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Hell is for Children
The low hill that looked back over the village was rocky, and several shallow indentations, not quite deep enough to be called caves, could be seen. The back of the hill was as rocky as the top, and led to another, steeper hill.
"This is it," Sam said. She continued to study her equipment. "There's quite a bit here, according to these readings."
"Okay, make note of the location," Jack replied. He turned to his resident linguist and archaeologist. "Suggestions on how to get permission to mine here?"
Daniel looked over at the older man. He'd been thinking about what the leader had said. "If we bring food, water, maybe warm clothing and blankets, that might buy us at least a chance to talk with them."
Casey smiled. She'd known that he'd come up with a solution to the problem.
Jack nodded. "I'll put that in my report. What about medical supplies?"
"Couldn't hurt," Daniel said.
"We'll go around the village to get back to the 'gate. When we come back through, we'll bring those supplies."
Jack looked at the young man as if he'd lost his mind. "Say what?"
"Horses were very important to the Mongols. From their facial characteristics, and what I could see of their village, these people are related to the Mongols that roamed the Russian steppes. The leader asked me why we were walking. The corral was to the back of the valley, where it was the warmest. I only saw a corner of it as we approached. So, we need to bring horses as well."
"The general is gonna love that request," Jack groused.
"I'll try, Daniel, no promises," the older man replied. He looked around. "There's a nice little cove over there, should give us some protection from the wind. We'll set up camp there."
"O'Neill," Teal'c said quietly. "We are being observed."
Jack nodded. "I'm not surprised. Okay, keep an eye out, we'll get camp set up. I want them to know that we know they're out there. But that we aren't afraid of them."
The giant man nodded, and moved to stand at what would be the only exposed area of the camp. He planted his feet shoulder width apart, held his staff weapon loosely, but ready to fire in a split second. His stance was that of a warrior on guard. Those watching understood the posture.
Three tents were erected, and two of the lanterns were brought out as the sun dropped below the horizon. The already cool air became uncomfortably chilly with the lack of a fire. There was nothing nearby to burn. MREs were eaten, the chem-pack heated food doing little to warm them against the wind that continued to blow.
"Teal'c, get some sleep, I'll take first watch," Jack said. "Everybody else get some sleep too. We're out of here at first light."
Daniel had carefully zipped together his and Casey's sleeping bags. Mission or not, he knew that he wouldn't be able to sleep if he couldn't hold his Wife. They undressed quickly, down to underwear, and crawled into the warmth of the Thinsulate bags.
Casey cuddled close, her head on his shoulder. "Love you," she whispered.
"Love you, too, Angel," he replied, his arm pulling her even tighter against his side.
She closed her eyes, only to open them again as those images of violence flashed before them. It was absolutely frustrating! She couldn't see when this was going to happen. Only that it was. Nor could she see the Jaffa clearly enough to see the tattoo that darkened the skin in the middle of their foreheads. She heaved a mental sigh. Decided not to say anything about her concerns. Perhaps her dreams would offer more, something that she could share with her team in the morning. It was a decision that would haunt her for months to come.
Jack watched the blackness of the horizon. The tiny moon that moved slowly through the sky above them offered little light. But the night vision goggles sitting on his face lit the area around him. He could see several of the Mongol warriors poke their heads up from time to time, checking to see if anything had changed within the small camp. He hated to think that they might try to attack. It wouldn't take much to wipe them out. One of those 'David and Goliath' situations. Where, luckily, they'd be Goliath. And then have to live with the results of what would be a very nasty confrontation. Don't do it, he thought silently. Go home. Just go home.
A A A A A A
The first streaks of pink, orange and red were filling the sky when Daniel, who had taken last watch, woke his teammates. He was dying for a cup of hot coffee. He helped Casey roll up their sleeping bags, attached them to the waiting packs. The tent came down, and he strapped it to his pack. He had to chuckle watching Casey heft the bags, then sort through his, taking the water bottles and putting them into her own bag. When he pointed out that he was more than capable of carrying the weight of the pack, and had been doing so for over five years, she'd looked at him, rolled her eyes, and continued to search through his pack for anything she determined that she could carry. That stubborn pride would not allow her to carry less than anyone else, and she'd just figured out that she was doing exactly that. It didn't matter to her that Jack, Sam, and Teal'c understood that she'd need time to grow accustomed to carrying the packs on each mission.
They were discussing the best way to return to the 'gate when they heard it. The faint sounds of screams. Coming from the village.
Casey moaned. "I didn't know it was going to happen this soon! I only knew that it was going to happen!"
"What?" Jack asked sharply. He stalked to where she stood, stopping directly in front of the young blonde. "You knew something was going to happen?"
"I just saw Jaffa…attacking the village. Well…not exactly. I saw those little girls, beaten, hurt so badly, and then just images of Jaffa, so I assumed that they were the ones who were going to attack, but I couldn't see the tattoos…and-"
"You didn't think this was something you should have told us?" Jack said, anger in his eyes. "Damn it, Casey! This is exactly the kind of thing you should have warned us about!"
"I couldn't see anything! Just images, and not even clear images!" she replied hotly. "It's not like I get the freaking itinerary for the day! Sometimes I have to interpret what I see! And that can take time if it's not clear!"
"Jack, if she'd thought it would have made a difference, she'd have told you," Daniel said, stepping between the man who was his CO, and his Wife.
"I don't care how murky or whatever it is!" the older man exploded. "From now on, if there are Jaffa involved, I want to know!"
Casey nodded. "I promise," she whispered. The outburst had left her momentarily stunned.
Jack took off his cap, shook his head. "Sorry I snapped at you. But Casey, if there are Jaffa in anything that you see, you have to tell us! Let's get down there and see if we can help." The cap went back on, backwards, and he led his team at a run toward the village.
Black smoke filled the sky as the dozen or so huts burned. Bodies littered the ground. One group of Jaffa were leading prisoners back toward the 'gate. Mostly men and boys. A few young women. The oldest were already dead. Three women, barely alive, from what they could see, were being beaten.
"I count thirty-eight," Jack said, from where he lay on the rocky ridge.
"We have to get down there!" Casey insisted. When she would have risen to her feet, Daniel yanked her roughly to the ground. She glared at him.
"Casey, there is no way we could get down there and do anything. We can't just run in firing, we'd hit those people. And those Jaffa would kill us before we got close enough. We're too far away to be able to pick them off from here," Jack said calmly, quietly.
"So we just lay here, and listen to this?"
"There's nothing else we can do. If we expose ourselves trying to help, we'll be killed. Or taken prisoner. Trust me, killed would be better. But I don't particularly feel like dying today. And I sure as hell am not going to allow my team to be killed," he replied, not happy about having to repeat himself. Something he should be used to, he thought, considering how many times he had to tell Daniel the same things.
The screams were growing weaker. Casey picked up her binoculars, looked down into the village. Her heart stopped when four Jaffa dragged the five little girls toward the edge of what remained of the village. The others, who stood around watching the torture of the women, turned and watched their companions' approach. She felt as if she were going to throw up at the looks that crossed nearly a dozen of the male faces. "No!" she whispered.
The little girls were tied up, tossed to the ground and ignored. All attention focused on the three women. It seemed that one was already dead. Her body was tossed aside, as if she were nothing more than a bag of garbage.
The arrival of more Jaffa sent shudders up and down the spines of the watching team. Not only could they do nothing to save the half dozen living villagers, they were trapped as well. Until the Jaffa left, there was no way to get back through the 'gate, and home.
Another sweep of the village was done. Four more girls, they looked to be teenagers, and three boys of the same age were brought to the edge of the village. By now a total of sixty Jaffa were roaming around the smoldering remains of the huts.
The leader, a tall man with black hair and a black beard seemed to be giving instructions. When he turned and looked toward the rocky hill where SG-1 lay hidden, five hearts began to pound with trepidation.
"Looks like somebody told them about us," Jack muttered. "This could get real ugly, kids."
"If we can make it back to the cove where we were, there's the chance we might find a cave or two," Sam suggested.
"I hate to move, it would put us out in the open," Jack replied.
"If they come up here, there's nothing to keep us out of sight," Daniel pointed out.
"I know, Danny. Let's just hope that they don’t come up here."
"There is the possibility that the people have told their captors only the direction in which we went, and that we are no longer there," Teal'c said.
"Maybe," Jack said.
"If they saw us breaking camp, they'd have assumed we were moving on. They might even think we've already returned through the 'gate," Daniel said. He didn't add what was already going through their minds...those people down there probably thought that the strange visitors had brought the Jaffa down on them.
"Let's just hold tight for now. We have the advantage if they try to come up here. Teal'c, keep an eye on our six. Sam, watch our right flank. If we can get any that come up here before they see us, that might give the rest of them a reason to leave us alone," Jack said.
More screams pierced the air, as two of the teenage boys were beaten. The young women were crying, pleading with the Jaffa to stop. Tears were streaming down Casey's face. Everything inside her insisted that helping those children was worth the risk. Her fingers tightened over her P90, hovered over the trigger.
"Don't even think about it," Jack said, his hand closing over hers. "I know it's hard, Case. But if those Jaffa find us, we still won't be able to save those kids. And we'll be killed. After we're tortured."
"So we let them die, in order to save our own asses," she hissed.
"Yes," he replied, his eyes hard. "Shit happens. You deal with it the best that you can."
She closed her eyes. In that moment she hated Jack O'Neill. And the SGC. And the Stargate. And a gift that she couldn't control, one that showed her only enough to taunt her, torment her. When Daniel tried to take her hand, to comfort her, she jerked away from him. His touch repulsed her. He sided with a man willing to let children suffer and die.
Daniel's eyes went wide at the look of anger in her eyes. When she jerked her hand from his, seemed to move away from him, he frowned. Jack caught his eye, shook his head slightly. There'd been other times when SG-1 had been forced to make this same type of choice. Never before had there been children involved. Daniel could see in those brown eyes what only those who knew him well would; that this was tearing Jack apart. But he was right, to expose themselves at this point in time would result in their own deaths. And as selfish as it was, Daniel didn't want to die. He didn't want Casey to die. He'd just found her, and he wanted a lifetime with her.
Her face was against the hand that clenched her weapon. Her absolutely useless weapon. Part of her understood that Jack was right. Understood that if SG-1 died, it meant that Daniel died. She'd die. That part knew only that death was not acceptable. The other part of her listened to the cries of the young girls, the screams of agony from the young men as their bodies were hit again and again, as the 'pain sticks' inflicted even more anguish, demanding that she do something, anything.
Sam's cheeks were pale. She glanced at Teal'c. The downward pull of his mouth was extreme. He was as upset by the situation as the rest of them were. Daniel looked as if he was going to be sick. Jack looked haunted. She knew that this would only add to the burden of shadows that tormented him. It was Casey, however, whom she was the most worried about. The young woman had never had to suffer anything like this. The risk of her exposing them, in a futile attempt to save those kids, increased with each passing moment. Until she finally understood that Jack was right.
"Oh, Jesus!" Jack muttered. He lowered the binoculars, rubbed his eyes with the fingers of one hand. He didn't particularly want to witness the rape of those two boys. Teal'c had told him once that Jaffa who indulged in such torture were widely despised. And were sought after by the most twisted of the Goa'uld.
Casey looked, blanched, closed her eyes again. Surely those animals would tire soon, would leave soon. Perhaps they'd just abandon the children. Then she and the rest of the team could take them home, see to it that their wounds were treated, and that their souls were mended. Once again Daniel's fingers wrapped around hers. She felt him apply gentle pressure, then he just simply held her hand. She gave a sideways glance at the man she'd married. He was looking at her, his eyes filled with as much agony as she was certain hers were. She shifted closer to him, the weight of his arm around her waist a gentle reminder that she was alive, he was alive. And that right now, that was the best they could hope for.
The screams had stopped, even from their vantage point the blood on the two young men was plainly visible. Through the binoculars they could see that the young men were in shock. One of them appeared to be nearly catatonic.
When the leader, the First Prime, they knew, from the flash of gold on his forehead, slapped them repeatedly, neither boy moved. They could see blood, and probably teeth, flying. This is gonna be bad, Jack thought. He looked over at Casey. Her face seemed colorless, and her eyes had taken on a dull look of pain that worried him. Often captors would torture prisoners in front of one another; it could make a man break faster than being tortured himself. A quick glance at the faces around him warned him that if the team had to witness much more, they'd all be on the verge of breaking.
Teal'c scanned the area behind them. There was no movement. It seemed that the Jaffa were too busy…entertaining…themselves to be concerned about what, or who, might possibly be around them. These Jaffa were most certainly without honor, to torture children, who could be of no possible use, except as slaves. Slavery would be kinder than what they were now being forced to endure. As much as he wished it, to try and take on sixty such Jaffa would certainly end badly. He'd be killed, without a doubt. O'Neill as well. Considering the actions of the mik'ta-ha's below, Daniel Jackson would be tortured before he was killed. And Major Carter and Casey Jackson would suffer the same fate as the other women. To stay here was not what he wished to do. But the alternative was unacceptable.
The sounds from the village, or ruins of the village, had stopped. Several of the Jaffa were tossing their armor to the ground, were sitting down and appeared to be eating. Jack watched the leisurely way in which they moved. He glanced at Teal'c. "T, can you get to that 'gate without being seen?"
"I believe so," the Jaffa replied.
"Go. Radio if it's clear."
With a nod, the large man slipped away.
"Danny, keep an eye on our asses," Jack said.
"Got it." Daniel eased to the place where Teal'c had been lying. When he'd tugged at her hand, hoping that she'd join him, and thus be unable to see what was happening below, Casey gently pulled her fingers from his grasp. Damn it! She's going to torture herself if she keeps watching! Because what was happening below was like a bad accident, it was impossible not to look.
"If Teal'c can get to the 'gate, you'll call for back up?" Casey asked, hope in her voice and her eyes.
"The whole fucking Marine contingent," Jack replied.
She nodded. Held to the tiny scrap of hope that her giant friend would find the 'gate unguarded, and be able to do just that.
The little girls, the four teenage girls, and the teenage boy who'd so far escaped the attention of the Jaffa were tied together. There seemed to be a bit of a debate going on among the metal-clad warriors. It looked as if several wanted to leave, taking the children with them. The First Prime, or at least the leader of this particular group, was shaking his head. He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. Telling them to leave if they wanted to, Jack surmised. More talking. A bit of yelling. And then the men settled back down on the ground.
"Shit!" Jack muttered. He squinted up at the sun. It was going to get warm, sitting here on these rocks. "Careful with the water, campers," he said softly. They'd been prepared for an overnight stay. They were to return sometime today. So unless Teal'c could get a message through, no one at the SGC would be concerned about them. Not until tomorrow at the earliest.
Casey had her arms crossed in front of her, her forehead resting on them. "It's going to get worse," she said softly.
Jack barely heard the mumbled comment. His heart clenched in his chest. No doubt Casey had already 'seen' what was about to happen. Or at least brief images. "Maybe not," he replied, trying to sound reassuring. "Didn't you say that nothing is written in stone until it's already happened?"
She looked up at him, tried to smile. "Something like that."
"Well, Teal'c will get to the 'gate, and bring enough back up to take those assholes out," he said with much more confidence than he felt. It was far more likely that there were guards on the 'gate, or the group below wouldn't be so relaxed. Giving the young woman hope was more important than the truth right now.
And so they waited. Hoped…and waited.
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