Title: The Jack Gets Naked And Whumped Fic (for want of anything better! <LOL> Thanks for the title, Lynette!)
Author: Karen (Kent)
Category: Jack whumping and angst (like I ever write anything else!!)
Season: Any with Daniel
Sequel/Series Info: None
Content Level: 13+
Content Warnings: Don’t think so. Apart from the nakedness which might, I suppose, induce bouts of swooning!
Summary: See title
Disclaimer: I don’t own them, nor do you. I made no money from this, and am not rich enough to sue.
File Size (kb):
Archive: Jackfic, others please ask first
Written for the First Annual Jackfic-a-thon in response to a challenge set by a person as yet unknown! I hope whoever it is is happy with what I did with her little plot bunny.
Dedicated to Arnise and Hoo, in grateful thanks for all their hard work in making the wonderful Jackfic website what it is. Because, without you both, I’d have nowhere to put my stories once they’re finished as I don’t know one end of setting up/organising/running a web site from the other.
Grateful thanks go to Patti for betaing.
And to Lynette, Taskmaster General, who betaed and betaed and betaed, and who made sure there *would be* an Infirmary scene of some description at the end, come hell or high water (mainly by writing most of it herself), and who ensured the BURN got mentioned at every possible opportunity!! And without whom this fic would be half the fic it is, and would never have hit the deadline. Thank you.
Any mistakes that remain are entirely mine.
And, lastly, by complete coincidence I’ve been reading ‘Captain Blood’ by Rafael Sabatini, which tied in with huge elements of the bunny I was sent. And which had a big influence in the way the plot ended up going. But I only realised that after it had happened.
Time frame: Seasons one through five and seven. (Daniel must be there and Jack has to be a Colonel.)
Jack gets left behind/captured for some reason and ends up being made a slave to either a goa'uld or the local powerful person.
Notes: Basically, I want some Jack whumping and them making Jack do as he's told. I'd also like a scene where Jack is sold at the local slave market (prefereably starkers, but if you can't write that to be shown on jackfic then at least in his boxers!) I'd also like to see what happens when he gets home and how his team helps him cope.
There were times when Colonel Jack O’Neill kinda questioned his career choices. Kinda wondered about ‘The road not travelled’ or whatever it was the poet had been going on about. Kinda wondered if he’d have been better off being a pizza delivery man. Or a programme seller for the Minnesota Wild ice hockey team.
Anything, except being a colonel in the US Air Force.
He particularly had those questions when he woke up with a head that told him, clearly and in no uncertain terms, that he’d been knocked unconscious.
And when he could feel heavy shackles around his ankles.
And when he felt like absolute crap.
Yep. Definitely had that, too.
He just had to have that little talk with his local employment office.
There’d just got be an easier way to earn a living.
He tried opening his eyes, and wished he hadn’t. So he shut them again.
The piercing pain that speared right through to the centre of his brain, like a well-placed knife blade being used as an ice-cream scooper without anaesthetic, was enough to make him want to vomit.
After a while, the hot sensation of approaching nausea receded somewhat. And the knife had been replaced by a power drill which was working overtime at puncturing a hole through his eyeballs from the inside out.
Raising a hand to his forehead, he tried to let thoughts leak into his mind without them leaking out his ears.
Crap, his head hurt.
He gently traced the swelling that ran down beside his right eye and on towards his mouth.
At least he couldn’t find any suggestion of broken cheekbone.
No thanks to Mr. Swinging Cudgel, and his band of happy campers.
Easing his hands down he patted his chest feebly. No combat vest.
With infinite care he turned his head millimetre by millimetre and forced his rebellious eyes open, one at a time.
The power drill went into overdrive and then, he was certain, had a personality transplant; becoming a chain saw that Jack was convinced was being used to remove the top portion of his head, thus leaving his brain exposed to all and sundry.
He had really been on the receiving end of one almighty wallop.
As his blurred vision began to clear, in an uncertain and rather *unclear* kind of fashion, he saw people huddled together. Frightened people. Chained by the ankles, as he was. Dressed in simple Medieval-style peasant-like outfits. Except for . . . one man. Who was attired in desert BDUs. And chains.
And who wasn’t Daniel Jackson.
Jack shut his eyes again.
And tried to remember.
He was almost certain the chain saw had removed the area of his brain that allowed powers of memory to function properly, because he was damned if he could remember anything.
Indeed, the only thing he could recognise of any importance at the moment was the bone-splitting pain in his head.
After long consideration, he decided he didn’t think so.
Okay . . . come on, O’Neill. Start functioning.
Slow, deep breaths helped steady him.
And the chain saw finished its job, and handed over to its mini-cousin the power drill once more.
Jack didn’t make the mistake of opening his eyes again.
He simply lay thinking; and, finally, remembering.
A seemingly innocent conversation.
‘It’s a straightforward mission, Colonel.’
Gotcha on that one, General.
‘I’m sure you’ll be back in no time.’
Score two for the negatives.
‘Colonel Haynes was going to handle things, but he’s fallen ill, so, I thought you could lead SG-7 in his place.’ Hammond had smiled, ingratiatingly.
‘How ‘bout delaying the treaty, sir? A coupla days. What’s the difference? Just until Paul feels better . . .’
He really didn’t want to go off world with another team. He had his own team. And a nicely established routine: he gave the orders; Carter confuzzled him with science; Teal’c looked scary; and Daniel just ignored any orders he was given. Yep. Routine. Ya had ta love it!
And call him grouchy, but . . . he *really* didn’t want to go off world with another team and have to sort out another routine.
‘It’ll be useful experience for them, Jack. Getting to work with you. And you can run an assessment on them for me. They’ve been on a couple of missions and Haynes says they’re all settling in fine. But . . .’
‘Sounds like Paul’s assessed them pretty well already, sir.’ Just how much more reluctant did he have to be before the General would get the hint?
‘I’d value your opinion, Jack.’ Yeah, right. ‘And, the chief was very particular. He wanted the signing to happen as quickly as possible.’
Hammond hadn’t given ground. Reluctant 2IC or not.
So Jack got an extra trip through the Gate with Captain Hill, and Lieutenants Brooks and Cady.
And, with hindsight, you betcha sweet backside the chief had wanted to sign the treaty with some haste. He must have known an attack was a possibility, and had hoped the SGC would afford them some protection.
Well, boys and girls, we might have: *if* *we’d* *known* *about* *the* *possibility* *of* *said* *attack*!
A little heads up wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Then a certain Air Force Colonel might not have been caught with his pants around his ankles, figuratively speaking.
Actually, he’d been watching Lieutenant Ian Cady, SG-7’s recently recruited Daniel Jackson clone, going about his business and completing the treaty.
When everything simply went nuts. In a big way.
He remembered a sudden mad screaming that tore the air in two.
And Captain Nick Hill shouting, ‘Colonel!’ in a voice had just carried over the sudden panic of the villagers and the thunder of invading horse hooves.
Jack had signaled for the captain to sweep left as he swept right.
Jack’s progress was hampered by terrorised villagers who were rushing for any kind of cover in a disordered scramble.
‘Cady!’ Jack yelled. ‘Help the Chief!’
He’d had no chance to see if his order was being obeyed as he then turned his attention to the raiders. Struggling to aim his P-90 without catching innocent bystanders in the cross-fire he shoulder-barged through the surge of desperate humanity: men, old and young, dragging women with them; women, clutching robes about them, and dragging children after them; children crying, bewildered and frightened.
If he had had any doubts about the intentions of the horsemen they were dispelled with a mercilessly scything blow aimed at an old woman who had staggered to her knees, pushed aside by stronger people in the melee. She had no chance to evade the blade that killed her.
Jack heard himself shout, ‘Bastard!’ as his first burst of firepower lifted the woman’s killer from the seat of his saddle and cast him into the dust, yards from his defenceless victim.
Above the screaming and shouting he heard a burst of gunfire that had to be Captain Hill, his second-in-command on this mission.
Then O’Neill turned his attention back to the wild rampage of horsemen sweeping through the village.
He fired again.
A short burst.
As figures flickered through his eyesight.
He recognised Shauna carrying her infant son. He and she had talked a little over the last few days. Also, Malik and his wife, Desiree, who had taken to Captain Hill because he looked like their son, dead these past few years. And the kids, Shofal, Hendrik and Foy, to whom Jack had started teaching the basics of baseball.
In micro-seconds their faces registered. Along with targets to fire upon.
That was what a soldier did. Distinguished, in less than a heartbeat, the innocent from the guilty. The friendly from the foe. And fired in response to that instantaneous message.
The horsemen were fast. They were efficient.
And there were too many of them. They might have carried only swords and muskets but they were co-ordinated and ruthless. They had obviously amassed in the woodland beyond the village. And Jack feared the worst for young Lieutenant Brooks. It had been his job to keep a look out. But he hadn’t radioed in a warning. Hadn’t, so far as Jack had heard, even fired a shot in anger.
Which suggested to Jack that Brooks had been caught napping. That the marauders had had an advance scouting party. And that they had been more alert than the unfortunate Lieutenant.
Jack felt the bile rise in his throat. His usually infallible radar for trouble had let him down. And he had let Brooks down. He had figured it was an easy assignment for the younger man. Guard duty amongst the trees. On a quiet planet. With no apparent threat.
And yet, you should always . . . *always* . . . assume a threat.
Three days of making nice with the natives, while he left Cady to the mind-numbing treaty negotiations, had apparently lulled him into a false sense of security.
For which there was no excuse.
Brooks was probably dead.
Because his CO had slipped up.
Now Jack could only hope that his worst fears weren’t justified.
But, if Brooks had been captured he’d be here with the rest of the bedraggled remnants of the village. And Jack was as sure as he could be, from his brief survey, that Brooks wasn’t present.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
It was as if regret and self-guilt were trapped like a sour taste in his throat, and the feeling of responsibility swelled like nausea inside him. Christ. He should’ve taken the recon. himself. Should’ve checked in with Brooks more often. Should’ve done . . . a million other things.
Like you could second guess everything in the universe.
At least he could hope that Brooks might have survived.
With Captain Hill there was no such possibility. Like Jack he had responded to the attack. Unlike O’Neill, who had eventually been knocked off his feet and into unconsciousness by a rider brandishing a hefty cudgel, Hill had been ridden down. Jack had seen him try to evade the pounding hooves of one of the lead stallions; seen him dodge that first horse, only to step into the path of another. Jack had seen him go down, under the merciless, steel-bottomed pistons. He’d had no chance. His head had split like a pumpkin beneath a baseball bat, and his body was caught like a rag doll, kicked with careless abandon between one set of feet and another, until it was cast aside and left twisted in a wholly unnatural manner against a wall.
Jack remembered screaming, ‘Hiiiiiiiiiiilllllllllllllllllll!’
Remembered his heart stopping. Then plunging into his boots.
And he’d been distracted. Momentarily. But that was all it took. He was still firing. Automatically. But when he looked up . . . the cudgel was already on its way down.
Now, lying with the appalling scene replaying again and again against the exclusive and unforgiving screen that was the underside of his eyelids, Jack struggled to come to terms with what had happened.
And tried not to wonder whether it would have been the same of he’d had his usual team with him.
Should he be guiltily thankful they hadn’t been there?
Would he have put Teal’c out in the woodland?
Would it have been Carter?
Would either of them have been caught out like Brooks?
Would he have seen Carter’s brains spray the dust like Hill’s?
Would it be Daniel captured with him? Or would Jackson have sensed something might be about to happen?
Why, why, why hadn’t *he*, *O’Neill*, sensed something? Without his own team he should have been even more alert.
Was he losing his edge?
Had he already *lost* it?
Time passed with remorse-filled slowness as Jack struggled through feelings of miserable guilt that clung to his mind like an insidious disease. Which could cripple him unless he got a grip of himself.
Slowly, he recovered to the point where he couldn’t ignore any further the fact that there was a surviving member of SG-7 still there with him. And a village of people.
With reluctant effort he cracked open an eye. He was lying in one of the big barns that stood at one end of the village. Hanoki, the chief, had been proud of the buildings when he had shown SG-7, and it’s less than enthusiastic leader, around the village. Cady had had Daniel Jackson style orgasms concerning their structure, and even Hill and Brooks had seemed to be swept up in the while thing.
‘It’s a freakin;’ *barn*, Cady, for Christsakes.’
‘Well, yes, sir. That’s true. But the overall construction has several influences which taken together, in its entirety, make the whole thing . . .’
‘*Cady*! It’s a *barn*!’
He had seen Brooks and Hill attempt to hide smirks by chewing vigorously on the inside of their mouths. Cady, in a true Jacksonesque style just wasn’t seeing the lack of enthusiasm in his CO’s demeanour.
Brooks . . .
Hill . . .
O’Neill gritted his teeth. They had been his responsibility.
No more smirking.
And no more going home.
For either of them.
Taking a deep breath, Jack began to survey the group of people gathered dejectedly around him.
He instantly recognised Shauna and her son. And she was looking in his direction. Her deep hazel eyes clouded with fear. Her son was nearly two and she held him tightly to her side. Others he also recognised from his stay in the village.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
How had he missed undertones that this might happen?
‘Sir?’ Cady’s voice was quiet.
Jack carefully turned his head to look at the Lieutenant. ‘You all right, son?’
‘Uh, yes, sir.’
‘Uh, no, sir.’
‘Good. Wanna tell me what this is all about?’
‘Umm, Hanoki has told me that he was not expecting this for some weeks.’
Jack said nothing. Berating Hanoki wasn’t going to bring Brooks and Hill back. Or relieve O’Neill’s guilt. And, anyway, Hanoki was a leader. He was almost certainly feeling as devastated as Jack was. His people, too, were gathered here as prisoners.
So, what’s going on?’ he asked again, trying to keep his voice even. Getting irritated with Cady wasn’t going to aid things either.
‘So far as I can tell, sir, it’s a dispute.’
‘Don’t tell me . . . Hanoki lost?’
‘So it would seem, yes, sir.’
‘The people in his village are to be sold as slaves.’
‘This rounding up of slaves thing is getting so old, don’tcha know?’
‘Uh, yes, sir. It’s a very old custom. In many parts of our world it’s . . . ‘
‘Please . . . spare me the history lesson.’
‘Oh. Right. Yes, sir.’
There was a pause.
He could barely bring himself to ask. ‘Have you seen Lieutenant Brooks?’
The long silence gave him his answer before Cady’s eventual, quiet, ‘No, sir.’
Jack let go a breath he hadn’t even realised he was holding as hope left him with the air he expelled, dissipating and dissolving like crumbling rock under the scrabbling fingers of a climber who knows he’s about to fall.
O’Neill let his eyes close.
Brooks was almost certainly dead.
Although, where there was no body, there was still a chance. He could cling on to the last remaining grain of hope that Brooks had avoided capture, or worse, and was, right then, planning their rescue.
Unlike . . .
‘Captain Hill, sir?’ Cady’s tone was, at best, tentative, as if he already knew the news was bad. ‘He was with you.’
‘He’s dead, son.’ Jack kept his voice as even as he could.
Cady’s silence spoke for them both.
And the Colonel knew, that, like him, Cady was thinking of a ready smile. A slow Southern drawl. And a wife who did not yet know she was a widow.
After a night spent in the barn, the villagers, Cady and O’Neill were all ordered to their feet and marshalled outside. They were a despondent group. There were women with frightened children clutching at their skirts. There were men with broken pride in hopeless eyes. And watching, were those not chosen: the old and the sick. Who wailed and cried as if their limbs were being amputated without anaesthetic. They tried to touch those they were about to be parted from, but the riders skillfully used their horses to shoulder them away, corralling the prisoners together.
Then they were addressed by a man who sat tall in the saddle and who wore the cold uncaring face of a man inured to the suffering of others. He wore breeches tucked into riding boots that reached his knees, and a coat that looked to Jack like something on the run from the American War of Independence: with its high, turned back cuffs, and skirts that reached almost down to the rider’s knees. To complete the outfit, a wide leather belt circled the man’s waist like a sash, and from the saddle a wooden handled pistol and sword were suspended in holsters.
He circled his steed, controlling the large black stallion with ease, as he called for silence.
‘All of you are now subject to the rules of His Gloriousness King James the Second. I hereby claim this land in his name for the further glory of His Highness and his subjects. Any dissent will be considered as mutinous and dealt with most severely, even unto death.’
Jack tried to sneak a look at Cady. This didn’t sound very Goa’uldish. It was the Brits who had people like kings and queens. And, he seemed to remember, the Dutch. And Norwegians. And . . . well, Europe in general had adopted the idea at various stages over the centuries.
And what sort of phrase was “even unto death” when it was at home?
Cady carefully raised his shoulders and then lowered them in a ‘beats me’ kind of way, and waggled his eyebrows in a manner that was frankly confusing. He could be saying ‘what do we do?’ Or not. Jeez. Jack had a sudden longing for Teal’c and a familiar pair of eyebrows he could interpret instantaneously.
Or Daniel with his inexhaustible supply of historical knowledge.
Which thought only left him feeling guilty for not appreciating Cady’s talents.
And then wondering whether all this would have happened if Daniel had been there instead of Cady.
Which again left him feeling guilty.
At which point he gave up, because his head hurt with the confusion. And he found he’d missed the end of the speech by King James’ disciple.
Herded by the riders, the prisoners were forced to turn away from the village and to begin walking in a straggled formation of despair. The villagers kept turning for a last anguished look at the home they were being forced to depart, and those they were being made to leave behind; many of whom followed in a procession of distress, until their old or infirm legs could carry them no longer. And one by one they slipped to the ground crying out their lament of grief and farewell.
Using cudgels and whips the riders forced the train of human goods onwards, leaving their home and relatives behind.
Jack helped those near him who stumbled with tears in their eyes, or fell as they twisted in search of a last memory of home. Cady did the same.
And O’Neill knew they had drawn the attention of the representative of King James. Which wasn’t hard, as they stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb: Hanoki and his tribe were dressed in simple clothing, sack-like dresses and simply-composed pants and shirts.
Jack and Cady still wore SGC issue desert combat pants with accompanying sand-coloured tee-shirt, jacket and boots. And was clearly more sophisticated than that of the natives. In addition, their skin colour was much lighter than that of the villagers. And so, it was impossible to blend in. They were quite obviously . . . well, different.
All the group were hampered by the chains around their ankles, and initially stumbled often. But unsympathetic encouragement with blows and whippings meant that quickly everyone learned to adopt a stilted and shortened gait.
So, the newly acquired collective property of King James wended its considerably less than merry way away from the village. Away from the Stargate. And towards an uncertain future.
They had walked for a couple of hours before they were allowed to stop and sit in the shelter of a group of trees that offered a sad excuse for shade; their branches being adorned with only the bare scraps of anything resembling leaves. There were bushes that bore a strong allegiance to tumbleweed. And a wide stretch of river. A very wide stretch of river.
Mister Representative of King James graciously allowed the prisoners to the water’s edge in groups, guarded by others of his horsemen.
Jack scooped up the liquid gratefully and swilled it to allow it to moisten the inside of his mouth. He had no purifying tablets; they were in his pack, which was in a hut back in the village. And the two he always carried in his combat vest for emergencies were lost along with the vest itself.
And his P-90.
Under the excuse of sipping the water he let his eyes wander. There were at least twenty riders, all armed with pistols, old-fashioned muskets and swords. He couldn’t see his missing equipment.
He let the water slide deliciously down his parched throat, and then sluiced his grimy face; feeling the beginnings of a growth of stubble along his jaw-line, and carefully assessing his bruised face. He was fairly certain now that bruising was all it was. Thankfully, he didn’t think his jaw or cheek were broken; medi-care seeming to be the least of his captors’ concerns.
As he was escorted back to the trees he passed Cady, with Shauna and Hanoki, being ushered down to the water-line. He grinned encouragingly at them before being pushed on with the business end of a cudgel.
Lying in the sparse shade offered by a sad excuse for a bush he allowed his half-closed eyes to roam over the band of chained villagers and the riders. Mister Representative had sorted out a patch of shade under the only piece of vegetation that could rightly be called a tree, and had found a chair from somewhere.
And the man was . . .
Uh, oh . . .
Jack narrowed his eyes even further.
That was definitely a combat vest.
And that was quite certainly a . . .
The air was rent by the explosion of a P-90 firing.
The Representative dropped the gun as if it had fired a shot of electricity through him and he back-pedalled from the weapon in such a comically windmilling fashion that Jack would, under any other circumstances, have been moved to laughter.
Here, he just lay and watched.
As did everyone else, attracted by the considerable noise.
It took a while for Mister Very Shaken Representative to recover his poise, but when he did he searched the group of slaves quickly with furious eyes.
‘There!’ he gestured. ‘Those two. Fetch them hither.’
Hither? Jack wondered. But, ‘Shut up and follow my lead,’ was all he managed to Cady, as they were dragged from the crowd and pushed towards His Eminence.
Jack had little time to think; however, trawling his memory, he was almost certain Cady hadn’t been wearing his own vest when he was negotiating with the chief. Something about it being discourteous to do so.
Jack was also as certain as he could be that neither had Cady been armed.
If the vest was Jack’s, the contents included a couple of purifying tablets, two ammo clips, three MREs, his radio and his GDO. As well as an assortment of other pieces he liked to keep to hand, like a roll of string and a penlight. And a yo-yo.
If the gun were Jack’s, and had not belonged to Hill or Brooks, it would now be close to being out of ammo. Back in the village, he’d fired a prolonged burst before going down underneath the blow.
Grimacing, and chewing the inside of his cheek he stood and looked at the offending articles until Mister Eminence gingerly picked up the vest.
And holding it up for general inspection, asked, ‘What is this unknown attire?’
‘It’s not a tyre,’ Jack said. ‘It’s a vest.’ Weak. But the best he could do at present.
‘Yeah. Everyone’s wearing them this year. They’re really fashionable.’ Without much effort his tone slipped into insolence.
His Eminence nodded to someone behind Jack. And a blow between the shoulders drove him to his knees.
‘You dare to mock the appointed representative of His Majesty?’
‘Uh, . . . well . . .’ Jack appeared to give the question some serious consideration, before he said, ‘yes. Apparently.’
Another blow landed him cheek first into the dirt.
Pushing himself back to his knees, he watched as the vest’s pockets were opened and the contents exposed. His Greatness turned the unfamiliar items over in his hands. The MREs caused consternation; probably because, Jack decided, the man had never come across plastic, sealed wrapping before.
‘What are these?’
‘Food.’ Nothing like confusing him further, if at all possible.
‘Food? You eat these? What strange creatures are you? You are not of the tribe of these others.’ He gestured towards Hanoki and his followers.
‘We’re no stranger than you,’ Jack replied. ‘We were just visiting Hanky and his folks. And it was all going really well ‘til you all butted in,’ he ended insolently.
Mister Ambassador narrowed his eyes but let the insult pass.
‘You live close by?’
Jack tilted his head and raised an eyebrow mockingly. ‘Like I’m gonna tell you that, for crying out loud. You just want to go out and bag a few more unfortunate slaves.’
The eyes coldly searched his own. And Jack knew he was doing himself no favours by lacing his voice with impertinence.
Then the man looked hard at Cady. Who said nothing.
Looking down at the vest Mister Confused Representative covered his obvious uncertainty by continuing to pull out items from the pockets. The ammo clips were next. And instantly the man’s eyes flickered to the P-90 he had inadvertently fired earlier.
‘These are extra . . . shot . . . for your . . . muskets?’ He could obviously see the similarities between the pieces he held and the composition of the gun.
The Representative gestured for one of his aides to pick up the P-90, which still lay on the floor.
And Jack watched with narrowed eyes. Beside him he could feel Cady stiffen.
Please God let the thing no longer be loaded. The trigger would be so much lighter than anything these people would be used to. The merest pressure and someone could easily find they were suddenly much more ventilated than they were before.
However, perhaps warned by the previous explosion, the aide was very tentative about handling the weapon, and passed it over without causing any unexpected and unwanted damage.
The barrel swept up in front of Jack’s face, as Mister I’m In Charge took hold of the gun, and Jack couldn’t help but flinch and turn his head away. Wincing and shutting his eyes in a reflex action.
Jeeeeeez! If Mister Follower of King James caught his finger in the trigger guard . . . Jack tried not to think about the irony of his body being ripped apart by bullets from his own gun.
‘I wish to be told how they are reloaded.’
Jack cracked an eye open. The gun was pointing at him.
‘Nope.’ He said bravely. Or foolishly.
‘This fits together . . . how?’ The clip was waved in one hand, and the P-90 in the other.
Shit! Be careful!
Jack took a deep steadying breath, and said, ‘Nope. Not playing.’
Mister Representative started to cautiously fiddle with the P-90. But he couldn’t disengage the magazine. Jack watched carefully, ready to throw himself to the floor, or at Reppy, if it looked like bullets were going to start flying. And he knew Cady was similarly poised.
‘Tell me!’ Angered impatience was creeping into the man’s voice.
Jack looked at him, hard and long. ‘No.’
‘You are the possession of King James. I am his appointed representative. You will tell me what I want to know, or I will punish you.’ Eyes flickered sideways. ‘And your friend.’
‘Him? He knows nothing,’ Jack shrugged dismissively. ‘He’s just a . . . uh . . .’ he searched for the right word, one Reppy would understand, ‘ . . . uh . . . a scholar. He doesn’t know anything about weapons. He just writes things down.’
He felt Cady stiffen in outrage.
‘Then *you* will tell me how it works!’ Reppy demanded, his face getting flushed with temper now. Always a dangerous proposition for someone when the person in a tantrum was holding a loaded weapon.
‘No.’ Jack continued to be stubborn.
‘Tell me!’ He lifted the gun, and Jack saw the finger find the trigger.
‘Noooooooo . . .’ Jack screamed as he threw himself forward.
The gun went off with a deafening, deadly rattle.
Caught out by Jack’s sudden movement, the guards couldn’t prevent him from bowling Mister Representative over.
As Jack’s hands desperately clawed for the weapon, as suddenly as it had started to fire, its appalling noise ceased.
Jack struggled frantically against hands that caught at his uniform and which then pinned him down; but although he tried with every ounce of strength to buck himself free, he couldn’t escape those who forcibly held him down.
With the already heavily bruised right side of his face pressed into the dirt, and hands all over his shoulder blades, back and legs, Jack relaxed and just waited.
He had lost Round One.
Mister Rather Deflated Ego picked himself up, and lifted the weapon. He tried to fire it into the air. But the clip was empty.
A deafening hush held everyone’s attention.
He pointed it at Jack. ‘You will be worth much in the slave market. You are strong. And stubborn. And will command a goodly price. But,’ his eyes gleamed with malice, ‘you must learn you *are* a slave. You are no longer a soldier.’
He looked at those who held Jack. ‘Tie him to the tree. He will have no food or water until I order it. But . . . first . . . ‘ he advanced and gestured for Jack to be hauled to his feet. Then he drove the gun into Jack’s gut, and then hefted it into the side of his head.
Jack lost consciousness.
When he came to he had his back to a tree with his hands pulled back behind the trunk, and tied very securely. Leaning back, and letting the percussion section that was having a rehearsal of its latest cacophonous work inside his head, play itself out, he tried to fit the pieces together. Whoever King James was he was obviously intent on a little empire building, and Hanoki and his unfortunate villagers had gotten caught in the crossfire.
It would seem, though, that Mister High And Mighty Representative was unaware of the existence of the Stargate. He might be curious about Cady and Jack and their odd weapons and clothing. But he seemed at present to take it at face value that they had merely came from another village.
Whether he would continue to hold that view was anyone’s guess.
From where he was, Jack could see his companions in misfortune being herded to the river side, and across the water he could see a wooden platform making its way from the other bank.
Ferry would have been too glamorous a description for the transport, which was just a long flat wooden contraption with barriers at the sides to stop folks falling overboard. The captain, Jack smiled to himself at the extravagant word, was using a long wooden pole as a rudder to guide the transport against the current.
Having to be divided up into manageable groups, it was clearly going to take time to get everyone across the river.
Jack took the time available to him to try and free his hands, but all he got for his troubles were skinned wrists.
Looking away to his right he could see Reppy sitting under cover letting others do the work. He was turning an MRE over and over in his hands. When he tired of that he held up some thing else and began to examine the small round object.
Well, long may he entertain himself with that, he thought.
Jack was much more concerned about the P-90. And the penlight. Things that definitely marked him, and, by association, Cady, apart from Hanoki and the others.
The afternoon wore on, as the slaves were shipped across the river and chained together on the other side.
As the sky was beginning to darken, Jack was finally released from the tree and ushered to the ferry with his hands still tied behind his back, to make up part of the last contingent. Cady was also there. And Hanoki.
‘You okay, sir?’ Cady enquired quietly.
Jack shrugged. ‘I’ve been worse.’
He tried a grin, which he suspected was rather lop-sided as he was certain his face was hideously swollen where the gun had made contact; adding to the bruising on the same side of the face, from the earlier cudgel blow. All in all, Jack reckoned that his right cheek was probably looking quite colourful by now.
Cady looked slightly disbelieving.
‘Trust me, Lieutenant, I’ve been a lot worse.’ He grinned what was possibly a quite gruesome grin, and went on, ‘Been a lot better, too. But there you go. Tell me,’ he looked about, before asking the question he’d really needed to know the answer to since he’d recovered consciousness, ‘was anyone hurt when the gun went off?’
Cady shook his head. ‘No, sir. The bullets went into the air, thanks to you.’
Jack felt a weight slide off his shoulders, and he released a deep sigh. ‘Thank God.’
Settling down, he stretched his long legs out, and leaned back against the ferry’s railings to take stock.
No one seemed to have noticed his quiet conversation with Cady. The guards were busy loading Mister Representative’s rather unwilling horse on to the ferry, along with their own steeds, and Mister Representative himself was seated in his chair, now aboard the ferry, still examining Jack’s yo-yo.
‘Anything to report, Cady?’
The Lieutenant flicked his eyes from side to side before answering. Then, deciding the coast was still clear, he murmured carefully, ‘I heard them say this is the only river crossing for miles, sir. They’re pretty pissed about it and there was quite a bit of moaning about the fact that they have to rely on the old guy to get them across all the time.’
Jack grunted in response.
Cady continued surreptitiously, ‘They want to take charge of the ferry and tell the old man to get lost.’
‘Bastards,’ Jack muttered. ‘I s’pose the poor fella’s been running the thing for years, until they came along.’
Cady half-shrugged. ‘Guess so, yes sir.’
‘Anything more on our happy hosts?’
‘Ummm, only that they don’t really like it here.’
‘They’re not the only ones,’ Jack grumbled.
‘Apparently, their homeland is a long way away across some great ocean. And they like it better there. Life’s not so hard. But, they’re are all pioneers and have to build up a colony here in the name of their king.’
Jack grunted under his breath in response to this information.
‘This group is in charge of finding people they can use as labour to clear and work the land. Apparently, when we get to the town, they intend to sell us to the plantation owners.’
‘Colonisation,’ Jack said grimly. ‘Ya gotta love it.’
Cady was saying something else, but Jack had been distracted, his eyes narrowing as he saw the combat vest and P-90 carried aboard to make up part of the baggage this trip.
Sitting back quietly, Jack tilted his head back and gave a good impression of someone exhausted and tired. From underneath half-shut eyelids he watched as the ferry-master cast off and guided the boat out on to the water. The river was extremely wide, and the current appeared to be uncertain, catching the craft unawares and taxing the skill of the captain to keep her heading towards the other bank, where the other slaves and guards were gathered. Jack could see the water press against the side with rushing white eddies, indicating the speed of the tide, and he watched the captain’s arms strain and bulge with the effort of keeping a steady course.
It was clear that a rider on horseback would find this a difficult obstacle to cross.
He filed that information away for future use. And went back to calculating distances between himself and the P-90 and combat vest which were conveniently piled together beside Mister Still Having Fun With A Yo-Yo. He was welcome to do what he liked with the toy. It was the weapon and the clips of extra ammunition that Jack was particularly concerned about. The weapon could do some serious damage if someone worked out how to use it. It could also lead to more questions than Jack was prepared to answer. As could the GDO, which hadn’t been on his wrist, but in one of the pockets of his vest.
The whole situation was too fraught with imponderables and uncertainties for his liking.
Easing his shoulders along the railing, Jack inched his foot out.
No one took any notice.
Except Cady. Who looked away instantly.
The guards had obviously decided no one was going to do anything in the middle of a fast-running river, and Mister In Charge was too busy having fun with the yo-yo.
Jack eased further sideways under the guise of scratching his cheek on the railing.
Nodding his head forward as if tired, he measured the distance carefully.
He slid his foot further forwards with clandestine cautiousness, before suddenly swiping it sideways with decisive and satisfying accuracy.
The guards reacted to the sound too late. Mister Soon To Be One Very Pissed Off Representative shouted his anger and sprang to the side.
In time to see the vest and P-90 disappear beneath the surface.
Jack looked up and smiled innocently. ‘Oops. Clumsy me.’
Mister Now Definitely One Very Pissed Off Representative said nothing. He didn’t have to. The fire in his eyes said everything. Flinging himself around he ripped a riding crop from a saddle and, with no care for the restricted space on the craft, began to flay Jack around the head and shoulders.
Only the restless shifting of the horses to avoid the disturbance gave him cause to stop.
‘You’ll pay for that,’ he assured Jack from between gritted teeth.
‘Sorry. All out of money.’ Jack tried to smile ingratiatingly, despite the blood he could feel running down his face. He’d ducked. But not well enough. He could tell that his unlucky eyebrow was split again.
‘I didn’t mean that way.’ The boot caught him under the ribs and Jack folded over gasping for air, left in no doubt about the method of payment that would be exacted.
Once the ferry docked on the other side, Jack was hauled ashore by several of the guards.
Mister Seriously Unhappy Representative had already disembarked and was on horseback in what Jack decided was an intimidation tactic.
The man’s mouth tightened in obvious disapproval, and he gestured to his goons who pulled O’Neill closer, so that their leader could run his eyes over the captive. Jack stood still and let the man judge him. Giving him eyeball for eyeball. Which wasn’t very sensible, probably. But somehow he figured sensible was going to get him about as far as being downright reckless.
‘Pay attention!’ the horseman’s voice was loud and carried over the mass of enslaved humanity.
Word of events aboard the ferry had spread as an audible ripple through the crowd, all of whom now watched with fear veiling their eyes. And a thankfulness that it was not they that had drawn attention to themselves.
‘You are now all the property of His Majesty, King James. As his representative I am able to do with you as I please.’ He paused for effect. ‘You will be taken to the market in town. There I shall sell you to those who need slaves to work their land. Anyone who tries to escape will be punished. Anyone who causes trouble will be punished.’ His cold eyes alighted on O’Neill. They were empty of pity, or, indeed, of any kind of emotion. They were amongst the most unfeeling eyes Jack could remember looking into. And he’d looked into a few over the years.
The slaver surveyed his goods. ‘This man has refused to accept my authority. He has defied me. And that I will not accept. Watch. And learn.’
He nodded to his henchmen. Who were obviously well trained, because they needed no further instructions. Jack’s hands were freed, momentarily, before being tied together in front of him and attached to a long extra rope, which was quickly thrown over an overhead branch. Given minimum chance to struggle by the heavy tank-like goons Jack was hauled off his feet.
Uh, oh. Been here before, Jack thought dismally.
As the goons stepped back he couldn’t resist a futile face-saving kick at the retreating heavyweights.
He connected satisfyingly with a thigh.
But had little time to enjoy his mini victory before a hefty fist buried itself in his gut.
Struggling for breath, Jack looked at Mister King James Is My Boss, who was pointing with a whip at O’Neill’s feet. Dangling helplessly off the ground. Weighed down by the attached chains.
It was a battle, and the goons got kicked and spat on for their troubles. O’Neill got a vicious back-hander to the mouth that split his lip, and several brutal thumps to the ribs.
But the goons got his boots and socks in the end.
One of them presented them to the horseman, who admired them and turned them around to inspect his new acquisitions. Obviously pleased, he then nodded to the goons.
‘Hey,’ Jack managed, between drawing in painful breaths, ‘you only had to ask. They’re just an old pair. Nothing special. I was gonna throw them out. You’re welcome to my cast-offs you freakin’ muppet.’
The man’s eyes narrowed. Then he flicked his whip viciously in Jack’s direction. ‘Observe what happens if you anger me,’ he announced to the crowd of silent watchers.
And Jack supposed that making an example of one saved Mister Boot Robber the rebellion of many. Producing fear of what might happen to you if you disobeyed was a powerful mind control.
Jack was comforted by the fact that the P-90 was now happily at the bottom of the river. And he could assume that the other weapons were back in the village, because so far they hadn’t been produced.
Hopefully Carter and Haynes, if SG-7’s regular commander was recovered, or whoever else got the fun job of mounting a rescue mission, would collect them before any other happy King James Campers got their hands on them and started shooting up the neigbourhood of innocent bystanders.
He’d hoped that he might escape really severe punishment for his little weapons-overboard stunt.
And other assorted words of that ilk.
He heard the murmurs of the crowd and twisted his head to try and see what they had seen.
And then wished he hadn’t.
They left him hanging there. All night. As a message to the others.
And by the time he regained consciousness the following morning he reckoned that everyone had absorbed it pretty well. It was, after all, written into his skin loud and clear for everyone to see.
And those who couldn’t see it because they might be blind, or simply too frightened to look, would have damned well heard him screaming, so there was no danger of anyone within, oh, he had to reckon at least a five mile radius, not having sorted out that pissing these guys off was not good for your future health and well-being.
It certainly hadn’t been good for Jack’s. In his alter ego as Mister Example To The Masses.
His arms and shoulders were aching with a burning fierceness, and, as the morning wore on, breathing became much more of an effort as his ribs had to fight gravity with no support from his legs, which were suspended a good metre off the ground.
And through it all, the brutal branding inflamed into his side constantly reminded him of the punishment they had inflicted after they had ripped away his tee-shirt. The hot poker they had held against his skin until it began to peel away and the tender flesh underneath began to cook.
He had smelt his own body fry.
And he had twisted in desperation like some grotesque marionette displayed for a child’s terror. But they had held the burning metal against him no matter how he tried to escape it.
And he had screamed.
As the morning wore on, Jack’s head eventually fell forward in weariness. And he shut his eyes so he didn’t have to look at the evidence of his further humiliation, spread across the front of his combat pants. He didn’t even remember doing it, as he thrashed and flopped like a fish fighting for survival at the end of a line, but he’d quite clearly lost control in the agonising throes of trying to ride out the savagery of the torture.
Jack had only a long and pain-filled memory of screaming, despite his best efforts not to.
Before passing out.
The camp was being disbanded.
And Jack could only watch.
And try to breathe.
And try to ignore the unpleasant odour that seeped up to his nostrils from the front of his pants.
And try to ignore the fact that every breath was a struggle.
And try to ignore the vicious spasms of muscle cramps in his arms, shoulders and neck.
And the knife-stabbing pain of poor circulation to his hands.
And the enflamed swollen wound in his side.
Until, eventually, someone came to cut the rope above his head that suspended him from the tree branch, so that he fell and ended up sprawled in the dirt, hands still tied, eyeball to boot cap.
If his shoulders or arms had been in anything resembling working order he’d have pushed himself upright. Unfortunately, both were somewhat hampered by severe cramps and the savage sensation of blood suddenly rediscovering veins and arteries neglected for the last several hours thanks to the suspension of arms above head.
It was all Jack could do not to weep, as he felt the liquid burn down the blood vessels inside his arms.
Instead he concentrated hard – very hard – on the boot under his cheek.
A boot that eventually moved to flip him carelessly over on to his back.
‘You are a mess.’
There seemed little point in finding any energy to answer Mister Representative’s observation, so Jack remained silent. Working hard at his breathing instead.
And trying to ignore the pain in his damaged side.
Yes. He knew. He’d had the aroma for company for some while, thanks.
‘You offend me.’
Suddenly he was lifted, and felt hands at his waist.
Jack’s half-swoon, disappeared in a rush of panic.
They weren’t going to . . .
His pants were pulled down and then cut away, and, before he really had time to protest, his boxers went the same way.
And were then cast into the embers of a nearby fire.
‘It is regrettable, but we have no replacement clothes. However, the smell I believe we can help you with.’ A cruel and anticipatory smile spread across Mister Revenge Is Apparently Very Sweet’s face, and he jerked his head to one side.
Jack found himself dragged quickly away from the group and thrown, unceremoniously, into the shallows of the river.
The very cold river.
Jack gasped at the icy bite of the water, and choked on a suddenly indrawn mouthful of river.
Coughing and spluttering like a half-drowned rat, he struggled to regain his footing; fighting against the weight of the chains still attached to his ankles, and hampered by the ropes that still bound his wrists. Knowing that he was a sadly bedraggled sight, he struggled to the shoreline, ignoring the ribald comments and cruel laughter as he fell to all fours, regurgitating river water on to the shore.
Sagging on to his elbows and knees he could do nothing but try and clear his liquid impeded airways. Naked butt in the air. Well, whatever. Air was his number one priority right then.
Finally, oxygen and his starved lungs became reacquainted and Jack collapsed to the ground, thankfully hauling in deeper and deeper inhalations of air.
Fractionally pleased that the cold water had, if nothing else, eased the burning in his side.
Until he felt a kick against his other side.
And he cracked open an eye.
His modesty was obviously not a consideration then.
He’d done Humiliation 101 more times than he could count. If Mister Bully Representative thought he was going to score points that way he had another think coming.
Dragging himself upright, Jack ignored the other prisoners.
He was left naked, unless you counted the covering of river water that continued to drip from his hair and trickle down over his skin. And the ropes. And the chains. And the goosebumps – he had plenty of those as well.
But clothes? Nope.
So he walked. Naked.
Apart from the ropes that bound his wrists.
Pulled along attached to the saddle pommel of Mister Big Boss Representative’s horse. Stumbling and staggering. Struggling to stay on his feet.
Feet that were being grazed and cut by the track they were following.
And the rest of his body was little better off, as he kept stumbling and tripping over the awkward chains.
But there was no sympathy shown, and he expected none. Jack knew he was being used as an example.
A clear message, saying:
This is what happens if you cross us.
Do you want to suffer the same fate?
No. Of course not.
Toe the line then.
Otherwise you too will be tortured and dragged along like a dog on a leash.
He might make Mister Slaver very little money at auction, thanks to the poor condition he would be in when they eventually got to market, Jack thought bitterly, but he was proving priceless in the aggravation he was saving him en route.
He knew damned well that the villagers had gotten the message. They sent him fleeting sympathetic glances, but he could see defeat in their eyes. They were not warriors and didn’t have the know-how or understanding to resist what was happening to them. It wasn’t that they were weak, just that they were overwhelmed by the swiftness of events that had torn them from their village and enslaved them, literally overnight.
So they shuffled along shoulder to shoulder in collective misery. Muttering quiet support to each other in sad voices of hopelessness.
Cady, Jack could see, had managed to find a place next to Shauna and her son, and the soldier was helping her as best he could. When others stumbled he tried to support them too. As did Hanoki; the village leader trying to exhort his people to remain strong and help each other.
But there was no one allowed to help Jack when he stumbled. He had to struggle to his own feet. Difficult with bound hands and chained feet.
At a halt for rest in the heat of the mid-day Jack was relieved to have his chains removed, which made his progress in the afternoon easier.
But, even so, by the time they stopped for the night he was exhausted.
And had no energy to even begin to formulate a plan of escape.
His feet were cut and bleeding, as were his legs and knees from the frequent falls he’d taken. He’d been far too concerned with protecting the very sensitive parts of his anatomy when he’d lost his balance, particularly through the difficult morning’s chained trek, thank you very much, to think about the skin on his lower limbs. If he twisted to the side and his outer thighs were scraped, well . . . that just had to be, frankly.
Now, he lay gazing at the dark sky. A ball of painful, wearied misery. Too drained to think of anything but using some of his meagre water ration to clean the deep burn in his side, and eat the gruel the prisoners were fed in small wooden bowls.
As he finished he found that his role as Example 101 wasn’t over.
Dragged to his feet he was paraded.
‘Remember!’ The lead horseman bellowed. ‘Look at this miserable piece of garbage.’
‘Well, thanks,’ Jack murmured. ‘I know I’m not looking my best, but that’s hardly polite.’ But he doubted anyone heard him. He barely heard himself. He had hardly been able to find the energy to formulate the sentence.
‘If you wish to be treated like this,’ the leader continued, ‘then try to escape. And you can take his place. Otherwise, be sensible. Accept your fate and behave.’
No one said anything.
Heads were cast down.
Body language spoke eloquently of despair and defeat.
And Jack was damned sure no one was going to make any attempt for freedom that night.
Curled up in the dark under a tree he found, on waking, that someone had carefully covered him with a blanket.
A thin blanket. Full of holes.
But he had never been so grateful for so meagre a gift.
Lying there in the half-light of dawn he could sense the crisp chill of dew-edged air against his skin, and could hear little but the murmur of trees shifting in the breeze and the call of birds stirring in the early morning.
It was almost enough to make him forget that his hands were bound, his ankles re-chained and that he was bruised, battered and sore in too many places to count. And that all around him the sounds of heavy breathing came from exhausted and enslaved humanity.
He lay for a long time as the bite of cold reached under the thin blanket and began to seep into his naked body.
Assessing things, he didn’t think that he had any permanently debilitating injury. Yet. He could only hope that the burn to his side remained infection free. Other than that, he was just very battered and very much the worse for wear.
His eyes traced the early signs of light that were starting to pale the sky behind the tree tops away to his left. And became aware of eyes watching him.
It was Shauna. Still clutching her son to her breast. Her eyes blinked as he looked towards her, but she didn’t look away. And he instinctively knew he had her to thank for the blanket. Although goodness only knew where she’d found it.
He forced a smile and mouthed the words ‘Thank you’ in her direction, and was rewarded by a glimmer of a smile that slid momentarily across her face, like the light of a candle flickering its last in an adverse wind. How different from the wide smiles he had seem her use back in her home village.
Jack remembered their first meeting. Her son, Popolo, who was about two, had escaped from her side and tottered away into the street.
‘Hey, little man,’ Jack said, as he gathered the boy up. Cattle were free to roam the village and they would not be bothered about an unsteady youngster who couldn’t move quickly from their path. ‘Where did you come from?’
Popolo had grinned at him and reached up for Jack’s ball cap.
Casting an alert eye around, Jack had failed to trace any obvious owners.
He had seen a grin on Captain Hill’s face. And Lieutenant Brooks was trying hard not to stare.
So there went his Hard Ass image.
‘You,’ he told the boy, ‘are doing my reputation no good at all, don’tcha know?’
The boy had merely laughed and pulled the ball cap off Jack’s head.
‘Popolo!’ the worried voice could only be the boy’s mother.
He had turned to find her, skirts gathered in her hands, hurrying towards him from one of the huts.
‘Oh, my boy. You are so naughty. You mustn’t wander away like that,’ she scolded her voice full of concern.
‘It’s okay, ma’am,’ Jack assured her, smiling. ‘He came to no harm.’
She reached for the boy and Jack deposited him in her arms. Ball cap and all.
‘Thank you,’ she murmured shyly. Then began to try and disengage the cap from her son’s clutching fingers.
Popolo began to protest.
Jack reached forward and laid his hand over hers. ‘Please,’ he said quietly, ‘there’s no need. He can keep it.’
She had protested.
He had insisted.
She had protested some more.
And he had insisted absolutely.
And somewhere, in amongst it all, as a result of a runaway kid and a ball cap, they had become friends.
It helped that Popolo had only to see Jack and he would come pottering over. Then Shauna had to come and retrieve him. Or Jack had to return him.
‘He’s a handful,’ Jack had said, smiling.
‘Yes,’ she’d agreed, ‘he is. He needs a man’s guiding hand. But his father,’ her voice had caught on a knot in her throat before she continued, ‘he died. Just before Popolo was born. In a hunting accident. It is . . . not easy . . . raising him alone.’
Jack had looked into lonely eyes, that asked for nothing more than understanding, and had pursed his lips in sympathy. ‘No,’ he’d said, sadly, ‘I’m guessing it’s not.’
In future days, as Cady drew up the treaty, and Captain Hill was adopted by a family who said he reminded them of their dead son, Jack spent time sitting outside Shauna’s dwelling playing with Popolo and sometimes talking to his mother.
And so, somehow, Lieutenant Brooks seemed to get guard duty detail.
That weighty thought came back to him now, as he lay chained in the dirt, and punched him hard in the stomach.
And he shut his eyes. Cutting himself off from Shauna.
Crap. He’d made such a mess of things.
Just because a kid had looked into his face and smiled.
You’re going soft, Jack O’Neill.
And you let invaders take the village.
And anything you suffer now is well-earned penance for that.
And for Captain Hill.
And for Lieutenant Brooks.
He lay, thinking.
Trying to ignore the deepening pain in his side.
And the heavy guilt in his mind.
How long before the SGC sent a rescue party? They’d been in enemy hands now for about thirty-six hours. Sometime soon was their next scheduled call-in. When they didn’t make it and didn’t make radio contact, a MALP would be sent through, followed by a UAV to make a reconnaissance of a larger area around the Gate, which was about eight clicks from the village. And eventually, hopefully, there would be an investigative team. But that would all take time, because Hammond was nothing if not cautious about jumping into uncertain situations. And rightly so.
Jack guessed that the rest of his regular team would volunteer to find out what had happened. And Paul Haynes, if he was well enough by now. He’d be anxious about his team.
But they were going to be at least 48 hours behind, at a rough estimate. Could be more. Unless Brooks really had survived the slaughter and had made his way to the Gate.
Please, God . . .
The sun crawled across the land. Offering sympathetic warmth, if not a comforting word. Wearily, And Jack continued to watch it light the greenery so that the dew clung to the grass like a myriad of miniature crystals, catching the light and reflecting it.
Such beauty . . .
And became aware of other eyes watching him.
His own eyes narrowed as he looked at Hanoki, the former village leader. Who had greeted SG-7 when they made their initial survey through the Gate and reached the village. He had made them welcome, and given no hint his village might be cast into slavery like this. Had he known?
Jack looked into sorrowful and apologetic eyes.
Yes. He had known.
Somehow, O’Neill had known all along that he had.
And had remained silent.
Allowing Jack to send young Brooks off on a seemingly routine recon.
Allowing Jack to lower his guard enough to spend time talking to Shauna about her dead husband and her young son.
Allowing Captain Hill to laugh and joke with other villagers and take his ease.
Jack gave Hanoki a tight glare. One that said, ‘Yeah, well. Thanks a lot. You coulda said something. Given me something to work with. Instead of which . . . ’
Hanoki’s eyes glowed with shame and he rose from his spot and limped over unchallenged by any guards to where Jack lay. Easing himself down, cross-legged despite the chains that circled his ankles, he hung his head.
‘I am sorry, Colonel.’
‘Yeah, well, me too.’ Jack couldn’t keep the resentment from his voice. After all, at least one of his men was dead because Hanoki had chosen to say nothing.
‘I owe you an explanation.’
‘Bit late,’ Jack sniped. Then, chewed the inside of his mouth. Being snitty with the guy wasn’t going to get either of them anywhere. He narrowed his eyes, and, taking a deep breath, said more quietly, ‘Sorry. Look, yeah . . . I’d appreciate an explanation.’
‘These men came to our land from across the Great Sea. They promised friendship and trade and spoke of ties between their people and ours.’
Jack sighed. ‘I’m guessing that didn’t happen?’
‘At first it did,’ Hanoki said sadly. ‘Then, I think they came to see our land as something they could take for themselves.’
‘They started taking more than you thought fair?’
The chief nodded. ‘They put up barriers and began to build their own town. At first they kept themselves very much to themselves, but then we found they began to trespass on to our lands more and more often. And their way of life is very different to ours.’
Jack nodded. He’d already worked that one out for himself. Mister Swinging Cudgel and Mister Branding Iron and Mister Representative of King James were harsh-faced and cold-hearted individuals.
‘This town?’ Jack enquired. ‘That’s where we’re being taken?’
‘I believe so,’ Hanoki agreed. ‘They built it beyond the river and at first seemed content to remain there. They farmed and began to dig the minerals from the land. But more and more of them came. And they brought others of their kind as slaves to work their lands.’
‘Don’t tell me,’ Jack grimaced, ruefully, ‘they came across the river more and more often, and took more and more of your land.’
‘And,’ Jack continued, ‘they had more advanced weapons and so seemed able to do what they wanted?’
Again Hanoki bobbed his head.
‘So, when the team from the SGC came along you thought we were the answer to your problems?’
Hanoki shrugged. ‘I am not entirely sure, in truth.’ He looked into O’Neill’s eyes with sadness. ‘I saw your weapons. And thought them better than those of our other invaders.’
‘But, we could have been just the same as them,’ Jack said. ‘We could have taken your land as they were doing.’
Hanoki nodded. ‘True,’ he agreed. ‘But you were even more powerful than those who already provided us with problems. I had to choose. And you would write your names on paper in agreement.’
‘And they . . .’ Jack gestured at the stirring slavers.
‘They made empty promises and spat in the dust in the name of a treaty. But they would sign nothing.’
‘We could have joined them; been just as bad. Then we’d both have been ripping you off.’
Confusion rippled across the chief’s face. ‘Ripping me off?’
‘Ah. Yes.’ Jack back-tracked. ‘It means we could have taken your property. Without paying you properly. That sort of thing.’
‘I see.’ Hanoki nodded, gravely. ‘Yes. That could have happened. But I hoped that if you were really people of a similar mould you would fight amongst yourselves. And perhaps we could have benefited from that.’
‘Ah.’ Jack nodded. ‘Shame it all backfired for you, then.’
‘And for you. I am sorry that you have had to suffer because of my failure to tell you the full story.’
‘How do you now know that I’m not one like them? I could make a bargain with them and leave you to suffer whatever they have in mind.’
‘After they punished you?’
Jack shrugged. ‘Stranger things have happened in the universe.’
His new friend shook his head. ‘I think not.’ His eyes strayed to Shauna and Popolo. ‘I should have realised that Popolo could not like someone with a bad heart. Children are not easily fooled. Shauna, too, is a good judge.’
‘Yeah, well,’ Jack shrugged, ‘that doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes. It’s easily done.’
‘Why do you seek to turn me against you? I know that is not the case. I wish I had realised it earlier. Then I would have confided my worries and maybe all this could have been avoided.’
Jack would have shrugged but he didn’t really have the energy. ‘We get it wrong sometimes.’
Brooks . . .
He sighed, while Hanoki nodded sadly. ‘I apologise for mine, Colonel, and the misfortune it has brought you and the men you travelled with.’
Brooks . . .
Jack looked away. At a sunrise he doubted the young man could see.
And Hill . . .
. . . most definitely couldn’t. Lying back there in the village with his brains spilled out in the dust.
‘Yeah. We all make mistakes,’ he repeated quietly. And he knew not whether he referred to Hanoki, or himself. ‘But thanks for explaining things.’
They staggered together down the path towards the harbour. Ships were riding at anchor, sails furled. And Jack was reminded of a scene from a swashbuckling movie.
Herded down on to the quay the breeze carried a stinging hint of salt and the seaweed-laced scent of the sea. It was all a welcome change from the increasingly odorous smell of the group. Jack let the fingers of the wind caress his face like a mother touching in wonder the face of her son returned from war. Closing his eyes he stood and ignored the shouts of men, the clatter of hooves and the other sundry sounds of busy humanity that cluttered the air. Instead he concentrated in the shrill call of the seabirds as they wheeled freely above, and the relaxing wash of the waves against the quayside.
He was fishing . . .
A body stumbled against him and broke his reverie.
‘Sorry, sir,’ Cady murmured.
‘’S all right,’ Jack responded, grasping for the blanket he’d tied around his waist in an attempt to provide himself with at least a little modesty, and trying to disguise his resentment that his mental escape had been destroyed.
He held on to the covering around his loins, and began to look about with a soldier’s interest for the lie of the land.
A crowd across the square caught his interest.
‘What’s going to happen do you suppose?’ Cady queried.
‘I suspect that we’re going to be sold like Mister Representative of King James, Happy King From Over The Sea, said would happen.’ Jack jerked his head towards the gathering. A chained man was standing on a block placed on a raised stage, and others were lifting their hands in the age old practice of bidding at auction.
There was a disturbance away to their right as a board was lowered from one of the ships anchored alongside the quay, and a large group of chained unfortunates were herded to the gangplank.
They were considerably the worse for wear and had the look of people who had been penned below decks for a considerable time. Perhaps weeks. Their legs were struggling with the effort of descending the plank to the quayside. Chains weighed their wrists down and their faces were dirty and lined by weariness and despair.
Jack looked beyond them and away to the horizon. Had the ships sailed from a huge distance? Perhaps from the actual land of King James? Bringing these other poor souls into slavery?
A commotion drew his thoughtful eyes back to the spectacle of one chained man stumbling on the wooden plank, knocking into others and nearly causing a domino effect amongst his fellow detainees. Sailors from the ship were less than sympathetic, raining blows down on the fellow’s thin body.
And, aside from Jack, Cady and others of Hanoki’s tribe, no one took any notice. Everyone was concerned with their own business: men, dressed in riding boots, breeches and knee-length old-fashioned coats similar to that worn by Mister Bastard Representative, were armed with muskets, pistols and swords, as they strode about with apparent purpose; women walked about in wide skirted dresses that reached to the floor, stopping occasionally to chat with acquaintances. There were very few children, Jack noted.
Both wooden and stone buildings edged the square. And there were horses hitched at railings in the front of many of the buildings.
The whole picture was like something that had escaped from a movie about life at least three hundred years ago.
Watching the group who had disembarked from the ship being herded towards the stage, Jack wasn’t surprised when he and his companions were also urged in that direction.
Clutching his only form of clothing, Jack let himself drift with the tide of villagers and was then grateful when they were allowed to sit and rest at the foot of the platform. He adjusted his skirt, and then inspected the burn in his side. It was angry, needless to say, and dark-crusted with dried blood around the edges. He’d used the little water he’d been allowed to clean it, but he was on short rations thanks to the vindictiveness of Mister I’m Still Pissed At You, so there hadn’t been much liquid.
Lying back, Jack could only assume he must look like the least appealing specimen of possible slave-labour any prospective purchaser could imagine. His face had to be a rainbow of violence-induced colours, and his side was sporting a messy wound that was going to need attention before its owner could start being a useful and productive return for any investment.
All in all, Jack decided, he didn’t give himself much chance of attracting a great deal of interest. Let alone a price to please Reppy. What happened, he wondered, if he wasn’t sold? A stone around his neck and the old heave-ho off the deck of the nearest ship?
On that cheerful note he closed his eyes and decided that what would be would be, and that, honestly, he was too tired, and hurt too much, to really care.
Slowly, the crowd increased. Word had to have spread, Jack decided: a boat with human cargo has unloaded, and a village of kidnapped locals is also available at reasonable prices.
And, as the auction got under way, numbers swelled even further.
The unhappy freight from the ship was sold first, each specimen made to stand in view of all on the block that was placed in the centre of the scaffold. It seemed that they were all criminals, sentenced to years of hard labour for the most petty of offences: stealing a loaf of bread; vagrancy; trespassing; being a repeated minor offender. All these trivialities appeared to have sent their unfortunate perpetrators into years of slavery.
Before each one was offered for sale a list of their transgressions was recited: Lucas Wiltshire, sentenced to a seven years indenture for begging; Edward Heathcoate, sentenced to fifteen years for attempting to steal a horse; William Smithson, twelve years for poaching . . . the list went on and on. And Jack was left with the distinct impression that life was probably rather hard and unfair on those at the lower end of the social order in the Kingdom of His Majesty King James.
He watched them all pulled to the edge of the crowd for examination by interested buyers, then pushed up a set of stairs on to the platform to be sold, and then led away, like beasts.
‘Sir,’ Cady whispered.
‘If we should get separated, sir?’
‘Then keep watching the horizon, son. Colonel Haynes and Major Carter will be on our trails somewhere. They’ll sort it all out eventually.’
Cady looked rather dubious, but gave a half-nod as the first of their group was hustled away. The villagers had realised what was going to happen and had become distraught at being parted from each other.
Jack tried to shut his eyes and ears to the distressing scenes of hands grasped together, possibly for the last time, and then dragged cruelly apart by Mister Slave Trading Representative’s henchmen.
Wives and husbands.
Parents and children.
Brothers and sisters.
Separated by forces they had no control over, and didn’t truly understand.
Cady was eventually sold to a man who appeared to be buying a whole load of the villagers.
And then, right at the end, it was Jack’s turn.
He was hauled to the front of the crowd, and held there while Mister I Want To Make A Profit At All Costs recited a spiel of complete nonsense about how Jack would be a hard worker and had plenty of brawn if very little brain!
He was going to protest at that, but was distracted by a man who stepped forward and ran his hands over Jack’s body.
‘Hey! Hands off!’ Jack objected as another thin, sickly-looking man pressed claw-like fingers into his biceps.
With his hands chained he could do little to protect himself. And was, anyway, concentrating hard on holding the blanket in place. He’d noticed that groups of women were gathered in the crowd. The last thing he wanted was to be a naked exhibit, thanks very much.
So, he stood and tried to protect his near nakedness, as hands pawed at him; painfully examining the burn in his side; probing the muscles in his arms and legs; and even forcing him to open his mouth so they could examine his teeth.
His one snarled attempt at protest brought him a swift dazing blow to the side of the head, which nearly caused him to let go of the cloth he held to so tightly in front of his privates.
Well, crap, if they wanted him to look ashamed or humiliated they were barking up the wrong tree. Jack cornered any feelings along those lines and shut them away, deep in his head. Then he studiously avoided any eye contact with anyone. Way out beyond the crowds he could see the harbour. He concentrated hard on the glittering water that stretched away to the horizon as he was dragged up the stairs to the block atop the platform.
‘This man is strong,’ Mister I Need To Make A Whole Load Of Money started off. ‘He’ll be able to work hard in the fields with the right persuasion. And I know that many of you know how to apply that.’
That *so* did not sound comforting, Jack decided.
‘You mean he’s a trouble-maker!’ someone called from the crowd.
‘No,’ Mister Desperate For Your Cash replied quickly. ‘Just stubborn. But he can be trained.’
A call insisted, ‘That requires effort and time.’
‘And that will be reflected in his price. Look!’ Mister Trust Me I’m A Fair Trader ran a stick down O’Neill’s arm. ‘He has muscle. You’ve had chance to examine him. He will be a good worker. And I have already started training him.’ The stick caught Jack right in the centre of the burn, and he doubled over and nearly vomited on the spot. Blazing stars flickered like decorative lights in front of his eyes.
And as his fingers grasped desperately at the point of pain, he let the blanket slip.
He tried to recover it, but he’d lost control over any co-ordination thanks to the vicious agony that was knifing its way through his injured side.
Mister Unsympathetic Representative merely hauled Jack upright by his hair and laughed cruelly. ‘See. He comes complete with a free training device.’
The crowd sniggered.
Jack concentrated hard on breathing.
Christ, his side was torment, and he could feel blood trickling down towards his leg.
‘He’s old,’ a man’s voice declared from the assembly below. ‘He won’t last long in the fields.’
‘Old*er* certainly,’ Reppy declared. ‘But hardy. He has to be. He’s had this wound for two days and yet he still continued to walk here. He was allowed no help. He will recover and be a strong and useful worker.’
This is *so* not happening, Jack murmured to himself.
Part 4 An Additional Scene
<Cough> Got a bit side-tracked here!
‘He’s not old!’ a woman defended him. ‘In fact, if I wasn’t otherwise spoken for . . .’ the laughter-filled voice trailed off.
There were scandalised cries of, ‘Judy!’
And much tittering.
‘Oh, I agree with Judy. I think the grey hair is most distinguished.’
Jack heard protests aimed at the second female speaker, saying that he was a slave and that it wasn’t right to discuss him this way.
And had he heard the speaker addressed correctly? Miss Neet? What sort of name was that?
The group of women away to his right seemed quite set on scandalising the crowd at his expense. Probably because he was the last victim of the afternoon, and, bored with the lengthy proceedings, they had decided to engage in a little frivolous fun.
He certainly didn’t think such forward thinking women had been a feature of life three hundred years ago. He’d really have to ask Daniel when he got home . . .
Reppy tried to get things back on track.
‘As you can see, he is well built . . .’
He got no further. The ladies were overcome with mirth.
‘Oh, Dee, what do you think?’
‘Exactly what you are thinking, Charli dear.’
‘Very well built.’
‘In all the right places.’
Other voices chipped in.
*Really* not happening, Jack thought.
‘Don’t try and act the innocent, Karen, you know you’re thinking the same as we are.’
‘Well,’ Karen conceded, ‘I’m sure I can find a place for him at Knox Villa.’
The group dissolved again. Laughing amongst themselves and addressing each other with the easy familiarity of good strong friends. Possessed of rather odd names. One appeared to be a Who, while another seemed to be someone’s Mum.
They were certainly not embarrassed about discussing a slave’s assets and atributes in public.
And Jack could feel the blood stealing up his face.
Okay!! Now back to the regularly scheduled fic . . .
Part 4 continued
There was a murmuring in the crowd, but no one seemed inclined to make an offer.
Stone round the neck, Jack decided. Definitely. And heave ho off the quayside.
‘Come on,’ Mister Slightly Desperate urged. ‘Who’ll start the bidding?’
Finally, the man who had bought Cady raised his hand. ‘Ten pieces,’ he said.
'*Ten*!’ Mister Got To Watch My Profit Margins sounded positively scandalised. ‘Come on now,’ he cajoled, ‘who’ll give me more? He’s a healthy specimen.’
*Really* not happening, Jack thought.
Sadly for him, it appeared that it *was* happening.
He was sold for the risible price of ten pieces of whatever the currency was.
Cady had reached one hundred and eight pieces, Shauna and her child one hundred and thirty-two, and Hanoki eighty-nine.
The same trader had bought them all, and many other members of Hanoki’s tribe, which was the only consolation Jack could find in the whole sorry spectacle as he was led away to stand with them.
Mister Representative removed the chains from around Jack’s wrists, and held out his hand for payment. Gold coins were exchanged and Jack studiously avoided watching what was going on. They were ‘buying’ and ‘selling’ people. Cady. Shauna. Her son. Hanoki. Him. So many others.
He was sickened by the whole impersonal process. By the careless attitude.
His new owner threw a ragged pair of trousers to Jack’s feet.
‘Put them on.’
There was a time and a place for resistance and mulishness. This most certainly wasn’t it. And he quite simply didn’t want to spend goodness only knew how much longer naked, if he refused the clothing. So, he dragged the breeches on. They weren’t a wonderful fit, but they clung to his hips enough to allow him a little restored modesty.
‘You escape, I’ll flog the hide off you when I get you back. And I *will* get you back. Understand?’ The statement was made to the group, but the man’s eyes were on Jack. And it was Jack’s nod he waited to see before moving towards his waiting horse.
They had exchanged one jailer for another.
The estate to which they were taken was a fair trek from the town, and Jack distracted himself from the raw misery gnawing away at his side by mapping the passing terrain in his head, as they walked.
You never know, he told himself. Might come in handy.
The plantation was a new concern, the house looking as if it wasn’t quite finished yet. But the stockade to which the slaves were taken was solidly fenced, even if the inner buildings where the slaves were to sleep also looked incomplete.
Their new purchaser stood in front of his newly acquired property and spoke clearly.
‘Some of you will be house slaves, used to do cleaning and paperwork. Most of you will work the fields. I need the land prepared quickly for planting crops. I will not abide slackness. I will not tolerate laziness. This man,’ he gestured to a burly, ill-shaven man, whom Jack quickly decided had mean eyes, ‘is my overseer. He is in charge of the plantation. It is his job to see that the work is done and that things proceed in an orderly fashion. He will punish anyone he judges is not doing their best.’
Great, Jack thought. The man had bully written all over him.
*So* not the sort of man you wanted as your supervisor, and granted complete and absolute rights over your welfare.
‘The house and field slaves will all sleep together in this stockade. That apart, the rules are simple: work hard and obey orders. Otherwise . . .’ he nodded to The Overseer.
Jack had no time to react before the whip the man carried curled about his shoulders.
‘ . . . Otherwise,’ the Owner continued after a heartbeat’s pause to see that everyone had understood the message, ‘you will be punished.’
Jack, it appeared, was going to continue in his celebrated task of Public Punishment Role Model.
The next two days passed slowly.
In his award winning part of Whipping Boy, absolutely and utterly no pun intended, Jack found The Overseer made sure the newly assembled bunch of workers came to realise what awaited them if they didn’t behave or work to his expectations.
‘Call that a furrow?’ he sneered at Jack’s attempts with a spade, before showing his displeasure with the whip.
Later he spat, ‘Everyone else can work faster,’ with scorn before handing out the expected punishment.
And he took no account that Jack was struggling because he was already injured. It seemed O’Neill was expendable in pursuit of teaching others conformity.
Even when the others got to rest Jack was ordered to fetch water for The Overseer, or to stand and hold a covering that shielded the bully from the midday sun. Any obvious reluctance to obey or hesitation on his part meant instant and swift retribution, and Jack knew that if he had any hope of either escape or mere survival until rescue arrived, he couldn’t afford serious injury.
And, truth be told, he really didn’t have the energy to protest his treatment.
And while the others watched with sympathetic eyes, it was clear they got the message.
By the time the third day was coming to a close Jack was nearly at the end of his tether. His side was not healing, and although he’d been able to use some old sacking as a bandage and had cleaned it at every available opportunity, an increasingly angry look to the edges was beginning to worry him. Infection was the very last thing he needed just now.
Staggering across the yard towards the stockade, Jack despised his weakness, but knew there was little he could do. The Overseer was intent on highlighting his failures at every turn, and every extra punishment leached a fraction more from Jack’s considerably depleted reserves of strength.
Now, he’d been sent to fetch water for his fellow slaves in the stockade, at the end of a punishing day in the fields.
He looked around.
‘Lieutenant . . . ‘
‘How’re you doing, sir?’
Jeez! The Lieutenant had obviously been taking lessons in fatuous questions from Daniel Jackson.
‘Never been better, Cady. I just love being chained up and having to work as a field slave.’ He glared at the unfortunate younger man. And grated, ‘How d’you *think* I’m doing?’
‘Ah. Yes. Quite.’
For crying out loud the man even *sounded* like Daniel. Was it a prerequisite for getting a position as a geek on a Stargate team?
‘You okay?’ Jack asked. He’d had no chance to converse with the younger man, who had been working long hours in the house, and hadn’t been returned to the stockade in the evenings until after Jack was asleep with exhaustion.
‘Me?’ Cady blinked. ‘Well, it’s not too bad, really. I have to do the accounts and write letters. That sort of thing. And Shauna has to clean the house and do the cooking.
‘Lucky you,’ Jack couldn’t help the snark.
‘Uh, yes. I’ve heard that you are . . . umm . . . not being treated very well, sir.’
Euphemism that *that* was!
‘You could say that, Lieutenant. I am, apparently, The Overseer’s pet experiment in establishing social order.’
‘I know.’ Cady looked over Jack’s shoulder. ‘Sir, I need to talk to you tonight.’
‘Just things, sir. I’d rather not discuss them here. But it’s important.’
Jack sighed. ‘Okay. I’ll try and put off my beauty sleep . . .’
It was then he saw The Overseer stride around the side of the block.
Without saying anything Jack picked up his bucket and began to move away.
Not quickly enough.
‘Hey. You! Stand still.’
The Overseer marched up.
‘You!’ He flicked his whip under Cady’s nose. ‘What were you doing talking to this field slave?’
‘Don’t take that tone with me.’ The handle of the whip drove across Cady’s face and he staggered.
‘It was . . . ’ Jack began.
He didn’t get to finish as the whip handle smashed into his cheek.
Grunting, Jack stumbled to his knees.
‘You are a troublemaker. Why are you talking to your friend?’
‘He’s not my friend,’ Jack denied. And, before Cady could say anything, he pulled himself upright and spat in the younger man’s face. Cady took a step back in shock. Then realisation lit his eyes. As Jack had hoped it would. It was easier to be seen as enemies. Easier if people thought they had no ties. That way one could not be held accountable for the other.
‘Bastard,’ Cady reacted in true thespian style. Probably enjoying the momentary distraction from slave-life and the fact that he could insult a superior officer without fear of official reprisal. Well, not from the US military, at least.
‘Shut up!’ The Overseer turned to Cady. But it was obvious his main target was O’Neill. ‘You!’ he bellowed at the Lieutenant. ‘Get yourself to your work inside. You!’ he gestured to Jack with the handle of his whip. ‘The Post. Now!’
‘No!’ Cady protested.
‘Get yourself inside, unless you want a thrashing, too.’
Jack flashed Cady a grim look and jerked his head towards the house as The Overseer turned away. It was clear that all Cady’s enjoyment at mouthing off at his CO had vanished in the instant he realised the consequences for O’Neill.
The Post was in the centre of the courtyard and both men had seen it used the day they arrived. On one of the few field slaves who had already inhabited the estate, and who had tried to run away.
Locking eyes with The Overseer now, Jack saw the gleam of sickening anticipation in the man’s soul. He’d seen it in the eyes of others down the years. Weak men who found their only way to be strong was to hurt those who could not protect themselves. And weak men in positions of power always enjoyed punishing those they perceived to be stronger, and whom, ordinarily, they would never have dared to touch.
Their eyes held and both knew that the other understood the situation: one man was completely defenceless; the other gloating with the supreme authority of the whip he carried.
With a sneer, Jack turned towards the Post as Cady, casting a heartfelt look in his CO’s direction, turned to leave.
‘Take off your shirt.’
Pausing a moment, simply because anything but instantaneous obedience aggravated this man’s soul and it was the only petty thing Jack could do, he then removed his rough work-shirt. And, yes, it would undoubtedly lead to more blows, but, frankly, he didn’t care.
Discarding his shirt with disdain, Jack followed instructions to turn and brace his hands against the post just above head height, arms outstretched, head bowed, feet apart.
Feeling the sun’s rays kiss his bare back. And the pain that pierced his side as the position of his arms pulled at the burn in his side.
He heard The Overseer move to stand at his side, and Jack braced himself for what he knew was coming. Taking a deep breath, he bit into his bottom lip. And waited.
The Overseer took his time, knowing that every anticipatory moment was a torment in itself.
Then, Jack heard the whip snap back, and he shut his eyes.
Twenty strokes flayed his skin.
They cut his back apart and drove him to his knees. And by the end he was half-sobbing in pain, his cheek pressed against the wooden stake that had seen so much savage punishment like this.
He clung to the pillar, unwilling to slump entirely to the dirt. But, when he was commanded to stand, he could barely do so. His knees were water and his muscles had turned to soggified paper.
‘Get to the stockade. Do not talk to another house slave in the courtyard without permission again. Ever.’
Without a backwards glance The Overseer left Jack in a crumpled heap clinging to the life raft that was the wooden pole. And there was no one near to hear his grated, ‘Jesus, Carter. Could ya hurry up and get here.’
Jack lay on his stomach. It was the only way to avoid further damage to his lacerated back. But it was playing havoc with the burn in his side which was now pressed into the floor of the slave shed. He watched his breaths blow slight pools of dust from the floor into the air, before they settled down in small corrugated swathes, creating a rippled effect in the ground.
If O’Neill was able to lie on his back, he would see the stars through holes in the roof, blinking down at him from the face of the night sky.
Unable to do as he had on the previous nights since they arrived, he instead lay on his front and watched the dust grains rise and settle in rhythm with his breathing, and gradually he was lulled almost to sleep.
Cady settled himself alongside O’Neill.
Jack raised an eyebrow so he could see the outline of the Lieutenant’s face caught by the glimmering moon that looked in through the incomplete roof of the hut. He was trying as hard as possible not to move. Moving caused an exquisite agony he’d had enough of as he’d struggled to get back to the stockade. No one had dared to help him, so he’d had to manage the entire, excruciating few metres all on his own. Slowly.
‘How’re you, sir?’
‘As good as I look, I imagine,’ Jack mumbled into the dust. And then resisted the urge to sneeze as particles went up his nose. He dreaded how much torture that sort of convulsion would cause his raw side and back.
‘I’m sorry about what happened, sir.’ Cady’s voice was distressed. ‘It was my fault for stopping you. I didn’t realise . . .’ He petered out.
‘It was no one’s fault, Lieutenant. Except, perhaps, that bastard overseer’s. Forget it.’
‘But . . .’
‘Forget it, Lieutenant. And that’s an order.’
Cady was silent a while. Then, reluctance oozing from each syllable, he said, ‘Yes, sir.’
Jack waited for him to continue. And when he didn’t, prompted him quietly, ‘You wanted to talk about something?’
‘Ah, yes.’ The Lieutenant seemed to gather his wits together. ‘The thing is, sir, I wanted to talk to you about the other slaves.’
Jack was certain Cady must have seen his brow furrow in confusion.
‘Up at the house there’s been talk about selling the children, sir. Kids like Shauna’s son.’
Popolo. Poor little chap, Jack thought. Caught up in all this. He wondered if the boy still had the ball cap he’d given him.
Cady continued, ‘They think the really young ones are a distraction for their parents. And they cry a lot because they’re confused and upset, particularly if they’re too young to work, and their parents aren’t around because *they’re* working.’ He bit his lip. ‘Shauna’s really scared. And it’s not just her.’
Since when had this conversation been about *Shauna*?
‘Well, that’s a real shame, Lieutenant,’ Jack coughed, ‘but we’ve got other things to worry about.’
Cady looked shocked. ‘Like what, sir?’
‘Like *us*, Lieutenant.’
‘Uh, well, yes, sir. But . . .’
‘We came to make a treaty with Shauna’s people.’
‘Yes. Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, *Lieutenant*, there’s been a slight change of circumstances since then.’
Cady looked embarrassed. ‘Uh, yes, sir.’
Jack had the grace to give some ground. ‘Look, Cady, I understand your point of view. But we need to think about ourselves at the moment. Neither of us is in the best position to organise an escape or a peasants’ revolt right now.’
‘No, sir, but we can’t just abandon these people.’
‘No one’s abandoning anyone, son. But ya got to admit our options are a bit limited.’
‘Couldn’t you at least think about things, sir?’ Cady urged. ‘Shauna’s desperate. They’ll take Popolo away and then who knows when she’ll see him again.’
Beyond Cady, in the shadows, he could just about make out Shauna’s silhouette in the darkness. He knew it was her because she had a child clinging to her in just the manner that he had always seen Popolo cling to her. Unless he was running around the village looking for Jack.
There were definite trails of moisture falling down her cheeks. He could see that. Even with half his face in the dirt. Even in the dark.
‘Look, Lieutenant, touched as I am by your faith that I can come up with something, I really don’t think there’s much to be done at the moment.’
Was he really giving in like that? Jeez, Jack, he chided himself. A shooting needle of agony that speared itself up through his back reminded him why he was feeling considerably less than his normal jolly, optimistic self right now.
‘Sir,’ Cady continued to press. ‘We only have a few days. Please say you’ll think about things. Ways of getting out, that sort of thing.’
Like he’d ever really stopped thinking about that since he arrived. However, his position of Stress Relief Bunny to The Overseer had altered things somewhat. And his grand escape plans had been for two. Not a hundred and two. Or however many it was. Still, ‘Okay, I’ll think about things, Lieutenant.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
Cady moved away, and Jack saw him sit down next to Shauna.
The Lieutenant slipped his arm around Shauna’s shoulders and drew her in close.
Well . . . that explained a lot.
And they *had* been thrown into each others’ company quite a bit since everyone had left the village.
Jack frowned into the floor and wondered how that little situation might end up resolving itself when Haynes and Carter turned up. And they *would* turn up. They had to. Because Jack couldn’t see any other way out of this.
The voice was quiet.
And by his shoulder.
He moved his head as far as he could to see who was there.
‘Yes. I would like to talk to you. I know,’ apology was heavy in his voice, ‘I know that this is not a good time. That you are not well. But . . . I need help. Advice. I think . . . I think your friend has explained something of what we have learned.’
‘I need your help. My people need your help.’
‘You are a . . . leader.’
Jack grunted. ‘Was.’
‘Yes. But, still . . .’ Hanoki’s tone presented his belief that, in his opinion, this had not changed.
‘There’s Lieutenant Cady.’
‘He is young. And he said you were much better qualified. Please, O’Neill. I need to help my people, and I do not know what to do. I am not a warrior.’
He was obviously not going to get any rest this evening, bad back or not.
‘Okay.’ Jack closed his eyes. ‘Gimme a second, here.’ Trying to ignore the burning streaks of pain that ran rampant across his back as he levered himself upright, he took a deep, steadying breath as he leaned the very tops of his shoulders back against the wall. ‘So . . . what’s up, Hoki?’
The chief blinked at the contortion of his name, and then dismissed it in favour of more urgent matters.
‘We need to leave here. Escape.’
‘Got to say, I’m all with you on that one,’ Jack agreed wearily. ‘Where were you thinking of going though? These people . . .’ he caught Hokey Cokey’s look. ‘Ah. No. No. Absolutely not. Not possible.’
‘You are our last hope. Why can you not take us to your world? You came freely to ours.’
‘Well, yes. I know. But there are regulations. That kinda thing.’
‘Laws. You can’t just turn up. And . . . well . . . you just can’t. That’s all.’
Crap. He was such a bad negotiator. That was why he had Daniel Jackson. Or Ian Cady. And he could see things from Hari Kari’s perspective, as well. He really could. But, for a start, they had to get to the Star . . .
Oh, spank him rosy! He couldn’t believe he was even thinking about it.
At least not on that *scale*!
He *had* been thinking about himself and *Cady*. Of course he had. Since the minute they’d arrived at the plantation. But that was it. He didn’t see that they could take anyone else with them.
If and when he was well enough to make a break for it.
And he’d certainly not counted on taking the entire population of enslaved natives.
This was *their* planet. They’d have to stay and sort out their own problems.
If he took them there was sure to be some kind of intergalactic diplomatic incident, and he’d had enough of intergalactic negotiating to last him several lifetimes, thanks very much.
Jack rubbed his grubby hands over his stubbled and sweat-stained face.
He couldn’t *believe* he was even *thinking* about it.
For crying out loud!
He had to be freakin’ nuts.
‘We need your help,’ Hanoki said softly. ‘They are going to sell some of our children. Shauna heard them talking about it in the Big House.’ Hanoki’s eyes were pleading. ‘They feel it was a mistake to have bought the children, so they are going to sell them or give them to another plantation. They feel the parents are distracted and the children are getting in the way.’
How *could* people separate families like that? Come to it, how could people own slaves in the first place? The whole thing sucked.
And was sucking him further in.
Clawing in a deep lungful of air, Jack looked beyond Hanoki. There were desperate faces looking his way. Mothers holding tight to their children, as if they felt that they were going to be torn from them right that minute. All looking at him with round eyes of beseeching hopefulness. As if he was some kind of miracle worker. Including Shauna and Cady. And Popolo. Who was probably too young to fully understand what was going on.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
‘Popolo is only two years of age. There are others here who are not much older.’ Hanoki swept his arm so that its arc encompassed the slowly encroaching group.
‘Why me?’ Jack wasn’t sure whom he was questioning. God? Hanoki? Other spirits?
It was Hanoki who answered him. That was all he knew. ‘You are a warrior. I am not. Until these invaders came I had no need of skills such as you possess. We have lived in peace in our valley for as long as the ancestors can remember.’
‘Isn’t there somewhere else you can go? Another village?’ Even as he asked the question Jack knew the answer.
‘I fear they will pursue us wherever we go. They have weapons more advanced than ours. They build things that are beyond anything we can construct. And they are a people who are cruel with their superiority. Because my people are peace-loving, because we are not seen to be as clever as they are, they see us as fit only to work in the fields alongside their criminals.’ Anger laced Hanoki’s words. But it was the futile anger of a man who has lost control of his own destiny.
As he stopped speaking the others around them began in gentle insistent whispers:
‘Is there nothing you can do?’
‘They will take our children.’
The words from the villagers settled around him in a swathe of murmured hopefulness.
And, did they but know it, they had touched Jack O’Neill’s Achilles heel.
The one argument upon which he could not turn his back.
Jack watched the sun slip away behind the distant horizon. He’d looked all day, as he had yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. What the friggin’ hell was keeping Carter? And Haynes? Why hadn’t she stormed up like the proverbial cavalry? How long did Hammond need to authorise a rescue mission? And how long did it take to find one lost colonel and lieutenant?
For crying out loud?
And he knew danged well he wasn’t being fair.
He could imagine the assessments before a rescue mission was authorised. The trouble they would have had tracking them to the town. And then he could just imagine the stalling tactics that could be employed there to hinder progress.
This wasn’t the only plantation. And at the extreme end of lack of cooperation, Carter might be forced to visit every one in turn to try and find them.
Just freakin’ spectacular.
And in the meantime, Jack was going to be forced to implement the flimsiest escape plan since . . . well . . . since the last one he’d implemented. Over the years quite a few of his escape plans hadn’t entirely held water in the bucket, if he was being honest. In fact many had shown a quite lamentable tendency to leak all over the place. Quite messily at times.
Which was *so* not a comforting thought just now.
Which was why he’d been hoping with all the fervency he could muster from his tired spirit and battered soul that Carter would arrive and present him with something that would look deliciously like another option.
The famous Plan C.
Not that he had a Plan B.
He wasn’t completely certain he had a Plan A, if push came to shove and anyone started asking for details.
Forget Plan A.
He wasn’t even sure he had a plan.
Come on, Carter.
Where the heck are you?
The children were to be rounded up the following day. It had to be tonight, or not at all. And just about the only thing in their favour was that The Overseer and his boss had no idea the slaves knew about the planned exodus. Shauna had reported that they appeared smug in the belief that no one knew anything, and that the slaves would be taken completely by surprise the following day.
Jack sighed. No Carter meant he had to go through with his whacko idea. Whacko because there was no other plan to be had really. It was shit or bust, as someone he once knew long ago had said. He seemed to think it was some Brit SAS guy.
Jack knew he was prevaricating.
And knew it even more when The Overseer’s whip striped across his back. After his flogging at The Post he was still expected to fulfill his work quota in the fields, and had had to struggle against the pain of open wounds to his back. One of the villagers had cleaned them every evening and he knew that others had tried, surreptitiously, to help him with his share of the work. But it was still agony; any movement of his arms caused the ragged skin on his back to pull and stretch, and also catch on the cloth of his work shirt. He had tried to block out the pain but it was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do. Which said a lot, all things considered. And The Overseer obviously knew that any strike of the whip across O’Neill’s back was a ribbon of extra agony. And needed no persuading to add to his already considerable misery at the flimsiest of excuses.
Jack had at least been allowed treatment for the infection to the burn in his side. One of Hanoki’s villagers had applied a local remedy of herbs which had seemed to help: first easing out a green pus from the wound, and then somewhat soothing the inflammation. It still was red, and raw, but at least the worst of the infection seemed to have cleared
But that had been the only concession.
Leaning on his spade, Jack looked back down the field. He had to complete one field-length furrow of turned earth today, and he was struggling. He knew it. And so did the other slaves. Worryingly, The Overseer would make him stay until it was finished. Even after dark. And they needed every scratch of darkness they could scrape tonight.
And it was wearing him out.
And he needed every ounce of strength he could weigh in his favour for the exertion to come that night.
Feeling the sweat crawl down his face, and also trickle down between his shoulders and follow the knuckles of his spine to his waist he persevered with digging. Trying to find a rhythm, but everything was such an inordinate effort. His muscles ached, and his back was on fire.
And every time he scanned the horizon, every time he hoped Carter and Haynes were on their way he realised how thin his plan was. So thin it barely deserved the name plan.
The other workers finished. Hanoki and his villagers. And The Overseer gathered them in the corner of the field. Jack had about five metres of furrow left to dig. He watched the others as they were led back towards the stockade wherein their flimsy hut was situated.
Mustering up reserves from somewhere he continued to dig.
Until his furrow was completed.
And his friend The Overseer came back.
Angry because he’d had to make the extra trip.
Pushing Jack back to the stockade he took delight in prodding O’Neill in the back with the top of the handle of his whip, causing Jack to stumble more than once. But he refused to react. It would ruin everything.
After tonight, he reminded himself, each time a blow pushed him forward, there will be no more of this. Hang on in there, Jack. Let the sadistic bastard do what he wants now. After this evening you’re outta here.
Once in the hut he collapsed. He couldn’t help it. His legs folded as if made of cloth and he would have eaten dirt if Hanoki hadn’t stepped forward so that Jack collapsed into his arms.
‘Here, my friend,’ the chief said, and guided a bowl of water to Jack’s mouth.
Sipping, Jack let his tiredness wash over him. He had maybe a half hour. He needed to rest. Thankfully, Hanoki knew that, too. ‘We will wake you when it is time,’ he said.
And Jack let darkness swallow him.
All too soon he was awakened.
Cady was standing over him, and the slaves were gathered in the eerie night light behind him, caught by the silvered moonlight that made its way through the gaps in the wooden boards that made up the walls. Faces were half-shadowed and ghostly. Figures caught as if emerging from the darkened background of a mysterious religious painting.
‘It’s time, sir.’ Cady’s voice was strained.
‘They’re drugged, sir. Shauna did a good job.’
The household was composed of The Owner, his son, The Overseer and a party of guards in The Owner’s pay. As an exclusively male group their usual evening practice was to gather together and drink wine late into the night, while one or two were delegated nominal guard duties.
‘They’re drugged as well, sir.’
A couple of the women who had arrived on the ships had been purchased at the market on the same day as Jack and the villagers. Jack had not wanted to label them women of ‘a certain kind’. But it had become evident quite quickly that that was exactly what they were. And they were quite happy to make their lives easier by providing the men with what they wanted after a hard day’s work and an evening’s heavy drinking.
‘They won’t be bothering us, sir,’ Cady grinned with almost childish enthusiasm.
They hadn’t known Cady was a soldier. He had, after all, been presented and sold merely as a scholar, but it had been a favourable oversight. In the course of his duties in the household over the last few days he had managed to make a wax mould from candles, and then find a moment to make an impression of the keys that unlocked the slaves’ stockade and the chains they were forced to wear at night.
That done Shauna had melted down a pewter mug in the kitchen fire and poured it into the moulds. Then it was down to her to lace the evening’s wine with a sleeping potion made from herbs, and things were on their way.
Cady had dealt with the guards with a soldier’s skill. And it would now seem that the plantation was in the hands of the slaves.
Therefore, if fortune favoured them, they had the whole of the night to make their escape and put as much distance between themselves and The Owner and The Overseer as possible. Jack hoped to be at the river by morning, and to find that the ferry was on their side. If not, someone was in for a long swim.
‘What about the horses, sir?’
Jack considered the question carefully. Then shook his head.
‘We’d have to lead them past the house. It would be too risky.’
‘All the people in the house are drugged.’
‘I know. But it would only take one horse to bolt, or get spooked and make an unholy noise because it saw a rat or something stupid, and who knows what might happen. Somebody could wake up.’
He was tempted. He knew he was. Particularly because there were some very sick people in their party. Of which, to be honest, he was one.
And yet, ‘I think they’d react badly to being led and asked to carry people they don’t know,’ he said after consideration. ‘They’re not easy steeds to control, I’ve noticed. Some seem only half-broken. It may well end up being more trouble than it’s worth.’
‘So, Lieutenant, let’s hope we’re well away by the time anyone wakes up, and *saddles* up.’
Cady sent him a dazzling grin, his eyes lighting with an enthusiasm they had lost recently. ‘Absolutely, sir.’
Damn, Jack thought, but this whole crazy bust out might just work after all.
Like ghosts they made their way from the stockade and away into the night. Even the children seemed to understand the need for absolute silence and made no sound. The only noise was the scuffling of weary feet in the dry dirt.
Jack had to concentrate hard on walking. His back was aflame with every step he took and he began to realise that he could quite easily become a liability to the group.
But for the moment he stubbornly continued with the others, their course aimed to skirt the town and head for the river. It was a difficult undulating trail but it put a ridge between them and the town, hopefully sheltering their passage from any inquisitive eyes.
Jack was aware it was all taking too long, and he knew Cady was worried as well. The terrain was difficult in the dark. Despite their best efforts people stumbled and staggered, tripped by spiteful hindrances they couldn’t see when the moon disappeared behind clouds, or when overhangs or vegetation sheltered them too much from the assisting light.
They were too many to make swift progress, being only as quick as their slowest member. And Jack was acutely aware that he fell very firmly into the slow category. But he wasn’t alone.
Others had suffered in the days on the plantation. Several had fallen ill with a vomiting sickness, and they were now finding keeping up extremely hard. Others had been beaten by The Overseer and were hampered by the legacy of those vicious attacks, as was Jack.
Cady and Hanoki were doing their best to usher the group to greater speeds, but frequent rests were needed, if only to keep their bearings. Hanoki’s tribe were unfamiliar with the land this far from across the river, and Jack and Cady were working on instinct.
As the moon began its descent Jack called another halt.
‘We’re too slow,’ he said as Cady and Hanoki sat down at his side.
‘Yeah,’ Cady nodded.
‘I need you to take a group of the stronger folks and get them to the river, Lieutenant. Hijack the ferry and get your group across then make sure the ferry’s there for us. Hanoki, you must go with him. Lead your people. Once they’re across you’re in charge of the ferry, and Cady, you need to head for the Stargate. Let Hammond know what’s going on. See if you can contact Colonel Haynes and Major Carter. They have to’be here somewhere.’
‘I cannot leave my people,’ Hanoki shook his head. ‘My deputy can go with your Lieutenant, but I cannot. I cannot desert those who are not strong.’
‘Sir, I can’t . . .’
It was the response he had expected from both men.
‘Lieutenant, I need the ferry to be there when we arrive. We can’t sort that later. It needs dealing with. I need you to lead the stronger folks.’ He looked hard at Cady. He didn’t need to say it. he knew Cady understood. At least some of us will make it. If not all, at least some. ‘That’s an order, Lieutenant.’
The soldier/scientist drew back his shoulders. ‘Yes, sir.’
Jack looked at Hanoki, who said, ‘I am not your warrior, O’Neill. You cannot make me leave. I will stay. Fedual will go in my place.’
Hanoki’s eyes were set and determined, and Jack knew it would only waste valuable time to argue, so he merely nodded. ‘Fine. Tell your deputy what’s going on and then choose the strongest people to travel ahead. You have ten minutes.’
Hanoki moved off swiftly to spread the news.
‘Sir . . .’
‘No arguing, Lieutenant. You’re in charge of the advance guard. We’ll be on your tail, so no slacking, y’understand?’
Cady nodded reluctantly. ‘Yes, sir. It’s just . . .’
‘I don’t feel right, sir, . . . leaving you behind.’
It won’t be the first time, kid.
He didn’t say it.
Instead he conjured up a laugh and said, ‘We won’t be that far behind. You watch your six, or we might get there first.’
They both knew it was a false hope. The stragglers were finding it tough going, and they were running out of night-time. The river was the key. Get there and control the ferry and they were nearly home free. Especially once Cady made it to the Gate and reinforcements were on their way.
But if their pursuers caught folks this side of the river retribution was likely to be pretty messy. Indeed it was likely to be downright ugly. And swift. As in, take place before reinforcements from the SGC could weigh in.
Jack understood Cady’s reluctance. Understood it, and admired and respected it.
And overruled it.
‘Your first command, Lieutenant?’
Cady blinked. ‘Ah, yes, sir. Yes, it is.’
‘Good luck then, son. Make it a good start.’
Cady got to his feet as Hanoki materialised from the gloom with a goodly crowd behind him.
‘Fedual understands he is to follow your orders,’ Hanoki said, as his companion nodded to Cady.
The Lieutenant nodded. And turned to O’Neill. ‘Good luck, sir.’
‘Luck, Lieutenant. See you at the ferry.’
Reluctance still shone in the young man’s eyes. ‘Yes, sir.’
‘Please,’ Hanoki said, ‘look after my people.’
Cady nodded. ‘Yes, sir.’ Then with a quick salute he was gone. Fedual and the large crowd following like wraiths into what was left of the sheltering darkness.
Jack sighed and looked at Hanoki. It needed no words. The only decision that could have been made had been made.
But the small group left behind – Jack looked beyond Hanoki and counted twelve others – was now incredibly vulnerable.
It was well after daylight when the group of stragglers reached a point where they could see the ferry. It was moored against the bank on their side of the river, and a group of people were gathered around it. As Jack’s Happy Band of Campers, as he’d somehow started to think of them during the struggling hours after dawn when he and Hanoki had worked hard to keep spirits up, crested the ridge he saw the ferryites pointing and moving towards them. Slowly, the Campers staggered down the slope. They were, he knew, a sorry sight.
Jack knew his own stamina was almost drained dry. His mouth was parched and the sight of the river only made him even more aware of the dust that lined his throat. And the fact that his back was furnace hot and raw. Hanoki had told him some while ago that the back of his shirt was stained through with blood, but he had just thanked him and struggled on. He’d have shrugged, but that would have been painful beyond suffering.
Others were finding the going hard. Those who had been sick were dehydrated and lacking strength, but were helping each other, despite dragging their feet with agonised slowness. Jack had taken to looking back every five staggering steps or so.
The longer they took, the surer pursuit became a realistic possibility.
Now, he watched as Hanoki’s people, who had rushed from the ferry, gathered their comrades in their arms and began carrying them towards the salvation that was the transport across the water. Fedual came to Jack. ‘Your friend has been gone some hours. Since just after the dawn.’
Jack tried to work out how long it would take Cady to reach the Stargate, and how soon after that he might expect reinforcements. But, somehow, the figures just seemed to swim in his head in a confused montage. It would have to suffice that he’d been gone a long while. Jack looked beyond the river, but could see no signs that might indicate help was on its way.
However, as he turned to check back the way they’d come he suddenly saw a menacing cloud of dust clouding the trail.
‘Ahhhh, crap,’ he said quietly. ‘Look, guys, I hate to break up the party, but we’ve got company.’ Clichéd, but just then he couldn’t find the spirit for anything else.
It was difficult to work out how many riders there were, but even one, at that speed, was a problem.
It was disjointed scramble for the ferry. Across open land. With struggling and weakened people. Across the river he could see frantically waved encouragement from those already safe. They were probably shouting as well, but their voices were lost against the noise of the river.
Had he been right to split the group?
Should he have sent Cady off alone?
Many were saved.
It was only a few this side.
But still . . .
Second guessing himself again . . .
Sending Brooks on guard duty . . .
Sending Cady across the river for help . . .
His heart pounded in agony.
And with every heartbeat, bursting bubbles of hot lava exploded across his back.
He knew he was falling behind.
His legs just wouldn’t obey him.
Staggering, he stumbled to his knees. It was only sheer will-power that forced him up again.
But he realised he wasn’t going to make it.
Fedual had all but thrown his burden on to the ferry. The others were nearly there. Hanoki was looking back.
And Jack turned because he could hear the horses’ hooves like the blood thundering in his ears.
Grasping a broken branch he swung around and using what momentum he could generate he clubbed the first rider and horse. But there were others. Not many, but enough.
He whirled like some crazed dervish, and screamed to Hanoki. ‘GO! GO!’
He saw near-fatal hesitation.
And screamed again.
The leading horses were heading for the ferry.
It would be close.
Hanoki’s look was full of desperate regret.
But he did as he was told.
Casting off he threw the mooring rope on to the deck and he and Fedual and the other healthy souls pushed the sturdy wooden vessel out into the current.
And floated away down river to safety, Fedual having assumed the captain’s position of steering with the long-handled rudder.
But there wasn’t one person aboard who looked towards safety, they gazed only backwards at the one they left behind. In time to see him clubbed to the ground.
When Jack came to he was lying on his back. Hands tied together in front.
He was dazed and hurting through to every bone.
But he had enough presence of mind to roll his head and look towards the river. The ferry was across. And the pack of former slaves was gathered together. As a collective they would be too much for the riders even of they could get their steeds to swim through the current.
Hanoki and his people were safe.
And now was enough.
Carter and Haynes had to be around somewhere.
Now he had to hang on until Cady pointed them in the right direction.
He hoped that wasn’t a darkly prophetic thought.
He’d seen the rider he’d bashed with his tree branch cudgel.
The Overseer was going to be mightily pissed when he woke up.
There was no getting away from it.
The Overseer was indeed.
Not good for what remained of Jack O’Neill’s health and well-being.
‘Come on, Carter,’ he kept on murmuring. ‘Come on. Come on. I really need ya. Right now.’
They hadn’t even bothered to drag him back to the plantation.
They’d simply erected a wooden triangle up on the bank of the river, where all those on the other side could see what was happening.
And tied him to it.
Arms above his head.
Feet spread apart.
And he knew damned well what was coming.
The Overseer had spat vindictively into his face that they would keep going until he died. Only . . . maybe, they’d stretch it out a bit.
Over two or three days.
Frankly, Jack didn’t think he would last that long.
He felt the air kiss his skin gently as his shirt was ripped away.
This was going to hurt.
Like absolute hell.
And The Overseer was going to enjoy it.
‘You helped others to escape. You know the penalty for that.’
He was tied facing the river. So that, cruelly, he could see the freedom he’d just not had the strength enough to achieve for himself.
The whip whistled through the air. And impacted against his back in a slicing line of fire that burned through his skin and down to the bone.
Jack hissed and drew in a stuttering breath. He had expected pain. But this was pure, white-hot agony.
And he wasn’t sure how much he could endure in silence.
Wasn’t sure how much he could endure, full stop.
He squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth.
And heard the count being made.
At ten he began grunting with each savage impact.
At twenty he was sobbing with every new searing blow.
At thirty he was crying aloud with the absolute torment of each fresh cut, as his flesh was flayed apart.
At forty, thankfully, he passed out.
Major Carter could see little except an open area by the river in which a small crowd was gathered.
As they drew closer, they could see that the group was collected around a triangular frame to which was tied the body of a man, who was facing away from them towards the river. A man who was being flogged. A man with grey hair.
‘Shit!’ Colonel Haynes’ voice was as outraged as Carter’s unspoken sentiment.
‘Sam!’ Daniel was choked.
‘Major Carter.’ Teal’c said quietly.
She struggled to say anything. But finally managed, ‘I see him.’
They all winced as an arm went back and then delivered another stroke.
As their feet moved faster and they drew even closer they could begin to hear the sickening sound of the whip impacting against bloodied flesh.
There was a murmuring in the crowd.
The man administering the flogging became aware that something was amiss and paused in the meting out of the torture. Leaving the whip to trail on the ground like some obscene blood-stained tail he turned, and Carter realised, as they got closer, that she would win no easy victory here. The man’s eyes were reptilian cold and surveyed her with growing scorn.
Gripping her P-90 tightly Carter said quietly, ‘Teal’c, drop back and watch our six. Daniel, keep your eyes peeled. Sir?’ she muttered suddenly remembering Haynes’ presence.
‘Absolutely, Major.’ His eyes swept the area. ‘I suggest a double tag on our six.’
Crap. He was going to make her accompany Teal’c.
‘Can you handle the negotiations, Major?’
He’d caught her on the hop, and a quick gleam in his eye before the professional took over again told her he knew it.
‘Get to it then. Looks to me like the Colonel needs reinforcements pretty damned quick. Teal’c and I are on your six.’
She nodded as he moved back with Teal’c.
Then turned her attention back to the man with the whip.
Looking beyond him across the river she saw a crowd of people huddled together watching events.
Carter looked at the back of the man strapped to the wooden frame.
At the man who was being publicly flogged. As a message, she would guess, to those on the other bank.
The grey hair had already given his identity away, but if more proof were needed he suddenly groaned, raised his head slightly as if regaining a marginal measure of consciousness, and turned his face fractionally so that she could see his profile.
He might carry a few days’ scrubby growth across his jaw, have hollowed cheeks through malnutrition and suffering, and have eyes that were sunken and darkened with pain, but the victim was undoubtedly Colonel Jack O’Neill.
She wanted to be able to apologise for not getting here sooner. To tell him about their long initial search for clues around the village SG-7 had been visiting, where they had managed to get very little information from the few people who remained there; most had seemed frightened beyond measure at their arrival and had fled for the forest.
It had taken a long time to find someone who would talk about the attack on the tribe, and to then be able to begin to follow the trail in earnest.
They had found other obstacles in the town, as well. No one would tell them what had become of the group they sought, or where they might have been taken next.
It was one dead end after another.
Until Daniel had finally discovered the truth thanks to a spot of eavesdropping, but not the Colonel’s actual location.
After which it seemed that the only alternative open to them was to visit every estate in turn, in search of the missing slaves.
Which was precisely what they had been doing, when a rider had galloped frantically into the yard of the latest plantation to be graced with their presence. The man had brought news of a revolt at the next place they were due to visit.
The slaves were headed to the river, he had shouted, and their owner hoped for help in rounding them up. Including the leader: a real troublemaker with grey hair.
Carter, Teal’c, Daniel and Colonel Haynes had needed no further help to make four from two plus two.
They had left and headed straight back to the river they had crossed days before.
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ Carter murmured again.
As so often happened, it looked like Colonel O’Neill had not gotten off lightly when events went belly up.
As pain obviously flooded through weakened barriers, O’Neill lost consciousness again and his entire weight pulled on his wrists tied to the top of the triangle. Wrists that already looked as if the rope had scored through the skin because blood smeared the bindings and also slicked O’Neill’s forearms. His bare feet were spread and tied to the other two corners of the triangle, which were embedded into the earth.
Holding her anger and horror in check as much as she could, Carter advanced to within a few feet of The Reptile. Who was waiting with cold calmness. Watching. Assessing.
Carter knew it was up to her to make the running. He would wait her out with infinite patience. And O’Neill couldn’t afford the luxury of her playing one-upmanship games. He needed to be released as quickly as possible.
‘I am Major Samantha Carter from Earth. Which is a place a long way beyond the village where my colleague, Colonel Jack O’Neill,’ she gestured to her CO, ‘was visiting when it was attacked, and many of the inhabitants taken and sold into slavery. The man you are punishing is not of their village. He is from my own . . . village. He was negotiating with those people when they were captured. We have come here to reach an agreement whereby he can return home, as he doesn’t belong here.’ Somehow mentioning the Stargate was just going to make things far too complicated. It was easier to miss it out.
Reptile blinked slowly, but otherwise made no other move. For a long moment silence reigned, and it was as if a collective breath was being held by everyone within hearing.
Then, as if reaching a decision, Reptile’s lips pursed and his soulless eyes narrowed.
‘The slave belongs here. My master bought him. If you want him, you’ll have to buy him back. Woman.’ His last word was loaded with a chauvinistic loathing that made Carter want to batter his teeth down his throat.
Her eyes flickered to a man who stood apart. Arms folded. Content, for now, to let his underling speak for him.
Carter felt Daniel step forward. They exchanged glances and he acknowledged her indication that he should speak. ‘The prisoner is not of the village from which you took your slaves, therefore I’m sure we can both see how your rules cannot apply to him. He was there by accident.’
‘Maybe. But he *was* here and our rules *have* been applied to him, because my master bought him. He is therefore my master’s property, according to *our* rules. You want him? You buy him back.’
Carter half-lifted her P-90.
‘I wouldn’t.’ The man standing apart spoke for the first time. His words were underlaid with chilled menace.
If anything his eyes were even colder than his underling’s. He looked deep into Carter’s own eyes and she felt as if he slid into her soul. In the manner of an oil slick contaminating clean clear waters. With blackly sinister fingers.
His glance slowly and deliberately lifted to the treeline .
Carter followed his lead.
Men with muskets stood watching. Three men. Which was not many, but enough to be a right royal nuisance unless she was careful. After all, she and her accomplices could dive for cover. O’Neill, however, was a very vulnerable target if bullets started flying.
‘Major.’ Haynes’ tone from behind her, was gently restraining. ‘Watching them,’ he continued quietly, letting her know he and Teal’c were on the case.
She added up the numbers of men in the trees, and the numbers of men gathered around witnessing the punishment. Men who, to judge from their clothes, were guards from the estate where O’Neill had been a slave, and probably other nearby properties, who had gathered to help their fellow land owner. About twenty all told, many carrying muskets and pistols, but a manageable number nevertheless, if their guard was down.
She took a steadying breath and studied her CO’s condition more fully.
His back was a mess. There was evidence of half-healed whip marks across his back, most of which were now covered by the trauma caused by the flogging being presently administered. Almost the whole of his back was torn into deep red ragged stripes. Blood welled up as she watched, and slid in trails down his body, until eventually it ran into and soaked the waistband of the thin trousers he wore.
As she watched, the Colonel’s head shifted fractionally; and then slowly, as if with a gargantuan effort, he raised it and half-turned so that he could now see her from the corner of his eye.
Moving slightly to the right, Carter made it easier for him to focus on her.
It took a short while, but she knew the instant recognition seeped into his battered senses: a spark flared in hazel eyes that had, until that second, been dulled by defeat and pain.
If it were possible, greater anger swelled inside her as she looked over his features, blotched by fading bruises that spoke of further mistreatment.
Right, Carter thought, time to get you home, sir.
She held his look, then, in a quick gesture that shielded her eyes from the view of most, scratched her eyebrow as if in deep thought. And winked quickly at her CO from behind her hand.
Get the message, sir, please.
For a moment she thought she was out of luck, and he was too dazed to register the implication of her twitch.
Then, a slow half-smile crinkled the sides of his dried lips and the edges of his eyes. A smile that said, message received and understood, Major. Do your worst. I trust you.
‘So?’ The man with the whip grinned with insolence. ‘What have you decided? He cost ten pieces. But, as he obviously means so much to you, I think his price has increased. Say, fifty pieces. That would seem fair.’
He smirked a look at his boss, who still stood silently arms crossed, seeking approval.
A curt nod sanctioned his words.
Carter cast barely a look at her commanding officer.
‘Fifty pieces!’ she laughed. ‘You have to be joking! I don’t think we want him back that much. He was always an insensitive son of a bitch, and far more trouble than he was worth. We just needed to be able to go home and say we made an effort to get him returned.’
She was almost certain she heard Daniel splutter behind her.
And she was pretty sure she heard Haynes give a strangled cough.
‘I can think of far better ways to spend fifty pieces, to be honest.’ She turned to the others with a glare. ‘What do you think, fellas?’
Daniel narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips, as if thinking hard. ‘Yeah. Guess so,’ he said, slowly.
‘Sure, Major,’ Haynes nodded, frowning. ‘Far better ways.’
Teal’c half-bowed from the waist. Saying nothing, but his agreement was plain to the group gathered around O’Neill, and to the three in the trees.
‘Apart from which,’ Carter said, by way of clinching the argument, ‘if he doesn’t get to go home, I get to be promoted to team leader in his place.’ She smiled at the man with the whip, who nodded, as if this was an argument he could understand.
‘I suppose I’ll just have to carry on punishing him, then,’ he grinned in a feral, disgusting way that made Carter want to throw up.
It was all she could do to laugh a, ‘Guess so,’ as she turned away.
Facing Haynes and the others she let her hands fall away from her weapon.
‘All this way for nothing,’ Haynes bitched as he back-pedalled.
‘Yeah. Still, we saved ourselves fifty pieces. And he always was a bastard anyway,’ Daniel said, loudly.
Both men, and Teal’c, were watching her hands as they all began to move away from the punishment site.
Carter’s hands flew swiftly. Speaking clearly and efficiently. Without any chance of being overheard.
Three men. Trees. You, sir.
Whip man. Teal’c.
Others. Me. Daniel. Quick burst. No kill.
On my mark.
She flinched as she heard the whip fall against flesh.
The sadistic bastard was wasting no time.
As the horrific sound reached them again, she fell into line with Daniel who had been walking slowly on her left.
She saw Teal’c move carefully to one side so that his view of his target was unobstructed.
The men in the trees were now watching the continuing punishment. If *they* were, then the chances were good that the crowd was also once more distracted.
These men had not been those who invaded the village and snatched the slaves. So far as Carter knew they had no idea of the range and accuracy of the weapons she and her colleagues carried. They were very likely assuming that, even now, they posed no further threat.
The whip snapped sickeningly again.
Holding her breath, Carter signalled . . .
The sound of another blow was the signal.
Haynes’ three shots sounded as one. The guards in the trees probably never even heard them. They were almost certainly dead before they hit the ground.
Teal’c’s staff weapon fired once. With deadly accuracy. The Reptile would flog no one else. Ever.
The explosion of firepower from Daniel’s and Carter’s weapons sent the spectators into a whirl of confused shock, which was increased by the fact that they had just seen the man with the whip explode as if a bowled over by a cannonball.
It took them a moment to realise that they were all unharmed and that the sustained burst of incredible noise was the sound of bullets flying over their heads. But by then most of them were on the floor. And, obviously confused by the power of weaponry beyond anything they were familiar with, all clearly decided that discretion was the better pat of valour. And each man remained very still, and very, very flat, definitely cowed by the very visible waving of Daniel’s and Haynes’ P-90s, and Teal’c’s staff weapon.
Carter marched up to the triangle.
In another situation the startled, shocked and very frightened looks that peered out from under arms that were wrapped protectively over the heads of those cringing on the floor, would have been comical, and one to enjoy. Or a boost for her ego.
But not here.
In fact, here Carter hoped the bastards had all pissed themselves in fear.
‘Want to go home, sir?’
His eyes were barely focussing. But he managed, ‘Beats . . . hanging . . . around . . . here.’
She reached down to cut the ropes that bound his ankles to the frame.
‘I thought you were looking very decorative, sir.’
Shit. Why couldn’t she just say this is a real bitch, sir. I know you’re hurting like crazy. And you know I know. And I know you know I know. So why do we have to play act all the friggin’ time?
He found a tiny smile from somewhere. God knows where.
She reached up to the ties that had cut savagely into his wrists.
‘Insensitive . . . son . . . of . . . a . . . bitch?’
‘Yes. You are, sir. Absolutely.’
‘More . . . trouble . . . than . . . I’m . . . worth?’
‘Ah. . . .’ He seemed to make an effort to gather himself. Watching her knife. Knowing that it was going to hurt. The ropes were imbedded into his flesh. ‘Need . . . to . . . work . . . on . . . my . . . sensitive . . . side . . . then?’
She cut the bindings.
He slipped down.
And fainted as Teal’c caught him.
‘Yes, sir,’ she said. Even though she knew he couldn’t hear her.
They carried him back through the Gate; a still and silent form, swathed in bandages, with his team beside him. Accompanied by a large number of natives that no one really knew what else to do with.
And he remained unaware of anything around him for many days, as his body fought infections that played havoc with his weakened system.
Doctor Fraiser’s comments about those who had so terribly mistreated the Colonel were to become legendary around the SGC.
When he finally awoke to his surroundings, he was uncharacteristically quiet. Neither complaining about the length of his stay in the Infirmary, nor badgering to be sent home. He accepted the daily torture that was the cleaning of the slowly healing wounds that covered his back, and he tolerated the physiotherapy routines needed to regain full mobility in his damaged wrists.
And he said very, very little.
And, despite their best efforts, his team met with little success in their attempts to encourage him into better spirits.
Gradually he recovered to the point where he was able to sit up; then he was able to stand; and finally he reached the stage where he was strong enough to walk around.
Which was when Fraiser let him leave the Infirmary.
She had a good idea what was wrong.
But it was nothing that she could help him with.
It was something he would have to come to terms with on his own; in his own way.
Carter stood in the doorway.
The Colonel’s head was bowed over paperwork.
She coughed discreetly.
He looked up, but his eyes held a dulled expression. Fraiser had released him from the confines of the Infirmary for the first that morning, with strict instructions to take things easy. Like he could do anything else with a back still baring the marks of the floggings he’d received. She knew that any movement was still painful, and Fraiser had insisted he stay on base if she agreed to let him out of her sight.
‘I came to see if you’d like to join Daniel, Teal’c and me for a little lunch, sir.’
He looked down at what he was writing, and worked his mouth in that twisting grimace he used when he was uncomfortable.
‘Ah. No. Thank you.’ He didn’t look up again. ‘I . . .need . . . to finish . . . this.’ He gestured vaguely to the paperwork.
She wondered if it was related to the transfer of a whole load of natives from their home planet to Earth and then on to somewhere else new.
Hanoki and his people had left very quickly for a recently surveyed planet that, it had been decided, would suit them well. Slavery was a horrid custom, and took generations to eradicate. And, even then, sometimes not completely. There was no sending them back to their own planet. How Hammond had managed it, she wasn’t sure. But he had. Amidst all the grave concern for his 2IC’s well-being. And Lieutenant Cady had gone along as well, in a kind of help-settle-them-in capacity. Apparently.
Carter had an idea it might be more to do with one of the native women, with whom the Lieutenant had seemed to spend quite a lot of time while they were housed in the SGC.
And he’d had some spare time to accompany the group as SG-7 was on stand-down at the moment because . . .
Somehow, amongst all the trauma of her team leader’s rescue and subsequent fight for recovery, she had lost sight of the tragedy that had also been played out on the planet.
. . . And Lieutenant Brooks.
Whom Colonel Haynes had found.
Cast aside in the undergrowth.
What was left of him after the wildlife had finished their interest.
A young man, who had never had the chance to grow old.
A young man lost under Colonel O’Neill’s command.
Carter had attended the memorial services for both men. And had then gone back to keeping watch at her CO’s side. It wasn’t that she was cold to the men’s deaths, it was just that neither were colleagues she’d got to know very well in the short time they’d been at the SGC. And death was something you had to come to terms with in the military.
Unless, of course, you were the CO on the mission where the men had failed to return.
She knew her CO very well.
He was a man who took his sense of responsibility for those under his command to the extreme, and beyond.
A man who would blame himself for what had happened to Hill and Brooks, even of no one else would.
He was a compassionate man. And a man of deep feelings. Despite the fact that he would have everyone believe otherwise.
Colonel Haynes would write to the men’s families as their usual CO, but it was O’Neill who had been with them on their last assignment. And he would blame himself for what had happened, no matter how little it was his fault. And he would also want to write.
He finally looked up again. And she truly saw how drawn he was. And she knew it wasn’t just because he had been tortured physically on the mission.
There were other scars, too.
That would take far longer to heal.
They locked glances. Soldier to soldier, and she knew that he had guessed her thoughts.
She had never had to write the kind of letter O’Neill was writing now, but she knew that one day, if she survived, and no one had to write one for her, . . . then, one day she would command her own unit, and then such letters would be her responsibility.
There was nothing to be said.
Nothing that could be said.
Carter nodded, in sympathy and understanding.
And O’Neill acknowledged it with a stiff movement of his head.
‘We’ll be in the commissary, sir. Just . . .’ she paused, searching for the right words. Not that, in truth, there were ever the right words for something like this. ‘ . . . Just find us when you need us, sir.’
And she turned and left him to his sad task.
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