[ Chapter 1: Captured | Chapter 2: Surprises | Chapter 3: The City | Chapter 4: Hiding in the Mountains | Chapter 5: The Attack | Chapter 6: Prisoners and Slaves | Chapter 7: Blended | Chapter 8: Thunderstorm | Chapter 9: Another Goa'uld - and a Tok'ra | Chapter 10: Free at Last | Chapter 11: To Earth | Chapter 12: Enemies and Friends | Chapter 13: Selmak | Chapter 14: Mates ]
Next morning. They had just finished their breakfast and were packing what little they had, in order to leave, when suddenly Rosha froze.
"What is it?" O'Neill demanded.
"A symbiote...in the corridor outside..." She whispered, and began putting on the hand device. "It is probably Jaffa...or maybe an ashrak..."
She closed her eyes and bowed her head, transferring control to Jolinar who was more proficient in using the weapon.
"What's an ass-rack...?" O'Neill began, just as the door was unlocked from the outside and opened. Their landlord stood there, with a somewhat dazed expression. He was roughly pushed aside and stumbled to the floor. Another man stepped in and quickly raised a zat'nik'tel, shooting Teal'c and Sam who were closest to the door.
O'Neill shot him with his own weapon, but the energy dissipated harmlessly against a force field. The intruder was about to shoot back, when he was hit by a shock wave from Jolinar's hand device. Because of the force field it did not do him any damage.
Jolinar concentrated and sent out another, more powerful shock wave which lifted him up and threw him against the wall. The kinetic energy was enough to temporarily knock him out and he slid down on the floor beside the landlord, who just looked at him, still confused.
Jolinar immediately ran to the intruders side and in a slow movement reached inside the force field and turned it off.
"Oh, yeah, that's right. It only stops things that move fast..." O'Neill said, remembering their experience with Apophis on the Nox planet.
"Uh...guys?? We're about to have company!" Daniel pointed out the window to a large group of Jaffa approaching. They had probably been alerted by locals who had noticed the noise.
"Damn, Jaffa." O'Neill grumbled.
Jolinar hit the attacker with another hard shock wave just as he was waking up. Behind her, Teal'c had gotten up, and he and O'Neill grabbed a still groggy Sam and helped her to stand.
"The Jaffa are coming - no time to hit that guy again - I'm sure he's done for anyway. Sure looks that way." O'Neill pushed a protesting Jolinar away from the dying man on the floor.
"You do not understand. He is..."
He pushed her out the door and went after her. Sam, Daniel, and Teal'c followed quickly. Behind them, the landlord leaned down over the intruder to check on him...
SG-1 and Jolinar ran down the stairs and out into the kitchen, then through a back door they found there. Behind them, they heard the Jaffa shout orders and begin to search the place.
They hurried through the streets, which were still mostly empty this early in the morning. Surprisingly, they got out of the city unchallenged.
"That went surprisingly well!" Daniel observed, smiling.
"That will soon change. You should have let me deal with the ashrak. He will not give up his chase when he has accepted a mission." Jolinar said.
"The ashrak?" O'Neill wondered.
"It means hunter - an elite Goa'uld assassin. The man who entered our rooms and shot at us is an assassin!" Jolinar explained, irritated.
"Ah. Well I don't think he will be coming after anyone again - unless they stick him in a sarcophagus first." O'Neill grinned.
"Fool! The host may have been dying, but the symbiote was probably mostly unharmed. He will have taken the landlord as host by now, unless another, better option presented itself quickly. The landlord is a strong and relatively young host and will serve the ashrak well - when he tracks us down and kills us. Or delivers us to Cronos, which may be his main mission, as he did not shoot to kill any of you."
"Well then we can use that against him - if he should find us!"
"His mission will be to capture us if reasonably possible, or else to kill us. An ashrak would not have agreed to a foolish mission demanding the survival of his target at any cost."
"We'll worry about that when - and if - we have to." O'Neill said, beginning to get irritated at her.
They walked quietly - but quickly - along the paths of the forest that started just outside the city. They followed smaller tracks, not daring to risk larger roads. All was quiet and as the time neared noon it was becoming very hot - and humid. They had brought water skins bought earlier in the city, but they had not had time to fill them before fleeing.
"Let's take a break." O'Neill wiped the sweat from his forehead. "We're far ahead of any followers. We've not heard a sound for hours - except for those damn insects buzzing!" He slapped at something that had landed on his cheek.
"You'll get no arguments from me." Daniel said, immediately sinking down on the ground and leaning against a tree. He looked exhausted and momentarily closed his eyes.
"We should make it a short break." Rosha said, looking up at the sky. "The Jaffa and the ashrak may be far behind us, but they are many more than us and we should get as far away as possible. Besides, if I am not mistaken, we will soon be hit by a thunderstorm. We need to find cover before it arrives or we shall be soaked."
"I concur." Teal'c said. "It does seem likely this heat and humidity will result in such a weather."
"Well, I must admit I think it sounds great to be soaked, right now." Sam said. "I'm getting thirsty and this place is hot as hell."
Rosha nodded. "We will need water shortly if this heat continues. However, a thunderstorm may be quite dangerous in a place such as this, so it is not something to wish for. Large amounts of rain will likely cause mudslides in the nearby mountains and the floods may well hit us here. We should find a high-lying cave to hide in."
O'Neill studied the sky. An ominous looking cloud was forming. "Agreed, but let's just rest for a little while longer first."
Rosha nodded and sat down.
They rested for almost an hour. Feeling somewhat refreshed, they pressed on. Resting had not eased their thirst, though, and they needed to find a stream or other water source soon.
"Any idea how far away the mountains are?" O'Neill wondered.
"Not with any certainty. From what little I saw before we crashed, I believe maybe a day's walk to the beginnings of them." Rosha said thoughtfully.
"Aach..." O'Neill groaned.
"I apologize...however, there are good news. The mountains lie partly in the direction of the chaapa'ai, and we will be able to walk along them for the rest of the way there."
"How come you've been in control the whole time since we left town?" Sam suddenly wondered.
"Jolinar and I have come to the conclusion you find my presence more appealing than hers. She is not always the most diplomatic..." Rosha sounded apologetic.
"You're right. I'd rather talk with you than the snake." O'Neill said, then quickly added. "Even if she's a good snake - we just need some time to get used to that, that's all."
Rosha nodded. "That is understandable. The only experiences you have had with symbiotes have been with the Goa'uld, so they have all been negative."
They walked on in silence. There was almost no water to be found anywhere. There must have been a drought for quite some time, so the little stream they found was almost dry. However, it was obvious from the look of it, that it would sometimes swell to huge dimensions. They threw another worried look at the increasingly dark sky and hoped now was not the time of the year when the stream would become a roaring river. They drank a little of the muddy water and attempted to get some of it into their water skins before they continued on their journey.
When it was mid-afternoon, they heard distant rumbling. It would not be more than a few hours before the rain would start to fall. They pressed on, as fast as their tired legs would carry them. The heat and humidity was even more oppressive now. However, they got encouragement from the fact that whenever there was an opening in the forest, they could now see the mountains. They estimated the foothills were at most 3-4 hours away at a fast walk.
The first raindrops had started to fall when they reached the edge of the forest. There had been several bolts of lightning over the distant parts of the mountains. The little group were just about to start walking up a rocky path leading up into the lower mountains, when Rosha stopped them and pointed to the sky.
Still partly hidden by the trees, they gazed up to see a death glider zip past, fortunately not able to see them under the greenery.
"They're unusually persistent, aren't they?" O'Neill complained.
"As Jolinar said earlier, Cronos does not take lightly to betrayal. Also, the fact that you are fleeing together with me - and that we are in the company of Apophis's former First Prime - makes us all very interesting." Rosha said.
"Lucky us." He scanned the mountains that were now very near, rising up ahead of them. "I don't see any caves - or other places to hide. It's started to rain and it'll be dark soon."
"Both of which we should be grateful for. It will be harder to see us in the dark, unless they have equipment with which to scan for our heat signatures. The rain will mask or wipe out our tracks."
The death glider was now out of sight and no other appeared. They quickly ran across the plains, which had a sprinkle of shrubbery. There were little cover here, but fortunately no enemies appeared and they soon reached the beginnings of the mountain path.
There were also few bushes and trees here, but the further they walked, the more boulders and rock outcroppings there were. It would be possible to hide under some of these, both from watching eyes, and partly from the now steadily falling rain. The heat from the day still kept the rocks warm to the touch. This was pleasant, as the rain was getting colder. They also hoped the warm rocks would help mask their body heat a little, if the death gliders had the ability to scan for infrared radiation. The falling dusk made them very hard to spot to the naked eye.
Every now and then a death glider would pass above, and they would scramble for cover under one of the frequent rock outcroppings. They were by now very wet and beginning to feel cold. The rocks no longer provided any heat. However, they had at least found a purling stream with clean fresh water to quell their thirst and fill their water skins.
When it had become almost completely dark, Teal'c and Rosha simultaneously spotted a darker area against a mountain side. Upon closer look it proved to be a cave which went some distance into the mountain.
Inside, they found dry wood and grass, which they used to fashion a torch. They lighted it with the hand device and quickly looked over the cave. There did not seem to be any animals in it, and the cave was connected by a narrow passage to an inner cavern, hidden by several turns of the corridor. This meant they would be able to light a fire to keep them warm, without risking anyone seeing the light from outside.
The only food they had with them were the oranges Rosha had bought the day before. Fortunately, she had already packed those into her backpack before the ashrak appeared, so they had something to eat.
Apart from that, the only food they had had that day - except breakfast at the inn - were some berries they had eaten in the forest. Tomorrow they would have to try and find something more to eat. SG-1 were even beginning to miss the MREs, which they normally hated.
Sitting around the fire, their clothing began to dry and they were starting to feel warm again.
Rosha and Jolinar had taken first watch. The others no longer doubted her trustworthiness, at least not in this. It was obvious she wanted to flee their pursuers as much as they did, and that she would have nothing to gain from turning them in.
About two hours later she returned to the now pleasantly warm cave and sat down near the fire, obviously very cold in her still wet clothes. She suppressed a shiver.
"I saw one death glider as it passed by during a lightning bolt, and heard another. That was more than an hour ago. All has been quiet since, except for the weather. The wind has picked up quite a bit and the rain is falling steady. I believe they have called off the search for tonight."
Teal'c nodded. "That is likely. However, I believe it safest if I stand guard regardless. My clothes have now dried and I have completed my kel'no'reem. The rest of you will need sleep if we are to continue our journey tomorrow."
"True. Take the next shift and wake me in a few hours." O'Neill yawned.
Teal'c left to stand guard, with no intention to wake O'Neill. The others began preparing for sleep. They found some dry grass that the wind had blown into the cave. They collected this to use for sleeping on.
Rosha stayed up for a little while longer, staying near the fire and allowing her clothes to dry completely. It was warm and pleasant here and she did not want to move just yet.
Sam sat down on a rock beside her, feeling like talking for a while.
"Rosha...you're saying the Tok'ra only blend...is that what you call it? with willing hosts. Why would anyone want to be a host?"
"There are many reasons why someone might chose to become a host...and yes, blend is the right word. Many join to fight the Goa'uld. There are few other ways to do so, if you are a human slave, or even just any human on most worlds. Some join because they are sick or wounded, and in need of healing, which the symbiote can almost always do. Others again simply chose to help a fellow sentient life form. As I said, there are many reasons. As a host, you gain a much longer life, excellent health, wisdom, knowledge - as well as a good and close friend. Also, you will get increased strength, greater stamina, somewhat heightened senses - all for just sharing your body..."
"OK, so there's a lot of advantages. But there must be some negative things about it as well. I mean, you can't really have any privacy, can you? And it's hardly an equal relationship. The symbiote could just grab control and impersonate you, suppress you, cause you pain - do any of the things a Goa'uld do. Right?"
"The Tok'ra and the Goa'uld are the same species, so yes, of course they are able to do so...but they would never behave like that!"
Rosha sounded very sure, very determined - and also seemed somewhat insulted on behalf of her symbiote.
"As for privacy..." she continued, "...it is possible for each to have a private area of the mind, which the other respects and agrees to leave alone. However, the longer you have been blended, the less important this becomes to you. But I believe I have already said this."
Sam nodded. "I know. Intellectually I can understand what you are saying, but there is still a part of me that has a hard time accepting why anyone would do something like this, despite all the advantages. I realise the privacy question is determined largely by culture. There would be many people on Earth who would probably not mind as much, as someone from my country, for instance. However, that's not the only issue - you'd have to leave your family and friends, your entire life, when you join the Tok'ra, would you not? Why did you do it?"
Rosha thought back to the time, around 100 years ago, when she had first met Jolinar. She had become her host not long after. She began to tell Sam of that day.
Rosha looked at the sky. It was the second time she had heard the strange sound. This time she thought she saw something move there. Odd.
She was on her way back through the forest, having walked all the way to the snow-capped mountain. It was a long journey of nearly a week, and she was finally getting close to her home village. It was a journey she had to do alone, just like all other young women of her people.
She had picked a large bag full of the blue-dye flowers, which grew only on that remote mountain. When she came home, the flowers would be heated, then dried and pulverized. Mixed with bitter-berries and dissolved in water, they would become the brilliant blue dye needed for her wedding dress.
This year she would have 20 turns of the sun and be ready to marry at the harvest celebration. There were two other girls and four boys who had reached their time for this years celebration. This meant one of the girls would have two husbands, as all would have to be matched up according to tradition.
Rosha pondered if it might be her, and how it might be to have two mates. Could she handle that? She giggled a little to herself. The thought was not an unpleasant one.
She was quickly pulled out of her reveries when another strange, roaring sound was heard from the sky, this time followed by an explosion. It was a little like that time when a lightening bolt had destroyed the old barn.
What was going on? The sound came from far ahead, in the direction of her village, but could it really be something happening there? Surely, she would not have been able to hear it all this way? The road ahead of her was still long and she would not be home for another 2 hours. Nonetheless, she hastened her steps, suddenly gripped by a strange fear.
As she hurried on towards her home, she heard several more loud explosions. When she crossed an opening in the forest, she saw clearly two strange things fly across the sky. It was obvious it was not birds. Most of all they resembled the drawings she had been shown as a little girl. Drawings showing the flying ships sent by the evil god when he was displeased - or in need of slaves.
She knew they had delivered the required amount of naquadah ore at the ring of Tipana, so the god should be pleased with them. He rarely punished them - she knew he had not done so since she was less than a year. Then, the harvest had failed, and everyone had been too weak from hunger to work hard enough in the mines.
Perhaps Tipana had come for slaves, then? It was almost 25 years since that had happened - before her birth.
Rosha dearly hoped that was not what was happening, but all she could do was walk quicker. It was frustrating to be so far away, to be unable to know what happened or do anything about it. She dreaded what she would learn when she arrived at the village, but at the same time she needed to know.
She had walked for almost three hours, and she was now close to the village. It had become evening and it was almost dark, save for the frightening yellow glow in the direction of her home.
When she stepped out from the woods, she gasped. Disbelieving, she took a few steps closer. The whole village seemed to be on fire, and she saw large men in strange clothing marching in small groups.
Unsure of what to do, she stood as frozen for several moments, how long she did not know. Suddenly, one of the men pointed towards her and yelled something.
Rosha shook herself and quickly ran back towards the safety of the treeline. However, before she could reach it, one of the weird airborne ships zipped past, only a short distance above her head and something flew from it. There was an explosion only a few feet in front of her. Dirt, grass, bushes - even small trees - were thrown up into the air and out to the sides. Rosha was hit by a shock wave of air and particles and thrown back in the direction of the buildings.
She was dazed and stayed lying on the ground for several minutes. Distantly, she noticed someone running towards her. Perhaps one of the big men? She felt paralyzed with fear and still did not move.
A moment later a woman grabbed hold of her and began pulling her with her.
"Come. You cannot stay here. If the Jaffa capture you they will kill you."
Rosha thought she saw a few of the men...Jaffa? move towards them, some distance away, before she ran together with the woman. They reached the buildings in the outskirts of the village and hurried on, weaving through several of the narrow alleys.
"In here." The woman pulled her into a dark building.
She soon found herself behind boxes and old equipment. If they sat still they could not be seen from the door, or even if someone should come a few steps inside.
"It is one of the few buildings I have found that is still intact. We must hope they do not think to burn it, as there are no other place to hide."
Rosha nodded, still too numb from all that had happened to do anything else.
"I did not think there was still anyone alive. Are you hurt?"
"No. I was only shaken by...whatever that was..." Rosha said.
"A shot from a staff cannon on a death glider. You were fortunate the Jaffa had bad aim." She explained in a low voice. Then she added. "Please do not speak so loudly. The Jaffa are not far away."
"Who are you? How do you know all this?" Rosha studied the woman in the semi-darkness. She seemed to be young, but it was difficult to tell. She had wavy dark hair and was both taller and stronger looking than Rosha. She was also quite beautiful. She did not look as if she was a farmer or a craftsman. "I have never seen you before."
"My name is Lisha - and I am not from this world."
"I am Rosha...do you know why Tipana has come to punish us so severely? He has never before killed an entire village...and he seems to have taken no slaves..." Rosha's voice broke. "Is everyone dead? My family?"
Lisha was quiet for some time before she answered, as if considering what to tell the young woman before her.
"It is not Tipana who has come, but Bastet's Jaffa. Your world became involved when Bastet attacked Tipana, who is a much weaker Goa'uld, only a minor System Lord. When Tipana did not surrender, Bastet decided to bomb some of Tipana's subjects, in order to weaken him further. I am sorry, Rosha, but I have found no one else alive."
Rosha just looked at Lisha, unable to deal with the fact that her family, her entire people were dead. How could it be true what this woman said? "But is Tipana not a god? How can there be more powerful gods in other places?"
Lisha was clearly unsure how to answer. What would Rosha understand? "Tipana is not one of the most powerful - not by a long way. There are many others who are far more powerful."
"But we were told he rules the heavens and the earth..."
"Why did you come here at such an unfortunate time?" Rosha was suddenly suspicious, despite the fact that Lisha had just rescued her. Was this a test of her faith, of some sort?
"I learned of Bastet planning this and had hoped I would be able to warn you. However, Bastet suspected me and I had to flee. I succeeded in transporting down here about an hour ago, from her ship, but it was much too late to save your people. The only reason the Jaffa are still here are because they wish to capture me. They have killed everyone else."
"To capture you - and kill me, now when they have seen I am alive."
"Yes. They have been told to leave no one alive, and Jaffa are most thorough. The other villages on this planet have been destroyed as well."
"Why were you on...on Bastet's ship?" Rosha asked, not really understanding what kind of ship it was Lisha had been talking about. Was it a ship in the air, like the ones that had attacked her village? Surely, it must be bigger?
Lisha was temporarily spared having to answer that when the door opened and a Jaffa peered inside.
"This building is undamaged. Search it and bring me the traitor if you should find her. Kill any others that might be here, and then burn the place to the ground."
Lisha held a finger to her lips and crouched down, preparing to jump any Jaffa that came close enough. Frightened, Rosha looked out at the Jaffa and hid as best she could behind the boxes.
For a few minutes it appeared as if they would not be detected, then one of the Jaffa pointed towards the boxes and equipment in the corner. He and two others approached.
Lisha surveyed the room. There were 5 Jaffa all together in here. 2 of them were at the other end, trying to open the door there. The three others were by now almost close enough to see the two women. Just a few steps more and the first of the Jaffa would look behind the boxes and detect the fugitives.
One of the Jaffa peered curiously around the corner and Lisha immediately grabbed his staff weapon and pulled hard.
Surprised, he let go and Lisha turned it around and used it to trip him with, then lifted it to point at the next Jaffa, simultaneously activating it.
The Jaffa only just had time to cry out before she fired and he fell to the ground, dead. Meanwhile, the first Jaffa was getting up behind her. She hit him hard in the stomach with the back of the staff weapon, then fired it again as the third Jaffa approached.
She was beginning to feel it was going reasonably well, when behind her she heard the sound of a staff weapon opening.
"Drop the weapon and turn around. Now!"
Lisha sighed and did as he said. The Jaffa she had hit in the stomach, grabbed the staff weapon from one of the fallen Jaffa and supported himself with it as he slowly got up, complaining loudly. When he was standing, he hit Lisha hard with the weapon and then snarled into her face.
"Shol'va! Heretic! You have denounced your birthright! You are now as worthless as a human!" Worse! Blasphemous..."
Before he could continue his litany of insults, Lisha suddenly thrust her arms forward and drew knives she had tied to her forearms. She was now armed with two long blades. Before the Jaffa had time to react, she had cut his throat and he sank dying at her feet.
She quickly turned to face the other, surprised Jaffa who was holding a staff weapon pointed at her. Before she could do anything, a blast hit the Jaffa squarely in the chest, killing him.
Lisha and the remaining Jaffa looked with surprise at Rosha, who held a staff weapon, taken from one of the fallen warriors. It was still smoking. She appeared to be almost as scared about what she had just done, as she was of the Jaffa.
"Quickly! Kill the last one before he shoots us!" Lisha urged.
Rosha was just about to do that when two more Jaffa entered the building.
"Surrender at once!" The leader activated his staff weapon and pointed it at them.
Lisha moaned and Rosha immediately let go of her weapon.
"Those knives too..." The Jaffa pointed with his staff weapon, as he walked closer, his companion following.
Lisha freed the blades from the bands that tied them to her arms. When she had done so, she pretended to lay them down on the floor, but instead she suddenly let herself fall. She rolled over, threw both knives, then quickly got to her feet and jumped aside.
The first knife landed in the throat of the closest of the two Jaffa, and he fell to the ground with a hoarse sound. The other knife grazed the cheek of his colleague. He cried out as he fired his weapon.
The blast from it hit Lisha in her left side and she collapsed momentarily, letting out a cry. She fell beside the first of the men she had killed, and almost on top of his zat'nik'tel.
Groaning in pain, she closed her fingers around the weapon, as the two remaining Jaffa approached. The wounded one was fingering the cut on his cheek and swore.
"You will pay for that, shol'va...Tok'ra!" He spat the word. "Get the human slave!" He ordered the other Jaffa, before he walked to Lisha and ungently rolled her over.
However, Lisha was ready, and she fired her zat'nik'tel twice at the Jaffa, who hit the ground, dead.
When he realised what had happened, the other Jaffa let go of Rosha and threw her aside. He quickly jumped aside before the discharge coming from Lisha's weapon could hit him. Bringing his staff weapon up, he activated it and fired, just as he was hit by a staff blast himself. Rosha had landed near one of the weapons and had quickly used it, killing the Jaffa.
The shot from the Jaffa's staff weapon still impacted with Lisha, though not in the chest, as intended. She had had time to partly turn and move to the side, as she jumped. This meant the shot hit her in the lower back. Coming down, she fell hard and stayed unmoving on the floor.
Rosha surveyed the place, seeing no movement from any of the Jaffa. She quickly went to the door and looked outside. No one was there. She considered running, but then she thought she heard a whimper from inside. Was the woman who had helped her - who had saved her life - still alive? Surely, that was impossible?
She pulled the door closed and nervously checked on all the Jaffa, making certain they were indeed dead. She then went to Lisha and checked her pulse. It was there, but very weak.
Rosha decided they needed some cover, should more of the enemies come, and so she pulled the other woman to the place behind the boxes where they had hid before. She hoped the movement would not worsen Lisha's condition, but she doubted it mattered anymore.
She sat down beside the woman, just as she opened her eyes. For a moment, Rosha imagined they glowed, ever so briefly, but she decided it must have been a trick of her eyes. This was obviously no god!
"Ro...sha. You...must take this...weapon..." She still held the zat'nik'tel, and she tried and failed to lift her hand. "Use it...shoot me...three times...with it..."
Rosha stared at her, not hearing the words, but only the tone...the odd distortion in the voice...
"You are a god! How can this be?"
"Rosha! Listen! You must do..." she coughed weakly, "...do as I...asked. Bastet must...not find me...must not...resurrect me..."
"You are a god! You cannot die!"
Lisha smiled weakly. "My host is too badly damaged for me to heal. I am no god. I assure you, I can die."
"There must be something I can do. Somewhere I can take you where they can help you. You saved me, my Lord!"
"It is...too late...for that, and...please...I am not your Lord!" She again coughed, a little blood trickling out, then she closed her eyes for so long a time that Rosha got nervous.
The woman's eyes fluttered open again, and when she spoke this time the voice was that of a normal human.
"I am...still here, but not...for long. I am growing...weaker. We both are. There isn't...much time. Please....there is something you...you can do."
"What? Anything. Just tell me, my Lo..." She stopped herself, since this strange god did not want to be called Lord. She had a hard time believing the god was really dying. Surely she could not die? Perhaps it was a test? If so, she would not fail! Perhaps the god would bring back her family if she, Rosha, passed this test?
"Do not...say that...not before you...know what...what is asked of...you." Lisha was quiet for several minutes, gathering the strength to speak. "It is too late for...for me. All I wish now is for...for my dear Jolinar to live. She can...with your help."
"W...who is Jolinar?"
"The one who spoke...before...with the...flanged voice. She...needs a new host."
For a moment Rosha felt cold with fear. She remembered the legends. That the gods used humans to live in. As their...hosts. It was a great honour, but not one anyone wanted for themselves or their loved ones. As far as anyone knew, the god was so mighty, their essence so powerful, that all traces of the human disappeared, save for the shell now used by the god.
Now she was being told the human was still there as well. And that she obviously considered it an honour to be this god's host. Of course, it was no surprise she wanted to do one last deed for her and let the god have a new shell to use, when she herself was failing the god. Rosha felt she understood the host's motives. Would this be Rosha's fate? What she had to do to pass the test - and perhaps help her people, in this life or their next. It was clearly the only right thing to do. Anything else would be blasphemy. Perhaps it would not be so bad - the human even seemed to be intact of mind. Rosha made a decision.
"I shall be that new host. It would be my honour." She looked unsure. "Now, what must I do?"
"Open...your mouth...and do as if...as if you would kiss me. Hu...hurry. There is no...more time." Her eyes closed.
Rosha quickly did as she was told, without thinking further about the consequences.
She felt something slide over her lips and hit her in the back of her throat. The gagging sensation was immediately followed by a sharp pain. For a moment all went black and she sensed nothing, then it all came back and she could hear a voice in her head, thanking her. The next she felt was herself leaning over the now dead Lisha and gently close her eyes. She heard her voice tell the old host goodbye, but it was not she who gave the order to talk.
This was very strange! She felt herself begin to panic, when her body kept doing things without her orders -and especially when it did not obey her. Her hands - as of their own accord - picked up the strange energy-weapon from before. The zat'nik'tel, she suddenly knew it was called. Jolinar sensed her building panic, and sent calming, warm feelings towards her. Promising she would explain, later, when there was time. That she would be able to control her own body again.
She - no, Jolinar - fired three times at Lisha and the body disappeared. She felt a surge of grief, quickly blocked.
Jolinar got up and ran to the door. She carefully peeked out her head and looked around. No one was there and she hurried outside. She began walking through the empty alleys, quickly, but quietly. From time to time she stopped and listened.
For a long time Rosha was so scared of the Jaffa finding them, that this feeling far outweighed her panic at not being able to control anything.
Then, suddenly, a new thought formed. She began to wonder why the Jaffa had been attacking Jolinar. Why were they still attacking her, if indeed they were? Had it been a test before? Perhaps she, Rosha, had not yet proven herself satisfactorily? Or were the Jaffa failing their test?
However, Rosha believed she sensed real fear from Jolinar... It was all so confusing! Nothing made any sense to her. She tried to lift a hand to the pendant she was carrying around her neck - as she usually would for good luck - and found she could not. That was when it truly hit her that Jolinar was the one controlling her body and not her. She panicked.
Fortunately, Rosha's panic attack had not happened while they were running from Jaffa. Jolinar had by now gotten them out of the labyrinth of narrow alleyways and into the undergrowth and bushes in the part of the forest that lay closest to the western part of the village. She was lying on the ground, observing the Jaffa as they torched the last standing parts of the town.
Rosha suddenly felt as if she was being embraced, and she began to relax as Jolinar released calming chemicals into her bloodstream.
*I am so very sorry, Rosha, but there was no time to explain before. I am very sorry that I had to remain in control for so long, this soon after you became my host, but it was necessary. I needed to get us away from that place before the Jaffa returned.*
*I understand, my Lord. My body is yours to command. I humbly apologize for panicking and pray that you will forgive me.*
Jolinar sighed. This was going to be difficult. She should not have taken this poor woman as her host, but it had been Lisha's last wish, and Rosha had agreed to the blending. Even if she clearly did not understand what it meant.
*Rosha, please understand. I am not a Goa'uld and I do not wish to be addressed as 'Lord'. I hope we will become good friends when you learn to trust me. You will of course be allowed to use your body. I am indebted to you for sharing your body. I am Tok'ra and we do not suppress our hosts.*
*But you are a god! Just like Tipana. You have the voice - and light shines from your eyes.*
*The Tok'ra and the Goa'uld are the same species, yes, but the Goa'uld also are not gods. They merely pretend to be. You will understand better once we are fully blended.*
Rosha ended her story, smiling at Sam.
"We managed to elude the Jaffa and return to the Tok'ra tunnels. I chose to remain a Tok'ra, though Jolinar offered to find another host. Eventually, Jolinar convinced me the Goa'uld are not gods." Rosha half-smiled again, a little embarrassed.
Sam laughed. She was beginning to like Rosha - and even the symbiote Jolinar. She was already convinced Jolinar was not a Goa'uld - and that the Tok'ra really were very different. Perhaps they would even make good allies? They would know a lot about the Goa'uld - and the rest of the galaxy. Perhaps they would share their knowledge of Goa'uld and other technology? It could not hurt to ask! Sam decided.
"Rosha, it seems to me that our people might help each other. That we might become good friends. I don't know how they'll react to it at home - it'll probably take them a while to accept it - but some kind of cooperation would be great. Perhaps even an alliance...do you think it would be possible?"
Rosha got a blank look and was quiet for some time. Sam realised she was walking with the symbiote...with Jolinar, and waited patiently. After some time Rosha closed her eyes and dipped her head. Jolinar looked up moments later.
"I believe an alliance between us would be beneficial to both our people. Indeed, it was the main reason why I decided to save you rather than escape quietly on my own. It is my hope that our two people will one day together bring about the fall of the Goa'uld System Lords!"
She again bowed her head, giving back control to Rosha.
"I share Jolinar's sentiment. However, I am more of a realist - or pessimist, as Jolinar would say. She is perhaps overly optimistic about the likelihood the Tok'ra council will decide to embrace an alliance."
"Why wouldn't they? They don't have any reason to fear us. It's not like us, who might fear you're Goa'uld."
Rosha considered how best to explain it.
"The Tok'ra live a dangerous life - always on the run from the Goa'uld. Allying ourselves with someone means opening up to those. Being less secretive about what we do and where we are, towards someone who are outsiders. The risk would have to be worth it."
"We would never give your people up to the Goa'uld! Surely you don't believe that!"
"No...perhaps not willingly, but even so. Knowledge about our agents and our bases may be taken from you. Forced from you. Through torture - or by a Goa'uld taking you as a host. What can you offer in return that is valuable enough for us to risk this?"
"Technology, intelligence, joint missions, perhaps..." Sam suggested.
"Intelligence about the Goa'uld might be useful, but it is unlikely to be much better than what we already have. As for technology - our operatives can only use Goa'uld technology, in order to appear to be Goa'uld. We are few and we fight by infiltration. Joint missions may be a possibility, though the opportunities would be few and mostly limited to cases where someone pretending to be a Goa'uld minor Lord needs an entourage, including human servants."
Sam nodded. "I do understand, but there must be something we can offer. Jolinar thinks we can be allies. Enough that she wanted to save us!"
"As I said, she is rather optimistic and often tend to convince herself that things she sets her mind to are possible. She also tends to be somewhat impulsive" Rosha winced slightly. "Jolinar thinks I am being a bit unfair...she is correct. I should have added that she is also often right..." Rosha smiled. "In any case...what about hosts? We always need those."
Sam was quiet for some time.
"Hosts. I...don't know if...anyone would want that. I'm sorry...I don't mean to say that it's bad to be a host to a symbiote - to a Tok'ra. Not at all. Just...I think that's a bit too long-term and committed for most people on Earth. Well, at least in my country, and we have little opportunity to recruit from other countries. And how would we even look for them? The Stargate project is secret."
"Yes, it can be...difficult to find hosts. We are well aware of that. Many people fear the Tok'ra are Goa'uld, having no knowledge about any other kind of symbiotes. That, at least, is not a problem on the Tau'ri. Perhaps people who are in need of healing to live? To be cured from a disease, perhaps? Or injured people from your own ranks. About half of the Tok'ra hosts have joined because they were dying from an illness or had been wounded. As I mentioned earlier, most of the other half joined because they wished to fight the Goa'uld more actively and it is really the only option for a human from a world in the Goa'uld domains. Perhaps there are some of your people who would like to join in order to fight the Goa'uld this way? If we have an alliance, they would also be saving the life of an ally. Some also join because of a wish to save the life of a friend, if they have become acquainted with a Tok'ra - and there are even some who do it just to save a symbiote in need."
"And then there are you - who don't fall into any of those categories." Sam smiled, remembering the story Rosha had told.
"No. I am...an oddity. Most of those who are healthy when they join, do not believe the Goa'uld are gods. I did."
Sam nodded thoughtfully. "I think there might actually be some who would agree to become hosts if they were sick. I still don't know how we will find them, or contact them discreetly, but that would ultimately not be my concern. Maybe people in the Airforce, at first, people who can be sworn to secrecy more easily than civilians."
"Let us hope you are correct. I am less convinced that this alliance will happen, than Jolinar, but I hope she is correct."
"I think I'm with Jolinar on this one, actually. Now when I have thought it over I believe it can happen. It's worth suggesting it when we return home."
"Agreed. Now, our clothing has dried. I suggest we get some sleep while the weather is so bad the Jaffa cannot search for us."
"Good idea. I'll go and see if I can convince Teal'c to come in here where it's warm, even if he doesn't need to sleep."
Next day. The rain kept falling steadily, but the thunderstorm and the violent winds had passed. The death gliders flew again, looking for signs of the fugitives.
"Don't they ever tire?" Daniel complained. He stood, partly hidden behind an outcropping of rock, in the mouth of the cave they were hiding in.
"They do appear most persistent." Teal'c agreed.
"Cronos has probably threatened Deimos. He will not stop the search as long as he thinks he has any chance of finding us." Rosha sighed.
"The roads leading down from the mountain look as if they've almost completely turned to mud." Sam remarked, looking outside.
"Yes, and it will be much worse down in the forest and on the plains. However, this very effectively hides any trace there might otherwise have been of us ever passing through there. We shall wait for nightfall - the rain has hopefully ceased before then - and so attempt to leave. If we follow the higher-laying paths, we should be fine." Rosha decided.
"Who gave you command? I'll say when it's time to leave!" O'Neill sounded irritated.
"I apologize, but surely you can see the wisdom in this plan?"
O'Neill grumbled, but had to agree. Reluctantly.
"It'll be too wet down in the forest after this kind of weather, I agree there. We'll have to see if we can find a track up here in the mountains." He turned to Rosha. "You said the mountains where partly following the direction towards the Stargate - how far away do you think it is?"
Rosha looked unsure. "If we are lucky, and there is a path leading directly towards the chaapa'ai...4 days, perhaps. Less if it proves easy to hide along the way and we are thus able to walk during part of the day. Water should be readily available after this much rain, but as a precaution we should drink our fill from the stream we passed just before arriving here, and then fill our water skins. Food may be a problem."
"That's a plan, then." O'Neill's stomach rumbled. "We can go four days without food if we must."
"But it won't be pleasant..." Sam observed.
"There may be some berries to be found along the way - there are several types that grow in mountains such as these. It would appear to be late summer or early fall, so they could be ripe, like the ones we found in the forest below." Rosha said.
"Couldn't we hunt or something?" Daniel suggested.
"Possibly. If we are lucky and surprise a hare or see a bird. We cannot afford to stray far from the track or become absorbed in the hunt. The Jaffa will discover us, then." Teal'c commented.
They resolved to wait, and most of them went back to the fireplace and threw some more wood on the fire. It was still chilly - and clammy after all the rain.
Rosha examined the cave. All of a sudden, she crouched down and disappeared from view, behind what looked to be several large boulders. The others had just noticed she was gone, when she came back, her clothing dusty.
"It was too dark for us to see yesterday, but there is a low opening behind those rocks over in the corner." She pointed. "It is quite narrow at first, but leads out into a larger, underground corridor. I believe it must have been formed by water."
"That's interesting." O'Neill said in a tone that made it obvious he did not think it was.
"Where does it lead?" Daniel asked, more interested.
"I do not know. I did not have a light source and it was very dark. I believe I felt a fresh wind from somewhere, other than whence I came. It might even lead to another way out."
"If that's the case we should examine it." Sam said.
"We're not here to explore." O'Neill sat down again. "Who knows where that corridor leads - it could just as well be to a hole only a rat can get through."
"That is possible." Rosha admitted. "However, we have many hours until sundown. Are you opposed to us spending that time exploring?"
"No, explore away. Just as long as you're back before dark."
Sam and Daniel both decided to go with Rosha, and they helped her fashion torches to bring with them.
Teal'c wanted to stay and keep an eye on what happened outside the cave. O'Neill stretched out beside the fire, leaning against the wall and eating the last of the oranges. His knees ached from the cold and clammy weather and he was not in the best of moods. He had no wish to go exploring in a dark, clammy underground cave system - with a snake!
Several hours later, the explorers returned, slightly covered in mud and dirt, but looking quite happy. They were carrying several fish, which made O'Neill's interest rise. Perhaps the snakehead's idea had not been so bad after all.
"We found that the corridor led to a vast underground system of caves. We also discovered a lake and a water stream, and there is fish in the water." Rosha held up some of their catch.
"Looks great! Let's get them roasted!" O'Neill smiled.
"Don't you wanna know what else we learned?" Daniel wondered.
"I doubt you found anything of equal importance - to my stomach, at least!"
Teal'c joined them as well, and they sat down around the fire and began preparing and roasting the fish, while Daniel, Sam, and Rosha told what they had found.
"Like Rosha said, there's an extensive system of caves, probably dug out by the water. It stretches out under this mountain and several others, as far as we could tell, perhaps even further. We also found that water exists the caves in several places. At least one of the openings we discovered is large enough for us to get through."
"And that's great why? We can just walk out that way." O'Neill pointed towards the mouth of the cave.
"True, but that way is long and part of it goes back across the area the Jaffa are paying most attention to. If we follow the corridor carved out by the waters, it appears we should be able to cross at least much of the mountain range in under two days - especially since we will be hidden during much of that time and can walk during day-time as well as some of the night. That only leaves one or one-and-a-half day through the forest and the plains to the chaapa'ai."
O'Neill weighed the options. It sounded tempting...
"Are you sure we can follow the water all the way? We don't want to strand somewhere and have to go back, because we've got steep mountain all around us and the water trickles down into a tiny hole?"
"That is of course possible, but the road looked passable as long as we could see..." Rosha bowed her head and let Jolinar fore.
"Surely it is worth the risk of having to go back some of the way, to be able to have a chance at crossing the distance faster - and mostly out of sight of the watchful Jaffa? It is even likely to be easier to walk in this terrain, than on the muddy roads." She looked at O'Neill, as if she could not fathom his reluctance.
"Teal'c, what do you think? Will we be safe from the Jaffa if we go through the mountains?"
"Possibly. They will most likely continue to search the areas they were ordered to search. They will not expect us to walk under the mountains."
"Both Jaffa and Goa'uld have difficulty imagining anyone doing something in a way different from how they would usually have done it." Jolinar gave Teal'c a half-smile. "Present company excluded, of course."
Teal'c bowed his head to her.
By now the fish had been cooked and they all hungrily ate in silence.
Some hours later the rain finally began to let up and the group decided to start their journey. It was now close to dusk and it would be dark before they reached the point where their road first took them outside.
They again fashioned torches and one by one slipped through the low opening into the underground corridors. It was a tight fit, but even Teal'c managed to squeeze through.
They walked down the steeply inclining, often slippery corridor until they finally reached the bottom. Here the ground leveled out and the tunnel opened up into a cavern.
The only light came from their torches, but looking around they admired the glistening stalactites hanging from the roof here and there. Many were so large they almost met the matching stalagmites on the floor. It looked surreal and otherworldly - and very beautiful. All of it glistening in a multitude of colours from the minerals dissolved in the water.
They allowed themselves a few minutes to stay and look at the sight, before hurrying on. The cave led to another, larger one, partly filled by an underground lake. A small stream flowed out from it, purling beside the higher ground they were walking on.
"The lake must be connected with a stream or a lake outside - or once have been, at least - since there are fish in it." Daniel mused.
"I'm just happy the tasty little buggers are there." O'Neill declared.
They continued on and eventually arrived at the place where the water had made a hole in the mountain side. There was now a crack large enough for all of them to squeeze through. They had to wade in the water, of course, but since it was only knee-deep along the sides, it was not a problem.
Outside, they had to extinguish their torches, for fear they should be spotted from the air. The Jaffa might not be looking actively on this side of the mountains, but they might still happen to look in their direction and detect the light in the darkness.
Fortunately, the rain had now stopped completely and the sky was clearing. Many stars, as well as two small moons could already be seen, and the light from those were enough to see by. They still had to walk slowly and be careful not slip on the wet rocks, but it was a big improvement.
The stream stayed topside as they followed it for many hours. Over the millennia, the water had dug a deep cleft in the rocks. SG-1 and Jolinar now walked between tall, sleek mountain sides, often towering high above them. Due mainly to the recent rain, there was no dry ground to walk on beside the brook, but the water was no deep along the sides, so they managed.
The worst problem was that the bottom of the stream was slippery, and several times one of them came close to slipping and falling on the sharp rocks. They slowed down further and made certain their footing was sure before stepping forward.
It turned out they were fortunate, and the water actually continued to flow mostly in the direction of the Stargate. Jolinar could sense the naquadah in it, so it was easy to keep a correct heading.
It was shortly after midnight when they came to a point where the stream disappeared back into the mountain and continued underground. The crack was smaller than the one they had exited the other mountain through, but SG-1 and Jolinar just managed to squeeze inside. Fortunately, the tunnel widened out immediately, and they found themselves in an underground cave system much like the one they had been in before. The trek through this mountain was uneventful, and they exited through a large opening, with space to spare on both sides of the the now fairly wide stream.
They followed the waterway for another several hours, until it was close to dawn. The sky was already turning crimson, when the water again disappeared into the ground. This time, however, the opening was far too small - at least the part that could be seen above water - to continue following.
The stream had become a small river, and they debated for a while if they should try diving, since the hole had to be bigger than what could be seen, for all that water to disappear this fast. They quickly dismissed the idea as too dangerous - even if they found a way inside, they might find themselves in a completely water-filled cave.
Unfortunately, the mountain-sides to both their left and right were very high and smooth. All the softer parts had long since been worn down by the water. They found themselves in a canyon, more than 150 feet deep. There only seemed to be two ways out. Either they went back until they hopefully found a place they could climb more easily, or else they attempted to scale the not-quite vertical rock-face in front of them.
"It's still a bit too dark to see clearly, but I believe it becomes less steep about half-way up." Jolinar observed.
"I agree. Of course, that's still...oh, what do I know...70-80 feet up." O'Neill said, sarcastically. "I told you this was a bad idea!"
"Before we head back we should at least give it a try. I think we can climb this!" Sam said, pointing out numerous small ledges and outcroppings that might serve to step on or cling to.
"OK. We try, but if I fall and break a leg you're going to carry me back!"
They collected all the belts and scarves they had, and used them to tie each other together. They then began climbing and soon found it was not quite as difficult as they had feared. There were many places where they could step onto a ledge, or at least hang on to one, but it was still a hard and dangerous climb. It took them more than an hour before they reached a part of the mountain flat enough for them to sit down and rest for a while.
After the break, they continued climbing. The mountain was no longer as steep and they soon reached a point where they could walk. There was no path, but it was easy going compared to what they had just been through.
It was near midday when they reached the top of the valley and could again begin to walk in the direction of the Stargate. Fortunately, no death gliders had flown past during the time when they had been easily visible from the sky - the last two hours there had been almost no places to hide.
They found a small stream, drank their fill and refilled their water skins, before walking on, following the ridge.
As the sun passed its peak, they heard the unmistakable sound of a death glider again. There were many crevices and even small caves to hide in here, so they quickly ducked into one as the patrol passed overhead. When it had disappeared into the horizont, they again set out on their journey.
The area was covered with grass, bushes and small trees. SG-1 and Jolinar were starting to get very hungry, so it was a nice surprise that many of the bushes had berries that looked ripe.
Not recognizing the type of berries, they were at first worried they might be poisonous.
"That will not be a problem." Rosha said. "Jolinar can filter out the toxin, if they should contain any, and she will be able to tell if they are safe to eat. We will taste them and see if they are good for you."
She picked one of the large, orange-red berries and slowly ate it, looking distant. After a few moments she looked back at the others.
"It is quite good, if a bit tart. There are no toxins present, so you can eat it without suffering any harm. It is even nutritious."
"Thanks - first time I've had a taster check out my food for me!" O'Neill grinned and picked a few of the fruits and popped them into his mouth. He had to admit he was actually beginning to like the Tok'ra woman. Looked good, too.
They ate as many of the berries as they could reach from the bushes along the path. There were enough that they felt, if not full, then at least no longer hungry.
The terrain was getting more difficult to traverse, as they followed the mountain side. It had now begun to slope down towards the forest below. They had made good way and expected to reach the outskirts of the forest before midnight. However, they had walked or climbed with only small breaks since last evening, and they had not slept since the night before. They were getting exhausted.
From time to time they heard the sound of a death glider and hid among the now dense vegetation.
When they had walked for another few hours, and the sun was setting, they found a cave that looked as if it would do nicely for a short break. It was not as deep as the one they had spent the first night in the mountains in, so they would not be able to light a fire, though. At least it was dry. Since everyone was in need of rest, they decided to stay until a few hours before daybreak. That should give them enough time to reach the dense forest below before it was light enough for any airborne patrols to see them.
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