TITLE: Rule Number One

AUTHOR: Pheral

EMAIL: kamilshka@hotmail.com

STORY STATUS: Completed

SEQUEL/SERIES INFO: N/A

SEASON: Four

SPOILERS: minor for ‘The Devil You Know’

CATEGORIES: Hurt/Comfort, Action/Adventure, Drama

PAIRINGS: None

Content Level: 13+ for violence

CONTENT WARNINGS: violence, some torture, Jack-whumping galore!

SUMMARY: Upon discovery of a new race and a regime of slavery it is once again up to SG1 to save the day – and themselves.

ARCHIVE PERMISSIONS: ThePointOfOrigin site, Helio, JackFic site

DISCLAIMER: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, Gekko Productions, this story is for fun (though I don’t think Jack enjoyed himself) and I sure as hell didn’t get any money. No copyright infringement is intended and you can’t post this story anywhere else without asking me first damnit!! But I’ll probably say yes anyway, so go ahead and chance your luck kiddo.

FILE SIZE: 150KB

AUTHORS COMMENTS: Hell yes, I have comments. Thanks be to my beta Ruth for keeping me interested and picking up my mistakes, and many thanks to the powers that created Stargate and Jack, and then letting me have my way with ‘em! Feedback is always appreciated and constructive criticism always noted. Enjoy.

Rule Number One

‘Ah, trees. Nothing like broadening the horizons eh?’

Jack O’Neill turned despondently to watch his team follow him through the rippling Stargate. They stepped through after him silently and the blue circle dissipated to nothing.

Jack’s wise cracking had become such an integral part of SG-1 that they hardly twitched at his sarcastic remark. He watched his team step onto the alien planet and immediately assume their respective roles. Teal’c straightened his back, keeping a firm hold on his staff weapon and scanning the horizon for possible threats. Major Carter was checking the MALP and their kit, ready to obey her commanding officer. Daniel was sneezing.

‘Hi ho, off to work we go. Let’s move out kids,’ O’Neill ordered flatly. He had been rather disheartened of late due to a lengthened period of down-time. This had been due to Carter contracting a nasty cough and actually managing to give herself a Pneumothorax, or ‘popping an extra breathing hole in her lung’ as Jack had delicately put it.

For the Colonel, the novelty of time off had disappeared within a week, he had made the effort and gone fishing, he had fished and finished fishing. Then he had realised that he had nothing else to do and had fallen into deep and all consuming boredom. This had been compounded by General Hammond’s insistence that SG-1 relax and enjoy their down-time. No sneaking a mission in with another team for Colonel O’Neill, and he had tried.

Finally, for lack of anything better to do, he had resigned himself to following Daniel around as he introduced Teal’c to the concept of museums. After far too many hours of ancients helmets and weapons in dusty cases, Jack was desperate to get his hands on some weapons that actually worked.

But his initial excitement at a new mission had been dashed upon the site of trees. Here we go again, he thought, same old same old, and monotony seemed poised to claim yet another few days of his life.

Therefore, when they had first spotted signs of activity on the planet, it was with a fair amount of interest and hope that Colonel O’Neill led his team closer to the sounds of heavy work that drifted on the light breeze.

SG-1 reached the crest of a thickly wooded hill and fell to their stomachs, their eyes roaming over the sight before them. A giant quarry lay before them, swarming with large greyish figures. Colonel O’Neill put his binoculars to his eyes to get a better look and frowned, ‘Carter, what does this look like to you?’

Major Carter stared through her own binoculars at the large craggy looking creatures that were cutting away at the oddly yellow coloured rock. Amongst the hordes there were several figures that were totally different, slight in frame and dressed in clean, light coloured robes. They seemed to be moving amongst the other species, motivating them to work harder with a none too gentle hand.

‘Looks like slavery to me Sir,’ Carter answered her CO, handing her binoculars to Daniel. ‘It looks like those figures in white are in control.’

‘Yeah,’ Jack muttered, ‘whadda ya think the chances are that these guys have a union?’

‘Jack!’ Daniel gripped the binoculars tighter. ‘Over to the far left, one of them has been ordered to leave for something I think, we could go and find out what’s going on,’ he passed the binoculars back to Carter as O’Neill nodded.

‘Okay Daniel, you’ll get your shot at chit-chat. Let’s go.’

He led his team around the left side of the quarry at a jog, staying in the dense foliage as they approached the area that Daniel had seen the figure leave. Seeing a shadowy shape running ahead of them Daniel stepped forward, putting a gently restraining hand on Jack’s shoulder. ‘Maybe I should…y’know…so we don’t panic it?’ he suggested quietly and Jack nodded, falling back a few feet behind the eager archaeologist. Daniel made sure to approach the figure noisily – he didn’t want to surprise an already panicked alien. Crashing through the bushes towards it, Daniel saw the alien stop and turn slowly. It had grey stone coloured skin, but it looked soft like human flesh. Its large build made it look like a brute from the distance but up close Daniel could see that the creature was actually quite lithe, muscle stretched over long athletic limbs. It looked tailor made for punishing work and heavy loads. It moved gracefully but its slitted eyes gave the distinct impression of suspicion and paranoia.

Daniel chose to put this down to enforced labour and slavery, and took a hesitant and non-threatening step forward.

‘Er, hi, I’m Daniel Jackson. These are my friends, we’re from Earth,’ he paused, hoping for a reaction from the creature. He heard a noise from behind him somewhere then heard and felt Jack spin round, his gun held high. Before Daniel had time to react he saw the creature in front of him open his mouth and emit a sudden and piercing scream. Its wail hit Daniel’s head like a brick wall and he felt the ground rush up to meet him, even as shots from a P90 came from somewhere behind him. Writhing on the floor he felt others fall to the ground, and the gunshots ceased as the stunning power of the creature’s wail rendered SG-1 unconscious.

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

Jack was pretty sure he didn’t want to know where he was. Maybe it was the incessant throbbing emanating from the centre of his skull, maybe it was the stale, dead smell that filled his nostrils, or maybe it was the harsh pulling pain on his wrists. Whatever it was, he knew he wouldn’t like it.

All he remembered was seeing the alien open its mouth amazingly wide and then hearing a sound from behind him, whirling round and raising his gun to a group of aliens bearing down on him. The next thing he knew they were all screaming at him and, boy, had it hurt. He thought he remembered getting off a few shots before he passed out, and an optimistic part of him raised his head to suggest meekly that he might have killed them all by pure chance.

Deciding he was going to have to face consciousness eventually, he dragged open his reluctant eyelids and blinked. For a moment he couldn’t see anything, and was temporarily glad – ‘nothing’ is better than ‘an impossible situation’ by a long shot, he thought. Then someone moved away from a light source some metres in front of him and he was confronted by an impossible situation. An orange glow fell on his face as he cursed to himself.

He looked around him and identified the rest of his team. They were all sitting in a smallish room, it looked like a cave of some kind, it was certainly dark enough and it smelt of air that hadn’t seen the surface for years. His team were slumped against the same wall as him, Teal’c to his left and Carter and Daniel to his right. He could feel his hands constricted tightly by what felt like metal manacles and with a little wriggling he discovered that they were shackled to the wall that he leant against.

Sensing a movement he turned to Teal’c and, still mindful of the alien in the room, whispered his name, ‘Teal’c!’

‘O’Neill, I am awake.’

‘How did…?’ Jack’s hushed reply was cut short as he saw the alien jerk round. He couldn’t see much of it as it was silhouetted in front of the meagre light source, but it looked as big as the grey aliens they had tried to talk to, and now it seemed unsure as to whether SG-1 were awake or not. It was standing stock still, apparently looking directly at them.

Okay, rule number one Jack, if you don’t want to be singled out, keep your mouth shut.

‘Hey you, squealin’ banshee, I don’t think much of your hospitality. You have a complaints box?’ Colonel Jack O’Neill enquired innocently. The alien emitted a nasty grunt and started towards him.

Ah, Jack’s mind nodded to itself in mock understanding, the ancient art of staying silent while flapping your mouth and creating noise. Very good.

His sarcasm was whipped away, along with his breath, as the alien’s fist impacted his stomach with frightening ferocity and he gasped, rolling forward and emptying his gut of the last two meals he had consumed.

‘And as you can see,’ he gasped, spitting, ‘I don’t think much of your cuisine either.’

Great, his mind screeched to itself, now you’ve lost complete control, why don’t you just tell him he’s a stone-faced fool and get it over with?!

‘And by the way, you’re a sto…’

A harsh backhand from the alien interrupted his growing tirade of insults, and he rolled his eyes at his own sheer bull-headedness as blood gathered in his mouth.

He heard a quite grunt from his right and guessed that Daniel had awoken, he hoped he had the sense to stay quiet, something I don’t see to have quite mastered yet, Jack spat to himself angrily.

‘So.’

Jack lifted his head again at the deep rasping sound of the animal’s scarred voice box.

‘Where did you start from green man?’

Colonel O’Neill spared a glance towards his camos and squinted at his questioner. Talking seemed unnatural to the beast, certainly doesn’t look bred for intellectual evenings at the opera, he mused sarcastically. ‘We’re from earth, we’re explorers,’ he replied, stealing Daniel’s line.

The alien paused it’s pacing and held a breath in momentary confusion. It leant down to the ground and gathered a handful of dirt. ‘You’re from earth?’ he asked, letting the dirt fall to the ground slowly and looking at it and then them in confusion.

‘Ah,’ Daniel started, ‘no, that’s what we call our planet, Earth, it’s very far away.’ He spoke slowly, hoping to get through to the less than terribly intelligent beast. It held another breath as it pondered this new information.

Probably can’t breathe and think at the same time, Jack sneered nastily, more than a little peeved at their current situation. ‘Look, hate to rush you, but I’d rather like to know why we’re being treated like this.’

The alien growled from deep in its throat and took a threatening step towards the Colonel, it stopped alarmingly close to Jack’s face and snorted, ‘you do not talk to me in that way.’

Jack screwed his nose up as he inhaled the alien’s foul breath, ‘oh man, you seriously need some breath treatment big guy.’

The animal stamped the floor hard, raising dust from its dry surface, he fumed and grabbed Jack’s greying hair tightly in one of his huge gnarled paws. Claws protruded partially from his flesh and their tips dug into Jack’s scalp enough to draw blood. Jack winced as the animal pulled his head back and stared down into his face, ‘I was told to keep you alive green man, they never said I couldn’t have a little fun with you new ones. I rarely get that chance,’ He snarled, his smile growing into a grin as Jack struggled to breath. A thin line of blood ran from his scalp down his face, following his jaw line and collecting at his chin. He heard Daniel clear his voice, hoping to distract the creature’s attention away from Jack, ‘we came in peace to your planet, we never meant you harm, but we’ll be missed if you hold us like this. We have to report back to our people.’

Ignoring the fact that the comment came from Daniel, the creature replied to Jack, tightening his grip slightly to emphasise his point, ‘you will be missed. You will not report back. We will hold you. For as long as we wish. And then we will kill you,’ he ground out the words through clenched teeth, and his breath washed over Jack’s cringing face. ‘Threats are all well and good,’ Jack replied through a constricted throat, ‘but could you go over there if you’re gonna breathe – I’m running outta oxygen down here.’

Carter, who had been watching and listening as the situation got increasingly volatile, let a small smile flit across her face at her CO’s remark. It soon turned to a cringe though as their alien captor clenched a huge paw and brought it down with brutal force on O’Neill’s unprotected head. She heard him let out a faint gasp and then fall silent. From her position she couldn’t see him, and despite pulling on her restraints she wasn’t able to get a good look.

Instead she turned her energies back to the alien. It had backed off slightly, seemingly to calm itself, and was regarding them with something approaching hatred. To Carter it looked slightly different from the creatures on the surface, it was rougher somehow and covered with nasty cuts and marks. It’s gaze was more malicious too, she could well believe it had spent far too much time down in this dark pit that they had been thrown into. Through the gloom she could see only one door to their room, it was half solid and half bars but she could see nothing outside of it.

The alien seemed to have gained a sufficient grasp of its temper and turning to Teal’c it motioned to O’Neill and asked, ‘is he your leader?’

Teal’c stared defiantly at the alien, reluctant to name O’Neill as their commanding officer. The dilemma was taken from him though as Colonel O’Neill answered, his head hanging down but his voice strong, ‘Colonel Jack O’Neill, leader of this little band yes. And you are?’

The alien nodded and abruptly headed for the door.

‘…going, apparently.’ Jack finished dryly, slowly raising his head. ‘Is everyone okay?’

‘Yes Sir, are you okay Sir?’ Carter asked in concern as the alien closed the door behind him.

‘Fine,’ O’Neill replied, squeezing his eyes shut as he felt out the manacles around his wrists, ‘any of you able to slip free?’

Negative responses came from his team as O’Neill struggled with his restrained wrists. ‘Well, this is a pleasant situation. Any insights? Daniel?’ he asked, wanting to keep his team’s minds busy. Daniel looked up, raising his eyebrows in moderate surprise, ‘oh, well, erm, it seems to me that this species are slaves of some kind,’ He pulled a disgusted expression at his own inability to think of something to say. Jack snorted uncomfortably, ‘banshee-man didn’t seem very oppressed.’

‘He seemed different,’ Carter commented, ‘a lot more malicious than the ones on the surface. He spoke like he was serving someone but seems to enjoy it.’

‘Glad somebody’s having fun round here,’ O’Neill muttered, watching a drip of blood fall from his jaw and land on his pants leg. The dark crimson looked black in the orange light as it soaked into his BDU’s. He tore his eyes from it and looked up to Teal’c, ‘can you break free, courtesy of junior?’

‘I fear not O’Neill, this metal seems to be very strong indeed. It seems we are at the creature’s mercy.’ Daniel ceased his own futile attempts to pull his hands free and wrinkled his nose – trying to adjust the position of his glasses, ‘there was no sign that any of these aliens use the Stargate, no trails worn into the ground, no guards. They might not know what it is.’

O’Neill huffed, feeling crotchety due to the axe-like pains grinding their way through his head, ‘going somewhere with this Danny?’

‘Er,’ Daniel floundered for a response, ‘Er…’

‘Right,’ Jack leant his back against the wall, casually ignoring the stammering archaeologist completely, ‘soon Hammond will send a rescue team, they’ll hopefully meet no problems at the gate and all we need to do is concentrate on getting out of here. Or at least getting in a better position than this,’ he clanked his chains noisily to illustrate his point, ‘hopefully they’ll move us soon and we’ll get a chance for escape.’

‘And bearing in mind these aliens are enslaved,’ Carter started, ‘we might be able to enlist their help, if we pay the right price.’

‘You want to buy them out?’ Jack asked

Daniel shook his head, taking over from Carter, ‘more like offer them another option Jack, Sam’s right and if they don’t know how the Stargate works they may have no escape from their enslavers. They might welcome our help.’

A harsh metal clang indicated movement at the door and SG1 fell silent as it opened and three of the aliens entered, led by the one that had spoken to them before. Carter was encouraged to note that two of them looked more like the surface dwellers, more slight and unscarred. As they moved nearer one made eye contact with her and she saw no malice, only fear and uncertainty. She decided that ‘buying’ their way out was becoming a distinct possibility.

The small group immediately moved to O’Neill and the biggest planted a huge paw on the Colonel’s shoulder, shoving him forwards so that he could get to the shackles around his wrists. Using a metal key the alien unlocked the chains and pushed O’Neill’s hands down. Jack shook his hands gently, trying to reintroduce a good blood flow. The alien grabbed his upper arm roughly and yanked him to his feet, pulling him swiftly to the door. As the other aliens moved close behind him he just got time to turn his head and flash what he hoped was a comforting smile to his team,

‘hold the fort kids,’ and the door banged shut behind him.

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

O’Neill was led no farther then the cave next to the one where his team were still held. He could hear Daniel’s voice through the door, but not what he was saying. He was led over to a solitary stool in the middle of the relatively cramped space, and was sat down forcibly.

Although now he was unchained he was desperate to initiate an escape, he knew he would be a fool to think now was the time for it. He stood little chance against four massive, well built aliens one of whom had a painfully strong death-grip on his right bicep. Plus there’s this screaming thing, Jack reminded himself, a sure dampener on any pledge for freedom.

The aliens had stopped moving and were merely standing tightly around him, silent and still.

Always keep the underdog waiting, Jack recalled the traditional behaviour during interrogation, domination, punishment or torture. Not liking the ring of the last one terribly, he shifted his thoughts to his team’s idea of enlisting help from the aliens.

‘So,’ he started conversationally, ‘what do you guys call yourselves?’

The slightest alien shifted slightly to look at Jack. ‘We are Athar,’ it replied with a gentle voice, not a voice that Jack would’ve associated with a thug.

‘And who,’ Jack continued, ‘are the others? The ones dressed in white?’

The largest answered quickly this time, in a deep gnarled voice, ‘you will soon see, green man,’ and the slighter aliens seemed to tense at the sound of his harsh voice. Jack was beginning to think that Carter was right about some of these species suffering more than others.

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

Daniel’s hands were starting to sting from his incessant wriggling, he had intensified his attempts to slip his hands free when they had taken Jack into the other room, and he was pulling anxiously at the chains now while he listened to Jack’s faint voice.

‘Athar,’ Carter mumbled, repeating what she heard the alien tell Jack, ‘never heard of them before.’ She listened for the answer to her CO’s next question, grunting when he was cut off by the bigger Atharian. She had given up trying to get free herself, she realised that short of dislocating her thumbs the only way she was going to get out of the chains was if her captors unlocked them – an idea that she still hadn’t lost complete hope in. The fact that the smaller Atharian had answered her CO’s first question gave her hope and she was determined to try and talk to one of them, separately from their bigger ‘brothers’. Things had gone very quiet in the room next door and she strained her ears for an indication that her CO was okay. Shortly she was rewarded with the sound of footsteps coming from the distance, at least four more aliens entering the room, a little shuffling and then silence.

‘Well howdy.’

Carter winced as she heard her CO’s confident voice tinged with sarcasm.

‘I’m guessing you’re the boss around here. Care to reveal why my team and I are being held down here?’

Daniel looked up and stopped wriggling as another, different sounding voice rang out. ‘Where did you come from, did you come through the circle?’ it asked urgently and none too politely. When there was no reply from the Colonel it rang out again,

‘You did! I see this! Can others come through? Will others come through?? They will! This is where you get your brashness I see!’ it continued, starting to answer it’s own questions, ‘You will tell us how to work the circle, how to call up the blue, you will tell us.’

‘Well, no, I don’t think so.’

Daniel heard Jack’s reply and waited tensely for the alien’s reaction. A small, naïve part of him said they’d just be disappointed that Jack hadn’t told them, and return him to the room with SG1. Perhaps that was what he would have presumed when he first joined the Stargate programme, but now he knew better, and he held his breath through the silence, waiting for what would come next.

He heard a scuffle suddenly in the other room, no words, it stilled and then there was a snap. Just a small, soft snap, and an intake of breath that he could barely hear, and then silence again. He turned to Carter, his expression desperate, ‘what was that? What was that?!’ he asked in a harsh whisper, staring into Carter’s miserable eyes. She didn’t answer him, merely shifted her gaze to the stone floor.

The alien voice rang out again, with a hint of triumph now, ‘tell us how to work the gate, when your others will come through. Tell us.’

There was quiet snap again, and then again, another snap, and Daniel squeezed his eyes shut as he heard Jack gasp this time, then silence. Daniel didn’t want to know what the sound was, even though in his heart he already knew. He couldn’t bear not being able to see his friend, being so helpless and yet subjected to his friend’s suffering.

Another snap and Daniel cursed. Daniel cursed every time Jack’s position made him the target, he cursed every time ‘Colonel’ meant he had to take the fall for everyone else, and he cursed every time Jack just took it, accepting the responsibility as his alone, and bearing the pain for all of them without complaint. Another snap and Daniel gripped his chains hard in his left hand, whispering in a harsh hiss, ‘for god’s sake!’

Carter stared at the inside of her eyelids as she heard the alien repeat its question slowly. ‘Tell us how to work the circle, and we will not harm you.’

She jerked her head up as she heard her CO answer in a riled voice, ‘well it’s a little late for that don’t ya think?!’ and despite the words, she smiled at hearing his voice. Whatever situation they were in, the Colonel’s strong voice could always bring her back to her role, scientist, explorer, soldier. The resurge in confidence would have been helpful if they hadn’t been in such a hopeless situation, they could do nothing active at this time, nothing to forward their plans of escape.

Scouring the room with her eyes for the second time she saw nothing of use or interest. She didn’t listen to the next two snaps and the brief yelps that met her ears, she cut off the sound and turned to Daniel, who was staring at the wall with a barely disguised frantic expression on his face. He looked like he was about to scream, and she decided that maintaining the sanity of the archaeologist would be her task,

‘Daniel, how come there is a gate here, but the Athar don’t know how to use it? Surely if the Goa’uld put it here there would be some stories, or information, or they would return to claim the planet?’

Daniel lifted his head with raised eyebrows, his intense anger disrupted by Sam’s question. Despite their situation, his mind latched onto the question as it always did with puzzles and mysteries, running away with the query and dislodging all other thoughts from his mind, ‘well maybe they have come back at some point, that might explain the aliens eagerness to know how to use it.’ He paused briefly, his mind brought back to Jack’s predicament.

A muffled impact came from the room and he heard Jack breathe out with a whine, another impact and the whine intensified. Daniel opened his mouth, about to shout out the questioner, but he had nothing to say. He closed his mouth despondently and looked to Carter, ‘I don’t know anything about them Sam, I don’t know how we can stop this – I don’t know anything!’

Teal’c’s deep voice commented gently, ‘this is not your fault Daniel Jackson, there is no way to stop this at this time, we must be ready for the time when there is a way to escape from this place, that is all we can do. Why do the people of this planet not know how the use the gate?’ he asked, following Carter’s example and trying to keep their minds busy.

He listened to their speculation as they tried to ignore the sounds coming from the next room. Teal’c’s jaw was clenched hard as he heard Jack cry out once, and quickly cut it off again. He knew he was trying to spare his team the sound of his suffering, O’Neill was a proud and selfless warrior, and would not let his team down. Teal’c still put his faith in the fact that O’Neill was untied, despite the fact that it sounded very much like he was being incapacitated.

As if to punctuate his thoughts another impact sounded from the room and he heard O’Neill cough harshly. Another thump and the coughing stopped, another and Teal’c heard Jack groan.

‘Oh come on,’ Carter murmured, staring numbly at the dirty floor. Her mind had shut down, she was no longer thinking – all her senses were focused on the sounds coming from the other room. Despite herself she was straining to hear any sound from her CO, any confirmation that he was still okay. She closed her eyes slowly as she heard the alien repeat the question for the fifth time.

‘Tell me,’ it grated, ‘how to use the circle. How do we make it blue? How can we stop others coming through? Tell me!’

‘Oh I wouldn’t worry,’ O’Neill’s shaken voice replied, with a welcome wagon like this you’re not gonna have tourist problems.’

Carter smiled too hard, so hard that it turned into a grimace and she could feel her face contorting and her eyes moistening, oh no soldier, this is not the time, she admonished herself sternly and screwed her face up hard, gritting her teeth as she pulled herself together. She didn’t have to wait long for distraction as the three members of SG1 lifted their eyes to the door which was swung open, clanging metallically. The huge Athar entered the room dragging a stumbling Colonel O’Neill by the arm. He threw him hard and Jack hit the wall where he had been sitting before hard, his face screwed up in pain. Carter could see him cradling his arms up against his chest gingerly but it was too dark for her to make anything out except the dark lines of blood on his face. He sank down to his haunches as the Athar moved over to him and grabbed his hands. Jack hissed sharply as the alien pulled his arms behind him and then put them back in the metal manacles. Even as the alien left and closed the door, Jack’s face stayed creased with pain – his eyes closed and his breathing panicked. He was leaning forward, away from the wall, seemingly in an effort to avoid crushing his hands.

‘Sir?’ Carter asked, leaning forwards to try to get a good look at his past Daniel.

‘Oh god,’ She heard Daniel curse quietly, ‘they broke your fingers didn’t they?’

Jack bowed his head in exhaustion and let out a sigh. The aliens had broken his three middle fingers on his right hand and his index finger and little finger on his left hand. The killer in him took a small comfort in the fact that they had left his right trigger finger intact. It wasn’t as if he had any weapons to fire but it still gave him hope. His fingers throbbed mercilessly as he hung forwards from the manacles, trying to keep his hands from touching anything – the slightest movements provoking stabs of pain.

‘Sir? Are you okay?’ Carter asked, needing to her his voice.

‘Yes Major,’ he breathed quietly, ‘I’m fine. Won’t be eating finger food for a while.’ He relaxed his face into a weary frown, ‘they seemed desperate to learn about the gate, seemed to have seen it work but don’t know how to operate it.’ He turned his head slightly, indicating that he wanted input from his team.

‘The possible symbol combinations are almost endless,’ Daniel replied, while staring in concern at Jack’s face, ‘they may know how to dial but just not know any addresses. They could have tried for weeks without success and given up.’

‘Sir,’ Carter leaned forward to peer at O’Neill’s tired form. ‘The alien that…questioned you… it sounded different.’

O’Neill nodded, his eyes still closed, ‘yeah, he looked more human, not necessarily the same species as these Atharians. I don’t know – we really need to find out what’s going on round here, and then leave it behind.’

Teal’c nodded solemnly, ‘I believe Major Carter is correct about the smaller Atharians, they may be open to discussion, they seemed less eager to incur harm that the others.’

O’Neill snorted quietly. They may have been less eager, but they had still helped to hold him still while his fingers were broken. He shifted uncomfortably, breathing shallowly so as to limit the pain emanating from his chest. He half suspected that he had cracked ribs too. Although being manacled was very uncomfortable, he was partially glad that Carter couldn’t get to him, he could just picture her trying to splint each finger individually and the idea didn’t exactly scream ‘fun’ to him at that point.

His thoughts were interrupted as the sound of soft footsteps floated through the metal door and the lock screeched open again, the door swinging inwards slowly. One of the smaller aliens entered carefully, clutching two small bags in its arms. It looked nervous to Carter as it moved to kneel in front of the Colonel and she saw pity in its eyes as it set the bags on the ground.

‘I have brought water,’ it suggested nervously to Jack, and getting no response it opened a slit in the bag. ‘It has a powder in it, it gives energy. You will need it.’

This caught O’Neill’s attention and he frowned, ‘what do you mean?’

The alien swallowed nervously, throwing a cautious glance towards the door. ‘A member of the runners will come tonight to free you. You will be told more then,’ it held the water bag up to O’Neill’s mouth. He paused for a moment, well aware that accepting anything from these aliens could be a bad idea. But they had already theorised that these smaller ones were different from the others, and O’Neill was very thirsty. He sighed again heavily and leant forward, letting the alien tip the liquid into his dry mouth. He swallowed gratefully, taking little bits of the bitter water at a time.

His thirst finally quenched, he leant back, wincing as the tip of a broken finger jarred against the wall behind him.

‘Why are you helping us?’ he asked, trying to keep the anger from his voice. The alien gathered its bags together hastily, climbing to its feet. ‘I have spent too long already, I should not be here, you will be told more tonight. Try to rest and expect movement in two tecks.’ With that it scuttled off, closing the door quietly behind it. Its behaviour saddened Carter, it was acting so nervously and afraid, its graceful athletic body was stooped in fear and its movements rendered jerky and paranoid by slavery and domination. It was such a beautiful creature, tarnished by its merciless lifestyle. She turned back to her CO, watching him lick his moist lips, ‘it said ‘the runners’ Sir. That may be some kind of splinter group. Some of the aliens that are opposed to their leaders.’

‘Do you believe they aim to free us and allow us to return through the Stargate?’ Teal’c queried. Daniel shook his head, ‘whether they do or not, it doesn’t seem that we have much of a choice, I mean – they have to be better than these guys. Don’t they?’

Jack raised his eyebrows briefly, not bothering to attempt an answer. He took a quick look around him and decided that he had just enough room to lie down. Pulling against his manacles for stability he gently slid himself sideways onto the cold ground, it wasn’t the most comfortable of positions with his arms wrenched behind him, but at least it allowed him to relax his battered muscles to a greater extent. He put his head down on the hard ground next to Daniel and closed his eyes again, trying to soothe the pounding headache that made his stomach lurch. He heard a soft, ‘Hey.’ From Daniel and felt the archaeologist gently tap his leg against Jack’s head. He lifted his head gratefully and Daniel manoeuvred his thigh so that Jack could rest his head on it. He sighed in relief, the throbbing easing somewhat now that his head was elevated, ‘better try to rest kids, we’ll need energy to cope with whatever these guys throw at us,’ and he fell silent, giving in to the darkness that had threatened to claim him since the interrogation.

Daniel looked to Carter in concern, their eyes meeting in silent understanding as O’Neill’s breathing evened out and he relaxed into unconsciousness.

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

Daniel wrinkled his nose in discomfort as he tried to adjust his position without waking Jack. He had been sleeping for what seemed like about two hours, and Daniels butt was suffering the consequences badly. ‘Oh man, they’d better get here soon or I’ll be the one who’ll need help running somewhere,’ he groaned quietly. No reply came as Carter dozed uneasily beside him, her head resting on his shoulder. He was beginning to feel a bit like a cushion with two team mates numbing two separate limbs.

At least Teal’c isn’t lying on me, he thought gratefully, looking over to the massive Jaffa who sat silent and stock still, his back straight and eyes closed as he maintained a state of Kel No Rheem. It was interrupted abruptly as a loud thump loosened dust from the ceiling of their dark cell and Daniel looked up as he felt Sam stir, lifting her head from his shoulder. There was another quieter thump and more dust fell. Daniel threw a confused look at Carter and looked down to Jack. He hadn’t woken yet and now Daniel moved his leg beneath Jack's head, shaking him softly. Another thump and he looked up again to see a large chunk of dirt and dust fall to the cell floor. He saw movement in the ceiling and grey hands reached down, working at the small hole.

SG1’s eyes stayed locked on the widening hole until a face popped through, it latched onto O’Neill’s still form. ‘Wake him – we will need to move fast.’ The alien dropped from the ceiling, a good five metres high, and landed elegantly on the hard floor, maintaining eye contact with them all the time. Daniel smiled despite the situation, he could see why they called themselves ‘runners’ now, these creatures were less caked in dirt and their physiques were more pronounced – as if they had been free to move and exercise in a way that suited their build.

With the vibrations that the alien’s landing created Jack woke suddenly, blinking from the dust that had fallen on his face and eyes.

‘Hi,’ he offered, seeing the alien standing tall in front of him. The alien responded with what was almost a smile and then moved to Carter as another ‘runner’ fell from the ceiling.

‘It’s raining aliens,’ O’Neill commented under his breath and he lifted his head from Daniels lap, righting himself against the wall again and allowing his friend to stretch his flattened limbs. Jack cringed as stiffening fingers protested his movements and a tender stomach growled at him in warning as he flexed his muscles experimentally.

When the alien got to his manacles it was surprisingly gentle, obviously aware of his injuries. As Jack brought his freed hands round to his front he saw why. His broken fingers were ugly and swollen, they had turned a spectacular purple and green colour that he could see even in the meagre light, and they were curled over protectively. Just looking at them made them hurt more so he averted his eyes and held his hands close to his chest as he clambered to his feet. If his team has been about to fuss over him, they were denied the opportunity by the efficient aliens, their leader motioning to a rope that had been lowered through the hole. ‘We must be fast.’

Casting a quick glance to her CO and getting a nod from him, Carter grabbed for the rope and hauled herself up, feeling it also being pulled from above to help her ascent. O’Neill watched with an awkward expression as Daniel scaled the rope, he looked down to his mangled fingers and back up to Teal’c. He knew he would have to ask for help, but God, he hated relying on other people. His hands were so important to him, it was sickening to have to accept assistance. The alien caught his uncomfortable look and motioned for Teal’c to go next. ‘Will you accept my help Colonel Jack O’Neill of Earth?’

Jack met the alien’ eyes and sensed the question covered more than just his current predicament. Either way, he didn’t have much of a choice and he answered truthfully.

‘Sure.’

As Teal’c disappeared through the dark whole in the ceiling another alien popped down, hanging upside down from the gap. The one standing by O’Neill stepped forward, making his actions obvious and non-threatening. He reached forward and gripped the Colonel around the waist and easily lifted him up off the ground. Jack made a little surprised noise and made to grab the alien’s shoulders to steady himself, he knocked his hand though and cursed quietly at the resulting pain. He felt strong hands grip below his armpits and the other Athar had him then, pulling him up through the hole in the ceiling. These ‘runners’ reminded him of a gymnast troupe, with all their jumps and hanging falls, perfectly co-ordinated, strong and energetic. Hands helped him clamber out of the hole into pitch blackness, ‘Carter, guys?’

‘Yes Sir we’re here…’ Carter started and Jack never got to find out if she would finish with her traditional ‘are you okay?’. She was cut off by the lead ‘runner’ as he shot up through the hole like a bullet, and landed with a quiet thump on the ground beside them, apparently having jumped from the room below.

‘…wow,’ Carter finished as the other alien did the same. She watched as they hastily packed the hole with dirt and the whole group were gradually plunged into complete darkness.

Looking up and staring into two green orbs, Jack realised that he was looking at the alien’s eyes – that they glowed faintly in the dark. ‘You can see? In the dark?’ he asked, staring at the eyes hovering in front of him.

‘You cannot?’ the alien’s voice returned, incredulous.

‘Well, no,’ Daniel replied, his voice emanating extreme scientific curiosity.

‘Later Danny,’ O’Neill muttered, picking up on the start of a complicated and time consuming conversation on alien physiology. Jack felt a strong hand on his shoulder,

‘then we will lead you, come with us,’ and O’Neill felt himself having to hand over yet another layer of trust to these creatures as they led him and his team into thick blackness.

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

It was the most disconcerting experience for the Colonel, walking through inky blackness, putting his feet into a void that he trusted would support his weight. His boots fell on hard ground that he couldn’t see and he hesitantly stumbled onwards, being gently pulled by the alien’s hold on his shoulder.

He struggled to keep his mind from other times in his life when he had been pulled forwards by the enemy, blinded and unsure if what was coming next, possessing no control over his situation. He shook the thoughts aside, reminding himself that he was escaping, not being caught. They had been walking briskly for some time now, always going upwards. O’Neill’s watch had long since been starved of enough light to charge its luminescent hands, so he had no way of knowing how long they had been moving. Without anything to look at, without anything for his senses to latch onto, he felt like he was in a timeless void. He would have liked to have questioned his rescuers but he sensed that their silence was necessary, and he could also tell that they were slowing their pace to accommodate the humans’ shorter legs. O’Neill’s breathing came raggedly as he tried to keep up with the group, and he was glad for the warmth that coursed through his veins, something that he put down to the drink that the alien had given him some time before. The heat could not reach his hands however, they were growing terribly cold from lack of movement as his fingers continued to stiffen and he held them closer to his chest in an attempt to keep them warm.

The ground levelled off suddenly and he stumbled, jarring his fingers as he regained his footing. In the cover of darkness he let the pain spread over his face, grimacing wildly, curling his lips to prevent himself from crying out. He felt the grip on his shoulder tighten slightly and turned his head in that direction, remembering too late that the alien could see his expression in the pitch blackness.

‘We are nearly at our destination Colonel Jack O’Neill, you may rest soon,' the alien whispered quietly. Not having enough energy to profess that he was ‘fine’, Jack merely nodded, turning his head back to his chest and concentrating on stepping on a ground that he couldn’t see.

His boots fell on softer ground now and he could feel bushes brushing against his legs and a light breeze against his face – it was fresh air, a welcome relief from the tepid stale stuff that they had been breathing below the surface. O’Neill heard a sigh to his right that sounded like Major Carter and he smiled slightly, glad to hear her after so long a silence. He heard a raised level of noise ahead of him and the grasp on his shoulder led him sharply to the left and then to a stop. He felt the alien let go of him and he was left standing alone in the dark, listening to the quiet sound of activity ahead of him and feeling very vulnerable.

A sudden shaft of light made Jack squint fiercely and he blinked against the glare as he felt the alien’s hand on his arm once more, it pulled on him impatiently and he heard the alien grumble as he stumbled forward, ‘cannot see in the dark, cannot see in the light, it is a wonder you can see at all.’

‘Oh yeah?’ Jack replied under his breath, unable to let the alien’s comment pass without some come-back, however weak or quiet. He felt himself led downwards again and the light softened, allowing his eyes to recover somewhat. He looked around him as he was led down into a cave, leading downwards. Behind him followed his team, each with an alien leading them. They were led into a sizeable cavern and there were other aliens in evidence, resting, working or just staring at the new human arrivals. Jack had to remind himself all the time that to aliens they were aliens too, strange looking and unexpected. And they were certainly very different from these creatures.

His alien guide led him towards a softly lit corner and some soft furnishings on the floor. ‘Here, rest, I will fetch food and water for you and your people.’

‘Eh, thanks,’ Jack nodded, watching most of the aliens depart, leaving a few who sat themselves nearby offering encouraging smiles. Jack took a deep sigh, feeling the adrenalin and worry of the last few hours pass somewhat. ‘Well, seems we’ve finally fallen in with the right crowd.’

Daniel nodded while they all sank down to the furnished floor, relieved to get off their feet and rest their aching joints in a comfortable position for a change. ‘Yeah, it seems we were right about the aliens. These ‘runners’ must be some kind of action group or something, I guess freeing us was an attack against their enslavers.'

‘I don’t know Daniel,’ Carter countered, ‘it seemed more than a military action, look at them, they seem sympathetic towards us.’ She swept a hand around the space, indicating the curious aliens that were staring and smiling in their direction.

Jack eased himself down onto some cushions carefully, leaning on his knuckles awkwardly, trying not to aggravate the sharp pains that consumed his twisted fingers. He sank down gratefully, resting his back against the wall and cradling his battered hands against his equally battered chest. He closed his eyes and rested his head back, trying to calm the pounding that still worked at the back of his eyes.

‘Sir? Could I have a look?’ he heard Carter enquire. He sighed heavily and opened his eyes to Carter who had moved to sit in front of him and was peering in concern at his hands. He gave a resigned smile and held out his hands carefully, ‘look all you like Major, but I don’t think there’s much you can do. I’ll get patched up once we get back to the infirmary.’

Carter held her hands under his as she examined them, her lip curled in empathy. ‘Can you move them?’

O’Neill snorted, ‘forgive me Major, but I’d rather not try.’

Carter ignored the comment and continued, ‘it’s good that no bone has broken the flesh, at least there’s no risk of infection.’ She studied the purple and green digits carefully, she really had no idea what kind of state they were in, they were so curled in on themselves that they could be broken anywhere for all she knew. By fiddling with them she knew she’d only cause her CO more pain and probably for nothing. She could bandage them to give a little protection but that would only inhibit the Colonel even more and she knew how much he valued the use of his hands. No, without being able to set them there was no point, and setting one broken bone for Colonel O’Neill had been one bone too many already. ‘I think you’re right Sir, there’s not much I can do without risking making it worse.’

‘Thank you,’ said Jack markedly, ‘they’re bad enough at the moment,’ and he returned them to his chest.

‘What about the rest of you?’ Carter asked, knowing he didn’t like being questioned but also knowing that he wouldn’t say if he was hurt badly elsewhere.

‘I’m fine Major,’ O’Neill laid his head back against the wall, ‘concentrate your efforts on getting us back to the gate wouldya?’

Carter nodded, she hadn’t exactly expected him to list his ails whilst whinging and begging for painkillers, not until hell freezes over. Maybe not even then, she added to herself, remembering Netu and the theoretical possibilities that such a planet (or remainders of) could freeze in the cold of space.

She turned from her CO to see the lead runner re-appear from the corridor carrying several bags stuffed full. He approached them carefully and with an encouraging smile, ‘now there is time for knowings. I am Teltil, leader of the runners.’

Jack opened his eyes again and gave a half-hearted smile back, ‘I’m Colonel Jack O’Neill, this is Major Sam Carter, Doctor Daniel Jackson and Teal’c. My team. We’re from a planet called Earth.’

Teltil nodded, kneeling down and passing a water pouch to Teal’c. ‘I am so sorry for what you have suffered here,’ he cast a regretful glance at O’Neill’s hands, ‘those that caught you are callous and uncaring, they enslave our people, teach them to fear freedom.’

‘Are they the same as you? The same kind of people?’ asked Carter curiously.

‘That we do not know, it has been like this for many hundreds of years – them ruling us. There are tales and legends of worms bringing us all here to this planet. But we do not know from where, or where these worms have gone if they ever existed.’

O’Neill cast a weary look to his team, all of them recognising a description of what must be the Goa’uld. Jack creased his brow, trying to understand why these people would have been abandoned by the Goa’uld, left to freedom on a planet of their own. If they were not taken as hosts there had to have been a very good reason why not. As if tapping into his line of thoughts Carter commented, ‘perhaps they can’t be taken as hosts?’

‘But why not kill them? Why leave them on a planet?’ Jack asked. Daniel answered him this time his voice quiet and head cocked in his typical thinking pose,

‘Well, what if the Goa’uld were desperate to have these people as hosts? He may have decided to put them aside until a way could be found to defeat their, uh, immunity.’

Teal’c’s deep voice continued Daniel’s strain of thought seamlessly, ‘and it is more than likely that the Goa’uld Lord who inhabited this planet hundreds of years ago has long since been defeated in the subsequent shiftings of power.’

‘So basically they’re been dumped, discarded and forgotten, and now they’re free?’ Jack asked wearily.

‘It is sensible to assume,’ Teal’c replied, ‘that the Goa’uld would not be happy leaving his potential hosts on a planet with a working Stargate. Did you not say the aliens could not get it to dial out O’Neill?’

Jack nodded. ‘But we were able to gate in alright,’ he prompted.

‘Right!’ Carter nodded, ‘they left a way to return and claim their hosts but no way for the hosts to escape, it makes perfect sense.’

‘So it’s highly likely that we can’t gate out?’ O’Neill concluded, with an increasing sense of pessimism.

‘Right,’ Daniel muttered quietly.

‘Oh goody,’ Jack smiled with forced sarcasm.

Teal’c tapped into a dead rut in the conversation and jumped in as encouragingly as his demeanour would allow,

‘It is sensible to assume that the Goa’uld merely left a device on the DHD for this function, and it is not totally beyond our abilities to comprehend and perhaps disable such a device.’

‘We might be able to fix it?’ Carter summarised.

‘That’s what he said Carter,’ Jack replied brightly with a cheeky smile.

Sensing some positive conclusion amongst his guests Teltil shifted slightly, indicating his wish to speak, ‘I would have said that we could run for the gate tonight but it seems you cannot see in the no-light so it would be pointless. We may wait for the day and then all players will be on equal ground, yes?’

‘Even if we couldn’t see,’ Carter suggested, ‘wouldn’t it be better to go now while they likely don’t know we’re missing?’

‘Sorry, but they were planning to come for your leader and take him to the head of their people when we came to rescue you. They have probably found out now that you have gone. I have sent a running group up to watch the situation and they will tell us what we need to know before we leave at sunrise. It is best that you get some sleep. Here, these bags contain food and water,’ he pushed the sacks towards them hesitantly.

‘And this,’ he fingered a small pouch, ‘is for you O’Neill. Rub it into your wrists and neck at the blood point and it should ease the pain some and help your sleep.’ He set it at Jack’s side with a sympathetic look. Jack looked up into the alien’s kind eyes with a grim smile, ‘thank you Teltil.’

Teltil nodded, pleased by this sign of gratitude, and moved off hurriedly from the cave.

The team relaxed visibly, their fate decided for the time being. It seemed they were forced to wait and rest, and most of them didn’t have a problem with that. Although they had been through rougher physical tests then this, the emotional strain had weakened them tremendously and they were glad of the relative safety and warmth of the cave.

Carter could feel even her desire to know more about the aliens fading as her eyes drifted shut, and she wriggled into a more comfortable position on the fabric beneath her. Daniel spared her a glance and then turned back to Jack who was eyeing the small pouch suspiciously. ‘Do you want me to...?’ Daniel asked, motioning towards the pouch.

‘Sure,’ answered Jack, feeling rather defeated by the whole situation. He knew it was just exhaustion adding to the feeling of powerlessness, but he still didn’t like it. He was looking forward to tomorrows break for the gate and if sleeping was a faster way to get there then he was all for it.

Daniel scooted over to sit by Jack and pulled the cords on the pouch, poking at the squishy paste that was inside. He reached for one of Jack’s wrists and supported it gently, rubbing the paste into Jack’s pulse point, being careful not to jar his discoloured swollen fingers. The flesh coloured paste dissolved into his skin slowly, leaving no trace that it had ever been there and giving Jack’s hands an odd tingling feeling. He leant his head back on the wall as Daniel lifted his attention to Jack’s neck, and started to rub some more of the paste into his pulse point there. Jack’s eyes slowly closed as Daniel effectively massaged his neck, he was getting the same tingling feeling and was suddenly feeling incredibly drowsy. He could feel his body getting heavy as his mind drifted away and he felt Daniel’s supportive hand on his neck as he left consciousness far behind.

Daniel saw his friend sag and he put a hand on the side of Jack’s head as it lolled. He gently eased him down onto his side and then onto his back, taking care to keep him hands from being knocked. Looking round he saw Carter fast asleep and Teal’c deep in meditation. Taking one last look at Jack, and satisfying himself that his friend’s chest was moving up and down in deep even breaths, he lay down himself and gave in to exhaustion.

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

Jack woke suddenly to find Teltil looking over him once again, ‘O’Neill we will go now, if you are able?’

‘Yeah,’ Jack answered a little groggily, moving a finger experimentally and wishing he hadn’t.

‘What’s the plan?’ he asked, heaving himself awkwardly into a sitting position amongst his still sleeping team.

‘The leaders are out in numbers, guarding the ring and much of the forest in between here and there. Our only hope is to circle it completely and approach from behind, taking them by surprise in battle. It will be a long walk on the surface, and we must be wary.’

Jack nodded, the plan sounded like the best available and approaching from behind the enemy gave them time to consider options. With every breath his bashed chest reminded him that a long walk might not be the most fun he could have on the planet, but it’s certainly not the least fun you can have, he reminded himself, sparing a short look of self pity towards his pain-ridden fingers. Knowing that anything would be better then another question and answer session with the planet’s resident nutcases, he conceded and began to wake his team.

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

Six hours later found Colonel O’Neill and his team on the surface of the planet once again, and the rain had started in earnest. Black clouds had descended on the brown planet and were now making it very wet and brown. O’Neill was gradually developing what he considered a real skill for tripping over rocks. If there was a rock on the path and it could be tripped over then Colonel Jack O’Neill was the man for the job. His next fall drove him to his knees on the muddy ground and he emitted a growl, partly from pain and partly from his annoyance at rocks in general. He propelled himself back to his feet before any of his team could offer assistance and increase his embarrassment further.

The last six hours of walking had only led to the pain in his chest increasing, he guessed it was a cracked rib being strained to breaking point – literally. His head too, was protesting the constant jolting that resulted from incessantly slamming one foot down, then another, then the first again, then another, each step reverberating up his spine and culminating in a little fierce concentration of pain right behind his eyes. He wasn’t even bothering to think about his fingers anymore, their pain was becoming so familiar that it was almost old news. The only thing that really drive him mad, apart from the rocks, he added, was not being able to fiddle – with his camos, with his watch, with his hair, with a gun, with anything. Even the undamaged fingers were starting to stiffen up due to lack of movement, and so the most he could do was carefully flex his wrists every now and then in the hope that he would still be of some use when they got to the gate.

Suddenly Daniel and Carter stopped in front of him and therefore so did he, raising his head to see Teal’c standing stock still a few metres in front of them, his hand held in the air as a sign of caution. Jack pushed forward cautiously and silently to join his Jaffa team mate.

They had been walking encased in the runners, a group of them led about five metres in front of them and they were surrounded by the rest of the runners some distance to their sides and behind them. Now he saw, as Teal’c saw, that the lead group had stopped and were frozen still, seemingly watching something. Jack and his team stood silently as the rain drummed incessantly down on them and everything around them, filling O’Neill’s head with nothing but the sound of falling water. It seemed o be encroaching on his brain as he stood there, sopping wet and cold, waiting for some sign from the runners.

Eventually, after some frantic signalling from the lead runners to other groups that Jack couldn’t see, Teltil beckoned to the Colonel to bring his team forward. Staying low they joined the runners at the edge of the forest and lay down, again finding themselves looking down on the gate some one hundred yards below and in front of them. It was a stunning site, as seemingly thousands of figures were gathered in front of the Stargate, some forty percent of them slaves, cowering under the domination of the hooded figures. Tetil motioned to them, ‘they have gathered all of our serving people. Not all of the leaders are here but all our people are. They mean to stop you at any cost it seems!’

Jack squinted balefully at the hordes of aliens in front of the gate. ‘Are all your runners here, with us?’ he asked, an idea forming.

‘Yes, they are surrounding us for safety, why?’

‘Well…Daniel, do you know that planet that SG-9 scouted last week, the empty one?’

Daniel nodded, ‘Erm, just animal and plant life, some weird grey flowers, yes?’

‘Do you have it’s address?’ Jack prompted.

‘Uh, yeah, in my notepad,’ Daniel scrabbled to pull a thin notepad of paper from a deep back pocket, unchecked by their captors and now sodden from rain. Carter turned to O’Neill questioningly. ‘We’re going to free them, and re-home them on P3X-592?’

‘That’s the one,’ Jack dipped his head in the affirmative. Teltil followed the idea excitedly, ‘you could take us to another home? Through the ring? This would be amazing! Everything I’ve ever dreamt of, freeing our people and starting a new life!’ Jack smiled at the alien’s enthusiasm as Teltil went on, ‘and it may indeed be possible today, we have never seen all of our people gathered together like this – we have a chance to use that, overthrow our captors and be gone!’

‘If I can fix the gate Sir,’ Carter added, as a caution.

‘That’s a given Major – you’ll make it work,’ Jack almost ordered and Carter found herself nodding despite her doubts.

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

The hooded leader of the slaves stood in front of the ring, elevated above his people and their workers, surveying the scene. He nodded in satisfaction as one of his people struck a slave who wasn’t kneeling quite low enough and smiled at the way they all cowered before him with their heads drooped. He raised his hand for attention, ready to start addressing the people in preparation of the arrival of their High Lord. Before he could utter a first word though, his eyes darted to the side, his attention grabbed by the sight of one of his people crumpling to the ground. He stared at the fallen figure, watching the slaves around it screech nervously. His head darted to the other side as he saw another fall, and another and another,

‘Protect yourselves!’ he roared, diving down from the raised area into a nearby circle of slaves, using their bodies to cover his. Hidden safely behind his slaves he drew a large wooden staff from his garments and hefted it into a defensive position, ready for whatever may come. Silence prevailed for a few moments more and then a sudden rumble could be heard, growing in intensity. He could see nothing surrounded by servants and didn’t see that hordes of runners streaming down the hills all around them, he didn’t see that team that he had been out to catch leading the charge, didn’t see the look of disbelief and joy on the faces of his slaves. But he did notice when his own protective group of slaves turned inward, their backs straightened and their eyes triumphant and hopeful. They closed in on their false Lord, and took back their freedom.

SG1 charged into the melee, followed by the runners, cutting through the slaves to get to the leaders – slicing them down like wheat. There was a fair amount of alien screaming going on, not only from the leaders but from the slaves too, some more fearful and disorientated than others. But SG1 weren’t rendered unconscious this time, they faught on, their ears stuffed with dense moss and their adrenaline pumping. While the other members of SG1 carried stout fighting sticks given them by the runners, Jack had tied his to his fore arm, giving him an extension to his arm that he could club with without having to use his hands at all. He swung his weapon hard, catching a hooded figure about the head and revelling in the ability to actually do something again.

Within minutes the field had calmed and O’Neill looked through the thick rain, past the fallen figures and shocked slaves to see Carter already at the DHD, a piece of it in her hands. Jack walked breathlessly over towards her through the shackled aliens, giving them an odd encouraging smile. He saw Tetil climb a mound and as he started to address his people SG1 converged on the DHD. Jack fell to his knees by Carter’s side in what he hoped was a nonchalant manner – he was exhausted by the fight, his chest was nearly on fire with every breath and his fingers were pulsing pain wildly from all the unwelcome movement. Daniel came up beside him and started to work at he cords that bound the pole to Jack’s arm. ‘You okay Jack?’

‘Fine,’ Jack answered predictably, throwing a questioning look at Carter, ‘well Major, how goes it?’

‘Great Sir! It’s easily controlled when you know Goa’uld technology,’ she pressed a panel, creating an audible clunk, ‘that’s it.’

‘Well hallelujah, dial out Daniel,’ Jack exclaimed, amazed that for once something had turned out simple on the godforsaken planet. Daniel nodded and pulled the fighting pole free from Jack’s arm carefully before standing up and scrabbling for his note pad.

Teltil joined them just as Daniel leant on the activation pad and he and all the other aliens jumped – literally leaving the ground for an instant – as the Stargate threw out its channel of blue water straight at them and then settled back to a rippling pool of light. Jack smiled at Teltil’s expression, ‘this will take you to the planet that we talked about, Carter and Daniel will go through first to show you and then you and your people can follow. Once you’re all safely there we’ll see about getting you equipment to remove those chains.’

Teal’c and O’Neill moved to the side as Teltil cautiously followed Carter and Daniel into the Stargate and then followed all his people, the runners helping the slaves with their dragging chains. Jack knelt down as they all piled through the gate, finding it a less strenuous position to hold with a painful chest. He offered encouragement to those that paused fearfully on the edge of the event horizon and kept an eye on the surroundings for any sign of reinforcements. It took over ten minutes to get all the aliens through and as the last groups approached Jack saw something stir at the edge of the clearing. Out from the bushes strode another hooded figure, dressed in gold and red, and flanked by many of the other leaders. He paused in shock at the site that met his eyes – his fallen leaders, the escaping slaves, the working Stargate. Suddenly he broke out into a run, speeding towards the gate in a fury, followed by the other leaders.

Jack rose to his feet and hurried the last of the slaves. ‘Go, go, go!’ he shouted, Teal’c pushing them through one after another as the leader gained distance. He was coming too fast, they weren’t going to make it before he got to them and then as he got closer Jack’s face crumbled into near disbelief. ‘No! Teal’c it’s a Goa’uld! He’s got a hand device!’ and he grabbed for his fighting pole, trying to ignore the agony that shot through his broken fingers as he gripped it.

The last of the slaves ran through the gate as the Goa’uld bore down on them and Jack saw the heat of his hand device. O’Neill turned, desperately pushing Teal’c through the gate after the last alien and leaping forward himself. He felt the device hit him inches before he met the event horizon, it slammed into his back like a brick wall and he cried out, flying into the blue at stunning speed.

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

Carter watched in concern as the aliens started coming through the gate at a faster and more panicked speed, bunched together and some still looking behind them as they stumbled out onto the new planet. The sky was blue and the air fresh, some of the colours were a little odd but it made a welcome change from mud and rain. Carter and Daniel moved closer to the gate anxiously and watched as Teal’c shot through, catching his balance just as Colonel O’Neill came flying through after him. He came through the gate high with a yell on his lips and he hit the ground fast and hard, falling limp on the warm earth as the event horizon dissipated behind him.

SG1 fell at the Colonel’s side, Daniel immediately climbing back to his feet again for the DHD, knowing that their priority was to get Jack back to the SGC infirmary. He dialled out fast as his team mates leant over their CO. He lay unmoving, his eyes open and staring at the cloudless sky. His choked breaths came harsh and uneven – his brow creased as the pain threatened to overwhelm him.

‘It’s okay Sir, hang on, we’ll got you home in a second. Teal’c what the hell happened?’

‘It seems there was a Goa’uld on that planet, passing as the high lord of the people, I believe he struck O’Neill with his hand device as he entered the gate behind me.’

Jack coughed weakly and shifted his eyes to Teal’c, ‘did he see…the address?’ he choked out.

Carter shook her head before Teal’c could answer, ‘don’t worry Sir, we’re okay for the moment, I tweaked the DHD a little and it’ll take them a little while to figure it out whether he saw the address or not. By then we’ll have this gate buried,’ she answered him, one hand resting on his neck to feel his erratic pulse.

‘Oh. Good,’ Jack commented flatly and then shuddered, his eyes rolling back and his head falling to the side. Carter sat poised for a few seconds, her hand pressing into his neck and then she relaxed. ‘I think we’re okay, his pulse is weak but it’s there,’ she heard the gate explode to life behind them and Teal’c leant forward putting an arm below Jack’s knees and one below his lower back. He lifted the limp and soaked Colonel effortlessly, leaning so that the his head rested against Teal’c’s chest.

Carter and Teal’c went through with the Colonel while Daniel hastily explained a few things to Teltil. Once the alien was confident and assured of their speedy return, Daniel too jumped through the Stargate, eager to check on his fallen friend.

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

Doctor Janet Fraiser ran a weary hand through her hair. It was two days since SG1 had returned with their injured leader sporting broken fingers, a nasty concussion, a broken shoulder-blade, broken ribs and some very deep bruising. She felt more exhausted now than she had then, she noted, looking through her office window to where Colonel O’Neill was propped up in bed. Both his hands were in casts and one arm was immobilised, and he was fixing her nurses with a steely glare every time one of them was unfortunate enough to have to walk past his bed. He had woken up properly about ten hours ago and had been nothing but grumpy trouble since.

His team had been incredibly relieved to hear that his hands had not been permanently damaged and were very glad to know he was in Janet’s capable hands at last. They had organised return visits to the planet and the Athar, and they were working with several other teams to help the aliens set up a new life on the planet prior to burying the gate. They had managed to do all this while maintaining a vigil either at their CO’s beside or outside the infirmary when Janet had had enough of them. Since the Colonel had regained full consciousness they had been trying to keep his spirits up, but it looked like he was going to best even them.

Janet launched herself from her chair and out of her office as another nurse got pinned by an O’Neill death-glare, and walked to his bedside. ‘Colonel, if you look any more unhappy you’re going to trigger the base alarms. Where are your team?’ she asked, remembering that they had been there a few moments ago.

‘We were playing checkers and I kept winning so they went to go and get another game,’ he huffed, casting a miserable look at his encased hands.

Just then his team breezed into the infirmary, lifting his eyes with their smiles as they gathered round his bed in lively conversation. ‘Right Sir,’ Carter grinned at her CO, ‘we’ve got another game to play.’

Daniel slapped a box down on the bedside table. O’Neill looked down and choked back a laugh, finally breaking into a huge smile to match those of his team.

‘What?’ Janet asked, curious to know what had finally made the Colonel forsake his bad mood.

Daniel turned to her with a cheeky grin and replied, ‘pick-up sticks!’

-------------an diereadh-------------