Convolutions Chapter 11. Follow the Source
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).
It was morning again and Sam was calling Jack's office, determined to speak to him. The phone rang several times before an unfamiliar voice answered.
"This is Colonel Carter, let me speak to General O'Neill."
"I'm sorry, ma'am, the general isn't in today."
"Isn't in?" Sam shook her head in frustration before speaking again. "You mean he won't be in all day?"
"That's correct, ma'am."
"Could I speak with Sergeant Andrews then?"
"She's not on duty today, ma'am."
"Well...." Sam audibly huffed her frustration aloud as her mind tried to form a question that would be answered. Finally, giving up on deception she fell back on the truth. "Sergeant, I really need to speak to the General. I'm in the infirmary at Cheyenne Mountain. Is there any way I can contact him today?"
There was a long obvious silence on the phone as the sergeant considered her answer.
"If you don't mind holding, ma'am, I'll check Sergeant Andrews desk. I'm not familiar with the general's schedule."
"Thank you, I'll wait."
Sam paced a few steps in each direction as she waited for the woman to return to the phone. She rubbed a hand absently against her forehead and bit down on her lower lip as her mind churned over the possibilities.
The airman placed the phone back in its cradle and looked up into the staring eyes of Sergeant Andrews. She raised her arms in a questioning gesture and mouthed the words
Andrews stared back calm but wide eyed as she tried to think of a way to avoid the questions of Colonel Carter.
"She's in the infirmary, Kathy! What's going on?"
"It doesn't matter, Anna, the general isn't here."
"Wouldn't it be better to let her talk to him? Just give her the phone number?"
"Are you crazy? Have you ever been around here when someone decides to ignore one of the general's not so direct orders?"
"He always seems pretty calm to me, Kathy. And besides she's his wife."
"Yes, well, you don't get to be commander of this office without knowing how to be calm but that doesn't mean he'd allow me to disobey orders. He's not here. I'm not here. Transfer her to General Baker's office if she insists."
"I don't think I signed up for all this intrigue!"
"Sure you did, it comes with the uniform. Just follow your orders and get on with it."
Andrews gestured towards the phone and the other woman reluctantly picked it up again.
"I'm sorry, Colonel, the schedule simply shows that the general is out for the day, no other notations. Is there anything else, ma'am?"
"Yes! Let me speak to the officer in charge!"
"Just a moment, ma'am."
Anna looked up at Kathy and shrugged her shoulders as she dialed the number for General Baker's office.
Sam was still pacing, waiting for the call to be answered when Daniel came into the room.
"Hey, Sam! You ready?" He stopped short as he saw the phone in her hand. "Oh, sorry. Should I come back later?"
"It's ok, Daniel. I'm just calling Jack...or at least trying to call him."
"Still no luck?"
"They're saying he won't be in today, I'm waiting for General Baker now."
"He's in charge when Jack isn't there."
Sam held up her hand for him to stop talking as she directed her attention back to the phone.
"Yes, this is Colonel Carter. Thank you."
There was another short pause as Sam waited for the general to answer.
Daniel stood at the foot of the bed, arms crossed against his chest as he watched her. She was anxious. Her body language told him just about everything her words didn't. She was fidgeting, biting at her lip and rubbing at her forehead. Probably a leftover headache from the infection was still bothering her, intensified by her inability to contact Jack and her unspoken worry over their personal situation. He was worried, too, although he hadn't said as much to Sam. He was afraid that he was right, that Jack had finished what she had started and was using his privilege of rank to shut her out completely. He knew that Jack loved her but if his mind had turned their argument into a convoluted rejection well, he couldn't even imagine what the consequences would be.
As he watched Sam his mind returned to the last time he'd seen them together. The way Jack had held her, looked at her and his general attitude when he'd stopped him on top of the mountain. The sadness in his eyes that betrayed the hurt he was hiding beneath the military mask and the chilling look of resignation as he stepped into the car and drove away. Suddenly Sam's strained voice brought him back to reality and he tuned in to her conversation.
"Yes, Sir, I realize that but surely..."
Silence. Sam's hand was pounding against her thigh as she listened.
"I'm sorry, Sir, I mean no disrespect but that just seems so totally...yes, I think he would have let me know!"
She turned and met Daniel's eyes, listening again to the voice on the other end of the phone.
"When should I expect to hear from him, Sir?"
"That's entirely up to General O'Neill, Colonel. I'm afraid I can't speak to that."
"I'd just like to know that he's all right, General."
"I understand and I am truly sorry, Colonel."
"Thank you, Sir."
Sam gently set the phone back on the table and tilted her head back to stare at the ceiling, fighting back the threatening tears.
"Sam? What did he say?"
"He said that he's covering for Jack while he's away for a few days."
"Ok, well that makes sense."
Sam turned back to face him again, a mixture of fear and anger coloring her eyes and silent tears streaking her cheeks.
"General Baker says that Jack is on leave, on vacation somewhere."
"What?" Daniel chuckled. "Is he crazy? Jack wouldn't go on vacation with you hurt..." He let his voice trail away as he saw the sadness deepen in Sam's eyes. "No, Sam, there's something else going on. You know that Jack would be here if he could!"
She shook her head in agreement but he could see how upset she was and that she doubted his words.
"Sam, there are only a few things I'm sure of in this life but the fact that Jack is totally, hopelessly in love with you happens to be one of them. I can't imagine one little argument changing that after all these years! He must be working on something they just can't tell you about. Maybe they're telling you even less than normal because of who you are, what you might find out on your own."
She was shaking her head and hugging herself as she turned away.
"Sam, maybe you should stay here, just another day or so, until you're feeling better."
"No, I want to go home, Daniel. Please?"
He watched her for another few moments, furrowing his brow in concern but finally agreeing with her request.
"Ok, Sam, let's go then."
The symphony of the jungle played around them as they moved silently through its dense cover. A low hum of gentle winds moving across the canopy, the rustle of leaves as small creatures skittered out of their path and the ever-changing patterns of light against shadow keeping them constantly alert. They'd been hiking for about three hours, Nelson in the lead and Chavez following a short distance behind, two ghosts moving silently across the jungle floor.
Nelson held up a fisted hand and Chavez stopped immediately, his eyes searching, his ears tuned in to the sounds around him. When he returned his gaze to Nelson, the man was looking at him, pointing ahead and to the right. There was a clearing just ahead and after a series of hand signals the men began to move off in different directions, approaching the clearing cautiously from its flanks.
Nelson reached the clearing first and slipped down to the ground, using the low foliage that surrounded him as cover. He lifted the binoculars to his face and stared through the lenses, moving his view slowly until he had surveyed all of the open area directly in front of him then he turned to his right looking for Chavez. He couldn't see him, even though he knew he was there. The man had melted into the jungle and was totally invisible. Nelson continued to watch and finally saw Chavez signal his position, a movement so small that Nelson almost missed it.
The jungle seemed to thin out on the other side and Nelson's eyes squinted in concentration as he studied the landscape. It was too dangerous to cross. The clearing was small but flooded in sunlight and if all he knew about Kassem was true, it was very possible that some of his troops were hidden on the other side. He hadn't come this far to be taken out because of a stupid mistake so he lay still and waited. He had to get Chavez close enough to do the job. If they could get out in one piece and home again that was a bonus but neither of them had any false hopes on that issue. It would take all their skill and cunning, not to mention a lion's share of luck.
He caught sight of a slight movement out of his peripheral vision and turned his head towards Chavez' position. He was still hidden, but not as much as before. Nelson could see his weapon extended through the foliage, moving every so slightly as he sighted through the scope. Nelson pursed his lips and watched, hoping the man wasn't actually targeting something. Chavez moved a bit more and Nelson tensed. With one deliberate movement he clicked his radio and Chavez froze. Then he cupped his hand around the microphone and whispered a single word "down." Chavez disappeared again and Nelson settled in, both men waiting for darkness to shield them.
The jungle continued to chirp and slither around them but they remained motionless on it's lush, green floor. Nelson felt a bit vulnerable lying spread out on the ground and dug his feet into the soft earth, preparing to launch his body into motion if necessary. His eyes continued to move along the clearing watching for anything out of place around its perimeter as his mind reviewed their mission.
He was only the brawn on this little field trip; Chavez was the weapon, the method of elimination. His job was to get him close enough to the target to pull the trigger. He couldn't really say that he was happy about this assignment, but he was military, career military and it was a job like any other. He's spent his life following orders and that had involved doing some distasteful things along the way but this time he was just the bodyguard. He wasn't the actual instrument of destruction. He was there to make sure the mission was successful, to make sure that Chavez carried out his orders. His superiors had trusted him to do just that and he didn't intend to let them down. He wouldn't fail. He knew what was at stake and he didn't intend to let that maniac ever leave this jungle. No matter what it took, no matter the sacrifice, he would see this mission through to the end or die trying.
That thought lead him home and he allowed himself to momentarily regret that no one was waiting for him there. Sure he had friends, good friends and he supposed they'd miss him if he didn't return but that would fade in time and they'd go on with their lives. Yeah, if he died here in this remote jungle at least he'd die trying to make the world a better place. Maybe no one would ever even know how he died but it somehow made him feel better that a soldier like him should go out doing what he'd always done than to end up behind a desk somewhere, lost in the paperwork. He realized he didn't mind the thought of dying as long as he completed this assignment first.
He glanced through the darkening terrain trying to catch a glimpse of Chavez but all he saw was the deep green of the softly swaying foliage that covered the ground between them. He wondered if Chavez had family back home. Maybe he had a young wife and kids waiting for him to return and wrap them in his embrace. He hadn't known the man before today and their stealthy walk had left little opportunity for chatting. Maybe he'd learn more about him when they settled down for the night. It seemed to him that most of his friends had been cultivated over campfires in the field even though it would be too risky to have a fire tonight; they might chat over a cold meal. His imagination continued to offer possibilities and he felt a sudden tug of regret pull at him as he pictured both of them going down in a firefight and Chavez' imagined family never knowing what happened to him. He pushed the feelings away and steeled himself against any further thoughts along that line. Maybe it was better if he didn't know anything about the man, it might even make the job ahead easier for both of them. Telling himself to focus on the mission and the tactics they needed to stay alive, he continued to watch the patch of ground where Chavez lay hidden. Eventually a fisted hand with one thumb extended upward caught his eye and he smiled.
Darkness was slowly descending on the world around them. The sun had dropped low in the sky as they waited and the sounds of the jungle grew quieter. The fading light cast a million jagged shadows and changed the lush green warmth into a foreboding obstacle course that hinted of danger with every step.
Nelson watched the clearing, searching for any sign of movement in the fading light when suddenly the sun seemed to disintegrate and darkness fell like a heavy curtain all around them. It happened so quickly that for a few moments Nelson was completely blind. He scrambled for the night vision goggles that rested on his cap and pulled them quickly over his eyes, staring intently as the jungle again became visible. The sounds around him had changed but they were still just the sounds of nature settling into darkness. There was no indication of any other human being and he took comfort in that thought until he realized he couldn't even sense Chavez who was only about fifty yards away. He held his position a few more minutes and then pressed his radio to send the single click that would alert Chavez. When he saw the gun barrel reappear he slowly stood to his full height. Barely moving the foliage around him he surveyed the surrounding area again before beginning to move towards the clearing.
Nelson stopped at the edge of the clearing, still hidden in the deeper darkness that was the shadow of the canopy and waited for Chavez to catch up. His eyes were constantly moving, watching as Chavez moved slowly forward to a position parallel to his own. With all his senses on alert and every nerve on end he found himself wishing they had more backup. Crossing the clearing and getting Chavez across safely would be a lot easier with a full team to watch their backs but there was no point in dwelling on it. They were here now and they were alone with only each other as protection.
Nelson stared at the felled trees and uprooted foliage that lay strewn about the clearing, letting out a long, low sigh. So, it was man-made and not nature's handiwork as he'd originally thought. Adrenaline poured into his bloodstream as he again scanned across the open space realizing that they must be a lot closer to their objective than he'd thought. This must be the far perimeter of Kassem's camp; a first barrier against intrusion and if there were snipers on the other side it could all end right here.
He glanced at Chavez signaling him to wait as he crouched his tall frame as much as possible and took a hesitant step into the clearing. Nothing. No gunfire. Another step. And another. Then he ran. He was the bait, hoping to tempt any potential sniper as he skirmished across the clearing while at the same time hoping that Chavez was as good as he was reported to be.
His adrenaline rush carried him swiftly across the clearing and in a few minutes he was safe on the other side. He crouched in the protective darkness relieved that their presence remained undetected but still listening for the tiniest sound that might signal movement. He remained motionless and on full alert for a few minutes just listening and watching. When he was completely satisfied that there was only the jungle around him he signaled Chavez to cross.
Nelson's eyes followed Chavez as he moved slowly into the open. He held his breath and watched, following each tentative step, weapon drawn, and absolutely silent as he advanced. He began to understand why this man was so good at his job. He was an apparition, barely there, the fluid motion of his body almost poetic as he moved effortlessly across the clearing, his feet barely touching the ground beneath him.
Nelson puffed out a relieved sigh as Chavez disappeared into the cover of the darkened jungle and then began to make his way carefully along the perimeter to join him. A few minutes passed before they were standing side by side, smiling slightly and both breathing heavily from the expended adrenaline.
"Well, that was a rush!"
Nelson spoke softly through the small smile that lingered on his features.
"You make a good target, Sir."
"Gee, thanks! Better get on with it then."
Chavez nodded and fell in behind the colonel as they renewed their quest of Kassem.
"I think we're close, so keep your eyes open! Let's put a little distance between us and that clearing then we'll settle in for the night. We'll make better time in daylight anyway."
"Shouldn't we try to find the encampment tonight, Sir?"
"No. I want you rested. Tomorrow morning's soon enough."
They hiked for another thirty minutes or so before Nelson was comfortable with stopping. Chavez curled against a tree to sleep and Nelson covered him with ferns as an added measure of camouflage. When Nelson was finished Chavez had become part of the jungle. He was completely invisible to the naked eye; hidden in its menacing shadows he was just another piece of the jungle.
Nelson settled a few feet away, his weapon resting against his chest but his senses still on alert as he pulled an energy bar from one of the pockets on his vest. He contemplated the comfort a good strong cup of coffee would bring but even if he dared risk a fire, there was none. They hadn't packed in any real food, just enough to sustain them, to keep them going until they reached their objective. He doubted that they even had enough for the return, a sad testament to his expectations for this mission. There was no need to plan for the return trip when you didn't expect there would be one.
He stayed awake another hour or so, watching and listening to the jungle. Chavez had long been asleep and Nelson wondered just how many of these missions the man had been on. Chavez was career military and he respected Nelson's rank. He hadn't even asked any questions. Nelson had led and he had followed. He could only assume that he was used to the setup, used to having someone guide him to the target and if need be, protect him until the job was done. With his gun in hand and his mind still processing those thoughts Nelson leaned back against a tree and drifted into a light sleep.
Sam and Daniel sat quietly in her living room, sipping coffee and trying not to mention Jack. They had discussed the alien attack in some depth with Sam still stubbornly insisting that Mitchell had been hot headed and reckless. Daniel listened patiently, humoring her even though he didn't totally agree. She was military after all and he wasn't, to him they were all dangerous, even himself at times, but this was different. Sam was truly concerned. She seemed certain they were headed for disaster and Daniel knew and respected her well enough to listen to any concern she voiced. He also remembered that she had mentioned something along these same lines to Jack. Daniel furrowed his brow and concentrated on her words. Sam had always been levelheaded, maintaining her objectivity in the most stressful situations but still as he listened to her recount the mission and Mitchell's faults, he could not avoid his own concern - about her. Her memory was still a bit distorted, it didn't quite match his and he assumed that could be attributed to the alien infection. She was still recovering, it hadn't been completely eradicated from her system yet and it was still influencing her memory. He started to question her but paused, hesitant to explore yet another subject that would increase her stress. She needed to rest and he doubted the coffee that she was consuming would help achieve that objective.
"Um, Sam, maybe you should rest for a while. Dr. Summers says that you're not completely clear of the poison yet. Why don't we wait a few days to hash out this thing with Mitchell, just until you feel completely well again."
"I feel fine, Daniel!"
"Sam, it's possible some of your memories are still distorted. Please, I promise we'll do anything you think is necessary...let's just give it a few days, Ok?"
"All right but you have to promise you won't go off-world with him until we do?"
"Sam, you know...I follow orders the same as you do."
"I know that, Daniel, but if it comes to that, I want you to promise that you'll talk to Landry first...and that you'll tell me. If you can't promise, then I'll just have to talk to Landry now."
Daniel studied her stormy blue eyes for a long few seconds before answering.
"Ok, Sam. I promise. Now, why don't you get some rest, I'll stay if you want."
Sam smiled up at him as he stood and offered his hand but the worry in her eyes defeated her attempt at reassurance.
"Just let me clean this up first."
She leaned over and picked up the coffee cups that sat abandoned on the table and started for the kitchen. She moved easily across the room depositing the cups in the sink and was turning to leave when her eyes fell upon the answering machine. The message light was blinking rapidly and she suddenly realized that she hadn't checked it when she returned home. She stared at the light for a moment, knowing without doubt that Jack's voice was hidden there. A sense of foreboding filled her as she reached up with an unsteady hand and taking a deep breath, pressed the button.
The mechanical voice came to life, followed by a slight pause and then just as she'd expected Jack's voice filled the room,
"Hey, baby, it's me..."
Sam closed her eyes, leaned into the wall and listened, allowing his warm, soothing voice to surround her and momentarily comfort her just as it always had.
As the first message ended and the next one began Daniel came rushing into the room.
"Sam, I thought I heard..." He stopped as Jack's voice filled the empty space and turned back towards the machine. "Oh, of course..."
Sam looked up at him with saddened eyes and a tear-streaked face. "I forgot to listen..."
"Ah. Ok, I'll just go back..."
"No, Daniel, stay...please."
He nodded his head and stood quietly staring at the floor, a bit uncomfortable as he listened to Jack's familiar voice speaking softly to Sam.
The "good night" messages played for a while and then the machine clicked off. As it shut down Daniel looked up into Sam's worried eyes.
"What? Sam, what is it?"
"He hasn't called since we left on the mission."
"Well, maybe he..."
"Where is he, Daniel?"
Tears again began to trickle down her cheeks and Daniel moved closer, enclosing her in his comforting embrace.
"I don't know, Sam."
"He...he could be in trouble. We've got to find him, Daniel."
"Sam, he's in Washington. He may be in trouble...but not the life-threatening kind. He's probably just working on something really important."
"Then why won't they tell me where he is? Why doesn't he answer his phone?"
"I don't know, Sam, but we'll find him." Daniel pulled her close and hugged her into his strong chest, slightly alarmed as she almost collapsed into him. "Come on, let's get you to bed and I'll see what I can do. Ok?"
She nodded into his shoulder and Daniel led her down the hallway to her bedroom. Sam crawled onto the soft mattress and he covered her with a blanket that was draped across the foot of the bed.
"Get some rest. I'll be just down the hall if you need me. Try to sleep, ok?"
Sam nodded and Daniel exited the room, pulling the door closed behind him. Sam turned to the picture on the nightstand. Jack's arms were wrapped around her and he was smiling as he stared into her eyes. He was truly happy. She could see it clearly even frozen in the pixels of a photograph. She pulled the picture close, hugging it against her chest as the image blurred and her tears escaped their boundaries.
"Oh, god, Jack, I'm so sorry. Please come home."
The first soft rays of morning light began to trickle down towards the jungle floor illuminating the green canopy above their heads and falling gently around Chavez. He stirred slightly, pushing aside the natural blanket that covered him and turning from side to side looking for Nelson. Seeing only jungle around him, Chavez moved as quietly as possible to a standing position lifting his weapon with him as he rose, holding it securely in his experienced hands. He listened intently to the sounds around him mentally sifting out all of nature's sounds and searching for any that would indicate Nelson's position. He had been standing motionless for five minutes when his radio clicked. He lifted his weapon, scanning the jungle around him until Nelson's soft voice broke through the silence.
"Nine o'clock. Coming in."
Chavez turned to his left and watched as Nelson appeared, seeming to materialize out of nowhere.
"So, nice sleep?"
Chavez lowered his weapon and allowed a small grin to settle on his face.
"Yes, Sir. Nice sleep."
"You need to work on that, Chavez. You sleep way too soundly for your own good."
Nelson was already moving away from their makeshift camp and through the jungle towards their objective.
"But you were watching all night. Weren't you, Sir?"
"Yes and I walked right beside you! You didn't even flinch!"
"I was trained to remain hidden, Sir, to stay alive."
"But you didn't even hear me! How is that going to keep you alive?"
"Excuse me, Sir, but how do you know?"
"What?" Nelson was growing agitated at Chavez' calm exterior. Didn't this punk know he was trying to save his ass? "Are you telling me you did hear me?"
"Well, I didn't see any sign of that Chavez and I've been trained to notice those kinds of things!"
"Colonel, I'm a sniper. Staying alive means staying hidden. If I move...I'm dead. If I'm dead, then the job doesn't get done and some big shot in Washington has to send some other poor Joe in here."
He paused and stared at Nelson with cold, dark emotionless eyes.
"It's just you and me out here, Sir and I suppose you're very good at what you do or they wouldn't have sent you but whatever that is, it has nothing to do with me. I'm not here to protect you, so don't expect me to put on some hero act and risk my life to save yours...because I won't. I'm here to do a job, that's all and frankly, Sir, I don't really need your help."
"No? Then why am I here?"
"I don't know the location, you do."
"Ah, yes. Well, just make sure you do your job, Chavez and maybe I won't have to carry your sorry ass out of this jungle on my back!"
"I don't think you'll have to do that, Sir, I'm guessing you're also my executioner."
Nelson came to a full stop and turned to look at Chavez.
"What? Why would I do that?"
"Because you were ordered to, Sir."
"No, Captain! I'm your bodyguard...not your executioner. My orders are to get you home...in one piece if possible."
"If you say so, Sir."
"I do say so, Captain. My job is to deliver the weapon to the target and return said weapon to base. That's you, right?"
"Well then let's get on with it, Captain or am I going to have to drag you?"
Chavez watched him closely, staring into his eyes as if he was trying to steal a piece of his soul. He didn't trust this man, not in the slightest sense of the word but he believed he was telling the truth.
"Right behind you, Sir."
The conversation stopped there and they continued on in silence, moving as quickly as possible through the dense jungle.
There was no sign of any other human being but their instincts caused them to increase the distance between them as they walked. Nelson kept his eyes moving, watching the jungle around them and keeping an eye on Chavez who was about twenty yards behind him and off to his right.
They'd been walking for about forty-five minutes when Nelson heard the sound of twigs breaking and a muffled "umph". He turned quickly searching the jungle for Chavez but he was gone. Nelson broke into a run; abandoning the need for stealth as he headed in the direction he'd last seen the captain. He stopped suddenly when Chavez' voice spoke quietly in his earpiece.
"Careful, I'm in a pit. There may be more."
"Ok. Don't move! I'm almost there."
Nelson trained his vision on the ground beneath him and moved quickly, but carefully across the jungle floor. He could see the pit before he reached it and pulled his lips back in a tight grimace dreading what he would find once he reached the edge. Crouching on one knee he called out to Chavez and waited as he turned his face toward the colonel. Chavez was a foot or so above the floor of the pit suspended by the sharpened poles that pierced his body. Nelson grimaced involuntarily as his eyes moved along the other man's body noting each injury. He looked like a broken doll. A wooden spear had pierced his right shoulder and the bloody point was poking through a few inches from Chavez' cheek, several others had glanced off his pack and lay sprawled to the side. One leg dangled helplessly between the still standing spears and the other was suspended on a jagged spear that had torn completely through his leg, his blood spilling freely into the pit below.
"Ok, this is...bad. Are you injured anywhere that I can't see?"
Nelson was moving slowly around the pit checking the position of each spear.
"I...I don't think so but I can't move."
"Don't even try. I'll get you out."
"I don't know...my leg's broken and my arm too, I think."
"Ok, well...inconvenient but not fatal. What about your back? Any punctures?"
"I don't think so, the pack must have stopped them."
"Yeah? What's in that pack, Chavez?"
Nelson lay on his stomach and pulled at the remaining spears until they were all either out of the pit or lying harmlessly on its floor. Then he rigged a rope to a nearby tree and lowered himself into the pit with Chavez. He carefully removed all the spears he'd been unable to reach from the edge of the pit and then began to work on the injured man. Using two of the spears he immobilized his broken leg and removed all the spears he couldn't reach from the sides. He lifted his arm as quickly as possible freeing it from the invading spears and laid it across his chest. Then he knelt on the floor of the pit and retrieved Chavez' cap, rising again to force it into his mouth.
"Bite down, this is gonna hurt."
Chavez nodded and bit down on the cap. Nelson sank back down to the pit floor placing his shoulders beneath Chavez' hip. He wrapped his hands around the man's legs and then stood up forcing his leg to pull off the spear. Chavez' screamed through gritted teeth and Nelson mumbled apologies as he gently lowered his leg to the ground. He turned to look at Chavez, an apology already in his eyes.
"Once more and we're done. Can you make it?"
Chavez turned his head toward the spear protruding from his shoulder and nodded slightly, biting down harder on the material in his mouth. Nelson slipped beneath Chavez' now inclined body and kicked away a few remaining spears that clung to his pack. Then he centered his shoulders against Chavez and hoped silently that his own height would be enough to free him. Using his legs as powerful levers he pushed his body upward, lifting Chavez with his shoulders. The man above him cried out in anguish as the wood ripped through freshly torn flesh and Nelson felt his body begin to slip to the side. Quickly he pressed his hands against Chavez' shoulders and pushed with all his strength. There was another muffled cry as the spear was cleared and Chavez' fell free to the ground. Nelson crouched over placing his hands on his knees and rested momentarily from the effort. Then he turned his attention to getting the wounded man out of the pit.
An hour later Chavez had passed out but he was free of the pit and now lay on the jungle floor. Nelson had bandaged his wounds and done his best to stop the bleeding. His leg was still oozing and Nelson had applied a tourniquet to the injury, hoping to aid the clotting process.
Nelson was also prone on the jungle floor. He had slept little the previous night and had eaten only a small amount of food, that combined with the strenuous effort necessary to remove Chavez from the pit, had left him close to exhaustion. His mind however was working feverishly through the problems at hand. Kassem was only a short distance away but Chavez wasn't able to complete the mission. Nelson wasn't sure he'd even make it out of the jungle.
He'd have to leave him here and make it clear that he was on his own. He'd come back for him if he could but knowing there was no guarantee that he would survive. Fighting against his need to sleep he retrieved and emptied Chavez' pack. Then he quickly assembled the weapon and was relieved to see that it appeared unharmed. After checking it as completely as possible he located the ammunition, loaded the rifle and placed it on the ground next to Chavez.
Working steadily he positioned some of the spears across the pit and covered them with plants and branches, returning it to what he hoped was its previous form. Then he did the same with Chavez, hiding him as he had the night before beneath the natural blanket of the jungle.
He took a small container of water and a few energy bars stuffing them into his vest and leaving everything else for Chavez. When he was finished he moved closer to Chavez and shook him gently until his eyes opened. Then he told the injured man his plan.
"Watch for snipers, Colonel, in the trees...as you get closer."
"Will you recognize the target, Sir?"
"I hope so, if I don't...then we came all this way for nothing. Keep your head down."
"You too, Sir."
Nelson nodded and disappeared into the jungle. He moved quickly hoping to make good progress before darkness fell around him. He cleared his mind, removing all thoughts of Chavez and home, focusing on his mission, intent on completing the job that Chavez couldn't.
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