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Between Two Evils
The Persephone was in elliptical orbit above Gamma, doing long-range scans every ten minutes. So far, there was no sign of any Goa'uld ships. Near Alpha and Beta the Prometheus and the Hak'tyl were doing the same. The Phoenix was near the coordinates where Toren's fleet had been stopped, also doing long-range scans, with the same results. Duncan contacted the EDA and encouraged them to have their BC-303's doing long-range scans as well. Whether or not the group would heed his warnings, he had no idea, and no time to worry about it.
Duncan decided to send a UAV through the 'gate to make sure that there weren't any Jaffa in the vicinity before letting his flagship team walk through. The images that the vehicle sent back showed steep hills, and the mountain that they would have to climb. There was no sign of Toren or Dagon.
"There!" Casey said, pointing to a dark spot on the side of the mountain.
"About two-thirds of the way up. Shit!" Jack said. "Okay, we're taking ropes, harnesses and pitons. Standard climbing gear. Let's move out."
Backpacks had been packed, vests filled, weapons loaded and extra ammo strapped onto their waists while the UAV had been prepped and launched. They were as ready to go as they were ever going to be.
"SG-1, you have a go," Duncan's voice called down to them as they gathered at the foot of the ramp. "Godspeed. Take them and that damned hellhole out, team."
Jack saluted with a grin, and led the way through the 'gate. Sam sent the UAV back to Gamma, and they started out. They hadn't taken more that half a dozen steps each when the 'gate came to life. "Okay, let's get into position," he hissed. "With luck we'll take the bastards out before they even get started!"
The team hid among the dense underbrush between the tall pines that surrounded the Stargate on all sides. Settled in place, the team watched as the event horizon opened. Jack had instructed that they should hold fire until he gave the order. Jaffa began to pour through the gate, within minutes there were nearly two hundred, lining up in formation.
Toren was the last to walk through the 'gate. His face was a study of anger and frustration, for he had been unable to reach out and 'see' anything since the attack on him on the astral plane. The Goa'uld was in complete control, the host broken from the terrifying experience of 'dying' on the only plane of existence where he was able to move about freely in his own mind.
Shit! Jack swore silently. While it was possible that they could take out most of the Jaffa who were now moving down the road, it was more likely that they would be caught and taken prisoner. "Hold off, kids, let them get out of sight," he whispered into his radio.
As soon as the clanking sound of the Jaffa armor faded, they slowly gathered in front of the 'gate. "Now what?" Sam asked, watching the road where the enemy had disappeared.
"We cut cross country and beat that bastard," Jack replied. "Casey, is there an easy way to that lab?"
She closed her eyes, met Daniel in the meadow, then reached out. "If Toren follows the road, it will take him at least two days. If we cut cross-country, we can do it in one and a half. I think," she said.
"Half a day ahead of him is better than nothing at all. What about getting out?"
"We'll run into him on the way out," she admitted. "But, the path they'll be on is narrow. And," she closed her eyes, 'dashed' up the side of the mountain to examine the area a bit closer. "There's a place where we could hide, if we get there before his Jaffa do." Something poked at her, but she didn’t recognize it, yet.
"Looks like that's the plan then," Jack said. "Let's go. We're gonna double time it. The sooner we get there, the better."
With Teal'c in the lead, his large body creating a path through the vegetation around them, SG-1 joined the race for the lab. They hadn't gone far when the familiar sounds of the 'gate opening behind them reached their ears.
"Let's move, kids," Jack said softly. He thanked whatever gods there were that they had been careful about their movements into the undergrowth when they left the path. It would be easy enough to follow them now, but it would take some searching to find the trail that they were leaving behind.
"Didn't we just do this?" Casey grumbled, jogging beside Sam. Teal'c's wide, strong back was plainly visible in front of them, and they could hear Jack and Daniel behind them.
"Yep," Sam said, panting as softly as her friend.
"I hate reruns," the young blonde Immortal managed to gasp.
Teal'c stopped suddenly, the women behind him barely avoided running into him. They were staring at a river. About a hundred feet below them.
Jack eased forward and looked down the cliff. "Well, damn!" He glanced around. "Doesn't look like there's any other place to cross-"
Daniel grabbed the older man's arm and pointed. "There!"
Half a mile away, just visible as it hung suspended between the two rocky ridges, was a rope bridge. There was no way of knowing how safe or sturdy it was until they examined it. Moving quickly, they ran through the underbrush, between trees that towered several hundred feet above them, with trunks so large that the entire team could easily hide behind one. The bridge was directly off the path.
"Toren and his Jaffa will have to take this as well," Teal'c said, shaking the thick rope structure.
"He can't be more than fifteen or twenty minutes behind us," Jack mused. "We couldn't go as fast because we were running through all those bushes and vines."
"He wasn't running at all," Casey pointed out.
"We don't dare take this bridge out, we'll need it to get back," Daniel said, glancing over his shoulder.
"We need to go now, or they'll be here before we're across," Sam said.
Teal'c took the first step. Although from its appearance, the bridge was quite old, it seemed sturdy enough. Sam went next, looking at Casey just before she followed her teammate. Being suspended so high above the gorge wouldn't be easy for her young friend.
"I'm right here, babe," Daniel said softly. "Take my hand."
Casey grabbed his warm, strong fingers, felt them close tightly around her own. She followed him, stepping carefully from one 'rung' to the next, her free hand wrapped around the rope 'rail' so tightly that her knuckles were white.
"We won't let anything happen, Case," Jack said softly as well, following closely.
They were near the middle of the bridge when it began to sway and groan. Sounds of Jaffa armor behind them only added to the danger.
Teal'c began to run, his weight making the bridge sway even harder from side to side. Sam was right behind him.
Casey's heart was frozen with fear. She couldn't run, not like Sam and Teal'c were doing. Daniel began to tug on her hand, pulling her faster than she wanted to move…faster than she was able to move. Her foot slipped, and she fell, one leg dangling through the rope rungs, the other caught on a rung just below her knee, both hands reaching frantically for something to hold on to.
Jack reached down and grabbed her arm, trying to pull her up. Daniel caught the other arm, and between the two of them managed to set her feet back on the rungs. But the incident had cost them precious seconds of time. And the Jaffa behind them were beginning to fire staff weapons. "Go!" Jack yelled.
Focused on Daniel's back, using only her peripheral vision to watch where her feet were going, Casey began to run. Sam and Teal'c were firing back at the Jaffa. Jack was firing behind him as well. So far the armored men had not stepped onto the bridge.
Her foot had barely touched the hard packed dirt of the other side when the bridge began to shake. Jack lunged behind her, knocking her to the ground, and the breath from her lungs, both of them at the very edge of the cliff. The hands of their teammates pulled them to safety.
"I'm sorry," Casey whispered, when she caught her breath.
"For what?" Jack asked, getting to his feet, offering his hand to her.
"I…I froze back there…I fell…I put you and Daniel and Sam and T at risk…you could be long gone had it not been for me!"
"Bullshit," Jack said. "We'll talk later. Run, now!"
The team took off at a dead run.
A A A A A A
They had left the path as soon as they were out of the sight of the Jaffa. Moving carefully, so as to leave no noticeable markings of their passage, the team followed Teal'c once again. After ten minutes or so, Jack ordered them to begin running once more, as much as possible through the difficult terrain.
Gasping for breath, hands pressed against aching sides, by mutual agreement forced upon them by bodies pushed beyond the limit, the team dropped to the ground.
"T, will Toren stick to the path?" Jack asked, once he could speak.
The large man nodded. He wiped his arm over his dark face. "I believe so. He will probably assume that we will do so as well."
The gray-haired CO took a drink from his canteen, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Okay, we'll take a ten minute break every hour. We have the night vision goggles. We're gonna push all night."
Already weary, for it had been nearly midnight Gamma time when they had walked through the 'gate, but knowing that Jack's plan was their best hope of arriving at the laboratory buried in the side of the mountain before Toren and his Jaffa did, the others nodded.
"If we can get there, get the C-4 planted, and get out, we could wait to blow it until Toren and his minions are inside," Casey mused out loud.
Jack grinned. "Now that's a good idea."
She smiled, then ducked her head. "I really am sorry about what happened on the bridge," she said softly.
Daniel put an arm around her shoulders. "You slipped and fell, Case. It could have happened to any of us."
"Damned straight," Jack replied.
She shook her head. "I became a risk, put all of you in danger," she mumbled.
"Shall we talk about all of the times Danny has done something that nearly got our butts nailed, just because he can't leave alien rocks alone?" Jack asked.
The giggle that overtook her squeaked as it left her throat. It was true. Several times Daniel's enthusiasm for artifacts had nearly caused them to be captured. Actually had resulted in their capture a time or two. She looked over at her husband. His cheeks were ruddy, but he was smiling at her.
"I didn't mean to cause any trouble, either," Daniel said softly.
"That you could even get on that bridge took courage," Sam said, reaching out and patting Casey's knee.
"I concur, Samantha Carter," Teal'c said.
"Thanks," Casey said softly.
"Okay, let's go, campers. Double time," Jack said, pulling himself to his feet. And blessing his Immortality. No aching back. No screaming knees. Yep, this Immortality stuff was all freaking right!
A A A A A A
Darkness fell quickly in the forest where the team continued to run when the sun began to set against the horizon. They were all exhausted, and could barely move as they sat on the ground near a group of fallen trees, trying to catch their breath.
"Case, can you see where Toren and his Jaffa are?" Jack asked. His chin was on his chest. He was just too damned tired to hold his head up.
Daniel wrapped his fingers around hers, and she met him in the meadow. Even there, the fatigue that they felt seeped through. She reached out, began to search for the enemy. She moved up higher in order to see where the Goa'uld was in relation to SG-1. She could see the path that Toren was following. Grinned broadly. She kissed Daniel soundly in the meadow, watched his eyes fill with amusement as he slowly moved away from her.
"What?" Daniel asked as soon as her eyes opened.
"He's back there. If he keeps to the path, he'll be a little more than half a day behind us when we reach the mountain. And they have a nice camp set up. So they've stopped for the night," she reported.
Jack grinned. "Okay. Let's eat, get a couple of hours of sleep, and then we'll move on."
MREs were eaten with the usual good-natured complaining, the team talking and laughing quietly in that familiar way. Sleeping bags were unrolled, watch rotation decided upon, and the teammates settled down to get some sleep.
Casey had drawn first watch. She scanned around them, using the night vision goggles, saw nothing, then took them off, keeping them in her hands. She drew her legs up, rested her cheek on her knees, and watched Daniel for a few minutes as he slept, the love that welled up inside warming her against the chill of the night air. That he still loved her, in spite of all that had happened was amazing to her. When he had battled the darkness of her mind, facing down that part of her that was so full of anger and hatred, it would have been understandable had he just left her to deal with the mess on her own. Instead he had been there for her, helped her to deal with and fight the madness that nearly overwhelmed her. Her jealousy over Julie Harwood would have been enough to send most men out the door, especially when she had accused him of having an affair with the woman. He certainly would have been within his rights to have walked away then. But he hadn't. He had declared his love for her, and then told her that her fears were his fault. How amazing was that? Then there was the entire thing with Toren. It couldn't have been easy for him, watching her kiss the Goa'uld to 'seal' their 'bargain'. Once again his love for her, his…goodness…was all that shined through. She had no doubt that he had relished the opportunity to 'kill' the bastard on the astral plane. That he loved her was undeniable. Why he did, how he could, was still a mystery to her. One that she would leave well enough alone.
The thought of Toren's 'death' on the astral plane made her curious. When she had reached out to search for him, she hadn't been able to 'feel' him as she had before. It was as if…as if he was no longer able to 'see'…to access or move on the astral plane. That thought brought a smile to her face. If he couldn't 'see' what they were doing, he couldn't stop them.
Another perimeter check with the night vision goggles. Nothing…wait…was that a person out there? She moved to her knees, trying to make as little noise as possible. Yep. A young woman. She didn't seem to be aware that anyone was near. Casey watched for a few minutes. She seemed very young, late teens, early twenties. There must be a path over there, it appeared that she was following it carefully. When the long cloak she was wearing disappeared into the trees, Casey gently, quietly woke her teammates.
"That village must be near here," she whispered. "I just saw a young woman. I think there's a path over there."
Jack nodded. "Let's move out." He turned to Casey, put a hand on her shoulder. "Will you be okay for awhile?"
She smiled. His way of letting her know that he was aware that she hadn't slept. And that if she needed to, the entire team would wait until she had. "For awhile."
Another nod. "Okay, let's see if we can find that path. Nice and quiet."
Sleeping bags were rolled up, reattached to backpacks. Which were then tugged onto aching shoulders. Carefully, aided by the night vision goggles, SG-1 moved toward the place where Casey had first seen the young woman.
There was a path, although it was obvious that it wasn't used often. "Now the question is, did she come from the village, or was she going to the village," Sam mused quietly.
"Case, can you find it?" Daniel asked softly.
"I think so," she whispered in reply. She smiled up at him when his arms went around her, pulled her close.
"Take a look, Angel."
They met in the meadow, he held her tightly there as well. She moved above the trees. The village was near the foot of the mountain. The path that Toren followed led directly to it. She tried to gauge the distance. He and his men were still quite far from it. She did a quick check of the Goa'uld's camp.
Toren was sleeping, although not peacefully. He tossed and turned, his face and chest drenched with sweat. He sat up suddenly, seemed to look right at her. For a few seconds she was afraid that he sensed her. She remained still, continued to keep herself hidden. "Casey," he whispered, running his hands over his face. "I will have you, Beautiful One," he said softly. "You will not leave this planet except at my side."
Shit! Did that mean…She raced toward the gate. Damn it to hell anyway! Two full squads of Jaffa…wait…those symbols weren't the same as those on Toren's men. She looked more carefully. Raged silently for several minutes. Moved back to the meadow.
Daniel noted the Fire in her eyes. He caressed her cheek, then moved slowly, carefully away from her.
Casey opened her eyes. Even in the dim light from the moon above them, there was no missing the anger that filled those green depths. "Toren can't get to the astral plane. But he's still determined that I'm going to be his Consort. I want him dead!" she hissed, looking at Daniel.
He grinned. "As soon as I can, Angel. I promise."
Jack snorted. "What else?"
"Dagon. He must be here too, because he has two squads of men guarding the 'gate. I didn't see any other camps."
"You don't think those two would work together do you?" Sam asked worriedly. "We managed to do significant damage to both of them. Would they join forces to fight against us?"
Casey was already moving back to the meadow, Daniel ran to join her.
'Find out, babe. We have to know.'
With a nod, she moved back to Toren's camp. Examined it carefully. Could find only his men. Oh, no! Spurred by the sudden thought, she hurried back to the village. Damn it! The look of worry and fear that had replaced the anger caused worry to flare in his blue eyes as he moved away from her.
"What?" he asked anxiously.
"Dagon is already in the village," she reported.
"Shit! Okay, campers, we need to move out," Jack muttered.
"O'Neill, should we not stop in the village and kill Dagon and his men?"
Jack hesitated, thinking about the possibilities.
"Jack, if we go in there guns blazing, too many Innocents would die. Dagon would kill them for sure," Daniel said softly.
The older man nodded. "For right now, we avoid that village. And we get to that damned mountain. Let's go."
A A A A A A
When the sun came up over the mountain range that lined the far horizon, SG-1 was moving up the side of the mountain. The path they followed was steep, and the evidence of several landslides forced them to climb down into deep gullies and back up the other side to get around the huge boulders that blocked the trail. They were moving as quickly as possible, stopping long enough to eat a 'power bar'. A stream that tested safe filled canteens that were too empty for comfort. Another rest stop an hour later to deal with calls of nature, and to catch their breath.
Casey shielded her eyes and looked above them. It wouldn't be long now until they were forced to use the rock climbing equipment that they had brought with them. Not an exercise she was looking forward to. She had done another search. Toren seemed to be unaware that Dagon was on the planet, just as Dagon was unaware of Toren and SG-1. Toren's camp was taken down as soon as the sun was up, and he and his Jaffa continued to travel toward the village. Dagon seemed to be in no hurry to climb to the waiting laboratory. His complacent attitude stemmed, no doubt, from his ignorance about the fact that he was not the only one on the planet bound for the cavern.
The trail became increasingly difficult to traverse. "Is this the same trail that the snakeheads will have to use?" Jack asked, stepping carefully along a narrow ledge.
"Unless there's a magical path through the mountain itself, it is," Casey replied. She had searched for another, easier path, and had found none. Another poke in the back of her mind, one that she was too weary to feel…recognize.
"Something is wrong," Daniel said, his hand on Casey's back as she followed behind Jack. "I can't see a Goa'uld doing this."
"I've looked everywhere I can think to look," Casey replied. "There isn't any other path up this mountain."
Jack groaned. "Better look and see if there is a magical entrance," he said with a deep sigh of consternation.
"Can we wait until I'm not standing on a ledge too damn narrow for my boots?" Casey huffed.
"Yeah, I suppose so," Jack said, teasing her slightly.
When the path widened a bit, Daniel held her tightly. "Go to the lab itself, Angel, then backtrack."
She nodded. When she reached out, she moved into the dimly lit cavern. She took the time to examine it, not as thoroughly as she would have liked, but enough to know that it was identical to the lab that had rested beneath Dagon's temple. It seemed to be larger, and…good grief, were those…she moved down into yet another level, then to the third. Moaned out loud. No wonder Dagon wasn't worried about getting to the facility. There were already two hundred 'zombies' waiting for him. She had no clue if Toren knew that the…creatures…were there or not. Getting in to set the C-4 could be a challenge. She moved around, seeking an entrance. Found it on the lowest level. She stepped onto the elevator, followed it down…Well, it was about damned time something went right for them! They would have to backtrack a bit. She checked to make sure that Dagon and his Jaffa were still in the village. They were. Toren would arrive there in not more than two hours. The entrance was a good three-hour climb from the village itself. They were cutting it close. And getting away just became riskier. She opened her eyes.
"Tell me something good," Jack said.
"We have to go back down. There is another entrance. That's the good news," Casey told them.
"I don't want bad news," Jack warned her.
"You'll want to hear this. Two hundred zombies. I think they're in some sort of stasis. What I don't know is whether or not we'll trip any alarms going in. Dagon is getting ready to head up here. And Toren is two hours or less from the village," she replied. "The entrance is about three hours from the village. Dagon…Dagon is on his way," she said softly.
"Well, hell! Okay, double time it, campers!"
Retracing their steps seemed much easier going down. Luck was with them, they were only forty-five minutes from the entrance. Casey was berating herself for not having found what was obviously the main entrance to the laboratory in the first place. Daniel glanced at her as they ran, knowing that she was blaming herself for the situation the team was now in. When this was over, he'd deal with it…help her deal with what she saw as a failure.
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