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General Hammond checked the time. Four hours. SG-1 should be making contact any moment. If they were able to do so. Casey's words continued to echo in his ears.
"Never leave a man behind."
At the moment she had uttered the words, it had almost appeared as if she hadn't been aware of doing so. Then her green eyes had focused on him, and he could see her worry...her fear.
Four hours, one minute, twenty seconds.
Waiting had never been an easy thing for him. Since taking over the SGC, and having the program restarted, it seemed that he spent far too much time pacing. His office, the control room, the briefing room, the 'gate room. He had paced all of them from one end to the other, back and forth, waiting...waiting...waiting. For the return of the men and women he had sent into the unknown. To alien worlds. There was less of the 'unknown' factor now that Casey Jackson was a part of the 'fold' - one of those specially trained, above average people who made up the SG teams and support staff of the SGC. Still a lot of pacing. And the majority done while waiting to hear from SG-1.
Four hours, three minutes, twelve seconds.
"No matter what happens, we have to face this, general."
He wasn't about to pretend that he understood all that was going on. Or how the events on the astral plane could affect those of the mortal world. He did grasp the concept of Beings far more powerful than those who would try to turn the war with the Goa'uld against them. Or worse, become another enemy.
Hammond sighed. Other worlds. Other realities...alternate timelines as it were. Other planes of existence. Aliens. Beings of great power. It was one thing to theorize about the existence of each. It was another to be faced with the honest truth of those theories. The world was complicated enough...to add the knowledge of other worlds and realities and planes of existence...sometimes he wondered how any of them retained their sanity.
Four hours, three minutes, fifty seven seconds.
Casey's soft voice echoed again in his head. "Never leave a man behind."
He had learned, from experience, that the seer never said anything in regard to a mission that should ever be overlooked or ignored. The look in her eyes... The general strode into the control room. "Contact Major Ferretti. I want SG-3 ready to go through the 'gate immediately. Dial it up, let's see what's going on."
Walter complied instantly, the summons going out for the Marine team echoing through the corridors.
When the 'gate opened, the only thing to fill the screen of the monitor connected to the robot was black. Adjustments to the settings made no discernable difference. Before SG-1 had embarked on the mission, a large temple room had been visible.
"Switching to infrared," Walter reported.
Still nothing could be seen.
"It's possible that there's something over the MALP," Walter suggested.
The general frowned. No one on SG-1 would do that, not without leaving at least an audio message explaining the reason for rendering the MALP camera useless. "Is it possible that the MALP is malfunctioning?"
"It's possible, sir," Walter confirmed.
"Never leave a man behind."
Ferretti and his men were running into the 'gate room, fully armed. The Marine looked up at the control room.
"Gentlemen, we know two things...SG-1 has not made their scheduled report, and the MALP is malfunctioning." Something the general found easier, more comfortable, to believe, than the possibility that someone was deliberately blocking its view. "We need you to retrieve both. You'll need your flashlights on."
"Yes, sir!" Ferretti replied, saluting smartly. "Let's go, boys."
The team marched up the ramp, disappeared into the event horizon. General Hammond watched, then began to pace. Again.
A A A A A A
"Holy shit!" The voice belonged to Willy Lopez. He trained his flashlight on the MALP. Which was sitting just beside the ramp, and was the reason for the bruise that was forming on his hip.
Though the lights seemed to be dimmer than normal, it was possible to see one another, rather, it was possible to see the lights that they each held. It was damned little comfort in the darkness that seemed to press down on them. A few details were discernable, they'd been in enough places like it to recognize the room as being part of a temple of some sort.
"Damn, it's dark," Lieutenant Driscoll complained. "I mean flat-assed, wicked dark!"
"Which is the reason for the flashlights," Ferretti said drolly. However, he wouldn't argue that this darkness was...dark. It seemed to just swallow the light. "Nice and slow. Kid, find the damned DHD and stay there."
The team moved forward slowly, keeping as close together as possible. A soft thump and a curse filled the air. "Kid?" Ferretti called immediately.
"Found something, Major." There was a slight pause, a softly muttered curse. "I just stumbled over Doctor Jackson. Mrs. J is right here beside him," Kid reported. "DHD is just beside them."
Before he could reply, Ferretti's foot struck something...soft. He focused the light on his feet. "Found Teal'c."
Two more muttered curses, and Major Carter and Colonel O'Neill had been located.
"Check pulses," Ferretti ordered. Sighed to find a strong, steady beat when he pressed his fingers to the Jaffa's neck. Felt his shoulders relax just a bit when his boys reported that all of the members of SG-1 were alive. Just out cold.
"There's something just not right about this place," Willy complained.
"No shit," Ferretti growled. "Kid, dial it up. We need gurneys. Nobody move, stay exactly where you are. Who has the remote for the MALP?"
"Got it," Willy replied. Major Carter was at his feet, it seemed she had been about to send the MALP home when whatever had happened...happened.
"When the 'gate opens, send it home. Can't afford to lose the damned thing," Ferretti ordered.
The sound of the inner circle of the Stargate as each chevron was locked in sounded almost muted in the oppressive darkness.
"Major Ferretti?" The General's voice echoed on four radios.
"We found 'em, sir. Alive, but unconscious. Can you send gurneys through, sir? I'd prefer not to shake 'em up too much, since we can't see what's in front of our faces, and we can't carry them and hold lights very easily."
"Gurneys are on the way, Major."
"Thank you, sir."
The whir of the MALP as it moved up the ramp barely moved through the darkness. When it had passed through the event horizon, the 'gate closed. The sound, and the fact that they were once again cut off from their world and the safety of the SGC, had hearts pounding.
Not even three minutes had passed when the sound of the 'gate activating made already rapid pulses begin to race. They could only assume...and hope...that it was the SGC.
"What the hell?"
Ferretti grinned when he recognized the voice of one of the medics. "Can you see our lights?"
"Just barely," was the response.
"How many of you?"
"Okay, here's what I want you to do. One of you stay on the ramp. Use the gurney's like a lifeline...make certain that you can feel one with each hand. Kid, wave your light around. Boys, I want you to very gently tug whoever you've found toward that moving light," Ferretti instructed.
It took a few minutes, but soon all five of the unconscious bodies were on the gurneys. "Here we go. Keep hold of the beds, boys. Who's on the ramp?"
"I am," a voice called.
"How many lights?"
"I count four."
"I want you to lay down and get as low as you can, but keep your foot on that ramp," Ferretti said. "Kid, dial it up."
The event horizon opened with a quiet 'whoosh'.
"Still there?" the major called.
"Good. Can you feel a gurney?"
"Not yet...ow! Yep, got one."
"Good. Grab onto it and slowly head up the ramp. Don't move too fast because we all have to keep hold of them as well."
One of the flashlights began to flicker. "Damn it! This thing has brand new batteries," Driscoll complained.
Ferretti's flashlight began to flicker next. Being the furthest from the others, by mere feet, he really needed what little light it offered. "Fuck! Gotta be something here that's messing with them. Let's get home, boys."
The lights in the 'gate room seemed harsh as the group entered, the gurneys and their unconscious passengers between them. Never had home looked as good as it did at that moment...a thought moving almost simultaneously through the minds of the men who were still shivering from the fear that the temple had filled them with.
A A A A A A
He watched with amusement as the plan he'd so meticulously constructed was set into motion by those who served him. Watched as his carefully orchestrated scheme fell into place, piece by piece. Dartal's arrogance had led to his downfall, believing himself able to control the seer. His followers were not so foolhardy. With her safely out of the way, the others were helpless to defend themselves. They lacked the...insight...to understand what was happening to them.
Stretching luxuriously, he noted that the barriers that he'd become accustomed to encountering when doing so seemed weaker. He stretched again. It would not take much more to destroy the bonds that had held him in check for so long. This only served to embolden him. He began to speculate...to adapt his plan to this newly discovered...freedom. Rather than be content with keeping The One trapped forever on the Astral plane, unable to interfere, he'd have the annoying human killed. It would take eons for another champion to be chosen. The quality of man required, the elements necessary to complete the criteria, were rare. Destroying The One would destroy the boundaries that had encumbered him. Would give him complete control.
He did not see himself as a rebel, as that irritating little seer referred to him. If the others would not see their true potential, would not rise to the task of doing what had been their calling when time first began, he would bear them no ill will. He would, however, begin to gather those who walked the line of obedience, who questioned the rules, who understood that they were gods, and as such should be afforded the worship owed them. They were beings of extraordinary powers. To simply sit back and observe, to do nothing to make their own existence more...pleasant...was cowardice. Mortals were so unimportant. Useful only when the energy of their faith, of their belief, was flowing through the veins of their gods. Really, wasn't it a cruel thing to do to them, these lowly mortals, when their very reason for being was to worship the gods who had created them? Or, at the very least, had seen to it that the fragile beings had been able to reach the level of evolution where they now languished. Wasn't it a cruel thing, to prevent them from fulfilling the need to worship; to offer them the very thing they needed...gods? Yes, it was cruel. And selfish.
To that end, he viewed himself not as a rebel, but as a savior. To not only the humans who longed to have someone to lead them, guide them, give their lives purpose and meaning. But to the Ascended who had so long denied their own place in the universe. Oh, there had been others who had thought as he did. So long ago that their names had been forgotten. Banished to a far flung region of space, prohibited from moving from their 'prison'. He, however, would not be so foolish as to allow himself to be maneuvered in such a way that he would be defeated. He would rule over the humans who were scattered throughout the galaxies. And the Ascended, who had become too weak to reach their full potential. He would be, he thought, smiling to himself, God.
A tall, lanky man entered the room, bowed low to the man he called Master. His light green eyes watched carefully as he waited to be bade to speak.
"You have done well. Your companions are quite enthusiastic in their desire to contain the Protectors."
"And The One," the man added.
"Yes. Quite a disappointment that he was taken so easily, the block sliding into place with nary a whimper from him."
"Will you proceed with your plans?"
"All in good time."
"My Lord Mibi, I have served you faithfully. Might I ask that I remain at your side?"
The handsome face wrinkled with a frown. "Do you dare to think yourself as powerful as me?"
The man paled. "No, Master! I wish only to continue serving you!"
Mibi smiled viciously. "And serve me, you will."
In a flash of light, the man disappeared. When he opened his eyes, he knew nothing but his life as a slave in the palace of the Pharaoh.
A A A A A A
Third shook his head. "This Being should have been disciplined long ago."
"Yes, he should have been. But he was not. As a result, The One will be forced to intercede," First said sadly. "He will be required to destroy this...rebel." Life, all life, was sacred. For any sentient being to be snuffed from existence was a travesty. There were those, however, whose very existence threatened all around them. And thus the philosophical struggle began. Which life was more important...to what extent could those who destroyed be allowed to continue existing, simply because they were sentient? How much death could be tolerated before the very premise of the sanctity of life became meaningless?
"The needs of the Innocent must be the balance against which the worth of such beings is weighed," Third said gently.
Second put her arm around First's shoulders. "It is not an easy truth to face, but evil does exist, and where it does, it must be controlled, or destroyed."
First forced a smile to her face. "My dear companions. How I love you both!"
The three beings shared a hug of comfort. Then turned to continue watching the drama that was unfolding before them, hopeful that the results of the looming confrontation would see an end to this particular evil.
A A A A A A
The sun had started its daily journey, shedding its light and warmth across the land. The city was coming to life once again, excited activity spilling out of every house, echoing in the markets. The streets were already filling with worshippers, all dressed in their finest. Banners of blue and gold, red and green, made from the finest silk, hung from the windows and balconies along the wide boulevard that was the heart of the city. Street venders were already hawking their goods, their voices shrill above the sounds of laughter and chatter that moved like waves over the crowds of people.
He strolled along slowly, the smells of the food that cooked in braziers in the booths that dotted the sidewalk made his mouth water and his stomach growl. It hadn't taken long for him to realize that he wasn't among the most favored in the city, the majority of revelers barely gave him a second glance, those who did frowned at him. There had been a few comments, but he hadn't been able to catch more than a few words. Enough to know that his kind in general...and he in particular, it seemed...were barely tolerated. He didn't think it had anything to do with the fact that he was a fisherman. No...there was something else...the fact that he was alone...chose to be alone. That seemed to be his greatest sin against the society in which he found himself. Apparently he wasn't contributing to the communal effort with his very selfish, hermit-like ways.
Feeling exposed, at risk, he moved closer to the buildings...the temples, and the huge edifice that he had learned, (by listening in on conversations, rude perhaps, but necessary in this case,) was the Great Library. The knowledge of the known world was stored within those gleaming white, granite block walls. Seemed rather ill-advised to him, to house everything in one place. Too much like putting all of one's eggs into a single basket, and praying that they wouldn't be broken.
It had taken over an hour to hear enough to understand more of the details in relation to what was happening; filling in the gaps left by the conversation he'd been silent witness to as he'd walked this same street the previous day. It seemed that today was an annual holiday. A celebration in the name of the Goddess Isis. Those two things he'd already learned. He'd tried to learn more about her, but without asking questions, it wouldn't be possible. The main event for the day was the appearance of the Pharaoh. And, from the whispers he was catching, the fact that the people were to prostrate themselves when the Pharaoh passed wasn't sitting well with the peasants. He couldn't help but wonder if anyone had actually thought about the logistics of such a demand. There was damned little enough room to stand, just how the hell everyone was supposed to lay face down in the dirt was going to be something of a problem. He wondered just what kind of chaos that little bit of reality would cause. Rami wasn't entirely certain what else would happen, but seeing the Pharaoh faced with a crowd of people physically unable to his abide by his decree should be interesting, he thought.
Slowly, taking great care to never call attention to himself, he made his way closer to the temple, moving along the very fringes of the singing, rejoicing crowds of workers, merchants, and tradesmen who filled the street.
A A A A A A
"You look so handsome, my son!" She nearly clapped her hands with delight to see him dressed in the new kilt, the white so bright in almost glowed. The collar of a scribe...a heavy gold circle inlaid with lapis and topaz stones, that fit closely around the throat and spread all the way to the drop off his shoulders, hanging down in the back and in the front...was his only other adornment. Other than the makeup that colored his eyes. His mother, he noted, had added dark green eye shadow; very typical, he thought. Her lips and fingernails had been stained with henna, giving them an odd, brown color; her long black hair fell straight from a barely visible center part.
When he'd first found the small pot of black paste, he hadn't been certain what it was. Then, looking up, catching sight of his reflection in the square of polished brass that served as a mirror, the knowledge stirred from somewhere deep in his mind. While he was certain that he'd never before donned the makeup, he had carefully darkened his eyebrows, drew a heavy line from the inner corner of his eye to his temple, on both upper and lower lids. Personally, he thought he looked a bit like a clown...
Another word to tuck away. A vague idea of what it meant. No clue where it had come from, where he'd have seen or heard that particular word. Could the troubling thoughts be nothing more than his mind trying to deal with all of the information he read, as he copied scroll after scroll? While the thought was certainly logical, like so many others that had crossed his mind, it didn't 'feel' right. He was, he was certain, losing his mind. What would those around him decide to do to him, if that happened? If he became so insane he was unable to fulfill his duties as a scribe?
"So handsome," she repeated, sighing softly. Her fingers moved over the tattoo that decorated the skin of his chest...covering the pectoral muscle above his heart.
He'd seen the tattoo in the mirror...had no idea what it signified. Didn't understand what the letters meant, although he did have a basic idea of which letters had been used. Nor did he have any memory of getting the tattoo. The caress was familiar...but wrong. Not only was this woman his mother, a thought that had him shuddering with distaste, but there was a gentleness, a feeling of love, that was completely missing. For one moment green eyes filled his mind; beautiful, emerald green eyes. He grabbed the offending hand, abruptly tossed it away from him, stepped back so that she was unable to touch him without moving closer.
"You must hurry, Suten," she said, ignoring the blatant disgust that had filled his eyes as he'd so quickly moved away from her. "Stand tall. You are the son of Sadji. Once the greatest of all scribes."
He stared at her for a moment as the name echoed through his mind. Sadji? Didn't that mean 'narrate'? Apparently words and names were used interchangeably here. Wherever 'here' was, he thought, sighing silently again. And just what had happened to Sadji to prevent him from working as a scribe? He thought about the man he had seen only twice, both times as he ate his breakfast...
Blind! The man had been blind! He hadn't realized it, had been too wrapped up in his own tumultuous thoughts. He didn't think that Sadji was completely blind...he'd already determined that each day the man went to the warehouses, was an overseer. That wouldn't require perfect vision. But his eyesight was bad enough that he was unable to perform his duties as a scribe. In remembrance of the years of dedication, Sadji most probably received a small stipend to live on, so that combined with what he earned as an overseer, he was able to maintain the lifestyle he'd had as a scribe. Sort of like social security...
Damn it! Where were these words, the phrases, coming from? He had more than enough to worry about at the moment; having all of those strange...things...bouncing around in his head was distracting. He didn't need any distractions at the moment.
"I will honor him, I promise," Suten said gently, responding to the look of concern in deep brown eyes. Determined to be the dutiful son, regardless of how he was feeling about the situation at the moment, he placed a kiss on the woman's cheek. Odd that it felt so cool, when the room was already far too warm to be comfortable. Giving her a wide smile, hoping she wouldn't suspect his conflicted emotions, he hurried out the door. Felt his shoulders relax a bit as soon as he had turned the corner. There was something about the house, and that woman, that felt so...wrong.
As his feet carried him to the Library, where he would meet with the other scribes who had been honored to be chosen to observe the festival, he went over all the details he could recall about the upcoming events.
The people would already be gathered in the streets, jockeying for position, eager to glimpse their god.
Well of course he was a false god, he was only a man after all. With a parasite inside him...
He came to an abrupt halt. This thought was one that chilled him to his very bones. It made no sense, not at the moment. But there was danger lurking there, a warning, he was certain. To remain as far away from the Pharaoh as possible. Before he could examine the thought further, it slipped away, into that maddening darkness that seemed to fill his brain.
Forcing his feet to move once again, he began walking. The arrival of the Pharaoh at the temple of Isis would signal the official beginning of the celebration. The ceremony marked the season when Osiris descended to the underworld, leaving Isis alone. Her grief and loneliness would bring tears, and those tears would flood the Nile, just as they had for centuries. When her grief was extreme...perhaps memories of the days spent searching for the body of Osiris, her beloved, were vexing her...the inundation was extreme as well. If she was only sad, and her tears were few, then the flood was poor.
Osiris. Bitch. She'd hurt...The emotions that accompanied that partial thought left him gasping. So much grief...sadness...anger. She? Osiris was a god! Oh, he really was losing his mind if the very gender of the gods and goddesses was becoming scrambled in his thoughts!
Trying to maintain a grasp on what he was certain to be his waning sanity, Suten tried to remember the events that would take place.
The Pharaoh would leave his palace, and ride directly to the temple. He would ride in his chariot, drawn by eight pure black horses. There would be crocodiles in gilded cages, cobras in carefully woven baskets, sparrow-hawks and geese kept in place by silk tethers tied to one foot, preventing them from flying away. All were animals associated with the goddess. A pair of each would be sacrificed to her, and burned on the altar of her temple.
It was difficult to make his way to the steps of the Library, the street was full of people, all shouting joyfully, singing the songs that told the stories of Isis. Street vendors called out their wares, children screeched for attention...
A group of young people, standing and talking, made way for the scribe as he approached, his station in life apparent from his dress. They bowed their heads in deference, remained silent as he began to ascend the steps. He missed seeing the sneers that covered their faces seconds later when a humble fisherman walked past, doing his best to remain out of the way.
A A A A A A
Sammy looked around, her eyes sparkling with excitement. There was color everywhere, such a welcome relief after the constant white of the walls and clothes, the brown dust and dirt on the ground around the house, the yellow of the desert that was visible from the window of her room, the dark eyes and hair of her family.
Munching happily on a honeyed apple, she followed her uncle as he made his way through the crowds of people, toward the civic building. He'd made arrangements to speak with one of the Vizier's assistants before the actual parade began.
Iteti glanced at the sky. The sun was nearly overhead. "Hurry, Sammy," he said, urging her to remain close.
The sudden lack of people to push through had them nearly stumbling as they climbed the wide steps into the dim interior of the building. The walls were decorated with hieroglyphs, all depicting aspects of the legal lives of the people of the Delta.
For one moment the thought that he, whoever 'he' was, would have been fascinated by the walls flittered through her mind. Before she could examine that 'almost memory', as it disappeared into the shadows that seemed to be wrapped around her brain, Sammy's attention was diverted by the appearance of a short, squat man. His belly hung over the top of his kilt, the fat that was layered on him jiggled grotesquely as he hurried toward them.
"Iteti! It has been a long time, my friend!"
"Djadao!" The two men embraced. "You have not met my niece, Sm'n'khet."
She smiled, but was immediately uncomfortable with the appraising look the heavy man gave her. Tried not to shift under his...inspection...as his eyes moved from the top of her head to her bare feet, and back again. Felt the heat rise in her cheeks when his gaze lingered on her breasts and hips.
"Sammy has come up with an interesting idea that might be put to use in the fields," Iteti said, stepping just between his niece and the man who listened with half an ear.
"You don't say. Unmarried, is she?" Djadao murmured, still assessing the beautiful woman.
"Yes, she is. She calls it a water wheel." Iteti opened the scroll he carried. "She's already built a working model, and the amount of water it can lift is impressive."
Djadao glanced at the drawing. He was an intelligent man. If there was already a working model to show to the Vizier..."I cannot just approach the Vizier with an idea taken from the niece of a blacksmith," he said coyly.
"Of course not," Iteti sighed. "I had only hoped-"
"Have your niece arrive at my home tonight. We'll speak of her idea. Then, once she's established as a member of my household, I will speak with the Vizier."
"No way!" Sammy hissed.
Iteti turned to look at her. He had the feeling he knew what was about to happen. Perhaps not details. But he had a general idea of what her response would be to the vulgar proposition.
She snatched the papyrus roll from Iteti's hand. "No," she repeated. Turned on her heel. When she walked near a brazier that offered light to the deep room, she looked over her shoulder at both men, and then lifted the scroll to the flame. She waited until it was burning nicely, held it until the fire burned too closely to her fingers to continue holding it safely, then dropped it to the floor. The man might have seen the drawing. But he hadn't paid enough attention to it to have seen more than the fact that two wheels were involved. He hadn't even unrolled it far enough to see how the buckets were attached. She stomped past the columns that supported the massive roof of the building, down the steps toward the throngs of people gathered in the street.
Djadao sucked in a breath, his eyes blazing with lust. "Such spirit!"
"Spirit that you'll never sample," Iteti said coldly. He glanced around. Made certain there were no witnesses. When his attention focused on the shorter man once again, dark eyes went wide. A low moan filled the air, and the man stumbled slightly.
"Pardon me," Djadao said quietly, regaining his balance slowly. "How may I be of assistance to you, citizen?"
Iteti smiled grimly. "I just came inside to escape the heat for a few minutes. I'll go now."
"Yes, you should. I don't mind, personally, but the Vizier..." Wide shoulders moved up and down, and flabby arms gestured weakly.
Iteti stepped back into the sunlight. It wasn't difficult to locate Sammy. She was stalking back the way they had come. Going home to destroy her model, no doubt, he thought, giving a slight chuckle. He glanced around, taking in the amazing number of people who filled the street. Didn't have time to worry about where they'd come from. He needed to make certain that the incident hadn't made Sammy too angry. Anger was one emotion that needed to be avoided at all costs. Such a strong emotion...Only one other was stronger, and it was as much a danger as anger. Maybe more so...
A A A A A A
He'd been about to move forward, to try to get closer to the temple when he saw her. Taller than the majority of people around her, the short blonde hair on her head looked like a helmet of gold. She was beautiful. He took a minute to fantasize about the long legs that he could see silhouetted against the linen of her shift, lit from behind as she was. When he raised his eyes, it was to meet a sapphire blue gaze head on. His heart stopped beating as their gazes locked.
She felt her breath catch in her throat. The warm brown eyes of the tall man, so much taller than any of the men she had met so far, save for Anderz, made her feel as if she couldn't breathe. His hair had been dark in his youth, there were still traces of it among the silver that covered his head. Her eyes moved over his shoulders, to his chest, lingered on the dark hair that curled there, flecked with gray. His arms were well defined, it was easy to see that he was a man who worked for a living...when her eyes met his a second time, the smile that lit his handsome face was a bit crooked, and filled with mirth. Her return smile was automatic.
His stomach was quivering as she stared back at him. When she smiled, he felt as if his soul could take flight. A woman that beautiful must be the wife of a very important man, he thought. Just before the feeling that he knew that woman tried to rush forward. There was a poke at the back of his mind, a sudden pain in his temple. He staggered slightly, put the heel of his hand to his head. Too hot. He needed to find a bit of shade...
Before she could say anything, or even attempt to make it to the man's side when he seemed to stumble, she heard her name called. She turned around to find Iteti approaching. She didn't know what prevented her from checking over her shoulder to see if the man with the smile that warmed her heart, and the brown eyes that touched her very soul, was all right. It was a battle to keep from doing so, she wanted to see the man again, see his smile again. To give in to that desire was...dangerous. That feeling was strong, as well. Whatever was going on, she had only her own instincts to follow. If she had any hope of figuring out what was happening to her...what was so wrong about the world around her, then she had to listen to those instincts.
"Sammy, I'm sorry. I didn't know. Djadao was an old childhood friend. I haven't seen him since he and his family moved into the city," Iteti said in way of apology.
She forced a smile. "Thank you for trying."
"I suppose you'll destroy your model now."
"Maybe. I might just hide it for awhile. Or maybe I'll just leave it in front of your stall. I don't mind if I don't get credit for building it. But I wasn't about to let that bastard take the glory...or me!"
Iteti smiled. "I never would have allowed that," he said softly. Sincerely. Once again he ignored the stirring in his heart. Refused to dwell on his reaction to Djadao's treatment of Sammy. Tried to tell himself that there was no one to whom he felt obliged to answer to regarding the...incident. "Do you feel up to watching the parade?"
"I'd like that," Sammy replied. When Iteti put his arm around her, turned her back toward the crowds, she dared to look over her shoulder. The man was gone. She was flooded with the sudden feeling that she needed to find him. That the silver haired man with the warm brown eyes had the answers to her questions. Another feeling stirred in her heart, too small yet to be noticed...
A A A A A A
Suten was the fourth in the line of scribes that wound its way through the crowds, escorted by palace guards. Onlookers backed away, all the while chattering and pointing at the seven men who would record the day's events. He felt himself cringing under the scrutiny of so many. He preferred to remain in the background, anonymous for the most part, unknown to the vast majority of people. It took concentrated effort not to slump his shoulders, to try and make himself a less visible target...
Target? And just what, or whom, would target him? Certainly not the Pharaoh's archers, who stood guard along the tops of the buildings. A fact he had taken in as soon as he'd entered the boulevard from the quiet residential streets. Or would they shoot at him, sending an arrow to pierce his heart, to kill him as ordered by the Pharaoh?
He thought again of the odd conversation he'd had with the priest. If he was protected, he certainly didn't see those protectors nearby! The priests and priestesses in the service of Isis lined the steps that led into the temple. The scribes were led to the top step, into the temple itself. There, once inside the ornately decorated room - which was open at the front - the throngs of people who moved up and down the street were visible beyond the columns that supported the portico roof. So many people! It seemed that everyone in the city had converged on the broad avenue.
Another thought poked at his mind...that of larger crowds, larger cities...but like the others that plagued him, it was gone before he could focus on it. So annoying to have what seemed to be memories that remained just out of his grasp. Surely he was losing his mind!
The high priest approached. Said a blessing over the eyes of the scribes, that they might see all that transpired, and over their minds, that they might remember and record the holy day of Isis. Yes, thought Suten, I could use a blessing on my mind, before it's completely gone!
Instructed as to where he was expected to stand, Suten found himself to one side and just in front of the altar. He would be unable to see what transpired there, not without turning around. It seemed that he was to simply watch the crowds, and remember their reactions to the speech that the Pharaoh would no doubt make, to remember those words, and the entreaty of the High Priestess that would bring the tears of Isis to the Nile once again.
The sound of trumpets echoed in the air, an echoing call returned by those who stood on the walls of the palace. The parade was about to begin!
A A A A A A
Led by the Vizier, the parade of people and chariots and carts began to move. Behind the Vizier were the advisors to the Pharaoh, men who were of importance, mostly in their own opinions. Next were the two most successful legions in the Pharaoh's army. The men were considered to be heroes, having taken the day against the Nubians who had attacked the southernmost borders of the land.
Carts that carried cages filled with the animals associated with Isis were next, a dozen pairs of guards walking beside them, making certain that none of the onlookers moved too close. Behind them, the wives and children of Pharaoh, who carried flowers and palm leaves, and covered the ground with their offerings.
No one walked beside Pharaoh. His chariot rolled slowly up the street as the horses pranced and whinnied. Standing as if he were one of the statues he had commissioned of himself, Pharaoh held the reins in one hand, the other on his hip.
Mdjai walked behind the chariot of the Pharaoh, the slow pace of the horses making the task an easy one. From this position he would be able to protect the king should anyone dare to attack. His eyes searched for, then counted the archers who lined the tops of the buildings. From those vantage points, those men would see any who moved toward the Pharaoh as well, and would have that person, or those people, targeted before Mdjai was aware of them. When he was aware such a danger, it would be his signal that would see dozens of arrows fill the air, destroying any who dared to threaten the god of Upper and Lower Egypt.
He watched with little thought as the people began to lower themselves to the ground as the god incarnate approached. There were so many people, and not much room, so that they were literally lying on top of one another, faces to the ground, not daring to look up.
Scanning the silent crowd, Mdjai caught movement from the corner of his eye, to his right. When he turned his head, his gaze met that of a man who stood not completely behind a tree. Brown eyes met black. There was no challenge. No threat. Only...curiosity. Glancing to make certain that the Pharaoh had not seen the man, Mdjai refrained from trying to look back as he passed. There had been no alarms sounded, so no one else had seen the disobedient peasant.
The memory of the brown eyes remained with the soldier as the parade moved up the street. He felt a tug in his heart, and his mind. A feeling that he knew the man. And a feeling of...friendship. Most disturbing, these images that haunted him, the emotions that plucked at his consciousness.
The Vizier, the advisors, the legions and the family of Pharaoh were on their knees, heads lowered, as he approached the temple. He reined the horses to a halt. Mdjai motioned for one of the guards to take the reins. Watched as the Pharaoh climbed the steps of the temple, the voices of the priests and priestesses chanting in unison as they sang the song of grief, for Osiris returned to the underworld, where he would rule for six months.
Slowly, not certain what to expect, unsure of what other changes the Pharaoh would have made in the once customary ceremony, the people began to rise to their feet, brushed the dirt from their best clothes, from their hands and faces and arms.
Suten watched as the Pharaoh approached the altar. The man was as arrogant as any he had ever met. A sudden rush of intense dislike washed over him. He barely repressed the shiver that had taken hold of him.
The Vizier, the advisors and the royal family began to fill the steps, kneeling in supplication. Mdjai moved with the stealth of a cat, took his place unobtrusively behind the Pharaoh. Acting as body guard, upon the Pharaoh's personal orders. He was not, he had been told, to leave his god's side during the celebration. It would seem that the Pharaoh did not feel as confident that someone among the priesthood would not attempt to assassinate him on this day as he might pretend to be, and felt the need to have his protector nearby.
Suten studied the huge man who guarded the Pharaoh. The new Captain of the Guard, he'd been told. The dark, bald head had glistened in the sunlight, in the shadows he was unable to tell if it had been oil, or sweat. Or a combination of the two. Impressive in size, the man moved with grace and agility. A gold tattoo adorned the middle of his forehead, a mark of servitude, he knew. His kilt, unlike the others of the Pharaoh's army, was dark blue, the fringe that embellished the bottom was gold. There was something familiar about those colors...
Mdjai felt eyes upon him. Turned his head slightly. Met the unflinching stare of one of the scribes. Had he ever seen a man with such blue eyes before? And his hair, the color of honey, was unlike that of all those around him; he was the only scribe in attendance whose head had not been shaved. An odd occurrence, given that the scribes were an extension of the priesthood. The same sense of recognition as he'd felt when he had seen the other man, the fisherman, his mind provided, filled his mind. He knew this man! He was certain of it!
The Pharaoh looked over his shoulder. Frowned slightly.
When the Captain of the Guard turned to look at him, Suten felt his heart stop, fear gripping him tightly. A look of cognizance flashed through the large man's eyes. Which probably matched his own as he too struggled with a sense of familiarity. He'd seen that man before...knew him! There was no doubt in his addled mind about that. But try as he might, nothing would come forward, no memories, nothing to give any sort of hint where or how or when the two men might have met. Utterly perturbing, this damned going insane business.
The soldier's gaze swung to the Pharaoh. He straightened his back.
"Why do you worry about the scribes?"
"I sought only to ascertain that the scribes have an unobstructed view. Are they not tasked to record this day?"
The black man flexed his muscular back, then smiled. "Yes, they are. You do your duty well, Mdjai."
Mdjai gave a regal nod of his head. And focused his full attention on the Pharaoh and the High Priestess as they performed the Rite of Tears. Fought the urge to look at the scribe again, to determine just where he had seen the man before.
Suten gave an unintentional start when the Priestesses who lined the stairs began to wail and weep, their exaggerated movements telegraphing their actions to the crowds who watched. The High Priestess began to intone the story of Isis, beseeching her to let go her grief, and to let her tears fall, that her people might live.
He continued to glance at the Captain of the Guard, who stood rigidly at attention. The more he tried to recall any meeting between them, the more the darkness that filled his mind seemed to shift and change, and grow ever darker. If he could just talk to him...Mdjai, that's what the Pharaoh had called him, although the name sounded...wrong. He heaved a mental sigh. Was there anything in his life that wasn't wrong at the moment? He was the son of a man he didn't know, felt serious doubts about his mother, and the need to remain as far away from her as possible; he had supposedly pleased the Pharaoh, while at the same time pulling one over on the god incarnate...
...and his very life was in danger. And, to top it off, he was going insane. Nope, not a thing right there! Still...what if this man, this soldier known as Mdjai, held the answers he needed?
Mdjai's thoughts whirled in a similar fashion. If only he could speak to the scribe! He knew that the man was intelligent...
The word flashed through his mind. Yes, brilliant. The scribe would certainly have the answers to the questions that haunted him...
A A A A A A
Rami sat in his hut, examining the events of the day. It had been interesting enough. Lots of bright colored silk hanging on everything...although the people wore mostly white kilts or simple shift-styled dresses.
The soldier, the Captain of the Guard, personal protector of the Pharaoh someone had whispered, had looked right at him. He knew what the edict had been. He knew that he'd risked his eyes by not following the order of the Pharaoh. That soldier had looked right at him. Had made eye contact. And had said and done nothing.
Where had he seen that man before? Tall, dark, muscular. Odd sort of tattoo right in the middle of his forehead. He'd never seen anyone else with a mark like that...Or had he? More 'almost memories' stirred in the back of his bruised, crazed mind.
The best moment...the most exciting moment, he had relieved a dozen times. Once again those beautiful sapphire blue eyes filled his memory. His entire body hardened as he thought about the beautiful blonde woman with the incredible legs. She had looked at him, the corners of her lips had turned up slightly...
He sat back against the wall, pulled his legs up. There was no way a beautiful woman like that would ever want to see, let alone speak, to a crazy man. Yet such feelings of...love...or at the very least, attraction, filled his heart as he continued to examine the images of that beautiful woman. He really was crazy...wasn't he?
A A A A A A
Sammy closed and bolted the door to her room. Sat on the bed hugging herself. Brown eyes continued to dance in her mind. So warm, and gentle...although there was so much strength there. The man had been tall and handsome...
And a fisherman. A poor man.
"So what?" she demanded of the walls around her. What a man did for a living had never been on the list of criteria for her. Oh, she didn't want a bum, to be certain, but manual labor was every bit as important as more intellectual pursuits. She had dated...
She wrapped her arms around her waist, began to pace the floor as she fought to hold onto the 'almost memory', tried to drag it from the shadow so she could examine it. Watched with mounting frustration as it disappeared into the dark fog that seemed to hover around her mind.
Playing back every moment she had been in the city, she concentrated on the few fleeting moments when she'd seen that man...the man of her dreams...
Was he? The man of her dreams? The warmth that flooded her senses as that thought bounced around in her head was almost physical. She smiled. Yes, it would seem that he was. Now, how in the world did she go about meeting him, and convincing him that he was the man of her dreams?
A A A A A A
Suten had chosen to return to the library. The sounds of the revelry that accompanied the evening celebrations occasionally drifted to his ears. He wished she was here, she would love...
Once again the thought was gone before he could grab it, before he could fully examine it. The only thing that remained were green eyes. Such amazing green eyes. He could drown in those beautiful emerald depths. Love and lust and happiness like he'd never felt before, or at least, not that he could recall, rushed over him, through him.
He sat at the table, intended to work on the scroll. Night was falling, and shadows deepened along the walls of the room. Another face filled his memory. That of the Captain of the Guard. Mdjai. A man who had recognized him, he was certain of that. At least, there had been a flash of recognition in the dark eyes, just before the Pharaoh had so sharply called his name.
Shudders moved over him at the thought of the Pharaoh. If he'd never before believed that evil could be incarnate, he did now! There was so much...evil...in the man it seemed to darken the very air around him. His fingertips began to burn as that thought echoed in his head. He watched with growing concern as his fingers once again turned red. It felt as if his hands were on fire!
Shaking them slightly, the sensations faded, and the skin returned to its normal color. That was twice. Both times he had been feeling...threatened. A deep frown creased his handsome face. Just what was going on?
"Come on, Beautiful Eyes, give me a clue," he mumbled. Why he thought the woman with those amazing eyes could help him, or would help him, he had no idea.
Somehow, someway, he had to find a way to speak to the Pharaoh's bodyguard. He gave a snort of derision. Yes, that would be so easy, wouldn't it? A simple scribe, he'd simply march into the palace and demand to speak to Mdjai, the Pharaoh's Captain of the Guard. What do these people do with the insane among them? he wondered idly.
A A A A A A
Exhausted, more mentally than physically, Mdjai assigned extra guards for the night, and sought refuge in his room. Sheriti wasn't there, he wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.
The blue eyes of the scribe who had so boldly stared at him continued to haunt his thoughts. Of course, the scribe was simply committing to memory every detail of the ceremony. That would include all of those who were present. No doubt his name would be written in the scrolls, as Captain of the Guard, responsible for the safety of the Pharaoh.
But for one moment, those cerulean blue eyes had widened slightly. There had been recognition there. At that moment, Mdjai had expected the man to speak, to acknowledge whatever relationship existed between them. Had hoped the man might say something - anything - that would help him to make sense of what was going on around him.
Instead, the Pharaoh had called his name, and the moment...the connection...had been broken. There hadn't been another opportunity to seek out the scribe, or to even see him again.
A soft tap on the door brought him to his feet. Expecting to see Sheriti, he was taken aback when a tall, lanky slave stood before him. Light green eyes barely lit on his face before dropping once again. The slave held out a tray. "I was bid to bring you food," the man said softly.
"Thank you," Mdjai replied. He motioned for the slave to put the tray on the table.
The man moved toward the door, then turned around. Dared to look at the large soldier. "Not all is as it seems."
Before Mdjai could reply, the man slipped from the room, closed the door quietly behind him. The simple statement seemed to echo again and again in the small room.
"Not all is as it seems."
Of that he was already aware. But what did it mean?
A A A A A A
Unable to sleep, dreams and nightmares taking turns in making sleep impossible, he sat outside of the tiny hut. Took comfort from the sapphire eyes that continued to haunt his thoughts, both waking and sleeping. So beautiful. So full of excitement. She always got excited over her doohickeys. Even when he only understood half of what she said - on a good day - he loved to hear her talk about her experiments. A rush of love that left him gasping for breath washed over him. He sat up, the thoughts whirling in his mind, not slipping away as they had always done before...
"Agh!" He pressed his hands to his head, 'hearing' the sound of ripping in his mind. Another gasp as memories and thoughts rushed forward. He sorted through what he knew, what he didn't know. Came up with a conclusion that had him shaking.
Now, just how in the hell was he supposed to find Sam and...Teal'c! He'd seen Teal'c as well! Okay, he knew where Teal'c was. In that damned palace. Oy, that was going to be a nightmare. If he was going to get inside, he needed to do so while it was still dark. Of Daniel and Casey, he had no clue. He had to find his kids, he had to get his team together...they could figure a way out of this mess together!
She sat up, her skin damp as a result of the nightmares that had terrorized her for the majority of the night. Running shaking hands through her hair, she tossed back the blanket that had been twisted around her naked body. Reaching in the darkness for the shift she'd worn to the festival, she slipped it over her head, quietly left her room.
Brown eyes continued to dance in her memory. They were filled with amusement. With happiness. With love. Such love. After all she'd been through, the failed relationships, the men that she'd thought were right for her, who had turned out to be just the opposite, she had nearly given up finding love. Then she had walked into that briefing room, and there had been Colonel Jack O'Neill, arguing with General Hammond about her presence on his team...
"Jack!" she whispered hoarsely.
She nearly gave herself away as she gasped in pain. She wrapped her hands around her head as memories began to flood her mind. Was this what Casey had felt when she'd managed to remove the mental block that Dartal had...
Oh, shit. She glanced around her. Well, Toto, we aren't in Kansas anymore, she thought.
There was only one thing of which she was certain. She'd seen Jack. She knew that he was a fisherman. How she knew that, she wasn't certain. If she could just get to the river, then she could find him, she was certain of it...
Sleep refused to come. He regretted returning to this house. The very air around him seemed oppressive. He paced the room, feeling like an animal in a cage. If he could just speak with that soldier, with Mdjai, he was certain he could figure out what was happening. Or happening to him, whichever the case might be. Either something was very wrong with the world around him, or he was going insane. At that particular moment, he didn't even care which it was, just as long as he could finally know for certain.
Needing to get away, he pulled on his kilt and the simple robe that kept his shoulders warm against the chill of the night air. He had no idea where he was going. Only that he had to get away from the house. Away from the woman who claimed to be his mother.
She wasn't. Claire Ballard Jackson. That was his mother's name. She and his father had died the day that damned cover stone had dropped on them. He'd been eight years old...
"Oh, god," he moaned softly. Pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes in a feeble attempt to ward of the sudden pain that filled his head. "Casey," he whispered, as the pain faded. Just where was his Wife? All hell was going to break loose if she'd been harmed in any way.
Now, he had to find Teal'c; his memory, once again whole, assured him that the man who had been called Mdjai was his Jaffa friend. And then they needed to figure out just what the hell was going on...
The cries from the Pharaoh's chambers filled the air with the sound of agony. He rose from his bed, his hands clenched into fists. No, to rush in there now would be suicide. He needed help to make a move against Apophis...
The thought brought him up short. Left him standing in the middle of his room, his heart pounding against his chest. He gritted his teeth as pain filled his head. When it had passed, his memories were once again in place, his knowledge accessible.
Another cry. This one different than the first. A third cry, more of a moan. One that carried a message of pleasure. He shuddered. Whether or not the activity had been of the woman's choosing, it seemed that she was now enjoying what was happening.
Teal'c glanced around. He had seen both O'Neill and Daniel Jackson earlier in the day. He needed to locate both of the men. And they needed to search for the whereabouts of Major Carter and Casey Jackson. If the three of them had been within such close proximity, it was logical to assume that the women were nearby as well.
His position as Captain of the Guard would allow him the luxury of moving as he pleased. Wrapping the kilt around his hips, he settled his short sword against his hip. He wasn't certain what was happening. Once he had located his teammates, that question could be addressed, and a solution to their dilemma could be found...
A A A A A A
Sam was jogging along the dirt path. There were still disjointed 'memories', images that had been planted in her mind. She wasn't sure how much of the information contained in those false memories was accurate. Just across the road from the house where she had found herself was the water lift. She'd follow the river from there, and hope that she'd somehow stumble on him. It just made sense that a fisherman would live near the river.
The moon was full above her, which was of considerable assistance to her search. The roof of a tiny hovel peeked above the tall reeds that lined the riverbank. She slowed to a walk. Crouched down in the shadows when she was close enough to see the hut. How was she going to determine who the occupant was, without waking him, or them? She really didn't want anyone to know she was skulking around.
When a hand suddenly covered her mouth, she struggled to break free of the weight behind her, against her. A strong arm wrapped around her waist.
"Sam?" The voice that whispered into her ear made her heart shiver with relief.
She turned in his arms. "Jack!"
His lips crashed down upon hers. She was safe, thank all the true gods and the Tooth Fairy, she was safe. And best of all, she was here, with him!
She locked her arms around his neck, clung to him as he held her tightly. "Hey," she said, grinning at him, when he finally moved his lips from hers.
"Hey. So, what's a gorgeous major like you doing in a place like this?"
"Looking for handsome colonels to have my wicked way with." The shiver that moved over his body at her reply made her grin all the wider.
"I wish we had time, baby. But we have to find Teal'c, and then figure out where Daniel and Casey are."
"You know where Teal'c is?"
"I saw him today. After I saw you. Well, I didn't know it was you at the time," he replied. "Seems Teal'c has been made Captain of the Guard."
"Did he recognize you?"
"I'm not sure. He should have had me...well, he saw me, but he didn't say one word."
She nodded. She'd heard what the punishment for daring to look at the Pharaoh was to be. "Then we head for the palace."
"Sounds like a plan to me."
Her hand tightly wrapped in his, he led her back to the narrow path. "So, any idea what's happening?"
"None. I just figured things out about thirty minutes ago."
"You always were fast. Lots of pain, just before everything came back?"
"Yep. I wonder if that's what Casey felt when her memories..."
When her voice trailed off, Jack stopped. Turned to look at her. "Carter?"
That one word changed the dynamics of the situation. It was a mission, and they were in the middle of enemy territory. "Sir, I'm not sure, but I think that we're experiencing what Casey did when Dartal took her."
"So we're on the astro turf, just like Radar predicted."
"Crap. Okay, let's find the others. Then we'll figure out exactly what's going on and why and just how the hell we're going to get Danny to that battle."
A A A A A A
Teal'c strode down the dark, deserted street. There was no hope that Daniel Jackson would be in the Library at this time of night. He would attempt to find O'Neill, certain that the colonel would be somewhere near the river. He had only until the first streaks of light. It would not do for the Pharaoh to suspect that he had full access to his memories. He wasn't certain exactly how he knew that, but it was a feeling he would not ignore.
If he could not make contact with his teammates this night, he would attempt to do so the following night. It might be possible to get a message to Daniel Jackson during the day. If the archaeologist's memory had also returned, he would find a way to reply. It seemed plausible that if his own memory had returned, the others were experiencing the same revelations, Teal'c thought.
If he could find his friends, then they would decide whether to continue with the charade that they had been living for three days, in an attempt to gather more information about the situation, or if they would simply plan their escape.
The key was finding his teammates. He had no idea where Major Carter or Casey Jackson were being held. He continued to move through the streets, heading for the gate of the city wall, and the river that flowed just beyond the wall. His goal was to locate O'Neill. For the moment, it was the best plan he could come up with.
Daniel slipped from the house. He had one thought on his mind. Finding Casey. He knew where Teal'c was. Getting into that palace wasn't going to be easy, of that he was certain. He paused and put his hands on his hips, sighed mentally. His best bet was to find the Jaffa, and then try to find Casey, Jack, and Sam. Once the team was together, they could figure a way out of this place.
He tried to recall the mission that had led to this interesting...confinement. There were hazy images of the briefing. Of going through the 'gate. Of finding themselves inside a very large temple. Then...nothing. So, it followed that whatever had happened, had happened as soon as they had arrived.
If the team had been held for three days, had any other teams been dispatched to locate them? The thought that there might be others of the SGC scattered throughout the city made him sigh. That could be a real pain-in-the-ass.
He followed the wall that led to the opening onto the main boulevard of the city. The intention of getting into the palace filling each step he took with determination. He tried to construct a plan, but having no clue what he would find left him doing little more than examining and discarding ideas that came to him at random. One step at a time, he thought. Get to the damned thing first .
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