Godless Provenance: Chapter 14
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
As was par for the course, Major Sam Carter's mind was going in ten different directions on ten different projects when she stuck her head through General Hammond's open office door. "You wanted to see me, sir?" she asked, her eyes skipping past the balding general to where Daniel slouched in an armchair while Teal'c stood at attention off to the side. The presence of her teammates surprised her enough that six of the ten projects were forgotten, and she unconsciously straightened as the general nodded his greeting to her before turning to the side.
"Sergeant, you mind repeating what you just told me?" he asked, his southern drawl sharpening to a point as Sam turned, her eyes narrowing as she noticed the shorter man for the first time.
"Yes, Sir," Sergeant Walter Harriman returned, obviously fighting the urge to salute the general, and after hearing Hammond's tone, Sam couldn't blame him. It was unusual for anything to get the easy-going Texan so uptight. "The guards at the main checkpoint called down. They have a young couple up top asking for SG-1," he explained as his eyes darted to her before returning staunchly to Hammond's cross features.
"Did they use our team designation?" Sam asked, her curiosity peaked as she eased further into the room and slid into the seat beside Daniel.
"No, ma'am," the sergeant returned - this time with an obvious air of unease. "They specifically asked for Carter, Daniel... and Teal'c," he returned, his words causing everyone to sit straighter as pointed glances were exchanged. Teal'c rarely left the base, and then only when in the company of one of his team members. He had little cause to know anyone else, and even less for anyone off-base to know him. On his rare trips above ground he was always introduced as Murray, and never - never
"I do not understand," Teal'c rumbled as he arched a brow expectantly - Walter cringing under his piercing gaze.
"She said that her name was Buffy Summers," Harriman quickly continued, pausing only when the name caused everyone in the room to start and stare with a greater intensity. "She said that she has information about Colonel O'Neill's whereabouts."
"But that's not possible," Daniel protested as he nervously adjusted his glasses. Yet despite his protests, Sam couldn't help but notice that his voice was tinged with the same desperate hope that even now caused her hands to grow slick with sweat. "How could Buffy have gotten back if not through the stargate?"
"Perhaps in the same manner in which she left Earth," Teal'c suggested, his flat tone betraying little.
"Then you believe this young woman to be the same one that you encountered on Apophis' ship?" Hammond asked, his eyes piercing them each in turn.
As had become par for the course in the months since the colonel had been missing, Sam cleared her throat and answered for her team. "We can't say for certain until we see her, sir, but... how many Buffys can there be?" she asked, and this time she recognized the same hope in her own voice. Unbidden, unwanted, she felt that cold, dead part of her heart burn with a hope that they had buried with an empty casket several months ago.
The question had been rhetorical, but as usual Teal'c ignored this fact as he rumbled his disagreement. "None, as it would seem from our earlier attempts to locate her family."
For a moment, silence reigned as Hammond leaned back in his chair, his eyes shrewdly inspecting each of her teammates in turn. It was as though he could see as all of their months of painful grieving and putting the past behind them slowly unraveled before his eyes. "I don't like this," he admitted, and with that statement she knew that he wasn't referring to the couple that waited above ground, but to the very real fact that this lead could turn out to be nothing, as they all had been, and when that happened, it wouldn't be as though they could go back to where they had been just five minutes ago. This unexpected hope had torn off the newly mended scab and the wound would bleed fresh and deep once more. And yet, once again, Major Sam Carter found that she didn't care.
"General," Daniel whispered, the word a soft, heart-wrenching plea.
Sighing softly, General George Hammond nodded his acceptance to the inevitable. "Sergeant, have her and her companion brought to the briefing room," he ordered, nodding to the empty room just beyond his shuttered window. "Let's hear what the young woman has to say."O o O o O o O
The journey beneath the surface of the mountain was enough to awe Xander into silence - well, either that or all of the men with guns. To Buffy, it was like the Initiative on a much grander, and drabber scale. For one thing, there seemed to be less scientists running around in white coats. Jack had said that there were scientists in the mountain, but maybe they were on a different level. For another thing, there were more soldiers here - and these soldiers weren't the cookie cutter college boys from the Initiative, but an older, more well-seasoned and diversified blend. They even had women
here - and that was saying a lot in comparison to the sexist branch of the military that she had become accustomed to. Then there was the change from the blinding, sterile white of that long-ago death trap to this unadorned, boringly gray cement that made up everything in this underground world.
She wondered if Jack ever got sick of the stale, recycled air. She wondered if he ever missed the bright sunshine or the shifting trees.
Then she kicked herself, for after Netu, even this concrete tomb was paradise.
She was drawing a lot of stares in her been-living-in-hell state of garb, but not as much as she had expected. Yet according to Jack, these people were quite used to the weird. They received alien visits on a pretty regular visit. Hell, aliens lived here
with them, worked
with them. She wondered if they thought she
was an alien. Then again, with all of the aliens that had died within her body, maybe she
was part alien now.
It was at that point that she stopped wondering, stopped thinking altogether, for while she didn't mind the occasional curious glance from the occasional random soldier, she couldn't stomach the concerned gaze that her vacant stare and bone-deep shudders drew from Xander. She hoped that he thought she was just cold, and he probably would have offered her his jacket if he had one, but the fact was that they had just driven from southern California and Xander was just as ill-equipped for the trip to snowy Colorado as she was. Okay, so maybe Xander was a little more well-equipped, even if his baggy jeans and over-sized tee-shirt were gaining him more curious stares than her own bedraggled appearance - and didn't that
say a lot about this place?
"You can go right through here, ma'am," their own specially armed soldier stated, interrupting her thoughts as he indicated an open door beside them.
Nodding her thanks, Buffy followed Xander through the doorway and immediately froze upon the threshold. The room was large and spacious, a conference table surrounded by comfortable looking chairs sitting smack dab in the middle. There was a circular stairway that went both up and down in the front right corner, a door in the left, and a large window that was covered by a thick metal plate that was stretched in between the two. It was a lot of empty space, and yet it felt unbelievably full as her eyes locked upon the three familiar people that were seated towards the head of the table.
At their entrance, Sam, Teal'c, Daniel, and a short, portly man came to their feet. The stranger had been sitting at the head of the table, and by the neatly pressed blue shirt, darker pants, and the unmistakable balding head, Buffy knew him to be the General George Hammond that Jack had spoken so fondly about. As for the other three, Teal'c looked unchanged since she had last seen him, but Carter's blonde hair was longer - a girlish cut that framed and softened her features, making her look years younger. Daniel, too, looked different. His long, shaggy hair had been cut so close that it looked military, making him look older than before. He had also obviously been working out in the months since they had last seen each other on Apophis' ship.
They looked good. Really, really good, and that knowledge made Buffy feel worse than awful. These were Jack's friends - his family. He should have been there with her. He should have been clapping Teal'c on the shoulder, smiling at Carter, and teasing Daniel about his new haircut or his smaller glasses.
He should have been there.
Daniel broke the shocked, tense moment as he suddenly bounded away from the table and bounced towards them. He was all smiles and happy, shining eyes, and yet Buffy unconsciously found herself tensing and drawing back - too much time in Netu coloring even this simple reunion. Xander's response was immediate, and he moved until he was standing behind her, looming over her petite frame as she felt the reassuring press of his chest against her back. And while that was so backwards to her - Xander being all protective while she cowered - she welcomed his presence all the same.
Daniel, obviously noticing her and Xander's reactions, stopped a few paces away, his smile faltering momentarily before he beamed at her. "Buffy!" he exclaimed, his surprise and genuine happiness adding to his obvious enthusiasm.
"Daniel," she greeted, his warmth so contagious that she managed a small smile for the archaeologist. "How's the head?" she asked then, even as she recalled Jack's reassurances of his best friend's very, very hard head.
"What? Oh, fine. Fine," Daniel reassured with a negligent wave. "It wasn't anything that Janet wasn't able to patch up," he explained as his smile suddenly faltered. It was in that moment that her own appearance seemed to register.
Wryly she watched as his brown eyes narrowed in concern as they swept over her form, mentally cataloguing the varied changes from when they had last parted. Emaciated? Check. Gorgeous blonde hair now a mangled ruin and currently being held back by a rubber band? Check. Sunken cheeks, bruised eyes, dirty, torn, and blood and grime-stained clothes that were once burgundy, that once hugged sleek curves and now hung on her waifish frame? Double check. Oh wait - and the narrowing in upon the hastily splinted wrist and the hint of ace wrap peering beneath the tattered vest, not to mention the bruises that were now in the greenish stage of recovery? Yeah, let's make that a check, check, check.
"It looks like you could use a visit to Janet yourself," he stated, the worry in his voice both appreciated and amusing at the same time. Same old Daniel. She barely knew the guy, had barely had the time to get to know him, and yet he had hurt himself trying to help her back on Apophis' ship, and here he was worrying about her instead of grilling her about Jack, as he should have been doing. "What happened?"
"Netu didn't exactly agree with me," Buffy returned, a small grimace pulling at her features as she looked past him to where the others were doing their own silent appraisal. Sam seemed to share in Daniel's concern, and even Teal'c seemed a bit perturbed - which was saying quite a bit for him, if all of Jack's stories were any indication. It was the older guy, the general, however, that really surprised Buffy. He actually looked kind of mad, and Buffy couldn't help but hope that the anger wasn't directed at her.
"Netu?" Sam questioned, causing Daniel to blush in a way that, no matter how different he looked, still screamed Daniel.
"I'm sorry," he stated as he turned back to the others. "General Hammond, this is Buffy and..." he trailed off as he looked helplessly at where Xander continued to loom threateningly behind her.
Well, at least he was trying his best to look threatening, Buffy decided with a small, wry smile as she turned and looked up at her towering scooby-bodyguard. "And this is my friend, Xander," she continued smoothly, patting his arm reassuringly before she turned back to the waiting group.
"My pleasure," General Hammond returned before clearing his throat and pointedly looking from Xander to where their armed soldier was still waiting beside them. "And if you wouldn't mind, perhaps Xander could wait outside with-"
"Oh, don't worry," Buffy interrupted, forcing a bright smile as she linked arms with her friend. "I've already filled him in on the stargate, the goa'uld and... well, everything else," she continued as Hammond's expression darkened and everyone else looked at her in surprise. Well, everyone excluding Teal'c. He just inclined his head as if to say, 'of course you did'... or maybe that meant, 'oh no you didn't'. Oh well, from the sounds of it, Jack had been working closely with Teal'c for two years now, and he still didn't have all of the big guy's looks down. Yet when the looks continued, Buffy shrugged defensively. "What? Fifteen hours in a car is a lot of time to kill, and after spending the last six months with someone who doesn't appreciate long silences anymore than I do-"
"Jack's okay? He's alive?" Daniel interrupted eagerly, and in that moment Buffy realized that while Daniel had most likely been truly concerned about her welfare, his overriding concern always had been, and always would be his best friend.
It was this thought that caused Buffy to forgive their earlier incredulousness at her loose lips as she smiled at the desperately hopeful man. It was easy to remember her friends and family's own excitement, hope, and disbelief at her return - and that was when they were the ones that had brought her back. To have this dropped on Jack's friends, when they had no hope of it ever coming true, as evidenced by Willow's bombshell of Jack having been declared Killed-In-Action a few months back... "He was when I left him," Buffy stated with a small smile that faltered despite the collective sigh of relief. "Then again, he's probably going crazy wondering what happened to me."
"And what did
happen?" Daniel demanded as he led the way over to the conference table. Everyone seemed to take this as their cue as they all settled into their chairs like they did this kind of thing everyday. And who knew? Maybe they did. "Apophis told us that Jack was... well, in hell," Daniel finished awkwardly.
"Oh, he is," she returned, and at the startled looks that were exchanged, Buffy realized that she needed to give them a little more than that. "Another goa'uld, Sokar, kicked Apophis' ass," she explained as everyone save Xander, who had already been given the whole story, stared at her with unwavering attention. "By that point," she continued, "Ass-Hat had taken over and..." she trailed off as another round of looks were exchanged. These looks were a bit more difficult to decipher, and Buffy faltered for a moment. "You do know who Sokar is, right?" she asked, and by the bemused expression that Sam shared with Daniel, Buffy wondered if she had clarified the wrong part of her explanation.
"Yes, we learned about Sokar when Apophis died," Sam explained slowly.
"Oh, Apophis isn't dead," Buffy quickly corrected, and at this point she couldn't accurately describe how she felt at saying those words aloud. Apophis was the puppet master behind all of the torture, degradation, and horrors that she had experienced upon his ship for so very long. Then again, he had been the one to save her from Janus. And wasn't that
reminder just a bucket full of fun?
"I just, uh..." Buffy stammered, forcibly pushing the memories away as she tried to focus on the group. She was conscious of Xander's hand where it had crept around her own, his large fingers encasing hers in a reassuring grip. "I just ran into him about, what? Sixteen hours ago now?" she asked as she turned to Xander for confirmation before a sudden thought had her swearing in goa'uld. This caused more startled looks, but Buffy was beyond caring as she slapped her good hand against her forehead. "I forgot to tell Jack about Apophis before Willow pulled me out!" she exclaimed as she turned hurriedly back to SG-1 and their boss. "Apophis is masquerading as Na'onak, Bynarr's second-in-command," she explained - but apparently that wasn't explanation enough as Sam quickly held up her hand, her head shaking from side to side.
"Wait, pulled you out?" she demanded with growing perplexity. "Pulled you out how
? How did you get back without a stargate?"
To this question, Buffy could only shrug her shoulders in response. "Magic," she answered, almost - almost
smiling at the way the major recoiled at her response. Yeah, she didn't think that the older woman was going to like that answer. "Listen, long story short, one of the symbiotes that they kept sticking me with finally took," Buffy explained, doing her best to sound nonchalant about something that had been so profoundly terrifying. Yet if the horrified expressions of the others were anything to guess at, she must not have been doing too well. "His name was Haremakhet," she continued, forcing her voice to remain even. "Jack called him Harry, mainly just to make him mad, and he was a favorite scientist cum torturer of Apophis. Oh, and he was an Ass-Hat," she added in afterthought.
"Wait, you... you were a host for the goa'uld?" Hammond interrupted, and something in his voice had Buffy quickly hurrying to reassure the man.
"Only for a few days - weeks, tops," she hastened to explain as the silence once more descended with a vengeance. Sighing in the stillness, Buffy realized that even if she had before, since Netu she certainly didn't do well with heavy silences. "Listen, it was kind of inevitable," she said, unable to help the defensive note that crept back into her voice. "Even a slayer can take only so much-""No," Buffy ground out as she felt rough hands ply at her form-fitting vest, pulling it roughly away from her skin as a hot, punishing mouth descended on one breast.There were lips that suckled until there was a new pain, and then teeth that bit deep, broke skin, and drew blood before hands were fumbling with the fastenings of her pants.Gagging, gasping, reeling, Buffy resisted the allure of the darkness as rough skin abraded her softness and thick fingers slid under the waist band and roughly worked their way between her thighs-
The flash had been brutal - bright and all-encompassing. It left her startled, quiet, reflective. Shaken. Suddenly she felt Xander's hand upon her shoulder, and she looked at him and saw that his face was not only creased with concern, but pain, and she followed his pointed gaze to where she was crushing his hand in her own. Silent, she released her grip and slowly turned back to where the others were exchanging looks again - ones that she didn't want to decipher. Suddenly it was so clear that after everything that she had experienced, being taken over by Haremakhet wasn't even the worst.
She cleared her throat softly. Pointedly. "So, long story even shorter," she continued, more subdued, but as if she hadn't just fallen silent for who knew how long, "Ass-Hat convinced Sokar not to kill us and we were sent to Netu. It's a moon that orbits Sokar's home planet, and Sokar has turned it into a prison that rivals Bosch's vision of hell. It sucks there. Badly. And I need your help to go back and rescue Jack."
Once more looks were exchanged, and this time Buffy was content to let them do their little huddle as she leaned back in her comfy leather chair. She was tired; exhausted, even, and yet she knew that there was no time for sleep. No time for rest. Not until they freed Jack.
Finally Daniel broke the silence as he shifted awkwardly in his chair. "Of course it makes sense. The Goa’uld impersonating the Devil would naturally create a place like Netu. Netu is from the book of Am-Taut," he explained, which caused Buffy to frown at what was beginning to sound suspiciously like a Giles-esque lecture. "It is kind of a how-to guide to passage through the ancient Egyptian otherworld regions, and many of those regions are described as dark places with pits of fire home to hellish monsters and the damned-"
"Which all sounds about right," Buffy interrupted with a bored sigh, "but that still brings me back to the more important point of my needing your help to go back and rescue Jack."
This time her answer was more expedient, but it was certainly not the answer that Buffy had been expecting as Sam arched a blonde brow at the small slayer. "How?" she asked, that single word causing Buffy to deflate in her comfy leather chair.
"If I knew how, why do you think I would have wasted the last fifteen hours getting here?" Buffy demanded as she crossed her arms pointedly across her chest. "Don't you have a spaceship or something?" she asked, and this time she needed no explanation for the dismayed looks that her question garnered.O o O o O o O
If Hoftan had noticed anything amiss, the guard wasn't saying. Buffy had been gone now for a long, long time. Not weeks - not yet - but certainly past hours and well into days. For much of that time, Jack had entered into a sort of fugue. It was as though his brain had shut down, for no matter how much his body had complained he hadn't moved. The world should have stopped when the petite slayer, his one link with home, had disappeared out of his very arms - and for him, the world had
At least, the world had stopped until Jack finally put the man away and let the soldier take over. He didn't know what had happened - he had no way of understanding it or making it right - and so the soldier demanded that he push the puzzle away, lock it tight in the box where so many other unfixable things were stored, and move onto the next task. He was on a prison moon that was lethal in so many ways, from the company he kept to the squalid food he ate and the very air he breathed, that survival was more a matter of luck that was already running thin. There was little he could do to change his situation - little to improve upon it - and yet that didn't mean that he was completely without tasks to focus on.
Survival meant finding something worth living for - worth struggling towards. He needed a goal. It needn't be something so grandiose or impossible as escape, for even something simple to divert the mind would help him keep his sanity, and at this point, his sanity was the only thing he could control. His waning health? Out of his hands. But his sanity... yes, his sanity could be his goal, and he could hold onto it if only he could keep busy. As an old CO used to say, idle hands were dangerous. Dangerous to the mission, and dangerous to himself. And so Jack had filled his idle hands with what little food stuffs he and Buffy had left. Continued survival would mean another trip to Netu's toxic surface, one that his body wouldn't thank him for, but that would be tomorrow's problem. For today, there was only an appointment with a nameless Tok'ra that he had already left for too long.
And so he had given all of his food to Hoftan, and Hoftan, in turn, had allowed him access to the Pit. As the name suggested, the Pit was buried deep within Netu - so close to the planet's molten core that the heat was even worse - very nearly to the point of being unbearable. The only entrance was the one that Hoftan guarded, and it was heavily barred - impassable. It was shadowed and yet not dark, for there were many magma vents that bathed the Pit in fiery light - vents that pumped in noxious fumes that caused his throat to burn and his already weakened lungs to struggle for each breath. This place was toxic, a true vision of nightmares, and yet it was here that Jack found the Tok'ra that every odd said he shouldn't have known.
"Jacob?" he breathed, his stumbling gait halting as the pacing figure before him froze and turned slowly so that the red light bathed him in hell fire. His shoulders were hunched, his face covered with both dirt and blood, his balding head glistening with sweat - and yet it was Jacob Carter beyond any doubt. Jacob, former decorated Air Force general and current Tok'ra host to Selmak - the only Tok'ra Jack had ever trusted. Jacob, father to his 2IC. Jacob, his friend. "Jacob, what the hell are you doing here?" he breathed as the man took a hesitant step closer, his dark eyes growing wide with recognition.
"What am I doing here?" Jacob returned as he limped the distance between them, stopping when only a few feet separated them. "Jack - what the hell are you
doing here?" he returned as he slowly reached a hand out, hesitating just inches above Jack's shoulder, as though afraid that touching him would prove that he wasn't there - or maybe worse, that he was. "We received word that you had been captured by Apophis months ago. How in the hell did you end up in Sokar's backyard?" he asked as his hand wavered before falling back to his side.
"Cliff notes?" Jack asked as he reached forward and clasped Jacob's shoulder in his strong grip. The older man looked both surprised and relieved at the touch, his stance slowly softening from his stiff posture of disbelief to one that Jack recognized well. It was a stance that spoke of too much pain and the relief at finally being able to lower your shields enough to allow that pain to shine through. "Sokar kicked Apophis' ass and the Big Guy decided to sentence me and a friend to Netu for the next two hundred years," Jack explained as he reappraised his old friend, not liking what he saw. Jacob looked like he had been worked over pretty well, and yet from experience, Jack knew that it was going to get worse, and never better. Jacob had been put in the Pit, after all, and this was the place for Sokar's most favorite of inmates. The Denizens that were placed here were removed only for their daily, sometimes hourly sessions with Bynarr.
No, things were not going to be getting better for Jacob ever again.
"Sokar defeated Apophis?" Jacob murmured, his eyes growing wide as he slowly eased down into a pained slouch against a nearby wall.
"Yeah - and quite a while ago, too. You didn't get the memo?" Jack asked as he mimicked his friend's position along the back wall. From the looks of things, it seemed that Jacob was currently the only resident staying in these choice accommodations. Jack didn't know if that was good news or bad.
"No, but that's not altogether surprising. I was on a deep-cover mission for the Tok'ra when I was captured, and had been out of contact for quite a few months."
"And yet you still got the memo about me?" Jack asked with a quirked smile - one that almost felt real.
"Sorry to say, Jack, but you've been missing for quite a few months more than that," Jacob explained, a wry smile lifting his own bloody lips.
And yet despite Jack's best efforts, he found his smile faltering beneath Jacob's casual words. He had guessed that he had been gone for quite some time, but guessing and hearing confirmation were two different things. The question of how long, exactly, was on the tip of his tongue, and Jacob smiled sadly at him - as though he knew what he was going to ask. Instead, Jack surprised them both when he instead asked, "So, aside from getting caught, was your mission a success?"
Arching a brow, it looked as though Jacob was going to pursue it before letting the matter drop. "Yes, it was. I was able to learn that Sokar is getting ready to launch an attack against six key system lords, and seeing as how his fleet is ten times larger than we thought, he'll win."
"And that's a bad thing?" Jack hazarded.
"He will control an army big enough to rule the galaxy," Jacob stated, simple words that proved his point far easier than any long-winded explanation Daniel could have come up with.
Jack grunted in return, his brow furrowing as he considered the problem - not that there was anything he could possibly do to help. "When is this all supposed to happen?"
"The attack was due to take place two weeks from the time I was captured. That was the day before yesterday."