Godless Provenance: Chapter 15
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings. Due credit given to SG1 episode 3.12 (Jolinar's Memories) for a few great lines.O o O o O o O
Six months. It had already been six months during which Colonel Jonathan "Jack" O'Neill, his second-in-command - his friend, had been missing and presumed dead. All of his belongings had been boxed up, his house had been placed on the market, and his ex-wife had helped bury an empty casket beside the plot that her son occupied. He had encouraged his personnel to grieve for their fallen officer, to accept their bitter loss, and then he had helped them to push past that grief by showing them that life went on. Their enemies had not vanished with Jack's death, and instead, it seemed that they only doubled, tripled, and grew more complex with each new mission. He had led by example, and yet in the course of the two hours in which Buffy Summers had been on base, General George Hammond watched as all of their hard work became undone, their progress evaporated, and suddenly he felt as though he was once more looking at a base that had just learned that one of their own was missing - and somehow he just didn't care as much as he probably should have cared.
The base grapevine was effective, if nothing else.
Even now, sequestered as she was in the base's infirmary, Buffy Summers' presence was deeply felt by everyone at Stargate Command. He could feel it in the curious glances and hopeful salutes he had noticed on his way up to the twenty-first sub-level. He could sense it in the suspiciously heavy traffic that meandered past the closed doorway. He could hear it in every single whispered breath that stopped whenever he drew near. The cat was out of the bag and if everyone didn't already know that this young woman had been with their missing colonel within the last day or two, everyone was bound to know soon enough.
The young woman in question seemed oblivious to his assessing gaze as she sat on a gurney against the back wall of the infirmary, her tall friend lounging against the wall beside her. According to one of the orderlies, the young man had only left her side when the need for a shower and the more intrusive types of exams were called for - and even then he had stood as a grim-faced sentry either outside the bathroom door or closed curtain. If Summers minded her friend's diligent guard, she hadn't said, and instead endured all of their exams with little comment or evident emotion. Even now a fresh-faced nurse was busy putting the finishing touches on a bleached white cast that encased Summers' wrist from her fingers to her elbow.
She was a small girl - petite in stature - and the thin hospital gown that she wore somehow made her seem even smaller. She was all pointed knees and elbows, hard angles with not an ounce of fat to soften her curves, and her legs and arms were nothing more than sinewy muscle. She looked emaciated, in desperate need of a good, home-cooked meal, but at least the grime had been scrubbed from her skin until it shone pink, and her long hair now lay wet and glistening down her back. Her dark eyes were large in her hallowed face as she glanced briefly in his direction, dark lines smudging the skin beneath, and all at once Hammond was struck with just how young she looked. The intel that he had gathered said that she was twenty years old - nearly twenty-one. She looked fifteen, if that.
"Well, she's definitely malnourished and severely underweight," Dr. Janet Fraiser sighed, drawing his attention back to the small redhead that cradled a clipboard against her chest, her stethoscope caught in between. "We found evidence of three cracked ribs, one broken, but those are mostly healed. There was nothing that we could do but tape them so that they can finish healing. Her wrist had also been broken at one point, and badly set, so we had to re-break the bone before we could properly set it and put it into a cast," she explained as she nodded back to where her nurse released the young woman's hand, her instructions too far away to be heard. "The thing is," Janet continued, her hesitation causing Hammond to meet her eyes, noting the darkness that lined her tired gaze, "Buffy mentioned that the ribs and wrist were only injured in an assault that took place approximately eighteen hours ago, and yet the injuries look weeks old."
"BuffySummers stated that she heals uncommonly fast," Teal'c stated, his voice solemn as Hammond turned long enough to notice that the doctor's prognosis had caused SG-1 to look even more down-trodden, if such a thing were possible. He imagined that they were already transferring her poor state of health to their missing colonel - a thought that caused his own anger to jump up a notch. It was a state of anger that had slowly grown since the moment that he had first laid eyes upon the young woman. She was a civilian, an innocent in this galactic game of chess, and yet she had somehow been drawn into the war that they were secretly fighting, and she had been badly hurt, used, and abused in the process. He was unable to look at the girl and not think about his two little granddaughters sitting comfortably at home, blissfully unaware of the greater dangers that thrived in their world.
Frowning, Janet shrugged her shoulders, obviously uncomfortable with Teal'c's assessment, before reluctantly tipping her head in acknowledgement. "I have to admit that I have no other explanation for it. The injuries don't support your theory, Teal'c, and yet the other evidence indicates that you might be right," she sighed, her gaze skipping back to her small patient. This time, it was all too easy for Hammond to recognize the troubled set to the good doctor's shoulders.
"Was there something else?" he prodded, causing her to hesitate a moment longer before she returned his gaze.
"I think that there was more to the assault than just the injuries that were found," the doctor admitted, her brown eyes showing her reluctance as she once more glanced at the patient in question before pulling her clipboard closer to her chest. A thick silence followed her words, and Hammond could see Daniel actually bite his lip in order to prevent himself from interrupting. "Not only is she very uncomfortable with physical contact, but she noticeably tenses in the presence of my male orderlies - and I wouldn't be surprised if she scrubbed off more than just a few layers of skin when she showered," Janet finished, her expression growing more troubled with every word.
"You think that she was sexually assaulted," Sam guessed, her features pinched with both anger and sadness.
With a deep sigh, Janet slowly nodded her head. "There's no physical evidence to corroborate this theory, but her emotional state certainly hints at such a recent trauma," she agreed, and as one they all turned to see the patient in question now watching them with a haunted expression.
Her friend was deep in conversation with the nurse that had put the finishing touches on her cast, and she spared him the smallest of glances before she slid off the edge of the gurney and crossed the large infirmary to stand before them. Her bare feet were silent on the hard floor, and while the general knew from personal experience how cold the cement had to be, her expression didn't falter from the solemn set that added more than a few years to her young appearance.
"It doesn't matter what happened to me on Netu," she stated as she cradled her new cast against the starched material of her hospital gown. Her eyes, a bright hazel under the glare of the fluorescent lights, were hard and determined, and she met each of their gazes in turn before she settled on his own hard features. "All that matters is that we get back there and get Jack."
"You were able to hear-" Janet began, her features slack with shock.
"Slayers have good hearing. Really, really good hearing," she explained as her friend finished his conversation and hurried over just in time to continue his hovering presence. "Listen," she continued, as though oblivious to her friend's concern, "Netu isn't a place for normal humans. Jack was somewhat protected because everyone knew that he was under Ass-Hat's protection - my
protection - but if they find out I'm gone..." she finished weakly, her determined facade faltering for the briefest of moments to show a desperation that simmered beneath her cool exterior.
Hammond felt his earlier anger flare as he was once more reminded of the wrongness of the entire situation. It didn't matter that this woman claimed to be a mystical warrior that was predestined to fight the kind of evil that his troops faced on a daily basis. It didn't matter that his premier team somehow managed to believe most of the nonsense that she had fed them. It didn't even matter that the woman claimed to be part of the reason for the disturbance that had caused his number one team to go missing in the first place. All that mattered was that this woman, this barely-out-of-her-teens civilian
had been put through a horror that no US citizen - that no person
deserved to endure. However, the absolute worst part was that he was still looking for a target for the anger that he was barely able to control.
"We've put out word with our allies about Colonel O'Neill's.. situation," he stated, stumbling over a word that was so inadequate to describe the trouble his 2IC had managed to land himself in this time. "Unfortunately, we're still waiting to hear back from them. In the meantime, we would like for you to remain here at the base," he continued, his anger finally quieting to be replaced with distaste for what he was requesting. "I understand that you have been through a lot, but we may need to talk to you again before a rescue mission is approved. You have valuable intel about Colonel O'Neill's location, and until that time we'll have some quarters set up for you and your friend-" he broke off, his features creasing in concern as he finally noted her bland expression. "Is there something the matter?" he asked, his eyes skipping from her pale features to where her friend was rolling his eyes.
With an indelicate snort, Buffy Summers regained his attention in a manner that no one had achieved in the many years since he had received his first stars. Somehow, in the brief moment that he had looked away, she had erased any hint of the battered victim that he had been imagining, only to replace it with a look of vaulted, youthful indifference. "Only if you really think that I would just come all the way here, give you guys the news, and then head back to California," she stated, her words a lazy drawl that were betrayed only by the tense set to her shoulders.
"I understand that you are worried about Colonel O'Neill," Hammond countered, the deep lines on his forehead creasing in a frown as Buffy shook her head in time with his words, "but I assure you-"
"Maybe I didn't make something clear," she interrupted, her smile hardening into a frown that matched his own, and in that moment, the illusion of youth vanished beneath the hardened exterior of a veteran soldier. "Whatever rescue mission you guys come up with? I'm going with you."
Shifting in surprise, more at what he saw than what he heard, Hammond nonetheless curtly shook his head. "I'm sorry, Miss Summers, but that's just not possible. Not only are you a private citizen dealing with a highly classified government project-"
"I think that you'll find that I already have some kind of security clearance," Buffy interrupted with a tight-lipped smile. "I was given that clearance when I worked with another of the government's highly classified projects, the Initiative - and that was before I helped to take them down and then clean up the mess that they left behind. Trust me when I say that the government owes me - big," she finished, her head tilted to the side in some kind of a challenge that had Hammond struggling to control his temper.
"A story which I plan on verifying," he agreed, his eyes narrowing upon the small blonde. "But even if you were
granted clearance, which, no offense, is highly unlikely, the fact still remains that you are injured. We do not send injured people off-world," he stated, his words ringing with a finality that not even Jack had learned to discount.
This time she let him finish, but it was only to rebuke his words with a harsh laugh that was cut jarringly short as she lifted her cast and waved it rudely before his face. "Are you worried about this?" she asked as she took a small step towards him.
Instantly her friend was by one side, Teal'c on the other, both of them gripping her shoulders as they tried to pull her back, muscles visibly straining in a way that belied logic as she shrugged off both of their grips and continued forward until she was standing well within his personal space. She now had one fist planted on either hip, seemingly unbothered by her new cast, as she tilted her head back and glared up at him. "Or are you worried about me being some little girl that should be out playing College Co-Ed instead of fighting the kind of battles that I've been fighting since I was fifteen?" she demanded, the rest of the world falling away as he looked down into her irate glare. "General Hammond, maybe the others haven't truly filled you in on what it means to be the slayer. Allow me," she stated, her eyes flashing with her anger. "I am faster than your fastest runner. I am stronger than your strongest soldier. I am a better fighter than your best fighter, and I have an instinctive ability with whatever weapon you put in my hands. Oh - and this?" she asked as she once more lifted her cast. "Yeah, I heal faster than anyone you have ever seen. My ribs will be as good as new in a few hours, and my wrist not long after," she continued in such a way that she wasn't boasting, but merely repeating facts.
"Miss Summers-" he began, an idle protest that was stopped with a single frown that deepened invisible lines on a face that was so young.
"I know Netu," she interrupted, her voice quiet with intensity. "I have lived there, fought there, and survived
there for months. I know which tunnels to take and which to avoid; I know which denizens will be a problem and those who will stab you in the back if you give them a chance; and most importantly, I know where to find Jack," she stated as she once more crossed her arms across her chest, her stance relaxing imperceptibly as she cast him a small, lethal smile. "So if you even think
of trying to cut me out of this mission of yours, say so now and Xander and I will pack up and head back to California - and we'll find our own way back to Netu."
In the silent moments that followed the furious dressing down that he had just received, General George Hammond battled a flurry of emotion. There was the obvious anger and embarrassment and abject humiliation at being addressed in such a manner before his subordinates by a mere wisp of a girl. Not even his own superiors ever dared talk to him in such a manner. Those emotions were justified, normal, and to be expected. What he hadn't
expected was the fact that he was suddenly finding himself very, very impressed with the young woman who was even shorter than Dr. Fraiser. Than again, after having dealt with the tom cat that was his Chief Medical Officer for the past two years, he supposed that he should have known better. If anything, it seemed that most of the women that he knew just got more irate, bossy, and forthright the smaller they came.
Oh, he still was having a hard time believing all of her incredible claims, but at the same time, he couldn't help but be impressed with her mettle. With a slow, steady smile Hammond turned from the small spit-fire and nodded towards his CMO. "Dr. Fraiser, why don't you see if you can't find Miss Summers some fatigues that will fit her. Major Carter, ensure that she and Mr. Harris are settled into one of the guest suites," he continued before nodding once more at their guests before turning and stepping into the hallway beyond.
He had some phone calls to make.O o O o O o O
The heat was sweltering, and yet Jack had long grown accustomed to such discomforts as he shifted on the hot stone floor, his knee brushing against Jacob's. Hoftan was glowering at them both, the large, brutish Jaffa shifting from foot to foot at the barred entrance to the pit, and once more Jack found himself wondering what in the hell the overgrown brute had done to piss off Sokar to the point of sentencing him to work as one of Bynarr's guards. It had to have been bad, for being sentenced to work on Netu was hundreds of times worse than even the worst punishment Jack had ever received. Scrubbing turkish toilets didn't even compare to this kind of punishment detail.
"I said that time is up! Na'onak will be returning shortly to bring the Tok'ra to Bynarr," Hoftan grunted, causing Jack to roll his eyes at his impatience. Offering up a lazy wave to placate the irate guard, he slowly got to his feet, grimacing at the protest in his knees - only to share a rueful smile with Jacob when he caught a similar expression on the older man's features.
"I guess you better get going, then," Jacob stated indifferently as he held his hand out to Jack - as though he really expected them to shake hands like they had just finished meeting over coffee. Yet when Jack didn't take the proffered grip, Jacob upped the scales by attempting a reassuring grin and an awkward pat to his shoulder. "Don't worry about me. Selmak and I can take care of ourselves."
"Yeah, and a hell of a job you guys have done so far," Jack returned with a bland expression, his hand clasping around his friend's as he met the retired general's weary gaze. He and Buffy's food supply hadn't bought him nearly enough time with Sam's father, and while there was more of a spark in the older man's eyes, that spark did little to combat the pained way he held himself. His shoulders were still stooped from weariness and pain, his balding plate still gleamed with sweat, and his bruised features weren't any less prominent. Not that Jack thought that he painted any better of a picture, but at least his cheeks were relatively whisker-free.
"I heard you already!" Jack returned as he rolled his eyes at the impatient guard. Sighing, he turned back and nodded once more to Jacob.
"Just take care of yourself, Jack," the older man returned before pointedly turning away and limping back towards a darkened corner of the pit - as though a turned back could really make walking away any easier.
Sighing, Jack slowly shook his head before resignedly turning away. With slow, even steps he crossed the uneven floor of the darkened pit, pausing only to turn back at the threshold to the tunnel that branched into the caverns above, one foot in freedom and the other still stranded back in Jacob's prison. Hoftan shifted beside him, obviously impatient for him to leave so that the jail could once more be secured. He was a tall man, with an appearance of an age somewhere between Jack and Daniel, but with a symbiote, he probably had more decades under his belt than Jack and Daniel combined. He was at least twice Jack's size, especially now that the colonel was all sinewy muscle with no rounded edges and no fat to spare on his starved, lean form, and yet Hoftan still toppled just as easily as the next man when Jack's elbow collapsed his trachea in a move that the larger man never saw coming.
The sound of his large body hitting the floor was a muted thud that carried just far enough to reach Jacob's corner of darkness. "Jack?" he called out, hurriedly moving from shadow into light as Jack lifted Hoftan's staff weapon, the end parting with a hiss of sparking energy before Jack fired into the fallen guard and ended his life. "Jack, what the hell are you doing?" the tok'ra demanded as he paused uncertainly before the open doorway that made only deceptive promises of freedom.
"I'm getting you out of here," Jack returned with a brittle smile as he pulled the unresisting man into the roughly hewn tunnel, the staff weapon loosely hanging from one hand.
"But you said yourself that there's no escape from Netu," Jacob argued as he nonetheless fell into step beside him, his voice lowered to a fierce whisper as they steadily slipped from one twisting tunnel to the next, ever moving upward. "What's your plan?"
Holding up his closed fist at a deserted crossroad, Jack paused for a moment before motioning for Jacob to follow him down the right-hand passage. "I'm still working on that," he admitted as he turned long enough to throw the older man a familiar, quirked grin. "For now we'll just get you back to my place. It's hidden - no one but me and Buffy knows where it is."
"Yeah, and how long do you expect it to remain hidden now?" Jacob grumbled, one hand trailing along the hot wall for support. "Don't you think that Bynarr is going to tear Netu apart looking for me? He'll find your hiding place eventually, and then all you will have done is bought me a few more hours and sealed your own damn fate!"
At this, Jack threw him a grim smile. "It's not like I had anything better to live for. Not anymore."O o O o O o O
Sighing, Daniel slowly drew another card from the deck as Buffy grinned smugly at him from across the table. "Are you really sure that there's not another card game that we can play?" he asked as he frowned at the three of clubs that in no way matched his assortment of other cards. "Something perhaps a little less... simplistic? Jack has been teaching me poker-"
"Which is all well and good," Buffy returned with a cheeky smile, "but you can't just jump straight to playing with the big boys when you haven't yet mastered the little leagues. By the way, do you have any jacks?"
"You have no one to blame but yourself," Xander added from where he lounged on the large king-size bed that occupied a good portion of the guest suite, lazily flipping through an outdated muscle car magazine he had found in the bed stand. "You're the one who admitted that you'd never learned to play the game."
"Yes, but I didn't intend that as a request to learn," Daniel grumbled as he relinquished his three jacks, causing Buffy's grin to grow as she triumphantly laid down all four of the jacks. "My life-"
"Hasn't truly been lived until you've mastered Go Fish," Buffy interrupted as she waved her two remaining cards. "Daniel, do you happen to have any threes?" she continued, smiling sweetly at him.
His frown deepening, Daniel reluctantly passed over his three of diamonds and his three of clubs. "Can someone cheat at the game of Go Fish?" he asked suspiciously, Xander's amused snort somehow deflating the innocent bat of Buffy's eyelashes.
It had been a few hours since Buffy had been released from the infirmary, and in that time both guests had settled into the large suite that was usually reserved for the most V.I.P. of visiting guests. Not that this fact seemed to impress Buffy very much as she had scanned the thin carpeting, the off-white walls, sparse furnishings and bland landscapes that hung on the walls with an arched brow. Then again, as she had pointed out after his stumbled apology, this kind of military decor was still ten times better than the accommodations that she had become accustomed to over the past six months. Even now she looked a sight better than the bedraggled, seemingly war-torn girl that had entered the mountain just five hours ago. Somehow Janet had managed to scrounge up a pair of SGC issued cargo pants in the flattering camo green, as well as a black long-sleeve cotton shirt and a pair of combat boots that were only just a little bit large for her small, waifish frame. Though still on the malnourished side of petite, she now looked that much more like the young woman that he remembered from their brief meeting so many months ago.
The bright, care-free smile didn't hurt, either.
"How about your fives? Do you have any fives?"
"Hah, go fish," Daniel quickly stated, a brief smile lifting his lips as Buffy made a big show of sighing dramatically before taking a card from the deck - which was of course when Sam finally made her presence known as he turned to find her hovering over his shoulder.
"Are you really playing Go Fish?" she asked, an amused smile pulling at her lips as Daniel flushed beneath her silent appraisal. He noticed that Sam and Buffy now made a matched set in their SGC-approved wardrobe, while he, yet again, had managed to miss the memo that today's color was green, meaning that he was of course dressed in blue. For the longest time Daniel had sworn that Jack had secretly called both Sam and Teal'c each morning to warn them of the day's color, while purposely leaving Daniel in the dark so that he never matched with his teammates. And yet here he was, six months after Jack's disappearance and he still seemed to always be in flux with Sam and Teal'c's color choices. The laws of probability were against him always
getting it wrong, and yet the laws of probability never seemed to work in his favor, anyway.
"Any word yet?" he asked, smoothly skipping past her question as he pointedly laid his cards face down on the table top.
"None of the good kind," Sam returned as she settled into a vacant chair with a frustrated sigh, one hand running through her short blonde hair. "The Tollans of course said that they couldn't be of any help, seeing as how we are still a less advanced society, and the Tok'ra haven't yet responded to any of our messages."
"Hey," Buffy broke in, her expression brightening as she straightened in her chair. "You should let them know that a Tok'ra arrived on Netu just before I left. Maybe they'd be more interested in helping with a rescue mission if they knew one of their own was in trouble," she suggested with a small shrug.
"One of the Tok'ra?" Sam countered, her posture straightening as she gazed intently at Buffy. "You don't know who, do you?" she asked as Daniel gently dropped a hand on his teammate's shoulder.
"I'm sorry, I don't," Buffy returned with a sympathetic frown. "Jack told me that your dad's a Tok'ra now," she added before offering a hesitant smile. "But I wouldn't worry - I'm sure that it wasn't him. I mean, what are the odds, right?"
To this, Daniel could only frown in response. Sam's odds were certainly better than fifty-fifty, and yet even fifty-fifty odds never worked in his favor. "Come on, Sam," he murmured as he abandoned the card game with an apologetic nod to his small, blonde opponent. "We better get this new information to General Hammond."
And hope that Sam's odds worked better than his own.