kneeling beside another victim. Immediately Daniel moved to examine the body closest to him. "So's this one."
Jack watched as Fraiser and Carter quickly examined the bodies nearby, searching for survivors. Jack had a feeling they wouldn't find any.
Teal'c repositioned his staff weapon, holding it butt down. He seemed convinced there wasn't any imminent danger. Jack, on the other hand, kept his grip on his P-90. "Jaffa did this."
"But Ra's dead. This planet's under still his rule." Carter stood and stared at Teal'c. "Who would do this?" She noticed blood on her fingers and wiped the smear on her pants.
"System Lords. It is most plausible as this planet was of little strategic value and not widely visited by Ra, another System Lord is now claiming it for himself."
Jack so didn't like what this implied. "So that means the snake probably came here to take—"
"Jack." Daniel's voice came from farther inside the village. Jack swore when he realized Daniel had moved away from the group without his realizing. "There's a trail. I think some people were taken prisoner."
"Colonel O'Neill." The three villagers were running towards him; the two younger obviously terrified by what had happened and staying close to their mother. "The mountain." Breathless, Tara skidded to a stop next to him. "Ra... Ra has returned to the mountain." She pointed to the right. They couldn't see the mountain from where they were, they'd have to move past the burning buildings to do so.
'Teal'c, check it out."
"Ra has come to take his revenge on us." Nera fell to the ground, sobbing in fear. Her younger brother, face crumbled by the horror of what had happened in the village, knelt beside her and buried his face against her neck.
"No, it's not Ra." Jack watched as Teal'c jogged past the bodies in the dirt street and disappeared behind a building. "Some other god-wannabe, but it's not Ra."
"But, Ra has always come."
"Ra's dead. Trust me on this one. Although whoever's taken over his reign is probably not much better."
A moment later, Teal'c reappeared, jogging back towards them. He stopped, not even breathing hard. "There is indeed a ha'tak on the mountain. There are also signs that many prisoners were taken."
"How'd we miss seeing a mothership landing on a mountaintop?" Daniel scrunched his nose as smoke blew into his face.
"It was most likely cloaked during its descent."
"Why?" Jack took his cap off and scratched his head. "They couldn't know we were here. Who is this snake hiding from?"
"If we were to follow the trail of the prisoners, perhaps we could discover the identity of the Goa'uld who commands the ha'tak. Knowing the enemy might reveal the reason for the secrecy."
"Carter, you go ahead and scout around. Daniel, I want you and Fraiser to go back to Ser, make sure these folks get there safe. Tara, I want you and your kids to go back to your village and warn them. Is there anywhere you can hide?"
"The forest. There are hiding places within the forest that our ancestors used when Ra came. Tunnels that run deep beneath the ground and lead into the mountain, near the ocean. We can hide there."
"Go. Get everyone out. Take only what you need – food, medicine, go as fast as you can, and stay there until you're sure that ship has gone." Without a word, Tara pulled her children to her feet and they were running out of the village as if the devil were after them.
Jack turned to Daniel and Fraiser. "The moment these folks are safe, I want you to secure the 'gate. Tell Hammond what's going on and have him send backup."
Jack turned and motioned for Teal'c to follow him. He could hear Daniel and Fraiser's footsteps for a few seconds until he jogged out of range.
- - - - - -
"I don't see any way we can save these folks." Jack watched with a sinking heart as the three dozen prisoners they'd followed in an attempt to rescue were herded towards a corner of an open field near the foot of the mountain. There was no cover for SG-1 to hide behind, and they had too little firepower to attempt storming the Jaffa. In a minute, the ship's transport rings would descend and relocate them inside.
"Sir, we could climb up behind them, take them from above."
"Not enough time. Maybe if we'd caught up to them sooner, but we'll never circle around the field in time before—"
The sudden glow of transport rings and the sound of staff blasts firing had them all turning to stare in surprise at the same area Carter had pointed to. A battalion of Jaffa were firing upon the other Jaffa from above, cutting down both their brethren and any prisoners who happened to be within the line of fire.
Immediately Jack and his two teammates crouched lower behind the bushes they'd been using for cover. Jack fished out his field glasses and looked through them at the attacking Jaffa. A quick check across the field confirmed that the two groups of Jaffa didn't have the same identifying tattoos.
Jack handed the glasses over to Teal'c. "Recognize any of them?"
"Indeed," Teal'c replied after viewing both parties. "The Jaffa loyal to Ammut attack those of Selkhet. Both are minor Goa'uld," he continued before Jack could ask for clarification.
"But why are they attacking?" Carter turned to watch as at least half the prisoners made a run for freedom. The aggressors were ignoring the fleeing villagers, although they were still in danger of getting hit by stray shots.
"It appears that both are attempting to conquer this world for themselves."
"What? After all these years you're telling me both Goa'uld decided this place was ripe for the pickings today?" Anger and frustration ripped through Jack; as much as they'd made an impact over the years and kicked Goa'uld butt, it always seemed that another one popped up to take their place.
"Jack? Come in, Jack."
Adjusting his earpiece, Jack keyed his mic and replied to Daniel's call.
"Yeah, go ahead."
"We just spotted a tel'tac heading towards Ser."
"Damn." Jack paused a moment, then spoke into the mic. "What about the villagers?"
"We got everyone and we're heading for the tunnels Tara mentioned." The roar of engines suddenly drowned out Daniel's voice. Jack waited a moment for Daniel to continue, but the radio remained silent. He stared at the battle below him, fear suddenly enveloping him as he pictured either Daniel or Fraiser lying hurt or dying in a similar situation.
"Daniel? Fraiser? What's going on?" He blindly watched the ensuing battle, a part of his mind focused on the fact that the attacking Jaffa were quickly overtaking the others. But the majority of his attention was on the earpiece wedged in his ear, and when Daniel's breathless voice finally came through, he'd been so tense he actually jerked in surprise.
"We're under attack. We're making a run for the tunnels but they've got gliders and—" Daniel's voice cut out for a moment, then returned. Jack could hear the sound of staff blasts seconds before the engines of gliders roared overhead. "They're attacking the village. They'll be after us as soon as they realize there's nobody there."
"How far are you from the tunnels?" The last surviving Jaffa were cut down and the victors began making their way down into the field. They weren't more than a few feet from the bodies when death gliders spewed from the mothership.
"I'm not sure. They're supposed to be close to the water and—" There was ominous silence from the radio.
"Daniel!" His voice was tight and controlled, and he held back a curse when Daniel didn't reply. Carter stared down towards the valley, tracking the fleeing villagers with the binoculars.
"Jack. The villagers are safe."
The tightness in his chest eased as Daniel's voice came through the radio.
"We're going to head for the Stargate, see if we can get help."
"Stay in touch." Jack turned to Carter and Teal'c, noting that the victorious Jaffa had moved off the field and were now heading after the villagers.
"Sir? The people—"
"We're going." Decision made, Jack stood and dusted off his pants while moving downhill after the Jaffa. "Selkhet's guys won, right?"
"In verity, it is Ammut's Jaffa who have triumphed." Rising, Teal'c quickly followed.
"Uh, yeah, right. Anything you can tell me about the snakes?"
"There is not much to tell. Both Selkhet and Ammut have been faithful servants to Ra, neither attempting to gain his favour or draw his attention."
"Seems like they've decided to play 'King of the planet' now that Ra's dead."
"Considering the first group of Jaffa were preparing to transport the prisoners to the ha'tak, it's probably safe to assume that it belongs to Selkhet." Carter had their six, her attention mostly behind them. "So where did Ammut's Jaffa come from? Where's their ship?"
"It is probable they were conveyed by a tel'tac. Ammut's ha'tak is most likely cloaked and she is biding her time before launching a full scale attack."
Finally on flat ground, they broke into a run, hoping to draw near before the Jaffa caught up with the escaping prisoners.
- - - - - -
Kneeling behind a large bush, Daniel glanced quickly at Janet. Smoke was thick in the village but despite the burning fires, the Jaffa that had disembarked from a cargo ship parked nearby were going through it systematically. Gliders continued to race in the far distance, searching for the villagers who had gone underground.
"I still say we could circle around the village." Janet leaned close to Daniel, her voice pitched low enough that she wouldn't be overheard. "There's plenty of trees and brush to cover us."
Daniel ducked reflexively as a death glider roared straight overhead. "Not with those flying by every few minutes. We're better off here until they realize there's nobody hiding in those houses and move on."
"Daniel, our orders are to get backup and secure the Stargate."
"Not at the cost of getting caught. We're sitting tight." Daniel turned his attention back to the village, wishing they'd hurry up and leave. His legs were cramping and he slowly eased off his knees into a more comfortable position.
"Something's happening," Janet hissed.
Daniel quickly looked up and blinked in surprise as a Jaffa fell to his knees, his chest smoking from a direct hit from a staff blast. Within seconds, the whole platoon of Jaffa was under fire, cut down to half their number by the suddenness of the attack.
Immediately recognizing the danger, Daniel grabbed Janet's arm and without thinking, pulled her forward as he dropped onto his stomach. A second later, a stray staff blast showered splinters on top of them as it scorched the tree trunk.
When the dust settled, Daniel peered through the branches of the bush, watching as three Jaffa nearest them defended their positions. They had superior tactical advantage despite the surprise attack. Firing methodically, they systematically took out a quarter of the attacking Jaffa when suddenly two of them jerked in surprise. One of the two stood and was immediately cut down by a staff blast. The second was beating at something with his hands that, by his frantic motions, appeared to be climbing up his armour. By now, the third had stopped firing and suddenly toppled to the ground. Five seconds later, all were motionless.
Two minutes later the battle was over. The Jaffa who had attacked simply turned and strode out of the village, leaving the bodies of both their opponents and their fallen brethren.
"What was that?" Daniel asked as he stood carefully, watching until the Jaffa were out of sight.
"I don't know, but whatever it was, it was fast acting."
Already thinking of a possible new weapon they could use against the Jaffa, Daniel led the way towards the nearest fallen Jaffa. He had his handgun ready in his hand while he covered Janet, who crouched close to the Jaffa.
"He's alive. Pulse is strong, breathing appears normal. I can't see any marks that could have caused this... whatever it is can't have gotten through his armour. His only vulnerability would be his face and neck and I don't see—" Suddenly Janet jumped back, nearly falling on her butt as she moved away from the unconscious Jaffa. "Shit!"
Something dark came out from the cowl of the Jaffa's armour. Moving fast, it scurried over the Jaffa's chest and disappeared into the brush. All Daniel glimpsed was a small, shiny body and an upended tail, curled over the back, like a scorpion.
"Let's get out of here." Not that he was afraid of bugs, but whatever could knock a Jaffa out within seconds was certainly something he didn't want to become intimate with.
"Wait. I want to get a sample of his blood. Whatever type of venom that insect produces, it acts fast and hard." Moving quickly, Janet unclipped her pack and kneeling once again next to the Jaffa, she pulled out a several items until she found a small case. "Maybe we can synthesize it." She removed a needle and vacutainer from the case. "I won't be more than a minute."
Feeling a little vulnerable in the ankle high grass, Daniel grabbed Janet's pack and began replacing the items she'd removed while she searched for a vein in the Jaffa's neck to take her sample. He dropped a small pouch and when he bent to retrieve it, felt a sharp sting against the back of his hand. A split second later, he saw the black and shiny carapace glint in the sun as another scorpion scampered through the grass. He stood quickly, dropping the pouch as he stared at the small drop of blood that slowly oozed from a pinprick on his hand.
"Janet, I think I..." Warmth spread quickly through his veins, moving up his arm and into his neck. He felt his face begin to flush, his cheeks feeling as if he were mere inches from an open fire. Behind the warmth came pain; spreading slowly around the area the scorpion had stung.
The buildings behind Janet suddenly tilted sideways and something hit his hip hard enough to leave a bruise. He reached out, trying to stop the grassy ground from spinning. Despite his trying to put a stop to it, the world continued to roll as he felt rocks dig beneath his shoulder. He closed his eyes, trying to breathe through his mouth.
"Daniel, look at me." Janet's fingers touched his throat, then moved to his hand. As he forced his eyes open, she swore softly. "Colonel O'Neill. We have a problem."
The sun shone through the trees, the dappled leaves making blinding diamonds, adding to the distortion of a world toppled sideways, but which at least had stopped spinning. Daniel reached forward, trying to pull himself out of the collapsed world, back into sanity. Hands held him back; a voice murmured close to his ears and pulled his head back until it lay against something soft.
"It's okay, help's coming. Try and lie still." Something cold and wet swept over the back of his hand and the sharp odour of antiseptic assailed his senses. For a moment, he managed to fight the odd distortion and realized he was lying in the grass just a foot away from the fallen Jaffa. And the scorpions. Sudden fear for Janet had him trying to sit up.
"Don't move. Stay still. I need to bandage your hand."
"No..." His mouth and tongue felt numb and tingly. "We gotta get out of here." Talking was hard, his words slurring even to his ears. "There might be more—"
"If there are, they probably won't sting unless they think we're a threat. Lie still and you won't attract their attention." Janet was doing something to his hand and then she raised it up to his shoulder. "The venom is extremely fast acting; probably it's too late but let's try keeping your arm elevated and see if it helps slow the spread of the poison, okay?"
The white of the bandage wrapped around his hand, appearing close to his face, shone brightly, with an aura of flickering pale pink and yellow floating just above the material. The vividness hurt his eyes so Daniel turned his head away.
"The colonel's on his way. Try to relax. We'll get you home in no time."
Daniel looked at Janet, whose face was fading in and out in an odd way, as if revolving light were bouncing off something bright onto her skin. He couldn't seem to hold her features in focus, and he felt his eyes close involuntarily as her voice faded slowly. He struggled to stay awake; he knew they were exposed should the Jaffa return, not to mention the possible danger of the scorpions if any others were close by.
"Daniel." Janet shook his shoulder, startling him from his involuntary doze. "Tell me how you're feeling."
"Sleepy. Can't... focus." He flexed his hand and winced at the burning pain the movement caused. "Hurts."
"I know." She reached for his hand and wrapped her fingers around his wrist. She remained close, leaning over him. "The venom seems to be reacting differently with you than with the Jaffa. The effect was almost instantaneous, knocking them out. It might be the slight difference in physiology or it might be because of their symbiotes. I need to take that blood sample, especially now. I'm going to lower you to the ground, okay?"
The world tilted suddenly as Daniel felt movement beneath his neck and shoulders. He realized only then that he's been half lying on Janet's lap. She eased him onto the ground, letting him rest on his side, his arm propped up against his shoulder, then moved away from him. His perception was still skewed and the nausea increased as he watched her feet move sideways as she approached the Jaffa. He could only see her back as she reached for the discarded needle and vacutainer and quickly took the blood sample.
"Okay, that's done." She sat beside him, smiling as she shoved everything back into her backpack. Even this disoriented, Daniel could see the underlying worry in her eyes. "Shouldn't be long now. Colonel O'Neill will be here shortly."
"Jack?" Daniel blinked as something stung his eyes. He wiped his face with his hand, wincing as movement caused his hand to throb. His fingers came away slick with sweat.
"Didn't you hear the radio?"
Daniel shook his head, feeling more sweat tickle his nose. He went to wipe his face again when Janet beat him to it. She had a piece of gauze and gently dabbed the moisture away.
"SG-1 is on their way back. We'll get you out of here and back home in no time. Just lie still and try to relax."
A rush of warmth spread through his body a second time. He felt his breathing speed up as the outer edge of his vision faded, leaving Janet's face in surreal focus, surrounded by a reddish aura.
"Easy, easy..." Janet crooned as Daniel fought to stay conscious. The heat continued to peak until Daniel thought his blood was going to start boiling in his veins. Just as quickly as it came on, his body cooled, leaving him drenched in sweat. He had no time to relish the change in temperature, as the moment he cooled off to a comfortable degree, he began shivering.
"Daniel, are you still with me?" Janet placed a hand to his cheek and he made an effort to look up at her.
"Good. How's the hand?"
"Hurts. Had worse, though."
"I can give you something for the—"
Already having difficulty concentrating, the last thing Daniel wanted was to compound the problem with drugs. "No. It's not that bad. I can wait till we get back home."
"Okay. Although normal scorpion stings are painful as hell. Let me know if the pain starts to worsen and I'll—"
A loud, rapid thumping accompanied by metal jangling started up from behind Janet. Janet hurriedly left Daniel and went to the Jaffa. He was convulsing, his body pounding loudly into the grass as his muscles contracted rapidly. The sun shone bright on the metal, and each jerk caused Daniel to see a ribbony trail of light, each ribbon merging into one another before it faded, further adding to Daniel's dizziness.
Watching Janet try to turn the Jaffa onto his side, a sense of doom filled Daniel. The Jaffa had been stung only a few minutes before Daniel. Would this be his fate also?
The Jaffa was too heavy in his armour for Janet to shift, and she eventually had no choice but to allow him to lie there. Daniel closed his eyes against the disorienting sight, but couldn't block his ears from the sound of the thumps and the odd, uneven breaths.
The sound of the thumps turned brittle and hollow, and a part of Daniel's mind wondered if he was going to pass out. Oddly enough there was a bird chirping somewhere nearby, and the song was vivid and clear. Daniel tried to concentrate on the bird but the Jaffa's distress continued to infuse his senses. It felt like an eternity before the Jaffa sighed and the horrible thumping and strained breathing stopped.
The bird was still singing somewhere off to Daniel's left. He turned his head, eyes still closed, and listened to it. The cheeps and trills had become more intricate, seeming almost familiar. He was listening to it so intently that when Janet touched his face and spoke softly to him, it startled him.
He jerked his eyes open and winced at the brightness of the sun slanting down into his eyes.
"You doing okay?" Janet shifted slightly so that her body shaded him from the sunshine.
"Yeah... just listening..." Slurring badly, Daniel fought his numb tongue and lips to get the words out. "...To... bird... singing."
Janet was quiet for a long moment before speaking. "I don't hear any birds."
The birdsong was softer now, but still clearly audible. "Shhhh. Singing... Nice."
She didn't reply so Daniel let his eyelids drift shut and followed the birdsong. Some of the pain and dizziness faded, allowing him to relax a little. Sometime later, he became aware of Janet speaking. With great effort, he pulled himself out of the song and opened his eyes. Janet, with a bright halo surrounding her body, was staring beyond him, talking into her radio.
"...No sign of life since Daniel was stung. I don't know if the other Jaffa moved on or were themselves attacked and incapacitated."
She knelt there, eyes darting back and forth as if she was searching for something. Daniel waited to hear the voice of whomever she was talking with. It was only when she began speaking again did Daniel's befuddled mind realize she was wearing an earpiece. At some point, his own must have become dislodged.
"They're still alive, sir, but I don't know if the venom is fatal." She smiled suddenly and the aura turned momentarily from white to bright green, then faded back to white. "I see Teal'c."
Janet turned to Daniel and smiled softly at him. "We're getting you out of here, Daniel. It won't be long now."
"Okay." Daniel knew he should get up now; sitting up would be a good way to start the process. But somehow getting the idea out of his mind and down to his body wasn't quite happening. By the time he realized he wasn't able to stand, Teal'c was crouching next to him. Even before he could greet his friend, he was raised into a seated position. Startled, the slight increase of adrenaline in his body was enough to help him reach out and make a grab for Teal'c's shoulder. By the time Teal'c and Daniel had gotten him onto his feet, his body was responsive enough that he could at least lock his knees to stop from toppling over.
With their help, he managed to get his legs moving. He couldn't quite feel his feet; his spatial orientation was off, making walking even more difficult. The swish of the grass beneath his boots was loud and as sharp as dry branches snapping. The sound scared off the bird and Daniel regretted the lack of song.
They hadn't travelled far when he spotted a bright yellow shimmer to his right. He blinked, trying to see through the light until he could make out Sam's features. She was surveying the land around them, her P-90 held at the ready in her hands.
Daniel turned his head, searching for Jack. He finally found him several feet to Sam's right, half hidden in the bushes. Alternating between blue and turquoise, the gleam gave him away and Daniel wondered why Jack didn't try to tone down the aura. Jack was alternating watching their approach and the land behind them.
A dull droning began to build. After several seconds, Daniel wanted to stop and plug his fingers into his ears. The sound was irritating and quickly getting louder. He looked around dizzily for the source of the noise. When Jack yelled something unintelligible, Daniel glanced back at his friend, who was staring up into the sky. Suddenly Teal'c stopped moving and turned to face him. Before he knew what was happening, Teal'c heaved Daniel over his shoulder, thrust a hand onto Daniel's lower leg to hold him steady and began to run.
Hanging helplessly over Teal'c's shoulder, Daniel was unable to do more than bounce painfully as he watched the back of Teal'c's legs as they shifted rhythmically one after another through the brilliant green grass. The deep purple aura surrounding Teal'c swirled with the motion of his legs, and Daniel spent some time watching the blur as it seemed to slow, leaving lilac trails, which trickled back into motion, trying to catch up with the movement.
The motion stopped suddenly and Daniel found himself face to fern with a large bush. He turned his head away from the greenery and stared down a grassy slope. Bright silver objects came out of the forest and ran across the grass, heading their way.
Suddenly a large shadow swooped over the grass, turning the brilliant green dark and ominous as it approached. The noise, which had bothered him earlier, came back with a vengeance as something zoomed deafeningly overhead. The silver objects morphed into dozens of Jaffa as they suddenly stopped their forward movement and stared upwards as the tel'tak flew over them.
A bright flash of light appeared between Daniel and the Jaffa, duplicated four more times as the transport rings coalesced into being. Before the residual brilliance faded, the rings winked out of existence, leaving behind a large, black container about two feet in height and diameter.
The container disintegrated suddenly, falling to the ground and quickly spreading. Jack swore and yelled, "Run!" and even before Daniel's brain realized that what he'd thought to be something solid was really thousands of scorpions, already swarming towards the Jaffa. And them.
Bouncing once again as Teal'c ran, Daniel could see the leading edge of the following scorpions begin to shorten the distance between them. Dizzy from the motion and the too-quick movement of the ground speeding by, Daniel still couldn't hold back a shiver as he realized what would happen if the insects overran them.
The others must have realized it, too, because even as Teal'c continued to run, Daniel saw Sam and Jack in his peripheral vision, yellow and turquoise smears as they stopped and aimed their weapons at the scorpions. Bright flashes of light exploded over the nearest scorpions as the zats discharged.
Half blinded from the bursts of light, Daniel saw the insects all jerk to a stop as the electrical charge danced over them, giving the team extra time as the following horde seemed to pause as they reached their fallen brethren.
Daniel watched the dark smear of insects continue to advance, but by now, the scorpions had spread out and SG-1 had outdistanced them and was no longer in immediate danger of being overrun. Still, Teal'c continued to run at the same pace. Unable to keep his head up any longer, muscles in his neck and shoulders burning from the effort, Daniel allowed himself to go limp. He closed his eyes, still seeing the after effects of the zat flashing on his retinas. Even behind closed eyelids, he could see the purple motion of Teal'c's aura, his legs pumping tirelessly.
Fighting down the encroaching nausea, Daniel relaxed his tenuous hold on trying to make sense of the insanity that his mind was seeing. He allowed himself to drift, half hoping he'd slip into unconsciousness, if only to be released from the effects of the venom. The hard muscle of Teal'c's shoulder that had been pressing into his abdomen began to soften, each painful jerk as Teal'c's feet hit the ground began to feel like a feather pillow striking him. The strained breathing of his teammates faded, replaced again by distant birdsong.
Daniel could feel himself slipping away; a part of him knew he should stay aware; another part of him was being pulled inexorably deep into the increasingly complex trills and warbles that grew louder as his hold on consciousness lapsed. Lights flashed beneath his closed eyelids, visions and colours he'd never imagined ignited his senses. Even as he enjoyed the sensations, he knew deep down he'd never be able to explain them to anyone in mere words. These had to be experienced to understand.
He attempted to move in a last ditch effort to remain alert but folded up as he was, he couldn't do much except flex his muscles. Teal'c tightened his hold around his leg momentarily and murmured something; his words overridden by the avian symphony in his head. The encouragement from Teal'c's touch faded quickly, as did his tenuous hold on the outer world.
Just as he was about to give up, the universe turned upside down. Or rather, right side up as Teal'c lowered him onto his feet. The swirling colours behind his eyelids superimposed themselves for a second on the outside world as his eyes snapped open, then the colours settled back into their respect auras surrounding every living thing.
"It's riddled with passages, but Tara said they'd have lookouts for any stragglers." Janet's voice was oddly high, like a parrot imitating her. It cut trough the birdsong, leaving silence inside his head. "There are a couple of hidden passages leading to the main caverns underground." Her voice suddenly lowered to her regular tone. There was a soft whooshing sound that accompanied her words.
His knees buckled and he couldn't feel his feet. He knew he was going down only because he was squeezed tightly against Teal'c's chest to stop him from falling. His head now hung over Teal'c's arm while he was held upright. His hands flailed helplessly, unable to grasp onto anything solid until someone grabbed one.
"Easy, there, big guy." He was slowly eased away from Teal'c and he made an effort to lock his knees even as his arm was swung over Jack's shoulder. Something cold hit him from behind and he lost his balance as the chill swept up the back of his legs, right up to his butt.
"C'mon, just a few steps forward."
Daniel squinted at the bright stones just a few inches from his face. He looked up and saw more rocks; it took him several seconds to realize they were facing a cliff. He was pushed forward again and the chill enveloped him once more. He looked down and squinted at the sparkles surrounding his legs. They shimmered brightly, and indescribable greys and silvers compounded with brown swirled together.
Water. They were in water.
He moved his legs, pleased that he was walking.
"Good, good. Just a few more steps. The opening's too narrow to try and carry you in. Turn a little bit more..." Jack tugged on his arm and he shifted a bit, then brushed through the opening in the cliff, and found himself in darkness.
No, not darkness. The beams of their flashlights reminded him of the Aurora Borealis as they swept over the sandy ground, littered with dried seaweed. There were salt water marks high along the walls, glittering with rainbow colours whenever the light hit them. Overwhelmed by the display, Daniel lost his balance and stumbled forward. Jack managed to break his fall but still Daniel landed on one knee. He thrust his free hand out and his fingers encountered cool, dry sand. The sensation was incredible; cool and soft, rough and gritty, he dug his fingers deep into the sand, trying to experience the sensation as much as he could.
"He can't go on much further, sir."
"Yeah, doc, I know." Jack eased him all the way down, until he was lying in the sand. Daniel dug his fingers deeper, his tender fingertips scraping painfully on stone underneath.
"T, check out how far in that tunnel goes. Carter, you think those bugs can swim?"
Daniel eyed the individual grains closely; each one was a different shade, reflecting off the light of Jack's flashlight. Daniel felt that if he stared long enough at even one grain, he could drown in the wonder of the various striations painted through it.
"I think we're safe for now. The tide's coming up and it'll block that entrance. In a few hours when the tide goes down, they'll probably be able to climb over the rocks and surely a few will make their way inside."
Hands reached beneath his shoulders and pulled him back roughly. He blinked, blinded for a moment in the darkness until his eyes readjusted. He now half lay against Jack, his head pillowed against Jack's chest. A hand reached up and scraped against his jaw, dislodging grains of sand that had embedded against his skin. He reached a hand out, trying to catch them, then realized his fingers were covered with the tiny grains. He reached up a hand to admire them again, but Jack grabbed his fingers and held his hand down.
"What's wrong with him?"
Daniel frowned up at Jack, partly because he wanted his hand back and partly because of the note of concern he heard in his friend's voice. The turquoise aura was brighter in the dark; Daniel suspected that if they turned the flashlights off, he'd still be able to see his friends.
"I'm not sure."
Surprised at how close Janet was to him, Daniel turned his attention to her. Verdant green surrounded her, flickering as she moved to sit beside him. She took his hand from Jack's and held her fingers against his wrist.
"The venom is definitely reacting differently with Daniel than it did with the Jaffa. I think he's experiencing some kind of hallucinatory episode."
"You mean he's tripping?"
There was a hint of humour in Jack's voice and it somehow rankled Daniel. Forcing his thick, numb tongue into order, he began to object. "Not—" He blinked suddenly as light blinded his right eye. "Thtop—" He tried to bat Janet's hand away with an uncoordinated limb and ended up smacking himself in the face. "Ow."
Someone held his arm down while Janet took his chin between her fingers. She deliberately blinded his other eye for a moment before she snapped the penlight off.
"Pupils are dilated and barely responsive and if you keep that up, Daniel, and you'll end up with a black eye."
Frustrated, Daniel pulled away from her grip and the back of his head smacked against Jack's chest. Jack reached a hand up and circled it around Daniel's shoulders, holding him there loosely while his fingers rubbed gently against the material of his jacket.
Tired. He was so tired. His eyelids began to drift shut and even the lure of the magical scene behind them wasn't enough to entice him back. This time he knew, deep down, if he allowed himself to let go, he would most likely be in the same state as the Jaffa. It just was taking him a longer time to get there.
"No." Finding strength from deep inside of him, Daniel lurched out of Jack's hold. He pushed himself onto his hands and knees and swayed forward. Then hands were holding him steady and he forced trembling arms to reach forward as he clambered up onto his feet with his friends' help. The movement seemed to force the fatigue aside enough for him to focus.
"O'Neill—" Teal'c appeared suddenly from the darkness, his light blinding Daniel for a moment. Daniel met Teal'c's gaze and Teal'c nodded slightly before speaking. "The tunnels run deep, following the shoreline. There are many passages but if, as DoctorFraiser reported, the people of Ser have placed lookouts, then we soon should encounter one before we travel too far that we cannot find our way back."
"Okay, let's move out."
Obeying Jack's command, Daniel took a step forward and found himself on his knees, not even remembering how he got from standing to bruising his kneecaps on the hard rock beneath the layer of sand.
"Go on, I got him." With a now-practiced heave, Jack got Daniel onto his feet and his arm looped around Jack's shoulders once more. "Let's try that again, shall we?"
Wincing as he took the first few steps with painfully locked knees, Daniel allowed Jack to lead him to the passageway. They moved directly behind Teal'c and Daniel watched, mesmerized, as orange footprints glowed brightly on top of the stone for several seconds wherever Teal'c stepped. Curious, Daniel turned to look behind them and saw yellow, green, turquoise and violet footprints mesh before they slowly faded.
Daniel nodded and the auras churned sickeningly for a moment. He swallowed down the bile that threatened and resolutely tried to follow Teal'c's footsteps.
That trick seemed to work; time began to slow and the nausea receded. Soon all Daniel became aware of was matching his own purple-coated boot to Teal'c's orange trail, the challenge enough to keep him moving. An occasional word from Jack kept him marginally aware of his friends.
When Teal'c stopped walking, Daniel found himself up against him, his foot rubbing against Teal'c's until he fought himself out of the near-trance he'd fallen into. He stumbled back against Jack, caught sight of Sam and Janet behind them as they gazed at the way beyond Teal'c. It took him a long while to realize there was someone else with them. With an aura of light green tinged with yellow, the mix of colours was disconcerting, especially when the man moved. He led them deeper into the passage, the bright red glow of his oil lamp illuminating the way more clearly than their flashlights.
He stopped at an outcropping of rocks. Daniel stumbled, and when he looked up, the rocks had disappeared, replaced by yet another tunnel. And inside was an overwhelming maelstrom of movement, sounds and colour as the village's inhabitants gathered together.
- - - - - -
Jack felt Daniel going down yet again and braced himself against the stone wall. He waited, supporting all of Daniel's dead weight until Carter put her shoulder underneath Daniel's arm, taking half his weight. Together they dragged Daniel forward into the cavern, Jack searching desperately for an unoccupied space where they could put him down.
The room was full of people, most of them gathered in family groups, those lucky enough to have had time to grab supplies were hoarding them close by. A quick glance revealed there wasn't much free space; these people were packed together uncomfortably.
Daniel twitched and mumbled something unintelligible; at least the odd humming he'd been doing earlier had stopped. His eyes were closed and his face was still flushed and sweaty.
"Colonel, over here."
Jack turned towards Fraiser's voice. She was pointing to the right. He followed the direction she was directing him to and spotted Tara waving to him. With a nod, he began dragging Daniel towards the tradeswoman.
By the time he reached her and her family, Tara had managed to make some space. Jack lowered Daniel down and helped Fraiser turn him onto his side.
Daniel jerked and kicked out suddenly, his eyes opening in alarm. Immediately Jack reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay. We're just taking a breather."
Glazed eyes turned towards Jack, nearly crossing in their attempt to focus on him.
"You're safe. Try to rest."
Eyelids slowly drifted shut and Jack could see the effort Daniel was making to stay awake. He smiled, trying to relay comfort. "Go to sleep." They were safe for the moment; there wasn't any use in forcing Daniel to experience more discomfort than he should. Still, Daniel's gaze remained on Jack, even during the next futile attempts to stay awake. When Daniel's eyes remained closed, Jack let go of Daniel's shoulder and sighed as he looked around slowly.
"Teal'c, you might want to talk to some folks who know the lay of these tunnels. See if there's a map or something. Carter, find out if there's another way out of here. Doc...?" He turned to Fraiser, who was kneeling over Daniel, giving him a more in-depth look-over now that they weren't moving.
She glanced up at Jack over Daniel's body, shaking her head gently. "I don't know, sir. So far he seems to be simply drugged; the Jaffa's symptoms were much more severe."
"What if the bugs aren't all the same? What if the one who bit—"
"—Stung Daniel," Jack corrected without skipping a beat, "isn't the same species?"
"That's always a possibility but they all looked the same to me. It could just as easily be that the venom reacts differently, or more swiftly, on the Jaffa than on humans."
"Yeah..." Jack rubbed a hand through his hair. "So you think he could get sick?"
"He's already sick, sir. I think he's developing a fever." She picked up Daniel's hand and began removing the bandage on the back of it.
"Perhaps I can help?" Tara scuttled over to kneel beside Fraiser.
"Have you ever treated anyone for a sting from a black, venomous insect that has a stinger on its tail?"
"No, I have never heard of such an insect."
The area around the puncture wound, about the size of a quarter, was swollen and red, but didn't seem to have any signs of infection despite the few grains of sand that had slipped beneath the bandage. Fraiser examined at it carefully before placing his limp hand on her leg as she reached for an antiseptic wipe.
"The Jaffa are using the insects as a weapon." Fraiser tore the edge off the wrapper and gently cleaned the wound and the surrounding area. "Normally scorpion venom doesn't cause any symptoms in adults for at least thirty minutes after it stings, but these ones... their venom affected the Jaffa almost immediately. With Daniel..." She made a small face. "We're not sure how bad it might get."
"Did the venom kill the Jaffa?" Tara picked up a clean bandage and when Fraiser finished, eased it onto the back of Daniel's hand.
"Not right away. It knocked them out within seconds, although they could be dead by now."
"We have herbs that could treat his symptoms but—"
Fraiser nodded. "I know. This is an unknown and no matter what we treat him with, we might not know whether we're making him worse until it's too late."
"Daniel's already suffering from mild ataxia and he's close to becoming tachycardic... problems walking and his pulse is much too fast," she explained quickly when Jack made a face. "He's definitely got a fever," she added as she pressed the back of her fingers against his cheek.
Jack stared down at Daniel's sweaty face. His eyeballs were roaming beneath his closed lids; dreaming? Or hallucinating? He mouthed a few choice words, cursing the fact that they were amidst people whose healing herbs and skills were supposedly legendary. But he knew they needed a lab and equipment beyond these people's skills in order to get Daniel the kind of help he needed.
The sound of grating rock was loud in the room, bringing conversation to a close. All heads turned towards the hidden entrance that SG-1 had come through not long before. Several persons entered the room, one of the men carrying a woman and two men supporting a third.
"Please, we need a healer," the man with the woman in his arms called out.
Even from here Jack could see the stumbling gait and the skewed gaze of the injured man meant that he'd been stung by one of the scorpions. "Sir?"
Jack nodded his permission and Fraiser was up and running right behind Tara. The healer's daughter scurried closer to fill the space her mother had taken, placing a hand against Daniel's pulse.
"I can give him Kasal root for the fever," Nera offered. "Aririth and tincture of dilar leaves will slow his heart."
"Yeah, thanks, but I think the doc wants to wait and see if his symptoms get better first. Medicine might make him worse."
"If his heart continues to beat this quickly, he could die." She looked at him hopefully, apparently anxious to prove her knowledge to him.
Jack remembered the obvious crush she had on Daniel and figured she truly wanted to help him. "I think we'll wait." Jack reached out and placed a proprietary hand on Daniel's arm.
He could see Teal'c talking with a few of the men, including one of those who'd just arrived. Carter was crouching next to a group of women, talking to an elderly lady. Fraiser stood and looked at Jack over the throng of people in the room. After a moment, she began making her way back to him.
"Your mother wants her healing kit," Fraiser told Nera as she sat down next to Jack. "They were both stung by scorpions," she added as she stretched her legs out. "Same symptoms as Daniel; Tara wants to try and treat them."
"And you... don't?"
Fraiser reached out and touched Daniel's neck and cheek. "Not quite yet. Without blood work and knowing exactly the makeup of the venom, I'm a little leery about giving him anything stronger than Tylenol." She reached for her pack. "Which I think I'll try right now, before his fever gets a good grip on him." She pulled out a blister pack of the pills. "Can you wake him for me?"
Jack shook Daniel's shoulder and felt relief when Daniel opened his eyes. "Hey."
Daniel blinked and looked at him, his eyes still glassy with an unfocused look. "Jack?"
"Daniel, I need you to swallow these." Fraiser held out the pills in one hand, a water bottle in the other.
When Daniel looked at her uncomprehendingly, Jack reached for Daniel's shoulders and pulled him up so that he was half lying against his legs. Fraiser brought the pills closer and popped them into Daniel's mouth, following with the water. Daniel swallowed and drank as Fraiser slowly poured the water into his mouth.
Jack hadn't heard Teal'c return. He looked up at his teammate, then looked at the stranger who stood beside him.
"There are many passages and exits within the warren of tunnels. This is only one of many hidden rooms. A few of the younger men have agreed to lead us to the Stargate."
"This is Miclia. He is not of this world and wishes to assist us in freeing the Stargate in order to return to his home planet."
"Ah. Here on a visit, huh?" The man was black and muscled, like Teal'c, his face half obscured by an odd turban, which he'd intricately twisted around the upper part of his face and head. His gaze flitted over Daniel and Carter, then fell upon Jack.
Ignoring the stranger, Jack looked to Teal'c. "Any news on the situation around the 'gate?"
"There is not. The only sentries are inside the tunnels to lead any stragglers to safety."
"The invaders still fight each other," Miclia added. "My people depend heavily on trade; if I can get to the Chaapa'ai, my people would return and aid in the defence of the—"
"Your people wouldn't have a chance against the Goa'uld," Jack said quickly. "Let's wait a little while, see if we get lucky and the two warring factions actually destroy one another."
"My people fight well. We must move quickly if we are to help. If the Chaapa'ai is not yet taken, we may have a chance."
At some level, the man irritated Jack. He wasn't quite sure why; maybe it was how he stood, looking down at Jack, or maybe it was the look of dismissal he'd given Daniel when he'd approached. "These people aren't warriors, Miclia. We're heavily outnumbered. Although, we do need intel, I agree with that. Let's just wait and see what Carter's found out before we go scope out the 'gate." Already Jack was planning scenarios in his head, realizing he'd need to leave Daniel behind until they could move him safely. Which meant Fraiser would also need to stay behind to guard both Daniel and the people hiding here with him.
"I will speak to the villagers and attempt to ascertain the most direct route to the Stargate." Teal'c glanced down at Daniel, who was staring up at him with a frown on his face. Teal'c's voice gentled. "We will not abandon you, DanielJackson. Rest assured on that count."
Teal'c spun around quickly and returned to the group he'd been talking with earlier. Miclia gave Jack a nod and followed Teal'c. Realizing Daniel was still half-lying against him, he reached down to lie Daniel back down onto the ground. "Doc, I'm going to need you to stay here with Daniel and—"
Daniel had reached up and grabbed Jack's hand. His fingers were dry and hot and held onto him with surprising strength.
"Don't trust him." Eyes wild and bulging, Daniel tried to lift his head from the ground. "He's a Jaffa."
"Teal'c?" Jack reached up and patted Daniel's fingers while Fraiser pushed his shoulders back onto the ground.
"No. Miclia." Daniel turned his gaze to Fraiser as his fingers twisted beneath Jack's and grabbed onto those instead, squeezing strongly. "Don't listen to him. You can't trust him, Jack. Don't—"
"I get the point, Daniel." He shook Daniel's hand slightly to try to loosen his hold on him. "But don't you think Teal'c would have sensed his symbiote?"
"Jaffa, Daniel." Jack tried to hide the irritation from his voice. He knew the hallucinations weren't his friend's fault but he really didn't need a delusional teammate to worry about right now. "Snake in their belly, remember? As in, Junior?"
"I remember," Daniel replied, his voice answering Jack's sarcasm in kind. "He... probably doesn't have a symbiote."
"Then he's not a Jaffa, is he? Just some poor sap come to do some trading and got caught up in a war not—"
"He's a Jaffa." Daniel's grip was loosening and his words slurred once again. His eyelids drooped and he turned his head away from Jack. "He's a Jaffa," he repeated, almost sulkily.
- - - - - -
Daniel fought the exhaustion that swept over him and watched the Jaffa accompany Teal'c around the room. Both of their auras shone a bright orange with red tinged around the abdomen; nobody else in the room even came close to the odd colour. Teal'c's was brighter but the stranger clearly had a matching aura around his internal pouch. Somehow Daniel just knew the man was Jaffa; he just couldn't figure out a way to describe how he knew it.
Daniel turned to look at Sam, squinting at the brilliance surrounding her. She smiled at him as she settled next to Jack. Daniel waggled his fingers at her, too tired to talk, then turned to watch the Jaffa again. Sam began talking to Jack and Daniel listened with half an ear. It was too difficult to concentrate on her words and focus on Teal'c, so he let her words wash over him.
"...Daniel thinks he's a Jaffa."
It took Daniel's brain several seconds before the words registered and he looked up at Jack, startled. He'd thought Jack hadn't believed him and adrenaline flowed through him, giving him a bit of energy.
"I didn't sense a symbiote, sir." She looked down and met Daniel's gaze. She shrugged an apology after a moment.
"Ask him to prove it." Daniel licked his lips; the water he'd drunk hadn't done much in moisturizing the inside of his mouth. His tongue still felt swollen and alien. "Ask him to prove he doesn't have a tattoo. A pouch." He met Jack's gaze, having to struggle to keep his face in focus. The edges of his vision kept pulsating, sometimes greying out without any colours, sometimes pulsing with dizzying shades.
Jack canted his head. "I guess we could do that."
"Sir, you can't take anything Daniel says seriously." Janet's voice was a strained whisper, as if trying to make sure Daniel couldn't hear. "He's sick... hallucinating. You should have heard some of the things the woman they brought in was saying."
"You're sending an enemy out with Teal'c. You don't know he's not Jaffa." Talking was difficult; he felt out of breath and his pulse was pounding in his temples.
Still holding Daniel's gaze, Jack spoke in a normal voice rather than a strained whisper like Janet. "Maybe he is hallucinating. But it wouldn't hurt to get a good look at the man. Just to be on the safe side." Jack finally looked up and waved Teal'c over.
Jack glanced at him quickly before giving Teal'c and his companion his attention. "Miclia, before you and Teal'c go out there, how about you show us your..." Jack pointed to his forehead.
The aura around the Jaffa seemed to darken. "It is prohibited for me to expose myself to strangers. My religion forbids it."
"Ah. I see. Inconvenient thing, sometimes, that... religion."
"Daniel here thinks your friend might be Jaffa. He was a little worried about your safety."
Daniel, who'd been caught up in Miclia's aura, turned his attention to Teal'c. To his dismay, Teal'c simply inclined his head and gave Daniel a sympathetic look. "I appreciate your concern, DanielJackson. But I do not sense a symbiote. He is not a danger to us."
"About that." Jack shifted his weight slightly and Daniel could feel his muscles tense where he pressed against him. "Maybe you could just pull your shirt up to prove that you're—"
The aura surrounding the Jaffa darkened even more. Then the man moved, so quickly that the motion of his arms created tendrils of colour that followed behind more slowly. Unable to focus fast enough, Daniel lay there, confused, when a gun appeared in the Jaffa's hand. Then his brain caught up and he reached for his own weapon holstered on his thigh. But even before his fingers could scrabble numbly against the leather, the Jaffa was surrounded by a bright blue flash. Spots danced before his eyes as the deep orange aura quickly faded to a lighter orange as he collapsed in a heap at Daniel's feet.
- - - - - -
Jack lowered the zat as Teal'c crouched and raised the woven vest up past Miclia's abdomen, revealing the telltale "X" of a symbiotic pouch.
"He must have removed his symbiote before entering the caverns. It is a foolhardy thing to have done." Teal'c lowered the vest, turned the man onto his stomach, and began tying up his hands behind his back. "He will not survive long."
"He must have planned on getting his intel and reporting back as soon as possible." Fraiser stared at the unconscious alien with wide eyes. "That means his symbiote must be fairly close by; maybe hidden in these caves or—"
"Waiting with other Jaffa near the entrance."
"There are several entrances, sir. But he'd have needed a guide to get this far. I can ask around to see who he came in with."
"You do that, Carter. The Jaffa couldn't have known we were here on the planet. Why'd he—"
"They might have spotted us in the death gliders, sir." Carter picked up the zat the Jaffa had dropped and tucked it in the back of her pants. "Or spotted Teal'c and recognized him."
"He would certainly have reported the position of the villagers to the other Jaffa. DanielJackson has most likely saved all their lives. Possibly also our own."
"Yeah, about that." Jack turned to Daniel and raised an eyebrow. "How'd you know?"
"He was orange." Closing his eyes, Daniel turned his head away.
"He was orange," Jack repeated softly to the others, as if that explained everything.
When Teal'c pulled off the rolled up turban, his tattoo was clearly evident. "Selkhet." He threw the turban aside.
"Sh... She sent the scorpions." Daniel shivered, eyes still closed. "She's Ra's protector..."
"I think she's a little late on that score, Daniel." Jack looked around for something to cover Daniel with.
The teenager, Joru, who was kneeling nearby with eyes wide open in shock, suddenly scrambled through a large bag and pulled out a woolen blanket. "Here."
"Thanks." Jack took the blanket from him and spread it over Daniel, who immediately curled up onto his side, fingers latching onto the blanket's edge and pulling it up to his chin. He shivered again, more strongly this time. Both Jack and Fraiser reached down and pressed their fingers against the skin of Daniel's neck. Jack was shocked at the heat coming off his friend. His fever was rising, and fast.
"Tylenol's not doing much good."
"I have Kasal root," Joru offered again.
"Thanks, kid, but—"
"Sir, if I may... maybe their herbs can help. We sometimes supplement Tylenol with Aspirin if only one doesn't lower a fever... I'll go speak to Tara, see what she suggests."
Jack nodded. This was Fraiser's field and he trusted her to give Daniel the best care with what little she had. With Teal'c standing guard over the Jaffa and Carter questioning the folks who'd come in last, Jack really had nothing much to do except wait. He hated not knowing what was going on outside; he needed his team out there, gathering intel.
Daniel shivered, his body shuddering against Jack's hip and leg. The hand that was holding the blanket twitched. Then his leg jerked.
Fraiser returned after a short time with Tara. By now, Jack had a hand against Daniel's shoulder, worried that the muscular twitches meant a serious development.
"Doc?" Jack motioned to Daniel, whose leg jerked once more.
"I can give him Valium to ease the muscular spasms but there's not much more I can do."
Tara, instead of immediately going through her basket of herbs, handed it to her son with an expectant look.
"Ralin would ease the muscular spasms," Joru offered, holding out a small, cloth-wrapped bundle.
Tara shook her head. "Fever first."
"Kasal root," Joru quickly replied as he began rummaging through the various packets in the basket.
Joru stopped and blinked at his mother. "It's the best we have for fever."
"But their doctor has already given them a fever medicine."
"Tincture of haena? It always works best with the Kasal."
Tara nodded, then waited while Joru looked for, found and began unwrapping a small bottle from the basket.
Daniel's leg jerked again, followed by a shiver. He moaned softly, then quieted as Jack rubbed a hand over his shoulder. Even through the blanket, he could feel a muscle twitching beneath the skin.
"Five drops?" Joru handed his mother the bottle and a tiny cup, not much bigger than a thimble.
"Six. He's a tall man." Tara measured the medication into the tiny cup. Then she leaned over Daniel, pried his mouth open and poured the drops of liquid into his mouth.
Daniel coughed and reached up to wipe his mouth, his movements still uncoordinated, even in sleep.
"We must wait a few minutes before administering any other medicine, or else the haena won't be properly absorbed. Joru, what of his increased heart rate and discomfort?"
"Aririth and tincture of dilar leaves, but Nera already offered and they refused. And Ralin. For the muscle spasms."
Tara looked to Fraiser, who made a small grimace. "We have medicine to treat his symptoms, but I have none with me." She turned to Jack. "Sir, at the moment he isn't in any danger but those muscular spasms are probably going to become painful. The herbs Tara gave the other two did stabilize them; although I haven't had a chance to test any samples... they're the best we've got right now. I just... sir, we don't know how long we may be stuck here and the sooner we treat Daniel—"
The twitching beneath Jack's hand increased until Daniel's arm jerked. "Do it. Give him the Valium or whatever you think might help."
Fraiser nodded at Nera and they both watched as she took a very small amount of water in a cup and dropped a small pill into it. "Aririth." The pill dissolved nearly immediately, making the liquid murky. She sloshed the water around until it had turned clear, then measured out a few drops from another bottle that Joru handed her. "Dilar leaves... I would also give him a mild dose of ralin... it would ease his discomfort."
"I can give him Valium but... I don't know how it'll interact with your herbs."
"Ralin will not cause problems. Now dimura berries would do just as well but would also affect his respiration if given with aririth." She leaned over Daniel again and with a finger, pried his mouth open. Daniel's tongue had dark spots all over it.
"Another moment; the haena isn't quite absorbed yet." The liquid in the cup she held was turning murky again and she sloshed it around until it cleared. "The ralin can be given orally but we've discovered that if inserted into a vein, the effects are much more effective."
Joru was unwrapping yet another bottle of medicine, this one wrapped in three layers of cloth. The boy placed the bottle close to his mother and pulled out what had to be one of the largest needle bore syringes Jack had ever seen. He caught Fraiser hiding a smile before she pulled one of her syringes out of her pack. She picked up the bottle. "Ralin?" she asked.
When Tara nodded, Fraiser opened the bottle and began drawing the medicine. "Tell me how much I need."
This time it was Joru and Tara who watched as Fraiser passed a medicated wipe over the inside of Daniel's elbow, then expertly injected the contents of the syringe into a vein. The effects were almost immediate; the jerking and twitching stopped and Daniel rolled over with a sigh, his face plastered against Jack's leg.
Tara pulled his head back, opened his mouth and peered inside. Daniel's tongue looked almost normal except for a slight discoloration.
Tara motioned at Daniel with the cup. "Wake him before he sleeps too deeply. He needs to drink this."
Jack shook Daniel's shoulder gently. Almost lazily, Daniel opened his eyes and looked at Jack, his eyes crossing. He smiled drunkenly when Tara placed the cup to his mouth.
"Whazzit?" He pulled back, trying to look into the cup.
"Something that'll make you feel better, Daniel."
"Coffee?" He turned his unfocused gaze on Fraiser.
"Sorry, it's not coffee. Come on, drink up."
He blinked several times, his gaze landing somewhere between Fraiser's head and Jack's face. "My hand hurts."
"Drink the medicine. There's something in it that'll stop the pain."
This time when Tara held the cup to his lips, Daniel drank the few swallows, then drank some more when Joru handed her a cup of clear water. When Tara was done, Fraiser picked up Daniel's hand to examine the sting. Immediately Daniel hissed and pulled the arm back, holding it protectively against his chest.
"Sorry," Fraiser said softly. More gently this time, she began to palpitate Daniel's hand and arm. After a short while she shook her head and straightened. "There's a bit of swelling; the pain is probably from the venom. Hopefully the..."
"Dilar leaves," Tara said.
"...Dilar leaves will help. Try and get some rest."
"Okay." Instead of closing his eyes, Daniel turned his head and stared at Jack.
"The turquoise is almost gone."
Jack raised an eyebrow as his lips quirked into a smile. "That a good thing?"
"I don't know."
Jack's smile faded. Despite his delirium, Daniel had sounded way too serious. "What about the orange?" Jack asked, half in jest. Daniel turned his head and seemed to be studying the crowded room. After a moment, he sighed. "That's almost gone, too." Jack looked in the direction Daniel was staring and saw that he was watching Teal'c. "Everything's faded."
Daniel's words reminded Jack what Daniel had discovered earlier. "By the way, good call on the Jaffa."
His eyes beginning to droop heavily, Daniel turned back to Jack. "The other Goa'uld... Ammut. She's known as the eater of hearts, the devourer, the great death. She and Selkhet will probably battle to the death."
Daniel's words were slow and slurred, the medicine obviously beginning to take effect. "She's a fierce fighter, ask Teal'c... it may not be safe... even with the... scorpions, Selkhet... dangerous..."
"We'll be careful," Jack whispered as Daniel's eyes slid shut.
"Colonel?" Carter immediately lowered her voice when she saw that Daniel was asleep. She crouched next to them. "Apparently the Jaffa came in with a couple of refugees through an entrance about a kilometre from here. He definitely needed a guide to get this far; the others said he was alone and that he'd been hiding in a nearby woods. He joined them and asked about refuge."
"So the Jaffa are not yet aware of these caves." Teal'c pointed his zat at the prisoner when he made to sit up. The Jaffa glared back at Teal'c then stared straight ahead, ignoring him.
"They might know now." Jack thought about it a moment then turned to the healer. "Are there other caverns? Not as easily accessible as this one but where you could be safe?"
"Yes. It's possible some of our people have made their way there as all the people of Ser aren't accounted for." She looked at Jack worriedly. "Do you believe we are not safe here?"
"It's a possibility. Can you reach the other caves without going outside?"
"Of course. The passages are interconnected but difficult to cross."
"Then send a messenger. If the rest of your village found shelter there, find out if there are any strangers with them. If not, move your folks to that cave. If the other cave's been compromised, I'd suggest you move everyone out of here and find some other place to hide."
Tara stood and brushed off her pants with one hand. "We may not be able to move the old and the injured."
Jack glanced down at Daniel, who was sleeping heavily. Face shiny with sweat, his breaths coming faster than normal, drugged unconscious the way he was, he'd be at the mercy of anyone who attacked them here.
Fraiser reached for her handgun and placed it next to her, well within reach. "I can handle it."
"I will remain also," Tara said. "As will several of the men." She glanced around the room. "There are at least a dozen who will not be able to traverse."
"What about our prisoner, sir?" Carter glanced at the Jaffa who was now watching them intently.
"Tara, can some of your people take this guy deep into the caverns? Somewhere that might take him, oh, say a week to find his way out?"
A wicked smile graced Tara's face. "Oh yes, there are many such places. And we can make it more difficult by covering his eyes."
"He'll die without his symbiote," Carter said softly to Jack.
Jack's only reply was a raised eyebrow. She met his gaze for a second longer, then looked away. "Let's check out where the Jaffa came in, see if these folks are in any immediate danger." He adjusted his weapon, nodded at Fraiser and took the lead.
- - - - - -
Jack squinted despite the sunglasses he'd hurriedly donned. The sunshine was fierce after the darkness of the caves. He searched the wooded area immediately opposite the cave's entrance but couldn't make out anything at the moment.
Jack turned to look where Teal'c was pointing. It felt like forever before his eyes adjusted enough so that he could make out, through the brush that hid the entrance to the cave, the two Jaffa who were waiting in the gloom of the trees. Once he could see clearly enough, Jack took out his field glasses and slowly scanned the area.
"There are only two."
The tone in Teal'c's voice didn't quite reflect impatience, but in anyone else it would have been heavy sarcasm. Not that he didn't trust Teal'c, but he did want to be certain before taking action. He finally pocketed the field glasses, confident that Teal'c was correct.
"Too far away for a zat."
"We could lure them out."
Carter shrugged, then unclipped her weapon and began removing her jacket and vest. "Cover me." Clothed only in her pants and short-sleeved tee shirt, she gave Jack a final glance before staggering outside, hand held up to shield her eyes from the sunlight.
Immediately the Jaffa trained their staff weapons on her but Carter stumbled once, caught her balance, then fell to the ground, unmoving, before they could fire. They watched her carefully for several seconds before leaving their cover and approaching cautiously.
Jack didn't waste time. The moment they were in firing distance, he zatted them both.
"Think they alerted the others to this position?" Jack stood over them, zat in hand.
"If they had, there would have been more than these. Three Jaffa are not enough to handle the amount of people taking refuge in the caves."
Without hesitation, Jack zatted the two Jaffa another time. And a third. He saw Carter's stricken face which she quickly schooled. Yeah, it was cold-blooded murder but no worse than shooting the enemy dead with his gun.
Teal'c had gone to investigate the spot where the two had been watching. Jack heard the sound of a zat firing and he turned quickly, P-90 ready to fire, when he saw Teal'c zatting a small container for a second time.
Missing Goa'uld larva taken care of, Jack turned to the hidden entrance and stuck his head inside. "Okay, go on back to the others," he ordered his guide. "Tell our doctor that we've taken care of the immediate threat, and that we're going to look around and see what's going on out here."
The man nodded nervously and turned tail, running back into the tunnels. His torch quickly faded as he turned a corner, and Jack turned back to his team. "Let's go see what we're up against."
- - - - - -
"Holy mother of—" Jack cut off his words as he stared at the battleground before him. From their vantage point on top of a hill, they could see not only into the valley below them, but farther into the woods at the far end of the valley. The whole area was littered with silver-armoured bodies. There were at least four death gliders that had gone down; three of which were producing thick, oily smoke.
"Do you think it was the scorpions?"
Jack took out his field glasses and examined the nearest bodies. The telltale marks of staff blasts were clearly evident.
"Maybe a few, but it looks like a firefight."
He focused on their faces, at least the ones that he could see from this angle, and noted that there seemed to be as many Jaffa from Selkhet's faction as Ammut.
"O'Neill, it would appear that the majority of both Goa'uld's forces have been decimated here on the planet."
"What about the motherships?"
Teal'c stared at bodies a moment. "A small contingent of personal guards may have remained on board. Possibly they are both waiting for reinforcements."
"More ha'taks?" Carter accepted the field glasses from Jack and surveyed the land.
"Possibly allies. I do not believe either would have amassed more than one ship."
"This could be our chance. Carter, I want you to go check out the Stargate. Teal'c, do you think there's any way we can get up into the mothership that's landed on the mountain?"
"If that glider is not damaged, we can fly into the ship."
Jack looked at the one death glider that wasn't burning. Carter handed him back his field glasses and he took a good look at it. After a moment, he handed them to Teal'c.
"I do not see any overt damage. It is possible it will fly."
"Sir, what about the scorpions? There must be some in the grass down there and—"
"They do not have a long lifespan, MajorCarter. They are simply an agent of war. Their purpose is to kill; once released, they will expire within hours. Observe."
Teal'c took a stick and prodded a small black rock next to his foot. To Jack's dismay, he realized it wasn't a rock, but one of the bugs. He could now see the tail when Teal'c turned it over. Without thought, Jack was on his feet, trying to hold back a shiver of disgust.
"It is dead. It is no longer a danger."
"Yeah, well, you could have warned me it was there to begin with." Jack quickly looked examined the area he'd been kneeling in and realized there were at least three more scorpions. "They all dead?"
"Indeed." Teal'c prodded them all, and got no reaction from any of them. "If any of the insects still survive, they will be too weak to be a danger unless you should actually touch them."
"Sir, what's your plan if you manage to get into the ship?"
"Get to the transport rings and beam the cavalry on board."
Carter grinned. "That'll only work if I can get through to Earth."
"In that case, we go with Plan B." He nudged one of the dead scorpions with his toe. "Be careful."
Jack watched her disappear into the woods, then glanced at the glider that was their goal. "You know, maybe we should start thinking about bringing Siler with us on these missions. His wrench might come in handy someday."
- - - - - -
Jack flicked one of the dead scorpions off the wing of the death glider, shuddering with disgust. Teal'c was head and neck deep inside the thing, fiddling with something as Jack waited patiently for Carter to report in the moment she contacted the SGC.
"Go ahead," Jack said quickly into his radio.
"ETA for backup units is fifteen minutes. General Hammond has given us a go."
"Wonderful. Now if Teal'c can get this jalopy up into the air—" The glider's motors came on and Jack gave Teal'c a thumb's up. "Looks like we're in business. We'll ring you up in thirty minutes. That'll give you enough time to get to the rendezvous point."
"Watch your back, sir."
"Always." Jack released the radio and hopped into the glider. Seconds later, Teal'c had closed the canopy and they were in the air.
"Can you do a quick flyover, just to see what the teams are up against?"
Without a word, Teal'c banked right and began flying slowly towards the Stargate. Everywhere Jack looked, were bodies. By the time they had flown past the Stargate and were making for the mothership, they hadn't seen one living Jaffa. The only living soul had been Carter, who'd watched them fly by.
"Carter, looks like the way is clear."
Jack stared at the quickly approaching alien ship. "They gonna let us in there without a hitch?"
"They have already requested a verification code and I have sent the emergency beacon indicating our ship is damaged. We have received permission to land."
"And you were going to tell me this... when?" Jack had the urge to duck as they flew what seemed like mere feet from the ship. He wondered if anyone was out there, looking down into the cockpit.
"Is not the fact that we are landing, without a hitch as you say, the object of our mission?"
"Yeah, well, a little warning might help prevent a few grey hairs." Then the landing bay was right in front of them and Teal'c was going in. Fast.
"Be warned. The stabilizers are barely functioning and our landing will be—"
They hit the floor of the bay and skidded, metal screeching loudly as the ship careened out of control. Jack saw the bulk of a cargo ship right in front of them and for a moment he thought they were going to collide. But somehow Teal'c got the engines reversed just in time and they bumped the wall with only an almost gentle thud.
"Nice landing," Jack said sarcastically as he stood when Teal'c released the canopy. He pushed the canopy aside as Teal'c merely inclined his head with a small grin on his face. "Anyone gonna come and check this out?"
"If Ammut has retained only her personal guards on board, then it is unlikely." Teal'c stopped next to the exit and pressed the control to open the door.
"Where do you think they are? Command bridge?" Jack whispered as Teal'c checked the corridor.
- - - - - -
"Okay, this is unexpected." Jack grimaced in distaste at the interior of the peltak. There were nine dead Jaffa and one dead snake, and hundreds of scorpions teeming over their bodies. Teal'c fired the zat at the nearest scorpions, preventing them from coming too close to the just opened door.
"How do you think those bugs got in here? We didn't see any anywhere else on the ship."
"Most likely in the same manner we did. By stealth." Teal'c pointed to a Jaffa that lay a couple of feet away. "This one died of a staff blast. And he does not follow Ammut."
"So Selkhet raided the ship?" Before Teal'c could answer, Jack asked another question. "If they're all dead, how'd we get permission to land?"
"The system is automated. When I sent the correct code, it verified it and lowered the shield in the landing bay."
Jack turned to Teal'c. "How'd you know the right code to send?"
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "Jaffa are not as imaginative as the Tau'ri."
Squinting at Teal'c, Jack wasn't sure if he'd been complimented, or insulted. After a few beats, Teal'c added, "The Jaffa who last used the death glider had written the code near the controls. Apparently his memory was flawed." Teal'c turned to zat yet more curious scorpions.
"I guess there's no way to get to the controls in there, huh?" They could continue zatting the bugs but there were so many, it would take too long. "See where the other mothership is in orbit around the planet and use this one to blast it to smithereens?"
"There is not. The insects are too numerous and the controls are on the far side of the peltak. But I believe we may have another problem." He pointed to the holographic view screen which was still operating. "If I am reading this correctly, Ammut has managed to scan the underground caverns."
Jack swore softly. He examined the screen and now that Teal'c had brought it up, he could see heat signatures where people gathered together. Right now there was one large group and several smaller ones, most of which were moving towards the larger one.
Alarm sudden coursed through Jack. "Do you think Selkhet is—?"
"Indeed. We must warn the others and render our aid to Doctor Fraiser."
As one, they turned and began running towards the transport rings.
- - - - - -
"I don't know, Carter," Jack said into his radio as he and Teal'c ran to the hidden entrance they'd used earlier. "We suspect the Goa'uld is already inside the tunnels. We're going in to give Fraiser backup. We'd have ringed you there directly but it'd have taken you too long for you to get to the ship. Make your way to the tunnels ASAP. I'll make sure someone's there to act as a guide."
They were only a few minutes away; Teal'c had managed to redirect the transport rings so they'd saved plenty of time that way. Unfortunately they couldn't yet get a lock on their people; the cavalry would come in about twenty minutes behind them.
They stopped when they reached the edge of the trees. He could see nothing between them and the entrance. He waited for Teal'c to finish his own observation and when Teal'c nodded, they set off at a slightly slower jog. They made it to the cliff, slipped behind the bushes that hid the entrance and began making their way back to where they'd left Daniel and Fraiser.
Jack had been confident he'd find his way back but once inside the tunnel, he wasn't so sure. Teal'c, on the other hand, travelled through each corridor with a sureness Jack didn't feel. One wrong turn and they could be lost inside for days.
- - - - - -
God, his arm hurt. The nerves and muscles felt inflamed and everything from the elbow down was throbbing out of unison with his head. Daniel lay still, trying not to exacerbate the pain. Despite the headache, his stomach was queasy, his head felt muzzy and his mouth dry and pasty, the all too familiar feeling of having been drugged well and good.
He definitely wasn't in the infirmary; there was a blanket between him and the hard ground. Which meant offworld; and which also meant he was most likely injured. He opened his eyes and saw the edge of a red and green blanket, and the grey, sandy stone beyond it. His eyeballs hurt when he tried to see beyond; everything had an odd afterglow to it, like a small rainbow and it made him dizzy trying to see.
He shut his eyes, trying to listen instead. He could hear women talking softly, but couldn't make out their words. He shifted his legs slowly, trying to see if he was a captive. His muscles and joints had a fever-ache to them. He slowly squeezed the fingers of his injured hand into a fist, but they were too swollen to do more than curl together. The motion sent tendrils of fire up his forearm and he gasped in pain.
"Janet?" He opened his eyes and rolled onto his back at the familiar voice, keeping his arm held tightly against his chest. He was in a cave and had no idea how he'd gotten—no wait. Bits of what felt like a dream came to him. Being chased by bugs, their tails held up, curled around their bodies and stingers at the end of them that looked as huge as needles. Being carried, forced to walk, the colours...
"How are you feeling?" Janet held a hand to his forehead. Her fingers were cool and felt wonderful.
"Felt better." He licked a swollen tongue over dry lips.
"Here. Drink." Janet held a cup to his mouth and slid her fingers beneath his head. She raised his head just high enough so he could drink without choking. He gulped down the cold water, feeling some drip down his chin in his eagerness to quench his thirst.
Too soon Janet took the cup away and wiped his mouth with the edge of the blanket. "Do you remember what happened?"
"Scorpion got me."
Janet nodded. "You're lucky. It kills the Jaffa but the venom isn't quite so deadly to humans. Your fever's down some and your vitals are improving."
"So I'm gonna live?"
"Sure looks that way," she said in a gentle voice.
"Where're the others?" Memory hit him suddenly and he recalled the attacking Jaffa, the villages burned, the people hunted and taken captive. "Oh shit." He sat in a quick motion then hissed at the pain caused by the change in position. Vertigo hit him and he lost his balance and began sliding to the side.
"Okay, I got you." Janet eased him back down until he was half lying on the blanket, and half lying on her leg. He tried to raise up so he wouldn't hurt her but she pulled her leg from beneath him and kept a hand on his chest to keep him down.
"Colonel O'Neill, Teal'c and Sam have gone to take a look around outside and see what's happening. I'm betting they're going to try for the Stargate and get backup. Maybe they'll have better luck than we did."
"That they've been gone?" At Daniel's slight nod, she checked her watch. "Almost three hours. And unfortunately the radio signals don't make it through the rock."
"You need to go outside... use the radio."
"I can't leave you or the others—"
"We need to know what's happening."
"The Colonel's orders were that I stay here and—"
"It's been three hours. They could have been taken prisoner during that time." Daniel struggled once again to sit, only to have Janet's hand push back against him. "If they... we'll need to try for the Stargate ourselves, if that's the case. We can't just sit here and wait."
"If those are our orders, then yes, we can."
Daniel tried to sit once more but stopped when she glared at him. His head was pounding even worse and the rainbow outlines everywhere were drifting in and out of focus. He closed his eyes and saw the various colours weaving behind his eyelids. The disorientation was almost as bad so he opened his eyes.
"I can go... just to the entrance, and try the radio..."
"You're in no shape to go anywhere. And we can't give you another dose of pain killer for at least another hour." Her forehead creased as she glanced around the room. "And I won't leave these people defenceless."
Daniel looked to where Janet was staring and saw several others lying on blankets, obviously ill or injured, and about a half dozen seniors. That was when realized they'd been left behind with those who were too feeble be moved.
"They left us?" he asked in shock. "The villagers left all of these people here to fend for themselves? Because they were old or sick? What kind of—"
"We're safe here." Janet's voice was laced with anger as she hissed at him. "They couldn't negotiate the path to the other caverns. The villagers are going to make sure everyone makes it safely and then they're going to come back and help these folks over."
"If we're so safe, why did everyone else leave?" Odd, colourful memories of a cave full of people came to him.
"Because at the time we thought it was possible that a Jaffa had discovered us and reported our whereabouts to his superiors. But he hadn't. Colonel O'Neill confirmed that we weren't compromised so there's no danger."
While still looking around the room unbelievingly, movement against the wall caught attention. Part of the stone shifted and someone slowly stepped into the cavern. It took his befuddled senses a moment to realize that the orange clothes the person was wearing was really silver armour tinged with the coloured aura. "Look out!" Reacting instinctively, Daniel curled his legs forward as he reached for his holster with his left hand. He threw himself sideways onto his stomach, peripherally aware of Janet moving in slow motion next to him. Pain lanced through his arm when he jarred it against the stone floor, but he ignored it, focusing his attention on the Jaffa that was slowly bringing up his staff weapon and aiming it his way.
He took his time, his training kicking in as he tried to ignore his shaking hands. He took aim and squeezed the trigger, fired several shots and the Jaffa was down. Even as he aimed for the second one, it fell as Janet fired a P-90. Daniel aimed for the third while Janet took down the fourth.
Only when the sounds of gunfire stopped reverberating in the room did Daniel become aware of the screams of fear from the villagers. His breath coming in short gasps, he knew he was now unable to move from this position. Janet raised herself into a crouch, squeezed his calf reassuringly and then moved stealthily to the edge of the door. Daniel kept his gun trained on the four Jaffa, ready to take them down again the moment any of them recovered.
Moving quickly, Janet stuck her head out the door and peered into the corridor. She signalled the all clear to him then stepped outside. A moment later she returned. There was blood on one of her hands.
Tara was examining the Jaffa. She and Janet spoke softly for a moment as Janet stood watching. Then she knelt and wiped the blood from her hand on the armour of the nearest Jaffa. When she was done, she went to the seniors, crouched down, and spoke to them, trying to calm them.
The adrenaline rush was fading and Daniel was trembling visibly now. He could barely keep his head up; the gun in his hand became too heavy for him to hold. He pulled his legs forward, dropped his gun and tried to push himself up but his arm didn't have enough strength.
"Lie still, Daniel."
Somehow Tara had moved from the Jaffa to his side and was trying to get the blanket back underneath him again.
"No, I have to... there might be more." Realizing he couldn't stand, he reached for his weapon. He picked it up with fingers that were numb; the metal was cold, almost icy, in his hand. He couldn't seem to keep his eyes away from the open doorway. Any moment now, more Jaffa would come in, and this time he was terrified that his body would let him down, that he'd be too slow, that he wouldn't be able to protect—
Then his worst fears happened. Again, in slow motion, two of the enemy rushed inside. Scrabbling for a clear shot, Daniel rolled onto his side, bringing the gun up to shoot once again. He heard someone yelling and then there were hands on him, pushing his arm down onto the ground. He struggled, tried to break free and found that he was too weak. The Jaffa circled him and he lay there helpless, trying to control his panting breaths and turn them into words of defiance.
"Daniel, it's okay, it's us."
Someone plucked his weapon from his lax fingers. His vision was shifting in and out of focus. He fixed on the blurred face before him, unable to understand how Jack had come to be beside him. He felt someone touch his leg and holster his weapon as he mumbled Jack's name.
"You mistook us for the enemy. It is understandable in your present condition. DoctorFraiser tells us you were responsible in saving these people from the Jaffa who attacked."
Teeth chattering uncontrollably, Daniel could only nod weakly at Teal'c, unable to breathe and talk at the same time. Someone wrapped the blanket around him, taking care around his injured hand.
"We were on our way here and heard the gunshots. Good thing you were fast on the draw the first time and good thing for us you were a little off on the second."
Daniel tried to concentrate but the trembling was getting worse.
"Doc? What's wrong with him?"
"He's just overtaxed himself. Daniel, you have to try and calm down. Can you try to slow your breathing? Come on, take a deep breath."
Daniel tried to do what she asked but his lungs didn't seem capable of expanding. Janet placed both palms on his cheeks and turned his head so she was right in his face. "Daniel, in and out. Breathe in, and out. Slow it down."
He tried, but whatever he managed to do made him even more light-headed. Janet let go of him and moved aside and he shifted his gaze to Jack's blurred face.
"It's okay, buddy." Jack cupped a hand under Daniel's head and shoved something soft underneath. Truth be told, he was so miserable at the moment that he could by lying on a bed of nails and he wouldn't feel the difference. "You're safe."
Janet appeared next to him, holding a syringe. He realized immediately what she was going to do and his apprehension increased tenfold. He needed to be awake; he couldn't sleep. Hadn't what nearly happened just now proof of that?
He stared at the needle, watching as she brought it closer. He lay there, muscles frozen, fighting to move. His body gave way suddenly and he slapped the syringe away before she could inject it into his arm. Simultaneously his lungs expanded and he drew in a deep, refreshing breath.
"Okay, okay, easy now," Janet crooned as he took a second, then and third inhalation. "Don't fight it." She smiled. "That's it," she added as his breathing became less panicked and rhythmic.
"Doc, we gotta go... is he gonna be—"
"He'll be fine." She smiled down at Daniel again, who was only able to nod his agreement. Better, now that he could breathe properly. He looked at Jack, his vision a little clearer. He glanced towards the door, where Teal'c was keeping watch. Then suddenly it occurred to him that something was wrong.
"Sam. Where's Sam?" His breathing began to constrict again but he refused to panic.
"Carter's fine. She went to get help; actually she's on her way. But we think the villagers are in danger. Daniel, we have to go. Just... hang in there, okay?"
" 'M fine."
"Good. Stay that way until we get back." Some of the tension in Jack's face eased. "And that's an order."
Raising his left hand, Daniel managed a sloppy salute. Jack grinned as he stood. A moment later, he and Teal'c had gone.
- - - - - -
Jack swore as his foot slipped on the algae-covered rocks. He understood now why the villagers hadn't brought their infirmed or aged along with them when they moved from one cavern to another. The footing was treacherous, slick with seawater and moss. He didn't envy them the job of bringing the injured and elderly through here later. "You sure this is the fastest way?" Jack asked his guide, who was moving with a surefootedness that he envied.
"We could have gone out and around the sea, but it would take a few hours. We're almost there, the tunnel is right past these rocks and it'll only be a few more minutes before we reach the main cavern."
The moment they left the slippery area, Jack stopped the man and asked for directions. Actually it was going to be easy. Down the main corridor, take the second tunnel to the left and he'd come upon the lookouts, who'd lead them to the hidden cavern.
"Okay, I want you to find someplace to hide, and wait for the rest of my team. They'll be here in about ten minutes, give or take. You give them the same instructions as you gave me."
The man nodded, eyes wide, and hurried back the way they'd come. Jack took the lead and strode down the tunnel, alert for any signs of danger. The dim sunlight which filtered into the tunnels through cracks in the rocks gave just enough illumination to allow someone to hide in the shadows.
Jack turned into the second tunnel and nearly tripped over the lookouts. Both of them were dead, their throats cut. He touched the blood; it was still warm and slick. Without a word, Jack signalled Teal'c forward. They hadn't gone far when they heard voices and light from an open doorway, flooding the tunnel. Moving cautiously, they approached the door.
Inside was the Goa'uld, doing the usual posturing before the crowd of cowering prisoners. There were eight Jaffa, maybe too many for Jack and Teal'c to take on by themselves. If only the snake could keep on talking, give them time for Carter and the others to get here...
The Jaffa had their backs to him, confident in their superiority that they didn't even leave one to guard the entrance. Jack watched the drama occurring inside; half listening to the Goa'uld declare herself their god and ordering the younger and stronger of her captives to move away from the others. Culling and herding, Jack had no doubt that these were going to end up as her next batch of personal servants, maybe even Jaffa if she was buddies with a Goa'uld queen.
When she had twenty of the men and a handful of the women, Selkhet moved closer to the remaining prisoners. She had a jar of some kind in her hand, and when she raised it, a shiver of dread ran up Jack's spine. She tossed it and even as the jar flew through the air, Jack aimed his zat and acting instinctively, managed to shoot the jar twice before it tipped over and scattered black scorpions amongst the captives, creating chaos as they tried to escape the insects.
His third shot hit one of the Jaffa. He missed with his fourth and saw two of the captives go down in a tumble of limbs. And then Teal'c was shooting, his own zat catching two more Jaffa before they were both forced to take cover inside the tunnel. He tried to get another shot in but the remaining Jaffa were coming for them.
"Go!" Jack began running back the way they came. If they could take cover amongst the rocks, they'd have a chance at holding the Jaffa until the other teams arrived. They turned the corner just as a staff blast sent shards of rocks flying after them.
He jumped down onto the rocks and immediately felt his boots slip on the wet moss. He went down and slipped onto the rocks below. Cursing, knowing he was going to be a pile of bruises tomorrow, Jack scurried behind a large boulder and waited. Teal'c took cover a few feet left of him. Just in time, because the first of the Jaffa exploded out of the tunnel.
Both Jack and Teal'c waited until the Jaffa was starting his way down amongst the slippery rocks. Exchanging his zat for his P-90, Jack began to fire. They got lucky, getting all Jaffa before the enemy were able to fire. When the last Jaffa was down, Jack carefully stood, looking for Selkhet.
He wasn't disappointed when she stepped out, standing before him and staring at him in anger. He raised his weapon and pulled the trigger, knowing as he did that her personal shield would stop the bullets.
Unfortunately Jack had nothing that was going to stop the ribbon device that she was raising and aiming at him. He threw himself behind a rock but the hand device blew it to pieces. Without cover, he had nowhere to hide. Crouching, he reached for his knife, thinking to go for the good, old, tried and true, but his sheath was empty. He must have lost it when he'd fallen. He winced; this was so going to hurt.
Carter's voice echoed in the cavern. Her appearance seemed to startle Selkhet. Her gaze flew to Carter, who was approaching behind Jack, but quickly returned to him. The hand device glowed, and Jack steeled himself.
Suddenly Selkhet shrieked as something black flew through the air and entered her personal shield. She batted her hands over her chest and abdomen, until a single black scorpion fell at her feet.
"No." She took a step forward, staggered, and screamed. Falling to her knees, she turned her head and glared at Jack. She raised her hand device again, but before she could activate it she toppled onto her side, unconscious.
The scorpion scuttled off, moving sluggishly, and Jack kept a wary eye on it until it disappeared between the rocks.
"Carter?" He turned and grinned at his 2IC. She grinned back, surrounded by several members of the backup teams. "Where the hell did you pick up one of those?"
"It was barely alive, but it did the trick." She turned to the man standing next to her. "It was Major Pierce's idea, sir. We found a few that weren't quite dead yet and brought them with us."
Pierce raised his hand and revealed two small boxes. "Figured if these things were so deadly to the Jaffa, we could use them as an ace in the hole."
"You get the jackpot, Major." Jack pointed back behind him. "There's three more Jaffa in the cave that we zatted. And Daniel—"
Pierce motioned to his men and they brushed past Jack, heading for the cavern.
Jack called out to SG-4 before they disappeared through the tunnel. "Oh, Pierce?"
The major stopped and turned questioningly towards Jack.
"The place is littered with dead scorpions. Just thought I'd give you a head's up before you walk in there and start looking for live ones."
"Yes, sir." Pierce nodded with a confused expression on his face.
"We left two men with Janet and Daniel. They're setting up a stretcher to take him back to the Stargate. SG-4 has control of the 'gate, sir."
"Good work, Carter." He waited while Teal'c removed a control device wrapped around the Goa'uld's wrist. He turned around and began walking back towards the cave where Fraiser and Daniel were. Carter turned and stepped in behind him, with Teal'c bringing up the rear. "We're going to have to do a sweep of the caverns; both these tunnels and the surrounding areas outside. We might have a few Jaffa that survived the scorpion stings and are hiding out."
Teal'c handed Jack the armband. "We now have possession of two ha'tak. This will allow you to transport up to the one orbiting in space."
Jack glanced at the controls, then placed the armband into a vest pocket in order to concentrate on the slippery rocks. "I'm sure all you scientists are going to have a field day with this." He scowled at Carter. "Two new ships to explore and take apart just to put back together again; Hammond's gonna be beside himself with the addition to Earth's arsenal and the President is probably going to want us to have supper with him. You know, that means I'll have to bring my uniform to the cleaners. Damn the inconvenience."
Carter laughed softly behind him as they negotiated the rest of the passageway. He was anxious to get back to Daniel; worried that maybe something had happened while he'd been fighting the Goa'uld. Daniel had looked awful before. Fraiser had said he was doing okay but he hadn't seemed that fine when he'd gone through those shakes.
They walked back in silence. Jack nodded to the two guards posted at the door before entering the cavern. "Most of the danger's over, folks," he said to the elderly folk waiting anxiously. "We won't let you go back to your homes for a little while yet. My men are going to have to comb the area, make sure it's safe, but you should be out of here in a day or two." He smiled at the relieved looks and thanks he got, then hurried to the back of the cave where Daniel lay.
The rescue teams must have brought medical supplies because Fraiser had set up an IV, not only for Daniel but the other two souls who'd been stung. Carter was kneeling beside Daniel, talking softly to him. He turned his slightly unfocused, glazed eyes towards him when Jack crouched down beside Carter. Okay, his friend was still pale and obviously running a temperature, but he did look better now than he had earlier.
"Sam says..." Daniel stopped, blinked slowly as he licked his lips, "that the Goa'uld and Jaffa are dead?"
"Yep. We kicked butt and—" He stopped when Carter turned to stare at him. "Okay, the Jaffa mostly all killed each other off but we did manage to put an end to everything. And," Jack said with a false tone of excitement, "we have two motherships for Carter and her people to play in."
"You captured the ha'tak?"
"We don't know how much damage they might have incurred, but yeah." Carter's smile almost lit up the cavern.
"That's... great." Daniel's eyes closed halfway, then became slightly cross eyed for a moment before he blinked them shut and open.
"Hey, don't get all teary-eyed on me here." Jack made a cocky face when Daniel turned his gaze on him. "You'll get playtime on the ships, too, if you ask nicely."
"Thanks, Jack. Just what I always wanted. It's not enough... they're in my nightmares, now I can spend... my waking hours... exploring."
Squeezing his eyes tightly closed, Daniel shook his head. "Sorry. I didn't mean—"
"It's okay. You're tired." Carter threaded her fingers through Daniel's sweaty hair a moment. "We'll let you rest. Anyways, I have to go and—"
"Begin the first sweeps."
She stood, and so did Jack. They walked away from Daniel and once they were out of earshot, he gave Carter her orders. "When Pierce gets back, take Daniel and the other injured and have Pierce and his men escort you all to the Stargate. From there you can start your sweeps heading east, towards the village of Virn. I'll have SG4 sweep towards Ser. There may not be much left of the villages but at least these folks will be able to start rebuilding as soon as possible."
- - - - - -
His arm hurt. Despite the drugs Janet was pumping into him through the IV, they weren't doing much more than turning a searing pain to a teeth grinding, throbbing ache. And the effects of the painkiller didn't last. One of the nurses had said it was due to the venom causing his system to become flooded with adrenaline and other unpronounceable medical terms. The short of it all was that anything they gave him; painkillers, sedatives, they all wore off way too soon and weren't half as effective as they should have been.
His system was slowly breaking down the venom, though. There were signs of it beginning to dissipate. "Just a matter of time," Janet had told him. Easy for her to say when she wasn't the one having to deal not only with the physical pain of the sting, but the fever, headache and body aches that accompanied it.
And he couldn't sleep. The painkillers made him nauseous and dizzy, and when they wore off, the pain kept him awake. He was never pain-free; there was never enough of a let up to actually allow him to drift off. He and the two villagers who'd been stung had been back in the infirmary long enough to see two shifts go by, which meant he'd been home at least twenty-four hours.
And he had to admit he was a little worried about his team. Sam had given him the lowdown during the walk to the Stargate and despite what she said, he knew that any Jaffa hiding out there would be desperate and unpredictable. And there was the matter of all those scorpions. Sam had also said they didn't survive for very long but there could always be the one, or two, or a dozen, that were the exception to the rule.
He sighed, then tried to shift into a more comfortable position. Fire ran up and down his arm. Despite the ice packs to help reduce the swelling and ease some of the discomfort, his pulse beat painfully from the tips of his fingers all the way up past his elbow.
His fingers twitched, causing more pain. A muscle in his leg cramped, and he flexed his foot to ease the spasm. Moving as fast as he dared, he reached for the call button. The agony in his arm he could stand; the muscular spasms were something he really hated to have to go through.
"The Valium's already worn off?" The nurse opened his chart, ignoring the involuntary twitching of his limbs. "It's barely been two hours. I'll advise Doctor Fraiser, but I'm not sure if she'll—" She broke off and smiled apologetically. "It may not be safe to give you another dose so soon. I'll get her right away," she added before Daniel could speak.
Concentrating on trying to relax his body, and failing miserably, Daniel was relieved when Janet finally arrived at his bedside. She gave him a worried smile.
"Our medicine isn't doing much to help you." She waited a moment as a cramp ripped through his abdominal muscles. When Daniel could take a breath without panting, she continued. "I've contacted Tara and she's sent me samples of the medicines she gave you and the others back on the planet. We're still testing them but I'm going to throw caution to the winds and ask Colonel O'Neill to bring her to the SGC so she can help you and the other villagers."
"Will it stop the cramps?"
"Yes. But as it'll probably be a while before we can get her here, I'm going to give you some more Valium in the meantime."
The effects were almost instantaneous; the twitches and cramps eased, as did his whole perception. He closed his eyes, wishing his arm would stop throbbing so he could sleep.
- - - - - -
He hadn't heard anyone approach his bed; then again his pulse was beating loudly in his ears, matching time with the throbbing in his fingertips. The twitching and cramps were just starting again, and he had been concentrating on trying to relax his body, hoping this time he'd progressed far enough that they wouldn't come back. He opened his eyes and saw Tara leaning over the bed.
"I have medicine for you." She held a small thimble to his lips and he opened his mouth obediently. She tipped the liquid into his mouth and he was surprised at the coolness of it as it hit his tongue. Immediately his face felt flushed. Then the feeling dissipated slowly, leaving a coolness behind in his body that he hadn't experienced since he'd gotten back to the SGC.
"Janet tells me you are in much pain. I hope my herbs will help ease your discomfort." She placed a hand to his wrist, taking his pulse. He could have told her she just had to look at the equipment but he realized belatedly that the technology was beyond her.
He waited patiently for the pain to ease, but like Janet's drugs, nothing was working. Janet began explaining some of the machinery to Tara and Daniel felt a little ignored and put out. He was about to say something when Tara asked him to open his mouth. She peered into his opened mouth and nodded. She took a glass from the roll away table that had a bit of liquid and held it to his mouth. "Drink."
With a sense of déjà vu, Daniel swallowed the medicine. It's pungent taste was familiar and he half remembered drinking it at some point on the planet. He chased it down with a tumbler of water, which didn't do much in ridding the taste from his mouth.
He watched as Janet prepared a syringe, drawing the liquid from a small, blue bottle. She brought the needle to the IV port and paused. "Hopefully Tara's drugs will ease the pain and help you sleep." With a gentle smile, she injected the drug into the IV.
The twitches had started to become painful but eased off quickly. He took a deep breath and relaxed, knowing he'd be free of this particular discomfort for a short while. He watched Tara and Janet talking together, both of them glancing his way occasionally. He was beginning to drift, and the sensation wasn't unpleasant. The pulse in his head was easing, along with his headache. He closed his eyes at the beginning of long-awaited relief.
"Welcome back, Colonel."
Slightly startled and woken from a half-doze, Daniel opened his eyes. He was aware of two things. One was that the pain in his arm was nearly gone; the other was that Jack was standing next to his bed, looking down at him.
"You're back," Daniel said, feeling much better than he'd had in a long while.
"Just for a little bit. Took the opportunity to escort the healer back here; might have time for a shower before we head back." Jack tapped his fingers against the edge of Daniel's mattress. "You're looking pretty good."
"Mmm, feeling pretty good."
For some reason his words made Jack smile. He tried to raise an eyebrow in query but his face felt a little numb. Instead he glanced around, watching Janet and Tara care for the other two villagers.
"Progress is going pretty good on the planet. No sign of Jaffa. Hammond's sanctioned supplies and materials to help the people rebuild. Maybe another day or two, and we'll be seeing Carter's people off in the two ha'taks, then we'll be coming home. You should see Carter; she's like a kid in a candy store playing in that ship."
Daniel smiled, his lips stretching oddly, like rubber. He poked a finger into his cheek, trying to see if it was really numb. Nope, not numb, he could feel the jabs.
"I think it's time I let you get some sleep." Jack was grinning at him, and Daniel couldn't figure out why. "That shower is calling my name."
Daniel stopped poking his cheek and waggled his fingers at Jack as he turned to leave. When he wriggled on the bed, trying to make himself comfortable, he realized his arm barely ached.
- - - - - -
With his left hand, Daniel tried to awkwardly spear a piece of green bean with a fork. Finally he captured the errant vegetable and brought it to his mouth. The food was bland, but for the first time in five days he actually had an appetite. He scooped up the last of his mashed potatoes, carefully added a piece of chicken to the mess and dredged the fork through the now congealing gravy.
"They had meatloaf in the commissary today. Wasn't bad. Better than the chicken. If you added ketchup to it." Jack pulled a chair forward and brought it closer to the bed.
"I asked for meatloaf." Daniel put the forkful into his mouth, then spoke around the food. "I got chicken."
Jack placed a piece of pecan pie onto the tray beside Daniel's near-empty plate, nudging the bowl of orange Jell-O aside.
"Hey, thanks." As he eagerly reached for the treat with his left hand, Daniel silently cursed the fact that his right was still in a sling. It was awkward trying to remove the wrapper.
After a moment Jack took the dinner plate and pulled it away. As Daniel sliced into the pie, Jack picked up the bowl of Jell-O and a spoon and helped himself to a large spoonful.
"Gettin' rid of the evidence," Jack said with his mouth full.
"Ah," Daniel replied, and cut off another chunk of pie.
"So... Fraiser cutting you loose anytime soon? I thought this morning you said something about—"
"I had a fever after lunch. She won't let me leave until I'm fever-free for forty-eight hours. Damnit, it was barely 99 degrees."
"She's just making sure..." Jack shifted uncomfortably and placed the half-empty bowl back onto the tray. "She was worried when you were... from what I hear, your fever was spiking pretty high back there, and even after when we got you home. Fraiser's just being cautious."
"Well, I wish she would admit that I'm better now." Daniel stuffed the last bite of pie into his mouth and even as he swallowed it, he began regretting eating the sweet dessert. He should have stopped after only a few bites; he hadn't eaten much in the past days and he'd overdone it tonight.
He slid his legs back onto the bed and leaned back. He felt a building pressure in his stomach and burped long and hard. Immediately the discomfort and threatening nausea eased.
"I'll give your compliments to the cook."
Daniel yawned in response. "I finished the magazines you brought me. Do you think you could see about bringing me some translations or other work to keep me busy? I had something on my desk that I'd started—"
"You're kidding, right?"
Daniel compressed his lips tightly together. He was not going to start whining about how bored he was, but damnit, he was bored.
Jack leaned forward, hands hanging loosely between his knees. "Look, I'll bring it up with Fraiser first thing tomorrow. If she gives her approval, I'll see about getting you some stuff that'll keep your mind off—"
"I'll be going home tomorrow," Daniel said with forced certainty. "In any case, it's now that I need something to keep me busy. I'm—"
"Bored, yeah, I know. That's why I thought you and I could play a game or two of chess. Unless you'd rather I went home and left you with your work."
"I was going to say I'm feeling a lot better," Daniel lied, because he had been on the verge of admitting boredom. "And a game of chess would be very nice. I appreciate you staying behind and entertaining me."
Jack shrugged as he pulled out the portable chessboard that someone had thoughtfully brought earlier. "There's nothing much on TV."
"Oh. I'm glad I can be a source of entertainment for you, then."
Jack grinned at him as he started setting up the chess pieces. "Anyways, I've got last night's Simpsons taped."
- - - - - -
Home sweet home. Daniel sighed in relief as he put down the plastic bags full of groceries, tossed his keys into the bowl he kept on the large antique dresser on the wall and then nudged the door shut the door with his hip. The drive from the mountain to his home, followed by a taxi-ride to the grocery store and pharmacy and back, had tired him out more than he'd ever admit, even to himself. Deciding a coffee would be a great pick-me-up, Daniel went to the kitchen and began the laborious task of making coffee with one hand.
His right arm was still in a sling and he had orders from Janet to take it easy. He'd had some PT early this morning before his release and had been given a series of exercises to try to keep the muscle tone in his arm from degenerating. Any range of motion below his elbow was painful but it was bearable, until his arm got tired.
While the coffee dripped, Daniel set about putting the groceries away. The aroma of fresh brewed coffee filled the room. Daniel left a bag of cookies out on the countertop, right beside his waiting coffee cup. The moment the coffee was done he was going to treat himself to the cookies, drink his coffee, and enjoy the peace and quiet of his home.
The solitude didn't distract him for long. By the time he'd had his second cup of coffee and had turned the television on and gone through all the channels, twice, he was ready to admit he was bored.
He sauntered into his office and powered up his computer. It didn't take him long to go through his emails. He smiled when just as he was finishing, he got an email from one of his staff asking for his expertise on a certain translation he'd begun weeks ago, and if he could give him some advice if and when he had the time. Daniel clicked the document open, entered his password to unlock it, and set to work.
Two hours later, his eyes were burning, his back and shoulders were aching and he had the start of a headache. It had taken longer for him to finish because he'd been typing with his left hand. With a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of usefulness, Daniel closed the document to began composing the email so that he could send the work back.
He rolled his shoulders and neck, trying to ease the ache. As he typed, he debated on either taking a nap or making more coffee. He was leaning heavily towards nap when there was a loud thud next door, followed by the unmistakeable clatter of breaking glass. The wall behind his computer literally shook with the force of the blow, rattling the glass doors of his desk. Without thought, Daniel grabbed his keys and left his apartment, hurrying into the hallway to knock on Mrs. Larkins' door.
It was with relief that he heard footsteps approach the door.
"Mrs. Larkins, are you all right? I heard something crash," he said quickly when his elderly neighbour opened the door.
"Yes, I'm fine, dear boy." She appeared pale and a little shaken. "I was dusting the bookcase and one of the legs broke off. I've been meaning to get it repaired; it's been pretty wobbly lately. There's no harm done, just a lot of broken bits and a mess for me to pick up."
"You're sure you're not hurt? It didn't fall on you, did it?"
"No, no. It toppled against the far wall, which is why you heard the noise from your apartment." She glanced at his arm. "I'm so sorry to have disturbed you."
"It's fine. Really. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I'm not sure. I—"
"Let me help you clean up." Again the petite woman glanced pointedly at his arm. "It's nothing." Daniel pushed his sling-clad arm away from his body, showing that he had mobility. "I got stung by a scorpion." He smiled, feeling embarrassed. "There's a lingering weakness with the nerves and ligaments in my arm where the poison attacked it. It'll be fine, I just need to rest my arm occasionally and my doctor insists I use a sling to remind myself."
"I couldn't. Really, Doctor Jackson. I—" She took a couple of steps inside, leaving room for Daniel to follow.
"Mrs. Larkins, it's the least I can do, considering how you've always been kind enough to pick up my mail and feed my fish when I go out of town. Now, let's go see the damage, okay?" He stepped inside and shut the door behind him.
The room was a mess. The large, overcrowded bookcase had toppled sideways, onto the far wall, spilling all sorts of knickknacks and picture frames, along with books of all shapes and sizes. The antique bookcase itself had splintered into several pieces, breaking apart with the force of the fall.
"Okay, I'll need gloves, a garbage bag and a broom and dustpan." Daniel eased his arm out of the sling and pocketed the piece of material into a back pocket. Stepping carefully around the broken pieces of glass and porcelain, Daniel began carefully picking up the larger pieces and setting aside the ones that could be salvageable or repaired.
Already tired from his foray to the grocery store and his stint at translation, by the time Daniel cleaned the room up and dismantled the bookcase into its separate components, he was shaking from exhaustion. His right arm had lost much of its strength; not only had he lost most of his mobility in his hand and forearm, but the burning pain had started up. It had hung uselessly by his side for the past thirty minutes, throbbing in tandem with his headache. His back was stiff and his thigh muscles shook as he bent over and picked up the last piece of splintered wood.
"Will you allow me to make you something to eat? It's rather late."
"Thank you. I appreciate the offer but I've got supper covered." A handful of Tylenol and a chaser of water was all he wanted. The idea of food made his stomach churn. He leaned the piece of wood against the wall with the rest and straightened up slowly.
Nodding, Daniel passed his hand over his mouth, noting the sheen of sweat as he did so. "I don't think the bookcase is salvageable. The wood is old and half rotted; you're lucky it didn't collapse sooner." Daniel wiped his hand on his pants, wishing he could get the sling back on but he didn't want to even attempt that without pain relief and only in the privacy of his own apartment.
Mrs. Larkins walked him to the door. "Thank you again, Doctor Jackson. I don't know what I'd have done without your help." She smiled at him gratefully, her eyes shining with unshed tears.
"You're more than welcome." Daniel smiled back, wishing he didn't feel so awful so that he could at least take the broken pieces of wood outside for her. "Goodnight."
He walked back to his apartment, fumbling for his keys and nearly dropping them as he unlocked the door. He stood there, trying to remember where he'd put the bottle of painkillers he'd just had filled at the pharmacy from the scrit Janet had prescribed for him. For a moment he thought he might have left the paper bag in the taxi when he recalled that he'd tossed the bag on his bed for later retrieval.
He made a beeline for the bedroom and tipped the bag onto the bed. He grabbed the pill bottle and struggled with the cap. Finally he got it open and palmed one pill, stuck it between his teeth and went into the bathroom. Not bothering with the plastic glass, he stuck his mouth next to the faucet and drank directly from it. When the first swallows of water hit his throat, he realized he was parched. He drank for a long time, then stood and wiped the back of his hand across his wet lips and chin.
He needed to put his arm back into the sling. It was throbbing, still hanging by his side. He reached into his back pocket for the sling and swore when he came up empty. He slowly folded his arm, cradling it against his chest. The throbbing eased slightly with the change in position, but started up again by the time he began walking towards the door to go see if he'd dropped it at his neighbour's.
He'd just entered the living room when he remembered the email. With another curse he turned around and returned to his office. He sat down, resting his right arm on his thighs, ended the explanation more tersely than he'd originally intended, and sent it off. Then with his left hand, he picked up his right arm and began cradling the arm again against his chest, unwilling to even try and use the muscles to move it into that position.
Startled at the sound of Jack's voice from behind him, Daniel turned swiftly. In doing so, he caught his forearm on the desk and his arm and hand exploded in pain.
He bent over, instinctively protecting his arm despite the fact that the damage was internal and days' old. Gasping, he nodded when Jack asked if he was okay, trying to downplay how much it had hurt. "What are you doing here? How'd you get in?"
"Your door was open."
"Oh." Remembering how desperate he'd been to take one of the painkillers, Daniel admitted to himself he might not have shut the door completely behind him when he'd entered his apartment. He straightened a bit and looked up at Jack.
Jack frowned at the computer screen behind Daniel as he tossed a large, brown envelope onto his desk. "I thought Fraiser said no work for at least one week—"
"It wasn't anything urgent or complicated, just something to keep me busy for a while. No more taxing than a crossword puzzle." Daniel could feel sweat dripping down his back. He'd been warm from the physical activity in Mrs. Larkins' apartment but he'd put that down to her keeping the temperature warmer than his own comfort zone. But now it felt like he'd put the heat on full blast.
"Yeah, well, it looks like that crossword puzzle jumped out and beat the crap out of you."
Before Daniel could answer, his doorbell rang. He stood and brushed by Jack, laboriously climbing the two steps to the foyer and his door.
"Doctor Jackson." Mrs. Larkins stood there holding out the black band of his sling. "I found this and thought you might have—" She spotted Jack behind him and smiled as Daniel reached out for the sling. "Colonel O'Neill. Good, I think Doctor Jackson may have overdone it while giving me a hand. I did insist I could finish cleaning up the mess but he was persistent."
Jack gave Daniel a sidelong glance that bordered on amusement and a frown. "I'm trying to wean him from that pesky little habit but he persists in doing it."
Daniel refrained from rolling his eyes; he could have admitted that he didn't want to look childish in front of his neighbour but truth be told, he was afraid it would exacerbate his headache.
"Maybe you'd be so good as to take him out for supper? I offered to share mine but he—"
"Not to worry, ma'am. I've got that taken care of already."
Mrs. Larkins grinned up at Jack. "You're a good boy." Then she turned her focus on Daniel, her eyes narrowing. "You behave now and take it easy. I should have stopped you earlier, young man. While I do appreciate your help, I do not want to be held responsible for any complications you might—"
"I'm fine, Mrs. Larkins. I was just going to sit down and put my feet up." He held up the sling. "And my arm."
"You do that. And you make sure you don't visit any of those foreign lands for a good long time. Stung by a scorpion. How many people go south and never even see one."
Daniel leaned wearily against the wall as Jack shut the door behind his neighbour. He held up the sling, wordlessly asking for help to get it back on. He shut his eyes as Jack slid it over his head and eased his aching arm into it.
"Thanks." He opened his eyes just in time to see Jack's fingers near his cheek and press down on his skin.
"You've got a fever."
"I'm just hot." He pulled away in irritation.
"Of course you're hot. You've got a fever. And you remember what the doc said if—"
"To get my ass to the infirmary if my fever spiked over 99.9. Yes, Jack, I know. And I'm not feverish, I'm just—"
"You take anything yet?"
"Okay. Get your butt into the kitchen. I brought some Chinese, figured you'd find cooking a little awkward with just the one hand."
"I'm not hungry—"
"There's some soup. Rice. That'll do for starters."
"Since you decided to give yourself a workout today, despite Fraiser's orders, and since you say you haven't exhausted yourself and given yourself a fever, then you must be starving." Jack pointed towards the kitchen. "Go, sit. I'll get the Tylenol just in case you do develop a fever later on and then once you've filled your stomach, put your feet up and rested, we'll take your temperature and see if we need to get your sorry ass back to the mountain."
Too drained to even contemplate arguing, he did as Jack ordered. Jack followed him into the kitchen and by the time Daniel pulled out a chair and gratefully eased into it, Jack had found the Tylenol and plopped two of them in front of Daniel. A glass of water followed, then plates and utensils.
Daniel took the pills, then unenthusiastically picked up a spoon and stared at the steaming soup. The odours coming from the various containers were nauseating. He took a small sip of the egg drop soup and realized at that moment he was hungry. When he finished half the soup, Jack put some rice, vegetables and meat onto a plate and handed it to him. By now the Vicodin was kicking in and the throbbing in his head and arm had decreased to a point that was bearable.
The soup had gone down easily but the meat and vegetables turned his stomach the moment he ate some. He managed a bit of rice instead, but ended up leaving it and finishing the soup. Despite the heat from the liquid, Daniel began feeling chilled.
"You wanna go lie down for a bit?" Jack speared a piece of broccoli and put it in his mouth.
Actually, Daniel did want to go lie down. But not while Jack was here. He reached for the nearest container. "I'll just clean up and go—"
"I got it." Jack was faster and pulled the container towards him. "You go lie down."
"I'll go relax on the couch," Daniel amended. He stood, feeling the ache of fever down through his spine and into his hips.
What he'd eaten was sitting heavily in his stomach even though the majority of it had been liquid. "No, thanks. But help yourself." He walked across to the living room and sat on his couch. He slid his ass down so he could rest his neck on the back, and careful of the antiques, rested his feet on the coffee table. He'd rather have curled up in his bed, under the covers for warmth, but he was here now and it would do. He grabbed a small throw pillow and placed it on his lap.
He stared mindlessly at the artwork hanging on the opposite wall while listening to Jack cleaning up and whistling something off key. If he squinted just so, the edges of the artwork shimmered with reflecting lights, almost like a rainbow. Or an aura. He thought it odd that it almost felt familiar.
His eyes grew heavy and he let them drift shut. He shivered but at least he wasn't hurting anymore; except for the fever-ache, the pain had receded to an almost memory. The sounds of cleanup faded, and he drifted.
He startled awake to the sensation of something resting against his chest and legs. He opened his eyes just long enough to see Jack spreading a blanket over him. Fatigue had him in its grip, though, and pulled him back under just as he felt Jack's fingers touch his cheek.
He drifted in and out of sleep, aware of the low drone of the television, of the rustle of the chair as Jack shifted, or the squeak of the floor whenever Jack walked by to refill his coffee cup. He slightly resented the fact that Jack had taken the comfy chair in his office/den while Daniel was on the less comfortable, fancier couch. Still, he felt safe and somewhere deep in his mind he knew he should make an effort to wake up and entertain Jack; but he realized his friend was here for him, and that was okay.
- - - - - -
Jack placed his coffee cup on the coffee table and took a moment to rest his fingers on Daniel's cheeks. He registered warmth, but at least the shivering had stopped. Jack knew he was breaking Fraiser's directives but Daniel really did look a little better after having slept for a couple of hours. And all Fraiser would do would be to ply him with Tylenol for the fever and Vicodin for the pain and let him sleep. Which was exactly what Jack had done for Daniel; the only difference was that he was on a couch instead of in bed.
Jack picked up his cup and headed for the kitchen for more coffee. Just as he passed the door, though, he heard voices right outside, in the hallway. Familiar voices. He opened the door quickly before the doorbell rang.
"Colonel." Carter stood there, hand extended, fingers barely an inch from the buzzer.
"Carter. Teal'c. Just landed, I presume?"
"Yes, sir. Just a couple of hours ago. We, um, heard that Daniel had been released and wanted to see—"
"Come on in." Jack stepped aside, allowing the rest of his team to enter. "He's sleeping."
"No, he's not." Daniel's voice was groggy as he pushed the blanket away and lowered his feet to the floor.
Carter flashed Jack an apologetic smile as she went into the living room, acknowledging that they'd just woken Daniel up.
"How are you doing?"
"I'm okay. I heard you had the um... ha'taks. Did you fly them back?"
Jack took out two more mugs and poured the last of the coffee into them as Carter enthusiastically began talking about the two ships in orbit around Earth. He grabbed a bag of cookies that he'd found in one of the cupboards earlier and placed that on a tray, along with the coffee and a glass of orange juice for Daniel.
Jack didn't miss the look Carter threw his way as he handed her a coffee. Daniel was groggy and although he seemed interested in the conversation, it was apparent to anyone who knew him that he was making an effort. He took the juice Jack handed him but after only one small sip, he rested the glass on his thigh.
When Daniel finally stood and excused himself to go to the bathroom, Carter hurriedly turned to whisper to Jack. "Janet told me that Daniel was better. He looks awful and I think he's got a fever."
"Yeah, I know," Jack answered in as soft a voice. "He helped out a neighbour earlier today and I think he overdid it. Look, I'm going to stay the night, keep an eye on him and if his fever's not better come morning, I'm going to personally drive him to the infirmary."
"Sir, the venom. I don't know if we shouldn't bring him back tonight—"
"DoctorFraiser informed us the poison had been metabolized and was no longer a danger to DanielJackson." Teal'c leaned forward and put his coffee cup on the coffee table. "What he is experiencing is a residual weakness due to—"
"I know that," Carter interrupted. "But somehow I don't think Janet would let Daniel stay here if she knew he was feverish so soon after being released—"
"She wouldn't. But if this thing is just going to run its course with a bit of sleep and Tylenol, then he'll be more comfortable in his own bed than in the infirmary." Hearing the toilet flush, Jack quickly stood and jogged up the steps, arriving at the bathroom door just as Daniel opened it.
"Time for bed." Jack stood blocking Daniel's way back to the living room.
Daniel's eyes shifted to his friends, who were watching. He lowered his eyes and gave a curt nod.
Calling out over his shoulder, Jack said, "Say goodnight, kids. Daniel's gonna hit the sack."
Immediately Carter came over and gave Daniel a quick hug. "I'll call tomorrow, okay?"
Daniel nodded. The brighter light in the bathroom seemed to augment the glassy look in his eyes. His face was flushed and there were shadows under his eyes. Daniel had definitely looked better earlier this morning before his release.
"As will I." Teal'c held out his arm and Daniel clasped it, smiling weakly at the Jaffa.
Jack walked both his teammates to the door, then locked and bolted it behind them. When he turned around, Daniel was entering the bedroom. He stopped in the doorway and looked back at Jack. "I, um, might need help with my shirt... and—"
"I got it."
It didn't take long before Jack had Daniel lying comfortably in bed. "Don't go to sleep just yet." Jack popped into the master bathroom and rummaged in the medicine cabinet until he found a thermometer. He paced around the bedroom, slightly uncomfortable, until the thermometer beeped. He hurried back, took the thing out of Daniel's mouth, and checked the readout.
"It's not high."
"That's with fever reducer, Daniel."
"It'll pass. I just need to—"
"Yes, you need to sleep. You also need to get your ass back so that Fraiser can look you—"
"It's just a fever. I've had worse when I've had a cold."
"It's not the same thing and you know it."
"Why are you so... adamant over this?"
"You got stung by a bug that ended up killing close to 200 Jaffa. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been scared that you..."
"But I didn't."
"It was close. Fraiser was worried."
"Oh, come on, it couldn't have been that bad." Daniel frowned up at Jack. "I even managed to spot the enemy when... when..."
"Daniel?" Jack asked, a tendril of fear creeping up his spine when Daniel's gaze seemed to focus inward.
"I knew that man was a Jaffa... he was... there was... orange."
Memory came back lightning quick. "Yeah, you mentioned something about—"
"I was seeing auras. It was... unsettling. And pretty."
"Yeah. You were... you all were..."
"I was what? I had a colour?"
"Yeah." A small smile spread on Daniel's face.
"And? I wasn't orange, was I? Orange is bad?"
"Teal'c was orange. You were turquoise. And blue. And bright."
"Blue is good?"
Daniel nodded, yawning. "Blue is very good."
"Maybe it's subconscious. You know, blue... Air force?"
"I should do some research on auras; see if there's any meaning to the colours I was seeing."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Daniel, the poison had you hallucinating so bad that half the time you had no idea where you were. I'm sure there's no mystical meaning in anything you saw." When Daniel turned to glower at him, Jack quickly added, "Not that it didn't come in handy, you figuring out the Jaffa and all. But that was just a coincidence. Nothing more, nothing less."
His words were met with silence and Jack cleared his throat awkwardly. "I'll, uh, just get you some more Tylenol and water." He quickly escaped the bedroom, got the medication and a bottle of water from the fridge, and returned to Daniel. Even as he handed the pills to Daniel, Jack noted the fine sheen of sweat beading Daniel's upper lip.
He twisted open the cap on the water bottle and handed it to Daniel. "I'll be spending the night on your couch. If you need something..."
"You don't have to, I'm fine." Daniel swallowed the pills and half the water.
"If your fever's not gone by morning—"
"Yeah, infirmary. I heard you the first time." Daniel slid under the covers, curling onto his side and pulling the blankets up past his chin.
- - - - - -
"I can't believe after all these years, you're still afraid of Janet." Daniel sighed as he took in the bare, cement walls of the infirmary. "I told you I was fine."
"I don't know about you," Jack said, leaning closer to him, "but a fever over 101 doesn't really constitute to being 'fine' in anyone's book, especially Fraiser's."
"Chicken." Daniel was tempted to make a face but to be honest, he'd felt horrible when he'd woken up. It was only now, thanks to whatever Janet had fed into his IV, that he was starting to feel better. A lot better.
"Damn straight I am," Jack answered proudly. "I'd prefer my ass not be a pincushion for Fraiser's retribution." He patted Daniel's hand. "I have a much better use for my ass, such as plunking it down on a folding chair by a certain lake in Minnesota."
"One you'd be familiar with if you'd accept my invitation to come up and go fishing."
"Two hours after you got your appendix cut out of you. You never took up my offer—"
"You never offered again." A sudden thought came to Daniel. "Anyways, the place is full of mosquitoes."
"Yeah, so? It's the great outdoors. It's not like you've never been bitten by—"
"Stingers, Jack. They have these stingers and they suck your blood—"
"Daniel." Jack patted the arm that wasn't in a sling. "You got stung by a scorpion, which, just so you're clear on this, has a stinger that's more than a tad bigger than a mosquito's."
"Promise?" he asked, feeling a sudden childish need to be told that there weren't any more bad critters out there to hurt him. He eyed the IV suspiciously.
"Honest. I can't vouch for the fish in the lake, but I can promise there are no scorpions in Minnesota."
"As long as you promise, I'm willing to sit my ass down in a folding chair right next to yours and do some fishing, or attempt to—"
"So... it's a date?"
"Me, you and the mosquitoes." Daniel yawned and slunk down deeper into his pillows. "Just don't leave without me this time."
Author's Comments: Thanks to devra for the ending - I suck at those. And obviously I suck at titles. Note that this was supposed to be a combination of the words scorpion and psychedlic. :)
to contact me: link removed, since nobody bothers to use it
DISCLAIMER:The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.