Sam had never been afraid of the unknown, much less of monsters. Her scientific mind normally prevented her from feeling fear of the paranormal, simply because it did not exist. She had never seen proof to the contrary. Sure, there were alien beings that some would classify as monsters. But to Sam they were just that, other life forms, like animals were. Some were more intelligent than others. Some were more dangerous than others. And some had even been human at some point.
The ascended Ancients, like Orlin, for example, would be classified as ghosts by some. But Sam knew better. They had been highly advanced humans before they had left our realm. They were now energy instead of matter, and they still had human emotions and flaws, just as humans did. Orlin had proven that by falling in love with her. He had been lonely and had given up much to be with her, even when he knew that she could not possibly feel for him the way he felt for her. He had sensed this when they had "joined", more than once. He had told her that he knew, and that he understood. Her heart was already taken by another.
But this had not prevented Orlin from deciding to stay with Sam. He had hoped that he could have a place in her life anyway. He had loved her enough for both of them. And he had known that she was becoming more and more fond of him. He had known that she enjoyed his company, that he provided something she had been missing for too long, and that she felt for him more than friendship, if less than the adoration she felt for… But it was not to be. He had sacrificed himself for her, and the "others" had given him another chance. Sam was glad that forgiveness had not been forgotten in the ascended's realm. Orlin was alive… somewhere. And she missed him.
All these thoughts flew through Sam's mind within seconds as she stood on the alien soil, the midday sun beating on her capped head, her eyes squinting and wary, and the soft, warm breeze brushing against her cheeks as she pointed her P90 at the aliens surrounding her and Colonel O'Neill. The strange beings were eerily silent, still as statues and watching them from a few feet away, dressed in loose-fitting, dark shirts and pants and protected by glinting silver-like armor. One moment the two of them had been alone, heading down the well-traveled road that led to the faraway city, and the next moment they were surrounded.
She and the Colonel had left Teal'c and Daniel behind, inside the imposing and seemingly deserted granite temple. The two officers had only meant to walk to the end of the paved road where the M.A.L.P. was perched on a hill right before the path started to dip into the valley. The machine's sights were still aimed at the alien city gleaming in the distance. Nestled between tall peaks and skirted by a roaring river, it looked quite advanced, with a busy transportation system that utilized rail systems for ground travel and hovering aircrafts that flittered between fairly tall buildings. They had meant to take some pictures and watch for the approach of any of the natives, but they had gotten no farther than a hundred meters from the temple. The twenty or so beings had moved faster than anything Sam had ever seen, and it seemed they had come out of nowhere. It was… unnatural.
Sam jumped, startled by her CO's hushed command, "Carter, stay close!" He immediately whispered into his radio, "Teal'c, stick to Daniel and wait for instructions. We have company." His stance was tense and alert. He wished he had not ventured outside the temple and left Daniel trying to make sense of the inscriptions on the walls. He wished they were together, but now it was too late.
"So do we, Jack," Daniel's guarded words were heard through the radio. Jack mumbled something under his breath that sounded to Sam like "Crap!" and he carefully watched the alien beings in return… just as silently. They looked almost human, except for their extreme height, their almost marble-white skin tone, and their glittering maroon eyes. The shortest one was probably as tall as Teal'c, and Jack thought it might be a female… or a very young and pretty man.
But the Colonel had missed what Sam had already seen. He had missed the thin, long fangs hidden behind the pink lips. Despite their belief that they were usually prepared for anything, Sam did not think any of them could be ready for what stood before them. Her mouth felt dry, her palms sweaty, and her heart raced inside her ribcage. She remembered all those corny movies she had watched with her girlfriends as a teenager, where beautiful, sexy women were turned into blood-sucking bitches, and where the vanquished, handsome fiend ended up as a dried-up bunch of bones or worse, as a torch. As much as Sam kept trying to focus on reality and not think of the disgusting, bloody scenes that invariably populated such flicks — and the fact that they used to give her nightmares — there was one word that kept coming to her mind… vampires!
"Greetings!" Jack finally said, trying to sound friendly. "No need to get hot and bothered. We were just stopping by for a brief and friendly visit to get to know each other," he explained as his eyes darted from alien to alien trying to determine the one in charge. His answer came from behind, making him turn around in a flash and instinctively raise his weapon even higher.
"If that's the case, there's no need to point weapons at us," a deep voice responded, and Jack dismally watched as a tall, muscular man of almost seven feet approached him fearlessly, followed by others escorting his already disarmed teammates. "We are not doing so," the man added, gesturing toward his companions, who were still standing around as quietly as before, only their eyes glittering in the sun. The man had white, straight hair that fell to his waist loosely gathered in a braid and a trimmed beard that was also white. And he was right. The aliens' weapons were strapped to their sides and, aside from their alert postures, they did not seem particularly hostile.
"Teeeal'c?" Jack inquired, his weapon still aimed at the leader as Sam stood back to back with him, watching his six.
"They moved exceedingly fast, O'Neill," the Jaffa admitted with obvious chagrin. He had never been so easily disarmed, and he felt more insulted than concerned. A handsome young man with dark, long, brown hair, who stood close behind him, slightly smiled at this, holding his friend's staff weapon well out of Teal'c's reach.
"Jack… this is Alexion," Daniel offered, a sheepish look on his face as he pointed to the white-haired man. "He's the commander of their army… or so I gather. Alexion, this is Jack O'Neill, our commander." Jack's eyes returned to the impressive leader, who nodded politely but remained dead serious.
"Yeah, well… nice to meet you, and you may not be pointing anything at us, but you are armed," Jack argued lamely, then added, "And you're a lot taller than we are."
The man was openly amused by Jack's remark and smiled. This time Jack could not miss the thin, long fangs. "Wow!" he thought, but remained impassive.
"If we wanted to harm you, Jack O'Neill, believe me when I tell you that we would have done so already," the commander answered, deadly serious again. "Lower your weapons," he calmly ordered.
"And if we don't?" Jack asked, not comfortable with being defenseless.
"Jaaack," Daniel tried to warn, but before he could continue, Jack saw Alexion throw a look at one of the soldiers facing Sam. An instant later, he felt a flurry of movement behind him and heard her cry out. He was astounded by what he saw when he swiftly turned around, still keeping his weapon raised high. Sam was being held like a rag doll only a few feet from him, struggling and kicking uselessly in the arms of one of the tallest soldiers, her P90 on the ground.
"Carter!" Jack called out in consternation, noticing that she was grimacing in pain, desperately trying to loosen the hold of the man's arms around her ribs. She couldn't answer, winded by the sudden attack.
"We can do the same to you, but I have chosen to spare you the indignity since you are the leader of your group," the white-haired man calmly said, his eyes still on Jack.
"Fine! Just let her go!" Jack replied, immediately throwing his P90 on the ground. He had finally realized what had happened to Teal'c, and he had no illusions that he'd fare any better against these people.
Alexion quietly ordered for Sam to be released, but there was no immediate response. The huge soldier holding her seemed entranced by his struggling victim, his nose flaring as he inhaled deeply against Sam's neck. "Ampelion!" Alexion barked, and the man suddenly let go, as if abruptly awakened from a spell. Sam dropped limply to the ground and strained to breathe while trying to crawl away from her captor. Her three teammates reacted at the same time and attempted to approach her, but only Jack was allowed to do so. Both Teal'c and Daniel were easily restrained by the soldiers guarding them.
"Are you all right?" Jack questioned in a hushed tone as he took hold of his major and helped her to her feet. Sam's round blue eyes stood out on her pale face, and her response was to cling to his arms as she quickly walked away from the tall man that still seemed spellbound, his dark eyes fixated on her as his mouth hung slightly parted, letting his fangs show.
"Let's get out of here," Sam whispered breathlessly, and Jack had never heard her sound so frightened.
"That's the plan," he quickly responded, then returned his attention to the aliens' leader, knowing that they may not be allowed to do so any time soon.
"Alright, we are all disarmed now. If we broke any laws or offended you people in some way, we're sorry. We're new in these parts," Jack offered.
"We know where you came from. And yes, you did break important laws and therefore offended us. You trespassed on sacred ground, and we must take you to the authorities so that you can explain yourselves. If you are absolved, you may be allowed to leave." Once Alexion finished speaking, he turned around and gave his people a hand gesture. Jack had not been given an opportunity to protest and started to say something, but was sidetracked when a large aircraft suddenly materialized on the manicured lawn not too far away from them. The entrance to the vehicle opened and steps were quickly lowered.
"Cloaking technology," he heard Sam whisper very close to him, still looking spooked. The soldiers immediately started to embark, intent on not giving their captives much notice — all except for the dark-haired one that had been holding Sam. His eyes shone with an unhealthy interest in his former captive, and he hesitated in following his comrades.
"Ampelion! I expect you to show more restraint in the future!" Alexion suddenly reprimanded, and the younger man sheepishly nodded as he turned to follow his fellow soldiers into the aircraft.
Daniel quickly joined Jack and Sam, followed closely by Teal'c and the remainder of the soldiers. "Let's take this one verrry carefully, guys," he whispered to his friends without losing sight of the aliens surrounding them.
"I'd come to the same conclusion already," Sam whispered back, unconsciously rubbing her middle. Jack only grunted as he flanked his major, not pleased by the covert looks "Ampelion" kept throwing at her as they entered the conveyance. The big man remained standing, clearly the one in command, and faced SG-1 as two other soldiers directed them to the rear of the vehicle where they were ordered to sit after they were relieved of their gear. The two soldiers took sentry positions close by, standing against the walls but not looking at them. Jack thought they looked extremely relaxed considering they were guarding them, but realized that the four of them were probably considered no threat. By what had transpired so far, he tended to agree.
After the white-haired leader settled on his seat, SG-1 felt the aircraft begin to hover and then move forward as if gliding through the air. Aside from a low hum, nothing else could be heard. There were no roaring engines, and the flight toward the distant city felt extremely smooth. Sam's thoughts had already wandered toward the type of technology that would allow for such a smooth ride when she noticed Ampelion staring at her again.
"Daniel?" she whispered to her friend nervously. "Please tell me that what I'm suspecting is not right."
"I, ahh… don't think you're wrong, Sam," the archeologist responded quietly. "But let's not jump to nasty conclusions until we know more. I mean… we haven't been harmed so far."
"Speak for yourself," Sam answered, sounding annoyed as she continued to feel her ribs. "I could swear that guy was about to bite into my neck when he dropped me."
"I am not pleased about the attention he continues to bestow on Major Carter, O'Neill," Teal'c agreed gravely, his dark eyes glaring at the soldier.
"I hear you, buddy. Daniel, what can you tell us so far about these… people?" he asked his friend in a low whisper.
Daniel deliberated for a few seconds before responding, then sighed and shrugged his shoulders, "Not much, Jack. The culture seems to have an ancient Greek background, and I only say this based on the names I've heard so far and the architecture of the temple. Those were Doric columns, and the writing seemed to be in Ancient Greek. But I'm confused because I could swear that the Goddess they seem to worship is Isis, the Egyptian goddess of rebirth, medicine and wisdom… among other things."
"An Egyptian Goddess in a Greek temple?" Sam questioned.
"I know… that's why I'm confused. Although I seem to recall Isis having some followers in Ancient Greece," Daniel responded.
"What's with the size and color?" Jack whispered, more to himself than to his friends. Daniel looked at Sam, who only managed to look more nervous.
"Have you read the Ann Rice novels about vampires?" the young man asked Jack.
"No. You know me and sci-fi," Jack replied. "What are you trying to tell me? That these are vampires?" he asked with disbelief written all over him.
"I'm not saying anything," Daniel replied.
"They do seem to fit the description, Sir," Sam argued. "They are very pale, with fangs, very, very strong, and can move extremely fast."
"Do you think they also drink human blood?" he asked uncomfortably.
"Your guess is as good as mine, Jack," Daniel answered, his eyes darting from soldier to soldier and noticing how some seemed to be getting restless. They continuously threw looks at them over their shoulders, although they refrained from talking to each other.
"I think they do," Sam replied with certainty. "As I said, I thought that guy was about to take a bite, I swear. I could feel his breath on my neck right before his commander yelled at him," Sam argued quietly but heatedly.
"Well, I wish we did but we don't seem to have many choices at the moment. We'll just take it one step at a time and see where they're taking us. I know you're spooked, but try to relax," he calmly encouraged his 2IC.
"That's easy for you to say. You weren't the one about to become a meal," she replied, offended by his assessment, even if it was true. She had never been so scared by an alien being before, not even the Goa'uld, and she did not like the feeling. But she liked her teammates' awareness of her horror even less.
"Easy, Major," he replied. He knew she was unnerved, and he wished he could assuage her fears, but he suspected she was right. "We'll get out of this one, just as we get out of all the other tight spots we so frequently find ourselves in. Right, Teal'c?"
"Indeed," Teal'c replied calmly, his black eyes still boring holes into Ampelion, who continued to ogle Sam.
"Sorry, Sir," Sam replied with a sigh, and she visibly tried to get a hold of herself.
"That's okay. How are your ribs feeling?" he asked with concern.
"They're just sore. I'm fine," she replied, her eyes on the ground and doing her best not to look at the restless soldiers.
Before Jack could comment any further, they had reached their destination, and Alexion was standing before them. "Follow me," he ordered just as calmly as before, and turned to the exit. Jack followed, indicating that Teal'c should cover their six, where Ampelion and his men followed. The two soldiers that had been guarding them followed the team closely as they stepped out, and an astounding sight greeted their eyes.
SG-1 stood motionless at the foot of an imposing pink granite building, its great Doric columns reaching at least thirty meters and crowned by a massive, elaborately carved façade. It depicted robed figures reminiscent of Greek gods and goddesses, all of them long-limbed and fanged. It also depicted an unmistakable large circle… a Stargate.
"This is our government's main building, where you will meet with our leaders," they heard Alexion explain from a few steps away, and their eyes returned to the tall commander. "You will be kept here until your fate has been determined."
As ominous as those words sounded, Jack decided to remain positive, so he said nothing as they were led into the impressive structure. They continued up a steep and magnificent stairway and later into a great hall where more of the tall, white-skinned aliens bustled around. More than a few slowed down their progress to gawk at them, but the quick pace imposed on the party discouraged their curiosity. Everyone, Daniel observed, was richly and comfortably dressed in loose trousers, dresses, skirts and shirts in rich colors. The materials seemed similar to Earth's cottons, silks, and wools… but he didn't know much about fashion or materials. The women, just slightly shorter than the men, but just as long-limbed and beautiful, wore elaborate jewelry and intricate hairstyles. Mostly everyone was dark-haired, but there were quite a few white-haired but still young individuals.
Sam stiffly followed her CO, flanked by Daniel and followed closely by Teal'c, but she still felt awkwardly vulnerable. She had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, and she attributed this to the unpleasant earlier encounter with Ampelion. She could tell that Teal'c was staying close to her in order to reassure her, and she felt ashamed of her cowardice. She forced herself to take deep, calming breaths and concentrate on her surroundings, gathering as much visual information as she could as their group finally reached a large set of carved doors.
Alexion slowly banged on the doors using a huge brass knocker. The response was immediate. The two doors were slowly opened by two tall attendants to reveal a large room, richly decorated with white marble, fine woods, and bright tapestries on the walls. A sedate group of older individuals sat in a semicircle behind a tall conference table, and they watched the new arrivals with interested silence as they approached.
The tall commander finally reached the silent group and bowed respectfully. "I have brought the visitors to you, Sir," he addressed the oldest of the individuals who was sitting in the middle. His hair was also straight and white, like the commander's, but his skin was far from young. He was extremely thin, and his voice sounded deep but fragile as he responded, unmistakable irritation in his tone.
"Are you mad?! Why did you bring them here? Don't you realize what their presence could instigate?" The others sitting at the table seemed to agree, their countenances revealing a combination of shock and worry. Their noses flared visibly, and they stabbed the four newcomers with their piercing red eyes.
"Word was out, Sir," the commander tried to explain. "Some had already arrived to observe their machine by the time we arrived at the temple. We had to disperse them, with much difficulty. After all, nothing had ever come through Isis' Circle before."
"Of course it had! But we had done a better job of handling uninvited guests," an old and also white-haired but still beautiful woman replied calmly. "This could be disastrous, Alexion. Your hands will be full before you know it."
"I am taking appropriate measures to restrict access to our newcomers, and I thought that you would be interested in their background, since they are not supposed to exist." His hard look was directed straight at the older man, full of anger and disappointment.
"You have taken much upon yourself to decide what we would be interested in. What makes you think we want to know more than we already do?" the older man riposted, irritation still marring his features.
"I just assumed that the misinformation spread throughout our peoples was an error and not intentional fabrication. Am I mistaken?" he asked, slightly raising his voice.
"That's enough, Alexion! You are dismissed!" the woman snapped, and the commander surprisingly acquiesced, sharply bowing his head to her and turning around on his heel. He quickly departed, firmly shutting the massive doors behind him and taking the two attendants that had been standing by the door with him. Jack suspected he was just outside, waiting for them.
SG-1 had remained quiet and anxious, carefully listening to the tense conversation and exchanging uneasy looks with each other. When the commander was no longer in the room, the older man sitting behind the table commandeered their full attention. "My son tends to be too idealistic for his age," he commented cryptically. The man then stood, slowly walking around the table to come and loom over Jack. He then did the strangest thing. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, then slowly opened them and smiled, revealing the same long incisors that his brethren possessed.
Sam and Daniel took an unconscious step back, but their colonel remained in place, his gaze firm on and unafraid of the old man. Sam's mind swiftly conjured scenes of the old man suddenly tearing into Jack's neck, blood spurting everywhere, while they stood frozen in place, horrified and unable to help him. So when the old man finally spoke again, she jumped.
"What to do with you now?" the old man asked as if to himself, then turned to Teal'c and walked up to the shorter Jaffa. "We have seen your kind before, centuries ago. Didn't you learn your lesson?" he asked softly.
Teal'c frowned and seemed to try to remember; then his dark eyes lit with realization. "There is an old Jaffa legend about a mysterious race of beings that are of superior strength and size and that move with great speed. A minor Goa'uld discovered this race of beings while exploring through the Stargate and barely escaped with his life. All the Jaffa with him perished, and he erased the coordinates to that world from the records so that no one could return."
"He was allowed to go back to his world through Isis' Circle after he agreed never to return here. Yet, here you are." The old man stated, then waited for an answer.
"I am no longer in the service of the Goa'uld. I explore the galaxy with the Tau'ri, my friends, and I had no real knowledge of your race or the gate coordinates associated with you. I apologize if we trespassed." The old man nodded, then turned around and returned to his seat. Jack observed that his hair was even longer than his son's, and also gathered in a loose braid to hang down his back.
"We must dispose of them immediately!" one of the other old men at the table offered, his eyes pleading. "We will lose control of this situation if we wait!"
"We need to know more about them," the woman who had spoken earlier responded. "We need to know if they will be followed."
"Ahh, we are standing right here! And yes, someone would come looking for us," Jack brazenly interjected, but he was ignored.
"If more humans come, we'll deal with them in the same manner. We knew that they existed and that they cannot be allowed here. You know what the population could revert to. It is unthinkable! And it would be entirely their fault!" the elder countered, pointing at Jack without looking at him.
"Hey! I heard that!" The colonel shouted, demanding their attention, and all eyes turned to him. "How about we figure out the solution to this problem together? I realize, by the pleasant exchanges in this room, that our arrival has created some kind of a disturbance. Whatever Pandora's box we've reopened, maybe we can help close it again. How about sharing some information?"
"We do not have to share anything with you! All we have to do is make you disappear!" the man retorted nastily, baring his fangs.
"The human is right, Hippostratos. As Alexion said, the word is out, and we must deal with this in a civilized manner. Before you know it, the informants will be all over this building, demanding to publish what we know of these people. We need to come up with a plausible story and seek out the leaders of the community for support."
"Leaina is correct, as usual," the old man stated. "As Demarchos of our people, I am responsible. I will retire and determine the final resolution to this problem. I am weary, and I need to rest. In the meantime, keep these four humans safe and away from everyone." Without another word, the man exited the room, opening the massive doors without much effort for a frail old man.
"Wait… wait a minute!" Jack started to protest, but before he knew it, a steely grip had a hold of his arm, and Leaina was standing next to him, face to face, with a stern look on her face.
"Restrain your loose tongue, young man, and follow me this instant!" she ordered, and turned to lead the way. Jack rubbed the muscles she had gripped, astounded at the might of the woman. Although no taller than him, and significantly older, she was extremely strong. He looked over his shoulder and noticed that the other aliens were still seated and throwing nasty looks his way. He wisely decided that the white-haired woman offered the best chances of being reasonable.
The four teammates followed the regal woman to the massive door, but before she could open it, Teal'c hurried to it and opened it for her, bowing respectfully. Leaina smiled at him, pleased by his gesture, and stepped out to find herself facing a brooding Alexion. "You should not have defied your father in such a manner, my son. It was most unbecoming!" she accused, and continued to walk down the hallway, leaving the younger man no choice but to follow, SG-1 trailing behind and surrounded by his soldiers.
"He lied to us! He lied to a whole planet full of people!" he snarled between clenched teeth.
"Don't be naïve, Alexion! He was not alone. We all lied, and for good reason," she snapped, still walking briskly. "You are at fault for not doing what you were instructed to do. If you had eliminated them and not brought them to the city for all to see, this problem would have been easily contained."
"Are you telling me that the whole Council knew that the humans still existed somewhere out there? Are you telling me that we have allowed countless people to die a horrible death knowing that the solution exists? That you allowed my wife to die knowing we could have saved her?" her son continued to argue, effortlessly keeping pace with her as she entered another section of the building that led to a long hallway lined with long, thin doors.
"We will continue this conversation later, in private," the mother finally pronounced as she stopped before one of the doors, her eyes hard on her son's.
"Yes, Mother," he backed down, and he turned to face Jack. He took two measured steps that brought him face to face with the much shorter human, and the Colonel could tell that the commander was inhaling in much the same manner his father had done, but not as transparently. Alexion seemed to realize something; then he warned, "Remain here, where my soldiers will guard you. Don't even think of trying to escape. You would not survive ten steps beyond this building."
Jack somehow knew that the man was speaking the truth, and that his warning was well intentioned. So he just nodded and watched as the commander retreated, leaving them to face the mother. "What next?" Jack asked impudently.
"You wait here," the woman replied as one of the soldiers opened the door before which she was standing. "What do you drink to quench your thirst and hunger?" she strangely asked.
"We… drink water. We brought our own food, if you would allow us access to our equipment," Jack responded guardedly.
"I'm afraid that is not possible. But we will bring water for you to drink." She then turned and continued down the hall, disappearing behind another door. Most of the others dispersed, but four remained with them, one of them the young, pretty one whom Jack had suspected to be a female. Up close he could tell that he had been right. She was the next one to speak.
"Is water enough for you to survive?" she asked curiously, her white hair braided and long, just as Alexion's. Her wine-colored eyes shone with intelligence as she carelessly gave one of the soldiers a hand signal. The young soldier quickly left the room.
Jack looked at Daniel, who seemed strangely reluctant to speak, and answered, "Yes, for a few days. We would eventually require food."
"What kind of food?" she asked as she led the four teammates into the room.
"Well… whatever you can offer… I suppose." Daniel was shaking his head at him, and Jack understood that he had to be careful about his answers. So he just raised his eyebrows and tilted his head at the archeologist as an invitation to step in.
"Water will be fine for now, thank you," the younger man smiled at the tall, pretty woman. She smiled back, the slim fangs looking strangely sexy on her. Then she stepped closer to him and looked down into Daniel's smiling face.
"You smell delicious," she suddenly said, and Daniel's smile faltered. He seemed to swallow a lump and freeze in place, watching the young woman take another step toward him. But she approached no further. Instead, she also closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, as if tasting the air surrounding him.
"Yes, you definitely smell delicious," she smiled wickedly, and Daniel realized that she had been teasing him. His smile returned with a look of understanding, and the woman chuckled as if to a private joke. The other soldiers had remained close to the door, and did not seem amused in the least. The third soldier returned with a tray heavy with metal goblets and a large pitcher. The woman indicated to the soldier to put down the tray, and she turned to leave, but Daniel dared to stop her with a hand on her arm.
"What's your name?" he asked her, and she turned to face him again, seemingly pleased by his question.
"Alexis," she smiled again. "Alexion is my father." Daniel nodded and smiled widely back at her as he extended his hand.
"I'm Daniel," he introduced himself. She looked at his hand strangely but then took it. "These are Jack, Teal'c and Sam," he further introduced, pointing at each team member in turn. Alexis politely nodded to each. She then assured them that she would return later and departed, but her smile remained on her face as she exited the room. The soldiers silently followed her out and closed the massive door behind them.
"Another alien girl on another alien planet, Daniel?" Jack teased.
"We need all the allies we can get, and she seemed to have a good temperament. And… she's well connected," he added, shrugging his shoulders.
"She's taller than you are by at least four inches," Jack continued to mock his friend.
"That doesn't bother me," Daniel responded as he inspected his surroundings.
"Am I the ONLY one seriously concerned about our situation here?" Sam finally exploded, instigating a raised eyebrow from the circumspect Jaffa standing next to her. "While you flirt with alien women and you argue with alien old men," she exclaimed, pointing at each man in turn, "the rest of the population is probably discussing the best recipe to try us with!"
"Relax, Carter. No one is going to eat us or… drink us. You have my word on that," Jack tried to appease her.
"How can you promise that? Didn't you see how they were all smelling us, almost tasting us? I felt like I was a vintage in a wine-tasting party!" Jack almost laughed at her remarks but realized that she was honestly upset.
"All right, we have to accept the fact that they all look like vampires, act like vampires, and probably are vampires. Yet it doesn't seem to me like they are uncivilized people. We have a chance at a diplomatic solution, and we will get one."
Jack had started to check out the room and finally approached the only window to look outside. What he saw froze him in place, and he wished he could prevent his major from joining him. No such luck. Sam realized something was not right and stepped up to the glass. What she saw made her gasp, "We are in sooo much trouble!"
Sam unconsciously gripped Jack's arm as they stood by the window, gazing at the increasingly large crowd of fanged aliens gathering around the building. They could see a cordon of soldiers keeping the shouting creatures at bay, but they realized that, as with all demonstrations, things might develop into violence. Suddenly their room seemed like a very vulnerable spot to be in.
"This doesn't look good. I wonder how far Alexion will be willing to go to protect us," Jack mumbled. Sam's grip got stronger, and Jack's left hand came up to cover her fingers in reassurance. She was shocked to realize what she had been doing and abruptly let go of his arm, turning around and starting to pace the room. Daniel immediately took her place next to Jack by the window, and Teal'c followed, watching over their shoulders.
"Alexion will not allow the building to be overrun, O'Neill. It is a matter of discipline and control," the tall Jaffa stated with certainty.
"I think you're right, but it wouldn't be bad to have a Plan B," Jack replied, approaching the large door and trying the lock. It was secured tight.
"We could fight our way out once they open the door. If the crowd enters the building, my guess is that the soldiers will try to relocate us," Sam offered, even though she knew that the chances of success would probably be very small.
"I think our best bet would be to trust Alexion and his soldiers to keep us safe. They would know where to take us, and I don't think we would be a match for these aliens anyway. Not even you, Teal'c," Daniel said apologetically.
"You may be correct, Daniel Jackson. But do not forget that brawn is not all you need to consider when facing an opponent," his friend responded, clearly not offended by the archeologist's remark.
Before their conversation could continue, the door suddenly opened, and Alexis strode into the room, an urgent look on her face. "Come with me!" she commanded, clearly her father's daughter. She then turned around and led the way out, her soldiers hovering by. Three pairs of eyes turned to Jack, who quickly nodded and started to follow the young woman.
Alexis led them to the last door at the end of the hallway, which led to a large meeting room with a concealed door at the far end and a set of stairs that seemed to go down forever. Although well illuminated, the four teammates started to feel claustrophobic after the first hundred steps down the tunnel. Finally, the ground leveled off, and they were able to walk down a narrow and very long corridor. They walked for a while with Alexis and a tall, muscular soldier ahead of them and the other two soldiers trailing them. When Jack was about to ask where the hell they were going, they started to ascend again. They finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel — no pun intended — and emerged in the middle of a field surrounded by tall, swaying trees. The woman pressed the buttons of what seemed to be a remote control device, and a smaller but similar aircraft as the one that had transported them before suddenly materialized a few meters away from them.
"Get in!" she ordered again, and Jack threw her an annoyed look, not used to being ordered around, not even by taller individuals. Daniel smiled at her apologetically when she stiffened at the colonel's response, and she immediately softened. "I'm trying to save your lives," she explained.
"Thank you," Daniel replied sincerely, and got inside the aircraft behind Jack, followed closely by Sam and Teal'c. Soon they were airborne, and Jack turned to Alexis.
"Are you taking us back to the temple?" he asked, clearly expecting a positive answer. But the woman soldier shook her head in the negative.
"The temple has been overrun and is being vandalized as we speak. Access to Isis' Circle is impossible," Alexis explained. "We are taking you to a safe place, not too far away from the temple, outside of the city."
"If they destroy the dialing device, we'll be stranded here," Sam observed anxiously.
"Let's hope that that won't happen," Jack responded optimistically. "Aren't you bothered that your sacred place is being ransacked?" he directed at the alien woman.
"Of course, but there's not much we can do about it. Ampelion and his men are already trying to deal with the situation while my father deals with crowd control in the city. Other cities are having similar demonstrations," she explained.
"Is this all our fault?" Daniel asked, and Jack threw him a murderous look.
"Partly… but not really. It was just a matter of time. More and more of our people had already been protesting about lack of access to Isis' Circle. They believed all along that the cure to the plague could be found through it. And your presence here confirms that."
"Plague?" Sam asked.
"Yes. Many of us suffer from a congenital disease. People call it the plague, but it is just a genetically transmitted defect. And worse, the problem springs up in previously unaffected family lines. Our scientists have determined that it is a naturally occurring mutation. It just happens to be fatal for most of us. And the deaths are painful… and not pretty."
"Why do you think that our presence here proves that the solution to the plague is through the Stargate?" Sam asked, now deeply interested in the problem.
"Stargate? You mean Isis' Circle?" Alexis asked. At Sam's nod, she explained. "Many believe — and science seems to support this belief — that our race's mutation is caused by a long-term deficiency in our diet. We are not meant to drink animals' blood, or manufactured blood. We are meant to be sustained by human blood… your kind's. But our people stopped feeding on human blood almost three thousand years ago, when we were led to this planet by Isis."
"You were led here by… the goddess Isis?" Daniel asked incredulously.
Alexis smiled, amused at his incredulity. "Yes, a being of great power led us here. She called herself Isis, and she was the one responsible for our salvation. You see… we came from the same planet where humans like you originated. You used to be our food… our prey.
Sam was riveted by Alexis' story, forgetting her previous fear. Daniel was also spellbound, connecting in his head ancient history and mythology with the story the young woman was relating. Jack was unreadable, just sitting still and listening. Teal'c was as interested in the story as the rest of his teammates but kept a wary eye on the three soldiers whose red eyes never left them.
"This is all well-established in our history. There was a worldwide cataclysm on our original planet, and many, many people died. We were already around, living among humans and discretely feeding on them to survive. Our scientists believe that we are either mutations of the human race or that we evolved alongside humans for many millennia. After the global disaster, many of us, desperate and alone, were discovered and then persecuted. We were considered animals, and the humans meant to exterminate us. That's when Isis stepped in. She gathered as many of us as she could find and slowly led us, group by group, through the endless sands, and finally to a structure that contained Isis' Circle. She found this planet for us and helped us settle here, continuing to bring bedraggled refugees through the Circle throughout many years. When she considered her work done, she became light and rose into the heavens."
"She must have been an Ancient," Daniel interrupted, and Sam nodded in agreement. Alexis did not understand.
"What do you mean an Ancient?" she asked.
"A very old race of beings that we suspect lived among us millennia ago. They developed the ability to… become light, or energy, and leave our realm. They're no longer around. The cataclysm that you speak of could be the explosion of a volcano in the Mediterranean about three thousand years ago. It caused major earthquakes and tsunamis. It destroyed the Minoan civilization and completely obliterated the Greek island of Thera, now called Santorini. The ancient world was severely impacted by this disaster, and that's where all the stories about the lost civilization of Atlantis probably come from," Daniel concluded, looking at Sam, who remembered hearing this from Daniel before.
When Daniel turned back to Alexis, he realized that she was staring at him with a look of open admiration, which made him blush. She then cleared her throat and nodded, "Many of us suspected that Isis was no divine being, but some kind of benevolent alien that just decided to help a different race to survive." She then decided to explain further. "Naturally, many of us worship her as our goddess. My family is not very religious. Maybe that's why I'm not terribly upset about the temple. Some people are probably appalled at the sacrilege!"
"Your father seemed to believe…" Sam started to say, then hesitated.
"My father knows everything I know. What he's upset about is the fact that we were made to believe that everyone and everything on our planet of origin eventually perished. That's what Isis supposedly told us, anyway. We believed that the Ancient Prey no longer existed. Otherwise, some of us would have tried to go through the Circle and find it… to solve our problem. That's why the Council kept the fact of your existence a secret. My grandparents explained this to my father and me today. I understand their motives and I approve of their measures. But my father disagrees. He wants to help our ailing people. He is desperate. We lost Mother to the plague… and he knows I'm next."
"You have the same mutation?" Sam asked, her eyes full of sympathy.
"Yes, I do. But I probably won't be affected until I get much older." Sam couldn't help but be impressed by the obvious bravery of the young woman.
"So why is your father saving us, then?" she asked.
"He wants to negotiate with your people. He wants to trade with you and find a cure for the plague."
"You mean… he wants our blood?" Jack finally asked.
"Well… yes. But he doesn't want to hurt your people. We have safe ways to obtain blood. We use them all the time in medical practice. And we know that we can survive even after a massive loss of blood. Surely you can, too."
"Not after a massive loss of blood. But a small quantity…" Daniel started to explain, but the horrified look that Sam gave him stopped him.
"Don't worry," Alexis proudly assured them. "We would not take your blood unless you offered."
"Maybe YOU wouldn't, but there may be others that would," Sam explained softly, her eyes revealing the memories of long fangs hovering over her neck.
"Maybe," Alexis admitted. "But those are the kind of people we are trying to hide you from. They are ignorant and fanatical. Some even believe that just drinking Ancient Prey's blood would cure them of the plague. Our scientists doubt that it would be that simple, but an opportunity to study your blood may give us some answers."
"Let's hope you are successful in keeping us alive long enough to find out," Jack quipped, noticing that they were descending. "I guess we're here… wherever here is."
"Yes, we've arrived. Stay inside until we secure the area," Alexis ordered, again on command mode.
"Yasureyoubetcha!" Jack whispered to himself, crossing his arms as one of the soldiers opened the hatch and peeked outside. The young man nodded to Alexis, and she followed him out of the vehicle, leaving the other two soldiers inside with SG-1. After a few minutes they returned and gave them the all clear.
"Wow!" Daniel exclaimed, taking in the view as he stepped down from the aircraft.
"Sweet spread!" Jack seconded as he admired the beautiful structure before them. It looked like an expensive resort surrounded by an impressive landscape and sitting at the edge of a large lake. The building was built of the same pink granite they had observed in the city, and the architecture was definitely Greek, with many columns, porticos and open patios.
"Sir," Sam called, pointing at another group of soldiers that approached them from the side.
"Theokles!" Alexis greeted. "Everything secure?" she asked the young man whom Teal'c recognized as the one who had so easily disarmed him in the temple. He had dark brown hair, the same glittering red eyes as their brethren, and striking features very similar to Alexis'.
"The site is secure. Only the servants are around, and I have posted the sentries already." He spoke to Alexis in a familiar tone and then smiled at Teal'c, a taunting look on his face. "Your gear is inside, including your weapon. Interesting and effective, if a bit loud."
"It has served me well for many years," Teal'c commented, apparently not bothered with the young man's obvious tinkering with his trusty staff weapon.
"Maybe later you can teach me how to use it properly," the young man eagerly suggested.
"It would be a pleasure," Teal'c graciously responded with a slight bow of his head.
"Teal'c, this is my cousin, Theokles. He's a little overenthusiastic when it comes to weapons. Please follow him to your rooms. Except for your weapons, the rest of your things will be available to you there." After imparting her instructions, Alexis excused herself. Before she left, however, she directed her last words to Daniel. "We can talk some more later, once you've refreshed yourselves.
Daniel smiled at her in response, and then proceeded to follow Theokles and his men into the luxurious building. The young man was a chatterbox and reminded Sam of a tour guide. He enthusiastically informed them that they were being housed in one of the Demarchos' retreats, built to please the Demarchos' wife, Leaina, his aunt, who loved the lakeside. They also had a home by the ocean, at the edge of the continent, where most of their newer cities were located. Olympia was the first and still most important city, and the seat of their government. The Demarchos was the eldest of them all, and his family had always been the most important and influential on the planet. Other elders formed the Council, an advisory body for the Demarchos and a forum for the people. His grandfather had six children from previous wives, all of them important leaders of the community, but his seventh was his favorite, his uncle Alexion, Leaina's only child. Everyone expected the commander to eventually replace his father as The Demarchos, but they were confident that the current Demarchos still had many years of service ahead.
"How old, exactly, is the Demarchos?" Daniel asked nosily.
"We celebrated his three hundred fifty-fifth birthday only a few days ago. It was a great party!" At SG-1's astounded looks, he asked, "How old did you think he was?"
"Oh… much younger!" Jack replied.
"He does look good for his age, doesn't he?" Theokles chuckled. "He is a wonderful and very wise man. We love him dearly, and he has been a great Demarchos for more than a century now."
"Can we ask how old you are?" Sam dared to ask.
"Oh, I'm just a kid, as I'm often reminded by my uncle and cousin. I'm only thirty-six years old, but I'm a quick learner; that's why I'm Alexis' second-in-command. She is second-in-command to Ampelion, and he is second-in-command to Alexion. So I haven't done badly for my age. Only Alexis had reached a higher rank by my age, but then… well, she's special. You haven't seen her in action, but she's something else! She's only fifty-six, but she fights like a veteran, and she loves treating me as if she were much older than me! Don't tell her I told you how old she is. She hates that!" he chuckled again, mischief making his dark eyes shine brightly. Sam's surprise was clear in her face, but she said nothing. Theocles did not look older than twenty, and Alexis not much older than that.
"And an older woman to boot!" she heard Jack whisper to Daniel, which only made her roll her eyes and the archeologist blush again.
"Your day seems to be about the same length as ours. How many days do you have in a year?" Sam asked, thinking that maybe what they counted as years was quite different from Earth's.
"We have four hundred two days in a year, every six years we have four hundred and six," Theokles informed her. There went that theory! These people really had long lives. Sam figured that Isis had probably gone through the trouble of finding a planet that could almost be Earth's twin, given that she wanted her protégées to adapt quickly to their new surroundings.
"Your race is extremely long-lived. Few Jaffa reach the ripe age of two hundred," Teal'c commented.
"Really?" Theokles replied, looking a little perplexed. "How old are you?"
"I am one-hundred and two," Teal'c replied.
"How about you?" the young man asked Jack, perfectly aware that Teal'c came from a different world than the rest of the team.
"Oh, we don't last half as long. Alexis is older than I am," Jack replied vaguely, grimacing a little at suddenly sore muscles that reminded him that he was no spring chicken anymore.
"Oh!" Theokles' sympathetic look made Jack look down at himself questioningly. "You must have had a hard life!" he commented innocently. Sam's snort and covered mouth made Jack throw her an insulted look, but he refrained from responding to the young man's compassionate comment. "We're here! This is the largest room, with enough beds for everyone. Please get comfortable. Your things are inside. I will leave my men to guard you, and please do not try to… leave."
"We wouldn't dream of it," Jack assured the young soldier as he entered the room and made a beeline for his pack. The others followed his example, feeling naked and vulnerable wearing only their pants and black t-shirts. "I guess we don't have to gear up quite yet, but be ready," he instructed the others, and proceeded to fish out some ration bars. "Let's eat and drink while we can. It's almost dark."
They ate and relaxed for a while in the luxurious room, watching the sky darken until artificial lighting automatically turned on. Jack insisted on checking Sam's ribs, finding some bruising and nothing broken.
Some time later, Alexis and Theokles came back, obviously interested in learning more about them. So they sat comfortably and continued to share each other's history. The two soldiers had explained that their people had never used Isis' Circle to go anywhere because they had never been successful at getting a lock during their attempts to dial somewhere. Isis had also discouraged them from attempting to leave the planet and had warned them to repel anyone that invaded theirs.
The two cousins had, in turn, been utterly amused by the vampire stories that Daniel and Sam had shared, as well as the many misconceptions about them. Alexis had commented on how hard grooming would be without being able to see yourself in a mirror, and how upsetting this would be for Theokles. The young man countered that Alexis would surely have found turning into a bat and flying into unsuspecting victim's windows very appealing. Everyone had laughed when the young woman had cuffed the younger man and turned a light shade of pink, giving her an almost human appearance. Hours later, they were still talking.
"And you eat fruits and vegetables from the ground?" Alexis was asking Daniel. "Only animals do that in this world."
"Well, we also eat meat. We raise cattle for that," Daniel admitted.
"We raise cattle, too! We brought sheep, goats and cows with us from the old world. But we only drink the blood. Wouldn't you have to kill the cattle to be able to eat the flesh?" she asked.
"Well… yeah, we do. We raise it specifically for this purpose. We also eat fish from the waters of our planet, and eggs from some birds," Daniel explained.
"You have a very varied diet! All we need is water and blood. We drink cattle's blood, but we also manufacture it. It's not very tasty, but it is very nutritious. Would you like to taste some?" she generously offered.
"I don't think so… but thanks." Daniel could not repress a disgusted look. Alexis, however, was not offended.
"I guess you feel about drinking blood the same way I feel about eating flesh!" she chuckled. "It is surprising how similar, yet how different we are," she commented, growing serious again.
"Well, we probably come from the same ancestors. We just evolved separately after a certain point. Other species on Earth did the same, but somehow did not survive."
"Maybe they also left," Alexis suggested, a teasing smile on her face.
"Maybe," Daniel smiled back. He then realized that he and Alexis had monopolized the conversation and that the others had just been listening. "Sorry, guys. Anything you want to add?" he asked his teammates.
"No, Daniel. You've been very thorough. How about we just try to get some shut-eye while we can?" Jack suggested.
"Of course! I'm sorry to have kept you up. Theokles and I just wanted to learn more about you," Alexis agreed, jumping to her feet and followed by her cousin. But before she could move to the door, it was abruptly opened by one of her soldiers.
"Commander! We are being attacked!" he shouted. Alexis and Theokles immediately took out their weapons and turned to run out of the room, but Jack stopped them.
"Let us help! We need our weapons! We're sitting ducks here!" he demanded. But Alexis shook her head at him.
"These are our people we're dealing with. We can't allow you to kill them. Our weapons are stunners, but we don't have time to show you how they work," she explained, attempting to leave again.
"We have stunners, too! Just let us have those!" Jack insisted. Alexis seemed to consider this. She then turned to her cousin.
"Theokles, take them to their weapons, but only allow them the stunners. Plan alpha, cousin," she ordered, and then she disappeared so quickly that all they saw was a blur.
"Follow me!" the young man ordered, and SG-1 followed him down the corridor with three soldiers at their heels, the sounds of struggle clearly reaching them from outside. They swiftly reached another room in another area of the residence and found their weapons. As promised, they only took their zat guns and then continued to follow Theokles.
"What's plan alpha?" Jack asked behind the young soldier.
"My men and I will lead you out of the residence and to the shuttle. Alexis will be clearing the way with her men. Just stay very close to us," the young man advised.
"Okay, guys. You heard him… plan alpha," Jack reiterated for SG-1, surreptitiously letting them know that they would follow Theokles for now. He intended to ditch him if necessary. They left the building through a side exit that led to a beautiful open patio, and from there they disappeared into the surrounding flowering bushes. They eventually emerged close to where they had left the cloaked shuttle, and Jack figured it was still cloaked since he could not see it anywhere. Theokles had stopped at the edge of the garden, and he seemed to be waiting for a signal.
They suddenly heard muffled shots that sounded very similar to their zat guns and turned to see three more soldiers entering the clearing. Another group of three joined them from the opposite direction, led by Alexis. She then whispered something into her wrist, and Theokles seemed to hear her. He unconsciously reached for his left ear, and Jack gathered that he had a communication device inserted there.
"She's telling us to run to the shuttle. I will lead and my soldiers will cover our backs. Whatever you do, don't stray from the group!" the young man instructed them; then he immediately stood up and started jogging toward the group waiting for them in the clearing.
They had almost made it to their comrades when two of the soldiers behind Teal'c and Daniel were shot down. "Get down!" Jack shouted, and SG-1 dove for cover, barely missed by a few more shots that unhappily reached two of the soldiers in Alexis' group.
Jack could hear Alexis shouting commands, and he suddenly felt strong arms lifting him from the ground and carrying him under a muscular limb, much like a teddy bear, toward the shouting commander. A quick peek told him that Theokles and his remaining soldier were carrying Daniel and Sam in a similar fashion. Teal'c was running alongside his escort, and Jack figured that he had somehow prevented the soldier from carrying him. He wasn't surprised, and a smile crossed his features at the unlikely image of the dignified Jaffa being carried like a child by anyone. Jack could not fathom how two of the soldiers that had been so many meters away from them had so quickly come to pick them up, but here they were, with Alexis and one other soldier shooting over their heads and beckoning from the now illuminated entrance to the still cloaked shuttle. Teal'c's companion suddenly flew forward and hit the ground, but the Jaffa did not stop. He crouched low and continued running behind his group.
All of a sudden, the shots stopped and the soldiers stopped running, allowing Jack, Sam and Daniel to gain their footing. Jack realized that Alexis was now beside them and pointing at something, and Theokles was at the other side of SG-1, pointing in the opposite direction. The group was surrounded, with the shuttle so close yet so far. SG-1's remaining escort encircled them, protecting them but leaving them unable to see much. Then they heard a deep voice address the woman commander.
"Give them up, Alexis. The people of this planet deserve to know the truth and to have their struggle finally end," the voice yelled.
"You care nothing for the people of this planet, Ampelion. Remember that I know you better than most. All you care for is yourself and coming off as a hero! What you really are is a traitor, and you will die for your disloyalty!" Alexis responded into the night.
"I don't want to hurt you, Alexis. We are friends. We've known each other for a long time, and I respect you and your father. Don't make me do this," Ampelion's voice sounded stonily determined.
"You will have to go through us before you get your hands on the humans, Ampelion. I'm ashamed of ever having called you my friend, and you'll be held responsible for your actions. You know my father will see to that!" she responded, just as resolute.
"Commander, you stay high, we go low when the shooting starts. Just give us room!" Jack whispered, and Alexis quickly whispered back.
"Agreed!" And no sooner had she finished speaking when the shooting started. SG-1 was crouched low, back to back and shooting their zats into the darkness. Alexis, Theokles and the remaining three soldiers were moving so fast that they were a blur around them, and Jack wondered how they were avoiding SG-1's outgoing zat blasts. Their eyesight was obviously superior, but so was that of their adversaries, and two of the soldiers in their barrier were taken out, hitting the ground hard.
"Retreat into the shuttle!" Alexis commanded, and everyone turned to start running again, Alexis and Theokles covering the retreat with impossible prowess while the remaining soldier ran ahead of them, shooting as he ran. Just as they thought they were home free, Daniel fell, hit from behind. Within fractions of a second, Alexis swept by him and picked him up by the back of his black t-shirt and almost effortlessly threw him through the gaping entry of the waiting vehicle. Then the other soldier fell, and Sam tripped over him as she attempted to follow Daniel.
Before anyone could react, bodies slammed against the remaining defenders. Alexis delivered expert blows and sent her attacker flying, while Teal'c let out a mighty roar while he struggled with one of Ampelion's soldiers. The struggle, however, was short-lived. Theokles, having dispatched his own adversary in a matter of seconds, threw himself against Teal'c's attacker and flattened him with incredibly powerful punches to his middle. The soldier flew a few feet before he landed, unconscious. The young man then grabbed Teal'c and propelled him forcefully toward the shuttle, only a few feet away.
"Siiiir!" a scream could be heard in the darkness, retreating into the night, and Jack, who had managed to avoid a flying body and a subsequent struggle by quickly zatting it, realized that Sam had been captured and was being taken away. He did not think. He just acted, and he started running toward her diminishing voice.
"No!" Alexis screamed after him, but he kept running, following his major's screams. He zatted blindly ahead of him when her voice sounded close enough, but he must have missed. When he saw Sam, being carried over a huge man's shoulder with her legs firmly held by her knees and her left hand gripped by a massive hand, Jack realized that Ampelion was the one who had taken her. They were almost at the entrance to yet another shuttle, with Sam pounding furiously on her captor's back with her right fist but unable to escape. Just then, Jack realized that he was not alone. He heard the rapid thumping of running steps behind him, and he abruptly stopped and crouched, shooting at whoever was coming behind him. A loud grunt was heard, as well as a heavy body hitting the ground. But more steps were right behind, and Jack did not have a chance to shoot again. Something rammed him violently hard, and he knew no more.
"Sir, are you all right?" he heard Sam's voice call to him in a hushed tone. He felt her hand slightly tapping his face as he struggled to dispel the cobwebs from his mind and open his eyes. "Please, Sir, wake up!" she pleaded, whispering close to his face.
"Carter," he finally managed to groan, and then he opened his eyes. Her face was inches away from his, and he realized that they were both huddled in a corner of a shuttle, lying on the cold floor. "What's going on?" he grunted as he tried to sit up.
"We're trapped," she succinctly informed him. She assisted him, her wide eyes flying to the three figures that were arguing at the other end of the conveyance. She had observed them input some commands as soon as they had arrived, carrying an unconscious colonel with them, and the aircraft seemed to be on autopilot.
"Oy!" she heard him exclaim, and she steadied him as he made himself comfortable against the wall.
"Take it easy, Sir. I think you have a couple of cracked ribs," she informed him, her eyes returning to Ampelion and his associates.
"Again?" he replied sarcastically. "Are you all right?" he asked, his worried eyes looking her over.
"Just bruised, Sir," she responded. Just as she was about to say something else, she saw Ampelion turn toward them and start to approach, his two friends close behind.
"This is the beginning of the flock," he stated to his companions, his hand extending toward Jack and Sam. "They are just the first breeding pair, and they will tell us where we can go to find more. History will remember us as the liberators of our race." His satisfied smile did nothing but make Sam shudder as she watched his bared fangs with horrified fascination.
"We will never tell you anything. You will have to kill us," she dared to say, both her fear and her defiance clear in her blue eyes. But Ampelion just chuckled at her courage.
"Yes, you will. But first, I must find out whether you taste as sweet as you smell," he sneered, his right arm suddenly grasping her left wrist and dragging her away from Jack's side.
"Nooo!" Sam cried, and Jack managed to grasp her other wrist, trying to hold on to her. But then he found himself flat on his back, his arms spread wide and firmly held by the other two aliens as he helplessly watched Ampelion haul Sam away and lift her by the arms effortlessly. He slammed her against one wall, holding her high enough to bring her neck level with his mouth, and Jack could see through the grimace of pain on her face that she was terrified.
"Don't!" she demanded as the huge man nuzzled her neck, inhaling deeply as his body pinned hers against the flat surface, holding her in place as easily as if she were a small child. "Noooo!" she howled when she felt her black t-shirt being ripped to expose her right shoulder and bare her white, long neck to the vampire's fangs.
"Let her go! Take my blood!" Jack managed to scream from the floor, but everyone ignored him. And the next thing he heard was Sam's scream of pain as the creature sank his teeth into her tender flesh.
"Jaaack!" she screamed among sobs, and her voice tore into his heart, making him feel useless and pathetic. He watched helplessly as Ampelion sucked and gulped repeatedly, his eyes closed in ecstasy as Sam's fingernails dug desperately and unnoticed into his flesh. Her hands also pulled at his hair, frantically trying to get him off her neck, but he didn't seem to feel it. All Jack could think of was that he had failed her and that he had broken his promise to her. He had assured her that this would not happen, and it was happening right before his eyes.
"Carter!" he yelled in a distraught voice, and then he became a victim as well. He felt two sets of fangs sink into his wrists, the other two soldiers unable to resist the permeating smell of blood in the air. But Jack did not look at them. He ignored his own pain and kept his eyes on Sam, who slowly stopped struggling and gradually became limp and unresponsive in the arms of Ampelion, who did not seem to notice.
"Stop! You're killing her, damn it!" Jack screamed. And his plea seemed to reach the feeding alien, who abruptly let go of her bleeding neck and looked up at her lifeless face in perplexity. He immediately licked away at the blood dripping down her shoulder and chest, and then at the puncture wounds, lapping up every last trace. He then let her slowly slip down to the floor, where she lay like a broken doll, pale as death with her shirt half open, clearly exposing the two holes in her neck. They had stopped bleeding.
"Stop!" Ampelion ordered his comrades. "We want them alive!" And his friends obeyed, licking at Jack's wounded wrists, which gradually stopped bleeding. They finally let go of him, and he ignored them as he painfully crawled to Sam to gather her in his arms, calling out to her.
"Carter! Damn it, Carter, don't give up on me! Sam!" he kept calling as he rocked her in his arms. His eyes unexpectedly turned to Ampelion, full of hate. "You may have killed her, you son of a bitch! We can't lose so much blood and survive. If you take any more from us now, we'll be of no further use to your people!"
"Don't worry, you'll survive. You have a destiny to fulfill and much information to give us," the huge man assured Jack, but the colonel was not listening. He hugged Sam closer, his face buried in her wounded neck, his muffled voice still calling out to her.
"We have to find them! They could be dead by now!" Daniel was urgently shouting as he paced.
"They won't kill them. They are of no use to them dead. They want their blood, and to turn them over to our scientists for study so that they can be hailed as heroes for finding the key to ending the plague," Alexis explained, her face set in anger and frustration at having failed to protect the humans.
"They may have a taste beforehand! And they don't realize how fragile we are compared to you! They may kill them without wanting to! A punctured artery can bleed uncontrollably," Daniel argued desperately.
"No, that won't happen. Our saliva has a potent coagulant agent that would prevent that," she argued back.
"Alexis, they have no way of knowing how much blood they can safely take, and I don't think they'll take Jack's or Sam's word at face value," he patiently retorted. Alexis had no answer to that and avoided Daniel's eyes, realizing that he might be right.
"Where do you believe they are being taken?" Teal'c asked.
"They're surely headed back to Olympia, but where exactly, I don't know. They will make sure that they have the support of the Council before they give Jack and Sam up. Father is furious and is expecting us with the rest of the Council. He'll tell us what to do next, once The Demarchos determines what your future will be." She sounded depressed but resigned, and Theokles just looked away in distress.
"You're not thinking that they'll do with us what Ampelion wants?" Daniel asked incredulously.
"I have no way of knowing what the Council will decide, Daniel. But I am no traitor, like Ampelion is. I will do as I'm told. I'm sorry!" she snapped at him, then stood up and faced the front window, watching the stars as they approached Olympia in the dead of night.
Daniel threw a desperate look at Theokles, but the young man just shook his head and looked at the floor, obviously in agreement with his cousin. So the defeated archeologist just sat down with a sigh and prayed that his friends were not harmed, while Teal'c looked at the approaching city and made himself a promise. They would escape or die on this planet, but they would never reveal the coordinates to Earth or any other planet.
In the meantime, Ampelion and his captives had reached their destination. Jack had managed to lie Sam down on the cushioned seats of the shuttle, his ribs protesting loudly. She was white as milk, her skin cold and clammy, and she was not waking up. His desperation was about to turn to panic when she finally groaned and her eyelids fluttered. She could hear his voice, and she searched the shadows in her mind to try to find him. "Sir," she whispered.
"I'm here, Carter," he whispered back, close to her ear as he supported her. "Wake up, Major. I'm ordering you to eyeball me, okay?" he coaxed, and he could see her struggling to comply, her head moving toward his voice and her eyes opening slowly. "That's it, keep them open for me, okay? Tell me you're all right," he begged softly, his fingers stroking her hair.
"I'm all right… just… weak," she answered, licking her lips as she tried to dispel the dizziness she felt and focus her vision. "Where… are we?" she asked weakly.
"I think we're back in the city, but I don't know exactly where they're taking us," he answered, watching the three soldiers as the aircraft landed and they slowly prepared to disembark. "Carter," he said softly, "I'm sorry." His fingers were still tangled in her hair, something he'd never done before, and Sam found this extremely soothing and distracting. Therefore she had no idea what he was talking about.
"Sorry… about what?" she asked, hoping that he would not stop touching her. As irregular as that was, and as sinfully pleasurable as she found it, she craved his presence and touch now, more than ever, when she felt so weak and vulnerable.
"For letting them do this to you. I'm sorry. I promised, and I broke my promise," he explained. His regretful look told her he truly felt responsible for Ampelion's attack, and she struggled to muster a smile to make him feel better.
"Not your fault," she assured him. "I know that… if you could have… you would have prevented it," she said.
"You can bet on that," he agreed, trying to return her smile. "They got a taste of me, too, but I don't think they took as much of my blood. I don't feel too weak," he admitted. "Can you sit up?" he asked, to which she nodded.
Jack assisted his major to sit, and she slumped against him, feeling nauseous and incredibly weak. "Oh, God! I'm feeling sick. You may want to steer clear," she urged, feebly pushing him away.
"That's okay. Puke on me if you have to, but hold on. I don't want you hitting the deck!" Jack urged, holding her against his chest as she took deep breaths and tried to regain control of her body. She held his shirt tightly, her hands shaking and her eyes closed as the three soldiers opened the hatch and proceeded to approach them.
"Come with us," Ampelion commanded, waiting as an immovable, looming mountain.
"She's too weak to walk, and you'll have to kill me to touch her again. Wait until she can stand up," Jack retorted, his arms around his major's shoulders.
"Fine!" Ampelion surprisingly agreed, and he turned to one of the soldiers. "Tell them to bring a stretcher. And do it quickly!" he ordered. Jack saw one of the soldiers leave and the other one stand by the exit.
"How're you doing?" Jack asked Sam as they waited, and she just nodded against his chest, indicating that she was doing better, but wasn't quite there yet. "Okay. Just stay there and breathe. You must have lost a lot of blood," he stated with a grimace, remembering the appalling scene of Sam helplessly struggling against the overpowering vampire as he sucked her life away.
She just held on and relished the feel of his strong chest against her cheek, listening to his heart beat under her ear and feeling his warmth surrounding her. Under different circumstances, she would have been aroused by his closeness, but now she just felt deeply comforted. More than anything, she wanted to remain there, in the arms of the man she loved but couldn't have.
Sam had given up any hope of ever realizing her years-long dream of being more than Jack's second-in-command. She had naïvely hoped, almost from the moment she had met him, that she could be more to him than just Carter. But she was naïve no longer. The fight against the Goa'uld had gone on too long, and she could see no end in sight. They would be at war for maybe a lifetime, and she had decided to move on without Jack O'Neill in her private life.
Her brief, yet sweet and intimate affair with Orlin had proven to her that she could have feelings for someone else. If these feelings were not the passionately overwhelming ones that only Jack could engender, then she'd have to learn to be happy with the gentler, yet more realistic emotions that she might be able to develop for some other man… someone attainable. If only her heart would just listen!
Daniel and Teal'c exchanged uneasy glances as they stood among the much taller individuals surrounding them in the great hall where they had met the Council before. They could not hear what The Demarchos was telling Alexion and his officers, Alexis and Theokles, but they could tell that the Supreme Commander was arguing heatedly. The younger officers were respectfully silent but listening intently.
After waiting for what seemed a lifetime, Daniel and Teal'c saw Alexion finally bow to his father and turn around, followed closely by his daughter and nephew. He approached the anxious and wary friends and then communicated the Council's decision. "Your presence on this planet has caused great upheaval. Different factions are now in heated debate about what to do with you, and the Council has decided to take action and deal with the consequences later. The sole possibility of a prevailing majority who would favor the eventual conquest of your world in order to revert to drinking human blood is unthinkable. We do not feed on sentient beings. Your blood, however, may be the key to our survival as a species and give us the means to appease our population. Therefore, I've been asked to request that you let us have whatever you can offer before we take you to Isis' Circle and send you back to Earth."
Daniel did not hesitate. "Of course! We want to do whatever we can to help you cure your disease," he earnestly stated, his eyes drifting to Alexis', who smiled slightly as she lowered her own. "But we must find our friends! They are in mortal danger, and we will not leave without them!"
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed, his posture becoming even more erect.
"We have not been able to determine where your friends are, but when we find them, we will send them home as well," Alexion assured the young man, but Daniel shook his head determinedly.
"We're going nowhere without them! We'll just wait until we can find them," he replied in a determined tone.
"That may prove fatal to you. Are you willing to take the risk?" he asked the younger man.
"Yes!" both Daniel and Teal'c responded immediately, eliciting a smile from the commander.
"Very well. Alexis, take them to the shuttle and follow plan Omega. This is an extreme situation. I will contact you when I hear something." With this, the commander left them, and Alexis swiftly took a hold of Daniel's arm while Theokles led Teal'c. Very soon they found themselves in the same shuttle that had brought them back to the city.
Once they were airborne again, Daniel dared to ask, "Where're we going?"
"Nowhere in particular. Plan Omega is an emergency plan for situations like this. We will land in a secluded place, always cloaked, and then we'll move somewhere else, never staying in the same location for long. Our purpose is to evade and hide until we know where your friends are. Then we might join the rescue effort and take you all back to the temple so that you can return to your world. My father is the only one in communication with us."
"It could be a long time before you find my friends," Daniel stated somberly.
"Hopefully not. Ampelion will be eager to proclaim himself savior of our race soon, and my father's allies will probably be able to determine where your friends are within hours of that. My former commander's eagerness for political power and influence will be his downfall. The Council is furious at him for taking matters into his own hands and creating havoc in the process. The temple is all but destroyed, but my father assures me that the dialing device is intact. Nevertheless, we may have to fight our way to Isis' Circle when the time comes. In the meantime, I've been asked to obtain from you what you promised," Alexis concluded, her eyes betraying her reluctance to do as ordered.
"It's all right! I'm glad to do so, Alexis. I sincerely hope that our blood can save you some day," Daniel reassured her, his hand warm on her arm.
"Thank you, Daniel. You have a gentle and generous soul," she responded softly, and they smiled at each other tenderly, forgetting Teal'c's and Theokles' presence in the shuttle. Both men discretely strode away and sat down, giving them some privacy. While Daniel provided Alexis' people with the much-coveted human blood, Ampelion, at the other end of the city, started to stagger in pain.
"Aagh!" he growled as he doubled over with his arm across his middle. The soldier who stood waiting for the stretcher at the entrance of the shuttle took a step closer in sudden alarm.
"What is it? What's wrong, Ampelion?" he asked with apprehension. Jack and Sam watched the enormous man in perplexity as he staggered again, reaching out to lean on one of the seats of the shuttle.
Sam was feeling better, if still weak. Jack had not relinquished his place next to her, still holding her protectively in his arms, until he saw his opportunity. As Ampelion staggered for the second time, he let go of Sam and exchanged a quick look with her. Sam nodded, and Jack readied himself. When Ampelion suddenly started to gush out blood from his mouth and the soldier started to rush to him, Jack jumped out of his seat and delivered the approaching soldier a well-placed kick to his groin, followed by another one to the face, and, once down, a last, solid kick to the head. He then roughly dragged him to the door and pushed him out. He was taking no chances.
Sam, at the same time, was doing her part. She quickly reached for Ampelion's hair and pulled him toward her knee, connecting solidly with his chin, which bloodied her pants but gave her great satisfaction. The commander fell to the ground and started to convulse, still throwing up blood and shaking horribly. Sam watched with horrified fascination for a second, but then turned to Jack, who was quickly shutting the door of the shuttle as other soldiers had started to approach with a stretcher and other medical equipment. "Quick, see if you can get us out of here!" he urged.
Sam stumbled weakly toward the control panel she had observed the soldiers use earlier, and tried to figure out the commands. Jack had been successful in locking out the soldiers from the shuttle, but he knew that if they did not leave soon, they would blast a hole through the side if necessary.
"Got it!" he heard Sam shout in elation as she pressed buttons, and he felt the shuttle rise from the ground. He also heard a few blasts hit the underside as the aircraft swiftly moved away from their former captors.
"Try to get us cloaked!" he ordered, worried about the blasts that continued to hit them. Sam, always brilliantly resourceful, obliged shortly afterwards, and they were away. That was when the adrenaline rush suddenly deserted her, and she collapsed.
"Carter!" Jack called, but before he could reach her, Ampelion's powerful hand reached out and grabbed his ankle, making him fall to the deck.
"You've poisoned me! You'll die, you useless scum!" he growled as his other hand reached for Jack's pants, gripping and pulling too strongly for a sick man.
"That'll… teach you… to control… your sweet… tooth!" Jack responded, kicking the snarling man's face repeatedly until he managed to make him release his foot. Once on his feet, Jack grabbed Ampelion's own gun from its holster and shot him.
Daniel had been taking a much-needed nap and Teal'c had been trying to kelnorim when Alexis' voice roused them. "Daniel! My father just communicated that Ampelion and his men tried to deliver your friends to a private clinic on the outskirts of the city. Jack and Sam escaped, but no one knows where they are!"
"I knew they'd manage!" Daniel shouted in joy, but then he sobered. "How're we going to communicate with them?"
"The only way is to transmit an open broadcast to all the shuttles. Everyone will be able to listen to our message, including your friends. If we can make them respond, we may be able to give them instructions on how to meet us. It's a risk, since we don't know how many of Ampelion's men are out there, but it's the only way."
"I see. If they respond, they may be giving up their position." When Alexis nodded, he added, "I have to send the message. They will not do anything unless they know they can trust you."
"All right! Come with me, then!" Alexis agreed, and Daniel sat with her by the control panel, intent on reaching his teammates.
In another shuttle, far from Daniel and Teal'c's position, Jack was trying to revive Sam. He had no idea where they were flying to, but he felt safe for the moment. Sam, however, was not looking good. "Come on, Major. You did good, but I need you to wake up now. Carter! Wake up!" he kept urging as he attempted to make her swallow some water he'd found, but it just dribbled down her face and chin. He was starting to get seriously worried and was checking her pulse rate when she finally started to stir.
"That's it! Come around, Carter! That's my Major!" he smiled in immense relief as her eyes fluttered open, the glassy look indicating she was not sure where she was or what was going on.
"Sir?" she croaked, and he smiled wider.
"Yes, Major?" he teased with a relieved grin.
"Why do I keep waking up in your arms?" she asked, still too weak to move. Jack chuckled at that, then he continued to tease.
"Because you like to?" he proposed with a cheeky smirk.
Sam smiled at this, taking a deep breath, and looked sadly into his eyes. "That I do," she admitted, but then she gradually closed her eyes again, exhausted. She passed out again, and Jack realized that she needed urgent medical attention. Her soft words reverberated inside his skull, and his eyes continued to roam over her delicate features, so beautiful and gentle in sleep, and he closed his own eyes in painful regret.
"I also like having you here, Carter," he whispered, and he hugged her closer, burying his face in her neck. His forbidden love for his major was something he had been dealing with for a long time, and he knew that she had been doing her best to put distance between them. Things had gotten out of hand months ago, and their feelings were just getting bruised and battered at every turn by the inevitable realization that they could not be together and that they didn't have a future to share. Again, for the hundredth time, he wondered whether he could retire and give up command of SG-1 so that they could do what they both wanted, but knew what her response to that would be. The guilty enjoyment of her in his arms was rudely interrupted by a transmission, coming loud and clear from above them.
"Daniel Jackson to Jack O'Neill, do you copy? Daniel Jackson to Jack O'Neill, please respond," Daniel's voice blared.
"Daniel, you always have the worst timing!" Jack grumbled as he carefully laid Sam back on the floor and painfully got to his feet. He located the communicator and looked at it in bewilderment, trying to figure out which button to press in order to answer.
"You need to press the large, blue button to your right, Jack," Daniel's voice came through, startling him out of his concentration.
"Wise ass!" he snapped, then pressed the blue button. "Jack O'Neill here! Where the hell are you, Daniel?" he grouchily asked.
"Jack! Are you all right?" Daniel asked with a relieved tone of voice.
"I'm fine, but Carter isn't doing too hot. We're flying but I have no idea where we're going, and she's out cold. Where are you?" he asked his friend as he instinctively rubbed his cracked ribs.
"We are trying to reach the puddle, Jack. We should head there ASAP, but we need to find you first. You need to land so that we can pick you up," Daniel instructed.
"That'd be nice, Daniel, but I don't know how. And I don't want to land in the middle of enemy territory, if you know what I mean. To make matters worse, Carter is in bad shape and I can't carry her, as much as I'd like to," he argued over the air.
"Should we try to get medical assistance? How bad is she?" Daniel asked in concern.
"What she needs they don't have, Daniel. We need to get her to Janet," Jack replied.
Daniel closed his eyes, understanding what must have happened to his friend. Alexis did, too, and lowered her head in shame, and her jaw set in anger at her former commander. "That's all right, Jack. Just follow Alexis' instructions and we'll meet you someplace safe," Daniel said after exchanging a meaningful look with the woman.
Alexis quickly took over. "Jack, listen carefully. We need to do this quickly so that we can avoid whoever may have access to our transmission. Tell me what you see out the window," she instructed.
"I see water ahead of me, and a plain on the left side of the shuttle. There are lots of trees on my right, and we're heading into the sun," Jack informed the female commander, squinting at the bright rays poking out of the approaching horizon.
"He's headed back to the lake house! The shuttle must be returning to its previous location. We are very close to them. If we're lucky, we'll be able to meet them and pick them up before anyone else can get there, but it's a gamble!" she consulted with Daniel and Teal'c.
"Let's do it! Sam can't wait!" Daniel agreed, and Alexis turned back to the transmitter.
"Jack, press the following buttons in sequence and you will land. Don't touch anything else! We want you to stay cloaked until we get there," Alexis transmitted. She then proceeded to give him the instructions he needed.
"Done! We're down! How will I know when you guys get here?" Jack asked, feeling like a sitting duck in the middle of a field of pretty flowers as the sun started to rise over the distant mountains.
"Let's cross that bridge when we get there, Jack," Daniel responded.
Jack returned to his spot by Sam's side and tried to lift her, but his ribs protested, and he just opted to sit on the floor and let her head rest on his lap, lifting her feet to rest against the edge of the seat. Her breathing was laborious, and she was even paler than before. "Please don't die on me, Carter. Stay with me, Major, that's an order," he softly spoke to her as he continued to stroke her hair, waiting for the others to arrive.
"We should be very close to them, but I am detecting another shuttle nearby. They may be just as close to them as we are. We can't ask them to decloak yet," Alexis informed Daniel and Teal'c.
Daniel seemed to think for a second; then he went to the transmitter and hailed Jack. The Colonel had drifted to sleep and was startled awake by Daniel's voice. "Jack, we're close, but so are others. We need to land close to you, but you can't decloak yet. Let's play `I Spy'", Daniel suggested.
Jack grunted as he got off the floor, gently removing himself from under Sam's head. She was still unconscious, and his concern for her increased. "Okay, Daniel. Let's see," he said, looking out his window. "I spy with my little eye… Bugs ears on my left and Kinsey's brassy balls on my right. And I hope you took your allergy pill," he hinted, looking at the many flowers in the field.
Daniel looked out the window, intently looking for a field of flowers, the obvious allusion to his allergies. He spotted it, dead ahead, and then looked for something that would remind him of bunny ears and… well, brassy balls. He pointed out the field to Alexis, and she flew over it, still cloaked as Daniel continued to survey the surface. There! Close to a rock formation that definitely held two pointy rocks sticking out like Bugs Bunny's ears, he detected, not far away, two rocky hills, side by side, that definitely reminded him of… well, someone's balls. "We got you, Jack. We're right ahead of you. You can decloak now," Daniel ventured, and Alexis proceeded to tell Jack how to do so.
Jack pressed the necessary controls and so did Alexis after she spotted him, gently landing her shuttle only meters away. Through his window, the Colonel watched the aircraft settle and, once he saw Teal'c step out of the shuttle, he hurried to open the hatch.
"Teal'c, buddy! You're a sight for sore eyes!" he greeted his Jaffa friend.
"O'Neill, are you all right? You do not look well," Teal'c remarked as he rushed to the prone figure of his female teammate and gently scooped her up. "Major Carter is burning up with fever!"
"Fever? I hadn't noticed!" Jack replied, dread settling in his stomach.
"Can you walk, O'Neill?" he asked when he noticed that the Colonel was leaning heavily against the bulkhead.
"I'm fine, Teal'c. Let's get the hell out of here," he responded breathlessly as he continued to hold his ribs in place. The Jaffa nodded and stepped out of the shuttle, carefully avoiding the splattered blood and the unconscious body of Ampelion on the floor.
Daniel was waiting for them just outside the door, and when he grabbed Jack's arm to help him walk to the other aircraft, he frowned in concern, "Jack, you're burning up!"
"Me, too? So is Carter. She needs Janet, Daniel," Jack responded, quickening his pace.
"We'll get her home as soon as we can, Jack. She's going to be fine, and so are you," the young man encouraged, and they all boarded the waiting vehicle. No sooner had they done so than another shuttle appeared in the sky. It was not cloaked, and Alexis gathered it was the same one she had detected earlier.
"We have to hurry! The other shuttle is not identifying itself, so we have to assume that they are Ampelion's people," she said as she pressed the necessary commands to depart.
"In that case, you may want to let them know that their fearless leader is lying in a puddle of blood in the other shuttle. Not my doing, by the way!" Jack informed them, raising a hand to forestall an angry response from the woman.
"What happened?" Daniel asked.
"I'm not sure, but it looks like Sam's blood didn't settle well with him. He was puking his guts out," Jack responded as he leaned on the backrest of one of the seats.
"Why?" Alexis asked in perplexity.
"I don't know," Jack admitted. "But the guys that fed on me seemed to have no problem. Maybe Ampelion drank too much?" he suggested with a grimace.
"That wouldn't cause vomiting," Alexis said, shaking her head.
"Maybe the other guys got sick later. We didn't stick around to find out," Jack said sarcastically.
"The naquadah in Sam's blood," Daniel suggested pensively. "Maybe that's what caused Ampelion's sickness."
"What's naquadah?" Theokles asked.
"It's a metal element. Only Sam carries it. It's a long story," Daniel answered evasively.
"So maybe your and Jack's blood is still good. I mean, the samples you gave us may still help," Theokles theorized.
"That would be my guess," Daniel agreed.
"How's Carter? She wasn't doing too good," Jack suddenly asked, and Daniel thought his friend had momentarily lost track of the conversation and his surroundings.
"She's the same, O'Neill. She is unconscious and extremely hot to the touch," the Jaffa replied with an unusually concerned tone.
"We have to get her to Janet, Daniel," Jack repeated, and Daniel's concern heightened at Jack's obvious disorientation.
"We will, Jack. We're taking both of you home right now. But you should try to lie down and rest," he coaxed. But Jack just shook his head and wavered unsteadily on his feet, approaching Sam's unmoving figure.
"I need to be here in case she wakes up," he said, remembering her smile when she had admitted that she liked waking up in his arms, and he sank to the floor next to her, leaning his head on the soft cushion of the seat. He had not quite finished doing so when he passed out.
Daniel and Teal'c exchanged worried looks, but silently agreed to leave him where he was, his head almost on Sam's stomach, and his arm thrown protectively across her middle.
The sun was high in the sky and it was a beautiful morning, but the sight that greeted the fleeing shuttle as they approached Isis' temple was not pretty. Where there had previously been nothing but carefully tended trees and flowers, only stumps, burned up bushes and ruined flower beds remained. Smoke still drifted from a few spots around the battered front of the pink granite structure, and broken glass, furniture and other debris peppered its surroundings. The still figures waiting at the entrance of the formerly magnificent building, however, were completely calm and dignified, the robes spotless, and the armor glistening in the sun.
"My father is here, and so is my grandmother. My grandfather refused to see what the mob did to the temple. Our soldiers will take care of the shuttle in pursuit," Alexis softly explained as she landed the shuttle.
"Jack, wake up," Daniel called gently, shaking his friend's shoulder lightly, and the colonel was alert instantly, despite the heat emanating from his body and the pallor of his skin.
"How's Carter? Did she wake up?" Jack immediately asked, his worried eyes perusing the still and colorless features of his major.
"No, Jack. She hasn't moved. We've just kept her legs up and tried to make her drink some water, but we weren't very successful. Teal'c will carry her," Daniel informed the colonel as he helped him up. Jack swayed lightly on his feet, but shook his head to clear it and steadied himself.
As the bedraggled group exited the shuttle, the pursuing aircraft landed behind them, and Alexion stepped down from where he was standing, next to his mother at the main entrance of the temple. He gravely commanded as they approached, "Go inside. I will handle this." Alexis nodded respectfully and she proceeded to lead SG-1 to the temple, Theokles keeping a watchful eye behind them.
A staggering and very angry Ampelion disembarked from the second shuttle, the two soldiers that had fed on Jack following closely behind, and still others trailing behind. "You can't let them go, Commander! They are the salvation of our people!" he yelled as he approached.
"I tend to agree with you, Ampelion. I wanted to keep them here as our guests a little longer, but The Demarchos has decided that they are to return to their world," Alexion responded.
"You should not listen to The Demarchos on this! He is old and feeble, and our people will depose him when they find out what he's done!" Ampelion argued. Jack and Daniel had stopped at the top of the stairs beside Leaina, with Teal'c holding Sam behind them, and they all turned to the woman as she calmly spoke.
"The Demarchos has the full support of the Council, as well as the support and protection of our armed forces. All the major community leaders also have come forward to support his decision. You see, Ampelion, only a small minority is willing to revert to our ancient barbaric ways. We are a civilized people, and we will never again feed on sentient beings. It is wrong." Daniel watched the woman deliver her speech with complete aplomb, and he couldn't help but compare her with the goddesses depicted on the many carvings of the temple. She was not only beautiful and regal. She was also righteous.
"This is madness! Our people continue to die while you are oh, so proud of our civilized ways," Ampelion screamed at her.
"Is that why you fed on this poor child, Ampelion? Because I happen to know that you do not carry the plague. You had no need of her blood, yet here she is, practically dead because of you. Did you do this for your people?" the Councilwoman challenged, pointing at Sam, whose inert body lay limply in Teal'c's strong arms.
"They are our prey! They live so that we can live!" Ampelion yelled.
"I am ashamed of you. I am ashamed of everyone that supports you, and you will all face charges of treason!" the woman finally declared, her voice now louder. And this seemed to be the signal Alexion's troops had been waiting for. Within seconds, Ampelion and his comrades were completely surrounded, and Leaina did not deign to waste further time with him. She turned around and led SG-1 inside the temple, followed by Alexis and Theokles, leaving Alexion in charge of the prisoners.
"You're making a fatal mistake!" were the last words they heard from the traitor as he was apprehended and taken away.
Daniel did not waste any time; as soon as they reached the dialing device, he entered Earth's coordinates and sent his GDO signal. He then turned to Jack and silently asked for some time, to which Jack just nodded. As exhausted as he felt, he leaned on the dialing device and waited. He turned to Teal'c and gave him the go ahead, but the tall Jaffa hesitated.
"Go ahead, Teal'c. I'll make sure the Space Monkey returns with me. Sam needs Janet. Go!" he ordered, and the big man nodded and stepped into the puddle.
Daniel had taken only two steps down to approach Alexis, and he was glad for the one step that allowed him to be eye level with her. He deliberately removed his glasses and extended his right hand to cup her cheek. Then he gently closed his lips over hers. Alexis had not moved at all, but after a few seconds her hand came up to join his by her face, and she eagerly kissed him back. After what seemed to Jack like a lifetime, Daniel reluctantly pulled back and looked into her eyes. "I hope they find the cure, for your sake," Daniel whispered to her.
"They will. Don't worry about me. I just wish that we could have become friends… your people and mine," she admitted wistfully.
"You will always be my friend. Good bye, Alexis," he finally said, letting go of her face.
"Good bye, Daniel. Be well," she wished, and she let him go.
Daniel then turned to Jack and grabbed his arm, wrapping it around his shoulder, and turned to Leaina. "Thank you," he said sincerely.
"No. Thank you," she responded with a smile. Daniel smiled back as he nodded, then turned back to the puddle and stepped into it with Jack leaning heavily on him.
Jack and Daniel stumbled into the embarkation room where an impatient General Hammond waited, flanked by an even more anxious Dr. Fraiser. "What took you so long?" the General grumpily asked as the two men were greeted by efficient medics, who quickly forced Jack onto a stretcher.
"I can walk, damn it!" he protested.
"You will lie down and stay there. I don't want you falling on your face on the way to the infirmary. I'm not blind. You can barely stay on your feet!" the doctor grouchily instructed as she quickly examined him.
"Where's Carter? Why aren't you with her?" Jack asked, just as gruffly.
"She's already in the infirmary being treated," Janet responded, her eyes avoiding his.
"What's wrong? What aren't you telling me?" Jack immediately challenged as he attempted again to get off the stretcher.
"I'll tell you if you stay put!" Janet placated him, putting a firm hand on his shoulder to keep him from sitting up. Jack relented and waited, his eyes filling with dread.
"She's in a coma, Colonel. But that's just her body trying to deal with the trauma she's been through. She lost a lot of blood and has an infection of some kind. Her system is fighting it the best way it can. She's in good hands, and I'm confident that she'll pull through," she explained in a gentle tone, trying to calm him down.
"Can I see her?" Jack asked, subdued.
"As soon as I take care of you, I'll put you on a bed right next to hers. How's that?" she asked.
"Fine," he dejectedly responded. He was suddenly terribly exhausted, and he could barely keep his eyes open. Janet signaled her medics to take him to the infirmary and started to follow the gurney.
"Dr. Fraiser," Hammond called her back. "Are you as confident as you let Jack believe?" he asked seriously.
"They were both bitten by alien beings, General. I don't have a clue as to what bacteria could be causing the infection. But I'm hoping that a broad-spectrum antibiotic will fight it. If not… I don't know," she admitted with a shrug. "As far as Sam goes," she sighed, "she's strong and healthy. Her blood pressure was dangerously low, but she was still hanging on, and I ordered a transfusion immediately. That's definitely going to improve her chances."
The General nodded, letting the doctor go, and sighed in resignation. Once more, SG-1 was coming back banged up but alive. He didn't know what made the team so resilient, but whatever it was, he was grateful for it, and he just hoped that it would help them pull through again.
In the meantime, Teal'c watched from an out of the way corner as Sam was comfortably placed in a hospital bed and hooked up to way too many tubes and machines. Daniel arrived at the infirmary following the gurney carrying an unconscious colonel. He went to join Teal'c in his corner of the room and sat down to wait, not saying a word as Janet and her team worked on his friends. Exhaustion, however, won, and he soon got comfortable on a chair and fell asleep. So he missed Jack awakening and starting to create havoc only minutes later.
"Where is she? Where's Carter?" he kept asking in feverish delirium.
"She's right next to you, Sir. On the other side of the curtain," Janet tried to reassure him, but the man kept trying to get out of his bed. "I'll show you!" she finally relented, and she swept the curtain open with a swift move, exposing a comatose Sam Carter lying pale and unmoving next to him. Jack seemed to relax, but when the doctor attempted to draw the curtain again, he stopped her.
"Please! Don't close it. Leave it open," he begged as his head hit the pillow again. Janet nodded and left the curtain open between the two beds but drew the rest of the curtains around the two beds closed to allow her patients some privacy and quiet. Leaving instructions to her nurses to call her if either stirred again, she went looking for the other half of SG-1. She found them only steps away, Teal'c sitting on a stool, patiently waiting, and Daniel sprawled on a chair, sleeping. "You two need to get checked out and then go rest." Her tone awoke Daniel and allowed for no argument, and both men rose to follow her.
As Janet quickly examined a very tired archeologist, she dared to ask, "Daniel, what's going on with the Colonel and Sam? What happened on that planet?"
"What do you mean?" Daniel asked, honestly confused.
"Daniel…" she sighed. "The Colonel was beside himself until he saw Sam with his own two eyes. It was almost as if he thought she'd died and we were trying to keep the fact from him. He seems extraordinarily concerned for her, if you know what I mean."
"I can't tell you for sure, Janet. But maybe he's feeling guilty," Daniel suggested in a sad tone.
"Why would he feel guilty?" she asked in bafflement.
"Well… Sam was unusually spooked by the aliens on Olympia. They were vampires, and she seemed to freak out right from the beginning."
"Well, I guess I understand. That kind of alien would scare the heck out of me, too. But, still… why would the Colonel feel guilty?"
"I heard him tell her that no one would drink our blood. He was trying to calm her down, and he even gave her his word on that. And you know what happened. They attacked her anyway. Maybe he feels like he let her down, and now she's far from well and he's worried."
"I see," Janet nodded.
"Is she going to be okay, Janet?" Daniel asked, apprehension clear in his eyes.
"I really don't know, Daniel. Honest. She hasn't gone into cardiac arrest from the loss of blood and that's a very good sign that we got to her in time, but the infection is due to an alien organism. You know how unpredictable those are. We are doing all we can." Janet's eyes suddenly clouded with intense worry, and she looked away to hide her anxiety.
"I know you are," Daniel smiled at the doctor, reaching out and putting a comforting hand on her shoulder.
She smiled back, but then she became Dr. Napoleon Fraiser again, "You are fine, but you need rest. Please don't make me force you. I'll send Teal'c to rest as soon as I'm done with him, and I'll call you both if there's something to report. I promise."
"Yes, doctor," Daniel nodded and jumped down from the bed on which he had been sitting. "I'll see you in a few hours."
Janet watched him go and fervently prayed that the next time she saw him she could deliver good news.
The first thing that Sam noticed when she became fully conscious was that someone was leaning on her left arm… and snoring. It didn't take her long to realize that those were Jack O'Neill's unmistakable snores, and her heart melted when she noticed that he was wearing the dreaded infirmary "pajamas," as he liked to call them. He hated wearing them, and hated even more having people see him doing so. But he had gotten out of his own bed to sit by her side, pajamas notwithstanding.
He had obviously fallen asleep unexpectedly, with his large hand on her forearm and his head leaning on both. She watched him sleep for a few minutes, enjoying the forbidden closeness and the rare privacy that the curtains around their beds provided. She wondered what time it was and when Janet would be showing up, because she was parched and couldn't reach the cup of water by her bedside. She was still painfully weak, but she was finally clearheaded, and she knew that if Jack had been admitted and had his own bed in the infirmary, he also needed his sleep.
Her right hand lifted from her side, still hooked up to an IV, and it hovered over his sleeping face and his silver hair, wanting very much to touch him but not daring to. She couldn't allow herself such gestures. Touching him intimately would just make her hurt worse. So she returned her hand to its proper place, away from her CO, and she contented herself with watching him as he slept. She loved him still. She couldn't help herself. She didn't want to love him. Doing so was too hard and too painful, but she had completely lost control of a part of her heart, the part that belonged to him. That part of her, the part that gravitated to Colonel Jack O'Neill despite the insurmountable obstacles in its way, might always be there, she knew; but it could not be acknowledged.
Sam knew that she had to move on. She had analyzed her uncomfortable situation from every single angle possible, and she had reached the conclusion that she couldn't have what her heart desired. She would never have Jack O'Neill as the man in her life. He would always be her superior officer; they would both remain at the SGC for the duration or until one of them finally got killed, and the regulations would never bend. There was just too much at stake.
She knew she had love in her heart to give. Her experience with Orlin had shown her that she had much tenderness and affection in her heart, and they were bursting to show. They were impossibly repressed within her, and they would remain so, turning her into a frustrated and bitter woman unless she faced reality and chose to live her life.
Jack had had his life. He had had a wife… and a son. He had had many years of love and companionship that still eluded her. He also still had the military and his brilliant career, as well as the SGC and his unique position in it. He had well-defined and clear priorities. He had demonstrated that when he had shot her dead during the incident with the entity that had taken over the SGC's computers. She would never be number one… or even two in Jack's life. She had faced and accepted that months ago as she agonizingly dealt with what had happened.
Her relationship with Jack had now morphed into something different than before. She had established a certain distance and coolness between them and staked out clear boundaries. Things had been running too wild and hot until then. She had been torn by deeply passionate feelings for her CO. But after the entity situation had opened her eyes, she had taken a perplexed look at herself and had felt shame. She had been ashamed of her lack of control, of her adolescent-like tendency to daydream, and of her complete disregard for the facts. And she had made a decision to let him go. She had to stick to that decision for everyone's sake… especially hers.
So Sam slowly extricated her arm from underneath his, and put up a fake, relaxed and happy front for her colonel as he instantly awoke, searching for her eyes. "Carter! You're awake!" he smiled in relief.
"Yes, Sir. And I'm dying here… could you?" she asked as she pointed at the glass of water.
"Oh… yeah!" he reacted and reached over her to grab the cup. He gently pulled up her bed so that she could sit a little more upright and led the straw to her mouth.
"Thank you, Sir," she smiled tiredly. "How are you feeling?" she inquired, noticing that he looked anything but well.
"I'm fine, just fighting off a fever, like you are. We filled you up again, by the way," he joked, and she smiled.
"Premium or regular?" she asked.
"Sorry, only had regular. You're the only one with premium around here," he quipped. At her raised eyebrow, he explained, "You're the only one with naquadah in your blood. And thanks to that, we were able to escape. At least that's Janet's theory. Daniel agrees. Doc says that Ampelion probably had an allergic reaction to the foreign substance."
"Thank you, Jolinar," Sam smiled sadly.
"Hey, joking aside, Jolinar left you with some clear advantages over the rest of us simple humans. You can sense a Goa'uld… and now you are a repellant for vampires!"
"Very funny, har,har," she responded annoyingly. "What happened, anyway? How did we get off the planet?"
"Well, after you passed out and wouldn't wake up, The Demarchos decided that he wanted us off his planet. We created quite a stir, and he wasn't happy. Anyway, Daniel, Teal'c, Theokles and Alexis eventually found us and picked us up. Then they took us to the temple where "Mother" was waiting. Ampelion followed us… yes, he survived… but Mother gave him a tongue-lashing and sent him to jail… or wherever their least favorite place is. Then she let us go through the gate and that was the end of it. I know it seems like ages, but we were only gone for twenty-eight hours."
"The most eventful twenty-eight hours of my life. I'm already dreading the nightmares," she said seriously.
Jack, who had been quite flippant as he related the recent events, sobered up at this. "We all have nightmares, Carter. Just remember that we're here for each other," he suggested shyly. Sam smiled at him sadly, her eyes conveying what her words could not.
"Thank you, Sir," she simply said.
"For what? Letting that animal bite you?" he joked bitterly.
"For being here when I awoke. For always being here… with me… when I open my eyes. It… makes me feel better," she admitted. She did not want to seem weak, but she wanted to be honest with him. He did make her feel safer when he was around.
"I'm sorry I couldn't stop him, Carter. Watching you go through that was…" he couldn't find the words. "It was wrong," he finally concluded.
"It wasn't your fault. You actually put yourself in danger by coming after me. You shouldn't have. They could have killed you," she said.
Jack looked at her for endless moments, then he cryptically said, "I will always come after you, Carter. You can rely on that."
Sam stared back at him, trying to figure out if he was trying to tell her something more than the obvious. But then she remembered her resolution, and she smiled at him, "No one gets left behind, right, Sir?"
She saw a flash of disappointment cross his dark brown eyes, but then he smiled forlornly at her and took her hand in his, "No one gets left behind. Especially Carter."