This fanfiction is not intended to infringe on any copyrighted material or characters of Gekko, MGM, Showtime, Fox, the PTB, or God him/herself. No profit has been or ever will be made from this story. The nonseries characters and plot, however, are mine. Feel free to print and share, but only with the disclaimer, author's name and email address included. Please do not post on other sites without the author's permission.
Rating: PG, language
Summary: Stargate problems send an injured Daniel through a previously unknown Gate in Tibet--along with a few Jaffa.
"Itís not the fall that kills you; itís that sudden stop at the bottom."--various film heroes such as McClane in Die Hard.
When Jackson sprinted for the Gate, he was sure he was nearly treading on Carterís heels, and if he hadnít heard Tealícís ground-shaking stomp behind him, he would have thought he was going to be the last one through. These half-panicked exits in a hail of whatever ammo the weapon du jour used were occurring all too frequently lately. It didnít matter that OíNeill had lectured him on the difficulty of hitting a moving target, Jackson always ran as if the devil himself was about to lay a hand on his shoulder.
Damn, now he was resorting to standard Judeo-Christian metaphors. What happened to all the Egyptian mythology studies? A blast of heat warmed his ankle and dug a furrow at the edge of his vision. He lengthened his stride. Tealícís big hand gave his shoulder a hard shove. What, he was being that slow? The gate loomed, itís watery energy field disturbed by Carterís leap into it. OíNeill crouched to one side, his weapon laying down cover fire. Tealíc turned to take up a position opposite, his lance sending bolts of energy along Jacksonís left.
Then who the hell shoved him? How had he gotten so far behind?
There werenít supposed to be any Goaíuld on PN93854. At least there werenít the last time theyíd been there, and that was only a month or two ago. Hell. He had friends on PN93854; heíd looked forward to talking with them.
He seemed to be slowing down, and OíNeill was shouting at him, mouth open, eyes blazing. All he could hear was the deadly staccato of OíNeillís gun. Always Jackson needing a little TLC. Double hell.
"Go!" Jackson waved his arm. No way did he want them always having to cover for him at their own risk. Both men had moved toward the center of the gateís energy field, standing now, firing in a V-shape around him. Jackson saw a ripple in the energy field. If they waited on him, all three of them would be trapped.
Jackson took the shallow steps two at a time, tripping once, of course. Jackson swore again, in Abydan this time. Tealíc glanced at him, his dark eyes as impassive as ever, sweat shining on his broad face. OíNeill looked as if heíd like to bawl him out but just couldnít take the time. Below his cap, the vertical lines above his nose had deepened into virtual canyons. Never a good sign on OíNeill. Jackson gasped for breath. Three more yards and heíd be on the other side. The energy field blinked.
This time when Jackson pointed and shouted, OíNeill looked. He shouted an order at Tealíc and the big man hesitated for only a second before stepping into the gate.
Two more yards.
OíNeill turned, spraying another short burst of fire, then meeting Jacksonís eyes with a question in his own.
ĎDanny.í OíNeill knew it made him mad. Behind OíNeill the field blinked again.
One more yard. A sure thing now.
Something stung his arm, probably one of OíNeillís wild bullets.
"Go!" Jackson shouted again.
OíNeill turned an dived into the field just before another ripple shook the surface. Two steps later, Jackson followed.
It was a rough ride. Heíd gotten used to the gateís assault on the inner ear and rarely threw up any more. Heíd even learned to twist and maneuver until he was walking out instead of being thrown out. Not this time. He landed hard on his stomach, hard enough to knock the wind out of him, and rolled down the sloped ramp. When he stopped, he was staring at soft, dark earth, not the metal ramp he expected to see. It faded while he and his lungs fought a battle of wills. He won.
The dirt smelled good. Rich, earthy. It reminded him sharply of a mountain dig heíd taken part in during his undergraduate years. The air was crisp, almost cold. Thin, or his lungs just werenít working yet. As soon as he could, he rolled over, wondering if the rest of the team had landed as ignominiously as he had, or, as usual, was he the only one on the ground? Except for Tealíc, they were all probably staring at him with exaggerated patience. At least, OíNeill would be.
He was being stared at, all right, but it wasnít by OíNeill.
She was dressed in dirty jeans, heavy boots, and a long, thick sweatshirt. Her dark hair was pulled back and hidden under a thick, wool cap that looked like it had been woven in the Andes. One hand held a pair of gloves, the other a trowel. Her eyes were wide, her mouth open. Behind her, a number of dark-skinned men in wearing loose, woolen clothing, stared also, their almond-shaped eyes as wide as the womanís.
It was a dig. Jackson saw the stringed-off sections, piles of screened dirt, under an awning near the gray cliff a table on which all he could see from this angle were a couple of Coleman lanterns, and the unmistakable litter of shovels, brushes, dental tools and measuring tapes in the dirt. No where in the scene did he spot the SG-1 team. Where the hell were they? He twisted on his butt for a glimpse behind him. Yup, that was the Stargate. Correction, a stargate. It was jammed against a wall of rock, and the energy-center was clear except for a large boulder. Boulder?
"Youíre in Tibet," the woman said, her face taking on a more natural expression.
He must have asked it aloud.
"Where else? Who are you and howíd you get that, that thing to . . .to do whatever it just did?"
"You speak English."
"The Queenís own." The woman transferred the squared-off trowel to her other hand and moved casually toward the table. She took something from it, but kept it slightly behind her as she approached him. "Who are you?"
"Who are you?"
"No fair. But since you ask, Iím Melissa Reid. Dr. Reid, to you."
"Oh." Jackson worked his way to his feet carefully. He thought he knew what she had picked up at the table. His muscles were stiff and he felt as if someone had been beating on him. His shoulder was actually numb, but the scratch under his torn jacket was starting to hurt.
"Youíre an archaeologist," he said, awkwardly dusting off the seat of his jeans. "Thereís nothing to dig up in Tibet."
Melissa Reid nodded at the gate behind him. "You call that nothing?"
He turned to check out the gate again. He couldnít help himself. Another gate on Earth? Like the one in Antarctica, but in Tibet? No wonder he was freezing. He heard the woman suck in her breath and he pivoted back. The motion made him dizzy. Altitude?
"Did . . . did anyone else just come through here?"
Reid kept her level gaze on his face. "No. Expecting someone else?"
"They came ahead of me."
"I donít think so. Iídíve noticed."
A wave of nausea caught Jackson by surprise and he thought he was going to faint. For a few seconds he couldnít see past the ends of his arms. His ears buzzed. Weirdly delayed reactions, if this was from the Stargate.
Melissa Reidís face was suddenly in his, her brows ridged with alarm. He could have sworn he was standing, but clearly she was above him. Looking down, he saw that he was on his knees.
"Why donít you sit down?" Reid said as if she had just invited him in for tea.
"Yeah, I think I will." He folded his legs and the woman kneeled beside him, fussing with the sleeve of his coat. "Itís really nothing, I hardly feel it," he said. She leaned away and placed the pistol on the ground behind her.
"Letís get this jacket off." She tugged at the lapel.
Turning her head, she shouted something in a high, sing-song language. The men dropped their tools and began to rush around, though for what, Jackson wasnít sure. Then she pulled off the right sleeve of the jacket. It hurt a little, but something twinged on the opposite side.
"Iím in trouble, here, arenít I?"
Reid nodded as she peeled the jacket away. "Letís just get a look before we panic."
Who was panicking? He tried to say that, but something suddenly caught as she eased the coat from his left side. A blaze of pain scored his back. He would have cussed if he could have gotten enough air.
"Bloody hell," he thought he heard her mutter. Her hand closed hard on his right shoulder. "What in the effing hell did you get into?" She went on, but the roaring in his ears blocked the sound, and big, black flowers bloomed before his eyes.
"Just concentrate for a minute. Look at me."
"Yeah." Hell of a place to meet such an attractive colleague. Sheíd spent her time outdoors. Fine lines rayed around her eyes and she had the same set of lines above the nose that OíNeill had. Very dark eyebrows, distinctly winged. Gentian eyes. Very pale and she kept biting her lower lip. She stopped when he noticed.
"Steady on." She moved behind him again and the longer he sat there, the more the fire in his shoulder eased. Might not be as bad as it first felt. He used his right hand to anchor his glasses and clear the hair from his eyes.
Reid was moving around, but not touching him. He heard one of the workmen approach and listened to the rise and fall of her voice as she spoke to him. Time seemed to alter its pace, slowing. He didnít care much since the pain had eased. Then her hands were back.
"The anorak has to come off, but itís going to hurt," she said, still behind, but now more to his left. "Count to three and hold your breath."
Reid pulled and somewhere in the resulting red haze, Jackson felt himself falling. What he landed on, when his senses cleared, was soft and warm. She was speaking, clearly, calmly, but he couldnít figure out the words. Other hands pressed on his right side and when he looked up, he saw Reidís face above his, the fabric of her sweatshirt foiling his vision.
"I want you to lie down. Easy. Just let us do the work. You wonít be flat, Iíve put a couple of supports there to keep your shoulder out of the dirt."
He felt the strength of her hand on the nape of his neck as he slid back. He kept thinking that he had to stay awake, at least till the rest of the team arrived.
Lying down was not comfortable. For one thing, something lumpy pressed against his spine. He was cold and the noise was obnoxious. After a little while, he started to feel a bit more normal. The noise was Reidís voice, but she wasnít talking to him.
Her face turned to him. "Little better?"
"Yes . . . and no."
"But you understand me?"
"So far. In spite of what youíve heard, us Americans do understand British accents. After all, we have Rex Harrison, you know."
A smile ghosted across her lips.
"I say, jolly good."
"Are you mocking me?"
Reid nodded. "I better take these." She lifted his glasses from his face and folded them into her pocket. Her fingers were cool as she smoothed back the hair from his face. "Whatís your name?"
She snorted. "Not bloody likely." Then she frowned at him. "Doctor Daniel Jackson? Hieroglyphs? Egyptology? That Daniel Jackson?"
"Bloody hell! You mean you found this thing before I did? Dammit all!" She looked skyward, her lips thinned. "It figures. It just figures."
"Well, itís not exactly like that . . . ."
Her expression lightened. "No, of course not. Sorry. Oh, thanks, Tan." A thick roll of fabric came toward her. "Look, Dr. Jackson, once I get this blanket down, youíll need to roll on your side. Hey, listen! Stay with me a couple more minutes, then you can faint. Clear?" Her hand slapped him lightly on both cheeks.
"Easy for you to say."
"What? . . . Okay, Iíve got it. Roll right. No no, the other right. Good."
Even though his weight made his arm twinge a bit more, Jackson definitely felt better on his side. He curled up, his world suddenly reduced to the lanolin smell and rough nap of the blanket. He felt a careful tugging and probing in on his shoulder and heard more discussion in Tibetanóor whatever language they used. The men had crowded around him, their presence something he felt more than saw.
Reidís faded denim knees came down on the blanket near his chin.
"Okay, Dr. Jackson, do you hear me?"
"Dan. Okay. Dan, weíre going to have to move you. The sunís going down and itís getting too cold."
Ah, that explained the strange shivering. Some part of Jacksonís mind was very clear on exactly what was happening, but what he didnít understand worried him.
"Maybe you should just faint now. Itíd be better."
Her voiced had shrilled just a notch or two above its comforting mezzosoprano. Jackson opened his eyes and turned enough to see her face.
"You know, youíre starting to scare me," he muttered, but it sounded garbled even to his own ears.
"Well, youíre scaring the hell out me too."
The knees moved and Jackson saw a canvas stretcher lowering in front of him. It looked like something from a World War I movie.
"No, wait, hold still," Reid directed him. She and two men maneuvered the thing under the blanket.
"Where . . . what am I doing?"
"Oh, sorry. On your stomach, but roll back the other way first, just a little." She glanced up and nodded at someone behind him and without waiting, her hands pressed him in the direction she wanted. The world snapped off.
Melissa Reid fell back onto her butt as Jackson went limp and his body rolled toward her, half on the stretcher. Tan and the other two men tugged the corners of the blanket until he was completely on, and she moved his arms and head to what she imagined was a more comfortable position. When she looked up, the men were watching her, their expressions a mixture of horror, distaste, pity, and dislike.
"I know what youíre thinking," she said in their language. "But we have to try. Please, Tan, will you find us somewhere in the village? And bring your mother?"
"Take him to your quarters, Lissa. Nerath, go get a fire started there. Put the bed close. Iíll bring my mother."
Melissa nodded. As the two men sprinted away, her eyes went back to the bloody burn on Jacksonís back. The fabric had been seared to ash and the skin over the shoulder blade blackened. If she looked long enough, she fancied that she could see the white point of a bone. No, probably not. The light was going bad. She covered the wound lightly with the intact section of the manís jacket, then wrapped the rest of the thick blanket around him, tucking it in everywhere except over the ruined shoulder. She could only see half of his face, the straight nose and eyebrow, the corner of his jaw. His hair looked unnaturally dark against his blanched skin. It had a fine texture, a silky shine. Probably not for long. She held a hand up and one of the men hauled her to her feet, then took one end of the stretcher. She watched them head down the trail.
Hell, the Daniel Jackson was probably going to die in her bed.
By the time Melissa arrived from the site, Jackson had been stripped and wrapped in her down sleeping bag on her cot. He never woke as the two women cleaned wound with some concoction from a small iron pot near the fire. Tan had let the crowd of curious villagers hang around outside until the wind picked up and the people who needed to be inside had trouble reaching the door. Then he shooed them off, leaving only his mother and her her elder cousin and the digís other foreman in the small, too-warm room.
Tan set up a second cot for Melissa, with a thick roll of bedding that was mostly unnecessary considering the well-stoked fire. Tan and his mother stayed the night, and when Melissa could finally sleep, she was haunted by bizarre dreams that made no sense.
She was awake when the dove-gray morning light filled the villageís small valley. By the time she made her morning trip to the outhouse, the sunís maize-colored light limned the granite peaks above them, reflecting on the occasional snow fields at the very top. She paused to breathe deeply of the icy air and let her eyes roam the wild mountains. She never tired of the view, but today it offered little solace. All she could think of was a long, warm bath. Melissa was accustomed to wearing the same clothes for several days, but today she felt especially grubby.
Jackson wasnít dead. Burns took a long time to kill, Melissa knew. Infection was the biggest problem, and the pain. Sheíd dated a doctor for two years and his worst cases were the burn victims. Dehydration was a serious problem, and the pain. There was so little they could do for the pain. Burns were impossible to anesthesize.
Suarya was asleep in the second cot when she returned, and Tan was cooking. He brought her a plate of stew and hunkered against the wall beside her with his own. They ate in silence and washed it down with cold water. Then Tan brought her a cup of tea.
Melissa grinned at him. "Whatís up? Youíre being particularly native today."
"Weíve taken over your home. Itís the least we can do."
"Címon, Tan, youíre taking care of an outsider of my race. You hardly need to wait on me, too."
"You said you knew him. Who is he?"
"I know of him. Thereís a difference. Heís the Boy Wonder of Egyptology. Or, he was until he came up with some off-the-wall theory about aliens in ancient Egypt. I was in the audience at a conference when he was literally laughed off the stage for proposing that Egyptians were aliens. That was serveral years ago and he dropped out of sight after that." Melissa sighed. "Itís too bad, because he had real talent for language, especially ancient ones. But aliens?"
Tan sent a speculative look to Jacksonís cot. Melissa followed his eyes and replayed what sheíd just said.
"Aliens. Oh, shit."
Tanís round face turned back to her.
"That might explain why we canít even get a scraping off that thing out there," he said.
"Címon, Tan, even for a Cambridge scholar, isnít that going a bit far?"
He flashed a white grin at her. "Then letís see your Oxford degrees explain him. Mother says she has never seen a wound like that. Neither have I, and Iíve seen Star Wars."
Melissa just shook her head. "Iíve got to have rocks in my head for even thinking what Iím thinking."
"I wish we had some idea what that ring up there was for."
"He knows," she pointed toward Jackson with her chin. "Dammit, he canít die! He knows about the icon." Their eyes met. "I think you have the wrong tense. You shouldíve said, what it is for."
"What do you think is scaring the hell out of me?" After a heavy silence, Tan changed the subject. "Speaking of the site, should we send anyone out there?"
"No, give them the day off, with pay. No oneíd be paying attention to what theyíre doing anyway."
Tan nodded and rose in one smooth move. "Iíll tell them."
Setting aside her plate, Melissa fired up the Coleman and hung it near the foot of Jacksonís cot. She turned back the sleeping bag. Suarya had positioned some pads around the wound so that even tucked in, the fabric stayed off it. Melissa felt for the pulse under the corner of Jacksonís jaw. It beat slowly, but weakly. His skin was chilled and had a bluish tinge. It looked like deep shock to her. Simon had talked a lot about his work and running a dig had taught her some basic nursing. Surely the shock should have worn off by now? Theyíd kept his head and shoulders elevated on a pile of folded blankets. The room was so warm, Melissa was down to shirt sleeves. She touched his forehead under the fringe of hair. Suarya had even wrapped a blanket around all but his face. No fever. Just that unnatural chill.
Suarya woke, shuffled her way to the outhouse, then returned to the stool beside Jacksonís cot. She used a cloth to slowly drip a milky liquid onto the wound, her gnarled hands and thin wrists poised above him for longer than Melissa knew she could done. When Mila, Suaryaís cousin arrived, Melissa moved to a far corner with the old woman to talk.
"What do you think? Will he live?" Melissa used the womanís native tongue.
Suarya shrugged, her dark eyes picking up the Colemanís white light.
"He is not coming out of the first shock. It is unusual. Not good. I am sending for the shaman."
"That bad?" She watched Mila squeezing a steady drip of liquid. "Is the water making him cold?"
"You have often said your bed is warm even if wet, no? That is why we put him in your sleeping sack." Her eyes lit mischievously over their private joke.
"So I noticed." She gave the small woman a one-armed hug. "Maybe the shaman can help. Thank you." She headed for the door.
It certainly wouldnít hurt to let the shaman try, she conceded, but Melissa could see little reason for hope. Tan was just returning along the hard-beaten path to her small house at the village edge. He had to wait while a flock of goats were driven past, he and the young herdsman exchanging good-natured insults. As she relayed the information to him, Tanís expression didnít change. Clearly, the manís poor condition was no surprise.
"What will your people do if he dies in our village?" he asked.
"What can they do? We canít even tell anyone till Liu gets back with the new radio batteries. I donít even know who to tell. The government will have to figure that out."
"The government!" Tan spat. "They might be a bigger problem than your people. They barely allowed you to dig."
"Heís not dead, yet, Tan." She gave him a second look. "Whatís this Ďyour peopleí bit?"
"I may have the accent, Lissa, but Iím not British." He looked uneasy.
"Sorry, Tan. I was just teasing. Bad timing." She moved to a short rock wall and sat, wishing sheíd brought her jacket out. Tan joined her.
"Iíve sent Wulin in your jeep to Nagqu for a doctor. Once they learn he is American, they might even send a helicopter."
"It canít fly up here. Too high."
"It can land in a few kilometers down. Maybe by then we can move him. Thereís no other option, Lissa. Itíll take Wulin at least three days to reach the doctors, and probably a couple of days to get a helicopter arranged."
"I wouldnít be here if I werenít."
The shamanís incense left a heady odor in Melissaís house. Heíd been gone only an hour or so when Jackson stirred and opened his eyes. Suarya grinned so broadly that her broken lower teeth showed. Jackson moved his head so that he was looking into the room instead of the wall, but from the confusion on in his eyes and the lack of response, Melissa knew he was not entirely with it. Suarya fussed over him for a while longer, then Tan hustled her and Mila to their homes for a real rest. Melissa curled on the spare cot under the Coleman to bring the digís books up to date.
Jacksonís raspy voice eventually took her away from the work. He was squinting in the bright lantern light. Melissa turned it off and took a seat on the stool near his head. The firelight turned the room yellow.
"Thirsty," he croaked.
"Yes, I expect so. Tanís made a straw for you. Donít drink too much at first." She held up the cup with its rawhide tube. He sucked greedily until she had to take it away.
"Tastes awful," he said, his expression clearing.
"And thatís why you drank so much. It has some herbs in it."
"Arenít you going to ask me how I feel?"
Melissa dutifully laid a hand on his forehead. "Your temperature is nearly normal. Youíre out of shock. And it hurts like hell."
"No wonder you didnít ask. I almost remember you. Archaeologist."
"Yeah. Is Jack here? Or Sam?"
"No. We havenít seen them. Are you in the army, Dan? Your clothes were military. Are Jack and Sam in your unit?"
"Daniel. No, Iím not, but Jack and Sam are. Where are they?"
Melissa recounted his arrival, and as she mentioned the ring and its strange effects, she saw comprehension dawn in his eyes.
"My God, another Stargate. Thatís right, I remember now." He raised his head and looked at the room. "Can I get up?"
"No. The shaman just did a healing ceremony. You need to lie in it for awhile." Heíd never believe that.
"Really? What kind? Did it work?"
"Youíre awake. Youíve been out for two days."
He kept trying to lift his head to see her, so Melissa scooted the stool aside and sat on dirt floor at his eye level.
"And JackóColonel OíNeill isnít here?"
"No. Why donít you rest now?"
It was a moot suggestion. His eyes had closed and his breathing evened into sleep. Melissa went back to her cot and, finally, to sleep.
She headed back to the dig the next day, leaving Suarya watching Jackson. That evening she relieved Suarya and was handed her dinner.
"Heís eaten," Suarya said on her way out. "Donít keep him up too long talking shop."
Melissa smiled and closed the door. Tan, lantern in hand, escorted his mother home.
"Whatíd she say?" Jackson wanted to know.
"I want to talk shop. What on earth are you digging for?" Jackson had freed his right arm and propped his chin on it. The amber light gleamed on his skin, revealing the stretch of muscle on his upper arm bound with Suaryaís bandage over the flesh wound.
Melissa set aside the plate to pull off her sweater. Sitting cross-legged on the cot, she stirred her stew.
"Tan found the top edge of the icon when he was a kid. Eventually when he was sent to school in England, first prep school, then to Cambridge, he went into archaeology. We met a few years ago and over time he persuaded me to check it out. Itís taken several summers to excavate the whole thing, but even when we had a good look at it, we couldnít identify it. The most archaeologically cogent thing about it is that it was apparently worshipped as some kind of religious shrine for hundreds of years. People left a wealth of artifacts near it; thereís even evidence of very early blood sacrifices. Weíre into the a late Neolithic strata now, but you wouldnít believe what weíve found here."
"Where are the artifacts?"
"With the government, of course. I have no idea what will be done with them. Iím allowed to keep a copy of all my notes and photographs, thank goodness. Weíre trying to reconstruct the occupation of the area, who, when, that sort of thing."
"The Tibetan government?"
"Yes, which is the same thing as handing them over to Beijing. Itís not so important historically, since this area has never been considered a Ďcradle of civilization.í But ever so often, weíve turned up objects we simply canít identify, either by purpose, by tribe, nothing. Most of those things donít bother me much, but some of the objects are . . . well, theyíre . . ." Melissa couldnít say it aloud.
Her head snapped up. "Not if you mean outer-space alien."
"How do you know?"
"Because thatís imposóhighly unlikely. You canít go around calling everything you donít understand Ďalien.í Thatís just daft."
Even in the orange light, Melissa could see Jacksonís face coloring. She halted her apology before it could escape her lips.
"Look," she went on as he struggled to find a more comfortable position, "You canít still be so sensitive about that, can you? I was at the London convention, you know. It was dreadful, but itís years ago now." He had his eyes closed, but she knew he wasnít sleeping. Finally he opened them again.
"Itís not a matter of sensitivity. I was right. I simply canít tell anyone."
"Okaaaay." Melissa wondered if he had a low-grade fever but she was too chicken to check. "Does this mean you know what that icon out there is?"
"Itís not an icon. It may have been worshipped, but it was never meant as a religious object."
"And?" she prompted after he seemed unwilling to go on.
"And I canít tell anyone."
"Fine." She turned her attention to her cooling dinner. Let him play cat-and-mouse with her. In a few moments she heard a new sound and, looking up, found him asleep, snoring gently.
He woke her with a screech somewhere near dawn. Snatching a flashlight, Melissa launched herself into the cold to see what had happened. He was still asleep, his arm waving wildly, scraping the sleeping bag across the burns. She pinned the arm and shook him awake. He blinked in the harsh light and she moved it, her teeth chattering as the cold seeped through her wool socks.
"They were trying to kill Sam. I couldnít get there! I . . . couldnít stand it if they killed Sam. I just couldnít take it."
"Itís a dream, Dr. Jackson. Just a dream."
As soon as he quieted, she piled yak chips on the ashes and blew on the coals till she was lightheaded before one of them sparked. Sam? Was he gay? Oh, hell. True, he had that clean, boyish look, but she never thoughtódammit to hell! She snatched a blanket from her bed and wrapped in it, her teeth rattling in her skull. With the flashlight she inspected the wound and resettled the sleeping bag around his bare shoulder.
When she sat down as close to the new flames as she dared, she found he was still awake.
"Who was trying to kill Sam?" she asked softly.
His gaze was fully awake, appraising. She didnít think he would answer. Sweat had darkened the hair on his forehead. When he lay like that, she could only see one eye.
She had to wait as he moved again, this time folding one of her floppy feather pillows under his cheek.
"First I have to explain about the Stargate."
"You call it an icon. It has no religious purpose. Itís more like a transporter between planets."
Melissa extracted an arm from her blanket and laid her hand on his forehead.
He pushed her wrist away, but caught her hand and held it, curled inside his own. "No fever. Listen to me, all the way through. Itís not a story anybody else will ever hear. And, please, try to listen from your imagination, not from your scientist. First, I have to tell you this is classified information. You wonít tell anyone else." He didnít phrase it as a question.
She reached over and swung the metal arm holding a pot of water over the flames. It looked like it was going to be a long night.
A pale gray light rimmed the door and the shutter of the one small window beside it when Jackson finished. Melissa was stunned. Somewhere in the middle of his story, she had started believing him, and now her hand clutched his, slick with sweat. It was funny how heíd managed to tell her what heíd been doing for the last two years without expanding on his personal life, or that of his team, except for Tealíc, the Jaffa who joined them. Tealíc fascinated him, and apparently the feeling was mutual. Melissa had a clear mental image of the big man. She sat with her back against the cot near Danielís head, her hand still locked in his, the cold dregs of her tea in a cup on the dirt floor, her butt numbed. In some ways, Danielís story had brought them together. In some ways, it had taken them miles apart.
He was exhausted. Melissa twisted so she could see his face, and slipped her hand from his weak grip. She hadnít realized the telling had taxed him so thoroughly. She brushed his hair back, wondering if he was truly feverish now. He was back to his one-eyed profile position.
"Are you feeling hot?"
"No . . .very tired."
"Youíd better sleep now."
"Do you believe me?"
"That depends. Youíre not a script writer for X Files masquerading as Daniel Jackson, are you?"
"Never mind. Yes, the really frightening thing is that I do believe you. Thereís only one problem."
"I have to tell Tan."
"Heís the only one who might have some idea about how to circumvent the government enough to contact Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado." And get you a doctor, she added silently. "Iíll go when Suarya gets here."
"Maybe you could go get him now?"
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. You see, I . . ."
"I really need to go to the bathroom."
"Uh, youíre right, Iíll go get him. Now. Just hold on." Melissa pulled on her jeans and sweatshirt, then bent to get into her boots. "Itíll take a few minutes, heís up the road a bit. Iíll hurry. Uh, thatís my sleeping bag, you know." She rushed into the cold dawn.
"Do you think itís true?" Tanís inscrutable Oriental features were even more inscrutable than usual. Melissa pointed that out to him.
"You only get that look when youíre trying to be kind to me."
"Lissa, heís ill. How do we know he wasnít simply relating his dream?"
"Then how do you explain that?" Melissa pointed at the Stargate in its stone berth. The sun was just touching its upper edge. "Thereís not a scratch on it, even after we blasted around it."
"Then whereís the doo-hickey that he said youíre supposed to touch to get it working?"
"ĎDoo-hickey?í Where did you learn that word?"
"Alabama. Hey, we arenít talking professionally here."
"Arenít we? Weíre either looking at the most stupendous find in the history of archaeology, or . . . or . . . ."
Tanís almond-shaped eyes opened wide under his black bangs. "Or in the history of science fiction."
"Just say you donít believe it and get it over with. But look at the facts." Melissa shoved him up the unevenly sloped dirt, dragged him through the ring and pointed him at the knee-high boulder under it. In perfect line with the inner edge of the ring, the back side of the rock was sheared off as straight as if it was butter cut with a hot knife. "Do you know of anything in this area that can do that? We already know those heiroglyphs occur in no other language, ancient or modern. And that wound on Daniel. If it was one of the lance weapons, maybe a laser-type weapon, thatís the kind of wound Iíd expect to see. He didnít even know where he was. And where could he have come from?"
Tanís face lost its faux detachment. "He really thinks we could be in danger? Itís been uncovered for over a year, and nothing has ever come outóthroughófrom. Whatever!"
"I told him that. He thinks those aliens have forgotten its existence and he just ended up here by accident when the energy-whatever rippled. He said it happened once before, but the gate was in the Antarctic. He said the military blasted the cave it was in so it couldnít be used. And, and he also said he knew that Earth is a Goíad, a Goíuh, an alien target. Heíd seen it happen on aóI better not tell you this part of it. You will think X Files."
"So what now?"
"He needs a doctor."
Tan smiled. "So you are really worried about him?"
Melissa punched Tanís arm. He started to laugh, then he caught sight of her face. "Really, I was teasing. I promise."
"Wulin should reach Nagqu today." Melissa said.
"If he had no trouble," Tan agreed.
"Just a few days ago I was an optimist," Tan grumbled.
Suarya met them at the door with a face like a mask. Melissa and Tan exchanged looks and dashed inside. Mila was there, too. The door and window were wide open. The fire was small, the room chilly.
Daniel Jacksonís face dripped sweat; his hair was stringy with dampness. Melissa knelt by the head of the cot. His breathing was harsh, labored, his eyes tightly closed.
Melissa looked up at the people around her. "Infection?"
"Shit. Damn and bloody hell." Even though she spoke in English, the two older women clearly understood her. She switched languages. "What can we do?"
"No poultices or hot compresses. Not on a burn," Mila cautioned in her high, wavery voice. "Keep him as cool as we can, but not so as to make him shiver."
"Tan, the asprin in the medical supplies. Thatíll help."
"How will you get them down him?"
Melissa dropped her face in her hands. Then she stood. "I donít know. If he was on his back . . . . Even then . . . . Tan, Wulin wonít know about contacting Colorado."
They faced each other, Melissa standing several inches above Tan. The Tibetanís face expression was resigned.
"Youíre about to suggest I take Liangís truck and go to Nagqu and put in a call to Lhasa. The American Embassy, perhaps? Or shall I call straight through to Colorado?"
Melissa searched his face for signs of sarcasm. She found none. Crossing to the large backpack she kept in a corner, she pulled something from one of the pockets. Then she handed the small objects to Tan.
"Use those for whatever you need. Especially the green one. Just get someone up here."
Tan looked up, surprise altering the curves of his round face. "You carry American Express? But youíre British!" He pulled on his heavy leather coat. "Iíll get someone." He paused at the door to hug his mother, and looked once again at the card. "Hell, if Iídíve known a Brit could get American Express, Iídíve asked for one."
"But you said you arenít British," Melissa said to the door.
It wasnít long before the chug-pop of Liangís old truck passed her house on its way out of town. Melissa, who didnít believe in religion, reverted to her Anglican upbringing and prayed that the lights and the brakes were in good working order.
Melissa sent the men to the site under the watchful eye of the second foreman, Nerath. She took her turn sitting next to Danielís bed, bathing his back and face. Suarya had unzipped the sleeping bag and, except for the burn, covered him with a lighter blanket. She turned it back periodically and laid wet cloths along the backs of his thighs and knees. When they warmed, she dipped them in water and hung them back outside until they were nearly frozen.
Days 7 and 8
Daniel was quiet most of the time, but occasionally he would mutter and try to get up, or move around restlessly, nearly tipping the cot, until he disturbed the wound, which usually put him under again. His skin burned a disquieting red, even under the blanching effects of the Coleman.
When she discovered that the sound of her voice calmed him, Melissa read to him. It felt odd at first, as she worked her way through her favorite mysteries. Then she gathered her dig notes and read them, sometimes stopping to "discuss" a point that bothered her, playing out Danielís likely responses and questions based on his expertise.
She was startled when he seemed to answer her once, giving an audible discourse on the origin of vowels in early Chinese dialects that she thought was brilliant until she realized that the earlier Tibetan language had no connection to the later dialects that he mentioned. Still it had been, as the Americans like to say, in the ballpark. She had been questioning the hieroglyphs on a Tibetan artifact.
She tried to take on the bulk of the work to spare Suarya and Mila. When she wasnít at the bedside, she washed dishes, and carried water from the central well. Soon, however, she found various villagers stopping at the house with food, fresh water, yak chips for the fire. A few of the women stopped in to cook or to wash. A little at a time, the entire village was becoming invested in Danielís welfare. And hers.
With soft hands and insistent voices, they made her leave, made her sleep, made her eat. She was at least allowed to decide when she needed to visit the outhouse. Nerath reported each evening.
Daniel was not improving.
Danielís delirium stopped. He lay still, his breathing so shallow that Melissa resorted to holding a cold spoon in front of his nose. Suarya and Mila called in the shaman for another ceremony, this one so secret that Melissa was shooed to a neighborís home where she fell asleep in a pile of blankets before the fireplace.
Afterwards, she at first thought the fever had broken, but when she touched his back, his smooth skin still felt hot. She was losing the battle. Daniel was losing.
What the hell did it matter, she yelled at herself as she paced the trail to the dig. She turned back every two hundred yards or so, and paced the same stretch again. The afternoon was warm and sunny, the sun high enough to catch the tiny blue flowers in a small patch at the trailís border. A distant hawk screech echoed from the rocks and a herd of goats bleated in a nearby field. The land around her was series of ups and downs, surfaced with ragged granite, treeless and wild. Against the skyline above her, a series of piled rocks formed into fairly straight sided altars were the only sign of human habitation. A prayer flag fluttered from one, a slash of saffron and cinnabar against the Kodachrome blue of the sky.
What did it matter that Daniel Jackson was dying? She barely knew him. She wasnít sure she could even believe what heíd told her. Was it the innocent, vulnerable look of his face, or merely that he was of her own race, and, better yet, her own profession? A profession they both followed with an unreasonable passion. Some kind of connection had been established between them, something that defied logic and definition. Some odd kind of mutual understanding.
Ridiculous. Tan would laugh at her for sure if she told him. She had simply become involved in another humanís fight for survival, a real fight taking place before her eyes instead of in her imagination as she deciphered the riddles she found in the dirt. It was a natural feeling that any person would feel for another in trouble.
But she knew she lied to herself. And lied badly. Not even Simon had ever been so involved with his patients, and Simon was a sensitive man.
Footsteps pounded on the path. The sound echoed from the rocks around her and pulled her out of her mental discussion. Rounding the corner was Nerath, hatless, coatless, running as if the devil himself were after him. Melissa couldnít remember what demon Buddhism would have ascribed to the devilís counterpart. Melissa caught his alarm, even from this distance, and trotted toward him.
He nearly ran over her, talking breathlessly so fast she couldnít follow, pulling at her arm in a most un-Tibetan way, trying to drag her toward the village. She grabbed the lapels of his leather shirt and shook him, which was a little like trying to shake a bronze statue. It worked, however, and Nerath bent over, hands on his knees, his hair pouring down both sides of his sweating face, until his breathing eased.
"Theyíre dead, Dr. Reid. Two of our diggers are dead. I saw . . . I saw the icon shimmer like water on the surface of the co. Men with the head of a bird came out. They shot fire." Nerath stopped for air, his dark eyes wide, his mouth gaping. "They killed them before they could run. They were just standing there doing no harm. Theyíre frightful, wearing metal and their eyes glowed!"
Melissa worked out the confusion of pronouns. "Who is dead, Nerath? Are you sure?"
"Theyíre coming. I think one saw me run. I heard an explosion behind me. We must warn the village. Now, Dr. Reid. Come now, do not stand there." He tugged her on and Melissa followed, her brain stalled on the image, refusing to accept it.
Nerath told his story in the small central plaza, and to Melissaís horror, the people who had gathered to hear it turned to her, seemingly as one, looking for advice or . . . orders? She wasnít the headman. That was Wulin. She couldnít think. Were these the aliens Daniel had talked about?
"Nerath, did you see the men who died after they . . . after they were dead? What did the weapon do?"
Even the people in the back of the crowd quieted to hear the answer.
"Burns. Terrible burns just like the man in your house."
"Bloody hell." She wanted to sit down before all of her stomach poured into her feet. She looked at the brown faces turned up at her. She couldnít look like she wanted to sit down. She shouldnít even look as scared as they were, but they hadnít heard Daniel Jacksonís story. "Even if theyíre coming, theyíll be unfamiliar with the area. Theyíll go slow, looking for ambush. The women need to take the children to . . ." To where? Down the road that Wulin might be coming up at any time, the only road in and out of the valley? To a field up in the mountains, a location away from the obviousness of the road. The trail up over the mountains? The oldest would not be able to make that. Two groups then. No, three. They still had time to set up an ambush on the narrow trail from the dig site.
She outlined her plan. The women would form two groups. The one with the children would head for the mountain trail. The other would take the elders who could move along the road in carts and hide if they heard anyone coming from the village. The oldest men and the teens would divide themselves between the two groups and take any weapons they had. The rest of the men would stay with Melissa in the village. They would rendezvous in Nagqu unless contacted somehow before then.
Some of the people argued, but most hurried off. She had no time to argue back and took Nerath and four other men with her to the hut far beyond her house. She kept it locked. The dynamite was old, but not yet crystallized. Melissa took charge of the blasting caps, the detonation cord and the detonator. They took five sticks each and headed back to the dig.
At the narrowest point between the cliffs, Nerath lead them up a narrow goat path to a ledge wide enough to allow them to work. While the four men scouted for the best placement of the dynamite, Melissa used the pointed handles of spark-resistant pliers to poke a hole through the dynamiteís wrapper. Nerath, the real demolitions expert, wired the blasting cap to the cord and handed each one over as she needed it. Twenty-five sticks. Only ten or fifteen would do the trick.
When the men returned, Nerath went with them to place the sticks, paying out the cord while Melissa prepared the detonator. She had five sticks and a cigarette lighter in the sweatshirtís pouch, clinking dully against the pliers. Ang squatted next to her, his eyes roaming the cliffs above them, his expression troubled. No one would question Nerath. He was a man of great respect in the village. Melissa studied the goat path and remembered that it led to the dig, but rose a couple hundred feet above it.
She wanted to know. She had to see what Nerath saw. She spoke to Ang in the quiet voice that didnít echo, a voice she had learned in the village. Then she picked up three of the left-over sticks, cut the cords to a foot in length and gingerly stowed them in the pouch. The lighter and pliers she transferred to her jeans. With one last admonition to Ang and a squelch of his protest, Melissa hurried up the path. She had to stop once more for a hushed argument with Nerath.
It took her a full fifteen minutes to reach the site. Moving quietly, bent behind the cover of the rocks that concealed the path from a lower view, Melissa edged forward.
At first she saw nothing. Below the neatly-walled squares spread out along the base of the opposite wall, the canvas awning over her table flapped in the light wind. Their tools were still spread out as if someone would pick them up and continue their work at any moment. Then she saw the bodies. Only the bright scarf Doa always wore pinpointed his location. Xiang was harder to see, with his granite-colored clothes. That they were dead, Melissa never questioned. Xiangís face was a twist of blackened mush. Melissa swallowed hard and looked away.
So where were the attackers? She was about to move farther up the path when a sound caught her attention. A metallic clank. Below her. She crabbed over the top of the boulder until she could see straight down. The perspective threw off her perception and confused her. Then the Stargate began to sing.
Not sing, exactly, but it made a series of tones and pitches that reminded her of music. Inside the ring the ground disappeared in little waves that glinted and moved. Water. Just like Nerath said, the surface of a co, a lake, but upright like a wall. A burst of foaming waves launched from the center, reaching out and withdrawing so fast she wasnít sure sheíd seen it. Then there were three figures appearing from the watery wall, not a single damp spot on them. Melissa clapped a hand over her mouth.
They were men, covered in some kind of fine chain mail, she guessed, wearing metallic kilts, wide collar necklaces over their chests and the great, stylized head of . . . of Horus. The Egyptian deity. Hawk heads, Nerath had said. With eyes, but they werenít glowing. Each carried long lance-like staffs, and she knew she was looking at the weapon that had injured Daniel.
Melissa knew her Egyptian deities. If Egyptology had had any kind of a financial future, sheíd still be there. Maybe even teaching in someplace like the Oriental Institute, or even her alma mater, Oxford. Horus. Everything Daniel had told her fell into place, leaving her sick with terror and feeling impossibly exposed on her bit of rock. She didnít dare move.
The three men stopped, took tentative steps forward and turned, apparently looking the place over. Then with a smooth whirr and a series of clicks, the Horus heads slid back to reveal human heads, dark skinned, some finely featured with eyes that looked like they should be in an Egyptian tomb painting. A golden emblem sparked on their foreheads. The Jaffa, like Tealíc. The water surface of the Stargate had dissipated behind them. One of them called out.
No, it was the man below her. The early arrivals materialized from the rocks below and Melissa realized theyíd been watching. Fortunately, none of them had looked up. The group converged, talking in low tones, an element of frustration in their voices. One pointed out the dead Tibetans and gestured up the path that led to the village. Another pointed at various other locations surrounding the gate and shook his head negatively. Melissa wondered if, in their culture, it was a negative. While they were distracted by the discussion, Melissa eased back down the boulder and sat with her back against it, trying to stop the ridiculous shaking of her hands.
Something was wrong with the gate, she remembered Daniel saying. He had described a control, a DHD, which, when he told her what the acronym stood for, she had laughed. Dial home device. No fancy technobabble there. The DHD was missing, and that meant whoever came in couldnít necessarily go out. It was probably still buried somewhere in an unexcavated area of the narrow valley floor. She and Tan had not surveyed the area north of their site, on the other side of the gate.
She wished sheíd found it and it was in plain sight. These guys were clearly there by the same error that deposited Daniel at her feet. Only Daniel at least belonged hereóto Earth, anyway. He could get home eventually, if he . . . . But these soldiers had no way home. And nothing to stop them from doing whatever they wanted to with the village.
There were seven of them altogether now, provided the damned thing didnít burp any more of them out. Something must have changed lately, to see twoóno, threeóoccurrences of the gateís activity. It was not a comfortable thought.
And blowing up the path out would only delay, not stop, them. Melissaís fingers closed around her deadly burden. They were in a perfect position. Standing in a group. Strike now before they expected it? Was that assuming too much? They were trapped, after all. Then Xiangís ruined face and Danielís burned back rose in her vision.
She pulled out the three sticks and the lighter. The damned cords were too long, but she couldnít risk shortening them. She could be pretty far out of the way by the time they blew, and Nerath would have the detonator connected by now.
The other side of her mind decided it was too radical a move, too aggressive. She wasnít sure the villagers were far enough gone yet. But her hands kept at it, lining the sticks up, holding the end of the cords in a bunch, touching the lighterís flame to them. About a year later they began to sizzle. Melissa went up on the boulder again, took aim, and as fast as she could, tossed all three sticks onto the ground near the Horuses. They saw the first one immediately and while three moved away, their gaze raking the rocks in Melissaís direction, two others moved over to inspect the odd object.
Melissa risked a look. One was poking at it with his lance, the other two were beginning to take up defensive positions. Melissa slid back off the rock, scraping her chin and her fingers, landing hard and running bent over as quietly as she could. To hell with quiet. Twenty feet down, she straightened up and put everything she had into it. Something exploded against the rock behind her and peppered her with rock chips. It put new wings on her feet.
The dull thumps of the dynamite gave her a feeling of satisfaction that she hadnít had in a very long time.
Nerath was waiting alone when she reached the ledge. She simply nodded, gulping in the thin air, her lungs burning. Thank God sheíd been going downhill, not up. God? Oh-oh. She pointed at the detonatorís red button. Nerathís stubby finger went down on it and the blast threw them both to the ground. A hundred yards behind them a great cloud of dust wafted skyward as the rocks tumbled from the cliffsides. Nerath gave her no time to admire their handiwork; he hauled her up and pushed her ahead of him down the goat path.
They arrived at the village coated with dust and sweat. Melissa went straight to her hut.
Suarya and Mila met her.
"What are you doing here?" she screamed at them, making them startle. "Youíre supposed to be gone now, down the road. Suarya, Tan will kill me!"
"Hush, Daughter, weíre too old and too slow to keep up. We arenít the only ones. Some of the oldest simply could not go."
Melissa burst into tears. When Suarya reached to comfort her, she clasped the old womanís shoulders.
"Donít you understand? They are the, the bó the things that did that to Daniel. Theyíve killed Doa and Xiang. I saw them. Theyíll hurt you, too."
"Of course we understand, girl. Blow your nose and let go of me." She handed over a scrap of cloth and Melissa obeyed. "We simply move to the next life. Itís not so far away for us. This is an . . . honorable thing. We must do it."
Melissa sniffed and mopped her face.
"And do not sniff like that! Itís not good for your ears." Suarya moved back to the stool beside Danielís cot and stiffly lowered herself onto it. "He has not improved. We canít think how to hide him," she said simply.
Melissa quashed another rise of hysteria. There just wasnít time for it.
"The sun will be down soon. They probably wonít be able to get past the barrier until tomorrow sometime. And they didnít look prepared for the cold." Melissa paced the small room, trying not to look at Danielís still form. She turned at a scrape in the doorway to see Nerath, a group of men behind him.
"Yes, we have thought the same," he said. "Wulin may yet arrive today. Heíll have the jeep. Iíve set some men to watch the other end of the village. Some elders are still in their homes, the eldest." Nerath looked pained and Melissa remembered that his ancient father was probably one of those elders. "Iím bringing everyone left to this end." He and the men left before Melissa could think what to say.
Mostly she was grateful someone else knew what to do.
Wulin did not arrive that night.
Nor any time the next day. Oddly enough, neither did the hawkmen. Melissa tried to picture their situation: unfamiliar landscape with few choices of direction, nights near freezing. Their only shelter was the awning, the tent, and the camp stove and supplies she kept in it. They probably took it all over and were searching for the DHD. Itís what she would have done. It might buy them the time the village needed.
Something must have happened to Wulin, Melissa decided in the morning. Perhaps he had met Tan and traded vehicles. The jeep was much faster than Liangís old truck. That would certainly explain it. Either way, Tan would have arrived in Nagqu yesterday at the very latest. How long before he could convince someone to send help? How long before they could get there?
She walked up the main street between the oddly silent buildings. No dogs barked. No smoke rose from the chimneys. Dawa and Ang stepped out from their posts at the upper edge of town. Ang was headed up the goat path to get a look up the trail toward the site. Melissa objected, but not strongly. They needed to know.
He was back at midday. He had seen five hawkmen working their way around the barrier. Melissa consulted with Nerath. They had no trouble coming to an agreement.
Suarya and Mila did not agree, but Nerath puffed up his substantial self and told them in no uncertain terms. The two women were loaded onto the backs of two of the tamed asses used for pack animals, and two of the men lead them down the road. With any luck, they would meet Wulin before too long.
That left their defenders numbered at twelve, not counting Melissa, who now carried her pistol and a box of shells wherever she went. The men worked out a defense plan while Melissa listened, unable to think of any famous successful battle strategies from history other than the Trojan horse. War history had never much interested her. But these people had been defending their homes, families and culture since long before the Trojan horse, and she was as confident as she could be considering the kind of unknowns the hawkmen presented with their frightening weapons. For the first time, Melissa wondered if they had supernatural senses or some kind of technology that would serve as such. She could almost hear Tan laughing at her. "Now whoís been watching too many late movies?"
The men spread out to take up positions, some in the second stories of the larger homes, a couple high up at the narrow path out of the narrowest end of the valley in the siteís direction, the rest in various other places. Melissa was told to go to her house, douse the fire, close it up tight so that it would look deserted. Nerath handed her a rifle and shells.
"Om mani padme hun," he said, invoking the Tibetan blessing that reflected the sanctity of life, and left for his own position.
His words haunted her as the next hours wore on. If she had never dug up that monstrosity out there, the village would still be peaceful and quiet, and Doa and Xiang would still be alive. Melissa sat on the low wall outside her hut listening and waiting. Every ten minutes she checked on Daniel, who was still unconscious. The old women had covered him up, saying before they left that while the fever was down, his spirit was slowly preparing for a new home. They had done all they could. She was trying to discipline herself to go in every fifteen minutes instead.
She could think of no way to get Daniel to safety. She was afraid to move him, but given the situation, if sheíd had a vehicle, she wouldnít have hesitated. Instead, she worked to give the small house the look of desertion, the yard strewn with a trail of belongings, the door partly open, the second cot inside tipped over.
Sitting on the wall, Melissa waited on the edge of panic for the first hour. After that, exhaustion the lack of sleep began to catch up with her and she dozed off a couple of times in the warm sun. So when the first shots cracked off the valleyís rock walls, Melissa squeaked and fell off the wall.
Melissa moved cautiously into the village to see what was happening. She was surprised to see that the men had created a barrier at the far end of the trail that lead to the site. She saw furniture, goat carts, even rocks, piled up. The shots were coming from the villagersí guns high in the cliffs above the barrier. Ang spotted her and came to crouch beside her around the corner of a house. He grinned, his yellowed teeth flashing, his dark eyes becoming slits.
"They will get through eventually but we have given them something to do. Go back and stay with the old ones." He nodded at her gun. "You will be their only protection if we fall."
Melissa squeezed his forearm hard and went back. Daniel was nearly invisible in his Goretex nest. The men ate and slept in shifts. She and Nerath fed the four elders a thin soup at midday.
She heard gunshots as she hurried back from the outhouse. Daniel needed little from her now. The infection had reddened a substantial area around the burn. He was feverish, his hair dull and lifeless. She could barely find his pulse.
The hawkmen had broken through. Melissa crept forward to check out the situation on time to see them walking boldly into the townís small plaza firing their lance weapons. Several buildings were on fire. As Melissa watched, Ang was struck when a fiery bolt passed through his corrugated steel cover. He fell, his clothing smoking, the metal door half on him.
Although the hawkmen were spreading outóshe counted sixóthey would reach her end of the village before long. Some of the men were still firing from their hidden positions, but the lance weapons gave their enemy the upper edge. The bullets could take a toll, though. One of the hawkmen fell, clutching his chest. The others left him behind, and moments later, Nerath shot out of a building, barreled across the street to snatch the lance and disappear into a narrow space between two houses. It cheered Melissa considerably. If anyone could figure out and make good use of the weapon, Nerath was it.
With a rifle and her pistol, she moved to the place she had scouted earlier as a decent ambush position. Sheíd never even considered shooting a human before, if human the Jaffa were, but sheíd spent her time on fox hunts and target practice in order to keep up with her brothers and, later, beaux. With images of Doa and Xiang and Danielóand now Angóshe didnít question her ability to turn fighter. The problem, however, was exactly where to aim. The enveloping Horus armor protected the most crucial targets. Angís bullet must have been more luck than skill. No wonder the twelve men were unsuccessful so far. She would have to fire carefully, planning each shot. She had a great position, behind a boulder a little ways up the hill on a narrow bench directly above the main road. Within a few hundred yards, the cliffs closed in again, although not as narrowly as they did at the villageís opposite end.
The sound of battle in the village died out. She waited for what seemed like a very long time. At any moment she expected to see some of the villagers in retreat, but none came.
She didnít see how she, the elders, or Daniel could survive this. Even if the Goaíuld never found Daniel, he would die of the infection. She wouldnít have such a luxury. In her journal, she had written a short account of what was happening. If Danielís unit found them, she wanted them to know what had gone on. Then she wrote a note to her family. She doubted that the Jaffa would be interested in the records.
They came, two of them, far more quietly that she would have expected with all that metal they wore. She saw none of the bold arrogance she had seen earlier, as if they had just learned some lessonóprobably that the Tibetans were not to be underestimated.
Melissa focused and cocked a bullet into the rifleís chamber. It was a respectable 30.06. Should make a dent or two. The moment they were within range, she fired. In the haze of noise and smoke, one of the Jaffa fell to one knee, blood on his thigh. Melissa ducked as his weapon blasted her rock, showering her with hot rock chips. Instead of coming over the top of the boulder, she fired her next shots from the end, but the lance blasts sent her scuttling back. She reloaded, checking that her pistol still lay within easy reach.
Her shots had driven the Jaffa into cover below her, but she still had the advantage of position. If she kept alert, she could hold them off for awhile.
"Awhile" turned out to be an hourólong enough to build Melissaís confidence. And long enough for her to forget to check the hillside at her back.
The Jaffa came from there, and only the clatter of rocks warned her. Melissa snatched the pistol and twisted in time to get a glimpse of the tall figure with its smooth hawkhead. The eyes were glowing. Both hands on the pistol, she fired. So did the Jaffa.
Colonel Jack OíNeill could hardly believe the sight in front of his Humvee. Two men lead two small donkeys bundled high with rags. He ordered the small convoy to a halt and slid out his door. From the vehicleís back seat, the man whoíd been picked up by helicopter in Nagqu and deposited with them a few miles back hit the road and pelted toward the group.
"Hey!" OíNeill protested. The man was a loose cannon. The situation, with the narrow road stitched between two rock walls, would have been a perfect set-up. Were all archaeologists like Jackson?
The men in the second Hummer, Carter included, had piled out and taken up defensive positions on either side of the vehicles. OíNeill went forward, his rifle ready, but nothing happened except a great deal of chatter in a high-pitched language that sounded a bit like Chinese. He waited patientlyóor as patiently as he could.
Tan turned to him. "We must hurry, Colonel. These women, they were sent out when the hawkmen entered the village. Melissa stayed behind with your friend and twelve of the men. They had weaponsó"
"Rifles, pistols. For hunting."
OíNeill shook his head. Then he peered more closely at the bundles on the donkeys. Now he could see the withered faces peering back, their dark eyes bright and alert. Jesus, they were ancient. He called up one of the soldiers and ordered him to take the four to the last vehicle, which was a jeep driven by one of the locals, Wulin, and owned, according to Tan, by the archaeologist running the dig. The young soldierís face fell as he realized he was going to be escort, not fighter. OíNeill ignored it.
In the third Hummer back, he found Dr. Frasier. He listened while Tan interpreted her questions for the old women. This whole damn thing was taking too long, but the information would be worth it. The men told Tan that at least seven Jaffa had been spotted and the narrow pass to the site had been dynamited. The bad news was that all of that occurred two days ago. Plenty of time for the Jaffa to have broken through. Dr. Frasier turned to him, her brown eyes grave.
"It sounds pretty serious for Daniel," she said. "Raging infection, possible coma. Itís been a long time, Colonel. Iím not sure he can . .. ."
"Well, he certainly wonít survive the Jaffa. Tan, stay with the doctor here." OíNeill raised his voice. "Letís go!"
The Hummers were loaded up and trundled on, clouds of dust roiling from their tires.
They were in Tibet, choppered in only hours before to the flat place closest to the village that the helicopters could reach, only by the intervention of the president himself. A representative of the Tibetan government, ruled more by China, had taken matters into his own hands after a long conversation with the president, and granted permission without consulting with Beijing. OíNeill was grateful. By some series of not-so-small miracles, the teams set foot on Tibetan soil just thirty-two hours after Tanís information reached them. Tanís success was another of those miracles, but the biggest, he knew, was still ahead: that those in the village, particularly Jackson, had avoided the Jaffasí weapons.
Theyíd been on the road for four hours and the sunlight was taking on the golden tones of early evening, although it was not yet four p.m. local time. The helicopters had flown on to Lhasa where they would wait for his call while sitting under the watchful eye of Tibetan officialsóand guns.
The Hummers, four of them, one per chopper, rounded a curve and faced the shadowy confines of a narrow passage. OíNeill called a halt. This looked like perfect ambush country to him. It was debatable whether or not the Jaffa would know they were coming. The areaís isolation may well lull them into a sense of security. He pressed the button on his radio.
"Look alive, you guys. If theyíre waiting for us, thisíd be a great place. Give us a head start. If theyíre in there, I expect you guys to haul our asses out, clear?" He nodded to the young driver.
The deeper the Hummer went into the canyon, the harder OíNeill gripped his rifle. Five minutes later the walls fell away, leaving them in a wide brown field. He was just as glad thereíd been nobody there. A worse place for a firefight, he had a hard time imagining. The road curved again, and there they were, spread out across the road and into the slope on either side. There were five, only one looked like he was having trouble keeping his wide-legged stance. Beyond that, OíNeill had no time for the details. The Jaffa fired.
The blasts seared the Hummer, one cracking the heavy glass of the windshield. OíNeill dived out and crawled under the vehicle while raking the line with automatic fire.
The Jaffas had fired and split, heading for the cover of the rocky slope. OíNeill might have winged one, but none of them fell in the dirt the way heíd like to see. The soldiers behind ran into the rocks, taking up positions and firing. The doors of the Hummers hung open. If Dr. Frasier was smart, she and the archaeologist were still in theirs. At this point it would provide much better protection. OíNeill checked down the line, and sure enough, there was movement in the third vehicle. Dr. Frasier couched behind the door, her rifle aimed through the opening along the frame. He grinned and swore. Sheíd held her own more than once, and competently, but he resented the risk it was to anyone needing her services farther up the road. If they got up the road. Speaking of the road, it curved off above them into the rocks again. Another hundred yards and it looked like they would have met in another of those canyons.
The Jaffa had the advantage and the altitude. OíNeill could see no way to deploy men to the flanks and have anyone left to fight with. Fire broke out again, and OíNeill applied himself to the task, trying to catch one of the Jaffa as he rose to fire.
The men in the back of his vehicle had gone out the back, and he had a bad feeling the driver wasnít coming out at all. He squirmed for a look out the driverís side. Sure enough, he had a foreshortened view of regulation issue boots and the hems of the BDU. He swore again.
He snapped his radio on all-call. "Iím open to suggestions."
He received several, but only one was viable. If the guys in the last Hummer used it for cover to get back into the canyon, they might find a way to come around the sides.
Tan had managed to get a hold of someoneís radio. Probably Dr. Frasierís so she couldnít hear him yell for her to get back in the vehicle.
"They will have to go clear to the other end of the canyon. There is no way up from inside it. But on the other side is a goat path. I know it well. Iíll take them."
"Youíre not a soldier, Tan, leave it to us."
"Theyíll never find it! Donít worry, Colonel, I saw Saving Private Ryan. Iíll go!"
"No, leave it to us."
"Sorry, Colonel, heís headed out the back," said a female voice.
OíNeill ground his teeth. "Doctor, you make damní sure youíre in one piece when we get to that village. Clear?"
"And answer me this, if heís Tibetan, why does he have a British accent?"
Behind them, the Hummerís gears whined and the Jaffa took exception to the action. OíNeill was busy again. When it settled down, OíNeill heard the pounding of boots on the dirt road and the scrape of fabric, the clunk of a helmet and rattle of weaponry as someone slithered under the length of the Hummer.
"Carter. I shouldíve known."
"Youíre a little short on firepower up here, sir."
"Thanks. You take the left."
As far as OíNeill could tell, they hadnít depleted the enemiesí ranks by even one. It was like shooting in the dark at robots. And if they didnít hurry up, it would be dark all too soon.
"How long do we give them, sir?" Carter asked during a quiet moment. The ground around them was cratered with black pits from the lances.
"As long as it takes. Youíre ready to rush them, Captain?"
"No, sir, not necessarily. Itís just that Daóuh, itíll be dark soon."
"Yeah, I know, Carter. Iím worried about him, too, but we donít need any Pyrrhic victories here. Doc says thereís better than good chance that heís . . . ."
Carter said nothing. She just checked the range on her sights again. Squeezed together under the vehicle, they were elbow to elbow, having to remember not to clink their helmets against the vehicleís springs and struts.
OíNeill checked his watch. The Hummer had left forty minutes ago. Any time, guys, any time now.
Out of nowhere a high-pitched howling rolled off the rocks around them, echoing and re-echoing. OíNeill and Carter twisted to check along their flanks and saw nothing. What the hell? The sound went on and on.
"There, sir! Up the road!"
OíNeill squinted into the shadows. Spread out along the hillside several men erupted from the rocks and ran toward the Jaffa hold-outs. They were so widely spaced he had trouble counting, but there couldnít have been more than five or six, dressed in gray or brown with long dark hair flowing behind them. Coming straight out of the shadows and from above was their best and only protection. None were firing weapons, although one was carrying, of all things, a Jaffa staff. And it worked. The Jaffa weapons were firing up the hill, missing mostly, as the men wove their unpredictable course around the rocks.
"Now!" he screamed into this radio. "Rush Ďem! Just donít hit the good guys!"
Soldiers streamed out from their rocks or from under the vehicles, pounding forward, weapons stuttering. The nearest were pulling grenade pins and hitting the dirt as they blew. OíNeill ran with the rest and was only mildly startled when his men appeared along the hillís skyline to his right and charged the Jaffa with guns blazing.
In a remarkably short time it was all over. Five Jaffa were dead, and the three villagers who had made that suicide charge down the hill were chattering as if they had someone there who could understand them. OíNeill held his hand up and tried to calm them by repeating Tanís name and patting the air. His relief when Tan showed up, sweaty and dusty, was palpable. He ordered the men back to their vehicles so they could roll as soon as he knew the score up ahead.
"Colonel, these men are all that were left of the defenders. Nerath works for us on the digó"
"Yeah, yeah, but did he say there were more Jaffa?"
"These are all that survived. Itís safe to proceed."
The last Hummer would stay to do clean-up. Carter took the wheel. Tan and Nerath piled in. OíNeill barely got his foot off the ground before Carter gunned the engine and barreled down the road at full speed. OíNeill frowned.
"Carter, did you see only three men coming down that hill?" From the corner of his eye, he saw Tan lean forward to hear.
"I donít know, sir. I kept thinking there were more, but afterwards, I only saw three."
"Three? And they were out of ammunition."
Carter was too busy driving to respond.
Even then, it took them nearly forty-five minutes to reach the village outskirts. It wasnít so much the distance, but the poor condition of the road the last ten miles. Washboards and ruts scarred the hardpacked dirt, and closer to the city, blackened craters showed where another confrontation had occurred.
At Tanís urging, Carter took the Hummer all the way to the center of town. Even if their own eyes had not seen the burned and scarred rock houses and silent, empty streets, the shock on Tanís round face would have told them of the devastation. They left the vehicles in a crouch, weapons ready. OíNeill deployed the men through the area, but within a few minutes, it was clear that the place was deserted. Around the corner from the Hummer, OíNeill found Tan knelt over a body. He looked up as OíNeillís boots scraped in the dirt.
"Ang. One of our workers. He wanted to go to Cambridge, like I did. We just couldnít find a sponsor for him. Or a visa."
"Iím sorry, Tan."
The short man sighed. "Yet my mother has survived this."
"She and her cousin took care of Dr. Jackson. You met them on the road." He looked around as if he couldnít believe what he saw. "I wonder where Dr. Reid is."
"Sir! Weíve found one of the Jaffa," Lt. Horn said, panting from exertion in the thin atmosphere. "Dead. Looks like he took about twenty rounds."
OíNeillís eyebrows rose. "Iíd say your people meant business. My hatís off to them." He saw Carter approaching with a frown. "Now, where might we find Dr. Jackson?"
"In Lissaís hut. Dr. Reid. We passed it coming in."
"Well, why didnít you say so?" He sprinted for the Hummer. "Carter! Frasier! With me!"
Turning the Hummer around took longer than reaching Reidís hut. They met Tealícís vehicle. Its men spilled out and moved into search mode. Tan followed them to Reidís door, arriving just as Carter emerged.
"Heís not there." She sound calm, but strained. "Looks like its been tossed, but its so small, no one could hide." The three pivoted on their heels to study the area nearby.
"They must have concealed him somewhere," Tan said, turning with them. "Thereís the dynamite hut. Itís out of sight. Maybe the hawkmen missed it."
"Show me. Carter, Tealíc spread out. Doc, donít get too far away."
Tealíc chose to move up the hillside across the street from the house. Below, Frasier stood rooted, her rifle slung over her shoulder where it bounced against the backpack carrying her medical supplies.
Tealíc found her behind a boulder on the first bench of the hill. Spent shell casings gleamed in the yellow light around her. A rifle and pistol lay nearby. Tealíc knew from its position that the pistol had been in her hand when she was hit. White down leaked from a hole in the side of the coat she wore. What didnít fly away on the breeze was matted with old blood. Tealíc knelt. Dark hair, light skinned. Clearly the archaeologist Tan mentioned. The wound wasnít in a critical location. He pushed the hair from her face with a large hand. Her skin was still warm. Tealíc stood and leaned over the boulder.
"Dr. Frasier, I believe I have found Dr. Melissa Reid. She is in need of your help."
Frasier sprinted towards them. Tealíc knelt again, and laid his gun aside, wanting a better look at the wound. She was awake, her blue eyes squinting at him.
"Dr. Melissa Reid?"
He could barely hear her, and leaned closer. "The doctor is on her way."
"You must be Tealíc?"
"You have spoken with Daniel Jackson?"
"Yes. Iím very thirsty. Do you have some water?"
Tealíc reached for his canteen.
"No, wait, Tealíc." Gasping for air, Frasier could hardly get the words out. "I need . . . to have look . . . first."
Tealíc watched with interest. The moment Frasier peeled the coat aside, Reid fainted. The doctor took the womanís pulse, touched her forehead, probed carefully through the layers of fabric at the Reidís waist. In a moment she rocked back on her heels, slid out of the pack and snapped open the Velcroed pouches.
"Tealíc, bring OíNeill," she said as she set to work with scissors.
Tealíc stood. "She knew me."
Frasierís head snapped toward him, and she smiled briefly. "Good."
Tealíc brought OíNeill.
The first thing he noticed was all the shell casings and two empty cartridge boxes stirring in the breeze. The second thing was the blood stained dirt under the woman. OíNeill squatted beside Frasier, his rifle butt planted in the dirt.
"Sheís alive?" It was hard to believe.
"Yes. Lost a lot blood. A little shocky as a result. Sheíll survive. Iím going to bring her around. She knew Tealíc."
"First good sign weíve had. We canít find Daniel anywhere."
Frasier put a needle in the archaeologistís arm. In a few moments her eyes fluttered and opened. OíNeill bent closer to her face.
"Dr. Reid? Iím Col. OíNeill. Jack OíNeill. Does that sound familiar to you?"
"Quite. Do you have a Sam with you?"
"Yes, we do. Whereís Daniel? We canít find him."
Reidís eyes went wide. Before they could stop her, sheíd twisted and pushed herself up on one elbow.
"You canít find him? He was in my house. Did they take him? My God, why?"
OíNeill caught her with an arm under her shoulder. "You left him in your house? Where?" Had they just missed something? A cellar, maybe?
"In the cot. Under every blanket and bedroll I could find. I left his face out, just close to the wall. You check the bed? What are you doing here? Go!"
"We saw all the blankóTealíc, bring her down. Címon, Doc, now!" He relinquished his hold to Tealícís solid arm and ran back down the hill bellowing at Carter, leaving Frasier hurriedly gathering her supplies.
He was there. Under a pile of blankets and padded quilts that when pulled away rose nearly to their knees on the hardpacked floor. As they worked their way down, they found small three-dimensional items, a cup, a bowl, a stack of books, carefully placed around Jacksonís body to hold the weight of the covers and keep them free of the blackened, red-edged wound that covered the manís shoulder.
Carter squeaked at the sight, blanching, but holding her own.
"Jesus H. Christ in a bucket," was all OíNeill could get out. The archaeologist was so still, OíNeill was sure he was dead.
Carter touched his bare right shoulder. "God, heís burning up."
"No, but . . . ." She touched his limp hair.
"You hang on, Danny, and thatís an order," OíNeill said quietly. Then he turned his head and bellowed for the doctor. Carter startled and from the door, an acerbic voice answered.
"Iím right here, if you twoíd be so good as to clear out my way and get me some light."
The two jumped to obey. OíNeill opened the window shutters and Carter found a Coleman that sounded like it still had fuel and began pumping it up. OíNeill watched and Carter held up the lantern. Five minutes later the sight of it all drove him into the waning sunshine. Moments later he dashed back in to drag out some of the bedding as Tealíc carried Dr. Reid into the yard. Tan arrived just as they settled her into the quilts and pulled them around her.
"Melissa!" he trotted over, checking out their expressions.
"Sheís hurt, but sheíll be fine," OíNeill hurried to tell him. Tan landed hard on his knees and burst into a spate of his native language. OíNeill and Tealíc gave them some space.
"How is Daniel Jackson?" Tealíc asked.
"Heís alive, but he doesnít look good." OíNeill nearly choked on the words. Tealíc looked as if he knew what an understatement it was.
By the time Frasier and Carter emerged from the hut, OíNeill had worn a path in the dust. He and Tealíc converged on the doctor like stampeding bulls. Frasier wouldnít meet their eyes. Not a good sign. To make it worse, neither would Carter. She stared out over the hills, her lips a thin, tight line.
"Heís badly dehydrated. Severely dehydrated. He has a high temperature, almost a hundred and three. Iíve got him on an IV. The wound is infected. Heís comatose."
When she added nothing more, OíNeillís heart fell into his stomach.
"And?" he prompted.
"And I donít know. The burnís less of a threat than the infection," her voice caught. "Heís gone on a long time, probably just on determination alone." She swallowed and finally looked OíNeill in the eye. "I know that roadís a shitty one, but I want him moved out tonight. Her, too. And I want them in the first modern hospital we come to. Hong Kong, maybe? Or Singapore? Then, as soon as we can, Walter Reed. Or the burn center in Denver.
"From the little I got to look at Reid," she continued, responding to Tanís unasked question, "sheís had the wound several hours and sheís still in shock. I suspect if she wasnít wearing that down coat, she wouldnít be in this good of shape. Itís early for infection. Now if youíll excuse me."
Tan went with her and in a moment she was back at work. OíNeill studied Carterís face. She and Daniel had become good friends over the last couple of years. Hell, even he and Daniel were friends by now.
Carter turned away from him. "Just donít be too nice to me right now, okay? Just give me a minute and Iíll be fine."
"I know, Sam. Me, too."
"Donít you have some orders for me?"
OíNeill heard the crack in her voice. "As a matter of fact, Captain, I do. Weíre moving out ASAP but we need to leave a unit at that gate until we can get back here to deal with it. Ask for volunteers and pick the rest. Make sure theyíre provisioned and have a vehicle. I want two men on that gate twenty-four hours a day. They need to set up base camp right there. Iíll go call General Hammond to get those birds in the air."
Carter pivoted and saluted smartly. "Consider it done, sir!"
OíNeill watched her striding into town, then, against his better judgment, entered the hut, just to check on Jackson again.
Melissa woke in an all white room with four roommates and not a single person she knew around. Her nurse was Oriental and spoke only the most rudimentary English and no Tibetan. The doctorís English was fine, however. Soon after a woman dressed in green military clothing arrived.
"Iím Dr. Janet Frasier," she said. "How are you feeling?"
"Something hurts. A lot. Over here." She reached toward her left side only to be stopped by the doctorís warm hand.
"Yes, Iím sure it does hurt. What do you remember?" Frasier moved her fingers to Melissaís wrist and looked at her watch.
"Getting killed. Or, I thought I was getting killed."
"Iím not sure why he didnít finish the job. Panic, maybe, though Iíve never known a Jaffa to panic. Youíre lucky, Dr. Reid."
"I know. And Daniel?"
"Heís in ICU. Intensive care. Weíre flying him out tomorrow. Thereís an excellent burn facility in Denver. Iíve been considering sending you there, too, but your situation is not as serious. You could be treated at home." Her hand withdrew from Melissaís skin. "Itís your choice."
"Heís fine." Frasier smiled. "So is his mother. He wants to return to village to act as translator for the team weíve moved in there. We have to do something with that gate, you know. Heís been waiting to talk to you first."
"Where are we?"
"Tokyo. Iíll give you some time to think about it. Col. OíNeill will be in later to talk to you. When youíre more awake." She smiled and left.
Tanís round face lit up when he saw her. "Havenít you learned about ducking, Lissa?"
OíNeill turned out to be a lean man with short cropped brown hair and the hardest eyes she had ever seen. Then he smiled, and Melissa changed her mind about him instantly. When he introduced himself, she heard a mellow, moderately deep voice that she felt unaccountably comfortable with. He introduced the blond woman with him as Captain Samantha Carter. The name took a minute to sink in.
The woman named Carter exchanged a quizzical glance with OíNeill. "Yes, why?"
"Then . . . . oh, I see. Then heís not . . . ! Are you and Daniel, uh. . .?"
"No! What made you think that?"
Melissa felt her face flushing. "Oh, well, uhóhe, uh . . . ."
Carter grinned. "He mentioned me?"
"Yes, but heíd been dreaming. All he said was. . . uh, well it doesnít matter. How is he, really? Dr. Frasier didnít really say."
OíNeillís eyes clouded and Carterís grin faded and she stared at the floor so long that Melissa thought she wasnít going to answer.
"Heís not good. The infection had a good foothold. Janet wonít even make a prediction. We wanted to come thank you for helping him."
"Some help!" Melissa was as surprised as her visitors when her eyes filled with tears and slid into her hair. "Iím sorry. Itís the medication. Makes me a bit emotional."
Carterís hand covered hers. "Itís all right, youíve earned it, Dr. Reid."
"It was all Suarya and Mila."
OíNeill cleared his throat. "Thatís not entirely true. Tanís filled us in. You went after the Jaffa with old dynamite?" He paused. "Youíve given Daniel a chance he wouldnítíve had. No matter what happens, weíll always be grateful for that."
Melissa looked from one serious face to the other. "No oneís expecting him to live, are they?"
"I need to go. Carter, why donít you stay here." OíNeill spun and was out of the room in a flash. The two women watched him go.
"Tell Dr. Frasier Iíll go to Denver."
Three Weeks Later
The windows faced west and Melissa liked to watch the September clouds moving in above the far blue line of mountains. Denverís skyline was attractive, but the mountains pulled her the way the bleak, pure coast of Cornwall did. Or the sharp, bare peaks of Tibet. OíNeill had promised her a real jeep trip through them as soon as the doctors released her, but she knew sheíd never take him up on it. The sun was setting, a smear of gold and peach reaching up from behind the scrim of mountains. The light died and the windows slowly became mirrors. After awhile, she realized that OíNeill was reflected in them. She turned, still stiff, her right arm cradling her left as had become a habit. The burns were in a particular nasty stage of healing and the skin grafts had finally taken. Even the slightest bump of her own arm was too painful.
His expression wasnít entirely friendly.
"Good evening, Colonel."
"Melissa. Daniel says you havenít been in to see him yet."
Melissa turned around, then remembered heíd probably be able to see her face in the glass.
"Why? He thinks itís something he did or said."
Melissa leaned her head against the cool glass. "Itís not."
"I donít want him upset any more than is necessary. You need to see him."
She didnít answer.
"At least tell me why."
"Thatís it, Colonel. I donít know why."
His hands clamped on her shoulders and in a moment she was sitting on a couch. OíNeill scooted the coffee table back and sat on its magazines.
"Youíre not a soldier, Melissa. No one expected you to be one and no one feels like you failed them. Especially Daniel."
"I donít think itís that." She stared at her knees, her insides cold with a mixture of emotions she couldnít name.
"Yes, it is. And itís because Danielís married."
Melissaís head snapped up. The flood of tears told both of them all they needed to know. "Thatís ridiculous. Iím not in love with him. I barely know him."
"Look, things happen to people when they go through a tough situation together. Iíve known men whoíve made love with women they dislike during a bombing. Let me finish. What Iím saying is that a lot of civilization goes out the window in a battle. And make no mistake, youóall of youówere fighting a battle. Thatís what binds a unit together. Thatís what binds SG-1 together. Thatís probably what Daniel was dreaming about when he talked about Sam." A twinkle lit his brown eyes. "And you just thought he was gay."
Melissa blushed and looked away.
"Melissa, you have a connection with us all now. You may not physically be walking through the gate with us, but, like it or not, youíre part of SG-1 now. You always will be. You do us all a disservice if you continue like this. And yourself. Please, go see Daniel." He put a hand on her knee.
His touch was electric. Melissa raised her head. What she saw stirred up something new, something equally scary.
"Okay, Iíll go." She stood.
"Good. Iíll show you the way."
"I know the way."
"I know you do. Daniel said he saw you at the door at least twice. But Iíll just go along anyway."
OíNeill stopped at the end of the corridor, though, and let her go on alone. Fabric rustled beside him. It was Carter, a Styrofoam cup of coffee in her hand.
"Finally!" she said, relief coloring her voice. "Howíd you get her to go?"
"Just told her about an old MASH episode."
To Melissaís surprise, he was sitting up on the edge of the bed, slightly slumped. He wore his robe with only one arm up, the other bared. A burn dressing, a tight, ribbed bandage that was supposed to reduce scarring covered his shoulder. Melissa wore one just like it. She had joked that she hoped it also reduced the size of her waist. She knew why he wore the robe half off. Any pressure, any heat on her burns had made her crazy.
The television was on, but Daniel wasnít paying attention. He couldnít be without his glasses. The room was filled with green plants and masculine-looking floral arrangements, mostly birds-of-paradise and red antheriums. General Hammond made sure they were always there, even after all this time. Danielís hair gleamed in the lights, winged on both sides of his forehead.
He looked up and squinted at her. "Melissa?" He pulled his glasses from a pocket and put them on. With a snap of a remote, the television noise died. "I didnít think you were ever coming."
"Iím awfully sorry, I know it was horrible of me. I just didnít thó"
"Melissa!" He straightened. "Itís all right. Really. Please, sit down."
She took the chair, scooting it opposite him. Looking up probably hurt. She couldnít look at his face without seeing him lying in her cot. So she stared at the flowers, commenting inanely.
He let her run down. After a long, awkward silence, he spoke.
"I wanted to thank you."
Melissa lost it. She didnít understand why, she just sat there and sobbed, accepting Kleenex after Kleenex until it looked like snow around her chair. Finally Daniel reached out with his good arm.
"Come here, please. Iím not that quick at getting around yet."
Blindly, she sat on his good side, his arm warm and heavy around her shoulders. But the spate of tears was past, even though she kept sniffling. Another Kleenex came her way.
"Thatís really not good for your ears, you know," he said.
It made her laugh. "Suarya tells me the same thing."
"Iíd like to meet Suarya again. And Mila. Iím going to have to go back to the village. Will you go with me?"
"Of course. I need to see them, too."
"It wonít be for awhile, you know. Quite awhile. How are you feeling?"
"It still hurts. Burns are a bitch, you know? But it wasnít anything like yours. OíNeill said they think you were hit by two blasts simultaneously."
"Yes, so heís said." He grinned, the light glinting on the lens of his glasses. "Did you really think I was gay?"
"Damn him, anyway. OíNeill talks too much."
"Iíve never heard him accused of that before."
"He has a seriously overinflated view of himself, you know."
"Only when he wants to irritate someone. But, do you like him?"
"Not bloody likely!"
Daniel grinned down at her. "I thought so." He ignored her sputtering and went on. "Iím dying to know what that shaman did. Do you remember it all? Was it Buddhist based or something older?"
Three days later Melissa returned to England.
Rain poured down the windows of her parentsí London house. Melissa couldnít concentrate on her book, and the tea in the pot was thoroughly chilled by now. The small fireplace glowed with cheerful flames that smelled nothing like a yak-chip fire, thank God. Boxing Day had come and gone and Tibet would be a frosty, snow-covered place by now. She and Daniel had never gone, at least together. She heard through Tan that the entire team had showed up just before the first snow to visit with the villagers and do somethingóhe didnít know whatóto the Stargate. Something that would keep the village safe permanently.
Tan was spending the winter there. Mila was ailing, and Suarya always had a hard time with her arthritis in the cold. Melissa had returned too late to get anything but occasional lecture work at any of the universities. Next summer, she would head back to the village to clean up the dig site. She already dreaded it, dreaded facing the people she would never see again. Ang. Xiang. Doa. Nerathís father, who died with the other elders when the Jaffa torched their hut. It made her sick, but she would have to go. She wanted to see Nerath, and Suarya, of course. She would have to go.
Someone was pounding on the door. On a Sunday afternoon? If it was a salesman, heíd better get ready for a piece of her mind. She tossed back the woolen throw and unfolded from the chair. Three flights down, along the short, narrow hall to the door. Melissa cracked it, her foot against it.
Dripping wet, his glasses beaded, Daniel Jackson grinned shyly. "Hi."
"Daniel!" Melissa flung the door wide and stared, heedless of the rain pelting her.
"Yeah, itís me. Uh, can I come in?"
"Oh, of course! Sorry! Here, give me that raincoat. You must be freezing. What are you doing here? Just let me bring some tea from the kitchen. Iíll plug in the kettle. Thereís a fire in the sitting room, go on up. Third floor. The doorís open, you canít miss it."
She shook herself in the kitchen. Rattling off like a schoolgirl! Bloody hell!
Daniel had dried his glasses and stood near the fire, his hands held toward it when she arrived with the tray. She paused in the door before he knew she was there. He looked good, strong, healthy. Too good. Married, she reminded herself. Heís married.
"What on earth are you doing here?" She set down the tray and poured the tea. His fingers brushed hers as he accepted the cup. "Sit here, itís warmer."
"We never went to Tibet together," he said, then winced. "Iím sorry, I wasnít going to bring that up."
"Itís all right." Melissa knew she was about to face the music.
"I called," he said, staring at her earnestly over his cup.
"Yes, my parents told me."
He frowned and sipped his tea. "I saw Tan when I was there. And everyone else, too. Wonderful people. I can see why you go back every summer."
Melissa barely listened, soaking in the sound of his voice, seeing little flashbacks of the village, the fires, Ang lying in the dirt, Suaryaís face.
"Melissa? Earth to Melissa?"
"Iím just thinking about them all. Itís too late to get there now. I miss them. Terribly."
"And they you." He paused, staring at the fire for a moment. The wet cuffs of his jacket steamed slightly. "Iím not just here just for. . uh, for me. OíNeill sent me. He thought if I asked, youíd be more likely to say yes."
"Weíre offering you a post on one of the Stargate teams. Iím the only anthropologist, you see, and weíre finding that we need another, especially someone with a background in Egyptology and languages, like yours. Weíve done some research on your career, you see.
"And OíNeill says youíve already proven your skills with a rifle. General Hammondís all for it, too. ĎCourse, theyíd want you to take some basic-type training, military strategy, that kind of thing. But I promise, youíll have something a lot more sophisticated than dynamite in the future. Not that you didnít do great with it, itís justó"
"óThat we have more accurate and safer ways . . . what did you say?"
"Yes. I said yes. What in the bloody hell took you so long to ask me?"
Daniel was nonplused. "Well, you mightíve said something."
"I didnít even know myself. Not until right now."
Danielís grin spread. "Well, that was easy. I havenít used half of my ammunition yet." He settled into the wingback chair. "Are you sure you wouldnít like to hear the rest?"
"Only if you insist." She was grinning as broadly and stupidly as he was.
"Well, there is one more thing. The piece díresistance. Tanís already agreed. Heíll be joining us in the spring. When can you be ready? The Air Force will pick up your moving expenses and get your green card set up."
"How about tomorrow?"